This review is mostly spoiler-free. It presents an overview of the concepts and themes behind this £6/$10 expansion pack, but it's worth avoiding if you're looking to go into the experience totally blind. If you're looking for a brief summary: while the new mission is a complete snooze the pack adds an interesting character that affects your relationship with the game's universe.
They say you should never meet your heroes.
That's one of the main themes running through From Ashes, Mass Effect 3's day-one DLC. Especially with Liara, who isn't necessarily impressed with what she discovers after spending many of her 106 years studying Prothean artifacts. I can't quite claim to have studied them for that length of time, but much of my gaming life over the past four years has been spent exploring and questioning this extinct race.
And what you discover isn't exactly what you'd expect. Surly, dismissive of others and frozen cold for over 50,000 years, Javik ultimately joins Shepard's ranks as another soldier with a murky past. He represents the four-eyed species of intergalactic boffins that got close to destroying the Reapers during the last cycle of rampant universal brouhaha, before his entire race was defeated and subjugated by their bio-synthetic enemies. One of their mystical bits of technology drummed information into Shepard's head at the start of the first game - essentially kicking off the intergalactic Reaper hunt that's framed the trilogy - and they've been used as mysterious god-like creatures whenever a bit of exposition has been needed. Just what secrets will we learn now that BioWare have offered up one of these living, breathing space wizards?
Not many, surprisingly. Fittingly explained away by a nice bit of context, Javik isn't a benevolent deity who can answer everything with a quick wave of some kind of magic science wand. He's a soldier, superbly casted with a deep Kenyan accent and neat little zappy laser gun you get to play with once you finish his introductory mission, and his sole function in life is to kill all the Reapers. So he slots into Shepard's squad quite nicely, then.
There's more to it, of course, and standing around and chatting between missions opens up yet another affecting storyline that'll probably pluck your tender heartstrings. But there's a power in the unknown, and by bringing a Prothean to life some of that mysterious allure towards this extinct race vanishes. But BioWare handles it well, and Javik doesn't allow us to peer into the full extent of Prothean society. He's more a window dressing that illuminates the race's edges.
I also especially like the way Liara - who doesn't necessarily hate Javik, but can't accept him - is used as a character to explore the disappointment of a revelation. Her pain at the reality of not matching up to the benevolent scholars she had in her mind make the whole situation more relatable, as my initial impressions of him were quite similar - I wanted him to be more insightful, more knowing, more sage-like. And he wasn't, and that was tough for me to begin with. But he's an excellent character in his own right, and his story is interesting to experience as part of Mass Effect 3's larger campaign. If there's any major complaint with Javik it's that you don't get to see enough of him.
It's also quite nice to see Eden Prime again, which sits alongside Horizon as perhaps the unluckiest planet in the galaxy, and neatly ties Mass Effect 3's first major level into the trilogy's concluding chapter and nicely fits with some of the cyclical themes of the series itself. And, despite the series changing dramatically between the first and third games, it still looked enough like Eden Prime for it to be recognisable - scattered with all those little makeshift cabins and buildings that reminds me so much about the first game.
But the mission to defreeze Javik is short, and you can beat it easily within about half an hour. If you're looking for a chunk of content as substantial as Mass Effect 2's Lair of the Shadow Broker you'll probably come away disappointed, and Javik doesn't really dramatically affect anything about the Mass Effect 3 campaign; there's just a slightly bigger gap in the character selection screen if you don't have him in your party. He definitely adds some flavour to the overall experience, but From Ashes is hardly a must-have addition to Mass Effect 3.
Version Tested: Xbox 360