Field Report: Mass Effect 3 'Citadel' DLC
by Timothy J. Seppala, shacknews.com, Mar 7, 2013 11:00AM PST
Field Reports provide our first-hand experience with the latest games and expansion packs.
The past year's been tumultuous for Commander Shepard and the crew of the SR2 Normandy. With this last Mass Effect 3 downloadable content pack, "Citadel," the current Mass Effect saga comes to a close, giving the heroes we've grown to love some much deserved rest and relaxation. Like the add-on missions before it, Citadel takes place an undefined time before the assault on The Illusive Man's base. The key difference between this mission and the preceding add-on packs is it doesn't feel at all like something left on the cutting room floor, it's miles above Mass Effect 2's lauded "Lair of the Shadow Broker" and every other piece of downloadable content released before it.
Shepard's goal on this mission is simple: take some time off and relax before the end he--and the player--knows is coming. Shore leave on the Citadel's cut short during a sushi date with Joker. A scene lovingly paying homage to the Joker's fundraiser event entrance in The Dark Knight--similar dialog, actions, camera angles, you name it--introduces the mission's conflict: someone's hacked Shepard's communications and is out to kill him.
Even during the most frantic of firefights, Citadel feels breezy and lighthearted. It's a stark contrast to the main game's urgency and overall dour tone. From beginning to end, razor-sharp writing and voice acting keeps the mission from taking itself too seriously even in the most desperate of circumstances; characters old and new have plenty of time to shine, and even brief datapad notes lying about had me laughing on more than one occasion. Self-deprecation and awareness do more to charm here than at almost any other point in the series.
Given time away from the game, the developers who worked on this were able to re-energize and stretch their legs a bit; everywhere you look, it shows. I wasn't arbitrarily collecting war assets to aid my assault on the Reapers, I was playing blackjack in a casino to blend in while another character was shimmying through an air duct to infiltrate my mark's office. I was decorating my new apartment and gathering guests and supplies for a party. I was having a squad mate ask a security guard inane questions to distract him while I hacked a camera or door lock. After finishing Mass Effect 3, I felt the story was done and going back would alter it-–even with a new character and different class--in a way I wasn't comfortable with. Citadel is an inviting distraction I don't feel weird about coming back to every once in a while to play roulette or varren race mini-game plucked straight out of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Citadel felt more like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol or a recent Bond flick than an overwrought space opera, and I loved it for that.
The Citadel itself is much more of a character here, too. This innocuous key to major points of the Mass Effect franchise went through massive changes throughout the trilogy from being a physically massive time-sink in the first, disappointingly small-–although it made sense story-wise--in the second, to a fair balance between the two in the final chapter. Citadel adds more, an entire new area to be exact. The centerpiece is the densely populated Silversun Strip that's full-on neon lights, pulsing music, and chatty aliens. If you look hard enough you'll find an elcor practicing lines of Shakespeare and minor characters from games passed. Besides the casino, there's an apartment Admiral Anderson gives to Shepard in the opening minutes, an arcade replete with a claw game with apartment adornments for prizes, and a simulated combat arena. The irony of a sushi bar with a floor, wall, and ceiling made of an aquarium wasn't lost on me either.
Previous add-ons have suffered from poor pacing, bloated with unnecessary content. Citadel differes by focusing more on characters than combat, and I'm not complaining. Combat encounters in Citadel never felt over-long and the new enemies didn't rely so heavily the now-familiar tactics of Cerberus and the Reapers. The addition of a powerful silenced pistol almost added a Goldeneye-like feeling to the first few sorties, and that wasn't a bad thing at all. Even fighting through the first few areas alone wasn't lonesome or boring, due in large part to having almost constant communication with my crew and their aforementioned awesome dialog.
More than anything, Citadel gave me more time with the characters I've grown to love and feel such a close connection to over the past three games and hundred-plus hours. Everyone comes out to play at some point. Having friends whose strengths and abilities I knew alongside me in battle was just as powerful here as any other part of the series, maybe even more so given how lackluster the last few add-on missions were. The party after the "mission" is over was a clever way to give me another chance to say goodbye to my friends. This is a going-away party on at least a few levels: this is the last I'll see of Shepard and company, and it's the last mission BioWare is releasing for Mass Effect 3.
Citadel offers an entirely different kind of closure for the trilogy, as it avoids the spectacle of the final confrontation against the Reapers. In the chase leading up to the final battle, events from the fiction's past that have direct impact on Shepard and his crew play out before him, almost like the series' life flashing before the eyes of the player before it dies. Big moments near the end take a backseat to nuanced character interactions throughout. While I had no problem with how Mass Effect 3 ended Shepard's story, Citadel is a more formal—and wholly welcome--farewell that pays tribute to everything the franchise has done. Bravo, BioWare.
This Mass Effect 3 'Citadel' DLC Field Report was based on Xbox 360 code provided by the publisher. The add-on is now available for $14.99 (1200 Microsoft Points) on Xbox Live Marketplace, PlayStation Network (PS3), and Origin (PC).