So after a couple of solid weeks of playtime, I’ve successfully worked my way through the entirety of both installments of the Mass Effect franchise. And I’ve only got nine more months to kill until the conclusion, so that was smart. But it gave me an excuse to catch up on the game’s DLC, which I found more interesting as a whole than the offerings for Dragon Age: Origins.
DLC is one of those new buzzwords that’s kind of become a loaded element of any real discussion. As gamers, we got really used to the idea that anything outside of the game box is either a big expansion pack or just plain free. The threat of DLC that fixes a broken part of the game hasn’t become a reality just yet, but I think every single gamer is just waiting for the day that the game is launched half-finished and you have to pay again to get the rest of it. Of course, there’s also the caveat that DLC gives designers a motivation to keep producing new content for the game after launch has come and gone. DAO had a bit of a scattered approach to DLC, with several installments that essentially had nothing to do with the story followed by one last piece that was meant to “conclude” the storyline prior to the sequel. (It didn’t.) Mass Effect – the first one – had two DLC offerings, both of them essentially completely separate from the game’s storyline.
But we’re here to talk about ME2. What worked here and what didn’t?
Aside from the DLC adding one final squad member (Kasumi), all of the additional DLC is going to fit in just fine if you picked it up after the end of the game. There’s no strange continuity breaches a la running Return to Ostagar after you’ve cleared the game — all three “story” additions make no explicit references to the timeline, with two of them strongly tilted toward the assumption that they happen after the end of ME2. Moreover, one of them essentially sets up the start of the next game for players, even if the choice that it offers is essentially a non-issue due to the structure of the narrative.
Furthermore, each of the additional missions actually feels like a deviation from what happened before. Overlord’s times with the Hammerhead don’t exactly mirror any of the (lackluster) default Hammerhead missions, Lair of the Shadow Broker gives you some interesting fights and a special squad member, and Arrival feels far more different than you would think by virtue of Shepard going it alone. Okay, there are a few gunfights that feel more or less bog-standard, but the overall level of the content is a fair addition for the price tag. And it feels like Mass Effect content to boot – Jennifer Hale turns in her usual outstanding work, and Ali Hillis seems to have imported just a bit of Lightning into Liara’s persona. It’s also nice to finally see Admiral Hackett in the flesh, and he gets a little more characterization beyond the gravel-voiced commander on the intercom.
On the other hand… why is everyone else totally silent? Why are there geth roaming the halls of Project Overlord without Tali saying so much as “oh, hey, that’s different”? Was Liz Sroka on vacation that weekend or something? It’s not a searing issue, but it does sort of throw immersion for a loop when characters are inexplicably silent through events that should logically provoke a response or two. And if they could afford to get Lance Henrikson in for Hackett, I find it hard to believe that Keythe Farley was too busy to return their calls.
Fixing things that were broken… well, there’s a bit of that. Certainly LotSB seems aimed directly at the complete non-event surrounding Liara and Shepard, especially if the two of them were in a relationship. To be fair, a lot of the dialogue that winds up occurring between the two makes perfect sense given the circumstances, but still… there’s some awkwardness lingering from the non-reunion on Illium, stuff that really should have been addressed in the core game. On the flip side, Overlord actually winds up sort of breaking the Hammerhead, since it shows off just how bad the vehicle combat really is. There’s a good reason that Firewalker is free, and that is because no one would rightly pay money for it.
The funny part is that LotSB is actually a little treasure trove of character moments when one looks at the private files on each given character. Little tidbits of backstory, some of them completely new (like the Vakarian family) and some of them well-broadcast elsewhere (like Tali’s affection toward Shepard) are just littered throughout the whole thing. It’s not ground-breaking, but it’s a nice little addition for fans of the series and the characters involved.
So is it any good? For the most part, yeah. BioWare seems to have hit their stride in making DLC that’s not detrimental to the game and still connected to the overall storyline. But unfortunately, it’s not really a question of “if” for this stuff, since there are some pretty vital storyline gaps being filled in by the additional content. That part I’m not so keen on. I almost wish that some of this had been expanded out into a full expansion pack, because you’re going to wind up paying roughly expansion-pack prices to pick all of it up. Still, I can’t say that I didn’t get my money’s worth.