Friday, March 8, 2013

Mass Effect 3's Downloadable Content

This is the final version of this rant, which now reflects all 4 of the ME3 DLC packages.

Well, it’s finally time for a look at the add-ons for Mass Effect 3. Historically, Bioware’s done much, much better with its extra content for Mass Effect than it has for Dragon Age, but who knows if that’s going to hold up? Historically, Mass Effect games had great endings, but just look at the horrible mess that ME3 concludes with. And on that note, because I’m still pissed that there is no morally acceptable and satisfying ending to this game, I won’t be purchasing any of the DLCs below (besides From Ashes; that one came with the edition of the game I got), not until one of them provides an appropriate ending. My knowledge of the packages below shall come from Youtube. Why review them at all, you might ask, assuming your mind magically thinks up the exact same questions that mine does? Well, because I don’t assume that everyone ELSE is going to do the boycott-ME3-content-until-Bioware-fixes-its-mistakes thing, so this might still potentially have some meaning to someone else on which add-ons to purchase.

From Ashes: From Ashes adds a mission to Mass Effect 3 that contains a few opportunities to add a few resources to Shepard’s private army, and also adds a new character, Javik the Prothean, to the party. Although this one loses points for being a Day 1 DLC, Javik’s a decent addition to the cast. By himself, he’s only a so-so character, with character development that’s decent but never more than that, and the history and lore he shares of the long-lost Prothean culture is, surprisingly and unhappily, not actually all that interesting. However, he adds a lot to some of the game’s events, particularly during the mission to Thessia, and he’s a useful tool for some much-needed character development for Liara. He’s also fully integrated into the game--he’s no half-assed addition; he has as many dialogue interjections and personal scenes as any other party member. Of course, that’s not as impressive as it could be, given that he was released at the same time as the game, so they had the entire time of the game’s development to make sure he was integrated properly. Still, this DLC package is overall good.

Leviathan: This one’s just not very good. The plot somehow seems both too hurried, and yet meandering at the same time. Too hurried, as the search for Leviathan boils down to a few relatively short missions that desperately try to cram in a sense of meaning and emotional attachment to the introduced supporting character, Ann Bryson, and also tries to pack in an entire new perspective on ancient galactic history to boot. Meandering, as a large part of it is just following leads and learning little of actual value about Leviathan--all the actually important lore comes in at the end, when Shepard finally tracks down and meets Leviathan. Everything up until that point is just...humdrum. Not bad, I guess, but closer to bad than good. And the actual meeting with Leviathan is pretty lackluster, too. It lacks narrative power in its presentation, and all it really does is give a very tiny bit of supporting information to the poorly-conceived claptrap that the Catalyst spouts at the end of the game. I suppose it’s good that Bioware actually bothered to put something in the game that connects in some way to its awful conclusion, given that until this DLC everything about the ending was completely out of left field, but that’s about the best thing I can say about this. This DLC also adds a couple lines of dialogue to the ending, but nothing even remotely important. Finally, some of this DLC just doesn’t even make sense--like how ridiculous it is that Leviathan’s race would see the problem of the supposed lower races being betrayed and destroyed by the synthetic life that said lower races created and then...create a super-ultra synthetic life to fix the problem. Oh yeah, clearly THESE guys are the higher species.

“DURR, hay thar Godlike Bob, Ah dun heared that those self-aware machine-doohickeys that theym thar little folkses made have done gone plumb loco on their creators! Y’reckon we should aim ter fix that sitch-ee-aye-shun?”


Overall, the Leviathan add-on is, if considered very charitably, dead weight. It’s emotionally and intellectually lacking, it provides background to the ending’s foolishness without making it seem more valid at all, parts of it just don’t make any damn sense (so Leviathan says they controlled the lesser species but...couldn’t stop them from building those dangerous AIs. Does Leviathan understand what “control” means?), it ultimately makes no difference, and honestly, adding the angle of living Leviathans hiding and probably, given their god complexes, biding their time, adds a rather unwelcome new entity to a series that’s starting to feel crowded from all the ancient secrets of galaxy-shaking importance being stuffed into it. Even the tiny little satisfaction that I theorize a person could feel from ME3’s ending at having, at the very least, ended the Reaper threat is now stolen away by the knowledge that there’s already an entire other potential super-huge, super-powerful enemy out there. Definitely pass on this one; it’s not worth the time to play through it, and it sure as hell is not worth your money.

Omega: It seems at first like this DLC should be fairly decent. I mean, it’s an action-packed side story, which involves Aria, an NPC from ME2 whose presence in ME3 was not as strong as it should have been, introduces Nyreen, a new character who catches your attention (what with being the first female Turian we’ve seen in the series), and isn’t designed to try in vain to justify the horrible ending. But ultimately, the damn thing just falls flat on its face. First of all, the whole thing feels like it serves no real point whatsoever--the only lasting effect from it on the rest of the game are some War Assets, which ultimately change absolutely nothing, a few new gameplay tweaks (weapon mods, bonus powers, some extra money, etc) which of course are meaningless when just about everyone has by now beaten the game at least once and the game has more or less nothing to surprise them with in battle, a chess board in Shepard’s room that you can’t actually interact with at all, and your bank account suddenly being $15 smaller. Apparently it’s too much to hope that Bioware will see fit to use another DLC to make a minimally acceptable ending possible, but even for a self-contained add-on, those are some pretty paltry rewards, so if this is going to be worth the time and money, it’s going to have to be worth it within its own self-contained events.

The problem is that it’s not. The plot of it is just straightforward action garbage; there’s nothing to learn or think about that comes from it, no layer of meaning attached to it, no intellectual motivation whatsoever. You’ll find more of that in a James Bond movie than in the Omega DLC, and Bond films are usually the thing I point out as prime examples of mindless action fluff with no substance! Shepard goes to Omega, Shepard fights bad guys in Omega, Shepard finds out about a bad guy plan to breed super monster soldier things but has very little reaction to it, Shepard happens to stop this plan when he beats the bad guys, the bad guys are gone. The end. There’s nothing remotely unexpected, nor is there anything to add depth to this cookie-cutter “plot.”

And what about the character development? Disappointing is the most generous term I can think of for it. Aria’s character, who is vocally acted in a surprisingly subpar fashion, stays for all appearances completely static for the entire length of the DLC, except maybe at the end, when Shepard’s influence might cause her to be a little less of an evil bitch. I’d say this, at least, shows character development, but I can’t, because it really didn’t actually develop--up until that moment, Aria’s basically rebuffed every suggestion anyone’s made about maybe being less of a bad person, and she hasn’t been shown to have any interest beyond irritation for Shepard’s heroic ways, so this idea that he influenced her in some way comes out of nowhere. It’s not subtle, it’s just not there. Shepard certainly isn’t developed at all; he has so little to say or do in relation to the plot that it’s almost like he’s trying out the Silent Protagonist thing for kicks. The villain, Petrovsky, has very little in the way of introduction (I think Bioware wants to pretend that every single player has read their comics, from which Petrovsky originates), less in the way of personality, and less still than that in the way of development. And lastly, there’s Nyreen, the female Turian whose character is just as static as Aria’s (though thankfully far less proud, selfish, and proud of being selfish), and doesn’t change from the first time it’s properly shown until her completely arbitrary, unnecessary death, a death that shows just how sloppy and careless the Bioware writers are with their work. I suppose she works as a foil for Aria, but they’re so blatantly, clumsily opposites that the contrast just winds up making Bioware look like they’re trying way too hard. Plus, it makes the vague, half-assed explanation for why Nyreen and Aria were previously lovers questionable at best. And once she dies, she’s just GONE. Like, she dies, Aria gets really angry for just long enough to get caught in a trap,* and...that’s the end of any thoughts of Nyreen. The last battle ensues, Aria and Shepard fool around with Petrovsky, Aria makes a trite little speech, Shepard gets the useless chessboard in his cabin, and that’s that. No mention of Nyreen’s loss that I could see, no moment of Shepard or Aria mourning or even recollecting her, nothing. Bioware seemed to give more of a shit for the stupid scientist who died like 30 seconds into the Leviathan DLC than for Nyreen.

Anyway. So what’re we left with? Well, a large price tag. At 15 bucks, Omega costs more than the Leviathan DLC did, and, for that matter, more than any single DLC I can remember having encountered for an RPG so far. And you know what? It’s incredibly short! You can easily finish the whole thing in 4 hours, and that even accounts for thorough searching and battles that aren’t immediately won from being overpowered. I imagine most players will finish it in significantly less time. $15 for less than 5 hours of gameplay? Even considering a weak US dollar, that’s ridiculous! I mean, if this DLC had a worthwhile story to tell, that’d be one thing, but as I noted above, it does not. Bioware’s not just charging more (and its price choices were already sketchy to start with), it’s providing less at the same time!

I’ll admit that Omega’s got an edge over Leviathan for not trying to violently shove support for the game’s shitty ending in my face, but in the end, this DLC gets a major thumbs-down from me. Spend your 15 smackers on something worthwhile instead--games at, a decent meal, My Little Pony dolls, an environmental charity, new socks, anything but Omega.

Citadel:’s hard to really know what to say here. The final ME3 DLC is...odd. It’s sort of separated into a miniature adventure, like you’d expect from a DLC, and then a bunch of small, just-for-fun stuff afterwards. So let’s look at it in parts.

First of all, the adventure itself is...well...I like it, but I’m not sure I should. The premise is weak, weaker even than ME3’s main premise involving the Crucible. The two villains...well, one’s an incredibly predictable double-cross, and the other, I’ll just spoil it for you. It’s Shepard’s unheard-of-until-this-second clone. It’s like someone at Bioware saw the awful, nonsensical, stinks-like-rotten-fish plot twist in Pluto Nash and thought it would be a good idea to steal it. The clone’s end is the tired old “rather fall to my death than grab your hand” affair, the other villain’s end is cheap and seems to depend very strongly on the player having formed some emotional attachment to her over the, what, 2 hours’ time that the player has known her? Additionally, the adventure part of the DLC is about as absurdly short as the Omega add-on was, for the same bloated, completely unreasonable price of $15.

Still...still, it’s good for what it is. Even if the clone thing is just outright stupid, it has just enough drive to get a slightly heartwarming message across about how much of what Shepard is was formed by his companions and friends. Even if the adventure feels rushed and contrived, the large amount of interaction between all the members of the party is really enjoyable, and it really cements their personality as a team. There’s a lot of humor, and it’s almost all good, while never seeming inappropriate to the situation. There’s some real good character and universe history and development you can experience through Anderson’s logs and the Citadel archive, which of course I really liked. It doesn’t have the ultra-important, epic mission feel that’s typical of the game’s missions, but that’s not actually all that bad a thing sometimes.

After the adventure’s done, there’s still a lot to do in the DLC: meeting up with party members, both past and present, to hang out (except for Legion, Mordin, and Thane, of course, but there are some nice bits for Mordin and Thane, too), stupid minigames, a pointless arena, NPCs to hear talk, and finally a party to which you can invite pretty much the whole crew. This post-mission content kind of ranges all over the place in terms of quality. Some scenes are just horribly stupid, like Zaeed’s and Javik’s, some are mostly boring and/or pointless, like Ashley’s and Garrus’s (if he’s not Shepard’s love interest), some are pretty decent, like Liara’s (if she’s not Shepard’s love interest) and EDI’s, and Thane’s (whether or not he was Shepard’s love interest) is really great. I have to give Bioware props on one account, though--they really did good by the love scenes overall. Okay, yes, Traynor’s scene is pretty lame, as is Ashley's (but that's to be expected), and Tali’s is...well...kind of stupid, I have to say, but the rest range from solidly good to just outright great bits of romance, and they all are touching at the DLC’s end (Thane in particular). Hell, Miranda and Jack got such good love interest scenes in the Citadel DLC that they actually almost seem like viable romantic options now...well, Jack does, at least. ME3 has been criticized, and very rightly so, for skimping too much on Shepard’s romantic interests, and Bioware did a good job making up for it here.

Actually, that seems to be largely what this DLC’s about, really--Bioware addressing fan feedback. This whole DLC is basically fanservice--but instead of the typical shitty, demeaning, mindless, subhuman kind of fanservice, which is mostly just a sagging heap of tits sitting sloppily atop a pillar of special effects and violence, this is fanservice of a good caliber, giving fans the things of substance that they want. Fans wanted more romance, they got it. Fans wanted better character interaction, more inclusion of Wrex and ME2’s largely forgotten cast, and they got that. The jokes of the DLC play on themes and jokes of the Bioware fan community--Shepard’s infamous “I should go,” Traynor’s toothbrush, the volus pizza delivery guy (“pizza delivery” is how the Bioware community refers to the package retrieval objectives in the Multiplayer mode of ME3), and so on. For the first time since this time last year, Bioware actually seems to be giving a flying fuck about their characters and their fans, instead of their own egos and what the marketing department thinks will sell.

In the end, I still won’t buy this DLC. Because in the end, after all the good times of it, the story of ME3 continues, and Shepard comes to a finale where he (Paragon Shepard, at least) cannot win without betraying his values. For all the listening to its fans that Bioware did in its creation of the Citadel DLC, it still didn’t listen to the most important, frequent, and widespread feedback--like a doctor who’s more interested in treating your foot pains than taking a look at the harpoon stuck in your chest. But this is the first (and last) DLC for ME3 that I would actually want to purchase. Citadel is fun and funny, it reminds you of two of the great draws of the Mass Effect series--its characters and its lore--and it feels like the satisfying send-off to this beloved cast that they deserve. God have mercy on my soul, I actually DO recommend this DLC, even at its exorbitant price of $15 (although if you feel you can wait it out until that price drops a long time from now, by all means go for it). The only reason not to is the one I’ve adopted, the principle of the matter of ME3’s ending.

And that’s it. According to Bioware, there will be no more ME3 add-ons. And yeah, any official statement of Bioware’s has better odds of being a blatant lie than actually coming true, but I’m gonna throw caution to the winds and work on the assumption that they’re actually being honest on this. How’d ME3 do as far as add-ons went? Well...not very well, honestly. The first DLC is pretty good, as I said, but the Leviathan package is just a lot of really, really poor writing trying to justify an even more poorly written ending, and it far outweighs the modestly positive From Ashes. And yeah, I clearly thought that the Citadel DLC was good overall, but the hackneyed, contrived basis for its main story brings it down a bit, and the Omega DLC is such overpriced, useless, meaningless garbage, that the scales are tipped significantly to the negative side when comparing them. On a whole, the good aspects of the ME3 DLCs can’t save the collection from its flaws, and overall the experience has not been a good one. I sure hope whatever game I play next with add-ons can do better.

Wow, I can’t believe the length of this rant. I swear to Isfa I’m never spending this much time on a DLC rant again. No one even reads these damn things! I have got to be out of my fucking mind.

* Although there doesn’t seem to be any reason (save general incompetence) for Bioware to have killed Nyreen off so quickly after introducing her, I really hope that the rationalization was not that her death would make Aria angry enough to fall for Petrovsky’s (highly stupid) trap. Because if there’s one thing this DLC has established by that point, it’s that Aria is ALREADY pissed off about this whole situation, and an enraged charge for those last few steps of the way would have been plenty believable without Nyreen’s death.


  1. It just seems like an epic is too much to ask for. Even if "hindsight is everything," I still think the stories rarely hold up. Even then less epic-ish stories like in TES games bring the whole experience down for me. Could expectations of how "serious" the fiction is be where writers set themselves up to fall?

  2. I hope that Mass effect 3 isn't in the runing for best RPG of 2012

  3. I'm only going by the first game, the scandal of the third game's ending, and this article.

    Synthetic. Is that word universal some universal trigger for "let's get retarded in here"?

    Captcha: visser 36

  4. Having read your updated Omega review, I find it a an amusing idea that Shepard at some point might feel particularly bitchy and be a Silent Protagonist for a while(or the whole game), and communicate through his immensely expressive eyebrows. Now THAT'S a piece of DLC I would be interested in.

    That aside, I'm almost somewhat close to wrapping up ME2, and am looking towards ME3. I should most definitely never check out Omega? I'm probably going to get From Ashes, and maybe Citadel.

    1. Well look, sir, don't let me force you not to experience it or anything. But yeah, my recommendation is to pass it by. Hell, you can always just watch it on Youtube to see if you would, in fact, want to play through it before making a decision one way or another.

    2. I was summarizing your opinions more than anything else. I'll check it out, in one way or another.