Six months from Mass Effect 3's launch we've finally got hold of the RPG's first major single-player DLC pack - Leviathan. Don your N7 hoodie and let's get back to the war.
"Do you want to play some more Mass Effect 3, Brenna?" BioWare (implicitly) asked, dangling a slab of single-player DLC in front of me.
Oh boy, would I. My love affair with the Mass Effect franchise is long and well-documented. I don't care that I already know how the trilogy ended; I just want to spend forever flying around the galaxy with Shep and friends, fightin' and flirtin'. After navigating Origin's bizarre four week payment malfunction in order to purchase BioWare points, I armed myself with a Leviathan install and leapt back into the fray.
The first thing I noticed upon firing up Leviathan is how many feelings I had. (Spoiler alert: my Commander Shepard is dead. So dead. It is hard to be deader.) I wasn't prepared for how rattled the emotional highs and lows of Mass Effect 3's ending and subsequent re-ending had left me. Having signed off on a decade of gaming memories, to have that closure negated by single-player DLC was extremely weird.
But hey, there were faces to shoot and other faces to smooch - my two favourite things - so I buried my confusion and moved on. Leviathan is triggered by an email on the Commander's private terminal, making it very easy for an end-game save to access. Visiting the Citadel post-install adds a new docking option to explore a private laboratory and apartment, the first really lived-in space the enormous complex has ever shown us.
Without going into details of the plot, this laboratory becomes a kind of homebase during the events of the DLC, with the Commander returning between excursions to Do Science with everyone's favourite AI companion, EDI. Doing Science is quite fun and although what showed promise as an investigative puzzle largely devolved into mashing the interact key while having a laugh at Shepard's cluelessness, it's a lot of fun to poke around between the action sequences. You can't use the space toilet, which is surrounded by books, but you can use the space shower and I appreciated this little touch. As silly and fun as Doing Science is, eventually you have to wander off and get on with it, which is where we get back to the core tenets of the Mass Effect franchise.
After playing Mass Effect 3 multiplayer practically non-stop since its launch in March, I have lost all fear of anything the single-player can throw at me. Remember how you used to go into a panic at the sight of a Banshee? I now crack a yawn (to be fair, multiplayer has granted me a terror of Phantoms). Having viewed the Leviathan trailer I was extremely excited for the combat to come. Alas! There's only one Harvester battle in the whole sequence, and to my dismay it fell over fairly readily. There are some tense moments in the same zone if, like me, you're stupid enough to hang about hoping to kill off every enemy and not recognising an infinite respawn, but more alert players can solve most of their firefight issues by sprinting towards the highlighted goal.
There is one quite good back and forth with a drone escort between a couple of banshees, but all in all Leviathan is a little light on shooting and heavy on walking through corridors until you hit the final environment, a rain-lashed ocean planet. Here you'll encounter another infinite respawn battle during which you have to deliver multiple payloads to either of two drop zones; unlike multiplayer characters, Shepard can sprint while encumbered, which is absolutely what you should do, as the three or four Brutes which appear with each wave will knock your team mates over in less than half a minute. This reminded me both of how over-powered Shepard is compared to multiplayer, and how useless Mass Effect 3's AI is unless you micro-manage it, so if BioWare's intent was to make me appreciate its multiplayer balancing then ten out of ten, I guess?
Assuming you don't sit around geeking out over class synergy and the names of Shepard's gazillion weapons options, you're probably more interested in what Leviathan has to offer in the story department. While Leviathan's dialogue can't, for obvious reasons, add significantly to our knowledge of the characters, it does an excellent job of not appearing tacked on; if you encountered the DLC as a mission thread during a playthrough, it would slide into place quite homogeneously.
The events of DLC can't really alter the ending of Mass Effect 3. However even with their fangs drawn BioWare's writers still dish up a pretty tasty series of events including Shepard getting a nosebleed - it's more exciting than I make it sound - which prove entertaining as long as you don't pedantically pick at the soft sci-fi.
Although there are no new squadmate cut-scenes on offer, between each major segment of Leviathan you can do your usual Normandy trawl for new conversation snippets with your crew, many of which are, as expected, quite funny or revealing. I only had one save prepared for Leviathan, but for my Liara-romancing FemShep, that side of things went down well. One pleasant surprise was new ambient dialogue, too; in my playthrough, Garrus and Tali had been spending quite a lot of quality time together, and blatantly eavesdropping on their chatter at both ends of the ship was a nice little bonus for those who allowed this relationship to blossom.
Again, the events of DLC can't really alter the ending of Mass Effect 3 - although completing it and exploring the new planets on offer will add to your effective military strength. Nor does Leviathan offer a significant amount of new lore, besides the answer to a pretty obvious question, which does flesh out our understanding of the trilogy's final hour a little more. However even with their fangs drawn BioWare's writers still dish up a pretty tasty series of events including Shepard getting a nosebleed - it's more exciting than I make it sound - which prove entertaining as long as you don't pedantically pick at the soft sci-fi.
For $10, Leviathan offered me - a bone-deep Mass Effect tragic - a pretty pleasant evening's entertainment, but I did knock it over in a single night. It certainly doesn't offer so much new information that you have to experience it to really "get" the Mass Effect trilogy, and although the fights are decent, they're definitely not unmissable. Leviathan is a solid extra module for Mass Effect 3 and it proves BioWare can slot new content into what will eventually become a finished package (labelled "game-of-the-year edition", most likely), which makes me more excited to see what the team produce next than delighted with what I've already got.