By Matt Gosper
Looking back, Mass Effect 3 surpassed its predecessors in many ways, not the least of which was drama surrounding the game itself. We sure did talk about that ending a bunch, didn't we! Now, after the free "Extended Cut" DLC, a handful of single-player add-ons and more multiplayer content than you can shake a stick at, we have what could be the final piece of single-player of DLC in "Citadel."
The overarching story for this instalment sees Shepard being ordered to take some shore leave on the Citadel to recuperate, while the Normandy undergoes repairs. While you're there, your old buddy Anderson decides to gift you his super-lush apartment on the station on account of all your efforts -- apparently Alliance soldiers earn a pretty penny, because it is one MASSIVE place. Nevertheless, our favourite Commander soon falls (literally) into an all-new adventure. While dining with Joker, an Alliance intelligence officer warns you she's discovered someone is out to kill you, a threat which is quickly proven to be real. From here, you'll find yourself scrounging for weapons to survive the onslaught of mysterious soldiers out for your head.
This section of the DLC is a fun challenge -- left without your accumulated weapons and armour from the main game, you must fall back on skill and tactics to overcome your enemies. Like many players I found my preferred kit and played through the majority of the game with it, so having to rethink this approach is a nice change of pace. Needless to say, this portion of the DLC is somewhat easier for the biotic and tech-aligned Shepards among us, as these skills remain the same (excepting any cool-down bonuses from your weapon loadout).
It's not long before the DLC's real draw-card comes into play -- fighting your way through the Citadel, you start to hear from squad members past and present as they set out to assist you. First on the scene is your current love interest -- I had a lot of fun trading quips and innuendo with my space-boyfriend Kaidan here -- followed by Wrex, and many more afterwards. Obviously the number and selection of squaddies you'll hear from will vary dependant on who survived your playthrough of the series, but in my game at least I had a lot of folks to hear from.
Truly, the greatest part of this DLC for me was the next major chunk of gameplay. Reunited with your precious gear, you set out to infiltrate a secret area of the Citadel. As per usual, someone suggests a small party would be best as a larger group would attract attention -- at which point Shepard says, "Well... Why not?" This is the moment I have waited through three games for.
What follows is an all-out awesome adventure, with your posse broken up into groups of three or four that move through the facility in tandem with you. Typically your paths criss-cross but don't intersect, meaning you see them around and they can assist from a distance in a fight, but you still move through primarily as your standard party of three. It's a fun way to get the big-group vibe without tampering with the established combat dynamics. Towards the end though, you'll find your entire party assisting in unified battles, and I have one piece of advice for you here.
Wedge yourself into a corner, switch on your subtitles and enjoy the banter between your party, because this is where "Citadel" truly shines: its writing. The dialogue and storytelling is punchy, sharp and above all VERY funny. In these battle sequences, your entire group will be riffing on each other, challenging each other's kill counts and just generally being entertaining. The best part of this whole segment is knowing JUST HOW MUCH CONTENT THERE MUST BE, with all the potential party sizes and combinations depending on your particular playthrough. There are a lot of callbacks to earlier events in the games, which really make this feel like a story that is steeped in your personal Mass Effect history -- including a bit where the different teams name themselves Team Mako and Team Hammerhead after the series' vehicles and then proceed to debate the pros and cons of the two, a sly wink at many players' deep hatred of the original game's method of transportation. Every character's personality is displayed at its best here, and shows you how much they've grown over the series. You have Tali laying some sick burns on Wrex, Liara cracking out the dry sarcasm and even Javik claiming he has a higher kill count than 'all of the savages combined'.
Whoever wrote the dialogue and story for this DLC instalment deserves a high five, because it's grade-A quality all the way through. I've always felt that Mass Effect shines best in its moments of humour, which it has grown into over the course of the trilogy. Here it takes centre stage; Shepard is cracking wise, your comms are always buzzing away with zingers and one-liners, and you'll even save the universe with a toothbrush. It's not often that this series has made me laugh out loud, but in the handful of hours it took to play through this DLC it happened with great frequency.
I won't dive too far into the story elements so as not to ruin it, but instead jump on to the DLC's conclusion -- a party! Basically just a reason to spend more time with your three generations of squadmates, this final sequence of the DLC is there purely for character moments. It's great to see the saviours of the galaxy drinking and getting to know each other, especially with combinations that haven't had the chance to interact previously.
This DLC has been accused of being pure fan service -- and it is, but that's not a bad thing. I think for a lot of fans, THIS is what they wanted when the "Extended Cut" ending was announced. Not so much a better explanation of the existing, big-picture ending so much as a last hurrah for the small picture, for the relationships they'd built over the course of three decision-driven games. In that light, this DLC is a big success. You're guaranteed at least one last moment of connection with each of the people you've traveled with for the last three games, and spend a good hour watching them party down (and then quietly accept their hangovers) as a family. Come for the guns, stay for the friends.