Mass Effect Andromeda Diaries #1: Boldly Going
I’ve documented my journey with Lara Croft and Geralt of Rivia, and led the Inquisition to glory, of sorts. Now I am forging a path in Mass Effect Andromeda and invite you to join me! If you’re new to the Mass Effect series, fear not. This is a whole new endeavour. While Commander Shepard is off saving the Milky Way from certain doom, the Andromeda Initiative is on its 600-year journey to seek out a new home for its intrepid explorers. Tired of life in the Milky Way? Join me on this exciting adventure as I play through BioWare’s latest science fiction adventure.
Welcome to the Andromeda Galaxy.
Step One: Character Creation
The most important part of saving the galaxy, running the galaxy, or gallivanting through the galaxy is looking good. Gaining early access to the game through EA Access helped alleviate the pressure of this process, so that by the actual launch day on the 21st, I could settle in to the actual gameplay. With early access, I was able to create a Ryder, play around with her for five hours, then determine that I just didn’t like how she looked and recreate her. Unfortunately, BioWare’s character creation options are still limited and seem to have gone backwards in these last two games, despite the emphasis placed on the amazing Frostbite Engine that makes the gameplay itself and the combat look so great. I ditched my initial beady-eyed Ryder, and finally settled on this.
Meet Penta Ryder. She’s a plucky human who served as an operative in the alliance military, specializing in covert operations and special forces tech. She’s not nearly as covert as she thinks she is, leaning more towards the jump first, party later mentality that might not be conducive to the Initiative’s plans. I also have the opportunity to customize Penta’s twin brother, Scott.
Once out of character creation, Ark Hyperion and its 20,000 passengers arrive at their destination in the Helius Cluster after more than 600 years in cryo-sleep. Penta Ryder wakes up and is a little groggy, but has to smarten up real fast when everything goes wonky. We’ve landed in the middle of a space storm that is soon named the Scourge. It’s some sort of energy field that messes up everything, including the lifepod containing Scott. Dr. Lexi T’Perro (speaking in the sultry tones of Natalie Dormer) confirms that Scott is okay, but will be out of it for a while.
Joined by Cora Harper, Liam Kosta, and a few red shirts, Ryder suits up at her father Alec’s command to go check things out on the planet below. There are a few moments to have a word with Dad Ryder, and it’s made clear that their relationship is cordial, but not overly affectionate. Ryder’s dialogue responses can be emotional, or logical, logical, or professional, and will affect her narrative traits:
Emotional. Emotional responses have a heart icon. These tend to be, well, emotional responses, things like “I can’t lose him” and “We can’t give up.”
Logical. Logical responses have a gear icon. They’re a lot more matter-of-fact and to the point, things like “It looks bad” as opposed to “I’m sure it’s nicer once you get inside.”
Casual. Casual responses get a round spiral icon. These are more flippant and devil-may-care.
Professional. Professional responses have a square spiral icon. They’re by-the-book and rules-oriented, things like “Planetfall in 30” and “That’s our job.”
I don’t know how much this truly affects the game. Will it be like Alpha Protocol where your reputation literally can precede you and affect how people deal with you, or will it just be a bunch of numbers? I decided in advance that I wanted to play a Ryder that embraced her responsibility and is trying to emulate Alec. He is the Pathfinder, the field leader of this adventure. Each ark has their own pathfinder, each of whom are implanted with an artificial intelligence called SAM (Simulated Adaptive Matrix). Also, Alec’s appearance is based upon the character creation process, and I’m pretty happy with how Hot Dad Ryder turned out.
On the shuttle, Penta and Liam chat a bit about his past and his reason for joining the Initiative as we watch the scenery unfold through the window. Six-hundred years ago, the Initiative promised us seven “golden worlds” of which we are landing on one, except Habitat 7 isn’t looking so golden right now. The Scourge gets its tendrils into the shuttles and they all crash land for a closer look at the planet surface, which is riddled with floating rocks and magnetic storms.
I’ll assume that our shuttle was on autopilot, as Liam and Penta survive in one piece, but don’t seem concerned about anyone else in the immediate vicinity. SAM is down, so I can scan things around me, but no information is being reported back to the Initiative’s databases just yet. I am getting research data points for the Heleus Cluster, which will be used for good things later, I’m sure. This part of the story also serves as a tutorial, so I am learning important things like how to use jump jets and how not to totally misjudge the distance between cliffs and plummet to my death. Oops.
Exploration leads us into caves where we find strange alien constructs on a planet that was supposed to have been uninhabited, according to our 600-year-old scans. As with everything going on, it seems that the Initiative’s brochures were wrong, or at least, it was naïve to believe nothing would change while we were napping.
Soon, we have our first encounter with a sentient alien species. It’s time to get our First Contact Protocol on! Only, that Initiative brochure only bothered to write a paragraph on this process. There is no Prime Directive here, my friends, so Penta has to make things up as she goes along. This is the first big decision of the game. The aliens up ahead are holding one of our crew at gunpoint. Liam, with his security officer training, thinks we should go in hot and take out the threat, but Penta decides to go with protocol. Hands up, she walks forward, yelling about coming in peace and stuff. I guess SAM would have been able to help diffuse this situation with translations, but there is no communicating with these beings, who yell back and then open fire. Penta is equipped with a pistol and a rifle, and I do my best shoot the bad guys in the head. Headshots are always the better option, but alas, I do not yet have a blessed sniper rifle. We rescue Fisher, but he’s wounded and unable to come with us in our search for the others.
We find a cave where life has been untouched by the storms, giving us a hint of what things once were and perhaps could be again. Traveling on, we encounter some weird dog things that can turn invisible. Further still, we find that the aliens have crash landed here too. After another firefight, we inspect their ship, as well as the alien structure they seem very interested in. Oh, our other crewmates have been in touch and part of my mission is to go and rescue them. It’s optional. I’m sure they’ll be fine. The lights are off inside the alien structure, so obviously the smart thing to do is run around pushing buttons. Liam disapproves, but hey, we make some important discoveries about the age of the abandoned tech, which appears to be about 400 years old. Some sort of robot hops up and tries to kill us, but we make short work of it.
Okay, okay, I didn’t really plan on leaving any crewmates behind. Unfortunately, our arrival isn’t enough to stop the aliens from killing Kirkland. Sorry buddy. You shall be avenged! But we do manage to save Greer, who promises to go back for Fisher. Cora has been in communication with us and we follow her flares to find her in a precarious position. She and the remaining crew have managed to take care of the aliens, but they are still out in the open. I restock ammo and–happiness is–I find a sniper rifle, which makes short work of a battle that I didn’t survive my first time through.
Cora, who has revealed her biotic powers, joins Liam and Penta and we head off to join the Pathfinder to find out what he’s discovered. I try to veer off to do a bit more exploring, but Cora and Liam keep nagging me about keeping Dad waiting. Looking at the map, it seems that I have taken care of all the nooks and crannies and my only option is to press on. SAM is back online now, which means the information I’m scanning is being logged and studied by the AI as we proceed.
The path to Dad Ryder leads back to the cave we found earlier. Beyond that is a large alien structure surrounded by facilities presumably built by the new aliens. Dad’s plan is to fight our way through to the alien structure, which seems to be the point of origin of the storm. During this excursion, Dad is right into the thick of battle and keeps ordering SAM to change “profiles.” What does this mean, we wonder, but no matter. Dad’s a machine with purpose and we have to keep up.
At the entrance to the structure, Dad manages to get the door open and inside, interacts with the alien device in a fancy holographic display of lights and sounds. It looks like he has saved the day, but–whoooosh!
Everything explodes in our faces, and Penta and Alec are thrown off the platform. Penta’s mask is broken in the fall. She is dying. Dad does the only thing he can to save her, sacrificing himself. But, when Penta wakes up, she learns he’s done even more than that. He’s also transferred SAM to her mind. Penta Ryder is now the Pathfinder.
Meanwhile, back on Habitat 7, a ship arrives and the creature we know from earlier BioWare revelations to be the Archon disembarks. He uses some sort of drone to create a holographic re-enactment of whatever it was that Alec Ryder did to activate the alien structure and stop the atmospheric disruption. The Archon looks like a sad kitty and I want to give him a hug, especially when he tries to re-enact Ryder’s actions himself only to fail.
On the Nexus, Penta is a little dumbfounded but accepting of her new responsibilities, though Cora was her father’s second and the one being groomed to take his place. Cora shows no outward animosity over the decision and promises she’s okay with it, but it’s probably something that should be discussed later. But first, as Dad would say, there’s work to do.
Ark Hyperion connects with the Nexus, where Cora, Liam, and Penta find the lights out and apparently no one home. This should be a hub of activity as the colonists work on their new home, but once again, we’re finding that things did not go as planned. We bump into a technician, followed by a turian militia leader, Tiran Kandros, who explains that the Nexus has been here for 14 months and Hyperion is the first ark to arrive. There has been no word from the others. During that time, the Nexus has suffered because of the Scourge. There has been civil unrest result in the exiling of several people, including the large group of krogans that were tasked with stomping on the insurgents. Kandros takes us into the functioning part of the Nexus, Operations, where we meet one of the only remaining krogan on board, Nakmor Kesh. She explains that Hyperion’s arrival has already started turning things around, adding power to the Nexus so that other sections can be opened up.
Penta meets with Jarun Tann, a salarian who is the administrative director of the Nexus. He’s in charge, more or less, though Kesh and Tandros, have some say in their respective fields, along with a human named Addision, who is the Director of Colonial Affairs and has no fondness for the Pathfinder. She refuses to call Penta or Alec before her by that title until they’ve actually found a path. I see that Penta and Addison will be the best of friends.
Getting to know the Nexus means talking to all of these people to learn about them and about the situation. This is the de facto leadership of the Initiative after their glorious leader Jien Garson and the majority of the leaders died upon arrival. Kesh refers to Tann as Number 8 because, as assistant accounting guy, he was eighth on the list to head up this posse, but now he’s all we’ve got. This worked out reasonably well for the Battlestar Galactica community, but might be a problem here, especially since Tann has no respect for at least once of the ark races. Kesh can deal with Tann’s prejudice and still advocate for her people, because krogans just don’t back down by nature. It’s so refreshing to see a krogan female and learn that there are others, since their status has been an ongoing struggle throughout the Mass Effect series, thanks to the genophage that was inflicted upon their race by the salarians and turians to stop the krogans from breeding and taking over the galaxy. Kesh explains that their infertility rate has dropped during the 600 years of cryo-sleep. The change is minute, but any improvement is better than nothing and the krogans take this in stride. They were brought here as muscle, as they were used before by the salarians and turians to fight the rachni, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want a chance at a new world too. As much as they are known for their brute force, they are far from ignorant and I look forward to seeing more of them as the story progresses.
Anyway, with Ryder here, all those big colonial decisions are going to fall on my shoulders. This would be fine if Commander Shepard had come along. Ryder isn’t quite so good at the political and judicial stuff and I find myself re-assessing how I want to play her personality.
Running around the Nexus, Ryder meets other people and learns of their struggles, including a case of sabotage and a mission called “The First Murderer.” A turian female asks Ryder to help exonerate her husband, who has been locked up for murder. The evidence is circumstantial, so Ryder promises to find the body of the victim, which was left behind in a firefight on the planet that Ryder must visit next.
But first, a stop at SAM Node to find out what the hell is going on inside Penta’s head. She learns from SAM that Alec’s version of the AI is the most advanced of the pathfinders who have had the implant installed. The tutorial explains that this means Ryder can change her class profile on the fly to gain abilities that change to suit the missions needs or my whims.
Alec’s SAM advancements are not surprising, especially when SAM reveals one of her father’s memories where he tries to convince the human leadership that humanity needs AI technology to catch up to the other species in the galaxy. The problem is, when the quarians tried this, they ended up in a war with their AI creations, the geth, that kicked the entire quarian species off of their home planet and has made AI research anathema among the Citadel races. Alec’s logic is that this time it’s different because the AI is inside the brain. Surely nothing could go wrong with that!
Other memories reveal that Alec’s wife was involved with this AI technology development, but when she received a terminal diagnosis and later died, it made Alec’s decision to accept Jien Garson’s offer to become a part of the Initiative an easier one. In other words, Alec had nothing to lose and was now free to AI to his heart’s content without any pesky moral boundaries standing in his way. There are more memories to unlock, but SAM says we have to find the triggers.
There are a lot of reasons presented by the various people Penta meets on the Nexus and Hyperion for joining the Initiative. At the top of the list is Jien Garson, the Initiative’s founder, who had a wanderlust and lots of money. Other people seem to be outcasts.
In summary, the Initiative is full of delinquents. We’re gonna do great!