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'Mass Effect 3' is here, but 'From Ashes' DLC burns fans

Commander Shepard will be getting help from a Prothean this time around — but you gotta pay.

EA

Commander Shepard will be getting help from a Prothean this time around — but you gotta pay.

If anyone interested in reading this is actually reading it, then BioWare has done something wrong.

Here it is, the day after the release of Mass Effect 3, and already I'm going to complain about it. Well, not the game itself, but the decision to release the trilogy-capper's first downloadable content offering, From Ashes, on the very same day the full game was released.

Not that I mind the release of DLC, but on the very same day, for extra cost? That defeats the purpose of DLC to begin with — ostensibly prolonging the life of a title by adding content at the user's discretion. Charging an extra $10 for content thrown onto Xbox Live or PlayStation Network the same date as release sounds awfully floor-mats-and-destination-fee to me.

The DLC itself already has been the subject of controversy, as the achievements and a summary of the storyline were leaked to the interwebs a couple weeks back, rankling fans who wanted to be surprised about what they'd be getting when the Reapers invaded Earth — or maybe, like me, thought something like that could have easily been included with the game's Tuesday launch.

Bioware's Michael Gamble responded to that two weeks ago on the developer's website, writing, "The content in From Ashes was developed by a separate team (after the core game was finished) and not completed until well after the main game went into certification."

He also noted the entire side quest was optional and "designed to appeal to long-time fans." That's why From Ashes was included with the game for free, if by free you mean shelling out $80 for the Collector's Edition, which sold out via pre-orders through most outlets weeks ago. I saw some on eBay selling for $300 and climbing on Tuesday.

Don't get me wrong, it's great that BioWare decided it should let all gamers have a go at the DLC, instead of keeping it a Collector's Edition exclusive, but if the content is available at launch, it should be included on the final product. The Collector's Edition already has its exclusives — virtual goodies for Shepard, a book showcasing the game's production design and so on — so parsing out the DLC for people who don't care about metal collector tins seems a bit like nickel-and-diming the fans.

When Mass Effect 2 was released, the character Zaeed Massani's The Price of Revenge DLC was given to players for free via a patch. That was done largely to prevent people from renting the game or buying it used, because you needed to use a code that came in the box. This is a strategy I find perfectly acceptable, as it truly becomes an incentive to pay BioWare for all their work, and let you use a character that was nominally essential for the game's climactic battle.

So why is a desirable add-on that lets Mass Effect fans return to Eden Prime, discover a new weapon and recruit a new squadmate kept as an extra this time around?

BioWare no doubt would point out that near-essential DLC rarely is provided gratis; Kasumi's Stolen Memory provided a new squad member, and came out months after ME2's release. The Arrival heralds the approach of the Reapers, and was only released months ago. The difference is, Kasumi came along months after I and most other fans had gone through the Omega 4 relay (thereby excluding her from the finale), and The Arrival was little more than a commercial for ME3.

In any case, BioWare has plenty of DLC experience and should know by now you can either provide exclusives, charge for the content or package additional content with games without raising a ruckus. But when you attempt to do all three in some form or another, people will be unhappy.

If they want to see the proper way to promote DLC, they should check out Remedy's add-on, Alan Wake's American Nightmare, which perfects the formula for extending a storyline with optional content, without making people feel like they're being ripped off. But I'll talk about that next week.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at jgillin@tampabay.com.

'Mass Effect 3' is here, but 'From Ashes' DLC burns fans 03/06/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 10:51pm]

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