Mass Effect 2 "Arrival" DLC Review
With the third and final chapter in Commander Shepard's trilogy coming this fall, BioWare has been working on ways to get us excited for Mass Effect 3. One of these ways is in delivering a new, and likely final, chapter in Mass Effect 2's DLC-based adventures. That last one hit the internet yesterday. The "Arrival" DLC puts Shepard on a solo mission to rescue an engineer that has made a big, vital discovery about the coming Reaper invasion.
I imagine that BioWare is sending Shepard solo on this because they didn't want to budget out the cost of rounding up the rest of your squad's voice actors to make their usual commentary in mid-mission or during conversations, but right off the bat this felt like a misstep. ME2's combat is at its best when you're combining special powers, setting up flanking maneuvers, and hitting the enemy from all sides, and with Shepard going it alone, you'll have none of that. This is an almost entirely linear mission with only a couple of chances to do anything but kill or be killed, and while the mission itself is interesting, you'll find that Shepard has very little actual choice in what goes on.
It's tough to make this a fully fleshed-out review without going into the plot, so I'm going to get a little spoiler-y and get about half way into the DLC's plot just to explain a couple of things. Admiral Hackett (voiced by Lance Henriksen, best known as the android Bishop in the Alien films, also reprising a smaller role in the first Mass Effect) has an old friend, a researcher, who has found a strange artifact that heralds the coming invasion of the Reaper menace. She's in a system way out on the outer rim of the galaxy, and she's created a project to slow down the invasion by ramming an asteroid into this system's mass relay. That way, the Reapers will have to hit the next-closest mass relay, which could buy the galaxy a couple months - maybe even a couple years. Unfortunately, the mass relay's detonation will probably destroy a Batarian colony down planetside.
The challenge here is that the Batarians have arrested her, and your mission is to get her out of prison. Of course, Shepard's rather interested in this Reaper artifact and the coming invasion, too, so breaking her out isn't the end of things. As you can expect, things are not as they seem with this whole Reaper Artifact situation. Unfortunately, this DLC episode's plot has more than one big hole in it, and the usual galaxy-changing choices that Shepard's allowed to make are yanked away during the big reveal. In its place, you get a mostly linear corridor-based shooter against an army of boring prison guard and soldiers, with only the odd engineer thrown in once in a while. You won't have even one biotic enemy to go up against, and the boss fight is something you've already fought a dozen times in ME2.
Sure, the new music is great and hearing Meer and Hale's voices (as male and female Shepard) is always a welcome thing. Henriksen as Admiral Hackett is wonderful as always and you'll get some dark and foreboding words about the future, but that's where it ends. The firefights and overall combat in Mass Effect 2 have taken some flak for being a little flat or dull once in a while, but I think that's mostly because people play on Normal difficulty and aren't ever challenged to find the best use for their squad's tactics and powers. In this DLC's case, though, all the complaints about ME2's combat wind up being absolutely true; without your squad and their abilities, it was hardly exciting at all. (For the record, I played through "Arrival" on PC, on Insanity difficulty with a level 30 Infiltrator, and the combat was much easier than that of "Lair of the Shadow Broker".)
As a way to get us excited for Mass Effect 3, there are some moments in "Arrival" that really work, but for the most part, the hour-plus that you'll get out of this will be decent at best. Simply put, it won't be nearly at the standard set by the original game or even the "Overlord" or the fantastic "Lair of the Shadow Broker" DLC addons. Unless you're going for a serious completionist run for your Shepard leading into the third game, I can't recommend you drop the ten bucks for this add-on. I don't think that this DLC's partial failure is necessarily a bad sign for the third game, but it seems clear that all the new ideas and original content are going into ME3 rather than something like "Arrival".