Frivolous Waste of Time

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Mass Effect 3: Leviathan DLC for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

Mass Effect 3 is probably the most controversial game to be released this year. The fan loathing for the clearly rushed and poorly thought out ending was such that the games creators decided to release a free Extended Cut to improve it, and to clarify the confusing events that took place. The DLC schedule was naturally pushed back somewhat to accommodate this, and so we receive our first major single player DLC somewhat later than we expected. DLC for Mass Effect 3 is going to inevitably face an uphill battle for success; since DLC continuing Commander Shepard’s story is pretty much impossible whatever ending you wind up with, and I suspect Bioware are saving adventures with new characters for future games, the DLC has to be set during the run up to the end of the game. DLC for Mass Effect 1 and 2 felt as if it served a purpose; the actions you take in these bonus missions could one day influence the eventual ending of the trilogy, so they were worth playing as you know that they will have an influence on the conclusion to the story. Now that that story is concluded, we know that the events of the DLC can’t be too important as we all already know what the ending is. The question therefore is, does the DLC stand on its own as a solid chunk of entertainment, and do it’s revelations still excite interest even if we know that, ultimately, it has no real bearing on the story?

For me, yes. I personally found the narrative of this DLC utterly gripping, and I was thoroughly satisfied with its revelations about the Mass Effect universe. Hearing rumours of a vast creature which had once killed a Reaper, Shepard seeks the advice of scientists and researchers looking into this mythical ‘Leviathan’, and is drawn into a conspiracy of secrets and deceptions spanning millennia. It’s a fascinating set up, and it’s played very well. For people who may have lost some faith in Bioware’s story telling abilities after the fiasco that was the original ending should be reassured here.

However, there is little in the way of gameplay innovation. You will be engaging in plenty of shootouts, scanning lots of planets and encountering the same enemies you met countless times in the main game. The core gameplay of Mass Effect is pretty strong, if not it’s greatest strength, so it doesn’t necessarily really matter. There are very few DLCs which can significantly alter gameplay styles without the need to rebuild the game from the ground up, and Leviathan is no exception. There is a rather pleasant little addition of some detective work for Shepard on the Citadel as he explores a new location looking for clues. It’s very simple, and there’s no actual reasoning or deduction required of the player, and it’s in no way as deep as something like L.A Noire, but it’s a nice little addition. It was these quiet moments which I most enjoyed, in which you can let yourself take a breath and get nice and immersed in the wonderful and fascinating Mass Effect universe. I truly hope that Bioware expand upon this concept in future Mass Effect games, rather than continuing down the gung-ho guns blazing route that has seemed to be their developmental trajectory over the series. Imagine a game where you play as a C-Sec officer solving crimes on the Citadel? So, whilst there’s little new or innovative in the gameplay of this DLC, it doesn’t make the base game actually worse which is all you can really expect from  DLC gameplay wise in my opinion.

Where this DLC really shines is in its visual design and scope. I seriously expected to simply be dropped off by the Normandy on some new planet, shoot through some corridors and meet some new characters. Instead, we are given access to three new planets, giving this DLC a pleasantly galaxy spanning feeling. These locations all feel varied, and contain some of the best spectacles and most tense atmospheres in the series. I won’t give examples as I don’t want to spoil it, but there are some truly epic moments in this DLC. In the DLCs for Mass Effect 1 and 2 your squad companions were sadly mute due to the difficulty and expense involved in recording new dialogue for your team. I was therefore extremely pleasantly surprised to find that every  one of your squad mates has new dialogue, chiming in during the missions and even giving their input on the Normandy between them. This goes a long way to making this DLC feel like a complete package, and shows that Bioware didn’t cut any corners with this release. Perhaps this signals a shift away from the creative and design laziness which marred the main game, and also products such as Dragon Age II. It’s certainly a bit much to say that Bioware is back on top form, but it certainly signals that they are perhaps learning from their recent errors.

So, is Leviathan worth it? DLC is viciously hated by many gamers, as they cite brief, overpriced DLCs cynically stripped from the main game to exploit for cash later on. The DLCs of Assassins Creed II, Dragon Age and Batman: Arkham City are examples of how DLC  can go horribly wrong, but Bioware haven’t fallen into that trap here. Leviathan is a wonderful palate cleanser to get the bad taste of the original endings out of your mouth and let you fall back in love with the Mass Effect universe. If it had been part of the main game, it would have been my favourite part. 

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