Mass Effect Andromeda Halfway (Spoilers)

This post is going to be a brain dump of my thoughts about the Mass Effect Andromeda story at what I’m guessing is around the halfway point. Spoilers, obviously, if you haven’t gotten to and completed Kadara in the Priority missions. I’ll wait until I finish the game before posting this, in case anyone feels compelled to jump into the comments and explain how everything turns out.

Yes, that means I’ve finished the game as I’m posting this. Another post is coming tomorrow with my final thoughts on the game.

By the way, none of my criticisms should be meant to imply that I’m not enjoying the game. Far from it. I’m having a lot of fun with it. I would never in a million years write this many words about a game that I wasn’t enjoying.

One of the best things about Mass Effect 1’s story for me was how focused it was. Shepard’s goals were clear (find Saren), and it was clear how to obtain the goals (follow Saren’s trail), and it was clear what would happen when the goal was met (save the Citadel). The journey had many twists and turns, but the core story was pretty simple.

They got away from that in Mass Effect 2 and 3, but you still had at least a vague idea of the goal in those games: Save the galaxy from the Collectors and the Reapers, respectively.

Andromeda is a whole new ball game, in many ways, both metaphorically and literally. There’s a line that one of the background extras on the Ark Hyperion says near the beginning, something like, “Andromeda is about new beginnings, it’s not about funerals.” I took that as a not-so-subtle message to fans of the Mass Effect games: This is a brand new game, nothing like the old ones, so suck it up and deal with it.

There is no clear goal in the Andromeda main story. I suppose you could say that the goal is to survive the new galaxy, but it’s a really nebulous goal. (Ha! Nebulous. Get it? Astronomy humor!) Granted it makes sense that an open world game would have nebulous goals, because otherwise it wouldn’t be an open world game.

Theoretically, if you ignored the open world and did nothing but follow the Priority missions, you should get a tightly-contained story with a beginning, middle, and end. But when I think about the priority missions I’ve completed, I don’t get any sense of a narrative. Let’s break it down.

We arrive in Andromeda. (When I say “we” I mean a sort of hybrid entity of me the player and Scott Ryder the protagonist.) It’s not spelled out but we know we left the Milky Way after Sovereign attacked The Citadel and after Normandy blew up at the beginning of ME2, because The Citadel attack and Project Lazarus are specifically referenced by background characters (both on Kadara, coincidentally).

We get marooned unexpectedly in The Scourge, a mysterious dark energy cloud which inexplicably causes physical ship damage. (That’s when I knew this game wasn’t written by astrophysicists.) We crash land on Habitat 7, the human “golden world.” It’s a hellscape. We encounter alien kett, who try to kill us. We find a Remnant structure which dad somehow uses to fix the hellscape and push back The Scourge. We break our helmet and choke on the corrosive atmosphere. Dad sacrifices himself to save us, transfers the SAM AI to us, and we become the new Pathfinder.

All of that happens in like the first hour of gameplay.

Now free of The Scourge, we fly the Ark Hyperion to The Nexus, the rendezvous point. (For unknown reasons, we completely abandon Habitat 7 even though we fixed the atmosphere.) None of the other Arks have arrived, so we’re the only Pathfinder. We learn the SAM AI implant is more than it seems. Director Tann tells us to go to Eos to establish an outpost. We trigger a Remnant vault there which magically fixes the atmosphere. The vault tells us there is another Remnant vault on the planet Aya. Apparently Remnant vaults were made to terraform planets. On the way to Aya, we encounter The Archon, the kett boss, who tries to capture and/or kill us for our knowledge of the Remnant. We escape to Aya and meet the angara, another alien species. They are understandably skeptical and demand we prove our loyalty.

Here’s where the plot gets a little fuzzy for me. We rescue the Moshae to gain angaran favor, and then for some reason our next goal is to confront the Archon. (Personally I would think we’d want to avoid the Archon.) We rescue an angaran from Kadara who can tell us exactly where to find the Archon, and then Drack and Peebee both bring up different priorities they think we should pursue. That’s where I am in the main story. (I think I may have gone down Drack’s path a little bit when I went to Elaadan for his loyalty mission, but I’m not entirely sure.)

I thought it would make more sense when I wrote it down, but it doesn’t. It’s kind of all over the place. And it’s confusing to reach a point in a linear story where you can take one of three different paths.

The more I play Andromeda, the more I think of plot holes.

I have yet to see a concrete reason for why the Andromeda Initiative needed or wanted to go to Andromeda, besides, “we felt like it.” In reality, I can’t see how any government would fund it, because it would be throwing money away–it’s a one-way trip so there is literally no way to bring anything beneficial back. So the Initiative had to be privately funded. They have mentioned a “Benefactor” but who is it and why? I haven’t progressed far enough into Ryder Family Secrets to find out. Obviously the Benefactor would have had to come along on the mission to get any benefit from it, so I am expecting to discover the identity of the Benefactor and talk to him/her/it before the end of the game. If I don’t, I’m going to be disappointed. I imagine it’s going to be a big time crime boss running from the law.

My biggest plot problem is with SAM, the AI implant in Ryder’s head. Or arm. Or leg. Or wherever you put AIs in a human body.

I understand why SAM exists from a gameplay perspective: It’s basically the game’s help system, and a flimsy narrative to explain “classes” and “profiles.”

But I can’t help but wonder why Scott Ryder had a SAM implant in the first place. I understand why Alec Ryder, the father, had the SAM implant–because he was chosen/elected/anointed as the Pathfinder and all the Pathfinders have a SAM. I don’t know why all Pathfinders have SAMs, though. Having a SAM implant I suppose is what makes a person a Pathfinder. It turns into a chicken-and-egg conundrum. Can you be a Pathfinder without a SAM?

I understand that Alec did some kind of “transfer” thing to his son before he died. (I have some problems with that death, too–I feel like experienced space explorers would have a backup breathing system in case of that exact situation.) But Scott clearly had a SAM implant before then, even back on the ship. Asking about the SAM implant is one of the very first dialog choices you get in the game. SAM was talking to Scott long before the death of his father.

But then they showed a weird thing where Scott’s blood vessels or synapses or something turned black after the transfer took place. What was that all about? Was that SAM taking over? Are there two different kinds of SAM implants? Like a SAM client implant for anyone, and a SAM server implant just for the Pathfinder? Or is SAM–wait for it–an alien organism infecting the body?? They told us that the SAM hardware actually exists in the SAM Node on The Nexus (or maybe the Hyperion, I forget), so whatever happened during that transfer was pretty special. That whole scene where Scott wakes up in SAM Node was extremely vague. They talked about SAM’s integration with Scott in almost magical terms. They better explain that better before the game ends.

At first I figured the answer was that the Pathfinder-in-waiting would also have a SAM implant in case the head Pathfinder died. But we know from Cora’s dialog that she was supposed to take over as Pathfinder if Alec Ryder died.

Also, when we saved the asari Ark in Cora’s loyalty mission, the asari Pathfinder-in-waiting did not have a SAM implant. It was implanted after she “ascended” to full Pathfinder status.

I can only assume this will be explained later, after I progress farther in the “Ryder Family Secrets” plotline. (I have only reached the point where you investigate Jien Garson’s death.) Maybe Alec Ryder implanted his whole family for some specific reason.

Also, it’s not entirely clear to me whether people can hear SAM’s voice or not. Sometimes it seems like people can, and sometimes they can’t. (It’s like Stewie Griffin on Family Guy.) They’ve referenced a “private channel” which SAM can use. But how does that work? Does it communicate sound directly through Scott’s brain? Or does it communicate through an earpiece? Does Scott carry around a “speaker” so SAM’s voice can be heard by others? I’m pretty sure other squad mates have referenced hearing or talking to SAM.

They need to explain these things in ways that programmers can understand. :)

Now about this “Pathfinder” concept in general.

Again, I’m not very clear on what makes a person a Pathfinder. I’m assuming that the main qualification is having a SAM implant in your brain. But I don’t understand why that makes a person more suited for flying around alien planets than a normal person. In the real world, the process of finding and/or making a place for people to live on a planet would require a huge team, not just one guy with a computer.

I suppose one could surmise that military experience is another prerequisite of being a Pathfinder, based on Alec Ryder’s N7 experience and Cora’s Alliance (I assume?) experience. However Scott Ryder’s military experience is vague at best. The most I remember him saying is that he “guarded a Mass Effect Relay.” I have no idea what that entails, but it doesn’t seem like something that would require a great deal of ground combat, considering that Mass Effect Relays float around in space.

So are Pathfinders a kind of para-military organization? Well, no, because there’s no “organization” to it. There’s the Pathfinder and there’s … nothing else. There are no ranks in the Pathfinder hierarchy. The entire Andromeda Initiative is a civilian operation, one assumes. There’s no real chain of command on The Tempest.

And don’t even get me started on how SAM the AI is somehow the only thing in the universe which can interface with this alien Remnant tech. That makes no sense, unless they are leaving something out which will be explained later.

When we first saw the kett on Habitat 7, my literal first thought was that they looked like Collectors from ME2. We know that the kett, too, arrived in Andromeda on their own “arks.” I’m really hoping that’s not the big reveal at the end.

Near the beginning of the game, there was a reference to a Quarian Ark, but that it had technical difficulties and couldn’t launch on time. I wonder if that means it will show up later in this game, or whether the game developers literally had trouble with fitting quarians into this game, and that’s their excuse for leaving them out.

To end on one final positive note, I absolutely love what Bioware did with the Ryder brother/sister thing. It makes so much sense from a narrative perspective. Want to play a male? You’re Scott Ryder. Want to play a female? You’re Sara Ryder. The one you don’t pick remains in a coma. It makes so much more sense than picking whether the Shepard in your universe is male or female.

More thoughts later, when I find out if the game delivers any of the answers to my questions.

Ed: Yes, I know none of my questions above were answered within the game, and I was disappointed about it.

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