Mass Effect 3's DLC pipeline has been a mixed bag. We like free multiplayer expansions, but BioWare's attempt to add new story content into a completed narrative stunk of desperation. Many of us (I speak for everyone at Dealspwn.com) simply can't face the idea of facing that ending again, and more to the point, why should we pay for more war assets that don't affect the final battle in any way? We know how it ends. Why fight it? Why bother?
Citadel is different. Though it's set before the final assault, BioWare knows that the majority of players will experience it well after their first playthrough, making it the spiritual end to the franchise if not the canonical one. It's like a Christmas or holiday special for your favourite TV show, penned after the fact by the same writers and starring the same actors who strive to make the ultimate fan service package. As such, Citadel is a barefaced excuse to just spend more time with the characters we've grown to love over the last few years, BioWare seemingly scouring the forums for every last 'what if' scenario and goofy, wonderful cameos. Topped off by an enormous house party and a rollicking adventure that brings new and old faces together for one final fling.
At face value, Citadel really shouldn't work as well as it does. But damn, it works.
After installing the DLC (a two-stage process on Xbox Live: you'll need to download the free second part after buying the first), you'll be able to access the Citadel content after the Cerberus coup attempt but before the attack on the Illusive Man's base. A quick check of your emails will reveal that Shepard is long overdue some shore leave, prompting him to visit the Citadel and take ownership of Anderson's lavishly-appointed apartment.
This seemingly innocent setup catapults you into a self-contained three mission storyline. A quiet meal with Joker quickly descends into a madcap escape from a team of mysterious mercenaries, with Shepard isolated and alone until his love interest shows up to save him. And Wrex, yes, Wrex, if you saved him in the original Mass Effect. The crew then infiltrates a black tie gala, which makes up for some awkwardly-implemented stealth mechanics with a wealth of optional dialogue. Depending on who you saved throughout the three games, your love interest and who you bring along, the sheer number of different dialogue permutations is absolutely overwhelming.
Saving the best for last, the final mission sees Shepard bringing his entire squad (and Wrex, of course) along for a rollercoaster ride battle against a larger-than-life new enemy, closing with a truly epic boss battle in a seriously surprising location.
Mass Effect 3's late game may be desperate and grim, but Citadel takes a totally different tone. Rather than dwelling on loss and sacrifice, it's a rip-roaring adventure that wouldn't feel out of place in a Saturday morning cartoon or blockbuster action adventure film. Like Blues Brothers or The Mummy, the whole thing is breezy and upbeat, chock-full of over the top one liners, catch phrases and any number of fist-pumpingly epic moments. All of the cast clearly relish the opportunity to revisit their roles one last time, belting out their hammy lines with gusto and just enough gravitas to stop Citadel from becoming a hammy pantomime.
Citadel's three missions can be bludgeoned through in just under two hours, but that would be missing the point. Levels (especially the second) are packed with exquisitely-written optional dialogue that references previous games, sometimes even subtly breaking the fourth wall to deliver some laugh-out-loud Easter eggs. There's new lore that expands the universe yet further, and some truly memorable moments (even Paragon/Renegade interrupts) that rank amongst the series' best. Ultimately, Citadel exists to let you spend more time in the Mass Effect universe, an opportunity that fans should seize with both hands.
Brilliantly, though, the story missions are just the tip of the iceberg.
Once you've defeated the new threat, Shepard is free to invite characters up to the apartment for some one-on-one time, or hang out with them in a new area called Silversun strip. Both familiar mainstays and old hands are available for a quick chat or a catch-up, whether it's playing arcade games with Zaeed, wingmanning Garrus in a bar, online shopping with EDI and more besides; especially if you managed to save the likes of Mordin and Miranda. You'll also get to spend some more quality time with your love interest, and Jack fans will be pleased to note that she finally has a romance scene of her very own [I'm sold - Carl]. Despite being relatively brief, these sections are superbly written, and often place characters into some goofy and unexpected situations.
If you happen to own the From Ashes DLC, you'll also get to meet a certain Hanar supercop... and call him a Cnidaria of below average intelligence. Oh yes. You know the line. The level of fan service borders on the obscene and embarrassing, sometimes even dangerously close to fan faction territory, but BioWare's trademark brilliance at delivering believable dialogue makes Citadel fit neatly into the universe.
Note that you still won't get to see Tali's face, but after my rage subsided, I realised that this is probably for the best. The only thing worse than never seeing Tali's mug is being forced to pay for it like a Quarian Amsterdam peep show.
Silversun Strip also holds a few surprises of its own, including some addictive minigames and a combat simulator that lets you battle waves of enemies with any combination of allies from the series. New modifiers and squadmates can be unlocked as you go, and though it's undernourished take on Mass Effect 3's multiplayer offerings, it's an entertaining diversion nonetheless.
Finally, you'll be able to throw a party. Shepard can choose the guest list and tone, deciding whether to organise an intimate gathering or a lary, wanging, chunging kegger, and affect its progress as the night develops. Once you start the ball rolling, the sheer number of potential conversations and different story options (don't let Wrex get in your shower) are absolutely mindblowing, leading to insane replay value as you constantly replay it with different guests and levels of intoxication. More to the point, fans will love to hang out with their friends, even the peripheral or DLC characters, in a totally relaxed setting; it's a joy to just stand back and watch your comrades have one last glorious night of fun before the end. Regardless of how things end, you'll all crowd around the sofa for a Kodak moment, bringing the series to a satisfying conclusion even though you know what eventually happens on Earth.
As part of a newcomer's first playthrough, Citadel will make for a rewarding if slightly awkward distraction before the final assault. Though you might wonder why Shepard is willing to put the battle for survival on hold to max and relax, it's a welcome dose of levity amongst the grim determination and desperation. Even Shakespeare knew that a little happiness makes tragedy hit so much harder.
But Citadel isn't really for new players. It's for the fans, the gamers who love being in the Mass Effect universe, who love the characters and desperately want to spend more time with them. It's one last hurrah before the final battle. Though Citadel isn't the end in canonical terms, most Mass Effect 3 fans will complete the new content before putting down their controllers, sighing contentedly, and leaving it at that.
In fact, Citadel will basically become Mass Effect 3's new ending for most players. Your abiding memories won't be of that accursed blue child and his nonsensical choice-that-wasn't. Instead, you'll remember that one last jaunt, the party and the friends you made throughout half a decade. The way, frankly, it should be. Citadel corrects Mass Effect 3's Achilles Heel more comprehensively than even the Extended Cut ever could, without changing or compromising a single thing.
- Rollicking adventure puts the band back together
- Truly amazing amount of optional dialogue permutations, changes depending on your choices and playthroughs
- Lets you hang out (and party) with your squad one last time
- Gives Mass Effect a proper send-off and a new spiritual ending
- Huge file size and multiple Xbox 360 downloads
- Some awkwardly-implemented stealth mechanics
- You'll still be left wanting more, despite impressive replay value
The Short Version: Mass Effect 3: Citadel is time spent in good company. A chance to say goodbye to friends we made over the best part of a decade, one last adventure, and good memories to supplant the gutwrenching disappointment of Mass Effect 3's true ending. Simpering fan service of the most exquisite kind.