By Alec Meer on March 6th, 2012 at 9:12 pm.
Jim’s already judged Bioware’s new guns’n’conversation epic, while I am a mere 10 hours into Mass Effect 3. What I have done that he hasn’t is pick up the contentious From Ashes DLC, allegedly developed after work on the main game was completed and included in the £55 Collector’s Edition, or as a £6/$10 addon to the standard edition. I forked out for the latter, and thus have an extra dude in my crew. We’ve already pondered about whether it should have been part of the core game in concept, but now it’s time to look at it what it actually includes.
I’ve avoided all ME3 storyline spoilers outside of the core concept of From Ashes – if you already own it and want to go in totally blind, I would strongly advise against reading the below. And if you are 100% spoiler-averse about ME3 in general, I would also avoid reading the below. I’ve steered clear of any discussion of plot outcomes, but I do talk about the nature of the new character – stuff you’d find out for yourself not long after meeting him, but I do understand that might be too spoilersome for some. If that’s you, you can find a very quick summation of whether I think the DLC is worth acquiring at the very bottom of the post, underneath the (perfectly safe) YouTube video.
Please note I’ve used generic ME3 screenshots throughout this post, rather than ones specific to From Ashes’ new fella, due to spoiler-fear. If you’re mad keen to see what he looks like regardless, here you go.
Like Zaeed in Mass Effect 2 and Shale in Dragon Age, From Ashes adds a new character to your team from, more or less, the start of the game, as opposed to offering extended adventures for those who’ve already beaten ME3. That said, you can add in the DLC and divert into acquiring and become top chums with new boy Javik whenever you like.
To the best I can ascertain (having played a few hours of ME3 before I decided to buy From Ashses) the lack of him won’t leave a glaring hole in the game, outside of one room on your ship the Normandy forever remaining empty, and a suspicious bloke-sized gap on your squad selection screen. So, it’s certainly not an addition that’s mandatory to the main story, but I suspect you will be conscious that something is missing.
The main reason to pick it up, and the reason I picked it up, is because Javik is a Prothean. 50,000 years ago, these crabshell-headed, four-eyed aliens were the dominant species in the galaxy, before being near-wiped about by colossal machine race the Reapers, with the remaining Protheans enslaved, brainwashed and transformed into main ME2 baddies the Collectors. As such, Javik is the last known living member of a once-proud race, and your chance to meet one of the long-lost, highly mythologised architects of so many of Mass Effect’s greatest mysteries. Can he possibly live it up to these great exceptions?
Well, no. Which is not to say that he’s bad character – in fact, I like him a lot, with all his quiet snobbery, his struggle to hide his pain at his entire species having died 50,000 years ago and his bass drum, vaguely West Indian voice (which seemed incongruous at first, but quickly grew on me), and he tends to be part of my main team alongside [censored]. It’s just that his relative ordinariness, in that he’s ultimately another Soldier With A Dark Past to add to ME’s long list of them, rips away much of the mystique that’s built up around the Protheans over the last two games.
There are surprises, there is more to learn, there is comedic and passive-aggressive interplay with other characters, and he does have an agreeably supercilious attitude to humans, Salarians, Asari and the rest of what are, in his quad-eyes, lesser species. He’s a good character. Probably one of the ME series’ best, even. But… it’s a little deflating to discover that the fabled Protheans are in many ways just one more species in a fictional universe that’s already rich with them. Never meet your heroes, they say. I guess the same is true of long lost, god-like architects of the known universe.
I’d always thought of the Protheans in the same way I thought of The Elder Scrolls’ long-vanished Dwemer. In the latter’s case, that’s been held up by the one real encounter with TES’ Dwarves being distinctly messed-up and sinister. Jarvik, while offering plentiful and pithy commentary on how the current ‘cycle’s’ species’ achievements and intelligence lag far behind his, for the most part can be slotted neatly into the same old chat-to-win-over during downtime / use three or four special powers in combat mould as the rest of ME2/3’s companions.
I’m fascinated by him, and by the nuggets of Prothean backstory he occasionally offers in, while the rare moments in which he drops his guarded pomposity and lets slip a beyond-deadpan gag offer some of ME3’s best writing. But I almost wish I’d never met him. Now I have, the Protheans aren’t the unimaginable gods of the past I once saw them as. On the other hand entirely, Javik isn’t too hot at offering as many answers as you might have expected a Prothean to. Reasons for this are given, and there are smaller revelations to be heard, but mostly Javik’s just there to join your fight.
Outside of the climactic and passingly moving cutscene which shows how he got where is he and what happens when he wakes up to a changed universe, his 30 minute-long intro mission isn’t anything particularly spectacular, essentially involving yet another fight against Cerberus goons and the already over-familiar mech suit miniboss. You can access it as soon as the game gets its intro stuff out the way and lets you roam where you please in the Normandy, or at any point after that until climactic stuff kicks in. It’s certainly not a plot-critical event.
The mission does, however offer another chance to what has become the ME universe’s whipping boy, Eden Prime – the human colony visited in ME1’s first mission. Once again, it’s not having a good time. I recognised it to some extent, which also meant I was that much more conscious of how much had changed between Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2 (there’s far less to separate 2 and 3, at least in terms of mechanics). This mission was an all-out shooter, whereas my first visit to this poor planet had involved conversation and hacking. I have mixed feelings about that.
So, six quid for a new character and couple of bonus missions – worth it? In terms of what it brings to the action table, no: as a fighter, Javik doesn’t perform any better than or even very differently to the standard companions, and the new missions aren’t anything to write a captain’s log about in and of themselves. (Although he does add an agreeably effective if ammo-hungry death ray assault rifle to your armoury). He doesn’t offer a distinctive addition to your tactics, as did Dragon Age’s similarly-acquired Shale, but that’s at least partly because ME3’s combat has edged that much closer to CoD style relentless gunplay than even ME2 did.
In terms of what it does for ME lore, I do feel it’s more disruptive than it is revelatory, but I can see the appeal for those who positively feed on documenting every last corner of space opera backstories. But as an extra source of what ME does best, smartly-written conversations with nuanced characters nursing hidden hurts and who act as catalyst for you to enact your own morality towards and through, he’s a substantial addition that does feel suitably interconnected with the main game rather than being a pustule awkwardly stuck onto the side. As extra content, From Ashes is more towards integral than throwaway, but that only endorses the concern that it should have been in the game all along.
Tough one. You will most likely want it/him in your story, I think, but worthwhile a companion as he is Javik’s simply not a game-changer – and at that price, he probably should be.
Still, you probably shouldn’t listen to me. After all, I’m the Commander Shepard who, when the galaxy is burning and dependent on me to come save it, decides I’ve got better things to be doing…
Not so much murder on the dancefloor as murder everywhere else in the universe while I’m on the dancefloor. I’m Commander Shepard, and I approve of throwing these shapes.
This line is your 100% spoiler-free Wot I Think if you’ve avoided what’s above: “You will most likely want the intriguing new character in your story, I think, but worthwhile a companion as they are, they fall a long way short of living up to the gosh-wow concept they’re introduced as and they really aren’t a game-changer for either ME3’s plot or its mechanics – and at that price, they probably should be.”