“She wasn’t military. She couldn’t handle it.” In Mass Effect 3’s third and reportedly final expansion, “Citadel,” Admiral Anderson—Commander Shepard’s longtime commanding officer and surrogate father—leaves audio notes for his yet-to-be-written memoir lying around his apartment. Because he’s stranded on Earth indefinitely, with little hope of survival, Anderson decides to gift the place—his living quarters on the immense space hub known as the Citadel—to Shepard. Listening to Anderson relate how his ex-wife couldn’t cope with the hardships of the military lifestyle, I wondered what line of the Hapsburg dynasty she was descended from that living here would be considered a “hardship.” Anderson’s place is incredible. It’s unclear how he could afford it on his officer’s salary, but if a significant amount of money turns out to be missing from the Alliance war coffers, the first place I’d look is underneath the luxury mattress in Anderson’s sprawling baller pad.
Shepard’s trusty ship is in for maintenance, so the crew of the Normandy has a rare weekend of shore leave. As they say, though, days off are work too, and soon enough the team is pulled into an Ocean’s 11-esque tale of identity theft, genetic intrigue, and witty repartee.
This comedic installment is a necessary indulgence. Throughout the whole series, the relationships between Shepard and his crew—forged in a crucible of mutually assured extinction—propelled the game’s narrative. The worst part of the game’s controversial ending, to my mind, was that it didn’t provide an adequate sendoff. Kill them all if need be, but remind us again why survival in itself is not the only thing that matters. The sacrifice, when it inevitably comes, is more meaningful after being reminded of all that’s being left behind.
“Citadel” is so lighthearted that it borders on farce, but it’s cathartic for those of us who took to popping antidepressants like popcorn while wading through the perpetual gloom of Prehistoric Mega-Robots Vs. Humans parts one, two, and three. For the first time in the series, nearly everyone in Shepard’s posse comes along for the mission as they run down the heavily armed Nigerian space princes. Not all of your allies are playable at once, but sub-squads named Team Hammerhead and Team Mako (one of many nods to the previous games) protect the flanks while Shepard and two others go up the gut. The banter flies as fast and furious as the bullets; if only talking shit were enough to save the galaxy.
From the get-go, “Citadel” pokes fun at itself, and Mass Effect as a whole. Bioware’s keeps the fourth wall semi-transparent, a choice that pays off. The virtual intelligence butler, Glyph, for instance, wonders aloud why all of Shepard’s foes happen to leave valuable weapon upgrades lying around where just anyone can find them. That’s a good question, Glyph. Now shut your know-it-all robot mouth.
When the shooting is done, the journey isn’t quite over. After all, Shepard has a swank new pad that needs breaking in. The encore mission requires you to throw a successful rager. Shepard has some control over the invite list, so if you’re afraid of what will happen to the valuable artwork when two armed, inebriated turtle-warrior aliens get into the same room, feel free to not invite one of them. But I suggest the “invite all” option—unless, of course, your slapdash leadership left most of your friends dead. In that case, you may want to order fewer pizzas.
Shepard mingles and talks with the surviving members of the Normandy’s past and present crew throughout the night. For once, everyone leaves fear and melancholy at the door. Some friends hold their liquor better than others. And who would miss one last chance to belittle Shepard’s dance moves?
There are goodies and mini-games aplenty in “Citadel,” but they seem superfluous at this point. I definitely don’t need another shotgun or sniper rifle. The only thing I require right now, at this moment, is some high-powered closure.
At the beginning of the end of Mass Effect 3’s final mission, Shepard is allowed to briefly call his friends, wish them luck, and to say goodbye. Some lived, and some died, but it was as close as they got to a proper eulogy. We’re left with a much more fitting, satisfying remembrance when, at the end of “Citadel,” the crew crowds together on a couch to take a first and last Normandy group photo. Now, Shepard, you can go.