Mass Effect 2 Shadow Broker DLC review: required reading

"The Lair of the Shadow Broker" is the perfect epilogue for Mass Effect 2, adding closure to an important story arc, and offering a brief glimpse at the potential of Mass Effect 3. It's essential content for the Mass Effect fan: not only does the DLC push the canon forward, it provides some of the most thrilling action in the franchise thus far. There's a new alien race, a new Spectre, the best boss battle in the series, heck, there's even a car chase. It's a thrill ride, albeit a brief one.

Liara's return in Mass Effect 2 has had a rather divisive effect amongst fans, many of whom found disliked her unexpectedly dark turn. The prequel comic Mass Effect Redemption offers some insight into her drastic personality change -- her search for Shepard's body led to a messy exchange with the Shadow Broker, a mysterious entity that's been teased throughout both Mass Effect games. The DLC gives you new information on the Shadow Broker's whereabouts, courtesy of Cerberus, which gives you reason to return to Liara on Illium. Exactly who is the Shadow Broker and what does he do with the information at his disposal? How does Liara want to exact her revenge? These questions are all finally answered.
New locales open up on Illium, including Liara's apartment, an office complex and an "adult" hotel. Illium's clean, sleek, futuristic look is tainted here, and fans of classic sci-fi like Blade Runner will appreciate the sinister tone BioWare is attempting. Without spoiling anything, this story arc is far more graphic than usual -- you will see a lot of dead bodies, gore and blood. There's even a noir-esque detective scene, and a trip through a hotel with dead prostitutes.

Eventually, you will partner up with Liara, which is terrific fan service for ME1 vets. (There's even a cute reference to Omni-Gel!) Depending on your save file, you'll also be able to continue your romance with her -- but, sadly, she won't continue to be available for the rest of the ME2 campaign. (You will be able to assign skill points to her, as with any other member of your party.)

Being able to keep Liara on your party might have added enough gameplay to warrant the rather high price tag. But unfortunately, once the story ends, the "Shadow Broker" DLC doesn't do much to enhance the overall package. Yes, you'll be able to reassign your team member's points, and find additional sources of minerals, but these are afterthoughts in the post-game. Also, for what it's worth, the newly-added hovercraft controls -- in true BioWare form -- atrociously. (Holding down LT while navigating with dual-analog controls is not intuitive at all.)

There's a lot of well-polished content here, with some of the more beautiful vistas in the ME universe. However, it's over too soon. Even if you watch all the videos, unlock all the terminals, and read all of the Shadow Broker intel available to you (It's required reading: these vignettes offer hilarious insight into all the major characters in the game), you're looking at only two hours of gameplay. At 800 Microsoft Points ($10), that's a hefty price to pay, especially compared to the retail game's hour-to-dollar ratio.

Considering the importance the Shadow Broker plays in the Mass Effect universe, it seems odd that BioWare would conclude the story in DLC instead of Mass Effect 3 as skipping this DLC will put players at a narrative disadvantage. This isn't a compelling (but ultimately disposable) side-story -- "Shadow Broker" is a must for any Mass Effect fan, casual and hardcore. It feels like BioWare and EA, fully aware of its importance, have taken this crucial arc hostage as DLC, and have bet that you're willing to pay the $10 ransom.

This review is based on the Xbox Live retail version of "Lair of the Shadow Broker," purchased by the reviewer.

Note: Joystiq does not provide star ratings for downloadable content reviews with the understanding that the quality of the core game's experience is unchanged from the retail release to DLC add-ons; see: Mass Effect 2 review.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.