The next stop on our tour of the Heleus Cluster is Havarl. Like the other planets, the climate is out of whack. Unlike the other planets, this place suffers from an overabundance of life rather than a shortage.
Havarl is overgrown with a thick jungleYet another single-biome planet.This is the one planet where you can’t drive the Nomad. and all of the native flora and fauna is exceedingly dangerous. Everything is toxic, poisonous, or filled with murderous intent.
The game says this is the ancestral home of the Anagara and that they had to abandon it when it became too inhospitable, but that doesn’t really fit with what we’re shown. I’d expect to see bits of Angaran cities poking out of the overgrowth. They’re a spacefaring species, so their cities must have been pretty impressive. But instead the “cities” are just endless sections of Remnant architecture that form horizon-smothering black walls around the play area. I imagine this is another detail that would have been ironed out if the game had been given time for polish.
I do like that this world offers some contrast with the other four and isn’t yet another lifeless hellscape for us to colonize.
As with the other worlds, you need to visit the monoliths, then do the vault, and then the game tells you the planet is stabilizing. Then you run around and do fetch quests and kill the mooks congregating around map markers until the planet hits 100%. Whee.
The big plot on this planet is dealing with the pervasive racism the Angara practice. On one hand, having some degree of tribalism or prejudice is usually a good thing for worldbuilding. It can make your world feel large and complex by highlighting the various factions within it. It doesn’t even need to be capital-R Racism to work. Sure, conflicts based on geography, religion, and skin color are easy and obvious, but you can base the conflict on all kinds of things. Urban vs. rural. Traditionalism vs. technophilia. Laborers vs. academics. Young vs. old. Entrenched ruling class vs. newcomers. Hedonism vs. asceticism. Idealism vs. pragmatism. Group conformity vs. personal liberty. All the writer needs to do is suggest these sorts of factions exist within the culture and the audience can extrapolate a much larger world from these small details.
Sadly, the writer can’t do that here because they only made one alien race for us to meet and they’re basically a stagnant monoculture. The only divide among the Angara is that some of them are space racists that hate all aliens, and the rest… aren’t? What you end up with is a theme repeated again and again where the cool and awesome Humans teach the backward Angara that racism is bad. (The Humans also brought a bunch of sidekick races with them, showing how open-minded and progressive they are.) The whole thing is shallow and cringe inducing.
The exchange comes down to something along the lines of, “You’re NOT going to kill me? Man, I would have killed you without hesitation. I guess I need to rethink my entire worldview. Thank you, Human.”
Barf. It’s really disorienting how hard this game is working to copy a bunch of extraneous details of the Mass Effect setting, while the creative sensibilities of the author run directly counter to everything the first game worked to establish. In a way, it reminds me of the way Shadow of Mordor copied the trappings of Tolkien while running directly counter to it in terms of the tone of the world:
When a book or movie is adapted to video games, we often get hung up on the small details of lore and whether or not the writers get it “right”. And that’s fine, up to a point. It’s nice when the writers take the time to get all the little details just so. It feels good to see that thing from the book or movie, fully realized in a game world that meshes with our prior experience or imagination. But when you’re adapting a work of fiction, getting the lore right isn’t nearly as important as matching the original in tone, themes, and aesthetic texture.
I know the original game occasionally flirted with the idea that Humans are special, but it also had lots of moments where Humans were at a clear disadvantage compared to the other species. Here the special-ness of Humans has been embraced as a central part of the world. Humans are intellectually, technologically, and morally the superheroes of Andromeda.
You can’t fool me, Andromeda. I knew Mass Effect 1 personally. You sir, are no Mass Effect 1.
Getting back to the main story: We’ve recently rescued the Moshae and she takes us into a vault on their homeworldNot Havarl, their old Homeworld. I’m talking about Aya, where we accidentally made first contact after accidentally bumping into the Kett flagship. for the next batch of exposition. Because Humans Are Special, Ryder is able to effortlessly and instantly read this Remnant computer that the Angara have never been able to figure out.
These terraforming vaults are somehow “connected”. The vault shows Sara a map of the Heleus cluster, with all of these lines connecting the systems. It looks a bit like an internet map. If you follow the connections it all converges on a single location, which is called Meridian. We know nothing about this place, but Ryder theorizes that it’s some sort of central control station for all the vaultsShe’s right. I think she inherited Alec’s copy of the script.. If we could find it, then we could activate all the vaults remotely and terraform the entire cluster in one go.
This star map shows all these connections converging on Meridian, but Sara says we need to “find” Meridian. Huh? Aren’t we looking at a map? Isn’t it, right now, showing us where Meridian is? Don’t these points of light correspond to the star systems in our immediate vicinity? There aren’t that many stars here in the Heleus cluster, so it seems like we ought to be able to work things out from here.
I can accept that this map isn’t actually a map and is actually an abstract diagram. It’s just that the dialog doesn’t ever address this. Sara is looking at a map that appears to show us where Meridian is, and then she says we need to find Meridian. It’s just sloppy.
But whatever. Fine. We need to find Meridian. The Moshae was a prisoner of the Archon, and she reveals that he already knows where Meridian is. He had some sort of artifact showing the way. He keeps this artifact on his flagship. So Sara decides we need to assault his flagship and steal this intel.
Except, if it’s that easy to storm his flagship, then why are we even afraid of the guy? Ryder keeps talking about him like he’s this invincible foe and we need to find a way to beat him, and now she’s devising plans that involve making a direct assault on his seat of power. I can totally buy the notion that our scrappy outsiders from the Milky Way have a tactical / technological edge that makes the assault possible, but if that’s true then why don’t we just kill this guy and be done with it? Why storm his ship to steal a map to gain a super-technology to stop him if we can just storm his ship and wreck his shit?
I’m not saying the game should end here. I’m just saying it’s weird that nobody notices or discusses this idea and nobody worries that assaulting the Kett flagship is an impossible task.
To find the Archon’s ship, we need to track down a traitorous Angaran who’s been in contact with the Archon. We find this guy at Kadara Port, so that’s where we’ll be heading next.
Kadara port is a seedy location with smuggling, dive bars, illicit drugs, thuggish cops, and murder in the streets. Up top is the nightclub, and down below are the slums. It feels like the Heleus cluster version of Omega from Mass Effect 2. And like Omega, it’s ruled by a super “cool” character. And like Omega, your dialog options are constrained to “swaggering hardass dunce” and “bootlick”. You can’t just be professional and ignore her posturing.
Sloane started out as chief of security aboard the Nexus, but now she rules Kadara port. Like, literally. She’s got this big throne room and everything. I’d love to know if she got her face tattoos before or after the rebellion. Did Alec Ryder recruit this Mad Max looking nutter to be his chief of security, or did she give herself a makeover after the rebellion?
Speaking of the rebellion, let’s stop and look at the Andromeda timeline. Fourteen months ago the damaged Nexus arrived in the Heleus cluster with their leadership DOA. In the fourteen months since then:
- The Nexus forms a new leadership and wakes up a bunch of personnel.
- They survey the area, discover the golden worlds are a bust, and move the Nexus to a safe location away from the scourge.
- They deploy equipment and personnel to create two different outposts / colonies.
- After some indeterminate time, the colonies fail due to the harsh environmental conditions and constant Kett attacks.
- Sensing that they’re all trapped on a space station with dwindling supplies and the leadership has no plan, the inhabitants of the Nexus get nervous. The inhabitants begin making demands or asking for information. Also they want to wake up their families. They are rebuffed by the Nexus leaders.
- The people protest / riot.
- The Nexus leaders cut a deal with the Krogan, offering them more political power if they’ll get the rioters under control. The Krogan do as they are asked.
- The Nexus leaders screw the Krogan. (Somehow this ends with the Krogan leaving and not with them simply killing the leadership.)
- The rioters steal a bunch of supplies and strike out on their own, becoming Exiles / Outcasts.
- The Outcasts scout around and find Kadara.
- Sloane wipes out the local Kett, which solidifies her position as leader.
- The Outcasts construct(?) and settle Kadara port. (The game claims the port used to be an Angaran location, but this place is clearly made of Initiative modular buildings and looks nothing like the distinctive Angaran style. So this is a problem with either the writing or the art design.)
- Sloane becomes queen or whatever.
- Someone invents a narcotic and Sloane builds her economy around it.
- The city bifurcates into haves and have-nots, complete with slums under the city and separate nightclubs for the two economic classes.
That’s a very busy fourteen months!
Also note that there aren’t any dates attached to any of this. How long between arriving and the rebellion? How long did the rebellion last? Months? A few days? Mass Effect 1 had dates of major historical events that stretched back centuries and allowed us to form a clear picture of what happened in the past. Here in Andromeda, we can’t even get a basic frame of reference for what the rebellion was like, even though that event happened recently and is currently a driving force in the plot.
This writer must hate worldbuilding.
In any case, Kadara Port is presented as matter-of-fact, and the current situation is considered normal. The city feels lived in. It’s not like people say things like, “Man, what a wild couple of weeks this has been! Sloane is running things now!” Instead it feels like the current situation has been the status quo for years.
I moved to a new apartment a few years ago, and fourteen months later I was still thinking of it as the “new place”. Fourteen months is nothing.
The Rediscovered Country
The designer is trying to accomplish two contradictory things here. They want the player to be the Pathfinder. A trailblazer. They want the player to feel like they’re exploring the new frontier. At the same time, they want to have established cities and locations filled with humans and they want us to get into gunfights with other humans out in the wild. (Shoehorning in boring human foes when it doesn’t make sense? Where have I heard that one before?) These two ideas are fundamentally incompatible and are probably the result of different creators pulling the project in different directions.
Making things worse is that this timeline undercuts both ideas. Fourteen months is long enough that the player feels like they’re showing up too late to count themselves as a trailblazer, but it’s not long enough to justify the city being this firmly settled and lived-in. It certainly can’t justify how so many people have gone all Lord of the Flies out here in the wilderness, to the point where they’re beyond reason or redemption. These people aren’t just criminal, they’re practically feral.
How I’d have done it:
This timeline doesn’t work and the writer is making things difficult for no good reason. If you want to have the player exploring an already-settled place, then just move the timeline so that you’re waking up a few years after the Nexus, rather than just fourteen months.
Or better yet, get rid of these human settlements, fill the cluster with new aliens to meet, and let the player be a goddamn explorer.
There’s a lot wrong with Kadara, so we’re going to need to spend another entry on this place to sort this out.
 Yet another single-biome planet.
 This is the one planet where you can’t drive the Nomad.
 Not Havarl, their old Homeworld. I’m talking about Aya, where we accidentally made first contact after accidentally bumping into the Kett flagship.
 She’s right. I think she inherited Alec’s copy of the script.
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The Best of 2012
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Crash Dot Com
Back in 1999, I rode the dot-com bubble. Got rich. Worked hard. Went crazy. Turned poor. It was fun.