RIP Mass Effect: Andromeda?
With Casey Hudson having returned to Bioware, the future of Mass Effect is likely not as bleak. What does look to be dead, however, is Mass Effect: Andromeda. While the poor saps running the Mass Effect Twitter account continue to promote multiplayer to the reception of a bear in a bakery, Andromeda appears finished. No single-player DLC, no sequel. Bugger.
Andromeda received a harsh reception. Certainly, release-day animation issues stand out along with a selection of bugs; some hilarious, some beneficial and some game-breaking. However, behind the mistakes of launching an unfinished title, there lay a decent game.
I enjoyed the switch from linear corridor-shooter to open world exploration. The combat was the most enjoyable in the series. Multi-mission personal quests to gain loyalty (although, in reality, it unlocked abilities) was also a nice touch. I even liked the removal of Paragon/Renegade as it would make no sense for the Andromeda Initiative’s Pathfinder team to be a group of gung-ho militaristic arseholes.
However, it could be better. Continuing the series offers the opportunity to improve. With ME:A, we have a base in Andromeda from which we can build. Ideas that could, and perhaps should, have been implemented in Andromeda could make it into ME:A2. There is the opportunity to flesh-out this galaxy to make the series feel like it is at home here.
Fixing the Kett
Much is made of the Archon. A bad-for-bad sake kinda guy. As an antagonist, I agree, he fell short. The kett just aren’t fleshed out enough. We know that they view what they do as both a gift and as a religious endeavour. They ‘convert’ through force and take from others what makes them stronger. Handled well this idea could have been interesting. Instead, the kett are comically evil, and the Archon never tries to defend what he does, he only seeks to control or destroy.
That doesn’t mean that the kett are beyond redemption as an antagonist, even if they become a secondary one. If, via interactions or discovery of new information, we can find a reason why they believe what they do is noble we can set them up as more of a tragic foe. The Archon was not following orders by the end. We need to introduce a kett who is. Why do the kett have no reproductive organs of their own? Dr T’Perro and SAM believe that they have done it to themselves but could we think of a reason why they might? What if, long ago, their species was ravaged by a sexually-transmitted plague? Perhaps even as the result of biological weapon used against them?
Exaltation As a Means to Survive
Exaltation could have become their means to survive this plague and over time granted them immunities to other illnesses. It then wouldn’t be a stretch for them to believe it a gift worth spreading while also the only way to ensure their survival. Alternatively, maybe only the higher-ups like the Archon know the truth. It certainly wouldn’t be something to share with newly-exalted kett. However, there is a price to pay with Exaltation, and the Archon paid it. By augmenting himself so much with the genetic material of others, he developed some form of madness. Such insanity could also affect other kett that had gone to the lengths he had.
This would at least create a moral quandary. What the kett do is objectively wrong but how would we sit with the slow extinction of a species, particularly if Exaltation was developed to counter a heinous crime committed against them? Flipping the plot like this would require some clever and subtle writing to make it feel organic, but it’s certainly a possibility. Mass Effect 1 presented the geth as a bunch of sinister robots who fanatically followed the Reapers as gods.
The Opposition: Really ‘Some Motherfuckers’?
We already have a candidate for those who could perpetrate such a crime – The Opposition. Whoever unleashed the Scourge on the Jardaan is of considerable technological advancement. It is entirely feasible that they could create a biological weapon that attacks reproductive capability. The question, of course, would be why?
The Andromeda Galaxy is a huge place, several times larger than our own, and we have only explored one tiny cluster. ME:A sets up the Jardaan as benevolent. They create life suitable for a particular environment. What if they’re not benevolent, though? The angaran are the only native sapient species we have seen in Heleus, and even they were put there by the Jardaan. Could something not have been living there before?
Much like the Leviathans, the Jardaan could see themselves as the destined ruler of Andromeda. We can only theorise that ‘Jardaan’ is the name of a species, and not a particular group but let’s imagine it is the latter. The Jardaan are a group of some highly-advanced alien race who believe themselves to be Gods. Using technology, they seek to remake the galaxy as they see fit. To do that, they need to destroy what was there originally. Angaran society is built on the remains of whatever came before.
Jardaan: Genocidal God Complex?
If that pattern repeats throughout Andromeda, the Jardaan could have wiped out countless civilisations and species only to replace them with something else. Perhaps they wanted slaves? Maybe they were trying to fix what they perceived as mistakes? Or possibly, they just view the galaxy as a giant video game simulation where they can do whatever they want to amuse themselves?
A group – possibly of the same species since the weapon was detonated on a Jardaan facility suggesting infiltration – responded to this eventually by trying to undo it all. They unleashed a plague on the kett, who could be a Jardaan creation, but that didn’t stop the Jardaan. Eventually, after however many encounters in however many clusters, The Opposition unleashed the weapon of mass destruction known as the Scourge.
The Opposition then chased the Jardaan out of Heleus, leaving the angara relatively unharmed until the kett showed up. In this scenario, the kett’s actions are still awful but understandable. The Jardaan are not benevolent creators, but a menace and The Opposition are not “some motherfuckers” but the only thing preventing the Jardaan from obliterating all sapient species in Andromeda for their own end. A lot of plot twists, sure, but it would undo our expectations from the ME:A premise.
How does this fit in with saving the quarians? With all the remnant tech being reactivated, it’s possible that The Opposition becomes aware of what’s going on. The quarians, being accomplished techs and engineers, might have even been trying to activate Remtech themselves when The Opposition found them. Not knowing who, or what, they are The Opposition immediately assume that the quarians are a created species of the Jardaan and attack. In the early stages of ME:A2, Ryder could locate a quarian distress signal coming from an underground facility they have constructed. And so, the rescue effort begins!
The Mass Effect: Andromeda series could then build to a multi-front war for which the Initiative is not prepared. The Opposition and Jardaan both possess the substantially more advanced technology. For those lamenting the lack of meaningful decisions, there would be the opportunity in the long-term to make several major decisions over allies, with consequences for each choice.
The Burden of Choice
For example, allying with the Jardaan against The Opposition is giving the Jardaan freedom to continue its galactic-reshaping programme elsewhere (and who knows whether they’ll come back to Heleus?). Join forces with The Opposition, and they may demand to purge all lifeforms created by the Jardaan which includes the angara and kett. Ally with the Kett Empire against the Jardaan and The Opposition and you must consent to exaltation continuing to ensure kett survival. An option could even be for the Initiative to withdraw or declare neutrality, leaving the warring parties to their own ends but also deserting the angara and others.
If the series also introduced aliens from other areas of the galaxy where the kett, Jardaan and Opposition have been active, the choice could be a difficult one if emotional attachments have been formed. Think back to choosing between the quarians and geth in ME3 if you haven’t met the conditions for a truce? How difficult might it be to decide to sacrifice some species over others? And what if there was even a risk that you might have to sacrifice Initiative species if certain conditions were not met?
Depending on various conditions and actions, one choice could become favourable. If, for example, you have certain alliances or have established certain colony upgrades then allying with the kett is more likely to result in victory with fewest losses. However, ally with the kett and you lose angaran support. It would take effort to make such a system work but I believe the payoff would be enthralling. There would be a genuine chance to have tangibly different outcomes on every playthrough.
Returning to Roots
This would bring the series back to its grimdark atmosphere; a galaxy where right and wrong are perspectives and heroes to some are villains to others. The series doesn’t need a happy ending so much as a satisfying ending.
The above diatribe is likely a load of bollocks to some. I know there are those who want to return to the Milky Way and pretend Andromeda isn’t a thing. And let’s face it, what I’ve written above will never happen, so it is all a moot point. Still, I do think there is a lot of potential for surprises and difficult choices left in Andromeda. ME:A might have started on shaky ground, but it could develop into something special.