I was hard on Mass Effect 3 because it was supposedly the conclusion to the story that began in Mass Effect 1. My main problem with the series was that the later team did not understand or respect the world built by the first game. This is different from (say) the jump from Alien to Aliens. Yes, the two movies were vastly different in terms of tone, style, and pacing, but they were two different movies and either one of them could stand on its own. I can accept the idea that two different authors could make very different stories in the same setting. What I couldn’t accept was that the storyteller was changing genres in the middle of a single adventure. The trilogy was all supposedly one story, and so I judged it as such.
In the case of Andromeda, I’m more inclined to allow that the new writer wants to take the series in a new direction. I miss my details-first sci-fi, but I realize it’s not fair to hold an entire franchise to the tone of the original. If the new writer wants to make a new story about lifting the space-curse on the space-forest, then fine. I don’t find the Andromeda story to be particularly interesting, but I’m willing to judge the game on the merits of what it’s trying to do and I’m not going to lambaste it for failing to live up to the idealized dream game I keep hoping for.
Before we Start…
From playing the game I can tell there must have been multiple writers working on Andromeda, and some of them are much, much better than others. As with the last two Mass Effect games, the worst writing is found at the core of the story and the best writing is found in the squadmate side-missions.
During this series I’ll often break from analysis to explain how I would have done things differently. You can decide for yourself if these sections are indictments, suggestions, or fan wank.
One further note is that by convention I’m going to capitalize all of the race names and affiliations. The problem here is that you’re not supposed to capitalize a species, but you are supposed to capitalize a nationality:
I’ve heard that cats enjoy tuna.
I’ve heard that Americans enjoy coffee.
But in this universe your species is also a nationality of sorts. You visit the Asari Homeworld, tour Quarian ships, and meet Turian officers. Everything is capitalized. But then here in Andromeda, kett isn’t capitalized. You find kett guns, kett warships, and kett troops. I don’t know which of these is correct and maybe we don’t have coherent rules for the cases where a species is also a political affiliation. Whatever. For consistency with the rest of this series, I’m going to continue to capitalize species names when it comes to aliens.
Mass Effect Andromeda is a story about The Andromeda Initiative, a project to settle another galaxy. Before we start picking at the story, let’s nitpick the premise of this new game.
In 2176, a bunch of people from different races got together and decided to create a one-way expedition to the Andromeda galaxy. This was seven years before the events of Mass Effect 1 took place. This is the same year as the Skyllian Blitz, which means if you played Commander Shepard with the “War Hero” background, this was the point in history where he made a name for himself.
In 2185 (during the interval in Mass Effect 2 between the point where Shepard burned up in the atmosphere and the point where he popped out of the Cerberus Jello-mold good as new) the Andromeda ships began their voyage to settle Andromeda.
The total fleet of the Andromeda Initiative consists of:
- The Turian Ark, a massive ship carrying 20,000 Turians.
- A similar ark, with 20,000 Salarians.
- Another ark with 20,000 Asari.
- Another with 20,000 Humans.
- The Nexus, a truly massive vessel that makes the arks look minuscule.
- Inside of the Nexus are many smaller ships. The most important of these is the Tempest, which is a Normandy-sized vessel and will be the player’s ship once the story gets rolling.
- There may be yet another ark coming in the future that contains some of the other races from the Mass Effect trilogy. This ship doesn’t figure into the plot, but it does get mentioned. When it comes time for a sequel, they’ll be free to introduce the fifth ark without needing to retcon anything, and it can contain as many or as few of the available races as suits the story. Spoiler:
After you beat the game, you get a gabled message from the Quarian Ark, hinting that it’s still out there somewhere.
In Mass Effect, ships can’t travel around instantly unless there is a Mass Effect relay on either end of the trip. Since there aren’t any relays in the Andromeda galaxy, they have to make the journey using their FTL drive. Even travelling faster than light, it still takes 600 years to complete the voyage. During the trip, everyone on board will be in Cryostasis. So you sign up for the Andromeda Initiative, jump in your personal deep freeze coffin, and when you wake up you’ll be in a new galaxy. If you’re human, then by the time they thaw you out, every single member of your family will have been dead for centuries.
Hard to Swallow
While not technically impossible, the Andromeda Initiative does seem like a pretty big stretch for this setting. In just nine years they supposedly built this gargantuan vessel that’s “Almost as big as the Citadel”. Keep in mind that the Citadel itself was the largest spaceborne object ever constructed. It was created by the Reapers, and it was beyond the understanding of any of the Council races. Just one of the arms of the station was about the size of Manhattan. Imagine building five Manhattans in nine years! In space! And not just a stationary vessel, but one that can zoom through the cosmos at max warp!
And somehow NOBODY in the original Mass Effect trilogy ever talked about this spectacular feat of engineering?
Heck, who paid for this thingCerberus, it turns out. Eyeroll.? Where did the resources come from? The Council races, wary of military build-ups, have always been very picky about how many ships everyone has. How did they ever allow this?
In the space of just one year they got 80,000 people to sign up?
Having said all that…
While it might be a stretch if you’re a hardcore lore-nitpicker like me, I’m actually okay with the premise. I’m willing to meet the writer halfway on stuff like this. In fact, if there’s anything wrong with the start of Andromeda, the blame should probably fall to the writer of Mass Effect 3. As I’ve said before, the ending to Mass Effect 3 blew up the entire setting. Whether you liked it or not, it made it impossible for any author to continue from that point. Shepard’s final choice completely changed life in the galaxy. The story is vague about how it all turned out and what exactly the different endings mean, and there’s no way you can stick another game in the aftermath of the Reaper invasion without nailing down some specifics. Doing that would mean making clear many things that were – for good or for ill – deliberately left vague.
Making a direct sequel to Mass Effect 3 would mean building the next game atop a vague branching ending that many hated and was riddled with confusing contradictions. That’s no way to begin a new story. What’s interesting here is that this is the opposite of what I’d expect from a company being turned into another EA sequel mill:
Mass Effect 1 left some hooks for the future writers to use for their story.
Mass Effect 2 ignored, retconned, or destroyed those features to tell a different story. Then they concluded Mass Effect 2 at a dead-end that didn’t give them anything to work with in Mass Effect 3.
Mass Effect 2: The Arrival DLC painted the writer into an even smaller corner, because the Mass Effect 3 writer couldn’t contradict those events but they also couldn’t incorporate them into the plot.
Mass Effect 3 ended in a way that walls off any possibility of a sequel in the same galaxy.
Mass Effect 1 seems to be the only game written as though someone realized they were going to need to write a sequel. Which is strange, since Mass Effect 1 is the only game written before BioWare became part of EA. The moment when endless sequels became inevitable is the same moment when they lost the ability to plan for them.
So really, I don’t think the Andromeda writer had much of a choice. They needed to escape the ending of Mass Effect 3 before they could begin a new story, and this is a pretty good way of doing that. We can take what things we like about the setting, stuff them into a spaceship, and send them to a new location where we will never interact with or be affected by the outcome of Mass Effect 3.
While I agree with the author that moving the story to a new galaxy was the best way of escaping the problems of the past, I’m pretty disappointed about what they chose to leave behind. One of my gripes with Mass Effect 2 and 3 was that they sidelined two of my favorite species: The Volus and the Elcor. Both races favor environments that are useless to Humans, Turians, and Asari. They’d be perfect on this sort of endeavor, because they won’t compete for space with anyone else. Additionally, the Volus are adept at trade and commerce, which is a useful thing when you’re the new species in town. Also, the Elcor are really cool. But this writer didn’t want to bring anyone who couldn’t shoot at dudes from behind cover, so they got left behind.
It’s also strange that the Quarians and the Drell got left behind. Both races are in need of a homeworld. The Quarians need a home because their pet robots went Skynet on them. The Drell homeworld died and now they’re living with their Hannar buddies, but the climate is too damp and causing health problems for them.
So the writer left behind two really interesting species. And they left behind two species that should have been the most eager to join because of their extreme need for living space. But then they decided to bring the Krogan along.
We’ll talk about what a bad idea (both in and out of universe) this is next week.
 Cerberus, it turns out. Eyeroll.
A screencap comic that poked fun at videogames and the industry. The comic has ended, but there's plenty of archives for you to binge on.
Push the Button!
Scenes from Half-Life 2:Episode 2, showing Gordon Freeman being a jerk.
DM of the Rings
Both a celebration and an evisceration of tabletop roleplaying games, by twisting the Lord of the Rings films into a D&D game.
Spec Ops: The Line
A videogame that judges its audience, criticizes its genre, and hates its premise. How did this thing get made?
The Best of 2015
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2015.