Mass Effect's downloadable content seemed to be on a bell curve. Bring Down the Sky and Pinnacle Station, both of which complimented the original Mass Effect, were relative low points. Kasumi's Stolen Memory and Project Overlord represented a distinct improvement, but Lair of The Shadow Broker, on its own, was one of the best parts of Mass Effect 2-proper. Then and now, Shadow Broker is one of the finest examples of post-release content for any game. Subsequent follow-ups, The Arrival and Mass Effect 3's From Ashes, felt like they were conceived more from apathetic necessity than any indulgent narrative inspiration, leading to the suspicion that Leviathan might be destined to accept its meandering place on the curve.
Against the DLC bell curve, against the fact that it's an injection to the middle of a narrative arc most of us finished six months ago, and against the nuclear fallout generated by the reception of Mass Effect's conclusion, Leviathan is the veritable Han Solo demanding you stop telling it the odds because it knows what it's doing. Against all odds, it's a strikingly confident return to form.
After the content is downloaded Leviathan is engaged from a message at Shepard's terminal and added a mission labeled Citadel: Dr. Bryson. Having completed Mass Effect 3's story several months ago I assumed I would look upon Leviathan like a deleted scene to one of my favorite movies. In my head, the tale was complete, but a curious interest remained as to what other detail could have made an impact on the narrative as a whole (in the end Leviathan felt less like a deleted scene and closer to a planned reveal meant to be realized down the road, but we'll get there later).
In any case Shepard is dispatched to the Citadel to meet Dr. Bryson who may or may not have information concerning the origin of the Reapers. Bryson's actually kind of a kooky character; his lab is filled with weird tech experiments and messy drawings and his obsession with Reapers knows no bounds. He's Mass Effect's Fox Mulder, and due to a rather unfortunate happenstance it's up to Shepard to piece together Bryson's scattered research and figure out if the truth is out there.
It's in these investigations where Leviathan begins to define itself as something more than Mass Effect's now boilerplate combat/narrative structure. In each of Leviathan’s three acts Shepard will have to observe a bunch of clues and figure out which system of the galaxy he needs to go to next. You can completely wing it, ignore the clues, and just try and scan all of potential systems, or you can actually do your homework and plot the exact point before you get there. Leviathan’s not quite at LA Noire's level of crime cracking mayhem, but it's an acceptable divergence from the norm and works well in Mass Effect's framework.
The bits were Leviathan breaks down into combat feels quite familiar. Always against Reapers, you'll run into plenty of Marauders, Banshees, Brutes, and Cannibals over the course of Leviathan's three acts. I quite liked Mass Effect 3's combat mechanics, but anyone who was less accepting or generally bored after thirty or so hours of it won't find much here to pique their interest. There is a relatively new mechanic where you have to escort a combat drone, but it feels more like window dressing than a legitimately new idea.
Thankfully Leviathan tosses out plenty of new places for Shepard to go. No less than three new environments (four if you count Bryson's lab) are at his disposal, each of which has something altogether different going for it. Spoilers effectively ruin most of the praise I had saved for this paragraph, but it's tough not to appreciate either the mayhem behind a crumbling platform or striking context of the final act's veritable Bermuda triangle.
Speaking of the final act, it's quite a doozy. Leviathan’s plot functions as a progressive build toward a startling revelation, and that implicit reveal serves as most of the payoff for the two or three hours Shepard spent getting there. What I really love is the wide range of interpretations as Leviathan comes to a close. Depending on what direction Bioware steers Mass Effect the consequences of Leviathan could spin off an entirely new trilogy - or it might just fall in line as another war asset in Mass Effect 3's proper climax. It's tough to say, but at the very least Leviathan ought to inspire the rampant drama and speculation over what's coming next. What good is a piece of post launch content if it doesn’t promote wild guesswork on the part of its fans?
Oh, and like the other pieces of DLC Leviathan brings some new gear to the table. The AT-12 Raider, a shotgun, and the M-55 Argus, an assault rifle, are the new hardware. A bunch of indistinguishable weapon mods popped up as well, as did another bonus power (Dominate) for the med bay. There's also a particularly hilarious bonus for Shepard's cabin on the Normandy, the likes of which I'll not spoil.