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Mass Effect 2 “Arrival” DLC Review

by William Schwartz

The final piece of Mass Effect 2 (ME2) DLC is upon us.  If you are like me, you have been waiting with bated breath for ‘Arrival’ since it was previously announced to be a story bridge to Mass Effect 3.  In my book, ME2 mission based DLC is a must-buy for any ME2 fan, since the standards of past ME2 mission based DLC have been set quite high, especially with the most recent ‘Lair of the Shadow Broker’ DLC.  My only major complaints to date have been somewhat short lengths of each DLC (especially apparent in ‘Kasumi: Stolen Memories’), however this has been offset by quality.

I will try to avoid too many spoilers (Warning: there are some), but for those that are on the fence for buying it, the DLC involves an old friend (Admiral Hackett)  asking Shepard to rescue a scientist who was recently captured by Barterians in the far corners of space.  Did I mention that this scientist has evidence of the impending Reaper invasion?  The catch is that this is a “personal” mission, and thus you are asked to complete it without the aid of squad-mates.  This DLC is accessible to play after the completion of the ‘Horizon’ mission.

Any DLC that has come out for ME2 is solid for one simple reason: ME2 is a polished game.  Thus, Arrival is no slouch when it comes to overall performance and presentation.  Controls are tight, performance is good, and everything just fits together well in the package.  As far as level design goes, the final level has a Mass Relay as a backdrop, which makes for an especially epic setting.

Mass Effect has always stood out amongst other games for its quality writing, story, and voice acting.  For the most part, Arrival continues the trend with an interesting and well sculpted story.  Yes Arrival does bridge the story to ME3, but no it will not be as epic as some have hoped.  But don’t let your pre-conceived expectations blind you to the fact that this DLC has a solid story that adds to your ME2 experience.

Every piece of ME2 DLC is a mini experiment in creating new gameplay variety.  ‘Kasumi’ had the Bond-style heist, ‘Overlord” had the open world, digital level, and platforming, and ‘Shadow Broker’ had the car chase.   Arrival continues this trend of gameplay innovation/experimentation true to form;  There is one very cool part where you must remotely control a Loki Mech to escape a prison cell.  Although the scene is short, it makes for a creative change in gameplay.

On the topic of innovation, I give Arrival props for pioneering ‘stealth’ mechanics in part of the mission.  Although the change of pace and tactics is refreshing, it loses points for implementation.  This is no Splinter: Cell Conviction.  I just can’t say I felt a lot of tension, or more importantly fun, while being stealthy.  Still, I appreciate the attempt.  Hopefully we will see more stealth in ME3, but with some tweaking of game mechanics to make it feel more fluid.

I enjoyed myself playing Arrival, but I could not help but wish that there was more dialogue.  That being said, the lack of dialogue (especially mid game) makes sense since the pacing of Arrival is one of urgency, not standing around chatting as the countdown to the Reaper arrival clicks away above your head.  I just would have preferred more depth to the story.

Another minor complaint I had was a lack of any truly new enemies.  Some have criticized ME2 for it’s overuse of Mercenary troops as enemies… and guess what?  Arrival is full of ‘Mercs.’  Combat is still a pleasure, but it just comes off as ‘more of the same.”  And since most of Arrival is combat based, you just don’t finish Arrival feeling wowed by gameplay.

Aside from the final battle, most of Arrival takes place in a space station, so visuals are rather drab and uninspiring for ME2 standards.  Don’t expect any levels to wow you like being on the surface of the Shadow Broker’s ship.

This DLC is also on the short side.  Expect to get two hours out of it on normal difficulty if you keep a decent pace and explore dialogue options.  Re-playability is there, but the lack of major decisions and consequences limits the need to play again.  Expect 1 hours if you set it to ‘super easy’, skip all dialogue and sprint forward at every opportunity all in attempt to get the lowest playthrough time so that you can post a troll article about it.  Expect longer if you actually ‘play games,’ or like your achievements/trophies.

The Mass Effect series is known for meaningful choices that shape your game (and future games), but Arrival simply lacks them.  Sure there are a few chances to earn some Renegade or Paragon points (aka be an ass or a nice guy), but when confronted with one particularly huge decision of epic ramifications… the game pulls a fast one on you… and makes the decision for you.  What?!?  Surely the writers could have found a way to  allow you to make the decision yourself without actually allowing you to change the overall course of the story (call it the ‘illusion of choice,’ something that the Mass Effect series does very well).

Back to the topic of the Stealth mechanics.  Great idea, but bad implementation.  My main problem with the stealth part of the DLC was the finishing touches, or lack there of.  The Varren always see you, even when cloaked as an Infiltrator.  If you are completely out of sight of a guard and cloak, a guard will announce “we have lost sight of him.”  Or, if you do get ‘truly’ discovered by guards, Shep will often say “they have seen us.”  I should point out that Shep is alone.  Talk about breaking the fourth wall…

Is arrival worth your hard earned cash?  Yes.  However, If you are struggling to finish the main story, this is probably not worth your time or money.  If you are frothing at the mouth for more content for ME2, you already have this DLC and played it through at least 2 times, so you don’t care what I have to say.  In the end, this is a solid piece of DLC, with some interesting attempts at gameplay innovation and a decent story.  Sadly the lack of ‘meaningful choices’ or enemy variety does hurt it.  It is tough for DLC to follow the excellent offering that was ‘Shadow Broker,’ and I can’t help but feel that this DLC was not as ‘epic’ as I would have hoped the final DLC leading into ME3 could have been.

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Mass Effect 2: The Arrival

  • Available On: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
  • Published By: EA
  • Developed By: Bioware
  • Genre: RPG
  • US Release Date: March 2011
  • Reviewed On: Xbox 360
  • Quote: "In the end, this is a solid piece of DLC, with some interesting attempts at gameplay innovation and a decent story.  Sadly the lack of 'meaningful choices' or enemy variety does hurt it."
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