I have a confession to make: I don’t hate Mass Effect 3‘s ending. In fact, I quite like it. I am an unabashed fan of the franchise, and it’s probably because of this that I like Mass Effect 3: Citadel so much. It’s a celebration of the ups and downs of the Mass Effect franchise, and while DLC like Lair of the Shadow Broker or Leviathan are superior in terms of enriching the lore and story of the Mass Effect universe, Citadel is much more heartfelt. It is an incredible sendoff to the universe that fans have spent so much time with and that BioWare has spent so much time creating.
Mass Effect 3: Citadel is made with the fans in mind, specifically the fans who have been playing the series since the first Mass Effect game. Eschewing the general gravitas of the main storyline of Mass Effect for an over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek story, Citadel celebrates the best parts of the series with a large number of sly nods and fun callbacks to popular or well-liked moments of the series. And yet it manages to be self-deprecating at the same time, lampooning some of the more ridiculous aspects of the games and character performances.
Citadel‘s story involves every squad member who’s ever fought at Shepard’s side. The plot is rather plebeian — Shepard finds out that someone is trying to kill him again — and becomes involved in a vast conspiracy that leads to a rather bizarre plot twist, even by Mass Effect standards. The result is a rather interesting contrast between the main villain and Shepard.
Make no mistake, however; the story is completely in service to the real treat: the dialogue and character-driven moments that are spread throughout the three to four hour journey. Shepard begins the adventure outgunned and outmatched, facing down dozens of mercs by himself with nothing but a silenced pistol. By the end, he’s leading three different squads consisting of all his squadmates, new and old, in an effort to put an end to his would-be assassin. This blitzkrieg takes Shepard into a historical archive that catalogues all the most important events of the Mass Effect universe.
Of even greater interest is what becomes available after the “main” mission is over: a celebratory party that involves a guest list of the player’s choosing and the unlocking of a new area full of minigames. The minigames are mostly simple affairs, and the real draw of the post-battle events is the aforementioned party. Involving almost every surviving character who has fought at Shepard’s side, the party is an elaborate sendoff for Shepard and his companions. If Shepard has a romantic interest, s/he will also have a special scene with Shepard at the end. Even characters who are a no-show involve themselves by sending Shepard messages and gifts (sometimes posthumously) that highlight the best their character has to offer.
The only criticism that can be possibly be levied against the plot of the add-on is that it is exceptionally silly, and even then, that is the point. Characters spout out more one-liners than a David Caruso video, and there are more jokes than some fully-fledged comedy games. I laughed more with Citadel than with any other game in recent memory, and given how hard it is to please me comedically, this is high praise.
The gameplay is unchanged from Mass Effect 3, but Citadel mixes things up with some stealth sections early on and new enemy types in the later areas, with a climax that’s one of the toughest and most exhilarating battles to ever grace the franchise. The enemy is just as savvy and powerful as Shepard this time around, and it really shows the amount of effort they put into crafting this final battle. It’s the final boss that Mass Effect 3 proper never got; not because of laziness, but because it wouldn’t have fit thematically.
Some will find the length of the DLC to be underwhelming — a quick player can blaze through the story in about an hour or two and spend another hour at the party — but Citadel takes into account so many previous choices that the player made and so many outcomes of previous scenarios that it would be doing the add-on a disservice to judge it solely by a standard of length. A great deal of Shepard’s decisions make such significant impacts on the conversations that go on between Shepard, his squadmates, and the villain that when I finished Citadel with my main save, I immediately played it again with another save to see what differences I could find. There’s also a lot of attention paid to the details, whether it’s finding a squadmate at the arcade furiously trying to win at a claw machine game or seeing the names of the top scorers at a lame boxing game.
Citadel is the culmination of the best parts of the Mass Effect trilogy: the interesting and endearing characters, how they interact and play off each other and how they respect Shepard immensely not only as a soldier but as a friend and teammate. The DLC ends with Shepard and his crew taking a group photo, and as they head off to further adventures in the galaxy, one crewmate will tell Shepard that they “had a good run,” to which Shepard will respond, “The best.”
I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for the memories, BioWare.