Maybe this series was longer than it needed to be. My original retrospective covered all three games in 50 entries. Here I’ve spent half that on just a single game. Despite that, I’ve skipped at least as much material as I’ve covered. Sometimes I worried that I wasn’t covering the game in enough detail to really drive home how numerous the problems are, and other times I felt like I was beating a dead horse. Mass Effect Andromeda is an enormous game and there’s a lot wrong with it.
Regardless of how we got here, we’re now at the endgame. Ryder chases the Archon to the heart of the Meridian control system for…
The Big Dumb Showdown
So we arrive at the central control room. The Archon is up on a platform, using his floating robot to use Scott to use SAM to use Meridian to summon a giant robo-worm for you to fight. He gives us one last monologue before the fight starts, and it’s yet another repetition of the same cartoon dialog we’ve been hearing since the first act of the game.
The Archon gets one sort of interesting line here where he bellows, “I am the genetic inheritor of a thousand species!” That hints at why he thinks he deserves to win. You could probably expand that idea and do something useful across the entire story, but at this point it’s far too little and much too late.
The player has probably fought this same robo-worm boss several times already on the various habitable worlds, because this game designer thinks that if something is fun once then doing it four times will be four times as funThey are wrong..
The pieces are now in place. Our big dumb bad guy has a damsel we don’t care about, and is using the damsel to access a machine we don’t understand to summon a re-run boss monster we need to defeat so we can push three buttons and win the game. The entire sequence is a microcosm of Mass Effect Andromeda. It’s somehow both insultingly simple and needlessly convoluted at the same time.
The worst part of all of this is that the Archon WILL. NOT. SHUT. UP. All of his faults are amplified to maximum intensity here. Here are some of his actual lines:
ALL YOUR WORLDS WILL BURN!
YOU ARE UNWORTHY!
YOUR PEOPLE WILL BEG FOR MERCY, AND THEY WILL BE DENIED!
You have to listen to a dozen variations of this repeat for eighteen solid minutesThat’s how long the fight took in my footage, anyway.. It’s not a great boss fight to begin with, but it’s so much more tedious with this dunce announcing the inevitability of his victory while you gun down his minions.
At the end of Guardians of the Galaxy, Ronan the Accuser starts belting out his big speech on the punishment he’s bringing. The thing is, the screenwriter doesn’t make us listen to the whole thing, because that wouldn’t advance the plot or entertain the audience. We get just enough of it to get the idea, and then the good guys do their thing. If the Archon is going to do this much talking, then he really needs to be saying something. And if he doesn’t have anything to say, then he needs to keep his mouth shut. Our villain is a boring thug who talks like a cartoon character and has nothing interesting to say but who keeps talking anyway. It’s like being stuck in an online shooter against an exasperated tryhard who keeps screaming nonsense into his mic and we can’t mute him for some reason.
After listening to his howling for a third of an hour, the writer doesn’t even see fit to have it lead up to something. Ryder doesn’t refute his ideals. Archon doesn’t get a reaction shot where he realizes he’s lost and expresses panic. You don’t see his belief system shatter as he experiences doubt for the first time in his life. He doesn’t die screaming in some horrible conflagration of lasers and exploding machinery. You don’t even get a moment where Ryder looks down at his body and drops a one-liner.
If you’re going to write childish action schlock, the least you can do is make proper action schlock!
In fact, his death scene makes it seem like the writer thinks this is a tragic moment. He falls from his doom machine and lands on the central platform with a light shining on him, eyes closed. The score is telling us this moment is “somber” and not “triumphant”.
Maybe the writer was trying to make a callback to the death of Saren, overlooking the fact that:
- Saren was a three-dimensional character and not a bellowing tryhard.
- Saren was a tragic figure because he tried to outwit a Reaper and failed. There’s nothing tragic about the Archon. (At least, not in-universe.)
- You can actually sort of redeem Saren through dialog, making him realize he’s been indoctrinated.
- Most importantly: Saren only spoke when he had something to say. And at the end, he conceded your victory before he died.
For contrast, the Archon just falls down and exits the story without comment.
Shamus, maybe they’re ignoring him on purpose to show they stopped thinking about him the moment he died?
I would really approve of that. The thing is, if you’re going to have the heroes ignore the villain, then you need to show them ignoring the villain. For example you could do something like this:
SAM: Pathfinder. Meridian is now operational. You may activate it when ready.
(Ryder looks around to see the Archon’s dead body, ingloriously draped over a nearby console.)
Ryder: Sure, just let me… (Ryder grunts as she casually shoves the Archon off, into the abyss.) …move this. (Operates the controls.) There. That should do it.
(The lights come on, showing the terraforming network is now operating.)
THAT is how you show the hero doesn’t care about the villain. Instead, it feels like the game treats him with undeserved reverence that makes the whole thing dissonant.
After all the Archon monologuing the writer forces us to sit through, it feels very strange to have nothing for either party to say once the fighting is over. That’s it? You don’t have a coda? You don’t want to underscore a theme or refute a thesis? No jokes, no callbacks, no inversion of earlier dialog? Not even a crude taunt on the part of Ryder to make the dying Archon taste a little of his own medicine? The hero isn’t going to cut off a final monologue? You’re not going to give the player some sort of visceral show by having the Archon burned or atomized by the unwieldy machine he was trying to control? You don’t want to give him some sort of karmic retribution or ironic death? No moment where he realizes he was wrong?
Sure, a lot of these might have been cliche or lameThis is for Thane, you son of a bitch!. I’m just baffled that the writer brought us all this way and had nothing to say at the end.
I suppose it’s possible that this writer was wary of repeating the sins of Mass Effect 3, which tried so hard to talk about BIG IDEAS with SYMBOLISM and ended up collapsing into nonsense. And to be fair, I guess this simple story that says nothing is better than Mass Effect 3’s infuriating puzzle box of contradictions and incoherency. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for more than this from a game with the BioWare name and a budget of $100 million. Somewhere between “saying nothing” and “saying something stupid” is the opportunity to say something interesting. That’s the entire point of this genre.
After the fight, we emerge into the daylight and someone says the Nexus wants to know what happened. We can be a jerk and tell them off, or we can be nice and give them the good news. Which is really odd. The game will let us disrespect the mildly annoying Director Tann, but not our genocidal main villain?
After the credits roll, we cut to a view of a Kett ship. Another Kett leader glowers at her display screen, turns, and walks away menacingly. Fade to black.
So this is the writer’s big idea for a sequel hook? Next time, we can fight the exact same unimaginative aliens? Is this the plan for Mass Effect going forward? These boring one-note assholes are supposed to carry a franchise? If this is their plan then I guess it’s for the best that the series died here. In fact, it’s a huge relief.
We’re done with the plot. This is where I’d analyze what the game had to say and speculate on upcoming games. But since it didn’t really say much of anything and the franchise doesn’t seem to have a futureActually, since writing this some people at BioWare have been making noices about revisiting the franchise. I’ll talk about that another day., I don’t know what I can tell you. It’s just over.
That’s it for the plot of Mass Effect Andromeda. Next week I’ll have some final words on BioWare, and then I think we’re done with this franchise for good.
 They are wrong.
 That’s how long the fight took in my footage, anyway.
 This is for Thane, you son of a bitch!
 Actually, since writing this some people at BioWare have been making noices about revisiting the franchise. I’ll talk about that another day.
A look at the main Borderlands games. What works, what doesn't, and where the series can go from here.
The Best of 2019
I called 2019 "The Year of corporate Dystopia". Here is a list of the games I thought were interesting or worth talking about that year.
The Dumbest Cutscene
This is it. This is the dumbest cutscene ever created for a AAA game. It's so bad it's simultaneously hilarious and painful. This is "The Room" of video game cutscenes.
PC Gaming Golden Age
It's not a legend. It was real. There was a time before DLC. Before DRM. Before crappy ports. It was glorious.
The Gameplay is the Story
Some advice to game developers on how to stop ruining good stories with bad cutscenes.