If you remember my review of Mass Effect 2 back on the 26th January, you'll remember that I liked the game a whole lot. I praised it as an "incredibly ambitious game", and one that is a "testament to what the RPG genre can still do" when developers have the guts to change it up and mix it with other genres.
Those are all statements I stand by absolutely, but I have had a bit of a problem with Mass Effect 2 post-release - the downloadable content that's been made available. The two new party members have been sort of interesting but nothing too special, and the missions added so far, like the new vehicle that replaces the Mako, have been lacking.
That all changes now thanks to the first major expansion pack for the game., the first in a series of packs that aim to bridge the gap between the story of Mass Effect 2 and the upcoming third title. This pack actually aims to make lasting changes to the storyline and become a vital part of the canon.
Quick warning - there will be minor spoilers for the opening of Mass Effect 2 in this review if you haven't played it.
Titled "Lair of the Shadow Broker", the DLC sees party member Liara return to combat for the first time since the original title, joining Shepard's crew for one particular special mission: taking down the mysterious, powerful and anonymous information broker talked about a ton in both the first and second game.
The Shadow Broker has wronged both Liara and Shepard, as outlined in the Mass Effect: Redemption comic series released before and around the time Mass Effect 2 hit. In short, the Shadow Broker came into possession of Shepard's body after it was blown to hell in the opening of the game and was offering to sell it to the highest bidder.
Both Liara and Cerberus try to stop the highest bidders - the Collectors - from getting Shepard's body. They succeed, but not without some costly repercussions for Liara - and this DLC kicks off with her seeking revenge.
If you haven't read the comic the game does a good job of filling in these gaps for you, and an email from the Illusive Man indicates he may have tracked down the location of the Shadow Broker - and so, the game is on.
The content offered up in this download should last well over two hours even if you're rushing through, and if you're being meticulous will take a whole lot longer.
Like the rest of Mass Effect 2, the whole thing has a great pace to it, and Bioware have clearly taken on the criticism from those who felt Liara's change from shy, introverted young girl to murderous, powerful woman was too quick, as this DLC goes to great lengths to help justify the change and shift in her character and her attitude.
Props also have to go to Bioware for the other little touches in the dialogue, including jokes about some of the more eccentric aspects of the original Mass Effect including the do-it-all wonder Omni-gel that can do everything from open doors to repair equipment and the rubbish controls of the Mako. It's clear that as well as being an expansion to the story, this return of Liara is also seen as a chance to drop a bit of fan service in for fans of the first Mass Effect.
The story of Shadow Broker has some great set pieces including a car chase through the skies of Illium and what I felt were some of the strongest, coolest stand-out battles in Mass Effect 2 period, but I can't talk about them without risking spoiling stuff.
In terms of combat, Liara's joining of your squad is temporary, and she comes into the fray as a powerful Biotic who comes packing the Stasis power, a Mass Effect 1 power that was absent from the second game until now.
All the action you'd expect from Mass Effect 2 is there, and by completing Lair of the Shadow Broker you'll not only have more important decisions to carry over to the next game and more plot information but you also unlock a bunch of rewards that I feel are pretty worthwhile and might make Insanity playthroughs of the game a little easier. Maybe.
While the previous DLC packs offered some fun and a bit of extra combat for a relatively cheap price, Lair of the Shadow Broker bucks the trend by offering a DLC pack that fleshes out the story in different ways and doesn't just offer different scenarios to fight in but actually offers up some larger changes to the combat itself thanks to the abilities and skills Liara brings to the table when she joins the squad.
While she's only there temporarily, there are lasting awards and effects that'll last through to any New Game you carry over but also, of course, to Mass Effect 3. There are issues, of course - for example, I hate how other party members are mostly silent - Shepard and Liara talk, but nobody else - and Liara doesn't even really acknowledge Garrus and Tali. That's a shame, but for the pricing and considering this is a download, I can let things like that go.
Half the fun with the Mass Effect titles is down to the awesome narrative, and Lair of the Shadow Broker offers players a compelling narrative, fan service for Mass Effect 1 fans, and, best of all, some of the best moments of combat in the entire game. For 800 Microsoft or Bioware points - $10 or £6.85 - I think it's a bit of a steal for the amount of fun I had with it.