Mass Effect 3: Citadel
Now this is more like it. After a couple of DLC episodes that seemed to forget what made Mass Effect so enjoyable, Bioware have finally pulled their socks up and given us a rousing curtain-closer. It’s clear from the start that Citadel isn’t going to retain the same sense of doom-laden inevitability that permeates Mass Effect 3’s main narrative. Things start off with a civvy dressed Shepard meeting Joker for a little rest and relaxation in a swanky sushi restaurant. Shepard, who can’t nip off for a piss without uncovering several galaxy wide conspiracies and defusing a bomb, soon finds himself the target of a heavily armed band of mercenaries. There’s a big bad (trust me when I say you probably won’t guess who it is) to fight, a conspiracy to uncover, and a whole host of familiar faces to meet up with.
In fact such is the roll call of character cameos that Citadel could have ended up feeling like shameless fan service. Okay, to some extent it is exactly that, but there’s so much energy and care invested in it that Mass Effect fans won’t mind a bit. For one, it’s genuinely funny. There’s a whole host of call-backs, references and gags scattered throughout, but crucially not to the point where it becomes obnoxious. Instead the whole thing has the feel of a light-hearted Joss Whedon episode, one last carefree caper before everything goes to hell. Mark Meer in particular does some of his best work as Shepard, showing a fairly deft comic touch that’s much more convincing than his trademark bland heroics.
At the core of Citadel is the opportunity for one last chance to see all those characters we’ve grown attached throughout the series, and in this respect it does a fantastic job. Barring one or two understandable exceptions (Mordin and Legion notably, although Mordin does leave a recording of his memoirs which is well worth finding), the whole cast is here, and they’re clearly having a ball. There’s a real bitter-sweet sense of camaraderie and friendship, especially in the latter third of the episode, when action movie hijinks give way to simple character interaction. Even sentient testosterone gland James Vega gets a few good moments. ME3 occasionally got bogged down in grand theatrics, and forgot that it’s really the character interaction that made this series so enjoyable. Citadel gives you that in spades.
Indeed the vibrant party atmosphere of Citadel is the reason to give it a try. While the action hits all the necessary marks, it’s very much built in the traditional Mass Effect mode. There’s a brief, and slightly strange, focus on stealth at the very beginning, but it feels like the designers quickly decided that it wasn’t really working, and before long you’re hunkering behind cover and flinging powers off as per usual. That’s all fine, and Mass Effect’s brand of gameplay is as refined and polished as ever, but don’t go in expecting a new approach to combat. That’s not really the point. If you’re desperate for more running and gunning, however, there’s an opportunity to compete for prizes in a new arcade style combat arena that recalls the Pinnacle Station add-on for the original game, but with considerably more care taken over it.
It’s astonishing just how much content is packed in here. Considering that it comes in at roughly the same price as the dull and pointless Omega, it’s worlds apart when it comes to delivering a vibrant and entertaining experience. Just how Bioware managed to juggle the wildly varying branches that players will have gone down boggles the mind. Having played through Citadel a couple of times with different characters, there’s a marked difference between each fresh run. The replay value for die-hard fans is considerable. There’s the sense that Bioware knew this would be the last hurrah for a series that, despite some valid concerns about the direction of the story, has been one of the defining gaming experiences of this generation. I’d forgotten in the wake of the slightly lacklustre recent expansions just how much I enjoyed visiting this universe over the last six years. As one of Shepard’s squad-mates remarks as Shepard’s last mission comes to an end, it’s been quite the journey, and this is a terrific send off.