Mass Effect is a game of dichotomies: paragon and renegade, Salarian and Krogan, Synthetic and Humanoid. Everything in the series revolves around these basic binary relationships. Despite Bioware’s best attempts to layer depth into the story and add weight to the decision making, it almost always boils down to picking one or the other. Even the much criticized ending plays into this, providing the player with a blunt either / or choice. Mass Effect isn’t about choice, it’s about taking a side and sticking with it, no matter how difficult it might be.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the two major DLC packs released thus far: Leviathan and Omega. Both are opposite sides of the coin; one a tight detective story dripping with mood and intrigue, the other a bombastic shootout through the back alleys of the dirty Omega mining colony. The dominant color schemes of both completely play to this, Leviathan’s cool blues contrasting with the harsh oranges of Omega. Each asks the question: what do you get out of Mass Effect? Is it a galactic thriller, heavy on the plot and character, or is it a chest-thumping action game full of omni-blades and explosions?
If your favorite scenes in Mass Effect involve lots of guns, biotic powers, and conveniently placed waist high cover, then Omega is a great expansion to the series, but is it worth $15?
The story is simple: Aria T’loak, the criminal mastermind of the mining colony of Omega, needs Shepard’s help in deposing a Cerberus leader who’s taken control of her precious little home. After meeting her on the Citadel, you head straight over to Omega, wasting no time in blowing everything to hell. It doesn’t take long for you to establish a base of operations, meet up with the mysterious Nyreen (the much hyped female Turian), and come up against a two new enemies: the Adjutant and the Cerberus Rampart Bot.
It runs for about 3-4 hours, with the pace rarely slowing down once it gets going. Omega is light on conversation and heavy on bullets, with actual discussions limited to a handful. Almost all of the characters are developed either on the way to killing or shortly afterwards, so don’t worry if you were bored by the much more methodical pace of Leviathan. There are no adventure-game style investigation puzzles or moody underwater sequences here, just tons and tons of Cerberus troops itching to have their heads exploded. The closest you’ll get to atmosphere is a short but effective scene in a powerless underground mining complex, everything dark except for the beam of your flashlight.
Like the Arrival DLC for Mass Effect 2, you’ll be leaving behind all your party members during your stay on Omega. Actually, you’ll be leaving behind pretty much everything, as Omega seems to exist within an alternate dimension outside of the game’s timeline. You arrive with almost no fanfare and leave with even less. Aria returns to her couch on the Citadel and, once the DLC is finished, you never go back. For all the bloodshed you’ll visit upon Cerberus you get some War Assests, a few new abilities and weapons for Shepard to use, and a very nice chess set. It’s incredibly underwhelming considering the scope and impact of the first DLC, Leviathan.
The gunplay is some of the game’s best though. Despite not allowing you access to your squad, it manages to stay engaging and interesting the entire time through the addition of a few different activities and settings. Most of the things you’ll do are culled from the newer multiplayer modes (similar to the drone escort in Leviathian) such as disarming four bombs while under fire. The pacing is where the combat really shines, never requiring you to stay in one place for more than a few minutes. You won’t get bored fighting yet another wave while on Omega station, even if the plot is making you yawn. The final battle, while especially ludicrous from a plot perspective, is particularly satisfying, forcing you to drop cover and shut down shield generators while under attack. It manages to capture the tense action of the multiplayer without the need for those pesky other people.
The animation team does a great job getting character across without having to lean on the inconsequential story. Aria, ever the pragmatist, is at her best when she’s rolling her eyes at whatever good guy move you’re making. Her respect for you, despite how stupid she thinks your decisions are, is palpable. Unfortunately, Carrie-Anne Moss, who voices Aria, walks through the role, never really expressing any emotion beyond bemused annoyance. There’s a definite attempt to develop Aria’s character in Omega beyond that of a cold hearted dictator, but even the most interesting character details fall flat as a result. Her big speech, as featured in the trailer, was so devoid of passion that it even made me question whether or not to just give in to General Petrovsky, the main villain.
Despite the quality of the facial animations, the character movements are hilariously buggy. During her rallying cry to the citizens of Omega, Aria managed to rubberband around the stage no less than six times. Perhaps it was that show of force that scared her people in following her, it sure wasn’t the conviction in her voice. One hacker showed off her unique talent to turn her head around 180 degrees while STILL TYPING. Nyreen was always on the ready, refusing to put away her rifle even when trying to use a computer console. Any one of these would be tolerable, but it seemed like every twenty minutes another outlandish bug was tugging me away from the game.
The real question here isn’t “Is it good?” It is for what it is. Most of the technical problems will come as no surprise to players of Mass Effect 3 and the sliding-over-cover-away-from-explosions action isn’t unwelcome in the Mass Effect universe. Instead, the question we need to ask is “Is it worth $15?”
Sadly, it isn’t. Considering the fact that Bioware managed to combine both blue and orange in the lower priced Lair of the Shadow Broker for Mass Effect 2, there’s really no reason to completely ditch one in favor of the other. A few glorified shooting galleries, some single-player versions of multiplayer matches, and a half-baked story that resolves itself so fully it’s almost like it never happened just isn’t worth that kind of price.
If you’re a fan of Mass Effect 3’s combat, you’ll enjoy Omega, but you’ll probably enjoy quite a few other things even more with that $15. Just sign on to the game’s already fully featured multiplayer, load up a bronze map with Cerberus as the enemy, and pretend that Asari biotic next to you is named Aria; you’ll get the Omega experience without the Omega price.