Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mass Effect 2's Downloadable Content

And here comes another add-on rant.

As a note, I say on a few of these that they're free with the game, which is kind of true and kind of not. Basically, when you buy the game from a store, it comes with a card for the Cerberus Network, which allows you to download several DLC packages for no charge. Thing is, you actually do pay MORE for a copy of the game that comes with the card for that network, so you ARE paying for the Cerberus Network, and thus, the benefits it comes with are not actually free. This is something that Bioware would prefer that people not figure out, as they not only like to promote their Cerberus Network stuff as "free," but also to pout and say that their fans are unreasonable when said fans complain about some of the crappy add-ons that they have to pay for (pointless shit like extra armor styles or alternate appearances for certain characters). Bioware is fond of whining, at that point, "But we gave you all this other stuff for FREE! You people are never satisfied! I WORK AND I SLAVE OVER A HOT STOVE ALL DAY ETC." It's probably the first time I've seen this company be outright disingenuous, and its focus on exploiting loyal fans and complaining if that exploitation isn't 100% successful is disturbingly reminiscent of SquareEnix's current business plan. I sure as hell hope THAT won't continue. Bioware's misleading--hell, outright dishonest--wording aside, however, the Cerberus Network's content, even if not actually "free," is still a good deal for the overall cost, given how many DLC packages you get with it that have some actual content.

Anyway, let's get this going.

Zaeed Massani: Zaeed is free with the Ceberus Network. Basically, this DLC adds a new team member, a famous bounty hunter, to Commander Shepard's squad. Zaeed's as much a character as any other; they skimped on nearly nothing with him--he has unique dialogue reactions when he's in your party to many parts of the game, he has scenes of his own in the final mission when needed, and he has his own special Loyalty Mission for you to play through as any other character would. All he lacks is regular dialogue for when you speak to him on the ship (although he still has plenty to say in an NPC fashion, so that's no strike against him) and a mission to actually recruit him, which would have been nice, but is an acceptable loss when everything else is right. He's a pretty fun character to listen to, he's got some history that's interesting, and his Loyalty Mission gives him an acceptable bit of character development--nothing stellar, but certainly not bad, either. Zaeed's a solid DLC addition, to be sure.

Normandy Crash: This one's tiny. As a single 10 to 20 minute mission with no dialogue and only slight plot relevance that doesn't involve any action, you wouldn't think I would have any positive remarks about it, but life is pretty unpredictable--I actually really liked this one. The overall idea of recovering pieces of your former ship is decent, the execution is exactly as it should be--quiet, reflective, mournful, and lonely--and the choice given to you of where to place the memorial marker is a nice touch, letting you decide what was the most important and symbolic part of the first Normandy to honor with a statue. The DLC also provides posthumous character development for a relatively minor, yet memorable, NPC from Mass Effect 1, Navigator/XO Pressly. Overall, this minuscule DLC packs a lot of atmosphere, meaning, and even a bit of character development into its few minutes.

Firewalker: Another free Cerberus Network download, the Firewalker DLC pack adds 5 minor missions to the game that incorporate a new vehicle, a hover attack vehicle thingy called the Hammerhead. The Hammerhead's controls are pretty slick, it shoots missiles quite handily, and the missions have a small story tying them together of trying to locate missing scientists and an ancient artifact. It's not an especially strong story entry, but it's nice in that the plot acknowledges the goings-on of the Mass Effect galaxy while Shepard's fooling around with his main quest, reminding us of the importance of the Protheans that Mass Effect 1 established and perhaps promising future developments with this DLC's events. Not a bad little hour or two of extra game play, if not at all memorable.

Kasumi - Stolen Memory: Now THIS is more like it. This is probably the best add-on I've seen since Fallout 3. With this DLC, you get Kasumi, a new party member who, like Zaeed, fits in like she was always in the game, having reactionary dialogue throughout the game and her own scenes to play out during the last mission, but with more character depth than Zaeed. You also get a new mission to play through that focuses on Kasumi, and the mission is, honestly, pretty damn good. The mission itself is pretty cool, it has a good element of plot to it, and it develops Kasumi's character quite nicely. Thumbs up on this one, definitely.

Overlord: Not the best Bioware's done, but not bad. This DLC is basically a few missions connected by a side story of short-sighted ambitions causing inhumane treatment of the innocent in the name of the greater good. It's decent, and its nature reminds me a bit of the various side quests from Mass Effect 1, which often had similar tones and ideas. And anything that reminds me of ME1 ain't a bad thing--I think the only failing ME2 had was its strong dissimilarities to its predecessor. So Overlord's alright. But it isn't great. And as an extra that costs $7 instead of just being packaged with the Cerberus Network (which would have made more sense anyway, given that it uses the Hammerhead, which came with the Firewalker DLC, which was a Cerberus Network package), I can't in good conscience say it's worth the price.

Lair of the Shadow Broker: Very nice, this one. With a good story and some much-needed character development for Liara, both of which tie up loose ends that the game proper just kind of left, this is definitely a high quality DLC. It's exciting, well-told, and interesting pretty much from start to finish, and all the bonus content at the end is a real gem--after gaining access to the Shadow Broker's data and files, Shepard gets to read up on the intel the Broker has on Shepard's companions and friends, which means lots of neat tidbits to further develop most of the game's major characters. Many are amusing, many are insightful, some are even touching--it's all great stuff. Hell, I'd actually say that the development you get for the characters as an end bonus to this DLC is the most worthy reason to play through it. There are several little gameplay bonuses to this DLC, too, that go beyond what you'd expect, so that's nice, too, I suppose. But the main reasons to play a DLC are all there and solid with this one.

The Arrival: The Arrival's a pretty decent DLC. Initial reaction to it by fans was that it was "predictable," and this is generally true for anyone who's familiar with Reaper technology, the rarity of one of Shepard's missions going without a hitch, and Shepard's penchant for lecturing ancient apocalyptic horrors on the virtues of the human spirit--so, in essence, predictable to anyone who's played Mass Effect. But if my recent enthrallment with the new My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic cartoon has taught me anything,* it's that predictable conclusions can still be interesting and worthwhile if you have a skilled creative mind behind them. And this DLC is such a case. Yes, you'll probably see the twist coming in some capacity, but the events of The Arrival are still neat, and very relevant to the major story of the series--more so than most other DLCs, I think. In fact, this add-on feels less like a contained side story like most of the above do and the ME1 add-ons did, and more like an important part of the overall plot of the Mass Effect trilogy's events. There's nothing incredible in here, and the mission, while full, is over kind of quickly for the price, but it's a solid little adventure, it gets the player's focus back on track with the main story after a lot of DLC packages that kinda deviated away from it, it's exciting, it features the return (and first visual appearance) of an important secondary character from ME1, and it helps to transition from ME2 to the upcoming ME3 (I think; I won't know for sure until we actually see ME3, but that's what it feels like). So I'd say it does most everything Bioware wanted it to, and is decent and worth the price of admission as much as any Downloadable Content ever is. A good way to conclude ME2's set of add-ons, as ME3 looms.

And that's that. On the whole? I think Mass Effect 2's Downloadable Content has been a pretty good thing. Sure, there were a couple that really weren't all that noteworthy, and Bioware's shady policy regarding the Cerberus Network is very disappointing. But the majority of the add-ons were good offerings, and I don't feel like any of them were an outright rip-off, and both of these points make Mass Effect 2's set of add-ons a marked improvement over those of Dragon Age 1, so Bioware's certainly improving. Bethesda's Fallout 3 add-ons were still a better deal and half the time were of greater storytelling quality, but ME2's additional content nonetheless leaves me with a positive impression.

Now, will Bioware continue to improve with Dragon Age 2's add-ons, or will it go back to the generally disappointing DA1's add-ons for inspiration? And how will the somewhat recent Fallout: New Vegas's add-ons measure up against its own predecessor's? We'll just have to see.

* Shut the fuck up. MLPFiM is awesome and 100% acceptable by masculine standards. It beat the shit out of 4chan and there's like thousands of other guys who love it. Look it up if you don't believe me.

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