Controversy! Controversy! Controversy! It was in the game already! Oh no it wasn’t! Oh yes it was!
In case you haven’t been party to this particular pantomime of publicity, Mass Effect 3’s day one DLC has suffered from a bit of negative press. Besides the fact that it was day one downladable content, some players claimed to have found code in the game that suggested From Ashes had begun life as part of the full title, amounting essentially to a cash grab in DLC form. BioWare quickly returned fire, stating that the ‘evidence’ found actually had to be there simply to support the integration of the new content.
Whatever your take on the origins of From Ashes, there’s still one question that needs answering – is it any good? The DLC is a $10 batch of new content, providing fans of the Mass Effect universe with an extra squad member, an extra mission, and some nifty new outfits.
First off let’s get the small fry out of the way. The new outfits for existing squad members will add very little to the game, but if you like a little aesthetic tweak every now and again they do no harm. Colour swaps abound and a couple of the crew get some silly yet entertaining headgear.
Now, what you’re here for is Javik, the new squad member. He’s one of Mass Effect’s much talked about but never seen Protheans, a survivor from the previous cycle of organic life that lost it’s war with the Reapers. Anyone who has spent time with the series will have an idea of what the race is about, having come across their left behind super technology that seems to enlighten every species going. It was a Prothean beacon that gave Shepard visions of a Reaper in Mass Effect 1, and Liara has spent here whole life studying these seemingly benevolent aliens. Mass Effect 2 gave us a general idea of what the Protheans looked like, presenting us with their mutated, ‘Reaperised’ form in the shape of the Collectors.
From Ashes presents fans with a living, breathing Prothean, recovered from the human colony of Eden Prime by the ever busy Cerberus. The new mission that comes with the DLC takes place on this familiar colony, which despite supposedly being one of the most beautiful colonies around, still has that unfortunate Mass Effect structure of grey boxes and buildings. Cerberus in their goings on have uncovered Javik’s stasis pod, for some reason leaving this incredibly important object relatively unguarded whilst Shepard and crew creep up to it. The mission is a simple one that keeps to the same style as the main campaign, and unfortunately there is little to make it stand out from any other ‘kill Cerberus’ mission.
Whilst the mission is relatively lackluster, the character you gain from it is something of a pleasant surprise. Fans would be forgiven for expecting a somewhat pleasant and wise old thing, but Javik defies expectations and also comes with some entertaining and useful fire power. Born in the business end of the Reaper-Prothean war, Javik led the remaining Prothean army in the last days of the conflict. Aware that they were outnumbered and outgunned, the Protheans decided to best the Reapers by another means – en masse stasis of the remaining Prothean race. Through a series of cut scenes we see the Protheans last days, fully aware that not everything goes quite to plan. Fans of the series will love this glimpse into the past, and it certainly adds a certain depth to the main plot of the game to be able to see another organic life cycle struggle against the Reapers.
And that’s where the strength of From Ashes lies. Javik, in his cut scenes, party dialogue and conversations, provides an awful lot of flesh for Mass Effect’s bones. He brings a unique perspective to many of the events of the main plot, and reveals a civilization that was a lot less benevolent than history has made out. Hungry for vengeance and initially disdainful of his new colleagues, Javik can suddenly become a must for missions just to hear what he has to say about the true nature of the history involved. Of course he kills just as much as he talks, and Javik is certainly not lacking in that department either.
Armed with a particle beam rifle and some pretty cool new powers, Javik is a strong member of any squad. His weapon fires a stream of green particles, keeping up a steady flow of damage against the enemy and not relying on thermal clips. The gun is also available to other party members, although if you want to avoid the entire screen filling up with distracting green beams you’ll certainly limit the use of it. His Lift Grenades fling enemies into the air, which can come in extremely handy in tough situations. Also useful in a tight spot is a biotic power called Dark Channel. This stream of energy will constantly sap the health and energy of an enemy, and if it succeeds in killing him before it runs out, will leap to another enemy nearby. Javik can also spend points on Slam and Pull, rounding out a decent set of biotic skills.
Audio & Visual:
From Ashes is identical to Mass Effect 3 in presentation, no surprises here. Javik is just as detailed and fleshed out as any of the other characters. The Prothean design feels spot on, and the voice actor for Javik does a great job with what could be an unlikeable character. The cut scenes flashing back to the Prothean War don’t provide anything particularly stand out in comparison to some of the main game’s finer cinematic moments, largely making their mark in the story department rather than visually. Javik’s powers make for some flashy battles – and who doesn’t like a pretty death dealing green particle beam?
Javik is a formidable soldier with new powers that look great and provide some entertaining moments. Combine that with some revealing dialogue and an intriguing personality and voice actor, and you have what is an essential character to ME3’s limited new squad mate line up. Javik certainly outshines any of Mass Effect 2’s downloadable characters (Kasumi anyone?), and definitely should have been included from the start- he adds far more to the story than any of the new playable characters in Mass Effect 3. Sadly From Ashes is also brought down by it’s only other point of interest being a pretty standard extra mission, so only fans of the series will want to take the $10 plunge on this DLC.