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How to make the best of the weakest parts: Mass Effect Andromeda

Mass_Effect_Andromeda_cover

Copyright Bioware and Electronic Arts

Before we begin, I will spoil literally everything about Mass Effect Andromeda here.  If you have not completed it, please do not read any of this article.  I don’t have time to put any other spoiler warning up, so keep that in mind.

So, the Kett were pretty much the weakest part of Mass Effect Andromeda.  The Archon was basically a giant missed opportunity and the rest of the Kett were basically just a redeux of the Reapers, by way of the Borg.  That was actually kind of lame, especially after so much build up and an attempt to give them something of an identity through a pretty good extended side quest.  Here’s the thing though, the Kett might actually be good for Mass Effect in the long term, and would actually be able to fill the exact same niche as the Reapers, while doing it a lot better than they ever did.  It won’t even be that hard.

Before Andromeda, the Reapers were the weakest part of Mass Effect, for a lot of reasons.  The conversation with Sovereign on Virmire is one of the best science fiction scenes I have ever experienced.  “You exist because we allow it, and you will end because we demand it.”  It’s an insane line, one of the best in the series (up there with “Had to be me, someone else might have gotten it wrong.”) and nothing ever lives up to it.  No interaction with the Reapers, through the rest of the next two games, any of the comics or the terrible tie in novels, manage to reach the heights that the discussion with Sovereign manages to do.  After that, the Reapers are pretty much faceless Elder God rip offs, and also manage to contradict all of the cool things Sovereign said.   It would be impossible, actually, to match up with what he said and manage to have a coherent story, but it’s still ultimately disappointing.

330px-Sovereign

Image copyright Bioware/Electronic Arts. Also, the Reapers never manage to be this cool, again, either.

The game, from then on, becomes entirely about the Reapers, and they take over the narrative, but they’re not very interesting.  They also contradict themselves a lot, never living up to their promised potential, but what’s really boring about them is that they have no identity.  In a series where the “humanization,” for literally lacking a better term, of the alien is a major theme in the story, the Reapers stand apart.  While that was probably the thematic point of the Reapers, it doesn’t work for them.  Sovereign, and to a much lesser extent, Harbinger, try to act as the “face” or identity of the Reapers, nothing gives them any sense of character.  Even the Geth, who are also synthetic beings with a gestalt mind, get a lot more personality.  They’re given goals, identities and characters, as well as an engaging backstory, that allows them to grow beyond being simple death machines that ran the cute engineer girl’s people off of their home planet.  They exist simply to be an antagonist (and then they burn the setting down as one final “fuck you” to Drew Karpshyn), lacking any nuance or narrative interest.  In short, they’re boring.  Also, they don’t really fit with the rest of the setting.

The Kett are basically the Reapers 2.0.  The Reapers show up, eat everything to make them a part of who they are, are an implacable army of destruction and their power is so much greater, the Council species barely have a fighting chance (and then they don’t because at the end, someone half remembered some of the things Sovereign said in that awesome conversation you had with him on Virmire).  The Kett manage to be exactly that.  However, they have one thing that makes them different from the Reapers.  Also from the Borg, to which they are also quite similar.  See, the Kett are people.  Yeah, they have their old lives stripped of them and there’s this quasi-religious element to their new identity that forces them to live this creepily Spartan lifestyle, but this seems to be cultural, not genetic.  The few Kett we get a chance to interact with have their own unique personalities and are basically people.  Terrible people, sure, but they’re people.

This is where it works.  Since we can actually interact with them, they can fit into the Mass Effect paradigm really well.  If we can get some actual interesting Kett characters, even if they’re bad guys that we have no chance of managing to get on our side, they can be compelling and interesting.  Someone who genuinely sees Ryder as a rival, maybe even like how General Kang was to Captain Kirk, as an example, or maybe take that religious aspect the Archon had and make something with it.  Like a Paladin type character, a crusader, who is convinced it’s her holy duty to destroy the Initiative.  There’s a lot to play with, and that makes them interesting.  By making them people, it does mean that the game is never going to get the epic scene with Sovereign, but if that means we get to have human villains with thoughts, dreams and desires, as well as a way to deal with them that, potentially, isn’t violence (even if one can’t come up in the game), that makes for a better overall experience.  I’m willing to sacrifice that one moment for a longer term goal.

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Writer’s Block

For the past couple of months, I’ve alluded to my writer’s block as the reason for my long spaces between posts and erratic update schedule.  Even on weeks when I could or did update regularly, it would be at odd times or late at night or something.  Granted, it’s not all been writer’s block, a lot of it is just me wanting to play World of Warcraft, but the fact I can’t get up here and just write something like I used to has been weighing extremely heavily on me.

I mentioned in my post back in August about how World of Warcraft helped heal my wounds that I had lost almost all desire to write.  Even now, I find it difficult to want to write something.  Part of it is because the Supreme Court decision next month has been weighing on my mind (and makes me question whether I’m wasting my life), but mostly it’s because I’m having a very difficult time being coming out and being honest about myself and my writing when I fire up the Cluttered Mind word processor.

For two years, I worked as a journalist at a small town, unnamed, newspaper.  It was the most soul crushing job of my life, worse than my tenure at Wal-Mart, and a lot of the pain from it was self-inflicted.  I sat uselessly in the news room, not wanting to write because the desire to do so had been torn out of me.  My romantic dreams of writing like Clark Kent had been dashed away and I saw the news room as drudgery and boring.  I know this isn’t necessarily the fate of all news rooms, but it was mine, and it was the most disturbing moment of my life.  It would be like the Pope waking up tomorrow morning knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, there was no god.

For the past few months, I’ve come back to writing as a means of enjoyment.  Before my tenure at the newspaper, ideas would spring unbidden into my mind at any time, and for two years, my imagination was silent.  These ideas have returned to me, but it’s slow and a lot of them feel hollow, like I’m trying to force my mind to work.

The first time I really felt joy at writing again was last Saturday.  I was running my first Dungeons and Dragons game in months, something I had been itching to do for a very long time, and I felt my mind buzz with activity again.  Meeting with my player’s separately about their characters and where they wanted to go was bliss.  I saw where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do and what I could do with my canvas.

In turn, this has given me a weird insight into myself.  It’s not really the suffering that’s making me a better writer, nor is writing any kind of salve, but that I have to really be honest to enjoy what I write and if I force myself to just write, it’s going to suck.  It’s a lesson I should well know, and one I’ve learned be fore (and will likely learn again).  I’m just glad it doesn’t hurt anymore when I fire up my word processor.