It's been a year since Mass Effect 3's release, and BioWare is finally ready to let go of its baby. Citadel is not just the last expansion for the game but a send-off for the entire trilogy, filled with lore, old faces, in-jokes and cameos. It's a witty and touching goodbye to the series' characters and a love letter to the game's hardcore fans.
For starters, there's Citadel's story campaign, a lengthy tale which sees Shepard targeted by the unlikeliest of foes. The story alone lasts several hours, with missions spread over a number of environments on the Citadel itself and a chance to see your entire squad on-screen fighting together.
Citadel is firmly centred on celebrating the bonds that Shepard shares with his crew-mates. This fan-pleasing angle is reflected from the offset, when Shepard's mentor, Anderson, grants the Commander his apartment after an enforced period of shore leave. The stylish city pad acts as a hub for the story, with all of your crew present to chat with between missions. It also comes stuffed with audio logs from an unfinished interview with Anderson and is the first of many environments chock-full of character moments and backstory.
The dialogue is remarkably well written and the episode fully lives up to BioWare's promise of an "all hands on deck" project - a line Shepard knowingly repeats himself. The studio is known for allotting individual characters to specific members of its writing team, and the add-on's huge cast meant eight writers worked on it rather than the usual one or two.
This tactic pays off spectacularly, leaving Citadel's many character-heavy scenes laden with cracking dialogue. If krogan hero Wrex is still alive in your save then you'll get the option to bring him along for the ride - a nice touch for long-term fans - while those who bought the From Ashes extra character are rewarded with a generous amount of new content. There's a short section at the start of the episode where some characters are highlighted more than others (the likes of EDI, Liara and James Vega) but this is more than made up for by later interactions with the team and faces from series' past.
Some moments are genuinely laugh-out-loud hilarious, and the overall feeling of the piece is most similar to the snappy one-liners and quick-witted exchanges found in Mass Effect 2's celebrated Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC. There are moments all players will enjoy (and a special cameo for the Space Hamster), some that only long-term players will nod and smile at and a few that seem specifically written for those who brave BioWare's interesting fan forums.
Citadel almost feels like a 100th episode special of your favourite TV show, where its writers throw caution to the wind and see how meta they can get without smashing the fourth wall into pieces. It's a fine balance, one that BioWare mostly pulls off, but there's also a plot twist which threatens to jump the series' shark once and for all. Later story developments help heal the clanger to a degree, but it's still a jarring plot device, however much BioWare uses it to further the overall themes.
Later sections take Shepard through the Council Archives (another significant source of lore, should you linger to take it in) before a hugely fan-pleasing final location with one of the best bosses in the entirety of the game (take that, Kai Leng). You could probably rush through the campaign in a couple of hours, but there's so much new content and such a large number of easter eggs to discover it'll likely last around double that.
"Citadel almost feels like a 100th episode special of your favourite TV show, where its writers throw caution to the wind and see how meta they can get."
On harder difficulties, the combat is an enjoyable challenge, too. The enemies, a mysterious mercenary squadron, are largely just reskinned Cerberus classes, but smartly-designed maps and a few new tricks will keep seasoned players on their toes. BioWare has the advantage of a year's worth of multiplayer gameplay to see how players typically act, and successfully manages to disrupt things on a number of occasions (there are even a couple of multiplayer characters hidden in one of the areas, haranguing frequent player mistakes).
When all that is said and done, Shepard can relax in his new Citadel quarters and begin the other half of the expansion. There's a large new hub area of shops and leisure facilities to explore, a casino to bet in and an arcade full of mini-games. You can buy a small number of new furnishings and remodel your apartment to a limited degree, then invite characters over to hang out in an array of skits.
Every surviving squad mate from the series makes an appearance, while some who've fallen along the way also get their due. Each character can be invited over for a catch-up, while many also have story sequences in the new hub area. BioWare has re-worked each of these - sometimes a fair amount - depending on whether your Shepard is in a relationship with that character. For the many, many fans that wanted extra romance content, BioWare has delivered.
The character section concludes with an extended party "mission". It offers a rare chance to see the team interact as one and, if you choose, get rather drunk. I spent about an hour wandering around listening to every conversation (the continuation of Miranda and Jack's bickering from Mass Effect 2 was a particular favourite). The party slowly gets rowdier throughout the night, and at three points during the evening you get choices on how you think the soiree is going, to which the party will adapt accordingly.
And - because BioWare seems to have thrown in the kitchen sink, the utility room and a krogan shower scene for this part - your choices here can throw up a huge number of possible scenes. I've watched a couple of other playthroughs on YouTube with entirely different conversations, presumably based on which characters you invited (you can choose who you want from a long list) and the various party mood choices. It should keep those who work out all the different permutations and post them on YouTube busy for some time.
On top of that, BioWare has added in a brand new arena mode. Based in the Citadel, this enjoyable time-sink sees players granted an offline, miniature version of the game's multiplayer portion. You can set up matches to fight geth, Cerberus, Reapers or Collectors in a Star Trek-style holodeck. There are numerous maps to unlock, modifiers to use and, most excitingly, you can enlist any surviving squad mate from Mass Effect 1 and 2 to join in. This means you can spec out Kasumi and Zaeed to fight beside you once more, or go all krogan and have Grunt and Wrex charging about. There's also a new message terminal full of side-quests and challenges tied into this and for goodness' sake BioWare do you ever want me to stop playing this game?
It's been a bumpy 12 months since Mass Effect 3 was released. Those who disliked the game's three-flavour ending will probably find no solace in Citadel's three-choice party scenes, and it's a fair to assume that many will have moved on from the game in the intervening year. For those who've stuck by the series, however, and are willing to revisit it one final time, BioWare has excelled itself. The developer has clearly had a lot of fun creating a send-off to its characters that's worthy of the series' history and reminiscent of some of the saga's finest moments.
"I won't say it's been easy," Shepard is told in a touching final scene. "But we've had a good run."