Mass Effect: Andromeda’s First Big Sidequest Is A Let-Down

Mass Effect: Andromeda’s First Big Sidequest Is A Let-Down

One of Mass Effect: Andromeda’s earliest sidequests is called “First Murderer,” and it is a total flop.

Not long after boarding the Nexus, which is your base of operations, a Turian standing near a plaza will get your attention. She tells you that her husband has been accused of a terrible crime he didn’t commit. Could you, as the super-cool do-gooder Pathfinder, help uncover the truth before he is exiled forever?

It’s standard fare for a BioWare game and, on its face, reminiscent of the original Mass Effect’s mixture of personal relationships with bureaucratic expediency. As the person responsible for discovering habitable planets, my time was precious, but what could be more important than making sure justice was served in the Initiative’s “first murderer” case?

A whole lot, it turns out.

Here’s how things went down: during a colonizing effort on a nearby planet, a Turian named Nilken Rensus allegedly murders his friend after he refuses to let some settlers retreat from an onslaught. Eye-witness accounts accounts back that story up, but Nilken the imprisoned Turian says they have it wrong. He would never fire on his close friend, even if mutiny was the only way to preserve the remaining lives of the colony. You set off to fact-check these details, and see if you can uncover anything new that might seal the case.

To discover if Nilken is really innocent or not, I descended onto Eos and … scanned for clues. Abandoned and desolate, there’s no one to talk to on the planet about what happened, so the only thing you can do is look at broken equipment and half-buried corpses. If only these bones could talk!

They can, in a manner of speaking, thanks to the wonders of your trusty AI named SAM. Just pull out your scanner and press X over any object to have it tell you exactly what happened it. Following the trail of the dead victims scattered remains, SAM reconstructs The Truth with ease. It reminded me of when Batman gleaned a serial number from a fractured shell casing by firing a bunch of bullets into slabs of rock in that one movie, with way less action.

In Mass Effect, you literally just walk from one place to another, hold down a button to either read some new text, or hear a snippet of dialogue. It’s boring.

It turns out Nilken didn’t commit the murder, at least according to SAM’s analysis of the body, which reveals it was the Kett’s gunfire that killed him. But Nilken did try to kill him. This wrinkle gets added thanks to a handy recording of the victim’s last moments which reveals Nilken fired and missed. Elementary, my dear SAM.

Back onboard the Nexus I was prepared for my new findings to make a splash. Perhaps these complicating factors would help turn the murder case into a springboard for discussing the rules, duties, and justice more generally in the Andromeda Initiative.

Surely, even if Nilken had killed in cold blood, the fact that his friend was leading the rest of the colony toward a futile end by facing-off with the Kett was a mitigating factor. These people came to Andromeda to start new and wondrous lives, not throw them away in shootouts with the locals.

Instead, I was only given the option to free Nilken in light of the new evidence or suppress it and let his sentence of exile be carried out. The space station’s paper-pusher-in-chief, Jarun Tann, suggests you try not to stir things back up but also insinuates you’ll be the one to blame if people realise you tried to shove the increasingly tedious matter under the rug.

Committed to high ideals like truth, justice, and the desperate pursuit of whatever conversation options were still left, I confronted Nilken. “Oh fuck, so I’m free?!” he said, or something to that effect. I tried to shame him by playing the audio recording of his dirty deed back to him, but he didn’t seem much phased by it. He basically responded with, “But bro, my shot missed.”

After the fact, I relayed this story to a prosecutor friend of mine without telling him it took place in a video game.

“You might be able to get a re-trial,” he said. “but it would still be likely that they’d be convicted for attempted homicide.” He added that it could be anywhere from 15 years to life in prison, depending on whether it was ruled first degree or second, and also what state the case was being tried in.

You don’t have to be a lawyer to know that attempted murder is a thing that people can get life for, but his point about the re-trial helped articulate what was missing beyond the uninspired scan-athon.

A re-trial would have been the perfect opportunity to delve into the larger themes surrounding the incident. Are people on a colonizing mission free citizens or de facto appendages of the military apparatus leading them? Is the Andromeda Initiative willing to criminalise its own people when they try to act democratically?

Conflicts like these are what made Battlestar Galactica such a striking departure from the idealism of Star Trek or the narrow morality of Star Wars. Sometimes, even older Mass Effect games could nail that complex morality.

While I played this mission, I thought back the understated elegance of the “Sunry Murder Trial” quest from BioWare’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. In it, a decorated war hero working as an agent for the Republic on the water planet of Manaan is accused of murdering a woman he was having an affair with.

Instead of scanning a few glowing objects and taking cues from an AI inside the protagonist’s head, as you do in Mass Effect, you investigate the murder and proceed to act as the war hero’s defence attorney for the trial instead. The goal is to get him off, even once you find out that he’s guilty, because that’s your role as his legal representation.

Over the course of the trial you see how facts are twisted or abandoned, and how reason can lead you toward the truth as well as away from, all while Jeremy Soule’s serene, melancholy soundtrack plays in the background. There aren’t any winners by the end of it. The woman is still dead, even though she was a Sith spy, and the authority of the outcome means that the deeper, more complex truth, known only to the player, is lies buried to everyone else.

Unlike the war hero and his wife, who escape Manaan after the trial and take off for another planet, in Andromeda I’m stuck with Nilken (for a while at least). I’ll see him wandering around the Nexus, brooding about the unsatisfying turn his life took all because of an under-cooked side quest. And every time I see him, I’ll regret that I ever wasted my time on him.


    • Maybe, just maybe not every quest is built equally and not everyone will find every quest enjoyable.

      Personally I found the quest enjoyable. Looking for the dead persons armour parts to figure out what happened while the game showed you the beautiful landscape felt compelling to me. The choice was equally stressful because I dont know if it would have repercussions later.

      Could it have been better, probably. For me it was a fine quest.

      This article just strikes me as another one of beating a dead horse. Does every Kotaku writer have to write a anti mass effect article to meat their kpi?

        • Its just an average game though. Its hard to believe that its the same company that did the original trilogy. All the strong leaders the team used to have have moved on and unfortunately seem to have left us with people who are not up to the same level of skill.

          • Not average at all. Exceptional, in many respects.

            There are good quests, and bad. And there are a huge number of glitches. But overall, it feels like a journey of discovery. That you are creating something… albeit, sometimes by doing monotonous things.

            Still, this is certainly not “Mass Effect 4”. There are far less scripted sequences, and the narrative certainly lacks the laser focus of the Reaper threat, so I totally respect your opinion 🙂

          • The game was clearly not QA tested very well, I have come across so many bugs. The servers feels horrible. Balance is once again nearly non existant (not a problem in single player, but coop is a joke). Facial animation issues asside, the character movements feel really bad, almost lke every character is a puppet being dragged along by its strings. Voice acting is decent, but the character writing itself is really boring; why is everyone Jacob?

            The only thing I think this game does well is environments. I have had fun taking panoramic pictures in Ansel from the highest points I could achieve on each map.

            People are letting a lot of issues they would grill other games for go because its Mass Effect.

          • Agree about the performance issues, 100%, but I can’t imagine something with so many moving parts was easy to test. And this sort of ties in with today’s culture moreao than it used to with, say, KoTOR. They give us the product and refine it over time… sucks sometimes, but the ongoing support should iron these issues out.

            Still bad, though.

            As per the writing, I write predominantly science-fiction, and I’ve found most of it to be solid. Even surprising. There’s a lot of character to be mined from those seemingly innocuous interactions. And as for the story itself, I’ve only completed a quarter of it, but the narrative would have to essentially fall apart completely to call the overarching storylines a fail.

            We’ll see, eh? 🙂

          • but I can’t imagine something with so many moving parts was easy to test.

            Yet companies like CD Projekt Red manage to do it quite exceptionally? Not saying the Witcher 3 was perfect, it definitely had its issues, but so far, Andromeda hasn’t exactly shown itself to be much of a quality product?

            As per the writing, I write predominantly science-fiction, and I’ve found most of it to be solid.

            No offence, but this doesn’t qualify anything, as we don’t know your credentials, if you’ve been published or if you’re just a regular fanfic author, or whether you scribble on the back of napkins. Not a personal attack, just saying, unless it’s of professional worth and you can qualify it, it doesn’t really add to anything.

  • Oh come ON, dude, what were you expecting? That was a great mission because you actually had to decide how it would be handled and it wasn’t entirely cut and dried. I agonized over that shit for entire minutes! Evidence collection is generally boring. What would you have preferred?

    Also, Nilken doesn’t just ‘walk free’. He gets community service as a punishment explicitly because he fired the shot with intent.

    This is a brand new colony. People are facing starvation. Families are kept broken up out of the need to ensure that every single conscious mouth to feed is earning its way. Community service in this instance is both high risk and a pragmatic necessity.

    Also, WTF?
    A re-trial would have been the perfect opportunity to delve into the larger themes surrounding the incident. Are people on a colonizing mission free citizens or de facto appendages of the military apparatus leading them? Is the Andromeda Initiative willing to criminalise its own people when they try to act democratically?
    Armed combat units are not a fucking democracy in ANY branch of civilian service.

    • The fact that the Andromeda Initiative is actually a massive cooperate entity seems to be lost on some critics. This isn’t a government program or even a Milky Way council program, it’s a private enterprise that just decided to move galaxies.

      The fact that they’ve had to form a Militia to defend themselves means that there isn’t a military arm of the Initiative. Sure, there are plenty of people with military experience in the initiative but it’s not military run, but cooperate in nature.

      There is no government and most of the decisions come down to how things benefit the initiative.

    • Except in a colony setting, any member of the colony could potentially be called on for its defence at any time, in which case there would likely be a less clear chain of command regarding the right to withdraw from a dangerous situation. Given the situation, you cannot automatically assume that he is a member of the militia (the armed combat unit in question). And if he is not a member of the militia, does he still fall under their jurisdiction as an armed member of the Andromeda Initiative, even though he is a civilian? Is the Andromeda Initiative considered a military or civilian project, and does the Director have the power and authority to alter the regulations under which the Initiative was launched, or is his role strictly enforcement of those rules as an appendage of a larger body back in the Milky Way? What exactly are the standing rules and regulations regarding evacuation of Initiative personnel from a combat zone? There are a lot of unanswered questions that could potentially have an impact on the case.

    • He gets community service as a punishment explicitly because he fired the shot with intent.

      Ahhhhh the Queensland Legal system…

      • Also, can’t reply to your comment earlier, so:

        True. I’ve got no credits I’d bother you with – and if and when I do, free kindle vouchers on TAY! – but as it’s a forum, and it’s my opinion, I’ll clarify.

        I read, play, watch and generally breath sci-fi. Hence my interest in writing it. I’ve also studied screen-writing, have scripted a couple of small Adventure games and some short films, alongside my current novels. I’m invested in the medium, to the point where I generally read the subtitles over watching the characters faces…

        In my opinion, the writing is well above average.

        The direction? Varies wildly.

        Would say there were MANY chefs in that particular kitchen…

        • I think that’s definitely the case. With ME1, it had a tight, concise storyline that to me, felt like the best of Star Wars (ep4), and the best of Trek (Trek 2). I loved the storyline. ME2 broadened a little but still felt tight. ME3 to me, was an utter mess and had like you said, too many cooks, but that’s also an issue of the story getting very broad with decisions etc. I guess Andromeda possibly suffered the same issue.

          • 3 felt like a mess until I played it at the end of my Femshep run of the full trilogy. It felt like a resounding crescendo… but only with all the DLC. Vanilla ME3 was a hollow drum, banging on, and on.

            Made me hate EA a little more…

          • Gotta agree. It’s like ME2. While it was ok, it was only great when you played it with ALL the dlc such as Shadowbroker etc.

        • Agree.

          What people have to stop doing is stop making perfect be the enemy of good.

  • is it just me or is the article implying the Andromeda Initiative is a military operation? like someone from the Systems Alliance just woke up one day and thought of the idea then bought on the Asari, Turian, Quarian and Salarian. lol wtf?

    at this stage it seems some people’s expectations of ME:A is basically Witcher 4 in space and that’s how high the bar has been set, anything less and the game is crap

    • I admit, I was hoping for something closer to the quality of Witcher’s side quests. I had not allowed myself to get hyped for the game but the videos and reveals in the 4 weeks leading up unfortunately built my zeal up to much.

      I am enjoying the game, I recognise the flaws and have some disappointments but it is growing on me. It is not the masterpiece I have hoped for but still a damn fine way to spend my time.

      As for that quest, I agree that was I a little miffed at the end choices, the thoughts of attempted murder was screaming in my head as I let him go. But there was a nice bit of karma and finish off for the quest in that I gave him a mouthful in front of his wife. I latter found him in the cryo chamber getting ready to be re-frozen as everyone still hated him and his wife left him in shame. I got to call him a coward for running (by getting frozen) and that seemed like there was some payoff after all. You just had to go find it.

    • I fear for any third person RPGs that will be released now if this level of scrutiny is being applied to them after Witcher 3.

      • To be fair, it’s really fucking disappointing when Witcher 3 goes and shows everyone how good an RPG can be, then everyone just completely fucking fails to learn the lessons it had to teach. Seems kind of like maybe everyone should’ve been seeing that their games can be better by adopting those techniques? God knows Horizon benefited powerfully from some of Witcher 3’s lessons.

        • This. Witcher 3 is the bar by which every RPG should set its goals at this point.

      • Why fear? If anything this is a good thing. That we’re willing to hold games to such a high standard and expect it.

        People just mix up good with fun. Just because a game isn’t a literary masterpiece doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it. I personally enjoy a lot of games which are frivolous and stupid in design…

      • the hilarious thing would be if Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t equal or exceed Witcher 3… assuming we hear anything about it within the next decade

      • Witcher 3 is 10X the RPG that Andromeda is on 1/3 the budget.
        It is absolutely pathetic that Bioware, with the nigh-infinite funding of EA can’t make an RPG of half the quality of a bunch of Slavs that are paid in Vodka and potatoes.

  • It’s not on par with some of previous BioWare murder investigations such as the Skinner Murderer in the Bridge District of BG2 or even the other murder case on Dantooine in KOTOR either.

  • You might want to put spoilers on this, some people have not done it yet perhaps … minor as it is.

  • Eh, I’m with the author on this.
    When this quest started I expected actual investigation. My mind kept going back to the exact murder investigation quest he talks about from KOTOR and how by comparison I was just following quest markers and interacting with whatever was at the end of them.
    I also immediately thought at the conclusion of the quest “Attempted murder is still a thing right? this guy should still be in a LOT of trouble” but he acts like he’s in the clear.

    • Yeah I was surprised by the logical “still attempted murder” option missing. So I exiled him…. Now in old Bioware this would have a flow on effect later in the game…. It would be nice but I’m not expecting one….

  • Wow. We’re overthinking video games now. It’s a simple, early side quest. What do people expect?

    • Having played previous Bioware games and many other RPGs from other studios like Obsidian with murder investigation sidequests? Something more. Murder investigations like this – especially when couched in something as grand as ‘the first murder in a new galaxy’ make for great storytelling and just so little was done compared to the potential inherit to the premise.

  • The only thing I didn’t like about that quest was that the decision was either ‘Exile him’ or ‘Release him’, which seemed like a stupidly black or white response to a very grey area, considering what actually happened. I was relieved a little bit when they said he would get community service but it seemed like a bit of a slap on the wrist to me.

    However a little while later I found him sitting in the cryo bay, preparing to go back to sleep because he was being shunned by everyone and his wife ended up leaving him when he told her he HAD infact tried to kill his friend. Karma’s a bitch I guess…

  • It’s just a side quest. There have been a couple of really good ones. But most are… side quests. I don’t expect them to be anything great, and it’s nice when they are.

    I believe the phrase “I expected it to be…” has ruined this franchise for so many people, which is a shame… but then, I’d be reticent to pick up a copy of Fallout 5 based on the previous title, so I suppose I can’t talk…

    • I think you are on the money with the “expected it to be” comment. I am enjoying the game immensely but I kept my expectations in check. They went only so far as “it is a bioware game and it will have clunky elements based off it’s DnD roots”. It would be nice to believe it to be better than 3 on an arc of improvement but by that same logic, the godfather 3 should be a phenomenal movie when it definitely wasn’t.

      • Hahaha indeed. And “Godfather: Miami” will almost certainly be fucking transcendent 😉

        Note, that’s not actually a thing… I hope.

  • Anyone who thinks he gets off free and feels free, go to the Cryo Bay in the med room. thats all imma say.

  • I am near the end-game now and I have to say it becomes a total slog after you have colonized the planets. Poor mission structure sees you chasing cookie crumbs across the same places you’ve already experienced and then returning to the quest giver spot (usually on another planet altogether), so you travel, yet again, across many unskippable animations.

    Worse still EA’s grubby mitts can be felt on the game, because at the end all of the missions are just waves and waves of relentlessly dull enemies my already OP character dispatches easily. Even worse than the crummy quest navigation and repetition though is that the game has slowed to a crawl everywhere (planets, the ship, Nexus) at least on the PS4 anyway, it’s like it’s trying to load everything across all planets at once, massive performance hit that is beyond frustrating.

    I was this games biggest supporter, but despite how beautiful it was to look at, the tedium of its open world and the huge unnecessary space between locations – was something I put up with to experience the epic and ambitious highs Bioware lovingly crafted into the plot (mostly the individual squad members missions, which are not only a highlight, but try different game-play elements), but by the final vault and ending priority missions I was pretty numb to the ‘go here scan this click this’ boredom that regressed the game in every way as it did not evolve or try anything new. Can’t be bothered finishing it now, because I have to ‘wait’ for the main plot to activate (aka do more generic side-missions), no thanks.

  • During this quest I thought mostly about how “The First Murderer in Andromeda” would be a great name for a Prog Rock concept album

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