Elaaden is where the Krogan decided to settle when they left the Nexus. There’s some local politics you need to sort out here to stabilize the region. Morda has appointed herself as “Overlord” of all Krogan here. She’s bellicose, confrontational, and prideful. She’s also proof that bringing the Krogan on this expedition was a foolish move, surpassed only in the foolishness of betraying them. I much prefer stories that have a sort of inevitability to them, where mistakes are grievous but understandable. The mistakes made by the Andromeda Initiative are so idiotic that I sometimes lose interest in helping out. I often find myself thinking, “Screw it. These morons deserve everything that happens to them.”
Assuming you’re not going to turn the game off, you’re going to need to deal with Morda. There’s another Krogan, Strux, who is more cunning and less overtly warmongering. I really thought the game was setting up a choice between a warmonger Krogan leader or a devious Krogan leader, but you can’t actually side with Strux. Instead, Strux attempts a coup that brings about his own downfall, and the only choice you get to make is if you want to screw the Krogan yet again. Like the confrontation with the Cardinal on Voeld, it’s like the writer deliberately ignored an interesting choice to offer you a shallow one.
The idea of a warmongering Krogan leader makes sense. Having said that, I really hate this character. She doesn’t feel like a Krogan to me. She comes of as snarky, sarcastic, and whiny. She has a lot of passive-aggressive lines, which makes no sense to me. Passive aggression is for people who are afraid to be overtly aggressive and confrontational. If anyone should be comfortable with aggression, it’s a Krogan.
On top of this, her vocal performance is really odd. She’s not fearsome, she’s catty. She doesn’t sound like a queen or a war chief. She sounds like an entitled diva. The last female Krogan we met was in Mass Effect 3. She came off as very wise and practical. Morda doesn’t seem have either of those attributes. I never felt like she was particularly cunning.
Shamus, it’s not like the Krogan are limited to a single personality! What’s wrong with mixing things up a bit?
I can believe that occasionally a Krogan might act like Morda. What I find hard to swallow is that the other Krogan tolerate her as leader. If these guys are impressed with Morda then they should be begging Drack to take over. He’s smarter, more experienced, stronger, has a more impressive list of accomplishments, and has a more Krogan style of leadership. The writer doesn’t give us anything to explain why she’s in charge or why anyone is following her.
More importantly, in a story where all the aliens seem to be off-brand and out-of-character, Morda seems less like the writer is mixing things up and more like the writer didn’t have a handle on the setting they were working with.
Morda is a foil for the player and the most important character on Elaaden, so she really ought to be more impressive. We should find her imposing, not annoying.
Out in the desert, there’s a crashed remnant spaceship. Morda wants the drive core. On one hand, she says she wants it to power her colonyHang on, isn’t power a solved problem? None of the other outposts, colonies, or cities need exotic Remnant technology to make electricity. Morda’s base seems to have working lights and things, so she already has electricity. What’s driving this particular need?. On the other hand, it could easily be turned into a weapon of mass destruction.
Ryder goes out to retrieve the drive core, only to find Strux has already obtained it and hidden it away. You recover it without his knowledge and then go to meet with both Strux and Morda.
Strux blames the theft on Ryder. He accuses Ryder of stealing the drive core, announcing that his clan will “recover” it. He’s hoping this move will rally everyone behind him so he can depose Morda. But then you announce that you have it, and this turns the conversation in your favor?
He accused you of stealing it, and to clear your name you announce that you… have it? What?! Strux does sort of incriminate himself at the end, but this scene doesn’t make sense as written. He accuses you of stealing the drive core, and is then outed as a liar when it turns out that he’s telling the truth. From Morda’s point of view, nothing is said that should exonerate you. It’s your word against Strux, and she’s got a huge prejudice against everyone from the Initiative. Ryder only wins here due to writer fiat.
In the end you can either choose to give Morda the drive core, or you can keep it. She promises war if you choose the latter. This isn’t a bad choice on paper, but by this point in the game I didn’t have any trust in the storyteller and I didn’t feel like I had enough information to make an informed choice. The drive core itself is a random macguffin and you have no way of knowing what it can do, how badly the Krogan need its power, or how hard it would be to turn into a weapon. You don’t know the details or timeline of the Nexus rebellions. Morda’s personality is so strange that I couldn’t get a feel for how seriously I was supposed to take her saber-rattling. Instead of trying to make this decision using my knowledge of the world, I found myself thinking, “I wonder what the writer plans to do with this.” Everything is so vague you could easily justify any outcome.
I realize this game was unpolished and barely came together at the last minute. So it’s not a big surprise that the crafting system ended up just as dodgy as everything else. Still, they picked the least interesting way to break it.
When you’ve got a pure power-building system like this in your game, there are two different ways it can be broken:
1) Unbalanced. You can use the system to gain absurd levels of power that trivialize the game. Essentially, the system gives you too much power for too little cost.
2) Pointless. The system doesn’t give out enough power to make it worth the player’s time.
A balanced system is always best, but if you can’t have that then I am a big believer that you should err on the side of unbalanced rather than pointless. Bob Case made a similar complaint in his video on the new wave of retro isometric RPGs. It’s possible to make a gameplay system so perfectly balanced that there aren’t any meaningful choices for the user to make or any interesting strategies for them to discover or explore. All those numbers become meaningless and the whole thing ends up being a really complicated means of making a simple aesthetic choice: Do I like shooting guys with large guns or small guns?
In Mass Effect Andromeda, you gather up research points by scanning technology in the gameworld. Then you use those points to purchase different branches of upgrades. Then you drive around the open world and lay down mining pods to harvest minerals for you. Then you go back to your spaceship and use the minerals to build the items you’ve unlocked through research. It’s an involved process and turns into a lot of menu busywork.
The thing is, the game strictly limits how much power you’re allowed to get with these systems. You need to harvest those minerals, but there are a couple of premium minerals that are tightly controlled, so you aren’t going to be able to craft many good items. For example, a gun might require Omni-Gel, Copper, Nickel, and Element Zero. By the end of the game you’ll be drowning in the first three, but that last one is really hard to come by. Element Zero is the the only “real” resource here, and that’s the one that will limit your ability to craft itemsAnd if you make a mistake, you can’t dismantle or recycle the unwanted item to get some of the eezo back. Which means the game discourages experimentation..
Just to make sure that you don’t do anything clever like put all of your eezo into one really good weapon, the game also puts a level cap on things. I can’t unlock tier 2 shotguns until I’m level 10, or tier 3 until I’m level 20, etcI’m not sure of the exact thresholds. The wiki doesn’t list them and the game doesn’t display a requirement once you’re past it.. This means there’s a hard limit on how strong you can make your weapons at any given time.
You find plenty of weapons and armor. You get them from containers, you get them from fallen enemies, and you get them from loot crate drops in APEX missionsA time-based game where you send squads out on jobs and they report back later after several hours have passed in realtime. It feels like a shallow mobile game. But it only takes a couple of seconds and it yields a steady supply of goodies.. The game usually provides stuff appropriate for your level. So even if you go out of your way to gather research, collect minerals, and build items for yourself, the best you can hope for is to gain access to a tier of weapons a little before the game starts giving them to you for free. I pushed as hard as I could against the system, and I was never ahead by more than a single tier of weapons.
The difference between the weapon tiers is so slight that it’s just not worth the hassle. The game is tyrannical about controlling your access to power, but in the end the gains are so minor that it’s better to not bother.
I don’t think crafting adds anything to Mass Effect, but if you decide you need to include it for some reason then I’d much prefer it as a tool for making absurd or unbalanced builds for those that love grinding.
Once again, the player needs to visit three monoliths to unlock the vault, then clear out the vault to fix the climate. Am I allowed to complain that it makes no sense that the vault can lower the overall temperature of the area, when nothing changes in terms of incoming sunlight and atmosphere? No? Then I guess I don’t have anything else to say about Elaaden.
Next week we’re off to the jungle. Sort of.
 Hang on, isn’t power a solved problem? None of the other outposts, colonies, or cities need exotic Remnant technology to make electricity. Morda’s base seems to have working lights and things, so she already has electricity. What’s driving this particular need?
 And if you make a mistake, you can’t dismantle or recycle the unwanted item to get some of the eezo back. Which means the game discourages experimentation.
 I’m not sure of the exact thresholds. The wiki doesn’t list them and the game doesn’t display a requirement once you’re past it.
 A time-based game where you send squads out on jobs and they report back later after several hours have passed in realtime. It feels like a shallow mobile game. But it only takes a couple of seconds and it yields a steady supply of goodies.
Bad and Wrong Music Lessons
A music lesson for people who know nothing about music, from someone who barely knows anything about music.
Do It Again, Stupid
One of the highest-rated games of all time has some of the least interesting gameplay.
The Gradient of Plot Holes
Most stories have plot holes. The failure isn't that they exist, it's when you notice them while immersed in the story.
A screencap comic that poked fun at videogames and the industry. The comic has ended, but there's plenty of archives for you to binge on.
The Best of 2014
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2014.