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Mass Effect: Andromeda for PS4, Xbox One and PC

Genuinely bad AAA games are rare nowadays. Your annual Call of Duty is probably always going to be at least competent and well put together; so much money is poured into these things that the most common issue is blandness, rather than actual disaster. Actual disasters are few and far between, with Assassin’s Creed: Unity being one of the few that springs to mind. Mass Effect: Andromeda is one of the roughest, most frustrating AAA games I’ve played in years. Unlike some of the more hyperbolic reactions it has garnered, I don’t think it’s awful. There are things to like here, but troubled game development is writ large over almost every part of the game. Some rough AAA games such as Final Fantasy XV can be so oddball and weird that they loop round to being loveable, despite their flaws, but Mass Effect: Andromeda is simultaneously too ambitious and conservative in design to achieve even this. Mass Effect: Andromeda has its moments, but it’s difficult to view it as anything but a failure.

Sidestepping the endings of Mass Effect 3, Mass Effect; Andromeda takes place 600 years later, in the Andromeda Galaxy. The Andromeda Initiative sent forth massive arks of Milky Way species in stasis, to awaken in their new home and establish a new frontier. Upon arrival, the Initiative discover that the Heleus Cluster of the Andromeda Galaxy is more dangerous than they thought, with a mysterious phenomenon known as the Scourge damaging the ark ships and a hostile alien force, the Kett, determined to wipe them out. Commander Shepard is gone and replaced with Pathfinder Ryder; the Pathfinder is the one who is in charge of scouting planets and establishing new outposts. Only the human ark, the Hyperion, as well as the central hub of the Nexus, have made their way to the intended destination. Ryder must set out with a new crew and her ship the Tempest to establish new homes for the Initiative, fight the kett and find the missing ark ships.

Andromeda’s story stumbles out of the gate. It attempts to take the series in a whole new direction, but in the process forgets what people liked about the original trilogy. The original trilogy had a brilliant sense of humanity as the new kids on the block, the upstarts. There was a real sense of defined history which impacted the events of the story: the Rachni Wars, the Genophage, the Quarian creation of the Geth. The setting felt full and alive and engaging. Mass Effect: Andromeda goes for a more Star Trek approach, focusing on exploration and discovering new lands. Without this sense of culture and society, the whole setting feels unbearably bland. Everyone keeps going on about how utterly alien it is, but it’s no more unique than anywhere from the original setting; we still have an ice planet, a jungle planet, a desert planet etc. The returning races from the original trilogy are the Asari, Salarians, Turians and Krogan. A lot of the weirder and funnier species make no appearance, such as the Quarians, Hanar, Elcor or Volus. The new species don’t exactly fill the void; the Kett are mindless and lack in any sort of personality. The Heleus natives, the Angara, are generally likeable, being built on empathy and emotional connection, but really they just feel like a combination of the original Council races. They have the empathy of Asari, the intelligence of the Salarians and the battle-prowess of the Turians, but I don’t think people are going to be clamouring for the return of the Angara whenever this series comes back. The new galaxy setting had the opportunity to double down on some of the glorious weirdness from the original trilogy, but ends up as far more conservative.

There’s little sense of narrative drive, with frustratingly vague goals. This may be a consequence of the open world approach taken, but Dragon Age: Inquisition did the same thing and I felt still managed to tell a coherent story. Where the original trilogies had an unknowable and terrifying foe, the Reapers, lurking in the background, it was fronted by believable and engaging villains, with even forces like the Geth and the Rachni imbued with depth and clear motivation. The lack of an engaging antagonist makes the whole thing feel directionless. I overall liked the new crew, particularly the elderly warrior Krogan Drack and the Angaran charmer Jaarl. Still, when you look back at the squad in Mass Effect 2, possibly the best team of characters I’ve seen in an RPG, they never come close to the same status. The voice acting is generally good, but the writing is much more mixed. Outside of some core main characters, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of entirely forgettable quest givers and NPCs. Much was made of Hainly Abrams, a transgender woman who within seconds of meeting reveals that she is trans, as well as her deadname. Transgender representation in games is a good thing; Bioware themselves pretty much nailed it with Krem in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Although the dialogue has been altered and patched, it reveals how utterly shallow these characters are. I could tell you much more about Krem than the fact he is trans, but with Hainly Abrams I could tell you nothing else about her. So much of the writing is entirely shallow, with characters I spent hours with but could tell you almost nothing about. The best parts of the game are the loyalty missions and there are some lovely character moments, but we lack the tension and conflict which undercut the ‘BEST TEAM EVAR’ dynamic if the Normandy. One area that did work for me was Ryder herself. She’s a bit more of a defined character than Shepard and you can’t really be a complete bastard, but that wouldn’t have been appropriate for the story told here. More often than not, Ryder is sardonic and irreverent, but never irritating. Overall, I think I liked Ryder more than Shepard but unfortunately the people she was interacting with were never as good.

I normally mention technical issues towards the end of a review, but they have to be brought to the forefront here. Now, I’m played this game a couple of patches deep, so the now infamous animation issues weren’t quite as pronounced as they were at launch but, well, they’re still not good. Almost every scene is undermined by them; the characters always look off, never quite seem right, in the way they stand, the way they move, their facial expressions. I’ve read and watched a lot of interesting stuff about this and I totally appreciate the nightmarish complexity of a dynamic animation system a game like this requires, but taking into account the reasons why this problem exists doesn’t actually stop it from being a problem, as sympathetic as I am for the fact that this likely was not the fault of the animation team themselves. There are major issues with the plotting and writing already, but even the stronger scenes (and there are plenty of good ones) are undermined by the animation issue. I suspect that the issues are more fundamental than any patch can solve.

The core structure to Andromeda is very different to the previous games, and resembles Dragon Age; Inquisition more than anything else. Now, I actually really liked Inquisition, although I’m aware that a lot of people didn’t. Sure, not every side quest was a winner, but the focus on exploration was well married to a central plot and I liked the variety of zones. It got blown out of the water by The Wtrcher 3 a few months later, but I still feel that Inquisition is underappreciated. Andromeda attempts the same structure, but is less successful. There are a handful of explorable worlds, which are usually pretty big. All but one use the Nomad, a replacement for the Mako from the first game, an all-terrain vehicle which lets you race around the planet. It controls pretty nicely and has quite impressive grip for more vertical movement, particularly after a few upgrades. Most of your time in the game will be spent getting a mission, driving somewhere in your Nomad, shooting some stuff, and returning. Mission variety isn’t great, but I did like how the game makes it very clear which missions you can avoid. The missions are categorised four different ways; main story quests, loyalty quests/quests attached to a particular supporting character, Heleus tasks which see you improving the different planets, and ‘additional tasks.’ Do the first three, but ignore the ‘additional tasks’, there’s almost nothing worth doing there. I wish more games made it so clear what was filler; one thing I hated about Fallout 4 was the way I would feel tricked into doing boring procedurally generated quests because they were sorted alongside proper ones made by an actual game designer. If you take this approach and ignore the boring missions, the issue of padding and filler becomes much less egregious.

Possibly the only unqualified success of Mass Effect: Andromeda is the combat; it may initially look similar to the original trilogy, but this is mostly superficial as this is most certainly not a cover shooter. It took a while to adjust, but this is a combat system which relies on constant movement and momentum. I went all in with biotics and shotguns, so my approach was largely based around teleporting across the environments and blasting enemies up close. With some cleverly placed upgrades, you can almost break the entire combat in some quite pleasing ways. It stopped being challenging in any way after a few hours, but as a sheer power fantasy I never quite got tired of it. I don’t know how fun other builds are, but I can’t recommend a biotic/shotgun build more highly. My enjoyment of the combat helped to alleviate a lot of the pacing issues; sure, the side quests mostly are of a ‘go here, kill this’ variety, but that never really bothered me.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is a disappointment; it has some strengths, but it’s clear that it’s fascinatingly troubled development has left it damaged in a way no patch can fix. There was a lot of potential here, but I think now the best thing that Bioware could do is give it a few years, then return to the Milky Way for an actual Mass Effect 4, leaving Andromeda as a spin-off. I didn’t have an awful time playing this game, it’s OK, but when it was released in the same month as Breath of the Wild, Nier: Automata and Horizon: Zero Dawn, OK isn’t good enough.

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Dragon Age: Inquisition for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC

Dragon Age: Origins was a game I really liked, but didn’t quite love. The world was epic and everything felt impactful, but the combat didn’t really work for me and it all felt a little cliché. I, more controversially, also really liked Dragon Age II. I loved the characters and felt that Kirkwall as a well-drawn setting, but loathed the re-using of locations and the sheer laziness which permeated the whole thing. Dragon Age has always been a series which sat below other RPG series in my estimation, something to tide me over whilst I waited for the next Elder Scrolls or Mass Effect. That is, until now. Dragon Age: Inquisition pressed my buttons hard, getting dangerously close to an obsession, something which an adult with a full time job can’t really afford to have.

Your decisions in previous games can be imported through the well-designed companion website, The Dragon Age Keep. It may not be the most elegant solution, but BioWare really made an effort to make the process as painless and possible and I was able to cobble together my world state quite nicely. Whatever your decisions, Inquisition deals with the Mage/Templar civil war triggered in Kirkwall at the end of Dragon Age II. The Chantry under Divine Justinia has managed to broker a peace summit between the rebel mages and Templar leaders for a meeting known as the Conclave. Whatever your backstory, your protagonist is a spy sent to watch the proceedings. The meeting is disrupted when a massive explosion opens a breach into the Fade, creating smaller rifts all around Thedas. The only survivor to emerge from the catastrophe is your character, who has gained the ability to close the rifts into the Fade. With the Chantry in chaos, the ancient order known as the Inquisition is revived to try to fix the plague of problems facing the world. Considered by many to be the Herald of Andraste, your character eventually becomes known as the Inquisitor, a figure who may be respected, feared or loved based on your actions.

The actual narrative of Inquisition really isn’t that interesting on paper. The story is pretty much your standard oncoming apocalypse doom scenario. The biggest problem is the villain, who shows up a little too late into the game and doesn’t have enough of a presence throughout to feel properly threatening. That said, it all ends up just working. Inquisition was the most I’ve cared about a BioWare party since Mass Effect 2 with a range of complex and engaging characters. Among the doom and gloom there are moments of levity to be found which ended up being my most memorable moments with the game; I may not remember every fight, but I will remember the Qunari mercenary leader Iron Bull giving me a dressing down for potential rudeness towards his transgender second in command (and then a much more literal dressing down at the conclusion of his romance if you know what I mean). I’ll remember cookies on the roof with Sera, Cullen’s gambling mishaps and a chat on the balcony with Josephine. In the end though my favourite character was, well, me. I decided to play a female Elven mage, as I’d generally only played male characters in games before and I fancied a change. I don’t know if they’re all this good, but the English accented female voice actor for the Inquisitor is fantastic. By not simply trying to create an avatar for myself, I instead got to treat the Inquisitor as a character in her own right and I found the whole thing elevated for it. Inquisition is a game where I couldn’t stop thinking about with characters I almost miss like real friends. It is proof to the lie that the Gamergaters out there might spread that progressive narratives detract from quality of the gameplay. BioWare, rather than pandering to a specific and narrow white straight male audience (of which I’m a member myself), instead tried to make a game for everyone and succeeded with absolute aplomb.

So, I’ve already gushed for ages about the story, but what about the actual game itself? To paraphrase Douglas Adams; Thedas is big. Really big. Like, you just can’t believe how mindbogglingly big it is. Rather than being truly open world in the style of Elder Scrolls, Inquisition contains over a dozen open areas filled with quests and things to do. Some of these are bigger than others, but all are well defined and interesting, allowing a variety which isn’t quite possible in a game like Skyrim. You can be adventuring in the verdant Hinterlands one moment before hopping over to the desert Forbidden Oasis next. There is a dazzling array of side quests, some of which are brilliant, containing mini-stories of their own, but with some others which are a bit more standard such as collecting 10 pieces of ram meat. Many have criticised these, but I wasn’t quite so bothered. The main reason is the War Table which allows you to have an overview of the Inquisition as it grows, amassing Influence which gives you access to Fallout-esque perks.

On the wartable you can set your advisors to complete tasks which may give you new rewards which are completed in real time, with the choice of advisor affecting how long it takes for the task to be completed and the reward you get. The Assassin’s Creed games have had a similar system before, but I found it a lot more compelling here. You amass Power through quests and side-quests which is used to unlock new areas and quests both within the main story and the side quests. This means that even collecting ten ram meat felt like it was building towards building the Inquisition and helped to recontextualise actions which may have been dull otherwise. It’s a trick, but a trick that works. Of course, you can get away without doing a huge amount of the side stuff, and if this sort of stuff bothers you just don’t do it; you’ll still likely get at least fifty hours of playtime out of the game. My one irritation was that towards the end I had amassed way more power than I had anything to do with, so a use for the large amounts of excess power would have been nice; perhaps the ability to purchase influence which I had not maxed out at the end?

So, we’ve established that you have a lot to do, but how do you do it? Many decried the more action packed combat in Dragon Age II, but being the filthy casual I am I actually preferred it. Here, we have an excellent compromise. All combat can be played in real time, but you can also pause at the touch of a button and set up all party actions manually to gain a greater tactical control over the battles. I mostly played in real time, but in some tricky battles I paused to give myself the edge. On the harder difficulties I imagine that it’s a necessity. BioWare have been pulled in two directions for a while now; their old school fan base veterans of Baldur’s Gate have decried the loss of complexity in Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 3 while their EA masters have tried to push them towards greater accessibility and ease for the casual gamer. BioWare haven’t quite got the balance right in their last few games, but here they really pull it off. Inquisition hasn’t just reinvigorated my interest in Dragon Age, but in BioWare as a company. I’m now much more excited for the next Mass Effect than I was before.

Inquisition is a frequently beautiful, if rather janky game. The environments are easily the highlight with a really impressive sense of place and a palpable feeling of awe and grandeur. The character models are quite expressive in the face, but don’t move particularly convincingly. Visual glitches are very regular and I had a couple of hard crashes. That said, I don’t particularly mind. If this is what came of expanding the scope of Dragon Age, I really get it. There isn’t a feeling of having been actively deceived as many have felt with Ubisoft. The general design is brilliant though, feeling lived in and practical whilst also being awe inspiring and just plain cool. The music is the best in the series so far with a rousing main theme which nonetheless isn’t about to dethrone Skyrim as the best open world RPG title theme any time soon. To praise the voice acting in a BioWare game is redundant; it’s brilliant, of course it is. We’re not far from a point where good voice acting is no longer a point of praise but an expectation with BioWare being a company leading the way in this regard. It’s a little rough around the edges, but Inquisition is a clear labour of love which shines through any irritants.

So…yeah, it’s by no means perfect, but Inquisition made me feel a way no other game has done this year. Dragon Age has long been the secondary BioWare series to me after Mass Effect, but Inquisition has changed all that; this is a brilliant game which any fan of the genre simply must try.Dragon_Age_Inquisition_BoxArt

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

The phrase ‘fan service’ has a strongly negative connotation, to the point that any usage of the word is taken as derogatory, but Mass Effect 3’s Citadel DLC is proof that, sometimes, giving your fans exactly what they want is the right thing to do. Given the context of the vast backlash Bioware received over the ending to the Mass Effect series, Citadel stands out as an even greater achievement, a release which understands exactly what it is that makes Mass Effect great.

Shepard, on mandatory shore leave on the Citadel whilst the Normandy is being repaired, is gifted the apartment of David Anderson whilst he fights on Earth. With a new home base in the Citadel, Shepard begins to enjoy his leave with a spot of sushi with Joker before he/she is attacked by a mysterious crew of mercenaries and sent falling into the bowels of the Citadel. Shepard brings his/her entire crew together to fight off the new threat, a surprising and intriguing antagonist. This is only the first half the DLC however, with the second half largely revolving around a party at Shepard’s new apartment, which brings back almost every surviving squad mate from the entire trilogy in one final bash.

My main issue with the Omega DLC is that we didn’t actually get any opportunity to enjoy what made Omega great as a setting, and were instead treated to a series of shooting galleries in familiar locales. The first half of Citadel looks to be the same, as the player fights their way through a few linear locations, but after the main antagonist is defeated the player gains access to ‘Silversun Strip’ the entertainment district of the Citadel, filled with a casino and an arcade (full of playable games), as well as a surprisingly well developed arena combat ring. Rather than being rushed away from the new locations as we were in previous Mass Effect 3 DLCs, the new areas of Citadel can be returned to at any point. The Citadel is a great location, and one which I’m always happy to see more of. I’d like to see a Mass Effect spin off set entirely on the Citadel one day, perhaps following a C-Sec officer, and the location is done justice in this DLC just as Omega wasn’t in its titular DLC.

Citadel takes a notably lighter hearted tone than the majority of the game. Although it takes place before the ending of the game, the Reaper threat feels oddly distant from everything that’s happening, lending this DLC as ‘Christmas special’ feeling to it. That’s not a criticism; the pressing nature of the Reaper threat forced the plot into a more aggressive and action packed narrative which I felt was to Mass Effect 3’s detriment compared to its predecessors, so a DLC which doesn’t focus upon the imminent destruction of all galactic life is actually a nice change of pace. The actual plot of the first half of the DLC is quite good, and plays with some interesting questions, but it’s the second half of the DLC as Shepard talks to his crew members, past and present, and organises a party with them all together which I truly treasure. As much as I was laughing during the hilarious party scenes, I also felt somewhat heartbroken knowing that I would never see these characters again. Whether it’s a charmingly drunk Tali, Miranda and Jack continuing their bickering from Mass Effect 2, Grunt and Wrex trying to ‘out-Krogan’ each other, I was never less than entirely charmed throughout. Even characters who have died make appearances through audio and visual messages. Citadel offers an absolutely perfect conclusion to the trilogy, offering us a moment of happiness for us to treasure, a perfect balm for the weak and unsatisfying ending to the main game. There are just so many wonderful, beautiful moments in this DLC, which made me realise how truly special this cast of characters Bioware created are.

The shift of focus away from shooting is appreciated here, although the shooting is still fun, and culminates in one of my favourite boss fights in the series. There’s a fun scene in which Shepard and a companion infiltrate a casino, which involves no shooting at all, which given the action focus of Omega is a good change of pace. The new mini games on the Citadel are fun, as is the arena combat. Bioware made a lot of effort in this DLC, more than they really needed to, making Citadel really seem like a labour of love rather than a cynical marketing ploy.

The new environments look wonderful, with the decadent gaudiness of the Silversun Strip offering us the sort of location we haven’t really seen much in the Mass Effect series. We glimpsed this sort of thing in the DLC which introduced Kasumi Goto in Mass Effect 2, but we were never able to immerse ourselves in it as much as we are here. The real coup Bioware pulled here was the voice acting return of almost every major character, alive or dead, with the only real exceptions being Legion and Dr. Chakwas. All of the characters are as wonderfully performed as ever, with the return of relatively famous actors such as Seth Green as Joker, Tricia Helfer as EDI and Yvonne Strahovski as Miranda coming as a pleasant surprise. Every character is given a time to shine; I particularly enjoyed our favourite hipster Prothean Javik, who delivered some of the funniest lines. The thought of how much Bioware must have spent on the voice cast for this DLC easily makes the asking price worthwhile.

Mass Effect 3: Citadel is an essential for anyone who cares about the Mass Effect series. Skip all the other DLCs and you won’t miss much, but I implore you not to skip this one. Citadel is the perfect conclusion to the trilogy, and offers the catharsis which the ending failed to offer. Thanks to Citadel, when I think of Mass Effect 3 it won’t be with bitterness and disappointment; this is the most essential piece of DLC that I have ever played. ME3_Citadel

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

This is the DLC that fans were clamouring for after Mass Effect 3 wrapped up. The sight of the mighty Aria T’Loak lounging around in the Purgatory club in the Citadel felt wrong, and pretty much everyone worked out the BioWare were working their way up to an expansion in which we can help her reclaim Omega from Cerberus. The ethics of this sort of practise aside, Omega sadly fails to live up to the weight of expectation, largely due to fundamental misunderstanding on BioWare’s part as to what it was the fans liked so much about the Omega space station.

Omega is looking somewhat worse for wear this time around. Never the nicest place in the galaxy, we now see it only as another battlefield, a war torn series of corridors and explosions. This is the biggest issue of this DLC. I loved Omega as a hub, a great counterbalance to the utopian beauty of the Citadel. In Omega we had a ‘wretched hive of scum and villainy’, a nasty place but an interesting one, filled with unsavoury, entertaining characters. That’s all gone. For most of the DLC we might as well not be on Omega; there’s often little to distinguish Omega from many of the other dozens of tight corridors Shepard and his/her crew have fought themselves down during the Mass Effect trilogy. BioWare took the easy approach to this DLC, which was also entirely the wrong one. A short, action packed mission to retake Omega from Cerberus and hand it back to Aria to begin should have been followed with the reopening of Omega as a hub as in Mass Effect 2, a place brimming with new side quests and characters to meet. Instead, when we’re done we can’t even return to Omega, much less explore it. Let’s compare this to what Gearbox do for Borderlands 2; for a cheaper price you receive a whole new world to explore. How about Bethesda for Skyrim? Dragonborn gave us a whole island for only a little bit more money. Charging as much as BioWare did for this DLC is inexcusable; I like to defend BioWare, as I believe that a huge amount of the recent fan backlash is highly childish and entitled, but it’s getting harder and harder to do so.

Omega does not allow Shepard to bring his/her crew along with them, instead assigning them with Aria and a new character, Nyreen, the first female Turian in the series and, it is implied, a former lover to Aria. Shepard, Aria and Nyreen build up a resistance against Cerberus to oust them, and their leader Oleg Petrovsky and return Omega to Aria.

Despite my disappointment over the treatment of Omega in this DLC, I must confess that the narrative is up to the high standard set by BioWare. Aria is a fantastic character, with fabulously murky  motivations; although seemingly motivated purely by self gain and the pursuit of power, there’s always a hint of something else underneath it all, someone for whom the extreme liberty of Omega isn’t merely a business opportunity, but an ideological position. Aria is balanced well against Nyreen, our first Turian female, and the interplay between them is a delight. Yes, to an extent it does boil down to Nyreen: Paragon and Aria: Renegade, but this never feels overdone, with the characters evolving into more than simply angels and devils arguing on Shepard’s shoulder. Sure, the actual plot isn’t up to much, and Petrovsky is a rather cliché and dull villain, but I enjoyed Aria and Nyreen so much that I didn’t really mind. The same could have been said for bringing Shepard’s old crew with him/her; it may have been nice, but they’re not needed, and I for one was very happy to finally have the awesome Aria as a squadmate. There are some really tense decisions to make towards the end, that really captured the central Paragon/Renegade dynamic which almost defines the Mass Effect series.

The basic shooting mechanics of Mass Effect 3 are as solid as ever, and we have a few new enemies and abilities at our disposal, the most fun of which are some new biotic powers. Still, you really won’t be doing anything but shooting in this DLC, and in this sense Omega falls behind the earlier Leviathan DLC. Leviathan gave the player stuff to do that wasn’t simply fighting waves and waves of enemies, but Omega lacks that. Sure, it’s all very fun, but entirely uninspired. All this DLC does is reinforce my belief that the future of the Mass Effect series lies away from the third person shooter path they have embarked down, and thankfully the rumbling from inside BioWare seem to imply that this may be the case in future instalments.

As was often the case with Mass Effect 3, Omega is a triumph of style over substance. There’s no denying that this DLC looks great, particularly in the cutscenes and during dialogue. These are generally the most enjoyable part of the experience; that’s not necessarily a criticism, I think that’s always been the case with the Mass Effect series, but it felt even more pronounced here. Nevertheless, the production values are very high, and I suspect that it is through these that the high price point is justified. It’s just a shame that BioWare couldn’t have extended the same effort to the actual content of this DLC that they did to its visual and audio design.

Omega is a disappointing addition to a game which failed to live up to its own expectations. Omega captures the flaws of Mass Effect 3 in microcosm; if included as part of the main game this wouldn’t have been nearly as bothersome, but sold separately at this high price it’s difficult to justify. Whilst I understand that this all sounds negative, Omega is most certainly fun and tells a great story tied into one of the best characters in the Mass Effect universe. If this pops up in a half price sale, then it is absolutely worth playing, but until then the content is not worth the price of entry. 2362922-omega_vignette_o

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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