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Mass Effect 2: The Arrival DLC Review

Fans of Mass Effect 2 have so far been spoiled by the downloadable content Bioware has seen fit to send our way. They haven’t been the lengthiest adventures, but they provided quality doses of Mass Effect action at reasonable prices while adding something to the overall lore. 

Kasumi’s Stolen Memory told the surprisingly poignant personal story of a young lady who proceeded to become a useful and unique party member after the mission’s completion. Overlord was a side story, true, but it was a good one, with an emotional finale that made the journey worth it. Lair of the Shadow Broker contained exciting action scenes, important plot revelations, and vital character development for Liara. Shadow Broker actually stands as one of my favorite pieces of DLC I’ve yet played. 

All of these extra missions I would recommend without hesitation to anyone who enjoys Mass Effect. It is admittedly a strange value proposition when analyzed closely, as $7 for a tiny fraction of the content contained in the full $60 game does seem a bit strange on the surface, but that’s missing the point. These are episodes, installments, bite-sized morsels, call them what you will. They provide a small fix of entertainment at a fraction of the price and extend the life of a fun game beyond what was provided on the disc. As long as I come out on the other end of my microtransaction with a smile on my face, I have no problem with it.

Considering Mass Effect’s rather good track record with this type of content, it’s disappointing to report that Shepard’s final mission under the Mass Effect 2 banner is a letdown. It’s equally unfortunate to report that, as it ties in directly with Mass Effect 3, it’s not as easy to write off as skippable as a more self-contained story would be.

The Arrival simply doesn’t feel ambitious. There isn’t much of interest to it. You run through a few small areas, battle frequently enough that it wouldn’t be a stretch to call it padding, watch a few cutscenes, and then it’s over. There’s none of the emotion or personal stories that made all the other DLC compelling. There’s no exciting experimentation with new gameplay ideas like you saw in even the free Hammerhead missions. 

The Arrival makes affairs even more tedious by turning the mission into a solo experience. With little more than a lame excuse and a wave of a programmer’s hand, you’re sent in without any of your companions. Perhaps Bioware thought this would be a compelling change of pace, but I just found it boring. Mass Effect is about a group effort, not a one man (or woman) army, and fighting solo is nowhere near as much fun as having your loyal companions at your side. Forcing Shepard to abandon her team seems an awfully strange way to close up this chapter of the story.

Speaking of the story, the most damning issue with The Arrival is that there’s no choice. Bioware showed their hand a little too obviously with The Arrival in their attempt to tie it into Mass Effect 3. Shepard is faced with what could have been a compelling decision for the player - whether to make a large sacrifice (of what nature I won’t say for fear of spoiling it) for the greater good or whether to forgo the sacrifice and live with the consequences. Unfortunately, no such choice exists. Shepard simply makes the decision and the player will be forced to live with it, whether it fits the character they have spent so long building or not. 

It’s no secret that the plot of The Arrival involves the coming of the Reapers, so it could be argued that Shepard wouldn’t even have much of a choice. Anything to stop the end of the universe, right? While this might be true, it doesn’t seem like an excuse from a gameplay perspective. Mass Effect 2 is one of the most compelling RPGs I’ve ever played for one simple reason: I feel like it’s my story. The Arrival isn’t my story, it’s Bioware’s, and my enjoyment suffered immensely because of it. Let’s hope this isn’t foreshadowing what’s to come in Mass Effect 3.

There are also a few unfortunate glitches and rough spots along the way. For instance, on two separate occasions I had enemies fly upwards and get stuck in ceilings. In both cases, this halted my progress until I realized the half of a motionless human torso was actually alive and I needed to kill it to keep going. There’s another bit right before a section related to an achievement (and a difficult one at that) that forces an unskippable cutscene on you, which will become tiresome when you’re replaying it for the fifth time trying to get those pesky points.

I think perspective is important here. The Arrival is about $7. That’s less than the price of a movie ticket and it will keep you occupied for roughly the same amount of time as a long flick at your local cinema. It teases what’s to come in Mass Effect 3, however slightly, and adds a little bit to the lore of the universe. Those invested in such things should still seek it out.

It’s just disappointing that Mass Effect 2 couldn’t go out with a triumph rather than a whimper. Bioware’s other DLC efforts had their shortcomings, but it felt as if the studio was legitimately trying to deliver compelling stories and interesting new gameplay in each of them. Here, they seemed content with slapping some tedious fights together with a commercial for Mass Effect 3 and calling it a day. 

The heart of the matter is that The Arrival isn’t terrible, it’s just uninspired. It seems an ill-fitting end to such a fantastic game; one that actually served to diminish a bit of my enthusiasm for Mass Effect 3 rather than stoke it. I’m sure that’s simply temporary disappointment speaking, but it’s the truth. Bioware should have given their sci-fi middle child a better sendoff than this short, mediocre solo mission.

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