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”.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
 If only someone could invent a gun that didn’t require ammunition.
 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.
 Which I don’t think is possible here. Seems like there’s a lot of auto-leveling shenanigans going on.
Trusting the System
How do you know the rules of the game are what the game claims? More importantly, how do the DEVELOPERS know?
Mass Effect Retrospective
A novel-sized analysis of the Mass Effect series that explains where it all went wrong. Spoiler: It was long before the ending.
The Opportunity Crunch
No, brutal, soul-sucking, marriage-destroying crunch mode in game development isn't a privilege or an opportunity. It's idiocy.
id Software Coding Style
When the source code for Doom 3 was released, we got a look at some of the style conventions used by the developers. Here I analyze this style and explain what it all means.
C++ is a wonderful language for making horrible code.