The two pieces of downloadable content so far released for Mass Effect 3 have been solid, enjoyable add-ons which follow a traditional formula: a new enemy is causing problems for Commander Shepard on a distant planet and, after a string of firefights, the threat is defeated. There might even be a new weapon or character as a bonus. Previous add-ons Leviathan and Omega were tense, well-constructed side-quests with a hint of expanded mythology that ultimately changed little beyond a few extra ‘War Assets’ – the little-liked number that can influence the overall outcome of the game. By this point almost anyone playing the game has seen the end – and most likely complained about it – so the additional assets are of little consequence. Citadel focuses on something else. Revisiting the Mass Effect universe almost a year to the day since the game’s release was an absolute pleasure and a reminder that, for all the complaining about Bioware’s original ending, the game retains the power to grip your attention.
Imagine if Joss Whedon wrote an ‘episode’ of Mass Effect, complete with trademark sharp dialogue, knowing winks for fans and superbly written characters. You’ve just imagined Citadel – one of the most satisfying pieces of downloadable content in this world of micro-transactions and map packs. It’s impossible to describe the story content in any detail without giving away some huge and wildly entertaining spoilers. Safe to say, the crew of the Normandy are ordered to take mandatory shore leave. Don’t try and think of the logic behind our only hope against eradication taking time off to go to bars and arcades – common sense also takes its leave to allow for pure entertainment. Sure enough things don’t go to plan and Shepard and the rest of the crew have to put socialising to one side in order to save themselves. It’s not Cerberus or the Reapers – this is a new band of rogues and one I can guarantee you’ll have never seen in Mass Effect before.
Saying that the entire crew of the Normandy are set against a new threat is for once entirely accurate. Unlike other downloadable missions where it’s obvious that only a handful of voice actors were able to record extra dialogue – thereby limiting the cast of characters who speak or show up – Citadel brings almost everyone still alive back, complete with plenty of new voice work. From Joker to Miranda and even Zaeed (voiced by actor Robin Sachs who sadly passed away after contributing to the game), the care taken to give everyone new dialogue – no matter how fleeting their appearance – is welcome, imbuing the add-on with that extra level of production value. Not only that but one excursion sees the entire team – not just a three-person squad – come along for the ride. Additionally, new music has also been recorded specifically for Citadel, as well as a large selection of licensed tracks included that can be played in Shepard’s new apartment.
You heard that correctly… the new content kicks things off with Shepard acquiring a shiny new apartment in the knowingly-named Tiberius Tower complex. It looks stunning – all digital fires, trendy furniture and spacious layout. It’s not just a bedroom and a kitchen – this place has three bedrooms, its own bar and more. Complete with stereo system, stunning views of the Citadel and the ability to change the decorations and furniture, it’s the first inkling that the downloadable content is more than just a couple of away missions. After completing the main storyline of the game you’ll be left with a new area of the Citadel to explore, containing an arcade, combat simulator and casino. Each of these locations contain mini-games, prizes to unlock and small mini-quests to activate before heading back to the Normandy.
Perhaps the greatest part of Citadel is the writing. As the final part of a trilogy Mass Effect 3 often felt bleak and tragic, even if played with the most honourable intentions. Play Citadel as part of a larger play-through and it would feel totally incongruous, akin to anime episodes where heroes and enemies put their difference aside for a day at the beach. Playing it months after completing the game instead reminds you just what you loved about the game – the unforgettable cast of characters, consistent art design and myriad dialogue choices. It doesn’t matter that the situation borders on the ridiculous – you’ll appreciate having the chance to spend a few more hours in the company of Shepard and his crew.
Citadel also has a priceless vein of fan service running through the whole experience – again, it would spoil the fun to relay every joke. Characters make light of phrases they repeatedly say during combat, Garrus waxes nostalgic about the ‘conversations they used to have in the elevators’ and the Krogans wreak havoc in their own inimitable way. Fans who have played through the whole trilogy will crack a smile every few minutes, but it’s not all laughs and hilarity – any romantic ties are also referenced in poignant, genuinely moving scenes that foreshadow the final, climactic mission that looms on the horizon.
Whereas other downloadable missions often revolve around nondescript mining colonies or frankly bland service tunnels, setting this final piece of content on the Citadel allows Mass Effect’s artists to run wild with environmental details. From Blade Runner-esque alleyways to neon-drenched pleasure districts, the Citadel was always Mass Effect’s crowning glory and exploring it in-depth is an opportunity that can’t be missed. A visit to the Citadel archives allows for historical revelations amongst the firefights, as well as a reminder of how far the series has come – an additional tug at feelings of nostalgia for long-term fans.
Not everything is perfect – the combat sections can become repetitive and there are a few audio and graphical bugs that can’t be helped. Forget those and you’ll find probably the single best piece of Mass Effect downloadable content released to date. It’s so good that it’s probably in the top three Mass Effect moments ever, surpassing most of the missions that are on the disc. Not only that but the extra end-game content is generous and adds significant longevity to a title many might have collecting dust on a shelf. Mass Effect: Citadel reminds us why we loved this series and, in retrospect, why all that complaining about the end was probably an over-reaction. It’s not just combat encounters glued together with dialogue – it’s a wild ride that isn’t afraid to show you that the serenity in companionship is just as important and unforgettable. Buy this DLC immediately and relive those treasured relationships once more, no matter how fleeting they might last. Seriously, the only way this could be any better were if it ended on a freeze-frame of Shepard punching the air, accompanied by Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’.
Mass Effect: Citadel reminds us why we loved this series and, in retrospect, why all that complaining about the end was probably an over-reaction. It’s not just combat encounters glued together with dialogue – it’s a wild ride that isn’t afraid to show you that the serenity in companionship is just as important and unforgettable.