An apathetic use of pristine source material, Mass Effect 3’s latest downloadable episode, which sees Sheppard helping the powerful Asari ‘leader’ of the criminal underworld Aria T’Loak retake Omega Station from Cerberus troops, is a piece of content that should have garnered better summations than the ones you’ll find herein. That being said, all that follows is well deserved.
Mass Effect enthusiasts know that BioWare has the developer know-how to make a decent script into a brilliant in-game scene with the right music, effective ambience, good level design and visual presentation. Unfortunately, Omega fails to deliver in every one of these at a few crucial junctures and in so doing breaks a sizeable portion of the sci-fi drama and intrigue that the script contains.
It should by no means be judged as a terrible effort. There are things in Omega that have been achieved beyond any general expectations, specifically the opening scenes where a brutal space battle takes place and later on the inclusion of a Reaper unit BioWare originally cut from the game.
Go and watch the launch trailer for this content. Open a new browser window; do it now. Looks good, doesn’t it? High quality storytelling and dialogue, all the stuff that made us love Mass Effect 3 (perhaps a little too much in some cases).
Whether or not the following issues are intentional is hard to tell. Perhaps there will be a patch later on to fix the problems if not, but there are key scenes – like the ones you’ve just witnessed in the trailer – where there’s no impactful background audio, general crowd ambience, or sound effects. You don’t believe what you’re seeing because it’s hard to feel immersed in it and no voice actor or actress, regardless of how good they are, can carry the weight of that player immersion by themselves. Worse, there are moments when character models go completely off the rails.
There are cutscenes depicting intense ground warfare on the streets of Omega Station where you’ll hear the sounds of a few bullets whizzing past and nothing more. No cries from the armed civilian populace trying to rally themselves, no Cerberus soldiers shouting orders or warnings to each other; you’re very much aware that you’re playing a video game that’s trying to immerse you rather than actually feeling immersed – and there’s no excuse for it.
Leviathan, the previous single player content, was on par with the rest of ME3 and about as close to ME2’s Lair of the Shadow Broker in terms of suspense and mystery as it could get. There are opportunities aplenty for Omega to achieve similar levels of quality, but it’s like BioWare never bothered to reach high enough for them. What is Cerberus actually doing beyond the dreaded Omega-4 Relay, for example? We never find out, nor is it apparently deemed important to go and stop them from doing it which seemed kind of silly. In fact, once the mission is over and done with, we don’t get to travel to Omega as a fully-functioning citadel for the criminal underworld, and that will really piss off the fans given that this pack comes at a higher price tag than most Mass Effect expansions.
There are positive sides to the gameplay with Aria and an old associate of hers being attached to Sheppard’s squad with new powers, and new toys can be found in the form of weapons and attachments. The new enemies are challenging, though we don’t get to fight the Cerberus Dragoon units or the Collectors which were both released into the multiplayer portions of the game and that feels like a wasted opportunity – one of many. Level design isn’t too bad, but when you look at what Leviathan offers you’ll wonder why more couldn’t be included on board the galaxy’s biggest space station.
Ultimately Omega is well conceived but poorly executed. Lasting maybe a few hours, it has little to offer fans except one or two nods to those who read the Dark Horse comics and people who can look past the shoddiness of the cutscenes. It’s a pity really, because it starts with such promise. Imagine that: good characters, great settings, and a fantastic script…all tarnished by bad presentation. They deserved so much more from a team like BioWare.