I’m never quite sure how to feel about scattered little DLC packs as opposed to monolithic expansions; I always get the feeling I’m paying more money for less content. Then again, expansion packs like Warcraft III‘s The Frozen Throne are ultimately more valuable than the base game, making the total infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. Maybe expansions have just been underpriced all along?
Either way, I laid down my wonga for all the Mass Effect 3 story DLC packs. Last time From Ashes was good and Omega was unremarkable — so let’s see what I have to say about the other two packs, Leviathan and Citadel…
The Leviathan pack is another dredged-up loose end from the first Mass Effect, repurposed into adding much-needed lore around the Reapers. Trawling around the galaxy map in ME1, you could read about “The Leviathan of Dis”, a giant organic starship corpse the Batarians apparently found, stole and covered up.
Needless to say, the pack immediately retcons that to say the original corpse was actually a Reaper… and that the true Leviathan is Still Out There. (So it’s not, as I was led to believe, a search for that corpse, but rather a search for its murderer.)
Leviathan is a pretty short pack, though it’s devilishly well-integrated into the game. While Omega is a fairly straightforward “drop everything and go away for a while” expansion that doesn’t even allow you to bring companions (how convenient for you, voice acting budget), Leviathan takes you back and forward between a lab on the Citadel and various locations around the galaxy. Cortez and EDI drive the enforced narrative parts, while even Javik has lines for full integration into the actual missions.
The biggest set-piece, wandering around underwater in a giant mech, is beautiful and atmospheric but also far too short and lacking in substance (i.e. walking simulator, #notagame). Likewise, it doesn’t take very much effort (read: any effort at all) to convince the Leviathan to join your cause.
On the other hand, battling on top of a floating wreck on a stormy ocean before diving is brilliantly realised (even if it’s a pretty generic husk fight, you can see the Reaper hanging overhead raining shooting its troops down — most conveniently miss the platform and plunge into the depths), plus the pack presents you with a new shotgun and a new assault rifle. (My policy of only using DLC weapons keeps falling down as I have too many bonus assault rifles and no pistols or snipers.)
The extra insight the pack’s finale brings into the Reapers is welcome; it’s not perfect, but it does desperately try to assuage some of the game ending’s brokenness. The effectivenes of this insert, I will have to leave to spoiler-tastic offline discussion.
I had obviously completely disengaged from ME3 by the time this pack came out, because I had never even heard of it until I browsed the list of offerings this time around. I think, on balance though, it’s probably the best. It’s the only pack to offer, say, a new pistol (and an “old” assault rifle). It’s also a riotous comedy.
The Normandy gets locked into the dry dock for plot upgrades, so it’s a solid episode with no escape route. Luckily, all your crew are grounded along with you… Then the adventure begins!
The action starts simply enough; you do something innocuous, you get attacked by unidentified mercenaries, you escape down another previousy unexplored bit of the Citadel, et cetera. Nothing unusual there. The real highlights of this pack are the dialogue and the end-game content.
Wrex comes back to join you as a companion for these missions, so you’ve got a full complement of characters taking the piss out of each other in a way that only a group that’s been through three games could. Much like the mechanics of the game finally settling into greatness third time around, the team banter has done the same to incredible levels in this pack.
One particular level splits the entire team, every single character, into sub-groups for an all-out assault. You take your two as usual and the others go down side paths in the level, providing fire support and one-liners from catwalks and balconies.
It travels well into self-parody towards the end, with Traynor’s toothbrush and Shepard’s dancing and more getting appropriately ribbed. The finale is hosting a party for your crew (past and present), where you can choose whom to invite, customise the decor of the apartment, and set the mood. Hey, guys, didn’t you notice there was a war going on?
Once you’ve completed the main sequence and are getting ready for that party, though, the Silversun Strip area of the Citadel is unveiled.
The Silversun Strip contains loads of crew-member vignettes, from inviting them up to your apartment to getting down with them at one of the Strip’s various attractions. And what attractions!
While the casino, complete with gambling tables, is accessible earlier as part of the main plot sequence, the amusement arcade and the arena aren’t available until you’ve finished the job. The arcade contains a few amusing minigames with high scores to beat, but it’s the arena where the endgame stuff really shines.
The Armax Arsenal Arena is basically what the original Mass Effect‘s Pinnacle Station DLC wanted to be all along. Kill all the spawned enemies over three rounds in a variety of arenas, while gaining points for kill streaks with further multipliers for accepting handicaps. High scores win reward tokens that can be spent on additional maps, enemy sets, handicaps and characters, letting old squadmates like Wrex, Grunt and Jacob join you in the arena along with your new buddies.
The arena also has its own personal e-mail account, whereby fans and sponsors can ask you to undertake particular missions — fighting against a particular opponent on a particular map with a particular handicap, with rewards ranging from money to weapon mods. Exploring all of this quietly reveals a side quest chain that, when followed to its conclusion, reveals a bonus scenario to play out, which is a completely mental onslaught of overpowered enemies (then again, I am max level with equipment as good as it can go, so this would probably be painful lower down the ladder).
It would have been nice to have the four different game modes of Pinnacle Station beyond simple three-wave matches, but that would be quibbling — what’s there right now is a damn fine piece of extra content, which is already on top of other attractions. Combat is strong enough this time around to carry the lack of mode variety.
There’s a clear winner this time around. Leviathan takes an admirable shot at injecting some meaning to the Reapers but falls short, not necessarily by what it says, but by how quickly and conveniently it says it — there just isn’t enough gravitas to carry the implications here. On the other hand, it offers visual drama and appropriately structured missions so it settles in nicely. It’s not bad, by any means, but I wouldn’t rush to recommend it.
Citadel, on the other hand, is brilliantly playful and hides some rock-solid missions and sparkling character banter. Put the effort in to hacking at the Arena and you will be well rewarded. … Assuming you enjoy combat.