Thursday, March 28, 2013

General RPGs' Voyeuristic Paralysis Syndrome

Unnecessary Paternal Ties Syndrome, Love Hina Syndrome, Anime Girl Run Syndrome, now this...Maybe I ought to make a glossary for this blog’s special terms.

You know what I’m getting kind of sick of? Moments in RPGs when the heroes of the game just sit there and do nothing as a scene goes sour in front of them. I call it Voyeuristic Paralysis Syndrome. It strikes an entire group of heroes at once and renders them totally incapable of doing anything useful or heroic as events unfold around them even though this is exactly the kind of shit they’re supposed to stop. It could be sitting back and letting someone else do all the hero work during a disaster even though they themselves have the power to help, like that moment in Mega Man Star Force 2 when Sonia just sits back with the rest of Geo’s friends and lets him go save the town as Mega Man, even though she could transform into Harp Note (what a stupid hero name) and help him, like she had the sense to just a little while before. It could be just the heroes standing silent like morons in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 as they watch someone deny their dark side, even though the heroes have seen several times already that this denial powers that dark side up and makes it into an annoying boss fight. All they’d have to do to avoid half the bosses in that game is to tell someone, “Please don’t say the words “You’re not me.”” By far the most memorable and iconic of Voyeuristic Paralysis Syndrome, though, are the moments in RPGs where a good guy’s getting beaten to a pulp and his friends just stand there like fucktards and watch without lifting a finger to help.

Example: Mass Effect 3. Assuming your Shepard isn’t a Renegade tool, and assuming that you’re a competent player, then there will be a point in the game wherein lame villain Kai Leng attempts to assassinate the Salarian Councilor, but is foiled by Shepard’s former comrade Thane. What ensues is a close-quarters combat between Kai Leng and Thane, in which Kai Leng is forever immortalized as the wannabe tough guy who could only barely keep up with a dude currently going through the last stages of a fatal, debilitating disease. The scene ends with Kai Leng managing to stab Thane with his laughably anachronistic sword, and running off like the weak little bitch-clown he is.

Throughout this entire scene, Commander Shepard and his allies just stand there watching. It is only after Shepard’s friend has been fatally stabbed that he thinks to step forward and shoot at Kai Leng.

This is what I’m talking about. Now, Shepard’s no ultra-assassin like Thane, nor a prancing little glee club ninja like Kai Leng, so yeah, he’s not going to be able to keep up with them at hand-to-hand combat, but it’s well-established that Shepard’s highly competent at unarmed fighting all the same, so it’s not like he’d get in Thane’s way or something. All Shepard would need to do in this scene is provide enough of an attacking threat to Kai Leng that the pretentious jackass would be distracted, forced to split his attention between Thane and Shepard, and this whole fight could easily have ended a lot differently. It’s already a close enough fight that it looks like Kai Leng wins more by luck than skill. The addition of Shepard to it would have made a significantly positive impact.

And there’s always the fact that Shepard and his companions have, y’know...guns. I’m somewhat mystified as to why Shepard doesn’t see fit to open fire on Kai Leng to help Thane out. Okay, yes, you can argue that with Thane and Kai Leng going at each other as fast and hard as they are, Shepard runs the risk of shooting Thane. Fair point. But Shepard’s not exactly unused to hitting moving targets, his companion EDI has advance combat programming that we could only assume contains a very functional targeting system, and his companion Liara has Biotic powers and could presumably use them to knock Kai Leng and Thane apart and down to the ground, at which point there’s no problem opening fire on the asshat without endangering Thane (Shepard himself may have Biotic powers, for that matter, depending on how the player chose to build him, although God forbid Bioware actually acknowledge any individualism in Shepard’s abilities during a cutscene). And lastly, there’s clearly a moment during the fight in which Thane and Kai Leng are standing reasonably distanced from one another for long enough that Shepard and company have no excuse not to start shooting.

Once again, though, instead of any of that logical stuff happening, Shepard and his pals just stand around and fucking watch as his buddy gets punked.

This problem of characters inexplicably just watching as their supposed friends get brutally murdered in front of them is not an RPG-only thing, not by a long shot (Hollywood has been particularly fond in the past 50+ years of the idea that women are incapable of assisting their rescuers in fighting for their own lives). But I have to say, the most shocking moments of it, in my mind, always come from RPGs. That’s probably due in part to the fact that in an RPG, the friends who are just standing there partaking of your punishment are usually all powerful warriors who have already proven their combat prowess in approximately 200 to 2000 random battles.

It’s probably also due in large part to that scene in Xenosaga 3 where KOS-MOS spends a good 5 minutes being thoroughly worked over by T-elos, a faster, stronger, combat-smarter android. Like, Jesus Christ, guys, it’s apparent from the start of that fight who’s gonna win it. You think maybe you guys should use those guns, or that sword, or that fucking large combat cyborg to help out somehow? I mean, they’re just standing there, minute after fucking minute, watching T-elos smash KOS-MOS into parts, and they don’t do ANYTHING. At least Shepard can lamely cling to the excuse that Thane’s fight with Kai Leng was a short one. KOS-MOS’s beatdown takes long enough that you could plan out and finish packing a basket for a reasonably decent-sized picnic before it ends.

What makes it even worse, if that’s even possible, is that later in the game the party encounters T-elos again, and THEN several party members (Shion, Jin, and Ziggy) DO try to attack her, and while she’s obviously way too much for them, they’re clearly shown to be able to distract her enough, to pose enough potential threat, that KOS-MOS could take advantage of it for her own attacks (and it could work vice-versa, too; KOS-MOS obviously has the capacity to fully engage T-elos’s attentions, which would leave the others free to capitalize on that. T-elos may prevent Ziggy from scoring a hit in the fight we do see, but if he had the opportunity to land one, one can assume it would be damaging). Where was this unified attack earlier in the game, when KOS-MOS was still underclassed and really needed the assistance? That sequence is so fucking ridiculous that I really think it’s why I now associate Voyeuristic Paralysis more with RPGs than any other media form.

Now I understand the storytelling imperative of this phenomenon. For purposes of the plot, the writers feel that it’s important for a character to be locked in a one-on-one struggle against an enemy, and for the result of that struggle to be uninfluenced by the other characters. The writers at Bioware wanted Thane to go out like a champ and they wanted to establish Kai Leng as a dangerous badass.* The writers (if such they can be called) for Xenosaga 3 wanted to establish T-elos’s supposed dominance over KOS-MOS and to remove KOS-MOS from the picture for a while, as well as create a transition into the lengthy part of the game where the party is stumbling around back in time inside Shion’s head.** And so on and so forth--each game’s writers who allow their characters to be overcome with Voyeuristic Paralysis are doing so because there’s something they want to accomplish with the scene that they feel is necessary for the game’s plot, and they feel that it can only be done by having a single particular character step up to the challenge. I understand the reasoning. But that just doesn’t excuse the fact that it makes no sense for a group of normally proactive heroes to just stand around and watch a situation play out. Some allowance can be made during occasions where the characters facing off have some personal rivalry, of course, but that’s only sometimes the case.

The thing that makes this whole issue really silly is the incredible ease with which it can be solved, which a huge number of RPGs are smart enough to utilize. It’s really, really simple. If you want your one character to fight, probably to the death, alone against an enemy, just make sure that character’s friends can’t help. Why does Galuf’s death in Final Fantasy 5 not seem as silly as Thane’s in Mass Effect 3? Simple--because Galuf’s allies are all down for the count, unable to contribute to his fatal battle to protect them. Why do I find KOS-MOS’s gratuitous beatdown in Xenosaga 3 so stupid, yet have no serious complaint about General Leo’s fatal, futile struggle against Kefka in Final Fantasy 6? Because when Leo’s getting stabbed, his numerous allies have all been knocked unconscious and/or killed already.*** All it would have taken for the Xenosaga gang to have a reason not to be helping KOS-MOS was some mild nerve gas, all it would have taken for Shepard’s non-involvement to make sense was a flash grenade, and it only gets easier for the many magic-involving RPGs out there, since you can just whip up some random paralysis spell/power whenever it’s convenient.

Is that incredibly cheap? Absolutely. But is it better than the nonsensical notion of having your cast break character and do absolutely nothing? Definitely. I’ll take conventional and cheap writing over illogical and stupid writing any day.

* That they only achieved half of these ambitions is irrelevant.

** That this is weird and makes no sense is irrelevant. Also, expected.

*** Although I do have to say that the actual act of them being taken down earlier was dumb, and sort of a case of Voyeuristic Paralysis itself, as they all just kinda watched themselves get blasted by the Magitek Armors. But, at the time of Leo’s last stand, there’s no one to help him.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood

Thanks a bunch to my friend Jolt, who handily kept and sent the conversation I had with him that became this rant, and to my friend Racewing, who, for reasons utterly unfathomable to me, is a Sonic the Hedgehog fan, and allowed me to double-check some of my perspectives against his knowledge. Kudos, sirs.

Hey, guys. Remember when I had good things to say about Bioware games? I miss those days.

Alright, so. It started kinda slow with Super Mario RPG for the SNES, but there’s been an increase over the last five years or so of RPGs being made about video game characters or series who are associated with other game genres. Mario keeps churning them out, Mega Man got in on it lately with the Mega Man Star Force series (if, that is, you really want to call that whiny pile of sad who stars in the game “Mega Man”), and apparently, someone at Bioware thought it’d be a neat idea to get Sonic the Hedgehog into the genre. I could have quite happily gone my entire life without Sonic invading my adopted genre, but this was back in 2008, when Bioware was still known for good quality and treating their work with some respect, so you’d think it’d be pretty okay, right?

I’m sure France had every reason to think the Maginot Line was impregnable, too.

So what’s wrong with Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood? Well, I could just say “everything,” and call it a day, but we all know I love hearing the sound of my own voice too much for that.* So let’s delve into detail, as is my wont.

We’ll start off with the light stuff: battle mechanics. Now, you know gameplay isn’t my concern, but for those that consider it important, SCTDB has some major issues, at least for me. I can’t speak for others--apparently several reviewers found the game very simple and easy, so maybe I just suck. But for me, the frustration level was high because the effectiveness of battle powers and characters was imbalanced quite often--and that’s when I could actually get those characters and powers to work right, since the game employs a somewhat poorly-executed timed-hit system. Like, there would be many times when some characters would be so unable to keep up that it reminded me of how badly skewed Sailor Moon: Another Story was, except that with the Sailor Moon RPG, once you hit a certain level, you’d go from just barely grazing a boss to utterly obliterating them with ease--there was no middle ground, but you could at least taste both extremes. With this Sonic game, some characters just never seem to be able to get out of extreme ineffectualness.

Additionally, I have no damn clue what anyone would do in the game if they didn’t recruit Cream, the secret character. Again, could just be me sucking, so take this with a grain of salt, but her healing powers only barely managed to sustain the party most of the time, and no one else in the game seems to have anything to speak of when it comes to healing. I think Tails has like one underpowered single-target healing skill, and that’s it. I think that it’s a mistake to make any one character in your cast indispensable, and if you’re gonna make that mistake, that character should NOT be the one whose recruitment can be missed!

One other thing about the gameplay factor is that the game didn’t seem to control all that well. I mean, it wasn’t unplayable or anything even close to that, but all the same it felt quite unpolished, even clunky. It’s not a big thing, obviously, but it’s still not a point in the game’s favor (particularly, I would think, from the perspective of an actual Sonic fan, since the rest of the Sonic series is pretty gameplay-dependant, to the best of my knowledge).

But anyway, enough about the unimportant gameplay bunk. Let’s talk about what matters: the characters and story. First of all, if you are not already a fairly knowledgeable fan of the Sonic the Hedgehog series, you are going to get left behind, and often. Now, I know the game is meant for Sonic fans, meant for the people who WILL know all these characters and be familiar with past events vaguely referenced and pre-established plot devices. But I still think it’s reasonable to say this is a strike against this game, because when you have a major shift in genre for your product, it means your audience changes, too. Sure, many of the fans of the Sonic series will and no doubt did follow this genre-switch from action platformers and the like to an RPG, but the change introduces an entire new potential demographic to win over, too--players who regularly and partially, or even entirely exclusively, play RPGs, for whom this game will be a first experience with Sonic’s franchise. The Knights of the Old Republic games required little knowledge of the Star Wars movies to understand and enjoy, for example. A good genre-changer should also be an adequate introduction to the series, and not just seem to assume that everyone is going to have a familiarity with a series that’s been adding to itself for almost 20 years now. Mind you, it’s a minor flaw in the long run, but still worth mentioning, I think. I’m fortunate enough to have picked up some minor familiarity with the basic characters of the Sonic universe, so I was familiar enough with Sonic, Tails, Amy, Rouge, Cream, Eggman, and Shadow that the lack of proper background given to them didn’t trip me up, although I had no idea who Big the Cat or Omega, that random red robot thing, were. But overall, I at least was not left completely clueless about what was going on, as could easily have been the case.

Whether you're a knowledgeable fan or a newbie, however, there's no denying that the characters involved in the game should have some reasonable character development of some sort, correct?

That did not happen.

Sonic remains Sonic the entire time, mostly (he's kinda watered down a bit, I think). The most character development you could say they give him is that you can, if you play your cards right, have him take part in one extremely brief, wholly uninteresting scene of romantic implications with Amy. Now frankly, if I were to pretend for one second that I care half as much about Sonic’s love life as I do about the fart I just released a minute ago, I'd probably be dissatisfied with this scene, since it's not romantically fulfilling at all, and it comes from more or less goddamn nowhere. Maybe there are implications that Sonic has an interest in her in previous games and other series installments (though from what little I’ve been told, there aren't really), but in this one, there's really no indication whatsoever that he returns her feelings in the game until this scene, and even the stuff you need to opt to have had him say to her in order during the game to access this scene is generally pretty platonically positive--it’s really not so much him being shown to like her as him just not being outright hurtful to her. So his 0 character development remains a 0 regardless.

Rouge seems to still be a licentious howler out for her own personal gain and little to nothing else, which stands out not only as a case of her being incredibly under-developed, but also a little unbelievable. I mean, from what little I know of the Sonic series backstory, she has been involved with so much ridiculously convoluted hero shit on every side of the equation that it seems insane to me that she would not at SOME point have developed SOME sort of motivation beyond "sneakily flirt my way into money." But whatever, I guess.

Amy has no intellectual or emotional existence beyond her infatuation with Sonic, a personality type that always annoys me--I hate it when writers decide some female character's ONLY distinguishing point of character focus has to be obsessive romantic interest.** I realize that this has probably been the case for the character of Amy prior to this game, but that doesn’t mean Bioware couldn’t have added to the character, so it’s not excused. This one-dimensional personality type keeps Amy from having any actual character, it RUINED Prier from La Pucelle Tactics, and it made Martha the most boring Companion to date in the present Doctor Who. God forbid a female should have more than one single solitary thought in her head, and God equally forbid that thought be something other than unhealthy emotional dependence on some guy.

As for the rest of the cast...the random red robot has no character development to speak of. Big certainly doesn’t. Knuckles only has any characterization if you count his occasionally giving some slight context to the echidna legends and history and so on, but if I didn’t count Fran’s encyclopedic knowledge in Final Fantasy 12 of all things magical that she displayed whenever it was convenient to the plot and the writers’ subpar abilities to perform their job as characterization, I’m sure shootin’ not gonna do it for Knuckles. The new character, Shade, has a backstory, but it's quite boring and about as cliche as could be imagined, your standard “Proud Warrior of a Tribe that was Abused a Bajillion Years Ago Who Has a Grudge But Eventually Realizes Her Obviously Evil and Obviously Manipulative Boss is Actually Evil, and Manipulating Her” package that you’ve seen dozens of better incarnations of previously. Cream’s practically a non-entity. Shadow is the same boring, shallow brooder that made him such a hit with vapid, sexually-frustrated furry fangirls in the first place, and since he is basically completely superfluous to the plot, I’m gonna have to assume that his presence in this game is solely to boost sales with that demographic.

I will say that Eggman and Tails have character development, sort of. Eggman is acting reformed and exploring how one can act like a mad scientist while working for the good guys. This is pretty much the highlight of the game, depressingly, even though it’s fairly obvious that it’s all a ruse. But aside from how obviously false it is, it’s done pretty well, I guess. Tails's character development is that he enjoys finally having a friend and equal in Eggman, since they're both the brainy ones of the team. This is actually a pretty decent idea, and given the folks that Tails is running around with, it’s not exactly far-fetched that he might feel intellectually lonely. I can appreciate this characterization.

Or rather, I could, if it were not pretty obvious that Eggman is putting on a charade...and if it were not 100% PURE FANTASY RIDICULOUSNESS that any of them, Tails especially given he's been with Sonic the longest, would actually even remotely buy Eggman's reformation, even if Eggman were putting on a performance so great as to make Kevin Spacy jealous. The guy has been trying to murder you all for over 2 decades, Tails, in games and comics and cartoons and anime and I don’t even know what else. GET A CLUE.

Anyways, that's the cast. It's not good. It's underdeveloped, half of the characters are frankly a bit dislikable (Shadow, Knuckles, Rouge, the random robot, Sonic himself), and the one redeeming area of the cast is built off the assumption that after 20 years of unrepentant evil and plans that relied on deceiving his foes, no one has figured out that maybe the main villain does not really mean it when he says he's good now.

The main villain of the series in general, I mean. The main villain of this actual game is just cliched as hell. Which is another sizeable problem right there.

So the cast is a dud, but what about the plot? A well-written story can be more than enough to carry a game to success, after all. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. The writing doesn’t seem to be terribly cohesive, first of all, although I’m willing to accept that my occasional difficulty in keeping track of the magical pseudo-science bullshit here and there could have been my lack of intimate knowledge of the Sonic series. But when things were straightened out in my mind, all this game ever seemed to amount to was generic "formerly cast out peoples of the distant past come back for vengeance for the hell of it" crap, complete with the obligatory "thought she was totally into this vengeance thing but now has doubts for vague reasons so she joins our side" character. There’s nothing new here, and certainly nothing interesting. Despite being so maddeningly predictable that it almost physically harmed me, as well as embarrassingly obviously rushed, Eggman's sequel-bait betrayal at the game's end was literally the only part of the entire game's plot that stood out at all--and I’m honestly not even sure why it does!

So yeah. In the end, anyone who’s not a Sonic fan has no reason to play Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood. The majority of the poorly-introduced cast is one-dimensional, what character development is there is either an extremely overused cliche or doesn’t make much sense and doesn’t last anyway, and the villain’s generic and boring. The gameplay isn’t done well, and the music is kinda crappy (didn’t really have a chance to mention that above, but there you go). And finally, the plot is a bit messy yet irritatingly simplistic, and completely unrewarding.

And you know what? I think that anyone who IS a Sonic fan also has no reason to play it. The characters that fans like seem clumsily handled by writers determined not to explore them at all, and whether or not you happen to like the universe in which it takes place, a cheap, bland story is still a cheap, bland story. Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is a shoddy, careless product, and if I had to take a guess, I’d say Bioware developed it with SquareEnix-esque intentions, by which I mean, made in the hopes that Sonic fans have all the consumer discretion of a 4-year-old seeing Dora the Explorer's face pasted poorly onto a cheap Walmart backpack so shoddily made that even the 10-year-old kid in China was embarrassed as he stitched it.***

The really amusing thing to me is that according to Wikipedia, the developers at Bioware were big enthusiasts of the Sonic the Hedgehog universe. This slop is what FANS of the series came up with! Apparently, Sega would’ve done better to hand the project over to someone like me, someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the Sonic series, because even I could have and would have put more effort into making this a decent title than Bioware did.

* Okay, yes, typed text isn’t really the sound of my own voice technically, but how do you know I don’t read these things aloud to myself?

** An obsessive romantic interest that usually makes no sense, for that matter. Most of the time these characters are chasing after people who obviously have 0 interest in them (and even actively seek to avoid them), and/or are mean to them or just mean in general.

*** Of course, this game, and the Shadow the Hedgehog game, for that matter, were both commercial successes from what I gather, so apparently this kind of insulting assumption of a fanbase’s tasteless idiocy is, as with SquareEnix, a profitable one.

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.