As far as downloadable content goes, I've had mixed opinions. From Ashes was great, but it shouldn't probably shouldn't have been downloadable content to begin with. Leviathan was pretty interesting, and shed some light on the Reaper lore. Omega was very standard, and ended up being the worst of them, in my opinion. Citadel on the other hand, represents both the best and worst of BioWare. It's probably my favourite add-on for Mass Effect 3, but it also comes off as extremely out-of-place, for a variety of reasons. Allow me to explain the highs and lows of Mass Effect 3's swan song, as it were.
Gameplay and Guns Galore
Whereas Mass Effect 3: Omega had me bored to tears, the gameplay in Citadel was surprisingly engaging. New toys such as the M-11 Suppressor and the M-7 Lancer pack a punch. At first, I was told to use the former to my advantage in order to be stealthy, but that never came to fruition. This isn't exactly Metal Gear Solid 4 or Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but luckily this isn't forced upon the player. The latter, the Lancer, was great because it gave us a practical gun that worked the same way Mass Effect’s guns did. We should have seen more guns like this in the campaign.
The new enemies have some sort of MIRV grenades which, on Hardcore, didn't post any kind of threat. The heavies were tough, and the snipers were sneaky, and each enemy kept me on my toes. In terms of gameplay, this DLC gave me a good time. I enjoyed every second of it, and managed to beat it in one sitting.
The best thing this DLC has going for it, and what ultimately makes me hate it, is just how downright hilarious this add-on is. This is the best party banner BioWare's written. In fact, I'd go as far to say that this entire DLC is nothing but party banter with no filler. And that's not a total waste of money, I think.
From beginning to end, every line of dialogue is either a joke or a one-liner. Just about every line made me chuckle, especially that bit after Shepard and company are being locked in the vault. Shepard fixation on his famous line was really hilarious, albeit silly. Hell, even the datapads were full of humour. It's almost surreal how silly this entire add-on is. It's not just a break from fighting Reapers; it's a break from the plot.
An Entertaining Diversion
The plot in Citadel, at best, is essentially an entertaining distraction from the story itself. As a self-contained story (and it's very self-contained), it's nothing great or deep, just simple. Really, it's just an over-the-top action flick. It's fun, full of laughs, and has a silly story. I can't really judge the plot here, because it's so ridiculously cliché. I half expected Liara to point a gun to both Shepard and shout "Which one is the real Shepard!?"
By BioWare standards, this is a decent plot because, for the most part, it's not very ambitious. You can take that for what it's worth. I really liked Clone Shepard as a villain. He was at least threatening and devious, whereas Oleg Petrovsky was sort of... whatever. Brooks provided a pretty decent plot twist; it was one of the things I didn't actually see coming. Honestly, I kind of enjoyed the concept of a clone in a game where you create your own character.
And of course, BioWare knew they had to throw in a choice somewhere. At the very end, you get to choose between killing your clone or saving him. Of course, they both have the same exact result right away. Never before did a game so quickly make me realise a choice was meaningless. In fact, it's eerily similar to the first two choices you make in Silent Hill Downpour. To be fair, it was still an interesting choice, but they could have easily made it so your choice had some impact, even if it was just saving the Clone and having him live somewhere far away. It was almost hilarious how quickly my choice was disregarded. That said, it was still pretty cool seeing him give up like that. In the end, it's an interesting set up to a choice that failed to matter in a matter of seconds.
There's more than just a cheesy story, however. There's also a plethora of throwaway distractions in which to involve yourself.
First off, there's an apartment on the Citadel, but this isn't exactly The Sims or PlayStation Home. You can switch out some of your furniture, but nothing meaningful is added. At least in Home you could invite your PSN buddies over and play some minigames. What's the point of buying a couch I can't sit on? Sure, it looks interesting, and I could see myself throwing credits away on customising my house, but I gotta ask: exactly how long will I be staying in said apartment? I mean, there isn't really anything to do there. It's not like Fallout: New Vegas, where you could store your loot and friends for safekeeping. Here, you can just run around and do well, nothing. Well, you can throw a party, but that's not really worth customising an apartment for. You can purchase and unlock new items for said apartment, but there's really no point to it all. You can't really do much in your apartment, so it's all for its own sake.
To make things worse, you can only throw your party once, and you can only invite your love interest to your pad one time, whereas Mass Effect let you snuggle as much as you want. With an entire apartment filled with amenities like a waterfall, a bar, a hot tub, and a fireplace, you'd think there'd be more interaction. Sadly, all of the interaction with your apartment ends up being just another one night stand. Story of my life.
Of course, there's also an arcade, combat arena, and a casino. All of these things are fun to participate it, but are ultimately throwaway distractions. From a gameplay perspective, these are pretty cool. From a story perspective....
All of this is fun in strictly shallow gameplay terms, but as part of an epic space opera about the denizens of the galaxy fighting against impossible odds in an impossible struggle for survival? Not so much.
This really is my biggest problem with Citadel. As a standalone adventure, it's simply too silly to hate. However, as a part of a very serious story, it creates a tonal dissonance. Stuck betwixt two very serious plot points (the Cerberus coup and the final fight to take back Earth), this story feels inconsequential and out-of-place when you compare it to the Reaper War. In fact, this entire DLC has nothing to do with the Reapers themselves, so its hard to really justify it. Whereas the rest of the plot is mostly serious with plenty of comic relief spread throughout, this is a completely different game. This is just silly, shallow, mindless fun. And that's fine, normally, but it's totally out of place and messes up Mass Effect's tone.
Sure, you get some obligatory war assets, but nothing about this add-on ties into the overarching narrative. At least with Omega, Shepard was helping Aria T'Loak knowing that it would help the war effort. By comparison, this add-on is a completely frivolous adventure, as lovable as it is. My complaint here isn't so much that it doesn't impact the end or the rest of the narrative at all. My problem with this add-on is that it isn't in any way connected to the story, yet it's still wedgied in there with little connection to the events of the plot. This downloadable content added a new enemy and a new story that had nothing to do with the Reaper invasion, which should take precedent over just about everything.
This of course would have been completely welcome in the first two games, where the stakes weren't quite as high, and entire planets weren't being harvested, but then again, a lot of the humour here is contingent on callbacks. So what's the solution? Well, at least for some players, I think this would have been the perfect post-ending add-on.
Instead of being a distraction, it could have been a new threat for the Normandy crew. One last hurrah in the aftermath of the Reaper War. Doing this would only require minor tweaks, since references to the central conflict are only made in passing, and it doesn't involve any real Reaper or Cerberus enemies, why not? There's nothing in this narrative that's related to the Reaper War that can't be removed or replaced. This is very much a send off for fans, a swan song of sorts, so why not at least give some players the option to play this DLC post-campaign? For the sake of convenience, maybe we could just be restricted to the Citadel and the Normandy after completing the game. After all, since they're making a sequel, I don't see any reason why we can't mess around in our new apartment if we survived. The festivities and jokes all seem like the punchline to the Mass Effect trilogy; it's a well-earned reward for our heroes.
The whole thing just feels... wrong. Shepard is partying in his posh apartment (when he has a lounge and luxurious bedroom on his stealth ship) whilst entire planets are being harvested. Hundreds if not thousands are dying by the day, entire planets are being harvested, and the outlook of all organic life is looking more and more grim. Meanwhile, the only Man who can save the galaxy is out playing Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots in an arcade and betting on Varren races. Almost everything here is silly and light hearted, so it's hard to appreciate it when it's so out of place.
For such a silly adventure, it ends with some genuinely touching moments, however. I just think these would have more emotional impact at the end of the story, not jammed in the middle. I honestly would have preferred it if the entire story could have ended on Shepard saying "The best".
There are some other annoying details that didn't need their own section, but still warranted a mention.
- During the conversation with Joker, I said “Our ship” (in response to Joker saying "your ship"), and Shepard said nothing close to that. More misleading dialogue choices from BioWare, ho!
- I'm told to talk to the crew, but they only have one line (unless you count the generic "Sup Commander"). Where's my dialogue wheel? I want to have a real conversation!
- Is it just me, or has Shepard's dance moves improved?
- Bringing the entire crew actually a smart idea Shep! Glad it only took you three games to figure that out. Now someone tell me why a bunch of mercs require the entire team, whereas the Reaper threat only needs two squadmates.
- The drinks look really weird in people's hands during parties. I guess they thought no one would notice.
- When I first reunited with my love interest, Tali (Legionwrex, don't even go there), she complimented my outfit. This was the weirdest thing in the entire add-on for me. Why is she complimenting my normal leather jacket that I've been wearing every day for months?
Entertaining and Inconsequential
Do I like Citadel? Well, that's a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, as a standalone story, it's entertaining, if a bit silly and shallow. On the other, it's not a standalone story. It's a part of a whole, and it screws up the tone of the story. I suppose it would be better to say I didn't regret my purchase. As a consumer, I'm pretty satisfied by how I spend my $15. As a critic, I have my criticisms.
An another note, I remember being told this would make me cry. When was this supposed to happen? It had me nowhere close to tears, unlike a certain other game. Maybe they meant you’d be laughing so hard you’d cry?
In all seriousness however, there was some incredible musical pieces that did strike an emotional chord with me. Really, the music is great all around in Citadel. Of course, saying a Mass Effect game has an amazing soundtrack is like saying Krogans are tough. It just doesn't do it justice.
Mass Effect 3: Citadel is essentially a fun action flick. Not exactly something Mass Effect is known for, but at least it’s entertaining. It skews the tone, and falls into self-parody, making this a sort of surreal punchline to the whole trilogy, with a callback to nearly every joke and meme that has come about from this series. At this point, I feel BioWare has realised they can no longer write an intelligent plot, thus resorting to what is essentially fanboy pandering. It's full of clichés and nearly every line of dialogue is a one-liner, but at the very least, it's not terrible. It’s just kind of sad that “could have been much worse” is a high water mark for BioWare these days.
Here are some of my more recent blogs.
- "Projecting Unto Protagonists: Characters in Video Games" -- My opinion on characters in the video game medium. Expect lots of hate for Gordan Freeman.
- "Hearthfire Review: A Diversion Lacking Depth" -- My review of the Hearthfire add-on for The Elder Scrolls V:Skyrim.
- "Why Clear is my Favourite Episode Yet" -- My review for the most recent episode of The Walking Dead.