Review: Mass Effect 2: Arrival (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Mass Effect 2: Arrival
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 03/29/11

And so, Mass Effect 2 comes to the end of its run with Arrival, as no more downloadable content will be released, with all further efforts being devoted to Mass Effect 3 from here on. It’s been a good run, I think, and several really solid expansions were developed for the game. Aside from the extra costume packs, which were really more about changing up the looks of your squad over offering any real benefit, we’ve been given several armor and weapon packs, as well as multiple free downloads through the Cerberus network and four additional missions to take on, counting The Arrival. Bioware’s given plenty of support to the game over the year plus that it’s been available, between patches that improved technical issues and gamer complaints and plentiful DLC, and in most respects, Arrival represents the end of that support on multiple levels as the company goes forward to focus on the sequel. This is actually kind of sad, on a lot of levels. It’s kind of unfortunate to realize that this is the last piece of content we’ll see for Mass Effect 2, and that we’ll have nothing else to look forward to from the franchise until Mass Effect 3 hits shelves later this year. It’s also sad, however, because compared to other packs that have been released in the past year, like Kasumi: Stolen Memory and Lair of the Shadow Broker, Arrival is kind of flat in comparison. The expansion is about its narrative over anything else, and while it does have an important story to tell if you’re a fan of the franchise, it doesn’t do as much as its predecessors did, making it feel flat at times in comparison.

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.

Arrival starts off simply enough; you receive a message from Admiral Hackett will contact Shepard and ask that you take on a mission as a favor to him. It seems that a Dr. Amanda Kenson, a deep cover operative for the Alliance, has been picked up by the Batarians, under charges of terrorism. Before she was picked up, she had indicated she had recovered a Reaper artifact and has reason to believe the Reapers were planning to invade, and soon. Hackett asks you to head out and recover Kenson, as a favor to him, with the caveat that you do so alone, so as not to arouse suspicions and to ensure that the mission goes through smoothly. Shepard will have to infiltrate the Batarian base, alone, secure Dr. Kenson, escape, and bring her to her facility if the truth is to be discovered about the Reaper artifact. As one would expect, nothing is ever as simple as it first seems. The main purpose of the plot of Arrival, as one would expect from the summary, is to set in motion the events of Mass Effect 3 as well as to give the game a solid jumping off point to connect the events from one game to the next. In that respect, it succeeds just fine. The plot is also pretty solid. While you’ll see the twists in the mission coming, you likely won’t see them so far in advance as to feel they’re telegraphed as much as you’ll realize what’s happening shortly before it does, which isn’t bad. As a mission in general the writing’s rather solid, all in all, and the events are powerful and interesting enough on a narrative level to be interesting, so all in all, in this regard, Arrival is just fine.

Arrival, as it makes use of the assets and game engine of the core game, looks and sounds perfectly fine all around. The returning Admiral Hackett, Commander Shepard and Dr. Kenson provide the bulk of the voice work this time around, along with some random chatter from various people at Kenson’s facility and Batarian grunts you’ll encounter. All of the voice work is high quality and well delivered. Your allies get no voice clips here, as none of them are involved in the mission in any way, unfortunately, but you’ll likely not miss them for that reason. The new environments that the expansion adds are nice looking, as the Batarian prison facility is disgusting and run down looking to give off the appropriate feeling of oppression and disgust, while Kenson’s facility is generally very bright and clean looking in contrast, and has the futuristic look one would expect. The gameplay is functionally identical to that of the main game, so you’ll be taking cover, shooting things, using Biotic powers, and so on as you progress through the mission with no significant changes from beginning to end. The pack has no obvious technical issues of any sort, and works as well as one would expect, and it makes no changes to the game of note, so you can feel free to complete the mission at any point without feeling as if you might lose something as a result. Whether you complete the pack before or after completing the main game has some minor influence on an event in the pack, however, but the event in question is exceptionally minor and should have no influence on anything of note in the grand scheme of things.

Arrival encompasses two missions, one to liberate Dr. Kenson from the Batarian prison and one to find out the truth behind the Reaper artifact located at her main base of operations, and generally should take around an hour or so to complete. The mission employs an actual in-game timer for later events in the mission as an interesting touch, but the timer offers you over an hour to complete the second mission, which is more than enough time to do this thing, I can assure you. The first mission also provides you with some minor puzzle solving elements and a fairly decently sized stealth section, should you choose to do this thing, though you’re welcome to walk in guns blazing if you’d rather not. It also offers three Achievements, for completing the stealth section successfully. These range from suppressing five waves of enemies at the midpoint of the expansion, to completing the expansion, which most gamers should be able to get without too much trouble (the third Achievement was the most problematic of the lot, personally speaking). You’ll also acquire some additional upgrades and a new set of planets to mine to depletion (should you do so before the mission is completed, anyway), so you won’t just be getting experience points for this run. As with Lair of the Shadow Broker and most of the other DLC, 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.

Arrival will only set you back about seven bucks, and it ties together the events from Mass Effect 2 and the expected events from Mass Effect 3 in a solid fashion, but when compared to the other equivalently priced expansions for the game, it doesn’t really hold up as well, in terms of content. Kasumi: Stolen Memory and and Overlord both ask the same price from the customer, but both deliver more meaningful content, as the former gives you a new character to use and a more interesting mission to complete, while the latter is a longer and more engaging mission overall. Arrival has some interesting concepts in play for the first half of the expansion, but you can completely miss those concepts with no real penalty short of missing Achievements, which in turn just leaves the expansion as, well, just another sequence of missions. The expansion basically just adds in a couple upgrades that, honestly, you probably won’t care heavily about by this point in your progress through the game, and a couple of Achievements that will only matter to you if you care about that sort of thing in the first place. It’s hard to say if the expansion IS as robust as its counterparts, but it’s easy enough to say it doesn’t FEEL as robust, as at the end of the day, all you really have to show for it are a couple of plot relevant entries in the Codex and some health and damage upgrades you likely won’t think much about after the fact.

Arrival is a fine enough expansion from a storyline perspective, as it adds in some worthwhile plot points that are interesting and tie things together well enough, but from a gameplay perspective, it’s fairly basic and doesn’t really justify its asking price as well as it could have. The storyline of the missions provided is interesting and adds in some worthwhile developments that tie the events of Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 together. The missions add in some minor gameplay elements that are interesting in the first half of the pack, for some minor attempts at variety. It also adds in some upgrades to use and some Achievements to earn, for those who find this thing interesting or worthwhile. However, the expansion can be completed in about an hour and change. Outside of the upgrades though, it adds nothing of note to the game itself, basically acting as something of a self contained expansion that, while fine on its own, doesn’t stack up well against its predecessors in terms of content or time invested. Arrival is certainly fun, and seven dollars isn’t a huge amount of money all in all, but the pack doesn’t make a strong argument on its own merits to convince anyone who isn’t massively invested in the Mass Effect storyline to pick it up, as aside from a couple plot points, it’s wholly unmemorable.

The Scores:
Story: CLASSIC
Graphics: CLASSIC
Sound: UNPARALLELED
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: POOR
Balance: UNPARALLELED
Originality: POOR
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: POOR

FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
“Enjoyable” really sums up Arrival as an expansion, actually. While it’s fun for what it is, and it adds some interesting and notable plot points into the game that ties up the link between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, Arrival doesn’t do anything to make it a great investment on its own. The storyline of the missions is generally good and adds in some worthwhile elements that are worth checking out for those who find the storyline of the series interesting, and the game looks and sounds perfectly fine all around. The expansion has a couple of neat gameplay bits in the first half that, assuming you don’t completely blow through them, are fun, and it adds in some additional upgrades and Achievements to unlock for those who care. However, the missions can be run through in about an hour and change. While they add in some notable plot points, they add nothing of substance to the main game, nor do they offer any sort of gameplay elements that are so great as to justify the asking price. It’s not that Arrival is bad, mind you; it just doesn’t make a compelling argument to be purchased unless you’re a completionist or a big fan of the Mass Effect universe. Compared to the other expansions for the game, Arrival doesn’t do enough to make it an easy DLC pack to recommend, and while it’s fun while it lasts, it’s also not especially memorable outside of the plot and adds little to the game at the end of the day, making it one of the weaker DLC packs for Mass Effect 2.

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