The Title: Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker

The Premise: For two years, Liara T’Soni has been chasing the Shadow Broker, the galaxy’s most dangerous information dealer, in retaliation for kidnapping a dear friend of hers, and for attempting to sell Shepard’s body to the Collectors after the first Normandy was destroyed. Now, Cerberus has given Shepard a lead which could allow Liara to take down the Broker once and for all.

Is It Good?: No. It’s fucking GREAT. This is now the bar against which DLC for this game can be judged. It’s real easy to balk at the price of admission–$10 for about two hours of actual gameplay–but you’ll know where your money went within about 10-15 minutes.

There’s three distinct parts to the mission. The first is hands down THE best executed action beat in the series so far, going from a minor crime scene investigation during a thunderstorm, which turns into, in order, a basic shootout, an explosion in an apartment complex, a double-cross, a Quantum of Solace-esque footchase and biotic brawl (complete with one of these shots ), a darker, more adult iteration of the speeder car chase/club scene from Attack of the Clones, complete with infinitely better writing (Aside from the perverse line about why the hotel is called what it is, best line: “What does this thing have for weapons?” “It’s a taxi. It has a fare meter.”), and a boss battle against a super-fast biotic (which, if you play Vanguard, get smart early and use Charge to chase her around, becomes something even more special, unique to any other fight in the game. The first section alone is relentless, varied, spectacular stuff, and just barely might’ve been worth the price on its own.

The second section, where you go breaking down the Shadow Broker’s front door, takes place on a planet where there’s extreme heat when the sun’s up, extreme cold when the sun’s down. Meaning, sunrise and sunset, there’s a section of the planet where the two temperatures clash, and you have savage thunderstorms. The Shadow Broker’s ship traverses the planet right in the middle of that storm, making for one of the most extreme, and beautiful environments created so far. You start the stage scaling the hull of the Shadow Broker’s ship at a tilt, surrounded by sunlit lightning strikes, lightning rods which can be used to electrocute enemies, and waves upon waves of sonsabitches to toss right off the sides. Eventually, you get inside, and it becomes the typical corridor shooting spree as always, capped off by a final boss fight with the Broker himself. There’s no major revelations involving the Broker’s real identity, though his backstory is at least interesting, and introduces a new hostile race to the mix hopefully doesn’t get forgotten come ME3.

The real gold however is in the third section, and possible the true strength of the DLC, even though the action is worth it on its own. After the Shadow Broker is history, you get access to his base full of awesome. On the practical side, you’re allowed to send the Broker’s agents on missions for credits and upgrades and there’s a terminal where you can redistribute points for every squad member, which is one of those features I was wondering why it wasn’t on the Normandy to begin with. And again, with all this, the pack would’ve been worth its asking price, easily.

It’s the character development side of things that raises things to the next level.

On the small scale, the Broker has dossiers on every squad member, and the revelations therein range from the hilarious (Grunt and Jacobs’ reading and watching lists, what’s playing in Garrus’ headset, Zaeed’s retirement plans) to the tragic (Miranda’s medical correspondence, Samara’s last communication with her family, Thane’s final letter to Shepard if she’s a love interest), and everything in between (Kasumi writing sexy haiku about Jacob, Tali trying to write an apology to a subordinate’s family, the record of Mordin’s mission with Kirrahe to alter the genophage). There’s a good, solid hour, hour and a half of reading here, and you’ll be surprised how fast it goes by once you start. Clear your schedule.

And then, there’s the main event, the reason most players download it to begin with, and what makes the content its strongest: The DLC offers the opportunity to resolve or completely resume Shepard’s relationship with Liara. And let’s just say the obvious right now: There’s no reason whatsoever this should’ve been out of the game to begin with.

When Shadow Broker was initially announced, the official word from Bioware was that the dialogue is weighted towards the assumption that the player has completed the game, and gone through the Omega 4 relay. The game’s dialogue does change depending on whether the suicide mission’s done or not, but I’m gonna fly in the face of that logic and say it works far better playing it before going through the relay, as Shepard’s personal loyalty mission, ensuring no regrets.

Which makes it so much sweeter how much Liara finds herself torn between the bookish, soft voiced lily we know, and the fierce, calculating woman she’s become. It makes more sense how insistent Shepard would be to have her back in his/her life, even with another lover in the picture*. And it makes the post-mission option to invite Liara back to the Normandy the most emotionally satisfying scene in the entire game**. It’s a scene where these two talk about a future–a wonderful little line is in here about “marriage, old age, lots of little blue children”–about Liara losing Shepard again, and Shepard and the player taking full control of a relationship and its direction, not just asking a series of questions to raise a point value. The last moment, of a scared, softened Shepard whispering for Liara to “come back soon” is perfect. And on top of that, I suppose it goes without saying how much stronger and meaningful in terms of writing this material is with FemShep playing it out. But that’s for another article….

If Shadow Broker has faults, it’s that the mystery at its core, most of the backstory of it comes from the Mass Effect: Redemption comic, and without it, Liara’s relationship to Feron is paper thin. Still, the character material, and the rewards at the end of it are all more than strong enough to sustain the player’s interest.

This is essential material for the series. Get it. Now.

Length: 2-2 1/2 hours, maybe more depending on how much time you spend reading.

Moment To Savor: Again, subject for another article, but the Paragon interrupt after the Shadow Broker’s dead is one of those glorious, old-school, Hollywood moments you NEVER get, executed this well, in a game, let alone between two women.

Worth it?: Every penny.

*–Though I dont know how anyone could do this to poor Thane if he’s FemShep’s paramour. That’s just kinda mean.

**–By the by, when you invite Liara back on the Normandy, you have the option to change your casual outfit before starting the scene, especially since Liara herself changes into something fancier. NOW would be the time for that dress/suit from Kasumi’s Stolen Memory.