Behold, Whovians. My USB hub involves Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. I can connect to SO many devices. Some of them aren’t even of human manufacture! Muahahaha…
…okay, it’s a silly USB hub shaped like a TARDIS. I don’t need it. But it makes my life easier and it’s really cool-looking, in my humble opinion.
The TARDIS hub is, in a way, a lot like a video game’s downloadable content, colloquially called DLC.
I’m a consumer in general, of media in particular. Be it through conditioning or simple instinctual inclination, I like little optional extras. I like having a car charger for my iPhone that also has an FM transmitter. I enjoy samples of wine before a meal. And if there’s art or music above and beyond what’s included with media I really dig, you can bet I’ll be finding ways to check it out. Heck, as I type this supplemental material to the Internet narrative comic phenomenon Homestuck is winging its way to my door. Well, not winging so much as rolling, as it’s coming USPS, but you get the idea.
But I know none of these things are necessary. My life will not be diminished if they were absent. Plenty of people get by without things like this. I’m just in a position where I can enjoy such optional extras.
DLC is a lot like that.
In recent years it’s become the practice of certain big software publishers to bundle their new releases with DLC that is only available to those who pre-order or buy new. The DLC in question usually becomes available later for an additional fee. In Dragon Age: Origins, the character of Shale was only included in the initial release of the game if it was purchased new. If you got a copy second hand, you’d be deprived of the bird-stomping golem unless you paid $15 US. This was due to a launch date developers were struggling to reach, causing them to cut Shale from the project until the date was pushed back.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is another example. Pre-orders of the game from certain vendors featured the Explosive Mission Pack. This includes a bonus mission involving an important character that has appeared throughout the Deus Ex storyline in both previous games. The reward for completing it is an interesting bit of continuity and a wickedly powerful weapon. If you didn’t pre-order the game, you can download the pack (as I did) for $3 US. It’s cool to have for story buffs and the like, but it’s no more necessary to that game than Shale is to Dragon Age: Origins. Don’t get me wrong, I love Shale; I just acknowledge that she isn’t an essential part of that game.
The reason I’ve decided to bring this up is the imminent Reaper invasion contained in discs and downloads around the world. Mass Effect 3 is coming, and some goofball on the Internet leaked its Day One DLC. Called “From Ashes”, it is included only with Collector’s Editions of the game and has a few neat points, which are outlined here. The biggest one is an additional character, a member of the Prothean race that has been part of the Mass Effect universe from the very beginning. From what I understand, this character is like Shale in that his content and very presence is entirely optional, and if you weren’t fortunate enough to pre-order a collector’s edition of the game, you can buy the DLC separately for $10 US. BioWare contends that the game is complete and “huge” even without this DLC.
Nonetheless, there is a LOT of uproar over this. Folks threatening boycott and saying that it’s EA’s marketing doing stuff like this that’s killing the industry and exploiting the consumer. I can see where they’re coming from. I don’t like the mentality of big business publishers when it comes to things like this, and as much as a lot of the backlash to “From Ashes” sounds like a bunch of entitled whining, this sort of behavior is a major shift from their previous Mass Effect title, which included a character and other enhancements as Day One DLC for free as long as you bought the game new.
This doesn’t change the fact that DLC is optional. Provided BioWare is honest about the completeness of the game without “From Ashes”, it seems to me that this Prothean character and the module’s other content falls under “nice to have” instead of “must have”. I’ve considered not buying the game myself as I don’t want to support toxic policies like this, but on the other hand I’ve been wanting to see for myself if BioWare can come back from its recent failures. If Mass Effect 3 turns out to be as lackluster as Star Wars: The Old Republic or as aimless and repetitive as Dragon Age 2, it’ll be the last time I buy anything from the company, unless it’s a copy of an older game I no longer have a disc for like Baldur’s Gate or something.
After giving it some thought, I’ll still be buying Mass Effect 3 but I will not be picking up “From Ashes” initially. Maybe if the game delivers on all of its promises and makes me forget all about BioWare’s unfortunate EA entanglements I’ll come back to it. But this really is like all other DLC and optional extras for consumers in general. Nobody’s entitled to it. It’s never guaranteed and while it’s nice to have, we can live perfectly fine without it. It is, at the end of the day, decidedly lavish crap.
Like an interplanetary Paul Revere, Commander Shepard has been moving from system to system, race to race, all but screaming “The Reapers are coming, the Reapers are coming!” His warnings have largely gone unheeded. Giant intergalactic Lovecraftian space-horrors? Pshaw! here’s politics and racism to worry about. Even Cerberus puts the occasional science project gone wrong ahead of preparation for the Reaper’s invasion. But Shepard never really liked those guys anyway…
Two large, mission-oriented DLC packs had gone unplayed on my X-Box until recently. They couldn’t be more different. Overlord has almost nothing to do with the overarching plot of the three Mass Effect games, while Arrival is meant to bridge the second and third games together. I did play through both of them, and it’s worth noting that some points of truly challenging combat I encountered might have been due to me doing so with the difficulty set to Insanity.
Overlord seems to be set before the end of Mass Effect 2‘s campaign. One of Cerberus’ projects has gone awry, and the Illusive Man has tapped Commander Shepard and his team to get the science team back in communication and on schedule. All Shepard is told is that the scientists assigned to the project were pushing the boundaries of virtual intelligence (VI) technology. The remote facility is divided among several stations on the planet’s surface, requiring the use of an overland vehicle to reach them all. Thankfully, the Normandy is equipped with a cutting-edge hovertank well-designed to handle anything a hostile planet can throw at it: the Hammerhead.
If you didn’t bother getting the Firewalker DLC pack, or weren’t able to access it due to not being part of the Cerberus network, now’s your chance to see just how much BioWare improved in vehicle section handling since the first Mass Effect. That is to say, “a little.” The controls of the Hammerhead are still finicky, with the added third dimension of jumping making maneuvers slightly more complex. While using guided rockets instead of swapping between a big rail gun with a long cooldown and a coaxial machine gun simplifies combat, it’s a bit too simplified as there is no shield or hull strength indicators. The Hammerhead will flash an flicker as it takes damage and a warning siren will sound, but it’s hard to gauge just how much more punishment the vehicle can take before it pops, or when it’s safe to emerge from cover. The worst, however, is having to do precision platforming with the damn thing. I’ll say that again: precision platforming with a vehicle that handles like a flying redneck pickup full of Natty Ice kegs.
Outside of the vehicle, we have a decent, well-paced story with some intriguing and downright creepy moments made of equal parts Harlan Ellison and a carnival spookhouse. I don’t want to say too much more because it’s worth experiencing, even if it ends up feeling somewhat superfluous. By the time I got to Overlord, most of my problems with the Geth had been resolved, and Legion had become a trusted friend and fellow sniping buddy. But even without my personal inclinations, Overlord is an inconsequential yet oddly entertaining extension of Mass Effect 2‘s gameplay.
The other DLC is Arrival. Contacted by the somewhat enigmatic Admiral Hackett, Shepard is asked to personally liberate a friend of the Alliance flag officer’s, one Doctor Kenson, from a batarian prison. She has apparently uncovered evidence of an imminent Reaper invasion. As the lone voice in the dark certain the Reapers are coming, Shepard is happy to help. There are two catches, however. One, Shepard must go in alone. Two, the good doctor has plans of her own…
The early part of this DLC mission is something I really enjoyed. I’m a fan of stealth gameplay, and being able to circumvent, mitigate or barely avoid combat is an experience I can’t help but enjoy. So when I heard that at least part of this mission featured Shepard alone, slipping through the prison undetected to break Kenson out of the lockup, I was eager to play it. While there were no cardboard boxes or many clever guard-distracting tricks to speak of, avoiding sight lines and overhearing conversations still had me smiling.
After that it’s a string of familiar combat encounters, a wickedly poised decision Shepard has to make, and one of the biggest letdowns in Mass Effect history. Up until the very end of Arrival, the Reaper known as Harbinger was an aloof, implacable and cunning villain. As opposed to Sovereign’s blatant notion that Reapers are too unfathomable for puny, fleshy mortals to understand, Harbinger played its cards close to its metallic vest, working through intermediaries and seeking out Shepard directly through its Collector catspaws. That image was ruined by Arrival, when Harbinger appears to Shepard to dump an all-too-familiar “NOTHING CAN STOP US NOW” line of conversation on the long-suffering Commander. Somebody at BioWare needs to learn that villains only remain cool and interesting when they keep their big mouths shut. Only the arrival of Admiral Hackett himself in the epilogue, setting up the interesting circumstances for Mass Effect 3‘s opening, save this DLC from being a big letdown at the very end.
All in all, the DLC packs weren’t anything terrific, but each has its good points. Overlord’s creepiness and harrowing final boss fight coupled with Arrival’s stealth option made them worth the investment, and wet my whistle for Mass Effect 3.
We’re waiting for you, Reapers. Bring it.
The character of Liara T’soni in the original Mass Effect wasn’t an overall fan favorite. Aside from being a source of controversy and leading some phenomenally ignorant people to call the game “a sex simulator”, Liara’s tendency to be both loquacious and seemingly naive could get on people’s nerves, while others (like myself) found her desire to help and fascination with the Protheans to be endearing. And then, she turned up in the sequel, holding down a desk on Illium where she worked as an information trader and someone you really, really didn’t want to mess with. Just ask her secretary. The graphic novel Redemption expands on the role she played in the events following the opening of the second game, and the big question on the minds of most players was just how badass Liara had become, to say nothing of the resolution of the possible romance a player may have pursued or even abandoned over the course of Mass Effect 2. Those answers are questioned in Lair of the Shadow Broker.
The DLC begins when you deliver some information to Liara, courtesy of the Illusive Man. Following up on it, Liara is attacked at home. You and your squad show up in the aftermath, meeting the lead investigator and beginning to piece together what happened. By the time you find Liara again, it becomes clear that the Shadow Broker has classified the asari scientist as a threat and is moving to eliminate her. With the information she’s gained, however, Liara can beat him to the punch, a task for which she needs your help.
Just like old times.
This DLC is much, much larger than anything produced for the game to date, expanding on the location of Illium and adding new upgrades and achievements. You also get Liara as a temporary member of your team, and she’s a fantastic addition. While we did have adepts on the team in the form of Samara and Subject Zero, Liara brings the fantastic crowd-control combination of Singularity and Stasis to the field. She’s the only character besides Shepard (as an Adept) to have access to the miniature black hole, and you can add Stasis to your arsenal permanently if you make the right choices.
BioWare’s always shown decent character writing chops in their work, and this DLC is no exception. In fact, it’s pretty exemplary of everything that makes the Mass Effect games so playable. Not only do we get interesting events and character development from both the first game and the graphic novel, we get a great change of pace, similar to that in Kasumi’s Stolen Memory, in the form of a car chase.
The environment of Illium’s soaring towers is reminiscent of Blade Runner, and the chase takes place between and even through those towers. Environmental concerns, other vehicles and little surprises crop up to get in your way. And the entire time, Shepard and Liara are in the car bickering like an old married couple. It’s fast-paced action that has you rolling with laughter while you’re dodging other sky-cars. It’s one of the highlights of the DLC.
Between the unique setting of the eponymous Lair, the great dialog and the expansion of Liara’s character, this DLC has plenty to offer and is well worth the price. Even after the mission ends, you get plenty of use out of its content, from interesting video surveillance of some characters to dossiers of your team and some of the people who’ve crossed your path, for good or ill. Finally, it begins setting up the story for Mass Effect 3 even moreso than any of the sequel’s in-game content. I thoroughly enjoyed playing through it, and I actually look forward to doing so again. If that’s not praise, I don’t know what is.
There’s a glut of DLC available for Mass Effect 2. The biggest thing out there exists for the benefit of those who bought the game used, the Cerberus Network. It allows you access to DLC that would otherwise be free, like option party Zaeed Massani. Chances are, if you’re reading this and own Mass Effect 2, you’ve already grabbed the surly mercenary to your interplanetary quest to forge a team of “big Goddamn heroes” as the man himself would put it. I’ll go more in-depth should requests come in for it, and I’m not reviewing stuff like the appearance packs. I’d much rather talk about Kasumi instead.
Rounding out Shepard’s team to an even dozen, Kasumi Goto is an enigmatic master thief. She strikes a deal with the Illusive Man who’s behind your operation to take down the Collectors. If Shepard helps her with a heist to break into the vault of an amoral industrialist, she’ll help the former Spectre save humanity. She’s adept at sabotage, infiltration, agile combat and, ah, “property acquisition.”
Kasumi on the whole seems to be an entirely different kettle of chips from most of the other members of your team. She seems to have more in common with Yeoman Kelly Chambers than Garrus, Jack or Grunt. She’s upbeat, positive and even when you’re in the middle of a chaotic firefight, she’s having fun. Occasionally when she pops out of the shadow behind some unfortuante mook to crack them one across the head, she’ll let out a Simpsons-style “HAW HAW!” And if she’s having fun, we’ve got no excuse not to. I smile every time.
This girl has got some moves.
Speaking of her abilities, it’s nice to have a fully-fledged rogue on the team. Her signature move, Shadow Strike, is functionally similar to the Infiltrator’s Tactical Cloak, but she uses it to cross a great deal of distance and deliver a backstab-style sneak attack. While the thronging masses of gun-toting suckers line up for bullet sandwiches from you and whichever other team member you’ve chosen, she uses the chaos to sneak around behind and exploit their weak spots. I for one really like that. She also gains the Flashbang Grenade, which inflicts a little bit of damage within its area but also causes weapon overheats, messes with electronics and disrupts the concentration of biotics. It’s crowd control at its finest, and from what I understand it’s capable of locking down even the biggest bads you’ll face on foot.
Her loyalty mission, the aforemention heist, is also a lot of fun and starts with a really nice change of pace. Instead of opening with the typical fare of dropping into the target zone to murder everything in sight, Shepard and Kasumi have to slip into the dinner party of Donovan Hock, an arms dealer with a thick South African accent and a penchant for self-aggrandizing. While Kasumi stays invisible, Shepard must wear formal clothing instead of armor and chat people up for information, clues and the keys to the vault. There’s a really nice callback to the first game as well as nods to other BioWare games and even classic sci-fi films. Of course the mission switches about halfway in to the usual shooting, but taking on the bad guys with just you and Kasumi presents an interesting challenge in and of itself.
The only thing lacking from Kasumi’s DLC is more conversation with her. Like Zaeed, she’ll talk when you select her in the Normandy’s port observation deck, but it’s not a back-and-forth conversation. However, she does offer insight on the rest of the crew and her stories tend to be just as colorful as Zaeeds, though usually less violent. I’m sure there’ll be more lines as I add members to my crew in my current play-through, but I feel there could have been more done with the character. It’s hard to really consider that a major weak point when you get to keep your formal wear after the mission and Kasumi installs a bar in the Normandy. Nothing beats the fatigue of taking on the Collectors than science fiction booze!
Bottom line is, Kasumi’s Stolen Memory is definitely worth getting. She’s a great addition to the game.
The next best thing to my trusty sniper rifle.
At the same time I got Kasumi’s Stolen Memory I also picked up the Aegis Pack & the Firepower Pack. The Kestrel Armor is no better or worse than some of the other armor available, but the ability to mix and match bits of it instead of needing to wear the entire suit is a fantastic option. I’m also using the M5 Phalanx pistol quite a bit. The Colt Anaconda of the Mass Effect universe, this packs even more punch than the Carnifex hand cannon and comes equipped with a laser sight. It’s a bit more challenging than the default crosshairs, but accuracy is rewarded with increased damage the makes kills more frequent. That weapon and the nature of the Kestrel Armor justifies the price of these DLC for my money. I’m playing as an Inflitrator (again) so I can’t comment on the Mattock battle rifle or the Geth shotgun, but Garrus seems to be dropping folks left and right with the Mattock and I’ll see how Tali likes the shotgun.
I take care of my ladies, what can I say?