This review will most likely contain tons of spoilers, so please do not read if this bothers you.
Ever since Shepard in her infinite loneliness uttered the words “come back soon” in the excellent DLC Lair of the Shadow Broker while sitting all alone on her bed, Shepard has become more and more human to me. What she is – because Shepard to me is irrevocably female – is a fragile and at the same time incredibly strong woman. This fragility and loneliness pops up now and then along the way whilst playing Citadel, the final DLC of Mass Effect 3. But most of all this DLC is actually quite hilarious.
It starts on a solemn note though. Shepard and the Normandy are ordered to take some shore leave by Admiral Hackett. A short discussion with Captain Anderson makes things very clear. Shepard isn’t just an asset in the ongoing war. People care about her. And so Anderson gives her the flat, his flat, on the Citadel. Posh is not nearly enough to describe this marvel of roominess. I guess real estate isn’t an issue on the Citadel. Either that or Anderson makes buckets and buckets of money. Take your pick. Anyway, it’s posh!
In any case, Joker asks Shepard to meet with him at an upscale sushi place, which has a french (!) Maitre’d, and fish swimming in a pool covered with glass. The conversation starts off simple enough, but it soon turns out that both Joker and Shepard have been lured to the sushi place under false pretenses. Enter Maya Brooks, an Alliance intelligence officer, that get caught in the middle when the mercs arrive.
You honestly didn’t think Shepard would actually get any shore leave, did you?
After the initial attack on Shepard, a very troublesome fight passage to a shuttle escape follows – seriously, Overload saved my ass (or rather perhaps Shepard’s ass) in that passage. I hate with a passion the designer that came up with disruptor drones, because they’re fucking annoying! You hear that BioWare?! Annoying! As with Omega the levels or areas are very restricted to linear paths. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but on occasion I miss the open area gunfights of the side missions in the first Mass Effect. In Citadel it becomes a bit too obvious that I’m being herded, and the only thing taking the edge off is the disembodied banter of Shepard’s companions coming up with “helpful” comments and Shepard answering with impeccable timing. I burst out laughing when Jen Hale delivers to perfection the phrase “I don’t want to talk about it!” after being questioned about the mysterious merc assault. Hale’s voice acting is both funny and has perfect timing. Shepard is hard put upon by the absurdity of the situation, and even though she’s on the brink of being killed now and again, she still retains her sense of humor. I get the feeling this is a walk in the park compared to charging brutes and banshees howling their pain towards the skies of Lesuss.
When I’ve finally managed to get to the end of the level, I’m shaking, more or less. It of course doesn’t help that I’ve switched rather abruptly from an Engineer in ME2 on PS3 to a Sentinel in ME3 on Xbox360. There is a slight inconsistency in controls between the two consoles, but I just couldn’t wait until I had finished my Trilogy playthrough on PS3 before sinking my teeth into Citadel. As most of you probably know, I’m a BioWare junkie. But the pressure is high in combat and my enemies are smart to the point of frustration and I’m already dreading the inevitable boss fight. I’m not a good close combat fighter. I prefer the less hectic warfare of sniping, and Citadel is not really built for that type of play. Although mail slotting the Guardians is very satisfying, I must admit.
A pause in the hectic gameplay follows, with an exquisite passage wherein which Shepard and Kaidan gets to don black tie outfits and mingle on a Casino. And also Kaidan mentions hot tubs on the Normandy and I swoon a bit. Raphael Sbarge really does have an incredibly nice voice. Anyway, the Casino bit is actually a nice little slow paced setting that allow my adrenaline levels to settle a bit. It also has some very nifty game mechanics. Sneaking and disabling cameras are involved and I get to talk to people, something I enjoy quite a bit in BioWare’s games. By the way, if anyone from BioWare reads this – Shepard’s dress is an eyesore. It’s awful. It looks terrible. I’d pay for an extra DLC just to be able to switch it to an asari style dress. Even the dress in ME2 looks better than this plastic piece of latexy whatever it is. Or better yet, let Shepard don pants and a shirt. In any case, the fashion design in all Mass Effect games could have used the input of a real fashion designer. I nominate Bea Szenfeld. She can probably knock the socks off any concept designer when it comes to clothes. Actually this is probably not a bad idea. Let the artists and designers that know what they’re doing do their thing. I think it could be awesome!
That aside, during the casino interlude Shepard learns of the Mysterious Figure behind the attacks on her, and EDI helps reconstruct data thought lost, while Shepard mingles with her former and current crew members. As it turns out the whole past and present crew – and I sincerely love you for this BioWare – gets to go to the Alliance Archives to figure out why somebody would want to steal Shepard’s identity. I will not reveal the identity of the Mysterious Figure, but suffice to say it wasn’t a complete surprise, nor very unexpected.
Another lenghty and somewhat herded level follows, but now I feel stressed. There is so much to discover in the Archives and yet the game goads me on – move faster, faster! Your team mates may be in danger! It’s not a completely successful level in that I want to observe and listen but the uptempo music and voice overs stress me out. I think it leaves more than a little to be deserved. I’d cut down on the combat and limit it to certain areas and let Shepard discover in others, not mix them. I think it would also have helped to have some form of blocking mechanism in the Archives, forcing the player to listen to at least some of the audio. It would have calmed my gamer heart.
After the Archives the end comes way too quickly. Again I’m reminded of Omega and to some extent of the fight in areas of Leviathan, although Leviathan left some more leeway for the player to move around. If there’s one flaw in Mass Effect 2 and 3 it’s the lack of open spaces to fight in. My considerable sniper skills are of little use.
The fondest memories are however not of the battles or the new and impressively smart enemies. The conversations are what stays with me. I talk to my crew members and I know them. This is what sticks in Citadel, the talking, the hanging out, the camaraderie.
All in all, Citadel is a magnificent farewell party for the equally magnificent Commander Shepard. A resounding cheer that should be enjoyed as late as possible in the game, preferably with all the companions intact. I always manage to kill Mordin, but the enjoyment of sharing one more mission with him is tempting enough to sacrifice the future of the Krogan. I think the biggest surprise for me was the enormous sense of humor that runs through the whole DLC. There are some moments that are spectacularly funny and ties back into earlier gameplay moments. But for me, Citadel is chiefly the moment when I had to say goodbye to a wonderful friend and her companions. Shepard’s story has been told in full and I will dearly miss her and the crew members of the Normandy SR1 and SR2. There really is no substitute.
Five Glyphs with a bow tie of five possible.
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