|Lair of the Shadow Broker|
|Platforms||Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows|
|Buy from Amazon|
With Lair of the Shadow Broker, Mass Effect 2 finally gets the add-on fans have been waiting for. Additional characters in Zaeed and Kasumi are great, and Overlord was a decent side story, but Shadow Broker is the real deal.
The DLC not only brings back fan favorite Liara from Mass Effect 1, but features a pair of excellent boss fights and some awesome action set pieces. There’s also a handful of bonuses available after the action is over, extending and expanding upon the main game’s feature set.
Available for 800 MS Points ($10) since July 2010, here’s my review of Mass Effect 2’s penultimate DLC, Lair of the Shadow Broker.
Mass Effect 2’s main story teased us with a Liara cameo on Illium. She had apparently been hardened by her experience with Shepard and his/her death two years earlier, and left her old career as a Protheanologist and become an information merchant with one goal in mind: the death of the mysterious Shadow Broker.
In Mass Effect 1, the Shadow Broker is teased a few times as one of the most powerful entities in the galaxy. His control over secrets is second to none, and one of his buyers far down the chain assumes the Shadow Broker must be a group of people due to the amount of resources he balances. By the end of the game, however, you don’t come any closer in learning his identity, and it’s just another curious thread in the game’s huge backstory.
When Shepard and Liara are reunited in Mass Effect 2, it is obvious that Liara is absolutely obsessed with the Shadow Broker. The origin of this obsession is detailed in the Mass Effect comics (which I’ll review eventually), but essentially the Broker nabbed her best friend Feron and she doesn't even know if he's alive or not. It is clear that taking out the Broker is her highest priority. In her short quest chain on Illium, we learn that the Shadow Broker’s hand extends to even Liara’s personal secretary, whom Liara quickly deals with upon revelation. The Shadow Broker is dangerous, but it seems apparent his story won't be continued until Mass Effect 3.
That is, until Lair of the Shadow Broker was announced. As one of the most intriguing mysteries in the series, finally getting some answers, and a year earlier than anticipated, was a great surprise. Speculation abounded on who the Shadow Broker could be, with general consensus split on either an unknown player or Miranda’s father, a powerful man with enough money (and ego) to genetically grow his own perfect female clone.
Upon purchase of Lair of the Shadow Broker, Cerberus uncovers further information on the Shadow Broker himself and this is apparently enough data for Liara to act on. She leaves her office and tells you to come to her apartment. The official mission is kicked off when you take a taxi to her place on Illium.
The police are there when you arrive and Tela Vasir, a Spectre, informs you that someone tried to assassinate Liara. She asks the police to leave and tasks you with finding out why someone would want to kill Liara and where she could be right now. In a fun little sequence you get to explore Liara’s apartment, checking out her collection of Prothean artifacts along with relics from her first adventure with Shepard. After a bit of searching around, you uncover a disc with footage of her informant telling her he has essentially found the Shadow Broker and to come to his office at Baria Frontiers.
In true, action movie fashion, a bomb goes off in the building just as Shepard arrives. The asari Spectre says she’ll enter the building from the roof, so your team can try and find Liara from the ground up. As a nice touch, a bunch of injured civilians pick themselves up from the blast around the entrance.
The inside looks like, well, a bombed out sci-fi buiding. The DLC development team did a great job with the sets of this download and we’ve just begun. After a bit of exploration, we find a dead guy who didn’t die from the explosion, but from being shot. This is rather suspicious, so Shepard phones this information in to Tela the Spectre. Then we find a cheap-looking, non-detonated bomb sitting in a corner and the Spectre replies that this must have been a rush job. If you haven’t guessed where this is going, read on.
A firefight breaks out as we stumble upon the attack team, they’re all henchmen for the Shadow Broker. The rooms we’re in are pretty big so there are some intense fights as the Shadow Broker Vanguards mercilessly push towards us. We eventually find Liara’s salarian contact a moment too late as he’s shot dead by a Broker agent. Tela shoots him, but then Liara appears with her gun pointed at the Spectre.
Unsurprisingly, Tela reveals she’s actually working for the Shadow Broker and was using Shepard to get to Liara. She’s become enough of a pain in his side to have one of his top assassins kill her, probably not a list you want to be on. In one of the DLC’s epic cutscenes, Tela breaks a glass window behind her, uses her biotics to toss the glass shards at us which Liara blocks with her biotics, and then Shepard jumps at Tela, Spectre versus Spectre, and they roll out the window. Tela slows their fall down and then kicks Shepard to the ground while she gracefully lands.
Liara jumps after the Spectre and the chase is on, Shepard meanwhile has to deal with some of her final Shadow Broker lackeys. Tela jumps into her air car and the gang hops into a taxi of their own. At this point, Liara has officially joined the party so you have to leave one of your team members behind. I personally took Grunt along because he’s built like a tank and will be able handle the damage Tela is obviously going to unleash.
And now for something completely different... an air car chase! Reminiscent of the chase scenes in The Fifth Element and Attack of the Clones, Shepard must follow the Spectre through the busy air streets of Illium. This is one of those mini-games where you need to stay pretty close to your target or you lose sight of them. While it doesn’t control beautifully, the pathing is pretty simple and the game goes easy on letting you keep up.
The best part about this scene was the banter between Shepard and Liara as we drove:
“What kind of guns does this thing have?”
“It’s a taxi, it has a fare meter!”
“You’re enjoying this!”
“A head-on collision at this speed...”
“Yeah, I hear those are pretty bad for you.”
Shepard eventually forces Tela down on Hotel Azure, but the Spectre quickly calls for backup. In one of the hardest fights of the DLC (in which there were quite a few), you have to take down about six waves of bad guys in the large landing area in front of the hotel. The chase resumes after the battle through some hotel rooms, providing some funny reactions from Liara as she describes some of the sexual things on the televisions.
“‘Azure’ is slang for a part of the asari body in some areas of Illium.”
“Mainly the lower reaches, near the bottom.”
“I meant, where on the asari body?” (Jennifer Hale lets this line drip with lust)
“So did I.”
We corner Tela in the hotel’s open air restaurant, but the Spectre isn’t going down without a fight. She grabs a hostage which you can rescue in a variety of ways with Shepard’s superior intimidation (or charm) - actually, one of the outcomes has Shepard shooting through the hostage’s arm to hit Tela. Shepard is still a jerk.
Now for probably the toughest single enemy in the entire game. What? You thought a Spectre would be easy to take down? Tela is full-on vanguard and she takes complete advantage of her biotic and physical powers. You know how a Shepard vanguard can charge at enemies but the bad guy vanguads never do that? Well, Tela will. She also manages to shockwave you out of cover, something the Collector Scions weren't capable of. This is a hard battle, but very fun.
Tela zips around the battlefield with charge so you’ll need to whittle her health down slowly. Twice during the fight she’ll call in Shadow Broker reinforcements who you’ll have to take out, but you’ll never fight them and her at the same time. The game also kindly auto-saves after each bonus skirmish so you won’t lose too much traction if you die (which in all honesty, is a bit disappointing).
After the battle and before her dying breath, you quickly interrogate the Spectre on why she betrayed the Citadel Council. She says that working with the Shadow Broker saved lives all over the galaxy, and compares her relationship with the Broker to Shepard’s with Cerberus. A necessary evil.
With the data on the Shadow Broker in hand, Liara explains that Normandy’s stealth system will get us close enough to launch a surprise attack. Let’s go.
I was already having a grand ol’ time with Lair of the Shadow Broker, and then I saw where he actually lived; well, I’ll just let Liara describe it:
“Hagalaz. The oceans boil during the day, then snap freeze ten minutes after sundown. His ship follows the sunset, completely undetectable in the storm. There’s a constant lightning storm where the hot and cold air collide.”
The background clouds are absolutely gorgeous with lightning jumping between them, and the sound effects are extremely well done. I will have to admit that this is probably the single best set piece in the entire game, which just followed one of the toughest fights in the entire game. Yeah, you see now why I enjoyed this content so much?
Shepard needs to make her way across the outside of the ship, fending off Shadow Broker guards to find a hatch inside. Even though there are a ton of men standing in your way, the hatch they all apparently funneled out of is about 15 minutes away! Along the route, you can use these lightning rod like things scattered across the ship to your advantage. They store up energy from being struck, and when shot enough times explode that energy outwards. Satisfying and fun.
When Shepard finally reaches the entrance, Liara kicks off a hack to unlock the door that will take a few minutes. In the world of Mass Effect, this means another huge battle is ignited. The Shadow Broker must have a standing army in his ship, and they’re all on duty. Excellent written squad banter continues throughout the fight, with the best line being a call back to hacking in Mass Effect 1:
“Remember the old days when you could just slap omni-gel on everything?”
We’re finally inside the lair, and after a few more guard encounters, we find Liara’s old buddy, Feron, a drell who helped rescue Shepard’s body and give it to Cerberus. He mumbles a few words in between recovering from another round of torture, but is all around pretty happy to see Liara rescue him after two years. He tells us the Shadow Broker is right around the corner.
He’s big, he’s ugly, and we’ve never seen his species before. Liara calls him a Yahg, a pre-spacefaring species that are extremely violent and ill-tempered. Liara guesses that the Shadow Broker was caught as a pet for an even older Shadow Broker, but then he rebelled and killed his master, assuming his current role. Nasty stuff, and we haven’t even started fighting him yet.
In a hilarious pre-fight twist, the Shadow Broker simply knocks out our third party member, making this the Shepard/Liara versus Broker fight. The setup reminds me quite a bit of the final battle in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker.
The battle itself is a well-designed showdown that is very atypical for the Mass Effect series. This isn’t an all-out brawl, but a multi-phase fight with different required strategies throughout, something that the games are severely lacking. While not incredibly difficult, I had a ton of fun taking down this beast, and his defeat was incredibly satisfying.
Upon his death and the ensuing power outage, the Shadow Broker’s network of spies and informants phones in to see what’s going on. In Liara’s Crowning Moment of Awesome, she assumes the role of the Shadow Broker and asks everyone to give her an update within the day. The whole twist makes total sense and is pulled off geniusly. Liara becomes the person she hated, but can use the position of power for good, and Shepard now has the most powerful information broker in the galaxy in his back pocket. Win, win, win.
You’ve just defeated the Shadow Broker and your genderless best friend has taken his place, what are you going to do now?! I’m going to spend the next hour reading up on all the information the Shadow Broker has stored on my squadmates and friends! Yeah, I seriously did that. The Shadow Broker has a treasure trove of knowledge on pretty much everyone in the game, from stolen emails to what they’re searching for on the extranet to what videos they’re watching online (let your imagination run wild with this one: Asari Confessions 26: True Blue).
Basically, there are a series of terminals set up around the Shadow Broker base that allow you to reset your squad members’ skill points, fund a variety of missions in hopes of a larger cash reward, or watch surveillance video of a bunch of characters doing what they do best. It’s an entertaining area that may not be worth visiting more than a handful of times, but will provide you with a nice post-mission wrap-up.
Finally, you can visit with Liara a final time and talk about the past and future. You can invite her onboard the Normandy for a short tour, which quickly leads to wine in Shepard’s quarters whether you’re romancing her or not. There are some touching scenes with visiting the woman who helped you kill Saren and then rescued your body from the Collectors.
I played the DLC a second time with a character who had romanced Liara in Mass Effect 1, so I was able to continue the relationship even after having done the dirty with Miranda. The writing was superb for the captain's quarters reunion between Shepard and Liara, and makes me nervous for the inevitable Miranda or Liara decision I'll have to make in Mass Effect 3. Right now, I'm squarely in Liara's camp.
Lair of the Shadow Broker is like a well-paced action film stuck into Mass Effect 2. There’s intrigue, familiar characters, big action set pieces, a car chase, and two nasty boss fights to entertain you for a few hours. I highly recommend buying Lair of the Shadow Broker, especially if you played Mass Effect 1. Spending that extra time with Liara was a blast, and just hearing the well written squad banter made it worth the trip. I hope this is a tip on how BioWare plans to write and execute Mass Effect 3.