“It rewrites galactic history as we know it.”
– Admiral Steven Hackett
You’ll hear Admiral Hackett utter those words in the closing moments of BioWare’s Leviathan campaign DLC for Mass Effect 3. That brief statement lays out the main reason to nab this 800 MS point release. If the lore of the Mass Effect universe is a big deal to you, then Leviathan amounts to must-have material. Just don’t go in with the misconception that you’re also getting a compelling mission add-on to complement the main questline. You will earn new war assets for your final assault on the Reapers orbiting Earth, but the path that you’ll tread to to get there is really all about the final 20 minutes or so of story.
Leviathan sends Commander Shepard and company off on a galaxy-spanning hunt for the titular lost Reaper. It all starts innocently enough, with one researcher going missing and another murdered before your very eyes by a seemingly possessed lab assistant. We all know by now that the Reapers are able to take command of organic minds, and it quickly becomes clear that the lab shooting stinks of a similar form of indoctrination. You’ll visit a variety of locations as you search for the missing Reaper, with actual Reapers shadowing you the whole time. They’re looking for Leviathan too, for some unknown reason, and they’re content to let you do all of the heavy-lifting while they observe from a distance.
While the DLC is paced a bit differently than your standard Mass Effect mission, there aren’t really any particularly new twists on the gameplay. You’ll run into some very light puzzle-solving, which mostly just amounts to “find the object” explorations of the assassinated researcher’s lab. It’s cool the first time, with a few red herrings thrown in to muck up your search parameters as your narrow down a list of possible target locations. The two subsequent trips back to the lab verge on tedium, however, though BioWare at least had the sense to make the lab accessible as a menu option alongside the Citadel’s main docking bay when you land. Having to run around familiar Citadel locations and cycle through multiple load screens just to get on with the story would have been a real drag.
The tedious lab-hunting bits wouldn’t be so problematic if there were more happening during your Leviathan-focused tour of the galaxy. There are maybe three combat encounters of any real note over the course of the 4-5 hour questline and no final “boss” encounter to speak of. The first non-Citadel part of your mission starts off with some ominous stage-setting… only to shift into what amounts to yet another “find the object” scavenger hunt. It’s definitely a different sort of play than you saw in the main campaign, but different doesn’t always translate to fun, and it certainly doesn’t in this case.
Technically speaking at least, the execution is sound. Leviathan‘s assorted alien planets look great, from the lifeless decay of a fully indoctrinated mining facility built onto the surface of an asteroid to the crumbling ruins of a ship graveyard on the surface of an ocean world. Definitely take your time to stop and savor your surroundings if you want to get the most out of this DLC. Not only will you see some lovely sights, but you’ll also find a scattering of new weapons and weapon upgrades to add to your arsenal.
The real payoff, however, comes at the end. Needless to say, you do eventually encounter Leviathan and some basic truths are revealed that, as Hackett states during your debriefing, effectively rewrite the history of the Mass Effect universe as we’ve come to know it. There’s nothing in the realm of changes to the main endgame, but you’ll develop a new understanding of what the Reapers are, where they come from, and what the cycles of life in the universe mean to them. It’s clearer than ever than Shepard’s role at the end of the Mass Effect trilogy’s cycle is dramatically important, though it also feels like the true importance of your contributions won’t fully reveal themselves until BioWare evolves the series further in future games.
The value of Leviathan as an add-on experience ultimately circles back to how much investment you have in the Mass Effect lore. There isn’t a whole lot of game in the 4-5 hour questline, so if you’ve already played through Mass Effect 3 in full for the first time, you’re not going to get a whole lot of satisfaction from playing this new material inside of an old save. It does, however, slot very well into the context of the larger story and it expands significantly on what we know of the larger universe that BioWare has constructed, so Leviathan isn’t a total waste. Just don’t forget that this is a re-write and not a replay; if action is what you’re looking for, consider this one a pass.
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by EA)