Tuesday, August 15, 2017



It's hard for me to hide the fact that I'm a sentimental sap that will fall for anything infused with nostalgia, it speaks right to my heart. I am also a sucker for fiction that blends social commentary, philosophy and fringe science. It's part of the time consuming information addiction that afflicts my mind. That sounds a bit pretentious, I know. But I'm lucky that there are masterpieces that allow me to indulge in spades. When my heart and mind are being spoken to it's all too easy to get blindsided and, from time to time, I have to deal with the resulting hangover. Here we need to be ever optimistic and seize the opportunity to try and learn from the ordeal, analyse it to bits and then rant about it on the internet. It may well be both cathartic and enlightening.

One of the works I read as a hungry, fledgling bibliophile was Frank Herbert's Dune. It's an amazingly rich science fiction told through the eyes of a fresh protagonist as he learns about different forms of government, culture wars, state and religion. What it means to be human and when humanity is lost. The book became a series. The series went on until it ran out of steam and the author passed away, presumably a happy man. I imagine the Herbert estate enjoyed its fair share of royalties but eventually those must have run out of steam too. So it fell to Brian Herbert to team up with Kevin J. Anderson to write more Dune books. The plot trivialized the events of the original books with its onion-like structure. The story was set 10.000 years before the original books, which is a frighteningly long time to set the stage or hold a grudge. The leading characters were a Harkonnen cast as the good guy and an Artreides in the role of the bad guy. A reversal from the original. If I were to make a stab at why the new books had few interesting ideas, I'd say it was because the authors had to work from Herbert's table scraps. They couldn't stray to far from the original either or risk losing its tone. This is why the Dune prequel books set the stage for events about ten millennia in the future in a universe that seemingly doesn't change much in the interim.

Speaking of serialized science fiction epics, when George Lucas made the Star Wars prequels, he famously said he wanted to make them rhyme with the original trilogy. New scenes would echo older scenes. From both thematic and stylistic viewpoints. Results were disappointing. The proposed rhyming way of composing the new script didn't quite pan out, all style with little substance.
For Lucas, they were a way of having the old work try and write the new. A guiding hand, or a crutch, from the past. To me, the performance a particular rain dance. Make it rain! Make it rain! Revenge of the rain! A creative person is in a desperate position when he falls back on magic. Maybe imitation isn't the method to recapture lightning in a bottle.

Dune prequels, Star Wars prequels. Surely you're starting to see rhymes. The latest verse in this dreadful poem is called Mass Effect Andromeda. It too, rhymes. Let me shine a light as I compose a list of sorts, by no means complete. Though it should give some indication of the issues at least. Bear with me as I rack my brain in an attempt to try and impose some structure in the telling.

First things first

The first look at Andromeda wasn't bad at all.

Mass Effect Andromeda is the forth game in the series but not a direct continuation of it. It takes place between the first and second installments and tells the story of a massive private colonization effort towards the Andromeda galaxy in order to safeguard the future of galactic civilisation and the Milky Way species - some of them at least - just in case signs of the oncoming Reaper onslaught, a galactic extinction event, are true.
The expedition consists of a hub station called the Nexus and a number of race specific Arks. All are headed towards a handful of golden worlds. The player is cast in the role of one of the children, Sarah or Scott Ryder, of the human Pathfinder: Alec Ryder. A Pathfinder is an elite scout in charge of directing the colonization effort for his race. He also has the added value in the form of SAM (Simulated Adaptive Matrix), an Ai that acts as a hand holding mechanic and personal deus ex machina. Unfortunately not so much for Alec as he doesn't survive the first mission. The story kicks off as he kicks the bucket and with his dying breath transfers his Pathfinder title and SAM link to the player's character. After that, the player takes all the blame of the initiative's mishaps, is left to solve the crisis and has to make all major and minor decisions. No small feat for someone who has neither the qualifications nor the experience to handle the task.

From there the game doesn't know what to do with itself. When the new Pathfinder finds the Nexus, it is dark and sleepy. Ryder is also the very first of the Pathfinders to find his way to the station, all other Arks appear lost. Before long we're informed that an entire chapter has already come to pass. The target planets are in dire shape and deemed uninhabitable. There was an uprising against the managerial staff, it was subdued and the rebels were banished from the Nexus. These outcasts then sought refuge on the golden worlds to eke out a living on them... and succeeded! Having missed all the action, that is to say: the player doesn't get to experience any of this, it befalls the Pathfinder to create the circumstances to make the golden worlds habitable so that the initiative on the Nexus finally feels the need to actually do something and send colonists.
I case you missed the contradiction: the uninhabitable planets are being inhabited. But for some reason the Nexus is mired in inaction and can't send settles of their own, because their ceremonial Pathfinders who are tasked by paving the way are nowhere to be found. Seeing as though prospecting is less of an issue now, the player is chiefly tasked with fighting hostiles and pressing the magic button that marginally improves weather conditions. The game makes the latter the big linchpin, as only Ryder is up to the task because he's the only Pathfinder with the connection to the enhanced Ryder SAM that solves all problems.

Axial twist

The launch trailer already has a subtle excuse embedded into it. It also features about 60 percent scenes of the final chapter of the game.

The game's initial impressions left me puzzled. Maybe suspicions should have been raised when the Mass Effect Andromeda PR spun the initial pitch of the original Mass Effect (ME) into "a game of exploration" in order to to sell the idea that Mass Effect Andromeda would be a game worth your time because it, like its progenitor, would be about exploration. Only this time, Bioware would deliver where the original, according to them, failed.
The problem here is that this exploration angle doesn't show in Mass Effect. Anyone who played it knows it's driven by the narrative, not by a thirst for exploration. The lead character, Shepard, isn't an explorer. He's a military specialist. An operative for the government to investigate and solve issues discretely and by any means necessary. A kind of space Bond. Bond tends to explore a specific kind of hills on his adventures but it's not the same. Shepard could scale hills in a planetary rover called the Mako but it was an optional mechanic in that game that was cut in subsequent games.
Still, regardless of spin: why exploration? Why would you, as Bioware, keep mining for copper when you had struck gold with the original's story and characters? With Andromeda, Bioware doubles down on copper and tries to sell it as an upgrade.

Why did Bioware select exploration as one of the main pillars for the concept of the new game? The answer lies in its design. Andromeda is an open world game and exploration gels best with the trend in mainstream gaming. Why bend your game to adhere to a popular trend? Because it's conveniently puts a mark next to "open world" on the dollar checklist. Why make your own game, when the market dictates what you should make? Winning numbers feel safe.
A bet hastily made however because Andromeda's open world doesn't even function all that well. The directionless design allows one to skip certain parts to do them later. However this game presupposes you actually do the beginning bits at the start. On one occasions I unwittingly skipped a beginner quest because I drove off in the "wrong" direction. After about 40 hours of gameplay I finally discovered this quest and it felt like traveling back in time: The ingame characters voice their amazement at the attacking alien hordes the beginner quest throws at them... even tough they had encountered countless of these aliens, had met their leaders and had bested their champions. My party was appalled by the abandoned outpost and the loss of human activity in the area the quest took place in, wondering what would happen with the rest of the planet... even though they had, by then, already settled the planet with a new city-sized outpost!
I skipped the entirety of Havarl, the presupposed second planet, at the very end of the game's story. Again, the same naive wonderment of my player characters about the alien technology on Havarl struck a false note because they had seen much more elaborate tech by then - including flying, mechanical sand worms (thanks, Frank Herbert)! Please remind me of the point of having an open world as ill-conceived as this one?

The small beyond

Open World design?

In the context of gaming, this design concept usually points towards large worlds that allow the players to roam free and explore, create their own stories, interact with the world, its systems, its denizens. It usually also means that mechanics in open world games need to have a mind of their own, work like clockwork that adapts to the the player's behavior and interacts with him or her. Often there's the idea of choice and consequence that interlocks with RPG game design. Story telling in the Open World can be tricky because of its non-linear nature. Especially when the player starts sequence breaking, contingency checks need to ensure the story still flows in a natural way. The clock must not skip a beat.

The Open World leads to another coveted check mark that goes hand-in-hand with it: a crafting system. Here it's expansive to the point of confusion. Item and inventory management was streamlined out of the first Mass Effect games for not being part of the core gameplay. So why include it? Because crafting in games is hot. Crafting is all the rage. So get ready to mine and craft all over again.
It's the insistence on an open world that gives this sort of extensive crafting system legitimacy. It gives players the opportunity to roam the vast boring world in search of truffles like the pigs they are. This is the next game, after Dragon Age Inquisition, in which Bioware not only fails to replicate the quality of its own past games, but also of those of the other developers they hope to copy. Namely: Bethesda's Skyrim and apparently, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
The proof is all over the map. On which icons are scattered as if a designer sneezed on it. The player's task is to drive to these icons and pluck, collect, shoot or talk them out of existence. Unless they are fast-travel points, in which case you must unlock as many as possible in as little time as possible lest you run the risk of wasting even more time driving around, cleaning up Andromeda's mind-numbingly dull worlds.

Vroom vroom

The driving is done in the Andromeda variant of the aforementioned Mako: the Nomad. Which is sold to us as a superior alternative. Even though it lacks the Mako's massive cannon and machine gun - remember: the first game was all about exploring! Instead Nomad has two swish driving modes, "fast for plains" and "slow four wheel drive for anything above a slight incline". The functional-tank-combat-gameplay from the original Mako was replaced by abysmal-switch-gear-gameplay that comes into play anytime you leave the road.
The gear switching mechanic is a feeble mask for the the missing combat gameplay which couldn't be present because of, you guessed it, the open world. You see, the game expects you to get out of the vehicle from time to time for some third person action gameplay to deal with combat encounters that are strewn about the maps. Adding cannons to the vehicle would allow you to blow away those encounters in short order and thus would also bypass the entire on-foot combat gameplay that defined the series.

Driving, driving, driving, driving.

The lack of real world logic "tanks are better at dealing and taking damage" gets in the way of the flawed gameplay-inspired logic "explorers don't need guns because they don't get into combat, but combat is fun so get out there and risk you life anyway". The original Mass Effect used the Mako sequences as a palette cleanser. Andromeda forces its boring vehicle on you because it's the only viable way to traverse the open world without feeling the need to stab yourself in the eye with a biro.
The bulk of the gameplay consists of getting unrelated quests from generic, seemingly identical NPCs, then checking the map, then driving out into the wasteland to resolve the icon. The map UI is clumsy but necessary... The driving, always the driving. Switching gears. Getting out to pick up the essential minerals you supposedly need. More driving. Getting to a dead end that results in more driving. Avoiding combat encounters because they only waste more time. Detours mean more driving. Driving, driving, driving, driving... Then you close the game because real life intrudes your gaming habits. Staying within Bioware games, Star Wars The Old Republic drove this much better with efficient zones and quests that drove directly into the main storyline - better voice acting and animation and driving too. It was hands drive a better Mass Effect game than Andromeda.
Know what would have been a true superior exploration tool? A flying craft. There's plenty of them about too: civilians have them, merchants and enemies have them, anyone but the Pathfinder team has them!

Blah blah

Bioware remembered that if Mass Effect had loads of dialogue in it, the new game needed loads of them too. So they took on the dumb work of giving voice to everything save the furniture.

The original Mass Effect came with a universe that exaggerated the world as we know it today. With people and cultures that range from being in development to warlike to the scientific. From Empires to matriarchies. From pirate paradise to police state. From cerebral to brain washed. A very wide spectrum of human existence enlarged to a galactic scale. The balance of power, the relationships between individuals and species shone true every conversation the game allowed you to have. Every dialogue built on your understanding of this universe. It even came with a healthy dose of subtle humanist impulses, to my great delight - this is what sets this property above all others. My post on Mass Effect 2 dove into that topic.
Not so in Andromeda. Bioware remembered that if Mass Effect had loads of dialogue in it, the new game needed loads of them too. So they took on the dumb work of giving voice to everything save the furniture. I say dumb because it seems the mission statement went no further then to "write dialogues". The result is hours upon hours of babble that never goes beyond the petty history of the characters you meet. Because of that they're all boring in the same way. What is the point of having the Patherfinder hear an Asari pilots say she likes flying her shuttle craft? Well, the point was look like Mass Effect. Unfortunately Bioware has developed an appetite for their own foot in doing so. Enter the character called Hainly Abrams.

Appearing like any ordinary NPC but with an introduction that goes a little like this: "Hi, I used to be a man, but I came to Andromeda to be a woman, because that's who I really am."
Where to begin. A problem with this is that transsexual people don't really identify as their born sex and thus don't go announcing it like that to strangers. For all intents and purposes, a trans woman is a woman. Only to a special kind of outsider would it appear that "This man wants to be a woman!". By making this sound so important, it's literally the only topic Hainly talks about, the writers seem to imply that trans people are only important because that in lieu of any other character trait they may have. It's even one of her motivations for traveling to Andromeda. The original game portrayed a galaxy that had moved past these kind of petty fears. Now we are to believe that transphobia is so threatening in the Milky Way that fleeing in this way seems like an attractive proposition. Hainly Abrams is like a diversity trophy Bioware has awarded themselves.


Now, let's just for the sake of argument agree that exploration should be front and center of a Mass Effect game. Then why is there so little to discover?

Now, let's just for the sake of argument agree that exploration should be front and center of a Mass Effect game. Then why is there so little to discover? The encountered aliens are capitalist, bipedal, breathe oxygen, have two genders, communicate in the same way as humans, are Buddhists, are Imperialist, use pistols, rifles and shotguns that are identical to human designs, use Arabic numbers, use digital data. The list goes on and on. Things are so familiar that I was surprised to find that the Alien leader wasn't an orange buffoon dressed like an envelope stuffed with soppy oatmeal.

Why are the aliens you encounter in Andromeda more human then some of the original races? The Krogan, Salarian, Volus, Geth, Hanar, Turian and Elcor are all more alien in design than the Angara and Kett. No explanation is given why these are so close to humans, require the same living environments as Humans, have a very similar societal structure as humans and are at roughly the same technological level as Humans. Keep in mind that these are races from another galaxy about 600 years in the future. I won't even ask where there are birds in Andromeda.
The current conflict between the two Andromeda races is immediately of capital importance to the Milky Way races. Instead of observing the situation, the humies wade into the fray with next to no resources.

Andromeda introduces two new Alien races to the stage. First, the Andromeda natives: the Angara. Cuddely, big lipped, big eyes. There can be no doubt that these are the good guys.

The Angara

I kept calling them: fish-people. Not only do they look like fish, they seem to have their character traits based on, what would be typically linked to, the star sign Pisces: emotional, spiritual, insecure, whimsical, hard to define... Sure enough, perhaps not surprising, after a cursory search I found out that, indeed, the Andromeda galaxy is seen in the Pisces constellation. Maybe it takes an old hand in astrology, no I don't advocate it, like myself to notice and uncover this. "What are the aliens from the Pisces constellation like? Why, like Pisces of course!". This is yet another shortcut and nothing more. Being emotional doesn't even do anything significant for the functioning of the Angara. It only makes them slightly whiny. They aren't a race of berserkers that fight harder when they are angry. There's no 'dark side comes with power' connection. It's just another throw-away character trait that is bolted on top of this race. To me it also undermines the scientific inspiration of the originals if you start basing new story elements on pseudo science.
The Angara have female spiritual leaders for a society that seems written by Margaret Mead. A big incentive for fighting for the Angara, the game seems to suggest, is to prevent their pure way of life to be lost.
First contact with the Angara is a laughable affair too, Ryder literally simply walks out the ship alone, unarmed, unmasked, and shakes the alien leader's hand. A small handshake for man, a large gesture for mankind.

True to life, ugly appearance means evil nature.

Secondly, the Andromeda invaders: the Kett. Ugly, bony, slant eyed aliens. True to life, ugly appearance means evil nature. There can be no doubt that these are kill on sight bad guys.
Everyone hates hates hates the Kett with a burning passion. Within minutes of arriving in Andromeda everyone is willing to lay their lives on the line because they hate the Kett so much. No diplomatic outreach is done, no effort is done to make contact. It's guns a-blazing from the word go. Later in the game Ryder learns of the Kett motivation, at which point the hate goes supernova.

The Kett

The Kett seem, quite blatantly, like an amalgamation of the Collectors and Reapers from the original trilogy. They use similar methods and motivations. The collectors harvest bio-matter from existing species to create a new reaper in the shape of the current dominant race and call it salvation. The Kett collect live specimens of species to comically mutate them into more Kett and call it exaltation.
Then there's the Remnant, also referred to as Rem Tech, a neutral faction of drones and automatons that seem to guard and maintain the planets in Andromeda.
There's also an unseen adversary at work in Andromeda. It is suggested that the Remnant creator's race was wiped out by it. Work of the Reapers? Visual hints seem everywhere!
I was expecting a late game twist that would reveal the Reaper connection, linking the Andromeda galaxy to the Milky Way as both would be under supervision of the same super race, experiencing the same cycles. This would set the tone as it did in the original trilogy. Yet this is not the case and the game never expands on the origins or nature of the Remnant - too bad, as I found it a major incentive for the duration of the game. This mystery was almost the sole reason I kept playing. I was suspecting a Reaper reveal around every bend. But there was nothing - not even an alternative explanation. A bitter disappointment.

The presence of the Kett highlights one of the story's biggest flaws: that the exploratory force was sent out without a military grade escort! It seems that no contingency plan was made in case Andromeda was inhabited and the Milky Way invaders were met with a fighting force.
This short-sightedness in the fiction again hints at a spoiler later in the game where the player, in order to meet the opposing military force, begets an army of Remnant machines. The glaring lack of military hardware is filled in with this, literal, deus ex machina one can see coming hours away. How else is the threat to be neutralized? Well, maybe this neutral faction hardware we've seen everywhere in the game can be of use.
At least the Remnant army is a plot point that gets resolved. One that doesn't is that the gene-splicing Kett could and would provide the cure to a deadly genetic disease that afflicts one very important story character.
The entire plot line is harebrained to start with. Alec Ryder uses the Andromeda mission to flee from the human Alliance in the Milky Way for fear of repercussions of his illegal work on Ai. This Ai is the aforementioned SAM, who's made in order to help with finding a cure for the player character's mother who turns out to be alive and with the colonists, in cryosleep under a pseudonym. Wouldn't it have been a better to put her in cryo in the Milky Way while research goes on there and not in the resource and facility starved Andromeda Initiative? The plot point is never resolved, but I assume SAM would be used to magically bend Kett technology to magically create a cure. The problem here is that Alec Ryder has no way of knowing in advance that there will be a gene splicing race in Andromeda. His bet to find a cure in Andromeda seems much worse than it would in the Milky Way.

Paragon babysitter

Why is the main character so interested in these strangers? Why wouldn't the Pathfinder bring in professionals from the initiative instead of vagabonds and rogues who've done nothing more than meet him?

As established before. Andromeda is all about exploring. So right off the bat it seems uncharacteristic to have the entire crew dropped into your lap within the first hour of the game. You don't even have to look for them. No tie-in quests. No build up, no explanations. No attachment. All of them appear as unwarranted tag-alongs and as a player you'll feel more like a babysitter than a leader. You'll need to listen to their worries, feelings and petty nostalgia. All of which are unprompted. Why is the main character so interested in these strangers? The only reason he's invested is because the plot tells him to. The dialogues tell starry-eyed, soppy and unrelated stories that don't convey any other message than "care for me!". A pathological tactic from the Bioware writing team that backfires the moment boredom sets in. After that the dialogues feel like a waste of time. Besides, why wouldn't the Pathfinder bring in professionals from the initiative instead of these vagabonds and rogues who've done nothing more than meet him? Being desperate for attention and a place in the world isn't exactly a token of competence.

I think I really pissed that one off, maybe because I shot him in the face!
-Andromeda humour

It also doesn't help these characters that all of them are profoundly unfunny, even when they really try to be the opposite. An example of what passes as funny according to Andromeda is companion Liam Kosta's line from the first mission: "I think I really pissed that one off, maybe because I shot him in the face!" This is the actual tone of a character that Bioware, in publicity, described with flowery language like this: "Every team needs its idealist, and Liam is ours."
That's quite the departure from the norm. for instance, Mass Effect 2 which was pretty grim at times nevertheless left room for humour and self-deprecation. You may remember Mordin singing. Humour proved a charm impossible to lift.
Somewhat easier are Mass Effect 2's loyalty missions, they make a comeback in Andromeda. These are meant to forge a bond with another characters that is so strong they'd fight harder for you. Essentially it's an abstraction from how people bond in real life. You share experiences and become friends through thick and thin. The end of Mass Effect 2 puts the player's relationship with his companions to the test.
Unfortunately, Andromeda trivializes the loyalty mission for nothing other than to unlock that companion's final skill tier in their skill tree. Some missions, like Liam's, have a motivation so out-of-the-blue that I can't for the life of me remember what it's relevance to the story was, what brought it on, or what was the result of it. All I remember is that it was a reckless tumble that risked the team's lives, gained no one anything and many people died. After this Liam wasn't promptly discharged but was simply told not to do it again.

Characters within characters

Cora Harper

Your second in command is Cora. She's like a military gargoyle that spouts hardball military copy paste encouragements like "on your feet soldier! We are Asari commando's we don't get lost, we find a way." She's established as uncompromisingly hard as nails. She idolizes her Asari mentor, whom she has never met in person. She values her advice even over yours. "She'll have a plan" is repeated like a mantra. Setting up a plot twist so predictable a desiccated potato could could have seen it coming. We ultimately get to meet said mentor and of course she turns out to be a cheat and an unapologetic egotist.
After learning her mentor is a fraud, even though her textbook lessons were actually sound, Cora, in the good old military tradition, starts blubbering like a child. I guess she wasn't much of a commando anyway if she didn't actually learn those lessens as she keeps telling everyone her mentor has a plan - and she, evidently, doesn't.

In order to have a character come up with a genius plan, the author must come up with a genius plan.

This is a bit of a trick to detract from the fact that, in order to have a character come up with a genius plan, the author must come up with a genius plan. It's much easier to say "She has a genius plan" and then have it as an off-screen event. Easier still to not have to do it at all.
Cora's character takes another dive when she becomes extremely clingy if you romance her. She dreams aloud about settling down, having a home with white picket fence and about eighteen children. Her love for Ryder is pure projection! She's willing to abandon her defining characteristic just to become a mommy - effectively a different person entirely. The game didn't let me break up with her at that point. So I guess the message is: if you have a nice evening out before the suicide mission and make it through, there's a contract waiting for you! Have some fun, but prepare for marriage afterwards.


I did take a bit of a shine to the chirpy Asari crew mate, PeeBee. She's a young, happy go lucky, bumbling yet genius tech-literate archeologist. She loves loves loves ancient Aliens. She's also a bit naive and needs an occasional common sense update and a tight leech. If you think this all this sounds familiar you're not wrong. She too is a shortcut character. The game tells us she's a rogue scientist, but she's little more than a childish tomb raider. She's basically a poor man's Liara from the original game but with a twist in her personality. Instead of the brooding, shy introvert Liara, she's an outgoing laissez faire extravert. The single switched personality trait is common in this game. Maybe to make something feel both fresh and familiar at the same time?

Vetra Nyx

Andromeda finally introduces female Turians to the world and one has to star in a prominent role. Vetra tries to fill the shoes of a gender swapped Garrus (ME). In stead of a jaded police agent who tries his hand at managing a crew of heroes, she's a jaded would-be mother to her orphaned sister who tries to be a hero.

The rest of the crew

Nakmor Drack

Drack (Andromeda) is a crusty old Krogan with a cheery slant. He's an optimist about the Krogan colony and wants to work with the other races.
Wrex (ME) is a crusty old Krogan with a mean streak. He's a pessimist due to the genophage and mistrusts the other races.

Jaal Ama Darav

Jaal (Andromeda) is an emotional outsider alien written by someone who read the definition of 'emotional' in a dictionary. He's unassuming and oddly rational. He amazes the other crew by being so different, but not really. Is amazed by human customs. Talks with an African accent.
Javik (ME) is a rational outsider alien who doesn't know the meaning of the word emotion. He's sarcastic and jaded. He amazes the crew by being so different. Is amazed by human customs. Talks with an African accent.

Liam Kosta

Liam (Andromeda) is a human soldier with a sentimental streak. Family is very important to him. Clings to the past. Wants to break the rules to get things done.
Ashley (ME) is a human soldier with a sentimental streak. Family is very important to her. Clings to the past. Wants to do things by the book to get things done.
These characters are very different because they are of the opposing sex!

There's much to lament here. When you'd ask a Mass Effect fan what their favorite part of the series is, I'd wager a top answer would be the characters. Much like it would be for fans of a series of which Mass Effect took inspiration from: Star Trek. It's the likes of Kirk and Spock, Picard and Riker, that keep people coming back for more. There's a simple soap-like appeal to seeing what's next for your favorite characters. How they will be put through the wringer next. It doesn't really matter if they are in a space battle, meeting an alien society or experiencing a Sherlock Holmes novel on the holodeck. It's all about the characters we've grown attached to. A base requirement is that these characters aren't animated cardboard cut-outs. They need opinions, wants and desires and flaws. So it was with the original Mass Effect cast. Only this time you were up there in the wringer with them. You'd talk to them about it afterwards, but you'd stay to hear their story and perspectives.
Yet, we must remember that EA has pushed the PR narrative that Mass Effect is all about exploration, much like Star Trek was much about exploration. I'm sure you remember Kirk collecting copper ore samples on all those planets.
In fairness, Star Trek actually was about exploration but of philosophical ideas. Star Trek took inspiration from Socrates, Plato, Kant, Sartre, Kierkegaard and humanism, to name but a few. Mass Effect followed and became another rare source to inform us of human progress. I for one like that this type of knowledge can be presented in a creative and entertaining way. It awakens the flame of curiosity, a quest for truth that will surely lead our own civilisation to the Star Trek future we could have.

Money mutes

Why was the game even made?

Not only did EA miss the point of the franchise, they also missed its audience. One important question is starting to make a contour over the background noise: Why was the game even made?
Original Mass Effect was a product of its time. It had no claim to fame. There was risk involved. But there was a sense of optimism not just in the gaming industry but in the culture at large. As problems in the world started to crystallize: sectarian violence, climate change, a dire political climate... and with it opinions and solutions were also formulated. Critical voices ratcheted up the volume.
Some of that ended up in pop culture, sometimes even through games. At least two games that I played dealt with some serious issues and injected them into the mainstream. Mass Effect (November 16, 2007) and Assassin's Creed 2 (November 17, 2009). Which is to say, tear down the myths and walls surrounding people. To unify under a common humanity and move civilisation forward. Even if the message was simple, at least they had something to say. The developer put the grand idea, some idealism, above big money.

There's the belief that everything will work out and that confidence is a viable substitute for competence. As long as intentions are good, good things will happen.

New Bioware glorifies religious beliefs, valuing mysteries above understanding. The player can only tacitly voice his criticism. "Agree to disagree". It aims not to unify, but to protect and let stand old divisions. Don't offend any sensibilities! Shepard (ME) called people living beyond the grave: "Oh, zombies?". New Bioware calls out the amazing creator behind the universe's beauty. Old Bioware had a name for old gods: Reapers.
The scientific and technological basis of the original game seems to have given way to something quite different. It seems informed by a simplistic sense of morality. It seems to have one simple message: that everything will work out fine and that confidence is a viable substitute for competence. As long as intentions are good, good things will happen. It's like an adventure film made for children in which we can already tell from the first minute that every paragon of virtue will make it out unscathed. It's simply magical!
But imagine if there wasn't a second invader in Andromeda which our heroes could liberate the indigenous aliens from. Even though the end result is the Initiative gaining the upper hand over the Angara. Their domination is presented as liberation and cooperation. The initiative is only good when contrasted to a greater evil.

We got this!

A resolute "We got this!" is repeated ad nauseam by the cast. It's how I imagine the creative process developing this thing must have been like: overwhelmed by aspects of game development, struggling to see how everything should fit together, not understanding science fiction, fumbling character building, botching world building, misunderstanding open world design... but having a chipper attitude about it all, confident that it magically will work out in the end because the intentions were pure and honest.
A creative person is in a desperate position when he falls back on magic.

In defense of pitchforks

Andromeda hardly tries to earn the price of admission. To briefly summarize: the projected colonization planets turn out to be duds. Luckily for our heroes there are ancient technological planet size engines, called vaults, that conveniently turn the planets into the perfect habitat for humans somehow. Never is it explained why the planets became unstable. Never is it explained why there are vaults at all. Never is it explained why the vaults are broken. Never is it explained why they respond to SAM and the Pathfinder. Never is it explained why the Pathfinder is so important to begin with. Is it because he's the only one with a scanner? Or is it because of the deus ex machina causing Ai? Never is it explained why humans are the standard of living in another galaxy. It's an incomprehensible mess.

At the heart of Mass Effect is a suggested answer to the Fermi Paradox: the Reapers.

So Andromeda poses that all planets are human planets. But when a mouse sees a chunk of cheese wedged in between a plank and some metal wiring. Does it ever stop to think it may be a trap constructed by a higher intelligence? So I thought it would fare our Milky Way colonists. What if they found a table set for a reset? For Mass Effect veterans trying to make sense of it, it would seem that all of this points to a pre-made condition in order to steer evolution in such a way that would allow the Reapers to step in and reset the galactic table. Which is a theme at the heart of Mass Effect. A suggested answer to the Fermi Paradox: the Reapers.
Andromeda even had the ideal topic for getting creative with for real world issues, given the state of the projected golden worlds: Climate change. And it's not just the planets, conditions on the Nexus are dire too, limited resources pose a pressing issue yet never does it occur to anyone to recycle their garbage. Andromeda's comment or solution to this problem? Press the magic button that was enabled by the magic calculations done by the magic Ai in your lucky lucky head. Whenever the word 'magic' falls, I mean to say that none of this is explained within the fiction. The reflex to explain things in a creative way is completely absent. Contrast this with the original game that went through extreme lengths to explain itself and its inner workings in minute detail in its codex. Andromeda is content to leave much to the imagination. It has to, because much of what happens in this game doesn't make much sense.
The gaps in it's fiction is easier to understand when we consider Andromeda is a game where, lacklustre as they are, game mechanics are considered more important than story. The result is a ramshackle skeleton of open world mechanics that tries to fit the clothes of a much tighter gaming experience and comes off looking ridiculous. It's made from a checklist, not from inspiration. It's arrogant and wastes the player's time thinking what it has to offer is worthwhile. It spends capital it didn't earn. It keeps questions unanswered for a sequel that will never be made. It teases DLC that will never see the light of day. It seems it was assumed the Mass Effect label would sell no matter what carries it.
Its biggest attraction remains the concept of the return to Mass Effect. Something so nostalgia driven it has become the best argument for, very simply, playing the original trilogy.

Mass Effect is brilliant

Not Andromeda.

In my lifetime I have played the original Mass Effect seven times. I discovered it by happenstance and picked it up almost on Bioware's pedigree alone. What happened next blew my mind. It happened in what seems to me now a lifetime ago. Indeed everyone who worked on it has since retired or moved on. it's a new world now but that doesn't mean it has to be open to be any good.
Which is what you'll find when you're introduced to Mass Effect proper. To me it's one of the best games ever made. So, I'd recommend you play that instead of Andromeda. Much like you'd advise anyone interested in Star Wars to watch the original trilogy. Or to stick to the Frank Herbert's books when it comes to Dune.

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