Mass Effect 3: Leviathan

August 11, 2013

We’re almost six months past the release date of BioWare’s trilogy end-cap Mass Effect 3, and finally the developer has delivered on single player DLC. I can’t blame them for taking their time. The ending hoo-ha resulted in campaign staff diverting resources towards wrapping up the Extended Cut sooner rather than later, and the multiplayer team has been busy producing expansion packs for those who prefer to play with friends. If you really want to run down the list, we’ve seen a pretty impressive schedule of Mass Effect 3 DLC so far, but it’s still taken until now to get something truly new for the campaign.

But finally we have it, and it’s called Mass Effect 3: Leviathan. Those who have finished Mass Effect 3 will know the end-game offers no opportunity to continue playing, so unlike Mass Effect 2‘s DLC, Leviathan must be played prior to the assault on Earth. You’ll either have to use a save from before the ‘point of no return’, or pick up the game from the start. Not quite as user friendly as the Mass Effect 2 post-game DLC, but this is the best case scenario given how Mass Effect 3 wraps up.

At first it might seem a little strange that Commander Shepard would have the time to go on non-crucial errands during an active Mass Effect 3 narrative. You know, where the whole imminent end of all sentient life threat is looming. But Leviathan avoids such silliness with a plot that of high value to Shepard’s main quest, or so he/she perceives.

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Contacted by Admiral Hackett, Shepard is informed of a secret task force on the Citadel dedicated to the search for and analysis of evidence surrounding ancient myths and mysteries. Kind of like a galactic X-Files. Upon visit, Shepard learns of the mysterious ‘Leviathan’, an apparent ancient weapon or creature capable of destroying a Reaper. Lore savvy fans will recognise the term from ‘The Leviathan of Dis’, a previously mentioned mystery surrounding an ‘ancient alien dreadnought’ (psst, it was a Reaper) discovered by Batarians that ultimately lead to mass indoctrination. The ‘Leviathan’ isn’t the ship, but whatever killed it. Hackett and his galactic X-Files groupies figure that having a Reaper killing thing on their side would be kinda probably really helpful, and so Shepard embarks on a journey to find it.

The themes of an ancient, millennia old space mystery is the hook of Leviathan, and a welcome return to the sense of discovery that dominated earlier questing in the Mass Effect saga. For once Shepard doesn’t know what she/he is in for or where to go, making a nice change of pace from Mass Effect 3‘s political babysitting and focused missions. These themes of mystery are nicely conveyed through investigative gameplay sections. No, Leviathan isn’t all shoot shoot bang bang. There’s a surprising amount of down time where I could simply walk around and activate hotspots to learn more information and expand the lore, as well as take in the atmosphere.

Investigation amounts to little more than finding hotspots though. It’s quite similar to an earlier section of Lair of the Shadow Broker, where Shepard ‘investigated’ Liara’s apartment. Finding evidence amounts to wandering around environments looking for interactive hotspots and…using them. These sections kind of play themselves, but it’s about on par for the entire series, and certainly no more shallow than what we’ve already experienced. If anything it might be a little less. The environments themselves are denser with interactive hotspots, with plenty of accompanying voice work and data pads, and each ‘discovery’ of evidence is padded with interesting lore. Fans who aren’t bothered with how Lair of the Shadow Broker and other missions handled investigation won’t have issues with Leviathan, and may in fact enjoy it a little more.

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Luckily, Shepard doesn’t spend the entire DLC extrapolating evidence, and instead must scour new systems for more info on Leviathan’s origins. There’s three missions in total (not counting the task force office), each set on a new planet with additional story and a bit of combat thrown in for good measure. All three are quite fun and paced differently, one offering similar investigative down time to the task force hub, another set within an active war zone. Unfortunately the much hyped underwater segment was quite a let down, offering minimal gameplay and interactivity in favour of slowly walking through a short, though admittedly very pretty, set piece.

Speaking of, in line with the series standard, each planet and new environment looks wonderful and unlike anywhere else in the series. There’s some gorgeous set pieces there and beautiful vistas, enforcing the belief that if there’s one thing BioWare gets consistently right with the Mass Effect series, it’s how the games look. Same goes for the music. Leviathan reuses a couple of tracks from the series, but its own theme is a great listen. Voice acting is hit-and-miss. Some characters are acted well, others not so much. I was happy to see the turn of banter from squad mates and crew, of which was sorely missing from Mass Effect 2‘s DLC offerings.

Encounters seemed well designed, even if the only combatant force is Reapers (no Geth or Cerberus units). Most encounter environments are quite small, but open enough to allow for plenty of movement, something the game encourages with enemy spawn placements. As an added twist to the regular formula,Leviathan utilises two of the new objectives added to the multiplayer component to force Shepard into multitasking, such staying within a repair drone’s energy radius to escort it while under enemy bombardment. It’s pretty simple, but having a specific objective during combat is a nice change of pace from the usual grind. In terms of challenge, I played on insanity difficulty with a level sixty infiltrator and didn’t have much trouble, but even so the encounters do seem geared towards high level play. Expect plenty of Brutes, Ravagers and Banshees, unless the encounters are scaled. On the downside of encounters, Leviathan offers no boss fight to speak off. A shame considering the standard set by Mass Effect 2‘s DLC battles.

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Arguably the most enduring quality of Mass Effect for fans is the lore. Leviathan does a good job of delivering on the mysteries is promises, sans a handful of contrivances, offering insight into the history of the Reapers, as well as a few little non-contradictory revelations on established Mass Effect canon. But without spoiling what happens and what you’ll discover, Leviathan does have the lingering issue of whether or not it should have been included in the main game. Lore entailing the origins of the Reapers, and certain details of the main quest’s climax, probably shouldn’t have been reserved to DLC, and accusations of BioWare playing catch-up to plot holes and contrivances are not so easily dismissed. The end revelation is also of such arguably great significance that to see it mostly whittle away into war assets is underwhelming, but I’m not entirely sure what else they could have done.

But Mass Effect 3 ending controversy and issues are a separate matter. In all, Leviathan accurately targets a particular kind of fan. If you’re somebody still reeling over the ending, seeking an overhaul or retcon of established canon, give it a miss. Same goes for those tired of Mass Effect 3‘s formulaic gameplay and design. Leviathan is a familiar Mass Effect 3 adventure, around two hours long, with a few small gameplay additions and an interesting story hook to drive it forward. If you’re the kind of fan eager to take Shepard and co out on one more adventure, padding the universe with a little extra lore, and enjoying the journey more than the destination, then Leviathan is an adventure worth having.


Great environments | Interesting hook | Well paced


Weak water segment | Underwhelming finish

Overall Score: