Review: Mass Effect 2: The Lair of the Shadow Broker

There's been no shortage of Mass Effect-themed entertainment this year. Beginning with Mass Effect 2, the praiseworthy sequel to the series' 2007  debut, developer BioWare has put out a steady stream of downloadable mission packs, optional weapons and equipment, additional characters and story-related add-ons that all bolster the core Mass Effect experience with varying degrees of success.

While there have been some high and low points in Commander Shepard's extracurricular activities, this latest supplement, The Lair of the Shadow Broker, is the first add-on that delivers the same level of quality in role-playing, exploration and combat that made Mass Effect 2 such a standout game.

As with any game where story is paramount to the overall experience, it'd be a shame if I spoiled the plot of Lair of the Shadow Broker. To put things simply, this is an add-on that has the player once again assuming control of Commander Shepard in order to assist Liara T'Soni, your former Mass Effect squad-mate and potential love interest, in pursuing and confronting the Shadow Broker, an information dealer central to both games in the series. Although Mass Effect 2 veterans will be familiar enough with the dangerous game Liara is playing in her pursuit of the inscrutable Shadow Broker, BioWare included some clever callbacks within Lair of the Shadow Broker that incorporate events from the first Mass Effect game and the comic book series, Redemption.

Fans of the original Mass Effect will be glad to hear that Liara joins your squad in earnest for the duration of the add-on content. That means you can issue commands to her, equip her with your preferred set of weapons and allocate her skill points — including her controversial Stasis ability, which makes an enormous difference when playing on higher difficulty levels.

From Shadow Broker's inciting incident to its surprising conclusion, you're looking at about two hours of top-notch combat and role-playing. With the possible exception of a prolonged battle atop a large spacecraft, each enemy and boss encounter is built to require smart squad management and a good amount of thinking on one's feet. In other words, it's up there with the best missions within Mass Effect 2 proper.

Once the core sequence of events has reached its conclusion, there's still plenty left to do. A series of terminals open up to Shepard, enabling the player to purchase tips for high-value mining targets or to reassign skill points to each party member. But perhaps the most valuable reward is the terminal that includes background information on all the major characters in the Mass Effect universe. The facts unearthed in that terminal range from simply humorous to downright revelatory, but for a die-hard Mass Effect fan they're a practical goldmine.

Perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to Lair of the Shadow Broker is that it feels like an essential component of the greater Mass Effect experience. It easily rivals the best moments of the Mass Effect series with its fast pace, meaningful narrative and engaging, challenging combat. Fans of the series shouldn't hesitate to give this add-on a go.

Recommended for:

  • Sharp writing, strong acting, and a surprisingly significant contribution to the Mass Effect mythology
  • An expert balance between role-playing decisions and some of the best tactical combat the series has ever seen
  • Everybody who played and enjoyed Mass Effect 2; Lair of the Shadow Broker should be considered required reading

The Lair of the Shadow Broker is a downloadable add-on for Mass Effect 2, available on Xbox Live Marketplace for $9.99/800 Microsoft Points. The reviewer purchased the downloadable content and completed it on the second-hardest difficulty setting, earning all five possible achievements.

Read our policy on reviews here.