Well, I have played Citadel. I have played almost every permutation of the “party”. I appreciate the fact that BioWare has sent me a box of chocolates and some roses, that this DLC (downloadable content) was a love letter and maybe even a bit of an apology from the folks at BioWare. I enjoyed large sections of this add on, but ultimately it feels like another missed opportunity.
I’m going to talk about the interactions with your teammates, friends and LI (love interest) before I get into the whole “evil clone” plot. There were four interactions in particular that I thought were just inspired.
Joker spinning a yarn about his derring do to save the Normandy from Cerberus. The cut scene was hilarious and so charming, and I chose to support his delusions of grandeur and help him get those free drinks because it was just so charming and hey, he did save the Normandy from the Collectors.
Grunt’s tale about “Grunt Tankbred’s Day Off”. It was funny and delightful, and the way he exhorts Shepard to “Keep up!” is wonderful.
Wrex moaning about the Krogan women who want their first child to be sired by Urdnot Wrex who helped cure the Genophage. The sideways glances from Shepard while Wrex treats his abused nether regions with a bag of ice are priceless.
The encounter with my LI which for my Shepard was Kaidan. I loved the cooking scene and the fact you could make a grown up choice about how the evening ended. Hint — it could end in bed.
One step down from the delight of these four interactions were the memorial for Thane and the conversation with Miranda. I also liked the conversation with Vega, and watching sports with the unlikely friends — Cortez and Vega. The other encounters ranged from merely okay to cursory at best, but at least the effort was there to let you have moments with all the characters. I did think there were some great exchanges during the party. The last Prothean raving about becoming Emperor. Zaeed trying to pick up Samara (what a shame the acting world, particularly for games, lost Robin Sachs). Being abused by your friends about your terrible dancing. Tali getting blasted. Kasumi skulking about the apartment and going through your underwear drawer. Traynor’s attraction for EDI. It was all tremendous fun.
Now to the actual mission part of the DLC. The main problem you have to solve is the fact a clone of Commander Shepard is trying to steal your life and ship. Probably because I’m a drama writer I found the attempt to make this a romp less satisfying. Science fiction has been dealing with the issue of clones in interesting and creative ways for decades, and I felt the comedy seemed forced. In all three backgrounds Shepard is a fundamentally lonely person with few ties beyond his/her crew on the Normandy. For better or worse this doppelgänger is the closest thing to a sibling Shepard would ever experience. Would there not be a desperate need to preserve this mirror image, learn about them? I was also frustrated by the choice that really wasn’t a choice. I always play paragon, so I opted for the choice to “save the clone”. Except you didn’t get to save the clone. Instead we had an ending very reminiscent of the conclusion of the second MUMMY movie where the Mummy realizes his sweetie doesn’t love him the way hero’s sweetie loves him so the Mummy allows himself to die. In this case it was Evil Clone Shepard realizing he had no crew to rush to the rescue and his Cerberus hottie didn’t care either so he/she falls to their deaths. Maybe. Or course we never see the clone go splat and there’s no dialogue about disposing of the body. I actually wouldn’t mind if BioWard decided to do something with that bit of ambiguity because, for me, Shepard and the Mass Effect universe are inextricably bound together.
My biggest problem is the pacing of the DLC. I found I kept having to leave the Citadel and complete missions before certain encounters would unlock and I could invite various parties up to the apartment. One thing Mass Effect 3 did very, very well was build tension and the sense of dread and impending doom. Time seems of the essence so it was jarring to keep running back to the Citadel to play arcade games or go out on the town, or watch movies, etc. Also if you want everyone at the big party which ends the DLC you have to wait until after the Horizon mission to get Miranda. All that remains after that is destroying Cerberus and then the final fight for Earth. So to suddenly stop for a party seems utterly out of character for Shepard and undercuts the sense of urgency.
Because I had played through to the end of the game and had no intention of finishing the game again this pacing was less an issue for me, but if you were to have this DLC installed on your first play through I think it would kill the momentum and your sense of immersion.
Bottom line. While I enjoyed this — as long as I viewed it as almost completely separate from the main game — I think it’s in the wrong place. As in the wrong game. This DLC would have worked brilliantly as the coda to Mass Effect 2. You’re just coming off being resurrected by Cerberus so the idea of a clone created as back-up is very logical. If you destroyed the Collector base and told The Illusive Man to shove it he has a very strong reason for trying to replace you. And since Shepard is about to arrested either for working with Cerberus or destroying the mass relay at Bahak the idea of one final farewell party before you go to jail makes so much sense.
For those of us who selected either Ashley or Kaidan as our love interest we would lose out in that situation, but it just would have fit so beautifully and you wouldn’t have had the pacing problems that arose with it being in Mass Effect 3.
However, if I assume this is a love letter from BioWare to their fans then I can take it in the spirit it was offered and say thank you. They still don’t get a pass for creating a train wreck with that ending, but it seemed like a return to what made so many of us love BioWare games — the characters, the worlds, the friendships.
I confess I’m rather melancholy now that there is no more Mass Effect. Someday I’ll replay at least the first two games, and some of third. Meanwhile I’m going to dive into Knights of the Old Republic which my book editor tells me has all the strengths of Dragon Age: Origins and the first 2 Mass Effect games. A new world discover and new people to meet.
And a whole new set of commands for the controller. Not looking forward to that part.