Monday, January 03, 2011

Mass Effect 2 Lair of the Shadow Broker Review

As part of their Holiday Discount Days on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker was on sale for 200 Microsoft Points, and after having heard so many great things about this DLC, I decided to bite.

After downloading and installing the DLC, provided you load up a Commander Shepard that's already traveled to Illium, you'll get a message from Cerberus with a tip off that could lead to the location of the Shadow Broker himself, the mysterious information broker who seems to know everything about everyone. Your old squad mate, Liara, is ruthlessly looking for him, and Cerberus would like Shepard to deliver the intel to her and lend a hand.

The DLC offers a nice variety of game situations to explore. In addition to the excellent conversations that Mass Effect 2 is known for, you actually spend the first bit doing a quick investigation that leads you into conflict with the Shadow Broker's private mercenaries (who are very much like Eclipse Mercs with a different pallet swap and logo), and even a great hover car chase sequence. This last bit surprised me and was ridiculously fun, if short lived. Just to clarify, in one part of the DLC, you don't just take a cab to your next location with an automated loading screen, you get to drive it in a high speed chase sequence that was giving me some Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones flashbacks, and I actually mean that in a good way.

You'll also get to engage in two unique and exciting boss battles, the second sporting a nice piece of originality that I won't spoil here, but suffice it to say, I was impressed by the slight innovation.

Liara herself not only accompanies you throughout the DLC, she's a fully developed Squad Member. She has Warp, Singularity, her own class passive skill, and Stasis makes a return to the franchise (no need to worry about loyalty here, you've already earned hers). You can distribute her Talent Points as you see fit, and for weapons, she'll use Submachine Guns and Heavy Pistols.

Both Shepard and Liara, amongst other characters, have full voice recorded, and the witty banter between them throughout the entire DLC had me laughing out loud more than once. If you're Commander Shepard is imported from the first game and you had a relationship with Liara, you'll have the opportunity to resume that relationship and be given several more Paragon interrupt opportunities. Liara has changed though, as she's not the naive scientist you journeyed with in the original game. She's colder, harder, and darker; just like everything else in Mass Effect 2.

From what I've heard, you can resume your relationship with her at no cost to any existing relationship you have going on, though I personally didn't test this. I didn't want to take a chance on ruining things with Tali, so I took the friends route, and my next two Shepards were new characters, so the option to renew the relationship was not there. At one point, Liara actually chewed me out for "trying to get under Tali's helmet." Oh jealousy...

Visually speaking, the DLC looks slick. The sections on Illium are as beautiful as you'd expect from your experiences there with the core game; very detailed. The Shadow Broker's lair itself took me by surprise, and while I won't ruin it for you, it's spectacular. Excellent art design and a very wonderful vista combine with the gameplay style of that part of the DLC to create a very cool and unique experience.

Audio-wise, I'm not sure if that's a new musical piece or not, but it works exceptionally well at setting the tone and energy for the hunt, and I really enjoyed it. With the exception of one brief NPC, the voice acting was excellent and of the same high quality you'd expect from Mass Effect 2. It really was good to hear and converse with Liara again, and the fact that the DLC gave me this kind of an emotional response is a clear credit to the strength of BioWare's character development. I really do care about the characters from the Mass Effect universe.

Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker features a few additional upgrades for some weapons and armour, and there are also five new Achievements to earn to pad your Gamerscore. While exploring the Shadow Broker's lair, you'll come across Dossiers on various personalities from the universe, including your own crew. It'll take several minutes, but I strongly recommend you read each one. You'll find out some very interesting points about your team and beyond, and I have even more respect for Tali now, and I feel sad for Garrus.

I've actually played through the DLC three times already, one for each of my Commander Shepards. All of them have completed the Suicide Mission as well as all side Quests and other DLC, so for each playthrough I only had the new content to worry about. My first go on Normal Difficulty took me about 6 hours as I explored everywhere and looked at everything. My next was around 4 hours and this was on Veteran, and my finally playthrough was on Insanity and it surprisingly only took me about 2.5 hours. Since I already knew where everything was I was able to easily motor through stuff.

In closing, I do wish that more developers would take notes of BioWare's efforts. Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker is one of the best DLC add-ons I've ever played, period. Featuring very high production values across the board, a solid story line, and further character development with some unique gameplay moments, I can honestly recommend this content even at the full cost of 800 Microsoft Points.

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