Let’s not beat around the bush here, the Reapers are coming and come Mass Effect 3, they’re going to hit the human race hard. With that said, let’s take a quick moment to talk about Arrival, the latest and final DLC instalment to Mass Effect 2.
The Final Chapter
At the behest of good ol’ Admiral Hackett (damn that sexy voice), Shepard embarks on a solo mission to save Dr. Kenson, an Alliance deep cover agent, from the clutches of the Batarians. Upon Kenson’s liberation from her captors, Shepard learns of the impending Reaper invasion and of the doctor’s plans to ram a meteor into a mass relay to hinder the Reaper’s progress.
Skeptical of Kenson’s plans, Shepard accompanies the good doctor back to her project base, only to learn to his dismay that Kenson and her staff have all been indoctrinated by a Reaper artefact. Shepard, being the absolute badass that we all know him to be, battles against anything and everything Kenson and her team manages to throw in his path. The DLC culminates in the destruction of the Alpha relay and an ominous holographic confrontation between Shepard Harbinger himself.
The Falsely Paved Highway To Mass Effect 3
Before we get into the thick of anything else, let’s have abit of a rewind.
Back when Lair of the Shadow Broker was first released, Bioware mentioned that it would be the first piece of DLC that would serve to expand the Mass Effect universe in preparation for the epic conclusion of Shepard’s story, Mass Effect 3.
Now, LotBS was awesome and is, hands down, my favourite Bioware DLC to date (across all franchises) despite a number of minor shortcomings. I don’t know about you, but I was definitely expecting a good 3 to 4 more DLCs. However, with the onset of Arrival being the final chapter/DLC for Mass Effect 2, it kind of begs the question as to whether Bioware might have stretched the truth a little on their plans to bridge the gap between ME2 and ME3.
Going Solo Doesn’t Impress Me
Arrival attempts to set itself apart from its ME2 DLC compatriots by featuring Shepard as a lone combatant. Essentially, due to the sensitive nature of this assignment, Hackett insists that Shepard works alone. In truth, it isn’t all too big a deal, considering how Shepard seemingly excels at any given class, at given time (we received a dose of solo-Shep during the final leg of the Project Overlord DLC).
The DLC itself won’t take players more than an hour to complete, which in itself is pretty disappointing. Moreover, Arrival doesn’t exactly break any new ground whatsoever. It doesn’t boast anything new in the manner of gameplay, interaction, situational challenge, enemy variation or mob distribution. Based on the previews I read prior to playing Arrival, it seemed to me that the whole Very simply put, Arrival struck me as a short story that needed to be told, cheaply packaged into a sorry excuse for ‘game content’.
In truth, the entire DLC felt like one of them OPTIONAL N7 Assignments that players pick up as they go probe-dropping around the galaxy. Was it really worth having such mission packaged and priced as a DLC? I don’t think so.
Arrival’s Positives, For What They’re Worth
Materialistically, there’s nothing inherently new about Arrival. Shepard receives a mission, Shepard punches it in the face, Shepard flies away victorious (sort of). However, I will credit Arrival for being able to invoke a mood that speaks of claustrophobia, urgency and in some cases, panic, notions that so aptly characterize the impending arrival of the Reapers.
In terms of level design, a couple of things do come to mind. I’ve noticed that Arrival features content that takes place in either very closed quarters or seemingly open areas that are dimly lit and cluttered with props. Simply put, there is a very maze-like quality to Arrival’s level designs, which, as mentioned, effectively invokes a sense of claustrophobia.
Take that sense of claustrophobia and couple it with the very subtle time limit (i.e. finish the job before the asteroid crashes into the relay) that Arrival imposes on its players nearing the end of the DLC’s content and you’ve got a sure-fire formula for a quick and cheap dose of adrenaline (effect might vary). If you make it, Shepard gets to live and fight another day. If you, somehow, can’t get past the damnably lenient time limit (or if you simply choose to fail for the heck of it), you get treated to a little video depicting the Reaper’s unbridled wrath.
Now, while I wasn’t so much affect by the time limit per se (seriously, the game gives you MORE THAN ENOUGH time to complete final strings of encounters), I will say this, there were a couple of moments during the DLC’s climax, where I thought, Oh shit, Shepard might just die again, notably during that bit where Kenson lets loose that hand grenade. I attribute this to the overall ambience that the level and content design manages to induce. The synergy is far from perfect, but it gets a pretty strong message across.
On a slightly comedic note, if ever anyone doubted how much of a badass Shepard really is, well, Arrival is the DLC them sorry non-believers. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the manner of which Kenson repeatedly browbeats her lackeys into confronting Shepard, only to have them cower in fear over the PA system, citing Shepard’s overwhelming prowess and resilience. That definitely served as a wee bit of an ego boost.
One thing that bothers me most about Arrival is the sheer detachment it portrays from the rest of the game, storyline and characters. Regardless of when players choose to complete the DLC, we need to take into account the magnitude of Shepard’s actions. Effectively, Shepard had a hand in destroying a mass relay and an entire system, along with a good 300,000 or so Batarians. You’d think that someone, ANYONE at all would have something about it.
From where I’m standing, it all seems to point towards one thing, cutting production costs. Pity.
Arrival’s Come And Gone
I’m not going to lie, Arrival was pretty damned disappointing.
To be fair, it boasts a decent amount of action for its overall length (though not exactly epic on any scale), has good ambience, is lightly peppered with amusing dialogue and for what it’s worth, it’s a moderately enjoyable and straightforward ‘dungeon-crawl’ backed by a decent enough story.
However, there’s really isn’t much to be had in the way of interaction or choice which, for modern RPG content, creates a pretty stale experience altogether. As I’ve mentioned earlier as well, the DLC doesn’t feel very special for all the hype it received and its billing as ME2’s final chapter, passing off as little more than a quick solo mission. Again, to reiterate another point here, Arrival simply struck me as a short piece of Mass Effect lore conveniently packaged into a buyable DLC.
I’m sure many gamers and even fans of Mass Effect will agree that Bioware doesn’t exactly have that successful a track record with DLCs. To date, across all of Bioware’s franchises, I’d have to say that the only DLC worth its weight in money and quality thus far has to be Lair of the Shadow Broker. In other words, Arrival definitely tanked, for me at least.
The Reapers Are Still Coming
Come holiday season 2011, the Reapers will hit Earth with everything a massive fleet of sentient dreadnought class battleships can muster (it’ll hurt). Mass Effect 3 stands as one of my most highly anticipated games for 2011. However, given Bioware’s recent seemingly weak showing with both Dragon Age 2 and the Arrival DLC, I’m starting to feel a wee bit queasy for what is to come.
My Score: 6 / 10