Designed to bridge the gap between last year’s Mass Effect 2 and the upcoming Mass Effect 3, Arrival exchanges roughly £5 for a brief jaunt through two new areas.
After coughing up the cash and downloading 700-odd megabytes, Arrival will be triggered when next checking your terminal on the Normandy. Admiral Hackett (he who helped you attack Sovereign in Mass Effect 1) asks Shepard to rescue a friend currently rotting in a Batarian prison. The caveat, probably introduced because of the complexities of recording dialog for your extended squad, is that Shepard has to go it alone.
Things are a little more complex than the premise, of course: the prisoner is doing time for trying to blow up a Mass Relay, and just so happens to know something about the imminent Reaper attack on the galaxy. Events develop, stuff explodes, and Shepard punches a few people in the face against a variety of beautiful backdrops.
Anyone expecting Arrival to exhibit as much content or quality as last year’s Lair of the Shadow Broker will immediately be disappointed, however. I polished the quest off in well under two hours, and that was with the trials of restarting numerous times on Insanity difficulty.
Length is not the only issue, however. There is little to propel you through Arrival’s run-and-gun encounters other than a desire to see out the plot, and because Shepard is (mostly) alone there isn’t much in the way of creative and tactical combat situations.
When Arrival does actually try its hand at anything more than corridor blasting, it usually falls flat. A stealth-orientated section is basically a doddle for Infiltrators but tedious for other class types, and at one point you’re left knocking off waves of enemies in a particularly weak lemon drink version of Horde mode.
And whereas Mass Effect 2’s previous DLC packs gave you intricate characters and difficult choices, much of the interaction in Arrival is spent with Amanda Kenson, a wafer-thin character sporting a greyscale version of Kelly Chambers’ haircut and a face so ugly I can only assume somebody inputted the incorrect character code.
The problem is that for the most part it doesn’t really feel like a genuine Mass Effect experience. Playing without your squad is a noticeable misstep, and unlike Kasumi’s Stolen Memory there’s no accompanying character to make it all worthwhile. There’s not much dialogue in general, to be honest, and everything unfolds in a distressingly linear fashion.
Overall satisfaction will probably rest on whether you can stomach one particular sequence. While much of the quest follows a familiar structure, at the moment when you’re supposed to make the big, bold, morally-questionable decision – as is the way with the series – the game snatches it away from the player and executes it via cutscene. You are essentially robbed of Arrival’s definitive moment.
There is no emotionally-fraught choice, and there will subsequently be no discussion with friends about whether you chose to, say, abandon the Destiny Ascension, reprogram the Geth heretics, or save Wrex. With Arrival, you are not in control of the character you’ve invested years in, but are simply along for the ride.
For a piece of content sold on the basis that it will bridge the gap to Mass Effect 3, it’s a shame to see BioWare‘s writers resort to age-old tropes of TV writing: when the end credits roll nothing whatsoever has really changed. The quest tries to grab you with the idea that your efforts will make a difference, but anyone who has so much has glanced at some promotion material for Mass Effect 3 will know the truth. The Reapers are coming.
Still, some of the incidental story threads will go down well with those interested in the Mass Effect universe. Arrival’s closing sequences suggest a bubbling pot of interspecies conflict, some potential ramifications in Mass Effect 3, and a hint towards what’s on the horizon via brief but entertaining dialogue with one particular non-human character.
There are some choice moments across Arrival’s duration, but it’s just a shame that Mass Effect 2’s final piece of DLC is undoubtedly its weakest.