Mar 122012

Among core gamers, EA and Bioware’s decision to deliver an additional squadmate as day one DLC for Mass Effect 3 continues to rile people who haven’t yet finished the game and gotten angry about the ending. Fast-flying accusations and defenses about whether the content was stripped out of the game mostly miss the point. Craig Bamford gets it right: nobody, not even BioWare, is really denying that this content was stripped out of the game. The argument at this point is just about whether that happened in the planning stages or just prior to certification. I think all of this misses one additional point. Regardless of whether or when the content was removed, I don’t think “From Ashes” was worth ten dollars, even to fans.

The description makes it seem worthwhile, promising that the player can unearth secrets and recruit a Prothean squad member. Because the mysterious vanished Prothean race and their artifacts have played a significant role in each of the previous games, fans of the series might find this difficult to turn down. The actual content, however, is disappointing.

The only actual mission included in the DLC is not much longer or more involved than the standard N7 assignments, and contains nothing especially memorable in terms of art or level design. Kasumi and Zaeed, similar DLC characters, both had considerably more interesting missions associated with them in Mass Effect 2. Aside from this, the only operational additions are the availability of Slam as a power, and some alternate suits of armor, neither of which add too much to the game (and I say this even though Slam is my favorite power in the series).

In fairness, the mission is not the point of the DLC. Players would come to this for what it adds to the story, and that, in my opinion, is precious little. Rather, having the Prothean Javik in the squad makes the game’s story worse by playing off its stupidities.

The fundamental problem with Mass Effect 3 is that the story is about a desperate quest to unify the galaxy to respond to the reaper threat, but much of the game is about countering some minor crisis or scanning planets to find bits of space junk. Sometimes the junk is some piece of technology, or an item of symbolic significance to one particular species. Many of these tasks, however, involve retrieving Prothean artifacts to help the scientists building the Crucible translate the instructions for doing so.

“From Ashes” provides a few Convenient Reasons why Javik does not possess any specific knowledge about the Crucible, which is perfectly fine, though these reasons are also inconsistent with his demonstrated expertise in his era’s anthropological studies. However, Javik does have the ability to learn any language by touching a person, and presumably he can read Prothean writing.

This would make him the single most important resource imaginable for the Crucible project, regardless of whether he is a genius scientist or not. In light of the desperate need for Prothean translators on the Alliance’s most critical project, it is ridiculous for the galaxy’s only living Prothean to go gallivanting around with a gun. By joining Shepard’s crew, Javik makes the story dumber.

I don’t mean to say that Javik adds nothing at all to the universe. For a cynic like myself, the idea that the much-revered Protheans are a race of dickish slavers (which is the only real secret the DLC reveals) is actually kind of welcome. As a character, however, Javik is unpleasant, and his interactions don’t really illuminate the other characters in any interesting way. Worse, in her conversations with him Liara seems to regress, becoming more the naïve, awkward archaeologist she was in Mass Effect than the driven and competent information broker she became in the sequel and its “Lair of the Shadow Broker” add-on. All things being equal, I’d have rather had a Batarian in my squad. Or Blasto, obviously.

Perhaps that’s why I can’t get all that worked up about the question of whether the DLC content was on the disc or not. If Javik had added something really essential to the story, I might have felt that not having him in the released version of the game was unfair, but I’d have felt I got my money’s worth. The reality of the DLC, from my perspective, is that it doesn’t add much to the game, and in many ways actively detracts from both its plot and its character development. If you didn’t get the DLC, I’d say you didn’t really miss anything. But that means I spent $10 for “not really anything”.

That’s not an outrage, or a reason to get angry. I made a purchase decision and regretted it. I’ll remember that next time BioWare tries to sell me DLC.

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