Monday, 3 September 2012

Mass Effect 3: Leviathan (DLC Review)

Having finally gotten around to playing it, I’ve got to wonder who asked for this? As has been said by many a person: A mystery is only interesting so long as no definitive answer is given. There are many reasons for this ranging from just guessing about what’s at the end to fans coming up with their own answers, which have the unfortunate tendency to be better than what we’re actually given. But someone must have been asking for Bioware to spill the beans on the last few mysteries of the MEverse, so here’s Mass Effect 3: Leviathan.

The story behind this one is actually fairly good and is rooted within the series’ mythos. During the events of 2, there was mention of the Leviathan of Dis. Leviathan was said to be the corpse of a genetically engineered starship found and taken by the Batarian Hegemony. The not-entirely-dead Leviathan was revealed to be a Reaper, and crippled the Hegemony’s defences for their invasion.

Turns out however, that’s not all to this story.

The Systems Alliance begins to find evidence of Reaper existence long before they were supposed to have been created, and questions begin to arise surrounding just what “killed” Leviathan to begin with. With time running out Shepard’s team must uncover the final mysteries behind the god-squid.

If you’ve not already guessed it, most of the appeal of this DLC is the story which has a great setup but a less than stellar payoff. Without giving anything away, it’s hard to pin down exactly what is missing from the Leviathan DLC. You can tell it’s well developed, the timing is great and the plot interesting but you can’t feel that there should be so much more to this.

The actual reveal all comes at the last minute in a delivery which doesn’t feel remotely as grand or glorious as it should. Hints don’t develop over time so rather than having the player build up their understand gradually all the answers are dumped all at once. A comparative experience would be like reading a murder mystery, but rather than having the characters find out clues over time almost everything is told in the final chapter. There’s some interesting things you’re shown on the side, moral choices, character discussions – all that great stuff; but you only get into the real meat of the DLC in one final conversation.

Another issue is this really feels tacked on. Previous DLC for 2 like Overlord and Shadow Broker didn’t have the fact they were effectively side-missions detract from the enjoyment found in them. They, while important, were side stories which didn’t have earth-shattering reveals linked into them. You could do them at any time, which makes them feel all the less pressing and it’s the same here. Only now not only do you have earth-shattering reveals to take into account but the finale for the entire series is within sight. It regulates this to being effectively a brief sidequest when it should be so much more.

The same really goes for the underwater sections which were heavily advertised in all the promotional material. You’re down beneath the surface for mere minutes then you shoot back to the surface. Also the fact he/she doesn’t get the bends while surfacing at the speed he/she does means we can probably add Aquaman powers to Shepard’s list of abilities. Story and seabed mission aside however, I can happily say that the rest of the gameplay is up to standard. DLC is always a chance to do something different, and Leviathan breaks the usual status quo as much as you’d expect.

Almost as soon as you start the usual thing of “go to quest-giver, shoot people/find object/scan planet, return to quest giver” is quickly shaken up. You’re forced to hunt through a lab of research notes, evidence and samples in a detective operation almost reminiscent of L.A. Noir. Bioware actually really seems to like using this as this is the third Mass Effect DLC it’s shown up in. The combat sequences are similarly well made, avoiding corridor gunfights in favour of more open areas with some genuinely interesting locales. One of the standout areas which comes to mind is when you’re exploring a mining colony which had gone to hell, and had some creepy moments which had me thinking “this is what Dead Space should have been”.
Perhaps the only flaw in this is that one point has a situation which is effectively a rehash of the drone escorts and “pizza delivery” objectives introduced to multiplayer in the Earth and Rebellion DLC. This might have been done due to a lack of time but that doesn’t detract from the feeling that someone got lazy while making this.

To top this off there are new War Assets, guns, mods and planets to view on your galaxy map which while nice additions are nothing truly outstanding. The real bonus actually comes in the form of the voices. Atop of having as good a vocal talent as we’ve come to expect from Mass Effect for the new NPCs, the main cast was on hand for this DLC. This is a first as there’s new Normandy based chatter, mid-mission banter between squadmates and the fact people talk makes the whole experience feel more complete. The lack of squad conversation in DLC was an issue Mass Effect 2 always had to skirt around, so it’s nice to see it truly averted here.

With both its strengths and flaws, Mass Effect 3: Leviathan is just about worth getting. You’ll likely end up feeling disappointed with the answers it gives and its additions to the canon, but the settings, presentation and fully voiced characters might offset feelings of negativity. If you felt that the DLC from Mass Effect 2 like Kasumi – Stolen Memory, Arrival and Lair of the Shadow Broker had been worth your money you’d do well to get this one. Just don’t expect it to be completely perfect.


Mass Effect and all related characters and media are owned by Bioware.

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