Finally! DLC that doesn't include a map pack.
When I first heard about the Leviathan DLC, I was caught off-guard. I've gotten so used to being disappointed at Bioware's seemingly endless amount of content for online multiplayer over the past several months that I forgot the developer could have anything story-related in the works. This isn't a franchise that can thrive on bonus content that adds nothing to the main plot of the game, and it seems Bioware is beginning to catch on to that concept with their latest addition.
Leviathan starts off with Shepard receiving a message about a scientist, Dr. Garret Bryson, who has been doing in-depth research into possible encounters with the Reapers before anyone knew they existed. To initiate the DLC you'll have to travel to the Citadel where you're given the option to journey to Bryson's lab or continue to the main areas of the Citadel.
Without divulging any major spoilers, the mission itself is split into three parts, with Dr. Bryson's lab serving as a home base where you can sort out any information you find about Leviathan throughout the mission. During each break you are returned to the Normandy and given the choice of continuing with the main story, returning to Bryson's lab, or following a lead about Leviathan somewhere in the galaxy. There's a nice detective element to the gameplay in which you have to search Bryson's lab and narrow down where Leviathan could be by sifting through information with EDI.
There are also some ties to the previous two games in this mission. Part of Dr. Bryson's research centers around mysterious spherical artifacts found at Prothean ruins throughout the galaxy. For the more diligent Mass Effect fans out there that undertook the harrowing task of exploring every planet in the first game this is a compelling bit of information. On the planet Eletania, you find a sphere at a Prothean ruin that makes you faint and have visions of a prehistoric Reaper encounter. In Mass Effect 2, the spheres are referenced during the Firewalker DLC mission, where you find a sphere at a dig site that was overrun by Blue Suns and the Geth, and in Leviathan they are explained along with the Reaper origins. This small element of connection with the previous two games only bolstered my curiosity as I played through the mission.
Not everything in this mission is centered on nostalgia, though. You'll find yourself constantly pitted against the full range of Reaper forces as they race you to each location, so I would wouldn't suggest starting this mission as soon as you can freely explore the galaxy. I'd say to try it after you've surpassed level 10 or start a second playthrough with a previous character. When I saw the demo at the EA showcase, the reps made it a point to say that they were trying to make the combat more difficult in this mission, and they definitely delivered. There are also a few firefights that had a claustrophobic feel, which isn't very fun when you've got a Banshee teleporting up your ass.
Aside from the combat, each of the three levels is unique and plays a part in revealing more about the Reapers as you progress. It's not just about getting from point A to point B or hacking terminals. The underwater portion was short but still stunning. I half-expected to see some form of deep-sea Hanar creature as I traversed the ocean floor in a heavy mech.
You'll also come out of this mission with more than information into the origin of the Reapers. Upon completion of the Leviathan DLC, you'll receive access to the Dominate bonus power, which is the equivalent of A.I. hacking for organic enemies. It allows you to control enemies for a temporary amount of time and have them fight on your side. It is particularly useful if you end up in a tight spot with higher-class enemies like Brutes or Phantoms. Although the duration of the power is much shorter on these enemies, even a little bit of an edge can really help.
If you use the power on an enemy while no other enemies are around they'll simply be frozen the way they would be if you used Stasis but they'll take continuous damage even if they do start fighting for you. The only organic enemy it doesn't seem to work on is the Banshee. So for those of you who are not as invested in the story, the Dominate power you gain from playing this could help you if you decide to try and beat the game on the insanity difficulty. If your character or someone in your party has a projectile power like Carnage/Concussive Shot, using Dominate can make getting the Unwavering Achievement much easier.
Leviathan was a treat. If I hadn't rushed through it so quickly in my three-and-a-half-hour playthrough, then I would have preferred to play it in parts during the main story mission. It really feels like something meant for the final stages of the game as opposed to From Ashes, which was something that added to the entire game if you played it at the very beginning. I think diehard fans are going to love the story while more casual gamers might appreciate the perks and extras that come out of it, especially the Dominate bonus power. My one gripe is that this is something that should have been in the game from the start. I know it's a common complaint with most DLC these days but in this case having a mission like Leviathan in the third act of the game would have made the overall story feel less rushed and incomplete.