April 10, 2011

Review – Mass Effect 2: Arrival

Mass Effect 2 Arrival
Last week saw the release of Arrival, the final DLC package for Mass Effect 2, leading into the release of Mass Effect 3 (still intolerably far away, I might add). Arrival sees Commander Shepard infiltrating Batarian space to rescue an Alliance operative with evidence on the imminent Reaper invasion.

As has been the standard for Mass Effect 2 DLC, Arrival attempts to put something of a different spin on the gameplay and add something unique to the package. In this instance, it’s a rudimentary stealth mechanic, where players—if they are careful about choosing their route—can avoid enemy positions and complete the first mission without being detected.

Mass Effect 2 Arrival
Of the various gamplay wrinkles the DLC packs have introduced, this is perhaps the weakest. It’s apparent that the Mass Effect gameplay system simply isn’t designed to accommodate an interesting stealth mechanic. As a result, the stealth sequence feels contrived and unengaging—fortunately, though, it is brief.

Once finished, the mission path returns to the Mass Effect comfort zone. A couple of instances introduce survival scenarios unique from the battles found in the core game; one sequence has the player defend an NPC while she performs a cliché hack sequence somewhere in the background.

Later—and far more interestingly—Shepard is ambushed in an unwinnable combat scenario, where waves of enemies assault his position. Even if all enemies are surmounted, the scenario still ends in defeat—but attempting to survive the enemy assault (and earn the related achievement) is an exciting challenge. Depending on the difficulty it can range from simplistic to an outright nightmare, taxing all of the Sherpard’s abilities and demanding the game be played with a careful approach, maximing the use of powers and the game-pausing radial menus for selecting targets.

Beyond these elements, Arrival plays exactly the way one would expect. It’s constructed with the same level of detail as previous entries, with a sharp new soundtrack, solid conversations, and art design, combat scenarios and lore elements all crafted to the Mass Effect standard.

Mass Effect 2 Arrival
Still, as the sixth mission pack for Mass Effect, it’s fair to say the standard is perhaps no longer enough. Both in terms of story and design, Arrival is perhaps the weakest of the paid DLC, offering an experience that doesn’t sufficiently build on the retail product as to rank alongside superior offerings like Overlord and Lair of the Shadow Broker.

It’s clear that the real draw for Arrival is not so much the mission gameplay, but the promise of a bridge between Mass Effect 2 and 3. This is a promise delivered, but with the expected limitation: as DLC, the importance of this episode must be “optional only,” so that players who miss it aren’t lost and confused come ME3.

That’s a limitation sharply felt; one recognizes as the DLC closes that the setup for ME3 has not been changed, merely expanded on. However, the story does provide an interesting hiccup, forcing the player into a decision that will no doubt have heavy repercussions in the sequel. That said, the player is not offered Mass Effect’s usual element of choice; the action is taken, and player choice really only informs the light in which the action is seen.

Mass Effect 2 Arrival
Arrival also features a handful of codex entries with some interesting in-universe information, and the core story provides some useful development regarding the Reaper’s and their imminent invasion. There are appearances by Lance Henriksen’s Admiral Hackett (a character notably absent from the core game) and ME2’s main antagonist, Harbinger. These elements are employed in such a way as to construct solid bits of episodic story content for the Mass Effect universe.

In that respect, Arrival, more so than any of the DLC packages, plays directly to the hardcore Mass Effect fan who is invested in the series lore; while there has clearly been reduced focus on providing a unique mission pack, the Arrival is more integral to the series story than any previous outing (save perhaps Lair of the Shadow Broker). Running 560 Microsoft Points (Bioware Points on the PC), or $7.99, Arrival won’t be of the same value as the other packages for casual players, but should remain a safe purchase for dedicated Mass Effect adherents.


Electronic Arts

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC (Xbox 360 Reviewed)


Release Date
March 29, 2011

$6.99 (PSN), 560 Microsoft Points (XBLA), 560 Bioware Points (PC)

*A copy of this title was purchased by Gamesugar for review

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