This past weekend, I finished Mass Effect: Andromeda. It was deeply disappointing. After a five-year wait since the end of Mass Effect 3, I was hoping that BioWare’s follow-up would offer an exciting story, but instead it offered a retread of plot points from the original trilogy married to a protagonist who shouldn’t be the hero of his/her story. While the game wants to celebrate exploration and discovery, it ultimately casts you into a savior role you shouldn’t be playing. Instead of making the galaxy feel bigger, Andromeda reduces it down to a handful of problems that only humanity can solve.
[Spoilers ahead for Mass Effect: Andromeda]
When you arrive in Andromeda, you soon learn there are other species. One is the boring, malevolent Kett and the other are the enslaved, beleaguered Angarans. Since this is a Mass Effect game, your attitude towards the Angarans will vary based on your dialogue choices, but your actions will keep returning you to the same place—this indigenous people cannot defeat their oppressors without my help.
By making the conflict between the Kett and the Angarans a central point of the game, Andromeda runs into a whole host of problems. The largest is that the only person who can solve this conflict is an outsider. While you have to earn the Angarans’ trust, you eventually do what they could not. You destroy bases, you retrieve information, you accomplish all sorts of various missions, and eventually you defeat the Kett. You’re the hero.
But the whole time I was playing, I felt like I was the wrong person for the job. Rather than forging a partnership with the Angarans, I felt like I was patronizing them. It’s not that my character, Ryder, is more technologically advanced or that I have unique tools that help defeat the Kett. I run into the Kett independently of the Angara and then discover that the Kett are a common foe. So the Angarans, rather than a people with their own history and culture (no matter how many NPCs you talk to), serve as little more than background to my heroism.
The Angara are further diminished when you consider that their liberation doesn’t come because I brought an army with me or because I’m technologically superior. Ryder defeats the Kett because he fell ass-backwards into merging with his A.I., SAM, which then allowed him to access the Remnant vaults. And even if you take the Remnant out of the equation, you still have every problem solved by Ryder and two companions. That’s all it takes to end a war in the Andromeda galaxy.
BioWare takes the problem even further when you find out what happened to the other Pathfinders. In the game, there are four arks—Human, Asari, Turian, and Salarian—on their way to the Andromeda galaxy. The original human, Asari, and Turian pathfinders all die, and whether or not the original Salarian pathfinder survives is based on Ryder’s actions (I chose to have her live because it would just be too weird if every single original pathfinder died). But the larger point is that the Asari, Turians, and Salrians would all be screwed if Ryder hadn’t come along to save the day.