Version tested: Xbox 360
Nine months after launch, and Mass Effect 2 finally has a DLC offering to compare with Dragon Age: Awakenings. Not in terms of size – Lair of the Shadow Broker still takes the best part of an evening to polish off – but as a showcase for the strengths of both parent game and BioWare itself. This is a solid, thrilling, satisfying addition to an already expansive universe; one that leaves you on an appropriate note of hopeful melancholy.
It starts with a slow burn, though. The Illusive Man drops you a line saying that he's found some info on the mysterious Shadow Broker, the information dealer who retrieved your space-blasted body, and whom your former ally Liara T'Soni wants dead. From that simple beginning, it's off to Ilium to meet with Liara and things quickly take on a conspiratorial tone.
It's a testament to just how well this miniature story plays out that I find myself retreating from anything that feels remotely spoiler-like even at this early stage. Suffice to say that it pulls off a near-perfect balancing act, finding room for all the elements that Mass Effect 2 excels at while maintaining an energetic forward momentum. There are some fun conversation options, a little investigate work, some blistering corridor gunplay, and at least two epic stand-offs where enemies pile on from all sides. Add in two enjoyable boss fights and you've got an experience that is much more varied and substantial than its short playing time suggests.
It even finds time along the way for a plot twist (rather heavily signposted, but nicely paced all the same) and offers a jaw-dropping bit of visual showboating as you battle your way across, around, under and over the hull of a giant space cruiser hurtling through an atmospheric storm. It perhaps resembles the climax of the first game, where you fought through the crumbling Citadel, a little too much but when the view is this dramatic, who cares about a little thematic repetition?
Mostly, it's a tour de force for BioWare's scripting team, who tie together dangling plot threads from the first game and the sequel, weaving them into a new narrative that seamlessly enhances your understanding and enjoyment of both games. There are beautiful character moments that benefit from the richly drawn cast and the organic, interlinked world they inhabit. There are fist-pump moments of classic Shepard bad-assery, and a memorable Paragon/Renegade moment with a hostage. There are fleeting references and clever in-jokes that will thrill those who have fully immersed themselves in this rapidly expanding universe.