Spoiler Alert!!!: I don’t make any attempts to hide or gloss over any potential spoilers so if you want to go into this DLC unaware of plot details, avoid reading this review. You have been warned.
Being the massive Mass Effect 2 fan I am, when Bioware announced that they were releasing one more DLC pack to serve as a bridge of sorts between Mass Effect 2 and its upcoming sequel, I was understandably excited. And who could blame me? After all, I did give Mass Effect 2 a glowing review a year or so ago and the DLC Bioware has released thus far has steadily increased in quality and general awesomeness from the good, if somewhat flawed Kasumi: Stolen Memory DLC to the great Operation Overlord addition to the superb Lair of the Shadow Broker mission. I thought, if they could do so well with Mass Effect’s DLC thus far, one can only imagine how awesome The Arrival will be!
Sadly, The Arrival is not the groundbreaking, stellar and all around amazing downloadable content I was expecting it to be and not because previous missions had set such a high bar. The Arrival just isn’t that good, even judging it solely on its own merits. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great moments to be found in this DLC, which is more than I could say for the Pinnacle Station DLC released for the first Mass Effect, so it isn’t total garbage but it just seems…well, like a cash-grab.
The mission with a message from Admiral Hackett that mentions some business he has that he would like to keep between him and Shepard. It is revealed that his friend and Alliance agent Dr. Amanda Kenson has found something, something dangerous during an assignment in a remote star system. A Reaper artifact that she believes is signaling the impending arrival of the Reapers. But, before she could do anything about this, she was captured by Batarian soldiers and taken to a prison on a nearby planet. Hackett wants Shepard to go in alone and break her out. Shepard agrees, and he is on his way.
Notice I said that Hackett wants Shepard to go in alone. IE, without any of your squadmates. This is a mission that Hackett wants to be handled with discretion. This segues into Shepard’s landing on the planet, alone and beginning his covert infiltration of the prison. From here, if you wish, you have the option of blasting your way through columns of Batarian guards or, you can handle this discreetly, as Hackett desires and sneak your way through the compound.
While I enjoy that Bioware is giving me a choice here, Mass Effect 2 is not a stealth oriented game and as with most non stealth games that contain sneaking sections, it isn’t handled well here. Guards all have predictable patterns and won’t notice you sprinting past a doorway right next to them but not directly within their line of sight. I enjoy stealth when it’s done right but here, it just wasn’t and I would’ve preferred blasting my way through to the Doctor.
Once you reach her, together, you two (predictably) shoot your way out of the prison to a shuttle that has conveniently recently docked in the hangar and to freedom. From here, the mission takes a different turn as the good Doctor informs you of a project simply titled “The Project” to launch a massive asteroid into the star system’s Mass Relay, destroying it and delaying the arrival of the Reapers within the galaxy. The problem with this is that the resulting explosion will likely result in a blast that is akin to a star going supernova and will wipe out a nearby colony of over 300,000 Batarian colonists.
You arrive at a space station situated on an Asteroid, in which the Reaper artifact, named Object Rho, is housed and learn that only just over two days remain before the Reapers will arrive in the system. You are led through the base to the object by Dr. Kenson and then, following another one of those prophetic visions, the story takes a turn and it is revealed that Dr. Kenson has been indoctrinated by the Reapers due to prolonged exposure to the object and suddenly, the entire station has turned against you and you’ll find yourself tasked with surviving five waves of enemy soldiers.
This survival test is, without mincing words, awful. What’s worse is that it’s not due to a deficiency in the Mass Effect 2’s combat system but simply due to the environment you have to wage war in. There is a notable dearth of usable cover that doesn’t leave your ass hanging out, just waiting to be flanked by one of the pyro units and set on fire, which causes Shepard to freak out (as anyone would logically do if they found themselves in the path of a flamethrower) and opening him up to being shot numerous times by the flood of enemy units.
So, you’ll probably die. Now, if you’re going for the achievement awarded for surviving all five waves, as I was, every time you reload your last save, you have to watch the betrayal cutscene again. And again. And every single time you die. Now, part of the cutscene is skippable but you are forced to watch the meat of the scene which is seriously annoying. This is one of the Cardinal Sins of gaming. Thou shalt not place an unskippable cutscene before a boss fight or other lengthy, difficult battle. For shame Bioware. For shame.
Once this encounter is finished, (Shepard is knocked out anyway by a blast emitted from object Rho if the enemy soldiers fail to take him down) Shepard awakens in a medical bay, having been heavily sedated for two days. From here, there’s an interesting sequence where Shepard “assumes control” (Nice touch, Bioware) of a security mech, and breaks himself out of the med bay.
From here, Shepard starts the Asteroid on its path toward the Mass Relay, guns down dozens of base security guards, stops Dr. Kenson’s insane mission to force the Element Zero reactor core to meltdown and blow the asteroid sky-high rather than allow Shepard to stall the Reapers’ titular arrival, has a brief encounter with Harbinger and makes his climactic escape from the asteroid and the star system before the asteroid collides with the Mass Relay and blows the system to kingdom come.
This seems like a missed opportunity. None of the things Mass Effect 2 was so great at are on display here, namely well-defined characters, intriguing character interaction, difficult choices or great story and plot development. Because this is a solo mission for Shepard, you don’t even get the witty banter between Shepard and his or her squadmates. The problem with this is that Shepard’s combat lines aren’t changed either. Hearing Shepard shout “They’ve seen us” when he’s set upon by a new squadron of enemy soldiers really takes me out of the experience.
What you get is a very linear procession of corridors in which to shoot people until they die and a new character in Dr. Kenson who just isn’t that interesting. Even the one choice in the mission, whether or not to sacrifice the lives of the Batarians in the system for the good of the galaxy, is made for you. It doesn’t help matters much that the mission has a paltry 2-3 hour runtime, which is heavily padded by the numerous encounters you’ll have with enemy units. I was able to complete the mission the first time through with a level 30 Vanguard in about two hours, give or take and wrapped the mission in just one hour with my level 30 Soldier, even on the Insanity difficulty level.
There are a couple of things I liked about the content, however. It does set the stage nicely for Mass Effect 3 and I enjoyed the brief but powerful encounter with a hologram of Harbinger. The set pieces used in this DLC, such as the Batarian prison and the project base, are nicely atmospheric. Following the mission, Admiral Hackett appears to debrief Shepard personally and it is revealed that it is highly likely that Shepard will be thrown to the wolves in order to avoid all-out war between the human Alliance and Batarian Hegemony. Shepard made a decision that cost over 300,000 innocent civilians their lives and because of this, he is a war criminal and will have to answer for his crimes. I am intrigued to see how this will play out in Mass Effect 3 and I just wish the road leading up to this shocking revelation wasn’t so tempered by mediocrity.
So, I’ll bet you’re wondering if you should spend your seven dollars on The Arrival. Well, even from a self-professed Mass Effect fanboy, I can’t recommend this. There’s simply too little content to be had here for the price. The stealth section was “meh”; the survival section was a pain and the encounters with enemy soldiers were tedious. The payoff is good but it’s nothing that can’t (and likely will be) be summed up in a few words in a prelude to Mass Effect 3. My advice? Skip this, at least until the inevitable discount.