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03-09-2013, 01:55 PM #1
Mass Effect 3: Citadel DLC ReviewHere we are then, at the real end of the Mass Effect saga. Appropriately, Citadel isn't about saving the galaxy, but about saying goodbye – goodbye to Commander Shepard, to the Normandy, and to Mass Effect as we know it. It doesn't change anything about how the trilogy ended, or make any fresh apologies for it. Nor does it offer hints on its future or change the present. Instead, it seizes the chance to do what most big games can only dream of doing – to have one last hurrah to celebrate everything that made the series great.
Citadel is probably my favorite individual chunk of Mass Effect yet – one that requires and shamelessly exploits existing love and nostalgia for the series and its characters, but pulls it off well enough that any fan should spend the whole adventure grinning and laughing like a crazy person. Shadow Broker is arguably superior due to playing things straight and actually developing the story, but this is far, far more fun.
Obviously, we're in fan-service territory here, but dismissing Citadel because of that would be a mistake. This isn't just a few jokes and hastily cobbled-together areas. This is a love letter from BioWare to its creation, with everyone bringing their A-game. Writing, level design, cinematography... pick any department, the passion bleeds out of every single pixel. No expense has been spared either, from bringing back all the voice actors to stuffing every inch of space with cool stuff, callbacks, set-pieces, gags, and Easter eggs. There's even an arcade and casino full of new (admittedly dirt-simple) minigames and a whole combat tournament arena thrown in purely for the heck of it.
Chronologically, the new action can take place anywhere between the Cerberus attack on the Citadel and the point of no return – but it's worth waiting as long as possible to finish all surviving characters' business first. This is an epilogue in all but timing, that infamous ending not allowing it where it really belongs. Accordingly, the Reapers are barely mentioned and not relevant to what's going on, and the tone is many notches cheerier than anything in ME3 proper. While Leviathan and Omega can be seamlessly slotted into a first play, Citadel is a DLC best returned for once everything else is done. Going from it back to the war is as jarring as being thrown into a dark, icy lake.
Part of the tonal shift comes from the fact that Citadel sees the crew on shore leave – only a weekend or so off while the Normandy is being repaired, so not as silly as it might sound – and so taking a break from the relentless misery of ME3's genocidal war. Just for starters, instead of eternal god machines, the opposition this time starts out as a group of mercs whose idea of being badass is ruining Shepard's lunch. Even the squad lampshades that it's used to playing in a rather higher league. The stakes do rise though, and while to give any real details would be to spoil too much, Citadel soon evolves into a traditional Mass Effect adventure with more than a little of Kasumi and Shadow Broker in its DNA.
Where it really excels is in making the most of the series' characters. The whole ME3 gang is available for most of the main story, along with Wrex (assuming he's still alive, and you cured the genophage), with almost every other squad member from the whole series available for at least one extra character and/or romance scene and a big post-mission party at Shepard's swanky new Citadel apartment. Morinth and Legion are the only ones left out, assuming they're not just very well hidden, with Mordin not appearing in person, but still (posthumously if necessary) sending over an big audio log full of presents. There's a new scientific patter song. Better still, he's written an amazing noir parody.
Individual character scenes vary dramatically in quality, with most of the romance ones still being either duds or embarrassingly coy, but the best ones are fantastic. Javik's shot at stardom, Garrus' continued dating adventures and Joker's... scene... especially are must-sees. Both halves of Citadel are best though when they get everyone playing off each other, especially getting everyone around a table. At the party, you flit between friends, taking part in conversations about everything from Traynor's crush on EDI to Garrus' ideas about efficient home security. They involve explosives.
The Citadel mission makes this even more pronounced. The whole crew is involved throughout, with the highlight being a section where everyone follows Shepard into battle, splits into teams and has a sheer blast working together, mercilessly mocking the unfortunate enemies, and ripping into each other like only the best fire-forged friends can. Over the course of a full game, the noise and attitude of this would be too much. For a final big mission though, to give the whole ME3 squad a chance to shine no matter how much action you normally give them all, it's as joyous as it is joyful.
All the basic mechanics of combat and interaction remain unchanged, and are therefore often a little clunky – especially late in the story, where Citadel is (unfortunately) best played. That's hardly its fault though, and the only real criticism I can level at it specifically is that it can be very silly. If you're not up for about four hours of BioWare cutting loose on everything from Shepard's "I should go" to Wrex's post-genophage sex life, avoid it. Your eyes will roll hard enough to sever your optic nerves. The joking around is always true to the characters though, never descends into farce, and most importantly, is actually funny. There are more laughs in this DLC that many entire comedy games, made stronger by being undercut with a real poignancy. When the party ends...well, the party is over, even if Mass Effect 3 technically isn't. One of the last things you do is take a group picture for the squad to remember the good times, and you'll want a copy. After so many years, these aren't NPCs. They're comrades. Friends. Family. Saying goodbye is surprisingly final, and touching in a way no replay will ever recapture.