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


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.


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.


I’m back and I’m rested

I took the past week off to rest a little bit.  Work had become really stressful and while I had some time to update over Thanksgiving break, I decided to take the time off to have a complete brain reboot.  I had just gotten way too tired and I figured that would be the best way to keep myself from going completely mad.  In the meantime, I managed to beat Dragon Age: Origins the first time, so I’ll have a review up on Thursday.  I also saw Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day, and I’ll have a review of that tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’ve mentioned a few times over the past couple of months that I’m replaying Final Fantasy XII.  Although it’s a controversial game in the series, Final Fantasy XII is my favorite Final Fantasy game.  It’s a bittersweet tale of magic and wonder, weaving dark political intrigue with traditional fantasy, dungeonpunk and some science fiction to tell a truly epic tale of love, revenge and politics.  I’ve mentioned many times that the setting really lets my imagination soar, but what really draws me in is the almost sorrowful way the game tells its story.  It has a happy ending, it is a Final Fantasy game after all, but there is a lot of  sadness in this game, and the characters are forced to sacrifice a lot.

Almost two years ago, a friend of mine once mused that all of the best stories are sad, even if they have happy endings.  I didn’t want to accept it at first, but the truth is, we don’t really accept “…and they lived happily ever after” as a legitimate ending after we’re 3 years old (because that’s the point in life we can start to ask “and then what happens?”).  I think part of the reason for this is because conflict is what makes stories interesting, and conflict will inevitably lead to some undesired outcome for at least one participant, but that’s not the real reason.  As humans, we have to sacrifice a lot to get where we are.  Not just time or money, but sometimes we have to give up things we truly love to get to a better place in our lives.  Sometimes it’s a hobby or something simple, or something important like a loved one.  When a protagonist reaches a better point without ever giving anything up, I think we feel cheated.

One of my favorite game of all time is Final Fantasy VI.  At the end, for reasons I’d rather not get into for spoilers, magic has to fade away from the world in order to save it from the psychotic clown Kefka.  It’s such a haunting and sad ending, but hopeful.  I played it when I was in high school, years and years after it came out, but it had a very profound affect on me, and it made me realize how much a heroic character will have to sacrifice to do what must be done.  After I finished that game, I had a better understanding of fiction, writing and characterization.

My three favorite games of the sixth generation of video game consoles were Jak II, Final Fantasy XII and Radiata Stories.  All of them had the heroes giving up something and sacrificing something they loved more than anything in the multiverse to do the right thing and save the world and help others.  I think that’s one of the many reasons why I loved those games.