It’s been a while—over seven years, in fact—since Mass Effect was first announced. At the time, it was being pitched as a classic 1970s sci-fi flick that you could play. Your decisions, they said, would have dramatic effects on the final outcome, and your progress would transfer between games—a pretty unique concept at the time.
Now, the degree to which the series lived up to its very lofty goals is very much up for debate, but with Citadel we’ll see the alleged end of the narrative portion of the trilogy. Regardless of how you feel about the combat or the ending to ME3, the multiplayer additions or whatever else – it has become one of the most talked-about series ever. I think they’ve added something worthy of that original vision.
Mass Effect 3: Citadel (Xbox 360 [reviewed], PlayStation 3, PC)
Released: March 5, 2013
I remember a few years back I read a blog post by one Cliff Bleszinski about he saw a new hope for the legacy of classic like Star Wars in the nascent stages of Mass Effect’s development. The vastness of the universe, the sympathy of the characters and the scale of the conflict were the foundations of that analogy. Recently, I’ve begun to think that each of the games was respectively built around one of those three things. Mass Effect 2, the best of the series, was given life by the interactions within the ragtag group of outcasts, and my biggest take-away from Citadel was the degree to which it matched the best that 2 had to offer.
That said it also fits in with 3, even if it is a bit ham-handed at times. Thematically, Citadel is still trying to give some sense of closure to the whole journey, but it still doesn't quite get the job done. After what was for many a 150-hour epic, though, it's clear why letting go of the thing is so difficult.
The DLC begins with Shepard being called back to the Citadel for repairs and maintenance on the Normandy and shore leave for the crew. Given that this is supposed to take place in the middle of one of the largest galactic wars in hundreds of thousands years, and that the continues existence of everyone in the galaxy is at stake, I really hope I’m not the only one that finds all of this a bit hard to swallow.
Once Citadel is pretty confident that you’ve bought into the flimsy pretense for a vacation, it smacks you in the face, in a grand, sophomoric “HAHA JUST KIDDING” prank. What follows isn’t necessarily the best subplot in the series, but it’s comes wrapped with a delightful spark – bringing back nearly every squad mate that’s lived up to this point. There’s no apparent purpose behind the grand reunion, other than bringing back a bunch of fan favorites for one final goodbye. One that feels even more gratuitous when you know how this tale ends.
Really, Citadel nails nearly everything it needs to. Much like Lair of the Shadow Broker, it has the perfect combination of comedy, combat and intrigue. It’s so well put together that I can’t help but fall in love with it, but it also comes with some really unfortunate baggage.
Most of the people who will be playing Citadel have finished Mass Effect 3, and while the DLC doesn’t change the ending, it’s impossible to separate the two. Knowing the tragic conclusion to Shepard’s journey, knowing what happens to your squad and the absolute horror of their war for survival, places the carefree merrymaking squarely within one of two contexts.
The pessimist will see this add-on as a commentary on the futility of it all; on the absolute pointlessness of our own pursuits of happiness. The optimist will see a light amongst the darkness, a small flicker of the human spirit in the face of insurmountable odds against a cold, uncaring evil.
Even with the rather imposing context of the rest of the Mass Effect series placed squarely on the shoulders of this final narrative arc, it is never bad. Combat is passable, as always, with a few fun twists later on. There are a few light puzzle sections that are rather similar to Kasumi’s mission from 2.
The pithy banter between Shepard and her squad is rarely quite as fun as is it here. Seth Green doesn’t quite get to stretch his wings as much as the comedic work horse of the cast, but everyone’s got some great lines – particularly Alix Regan as Specialist Traynor.
For those of us who are heavily invested in the series, for whatever reason, it means putting away something special. This was a modern sci-fi epic that attempted, at least, to give the player a voice. I don’t think this trip quite took the path that anyone thought it would, but it’s been an interesting ride.
If this is how BioWare wants to close Shepard’s chapter, I can live with this. It’s not a perfect finale, but it’s one that highlights the best we’ve seen from the series so far, and it’s not without its own set of endearing idiosyncrasies.