Sunday, 10 April 2011

Mass Effect 2 DLC - Arrival

(Warning - mild spoilers in this article).

If you have an Xbox 360, chances are you have at least heard about Mass Effect. I recently bought the new Downloadable Content (DLC) add on for Mass Effect 2, called Arrival, and thought I would let you know what I thought!

For those unfamiliar with the games, Mass Effect is an action and Roleplaying Game (RPG). Set about 150 years in the future, humans have joined a galactic organisation of aliens called the Citadel. There are 3 alien races who control the ruling Citadel Council, with humans and other aliens as mere members, and a few other races who aren't part of the Citadel at all. The council lives on a space station called the Citadel, which is linked to a network of giant objects in space called Mass Relays. The relays allow travel all over the galaxy. The relays and the Citadel are believed to be leftovers of an extinct advanced alien race.

At the start of Mass Effect, your character, Commander Shepherd has been chosen to become the first human Spectre. Spectres are the creme de la creme of soldiers and secret agents who work directly for the Citadel Council. Your promotion paves the way for humans to become the fourth council race. But then you discover an alien Spectre has gone rogue, allying with evil robots to try and summon an evil race of advanced aliens to destroy the galaxy.

The game is made up of several mandatory main missions and multiple optional side missions that are not part of the main story. Each mission involves your character and two others picked from your squad of 6 aliens and humans. Most missions are to kill all the opponents and reach the target point, but some involve talking to characters, picking dialogue options. Often you can pick nice Paragon or mean Renegade options. The more paragon options you choose, the stronger your moral stance becomes until you are able to talk terrorists into releasing hostages etc. The more renegade options you choose, the more frightening you become so that you can frighten opponents into surrender, for instance.

You can pick what class of character you are, which determines which special abilities you get. The more missions you do, the more experience you get, the stronger your abilities get (and you pick which get stronger to suit your playing style). Soldiers can use all types of weapons and use the strongest armour. Engineers can only use limited weapons and armour, but can use technology to overload enemy shields or sabotage their weapons or hack robots to attack other robots. Biotics can use energy powers to make enemies float helplessly or throw them out of the way or crush their life. You can also mix two classes together to get a mix of abilities.

The storyline is epic. They have put SO much detail in the alien races, their backgrounds, galactic history. What was infuriating was using the Mako tank to drive around planets that had ridiculous mountains that are difficult to drive over. Many of the side missions take place in identical bases or derelict starships. Many opponents (geth husks, thorian creepers, medical experiments) are almost identical in nature. The side missions are tedious, but the main missions are superb in diversity.

There are also some brilliant key decisions to make. At one point, you must try to convince an angry team mate that you are right - or have him killed. At another, you must choose who to save and who to leave to die. At the end, you must make an immense decision on the nature of the Citadel itself.

Mass Effect 2 modified the game by streamlining the abilities, and emphasising different types of protection (shields, armour, barriers, regeneration) that required different powers to overcome. The combat style is different, with improved squad orders, and now you have to pick up and use limited amounts of ammunition (whereas in Mass Effect 1, you had unlimited ammo but weapons shut down if you fired them without a break). The side missions are now unique and different. There are several great downloadable content add-ons.

The story picks up two years after the first game. Your character is recruited by a morally dubious organisation to carry on the fight against the evil aliens from ME1. Now you have to recruit and gain the loyalty of the best of the best to make a team capable of fighting a new foe in their home turf, a virtual suicide mission.

The newest add-on to the game is called Arrival. You can do it in the middle of the game or after the final mission. Admiral Hackett calls you to tell you a human operative has found a Reaper artifact that proves the Reapers are on their way. You have to go rescue the operative, and help her with her mission to stop the imminent arrival of the Reaper invasion.

What's irritating about this mission is that it is a solo mission, so you cannot bring along any of your squad. What I love about ME2 is using combinations of my and my squad's abilities to take down the enemy. This game mostly requires you to fight everyone yourself. The first mission requires that you sneak through the enemy base undetected. There are several varren that you can kill, but take care to not shoot ANYONE else until you find the operative - then you get a new Xbox achievement! From there you have to fight your way out, this time with the operative to help you.

After that, you get to her base, where she has an audacious plan in motion. Unfortunately, you discover things are not going to plan. You then have to take on an entire army by yourself (there's even an achievement for wiping them out). You then have to fight through the base, taking on groups of soldiers at each point. You have one big decision to make, which as usual has a paragon or renegade option, but to be frank, felt rather flat.

I have to say this game was nowhere near as enjoyable or immense as previous DLC for ME2. The first DLC gave you a mercenary, zaeed, and a decent loyalty mission. The second gave you an expert thief, Kasumi, with a wonderful mission requiring a James Bond style infiltration and then a great fight to escape through an army of foes with just you and Kasumi. The third was a great reunion with Liara, and a wonderful mix of locations and two great end bosses (the rogue agent and the Shadow Broker).

Arrival gives you a sneaking mission (kinda dull), fighting off troops to protect the operative (not bad), then taking on the base on your own (ok, but like I said, I really missed directing my squad). There's nothing epic or imaginative about the locations. The moral dilemma was not particularly gripping either for some reason. The operative character just looked weird and flip flopped from dedication to psychosis a little too quickly.

I already knew this DLC had poor reviews but was desperate for more ME2 before ME3 turns up at the end of 2011. I have to warn others though that this really is not worth forking out for.

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