Field Report: Mass Effect 3 Omega DLC
by Timothy J. Seppala, shacknews.com, Dec 5, 2012 12:00PM PST
Throughout my return to this den of inequities, I couldn't shake the feeling as I played through Mass Effect 3's new Omega DLC that what I was doing didn't matter. I've already saved the universe and dealt with the consequences of all that entails, so everything on the spire-like trading hub of Omega felt superfluous. It seems the designers felt the same way, too, because anything new was either negated by the time I reached the anticlimactic final showdown or wasn't very important to begin with. I leveled up a few times and maxed out my sticky grenade skill by mission's end, but because I have no intention of returning to Earth again with this save file, having asari crime boss Aria T'loak's war assets at my disposal didn't mean all that much.
There are moments in the main story where Shepard works with Aria on the Citadel, and this mission picks up at a previously unavailable docking bay on the galactic hub, so I'm not sure it occupies a specific moment in terms of Mass Effect 3's narrative. As long as Shepard opens Aria's email about taking back Omega via the Normandy's computer before the assault-on-the-Illusive-Man's-base end-game sequence starts, you're good to go. "Omega" feels akin to the one-off fan-service missions like helping the biotic academy that Jack is at or evacuating Jacob's base. It's a decent distraction, but, unless Aria's a favorite character or you must see a female turian, skipping it isn't a big deal. Unlike the "From Ashes" pack, you don't gain a crewmember. There aren't any real or overarching secrets revealed similar to the "Leviathan" downloadable content, either.
The heart of Mass Effect is its characters, not its combat. As a means to an end, it works well enough, but what stands out most about it are the interactions with my squadmates as a sortie unfolds. I've spent tens of dozens of hours with Garrus, Mordin and Vega so I know their individual strengths and weaknesses. On this mission, those familiarities were stripped away as soon as I started. Aria barely trusts Shepard and won't allow any of the Normandy's crew besides him to step foot on the now Cerberus-controlled space station. It didn't seem like that big of a deal until the first firefight erupted. I fumbled against the Illusive Man's army because even though I maxed out a few of Aria's skills, I'd never gone into battle with her. Eventually I gained another temporary squadmate, but she too felt like a stand-in for those I knew best. This was a shame given the DLC pack's combat-heavy focus.
Returning to Omega excited me at first, but aside from the Cerberus-occupied Afterlife nightclub, there weren't many familiar sights. In Mass Effect 2, Omega felt grimy and dangerous. As I canvassed the wards looking for Archangel and later Mordin, I couldn't escape the feeling that I wasn't welcome and at any turn, I'd have had the barrel of a heavy pistol thrust against Shepard's temple. Something told me during their stay, Cerberus wasn't wasting time scrubbing the floors and tidying the place up for my liberation mission; this Omega doesn't feel like Omega--it was antiseptic and could have had another name from the universe tacked on to it without anyone being the wiser. I spent much of the mission clambering around the station's claustrophobic underbelly, activating this and deactivating that while pushing through waves of Cerberus troops. The pacing is adequate, offering bursts of combat and exploration-fueled bits of respite, but is too often muddled with the frustration of not being able to stray from the very linear path of catwalks and scaffolds.
The mood peaked, shifting dramatically, when I delved into a darkened section with only my squad's flashlights to illuminate an abandoned lab. A shrieking chased my team around, but disappeared once I completed the room's objective. This tension was squandered within minutes. Once I activated the generators and turned the lights back on, I had nothing to fear. This is the second time Mass Effect 3 has attempted horror but fallen short. I later discovered the source was another one of Cerberus' experiments to control a Reaper. This new enemy represents a majority of the DLC's problems: it's ill-implemented and not fully realized in the scope of the game's universe. The enemy is introduced over halfway through the DLC and there isn't much tension leading up to its reveal. My squadmates had already seen it before and reacted with little more than a yawn once we encountered it in battle. Again, because of this DLC's timing--both in terms of release and ambiguous occurrence in the game's timeline--the enemy feels inconsequential.
"Omega" serves as a showcase for Aria, for better and for worse. Here we see her as more of a combative general, anxious to take her turf back. I always looked forward to encounters with her in the main games because her calculated manipulation was unique and worked well in the spectrum of the series' characters. Plus, she's atypical compared to other asari we've encountered: she isn't some fragile, demure being; she doesn't take shit from anyone. Her icy demeanor works best in small doses, though and wore thin within the first few sections of the DLC. Her bravado and tough-chick attitude fell flat and Carrie-Anne Moss' (The Matrix, Disturbia) vocal performance in general felt uninspired and emotionless. Much of the mission's drama stems from T'Loak's relationship with a past ally. Shepard often had to play mediator between the former partners, settling their detached and almost cliched spats. The relationship doesn't work, isn't believable and is handled with the grace of a toddler's first steps. Not enough time is given to establish the soured romance and it's clumsily foisted upon the player as a plot twist. Maybe in a lesser game no one would notice, but in the Mass Effect series, it sticks out like a female krogan.
Other attempts to make "Omega" feel like an organic expansion of the Mass Effect universe were welcome and stood out as the best parts of the DLC, but they were fleeting. One conversation explains the rise of a new gang after Shepard extracted Garrus and Mordin in Mass Effect 2's opening hours. The appearance of vorcha and my personal favorite, the deliberate speaking elcor, had me genuinely excited. But like so much else in this latest expansion, they were underutilized.
BioWare is more than capable of producing killer post-launch content: they've been supporting the multiplayer side of Mass Effect 3 continuously since the game released and Mass Effect 2's "Lair of the Shadow Broker" stands as some of the best DLC for any game, period. BioWare's missteps with Mass Effect 3 are problematic for fans craving more single-player content: with the finality of the main game's narrative, they've painted themselves into a corner.
Field Reports provide our first-hand experience with the latest games and expansion packs. This report is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.