For the first chapter of the game, all the Kett speak in gibberish and you can’t understand any of them. But then we run into the Archon and he speaks to us in English. In the next section we’re going to run into new aliens and it’ll do the same thing: Gibberish, then a sudden switch to plain English when we meet an important character.
In sci-fi, there are several ways you can handle the language problem:
Action Adventure: Everyone speaks / understands English and the audience isn’t supposed to worry about languages. Everyone can usually understand everyone else, even if the audience can’t. (Chewbacca, R2D2, Groot.)
Soft sci-fi: We have magical universal translators so we HEAR everyone in English, even though they’re speaking different languages. (Most of Trek.)
Hard sci-fi: Communication is difficult. If you want to talk to someone, you need to know their language. There are a lot of them, and not all of them are based on sound. Good luck.
I have no idea what Andromeda is trying to do. It’s obvious the writer doesn’t want to worry about it, so why did they introduce the idea of a language barrier in the first place? Why is the Archon suddenly able to talk to us? You’ve explicitly acknowledged that a language barrier exists, and then you’re not explaining how it was overcome!
At one point in the gameDuring the mission to the Meridian space station. SAM has to listen to some alien jabbering and repeat it back to us in English, like an interpreter. In another sceneWhen we’re landing on Aya, the Angaran home. someone refers to “translators”, implying we’re using some sort of Trek-style translator and everyone is really just speaking their own language. Elsewhere you’ll find situations where some Kett speak English and some don’t.
Later in the gameWhen we storm the Kett flagship. we get to a point where you need to open a Kett door using voice activation, and the game gives you two choices: Ryder can try to bluff the door using her imitation of Kett-speak, which is essentially babble. Alternatively, she can command it using plain English. If you choose gibberish, Sara tries to fake her way through making random sounds. Then someone else on the team laughs at her, “What made you think that would work?”
WHY WOULD ANYONE EXPECT ENGLISH TO WORK? BOTH OPTIONS ARE EQUALLY NONSENSICAL!
But for whatever reason, the door opens for English voice commands.
The writer obviously doesn’t care about tackling hard sci-fi language problems, but then they keep bringing up the subject while also changing their unexplained rules on how it all works. This is just as nonsensical as a galaxy where everyone speaks English, but it’s paying all the dialog costs of a more serious form of sci-fi while also distracting us with confusing situations it doesn’t care to explain.
At another point, our squadmate Jaal corrects Ryder on her usage of who / whom. This is strange because he’s from another galaxy and hasn’t had time to learn the nuances of the langage. And this is the type of detail a magical translation machine would simply gloss over. Worse, Addison did the same thing at the start of the game. Why is Mass Effect doing the grammar nazi thing? Why would these two very different characters engage in this same annoying behavior?
At the end of the day, this is a very minor issue. But it’s indicative of the slapdash “too many cooks” problem the game seems to suffer from. It feels like the team never agreed on what kind of game they were making. Different parts of the game were built using different assumptions and it feels like nobody was on the same page.
The Archon flagship has locked down the Tempest or used a tractor beam or whatever. Once the Archon’s tedious villainous exposition is over, SAM gets control back and the good guys fly into the Scourge to escape the pursuit. That’s a fine idea for an escape. The problem is that the writer does the exact same thing at the very end of the game but every character reacts as if it’s a clever new idea. It’s a bit like having the Ghostbusters do the trick of crossing the streams in the middle of the movie and then again for the big finale. It takes the punch out of the ending.
Anyway, the Tempest escapes but ends up damaged in the pursuit through the scourge. So they must land on the nearest planet, which is where they were headed anyway. When they arrive, they meet the Angaran people. These are the Angarans:
The Angarans and the Kett are the only two aliens we meet in Andromeda. The writer left behind the Geth, Volus, Hannar, Elchor, Vorcha, Batarian, Quarians, Yahg, Collectors, RachniTo be fair, the Yahg and Collectors aren’t really full species with stories and history, and the Rachni are effectively extinct., and Drell, and to replace them we got the Angara and Kett. We got rid of eleven(!!!) alien species and gained two. This was the writer’s big chance to build a vast new story-world to explore, and they aimed so low and did so little with that opportunity.
Worse, the Angara don’t seem to know anyone besides the Kett. They act like this moment is the first time they ever encountered a friendly species. (And then a little later in the story we see planets where humans and Angarans have been living side-by-side for months. It’s weird.) They’ve been a spacefaring species for centuries and yet we’re the first aliens they’ve ever talked to? The story doesn’t even try to hint that maybe we’re seeing some small corner of a larger whole, and that there are other species out there to meet in future games.
How I’d have done it:
Obviously I’m the sort of writer who would go crazy and invent ten new alien species and give them all personalities and histories and make them all wildly different in terms of physiology and then the modeling and animation team would laugh at me and say “no” because apparently the management doesn’t want to waste money on frivolous things like space aliens in our game about meeting space aliens.
Assuming I’m constrained to a single friendly species, then what we need to do is make it clear we’re only seeing part of a larger whole. The Angara can mention that the scourge keeps explorers and traders away these days, and the Kett pick off everyone else. The Angara are hemmed in this spot between the scourge and the Kett and their fight for survival doesn’t leave them a lot of time for exploration and diplomacy. Maybe Jaal makes reference to some empire or war or other large-scale conflict, but says he’s been fighting the Kett his entire life so he’s never taken much of an interest in events beyond the Heleus Cluster.
I understand if your time and budget constraints force you to make a game “small”, but that doesn’t mean the world itself should be similarly constrained. Even if you don’t show it, hint at it so it can be used next time.
I was really annoyed that this game only gave us two new species, and their faces look so much alike. Then later we learn that the Kett ARE the Angara, so this is intentional. But that means we only really get one new species in this game. I don’t know. No matter how you look at it, it’s disappointing.
Sara gets off the ship to parlay with the Angara while everyone else enacts repairs. The Angara want to figure out if they can trust you or not, because their war with the Kett has made them kinda xenophobic. One of the aliens is Jaal, and he volunteers to join your crew to evaluate your people.
Jaal is a bundle of missed opportunities. If you’re only going to have one alien species in your galaxy, then they need to be really interesting. Unfortunately, the Angara have more in common with humans than humans have in common with the species they brought with them.
To be fair, I really love the performance the actor put into him. He’s got this Shakespearean vibe that makes all of his dialog sound a lot more impressive than it really is. It’s like Ian McKellen’s performance as Gandalf: His intonation makes even mundane dialog sound vaguely profound. But a great actor can’t be expected to carry the work of a weak writer, and so Jaal feels like a drama major in a rubber mask has joined your crew.
As you drive around in the Nomad, there are these short little conversations that you get between pairs of characters. These are pretty good, although these once-per game exchanges have a lower priority than the stupid repetitive notifications characters spew out. So you end up with this:
Jaal: So, Cora… what made you want to leave your home and family to come to Andromeda?
Cora: That’s a big question. I think mostly it’s because-
SAM: Pathfinder: I am detecting a Kett presence ahead.
Cora: Let’s get ’em!
And now you will never hear Cora’s answer because SAM decided to notify you about the opportunity to jump out and shoot a bunch of irrelevant dudes at one of the endless number of outposts the designer has vomited all over the map, and which you could see just fine with your own eyeballs.
Anyway, some of these exchanges are amusing, but they often work to make the Angarans as boring as possible. Some examples:
At one point Cora notices that Jaal smells really good and she asks him about his cologne. So then I think this is a setup for some misunderstanding and he’s actually just letting off natural pheromones and then it’s all awkward. But no. Apparently the Angara have cologne and in an unbelievable stroke of luck they happen to enjoy the same types of fragrances that humans do.
Cora asks Jaal if he has any brothers and sisters. He replies that he has eight, and Cora asks how he managed with such a large family. And here I (stupidly) expect the writer to create a little misunderstanding and we’ll discoverer that eight is a really tiny family and females typically have litters of a dozen or more. And that’s technically how it is. The problem is that the Angaran have the exact same attitudes about family size as modern-day human beings do. Their families are large, but Jaal is aware that they’re “large” instead of seeing this as normal. He talks about how hard it was growing up with so many brothers and sisters. Our space alien apparently views himself through a human-centric lens.
Jaal ought to have his mind blown when he comes aboard the Tempest. After centuries of isolation, he finds himself on a ship with Human, Asari, Salarian, Turian and Krogan. There are more intelligent alien species inside the Tempest than his people have ever met. This should send a shockwave through his culture. Instead you just get a short comment from him about how well everyone gets along.
Jaal explains that Angarans “feel emotions very strongly”. This is how the writer has conceptualized them, but that’s not how they should see themselves! They should see their own behavior as baseline “normal”. If you want to sell the notion that they’re really emotional, then have Jaal comment on how everyone on the Tempest seems repressed or subdued to him. Maybe have him assume we’re all being “guarded” and “Hiding our emotions” or whatever.
As far as I can tell, the writer was trying to employ the Planet of Hats trope, where an alien species is more or less human-like except for one attribute. This attribute – whatever it is – is their “hat”. The planet of hats trope is well-suited to short-form television where you need to quickly introduce an alien and the show’s idea or theme for this episode. It also allows you to take all those obviously human actors and make them seem a little bit alien despite their low-budget minimalist makeup. Maybe you can’t make them seem strange in appearance, but you can at least make them strange in behavior.
Apparently having strong emotions is the hat the Angara are wearing. Once again, the writer seems to be drawing from tropes without knowing what they’re for or how they’re supposed to be used. The strong emotions thing is incredibly inconsistent. On paper, these guys should be the opposite of Trek Vulcans. They should be wearing their emotions on their sleeve. I’d expect them to be passionate, impulsive, and hotheaded. At best, this comes down to Jaal telling us his people are emotional. It feels less like they have strong emotions and more like they’re just emotionally random. In a game where the facial animations are so janky, having a species defined entirely by their capacity to emote seems like a disastrous design choice.
Even if the animators were up to the job, this is still a bad choice because it doesn’t tell us anything about them in a cultural sense.
How I’d have done it:
I really think this “strong emotions” angle is a bad one for space aliens from another galaxy for all the reasons I listed above. But I guess if it was my job to make this work I’d imagine a planet of people that act like teenagers from a Shakespearean tragedy. They would be prone to feuds. They would probably suffer from a lot of one-on-one public duels over personal honor. You’d have to be careful to avoid wounding their pride, but they would be fierce allies once you won them over. They would constantly be professing undying love and then losing interest when the next wave of hormones hit and sent them after a new mate. They would be full of lust for life and prone to debauchery. They would have countless holidays and all of them would be an excuse to drink and feast. Dwarves are often portrayed as rowdy drunks who love food, and you could probably borrow that idea for these guys. They would be very serious about honoring the dead. Perhaps they should have intense familial bonds and build a lot of their identity around their heritage.
Still, this doesn’t really fit with their premise, which is that (spoiler) they’re synthetic beings who were bio-engineered to inhabit this cluster. By “synthetic” I don’t mean they’re robots. I mean they’re synthetic in the sense that they were developed by some unknown alien intelligence rather than being a product of evolution. Why did their creator give them “strong emotions”? Was this an aesthetic choice, or did the creator see some practical value in the emotions? I’m not saying it’s a plot hole that we don’t find the answer to this question, I’m saying it’s odd that the writer never thought to bring it up. They had the makings of an interesting mystery here and they skated around it without even noticing.
The strong emotions thing would be really hard to do properly, and at the end of the day it’s just a really fancy hat. Personally, I’d prefer to do something else. If I found myself on a project like Andromeda where the team is lacking in focus and there doesn’t seem to be a singular vision, then I’d aim for something really easy. We could say that the Angaran homeworld has a strong axial tilt. This would mean that their seasons are really pronounced. This would make them a bit migratory before their space-faring days. As an interstellar species, this would manifest as a desire to travel light. They would get restless if stuck in one place for too long and their culture would have a huge emphasis on the season. Their language would be filled with sayings regarding the changing of seasons and the weather.
That’s not deep and it’s not clever, but it’s something every writer could work with and use in conversation without making a mess of things. Also, unlike “strong emotions” this wouldn’t require a bunch of expensive emoting.
Whatever. Even if we’re forced to go with “strong emotions” as our hat, this entire premise suffers from a flagrant case of telling instead of showing. The most important thing to remember when designing aliens is that everyone sees their own physiology / mating habits / culture as the default “normal”, and everyone else in relation to that. Aliens don’t say, “Our species is very warlike,” they say, “Your species is so afraid of conflict.” They don’t say, “Our families are large”, they say “Your families are tiny, how do you keep from going extinct?”.
You get the idea. I know Trek fell into the bad habit of forehead of the week. Trek could afford to have throwaway aliens because a TV show can give you two dozen episodes a year, but you only get to make a new videogame every three or four years. If you’re only going to give the player ONE new alien, then you really ought to do something more interesting than “I have blue skin and allegedly strong emotions”.
 During the mission to the Meridian space station.
 When we’re landing on Aya, the Angaran home.
 When we storm the Kett flagship.
 To be fair, the Yahg and Collectors aren’t really full species with stories and history, and the Rachni are effectively extinct.
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