Mass Effect 3: Omega
Out of the various exotic locations visited in the Mass Effect universe, the space-port Omega is one of the most characterful. Capturing the ‘used future’ feel of classic Star Wars, before someone ill-advisedly bought George Lucas a few billion dollars worth of computer effects software for Christmas, Omega is a battered and worn criminal metropolis packed to the gills with mercs, thugs, assassins and pirates. With all that to play with, it’s a little odd that Bioware chose not to visit it during the series’ final entry.
Now though, almost a year after everyone finished Mass Effect 3 and decided it was absolutely the most important thing to moan about on the internet, we get another chance to grub around in this hive of scum and villainy. Former Omega kingpin Aria T’Loak is looking to take her former empire back from the clutches of the humanocentric terrorist group Cerberus, and she needs Commander Shepard’s help.
It’s not a complex set-up. Omega doesn’t mess about with measured pacing, instead shoving you straight into one fire-fight after another. It’s just a shame that not much has been done to spice up the combat, because that’s pretty much all you’ll be doing. Having already slaughtered around five million hapless drones from behind the safety of a chest-high wall, the same sense of jaded familiarity that began to set in during the latter stages of ME3 returned with interest. In an attempt to inject some unpredictability Bioware have added two new enemy types, but neither possess any new tricks dangerous enough to really keep you on your toes.
Most of these encounters take place inside the industrial heart of the station. It’s all nice enough to look at, but the environments seem fairly muted next to the more varied selection on display in the previous downloadable episode, Leviathan. Mass Effect has always been chock full of fairly bland concrete and steel warehouses, and though the design here is a little more varied it still feels too familiar and claustrophobic. Omega itself is as grim and grimy as ever, but it feels much less believable this time round. With your only points of contact being the two main characters, you don’t really get to delve into what makes the city tick, and how its civilians co-exist. Instead the previously colourful inhabitants are reduced to a faceless mob that simply cheers or boos every time someone makes another pompous speech on a giant video screen. The whole experience is oddly lacking in character and atmosphere.
Which brings us to the main problem with this expansion. It’s just not a story worth telling. I got the distinct feeling throughout that Bioware thinks Aria is a lot more interesting than she really is, which lends the whole thing a certain self-congratulatory air. Hey, you know that awesome character Aria you all loved? Cough up ten pounds and you can have a whole mission with her. Well I don’t want to, because she’s an idiot.
You’re supposed to be replacing a brutal dictatorship, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe that Aria would be a better leader than Cerberus. In fact, she doesn’t seem to give a single hopping shit about any of her hapless underlings, preferring to instead burble on and on about how she’s going to take back what’s hers, and even the score, and make those responsible pay and so on. You can influence her to some extent via paragon/renegade prodding, but that doesn’t stop her from being a miserable sod for most of the journey, lacking in the basic charisma that can make morally dubious characters likeable. In fact I developed an almost pathological hatred of her as she made me traipse through one set-piece after another for her own selfish gain, hoping beyond hope that I’d eventually get the opportunity to push her into a giant turbine, or down an abyss, or into the mouth of a slavering reaper-spawn. Never got to, sadly.
Originally I thought that new character Nyreen, heroic resistance fighter and only female Turian in the entire galaxy, might provide another option for players unwilling to leave Omega in the hands of such a narrow-minded sociopath, but the tension between her ethical code and Aria’s has no time to grow in such a brief and blisteringly fast-paced journey, and Nyreen is quickly forgotten. In fact that headlong pacing is another problem. There’s no time to readjust to anything before its over, no time to drink in the atmosphere before you’re hurled into another repetitive shoot-out. And then it’s over, your last challenge an underwhelming and tedious quasi-boss fight. Hooray for me, I rescued Omega from the evil clutches of the terrorists, and gave it straight over to this homicidal bastard. Aren’t I brilliant?
It’s difficult to recommend Omega to anyone but the most die-hard Mass Effect fans. Even they will probably be disappointed with the lack of ambition shown. If you intend to release story-based DLC for a game almost a year after it was released, with no direct connection to the plot, it has to be engaging in and of itself. That’s not the case here. It’s a shame that our final goodbyes to the cityscape of Omega is so passionless and dull. If Bioware intends to release more episodic content for ME3, I hope they don’t rely on their increasingly tired combat system to do all of the work next time round. Let’s have some more of that character back, okay?