One of the goals BioWare had for Andromeda was to make a game about being an explorer. That’s what the whole “Pathfinder” thing is about. Strange new worlds, new life, new civilizations, boldly go, etc etc. It’s a great thematic fit for a sci-fi series like this.
But then apparently someone else on the team decided that the Pathfinder should be fourteen months late to the party. The Nexus exiled a bunch of people and now they’re scattered all over the cluster. In the course of the game, you will never be the first person to set foot on a world. For the major worlds, you’re not even the first person from the Milky Way. You’re not even the first human. Everywhere you go you’re bumping into existing human communities and structures.
You’re not the Pathfinder, you’re a tourist.
Before we take off in our shiny new spaceship, let’s look at our starting squad members. Like Mass Effect 1, you begin with a couple of humans and then add aliens to the crew as the story goes on.
As before, your crew members have special “loyalty missions”, which are quests dedicated to their character. In Mass Effect 2, you had to do someone’s loyalty mission to enable them to survive taking part in the suicide mission. It felt a little arbitrary. How does settling Garrus’ grudge enable him to survive a rocket to the face?
Here in Andromeda, you can’t unlock the top-tier abilities for a character until you make them loyal. I like this better. It makes a little more sense and it makes them more generally useful. If I make Garrus loyal in Mass Effect 2, that’s only useful in specific circumstances during the final mission. If I make Cora loyal here in Andromeda, she’s more useful every time we’re in combat together.
Cora has this odd tic where she’s constantly mentioning that she used to be an Asari CommandoThe Asari are the biotic badasses of the galaxy, so it’s a big deal if a human is good enough to join their elite ranks. It’s like a human being good enough to join a crack unit of elite Elvish Bowmen.. It comes up in conversation with her on a regular basis. After the first couple of times, it starts to feel like she’s an insecure braggart. It’s like a guy that’s constantly telling everyone how he used to be a Navy SEAL. The first time might impress you, but by the third or fourth time you might start to feel like he’s sort of sad and desperate for attention.
The thing is, I think this is completely unintentional. I have this suspicion that different people wrote her various scenes. Each of them read her character description, saw she used to be an Asari Commando, and thought, “Oh, that’s interesting. I should make sure to work that in.”
Strangely, her loyalty mission is kind of part of the main questActually, there are kind of two “main quests” in this game. I’ll cover that later., so I’ll cover her mission when we reach that point in the game.
This is the first Mass Effect game where a human is my favorite squaddie. Although maybe that’s less about how good Cora is and more about how lackluster your alien buddies are. Ignoring her odd habit of bringing up her commando position all the time, I kinda like her generally upbeat attitude. Her side-plot about growing Milky Way plants here in Andromeda forms a sort of thematic connection with the premise of the game. It’s not much, but it’s a nice sentiment.
More importantly, one of her combat abilities is a shield boost that extends to the player character. I favor a very mobile, high-risk style of play, and her shield boost reduces the time I have to spend cowering behind cover.
Liam is unremarkable as a squaddie. He’s a nice guy. Ex-cop. His backstory pretty much writes itself. No surprises. But the thing that makes him unique is his loyalty mission, which is actually pretty divisive. Some players found it annoying or frustrating. The mission doesn’t become available until much later in the story, but let’s talk about it now.
Liam decides, all by himself, that he wants to build bridges with the local aliens. Without permission, he shares the location of the Nexus with one of the alien leaders we meet in Andromeda. She is then captured by enemy forces. The concern is that they might extract the location of the Nexus from her. The Nexus has no weaponry, so secrecy is the only thing keeping it from being boarded and plundered.
This places the entire Initiative at risk. A reasonable person might conclude that this screwup is just too big to tolerate. Like having Ashley kill Wrex, this isn’t the kind of thing the player is likely to forgive. Even after you do the mission and fix thingsBy killing all the pirates., you might wish you could dump Liam back on the Nexus so someone else can babysit him. There are several other people from the Pathfinder team inexplicably cooling their heels back at the Nexus, why can’t I dump the dangerously incompetent Liam and take one of those other guys?
In fact, the two-option dialog wheel won’t let you do anything about his failures. You can barely even chastise him.
The thing is, this side-mission is actually a major tonal shift from the rest of the game. In terms of tone, I’d say it’s closer to the Mass Effect 3 Citadel DLC: A comedy adventure where the stakes are supposedly high but you never get the sense that the bad guys have much of a chance. It’s a rollercoaster of jokes and banter.
The problem is that the rest of this game takes itself so deadly seriously that this tonal shift might feel kind of confusing. It’s like cutting from the dour mood of Thor: The Dark World to the wacky hijinks of the Thor: Ragnarok. Making things worse is that when Liam reveals his mistake, you haven’t yet begun the mission and therefore you’re still in the poe-faced tone of the main story. You’re therefore likely to take this threat very seriously – much more seriously than the characters take it. It’s not until you begin the mission that you realize you’re up against a joke of a villain and everything is going to be just fine.
I’m a bit torn here. In isolation, I really love this mission. It’s one of the exceptionally rare parts of the game where the jokes land. It’s also successful in a way that the main story isn’t. The main story tries to be serious and epic and comes off as lame and overblown. Liam’s mission tries to be a disposable adventure comedy romp and succeeds.
On the other hand, the tonal shift is messy and it doesn’t fit with the rest of the game. I think this tone would have been a far better direction for the entire project. If we compare the Citadel DLC to the rest of Mass Effect 3, we see that BioWare’s style (or perhaps their writing team) is much better suited to this lighthearted adventure than to the grim bombast they’ve been doing.
Even in terms of gameplay, the mission itself is so much more engaging than the rest of the game. You attack this immense Kett warship. You’re expecting to face some bellowing Kett menace, but then you discover this ship is actually an obsolete junker. The Kett abandoned it, and the wreck was found by a small-time space pirate. He’s been trying (unsuccessfully) to refurbish it, and you get the sense it doesn’t actually work very well. Being the captain of a huge warship has given this guy delusions of grandeur, but he’s not very bright and not at all imposing.
During the mission the artificial gravity gets screwed up and you have to navigate through the level by walking on the walls. Then it shifts again and you’re on the ceiling. You end up returning to a previous room only to discover you have to navigate the familiar space with a totally different orientation. The player has likely seen a ton of Kett bases at this point, but the shifting gravity makes it feel fresh and interesting.
The mission also gives some of the supporting characters something to do. Some of the colonists show up in a ship of their own and participate in the battle. The rest of the story makes it seem like Ryder is the only person in the galaxy that DOES anything, so this moment where the colonists are able to help themselves is a breath of fresh air.
Do we praise this mission for nailing its tone, or do we criticize it because it fails to integrate with the rest of the story? Do we praise it because the banter and jokes work, or criticize it for the restrictive two-option dialog wheel that obliges the player character to treat the situation as a minor screwup and not a dire threat as the rest of the story suggests it should be? Do we praise it for the interesting gameplay and for giving minor characters something to do, or do we criticize it for the fact that a lot of the action beats are undercut by the janky animation?
I don’t know. I liked it a lot in isolation, but you can’t play it in isolation. The fact remains that this mission doesn’t fit with the rest of the story.
Vetra joins your party just as you leave the Nexus. She’s got this thing where she’s supposedly the person you talk to when you need something on the down-low. If someone says they “know a guy” that can hook you up with something, Verta is the sort of person they’re usually talking about.
She’s fine. She’s not a classic BioWare buddy like Garrus, Mordin, Wrex, or Legion, but she’s a fine companion and has a few interesting stories to tell.
The thing that bugs me is her loyalty mission. It requires you to go to a base somewhere remote to confront some jerk for reasons that aren’t worth getting into. The problem is that as you enter the building, you hit a tripwire (in a cutscene, of course) and a trap door opens under your feet. Everyone falls in.
In this game everyone on your team has JUMP JETS. Like, rocket boots. The game firmly establishes that you can boost yourself up and even do a little climbing. The cutscene shows you grabbing onto the edge, but then your character forgets she can do pull-up and that she’s wearing rocket boots.
SAM is normally able to determine the operation and purpose of alien technology on the other side of ten feet of solid rock, but here he can’t detect a trap door built by humans using modular human building materials.
(And of course, there’s the question of why the bad guy is capturing you alive rather than killing you, but who cares?)
How I’d have done it:
I’m not saying this is totally airtight, but this saves us from the visually absurd scene of Sara clawing at the metal floor instead of effortlessly rocket-boosting free.
Barring that, don’t have Ryder grab the ledge. Just have them fall all the way. Being caught off-guard in a cutscene is annoying, but it’s not as bad as being caught off-guard AND being unable to lift herself AND forgetting her rocket boots.
We’ll pick up three more squad members as the game goes on. We’ll talk about those folks when they show up.
 The Asari are the biotic badasses of the galaxy, so it’s a big deal if a human is good enough to join their elite ranks. It’s like a human being good enough to join a crack unit of elite Elvish Bowmen.
 Actually, there are kind of two “main quests” in this game. I’ll cover that later.
 By killing all the pirates.
 Not a dialog wheel. Just spontaneous chat.
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