"Arrival’s only purpose is to reiterate what we already know, which is that the Reapers are on their way and that everything we’ve done so far has only delayed the inevitable. Even a climactic encounter with Harbinger only sees him repeating what he’s been shouting at you for the entire game (and, for that matter, what Sovereign was shouting at you in the last game)."
So it’s been a good 14 months since Mass Effect 2’s release, and now that the game’s long-winded DLC run has finally come to an end, I think we can officially declare EA’s infamous Project Ten Dollar a resounding success. Here’s a meaty single-player game that already warrants at least one revisit – it’s a BioWare game, after all, so it’s impossible to get a full grasp of the story in just one run – and EA has kept it alive for over a year through some of the best downloadable content on the market. Arrival marks Mass Effect 2’s swan song, giving it an emotional relevance to those of us who have returned to the game time and time again, and that only makes it all the more shocking that the mission itself is a rushed, uninspired mess.
I won’t beat around the bush here: Arrival is boring. I’ll grant you that it’s got two tough acts to follow, but even if it can’t live up to the standards that BioWare has set for its DLC so far, Arrival is a disappointment. It consists almost entirely of linear shootouts and endurance-style defense scenarios set in bland, repetitive environments. What’s worse is that Shepard goes solo for the entire mission, meaning squad play with your companions is out (which is especially damning if you’re playing a class like Soldier or Sentinel that’s relatively boring on its own). I like Mass Effect 2’s combat, but not enough to endure it in such a manner for so long a period of time. It’s telling that Arrival is one of Mass Effect 2’s shortest downloadable missions to date and still feels like it overstays its welcome.
The mission starts off promisingly enough. Lance Henrikson reprises his role as Admiral Hackett from the first game, who is now given a face and has come to Shepard for help. A friend of his, Dr. Kenson, seems to have some information regarding the impending Reaper invasion, but she’s been captured by batarians. After what I think is supposed to be a brief stealth mission (in which you can choose to engage enemies or simply sneak past them), you rescue Dr. Kenson and she fills you in on the grim details: that she’s discovered which mass relay the Reapers will be using to enter the galaxy, and that they plan to show up in… two days. Um, whoa.
This, of course, is where Arrival is meant to bridge the gap between Mass Effect 2 and its sequel, in which the Reapers will eventually invade the galaxy and attack Earth (which we know from the game’s announcement trailer). It’s an intriguing setup to say the least, and even if Arrival falls short of its potential simply for being blandly designed, I could have seen it being worthwhile for hardcore fans on the grounds of providing some context to the impending Reaper invasion and even giving us the edge in the third game.
The kicker is that BioWare has already stated that they won’t “punish” players who don’t partake in Arrival, which effectively kills the urgency that this mission is supposed to have. If players complete this DLC, then they’ll have thwarted the Reapers’ plans and delayed their impending invasion. If players ignore this DLC… well, then I’m pretty sure the Reapers will still happily wait for Mass Effect 3’s release before showing up, and Arrival’s doomsday countdown clock won’t even be referenced. So Arrival’s only purpose is to reiterate what we already know, which is that the Reapers are on their way and that everything we’ve done so far has only delayed the inevitable. Even a climactic encounter with Harbinger only sees him repeating what he’s been shouting at you for the entire game (and, for that matter, what Sovereign was shouting at you in the last game).
But the worst thing about Arrival is that it presents us with an absolutely devastating moral dilemma and doesn’t give us a choice about it. Shepard makes the decision completely free of player input, which breaks the spirit of the series and destroys any possibility of long-running consequences that this mission could have had on the third game. So in every way, Arrival falls disappointingly short of the consistent level of quality that BioWare has to this point maintained with Mass Effect 2. Had the mission been included out of the box, it would have felt jarringly weak and underdeveloped in contrast to the rest of the game, and the fact that BioWare wants us to pay for it is nothing short of absurd. After Dragon Age II, this is twice in one month that BioWare has hugely disappointed me. If Mass Effect 3 follows suit, there will be hell to pay.
Arrival can be purchased for 560 Microsoft points and requires 781 MB of hard drive space. It adds three new achievements, totaling 100 achievement points. It will last roughly an hour and a half and can be initiated by checking Shepard's inbox.
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