Skeptics Guide to Mass Effect Andromeda’s Plot
While the “on the box” story line presented for Mass Effect Andromeda does seem trope-ish and unimaginative I wanted to present a- “I have actually played the game and there is some promise…” post – there is more going on beneath the surface. While I personally do not expect there to be a huge depth or surprise to the fourth edition of the space opera series known as Mass Effect, far too many smart people are taking far too much at face value without exploring deeper into the game or knowing enough about the ME universe.
Part of this is the way the Mass Effect series was built. There is a TON of backstory, history, intrigue, etc. in the first three installments but most of it was not easily accessible. The game was built so players could zoom through the main plot line plus DLC in 20-30 hours per installment. Others who more fully explored the world and side quests could spend 40-60 per. That is a lot of content differential. There are also 4 pre-Andromeda novels and a printed Galactic Codex plus the in game codex (which sometimes differed from the print version, but hey, that is why they stopped printing game manuals a decade ago, right?).
The plot lines that people are misinterpreting or not critically examining (often writing off as cliche) have a lot of interest. I am going to make this as spoiler free as possible (after the picture) but keep in mind, much of what I have here is speculation from what I know, and what I have experienced up until finishing off the main story plot line on Eos. (10 hours for me, doing everything, reading every datapad, etc. Guessing some could finish it in 3-5 hours). Also important to note here that I haven’t finished all of the side quests on Eos yet, but did do some.
Mild Spoilers after the pic. Again, if you have played more than 5 hours they won’t be spoilers, and they are things you may have actually missed out on if you sped through the game.
Travel 600 years away, for what, really?
People need to start appreciating that the PR based Andromeda Initiative is a front. For what, we don’t know yet – but even the recruiting website is very fluffy and explorer based. While the Andromeda galaxy may be “resource rich”, we haven’t even discovered 1% of the Milky Way galaxy (as per the Codex on council space):
Citadel space is an unofficial term referring to any region of space controlled by a species that acknowledge the authority of the Citadel Council. At first glance, it appears this territory encompasses most of the galaxy. In reality, however, less than 1% of the stars have been explored. Even mass-effect-FTL drive is slow relative to the volume of the galaxy. Empty space and systems without suitable drive discharge sites are barriers to exploration. Only the mass relays allow ships to jump hundreds of light years in an instant, the key to expanding across an otherwise impassable galaxy.
Whenever a new relay is activated, the destination system is rapidly developed. From that hub, FTL drive is used to expand to nearby star clusters. The result is a number of densely-developed clusters thinly spread across the vast expanse of space, connected by the mass relay network.
Really, there is a LOT of closer galaxy to explore which may also have some nice rich resources. Clearly there is a bigger reason to go to the Andromeda galaxy, yet discovered by our protagonist. One theory is the Cerberus theory who believed in the Reaper threat early on as a way to ensure that human kind lived on if the Milky Way was cleansed of all life. Cora Harper, Alec Ryder’s (your dad) second in command does share the last name as Jack Harper, the last known identy of “The Illusive Man” who runs the pro-human shadow group Cerberus. Quite the coincidence to write in if it wasn’t meaningful. It will be interesting to see how the Initiative’s true motives play out.
You become the hero with little explanation
It really isn’t that much of a stretch when you dig into it. You are already a part of the exclusive Pathfinder team. Your dad is the Pathfinder. Cora Harper is the Operations Specialist. Liam Kosta is the Crisis Specialist. You play one of the Ryder kids, Scott who is a Recon Specialist, and Sara who is a Scientist (both served in the military). When the mantle of Pathfinder (the leader of the expedition team) skips Cora and goes to you by Alec (dad) there is that moment where you wonder why – although Cora does accept it because she accepts Alec’s judgement. It quickly becomes obvious that Dad is hiding something and left breadcrumbs for you to discover what that is. Perhaps he doesn’t want Cora or other Andromeda Initiative members to know and that is why he chose his son/daughter to be the next Pathfinder. Alec Ryder was dabbling in advanced AI, which was banned in Citadel space. He has locked away information in the AI that you have to push forward to unlock and discover. What Mr Ryder did for the Andromeda Initiative and the human race will be a major story arc, and I believe that is part of why you were thrust into a leadership role early on. Look, without needing rocket science, the Andromeda Initiative short form is AI. Could it really be that simple after all?
Why hasn’t technology advanced in 600 years?
From Mass Effect 1:
“Your civilization is based on the technology of the mass relays. Our technology. By using it, your civilization develops along the paths we desire.” – Sovereign (Reaper)
The gist of the argument is that the Reapers pushed the tech to a place where current Milky Way sentient beings could only grow so far, so fast. Humans caught up to races who had access to the technology hundreds of years prior. There is a tech plateau of sorts, with the next, logical step being the formation of AI. Which is banned. The Reapers left the technology there to be exploited and used, and around every 50,000 years or so they would do a full cleanse of the Milky Way. You are almost at that 50,000 year apex (Andromeda ships leave just as the attack is about to begin) so yeah, things are pretty tight. A Reaper is essentially “billions of organic minds, uploaded and conjoined within immortal machine bodies.” – so yeah, we aren’t going to be updating that technology anytime soon. At least, not in the Milky Way galaxy.
Why is there always a mysterious all powerful race? (Remnants)
Because in all worlds and societies in, all life forms there is a top of the food chain. Until there is a new one. In Mass effect it was the Leviathans who, after years of universal dominance, made the Reapers to help manage artificial intelligence that organic life would eventually create (and in turn would wipe them out). The irony is that that is exactly what the Reapers did to the Leviathans, which is what started them on their cleaning cycle to begin with. It isn’t that hard to imagine either, considering that on modern day earth Humans are the apex predator – from the view of any other mammal on the planet. If humans were wiped out someday, and an alien species landed on earth and found our buildings and technology there would be little doubt who was top of the food chain on earth. It’s something we can all relate to. Sure, it doesn’t mean it is treading on new ground but it isn’t exactly unbelievable either. By the time you identified probable hospitable planets and arrived to find them all changed by mysterious technology during your 600 year journey there is an easy investigation to put into the story – but doesn’t make it any less interesting.
The big plot points – the Andromeda Initiative, the Pathfinder, the Missing Remnants, your father, the true purpose of the mission – none of these things are clear 10 hours in – but there are hints that something much bigger is afoot. I do not expect the writing in MEA to win a pulitzer. I do expect it to have some interesting twists and turns and give us some surprises along the way – a big step up from the simplicity expressed by some reviewers. Is Bioware showing an obvious and simple premise so they can pull a sleight of hand? Early indications say yes. Maybe though, that is just a part of big optimism by me. If you look hard enough for something you will find it, right?
Smaller is still better
Outside of the big themes, I am really enjoying getting to know my squad mates. They are a balance of personalities and one of my favourite is Drack, who is a Krogan. I used Wrex a lot in my away teams in Mass Effect so had a natural affinity with the Krogan in the new series. ME:A has an email terminal (and a slack-esque based one too, which is pretty amusing) and this gives a bit of a chance for small personality quirks to shine through. Here is an email from my good Krogan buddy.
For those who don’t want to click on the image and can’t read it scaled down:
Vetra told me what happened to your dad. I’ve lost a lot of people over the years. Figured you could use some cheering up. Or at least a distraction.
This usually helps me:
[Drack has attached 37 images of various rifles and shotguns. Two are duplicate images. Many are low-res or watermarked]
That seems like something your high school jock-buddy would send if you were having a bad day. The other emails were also very personality specific. It was a nice touch to add some flavor to the personal side of your team. In the end the ties to your character and your team will be the thing that keeps me playing. Hopefully the deeper themes exist and reveal themselves through game play. Even if they don’t I feel like the team itself might be enough to build a solid game around.
I have barely scratched the surface of Andromeda but the itch is getting intense. The way the game is designed after all the hectic missions on Eos I spent almost two hours just conversing with people on the Tempest (my ship) and the Nexus (the Andromeda Initiative’s outpost) learning about people, running small side missions, checking in on my sister… so much to do and experience. The longer I play Andromeda the better it gets. Shame to think many won’t give it that chance based on surface reviews but there is a rich experience to be had for those willing to explore.