Review: Plumbing the Depths of the 'Mass Effect 3: Leviathan' DLC

With all of the undersea imagery that accompanied the trailer announcement, I was kind of hoping for some beneath-the-depths horror a la the 1989 horror movie that I like to imagine gives Mass Effect 3's first full DLC its name. But no dice. Instead, it's something a little less meaty, serving as, of all things, a retcon to the series' history.

Honestly, coming after we know how the big galactic war is going to shake out, "Leviathan" is an odd fit, giving players and longtime fans a piece of history that doesn't really inform the present all that much and a new ability for Shepherd--which is cool, assuming you plan on playing through the campaign again (or are getting around to it for the first time).

Taking place before the assault on the Illusive Man's base, "Leviathan" sees Shepherd and the Normandy crew returning to the Citadel to meet with Dr. Bryson, and Alliance scientist researching rumors of an entity that's rumored to be able to destroy Reapers. After Dr. Bryson meets his untimely demise, it's up to Shepherd to find out more about Leviathan, who or whatever it is, and enlists its aid in the fight against their common enemy.

Taking place in Bryson's lab, an eerie mining colony, on the surface of a stranded ship, and (briefly) under the sea, "Leviathan" doesn't hurt for locations, although there's not a lot of exploration to be done. In the lab, you'll have to piece together clues to find out where one of Dr. Bryson's colleagues was conducting his research and do it all over again to find another character who may hold more pieces of the "Leviathan" puzzle.

What we ultimately learn about "Leviathan" fills in a gap in the overall Mass Effect narrative, but when it's delivered as part of a massive exposition dump, it ends up feeling like something better relegated to the Codex. And it's doubly weird given that we've covered some of the Reapers' long-lost history with the quest line introducing Javik, which was gave the overall conflict of the series scope while introducing a new character who represented a living piece of the past. The revelations in "Leviathan" feel like a a little bit of a retread, and beyond the new Dominate ability, doesn't really deliver much tangible in the way the rest of the game plays out.

I can't really point out to any standout combat setpieces, and if I never have to play another Mass Effect level that involves said level falling apart, it'll be too soon. The mystery/slight puzzle elements in Bryson's lab (assembling clues by clicking on everything that seems relevant) is actually a really cool idea, but there's a bit of handholding involved that pulls some of the thrill out of unlocking the next piece of the puzzle.

The sole undersea sequence is in part exhilarating and frustrating because of its brevity and very guided nature, and it feels like a missed opportunity to have allowed players to discover more about Leviathan on their own or even engaged in some unique combat not seen on the surface.

"Leviathan" is especially disappointing given the scope and depth of the series as a whole as well as the standout DLC from Mass Effect 2. Instead of putting the galaxy's hardest-to-kill soldier through another perilous adventure, it delivers what feels like a minor side story that doesn't really do much to enrich the already expansive universe of the game.

The "Leviathan" DLC is available now on the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.

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