So the team is here on the planet Eos to fix the climate by fiddling with the inexplicably intuitive and user-friendly alien vaults.
Once we get the Nomad and do a little tutorial stuff, we settle into the rut the game designer has planned for us: Drive to three different monolith towers, shoot the inhabitants, do the puzzle, and then go to the alien vault to reset the global climate.
The three Monolith towers work something like this: Once you’ve murdered whoever is guarding itThe Kett, ancient guardian robots, or (very occasionally) local pirates or other assorted jerks., you’ll find a console. The aliens who built this thing may be from another galaxy, but by a strange coincidence they just happened to use computer consoles that are the right size for a human being. You’ll need to hop around the environments and do some light platforming to reach hidden glyphs on the tower. Once you scan those, SAM can hack the alien computer or whatever. You do a sudoku puzzle, the tower lights up, and you drive to the next one.
It’s not bad by the standards of BioWare puzzles. Or at least, the first couple are okay. But when you realize you’ve got to do three of these on every planet the whole thing starts to feel very Ubisoft-ish. It wouldn’t be so bad if each tower had a different gimmick, but the designer runs out of ideas very quickly and from there you’re just repeating the same task again and again.
Once you do three towers, a secret vault will open up somewhere on the map.
The vaults are more involved. They have a lot of no-stakes platformingIf you fall into the abyss, you’re instantly teleported back to solid ground. and trivial yet time-consuming puzzles. Maybe you’ll find yourself in a massive chamber with computer consoles in the far corners, and you need to activate the consoles in the order A, B, A, C, A. It’s not hard, but you have to do a lot of hopping between platforms and kill a bunch of dudes every time you reach a console. It might take you ten seconds to solve the puzzle conceptually, but it’ll take you five minutes of hopping and shooting to enact your solution.
I really dislike these sections, but not because of the hopping and fighting. Those are fine. The shooting is standard and the platforming is inoffensive. My problem is that SAM won’t shut his stupid robot mouth long enough for you to experience an air of mystery or even think for yourself.
Pathfinder. You’ll need to find a console to open this door.
Pathfinder, look for a console to reset this machine.
Pathfinder, if you activate these consoles in the right order, it may open the door for you.
Pathfinder, you’ve activated this console, and that should restore power to the previous room.
Pathfinder, this shaft leads down to the main chamber.
SAM does this throughout these missions. He’s supposedly a hunk of metal in your headActually the hunk of metal in your head is connected to the mainframe back on the ship. Fine, but how does he see through walls and read the memory of alien computers? That shit isn’t coming to him through my eyeballs., but he clairvoyantly knows everything about how everything around you works, and he’s constantly explaining things to you a step at a time. He’s always making assumptions about how this technology works and his assumptions are always correct, to the point where this alien technology feels completely mundane. The game never allows you to ponder a puzzle. The moment you walk up to a console, SAM immediately chimes in with what it’s for and what you need to do to turn it on. SAM theorizes that somewhere there must be a console to restart the atmosphere cleaner, and that’s exactly how it is.
These vaults are frustrating because I find the spaces to be visually interesting. These places are screaming that they’re part of a grand mystery, but the game won’t let you enjoy a single moment of uncertainty or wonder.
How I’d have done it:
My first instinct is “do a different plot”, but that sort of goes against the spirit of these suggestions. So I’ll constrain my advice to the scenes at hand. I understand we’re no longer doing details-first sci-fi. Fine. That’s disappointing to me, but we have to judge the game we got, not the game we wanted.
This is such an easy problem to solve! All you need to do is cut most of SAM’s dialog. The player already knows they’re here to fix the planet with space magic. Just let them explore the place on their own, at their own pace. It’s not like players are going to be baffled by this linear dungeon of combat and Sesame Street level puzzles. SAM’s narration is like watching 2001: A Space Odyssey with a guy who keeps talking over the movie and telling you everything that’s about to happen, leaving you with nothing to do but wait for events to play out.
Laying aside the damage this narration does to the pacing, it also ruins the mood. While I can accept that there’s no science behind the vaults and they run entirely on inexplicable space-magic, that’s no excuse to make them so accommodating for our team. Instead of having everyone constantly making correct guesses about the technology, have them make incorrect (yet plausible for the genre and possibly humorous) guesses about what they are and how they work.
There’s already some dialog in here where characters will blurt out a comment about how cool this stuff looks. I appreciate having my teammates react to what’s going on, but it would be even better if these barks showed that your team really has no idea what they’re doing.
Liam: (As the player is exploring a tower on the surface.) Maybe these machines are working fine. Like, maybe the aliens that built this place LIKE the radiation. Maybe it’s that they eat or whatever.
Cora: (After defeating a batch of robots.) Maybe that’s what happened to the people that built this vault. Maybe they lost control and were killed by their own defense robots.
Liam: (Upon reaching the plant room.) Woah, check it out guys. More plants! Way down here where there’s no sunshine. Maybe the robots just really like having a garden and they don’t want us trampling it.
Vetra: (Upon reaching the lower levels.) Maybe this place is supposed to be a bunker. Maybe there was some sort of cataclysm on the surface and the builders took shelter here?
Liam: (If the player lingers in one room for too long.) Maybe the builders are still here, but they’re so tiny we can’t see them? But then why would they build their consoles this big? Nevermind.
Liam: (Upon reaching the final room.) What if, like, these PLANTS are the ones that built this place? Maybe they just move real slow or something. What do you think? Guys?
Maybe they reach the first tower, and they assume it will clean the air when they turn it on. But then it doesn’t, and they realize they need two more towersBe sure to give the player some cool loot or revelatory exposition to avoid the “Princess is in another castle” feeling.. Have them assume a console will cut power to a forcefield, but then it does something else entirely and takes them in an unexpected direction. They reach the second gravity shaft and assume it’s going to take them down again, but instead it lifts them up. They assume a console will activate the obviously posed killer robots, but then it just turns on the lights. They laugh nervously, start doing a puzzle, and halfway through the robots wake up.
All of this would help sell the idea that these places are crazy alien tech, and not a murder dungeon with a big glowing “ON” button at the end. These vaults look really cool and they might make for a tense scene if SAM’s omniscience wasn’t constantly obliterating all sense of mystery.
As we’re exploring the monoliths, we meet Peebee. Peebee is aggressively annoying. To be fair to the writers, this is entirely deliberate. To be fair to me, that doesn’t make it okay.
Peebee is an Asari. Asari live for a thousand years. Their defining attribute ought to be “maturity”. But Peebee has the personality of a 13 year old. She’s impulsive, unreliable, self-absorbed, pushy, and opinionated. She’s the last person I’d bring with me on any mission more important than a beer run.
This could be okay, as a deliberate effort to design a character that plays against type. I imagine it would be humorous to befriend a Krogan poet, or a berserker Salarian. The problem is that this game has basically turned all of the aliens into different flavors of humans. None of the Asari in the game feel like Asari to me. They’re not patient, aloof, wise, or placed in positions of powerAside from on the Asari ark, obviously.. They’re bartenders and mooks, and you could swap out their character models for human ones without needing to alter the dialog at all.
So in a world where the Asari have lost everything that made them special, Peebee doesn’t feel like she’s playing against type. She just feels like yet another human with an Asari paintjob.
Peebee talks like a human. At one point Ryder asks her what “Peebee” stands for and she jokes that it stands for “Peanut Butter”. Now, I’m not saying it’s impossible that this Asari has heard of peanut butter, but is that really the best way to characterize an alien? Does she need to constantly speak in human-centric idioms and make reference to things from Earth? Isn’t the entire point of having alien friends the ability for them to offer fresh viewpoints that a human couldn’t give us?
It also feels like the writer missed the point of having annoying characters. Pairing a straight man and a clown is a time-honored trope and it’s been used in everything from romantic comedies to buddy cop movies. You create two wildly divergent personalities and you let them bounce off each other. The problem is that Peebee’s antics are all one-sided. Her annoying personality would be fine if the player was allowed to express their annoyance, but our dialog wheel here in Andromeda has been reduced to the binary choice of “totally agree” and “slightly agree”.
In Saint’s Row, you end up with a lot of goofballs on your team. Some of them are even annoying. The key is that this trait is then used to fuel the banter between the characters. The Boss teases Pierce about being a sellout. They poke fun at Matt for being a NERD. They mock Shaundi for being too high-strung. We never get anything like that in the relationship between Ryder and Peebee. You never get the two of them trading insults or doing jokes with callbacks. Peebee just says something childish and Sara responds in her usual tone. There’s no sense of tension, rivalry, or exasperation.
Even ignoring her grating personality, her dialog is cringy, obvious, and overly verbose. The two of you meet in one of the Monolith ruins, and she tells you that she refers to the long-gone aliens that built this place as “Remnant”. Then a few lines later she says she’s really into studying “rem-tech”. And then she breaks this down, explaining that it’s short for “remnant technology”. Then she explains that she likes to shorten words because it makes things easier. Is the writer trying to show she thinks the player character is stupid, or does the writer think the player is stupid? I can’t tell.
Peebee is supposedly obsessed with Remnant tech. You might think that this means she’s our go-to character for remnant details and backstory, but instead Peebee talks mostly about herself and all the remnant stuff is left vague because worldbuilding is for losers.
Even if we accept her personality as a good design for an Asari and even if we decide we want a “quirky” companion, her dialog really needed another editing pass to tighten it up.
How I’d have done it:
Classic BioWare games often had characters pulling double duty, where their personal story also did a bunch of worldbuilding. This idea has mostly been abandoned and now everyone just talks about themselves.
It would have been great to have a smart, analytical, grounded character that was into the Remnant. Their dialog could provide insight and backstory, the way Liara did for the Protheans, Mordin did for the Genophage project, or Legion did for the Geth.
As much as I dislike this character, she actually has my favorite line in this section of the game. She finds some random Remnant gizmo and assumes it must be a “symbol of authority”. Then the next time you see her she runs through the room saying, “It’s not a symbol of authority! The Remnant still shoot at me!” This part of the game needed a lot more of that sort of thing. Although it’s odd that the only person making wrong assumptions about the Remnant isn’t the one who landed two hours ago, but the Asari that’s supposedly been studying them for months.
Like I said, this needed another editing pass.
After you reach the final chamber of the vault, Sara can push a button and the vault “reboots” or whatever. SAM describes it in terms over “overriding the lockdown so the vault can be restarted”, which makes it sound like the vault runs on Windows 95. The whole point of having mysterious alien technology is that we can have it do things without needing to explain how it works, but then SAM exhaustively explains the operation of the system with so much certainty and familiarity that you have the worst of both worlds. The place has no sense of mystery or wonder. You spend tons of time and dialog explaining things, but the player never gets the satisfaction of understanding or discovery.
Rebooting the vault releases a death cloud that chases you out of the vault. Luckily, the aliens that built this place adopted “spinning red light cone” as their universal symbol of emergency and danger, just like a 21st century human ambulance. What are the odds?
Once you return to the surface you discover that – just as everyone assumed – the vault has cleaned up the radiation. I don’t know if it’s just been cleaned from the air, or also from the ground, or what. Regardless, you can now start your first real colony.
Once you found your colony on Eos, you’re given a choice: Do you want a military outpost, or a scientific one? This is really annoying, since the only correct answer is, “PLANT CROPS AND SCREW EVERYTHING ELSE YOU DUMMIES!”
Look, I wouldn’t be doing the “But what do they eat?” thing again, except the game brought it up. I’m totally ready to accept the notion that they were smart enough to bring several years worth of food. I’ll bet you could fit a lot of Pop-Tarts in that immense 16Km tube that’s wrapped around the central hub of the Nexus. But then at the start of the game the writer explicitly stated that the Nexus was out of food. If that’s true, then nothing else matters. Grow food now or die. Why would anyone found a scientific outpost if we don’t have the means to feed our people? This isn’t a Cerberus operation and we’re not here to study the effects of starvation on colonists.
After you make this decision, you travel back to the Nexus and someone makes it clear that the scientific outpost is supposed to study HOW to grow food on this alien world. That’s information we really should have given the player before they made the decision. This is one of a tiny number of real choices you have in the game. It has almost no impact on anything else and is mostly cosmetic. Worst of all, the proper context isn’t given until after you’ve made the decision.
It doesn’t matter anyway. The new colony is only a couple of acres. Even if the scientists instantly figure out how to grow crops in this lifeless orange desert, I don’t imagine these two acres are going to feed the hundreds of people living on the Nexus. Or even the handful of people living here.
How I’d have done it:
 The Kett, ancient guardian robots, or (very occasionally) local pirates or other assorted jerks.
 If you fall into the abyss, you’re instantly teleported back to solid ground.
 Actually the hunk of metal in your head is connected to the mainframe back on the ship. Fine, but how does he see through walls and read the memory of alien computers? That shit isn’t coming to him through my eyeballs.
 Be sure to give the player some cool loot or revelatory exposition to avoid the “Princess is in another castle” feeling.
 Aside from on the Asari ark, obviously.
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