Mass Effect 3 Citadel Review: Almost Enough. Almost.
What Doesn’t Work
Remember these guys? Yeah, still out there.
The problem with The Citadel is twofold: tonally, it’s incredibly bone-headed, and it continues the excision of core gameplay elements and the unnecessary convolution of an already complicated story. Also, clones.
The Citadel is heavily written to take place late in the game, before you make the final assault on Cerberus HQ followed by the final attack on Earth, but after Cerberus attempted to take the station over, killing hundreds of people in the process. By this point in the game half the galaxy has been destroyed, trillions of beings have been killed, and Earth is mostly likely permanently ruined, even if the human race survives the Reaper invasion. In addition, thousands of refugees are living in total squalor in the station’s docking bay, and the station itself is littered with refuse and damage.
About that. After spending the main game solving almost every racial, religious and political conflict the galaxy grappled with prior to the Reaper invasion, it’s painfully quaint to find yourself taking down an evil clone. The series has always trafficked in big ideas; Racism, xenophobia, power politics and the like. For the final DLC it would have been nice to see the series take on something equally important, and given the current economic climate class would be a big one. The elements are there of course. Somehow, despite all of this turmoil, the finest restaurants remain open, the poshest cribs remain unlooted, and the rich and powerful live as though normal life continues, even if some lip service is given to the ongoing war. Unfortunately, it’s ephemera. Lest you believe BioWare has a point, they don’t. Sure, the denizens of The Citadel’s ritzy environs are generally terrible, selfish twats, but it’s just amusing background decoration and whatever criticism exists is undermined by the fact that Shep (i.e. the player) has no problem living it up among them.
Yes, it’s kind of fun seeing your Shepard’s voice coming out of two characters, kind of like Double Impact, or Timecop. But when you’re comparing something to Van Damme classics, that’s probably not a compliment. As witty as the dialogue is, as fun as the fanservice is, as awesome as the evidence of Shep’s badass crew’s badassness is, you cannot forget that as soon as you’re done, you’ll suddenly be plunged into an unrelenting nightmare at the end of which you’ll face one of the worst endings in the history of gaming. In context, the whole thing feels like adding a gag reel just before the third act of Schindler’s List.
The Citadel also continues the disquieting trends that started with The Arrival. Dialogue is almost entirely a matter of watching characters interact with one another without player involvement beyond clicking a button to start a conversation. No dialogue wheel, no chance to explore paragon or renegade conversations, just passive observation. Further, all but the most superficial choices are absent. During the few times you’re asked to make a decision, as with The Arrival, Omega and The Leviathan DLC packs, the outcomes are functionally identical. (The lone exception is the renegade option referenced above. You can either spare or kill the secondary villain.)
Add to that the way certain aspects of the Mass Effect backstory are bizarrely retconned for no real reason, and you’re left with the annoying conclusion that this isn’t just a goodbye to the Mass Effect Trilogy, it’s a hint of what the Mass Effect future has in store. In short, all style, no substance, action packed, but intellectually moribund, and as devoid as possible of core RPG elements. What comes next might indeed be a lot of fun, but it’s not really going to be Mass Effect. (Never mind the fact that, based on some of what you see, you have to conclude the next game is going to be, ugh, a prequel.)