Mass Effect 3: Leviathan: The Kotaku Review

Mass Effect 3: Leviathan: The Kotaku Review

The Mass Effect games we play could be so different from the ones we’ve been playing for the last seven years. That is one of the messages of Leviathan, the second singleplayer expansion to Mass Effect 3, the first since launch day.

Here is a short, well-made adventure set in the middle of the events of Mass Effect 3 that may exhaust your interest in Commander Shepard even as it suggests a variety of fun possible futures for games in the Mass Effect universe.

Imagine if some day we could play a Mass Effect detective game. That is partially what Leviathan is as Shepard repeatedly returns to the lab of a deceased scientist to determine the truth behind a history-changing expedition. The player gets to search for clues and do some deductive reasoning. It’s not quite L.A. Noire In Space, but imagine the possibilities…

Maybe some day we could play a Mass Effect that focuses on the discovery of beautiful new worlds. Leviathan brings players to two of the best-rendered worlds seen in the series. Mass Effect hasn’t looked this good since the visually magnificent Mass Effect 2 expansion Lair of the Shadow Broker. Too bad that the tours of these new places are so brief.

Perhaps in the future we could play a Mass Effect horror game, which Leviathan almost turns into, during a creepy sequence set in the second-weirdest space-mining facility ever seen in an EA-published game.

Mass Effect 3: Leviathan

Developer: BioWare
Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC
Release Date: August 28 (download only); Mass Effect 3 required

Type of game: Sci-fi-shooting mixed with talking-to-aliens, with a dash of planet-scanning, clue-finding and deep-sea-diving.
What I played: Took me five hours to clear it, because people kept interrupting. You could do it in three. Maybe even two, I bet.

My Two Favourite Things

  • Being a space-detective, briefly.
  • Diving underwater, really briefly.

My Two Least-Favourite Things

  • Just when I think I have Mass Effect‘s lore straight, the ending drops a surprise that I think will only excite the kind of people who maintain Mass Effect Wikis.
  • Feels like a deleted scene, since it occurs before the Shepard trilogy’s grand finale(s).

Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes

  • “Just imagine — briefly — that Mass Effect is a detective story. Or a horror game.” — Stephen Totilo, Kotaku
  • “The ending to this isn’t so hot, but there’s no need to send cupcakes.” — Stephen Totilo, Kotaku
  • “Better than Kasumi and Arrival, on par with Ashes, not as good as Shadow Broker — Stephen Totilo, Kotaku

In the span of maybe four hours Leviathan suggests all of these new turns for BioWare’s grand space adventure. But Leviathan is ultimately mostly a faithful expansion of the shooter-role-playing hybrid we’ve played in Mass Effects 13. We are Commander Shepard. We have heard that there may be something out there called the Leviathan that can kill the universe-harvesting Reapers, and we will both talk to people and shoot a lot of bad guys in order to find out if this is true. We won’t make any big moral decisions this time, sadly, but we will fly from star system to star system. We will scan some planets. We will eventually report in to Admiral Hackett.

What’s here is good and, in isolation, this is an enjoyable adventure for Shepard. The quest is interesting. The sights are lovely, especially a brief bit set underwater. The combat is challenging, thanks to a heavy use of Mass Effect 3’s tougher enemies. And the very brief experiments with escort and chase are welcome. BioWare’s Mass Effect DLC batting average remains high.

Leviathan nevertheless conveys the sensation that Shepard’s time is up. Her adventure had its grand finale in Mass Effect 3, which leaves this mid-mission expansion feeling like watching a very long deleted scene. There are no great secrets to be learned about Shepard. Her narrative and emotional arc was already complete. Leviathan purports to reveal new secrets about the Mass Effect universe during its anticlimactic ending (yes, the ending is weak; no, BioWare doesn’t need to change it), but it’s hard to shake the idea that none of this means anything. We already know what happens before, during and after Leviathan. More importantly, the heart of the Shepard trilogy — the Commander’s relationships with her allies — barely beats in this expansion, which involves very little fresh dialogue between the series’ core cast that doesn’t involve the mission at hand. This expansion, of course, runs on a technical framework that is at its limit. New gameplay experiments can only bend the system so far; Shepard is still a a klutz who doesn’t always take cover when you want her to and sometimes fails to pick something up even though you surely just pressed the A button.

Leviathan is a fun return to Commander Shepard’s Mass Effect, but the overall feeling here is that, as good as it is, Shepard’s Mass Effect is exhausted. Her cycle is over. This is just good filler. It’s time to prepare for the future. And, for the record, I would play L.A. Noire In Space.


  • Good review. The story revelations just confuse the full game’s ending further, and there’s a real sense that rather than leave the Reapers as an abstract concept Bioware are drowning them with lore. I’m, frankly, disappointed that the narrative arc Sovereign started in ME has turned out like this.

    That said, story aside this DLC is very well made, the environments look stunning, there’s new types of gameplay, and the creepy atmosphere of the first part of the mission works extremely well. It’s as long as Lair of the Shadow Broker but not quite as memorable or entertaining, and we don’t get the character interaction or in-jokes that LotSB did so well.

    Probably worth picking up, but I’m so sick and tired of the Reaper storyline – the focus desperately needs to shift away from trying to hammer home the synthetic/organic conflict plot and reintroduce some characterisation.

    • It is disappointing to see them turn from Lovecraftian horrors to fully understandable nemeses.

      But as a person who detested the endings wholeheartedly, and didn’t even bother with the EC DLC, would you recommend this to me? You could say I am firmly entrenched in the ‘hater’ camp, but I’d be willing to give something a shot if it actually made ME fun again.

      • If you didn’t like the explanation for the Reapers (what they are, what they do, why they do what they do) in the original ending (or the EC, which you haven’t played) then you won’t like this. It doesn’t change any of that, and it spends most of the last bit giving the player an explanation/justification of it, which still manages to make no sense and be full of plot holes.

        In fact, it actually adds another improbable layer of complexity to why the ME universe is like it is, and changes something about the galaxy that probably means the endings are even more bleak and gloomy than before.

        That aside, it’s got some fun set-piece combat and the environments really are great. The early story and sense of mystery and discovery is really well done, and I’d say the actual process of discovering Leviathan’s mysteries (the first 90% of the DLC) is fantastic. The actual mysteries, though, are a letdown.

    • Most articles try to shove male Shepard down out throats. Use “their” instead of “his” in those as well? >_>


      Suddenly, Femshep flies out of js’ mouth, after being shoved down ‘their’ throat and is free to return to saving the galaxy from the Reaper threat!

  • summed it up nicely for me: “but it’s hard to shake the idea that none of this means anything”.

    the arc is done and dusted, its hard to find the enthusiasm I had for Lair for this one.

    Sad in a way, but all good things come to an end.

  • kotaku cant give a positive review because of community backlash and cant give a negitive review because EA lines there pockets

    so we get this indecisive shit that has even less journalism credibility, fantastic

    • Why can’t reviews be indecisive? It’s certainly critical of the storyline (and Leviathan’s ending) and it praises the bits that worked well – which is generally what most people who have played it are doing, myself included.

      The DLC was a mixed bag, it doesn’t deserve flat-out positive praise but it certainly wasn’t bad. I’d think a piece that highlighted that nuance would be a good thing, rather than an invitation to spout conspiracy theories about EA.

    • ^ Yeah, it’s definitely that.

      Even-handedness is for pussies. As is being conflicted about something you invested too much love in to hate.

  • Always wanted to know more about the Reapers, but traded in ME3 as soon as I finished it out of sheer disgust of the ending. Watched the DLC ending on youtube.

    Actually having meaningful conversation with the Reapers instead of the brief smacktalk was something I sorely missed in ME3. They should have been the mocking antangonist, not the Illusive Man. The revelation that Harbringer was the first Reaper makes me even more astounded that there was no real interaction between Shepard and him(it?) after the buildup of ME2.

  • Bought it, played it, loved it. A fan of Steve and ~a certain couple~ in me is highfiving herself in glee. Loved the funny bits (never change, James), liked the fact that everyone (except for joker) had additional comments after every act of the DLC. The ending, that the reviewer didn’t like, has blown me away. However it must be said – I think this DLC shows that the original ending was no mistake, they planned to expand on it in paid-for DLCs and didn’t even considered the backlash this would cause. Overall, can’t wait for another DLC, which I think, considering DA, DA2 and ME2, will be a new team member.

  • Loved the tension of the first part of this DLC and the investigating was awesome, reminded me why Ive loved Mass Effect. However I can’t help but feel this comes waaaaay too late. I would have killed for this a few months ago rather than all the dire Multiplayer crap bioware seems to be obsessed with churning out.

  • man, i cannot wait for leviathan dlc, i will download definitely, but i need to get back to playing mass effect haven’t played it for a long time. I saw the leviathan walkthrough just to see if it was worth it and after watching it, i think I’m going to give it a try. Can’t wait for mods and new weapons.

  • I can’t even gather the energy to care for DLC for ME3 anymore. Yes I am in the ‘hater’ camp if it must be labelled but if this had come earlier I would have seriously considered picking it up. It is late, shoves the ending down you throat discussing in on more levels and just rubs salt in the wounds for me.

    saying that, I hope people enjoy it though. I still can’t help but feel the timing was off (came out too late) and just another reason for me to try and forget about the game and what it became, a cash cow

  • While we can only guess what the next mass effect game will bring , I flet as through the dlc was sort of a prelude for the next game, as with the reapers out of the way the leviathan will be free to try and reassurt themselves as the “apex race”.

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