Andromeda Part 8: The Nexus

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Dec 4, 2018

Filed under: Mass Effect 103 comments

While talking with Director Tann, he gives you a task: Go out and fix the golden worlds to make them habitable. I guess he’s read the script and knows that you’ll discover that the alien structures are climate-control devices that will make this possible. The more reasonable thing a person would do in this situation is suggest looking for some new worlds. He ought to ask you to go out into uncharted space and see if you can find anything livable.

You can call him out on this by pointing out that making planets habitable is impossible, and he responds by saying a “true” Pathfinder would enjoy the challenge. Given what he knowsHe doesn’t even know about the alien tower on Habitat 7., this is not a rational point of view for him to adopt.

Worse, this takes away Ryder’s agency within the story. She’s the main character and yet she’s just following orders from other characters. (Who are, incidentally, all proven failures.) We just went through that ridiculous train-wreck of a scene on Habitat 7 to put Sara in charge, and now the writer is going to keep having other characters make decisions for her.

Mass Effect 1 knew that the protagonist should drive the story, and so the writer worked hard to make it seem like Shepard was the person making decisions. In the Classic BioWare games, the dialog was framed such that your character was the one making decisions and driving the action, even if they theoretically reported to some distant leadership. In KOTOR you were working for the Jedi Council. In Mass Effect you worked for the Galactic Council. In Jade Empire you served your martial arts master, until spoiler happened and you ended up working for a god. The player character was always part of a larger whole, because peasants and working-class types are more relatable for the audience. At the same time, the dialog made it clear that the player character was making the big decisions. We need our main character to be an agent of change, because making decisions is how you reveal their values and personality and how you signal their growth. If the protagonist has no agency, then they might not even feel like the protagonist. They’re just a walking gun.

Everything is fine.
Everything is fine.

In more recent BioWare games, the story has inverted all of this. The writer has adopted a parent / child relationship with the player character. The protagonist gets bossed around and you’re obliged to do what NPCs tell you to do, and the writer doesn’t even make much of an effort to get buy-in from the player. You can’t ask probing questions and the dialog doesn’t waste time justifying things to the player. At the same time the game patronizingly pretends like the player character is in charge. You’re the Inquisitor. You’re the Pathfinder. You’re the famous Messianic Commander Shepard. You’re so great. People look up to you. People love you. You’re special. You’re important. Now go do these missions and don’t ask any questions.

Like I said so many times during Mass Effect 3: This is backwards.

How I’d have done it:

Rather than have Tann assign Ryder an impossible task that later becomes possible due to space-magic, why not fix this by giving Ryder more agency within the story?

Tann would task Ryder with locating new golden worlds. Ryder could then say that charting beyond the Heleus cluster could take months or years, and that the Initiative doesn’t have that kind of time. She thinks the existing golden worlds can be fixed using the technology she saw on Habitat 7We’d need to add a bit more exposition and discovery to the earlier scenes to make this work so it didn’t seem like Ryder was the one reading the script..

Tann would find the notion absurd. Ryder would want to follow through on her father’s discovery. The two of them disagree. The main character strikes out on their own. This will raise the stakes and also make them more personal, because now if she fails it’s all on her. Everyone is counting on her and she’s betting everything on her father’s hunch. This is how you create drama.

In the end, Sara’s efforts bring about a positive change. Tann resists Ryder until she proves her course of action correct. This causes him to change his opinion. He realizes his conservative ass-covering style of leadership has been holding the Initiative back, and that they need a daring trailblazer like Ryder. Addison realizes Ryder is delivering on the promises her father made, and stops being an obstacle to her.

If we do things this way, then our protagonist gets to be the one in the driver’s seat, the player gets to feel like they’re responsible for the fate of the Initiative and not just dumb muscle following someone else’s orders, we get some good short-term drama, nobody needs to behave like they’ve read the script, and everyone gets a little character arc.

Before we go running off to terraform alien planets with space magic, let’s take a look around…

The Nexus

On the lower right is the Human ark with 20,000 sleepers on board. Contrast with the Nexus, which is designed to be their administration building / staging area.
On the lower right is the Human ark with 20,000 sleepers on board. Contrast with the Nexus, which is designed to be their administration building / staging area.

Obviously this place is designed to replicate the function of the Citadel in the original trilogy. Except, we don’t actually need this place and its very existence strains credulity.

The Nexus is 15Km long and the central wheel has a circumference of over 16Km. That’s gargantuan. This place could hold millions.

Take a look at the inside of the central ring:

There's enough open space that we could just be hunter-gatherers on our own spaceship.
There's enough open space that we could just be hunter-gatherers on our own spaceship.

Given the stated size, that expanse of greenery and buildings goes on for 16.6Km. It’s got things growing on it. What are those buildings? Who lives there? According to the codex, the Nexus is a home for the leadership and a processing point for people disembarking the arks to colonize worlds. It’s basically a giant airport terminal / embassy / immigration building. There’s no reason for it to be this enormous.

When you finally get out there and start creating outposts, you’ll create these little four-acre villages of prefab buildings and a few dozen people. The first one is on a patch of dead ground on a desert world. The second is on a planet that – aside from the hulking predatory monsters that attack you on sight – is indistinguishable from Antarctica. The third is on a furnace planet with no visible water that’s tidally locked and therefore is always daytime. Everyone acts like these tiny outposts are a huge step for the Initiative. Meanwhile I just want to point out the window and ask Director Tann, “WHY DON’T WE COLONIZE THE SIXTEEN KILOMETERS OF FARMLAND WE BROUGHT WITH US?”

The only thing more absurd than the idea that people built a spaceworthy ship to rival the Citadel in just 9 years is the idea that it serves no apparent purpose and nobody uses it for anything.

Clearly you’re not supposed to think about this as much as I have. The designer obviously wasn’t thinking about this in terms of science or immersion. They were just trying to clumsily reverse-engineer the setting of Mass Effect and they started by copying details without understanding what purpose those details served. The writer felt that a Mass Effect game needed a massive Citadel-style station, so they put one in the game. It’s silly, but I guess this is another detail we can hand-wave as part of establishing this new setting.

How I’d have done it:

Just make the Nexus smaller. This isn’t the seat of government for a galaxy of trillions, it’s an administration building for a society that – even if you woke all the ark sleepers at the same time and had them disembark here – would still be less than half the population of Pittsburgh. The Nexus doesn’t need to be the size of a major metropolitan area. Having that huge panorama of greenery just undercuts the need for the work the player character is doing, so get rid of it.

Getting a Ship

I have no idea why Andromeda cutscenes have black bars on the SIDES of the view. Usually cinematics try to make the view wider with bars at the top and bottom. Are we trying to imitate analog television?
I have no idea why Andromeda cutscenes have black bars on the SIDES of the view. Usually cinematics try to make the view wider with bars at the top and bottom. Are we trying to imitate analog television?

Once you’re done talking to all the losers on the Nexus, you’re granted a ship so you can begin your adventure. Well, first Addison tries to stop you from leaving with red tape, even though everyone is doomed unless you can find someplace to live and you can’t begin doing that until you leave. And again, you can’t storm into her office and ask why she would put petty bureaucracy above basic survival, particularly in light of the one-way conversation the two of you just had. Instead, Vetra (a female Turian) steps in and smooths things out by bribing a port official. In the process, she joins the crew. (I’ll talk more about our crew a little later in the series.)

The designers felt the need to include the Krogan, even though that didn’t make a lot of sense. They felt the need to include a surrogate Citadel, even though that doesn’t make a ton of sense. So it’s not much of a surprise that the ship they give the player looks and feels a lot like the Normandy.

I like the Tempest. It’s easily the most convenient player ship in the series. This is the fourth game, and we’re still flying around in a ship with loading screens disguised as transport. But this is the least obtrusive the loading has ever been. The only impediment to getting around is the short ladder between the upper and lower deck. I’ll take that over the slow-ass Normandy 1 elevator any day.

I'm glad the initiative was able to give the Tempest its own Apple Store. I'm sure that will come in handy.
I'm glad the initiative was able to give the Tempest its own Apple Store. I'm sure that will come in handy.

Part of the trick here is that if a companion has a cutscene / conversation pending, they wait for you in one of the side-rooms with the door closed. This means the door itself can act as a loading screen for all the conversation data. If everyone was standing in the open, then the game would need to have the data for everyone ready, just in case you talked to them. In ME1 the game needed to load up all the Kaiden conversation data when you visited the second deck, even if you weren’t planning on talking to Kaiden. But here on the Tempest, you usually don’t need to wait for Vetra’s data to load unless you deliberately go into the room where Vetra hangs out.

The companion conversations are a little more sophisticated this time around. In the previous games, Garrus and Shepard would stand facing one another and we’d have the conversation in simple shot / reverse shot style. But here on the Tempest our conversations feel more like cutscenes. Vetra will be using her computer or tinkering with some gear. Cora will be taking care of her plants. Jaal will be emoting for the people in the cheap seats. (There are also simpler conversations in the style of the earlier games. This usually happens with characters hanging out in the common area rather than hiding behind loading doors.)

While this step up in quality is nice, I’m not convinced it serves the series. I imagine these cutscenes are significantly more expensive to produce, since they involve custom animations and hand-crafted (rather than procedural) camera framing. And yet I never saw anyone list this feature as a point in the game’s favor. I don’t think most people noticed.

The Tempest

Yup. Seeya!
Yup. Seeya!

I still miss the spatial continuity of the Normandy-1. In the original game, you could look out the window and see where you’d landed. Then you could exit the bridge, walk through the airlock, and find yourself standing in the area you were looking at through the windows. It was completely seamless. Here in the later games that sense of continuity is gone. When you arrive somewhere, you watch an unskippable cutscene of the ship entering the atmosphere, and when the cutscene ends you’ll find yourself outside the ship. When you return to the ship, you’ll get a cutscene of the takeoff, and then you’ll find yourself on the bridge. It’s literally impossible to land without disembarking or to embark without taking off.

Which means your first visit to the Tempest is a unique one. It’s the only time in the entire game where you can run around the ship while you’re docked. After this point, you’ll never again be able to be aboard the ship while the ship is on the ground. Which is a shame, since it’s cool to look out the windows and see where you are.

Speaking of windows… they’re strange. The outside of the ship is totally windowless, and yet inside you’ve got these huge panoramic views. When you’re at the navigation controls on the bridge, you’re completely enveloped in windows. You’ve got a similar setup in your quarters. The meeting room at the back of the ship is this spacious multi-level thing with skylights that looks like an upscale shopping mall. (It really is gorgeous.)

Wow. Look at all of this lush greenery we can see through the windows we don't have. Anyway, let's go colonize some lifeless rocks!
Wow. Look at all of this lush greenery we can see through the windows we don't have. Anyway, let's go colonize some lifeless rocks!

I guess we’re supposed to assume these “windows” are actually display screensLater we discover they are indeed screens when we use them to chat with aliens.. There’s a shimmering hex pattern on the surface that supports this notion. On the other hand, these things don’t work like display screens. The stuff outside has parallaxYou see different stuff depending on where you’re standing. as you move around, which is more like the Looking Glass technology in Prey 2017. In the Mass Effect trilogy the 3D displays are shimmering monocolor holograms, and they’ve never had anything like these magic VR-windows. I guess this is another detail we have to hand-wave for the sake of the new setting.

That’s fine, although I still miss the spatial continuity of the original. I think I’m the only one who cared, but I enjoyed the feeling that my ship was a physical object and not a pocket dimension with loading screens.

 

Footnotes:

[1] He doesn’t even know about the alien tower on Habitat 7.

[2] We’d need to add a bit more exposition and discovery to the earlier scenes to make this work so it didn’t seem like Ryder was the one reading the script.

[3] Later we discover they are indeed screens when we use them to chat with aliens.

[4] You see different stuff depending on where you’re standing.



From The Archives:
 

103 thoughts on “Andromeda Part 8: The Nexus

  1. Dreadjaws says:

    Ah, the Nexus. What a colossal annoyance. The thing feels even larger than the Citadel due to all the allocated space for you to prance around, but unlike the Citadel, most of that space is useless noise. There’s much less to do than it seems, as most missions in the place require you to just talk to someone there and then travel somewhere else to actually do something. But of course, expect most of those people to be spread around to maximize walking in order to artificially extend play time.

    And some of those ginormous areas have one or two people to interact with at most. Some areas offer some background characters to chat with for a bit and then immediately forget about. It’s technically the same in the whole game, but it’s more easy to notice here.

    Also, maybe it’s just me, but I feel like there’s no rhyme or reason to the place’s area design.

    1. Zaxares says:

      What REALLY baffles me about the Nexus is why didn’t the Initiative take a page from the Quarians and build the Nexus as a giant Liveship on which they could grow enough food to comfortably sustain the crews of the Arks for at least a century or so before non-renewables started to run out? This way, while it IS important for colonization attempts to begin immediately upon arrival in Andromeda, it’s not a “Oh god, we’re all gonna starve in 2 weeks!” situation if something did go wrong. Remember, the Quarians have effectively been using their Liveships as a mobile planet for well over several hundred years since the Geth kicked them off Rannoch, so why hasn’t it occurred to the AI leadership to do the same thing as a secondary safety net for redundancy?

  2. Chris says:

    “I think I’m the only one who cared”

    Indeed, bioware didn’t care. This entire game felt like people didn’t care.

    1. Henson says:

      I certainly cared about the spatial continuity. It was one point I highlighted in my comparison of ME1 & ME2, how ME2 was highlighted by loading screens and segmentation, while ME1 was continuous (Noveria is a great case study). It’s been a long time since the series focused on this kind of immersive simulation.

      1. Karma The Alligator says:

        The problem with ME2’s loading was made even worse thanks to sloppy programming (maybe just on PC): the game might be done loading the next area, but it wouldn’t allow you there until the loading screen’s movie was over (there’s a way to replace most loading screens -not all, because the game crashes if the correct loading screen isn’t there during the Joker section- with one that lasts a second, and that improves the loading times immensely).

        1. Tomato says:

          “(there’s a way to replace most loading screens … and that improves the loading times immensely)”

          Yeah, like going from ’10 seconds long fake loading cutscenes’ to ‘instant’.

    2. BlueBlazeSpear says:

      There are a lot of things like this in the game that gave me the impression that the attitude wasn’t “we should make a good game,” but rather “the Mass Effect franchise is too big to fail.”

      It seemed like they thought it would be sufficient to ride on the coattails of superior games.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        I think it’s less that and more, “The ME fanbase are a bunch of needy psychos who will riot if we don’t give them exactly what they already like and recognize even if it makes no sense.”

        Not that that’s (entirely) correct. But while the common surmisal is that they thought they were free to do uncreative, nonsensical things because they could get away with it, it’s a different story if they thought they couldn’t get away with not appeasing an audience with which they were already on a severely unfavorable footing, even if that meant caving to uncreative, nonsensical fanwank. I can understand the fear of wiping the slate all but clean and taking a flier with a truly alien setting accoutred only sparingly with Milky Way staples, then finding that your core audience doesn’t give a shit anymore.

        But as likely as I think some level of propitiation, however misguided, explains all the bring-it-all-back stuff, it doesn’t go very far; as much as Shamus and others might enjoy having gone all-in on a totally new setting that brings over only a strictly-rational minimum of prior ME flavor and stuff, the decision not to do that is the smallest part of Andromeda’s severe and numerous writing problems, and probably wouldn’t rate more than a handwave if the narrative was solid and the setting better leveraged.

        The Nexus is… a bit much, though.

        1. Vinsomer says:

          The problem with this idea is that Andromeda was presented as something new. A bold new direction that woud leave the OT (and the toxicity of the ending) far behind, while breaking new ground.

          I mean, the core of the concept is quite literally the irreverisble and complete exodus from the galaxy we’ve known.

          And I think it goes without saying that a competent creative will be able to balance still making a game that is recognisably Mass Effect, able to stand alongside the OT (in quality and in subject matter, style, form etc.), while also making something new and exciting. ‘We were afraid to change too much’ might be an explanation for the failures of Andromeda, but it is in no way an excuse.

          This is really my problem with Andromeda – the lack of direction. It doesn’t know if it wants to be something new or something familiar, so we get a hodgepodge of the two which constantly undercuts itself by its various aspects not making any sense (Nexus), not developing new ideas and characters enough (the new races especially) or by being an inferior version of what we’ve played before (Like the Krogan, the Nexus Council, etc.). Just as it doesn’t know if it wants to be serious or comedic (at least, some strange approximation of comedy) so instead we get frequent bathos.

          A least a 40-hour fan wank would have been consistent. It would have been a single vision which, though a bad idea, would at least have provided better narrative structure. It would at least have made sense.

          1. The Rocketeer says:

            But that’s my point; the idea to bring over so much Milky Way baggage isn’t a problem per se. It becomes a problem when such poor use is made of the setting, the structure, the narrative and dialog and cast, etc. But those are all large problems in themselves, and while the appearance of compromising poorly between old and new aggravates these problems, there is no perfect balance of Milky Way and Andromeda that would solve any of these problems. You’d have to fix literally everything else wrong with the writing- the overall creative vision, as you say- before you could appraise the feats and faults of the balance they settled upon, and there still wouldn’t be any answer that would satisfy everyone in the fractious ME fanbase.

            1. Vinsomer says:

              I don’t think that’s whats wrong. What I disagree with in your comment is you’re framing this as an issue with fan expectation, when really the only fan expectation was that the game be good.

              Yes, there will be parts of a fandom that are unreasonable, and Mass Effect’s is no exception. But the majority of ME fans, when asked, chose a sequel as the new direction: when the game was announced and the concept of an odyssey to Andromeda was revealed, for the most part fans liked the idea. If they wanted the same ME they’d always had, they’d have either wanted a prequel or a sequel set in the Milky Way. Every interaction sent the same message: give us something new.

              I think the fact that MEA takes so much from the OT is far less down to ‘we don’t want to disappoint the fans’, and far more due to a misunderstanding of exactly what made the OT good to begin with, combined with a lack of new ideas and an overly-conservative direction. People liked Citadel (DLC), right? Just copy the tone of that then – without understanding that it was precisely because Citadel was a well-written side DLC that it worked. People liked the Citadel (Space Station), right? Just put in a new Citadel and call it the ‘Nexus’, regardless of it making no sense on a lore level. Every franchise has its core ideas, themes and motifs, and they reach across genres and forms. Those are the important things that must be included, not wholesale copied story beats or characters.

              Among the oceans of criticism towards MEA, ‘they tried to do something different’ is really not a common opinion. And it’s hard not to see fans being less displeased with a better game less hamstrung by pointlessly emulating the original trilogy.

              1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

                This is how I tend to see it.

                I was very active in the Mass Effect fandom as the hype was building for this game, and there was surprisingly-little “They better make good after that ME3 ending” talk and more of a general sense of fanboying. The hype was real. If anything, we thought that they’d work harder to make a great game in response to the reception of ME3’s ending. Youtube channels and podcasts sprung to life from the excitement that there was another ME game coming. Of course, most of that folded when the game came out and showed itself to not be hype-worthy.

                There seemed to be two persistent fan expectations: That the game represent the core of what makes Mass Effect great, and that they try something new and different. But what the people making this game seemed to take away from that notion was “As long as we make something that looks like a Mass Effect game, people will gobble it up no matter its quality.” Obviously, I have no actual knowledge about what went on in making this game, but from the outside looking in, it just seems like they thought that the Mass Effect name alone would carry this game to glory.

          2. guy says:

            I’m pretty sure they went to Andromeda because the end of ME3 irrevocably alters the Milky Way. Destroy wipes away the Relay network for good, Control makes cyberghost-Shepard controller of an overwhelming Reaper fleet, and Synthesis redefines the very nature of life.

            Andromeda was in a sense playing it safe; continuing from Synthesis would’ve been daring as all hell.

            1. Vinsomer says:

              I think going to Andromeda isn’t really playing it safe.

              I suppose continuing from Synthesis would be daring, but (beyond wiping away most of your players’ choices) it would mostly be daring because there’s almost no possible story fit for an action RPG that could continue from that point. Even if you get past the whole instrumentality galactic hive mind thing, you’d still have very little thematically to actually go off when pretty much every plot thread was resolved.

        2. Nimrandir says:

          I’m inclined to believe the similarities come from the same goal they did in Star Wars. Unfortunately, the design team lacked J. J. Abrams’ ability to revisit the style of something else.

          1. Vinsomer says:

            Even so, ‘TFA borrows too much from the OT’ is by far the biggest criticism of that movie (well, at first it was, now it seems to have been eclipsed by ‘Rey is a Mary Sue’ nonsense).

            But, that aside, TFA is a fun, well paced, well shot movie. ‘MEA borrowed too much from the OT’ isn’t one flaw in an otherwise good game, it’s a core design philosophy which undercut almost everything they tried to accomplish with the story.

            1. Coming Second says:

              The biggest criticism of TFA isn’t that it borrows too much from the OT. That style is theirs to use, and most seem to agree they used it well.

              The biggest criticism is that it’s a slavish, beat-by-beat remake of the original film, which set a bad precedent that caused all sorts of problems for TLJ.

      2. Hector says:

        An awful lot of media executives seem to think this way, which is probably why they’d rather run series into the ground rather than try something new.

        Bethesda seems to be treating Fallout in this manner, resulting I’m both the quality issues and the lack of new ideas, factions, or themes in Fallout 76.

    3. krellen says:

      I cared. It’s part of why I liked the elevators.

  3. Jabberwok says:

    I definitely like being able to land somewhere while still in the ship. I liked that in KOTOR. Even if I couldn’t see outside, being able to just step out the door and be at the bottom of the ramp outside was nice. If I recall, ME3 required you to take off just to get back on your ship. I think.

    1. Thomas says:

      Andromeda is a step back in the right direction at least. You get set right outside the landing ramp, and you can walk onto the landing ramp to get back onto the ship.

  4. Coming Second says:

    Love to reboot my series in a literally different galaxy, then clumsily rebuild every single thing from the old galaxy.

    1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

      That’s really what it sometimes feels like – that everything in this game is a funhouse mirror version of all the things that made the original trilogy great.

      In this completely new context, a lot of that stuff doesn’t fit and/or doesn’t make sense.

    2. Lame Duck says:

      It seems like a problem rooted in the series’ overall lack of coherent direction, rather than this game in particular though. They established a setting, introduced a setting-destroying threat, then fumbled badly when resolving that threat and yet still wanted to continue using that same setting. I suspect it was less an issue of the writers just snatching elements from the original trilogy because they lack imagination and more that they were tasked with finding a way to continue using those elements without clashing with the previous story.

    3. Nimrandir says:

      My wife and I had an entire Andromeda play session where we referred to everything in terms of the original Mass Effect.

      “So we went to the Not-Citadel so Not-Udina could give us the Not-Normandy, and we met Not-Garrus on our way out.”
      “Oh man. When does Not-Wrex join the crew? I’d swap out Not-Kaidan for him in a second!”
      “Where the heck is Not-Liara going?”

      We couldn’t decide on whether Ryder or her father was supposed to be Not-Shepard, though.

      1. SPCTRE says:

        RyDad = Not-Keith-David

  5. Tremor3258 says:

    Maybe the Nexus is the thing they hid the SR-2’s budget in? That thing is ludicrous. In universe can you imagine the effort to convince it wasn’t an attempt to get around the dreadnaught treaty limitations?

  6. SirSpamalot says:

    Ok, I’ll have a stab at defending this Completely-Different-From-The-Citadel© space-station. While the individual arks “only” have about 20.000 sleepers each on board, we still have four arks flying around, which is why I assume the Nexus looks like it could hold a million people on-board, since there’s 80.000ish people coming from the milky way, plus all the stuff they bring with them to live and colonise Heleus (I mean, those prefabs have to be stored somewhere). If the Nexus is just a glorified administrative building/staging area, the Arks are only glorified dormitories after all. So while it’s not their goal to have everybody live on the Nexus for extended periods of time, I assume they just thought that maybe having the possibility to all live on the Nexus for let’s say, a couple of months, to let the pathfinder teams the time to select the best places to set colonies on the golden worlds ?

    1. Echo Tango says:

      If the goal was to have people live on the Nexus temporarily, it would still need to be different from how it’s presented right now. It would be a ship full of cafeterias, recreation areas[1], and some warehouses with some of the supplies that weren’t on the arks. The space presented right now is full of trees, land, etc; Unless those are all plastic trees, they could just park outside the sun, and live off of photosynthesis indefinitely.

      [1] Just imagine the elementary-school gym, but with future space-technology. Numerous types of nets and goals, floor wall and ceiling covered in displays to be able to re-paint the lines / zones / game-area at-will, etc.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        So, I ran some quick numbers, and the nexus appears to have about 22000 acres of area. It takes about an acre per person to grow enough food with traditional agriculture. But traditional agriculture uses plants, which are at least 10 times less efficient than solar panels. In addition, you could just move the nexus closer to a star, and get more power density, which brings us back to the question of, why are these science-fiction space-faring societies still building things on planets? Why don’t they just live in orbital habitats?
        I mean, obviously it’s because the writers don’t want to have to stretch their imaginations enough to imagine what that would look like when implemented, but isn’t that what science fiction is for?

        1. guy says:

          Because natural gravity is free and artificial gravity costs money.

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            Why would you want gravity? Other than for helping you to crouch behind cover I mean.

            1. Syal says:

              Well you want gravity to avoid muscle atrophy. Especially if you’re still trying to establish new contacts, you don’t want your whole population to be emaciated and space-locked.

              Also for keeping coffee in your cup.

          2. Kestrellius says:

            Not very much money. Spinning a space station is pretty easy.

            1. Joe Informatico says:

              Is it? It’s never actually been done.

        2. 4th Dimension says:

          Clearly, it’s because they aren’t Culture-d.

        3. Nicholas Pitino says:

          As someone who owns a very dog-eared copy of The High Frontier I would totally love a Sci-Fi game where giant rotating habitats are presented properly and in detail.

  7. Gethsemani says:

    Regarding the NPC’s cutscene dialogues, I think it goes hand in hand with Bioware’s increasing attention to the party members with every passing game. It is especially notable if you look at the shift from Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins to Mass Effect 2 (a game that’s essentially about meeting your party and getting to know it, with a main plot thrown in to justify it) and Dragon Age II (a game that significantly expanded the roles of your companions, including giving them independent motives and occupations that affected the plot significantly). Ever since, one of the main draws of a Bioware games seems to be that you get to form a party of really interesting people, with a whole lot to say and a bunch of stuff that you can help them do, from minor fetch quests to major side missions. In that context the cutscene dialogues make perfect sense, because a lot of players are expecting those companions to be one of the major draws of the game. I’ve been around enough Bioware fans to know that a lot of them invest heavily in the companions and that the more elaborate the game gets with them, the happier these people are. They don’t care much about Corypheus or the Reapers, but getting a threesome with Sera and the Iron Bull, or doing push-up contests with Vega? That’s what really matters, getting to be bros with your party.

    A meaner way of looking at it is that the writing team seems to have become progressively more interested in writing cool stories about their DMPC’s instead of making an actual main plot. Both ME:A and DA:I seems to suffer from a rather weak main story that’s both underdeveloped and rushed but heavily padded by open world activities, while the companions get a whole lot of attention. It is telling that some of the best moments ME:A delivers are in companion quests and that DA:I ended on a cliffhanger about one of your companions and wrapped itself up with a DLC revealing how really freakin’ sweet that companion is (mileage may vary on your interpretation of Trespasser). Modern Bioware, for good and bad, is at its best (and to me, also at its worst) when the writers flip the bird to the main plot and let their characters do their stuff.

    1. Coming Second says:

      The problem with this increasing focus upon companions is that coteries of Cool and Interesting Friends need a Cool and Interesting World to support them. If they don’t have that, then the thing you share in common with them doesn’t bind you. You’re just kind of hanging out with them. That’s why, despite the appreciable effort invested into making Drak, Cora et al people you want to spend time with, all the never-greater opportunities for relationships across the game, they have nothing like the cultural staying power of Liara, Wrex and Garrus.

      It’s noticeable that a lot of the crises and problems that are faced in ME:A are vague and inconsistent, as if they are only there for the characters to bounce off of and make dumb one liners about before they go off and solve the problem by shooting a bunch of dudes. A game where the NPCs were given this much priority and the story/internal logic so little is a strange, disaffecting experience.

    2. guy says:

      I liked DA:I’s main plot, though it was a chore getting the necessary power to advance it. However, I ended up resenting its side plot of people continiously asking who led the Inqusition. It was me. I gave people orders and they provided me with options. That’s called “being in charge”.

      1. Thomas says:

        I feel Inquisition did a good job of making the Player Character feel in charge. Not only was I picking my missions, but I was telling everyone else to do theirs.

        Sure, you do the same Friendliest Helper quests as any RPG, but in Inquisition those end with you planting a great big flag with your choice of design on their land and they plead their service to you.

        1. guy says:

          Yes, what got me was when I went and talked to Blackwall and he told me that the Inqusition had a serious problem in that it lacked a clear leader. I was like “did you not read the memo or did Cullen forget to send it?”

      2. Gethsemani says:

        I don’t think DA:Is main plot is bad, it is just way too front loaded (really, the peak of the game is the assault on Haven and the first few missions out of Skyhold, then it is one long slog to face down Corypheus with the stakes actually getting lower over time as the Inquisition grows and Corypheus weakens) and overshadowed by all the busy work and sidequests the game throws at you. For comparison: I completed my playthrough in 76 hours, and I’ve been told that people who don’t rush the main quest but focuses on it exclusively gets it done in around 15-20. That’s not a short main quest by any means (it is up there with DA:O and Mass Effect), but the game desperately wants you to do a lot of other stuff.

        That along with how the last act bait and switches you, with the final battle against Corypheus pretty much being the Inquisitor and Pals curb stomping a guy that’s already been beaten at every turn since his one victory in Haven. Because the REAL plot of DA:I is actually about how one of your party members is really an Old God and the entire main quest was just a sideshow because of one of their miscalculations, and you find out all this in the penultimate mission, the epilogue stinger and the wrap-up DLC Trespasser. You are definitely right in that DA:I does a good job at making the PC feel like the leader, who takes advice but ultimately calls the shots, but it all sours a bit for me because the writer just seems to damn intent on letting the game end on the note that their NPC was so much cooler than the PC. So cool that the last act is basically the plot twisting to make that NPC the focal point of the remaining story, up to and including sidelining the actual villain and the final battle against him (because the player will be too busy wondering about all the stuff revealed around the Well of Sorrows).

        There’s a parallel between that Companion and how DA:I twists around them and how ME3 makes the Illusive Man not only an equal antagonists to the actual Reapers, but makes him the last actual antagonist you face in the game (in a place that it makes no sense for him to be). Giving him a dialogue that’s as long as the final reveal dialogue, but is all about IM telling you his motives all over again. The writers at Bioware loves their GMPCs and they will not let stuff like player agency or narrative needs get in the way of them forcing their pet characters in wherever they want to show them off to the player.

  8. Redrock says:

    While this step up in quality is nice, I’m not convinced it serves the series. I imagine these cutscenes are significantly more expensive to produce, since they involve custom animations and hand-crafted (rather than procedural) camera framing. And yet I never saw anyone list this feature as a point in the game’s favor. I don’t think most people noticed.

    I noticed. I think the Tempest is actually my favorite ship in the series. I really like that it feels smaller compared to numerous floors of the Normandy, and because all the space is interconnected and not separated thorugh loading screens, it feels to me like an actual spaceship rather than a flying base. Then there’s the fact that crewmembers will actually walk around the ship, doing some chores, bumping into each other and talking amongst each other. In ME2 and ME3 they were mostly glued to their respective stations. ME3 had that really akward think where you could walk in on Liara having a conversation with, say, Garrus over intercom, which always felt forced. In Andromeda you can have seemingly randomly Vetra bump into Jaal and have a small discussion, or you can see Liam shouting some questions at Drack from across the hangar. It really seems that much more authentic and also helps push the idea that the crewmembers have relationships outside of the protagonist, while in the original trilogy they all stand around waiting to to talk to you.

    1. Thomas says:

      I feel the same. The Tempest is one of the few parts of ME:A they got unambiguously right. The clean open design, and a good progression on ME3’s random companion conversations (which I felt was already a big improvement on never seeing your companions talk to each other)

      1. PPX14 says:

        What. How dare they talk about things when Shepard is not there. He’s a hero, a bloody icon.

        Clearly Ryder does not command the same level of respect and personal devotion, the hippie.

  9. Hal says:

    That Nexus is a huge, huge ship. The amount of energy you would need to propel that thing is astronomical. To get it to travel FTL quickly enough to bridge the intergalactic space in 600 years is mind-boggling.

    Maybe the technology of the setting lampshades that. Once you’re making something travel at FTL, the difference between a small ship or a big ship is trivial. Still, that place is going to be larger than Manhattan; there’s absolutely no reason you couldn’t have had everything take place on the Nexus if it’s as big as that. There’s no reason for the separate arks.

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      One reason I can think of would the proverbial eggs in one basket situation, but then, why have the Nexus at all?

    2. eVie says:

      Maybe the technology of the setting lampshades that.

      It doesn’t. The ME1 Codex says that larger masses takes commensurately more energy to move at FTL speeds.

      1. Hal says:

        Which makes this all the more irritating. Does Andromeda even attempt to explain how they took such a massive vessel and pushed it to thousands of times the speed of light?

      2. Joe Informatico says:

        The Codex says a lot of things that the cutscenes ignore.

        1. eVie says:

          The Codex is one of my favourite things about Mass Effect, and this fact is one of my least favourite.

          1. PPX14 says:

            Ha I do like that turn of phrase.

  10. Guy says:

    When you finally get out there and start creating outposts, you’ll create these little four-acre villages of prefab buildings and a few dozen people. The first one is on a patch of dead ground on a desert world. The second is on a planet that – aside from the hulking predatory monsters that attack you on sight – is indistinguishable from Antarctica. The third is on a furnace planet with no visible water that’s tidally locked and therefore is always daytime. Everyone acts like these tiny outposts are a huge step for the Initiative. Meanwhile I just want to point out the window and ask Director Tann, “WHY DON’T WE COLONIZE THE SIXTEEN KILOMETERS OF FARMLAND WE BROUGHT WITH US?”

    And here is why I don’t think the setting really supports making colonization a primary goal in itself. Sure, the Nexus could be smaller, but having Migrant Fleet level habitability aboard the ships just in case is relatively easy compared to the literally impossible task of flying to Andromeda at FTL.

    Far as I can tell the reason you can’t just colonize the sixteen kilometers of farmland is that the Nexus isn’t self-sufficent and requires fuel and minerals from planetary mines. And you can’t get those via mining asteroids because HEY LOOK A DISTRACTION!

    1. BlueHorus says:

      I almost did a spit-take (again) at the “16 KILOMETRES OF FARMLAND” comment. It’s wonderful.

      How many people within Bioware worked on creating/rendering/etc that lush view trough a window that undermines the central point of the story? Did NONE of them pointed out that it was weird for a space station to have that much empty space?

      Or am I just underestimating the ‘shut up, do what you’re told to and don’t question or think’ culture that corporations often have?

      1. Tremor3258 says:

        Pointing out outside the Presidium the Citadel doesn’t utilize a ton of empty space. The Wards we see are generally either heavily compartmentalized or traffic arteries.

  11. Karma The Alligator says:

    About the taking off every time you go back to the ship, does it ever do the same stupid thing as ME2 when they decided to have you land on Omega, recruit either Garrus or Mordin, go back to your ship (and take off), then land right back in because you still have another mission there? I’m hoping they avoided it this time around.

    1. Geebs says:

      Pretty sure you have to take the entire ship to orbit in order to have a conversation with anybody on board, and then land again when you’re done. I gave up playing Andromeda before they “fixed” it, though.

  12. Trevor says:

    Count me as another fan of the Tempest. I also liked that all the stations for the crafting and minigames were all in one central area so you could do all that bookkeeping without having to walk around too much. One of the things Shamus didn’t mention that I hated is the whole Nexus quest line is all the pointless walking you have to do: Talk to Tann. Go walk and talk to Kesh. Walk back to Tann and talk to him. Scan three things that are as maximally separated as possible in Operations. Talk to the wife of the murder suspect and get the quest, go talk to the murder suspect on the other side of Operations. Walk back across Operations to talk to Kandros about the case, walk back and hear the audio logs that are near the jail cell. So. Much. Walking. To places you have already been before. And for no reason.

    I’m not opposed to using quests to force you to walk around and explore the setting. That’s how these games work. You’re so overwhelmed at the beginning of a big RPG that unless someone tells you to go visit a bakery in town you might not the first time you’re there. But ME1 had Avinas around that, if you got bored of the quest, could tell you about the Krogan Memorial. You could add some NPCs that you walk by who are having conversations that let you know what else is going on in the world (Mass Effect 3 did this very well, even if hilariously parodied by VG Cats). Here you’re just walking back and forth to places you’ve seen, which makes it seem like you’re doing chores instead of quests.

  13. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    This story seems to muddle player agency and plot progression in a rather unsatisfying way. In this game’s promotional materials, one of the claims was that this new character would be different from Shepard in that she wouldn’t be an elite battle veteran, but rather she’d be a green newby and this story would be her hero’s journey. Had this held true, I would’ve expected some hierarchy trying to inflict orders on her, but that the situation would get so out of control that she’d have to rely on herself and start from the ground up building her own legend. But – for better or worse – that’s not what we get at all. Instead, our character is green for like 15 minutes, gets handed the mantle of hero through no effort of her own, then after some token throat clearing from a couple of dissenters, everyone decides “Okay Ryder – you’re a hero: Now get to cleaning our toilets.” It doesn’t really matter if it’s trying to tell the “hero’s journey” or the “you’re a big deal” story because it doesn’t work as either.

    Something that I’ll continually complain about over the course of this retrospective is the fact that the creators of this game cosmetically rip off from the original trilogy without understanding what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. The Nexus is just another example of their failure to understand the thing they were trying to copy. Somebody thought that the Citadel was cool, so somebody said, “Let’s have one in this game, but just make it cooler!” But they didn’t understand the purpose of the Citadel and they thought they could basically copy/paste it here and we’d walk around in it and think “Yep, this is a Mass Effect game.”

    I generally liked the Tempest too. Compared to all of the iterations of the Normandy, it’s by far the least cumbersome ship to walk through. I remember the first time Bioware shared pictures of the Tempest and someone commented “That’s the most Mass Effect-looking thing that I’ve ever seen.” Again, cosmetically, that’s true. Does anybody else remember the pre-release, pie-in-the-sky, Molyneux-like promise that you’d be able to have cosmetic upgrades for the ship, including being able to take pictures on your adventures and then hang those pictures on the walls? I wonder if that’s one of those things that went away with the No Man’s Sky game they were making.

    I had always assumed that the “windows” of the Tempest were actually screens because of the hex pattern, but I do agree with what you’re saying here: The series has done nothing up to this point that suggests that this technology exists. And while I’m pondering technological boons that the Initiative has that the Milky Way didn’t – the Tempest seems to sometimes have real-time communications with people who are in other star systems and as far as I know, they’re not using the quantum entanglement space magic that has allowed real-time communication over those distances before. I think there was only one such device with the Initiative that’s meant to keep contact with the Milky Way and I’m pretty sure it isn’t in the Tempest. But with that said, if they’re going to allow us to use the comm room in that way, it would be way more convenient to be able to report quests as successful from there all of the time instead of having to constantly fly back-and-forth to planets to report success in person.

    That reminds me, will there be any entries about the awful technical design of the sidequesting? The menu for it is awful and cluttered (like all of the game’s menus, I suppose) and many of the quests seem to design maximize time spent while minimizing the joy created. It seems insane to me that you’d have quests – and garbage fetch quests at that – involving flying around to multiple star systems and then at the end of it, you have to fly some more back to the person who gave the quest in the flesh to show them that you completed it. It was made marginally better when they added the option to skip the “planet approach” animations, but it’s still just a poor overall design. I know that no game is perfect in this regard, but I’d gladly have a game that’s 30 good hours of fun questing than one that has 200 hours of me clearing clutter out of my active quest menu. And while I’m complaining about the side-questing, I wish this game did a little better job of letting us know which sidequests are important and which aren’t. I know that it has things separated by “main quest,” “companion quests,” and “garbage quest,” but not all of the things in those various lists fit in them all that well. The “Ryder Family Secrets” quest I think is a vital quest to the story, but you’d never know it by the way that the game treats it.

    1. Trevor says:

      This game really could have used one more draft. I mean, this is true of most games, but this one in particular.

      Ryder: “The Nexus is huge! It’s almost as big as the Citadel. We don’t have anywhere near the number of colonists to fill it.”
      Tann: “We don’t now, but Jien Garson liked to dream big and thought we would some day, so why not build for the future? Sadly it seems her dream…”

      This establishes Jien Garson as a kind of crazy person who has grand ambitions and dreams but bonkers execution, something that is borne out by the game.

      Ryder: “Are these vid-screens?”
      Kallo: “Yes! The Tempest actually has no windows. We found they’re a structural weakness. Instead we installed thousands of cameras on the hull of the ship which provide real time imagery and analysis of the space around us!”
      Ryder: [Dumb quip. Even in re-writes you can’t fix Ryder’s dumb]

      You actually address the thing that you seem to have set up with the hexagons. Also you have a fun callback to the original games that’s more subtle than slapping an N7 paint job on your Nomad (and if you don’t recognize it as a callback, the line still works just fine).

      Instead you have such a rough draft. Even a cursory rewrite (and you don’t have to add that much fanon) improves things. You don’t need to solve all the problems, just give explanations on some things and establish a few rules. As sci-fi fans we’re willing to go with you quite a long way. The mass relays in the original trilogy don’t make complete sense, but they wave their space magic Element Zero/Mass Effect field wand around enough that you buy in. They don’t even try to justify much here.

      1. Hal says:

        So, a space port that can house millions of people. They sent: 100k?

        This is one of the reasons I was asking questions about the population of people they brought, birth rates, etc. There aren’t going to be more of these races just popping in from the Milky Way, so they have to reproduce. If you’re expecting 100k people to even just double (much less fill the Nexus plus the colonies they intended to establish), they ought to be having a baby boom of tremendous magnitude. Otherwise, the entire project is going to be one of generations; assuming you can keep the entire place in livable condition for that time in 200 years when there’s enough population to need all that space.

        1. guy says:

          I’d missed just how big everything was, and figured it’d been mostly filled with terraforming gear, prefab settlements, shuttles, etc. and would be combined with the Nexus to serve as the colonial capital, mostly left vacant for generations.

          Also I was umder the impression the long segments were pretty much just attachment points for the arks

          1. Gethsemani says:

            You would think that, don’t you? But the Arks actually dock at the bulge in the center of the spoke keeping the arms together.

            Though I think you’re first point is spot on. If you’re going to another galaxy, you need to bring all the gear you need to use for a long time. We are talking maybe over a decade until you can get proper industrial production lines and stable agriculture up and working, so all the machinery, all the building parts, all the spare parts, all the clothes and what not that you need to equip your colonists with needs to be brought along, because unlike terrestrial colonization, you can’t send regular supply runs over the sea. That’s on top of the fact that you are likely to need to bring soil from the Milky Way along to conduct your agriculture. If you want to feed 100,000 people, that’s a lot of soil, especially since everything in Andromeda is unlikely to be edible, if not outright lethal to ingest, by milky way species.

        2. Joe Informatico says:

          With all that space, why not bring thousands and thousands of frozen fertilized embryos? Once you have colonies up and running and reasonably secure, you can very quickly increase the population.

          1. LHN says:

            Frozen embryos can help with genetic diversity. But they don’t help with population growth unless the problem is infertility. It’s the decade plus of human (asari..etc.) effort involved in turning an embryo into a functional adult that’s likely to be the limiting factor.

            Unless they do whatever Cerberus did in the Citadel DLC, anyway. But that was implied to be rather more expensive than traditional childrearing, and it’s unclear if they brought that (secret) tech to Andromeda anyway.

  14. Joshua says:

    “You’re so great. People look up to you. People love you. You’re special. You’re important. Now go do these missions and don’t ask any questions.”

    Yep. We discussed this a few weeks ago, but game designers need to get over this weird tendency to give authority to the player character and then completely ignore it. If you want the player to do missions in the order you designed, you have to leave the character as someone who would reasonably follow these orders.

    Of course, this reminds me of Shamus’s review of NWN 2, where the main character is just agreeing to do a few tasks in return for being able to enter a restricted area and interview someone, but then the scope of the “tasks” begins to greatly exceed the benefit promised to the character in return, or at least greatly exceeds the cost to the person providing the benefit (in return for giving you permission to enter a restricted area for about an hour with a chaperone, you have to completely destroy the local Mafia for them). At some point, designers should really give some thought to “Why is the main character following these orders given their title/background/motivations?”

    1. Xeorm says:

      Agreed. I remember WoW did the same. Was especially egregious in Draenor. You can’ t continually treat your character as the one in charge and yet give so little agency. So borked up.

      1. Joshua says:

        Ah, LOTRO had something like this too. In the Rohan region, which was split into the (earlier) East Rohan, followed by the later expansion which introduced West Rohan, there was an opportunity to rebuild a town and become its Thane, and this was basically the end-game of that expansion. Later, in West Rohan, you’re essentially working on behalf of King Theoden, Eowyn, Gandalf, etc., in addition to likely being Rohirrim nobility yourself, and people are still jerking you around.

        There’s one especially egregious sub-plot where one of the Thanes of the Reeve (being a traitor like Wormtongue) sends you on all kinds of missions to try to get you killed, while at the same time bumping off the other nobility in his region, culminating with his own liege lady, the Reeve. What’s going on is not especially subtle, and yet you’re not allowed to do anything but meekly go along with it all like the clueless, non-authoritative butt-monkey you are.

  15. Jabrwock says:

    The parallax did kind of break things, they should have made it a static image, since the screen can’t exactly update the image based on your personal position (unless it was only tracking you, which would make the screen very confusing for anyone else), and there’s no point in having such a detailed hologram for what is essentially a window. But ignoring that it’s a great idea. Why have transparent aluminum when you could armour-plate the bridge and just have sensors? Especially in space, when distances are so huge that relying on the mark-1 eyeball is pointless anyway?

    I didn’t see a disconnect between them and the holograms though (assuming the parallax was just a design goof), because the holograms were comms, not sensors. I can see going for lossy compression for comms (similar to Star Wars), you want reliable long-range, encryptable, hard to jam communications, so you have to sacrifice a lot of data if you also want video. But for sensors that are just piping data in from cameras around the ship, you can afford a larger bandwidth.

  16. Nessus says:

    The Nexus seems particularly baffling to me because the Citadel was really just a handful of ordinary maps in each game. The whole thing of it being a giant city-sized space station was just window skybox. In terms of stuff the player actually had access to, it all could fit on a moderately sized cruiser.

    So on top of there being no narrative reason, there’s no actual gameplay reason for the Nexus to be that big either. It’s big purely because of the pure abstract concept of the Citadel, rather than literally any actual function the Citadel fulfilled in the games.

    Hell, the Nexus is so big, my first thought when seeing is “so why do we even need the arks?” It could contain the arcs a hundred times over, so why not just build that cryopod storage space directly into the Cita- I mean the Nexus?

    My second thought is “that thing must be full of enough living space, manufacturing facilities, etc to be a colony in its own right”. Basically, when I first saw the Nexus before the game was out, I just naturally assumed that it would be the second gen of Andromedan-born colonists that would be moving out to colonize planets, and the first generation would live entirely on the cit- the Nexus while scouting and preparing for the eventual expansion to planets. Because that’s literally the only possible logical reason for a ship that big (apart from maybe the engines needing to be that big in order to make an intergalactic FTL jump… but we know that’s not the case b/c of the arks).

    It makes no sense to have a Manhattan-sized habitat built to serve a total combined population lower than Fargo, and then claim it only has room for literally one or two city blocks worth of people.

    I also miss the interior/exterior continuity from ME1. Apart from it just being visually cool, it was kind of immersion breaking and super annoying to have to go through full undocking and redocking cutscenes every time I wanted to just pop on and off my ship to do some minor thing.

    1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

      Something else that seems worth noting despite the fact that it’s not mentioned in this article is that when the Initiative was launched, the Nexus was only partially built: It was only the “top fin” section and it was the plan to get to Andromeda and complete its construction there by adding the ring section and the “bottom fin” section.

      You could almost call it a success that they got to Andromeda and somehow managed to get the ring section built as well as a significant portion of the bottom fin section built despite all the drastic obstacles they were facing. But then it begs the question of how they managed to have this bit of success with everything else going wrong. How many years did it take to build the initial section of the Nexus? Yet in a matter of months – despite a fraction of the crew – they were able to mine resources, manufacture the raw materials into usable structures, and assemble those structures into a significant portion of the station.

      It may be that all stuff that was happening before the uprising and everything was buzzing along, but it came to a crashing halt when a significant portion of the crew was exiled. Even if so, I have a hard time believing that even the pre-exile Nexus had the capabilities that seem to be displayed by how much of the station was manufactured and assembled in Andromeda.

      It might be a matter that they thought “This is all just crap that the nerds will worry about, but who cares about them?” but it seems more likely that it’s the case that they didn’t think it through themselves and thought the could apply the rule of cool to having a Citadel-like structure.

      1. Nessus says:

        And see to me that just begs the question “why are planets so critical, when you’ve basically just established they have the ability to build more nexuses (nexii?)?

        I mean, to me that implies the top fin of the Nexus is mostly manufacturing and resource processing facilities. And the fact that they’re expected to complete the Nexus before planetary colonization is fully underway (because the point of the nexus is to facilitate said colonization) implies they’re set up to harvest their raw materials from non-planetary sources like asteroids and such (provided they weren’t stupid enough to be carrying that mass with them from the Milky Way, as that would contradict the need to build the damned thing on location).

        All that adds up to the ability to build more Nexuses. So why even bring up terraforming when, going by how fast construction is apparently progressing DESPITE the initiative being in a shambles and critically undermanned, multiplying nexuses would be far easier and quicker. That it’d mean not having to risk competing with the locals for territory at all is just the cherry on top.

        The fact that that they not only have the capability to build the Nexus at all, but to build it under such overwhelmingly adverse circumstances basically eliminates the need for planetary colonization. The only people who NEED planetary colonies are the people who rebelled and left the initiative.

        Which in turn emotes Ryder from “pathfinder” to enforcer. The whole “pathfinder” shtick is just a vanity title: her real job is mopping up all those stray humans who might make trouble for the initiative down the line, either diplomatically or by squatting on potential future colony sites. She’s Judge Ryder bringing the Law to the cursed earth.

  17. OldOak says:

    I have no idea why Andromeda cutscenes have black bars on the SIDES of the view.

    0.02 credits: Frostbite/video settings.
    Besides the resolution, and aspect ratio, there is also a zoom/percentage setting that could bring its own “vision” on how you should see on your screen. Hope this helps.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      That’s how not why. :S

      1. OldOak says:

        Well, I thought the why was implicit: the mismatching of all these settings.
        E.g. Shamus’ screenshots seem to be a result of using a (say) 1920×1080 resolution with a 16:10 aspect ratio (although that resolution shouldn’t be available given the aspect ratio).
        … you robbed me of extra 0.02 credits :-D !

  18. Crimson Dragoon says:

    The “lack of player agency” is one of those things that once you recognize it, you see it everywhere in games. I’m playing through RDR 2 right now, and that’s definitely an issue there. Sure, that’s a pretty standard MO for Rockstar. They love making the player character a gofer for other characters, but it seems so out of place here. For one, it doesn’t make a lot of sense story-wise. Arthur is supposed one of the higher ups in his gang, and yet almost none of the schemes or heists are his. They’re always somebody else’s plan and Arthur just ends up tagging along and following simple instructions. And second, this is coming off of GTA V’s heist system, which did a great job in giving the player agency on big missions. It would make perfect sense to use in RDR 2, and yet its completely absent.

    1. Viktor says:

      Again, Saint’s Row figured that out. You have the other characters come to the PC with “Here’s some intel/an idea/a person we’re pissed at” and then have the PC say “Okay, let’s do X in response to that”. The dialogue is still pre-written, but by moving the actual plan to coming from the PC, you sell that the PC is the one in charge, even though the player still doesn’t get to have any influence.

    2. Gethsemani says:

      RDR 2 justifies it a bit if you stick around the camp and talk to people. Dutch and Hosea are the leaders of the gang, while Arthur is basically the “senior gun” (I believe this is also the title that the credits give him). Arthur is the main enforcer, the gang relies on his capacity for violence and handiness with weapons, but it is also made clear throughout the plot that most of the gang considers Arthur the dumb, loyal brute.

      I don’t know how far in you are, but without spoling too much a significant part of his character development is him learning to question Dutch’s decisions and speaking up for himself. As the plot moves to an end, several missions are in fact instigated or influenced by Arthur deciding to take action instead of just being a loyal follower. As it is a Rockstar game, you still don’t get a ton of player agency in missions, but the story shows that it is Arthur taking action on his own initiative.

  19. MelfinatheBlue says:

    Ryder, get that lazy eye fixed! Oh wait, you can’t, we used up all our resources trying to build Citadel 2.0 even though we didn’t need it with the original plan.

    Yup, that is my entire take away. Oh that, and man I can’t help thinking this idea (and game) had the worst problem of scope creep ever…

      1. Coming Second says:

        Starting to see That Face now whenever someone says ‘It’s fine’ irl.

  20. slug camargo says:

    It’s been a long time since I last touched a Mass Effect, but didn’t most of the conversations actually have pretty complex animations in every title? I distinctly remember having been blown away by that very detail, after having played Fallout 3 nonstop for a year, what with its infamous, soulless talking mannequins. I didn’t even know there were games were regular conversations looked like a small in-game cutscene.

    In fact, I also remember it was quite notably jarring when some Mass Effect characters didn’t have the cool animated conversations (like DLC-added characters, and that abominable Jessica Chobot… thing they did).

    1. Christopher says:

      You’re thinking of their regular old animation library thing. After Andromeda was such a mess, people looked into reasons, and brought the automated system that games like Witcher 3 and Bioware use to the forefront, where you’re using a library of animations for their arms, heads, etc, along with an automated face thing, and then tweaking them mildly as you see fit or have time to. You know the drill – camera zooms in on the torso as the dialogue wheel appears, someone crosses and uncrosses their arms, scratches the back of their necks, etc. The DLC characters, notably, had nothing of the sort outside of their own DLC.

      Here, it’s more talking about proper in-game cutscenes, as opposed to their regular shot-reverse shot dialogue wheels. In Dragon Age Inquisition, pretty much every level of the companions’ Social Links had these specific cutscenes rather than regular dialogue. Iron Bull sparring with Cassandra, playing cards with your crew, those sorts of things. They were janky, ’cause it’s Bioware, but there’s more to it than a dialogue wheel in terms of visual storytelling. And I don’t think it was unheard of before DAI, either. Mass Effect 3 had the scene where Garrus and Shepard have a sniping competition in the Citadel for instance. But the original Mass Effect 1 had, at least to my memory, none of it. It’s just one of the many reasons every character seemed more bland in that game, they didn’t get to move around interestingly outside of main story cutscenes.

      I think it’s a big improvement. Effort or no, that’s the kinda thing that improves their storytelling beyond standing and place and looking at people. If their models and animations were less janky, it’d be a huge boost.

      1. slug camargo says:

        I think we’re kinda saying the same thing.

        I was commenting on this bit of the article:

        The companion conversations are a little more sophisticated this time around. In the previous games, Garrus and Shepard would stand facing one another and we’d have the conversation in simple shot / reverse shot style. But here on the Tempest our conversations feel more like cutscenes. Vetra will be using her computer or tinkering with some gear. Cora will be taking care of her plants. Jaal will be emoting for the people in the cheap seats. (There are also simpler conversations in the style of the earlier games. This usually happens with characters hanging out in the common area rather than hiding behind loading doors.)

        My reasoning being that this isn’t something new in Andromeda; in fact that’s one detail I distinctly remember from every ME (well, ME2 and ME3 at the very least). I’m positively sure that the first conversation I remember being impressed by is one with that Asari pimp in the club at Omega, and that was in ME2. So they have been doing this for a while.

  21. Thomas says:

    I really liked the way the Nexus rebuilt itself as the story went on – but that was ruined by the fact that you never need to go to the Nexus, it’s annoying when you do and the Nexus makes no sense.

    It’s another example of Andromeda copying Inquisition, but doing everything work. Instead of the spacestation, you should have set up a city on the first world you landed on, Skyhold style. Not only does it make more sense, it’s cooler (you’re a settlement on an alien planet!) and it anchors the narrative. You’ve got a home on an alien world, but if you don’t build up the resources to defend it and keep it running, it will collapse. Then everything you can do will be building up the dream of New Colony.

    In comparison, the game never managed to convince me that it was important to set up tiny farms on as many planets as possible, before they’d even utilised 16 acres of space, never mind a planet’s worth.

    1. NAMENAMENAMENAME says:

      To be honest I felt the Nexus fixed itself too quickly. The lights are all turned on by the time you first leave the Nexus and about the time you finish the story stuff on Eos (maybe by the time you rescue Moshae Sjefa, I can’t recall off the top of my head) they’ve cleared away all the crates lying around and given Tann a secretary. I don’t seem to recall any physical changes in the Nexus in the late game at all however, just the occasional new ambient NPC dialogue or news broadcast.

      What I’d liked to have seen more was for the initial Nexus to have been in a worse state and for it to have improved more slowly. So initially there’d be only emergency lighting and lots of obvious signs of recent fighting (bullet holes, scorch marks, barricades) to sell the idea of the Uprising as a recent event, maybe a few impromptu shacks in the wider more open spaces to represent the life support not working properly in the supposed living quarters. Basically, design the environment so it made it clear in your first few visits that the Initiative were barely holding on. Then as you rescued arks and secured more worlds, more of the lights on the Nexus would come on and the battle damage would get repaired or cleared away.

      Like you said though, they also missed a lot with how uninteractive colonies were as well. Even the initial scientific outpost/military outpost choice on Eos isn’t replicated elsewhere and seems to have no reflection on later sidequests or gameplay- for example during Liam’s Loyalty mission you’re aided by colonists on Eos, even though I picked for the colony to be primarily military in nature the mission specifically has a line referring to the settlers as not soldiers but engineers that to justify its main gimmick. While I suppose it would be a bit much to ask for that the devs create an entirely new mission to reflect the choice it still galled me that the one time I can actually make a choice about a colony it serves no purpose other than to have NPCs complain about how I should have chosen differently as even in other side-quests the game never seems to acknowledge that my choice could have also had an actual impact on how capable the colony should be to withstand attack.

      1. Thomas says:

        I didn’t get further than Moshae Sjefa, that explains why I left with a good impression of the Nexus I guess!

        1. NAMENAMENAMENAME says:

          That’d explain it. I was a bit of a completionist and so ended up visiting the Nexus fairly often to advance sidequests even later in the plot. About the most reactive I remember the Nexus getting to events post Aya was that every time an Ark arrived at the station there was a bit near where the Tempest lands where colonists from the most recently arrived Ark would be passing through an airport-security style checkpoint with people asking the person manning it about missing family members. Other than that, rescued Arks would turn up on the 3d model of the Nexus in the galaxy map, and a few unique NPCs could spawn (most notably the other Pathfinders if you do the side-quests to find them). Sadly that was about it, I don’t recall any new areas of the station opening up to explore in the late game or other changes.

  22. anddill says:

    The Tempest windows are actual windows. The Hex-Pattern is just a force field reinforcing the structural integrity. And if you look from the outside you can make out the window- regions on the hull. They are just coatet with a highly reflective layer like the visors of (real) Spacesuits.
    At least this ist what I assumed at my first walk through the ship.

  23. Mr. Wolf says:

    I’m wondering where all that greenery came from. Did it survive the 600 year deep space voyage or did the Nexus put priority on gardeners when choosing personnel?

    1. Nessus says:

      Maybe they’re all plastic plants?

      To be fair, our modern experience with navy submarines and the like indicates that having some brightness and color has a non-trivial on morale when people are stuck in a can and cut off from openness and sunlight for extended periods. even something as simple as painting some foliage on the walls of the mess helps.

      Being stuck for months if not years in a closed metal-and-plasic environment takes a toll on our animal brains. Doesn’t matter if it’s sleek and clean or grungy and industrial, people get depressed and squirrelly when kept under those conditions long term. You do not want that when everyone’s life may depend on you being alert and engaged.

    2. Philadelphus says:

      Now I’m imagining a world where the Initiative planted all this nice greenery before they left the Milky Way…only to get to Andromeda and discover it’s turned into a sprawling impenetrable jungle in 600 years.

  24. Gotta totally agree regarding Ryder and Tann.
    If Ryder had persuaded a reluctant Tann into allowing Ryder to do this or that, then the player would feel more in control (even if not really).

    Also I totally forgot about the view out the “window” when docket at the nexus. Giant buildings and forests/parks? I wanted to go there but you are stuck on this dinky little docking port.

    This was the same nitpick I had with Mass Effect 1 and the citadel, it was supposed to be huge and house like millions yet you could only go a few places and there were very few NPCs around.

    Sure, not everyone can be Cyberpunk 2077 and fill a city street crossing with like a hundred NPCs walking around like schools of fish but something in-between would be nice.

  25. Gabett says:

    So many people here seem to like the Tempest that I need to throw my negativity in, sorry guys.

    I absolutely hate the ship. Yes, it’s cool that it is a single thing without loading screens, but that’s about it. The design of the Tempest is an absolute nightmare.

    First, there is the captain’s cabin, which is just a stupid amount of wasted space. I get it that they wanted to amaze the player, but it is so impractical, it’s too immersion breaking for me to enjoy. It’s not only the fact that why would Ryder have that much more space than everyone else combined, but it isn’t even filled up with anything to at least partly justify it. It’s literally empty space. This is not supposed to be a luxus yacht, it’s a scouting ship.

    This fact is made even more blatantly stupid when you look at the crew’s quarters, which is not only not even half the size of Ryder’s, but it doesn’t even have enough beds for everyone on the ship! (iirc, I admittedly haven’t fired up the game in a long time). I get it that they don’t sleep at the same time, but they still need a personal space, and you can’t really expect everyone to change the sheets every time they want to go to bed. And then there is the bathroon which is a joke in and in itself, with a single toilet (or maybe two?) not even seperated from the showers. Not to mention that they gave Ryder all that empty space in her cabin, but not her own bathroom, something that even Shepard’s military ship had?

    The kitchen seems very tiny as well, but I can let that one slide because it still seems functional. But the medbay… It seems standard procedure that a squad on the field consists of three people. (I don’t think the game even lets you leave with anything less?) What if all three of them get severely injured? Well, sucks to be them because there are only two beds in the medbay!

    The cockpit I don’t really have problems with, but then behind it we have a SINGLE escape pod, and again iirc it can’t even fit the whole crew in. Across from it is where the crew can get their armor and weapons, but… Why? We only use the airlock that is there when we enter spaceports, the ONLY places where we hopefully don’t need our weapons. Every time we land on a planet, we use the ramp next to the Nomad, so it would make much more sense to put our shit there. It’s also a more central point and on the same level as the crew’s quarters, so it’s much easier to access in case of an emergency.

    Speaking of the space by the Nomad, why do we have two rooms there that are used for nothing? One is so useless that Liam can just plop a couch in there and basically claim it for himself without any consequences. At least Vetra’s room looks like it was intended to be used as some sort of storage/computer lab (which we severely lack on a ship that’s supposed to scout and analyze stuff….) I understand that these are there so that everyone can have their own space and doors for the cutscenes, but they make no sense from a design standpoint.

    Lastly (yes, I’ll stop complaining now) the conference room. I actually like that one, and it’s perfect for crew meetings and public calls. But what about calls and meetings that should be private? There should be a closed off space for that, possibly in a section of Ryder’s cabin.

    So while the ship does look nice, I won’t deny that, it makes zero sense to be designed that way. It breaks the immersion so hard I can’t simply not acknowledge it.

    1. Shen says:

      Seconded, except I’m not even a fan of the “Normandy again” look. Building a smaller, practical recon ship into something beautiful and iconic should have been a chance the art designers were happy to tackle. See: Firefly. Every time I saw the damn thing, I could only think of what a wasted opportunity it, and the whole game ultimately, was.

    2. Syal says:

      it doesn’t even have enough beds for everyone on the ship!

      Going to mention that real-life submarines have that issue. I’m pretty sure they don’t have the giant captain’s cabin.

    3. SPCTRE says:

      Definitely agreed on Ryder’s giganto-cabin in relation to everything else.

      Your other issues I can more or less handwave personally, but Ryder’s cabin is ridiculous (and as you pointed out, doesn’t even have a loo!).

  26. kincajou says:

    Reading this and the comments i just can’t help but wondering how awesome it would be if the nexus had been a modular ship constructed from the interlocking of all the arks, it would really allow for some cool story/setting elements!

    – you could emphasise the importance of the loss of some of the initiative by having big obvious holes in the “interlocked” structure

    – you could play with the idea of the ME multicultural settings by having each ark visibly different outside with what looks like a last minute scaffolding add-on that allows all the ships to interconnect (hell this would also help the idea of “we’re leaving because of the reapers and things need to be quick and efficient rather than look pretty”)

    – with a structure of interlocked ships you can also play with the interior aesthetics of each race, each section of the “interlocked” citader could have it’s own flavour (maybe even it’s own purpose…let’s not get carried away)

    – You massively limit the space and make it feel more like the “cobbled together” ISS than the citadel, which gives it a unique feeling and also gives another reason why people really want out, so they can have more space (you could have some cool things where different species are just fed up of living in such close quarters with each other because of cultural mismatch)

    (i’m thinking the ships interlock into a doghnut so they can establish artificial gravity and all that jazz, it would also help see the “missing links” and make it meaningful when you finally reunite with splintered groups and their “piece” of the system allows for more/better gravity for the whole system. And if you can’t animate 0g for for many different reasons, you could wave it off with something like magnetic boots as done in the expanse)

    i now wish the andromeda initiative was a set of two games (maybe even three, split game 2) going along the lines of:

    1- the initiative is travelling in deep space, you get to use all your old models/races and just play on their interactions, get people feeling like traditional ME is still there but we’re going somewhere… have the central conflict revolve around a generation ship/ maybe a reaper scout giving chase/etc. Finish with either arrival planned in the next generation (allows your character to be remembered as someone in the next game) or arrival “tomorrow”.

    2- the initiative arrives, step one is to establish a “limited” survival of the different species by locking in ships, deqling with many races with cabin fever and all the required repairs, etc. Step two is colonisation, first contact and eventual integration in a new galactic order (or aiding in the creation of one, if you really want to go big… though that may be too egregious).
    Culminate the overarching theme of exploration and colonisation with the initiative finding a little place to call home, sending a message back to the milky way and hinting that “there is so much left to discover on andromeda…” (you could even imply, depending on player agency that the future discovery will be through culture, technology, exploration, military advancement…)

  27. PPX14 says:

    But this is the least obtrusive the loading has ever been. The only impediment to getting around is the short ladder between the upper and lower deck. I’ll take that over the slow-ass Normandy 1 elevator any day.

    Once I got an SSD, the Mass Effect 3 loading screens went so fast I couldn’t even read the Hints and Tips.

  28. PPX14 says:

    I have no idea why Andromeda cutscenes have black bars on the SIDES of the view. Usually cinematics try to make the view wider with bars at the top and bottom. Are we trying to imitate analog television?

    Why on EARTH did ME3 have DVD quality 480p looking cinematics? It looked so bad compared with a) ME2 space cutscenes b) the (not exactly amazing) in-game graphics themselves that it was switching from! It was so jarring.

  29. Luis says:

    Nexus is a huge mass relay. It will connect Citadel – Nexus that will connect Milky Way – Andromeda.

    It was discovered partially destroyed. It was built by the Reapers. It was an old Citadel.

  30. Leviathan902 says:

    I’ll throw in another vote for caring about the spatial continuity. It contributed significantly to immersion and a lot of the little touches like that that did so were sanded off in favor of “streamlining” or replacing with loading screens or whatever. I remember playing the original Mass Effect late at night in my basement with all the lights turned off and I FELT like an intergalactic explorer discovering new worlds and species. No other ME game has come close to achieving that feel and while some of that can be blamed on them taking place in a pre-existing setting established in the first game (so some of the new shininess is gone) it didn’t have to be that way, ESPECIALLY in THIS game which takes place in a whole new galaxy.

    Lastly, that spatial continuity actually served a gameplay function and made logical sense. I’ve landed, now I walk to my loadout station, choose my gear and my squad and walk out the door. In ME:A you would just land with whatever you had and be out on the ground. If you wanted to change your squad and gear you had to find some random terminal somewhere. Makes no sense.

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