The Arrive downloadable content pack for BioWare's award-winning Mass Effect 2 has been unleashed, giving players one last chance to spend some quiet time with Commander Shepard before the trilogy's Earth-shattering conclusion. An hour and a half just doesn't seem like enough time.
Before I go deeper into my Arrival impressions, know that I'm going to have to stray into spoiler territory to explain some of this, so if you've managed to completely avoid any information on Mass Effect 3 or have yet to make your way through Mass Effect 2, you might want to skip down to the Pressing Questions section of the article.
The rest of you, come with me.
The Arrival is the final dose of downloadable content for part two of BioWare's epic space opera, meant to build a bridge between it and Mass Effect 3. Commander Shepard, waist deep in the events of Mass Effect 2, is given a top secret solo mission by one Admiral Steven Hackett, commanding officer of the Systems Alliance's Fifth Fleet, a returning character from the original Mass Effect, once again voiced expertly by Aliens actor Lance Henriksen.
A deep cover agent is missing in Batarian space, which wouldn't be much of an issue if she hadn't reported possible evidence of an impending invasion by the Reapers, an ancient machine race that until recently had been slumbering in the dark spaces between galaxies. These immensely powerful beings have a bad habit of letting the sentient races in the universe develop to a certain point, emerging from the shadows to wipe them out and steal their technology, and then going back into hiding, repeating the cycle endlessly.
So yeah, Commander Shepard might want to check that out.
Anyone that's seen or read even the smallest bit of information on Mass Effect 3 knows that the next game centers around the Reaper invasion, so Arrival isn't about if they will be showing up. Arrival is about the when, and the how.
Accepting the Admiral's request, Shepard tackles this mission on his own, dropping down onto an alien planet at the edge of the galaxy, all for the sake of one Dr. Amanda Kenson, a scientist working on a project that could buy the universe more time to prepare for the Reaper invasion. If it fails, the countdown clock will hit doomsday far ahead of schedule; critical mission failure to the max.
Playing solo Shepard isn't quite as fun as playing him in a group, unless you pretend he has space madness. My maxxed-out Renegade Shepard kept referring to invisible teammates that did not exist as I infiltrated the Batarian compound where the good doctor was being held. "They've spotted us!" he shouted to no one in particular, and I chuckled.
While a few random enemies patrolled the hallways of the compound, for the most part combat events were confined to certain scripted points. Aside from a protect the non-player character while she does something segment and quasi boss fight against the same giant mech BioWare pulls out whenever they want to delay the story a little longer than usual, the action is limited to a number of firefights that felt as if they were only there to make it take longer to get from point A to point B.
We learn of Dr. Amanda Kenson's work, why it is important, and what it could mean to the future of the galaxy. Then the plot twists in a not-unexpected way, and there are more firefights.
An hour and a half after installing the Arrival on my PC copy of Mass Effect 2, the mission came to its cataclysmic end, with my badass Shepard once again spitting in the face of certain doom. I'm left with the slightest hint of things to come, but nothing massive. Potential side stories that could be woven into the main conflict of the upcoming Mass Effect 3.
That, and the overall feeling that I played through an extended cut scene sprinkled with combat to make it more interactive. The experience was short and ultimately unsatisfying.
Perhaps it would have worked better if, after the final confrontation, I wasn't returned to my ship. Maybe Arrival would have worked better as a standalone download, rather than in-game content clumsily inserted into a narrative that had already runs its course.
Do I need to play Arrival to understand Mass Effect 3?
A definitive answer to this question would require a copy of Mass Effect 3 in my hands. Since that's not going to happen, I'll just have to wing it. From what I experienced while playing through the Arrival downloadable content, I did not see anything that I'd consider required for the enjoyment of the next game in the series.
Given the short length of the mission pack, the majority of which is padded by combat, it would only take a two or three sentence summary in Mass Effect 3 to summarize what you may have missed in Arrival.
Will I know stuff about Mass Effect 3 if I play Arrival?
You'll certainly have a little more insight into how the events in Mass Effect 3 come about, though again, a quick summary would give you the same knowledge.
Towards the end of the mission pack an event occurs that should, if handled correctly, have powerful impact on how certain characters react to the player in Mass Effect 3, so experiencing that event might take players a little deeper into the third game's narrative, rather than simply being told it happened.
Is Arrival worth my seven dollars?
The answer to this question all depends on how much time you've invested absorbing the game's fiction.
If you've religiously downloaded every bit of additional content released since Mass Effect 2 hit store shelves, than you'll likely want to grab Arrival, if anything, to complete the whole set. That is if you haven't already played through it.
The more casual Mass Effect fan might want to give Arrival a pass. Playing through the entire mission only took an hour and a half, and that hour and a half was severely padded by combat encounters, most of which felt like they were only put there to delay the inevitable end.