Andromeda Part 14: Welcome to the Voeld

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jan 22, 2019

Filed under: Mass Effect 84 comments

The next stop on our adventure is Voeld. It’s a giant iceball. As before: we visit three monoliths, then go to the vault, and then the climate begins to recover.

This is how you “fix” these screwed up planets. You do the monoliths, do the vault, and then you run around knocking over Kett outposts and doing sidequests until the habitability score reaches 100%. It’s not hard. The Kett clusters are more common than Starbucks. It doesn’t take skill or ingenuity to fix these places. All you need is the fortitude to see it through. I don’t know who at BioWare thought we wanted more Ubisoft in our BioWare games, but they were wrong.

It’s disappointing that – despite all your efforts – you never see these places change. The sky clears once you activate the vault, but that’s it. Even if you get Eos to “100% habitability”, it’s still a lifeless orange desert. Even if you get Voeld to “100% habitability”, it remains a covered in ice and snow. I guess the Initiative has an extremely flexible definition of “habitability”.

I know I'm beating a dead horse, but the facial animation in this game is SO BAD.
I know I'm beating a dead horse, but the facial animation in this game is SO BAD.

Yes, it would strain credulity to re-shape the climate within the space of a few days. But we’re already doing that! We make the numeric habitability value of this planet go up using technology we don’t understand built by aliens we don’t understand. What we end up with is a story that’s not grounded enough to give us satisfying or intriguing explanations for its technology, but it’s too grounded to give us a visual depiction of all the terraforming we’ve accomplished. That’s a really strange spot to aim for on the drama vs. details spectrum. If you don’t want to make it deep and thought-provoking then you might as well make it awesome and fun.

Actually, I suspect this is another casualty of the lack of polish. There are a few lines of dialog that make me suspect they intended to make the planets change visually. Sometimes characters will talk about the huge changes you’ve made, and it really feels like it might be setting you up for a big reveal that didn’t make it into the game.

Ubisofted

The Angara have been living here for hundreds of years and even have major cities on this planet. (That we never get to see, not even on the horizon.) If the vaults hadn't malfunctioned, the Initiative would have arrived to find one of their chosen worlds was already densely populated.
The Angara have been living here for hundreds of years and even have major cities on this planet. (That we never get to see, not even on the horizon.) If the vaults hadn't malfunctioned, the Initiative would have arrived to find one of their chosen worlds was already densely populated.

The Ubisoft design isn’t limited to the monoliths. This game has a lot of quests based on repetitive waypoint visits. In previous Mass Effect games you might get a quest like, “Find the transmitter and shut it down.” Here in Andromeda, this has been replaced with “Find all six transmitters sprinkled around the map and shut them down.”

Like I said in my write-up on Mass Effect 2, the original point of these kinds of sidequests wasn’t to make the player run all over the map. In fact, most of the quests involved going to places that were already on your to-do list, so you weren’t really going very far out of your way to do them. The point was to give you someone to talk to at the start and end of an episode / location. The questgiver would introduce you to this place and give you a feel for what’s been going on, and when you turned in the quest their dialog would give you a sense of what’s changed. The point of a sidequest isn’t the fetching or the shooting, it’s the worldbuilding and the characterization.

Sadly, this game is descended from the Mass Effect 3 DNA more than the Mass Effect 1 DNA, so now the sidequests are just an alternate source of loot and XP. The quests themselves are incredibly dry thanks to the fact that…

SAM isn’t a Character, He’s the Narrator

Sure, the quests are dull, repetitive, and totally lacking in stakes and emotional payoff, but on the upside there are lots of them for you to do!
Sure, the quests are dull, repetitive, and totally lacking in stakes and emotional payoff, but on the upside there are lots of them for you to do!

Instead of allowing the player to bump into a peasant and get some dialog, the game likes to kick off quests when you:

  • Click on a datapad
  • Click on a terminal.
  • Click on a random object in the world.

Occasionally you’ll get to talk to a person to start a quest, but most of the time the quest is resolved in the field and you don’t return to talk to them again.

SAM is the writer’s crutch. You click on the thing, and then SAM will explain the premise of the quest. Then you chase waypoint markers in the wilderness until you’re done. No story. No characters. No choices. You just raise the habitability score at the end, because someone at BioWare thought the “War Assets” concept from Mass Effect 3 would be even better with more repetition and lower stakes.

Not only is the mission design lazy, the dialog itself feels like it was generated by some sort of Mad Libs style system of auto-generated exposition. As one example of countless:

You find a dead Angaran. They have a Kett tracking transmitter hidden in their body. SAM says if we find some more of these, he can “reverse the signal”. That’s not how signals work. A radio transmitter can’t tell you the location of a passive radio listener. But whatever. SAM sends you to find more dead Angarans with tracking chips.

But then after a couple more, SAM says he needs a few more to repair the signal. Then the next one he says he’s still trying to decrypt the signal.

This quest is only five or six lines of dialog from one character. How is it possible for the writer to lose the plot like this? Okay, it doesn’t matter and I’m sure most players don’t notice or care if the technobabble gibberish is consistent, but if you’re going to write all this dialog and have an actor read it, why not just make the messages fit together? Isn’t that the point of having a writer in the first place? They come up with a premise for a story that the audience can experience. Here the writer didn’t have a premise in mind. It’s like they thought their job was just to fill X minutes with spoken dialog.

Everything is fine.
Everything is fine.

In another mission you need a door access code. Sometimes SAM can remotely hack / manipulate massive alien technology while you’re walking around and sometimes he can’t open a simple door built by humans without you finding the right access code and inputting it yourself. This is one of the latter cases. Not only have three different space pirates stored their shared password on three different data pads, and not only have all three messages been corrupted in such a way that makes them completely readable except for the password, and not only has each datapad miraculously scrambled a different part of the password, but SAM knows ahead of time he’s going to need you to find three datapads before he can open the door. It’s functionally equivalent to needing to find the three colored keycards in DOOM 1993, but it makes way less sense and also buries you in boring dialog explaining the ridiculous premise. If the designer didn’t care about the story of this quest, then why not make this a simple mechanical task with no dialog? If they did care about the story, then why didn’t they write one? They paid all the costs of having a story without getting any of the benefits!

Most of the busywork fetch quests are like this. They’re not interesting, they don’t tell a story, they contain no characters, they perform no worldbuilding, and they don’t even make basic sense on their own terms.

The story is constantly talking about technology without ever saying anything about technology. It’s like this is the cargo cult version of details-first sci-fi. It feels like the writer doesn’t really understand details-first fiction, but they know that Trek characters spend a lot of time jabbering about warp drives and deflector dishes so they figured technobabble Mad Libs must be the secret.

The Big Reveal

Thanks SAM. I was worried I was going to have to do something heroic or main-character-ish to get through the impossible shield, but looks like you've overcome this obstacle without risking us experiencing any tension, drama, or character growth. Keep it up buddy.
Thanks SAM. I was worried I was going to have to do something heroic or main-character-ish to get through the impossible shield, but looks like you've overcome this obstacle without risking us experiencing any tension, drama, or character growth. Keep it up buddy.

The Angara have a religious leader called the MoshaeMoe-SHY.. She’s been taken by the Kett. We need to rescue her. The base where she is being held is protected by a forcefield, but SAM is able to magically hack a hole in it using his bluetooth connection or whatever.

Then we get to shoot our way through this Kett fortress. Here we see classrooms where the Kett are… taught? Indoctrinated? Brainwashed? Congregate for worship? This is the one point in the game where the writer makes some vague gestures in the direction of their religion, but there’s nothing to it and it never comes up again. It feels like some parts of the game thought they were religious zealots and others thought they were mind slaves and nobody noticed the discrepancy.

This floating Angaran prisoner seems to have no idea what's going on or what's about to happen. After the transformation, he'll instantly be a full Kett and attack you on sight. So if the injection of science juice instantly brainwashes him, what's all the religious / classroom stuff for?
This floating Angaran prisoner seems to have no idea what's going on or what's about to happen. After the transformation, he'll instantly be a full Kett and attack you on sight. So if the injection of science juice instantly brainwashes him, what's all the religious / classroom stuff for?

Inside the fortress we find the Kett are transforming the captured Angaran into more Kett. This is where we discover that the Kett are an organic version of the Borg. It’s a major turning point for poor Jaal, who realizes the Kett he’s been killing all his life are actually his people. The main characters are annoyingly slow about coming to this conclusion. The player will probably figure it out long before the characters do, which means the moment of big reveal loses all of its momentum. It’s not a big reveal to the audience. Instead it’s the moment when our heroes finally catch up to what we already know.

The Cardinal

The dialog in this game is pretty hit and miss, but in this scene the quality plummets to atrocious.
The dialog in this game is pretty hit and miss, but in this scene the quality plummets to atrocious.

The final room has the Cardinal, the boss of this particular murder dungeon. She’s got a shield that makes her invulnerable. To bring down the shield, you have to shoot this metal sphere that orbits around her. (So it’s only available as a target half the time.) The sphere has a massive HP pool. Once you kill the sphere, the shield goes down. Then you’ve got four seconds to knock a dent in the Cardinal’s HP bar before a brand new sphere pops up and you start the process over again.

Heads up: If you’re playing as a Vanguard, don’t use charge on her. It’s instant death. The moment you slam into her it cuts to this frozen-in-time side view where it looks like there’s supposed to be a QTE to escape, but there isn’t. You just die. Same goes for melee attacks. Entering melee distance is instant death. (It’s a bit like the Asari Banshee in Mass Effect 3.)

The first time I fought this nutter, I used grenades to quickly kill her mooks and then tried to finish her with my guns and powers. I was there for a long, long time. Each time her shield went down I’d knock just a tiny bit off her health bar. I eventually used every single bullet in the areaIf only someone could invent a gun that didn’t require ammunition.. In the end I had to pelt her to death with my special abilityMy main ability was charge, which is suicide. My other ability was grenades, and I was out of those. So I only had 1 useful ability left. I have no idea what I would have done if my third power happened to be defensive in nature. whenever it came off cooldown. Meanwhile, my teammates annoyed her with their nerf bullets. The fight took so long that I wondered if I was under-leveledWhich I don’t think is possible here. Seems like there’s a lot of auto-leveling shenanigans going on., but then I realized her mooks seemed about right in terms of durability.

Like I said, atrocious.
Like I said, atrocious.

Ignoring the possibility of hand cramp, the fight wasn’t hard at all. The Cardinal has this attack she throws at you that has a wide AoE and can pass through walls to hit you. It’s hard to avoid and it instantly nuked my shields, but that’s all it does. By the time she shot another one, my shields had recovered. Which means I was effectively invulnerable and she was only 99% invulnerable. My victory was assured, assuming I had the patience to see it through.

The second time I fought her, I saved my grenades until her shield went down. Then I threw all of them at once and she died on the spot.

Oh good. The Moshae's immune system is apparently at 90%. She ought to be fine.
Oh good. The Moshae's immune system is apparently at 90%. She ought to be fine.

Well, she didn’t actually “die”. She gets back up and you have a dialog with her and then your character kills her in a cutscene without your input, so that’s basically terrible. But the point is I won the fight in a single cycle instead of needing to burn down her shield orb over and over.

I honestly can’t tell which of these two ridiculous broken fights is the “intended” way to play. The Cardinal is a monumental chore if you don’t know the trick and trivial if you do.

Nuke the Base

Okay, we won't destroy the place now, in exchange for you freeing the prisoners. Is there a time limit on this agreement? Can we just come back tomorrow with our nuke? Are we obligated to leave this place alone forever? If you kidnap a bunch more people again and bring them here, am I still obligated to abide by this localized truce?
Okay, we won't destroy the place now, in exchange for you freeing the prisoners. Is there a time limit on this agreement? Can we just come back tomorrow with our nuke? Are we obligated to leave this place alone forever? If you kidnap a bunch more people again and bring them here, am I still obligated to abide by this localized truce?

The game offers you a choice: You can nuke the base now, which will kill all of the Angara they have in holding cells. Or you can free the Angara but leave the base standing. The Moshae wants the former but your squad buddy Jaal wants the latter.

It’s a fine choice, I guess. As far as I could tell, it only changes the dialog you get from Jaal and the Moshae and has no mechanical / story impact. It seemed like it should be possible to rescue the Angara and THEN destroy the base. That would be a far more interesting choice. The player could promise to leave the Kett base standing in exchange for the prisoners it holds, but once the prisoners are gone you could have the option to honor your agreement or kill the base. It would only take a few lines of additional dialog, and it would make the entire scenario so much more interesting.

But whatever. Unlike the Collector base in Mass Effect 2 the writer doesn’t negate the choice later.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Moe-SHY.

[2] If only someone could invent a gun that didn’t require ammunition.

[3] My main ability was charge, which is suicide. My other ability was grenades, and I was out of those. So I only had 1 useful ability left. I have no idea what I would have done if my third power happened to be defensive in nature.

[4] Which I don’t think is possible here. Seems like there’s a lot of auto-leveling shenanigans going on.



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84 thoughts on “Andromeda Part 14: Welcome to the Voeld

  1. Grimwear says:

    I’m sorry but that Suvi facial animation is straight orangutan. She even has the hair colour to match. Who could look at that and think, “Yep. This game based on our massive bestselling series is ready to be shipped. It’s not like the fans have shown themselves to be ruthless and quick to anger over glaring faults or anything.” God I hate EA.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      What’s so bad about that scene? I’ve only got a screenshot instead of the person in motion, but it seems like she’s in the middle of breathing out through her mouth, in a sort of “Phew, that was hard.” gesture. In stills, anything can look dumb, but I don’t have enough information to know this is dumb in motion.

      1. Trevor says:

        Yeah, this seems to be picking at nits, but Mass Effect Fans are going to be Mass Effect Fans.

        I don’t recall Suvi’s facial expressions being weird in the game. She has a very intense, layered hair style that does not move at all the way it should – instead it kind of acts like a helmet on her head – but hair is hard and ultimately who cares? If the animations on one of your non-combat crew members is what makes you nerdrage quit the game… okay.

      2. lurkey says:

        Not Suvi here, still can serve as an example.

      3. Rolo says:

        “Everything can look dumb in stills” accurately describes most of the criticism directed at the animations in Andromeda, and since I romanced Suvi (and therefore probably saw most of her facework), this picture is yet another such example. Talk about forced humor.

        As someone who marathoned the four games last year, I still have no clue what’s supposed to be so bad about these animations; they have legitimate issues but overall they are still largely superior to the animations in the original trilogy and their uncanny eye-travels, robotic head turns and grotesque transitions from angry outburst to neutral stance.

      4. Spurdo Sparde says:

        The problem with that scene is that particular facial animation quirk happens all the time. All the characters are Pingu, constantly going Noot Noot whenever they speak.

    2. ClaimedInfinity says:

      It’s definitely not as bad as people say or as you could think looking at the screenshot – because it’s one of those moments that lasts only half-second at most.

      1. Nimrandir says:

        In Suvi’s case, I’d be able to overlook it, because she has comparatively little dialog. In fact, I can’t recall severe problems with any NPC’s.

        My wife and I had a problem with Ryder’s animations, though. For some reason, her mouth protrudes unnaturally far during dialog (sadly, I can’t remember if this always happens with particular sounds). Had it happened once, we’d have overlooked it, but this probably happens in one out of three lines.

  2. Coming Second says:

    ‘Flawed ignorant’? Man, if you’re going all in on awful hammy dialogue, why wouldn’t you use the correct term ignoramus? Getting your villain VA to say that would almost make the whole thing worth it.

    1. Hector says:

      Can you imagine if you came up to the bit where you actually talk to the Reaper in ME1 and it said this:

      THERE IS A REALM SO FAR BEYOND YOUR OWN YOU CANNOT EVEN IMAGINE IT. YOU FLAWED IGNORANT!

      …because now I can, and it is hilarious!

      1. Coming Second says:

        YOU EXIST BECAUSE WE ALLOW IT. YOU WILL END BECAUSE WE DEMAND IT. YOU INACCURATE STUPID.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          ORGANIC LIFE IS NOTHING BUT A GENETIC MUTATION, AN ACCIDENT. YOUR LIVES AS MEASURED IN YEARS AND DECADES. YOU DISTORTED UNQUALIFIED.

      2. tremor3258 says:

        Man, I miss that reveal in ME1. One of my favorite dramatic reveals. You’ve got a bad guy before, you’ve got flashes of something from some Prothean tech. Bad guy has weird tech from Evil AIs so is extra bad guy, on tops of showing what a Spectre can do to build a power base after a little time in the role.

        Bad guy seems interested in that thing and you’re trying to prove guy is a bad guy, so the plot happens and then…. whoops, everything you knew was technically accurate, but completely wrong.

        But that reveal relies on everything being built well together (even the Council chamber is foreshadowing when you look at it on the map!) that Andromeda… just doesn’t do. :(

        The idea of Sovereign talking like Dr. Smith from Lost in Space would almost make up for losing that, though. :D

        1. NAMENAMENAMENAME says:

          I suspect Bioware was going for a simillar kind of dimension with both the Archon and Ryder fighting over mysterious Remnant tech in this game sort of like the Saren/Shepard/Prothean angle in the first game. The problem being that the Initiative are even bigger newcomers than Humanity in ME1 and all of the ‘big’ plot twists about the galaxy relate to the Angara and Kett rather than to anything the player is going to feel linked to.

          Finding out that the reason one of the top agents of the Space UN went rogue was because he was being slowly corrupted to serve space Cthulhu and its plans for repeating a galactic genocide? That’s big. Finding out the entire galaxy has been shaped by these hidden manipulators who are planning to enter into the galactic stage and turn everything we know on its head? That’s exciting.

          Finding out that some aliens we know basically nothing about are created by kidnapping aliens we know basically nothing about? Eh, that doesn’t really change anything. Finding out that an alien race we know basically nothing about were originally created in a laboratory? I mean sure, whatever. Ancient precursor race was wiped out in some war that ended long before we arrived on the scene? Okay.

          Ultimately I think a lot (alright,some of Andromeda’s) narrative problems could have been fixed if the plot had been about fighting the Kett because they want to kill/convert/enslave everyone rather than about finding some magic terraformer thing which the Kett just incidentally wanted. You could still have the Remnant in the game- just make them a few scattered ruins that acted as bonus dungeons with the occasional hint at their having more depth to get people speculating. The game really needed some time to set up a status quo for a lot of these plot twists to feel like they matter, simply revealing parts of the setting that had never come up prior lacks any real punch.

          1. Trevor says:

            The game is “about” too many different things. It’s kind of about fighting the Kett. It’s kind of about figuring out the mystery of the Remnant and the mystery of the Scourge. It’s kind of about making friends with the Angara. It’s kind of about settling planets and doing chores on each one to fix them. It’s kind of about repairing the fuckups of the people on the Nexus who exiled and alienated the Exiles and the Krogan.

            As a result all of these plot threads lack any real punch. So yeah, I completely agree.

      3. Kestrellius says:

        Now all I can think of is the Worm Queen. Which I guess makes sense, given the aesthetic of the Kett.

        I guess Bioware’s mistake here was not making the Cardinal a bizarrely adorable tiny abomination throwing a temper tantrum?

    2. ATMachine says:

      “Flawed ignorant” is a Frenchism — you can have adjectives used as nouns that way (called “substantives”) in French. Confirmation that some of BioWare Montreal’s writers were not English-fluent.

      1. baud says:

        Even as a French, I would use ignoramus (ignare in French), but just because it sound better.

      2. Philadelphus says:

        Substantive are an English construct too (we talk about “the poor” or “the rich”, etc.), but yeah, it comes off as clunky here. Which might have been the intent, to have an alien leader seem more strange? Though that only works if they’re actually menacing enough already that them using language wrong still sounds like a threat rather than someone trying to sound more erudite than they actually are.

    3. BlueHorus says:

      Yeah. That’s up there with ‘all your bases are belong to us’ levels of bad dialogue.
      And this game doesn’t even have the excuse of English being it’s second language like ‘all your bases’.

      In other news: Shamus you analysis good.

      1. Niriel says:

        “*its second language”. But what do I know? I’m just French. Kidding aside, the lack of proofreading in games is baffling. It can’t be that expensive to ctrl-F “it’s”, “except”, “alot”, “then” or “would of did” to catch the worst offenders.

  3. Lino says:

    Even though you use it in every single entry, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the “Everything is fine” screenshot! It always cracks me up!

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      Same, although I got used to it showing up at the end, so I thought that article ended way sooner than it actually does.

    2. Mr. Wolf says:

      Personally I think it’s overused. Let’s have it appear every other entry, like it used to.

  4. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    The thing that always bothered me about Voeld is that it’s supposed to be the front lines of the Kett/Angara fight. And maybe it is, but we never see any of that. Unless this entire “war” is nothing more than tiny groups taking pot shots at each other, which I suppose would explain the conflict’s drawn out nature. It’s more likely the case that there are places of large scale battle happening on the planet and that we’re just never privy to any of it. Why send our characters where the action is at when we can send them to a spot on the planet where the Angara and Kett just sort of hang out without actively crossing paths?

    I get that with their time crunch, the developers couldn’t have given us full-scale battle scenes with hundreds of characters, but that doesn’t mean the only option is to make our characters set down in a more “boring” area. Just think about the section in ME3 on the Turian moon of Menae. Again, our characters were on the fringes without being in the thick of the battle, but that game managed to make it feel like we were in the conflict. People in the Turian base spoke and acted with the urgency of people who had battle banging at their front door. The skybox was full of weapon’s fire. The ambient noise of the level included the sound of distant weapon’s fire. It always felt like we could be in full conflict at any moment.

    We get none of that with Voeld despite it not taking a lot of extra developer resources. How much more interesting could this “boring” section of the planet been if there was a lot of heavy weapon fire on the horizon? Or if we could hear artilleries exchanging fire? The Angara could have been nervous and energetic at the prospect that they could be in the thick of a battle zone at any moment. If nothing else, it could’ve added some tension to the choice of blowing up the base or not. It adds a lot more threat to the choice if there’s a sense that Kett forces are pushing hard toward them and our heroes won’t be able to hold the position.

    As the choice is now, it feels like a false choice that the game is inflicting on us so that it can claim that it’s letting us make choices. But really, at that point I was feeling pretty confident that a whole Kett armada could drop in and my team and I could wipe it out while our Angara allies freed the prisoners and we could nuke the place as a parting gift.

    As for the choice itself, it’s odd how the options play out. If you opt to destroy the base, Jaal shoots the Cardinal without any input from Ryder. But if you decide to save the Angara captives and spare the base, the Cardinal thanks you and you get a conversation interrupt where you can decide to shoot the Cardinal or not. It’s almost like they were trying to mimic the Wrex decision on Virmire, except this choice had absolutely no stakes whatsoever. Or – as it feels like with all of the big decisions in the game – consequences were being punted to a presumed sequel.

    1. NAMENAMENAMENAME says:

      I’ve got to agree, even just putting randomly spawning angara/kett patrols into the open world sections with a high enough frequency they’d often meet eachother and start fighting would have helped sell the idea of there being some sort of larger scale conflict going on. As it is you never see angara outside of specifc side-quest spawns or their three(?) settlements. It feels a lot here like the background fluff for this planet as an active warzone was decided on after the place was already made and nobody bothered trying to set it up in the environment itself. Thus while there are a lot of cool things that could have been done to make Voeld feel like a warzone, it’s basically the ice-planet version of Eos with a couple more settlements full of NPCs you meet once and then never visit again.

      Ironically when you look at Kadara, there the devs actually put some modicum of effort into making the local conflict a gameplay element with two factions of (identical) pirates who’ll fight eachother. Since they often spawn in the same encampments it’s not uncommon for the player to come across fights that already started before they arrived. Once you’ve completed the planetary plotline one of the factions will even become friendly with the player, so it’s not as if the devs couldn’t have ported that gimmick across here due to it requiring massive amounts of additional scripting.

      1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

        One of the promises put out there in the lead-up to this game being released was that each planet would have its own story and its own central conflict to resolve. To me, this sounds like an awesome premise. But what turned out to be the case is that every planet had roughly 80% of the same story as all the other planets with 20% of toothless “local flavor” storytelling. It amounted to every planet having the same story, with it being resolved in the same way (unlocking and resetting the local vault), with the difference being the type of climate you’re experiencing as you do it.

        The planets really are like “Eos – except it’s an ice planet,” or “Eos – except there are Krogan,” or “Eos, except that the wildlife is mutated.” It would be easy to dismiss Kadara as “Eos, but with toxic water,” but they really do make some sort of attempt to make the struggle between Sloane’s crew and The Collective something to deal with. In fact, no matter how high you get Kadara’s habitability percentage, you can’t put an outpost there until you resolve the conflict.

        Voeld’s local story could’ve very much been about turning the tide of war, but it was just another story about unlocking and resetting the vault to make the planet fractionally more habitable. All of the other stuff barely felt important, including saving the Moshae. That’s basically just a quest to save someone who we don’t care about from enemies we don’t understand. I might’ve been more receptive to the plight of the Angara at this point and be thrilled with the idea of returning one of their leaders except for the fact that all of our interactions with them at this point is them treating us like garbage because some of our exiles treated some of them like crap at some point. And this interaction with them doesn’t get noticeably better when we return the Moshae, so the quest feels like nothing in the long run. I guess she takes us to Aya’s vault? Even that feels barely important despite it moving the main narrative.

        1. NAMENAMENAMENAME says:

          I think a big issue is the way the main plot of the game has you visit each planet but other than on Eos resolving that planet’s plot never comes up. So instead the planetary plots are treated as side-quests and are fairly half-hearted affairs (other than Kadarra which at least had some effort put into it). Of the non-main-quest planetary plots on Voeld, Elaaden and Havarl I remember bits, but never the whole. Voeld ended with you uncovering an ancient Angaran AI that wanted you to kill it, Havarl had some Remnant gauntlet that let specific Angara relive ancestors memories Assassins Creed style and Elaaden had that one fight scene between two krogan that stands as a triumph of how not to animate krogan fighting. That’s all I remember though, I couldn’t tell you why Voeld had an AI or why the magic memory gauntlet on Havarl worked, I just recall them existing. Ultimately Kadarra is the best planet in the game because they at least managed to go somewhere with the side-story, everywhere else either failed in implementation (Elaaden) or didn’t even bother (Voeld, Havarl, Eos).

          It’s like in ME3 if you briefly visited Rannoch and Tuchanka in the main plot but the Genophage and Quarian/Geth war was left as optional content written by writers told not to bother too hard with them.

    2. shoeboxjeddy says:

      The battle moon in ME3 you’re talking about had really GOOD atmosphere. It feels dangerous because your conversations keep being interrupted by successful enemy attacks that break through the line. Unless you just stop progressing in the level and stand still (in which case nothing will happen until you do), you really get the sense that this is NOT a secure position and you need to hurry up and accomplish your mission before everything gets destroyed.

      1. baud says:

        And the icing on the cake being the skybox with the planet (Palaven?) burning and ship exchanging fire on the side. It’s one of the best part of the game.

        1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

          Totally. And you have Garrus drawing our attention to the biggest cluster of fire on Palaven and telling us that’s where his hometown used to be. Yikes! But a beautiful, iconic image.

          And I also think about seeing that crashed Turian cruiser off in the distance and pondering what brought it down. You couldn’t actually go exploring it, but it was still an important visual cue off in the distance that demonstrated that we were surrounded by battle.

          It just feels worth noting that these were things that were not (or, rather, should not have been) cost/labor/asset/hardware-intensive, but they created a powerful picture. The people making Andromeda already had this perfect roadmap to follow about how to make a planet feel like it’s the front line of a big battle without big cinematics or cut scenes or having to drop us in the middle of some fray with hundreds of NPCs and bad guys. And instead, we got another lifeless planet where people are talking about interesting things happening elsewhere and that we can take no part in. It’s just not good storytelling.

          Maybe it’s hurt by the fact that the Menae level in ME3 was somewhat restricted in size (despite its huge scope) and nobody’s figured out a proper way to recreate that in the “open-ish” worlds. But even if this is true, I would’ve thought they could’ve given us something with Voeld and that something just never came.

          1. baud says:

            Maybe it’s hurt by the fact that the Menae level in ME3 was somewhat restricted in size (despite its huge scope) and nobody’s figured out a proper way to recreate that in the “open-ish” worlds.

            Maybe they could have done just the same: during a mission, setting the player in a restricted space on the planet (maybe like a canyon?), where they could show some large-scale conflict, perhaps when arriving on the planet for the first or at the end of the planet’s storyline. During the mission, the player is restricted to this area by the terrain/artillery/force fields but once it’s done, the world reopen.

            Another example of Bioware doing the large-scale conflict right is in SWTOR, one dungeon (The Battle of Ilum) opens up by a large-scale battle, but the players don’t take much part in it, just crossing the battlefield to reach the enemy trenches and then the linear path through the dungeon. But that sequence sold rather well the idea of a large-scale conflict.

  5. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    And then we get the Mohsae being passive aggressive about us not giving a fuck about the Angara because we saved hundreds of them…

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      God, yes, what an annoying idiot. And it’s not like we took that choice without making any considerations. Jaal was right there asking us to do it. We literally did it because he asked, and he is one of them. Stupid writer trying to raise conflict out of nothing, and it doesn’t even go anywhere. It’s just there to annoy.

  6. Infinitron says:

    You can nuke the base now, which will kill all of the Angara they have in holding cells. Or you can free the Angara but leave the base standing. The Moshae wants the former but your squad buddy Jaal wants the latter.

    Don’t you have this backwards? The image seems to suggest so.

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      No, that’s the Cardinal talking in the image, not the Moshae.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Regardless of the image, the written text seems to be backwards. The enemy would want their base spared, and your teammate should have no problem nuking the base.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Nevermind; I was confusing the friendly-alien Moshae, with the evil-dudes-aliens. This seems correct, if the alien was being held hostage, at least without playing the game. I don’t know if they’d be vengeful or not.

          1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

            Yeah – this might be weird and confusing to anyone who hasn’t played the game. Ryder goes into this base to save the Moshae from the Cardinal and the Kett. While trying to save the Moshae, you find out that there are a bunch of other Angara captives in the base, but you also discover how dangerous it is to let the Kett hold on to the base. The Moshae is thinking bigger picture and wants us to blow up the base to keep the Kett from reclaiming it even though the choice will kill a bunch of her own people. Jaal is only thinking of the captive Angara in the moment and wants to save them instead of destroying the base, allowing the Kett to be more dangerous in the long run. So you have two allies who want you to make different choices, with the bad guy (the Cardinal) asking you to go with Jaal’s plan because she values the base more than she values holding on to the Angara captives.

            And if you get through that word salad, there are three possible outcomes: You decide to destroy the base and a frustrated Jaal shoots and kills the Cardinal, you spare the base and save the Angara while shooting the Cardinal yourself, or you spare the base and save the Angara while leaving the Cardinal alive. But all this amounts to is a bunch of running in place because the choice and its consequences never come up again aside from a couple of stray lines of dialogue.

            1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

              Now that I think about it, I don’t even really know that “let the Cardinal survive” is actually an option. I shot her when I got the chance, but for all I know, if I don’t shoot her, Jaal still might.

  7. Jabberwok says:

    “The Angara have been living here for hundreds of years and even have major cities on this planet. (That we never get to see, not even on the horizon.) If the vaults hadn’t malfunctioned, the Initiative would have arrived to find one of their chosen worlds was already densely populated.”

    That would have made for a much more interesting story than any of this other crap.

  8. Hal says:

    Reading this makes me think Shamus must have hated Destiny. (Well, Destiny 2. I didn’t play the first one. And I didn’t watch/listen to any of the streams/podcasts where it was discussed.) Your character is a blank slate, a mute drone whose only contribution to the game is to shoot stuff. The actual character you meet is your Ghost, a mechanical drone that flies around you, interacts with technology, and constantly narrates everything. When NPCs talk to you (and they’re constantly babbling through your headset) they interact with your Ghost, not you.

    And the technobabble . . . oh God, the technobabble. It’s horrifying. None of it makes sense. It’s all gibberish loosely strung together to get you to go to the next waypoint to shoot more dudes.

    I suppose Destiny doesn’t much care about its story; the game is about shooting dudes and the story is there to loosely justify you going out and shooting dudes. Still, what a mishmash.

    1. Shamus says:

      Yeah, Destiny 2 is pretty terrible at storytelling. But that’s fine because it’s not a story heavy RPG with cutscenes, dialog trees, and player choice. The whole time I was playing I was basically thinking, “Hm. This could probably be better. But whatever.”

      1. Hal says:

        Fair enough. I played through the main story of Destiny 2 because it was free on PS4, and because my friends are neck deep in their obsession with it. I just don’t get it.

        But the connection was made instantly for me with everything you wrote about having “all the costs of a story and none of the benefit.” So much voiced dialog. Lots of gestures made at world building without ever doing anything with it. No character growth; heck, you barely play a character as it is. And for all the advertisements being very dramatic about NPCs dying, you’d think the story was actually really important. It’s like they couldn’t decide whether they were a mindless shooter or a story-driven RPG, so they tried to be both.

        1. shoeboxjeddy says:

          I don’t see how a “mindless” shooter shouldn’t have a story? Giving the player a reason to shoot things is considered fairly important by today’s standards. So in the vanilla Destiny 2 campaign, your motivation is “they stole your powers and blew up your home”. Then in Forsaken, the new enemy “killed one of your bosses who was a fun guy that you could have a beer with or whatever. The enemy is a sneering jerk. Get revenge and wipe that smug expression off his face!” Both of those give you a solid reason for the rest of the campaign and the games would be worse without them.

          1. Geebs says:

            Destiny 1 and Warframe both have this bizarre, Thomas Pynchon-esque thing where the story just kind of evaporates. Either the devs were being incredibly adventurous with their narrative, or they just plain forgot what they were doing.

            By comparison, Destiny 2 is positively coherent.

            1. shoeboxjeddy says:

              In Destiny 1, the planned narrative was rewritten completely less than a year before release. That’s why it’s… odd at best. However, the idea that it has no ending is untrue. At the beginning of the game, the Speaker tells the player that the Traveler’s Light is being drained. At the end of the game, you fight a boss in the Black Garden and it’s explained that this was the force that was messing with the Traveler. It’s anti-climactic for sure, but it is a completely understandable ending to the main conflict, as presented.

              1. Geebs says:

                Wait, that was the final boss? I went back to the Black Garden a bunch of times looking for the real boss, and you’re saying I already beat him?

                I feel a bit sorry for him, now.

                1. shoeboxjeddy says:

                  With full understanding of the lore, it’s KIND OF neat? Basically, the Vex are a completely logic based enemy. So if something works, they will do it, even if it doesn’t make 100% rational sense. So the Vex have discovered some kind of evil extra-dimensional entity in the Black Garden and have discovered through pain staking experimentation that devoting worship-related activities to it causes certain effects. So they all just go “okay, this is our God now” and pencil in “worship the God thing 2pm” into their robo schedules. That’s weird and creepy and I like it. In game though, it’s a trio of large Minotaur enemy statues that you shoot until they disintegrate. That’s… less good. By a lot.

            2. Hector says:

              Warframe doesn’t have a traditional story mostly about your adventures; it does have narratives in which you (the character) act, and events which continue various parts of that narratives.

          2. Hal says:

            There are games that don’t bother to do more than lampshade their mechanics. Think Bulletstorm or Doom. And that’s fine.

            Then there are story driven games where the narrative is the reason you play and the mechanics are there to give you something to do as the story plays out. I’d probably put Final Fantasy games into that category.

            But then there are games that take their story seriously, but to no apparent pay off. The story probably should have been just a lampshading, but they wanted a big story. The result ends up being a muddle. Shamus is saying that about Andromeda above. I’m saying that about Destiny. There’s too much story there for it to be mere lampshading, and it’s too much blatherskite to be a good story.

  9. Karma The Alligator says:

    How the hell does SAM open up a perfectly circular hole in the shield? Is that even possible? Because it seems really weird. Why not have the whole shield go down for a few seconds (just long enough to get in, but not long enough for, say, an orbital bombardment)?

    1. Matthew Downie says:

      Are force-field shields possible in the first place?

      The problem with “we can hold the shield open for a few seconds” in games is that you have to take control away from the player in case they screw around and miss the window.

      1. Karma The Alligator says:

        In the Mass Effect universe? Yes. My problem isn’t with the existence of the force field, it’s with the fact that SAM managed to make just a human sized hole in it, in what looks like an arbitrary place where no hole should form.

        While I see your point, just have a line of dialogue during the mission highlighting how critical it is that the players don’t dally around, or have SAM able to bring down the force field multiple times (and with a game over if the player takes way too long or too many times).

        1. decius says:

          If the plot demands that the shield only be down for a few seconds and the PC has to get past it, make those few seconds into a cutscene.

          It’s much less bad that when the plot demands that the PC get caught by an obvious trap.

        2. Matthew Downie says:

          Apparently holes in force fields also exist in the Mass Effect universe. Which I guess would make it possible to fire projectiles out of a shielded spaceship, for example.

          1. decius says:

            Or into one, if your BrainPal can just put a hole into someone else’s force field.

          2. Karma The Alligator says:

            OK, but those would be planned for, aligned with the guns, presumably. The holes don’t appear in random places.

  10. Christopher says:

    I honestly can’t tell which of these two ridiculous broken fights is the “intended” way to play. The Cardinal is a monumental chore if you don’t know the trick and trivial if you do.

    Considering I beat the first Saren boss fight in ME1 in like 3 seconds as an adept by hitting the Marksman power and just shooting him with my pistol, the trivial option is just honoring their legacy really.

    For all the ways Anthem dsinterests me, I’m actually curious about how the combat and bosses play out when they’re meant to uphold a game on their own. Judging from videos it actually looks like it works pretty well without going into jank. If they do manage to polish that aspect of their games, it’d be a huge boon to them. Tho I dunno if EA would be keen to greenlight a lot more RPGs if it’s their loot shooter that’s the well received game.

    Still, I’d be a lot more forgiving about frustrating writing decisions if playing the game was fun in itself.

  11. Karma The Alligator says:

    Unlike the Collector base in Mass Effect 2 the writer doesn’t negate the choice later.

    So, they negate it immediately?

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Unlike the Collector base in Mass Effect 2 the writer doesn’t negate the choice later.

      Though continuing the tradition of that choice, it sounds like an obviously better third choice (Kill the Cardinal, free the Angara, THEN blow up the base) is deliberately being ignored in the name of Difficult Moral Choices.

      1. Richard says:

        Well, the “Keep my word or nuke them” is also a Difficult Moral Choice, on the grounds that if you break your word, they aren’t going to free the prisoners next time.

        But who am I kidding? That’d imply that Choices have Consequences, and Andromeda just isn’t that kind of galaxy.

  12. Leipävelho says:

    Voeld is a world going through an ice age. Once packed with dozens of major urban centers, most of Voeld’s angaran population lives in scattered settlements. The remains of vast ancient cities are still entombed in ice.

    And they squandered *that* opportunity. Imagine driving on the planet with your angaran squadmate and coming across one of those…

  13. tremor3258 says:

    Except for a couple mission terminals, SWTOR has almost every quest you can chat with a quest-giver at the beginning or end. Even sometimes just holograms.

    Bioware, Bioware, why have you forsaken us?

  14. GoStu says:

    They really took the lazy route on the planets and whiffed it. Getting more into the mechanics than Shamus did, most of these “hostile” planets have a little meter representing how the heat is overheating you, or the cold is freezing you, or the radiation is hurting you, etc.

    There’s even a little blurb as you move from the ‘hazardous’ areas to the ‘safe’ ones, where the temperature or radiation flux pops up on screen: I.E. the temperature being -40c in the ‘hazardous’ area and -25c in relative safety.

    Once the planet reaches 100% viability… the hazard doesn’t change. The bare friggin’ minimum they could do would be disable the environmental damage, making exploration of the planet post-100% a little safer and easily showing that you’ve made this planet better off; but they whiffed it. The cold world is still freezing you to death, the hot one is boiling you in your suit, and the irradiated one is still slowing frying your genes.

    1. NAMENAMENAMENAME says:

      Eh, if you fix the vault on most planets the local environmental hazard goes away instantly (on Eos it takes some time to encourage the play to progress the story). I say most because I recall Voeld being an exception but I’m pretty sure that was a bug as characters did comment on the temperature there rising dramatically in spite of the hazard still being there in game.

      It’s just that on most of the planets the local vault is a completely optional sidequest cut off from everything else that gives a moderate boost to viability on top of disabling the local hazard.

  15. Dreadjaws says:

    If only someone could invent a gun that didn’t require ammunition.

    The game does include a “Vintage heat sink” weapon augmentation, that allows guns to behave the way they did in ME1. Not sure how rare it is, though.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      So, wait, the guns can’t fire forever because they accumulate too much heat? Does the Mass Effect also ignore the laws of thermodynamics?

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        Well, in the original game, guns would overheat if they had constant use. So the ammo was infinite, but you couldn’t leave them shooting constantly without them having to cool down for a bit. So there was a trade-off: you could just leave the trigger pressed and fire the gun until it reached the limit, allowing for more firepower per second, but the moment the gun overheated you needed several seconds of cooldown, which left you unable to shoot, or you could spare your shots, as the guns cooled down faster if they didn’t reach overheat, which meant you didn’t pack as much power in the same amount of time, but you weren’t rendered unable to shoot if there was an emergency.

        From the second game forward, this was replaced by thermal clips. Those would effectively act like ammo, but story-wise it meant the guns were “upgraded” so they’d use small clips that would cool down your weapon, allowing for more continuous use at the expense of being unable to shoot if you run out of clips. It’s a more classic way of handling fireguns, but of course it meant a step back both from a storytelling standpoint and gameplay wise.

        Andromeda keeps the “thermal clips” style, but also has this gun augmentation that allows the player to replace it for the original “overheat” style.

        1. PPX14 says:

          I just do not understand why they couldn’t just have that once you ran out of clips, you ended up with the infinite ammo with overheat situation – it would have made more sense.

  16. Steve C says:

    Oh good. The Moshae’s immune system is apparently at 90%. She ought to be fine.

    Solid joke. Still laughing over it. I give it a 9 out of 10.

  17. Freddo says:

    The attack on this facility also highlights another game mechanic that generates narrative conflict: you can scan random consoles in facilities to gain science points, which in turn can be used to unlock various armor upgrades. So while the level design tries to impress a sense of urgency with blaring alarms and chatter from your companions the tension is broken when you retrace your steps with scanner in hand to score those science points.

  18. ClaimedInfinity says:

    When reading the article one may think that almost all secondary quests are the fetch ones with a couple lines of exposition. That is not true though. There’s a difference between the quests listed under the “tasks” in the journal (which are definitely the fetch ones with a couple lines of exposition) and secondary quests listed in another category (under “some planet name” I think). The latter can have characters, dialog trees and even choices and cutscenes sometimes. Shamus should have mentioned that.

    1. PPX14 says:

      That is a good mention, thanks – I assumed it was mainly Ubi-style sandbox outside the main missions.

  19. MadTinkerer says:

    It’s like this is the cargo cult version of details-first sci-fi.

    It feels to me like the entire series from 2 onwards was a cargo cult version of the first game. Same with Dragon Age and to a lesser extent Dead Space, which didn’t get too cargo cult-ish until the third one.

    Even back with Ultima, VIII was half finished and so barely tied to continuity it was almost completely retconned, and IX was 100% cargo cult nonsense that acted like it was the finale but really had hardly any connection to the rest of the series at all.

    (And then they had the balls to call it Origin… >8(( Okay, okay, calm down, this isn’t directly related to that online storefront. Just focus on Discord and GoG and everything will be fine…)

    Some have accused Starcraft II of the same thing, but it’s not quite as bad in that case, IMHO. Starcraft II severely retconned some of the most important parts of the backstory, but they acknowledged all of the actual main story beats of the main Starcraft campaign. Diablo III’s story is significantly worse, with most things that happen to the side characters making sense (proving that the Diablo III writers are capable of writing a story that makes sense), but the main story ended up more than a little nonsensical.

    Then there’s the Bioshock franchise, lest people think I only pick on EA and Activision. I have played all of the Bioshock games. 2 had the best gameplay. 1 had the most internally consistent and thematically developed world and characters. Minerva’s Den had the best story and most sympathetic characters. 2 had some major plot holes but wasn’t too bad. However, Bioshock Infinite is, no exaggeration, pretty much a cargo cult of itself.

  20. ClaimedInfinity says:

    A nitpick. Currently it is possible to locate a radio listener both in theory and in practice. There are 2 ways that can be used. One way is heterodyne detection and the second is nonlinear locator. The problem is that the first can only be used in a field without interference from other devices and the second has extremely short detection range. But hey, it’s the future so they could improve their detection capabilities. It’s not like detection of a radio listener is entirely impossible.

  21. Bob Case says:

    Voeld was super frustrating for me because I could see the potential in it.

    One quest in particular I remember: near the Angara base, there’s a big frozen lake. There are a bunch of mysterious whale-like creatures underneath the lake, which we learn are called the “yevara.” They figure prominently in Angaran folklore, dating back from the period before Angaran culture was split into its current parts. You can walk around the lake listening to them sing. It’s great. The mood and lore are up to the standards of what I hoped this game would be.

    I almost didn’t want to start the quest relating to them, because I knew it would be a disappointment. I was right. You go shoot some dudes and pick up a datapad, them shoot some more dudes in a cave, and then at the end of the cave there’s some scientist who wants to research the yevera and use them to make armor or something. I don’t even remember what it was. Jaal is very conflicted, but he delegates the decision to you, because of course he does. I don’t even remember what I decided. I think I told her to knock it off, but I (correctly) guessed it would have no impact on the rest of the game.

    Someone put the work in when it came to Angaran lore. There were some great hooks there, a depiction of a species that had their history stolen from them by circumstance and foreign invasion. Bioware even went to trouble of including several different accents, corresponding to the different “home” planets of the post-scourge Angaran diaspora. But all this potentially interesting flavor didn’t factor into the main quests, or even the side quests, at all.

    There were the ingredients, I believe, to make a much better story on Voeld. But entrenched developed habits squandered them.

    1. Gargamel Le Noir says:

      You can just picture that discussion.
      “Hey so I had that sweet ideas for Angaran lore with space whales that…”
      “Yeah cool, make it another Ubisoft quest”
      “No but they’re really important to Angarans and there is implication that they are sentient and-”
      “Yeah nobody gives a shit. Have the player stroll all over the map and kill a bunch of dudes over it.”

  22. “it really feels like it might be setting you up for a big reveal that didn’t make it into the game”

    That is probably a fairly correct assessment, the release was moved forward or the development time was cut. The guy that was brought in to animate the Cora love scene (some of the best animation work in the game) said he was brought in to work on it really late in the game’s development.

    The productions was miss managed from the start,

    “the game likes to kick off quests when you:
    Click on a datapad
    Click on a terminal.
    Click on a random object in the world.”

    You just described quests in Fallout 76.

  23. Ivan says:

    Wait, so, why are you listening to/bargaining with the Cardinal? You defeated her, right? She should have no bargaining power left. That’s pretty much the definition of defeated. You defeated her, so that you could then negotiate with her? Or, was she on such a level above you, that you had to defeat her down to a level bargaining platform?

    But seriously, where is your option to either kill or imprison this defeated enemy, and then do whatever you like with this captured base that you just captured? For that matter, where is your renegade interrupt, to put this in Mass Effect terms, that lets you shut her up?

    1. Liessa says:

      From the screenshot above, I got the impression that only she knows how to open the pods. Even if that’s the case, I’d have thought it would be easy enough to work it out without her help – or just go along with her and then destroy the base anyway, as numerous people have suggested.

  24. Mephane says:

    A radio transmitter can’t tell you the location of a passive radio listener. But whatever. SAM sends you to find more dead Angarans with tracking chips.

    That is not entirely correct. A passive listener will necessarily draw a small bit of energy from the radio waves emitted by the transmitter. Theoretically, given the right circumstances, you could measure this effect. You could modify your transmitter to not send omnidirectionally (e.g. by shielding all but a narrow cone), to tell in which direction a receiver might be, then move around repeating the process until you get a clue as to where it might me located.

    However, I am certain the writer(s) did not at all have this in mind, and just made something up on the spot without thinking any further.

  25. Misamoto says:

    Personally the emotion I felt when it turned out Kett are the Angara was “What, Collectors, again?”

  26. Oh god, Voeld. All the problems you listed, but my biggest pet peeve was the near constant Aurora Borealis in the night sky.

    I mean… I see where they got the idea. the aurora is striking and mysterious, and it adds a much needed dose of color to a bleak landscape, but… the Aurora appears at the POLES. Not because it’s cold. It appears near the magnetic poles, which are at the rotational axis of earth, which is cold. I guess it’s POSSIBLE there’s something screwed up with Voeld’s magnetosphere, or for some reason the Angara built a bunch of their cities AT THE NORTH POLE, but it seems pretty clear to me that they made a lazy, knee-jerk decision because it looked nice and didn’t think for five seconds about the implications. It’s definitely my pettiest complaint about the game, but it’s also pretty emblematic of the approach to world-building.

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