Mass Effect 3: Citadel Review

Replaying the Mass Effect trilogy in recent weeks has thrown the series, and what it means to gaming, into sharp relief. The tragic journey of Commander Shepard united some of history’s most memorable characters across race and gender, across species and sexuality. The fates of these men and women—our favorites—were brazenly intertwined with player liberty. Expression through choices, emotion through living with those choices… Citadel, the final single-player expansion to the trilogy’s marvelous conclusion, makes parting such sweet sorrow. Saying goodbye to my friends, your friends—the exotic faces we’ve learned to love—is this off-key adventure’s theme, but there’s something brighter buried in the melancholic depths. My knowledge of the Normandy SR-2’s doomed voyage made every tearful farewell, every joke that pulled on heartstrings, and every knowing smile a reminder of why I fell in love with this band of misfits in the first place. Shepard’s comrades are some of gaming’s most compelling; Citadel gives them a proper send-off that’s worthy of the ride.

This particular ride is tonally different from just about anything else in the series, and certainly Mass Effect 3 at large. A bout of repairs to the Normandy puts the crew on shore leave, but Shepard gets the sweetest deal. Captain Anderson leaves you his swanky, two-story Citadel apartment—turns out humanity’s upscaled decorative sense hasn’t changed much in 173 years. Warm fires, waterfalls, wet bars, and sushi await. At the Citadel’s top destination for the latter—because we’ve crossed firmly into tongue-in-cheek territory at this point—Shepard and Joker’s night out is crashed by a mercenary group with a taste for theatrics. These guys are out for Shepard’s head, which means there’s someone or something behind the curtain pulling the strings.

Unraveling this thread comprises the first half of Citadel’s four-hour-plus expansion, and it’s a compelling (albeit strange) yarn. When Shepard and Joker’s night out for sushi becomes the story’s logical anchor, you know you’re in for a divisive trip. Admittedly, the threat of an unexpected (totally ret-conned) enemy brings together past and present crewmates in a meaningful way. Any excuse to fight alongside Wrex, to hear Jack and Miranda bicker one more time, or to see Samara loosen up and crack a joke is a moment I treasure. Citadel offers these moments, and countless others, in spades. You’ll have to trudge through a couple hours of filler combat to reach the good stuff, though. If, like me, you haven’t touched Mass Effect 3 in almost a year, expect a somewhat rude awakening. Citadel demands a good deal of skill you may have lost since finishing Shepard’s story, and the early moments of difficulty highlight combat mechanics that were only just good enough to ignore the first time around. Never mind the tight indoor environments littered with objects—when your squad actually breaks the fourth wall and makes fun of how awkward movement is, it’s hard to disagree.

But before long, the conflict is resolved in spectacular fashion, and the real fun can begin. Shepard and crew gear up for a night of partying before returning to war with—what were they again? Reapers? The sentient machines two fat *wubs* away from exterminating all life in the galaxy? What about that Crucible thing, our only hope of saving the galaxy? No? We’re gonna share some beers and watch biotiball instead? Ok.

All things in good time, I guess.

In Bioware’s defense, the diversion is worthwhile. You can explore new areas and meet old friends for conversations and antics that put a wrap on gaming’s greatest sci-fi epic. Wrex and Grunt butt heads over tank-bred superiority; a naïve EDI quizzes Traynor on her sexuality; and stoic Garrus hits on a Turian female (yes, a Turian female!). The intense love Bioware has for its characters (and fans) shines through. An overwhelming number of permutations for how these characters reunite and interact (let alone which of them are still alive) warrant multiple playthroughs; it will take more than the requisite two or three to see everything on offer. These moments of fan service are intense: heartbreaking for the end we know is coming, yet comforting for the men and women we’ll never forget.

In the end, that’s what Citadel is all about. No matter your feelings on where the journey ended up, the ride was worth it, and it touched gamers in ways we’ll still be unraveling years down the line. Mass Effect will be remembered not for its hybrid shooter-RPG mechanics, nor even for the lore and codex entries that created a galaxy worth exploring. Mass Effect will be remembered for the way it made us feel—for the characters that captured our hearts—in a generation that harbored the genesis of powerful, emotive gaming experiences. Citadel cements this legacy.




The Final Word

For hearkening back to fond series memories, and for its heartfelt goodbye to characters we love, Citadel is Mass Effect 3's best single-player DLC and a worthy send-off to Shepard's crew.