Inside Pulse 12

Review: Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 09/07/10

When I reviewed Mass Effect 2 back at the beginning of this year, I honestly had no idea that Bioware was going to massively back up their claim of lots of DLC nearly as well as they have. In the past nine months, we’ve been given two new characters, a hovertank, new character costumes and a bunch of new pieces of gear to play around with, both at a cost and not, and the content doesn’t seem to be drying up anytime soon. The most recent expansion, Lair of the Shadow Broker, is easily about the best of the lot, as it adds in new gameplay elements, tacks on a good couple hours of gameplay all in all, and has the added side effect of allowing players to play alongside old party ally Liara T’Soni, and potentially continue a relationship should they have one with her. The game adds in some extra content, such as cabin decorations and new upgrades and powers to make use of, and is fully playable whether you’ve completed the core story or not, but at 800 points, or ten dollars, it might seem a bit costly, especially considering the fact that much of the prior content was free or far cheaper than that. Make no mistake, though: Lair of the Shadow Broker justifies its cost well enough, as it’s a solid, well paced series of missions that are well written and designed, and it’s one of the best add-on packages Bioware has crafted for their game to date.

Note: as this is a review of expansion content, you will need to own a copy of Mass Effect 2 to play it. Further, as you will need to own a copy of the main game to play this, this review will not discuss information relative to the core game, as this is handled in the original review. Changes made to the game mechanics will be discussed, however.

The story of the expansion picks up from Liara’s story in Mass Effect 2. During the course of the game she reveals that she has become a major information broker in hopes of tracking down and eliminating the Shadow Broker, who Mass Effect fans will remember is an all-powerful force in the universe, a one-man information superpower with the ability to find out anything about anyone at any point, or so it seems. The Illusive Man has turned up some information about the Shadow Broker that will give Liara a much-needed jump-start in her investigation, allowing her the means to finally track him down and get the revenge she desires for what he’s done to her. This kicks in a series of missions involving investigative elements, fast-paced driving, and of course, shooting the crap out every one and thing in your path, and Liara even jumps onto your team for a few of those missions for old times sake. The plot features the same solid writing as the core game, and as such, it’s very fun to follow along with. The plot makes it a point to highlight the change in personality Liara has undergone far more than the core game did, showing both how much of a change she has made and what sort of effect it’s had on her as a person, and it does so rather well. Those who played through the first Mass Effect and finished that game in a relationship with Liara who were hoping to continue that relationship here also won’t be disappointed, as the game gives you several moments that appropriately address that relationship and allow you to see it through to a fairly pleasant conclusion, should you choose to do so. The plot also ends on a surprisingly strong note, changing around a good bit of the power in the universe and giving the player yet another reason to look forward to Mass Effect 3, which is certainly a positive thing for Bioware if nothing else.

Lair of the Shadow Broker looks and sounds as good as its predecessor, as all of the existing voice cast returns to their assigned roles, and while the voice work is predominantly that of Liara, Shepard, and the various antagonists that plague them, your other allied characters are given some voice clips here and there to add to the story as needed, which is a nice touch. The new environments fit in well with the existing game world, as do the new character models, and Mass Effect 2 is still a fantastic looking game all around, to its credit. The core gameplay is also functionally identical to that of the main game, so you’ll be running, shooting and taking cover as you ever did with little to no difficulty in minutes. There are no noticeable issues with the expansion, mechanically, visually or aurally, and it fits in well with the existing content fine, though you’ll want to complete Liara’s main series of missions before starting the mission, as it changes her location after the expansion completes.

Lair of the Shadow Broker takes place across about five total missions, starting with an investigation of Liara’s apartment before progressing through a couple locations related to the mission that involve wiping out the Shadow Broker’s hired goons and a driving sequence that tasks you with dodging obstacles and tailing a suspect, all of which culminates on the Shadow Broker’s massive ship, both outside and in, and finishes with a fairly well designed boss battle. The driving sequence added into the mix works well enough and is a fun little diversion from the main game, and the Shadow Broker’s ship is fairly large as combat sections go, complete with several involved battles. You’re also given access to a few additional bits of content outside of the mission itself, including new decorations for Shepard’s cabin, a new power for Shepard to use through Advanced Training, Stasis, and several terminals which allow you to look over dossiers and videos of characters throughout the Mass Effect universe, gain upgrades or resources as well as locations of resource hotbeds, donate money to various causes, and reassign points to your allies, among other things. As the game also allows you to take on the mission independent of the main story, you can also jump into the mission without having to start the game over, so you needn’t feel like you’re missing out on anything if you don’t want to start another playthrough (though, really, why wouldn’t you?), as you can complete this side story even with a complete save game.

As a ten dollar expansion piece, Lair of the Shadow Broker will be fun for fans of the main game, but it’s not without its downsides. While the pack does allow you to play alongside Liara for a few missions and resolve that particular subplot, it doesn’t add a new character to the list of available characters like the Zaeed and Kasumi DLC packs do, as Liara only shows up for this series of missions. This isn’t a dealbreaker, as it’s not like you don’t have a ton of characters available to you anyway, but it would’ve been nice to have her available as a regular member of the crew, or at least a guest-star at various points throughout the game if you HAVEN’T completed the main game. While the core mission is fairly lengthy as well, clocking in at around two to three hours from start to finish depending on your skill level, a lot of the added content, like the character dossiers and added achievements, comes off as fluff. While the added missions and upgrades end up being longer, time-investment wise, and more useful, content-wise, than that of something like Kasumi – Stolen Memory or Overlord, some folks are not going to find the additions to be worth the extra three dollars required, as both of those packs retailed for 560 points, or about seven dollars. There IS certainly more content here than in those two packs, but whether or not it’s three dollars more is a question some people are going to have to consider, as this is the first Mass Effect 2 expansion with such an asking price.

For the most part, the answer to that question is a solid “yes”, as Lair of the Shadow Broker adds in some strong story elements, interesting and fun missions, and a decent amount of content overall for ten bucks that fans will have fun with. The conclusion of Liara’s story arc and Shepard’s romance with her, if you had one, is pretty much the main draw here, and it’s a good one, thanks to some solid, well paced writing and a good overall mission flow. The game looks, sounds and plays as well as ever in this expansion content, and with new achievements to earn, upgrades to unlock, powers to earn, tools to use and extra content to fool around with, there’s a lot to the package to interest casual and diehard Mass Effect 2 fans alike, as well as a few bits here and there for fans of the original game. Unfortunately, Liara doesn’t stick around as a long-term party member, and some of the content in the pack feels like padding more than actual content, but for the most part Lair of the Shadow Broker justifies its asking price and is probably about the best piece of add-on content for the game yet, making it well worth it for fans to check out.

The Scores:
Graphics: CLASSIC
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: GOOD
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: CLASSIC
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: UNPARALLELED

Short Attention Span Summary:
Lair of the Shadow Broker is a strong piece of DLC for Mass Effect 2 that puts its focus on resolving Liara’s storyline, and it’s a solid piece of work that wraps up that story thread in a way that is satisfying and entertaining. The story is generally well written overall, featuring some interesting dialogue and character developments, and everything fits well into the main game experience. The missions are enjoyable to play through, and there’s a solid amount of content in the expansion, between upgrades, skills, and added universe content to make it worth the download for casual and diehard fans alike. Some of the content feels like it’s a bit on the light side, and it’s unfortunate that Liara really only joins up for this series of missions before leaving again, but these are minor complaints, as the overall experience is enjoyable all around. Lair of the Shadow Broker is one of the best pieces of DLC released for Mass Effect 2 all in all, and any fans of the game will find it to be worth their time to play through, whether they’ve completed the game or not.