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September 18, 2012

4

Xbox 360 – Mass Effect 3 Leviathan DLC (2012) Review

by Master Pillow

Let’s cut straight to the chase.  The question of the day of whether or not you should buy this is exceedingly simple as the Leviathan single-player DLC is going to appeal to those gamers who still love the series no matter their stance on the controversial ending while those who hate Mass Effect 3 or its original or extended endings with a passion would have no reason to pick this up as it doesn’t change the game’s narrative one bit save for a few extra lines of dialogue that pop up in the ending sequence.  I’ve written so much about this game that at this point in time I have a very strong feeling that those who want more ME3 will have bought this already on day one while those who have given up on the franchise have probably moved on to supposedly greener pastures.

The Leviathan DLC has players once again taking control of their own version of Commander Shepard as she suddenly receives an email onboard the Normandy that leads her back to the Citadel to investigate a scientist who has been looking for the enigmatic Leviathan that is revealed through ancient legends that retell the tale of a powerful entity strong enough to defeat the Reapers.  What or who Leviathan is doesn’t really matter as if this is proven true then it makes its discovery paramount as it would inevitably aid the Alliance in their quickly deteriorating battle with Reaper forces.

The best analogy to the Leviathan DLC would be to compare it to movies and pretend that what you are getting is essentially the restored director’s cut of a film which so happens to now include a rather large chunk of missing footage.  The DLC itself is actually quite long and can clock in at nearly 2 ½ – 3 ½  hours in length provided one takes the time to fully explore everything that it offers while also not playing on the easiest narrative or casual difficulties.  Considering many gamers will have finished the main single player campaign from anywhere between 20-40 hours that means the Leviathan DLC adds roughly 10% to your total play time which is not insubstantial.

Gameplay itself is par for the course although kudos has to go to Bioware for trying to mix things up a bit and not focusing on nothing but a total action blast fest.  There are three new action-oriented environments all of which are unique and well rendered that don’t bare much resemblance to existing levels and provide some great environments in which to explore.  From a desolate and altogether creepy asteroid mining installation inhabited by oddly behaving humanoids to a quickly crumbling series of futuristic living modules each new area is lovingly created with some nice environmental details.  For instance, the mining level shows the base having pulsing energy shields that allow ships to transit in and out with ease yet keeps potentially destructive elements out like space debris, while players will surely get a kick in a later level attempting to vertically climb over the habitation modules that are quickly falling apart due to enemy fire.

Mass Effect 3 might not be the prettiest game on current gen consoles (or PC) yet it wasn’t a slouch either and Leviathan continues this trend nicely especially in one level featuring Shepard and company fighting on floating wreckage amidst a roiling ocean that perfectly fits the DLC’s rather spooky atmosphere.  There’s even a sort solo dive sequence which many have seen in the trailer which is quite astounding but unfortunately is over much too quickly.

At the same time Bioware has implemented a few novel objectives, to this series anyways, to add some spice to the action by tasking players to guard/escort robotic drones or carry items from one location to another while being shot at.  It’s not exactly groundbreaking but it does give the DLC a rather distinctive feel.  However, those expecting  a complete combat overhaul are simply deluding themselves as these small gameplay additions are mere sideshows and the game’s core combat for better or for worse hasn’t changed one bit.

As usual there are a few new weapons to pick up although to be fair I didn’t really use any of them and stuck to those I was already familiar with.  On a sour note though there are also more war assets to find through planet scanning yet this is basically a waste of time since every gamer by now should have maxed their scores to open the “best” ending.  Still, if you are a completionist then knock yourself silly.

Also, it has to be said that I found the default difficulty higher in this DLC and wiped completely in a few instances especially when those tougher enemies appeared such as those dreaded banshees.  It is too bad though that Bioware has essentially regurgitated all the same foes to fight although there is ample enough reason within its narrative to justify this decision.  Those players who can breeze through insanity difficulty will probably blow right through this DLC as enemy AI seems to be exactly the same as the original game.

The big surprise of this DLC is that Bioware has constructed it with a deliberately measured pace which alternates between segments that really feel like a stripped-down point and click adventure game where Shepard needs to search a laboratory for clues with segments of all out gunfire.  Now, it doesn’t mean that the investigative segments rival those from the best adventure games of yore such as Monkey Island or King’s Quest yet Bioware has clearly made an effort to at least make you feel like you are Sherlock Holmes by slowly piecing clues together  to unravel a much grander mystery.

All this sounds great but it gets better because Leviathan is fully voiced by not only Shepard and the newly introduced characters but also all of Shepard’s squad mates.  This is a huge plus especially when one realizes that Mass Effect 2’s DLC rarely added any squad banter that made them feel somewhat hollow thus having new dialogue for everyone adds much to the immersion into the Mass Effect universe.  Special mention goes to Tricia Helfer as Edi who gets a ton of dialogue, some of it sounding a lot like what you’d expect Data to say in Star Trek: The Next Generation especially when he found himself spouting unintentionally humorous lines.

Gameplay aside, there is no doubt that the key driver to this DLC is the additional lore and extra narrative elements that are revealed and in this sense it does not disappoint.  Without launching into a massive breakdown of the plot I will say that it adds significantly to the back-story of the Reaper menace and perhaps adds a few threads that have the potential to lead to Mass Effect 4.

However, it is here that I have to stop for a moment and openly ruminate on what this DLC represents in the greater scheme of things because even though I had a blast playing it when it was over perhaps at more time than any I realized that Bioware and EA are really playing with fire concerning their DLC strategy.  Much like I mentioned in my Mass Effect 3 review contrary to Bioware’s insistence that the day one DLC From Ashes was not essential it very much appeared to me to be almost mandatory in that it adds so much lore, dialogue, context and one new squad mate that playing the game without it is a rather hollow experience.  Leviathan feels essentially the same since it adds enough to the overall plot that it makes one wonder if Bioware is not shooting itself in the foot for not including it in the original game.

At the very least I have a strong feeling that many would have been much more accepting of the original ending in that Leviathan adds a strong foreshadowing element to the narrative that links directly with the ending sequence.  Sure, it doesn’t change the supposed nature of the deus ex machina individual who is revealed in the ending but having Leviathan in the game would have at least informed gamers about it long before the end which works to remove the deus ex machina reveal that many complained about in the first place.

In other words, if a strong narrative is one of the key components of the game perhaps it is just not a good idea to purposely rip large chunks out of it for release at a later date at extra cost.  It is simply a poor excuse to say that single player campaign DLC is non-essential and that it won’t affect the plot when a gamer is missing out on so much relevant content especially if it potentially could have mitigated issues such as the outcry to the game’s ending.  I have a solution which probably most would hate but if Bioware/EA really needed the extra cash it would be a much better proposition to just release the game at a higher price point but include all the single-player campaign content.  In this case they could make money on multiplayer DLC anyways to ensure a steady cash flow.

Leviathan is also a much different beast of DLC than most of those found in Mass Effect 2 for one big reason and that is because it takes place long before the game ends and not after.  This makes an enormous difference and I suspect many fans will simply not play it because they feel that adding story to a game that has a definitive ending is redundant.  To some extent I agree with this assertion as Command Shepard’s story is over one way or another and revisiting events that happened to her long before her final mission gives this DLC a rather detached atmosphere.

To use a movie analogy it would be as if George Lucas released Return of the Jedi and then six months later decided to re-release it in cinemas except this time it had a 10 minute sequence showing how Darth Vader was fighting his split personality which would have made his last-second turn against the Emperor a bit more believable.  Audiences would probably not stand for this and, even worse, would march on his house with pitchforks and lightsabers if he continually added scenes every few months and charged more for it.  This is exactly the situation Bioware finds itself in here with Mass Effect 3 as Leviathan really would have aided the narrative immensely if it were not chopped out of the original game.

In a way the movie analogy of a director’s cut isn’t exactly apropos either because film directors usually remove scenes out of the final cut that are redundant to pushing either character motivation or the narrative forward.  Leviathan however, feels essential making its removal all the more curious.

I have no idea what Bioware has planned for future single player DLC but if it continually bolsters the main narrative thrust of the game it should have been in the original release to begin with.  Now, adding a side-mission which has a great story but doesn’t affect the overall plot would work although the danger here would be to convince gamers to buy it.  Still, there are many avenues to take such as making it extra long to entice a purchase or to add significant upgrades to weaponry and equipment.  We shall see what Bioware has in store.  Still, questions about DLC strategy aside, Leviathan is a great addition to the game and almost on par with fan favourite Lair of the Shadow Broker in both gameplay and plot.  If you are still a Mass Effect fan even after the ending debacle I have no doubt that Leviathan will more than satiate your thirst for more content.

If you are one of the few who are just picking up Mass Effect 3 for the first time it would definitely be in your best interest to buy both From Ashes and Leviathan at the same time in order to obtain the “complete” experience.  Considering a new copy of Mass Effect 3 runs $29.99 where I live it is much more palatable now to buy the DLC to ensure you don’t miss out on anything important.

*** out of ****

Developer: Bioware

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Released US: 08/28/2012

Released EU: 08/28/2012

ESRB Rated: M

Size: Approx 1.62 GB

© 2012 The Galactic Pillow

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