Earlier this month, Bioware released their first large-scale DLC for Mass Effect 3: Leviathan. All that was known before it came out is that Shepard was dealing with something that had the capability to destroy a reaper and seriously, when your side of the battle can’t even take out one reaper without a whole lot of trouble, finding something that can—no matter how dangerous it is—starts looking mighty good. Yet now that I’ve played through it a couple times I can’t help but feel that it was somewhat lacking, both in its design and its story. [Spoiler Alert]
Shepard starts out by being called to the Citadel to visit the lab of one Doctor Garret Bryson for some intel on the reapers. After arriving, the cryptozoologist begins talking about what his task force has been up to and even something about the reaper-killer, Leviathan, but before revealing anything mildly helpful he’s murdered by his assistant, Doctor Hadley. Upon interrogation Hadley doesn’t remember pulling the trigger and is eventually put into a coma by an outside power. With both of the scientists dead, Shepard must find their way across the galaxy to Bryson’s other associates—Dr. Alex Garneau and Bryson’s own daughter, Ann—and rouse the so-called Leviathan of Dis from its refuge.
The biggest problem I had with this DLC (and with Mass Effect 3 in general) is that Shepard seems to have taken a dose of stupid pills, or at least “conveniently forgetting the plot” pills. When Hadley begins acting strange and then doesn’t remember what he’s done, genuinely in distress, instead of thinking ‘this has happened before. It’s reaper indoctrination (aka: the reaper taking control of the person’s thoughts and actions),’ Shepard instead goes, “wow, this is weird and you’re a terrible person, Hadley.” It takes EDI, the ship’s AI now in a fully functional body, to bring that point up. In fact, Shepard never really comes out and says that Leviathan could be a reaper, despite the fact that this is glaringly obvious: from how Leviathan takes control of its puppets just like a reaper and how the primitive drawings of it looks exactly the same as a reaper, Shepard just can’t piece it together without the other character’s help. It’s more than a little insulting not only to Shepard, but to the people who have played all three of these games. Of course it’s a reaper, damn it.
Another thing that I really wasn’t too fond of were the quests taking place in Bryson’s lab. I love investigative options as much as the next person, but after the first time coming back and listening to several long conversation strings (some that I can’t even skip through) is kind of annoying and detracts from the re-play value. I also don’t see why it had to be EDI that accompanies you through the lab. She comes down at first because she saw through the C-Sec channels that you called for back-up to contain Hadley, but after the first quest there it doesn’t seem as though she should have to be the one that comes. Maybe this is just me being bitter with how they handled the whole ‘EDI gets a body’ thing, but it comes off as though they knew that no one was really putting EDI in their party so they were going to make you use her, damn it! Look at those sexy chrome boobs! Another explanation could be that they were trying for a loyalty quest feel a la Mass Effect 2. If that really was the case, they failed spectacularly since EDI ends up being there for exposition purposes.
And seriously, the whole DLC could be re-named ‘Exposition: the Reckoning’ and it would make just as much sense. World building is great! World building for the Mass Effect verse makes Rin an especially happy camper. Yet the way they went about it was so boring and I found myself not really caring all that much. In a dialogue heavy game such as this there has to be a happy balance between what is said and what is told. Writers for ‘Leviathan’ seemed to think that the players wouldn’t get it unless everything was spelled out for them and so we’re stuck with repeating the same points over and over again. I think the only place in this DLC where that kind of info dump would be acceptable is when Shepard actually talks with Leviathan. That’s it. More showing, not telling in the next DLC please, Bioware.
Despite info dumping, I thought that most of the writing for ‘Leviathan’ was excellent. The entire section where Shepard travels to an Element Zero mining facility to search for Garneau was so morbidly humorous… and literally about the most unsettling thing I’ve ever played. When their eyes follow you as you walk through the room? Ugh, creepy. But humor like this and EDI talking about an enemy in an online game that can kill people in one hit being considered ‘overpowered’ (an obvious loving jab towards ME players that think Banshees are OP—which they are!!!) really saves this DLC. Say what you want about gameplay, but the writers know what they’re doing. Most of the time.
Speaking of writing, I love, love, loooove how Leviathan wasn’t a renegade reaper. What a great plot twist! In fact, being introduced to the species that the reapers were formed from was the greatest ending that I could have dreamed of. And I love how they’re all total dicks too. “We’re not helping you with the war because we care about you or anything. We just really fucking hate the reapers,” Leviathan says as it knocks and reaper from the sky and drowns it. I hope in the game following Mass Effect 3, the player will have to deal with the repercussions of setting these creatures in motion once more.
This last point may be moot by now, but the graphics in this DLC are especially stunning. The best example I can think of for this is the planet where you find Leviathan, 2181 Desponia. This planet is almost entirely water, save for the hundreds, maybe thousands, of broken ships littering the sea, and it’s gorgeous. I agree with my brother when he says that he’d like to see it made into a map for multiplayer: it would be the most epic map. Along with that, the underwater sections were also gorgeous. It’s obvious they put a lot of thought and effort into what should be lurking beneath the depths of this mysterious planet and I’m glad it came through.
Another small praise: the Atlas sections were brilliantly timed. Despite being powerful, Atlas mechs are slow as shit and playing in one for a long period of time would have been absolute torture. Going underwater with one was a great idea, but having the section be just long enough to get the right amount of ambiance? That’s brilliance.
Given all of this, I do recommend buying this DLC: it’s world-expanding knowledge is something that can’t be passed up. However, expect to be screaming “IT’S FUCKING INDOCTRINATION, SHEPARD! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!” at the screen a couple times. I guess the best words of advice I could give is enjoy it for what it is, and not what it could have been. Here’s hoping that they learn from their mistakes for the next DLC and keep trying new things (even if they don’t work).