Judging a Book By Its Cover? – Critiquing the Plot of Mass Effect Andromeda


When Mass Effect Andromeda was released it got a lot of criticism for its animation and voice acting. And yeah, those are baaaaaaad. But while everyone was expressing their opinion in the healthiest of ways, a question was left unanswered: how good is the story of this game?

Our Beloved Pathfinder at the start of Andromeda

The start of the journey. Also, his looks are uncomfortable. I feel eye candy’d.

I won’t keep you in suspense: I thought the story was good. It  definitely has its flaws, but I like it because the plot is a simple one that I felt the writers explored thoroughly. You are a “pathfinder”, a talented person named Ryder who is chosen to explore the new Heleus cluster in the Andromeda galaxy. An alliance of humans, Asari, Salarians, Turians and Krogan have travelled to this strange, foreign galaxy in order to settle down, build some space houses, make some space pancakes and swim in space rivers. But like so many other stories all their preparations were for naught. So naturally it falls to you and your companions to fix all of the mess the Andromeda initiative makes and to ensure that the settlers won’t starve to death.

As you can see the elements are very recognisable, perhaps even a bit cliché. But the direction in which the story takes you is not only interesting, but also builds unto itself. Your plans to settle fail because of the “Scourge”, a mysterious dark energy substance that essentially fucks with everything it touches.  Including planets. Your first contact with the new aliens species fail, because one, the Kett, is essentially a space version of the third reich. The other, the Angara, is extremely wary of outsiders because of the aforementioned space nazi’s. So Ryder has to earn the trust of the second species while also exploring the “ancient technology” left by a remnant species. Technology that is so powerful it can terraform planets in a number of days. But like any bad guy the Kett are also interested in this technology and thus the war starts. I won’t give out every plotline that happens, but I will tell you this: so far there is no deus ex machina.

And that is where Andromeda succeeds where Mass Effect 3 failed. The enemy is realistic and can be beaten without magical technology. Although you can argue that having literal nazis doesn’t make for the most interesting of antagonists. The characters feel realistic and even the simple tasks try to advance the main plot one way or another. Whether it’s finding the names of dead explorers, trying to scan new life forms or spreading medical supplies across a warzone to aid your allies. Everything feels connected and I think that’s because you explore around ten different huge maps. A lot of quests in the Mass Effect trilogy were quests that didn’t build to anything else. You usually went to a planet, followed a pre-determined map and then left. This is mostly a criticism towards Mass Effect 2 and 3, as Mass Effect definitely gave you more room for exploration. But the point remains: Andromeda combines these two elements. Sure, a lot of quests require you to travel, but it’s inside one huge map. And along the way you can still find new tasks or other story elements.

And that is why this game works. It has that “less is more” mentality that I spoke of in my article about a potential ending for Mass Effect 3. It doesn’t just add new plot elements because the writers got stuck. It follows the story through very clear themes, but that’s something I may discuss in another article.

However, one thing that could be relevant about those themes is that it might explain the criticism towards the ideological stances this games take. Mass Effect Andromeda has received criticsm that it’s a talking point for Social Justice Warriors and follows politically correct plot. And while I agree that it does hinder the story every now and then, I feel the themes are relevant and worth exploring. One example I’ll state here is the theme “immigration.” As you can imagine it’s a very relevant theme in today’s society. And I feel Andromeda explores the theme through various ways. Yes, one way is that immigrants should always be trusted, but people seem to forget that the Kett are also technically speaking immigrants. And they’re the quintessential bad guys.

Side-Quests Don’t Mean Side-writing!

Choices in Andromeda

‘Making an Impression’ indeed…

Of course, this plot has some negative aspects. I’m going to sound a bit contradictory here, but one of the elements this game fails at somewhat is the side-quests. One noticeable trend is that Ryder spends an entire quest exploring, killing various enemies and having snappy conversations with his companions in the rover only to come before a moral dilemma. Usually said dilemma is simple: do you choose for a local population or for the initiative? And that’s a good thing, because it’s one way to flesh out the main character, but the problem is that we never really see the results of your choice. While it’s all connected to the main questline, it has no real consequence for the ending. An example of this would be the quest “Making an Impression.” Ryder is asked to place Hammers around Eos to get access to underground water. But lo and behold: there is this never before mentioned group of settlers who need that water to survive. So the moral dilemma is this: do you get the water or do you instead focus on the natural gas that is abound and that could be handy for trading? Well, it doesn’t matter, because even if you get greedy and choose the water we don’t find out if this remote outpost survives or not.

Of course, the Mass Effect trilogy did this as well and the characters in those quests often made a cameo appearance in the next game. Think about Helena Blake who gave you a quest as a high-profile criminal in Mass Effect and who, if you resolved the quest in a certain way, came back as a social worker on Omega in Mass Effect 2 to thank you for helping her “change her life.” And those little elements were praised at the time because it gave your actions in the previous game some impact. But the problem here is that Andromeda won’t receive a sequel. No cameos in the next game to admire.

Another issue is that it’s easy to see the game was written by a different group of writers. The atmosphere of the game is completely different: where Mass Effect used to be dark and tried to explore steam punk elements and a healthy dose of corrupt realism, Andromeda is incredibly optimistic and focuses completely on exploration. On making a home in a strange new world while trying to get along with different species. Now, one can argue whether this is a good or bad thing. Often a show or game tends to suffer in quality when the old writers leave and new writers take over. This is one example where I felt that isn’t necessarily the case, because Mass Effect had such a bad reputation for deus ex machinas and impossible big bads that a new perspective was necessary to save it.

Can’t Anyone Get Their Lore Straight?!

Another way it’s obvious that the game was written by new writers is that they make quite a few lore inconsistencies. In fact, the narration at the start of the game starts with one: papa Ryder says that the Prothean data cache on Mars “jump-started human technology thousands of years.” In the first game Anderson says it was only 200 years. The same mistake is made with the Krogan genophage. When it’s spoken of the Krogan named Kesh says it happened thousands of years ago, when Wrex makes it a specific point to recount that it had happened 1476 years ago, “if you’re counting.”

Flaws of Andromeda

A Salarian with a Pakistani voice rather than the high-pitched quick voice

Another example is how the Salarians speak. In the trilogy they had high-pitched voices and talked very fast because their faster metabolism makes them experience life extremely quickly. Salarians in Andromeda tend to speak at a normal pace and they often have lower Middle Eastern voices. Director Tann, the most (in)famous salarian in the game, has a Pakistani voice. Asari all of a sudden have transgender issues and decide for themselves which “gender” they have, even though this has never been established before and every Asari we saw was simply female. This would be another of those SJW additions that I do criticise because it breaks with the lore and doesn’t add anything relevant to be a useful retcon. And the biggest lore inconsistency is how the writers handled the Krogan. I will write another article about this, because it annoys me so much, but let me tease it here: THE KROGAN ARE TOO DAMN SOFT!

And the final negative aspect about the game is that there are surprisingly few alien species available. We only really learn about three new species in the game: the Kett, the Angara and the Remnant race that left the wonderful technology behind. That really isn’t a lot in a game series that is renowned for creating interesting and diverse races. Though of course this criticism can be argued. In the Mass Effect trilogies we get to explore an entire galaxy, whereas Mass Effect Andromeda takes place in just one of the clusters in the Andromeda galaxy. And the humans, Asari, Turians and Salarians all come from one cluster. But the problem is that half of the Milky Way species are missing. The Hanar, Drell, Elchor,… are missing. AND WHERE ARE THE QUARIANS?! WHERE ARE MY SPACE BABES?!

But even though this game does have these negative aspects I really don’t feel it deserves the criticism it got. It’s a very long game with a wealth of content. I spent 65 hours playing through the game while not even finishing all the tasks. This huge length probably explains why the voice acting of Tom Taylorson and Fryda Wolff fails at several points… But I hope that my arguments were decent enough for you to check out the plot, because it really is worth playing. So if you are on the fence I will give you the following recommendation: the voice acting and animation are below average, but if you are more interested in plot this game might be for you.

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Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the game series Mass Effect. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. The Mass Effect game series belongs to Bioware and EA Games.

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