Aria T'Loak once presided over the Omega space station, where exotic dancers entertained and enthralled onlookers, and outlaws trafficked drugs and weapons without the threat of government scrutiny. In Mass Effect 3: Omega, Aria is on the lam, ousted from her position as the station's self-appointed dictator by the pro-human organization called Cerberus. But Aria misses home--and craves the power she once so flagrantly flaunted. And now it's time to return to the Terminus Systems to regain her lost rule.
Aria's convictions are compelling; if only the downloadable add-on in which she prominently figures were equally tenacious. Omega disappointingly leaves behind the Mass Effect series' narrative complexity in favor of pistols and profanities, and replaces its moving dialogue with sci-fi military chatter. You spend the majority of the time shooting guns as Commander Shepard, often with Aria at your side providing support, stopping for a few moments so that your companion might update the mission objective and remind you how badass she is before you once again peer down the scope of your battle rifle.
Granted, Omega's action is quite good, and the environments do a great job of communicating a sense of "bigness" that the series' level design sometimes lacks. You catch glimpses of aerial battles raging among the station's cylindrical spires and reddened skyways, and dropships enter from above as if part of a larger assault. Even when industrial-looking zones threaten to blend together, visual touches like a force field's swirling red glow, and Aria's forceful biotic eruptions, provide color and character. Open combat environments encourage you to stay on the move, and troopers and centurions frequently flank you, forcing you into the open--and possibly into view of a hulking atlas. New enemies like the rampart mech are particularly aggressive, and that aggressiveness makes the final combat sequence an enjoyable challenge.
Omega's primary problem is that it forgets that what makes Mass Effect 3 special isn't the shooting itself--it's that you care about why you are shooting in the first place. Aria has always been an intriguing figure, and depending on your responses to her in dialogue, you might find that Commander Shepard has more in common with her than you once realized. But whenever Aria gets a chance to shine, BioWare drops the ball, reducing her to a petulant, potty-mouthed sociopath. The series has never fully shied from strong language, and Jack had her share of profane moments. But those moments punctuated that character's lingering insecurities and tough-love leadership qualities, whereas Aria's F-bombs during combat are unnecessary and grow repetitive.
Aria has a few tough-love moments of her own, but in a series that explores complex personalities, she is disappointingly one-note. When she finally gains the opportunity to encourage her subjects with a rousing speech, glitches take over, with the pirate queen teleporting and pirouetting as if the laws of physics and common sense no longer apply. The shallow characterizations continue with Omega's other primary personality, a female Turian called Nyreen. She and Aria have a complicated past--one that could have used some development. Unfortunately, Nyreen has a limited amount of screen time, which is a shame, because she provides a moral balance to Aria's consistent egotism.
The character roster is rounded out with a villain who fits snugly into the "guys with accents are evil" category and who has too little screen time to make much of an impact. In that sense, he personifies Omega at large: lacking impact. The content is purely self-contained, in contrast to Mass Effect 2's wonderful add-ons, which were pleasantly inserted into the adventure at large. Once you finish Omega, the galaxy doesn't care, which is just as well, since you don't make any substantial decisions anyway. You can't return to the space station, you gain no crew members or Normandy guests, and Aria is deposited back on the Citadel--a bizarre circumstance fully at odds with her character arc.
What's left is all that combat, which seems to go on interminably with too little to break it up. The action is good at least, with level designs and enemy behavior that encourage you to do more than take cover in one safe spot and blast bullets and biotics until no foe is left standing. But you do all that fighting without ever feeling connected to what you're fighting for--and you do it without your trusted friends at your side. Shepard even quips that seeking out a crack squad for a vital mission is an all-too-familiar goal. And you know there are tough times ahead when even Shepard acknowledges the repetition to come.