Loneliness isn’t a feeling frequently touched upon playing any of Bioware’s massive RPGs with their sprawling worlds and cavernous dialogue trees. Yet it is one that has been gradually perfected with the downloadable content for Mass Effect 2.
The fourth piece, Overlord, takes place on the garden planet of Aite. A rogue AI known ominously as The VI Overlord is running amok inside the planet’s remote Cerberus ran science facility; an act so common in the Mass Effect universe it begs the question why anyone with a science degree steps within two galaxy’s distance of any isolated outpost ran by Cerberus. But heigh-ho.
Scientist corpses litter the facility’s sterile corridors; barricades tell stories of desperate final stands; the frequent splattering of blood makes a mockery of workplace regulations and, for a few seconds, it all sniffs of survival horror. Crucially, and this can’t be emphasised enough, Overlord doesn’t begin with a data mining mission so there’s some genuine urgency and drama during those first few minutes.
After a brief introduction to the only other human on all of Aite, Shepherd is spat out into the ever-so-slightly open world planet and this expanse of nothingness is large enough to warrant rolling the Hammerhead out of the garage. Fortunately the Mako’s successor hasn’t been ham-fisted into Overlord like during its debut appearance, instead it has been put to use like the Mako was in Mass Effect. Aite, with its lush forests, waterfalls and Lava rivers, is pleasing enough on the eye to make a lazy Sunday afternoon’s drive out of so cruising between missions is, if not docile, mildly pleasant.
But there‘s little incentive to explore these parts of the world unless the ping of an achievement is enough to make collecting six data logs a worthwhile endeavor. You can’t exit the Hammerhead, so once again you hold the Y button over data points until the data has been magically extracted through the Hammerhead. On the plus side, it’s optional now.
When Shepherd isn’t joyriding in the Hammerhead, or using it in unlikely platforming sections, he’s wandering through science labs, blasting Geth or solving sporadic puzzles. But Overlord never dares to break new ground and there’s precious little to get animated about unless you’ve never played a third person cover-centric shooter before. Overlord is the staple of Shepherd’s life labor; Geth arrive, he shoots them. Rinse, repeat.
Each of the four or so missions involve taking back a series of corridors from the Geth before you finally confront the Overlord itself. Admittedly at one or two points this gets a bit exciting, particularly toward the end where Bioware shift into second gear, but where are the characters? Where are the mysteries and the side quests? Where’s everything that made Mass Effect 2 so good? Overlord is linear and prescribed and a far cry from being worth any amount of money.
Anyone looking for some stimulating banter to disguise the blatant mundanity of shooting robots would do well to look away now. In total there are about twenty lines of dialogue spread across the four hours, most of which coming from the mouth of Shepherd. Your teammates wander between deathly firefights in silence like particularly well disciplined school children at the world’s shittiest museum.
Ultimately this fourth piece of DLC suffers in all the same ways that the Kasumi, Cerberus and Zaeed episodes did before it; the lack of a huge space world or meaningful choices, characters or dialogue makes Overlord another lonely and uneventful four hours spent doing the things you could already do in abundance in Mass Effect 2.
Make no mistake if you’re still enamoured by the shooting aspect of Mass Effect then Overlord ticks all the boxes. But in a game revered for the people you meet, the avenues you take and the worlds you explore, Bioware’s decision to eschew these features in favour of a series of sterile shootouts is, yet again, utterly dismaying.