Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mass Effect 2 DLC

One of the new trends in videogames is the release of downloadable content (or DLC) after the game has been released. I haven't had a whole lot of experience with this phenomenon. At least, I didn't until Mass Effect 2 came along. As you may recall, I really enjoyed the original game. Since they released the game, BioWare has released close to half a dozen DLC packs to expand on the game. Like one of Pavlov's dogs, I've salivated over them and downloaded them and played through them.

Some of them have been relatively inconsequential. The Equalizer pack added some extra armor options that really didn't change the way I played too much. I wore one of the visors for a while but then switched it out with a standard helmet for the health bonus. Truth be told, a lot of the new armor options (mostly helmets or visors) look just plain goofy, especially given the fact that they cover the character's face, which means you can't see Shepherd's expression in the many dialogue sections.

Another seemingly inconsequential addition was the Alternate Appearance Pack, which basically gave you three new outfits for some of your allies to wear. It's all superficial stuff; the new clothing doesn't bestow any tactical benefit. And it's a toss-up. Jack's new clothing seems completely out of character for her. Thane looks really cool. I mean, just look at him. The Drell assassin was cool to begin with, but dressed like that? Wow. But what I really like is the alternate outfit for Garrus. It just never made sense to me why he would want to lounge around in severely damaged battle armor after you recruited him. The alternate appearance corrects this. I wouldn't say that this is a "must get," but it's nice window dressing.

On to the more substantial additions. The first is Kasumi - Stolen Memory. It adds another ally for your character, Kasumi the Master Thief. She's an infiltrator, good at ninja-like attacks using a portable stealth field. I'm not sure how to integrate her into a normal mission. I've played through with her twice, once as a Vanguard and the second time as an Infiltrator. Naturally, two infiltrators on a mission seemed redundant and with the Vanguard's penchant for "storming" an enemy for up-close fighting, Kasumi's stealth attack didn't seem to fit. Maybe if I played as a Soldier? We'll have to see.

Like the other allies, Kasumi comes with her own loyalty mission. She needs Shepherd's help to retrieve something from an underworld kingpin. That "something" is her former partner/lover's gray box, a device that contains his memories. Apparently this gray box has Something Bad on it. I'm not being purposefully evasive here. Instead, I'm just being honest. Kasumi tells us that her partner unearthed something bad that the kingpin shouldn't have. The game never gets more specific than that.

In spite of the vagueness, the mission itself was a blast to complete. Shepherd and Kasumi have to infiltrate the kingpin's mansion in the middle of a party and have to find a way into his triply-locked vault to retrieve the gray box. And then fight their way out, naturally. Kasumi has some snappy dialogue and a great wit. I really wish there was more to Kasumi. Since she's part of a DLC, you can't have extended conversations with her the way you can with your other allies. All she offers are pithy one-liners and that gets boring after a while.

Overall, this is a great expansion pack and worth the points you have to spend to get it.

To me, the next DLC pack, the Firewalker pack, is something of a dud. Apparently some Mass Effect 2 fans were upset that they couldn't drive around on a planet's surface the way they could with the Mako in the first game. So BioWare put together a series of four missions that use a flying tank.

Here's the problem: I wasn't one of those fans. I hated driving around in the Mako. I still do. I mean, I'll go for a drive when I have to, but the minute I can end things, I'm back on board the Normandy heading on to the next planet. So driving this hovering tank thing through semi-hostile environments doesn't really appeal to me. The fact that the Firewalker levels are all fairly linear, straight-shots from Point A to Point B with a few rest stops on the way, doesn't help.

The pack's storyline, if it can be called as such, centers around some missing researchers who apparently disappeared. It's entirely forgettable, that's for sure.

The only real upshot to this pack is that it's part of the Cerberus Network, which means it's free. So I guess for a free expansion, it's not that bad.

The last bit of DLC fun came out just recently, and that's the Overlord pack. This one is fun. There aren't any new allies, but there's a fun story that centers around an attempt to fuse a human mind with a computer program to bring down the Geth, the Mass Effect world's robotic boogeymen. Naturally the project has gone awry and Shepherd and company has to go in and clean house. You have to explore a number of locations before confronting the Overlord VI and learning its deepest, darkest secret.

This one really shone. Lots of different levels and, unlike the other two story-driven DLC packs, this one made a bit more sense. There wasn't any sense of vagueness to the stakes. You knew you had to act and, more importantly, why. The design was fantastic, especially the final level (I won't go into details, but it was really cool). The atmosphere was pretty awesome too. The first time the VI made its presence known, I nearly jumped out of my chair.

There was only one real drawback: to get to different parts of the story, you have to ride the Firewalker. Grrrrrrr. Not cool. There was a bonus mission to search the area in that ludicrous flying deathbox for shiny MacGuffins. I chose not to do so the first time through.

That minor hiccup aside, Overlord is definitely the best of the bunch and well worth the scant points you have to spend to get it.

All of the DLCs can be found at the Mass Effect 2 website, as is a game demo for those of you who haven't experienced this fantastic game. As for me, as I was snaring pictures for this post, I noticed that there's a new DLC pack available. New weapon and armor. I just finished a playthrough and, I'll be honest, I think I need a break. But now I have some incentive to play again. And as far as I'm concerned, that's not a bad thing.

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