Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker review

Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker review
Johnson the albino merc gets a bad feeling...

Our regular readers will all know by now what a giant Mass Effect fanboy I am. Despite that, I’ve found most of the game’s recent DLC packs a tad underwhelming. What then can Lair of the Shadow Broker, the latest add-on for Mass Effect 2, offer us?

The story begins, as usual, with a message from Charlie / the Illusive Man. Somehow he’s managed to find information that could lead someone to the Shadow Broker, and there’s no someone in the galaxy more interested in finding him than your old teammate Liara T’Soni. So you trot off to Illium to share the news with her and thus begins another merry adventure complete with mercenary battles, hostage negotiations and lightning rods. That’s right – fucking lightning rods, kids.

You’ll find a bit of variety thrown into the 2-3 hours it will take you to finish the pack – obviously most of your activities are still combat-oriented but you’ll get to do a little elementary police work, some tracking and even fly a sky car at different points. Liara becomes a temporary member of your squad for the mission and biotics are still her specialty. She’s automatically loyal and has the warp, singularity and stasis abilities. Stasis is the only “new” ability (those who played ME1 will remember it with indifference) and it’s only really handy if you’re overwhelmed and want to hit “pause” on a particular enemy. Singularity and Warp both come in handy during the mission though.

Liara and Shepard have a moment

Most of the enemies you’ll fight will be the Shadow Broker’s mercenary army. They’re exactly like Eclipse mercs, just with white armour instead of yellow, and shouldn’t pose too many problems. The boss fights are a little more difficult however, especially on the higher difficulty levels.

As the title indicates, you’ll eventually end up in the lair of the Shadow Broker it/her/their/himself (did that cover enough bases that I haven’t actually given away anything? Good, because for all you know the Shadow Broker isn’t even real, right?) and while you’re there you’ll be able to co-opt some handy resources that you can keep tapping well after the mission is over. These include dossiers on various important individuals (including your team), archive video recordings, mineral resources and research projects, some of which can take your weapons past the old 5/5 upgrade limit or catch you up on upgrades you’d missed. You’ll also get access to a facility to retrain the powers of all your squad mates, the same as you can do for Shepard in the lab on the Normandy.

So you’re well rewarded for finishing the pack. For all the achievement whores out there like Matt there are five new achievements to get over the course of the pack as well. We may as well talk about price briefly: it’s 800 Bison Dollars points (or about AUD$12), which is more than the previous packs, but it’s better than them as well … so trade that off mentally as you will. I think it’ll prove to be an important enough part of the game that it’ll be worth it.

Imogen the office OH&S rep will have someone''s bollocks for this

The writing overall is very good, as we’ve come to expect from Bioware, but it’s especially impressive given the sheer number of combinations and permutations of events and relationships the game is now dealing with. So far I’ve played the pack through three times, because I’m just that dedicated to our readers getting the whole story. Two runs were with characters that were involved with Liara in the first game: one had stayed faithful to her (that’s right, I elected not to get laid before the final mission and stare longingly at a photo instead) and the other had moved on to someone else. Liara interacted with both characters in different ways. Some of the differences were subtle, some of them less so, but it all seemed well fleshed out.

The other play through was with a renegade that wasn’t down with inter-species loving in the first game and things felt a little more stilted. Don’t get me wrong, pretty much everything still made sense, but I kind of got the impression that the game expects you to have chosen Liara in ME1 – in kind of the same way you get the impression you were supposed to let the Council die (oops – hope that wasn’t a spoiler for anyone who still hasn’t played the first game). I haven’t got any characters mid-game at the moment so I haven’t tried playing it before the suicide mission to see how well it fits in. Apparently it can be done but it’s largely assumed you’ll be playing this pack after you’ve defeated the Collectors.

Liara''s apartment on Illium - fancy, no?

Moving on from the serious stuff, there are even a few humourous moments thrown in. Shepard and Liara bicker like an old married couple much of the time and it turns out she’s a real Mrs Bucket when she gets in a car with you. Some of the information contained in the dossiers and videos you get access to by the end of the mission are very funny as well. Grunt’s extranet search history brings the lulz, for example, as do the video snippets of the annyoing Citadel reporter with the long name. And I’ve got no idea what Asari Confessions 26: True Blue is, but quite a few of your male squad mates seem to watch it…

I’ve got one minor gripe, the PC version I played did have a bug or two. The first time I played I had to repeat the first part of the mission after a bug killed the game and judging by the forums I haven’t been the only one. It only happened the once though, every other play through has been fine.

As an addendum, I downloaded the new Firepower DLC pack at the same time as Lair of the Shadow Broker. It provides your team with three new weapons – a laser-sighted hand cannon, a Geth plasma shotgun and a new assault rifle. The hand cannon is largely pointless because you’ve always had a targeting reticle so functionally the laser sight doesn’t add anything. The assault rifle is powerful but semi-automatic, which in reality makes it either a slightly more powerful hand cannon or a less accurate sniper rifle. I ditched it at the first opportunity, though I was happy for my squad mates to use it.

Samara models the Mattock heavy rifle

That just leaves the plasma shotgun which, thankfully, is awesome. It deals loads of damage in a wide area and it’s got an option to “charge up” before firing to deal extra damage (something I found handy in the final LOTSB boss fight). It’s loads of fun and makes it easily the best shotgun in the game but it’s hardly essential if you’re like me and rarely used shotguns in the first place. I think it’s safe to file the Firepower pack under “for completists only”.

Lair of the Shadow Broker is great though. There’s a reasonable amount of play in it, the writing is excellent, there’s a few challenging fights, new locations, new activities, it’s visually impressive and there was at least one moment that made me stop and mutter “Holy shit that’s cool”. It’s easily the best ME2 DLC pack so far and if you enjoyed playing the base game you’ll almost certainly want to have a crack at this.

The Verdict:

Pros: Great writing, story finally moving towards ME3, lulzy reading and viewing material once you’ve finished the mission.

Cons: Lack of alien side boob will continue to disappoint some, there are minor bugs and it’s more expensive than previous packs. Firepower pack not really worth bothering with.

Overview: As DLC goes, Lair of the Shadow Broker is bloody good. Long term fans of the series in particular will appreciate the chance to resume plots from the first game and also start moving towards the third installment. Some fun boss fights and a few spectacular visual moments round the whole package out nicely. 3.5 out of 5 stars!

3.5 out of 5