Mass Effect: Legendary Edition contains almost all the original trilogy’s downloadable content. This is good because one might (correctly) argue the DLC is essential to the three games. This extends from cosmetics like armor sets to story content that provides crucial storytelling and worldbuilding for characters and events across all three games. So I’m excited for those who never played things like Mass Effect 2’s “Lair of the Shadow Broker” and Mass Effect 3’s “Leviathan” to have all these story segments naturally added into the main game. However, I’m worried for new players, as the way Legendary Edition integrates all of these feels like it’s setting up those without previous knowledge to stumble into things when they don’t make sense in the grander narrative of each game.
The first game is the least affected by this. As it only contains “Bring Down the Sky,” which is already greatly divorced from the main story of Commander Shepard chasing down Saren. It’s available as soon as you reach the point where you can freely travel across the Milky Way, and it’s got nothing to do with anything that happens in the plot, so it doesn’t step on the toes of anything Mass Effect has going on.
It’s with Mass Effect 2 where things get messy. Things like “Lair of the Shadow Broker” are made available to you about a third of the way through after the mission Horizon. These story missions were made available months after the game launched, and while you can play them whenever you want, to get the most content and dialogue out of them, it’s best if they’re played in the post-game after the final mission. “Lair of the Shadow Broker” is a series of quests involving ex-squadmate Liara T’Soni, and can be accessed as soon as you meet her for the first time on the planet Illium. However, doing so will also cancel out her base game missions that explain more of her story in the two years between the first and second game.
Since “Lair of the Shadow Broker” isn’t labeled in a way that makes it explicitly clear it’s DLC, it’s easy for a new player to jump into an hours-long detour that will derail them from the main story and block them out of main game missions. Having played these games before and bought the DLC back in the day, I knew to avoid the “Let’s get the Shadow Broker” dialogue option when I spoke to Liara until I was ready to start the side story. But without knowing that choice wasn’t there before, there’s nothing to signal that this mission wasn’t meant to be accessed this early.
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While Liara’s revenge trip is one thing, “Arrival,” the final DLC of Mass Effect 2 is even more poorly placed. You can access it a third of the way into the game, but it’s also meant to be the direct lead-in to Mass Effect 3. There are slight tweaks to dialogue and cutscenes to accommodate those who go into the mission early. Still, the entire setup is about the main antagonistic force; the genocidal Reapers’ invasion is imminent. Even when it’s introduced, it’s given a level of production that signals it’s important, as Admiral Hackett, a character the player won’t have seen face-to-face at this point, talks to Shepard through a video call. But nothing in the Legendary Edition communicates what it is: a story that is off the beaten path of Mass Effect 2’s suicide mission meant to be played after all is said and done.
Mass Effect 3’s DLC is in a stranger spot than ME2’s because the third entry doesn’t have a post-game. So no matter when you decide to embark on the “Leviathan” or “Citadel” DLCs, it will always be before Commander Shepard’s final mission. But that doesn’t mean it’s optimal to do them whenever you feel like it. “Citadel” is essentially a farewell to the series that has content for every single (living) party member, but only after you’ve seen their content through the main game. Because of this, getting the ideal “Citadel” experience is only possible if you’ve completed all but the last main story quest. “Omega” occupies a similar slot as “Lair of the Shadow Broker,” as it revolves around a character who isn’t in your party but has their own quest-line in the base game that can be cut off if it’s not finished before accessing the DLC.
Ultimately, it’s hard to say what the perfect solution is. Bioware said it wanted the Legendary Edition to be like a historical document of the Mass Effect trilogy, warts and all. And for all the complaints I have about how DLC was integrated into the remasters, this was how they were made available in the original games. But context is key here, and without purchasing something on a digital storefront, how these chunks of story are meant to fit into the grand scheme of things can be lost on anyone short of searching for a guide.
Would it have been better to lock off “Lair of the Shadow Broker” and “Arrival” until after the suicide mission so they’d be better framed? Could Bioware have only made “Citadel” available after each squadmates’ story was concluded, thus they could appear in the DLC? Or hell, just adding the label of “DLC” to each of these missions would make it clearer where they fit in the story. These changes may have been antithetical to what Bioware was trying to accomplish here, although it has made meaningful changes to things like Tali’s face photo. But perhaps in trying to create a remaster that was true to the original, it’s missing the understanding that came with old business decisions and storefront transactions. Mass Effect’s DLC is still some of the highest quality add-on content any studio has put out, but Legendary Edition lacks the clarity it needs to fit properly into the puzzle for those not in the know.