Mass Effect Andromeda Diaries #4: The Wild, Wild Heleus
Previously on Andromeda Diaries: Pathfinder Ryder has made great strides in the Heleus Cluster and has dealt a big blow to the Archon. Understandably though, based on their experience with the kett, there are still some angara who don’t trust all these new aliens, no matter how nice our Cultural Exchange says we are.
There are a number of errands for Ryder to complete to help raise galactic viability for the Initiative, including loyalty missions for her companions and checking out some of the other star systems. The Moshae has given us a lead on who betrayed her to the Archon. It was an angaran Resistance fighter who has now fled to Kadara Port. Kadara was an angara colony being overrun by kett until the Initiative’s exiles, led by former Initiative Director of Security, Sloane Kelly, stormed in and took over everything. Now her Outlaws are running things, which adds to the angaran suspicion of Ryder. But first! A literary interlude!
If I’m not playing Mass Effect Andromeda, I am busy reading it. I’m a big fan of gaming lore and when BioWare announced that this game would be enhanced with a series of prequel novels written by rising stars in the speculative fiction genre. Jason M. Hough and K.C. Alexander fill in the blanks with Nexus Uprising.
In-game, we know that there was a mutiny and several hundred exiles were kicked off of the Nexus after their uprising was quelled by the unleashing of the krogan. Superintendent Kesh has, with justified animosity, explained that the krogan went their own way after the exiles, rather than stay and continue being the Initiative’s attack dogs and heavy lifters. Having met the Initiative’s current leadership, I’ve already judged them accordingly, but Nexus Uprising offers a little more insight into their mindsets and decision-making processes. It focuses primarily on Kelly, who wakes from cryosleep to the chaos of the Scourge. From there, the book progresses fairly slowly through the life or death fight for the survival of the Nexus.
Some might find this book a bit ponderous because of the detail it gives to this struggle, but it’s necessary, since mutinies generally don’t happen overnight. The simple answer to who started the revolt is the life support team who, after holding the Nexus together from their arrival in the Andromeda Galaxy, refused to implement Initiative Acting Director Tann’s decision to put people back into cryosleep in order to conserve resources. But there’s more to the situation falling apart than Tann’s seemingly heartless order and his lack of consultation with the other leaders or the life support team themselves. The simple answer to why the current leadership could not get everyone to work together is this: None of them are Jien Garson.
Nexus Uprising reveals that, through best intentions, each of the four leaders–Sloane Kelly, Foster Addison, Nackmor Kesh, and Jarun Tann–desperately want to uphold the Initiative’s mission of exploration and colonization, but they lack Garson’s charisma and leadership skills. Either through a refusal to accept further responsibility because they are not Garson, or an attempt to make decisions they felt Garson would have made had she survived, the leaders did or didn’t do what they had to do. No decisions were necessarily right or wrong, but, compounded with the fear, exhaustion, and hunger affecting everyone, bad things were bound to happen, even if Garson had lived.
Reading this book isn’t necessary to gameplay. It provides no real information that could not be picked up from a Wiki entry. But when it comes to game lore, I am fascinated, not by the “how” but by the “why.” For that, I was not disappointed in what the book offered me, especially when it comes to the krogan leader, Nackmor Morda, though Sloane Kelly’s game state doesn’t quite mesh with her book presentation.
Speaking of Kelly, she is next on my list with a visit to Kadara Port where I find a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Kelly’s Outlaws are pretty much pirate thugs and she takes no shit from anyone. My opinion of Kelly is coloured now by Nexus Uprising where she’s not painted with colours quite so harsh. Of course, Ryder isn’t privy to that information, so she’s not entirely impressed with Kelly’s hardass attitude.
I learn that the Outlaws’ rule is being pressed by a group called the Collective, which is led by the mysterious Charlatan. Kelly doesn’t seem too concerned though, and asking around doesn’t get me far. No one here has any love for the Nexus and, though Ryder was not part of the uprising that got them exiled, she’s still a representative of the Nexus and has to tread carefully. With a few choice words, Ryder does gain enough favour with Kelly to be permitted to speak with Vehn Terev, the angaran traitor. Ryder learned moments earlier from the resistance contact, Reyes Vidal, that Terev had been incarcerated, pending death as his people have now found out what he’s done and aren’t too happy with him. When Ryder speaks with him, she has the opportunity to ask why he did it. She learns that he had hoped handing over the Moshae would save the rest of his people, but of course, this was not the case, and Terev is resigned to his fate. He does agree to help Ryder find the Archon by identifying where he buried a datapad containing a navpoint for the Archon’s ship.
As always, there are several tasks and quests that Ryder is accosted with, from finding missing supplies and/or people to activating the planet’s vault to fix the toxic water. How could such beautiful water be bad, I wonder, and Ryder suggests the same. Surely it’s not that bad.
I’d like to say that I learned my lesson, but that’s not what gaming is about. Gaming is about poking dangerous things and seeing how far you can jump without killing yourself. Sometimes I do such things specifically because my children dare me and I obviously can’t back down from a dare. I almost always die taking such risks, but I simply return to a previous save and try again. Life lessons from gaming. Fortunately, once I activate the vault, it fixes the pretty water, and I can jump in it all I want.
Before heading out into the badlands, I meet up with Reyes, who hangs out at the local bars, including the strip club in the slums with the extremely agile salarian dancer. Hanging out at bars always means taking a drink, even while on duty. I get to meet Cassandra Verner, sister of the infamous Conrad Verner of Commander Shepard’s fan club fame. She left the Milky Way Galaxy to make a name for herself. “That’ll show him he’s not the only one who knows important people,” she says as she takes a break from cage dancing in the slums.
Reyes is a smuggler who wants Ryder to investigate some murders that could be the work of either the Roekar, who want all the invading aliens gone, or the Collective. The important thing about Reyes mission is that he is, quite obviously, a romance option for Ryder and she can get her flirt on right quick. Even more amusing, something about Reyes–perhaps his sexy accent–causes Ryder’s flirt skills to go through the roof. No more of that awkward dialogue. Ryder is playing a sly tongue game with Reyes that is very promising. But I have clearly stated that Ryder is falling for Suvi, so flirting with Reyes is only for science. Science I tell you.
There’s a sense of urgency to all the missions and tasks I’m given or that I discover, but unless there’s an actual timer on my screen, my attention flits all over the map. I do try to be somewhat methodical, working from one end to the other. My favourite quest on Kadara is the one involving the dead bodies. No, the other one involving the dead bodies. At an outpost, I meet an asari and a turian who each have a vested interest in murder victims that have been dumped in the sulfuric waters. The asari wants me to scan them for science and justice, while the turian has shadier ideas. Scanning the murder victims takes me all across the map, and at one point, I bump into a krogan and turian pair trying really hard to act casual. I wish I could have interacted with them more, maybe even helped them toss that body into the water to see what happens. For science.
On another quest, I find a strange signal that leads to a salarian, an asari, and a krogan making crazy talk. Tracking this signal further leads to two Cerberus scientists who joined the Initiative after deciding that Cerberus’ enigmatic leader, The Illusive Man, has lost his way. Cerberus is a group founded on a “humanity first” belief, though TIM is not opposed to working with and using the other species–as long as it furthers humanity’s needs. They don’t know much about what TIM is up to, but they are unimpressed with all the funds and research he’s sinking into the “Lazarus Project” and they are not at all fond of that Miranda Lawson chick.
TIM has his nose and his money in everything, so it’s surprising not to see greater Cerberus involvement in the Initiative, though, from Alec Ryder’s memories, there have been some indications of a mysterious benefactor to the Initiative. Ryder was also in contact with the Shadow Broker who, by the name, you can assume, is not on the up and up, leaving me suspicious of the Initiative’s true purpose here.
But these two scientists are not the brightest of TIM’s bunch, and I am none too impressed with their mind control experiments on the other species. SAM goes a bit off the rails by offering me the option of turning the mind control on the scientists, shutting down the experiment, or letting the experimentation continue.
Kadara presents the first real opportunities for Ryder to show a more negative side by accepting a shady deal or two, but the decisions are inconsequential to the plot. I am missing the opportunities earlier BioWare games presented that allowed your protagonist to be rude, shady, or even downright evil. As with jumping to my death, games like this usually offer me the chance to be the kind of trashy person I wouldn’t dream of being in real life, but alas, Ryder’s dialogue and action options, similar to the Inquisitor of Dragon Age Inquisition, are just variations on the positive and the judicious. But with this in mind, the options SAM’s offer to resolve the scientists’ experimentation are incongruous.
It’s around now that I really start looking around at the various settings Mass Effect Andromeda offers us. The planets are beautiful and traveling through space to scan them all is a stunning visual affair (that gets a little boring after your 50th planet scan–thank you for adding the “skip” button, BioWare).
But drill down to the surface and we get these smatterings of a couple of buildings that, on Kadara, are being referred to as “cities.” By definition, cities mean something far greater than a couple of two-room, empty buildings and half a dozen people. I’m supposed to believe that people are actually residing on these planets, but there are no structures to back this claim. Sure things are still under construction, but if this is supposed to be an open world game with places for me to explore and for people to live, I want to feel like they are actually living there. I find myself making the inevitable comparison to The Witcher games where villages are actual villages and Geralt can wander around and meet people who do things within said villages, instead of just waiting for me to grab a quest from them or serving as kill fodder.
My other big takeaway from Kadara is that I am killing a whole lot of the people we brought with us from the Milky Way. On the other planets, I’ve been merrily slaughtering angaran rebels and kett, with a few outlaws tossed in, but now I’m on a planet of mainly Initiative exiles. Where is the option to negotiate? Why am I constantly being bombarded with encampments full of people who immediately want to shoot at me, and companions who demand that I shoot back and take their shit? Surely this is not good for future population plans. Who are all these people anyway? I thought the Initiative was about colonization. I thought everyone was screened. Who are all these hoodlums?
Speaking of population plans. Back on the Tempest, Suvi identifies an anomaly orbiting Eos that leads us to a satellite that explodes when we try to check it out. Foster Addison promptly contacts Ryder to inform her that this is tech stolen from the Initiative, and it relates to a Dr. Kennedy who left with the exiles. The satellites all seem to be appearing around planets with Initiative colonies, and, tracking this, Suvi and Kallo are able to pinpoint a location where Ryder gets to speak with Dr. Kennedy and discover that she is eight months pregnant, having stolen the meds necessary to remove the temporary sterilization that everyone underwent during the journey. When Addison finds out about the baby, her suspicious need to have Dr. Kennedy found heightens. Kennedy clearly does not want to come back, but Addison does not want the Initiative’s first baby to be born under such conditions. As Director of Colonial Affairs, and after so many failures in this galaxy, Addison clings to every opportunity to show the Initiative’s people that this was not a death sentence. But there is more to her relationship with Kennedy, who, apparently, is the one who convinced Addison to join the Initiative in the first place. But without more outposts for Dr. Kennedy to stick her satellites to, this mission goes on hold.
Meanwhile, Ryder is contacted by Knight, who believes that her virus to disconnect SAM and Ryder has worked. Continuing the ruse, Ryder visits Knight’s compound on Kadara and learns that Kathy Night and her son were once part of Project Overlord, an experiment to link human minds with VIs. While Alec Ryder was convinced that SAM would be safe because, unlike the geth, it is bound to its host, Knight’s experience has her believing otherwise. She managed to rescue her son Alain but he was severely hurt. I have a chance to talk to Alain as I sneak around the compound trying to figure out what Knight’s big plan is. When, using SAM, I craft him an item that will help cure what ails him, he lets slip that Knight’s big plan is called “Mercury,” information SAM can use when hack into Knight’s console. Turns out she’s got EMP devices planted in the Nexus to destroy the AIs. This will also destroy the computers needed for people to survive, but no one seems to care about survival as a whole around here.
Speaking of crafting, this process hasn’t been overly inspiring. I can use my collected research data to make all sorts of goodies, sometimes with a bonus or two, but by the time I craft my level V fancy pants armour, the game is already giving me level VI stuff in hidden caches and as strike team rewards. The novelty of crafting items and giving them cool names has worn off.
I instead plan to wait until I’m heading into the final mission, at which point I will craft the best armour and weapons in game, which will likely be the Heleus Champion armour, and a combination of the Black Widow sniper rifle, the Sidewinder pistol, and the Reegar Carbine shotgun.
I finally get around to the priority mission I’ve come to Kadara to take care of: hunting the Archon. The datapad that Terev directed me to is damaged, but Gil can probably fix it. My friend assures me that talking to Gil does not trigger a silent game counter as it did in Mass Effect 2 where my desire to clean up a few remaining tasks meant that I lost several crew members during the subsequent rescue mission. Still, I want to finish up everything I can first and that means following through with Kadara’s business.
Returning to Reyes’ mission, I discover that the murders are being committed by Roekar who want the outsiders gone. Reyes joins Ryder’s team to help her clear them out. They meet again at the bar, flirt some more, and Reyes admits that he needs some help. Cargo has been stolen from him and he suspects it’s the Collective. His contact–and ex, Zia Cordier–has given him a nav point, but when Ryder gets there, followed by Reyes, it turns out to be a trap set by Zia herself who accuses Reyes of getting too greedy. There’s little opportunity to get more out of this story because guns start blazing and Zia is killed, which is unfortunate because look at her. Considering how horrible some of the characters designs have been so far, I simply have to know who loved Zia so much that they made her look so damn good.
As part of my Kadara tasks, I also have to help a doctor retrieve a formula for a medicine that Kelly has turned into a drug called Oblivion that she has strict orders to use to keep her people addicted. Not cool, Kelly. Not cool. I also have to check in with Kaetus who asks Ryder to check out some kett activity on the down low. If people find out that there are still kett around on top of the Collective, Kelly is going to look bad. I track the kett to a cave where Kaetus and Kelly join Ryder to defeat the kett.
But this still isn’t enough to get me on Kelly’s good side. She doesn’t even invite me to her party. Fortunately, Reyes, who informs Ryder of the event, is happy to have her as his plus one. By now, I’ve shared a kiss and coffee with Suvi so I’m trying to be good and avoid any more flirting than necessary. Ryder still needs an in on Kadara, so she goes to the party, mingles with the guests, and makes sarcastic with Kelly, who still isn’t very welcoming. By now I’m kind of jaded with talking to people and only do what’s necessary, but that means I missed out on Drunk Ryder. This is why it pays to be thorough.
Meanwhile, Reyes has snuck off. Ryder finds him riffling around in Kelly’s cargo. Ryder accuses him of using her as a distraction, but surprise! He’s just there to find the secret stash of booze. There is a moment when it looks like they are going to be caught, but I instinctively take the offered queue to kiss Reyes and discourage the intruder from pursuing our goings on any further. Once the coast is clear, we head up to the rooftops for drinks and meaningful conversation. As is the case with just about everyone we meet, Ryder has the chance to ask Reyes what brought him to the Andromeda Galaxy. “To be somebody,” he tells her wistfully. Yeahuh.
This all ends nicely, but there’s still the problem of not having an outpost on Kadara yet. After leaving the planet for a bit, I return to an urgent summons from Kelly. I find her in her empty throne room where she informs Ryder that her own people turned against her and beat up Kaetus, her right-hand turian, leaving a message on his body for her to meet the Charlatan at a specific place. Why do you want my help? Ryder asks. Kelly admits that, while she doesn’t trust the Initiative, Ryder has proven herself well enough and is a third party to this whole shit show on Kadara.
Ryder meets up with Kelly at the navpoint and they head into a cave where they find themselves face to face with the Charlatan, a.k.a. Reyes Vidal. *Gasp* (I was kinda hoping it was the cigar smoking salarian). Reyes wants control of Kadara and he has manipulated Kelly into an actual showdown. The quest is even called “High Noon.” Seriously. Even if I agreed with Reyes rationale for doing this, I would have turned on him just for this damn stupid set up.
But Reyes never meant for this to be a fair fight and, though I am not at all happy with how Kelly has handled things on Kadara, I save her from the sniper, and take the shot at Reyes when the opportunity presents itself. But the Charlatan lives to pester Andromeda another day. We shall see what the future brings. In the meantime, Kelly owes me a big one. She vows revenge on Reyes, but Ryder demands that she do so the right way–no more heads on stakes kind of strong arm statements. I would have liked to say something about the drug trafficking too, but apparently siding with the doctor regarding Oblivion serves this purpose. At least Ryder gets to express my concerns about how Milky Way people need to look at the bigger picture of our survival and stop killing each other. Kelly still refuses to deal with Tann and the Nexus, but she agrees to work with Ryder and allows an outpost to be built on Kadara that will be under her protection–as long as Kelly gets a cut.