perjantai 8. maaliskuuta 2013

Mass Effect 3 DLC Guide

And we did.
It is March 8th, 2013, and today, a year has passed from the once anticipated release of Mass Effect 3 - the conclusion to no less than one of the finest sci-fi stories ever told, and in general, one of the most epic trilogies ever made. Initial response to Mass Effect 3 was extremely mixed, in contrast to the unanimous praise from critics and fans alike to its predecessors Mass Effect (2007) and Mass Effect 2 (2010), games which already differed from each other by a whole lot. With Mass Effect 3, BioWare delivered a tactical shooter with some mild RPG elements, whereas the first game was a highly esteemed, pure sci-fi RPG - while the second game was more of a shooter, it was still considered to have enough role-playing elements to categorize as a true sequel. Many long-time fans of the series considered Mass Effect 3 a step backwards, a product of reversed evolution.

Of course, it being a totally different game wasn't the point when it came to fans' common dislike (or even hatred) towards Mass Effect 3 - it was the ending, which contradicted the rock-solid storytelling and sense of purpose that had graced the whole saga up 'til that point, including all that leads up to it within the confines of Mass Effect 3. Although a majority of the fans felt that the storyline and subplot appeal had both seen better days, the story was considered strong enough of a reason to bear through the game, whether they liked the game or not. If they didn't, the allegedly "hastily written", "sloppy" and "subpar" ending of the game hit them even harder than the ones who did. BioWare spent the summer working on an extended ending for the game after a fan went as far as to gather signatures to have BioWare rewrite it. Yours truly enjoyed the new ending - although I personally had no huge beef with the original, either - but was struck with the fear of BioWare not having enough resources left for any true DLC besides the awesome day-one add-on entitled From Ashes. Well, if camping with EA does SOME good to BioWare, it stabilizes their budget - so Mass Effect 3 got DLC, the last of which was released earlier this week. The trilogy has finally concluded...

...And now it is finally time for me to write a DLC Guide, as well as share my personal feelings on Mass Effect 3. I started playing Mass Effect in the summer of 2011, nearly four years after the original game's release, and nearly four years of listening to my best friend whining about my reluctance to try the game - as well as my inability to do that, since I didn't have an Xbox 360 at the time. In late 2009, BioWare made their PlayStation 3 debut with Dragon Age: Origins, and since buying and loving that game, I gradually became more and more interested in Mass Effect, which was considered BioWare's finest work. Mass Effect 2 came out in January 2010 to absolutely stunning reviews which left awesome impressions on me. Still, I simply couldn't predict that a year and a half later, Mass Effect would outright amaze me, and that Mass Effect 2 would become one of my all-time favourite video games in such record time. I had seriously played that game less than 20 minutes when I made that decision. It wasn't just a continuation of a pre-chosen, "canonical" ending like most sequels. Every decision you made in Mass Effect had an effect on everything in Mass Effect 2 - and, if you so desired, you could import your Commander Shepard from Mass Effect to the game, JUST the way he was, making it feel like there was no break between the games at all. It felt like part of the same game, with (arguably) much more fluid and diverse gameplay, a different yet simply rocking and shocking story, and much better graphics. And, no Mako to study planets (read: sever your arteries) with. Mass Effect 2 also had the honour of being host to the greatest piece of downloadable content ever released - Lair of the Shadow Broker.

Mass Effect 2 cast expectations of epic proportions on Mass Effect 3, and Lair of the Shadow Broker set a standard for all future DLC. I was disappointed in Mass Effect 3. Of course I was, since I had just finished both of its predecessors with all of the DLC, in just the proper order to have a smooth transition to the epic conclusion of this marvellous tale. I had pre-ordered the game two months prior to its release, and not just any standard edition, but the N7 Collector's Edition, which was packed with in-game goodies and memorabilia. This edition of the game cost me just shy of a hundred euros; I also got a "Take Earth Back" t-shirt from a friend, for free (the back pictured above), and bought a giant poster with the box art on it. I owned more Mass Effect 3 memorabilia than of all other games combined, before even starting the game up. Why? 'Cause I loved it, unconditionally. Back when I wrote the review, I expressed my disappointment in the game with a rating of 8.6 (in contrast to the previous games' 9.0 and 9.4) 'cause that was the right thing to do from a critic's standpoint. I didn't actually love the game as much as I loved the previous ones, but I loved it as a conclusion, and respected it as a part of the finest media franchises ever created. It came, it saw, and it conquered. At least it conquered me - the five-year story ended, that's what I expected from the game, and that's what I got. In turn, DLC is always extra, post-script stuff that really has to make an impression to stick. It always contains the risk of feeling totally detached from the game, since it was not originally part of it, and pretty often the risk of pulling something really drastic and pissing off a great deal of fans.

BioWare are veterans in making downloadable content that can go both ways. On the left-hand side, we've got Pinnacle Station for Mass Effect and The Darkspawn Chronicles for Dragon Age: Origins - depressingly crappy, or if not exactly crappy, totally detached stuff. On the right-hand side, we've got the aforementioned Lair of the Shadow Broker for Mass Effect 2 and Mark of the Assassin for Dragon Age II - one of outright perfect quality, and one very good piece of DLC that made the host game feel a whole lot better and definitely more fresh. Now that the table is finally set for Mass Effect 3, let's check out all the single-player DLC last year's biggest game has been graced with - which of it deserves praise, and which deserves the airlock treatment. Let's start with two second, as in new, looks on the two packs that have already been reviewed in full.


He ain't a nice man. Or thing. But he gets things done.
RELEASED: March 2012
PRICE: 800 BioWare Points (PC), $9.99 (PlayStation Network), 800 Microsoft Points (Xbox LIVE)

The recent discovery of a Prothean artifact lures Shepard and Liara back to where it all began, Eden Prime. There, they find something way bigger than a simple artifact: an actual Prothean, preserved in cryosleep. Although they start off on the wrong foot, Shepard and the Prothean - who introduces himself as Javik - have a common interest in finding a way to rid the galaxy of the Reapers forever.

Initially, I was supposed to write simple summaries of the original DLC reviews, but then I realized that after all the dust has settled, I might want to reconsider some things I've said, especially in the case of From Ashes. I originally rated From Ashes as high as 9.3, and I think that rating was a bit too high. Granted, Javik is an excellent addition to the group. He's an amazing conversionalist, a tough biotic, and unlike Kasumi and Zaeed in Mass Effect 2, he's a solid part of the group throughout the whole game (and the rest of the DLC), instead of someone who just tags along and has a loyalty mission for his only channel to prove his worth from a personality standpoint. Javik is also a Prothean, the first we've ever actually seen in action during the Mass Effect saga, which kind of automatically makes him a character of interest to anyone who's half interested in the evolution of this universe.

However, the only mission of the From Ashes pack isn't too lengthy or interesting, nor is the side mission that comes with it, tempting the player with an Achievement. The tube-like shooter is just like any other very basic mission in Mass Effect 3; I expected a bit more, and it drags the experience down a bit harder than I originally surmised. Anyway, From Ashes IS an essential part of the whole of Mass Effect 3, thanks to Javik's strong presence. As to whether I'd pay 800 Points for it - sure I would, but I can't really take a stand on this subject, since I got the pack for "free" with the N7 Edition.

RATING : 8.9


We have gathered here to mourn the passing of one damn
fine franchise.
RELEASED: June 2012
PRICE: FREE [-> April 2014]

Apparently and against all prior judgement, BioWare does have a bullshit threshold - as the official statement goes, they are strong supporters of the principle that if fans are kind enough to pay for a game, they are fully entitled to a quality product. These fans were extremely disappointed with how the ending to not just Mass Effect 3, but to the whole of Commander Shepard's epic tale, turned out. After a few months of having to endure some of the most insulting and degrading rants about selling out and destroying Mass Effect's legacy along with their own reputation, BioWare delivered a new ending to Mass Effect 3 - to be downloaded free of charge, and directly integrated to the game, once installed.

Of course, it's not exactly a "new" ending, it's literally an extended cut. Criteria for nailing an inspiring post-credits scene after some unavoidable depression stemming from all endings has been toned down a bit, making it easier to achieve and witness. There's one more ending to please those into some extreme (as in EXTREME) renegade action, some small end-all details added to the scenes leading up to the climax, extended dialogue, and finally, 15 minutes of cutscenes from the aftermath of the Reapers' fall, with some detached slideshows spliced in. Those slideshows do not belong at all, but the rest of the Extended Cut is gold. I hear it made quite a positive impact on the originally enraged fans, those who were trustful enough to see the game to the end once more. Problem solved.

Since its release, the Extended Cut has grown into Mass Effect 3's real ending, rather than DLC, so it should be downloaded and installed before you even start the game for the first time. It's free, and it might not please you, but certainly more than the original, even if you didn't hate it all that much. I should know. I guess I could give it a couple of more points thanks to how it has integrated into the full experience since its conception.

RATING : 9.0


Fall back.
RELEASED: August 2012
PRICE: 800 BioWare Points (PC), $9.99 (PlayStation Network), 800 Microsoft Points (Xbox LIVE)

The Alliance receives intel on a mysterious lifeform powerful enough to kill a Reaper - something that is only known as "Leviathan". Shepard and his team are dispatched to assist a scientist who specializes in Leviathan. When the scientist is killed by his indoctrinated assistant, Shepard continues his research, soon finding himself and his team searching the darkest corners of the galaxy for something that might turn out his worst enemy - but all that matters to Shepard is Leviathan's strength over the Reapers.

Leviathan has its clear-cut ups and downs. I'm wondering where to start first... well, I guess both the ups and downs are best dealt with the same time. Leviathan is a very multi-layered, diverse mission, which made it stand out from the bulk of Mass Effect 3 at the time of its release. There's some "crime scene investigation" going on like in the beginning of Lair of the Shadow Broker, some new planets to explore, and even a first-person level deep in the bottom of the ocean, viewed from the cockpit of a corrupt mech which could break down any passing second. Well, that's where the fun pretty much stops, since the whole level's about 99,9% scripted - there really isn't any tense challenge to be had there.

Leviathan also sports a good plot... to a point. At that specific point, one's really starting to wonder how much explanation do Reapers and their history actually need. It even feels like they're trying to retcon some Reaper-related stuff from the ending... the ending that still is very present in this game! I'm not sure if the feeling is legit, since it's all so confusing, and like I said, pointless - why milk this subject to eternity?

At a price of 800, Leviathan's a keeper, a good sidestory for well over a half of its duration, but a wholly solid one? It's sad how far it is from one. It's like this game's Overlord, without extensive vehicle levels. If you liked that one, go ahead with the download.

RATING : 7.8


There is but one rule on Omega.
Don't fuck with a consumer.
RELEASED: November 2012
PRICE: 1200 BioWare Points (PC), $14.99 (PlayStation Network), 1200 Microsoft Points (Xbox LIVE)

Aria T'Loak has come up with a plan to take Omega back from Cerberus, but needs Shepard's help to follow up on it. Back on Aria's home turf, she and Shepard team up with an old acquaintance of Aria's, who just happens to be in charge of a capable mercenary group also opposing Omega's new rule.

Here is a DLC pack that was supposed to make a difference. The plot is loosely based on the Mass Effect: Invasion comic book series - which kind of deletes the events in the comic book from the timeline - and it begins just like Lair of the Shadow Broker. We meet up and plan out a mission with an old, not to mention interesting acquaintance, who's not much more than an ice cold passer-by in the retail. We return to one of our favourite frequent hangouts in Mass Effect 2. Omega had so much going for it. Then they announced the price. 12-fuckin'-00 Points?! We could be all optimistic about it; From Ashes and Leviathan both sold for 800, and considering that price, they were pretty vast. 1200 Points - now that's got to be some big, diverse shit. An all-nighter at the very least. Bullshit. Omega takes just a few hours to beat, those hours will not satisfy, and on top of all, you get only three new Achievements for bearing this heap of overpriced manure. If you're playing on the PC, you get none - just the crappy bonuses. War assets and a freakin' non-useable chessboard for your cabin.

Omega could've been so much more than a tubular series of maps and such a pointlessly stretched and forcefully complicated, boring sidestory, glazed with a new, regular enemy that is supposed to be second only to a Reaper when it comes to destructive power, but in reality, he's just as much of a pushover than the next guy. Banshees in the retail were much, much tougher to kill. Once you're done with the mission, there's nothing to see on Omega. Nothing. For 1200 Points, you're safe to expect a little more than just the job. From Ashes and Leviathan both had SOMETHING extra for you to do or find, and they sold for 400 less Points.

"The biggest DLC pack ever seen", my ass. This is more like the biggest rip-off I've ever seen. Think of all the great full GAMES you can get for 1200 or less Points, or alternatively, 15 bucks. What would you do if you had the option? If you're a die-hard fan, I guess there's still no question about it, but if you're just a casual Mass Effect player, I strongly advise you to put your expensive Points on something more complete and satisfactory.

RATING : 5.5


Let's go kill people, just like old times.
RELEASED: March 2013
PRICE: 1200 BioWare Points (PC), $14.99 (PlayStation Network), 1200 Microsoft Points (Xbox LIVE)

While Shepard's on shore leave on Citadel with his team, preparing for the final battle on Earth, an attempt is made on his life. An ensemble of friends Shepard's made through the years comes together to reveal and take down the organization threatening the life of the most unique, influential and inspirational person they've ever met.

After the shock that was Omega, I was really, really hesitant to pay another load of 1200 Points for a mere DLC pack, especially a DLC pack hosted by a game that hadn't really shined when it came to downloadable content. However, the concept of Citadel alone was enough to loosen up the strings of my virtual wallet - a whole cavalcade of friends, all the way from Wrex to Jack to even Zaeed and Kasumi, just coming together and kicking ass for Shepard's cause. Although it was called "Citadel", it was clear soon enough that this wouldn't be another back-and-forth run through the entirety of the Citadel. It's not much more than a good, commercially appealing name for an end-all Mass Effect DLC.

Citadel doesn't begin too well, but it develops into one of the most immersive, biggest pieces of downloadable content ever conceived. Not nearly as good as Lair of the Shadow Broker for Mass Effect 2, but a slightly less matured apple from the same tree anyway. Despite the very dark plot - which seriously goes to some of the darkest depths of a sidestory, back to a certain, extremely notable breakpoint in the trilogy - a lot of Citadel's appeal lies in its humour. Character traits often targeted by memes through the years, such as Shepard's monotonic finishing line "I should go", and Garrus' everlasting calibrations get their share of clever, legitimately funny jabs, among everything else. The actual mission of tracking down and neutralizing the people after Shepard is only half of this here pack - the second half is full of goodies you might've seriously missed while playing Mass Effect 3, and just truckloads of the aforementioned humour, which takes good care that you, the player, will leave Citadel with a smile on your face.

These goodies include a battle arena, where you can test your skills against different enemy sets with different match modifiers - you can even buy more of both at a store, among other things. Shepard also gains another home base besides Normandy right in the beginning of the story, which you can decorate to your liking. You can converse with every playable character from the trilogy, assuming he/she's still alive in your story, and yes, if you have a thing going on with someone, that's duly noted as well. You can play a few different minigames at a casino as well as an arcade hall - including a new version of Quasar from the first Mass Effect game - and finally, throw a party for the friends of your choosing, or simply all of them, to see their lighter sides. Pretty much meaning damn funny sides.

Citadel is awesome, and exactly what I expect from a DLC pack with a price this steep, unlike the abomination they called Omega. It starts out very slow, but gets better and better towards the end. A definite must for a Mass Effect completist.

RATING : 9.1

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