by Alex Donaldson,
Mass Effect 3: Omega has a few pretty important statements to make. The first is that this DLC is helmed by the Bioware Montreal team - the team recently announced to be in charge of the next full Mass Effect title.
This isn't the team's first rodeo, though - and it shows. They're the minds behind Mass Effect 3's sterling multiplayer effort but are also behind the lackluster Mass Effect 2: Arrival. They also worked on Mass Effect 2's cutscenes and DLC as well as in part on ME3's other two downloads, From Ashes and Leviathan. On the whole, their pedigree is good.
The second point to make is that the ME story still matters outside of the Reaper war. This is the first DLC since the ending of the series not directly connected to that the Reaper Invasion. This is stand-alone - it's the story of Aria and Omega.
Voiced by The Matrix's Carrie-Anne Moss, Aria cited Omega's 'number one rule' as 'Don't fuck with Aria' back in ME2, and Cerberus have done just that.
A powerful Cerberus General has set up shop in her old home, the club of Afterlife, and she's determined to get it back - and invites Shepard to aid in the assault.
On its surface Omega is a worthwhile journey through the bowels of one of ME2's most significant and memorable locations. Much of the DLC sees you visiting new areas of the station, though it's always recognizable.
That orange-and-red hue that dominated the station in ME2 returns in force here and defines the DLC. Certain moments such as when you first see Omega's skyline are rather powerful if you remember the station from ME2, while the moments when you finally reach areas directly ripped from that game will certainly ignite nostalgia.
Afterlife is in, obviously, but there are other less obvious nods. The bridge where Garrus fought off the combined hoardes of Omega's mercenaries is there, while other areas look specifically reminiscent of the quarantine zone from Mordin's recruitment mission.
There's plenty of nods to ME2, including a returning merchant and the ranting Batarian street preacher - all of which are fun. That makes it all the sadder that neither Garrus nor Tali, who were around the last time you were on Omega, can accompany you on this trip.
Presumably to avoid voice issues Omega pairs you off with Aria alone, and a little in adds Nyreen, the series' first female Turian.
Despite her being a first, we learn little about the social status of female Turians through her. She feels like a swing in many ways - a great design, great armor, a brilliant attitude and a matching voice - but a missed opportunity in other ways.
Nyreen does have history with Aria, though, so there's plenty of banter between the pair throughout the DLC, though mostly in cutscenes. There's a romantic history implied here, and with Nyreen as a foil we learn about Aria.
Cleverly, the end of the DLC doesn't feature a binary choice, but one Aria makes for you. Your responses throughout the Omega missions - often when diffusing differences of approach between her and Nyreen - will determine her attitude heading into the DLC's final confrontation.
There's a decent number of conversation options and a handful of Paragon and Renegade interrupts, including a possible brutal renegade interrupt at the end that only Paragon players will see. Those who play good-but-ruthless, like me, are in for a treat there.
Aria and Nyreen are interesting and well acted, though Moss' performance carries with it the stiffness of somebody perhaps not used to acting in video games. It wasn't too bad when Aria was just sitting impassively on a couch, but on two separate occasions she makes rousing speeches and both times her voice feels too quiet and not dynamic enough.
A lack of punch is frequent. The DLC opens with a bang, ships passing through a mass relay to Omega, all-guns blazing in brief ship battle sequences that match ME3's end-game. Later, though, the sound mix in particular lets the DLC down. At one point Nyreed is embroiled in a fierce battle, but the only sound is her dialogue and a few pathetic-sounding gunshots. The picture depicted is of a loud, terrifying battlefield.
The same is true in one of Aria's speeches, where as she pontificates to all of Omega there's dead air where a rousing music cue seems due. It's a strange disconnect, and I have to wonder if this is a bug or simply poor polish.
Omega sees players battling the familiar Cerberus Troops but does add a few new foes. The first is the Rampart Mech, a powerful call-back to ME2's push-over LOKI robots.
They're deadly up close, heavily armored and don't go down easy. That said, they don't have anything particularly interesting about how they fight. They use their powerful armor to walk towards you and get in close, throwing up a shield when badly damaged. They're a bore to fight.
These were meant as a Reaper enemy in ME3 but were cut due to issues with their main ability, a teleport. They haven't retained that power, but do sport powerful weapons.
They're fearsome foes, and there's some great moments as they're first introduced which evokes Resident Evil, Shepard and squad skulking through darkened rooms past dead bodies, hearing the scrabbling approach of the beasts. They're handled well.
When you do fight them, the Adjutant is a hulking, warped enemy that jumps around with surprising agility and comes packing powerful Biotic attacks. They're a fun challenge.
With that said, Playing on Insanity I found little major opposition or challenge, and died less than I did against the waves of punishing Reaper enemies in Leviathan.
Where Leviathan experimented with gameplay concepts and exploration more, Omega simply expands on the story. Bioware's claim of hubs largely proves to be over-blown - this DLC features 2 hub-like zones, but there's nothing to do in them other than collect and turn in three basic side quests, only one of which actually has any conversation trees associated with it.
Omega proves that particular point - there's definitely interesting stories to be told and characters to visit outside the scope of that war. It made me more excited in a story sense for the next game, not less.
Some environments, for instance - especially an incredibly awesome looking reactor room and the darkened areas where you first encounter the Adjutant - are some of ME's best. It's strange how uneven this DLC is.
The biggest kick in the teeth comes, I suppose, when you finish the DLC. Nothing changes. You gain some war assets, now bloody useless, especially as Bioware patched the requirement for the 'best' ending to be lower. You'd now probably have to try harder to get a bad ending, hilariously.
Aria is still, bizarrely, on the Citadel, (No spoiler to say that, yes, you take Omega back) excusing her presence there in some difficult-to-believe dialogue. Omega can't be revisited - you can't even visit the system it's in on the Galaxy Map to see a vague description of Omega when you click it. Bluntly, it's a really shitty reward for your time (around 3 hours) and money.
How deep does your love for Mass Effect go? If you want to see more of this universe, revisit some familiar locations, spend some time with some of its memorable characters and meet some new ones, Omega is worth the price of entry. If you're feeling burned by the ending of Mass Effect 3, this isn't going to solve the problem - it's just going to underline the issues you had in an even bolder pen.
Mass Effect 3: Omega is out now for Xbox 360, PC and PS3. There are no plans for a Wii U version.
Disclosure: Reviewed using an Xbox 360 copy of the DLC provided by EA.