Review: Mass Effect 3 DLC: “Omega” and “Citadel”

ass Effect 3 concludes with two final downloadable add-ons: Omegaand Citadel. Both are engaging, fun additions, even if neither expands the story in an essential way.

Omega

Any Mass Effect DLC missions must be compared to the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC for ME2, which not only served as a bridge between ME2 and ME3, but also drew from story threads first introduced in the original Mass Effect. It also filled in some of the events around Shepard’s death and return in between ME and ME2, and built on Shepard’s relationship with Liara in a satisfying way. Skipping Shadow Broker would detract from many story points in ME3 and make Liara’s brief appearance in ME2 feel like a strange dead end.

CitadelNeither Omega nor Citadel fill in gaps the way Shadow Broker does, so if we judge them based purely on their contribution to the overall narrative, both come up lacking, even in comparison to earlier DLC releases for ME3. Leviathan, the previous DLC, added some significant Reaper backstory, and the first add-on, From Ashes, offered an additional squad-mate, Javik, whose story fills in some nice background about the Protheans, the Reapers’ penultimate foes.

However, Omega and Citadel are both nicely written stand-alone adventures. Citadel in particular is a worthy addition, and suggests that Shepherd and crew would do nicely in a sort of Ocean’s 11 in space spinoff series, in which Shepherd has to crack wise and infiltrate parties before jumping around darkened warehouses.

Mass Effect 3: Omega

Omega offers players a chance to join Asari gangster Aria T’Loak in her quest to recapture her home from Cerberus. Omega, one of the more entertaining locales introduced in ME2, is a lawless city built around a mining operation on an asteroid. Its wrong-side-of-the-tracks vibe made missions there feel a bit like detectivenoirs in space. Omega’s squalor also serves as a nice counterpoint to the Citadel’s pristine cleanliness and a reminder that the world of the future hasn’t been good for everybody.

Mass Effect 3 Omega

That’s no moon! It’s a space station! On a moon!

Aria herself was always entertaining as Omega’s gangster queen. She was never the best-drawn character, but her ruthless edge suited Omega perfectly. She already had a cameo in ME3, but seeing her on the Citadel, far from her element, made her feel like an afterthought. Completing Omega means fighting through Cerberus soldiers (and a couple new villains aligned with the usual Cerberus forces) for about three hours or so before reaching the leader of the occupation, General Petrovsky.

The battle sequences are well done and more fun than in Leviathan, which often felt like a bit of a rehash. The only real intrigue in Omega comes between Aria and Nyreen, her former lover, and the only female Turian character to appear in ME thus far. The friction between the two and the uneasy alliance between Aria’s forces and Nyreen’s street gang make Omega compelling, even if their story is mainly told through conversations in elevators. (Side note: Omega marks a return to the classical Mass Effect practice of inserting characters into elevators whenever the game wants you to listen to something.) This means, though, that the story of Omega is the story of Aria, a tertiary character, and Nyreen, a new character only introduced for this DLC.

The experience is a bit like a deleted scene you might find on a DVD. It fits perfectly well, and stands nicely on its own, but doesn’t add much to the rest of the game of note beyond a few extra hours of fighting. Fun, but inessential to the rest of the saga.

I would like to discuss the character Nyreen further, though, because her presence is a reminder of one ofMass Effect‘s weaknesses. Although the series features a significant number of female characters, particularly in comparison to other video games, Mass Effect also is guilty of a common sexist trope. Nyreen is one of the game’s “Smurfettes.” (See a better analysis of this trope courtesy of Feminist Frequency.) She’s the first female representative of her species to appear in game. We see lots of different Turian men in every title, and we hear Garrus talk about sleeping with a Turian woman who was a fellow soldier, but it’s not until this DLC mission that a female Turian character appears. I never even noticed one as a background character in a crowd scene, though Turian men are all over the place. A second Turian woman appears inCitadel, but she’s quite literally only there so that Garrus has someone to hit on.

Mass Effect 3 Nyreen Kandros

Turian ladies and their red and white battle makeup, am I right, guys?

ME’s developers seem to have drawn up alien races with one sex in mind, and then sometimes tried to correct this mistake later on, often with awkward results. There’s no reason that aliens on another planet ought to have relationships between sexes that mimic our own, or even a system of reproduction based on two sexes, but almost all do. The only major race that doesn’t conform to our gender norms is the Asari. But they’re not really “different” at all–they’re all basically women, and by far the most sexualized of any of the races invented for the game. So even when Mass Effect portrays a species that organizes reproduction differently from the way we do, the portrayal still fits squarely within the expectations of contemporary video game chauvinism.

A significant plot point in ME3 revolves around a sterility-inducing disease affecting the Krogan race, and a Krogan woman who holds the cure. Like Nyreen, this Krogran woman is another Smurfette. (Another Krogan woman makes a cameo in ME2, but she is an insignificant character and plenty of players will likely have missed her entirely, as talking to her is not necessary for the completion of any missions. And who wants to talk to ladies anyway, right fellas? Pass me another Mountain Dew: Gamer Fuel, bra!)

This Krogan woman is essentially a commodity, and two different species seek control over her ability to reproduce, since she has been cured of the genophage. As if to emphasize the point that she is not a person, but a pawn, she goes unnamed for much of the story. Another character nicknames her “Eve” for obvious reasons, but  other characters don’t know her actual name, and Eve is generally referred to as “the female,” even when she’s listening. It’s terribly objectifying.

Nyreen, at least, gets a name, and gets to move around and not be in a laboratory having her cells looked at all the time like Eve. Because the Krogan are regarded as such brutes, it seems plausible that their society is even more sexist than ours, and that that’s why we don’t see more Krogan women. The Turians, though, are portrayed as being more sophisticated. Garrus treats Shepard as an equal, whether your version of Shepard is a man or a woman. So why does it take so long before we stumble across a Turian woman? Why another Smurfette?

I can only speculate as to what Mass Effect‘s developers had in mind, but it’s hard not to look for patterns. Here’s one: aliens in ME are all men by default, except for when they look enough like humans to possess conventional (ie, for straight men) sex appeal. We see Quarian women because Quarians basically look like humans who wear funny masks. But we don’t see a Turian woman until “Omega” because what’s the point of a female alien who isn’t sexy? Hard not to look at Nyreen and Aria in this light. Sure, it would make more sense for a Turian woman to be in a relationship with a representative of the same species. But what fun would that be, really?

Mass Effect 3: Citadel

Citadel is the stronger of the two final missions. And a good thing, too, since it’s twice as expensive and demands that players download two separate files of 2GB each. Further proof that game publishing is hitting hardware constraints. I bought my Xbox at a time when consoles without hard-drives at all were in wide circulation, but now, a DLC mission that only lasts a few hours can require basically a full DVD’s worth of data storage.

Citadel shares a plot with a dozen or so episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Your ship needs to be repaired, so you can enjoy some chill-out time while it gets its space oil changed…unless, of course, some shenanigans end up interrupting your vaycay! (I borrowed the space oil joke from Joker, but I think I could have come up with it by myself.)

Despite the shopworn plot, Citadel works extremely well as a stand-alone experience. The story almost has a heist movie feel, and spins on an exciting twist. Exciting enough that I won’t even hint at the identity of Shepherd’s new adversary. Citadel also continues with Bioware’s pattern of peppering DLC missions with winking jokes about the game’s own history. I particularly enjoy the fact that Shepherd splits allies into “Team Mako” and “Team Hammerhead” as a nod to those few, odd players who enjoy piloting the vehicles of the same names from ME and ME2. Also, during my play-through, Wrex became quite sad when I didn’t choose him for the final mission, which doesn’t sound awfully funny, but made me laugh at the time. It points to one of the game’s central absurdities (though one shared by all squad-based action games): what are all the other characters doing when you don’t select them for missions, anyway? And why not bring them all anyway?

But like Omega, Citadel adds nothing to the overall story. It does offer an alternate ending, after a fashion, in that once Shepherd thwarts a surprise villain, the gang all comes over for a party. You get to buy new furniture for Commander Shepherd’s dream house and everything! (Note: this is not a joke. This is an actual thing.) Upon returning to Shepherd’s new condo on the Citadel, all sorts of characters send Shepherd emails asking to hang out. And then Shepherd throws a party, during which the rest of the crew gets drunk and talks about how happy they are to be having a party, and how great the party is, even though it won’t seem all that great if you have ever been to an actual party yourself.

I called this party sequence an “alternate ending” not because it takes place at the end, but more because it’s probably the last thing I’ll play; or at least, I have no plans to play again until some years from now when EA decides to sell me some sort of anniversary bundle edition, with the Mako and Hammerhead removed. (Perhaps by then LGR will have found the sponsorship it so richly deserves, and I won’t have to pay for it.) And so, from my subjective viewpoint, this silly party is the new ending.

The much-maligned ending is still the ending, chronologically. But almost anyone buying Citadel has played the “real” ending, probably more than once, and, like me, may feel little pressure to finish again, particularly now that my silly “Galactic Readiness” is down to fifty percent. (For the uninitiated, “Galactic Readiness” is a dumb feature, included merely to compel players to log some time playing in multiplayer mode, where some will decide to spend real money on fake video game bonuses.) So Citadel has the feeling of an extended curtain call, even though it’s a curtain call that takes place with a whole act left to go. It’s a move that caves to the happy ending demanded by so many fans, while not actually changing the chronology of events.

It’s fun, I suppose, but I couldn’t help but think of the game Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball. Not because the crew all giggle and wear bikinis ala DOAX, but because the second half of Citadel is an explicitly no-stakes undertaking, offering players nothing more than a chance to “hang out” with favorite characters. You even get to leave out the boring ones, if you want, though I went ahead and let everyone come by. Seemed like the right thing to do, considering the likelihood of the world ending and all. And because, why not? It’s not like it matters.

citadel_4

Trivia fact! “Mass Effect Citadel party” is also a good search string to use if you want to find hand-drawn fan pornography, it turns out.

As much as I enjoyed Citadel, I can’t help but think of its happy ending as a bit of an empty gesture. I enjoyed wandering around, listening in on the little party conversations, but also wondered what the point was, exactly. Super-thief Kasumi Goto reveals the morning after the party that she’s lactose intolerant. Really? That’s what happens when Shepherd gets to hang out with the squadmates? They share their dietary concerns? Is this a thing that fans wanted?

Citadel is a nice encore, but doesn’t quite know how to wrap things up on a high note. I suppose you could say that about the entire trilogy, though, and not be far off.

Omega and Citadel are available for download to non-Nintendo machines that already have ME3.