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[OC] Ludonarrative Dissonance, RPG Mechanics, and Being "the One": How One of Gaming's Most Mocked Creations Tackled Some of the Industry's Biggest Narrative Challenges
INTRODUCTIONWhile an incredibly young industry compared to its contemporaries, gaming quickly rose as a popular storytelling medium in the mid-2010’s. Games from the past decade such as 2013’s BioShock: Infinite and 2016’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End have been commercial juggernauts that entered the pop culture mainstream while also serving as icons for the industry’s presentation and narrative potential. Creativity in this arena is not limited to the linear storylines and cramped corridors of the modern shooter however, as open world role-playing games began to tell popular, engaging stories in their own unique way. Bethesda Softworks stands as an industry kingpin in this regard with 2011’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and 2015’s Fallout 4. These games don’t tell a traditional story, rather engaging the player in the game’s universe through environmental storytelling and thorough worldbuilding, yet are ultimately thorough enough to derive satisfaction from while catering to a mass audience.
Despite these advancements, these games are far from flawless. The concept of “Ludonarrative Dissonance,” the conflict between a game's narrative told through story and the narrative told through gameplay, rose to the forefront as a key issue in gaming narratives around this time. In Uncharted, Nathan Drake is a carefree go-lucky adventurer in cutscenes and a pinpoint marksman who murders by the dozens in gameplay. In BioShock Infinite, well-developed themes that tackle the concept of rebirth, power, and the morality of violence against “lessers” are repeatedly undercut but constant shooting galleries and excessive violence. These games contain player protagonists who are grounded to earth in the stories they tell, yet possess abilities far beyond some of the most talented special forces operatives in militaries the world over.
Also becoming a common complaint with gamers is a majority of protagonists being “The One,” a character often burdened with unique trauma or origins that always differentiates the player character from NPC’s. Bethesda’s entries into the Fallout series are almost always centered around protagonists who are sole survivors of their time period or vault. All of these games also struggle with coordinating the way their stories are presented with the realities of the gameplay they provide. To the “Sole Survivor” of Fallout 4, searching for their lost son is their reason for embarking on their journey. Yet despite this importance, the player will spend countless hours rummaging through abandoned houses and completing menial tasks for strangers.
These games are just examples, any half-decent fan of games can recognize the tropes from a mile away and can think of countless other examples. Certain games have tried their hand at fixing these issues to varying degrees of effect, but the average gamer simply ignores these issues as the cost of doing business to the point of becoming desensitized to it. There does exist a game, a forgotten entry into an otherwise notable series, that made attacking this common narrative failure head-on its priority and found decent success in doing so. A series in which narrative is the calling card, not an additional feature, and that previously leaned into these narrative tropes as the core of its foundation. While far from perfect, this game stands as one of gaming’s most impressive forays into tackling this narrative obstacle that plagues an entire medium, while correcting many fundamental narrative issues of its predecessors. Despite this it stands forgotten today, only escaping obscurity on rare occasions as a pariah, a meme, or a universally agreed-upon symbol of failure.
That series is Mass Effect, and that game is Mass Effect: Andromeda.
BACKGROUNDAfter the release of Mass Effect 3: Citadel on February 21st, 2013, the Mass Effect series officially entered purgatory. Such a concept is rare in an industry where a series almost never ends on its own terms, often rather falling into obscurity through poor installments or corporate mismanagement. The power of a name-brand IP is simply too valuable to pass up in an industry with such ridiculous overhead, and BioWare’s parent company Electronic Arts was not going to let such a series go to waste. With BioWare Edmonton focused on Mass Effect’s fantasy companion Dragon Age: Inquisition and eventually the much-maligned Anthem, the foremost pioneer of the modern AAA singleplayer ARPG had officially moved on. As a result the future of Mass Effect was placed into the hands of the young BioWare Montreal, created in 2009 as a support studio for Mass Effect 2 and eventually tasked with Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer component and the story-lacking Omega downloadable content pack.
Upon becoming the new caretakers of Mass Effect, BioWare brought in new staff to bring Montreal’s capacity up to around 150 employees, a 600% increase from its initial complement and three times the amount Montreal carried during the development of Mass Effect 3. A few of these new employees were transfers from Edmonton, such as general manager Aaryn Flynn and the infamous Mac Walters, lead writer for Mass Effect 3. More notable was who wasn’t coming over, such as creative director Casey Hudson and Drew Karpyshyn, lead writer for Mass Effect 1&2. This meant that what pedigree BioWare Montreal had consisted entirely of gameplay and combat, an issue for a series in which narrative and character development had always been the premier focus.
Any attempt to try and retread the beat-by-beat of Mass Effect’s original trilogy would only look ridiculous in comparison, Montreal producing Mega Bloks to Edmonton’s Lego’s. This meant dropping the Reapers, the Citadel, the Milky Way, and more in an attempt to carry over the essence of what made Mass Effect so special while creating a future of their own. From this Mass Effect: Andromeda was born, and like the Andromeda Initiative, BioWare Montreal was about to embark on a 2.5 million light-year leap of faith.
ESTABLISHING THE ANTI-SHEPARDBy far the most daunting task in continuing the Mass Effect series would be replacing Commander Shepard, the iconic player character and legendary figure both in-universe and in the gaming industry. Unusual for player protagonists in video games, Shepard is a character in their own right and operates both as an extension of the player and an individual with their own personality, the two rarely conflicting. Alongside Shepard’s immense popularity with fans, they’re also a legendary figure within the canon of the universe. Not only do both MaleShep and FemShep look like the dictionary definition of badass, but they’re also one of the most proficient soldiers in the Systems Alliance armed forces. Shepard is one of the few individuals who have earned the fabled N7 proficiency level and is the first human Spectre, making him/her a hero of humanity. Attempting to recreate or one-up the idea of Shepard would be impossible, so BioWare Montreal took Andromeda’s player character in a much different direction. From this, the twins Scott and Sara Ryder were born.
Note: Due to Reddit’s 40k character limit, I will restrict examples to those from the opening sequences of each game. This does not mean that they are necessarily the only examples, but rather an individual point that sets the tone for the rest of each game.
Mass Effect 1 begins with Shepard at age 29 and already a notable Alliance figure (famous or infamous depending on the player’s background choice of Sole Survivor, War Hero, or Ruthless). While not to the extent of the later games, by this point Shepard is a celebrity to the public and has rapidly risen through the Alliance ranks, even catching the eye of the human ambassador to the Council, Donnel Udina. Shepard has already been through much in their life, especially with the Colonist or Earthborn background, and their personality reflects that. Shepard is hardened, mature, and resolute, brimming with experience and has gained the respect of their fellow soldiers and subordinates by default. The player doesn’t join at the beginning of Shepard’s journey, rather being thrusted in right before the apex.
Scott and Sara meanwhile begin Andromeda 22 years old and wildly inexperienced, youth everpresent in their dialogue and mannerisms. Right from the beginning the player learns they had begun very quiet Alliance careers which saw little to no action, Sara in peacekeeping and Scott a Mass Relay guard, before their father’s illegal Artificial Intelligence research blacklisted all three from the Alliance. This time around the player isn’t filling the shoes of a legend who’s already made a name for themselves, rather starting from the top in building a budding hero.
If there’s one term to describe how many games fall flat in developing a down-to-earth player character, it’s “words are cheap.” A writing team can say as many humanizing things as they want about the playable character but it won’t mean jack if everything about said character’s design contradicts it. Even if we may not be aware of it, factors such as attractiveness, body type, and voice acting play a large role in our perception of a character.
In order to combat this, Ryder was designed to subvert the image of a heroic character. An archetypal heroic male character will stand strong, muscular, but most importantly tall. The standard hero will usually have a height equivalent to nine times the length of their head, meant to contrast with an average person whose height would be equal to seven and a half heads. In direct comparison the differences between the stature of Shepard and Ryder are apparent.* Shepard looks larger than life while Ryder could be indistinguishable from an NPC. While it detracts from the “power fantasy” aspect of many RPG’s, it grounds Ryder as a human character who makes mistakes, is inexperienced, and has a lot to learn.
Attractiveness also plays a role in how the average person sees other people, another stark contrast exploited between the original trilogy and Andromeda. MaleShep’s default appearance was based off of Dutch male model Mark Vanderloo, a mainstay on all-time hottest male models lists in various publications such as People. And while FemShep did not have a default appearance until Mass Effect 3, and even then was not based off of a specific model, it was chosen through a BioWare Facebook fanvote in which fans could vote on one of six appearances that would become the default appearance of FemShep in marketing and in-game. I shouldn’t have to tell you that “being a source of attainable beauty” was most likely not one of the leading arguments for the eventual winner.
The default appearances for both Scott and Sara are far more realistic than were for Shepard. While still being no doubt attractive, Scott and Sara’s in-game appearances are more subdued than Shepard’s and are more in-line with an average attractive person than an international supermodel. This is more important for developing Sara’s character in the eyes of the player, as studies often show that women’s appearance matters more for their perceived legitimacy, although the character creator limits the difference in perception to the player’s alone.
*Note: this has nothing to do with numerical height i.e. feet and inches, rather solely having to do with proportions. This image was taken from a thread attempting to portray this design choice in a negative light.
A staple of Mass Effect has always been outstanding VA work and that general concept continues here. Important secondary characters seem to be more hit or miss, such as the entire Nexus leadership group, but everyone on the Tempest gives a good performance, especially Ryder’s. The most important part of Ryder’s voice is the distinct lack of assertiveness and stoicism, appropriate given Ryder’s age and experience. It’s a stark departure from Shepard, always cool under fire and with a voice timbre that would fit in delivering Shakespearean monologues on stage. Let’s listen to the difference between Shepard’s response to being made Spectre and Ryder’s response to being made Pathfinder (a parallel that Andromeda repeatedly attempts to beat you over the head with)
Mass Effect 1
Mark Meer’s performance exudes sheer confidence and determination. It’s a fair approach to the situation, not only because Shepard’s entirely correct but also because he has the resume to back it up. Shepard is an established hero of the Alliance and a formidable soldier, why not him for the first human Spectre?
Tom Taylorson on the other hand portrays a Ryder who is unsure about being granted so much responsibility, reinforcing the facts of Ryder’s background to that point. Players had just finished the opening level on Habitat 7, one of the more difficult tutorial levels in games. It’s not necessarily because of the intelligence of the AI but Ryder’s lack of competence. With no skill points invested yet, Ryder has only the weakest intro power (I always play as an Adept, so I started with the basic version of Throw: an essentially pointless power without Pull or Singularity to prime biotic combos) and any sustained fire from his assault rifle has to be kept in bursts to stay on target. He’s young, an Alliance reject, and most likely had never seen live combat to the intensity of the opening level on Habitat 7, if it all. By all means it should not be him inheriting the mantle, but it is.
Another well-executed aspect of Ryder’s character is the way the player is introduced to the initial conflict of the game. When Andromeda was announced in a trailer at E3 2015, it was immediately assumed that the then-unnamed N7 operative initially shown would be the playable character. A completely fair assessment of course, given that it’s a designation shared with Shepard, but much discussion and confusion arose when it was stated by BioWare that the character shown was not the main character. The fundamental idea of N7, both in-universe and among Mass Effect fans, is that of utmost strength and talent. How could we possibly not play as an N7 operative if he’d be the most talented soldier in the game?
Like the idea of N7, the opening ten minutes of Andromeda borrows directly from the original trilogy while turning the very core of the concept on it’s head. Both Andromeda and Mass Effect 1 begin the same way: character creation -> background explanation (though this is still done in the character creator of ME1) -> introduction to main character as they walk through a ship to the bridge. It’s a great way to introduce the surroundings and establish characters, but there’s one key difference in the way the protagonist is framed between the two.
Mass Effect 1
As the camera follows Shepard on the Normandy, he commands respect from everyone he encounters, equally from his status as ranking officer to everyone except Captain Anderson (and Nihlus as he is not a member of the Alliance obviously) as well as his reputation. The situation is calm, under control, and ends upon arrival to the bridge with a classic “hero shot”, a shot framed upwards toward the character to give off a feeling of power as he looks majestically off into the distance.
When Ryder arrives at the Hyperion’s bridge, he’s at the exact opposite of the totem pole. He’s not acknowledged by any of the crewmen, frantically scurrying around trying to handle the situation, and Captain Dunn doesn’t even seem aware of his presence. Then, Alec Ryder emerges from stage left and is the subject of the exact same shot reserved for Shepard from ME1, only this time Ryder Sr. is looking out at impending catastrophe instead of a positive test. The way Cora responds to either Ryder speaks volumes: she disagrees immediately with Ryder Jr.’s statement of the situation (and makes it known) whereas immediately snaps to attention when Ryder Sr. speaks to her in the same resolute timbre that Shepard would have. Make no mistake, we would be playing as Alec Ryder instead of Scott had he not perished on Habitat 7.
INTEGRATING RPG PROGRESSION AND NARRATIVEMaking out Ryder to be a dope isn’t just an attempt to humanize them, but rather to reconcile the very nature of a role-playing game with progressive skill trees. Ludonarrative dissonance isn’t an issue that only pertains to thematic difference between narrative and gameplay, but also how a character is presented in both narrative and gameplay. This is perhaps the biggest narrative issue that RPG’s, and specifically the Mass Effect trilogy, struggle with to the point that it is merely handwaved by players as “the way it is”.
In Mass Effect 1, we’ve already established that Shepard is one of the most talented soldiers in the Systems Alliance. So why is it that when we gain control of Shepard they don’t have any basic skills that would imply that? Upon landing on Eden Prime, an Adept Shepard (noted to be one of the most powerful human biotics, who can spike higher with their L3 implant than the more powerful L2’s as equipped by soldiers such as Kaidan Alenko) does not have any advanced talents at their disposal. They cannot produce a Lift or Singularity, can’t sustain pistol fire for more than a few consecutive shots without becoming wildly inaccurate, and cannot encase themselves in a mass effect Barrier, all standard biotic and combat abilities that Shepard’s lesser enemies have. As a player, we understand that this is simply the nature of an RPG. In-universe, it’s laughable.
This is where Andromeda’s choice of an inexperienced protagonist reconciles this issue with it’s narrative. Ryder has innate potential as a soldier, being the child of an N7 operative and having been taught tactics and combat by their father using many of the same concepts, but cannot display this yet due to their complete inexperience in live-fire situations. As the player engages in combat encounters and gains experience points, they advance along with Ryder as their combat experience combined with their training enables them to become a better soldier.
Implementation of this idea goes further than simply coordinating Ryder’s own progress with the player’s. Ryder’s experiences in combat allows the player to upgrade their abilities at will, specializing in abilities that won’t necessarily be learned through simple exercises. (i.e. a Vanguard prioritizing in Combat and Biotic abilities can put experience points into Overload, a completely unrelated Tech-based power) This is where the introduction of SAM, an Artificial Intelligence each Pathfinder has implanted, allows for both elevated gameplay and better combat-narrative integration.
UTILIZING FREE-FORM GAMEPLAY THROUGH SAMOne of Mass Effect’s greatest successes in the original trilogy was both the quality and quantity of it’s party members. Reaching a number as high as twelve in Mass Effect 2, each party member is a unique character in and of themselves and offers fascinating perspectives on the game’s universe while also usually providing unique combat applications. With such a breadth of squadmates to choose from, you should be able to rotate between them as you see fit to get the maximum amount of dialogue and character development from them, but unfortunately the nature of Mass Effect’s gameplay loop restricts this.
The core tenet of Mass Effect’s combat philosophy is its rock-paper-scissors formula of applying unique powers in the fields of Combat, Tech, or Biotics. The player can choose a class that focuses on one of these specialties or a weaker combination of two, but never all three. These powers are more than mere eye candy; they affect how the player and their squad take down various enemies. High-level enemies with kinetic shields have an initial health bar that is resistant or invulnerable to slow-firing weapons, combat powers, and biotic abilities but is vulnerable to tech abilities such as Overload or rapid-fire weapons such as submachine guns. Enemies that utilize Armor meanwhile are resistant against tech and biotic powers, yet are susceptible to both high-capacity and high-damage weapons as well as combat powers such as Concussive Shot.
This matters because a player on high difficulty levels will find themselves running with the same squadmates throughout the game due to necessary powers complementing their class, even if it might detract from the narrative of certain missions. This is essentially damning during some of Mass Effect 2’s loyalty missions, a popular narrative mechanic brought back in Andromeda, in which a character will be required for their story leaving only one party member choice for the player. In the loyalty mission A House Divided, Legion is a required party member whose powers lie solely in the tech arena. This means that an Engineer Shepard playing on higher difficulties will be forced to bring along a character like Garrus, whose Concussive Shot and Armor-Piercing Ammo will be critical for dispatching the Armor of Geth Primes. However, this means that the player will not be able to bring Tali as a party member, who has a wealth of unique dialogue from her people’s complicated history with the geth, because all three’s focus on tech leaves them lacking in the other two arenas. Mass Effect: Andromeda’s solution is to put more gameplay focus on Ryder instead of their squadmates, but how to do this without retconning the nature of Mass Effect’s combat?
SAM, or Simulated Adaptive Matrix, is an in-universe artificial intelligence implanted in Ryder’s head which allowed BioWare Montreal to correct these common complaints of the original Mass Effect trilogy without breaking the universe’s internal canon. Through SAM, Pathfinders in the Andromeda Initiative can utilize unique profiles, changing even during combat, that allow them power and recharge boosts on specific talents. There are seven profiles to choose from, the six classes from the original Mass Effect trilogy and a seventh named “Explorer” that gives boosts in all three arenas. Profiles allow a player to be able to bring up various power combinations to deal with specific arenas without restriction. For example, an Engineer profile that focuses on tech bonuses does not restrict the player from having one or two biotic powers equipped additionally.
For the player, the aid of an AI allows them to add points in skill trees that belong to any of the three power arenas and to use them simultaneously. As an Adept who enjoyed exploiting biotic combos with powers such as Lift/Pull and then Throw/Warp, I always had to make sure I carried a tech-focused squadmate in the original trilogy for their use of Overload on enemies with kinetic shields, one of the most common high-level enemy types in the game. In Andromeda, I can still focus on biotic powers while also being able to put points into Overload, allowing Ryder to be equipped to handle most common enemies themselves.
Running an Adept profile with the powers Lift/Overload/Throw allows Ryder to handle any enemies with one or multiple of health, barrier, and shield bars. However, this still leaves Ryder susceptible to Armor focused enemies, in which two button clicks (without ever leaving gameplay for the pause menu) allows them to switch over to a Soldier profile focused on combat powers. My Soldier profile uses the powers Concussive Shot/Flak Cannon/Omni-Grenade, which dispatches large armored enemies with relative ease. This gameplay feature is somewhat offset by all powers beginning with a full cooldown upon a Profile change, but tactical planning and creative use of cover can allow Ryder to survive this brief period and continue the engagement.
The renewed focus on the player allows Mass Effect to finally shake all remnants of BioWare’s turn-based roots in favor of fully realized real-time combat. The surprise of coming across a substantial sub-boss or boss in the original trilogy would be negated by accessing the power menu, allowing the player time to think and plot out the best course of action with gameplay frozen in time. In Andromeda, the player is forced to think on their feet which increases the potential for failure but also increases critical thinking and satisfaction upon dispatching a talented foe. It also allows for free use of squadmates, as their powers and abilities are now relegated to support instead of becoming crucial for certain combat applications. This is key with the introduction of the Angaran, Jaal Ama Darav, the only squadmate native to the Heleus Cluster. With two of Andromeda’s main open worlds taking place on Angaran civilized worlds, having Jaal in Ryder’s shore party offers a wealth of insight into the worlds of Voeld and Havarl, as well as offering unique dialogue and paths for many side effects regarding the Roekarr and Resistance, two Angaran factions in Andromeda. In the original formula of Mass Effect player classes, Jaal would be a redundant squadmate for many Soldier and Infiltrator Ryder builds with his focus on combat and tech powers. With the revamped Andromeda system however, the player deals with few negative consequences in gameplay with his inclusion as a possible permanent fixture.
RECONCILING THE DISCONNECT BETWEEN MAIN AND SIDE QUESTSAnother oft-criticized aspect of the original Mass Effect trilogy is the dissonance between the importance of the main quests and the abundance of side quests that all demanded Shepard’s attention. All three games have main plot lines that, according to the story as it’s told to the player, will have dire consequences if Shepard does not pursue them as fast as possible. This is at odds with the very nature of a non-linear RPG like Mass Effect, which contains a wealth of side quests that levels up the player character and offers insight into the narrative. This is especially present in Mass Effect 2, where the Collectors attack human colonies left and right yet story-progressing missions are incentivized to be held off so that Shepard can attend to the loyalty missions of their squadmates, all of which are crucial to getting the best ending. This is another narrative pitfall of almost every open-world role-playing game on the market that Andromeda creatively subverts.
As Pathfinder of the Andromeda Initiative, Ryder’s purpose in the Heleus Cluster is to complete missions and objectives that raise the potential for habitability on individual worlds. There are three open worlds for Ryder to roam around in at the beginning of the game in which the main quest is to complete side quests that contribute to creation of settlements. These side quests range from thoroughly developed combat engagements to fetch quests that bring the player to previously unexplored parts of the map, and usually contribute to planetary viability with some correlation to the quality of the mission structure. A player who has no interest in fetch quests can still reach a suitable planetary viability number for story progression, yet a completionist is accurately rewarded for doing side quests by increasing loot and bonuses that come with a highly-viable planet.
Around 15-30 hours into the game this pretense falls as the true main quest becomes apparent, but the player character will not have sufficient XP to reach a baseline-acceptable quality of powers for Ryder. Players who wish to pursue the main quest are free to do so and continue progressing the story and unlocking of worlds, but are also free to continue improving planetary viability as the importance of the main quest does not truly override Ryder’s importance as Pathfinder. Sure, a Ryder concerned for the struggles of the Angaran people may feel that this takes precedence, but this is a subjective opinion and contrasts with the stated goals of a Pathfinder. Nonetheless, the freedom to complete side quests at will is a breath of fresh air in a genre where any time spent on incredible side stories means guilt for not progressing the main story.
FAILURES IN APPLICATIONDespite all this, the reception of Andromeda ranged from mixed to negative upon its release. Widely mocked by fans, general gamers, and critics alike, Andromeda placed the Mass Effect series into an indefinite purgatory at EA. BioWare Montreal was shuttered upon release, a majority of its employees laid off with the rest relegated to support roles on Anthem and The Old Republic. Planned downloadable content involving a Quarian Ark was relegated to a plotline in a tie-in novel, and the series has been on hiatus with no confirmed reports of a future in either a sequel to Andromeda, the original trilogy, or a remasteremake. While an inordinate amount of criticism was unduly placed on tertiary features such as facial animations or galaxy map loading screens, the amount to which Andromeda became a laughing stock required deeper issues within the intrinsic design of the game itself. Let’s take a look at where some of these well-meant features fell flat.
THEMATIC DISSONANCE BETWEEN STORY AND GAMEPLAY
While Andromeda does get credit for reconciling the importance of main and side quests, it still fails to attack the core of what makes ludonarrative dissonance such an issue in games: the thematic applications. This is an aspect of the original Mass Effect trilogy that is far superior. The core motif of the trilogy as told to us by the ME3 ending, the nature of conflict between organics and synthetics, can be seen in all three games through the eyes of the Quarian/Geth War. Sub-themes of transhumanism and artificial intelligence have both sides offered up and explored (before the final fifteen minutes contrary to popular belief in missions like A House Divided and Priority: Rannoch), leading to a semi-legitimacy in the Reaper’s main goal of cyclical extinction. Another primary storyline of the trilogy, the genophage and it’s ethical consequences, is explored through both gameplay and story equally.
Old Blood, Mordin’s loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2, contrasts the Salarian STG’s theoretical prediction model of what a modern Krogan empire might do with the realities of their attempt to defend against it. The Genophage was meant to keep the Krogan’s violent ways from spreading throughout the galaxy, yet Shepard has to continuously fight them as their impending doom and lack of hope leads them to selling themselves into mercenary service. Hope, as Shepard tells the Catalyst in the final moments of Mass Effect 3, is one of the defining characteristics of organic life. Thus, the genophage unintentionally cements the Krogan’s status as the violent killing machines the STG was attempting to prevent.
None of this deft application of themes is found in Andromeda. The Kett, the main enemy type of Andromeda, offers little more than a faceless baddie for Ryder to mow down endlessly without intruding into the player's conscience. Upon reveal of the kett’s true nature as repurposed Angaran’s there is potential to explore the ethics of the war against the kett. However, Andromeda states repeatedly to the player in no uncertain terms that no aspect of the Angara remains in their new Kett DNA and that Ryder is free to continue gunning them down by the dozens.
Other themes such as exploration and new beginnings either only work on through metacommentary on the state of BioWare Montreal or surface-level concepts. The Archon is mostly a one-note baddie, a departure from the original trilogy in which arguably the most popular ending is a concept shared with Mass Effect 1’s villain. Consequences are also nowhere to be seen, although that’s a harder point to definitively argue since the ending clearly implies a willingness to continue the story in future installments like prior games in the series.
Regardless, very little of the themes that Andromeda tries to explore come through in gameplay. Sure, the core idea of the game is exploration and the open-world and use of the Nomad allows for seeing the worlds of Heleus, but nothing hits you with the same weight as what players experienced in the original Mass Effect trilogy. This is the key issue which plagues other strong titles such as Uncharted and BioShock, and because Andromeda does a good job at subverting the smaller characteristics of the issue does not mean it gets credit for the whole.
ONE-NOTE CHARACTERS AND DOWNPLAYED STAKES
A Mass Effect game is absolutely nothing without strong characters, and Andromeda falls short in this regard. While many characters have unique personality traits and identifiers the player can associate them with, this is commonly mistaken for good character development. Jaal is an outlier in this regard, offering a complete and satisfying arc from beginning to end covering his acceptance of his people’s origins and fate with the kett as well as adapting to new life in Heleus. The rest of the Tempest crew varies from boring to aggressively unlikable and many don’t change all that much throughout the course of the game. Nakmor Drack gets by on his likability, but characters like Liam and Cora are beyond annoying and offer little insight into the overall Mass Effect universe that made characters like Javik or Ashley bearable.
Additionally, the side effect of streamlining an open-world level design with a story required of a Mass Effect game is one that has small or unimportant stakes. The overarching Reaper narrative of the original Mass Effect trilogy made them the page-turners of video games; every second you aren’t playing them is an additional second you’ll have to wait to find out what happens next. There’s just not that same sense of urgency in Andromeda, making it easier for the game’s driving force to fizzle out for the player once they entire their 40th, 50th, 60th etc. hour in a playthrough.
As a result, the Tempest feels like the kids table at Thanksgiving as compared to the Normandy down the hall where all the adults sit. Whether or not it’s fair to compare the two is irrelevant as Andromeda is ostensibly a Mass Effect game. Andromeda did not release in a vacuum, and to assume so would be analyzing it on incorrect information. It’s still no doubt worthy of the name, but is hard to not be seen as falling flat in light of its predecessors.
RPG’S AS A POWER FANTASY
While there is a subsection of dedicated gamers that favor story-gameplay integration, there is a much larger group of casual gamers who enjoy games in the RPG genre for their status as power fantasies, thematic cohesion be damned. Commander Shepard in the original Mass Effect trilogy barely resonated as an issue with RPG structure to many, rather seen as a vehicle for wish fulfillment. No doubt aided by a complex character creator and wealth of dialogue options that enable deep immersive role-playing, the average person doesn’t want to go to a whole new galaxy in a vast science fiction universe to play as someone who is, well, average. As an avid reader and contributor to Mass Effect discussion boards, many people pine for the return of the badass Commander Shepard who could rally any soldier to his side through charisma and the disposal of the dopey Scott/Sara Ryder who can’t even command respect in post-mission debriefs. While this line of thinking could inhibit the potential of gaming as a narrative vehicle, gaming is at its core a commercial medium. Unlike books or movies which can be made for pennies, any AAA game requires a multi-million dollar investment even to begin with. As a result, catering to the common denominator becomes more and more important the wider the scope of a game is.
SAM is another pervasive issue in regards to this as a side effect of its overall intentions. While SAM provides an in-universe reason for someone other than “the ultimate badass” being the playable character, it undercuts this same idea by acting as a deus ex machina. One of the core ideas behind Ryder not being “the One” is because his status on the Pathfinder team is really only because of nepotism, many traits of being an N7 operative might be genetic, sure, but Ryder is supposed to be someone who rises to challenge because of his situation, not regardless of. Instead, SAM becomes an all-encompassing “this is why Ryder is able to do these extraordinary things” regarding the Remnant and Ryder’s combat capabilities. Furthermore, there isn’t enough work done to separate the idea of SAM and Ryder in the eyes of the other characters in Andromeda and Ryder loses the aspects of what makes him a relatively ordinary individual. As a result, many of the archetypal qualities that make player characters unoriginal still apply while also undercutting the power fantasies that make those same protagonists popular.
CONCLUSIONMass Effect: Andromeda is often painted as the image of failure in the video game industry, an icon of what happens when you attempt to extract more life out of a series or IP when there's none left. This couldn't be more incorrect. It's a continuation of the Mass Effect series that builds on the foundation of what made its predecessors unique and special to so many people, while attempting to correct certain pitfalls that kept those same extraordinary games from reaching their true potential.
Any discussion about this game is often surface-level, arguments in favor of it from a game design or metanarrative perspective often dismissed with wisecracks relating to "mY fAcE iS tIrEd" or the uncanny valley of it's Day 1 facial animations. It's because of this deeply-rooted meme status of Andromeda that people refuse to delve deeper into what it did right, likely stemming from a common fallacy of modern game criticism where nitpicking tertiary elements counts as insightful analysis.
There is plenty to learn from Andromeda, both as a guideline for improving the way narrative in games are handled as well as the improved execution of role-playing elements within a story. No game is perfect, Andromeda and the Mass Effect series far from exempt in this regard, but that doesn't mean that there aren't positive elements to that which we've dismissed. Scott and Sara Ryder, along with SAM and the story of Andromeda, are a pillar in which the future of video games as a storytelling medium can be built upon. And for that, BioWare Montreal has been successful in leaving their mark on a series that many people hold near and dear to their hearts.
Of Nite and Dei [Chapter 16]
|---------------------------------Table of Contents-------------------------------------|
|Chapter 9 l Chapter 10 l Chapter 11 l Chapter 12 l Chapter 13 l Chapter 14 l Chapter 15|
Sorjoy sat in his office, concern on his face as he considered everything going on in his life. “Everything was coming together flawlessly and now this?!” He growled to himself, as he fumed in his office chair. “Who are you and what do you want with The Scale, Persophone?”
Sorjoy allowed the red phone to ring four times before he answered it.
Sorjoy took a sharp inhale through his nostrils and answered the phone, “Sorjoy.”
Four taps came over the phone, “ah, Mr.Sorjoy, nice to speak with you again.”
“Always a pleasure, Gallor,” Sorjoy smiled, relaxing in his seat.
“So, some news I wanted to give you regarding Yuki Karkade,” Gallor began.
Sorjoy frowned, heaving a sigh, “Yes, you mentioned in an earlier call that she would return and that she wanted her son?”
“Yes,” Gallor’s voice grew meek, “About that-”
Sorjoy growled, “Gallor, no offense, but Yuki Karkade cannot just take Aphod Karkade’s son. She doesn’t have the right to separate them.”
Gallor’s voice tried to interrupt Sorjoy, “Yes, Mr. Sorjoy, I understand that clearly-”
“I have to represent the father’s interests here, Gallor,” Sorjoy continued to rant.
“Mr. Sorjoy!” Gallor shouted.
Sorjoy stopped speaking, stunned as he had never heard Gallor shout, “what is it?” irritation in Sorjoy’s voice.
“...I will be unable to allow Yuki Karkade on the shuttle,” Gallor confessed.
Sorjoy grinned, “Oh?”
“Yes, sadly, the Chairwoman of the Game and Logistics Department removed Yuki Karkade’s authorization,” Gallor sighed, “I’m so sorry. What with this being the last shuttle, I don’t know how we will get her back to you.”
“It’s fine, Gallor,” Sorjoy grinned ear to ear, “I don’t think this is as great a tragedy you believe it is.”
“Yes, also” Gallor chuckled, “she has found a mate here, after all.”
Sorjoy’s grip tightened on the red handset, “What was that, Gallor?”
“Yuki Karkade, she has taken a mate, a nurse named ‘Serren Misho’,” Gallor informed.
Sorjoy was silent, his teeth clenched and his lip quivered as he thought An angel with a dragon? What will The Scale think of this? Sorjoy thought to himself. “How nice for her,” Sorjoy said in a calm tone, hiding his anger at the situation from Gallor.
“Yes, so she won’t be all alone here, after all, it seems. A small consolation, all things considered,” Gallor offered.
Sorjoy continued to suppress his anger and kept his voice calm, “Yes, all things considered,” Sorjoy calmed down slightly, “as long as she is alive, and well, and on Nite, there should be no issue.”
“Very well, Mr. Sorjoy,” Gallor chirped on the phone, “if there is any change, I’ll let you know.”
“Always a pleasure, Gallor,” Sorjoy bid Gallor farewell.
“Always, Mr.Sorjoy,” Gallor said as he ended the call.
Sorjoy grumbled as he hung up the phone, and made his way towards a bar located in his office, pulling out a tumbler and a stiff drink of liquor. “Keep Dei and Nite separate,” Sorjoy hissed. “The first damn tenet, and you, Mrs. Karkade,” he downed the drink quickly, “mated with a damn Niten Dragon!”
Sorjoy paced around shortly, “how do I explain this to anyone within The Scale? I’ll never become Grand Patriarch at this rate!” he hissed.
Sorjoy looked to his door, storming towards it, and making a bee-line for Cleo’s desk. “Cleo!”
Cleo had headphones in her ears, and jumped at Sorjoy’s loud shouting, “Sir?!”
“I need the documents for the payout on Yuki Karkade’s life insurance policy and commission checks,” Sorjoy narrowed his eyes, “You know, It’s unlike you to not have this paperwork ready. Are you slipping?”
“Not at all, sir!” Cleo gasped, tapping at her tablet, “I’ll have that for you shortly.”
“What are you even doing out here?” Sorjoy narrowed his eyes on Cleo.
“Organizing the auction, Mr. Sorjoy,” Cleo explained. “So far I’m ensuring that the most elite Angels on Dei are there to view the diamond and purchase it,” Cleo stated.
Sorjoy’s look of anger slowly turned to glee, “ah, well then, keep up the good work, Cleo.” He then vanished into his office.
As the door shut, Cleo frowned, as a call came in. She picked it up quickly, “Erik Sorjoy’s office, Cleopatra speaking.”
An older man’s voice wheezed over the phone, “Why, good evening young lady.”
Cleo smiled, “Good evening Mr. Trueman.”
“Ah, does my name proceed even before I introduce myself?” Trueman chuckled.
“Your distinguished voice is one I’ll always remember, are you calling to confirm your appointment for the auction, sir? If you cannot make it… I would not mind changing the date and time to facilitate your needs,” Cleo beamed over the phone.
Trueman laughed, “no need to accommodate an old fogey like me, my lovely lady.”
“Nonsense Mr. Trueman,” Cleo grinned, “I know exactly how important you are.”
“Far too kind my dear, a rare thing these days,” Trueman wheezed, “I’m actually calling to speak to your employer, if he has the time, of course.”
“I’ll ensure he makes time for you, Mr.Trueman, Sir,” Cleo chirped politely.
“Walters, yes?” Trueman asked again.
“That’s right Mr. Trueman,” Celo confirmed.
“You gave an interesting performance at the hearing,” Trueman gave a soft laugh, “Mr. Sorjoy is lucky to have someone such as yourself assisting him.”
Cleo smiled, her tone light and professional, “Thank you, Mr.Trueman, sir, I do what I can to assist Mr. Sorjoy at every turn.”
“They say behind every great man is a talented woman,” Mr. Trueman informed, “perhaps Mr. Sorjoy will become a great man himself, now that you’re here.”
Cleo smiled brightly through the phone, “Well, thank you, Mr. Trueman, sir.”
Mr. Trueman wheezed, “Please patch me to him, Ms. Walters. It was a pleasure speaking with you.”
“It was a pleasure speaking to you as well, Mr. Trueman, sir,” Cleo placed him on hold, calling back to Sorjoy quickly.
Sorjoy answered, “I’m in no mood, Cleo.”
“Shall I tell Mr. Trueman you’re in no mood?” Cleo jabbed.
Sorjoy's eyes widened, “Why is he…? Put him through.”
Cleo grinned to herself, conferencing the two men together, “Mr. Trueman, sir, I have Mr. Sorjoy on the line.”
“Sorjoy?” Trueman asked.
“Yes, Mr. Trueman, a nice surprise. Cleo, you can drop off the call,” Sorjoy ordered.
“I will Mr. Sorjoy, have a pleasant day Mr. Trueman, sir,” Cleo said as she dropped from the conversation.
Once Cleo dropped off the line, Sorjoy stated, “Mr. Trueman, the scales are even.”
“Hmm,” Trueman acknowledged, “quite the lovely assistant you have, Sorjoy. Very polite, very traditional girl. Where did you find her?”
Sorjoy frowned, “Palma.”
“Ah, Gabriel’s always had exceptional taste,” Mr. Trueman remarked.
“His son, actually, Azrael,” Sorjoy clarified.
“Ah, his son is… less so,” Mr. Trueman pointed out.
“I am surprised to hear from you, Mr. Trueman,” Sorjoy confessed.
“You should not be,” Trueman explained, “did I not state I wished to have reports from you, frequently, about the Fallen Miner?”
“That is true,” Sorjoy admitted.
“And I most certainly cannot expect you to simply divulge that information to me willingly, it seems, nor can I wait until the next Scale meeting,” Trueman explained.
“I see,” Sorjoy heaved a sigh, “have I lost that much trust in you, Grand Patriarch?” Sorjoy lamented.
“Let’s just say that I am concerned regarding your judgment,” Mr. Trueman explained. “Now: Report.”
Sorjoy sighed, “Well, literally moments ago I discovered Yuki Karkade will not be coming home.”
“A fickle girl,” Trueman scoffed.
“Apparently, the Chairwoman of the Niten Game and Logistics Department revoked Yuki’s authorization to board the shuttle,” Sorjoy explained, “so, once again the situation is a non-issue.”
“Interesting,” Trueman remarked, “for Chairwoman Rezzolina to weigh in on a situation… most curious. She’s a shrewd woman, has little love for us Dei Angels. She’s rather crass, to be blunt.”
Sorjoy had never heard anyone speak poorly of a Niten Dragon, “Mr. Trueman, have you had experience dealing with the Chairwoman?”
“The former Grand Patriarch brokered the first agreement with Nite regarding the shuttles. It was controversial, even for him,” Trueman wheezed as he laughed, “but, it was Rezzolina who put an end date on the program, not anyone in The Scale. Her words, if I recall,” Mr. Trueman thought for a moment before continuing, “were: ‘If the Dei would focus more on the production of food vs ravenous consumption of natural resources, perhaps additional trade of basic produce would not be necessary.’”
“She sounds lovely,” Sorjoy said sarcastically.
“I can’t often imagine many terrible situations, but being on the wrong side of Chairwoman Rezzolina’s ire is certainly one of them,” Mr. Trueman remarked.
“It would seem so,” Sorjoy agreed.
“Anything else to report?” Mr. Trueman asked.
Sorjoy hesitated, unsure of what to do regarding the other tidbit of information he had received.
“Mr. Sorjoy?” Mr. Trueman said, his anger rising, “is there something else you should inform me of?”
Sorjoy sat down, and leaned back in his office chair, and sighed, “it seems Yuki Karkade has taken a Niten mate.”
There was silence on the other line, and Sorjoy was contemplating whether or not the news had actually killed the old man.
“An… interesting development,” Trueman whispered.
“I’m certain there was no way I could have stopped it,” Sorjoy tried to defend himself.
“Yuki Karkade has violated a key tenet of our organization, yet she remains on Nite,” Mr. Trueman admitted, “so it seems the matter has resolved itself, as you said.”
“I see,” Sorjoy heaved a sigh of relief.
“This information, honestly, is irrelevant, so we’ll keep it between ourselves, yes, Mr. Sorjoy?” Mr. Trueman asked, rhetorically.
“Mr. Trueman,” Sorjoy said, shocked, “you’re certain?”
“Mr. Sorjoy, you did your best, all things considered, and as such I expect you take time to ensure that there is little to no disruption in your public appearances,” Trueman explained.
“Mr. Trueman?” Sorjoy asked, confused.
“I could not help but notice the auction is set for a day or so prior to an event you have not publicized,” Mr. Trueman explained.
“I should have guessed you’d be well informed, Mr. Trueman,” Sorjoy heaved a sigh, “I will be attending the Funeral for the Fallen Miner. Unless you think I shouldn’t.”
“By all means, pay your ‘respects’ to the Fallen Miner,” Mr. Trueman wheezed over the phone, “At least we know she is in a better place.”
Yuki was panicked and fuming all at the same time. “Rezza! Y-You can’t do this! Please, I beg of you!”
Rezzolina looked at Yuki oddly, “And who told you that you could call me Rezza?”
Yuki narrowed her eyes on Rezzolina, “We’re supposed to be family!”
“Family?” Rezzolina got to her feet, stalking towards Yuki, glaring down at her from her substantially taller stature, “you are simply an infatuation my brother has.”
Yuki gasped at the accusation, “if you feel that way, then why keep me here?”
“Because,” Rezzolina explained, walking around Yuki, “you’re something that pleases him. Like a toy, or a... pet,” Rezzolina placed her hand on Yuki’s shoulder, “now sit!” she commanded as she pushed Yuki down on the couch.
Yuki kept her eyes on Rezzolina, “you’re getting between me and my child!”
“Oh, well that would be very intimidating if you were, well,” Rezzolina scoffed, “intimidating.”
“When I tell Serren-” Yuki was cut off by Rezzolina.
“Tell him,” Rezzolina mused, “tell Serren I was an absolute monster to you. Tell him that you hate me and you want him to hate me too.” Rezzolina sat across from Yuki, “you see, Serren already hates me. I know he does, he hates how hard I work myself, the fact that I refuse to take a mate,” She took another sip of wine. “To be honest I’m shocked to even see him here.”
“I thought you cared for him,” Yuki pleaded, “if you do, you’ll let me go!”
Rezzolina swirled the wine in her glass, “I care for Serren deeply,” she fixed Yuki with a stern gaze, “and that’s why I won’t let you hurt him. Let him hate me,” Rezzolina stated, “as long as he’s happy.”
Yuki narrowed her eyes on Rezzolina and marched up to her, “you might think you’re some big intimidating bird and you have everyone scared of you, but I know your game!”
“Please,” Rezzolina slowly tipped the remaining contents of her wine into her maw, and licked her lips, “do go on, tell me how you really feel,” she said, clearly bored with the conversation.
“So that’s why you’re always working because if you remove your position, your power, and your authority, behind it all, there’s nothing left,” Yuki narrowed her eyes, “just a loveless, cold, and hollow bird who can’t even connect with her own brother.”
“The angel has claws,” Rezzlonia said with a sly grin, “That was rather delightful. I see why Serren likes you.”
Yuki continued her glare at Rezzolina. “Oh, really?”
Rezzolina nodded, “Yes. You’re very passionate, fiery almost.”
“Is that alien to you?” Yuki narrowed her eyes, “seeing someone with an actual heart?”
Rezzolina got to her feet, moving to her kitchen and refilling her glass of wine.
“You don’t take a mate because no one could stand you,” Yuki continued, “how you and Serren are related is a mystery to me.”
Rezzolina slowly poured the wine, seemingly taking in what Yuki said.
“But you claim it’s all a choice,” Yuki glared, “but getting the interest of someone else is the only thing you can’t control.”
Rezzolina’s wine glass filled higher, nearing the brim.
“And that is probably what drives you up the wall the most. That you can’t even get your own brother to visit you, because you’re that caustic,” Yuki continued, “you push everyone away…” Yuki trailed off as she saw Rezzolina’s wine glass overflow.
Rezzolina set the now-empty wine bottle on the counter, she was silent, both of her hands came to rest on the countertop.
Yuki was unsure what was going on until she heard a hitch in Rezzolina’s voice.
Tears leaked down Rezzolina’s snout, as she reached under the cabinets for a washcloth to clean the countertop.
Yuki was about to speak before Serren’s voice distracted her.
“Rezza?” Serren’s face was twisted into that of concern and worry, “Yuki! Why would you say that to her?”
Yuki’s mouth was agape, “Wait, Serren that’s not-”
Rezzolina sobbed, “Serren,” she turned to him, “Yuki didn’t do anything wrong, she just… she’s right. I am… hollow inside.”
Serren placed the food he got on the kitchen table, “Rezza you’re not-”
“No,” Rezzolina whimpered, turning from Serren, “I need a minute,” she walked off and headed towards the hallway.
Serren turned to Yuki, giving her an agitated look, “Yuki?!”
Before Rezzolina turned the corner, Rezzolina wiped her tears away and shot a sly grin at Yuki before vanishing into a bedroom.
Yuki’s jaw dropped, “Oh you manipulative monster!” she thought to herself.
Serren walked over to Yuki, “Why would you say such terrible things to her, Yuki?”
Yuki turned to Serren, and frowned, “Serren, are you taking her side?”
“She’s my sister!” Serren said as he sat next to Yuki.
Yuki got to her feet, “and I’m supposed to be your mate! You’re supposed to be on my side, Serren!”
Serren frowned, “Yuki, Rezza may be difficult but she didn’t deserve such harsh words!”
“Which words? What did you hear?” Yuki asked.
“Were there more hurtful things you threw at her while I was standing on the balcony?” Serren demanded, his arms crossed.
Yuki took a deep breath, feeling a mixture of conflicting emotions surging from Serren. She sat down next to him, and took his hand, “Serren… you know me,” pleaded.
“You know I wouldn’t do something to intentionally hurt your sister,” Yuki said, looking into Serren’s eyes.
Serren leaned down, giving Yuki a kiss. When Serren broke the kiss, his hand reached to Yuki’s, “then, what did she say to you to make you react that way?”
Yuki breathed a sigh of relief, “well she said she was revoking my access to the ship.” Intense despair came over Yuki and Serren, an emotion both knew was not their own.
Serren got to his feet and rushed down the hallway, Yuki in tow, “Rezza?”
Rezzolina was standing in the hallway, her back to Serren and Yuki, “Both of you please just… give me a…” genuine tears leaked from her eyes.
Yuki frowned, “Rezzolina?”
Rezzolina clenched her fists and turned to Yuki, “I’ve heard everything you said to me, and normally, it wouldn’t bother me.”
Serren smiled at Rezzolina.
“But seeing… you… actually finding a mate, not once, but twice?!” Rezzolina cried to Serren, “you’re such a lucky hatchling!”
“So, I’m not just a ‘Pet’?” Yuki asked.
Rezzolina sighed as Serren hugged her, “no, you’re not just a pet,” she reluctantly admitted as she hugged Serren back.
“So, I can go back to Dei?” Yuki asked, hopeful.
Rezzolina scoffed, pushing Serren from her, “Serren finds love, again, after Allia’s terrible accident, and you want me to allow you to travel through space to potentially never return again?”
Yuki narrowed her eyes, “I told you I have plans to come back to Nite!”
Serren frowned, “Rezza, please?.”
“Plans derail,” Rezzolina looked to Serren, “you of all people should know that.”
Serren frowned, “Rezza, she’s only going to bring her child here, I’d be a stepfather! Wouldn’t that be nice? You would be an aunt!”
Rezzolina shook her head, “Serren, what if she’s detained by Dei authorities? They aren’t very bright.”
“Okay,” Yuki interjected, “why are you so racist?”
Rezzolina frowned, “Racist? What do you mean?”
“Why do you hate Dei angels?” Yuki questioned.
“Hate them?” Rezzolina said, confused, “I don’t hate them.”
“Seems like you do,” Yuki said, her arms crossed, cocking her hip.
“That's not hatred,” Rezzolina exclaimed, walking into the kitchen, cleaning up her countertop.
“Then why do you call us primitives?” Yuki questioned.
“Because you are,” Rezzolina said factually, “that’s not hateful, it’s just the truth. You’re a greedy and petty species who’re far more concerned with selfish desires than you are with the wellbeing of your fellow people.”
Serren and Yuki gave Rezzolina a rather exasperated look.
Rezzolina looked to both of them, shrugging her wings and shoulders at the pair, “What?”
“That’s very hateful to make the assumption that every Dei Angel is like that,” Yuki explained, “I’ve proven I’m not self-centered, haven’t I?”
“No,” Rezzolina exclaimed, “I’ve seen you care for Serren, but he’s your mate.”
“I care about you too,” Yuki explained.
“Doubtful,” Rezzolina scoffed, “you only care about me because, again, You’re Serren’s mate and I’m his sister.”
“What can I do to convince you?” Yuki asked with an exasperated sigh.
“Nothing,” Rezzolina explained, “I have spoken to your leaders, and they were amazingly self-centered. Their literal task is to lead you people.”
Yuki smiled, “so your only exposure to Dei Angels has been our leaders? Because they’re usually the most corrupt and greedy sort.”
Rezzolina lifted an eyebrow, “Is that somehow supposed to be a defense?”
Yuki’s face fell, “oh… saying that out loud is actually pretty depressing, now that you mention it.”
Rezzolina sighed, “Yuki, you might be one of the good Dei Angels, but that’s the thing. You’re only good because you’re on Nite with us.”
Yuki gave a confused look to Rezzolina, “what do you mean?”
“You’re surrounded by the empathy of everyone around you. You can feel my pain, Serren’s love, and I feel the love you both feel as well. We’re all connected here,” Rezzolina explained.
Serren turned to Yuki, “so you’re saying Yuki is an exceptional Angel because she’s with us on Nite?”
Rezzolina nodded, “yes, she’s connected to us, and as such, she can rise above her selfish tendencies.”
Yuki exclaimed, exasperated, “we aren’t all selfish!”
“Please, Yuki,” Rezzolina rolled her eyes, “your people have developed a system that grinds those at the bottom into dust. But In order to rise up and be selfless, someone would have to literally lose everything just to gain a tiny bit of compassion for their fellow angel.”
Cleo sneezed as she sat next to Sorjoy.
“Guardian Bless You,” Sorjoy said politely as Cleo sat next to him on a church pew.
Above the altar was a figure of Lucifer as a physically fit man, his arms outstretched, a depiction of Dei as a planet floating over his opened hands, Lucifer's golden wings spread wide.
Below the altar was a picture of Yuki in her flight suit.
Cleo turned to look across the aisle, there she spotted Aphod Karkade and a small boy that had Yuki’s blond hair and blue eyes, as well as Yuki’s yellow wings.
Sitting next to them was a younger woman, her wings and hair dyed white and she wore a set of off-brand heels and a cheap tightly fitting black dress. Cleo had discovered Yuki's husband had found himself a new wife. Who perhaps had been his mistress while Yuki was away on missions. Cleo only knew her name was Samantha Haut.
Cleo lifted a well-sculpted eyebrow at Samantha. “This ‘white wing’ trend is getting on my nerves.” Cleo thought to herself.
“While it’s normally uncouth to bring one’s new fling to the funeral of your recently deceased wife,” Sorjoy whispered, “it’s also impolite to stare.”
Before Cleo could interject, the priest began his sermon.
The priest had a black cloth covering his wings, and a cowl over his head hiding his hair. His brown eyes looked over the congregation before him.
“It is by the grace of the Guardian of Wisdom, Lord Lucifer of Light, that we accept his wisdom and pass our friend, wife, daughter, mother, and your servant, to you,” The priest motioned to Yuki’s picture. “May you watch over her for eternity, and forever guard her soul against the darkness of ignorance and fear. Yuki’s job was a difficult one, and in the end, it claimed her life. Let all of her trespasses against anyone be forgiven on this day, regardless of their severity, so she may pass unfettered into the waiting arms of Our Lord Lucifer. Amen.”
Cleo felt her phone buzzing with notifications, despite it being silenced. The ceremony was seriously slowing down her itinerary, and she continued to wonder why, exactly, Sorjoy felt a need to attend the funeral of the Fallen Miner.
Sorjoy sat next to Cleo, agitation on his face as well.
Cleo gave Sorjoy a curious look, wondering why it was that Sorjoy was here if he was so clearly agitated.
Jax sat in the back of the pews, glaring daggers at Sorjoy and Cleo from the back row.
As the funeral came to an end, Cleo slowly got to her feet, carefully slipping from behind the pew.
Sorjoy got to the end of the pew, standing, and straightening his tie and jacket.
“Mr. Sorjoy,” Aphod said as he approached Cleo and Sorjoy.
Cleo turned, halting Aphod “Mr. Sorjoy was just-”
“It’s fine, Cleo,” Sorjoy interrupted, moving to Aphod, shaking his hand. “My condolences on your loss, Mr. Karkade.”
Aphod nodded, and Cleo noticed the ten-year-old child who was sniffling, holding his father’s hand. “Mr. Sorjoy, and thank you again for all the… support.”
“Your wife, Yuki Karkade was one of our miners, and as such her family needs to be properly compensated,” Sorjoy explained.
“Of course, while everything processes…” Aphod cleared his throat.
“Indeed, I understand you developed substantial debt, which Yuki Karkade’s life insurance should handle,” Sorjoy assured.
“I wish,” Aphod laughed nervously, “the funeral was expensive enough… but hopefully the commission from her find-”
“Will be more than enough to cover your future expenses. The auction is tomorrow, Fondsworth will need time to process your payouts, of course,” Sorjoy explained.
Samantha, meanwhile, had approached Cleo, a smile on her face, “Wow! What salon do you go to?”
“A nice little place called ‘My Mirror’,” Cleo looked to Samantha’s wings, noting that her actual wing color was likely a soft blue. Her hair was clearly blue to match, which Cleo could tell thanks to the roots which exposed her natural color despite the white dye.
“Can I ask you how you dye your hair and wings? They look gorgeous,” Samantha smiled wide, “The contacts really make your eyes pop!”
Cleo’s eye twitched in agitation as she took the final compliment as an insult, “My eyes, wings, and hair are all-natural. As is the rest of me. Far more than I can say about you,” Cleo said caustically.
Samantha turned her nose up at Cleo, narrowing her eyes on her, “Fine, keep your secrets! Just another high roller's damn arm candy.”
The word struck Cleo harder than she expected. Almost as hard as Cleo’s hand struck Samantha’s cheek, which rang out clearly in the entire church with such resonance that the note could have been sung by a choir.
Cleo’s own eyes were wide in shock as she realized her hand had crossed Samantha’s cheek.
Samantha, for her part, was also shocked, her eyes tearing up and her mouth agape.
“Cleo!” Sorjoy roared as he grabbed Cleo’s wrist.
“Mr. Sorjoy I-” Cleo attempted to speak before Sorjoy’s hand gripped Cleo’s hand tightly.
“Samantha!” Aphod rushed to his new wife. “Get your date under control, Soyjoy"! Aphod exclaimed
“I am not his date!” Cleo shouted.
Sorjoy tugged Cleo after him and down the aisle quickly.
Cleo stumbled for a moment before she caught up to Sorjoy’s pace, her heels slipping at the first few steps before she recovered.
Sorjoy stopped once they were in an alcove of the church near the entrance. “What in Oblivion was that?!” Sorjoy snapped.
Cleo’s heart was pounding in her chest as she looked up to Sorjoy, “That whore called me arm candy!”
Sorjoy narrowed his eyes at her, “so you let her win?”
Cleo blinked, confused, her eyes filling with tears as she looked up to Sorjoy. “...Oh, Guardian… I slapped her and… oh… oh no…” her hands clasped to her mouth as a tear rolled down her cheek.
“Yes, you let your anger get the better of you,” Sorjoy chastised as he looked down his nose at her, his piercing green eyes almost glowing in the dark alcove.
Cleo felt her heart jump in her chest as Sorjoy’s gaze grew more intense. “I-I’m so sorry Mr. Sorjoy, it-”
Sorjoy said nothing, merely releasing Cleo’s hand, his eyes boring holes into Cleo’s as his silent rage petrified her to silence.
Without another word, Sorjoy turned on his heel and walked towards the exit.
Cleo quickly dried her eyes and tried to catch up with Sorjoy, the color draining from her face. I fucked up! I’m fired, that’s it for me! It’s all over!
“To give pathetic scum like Karkade's whore the time of day is beyond an insult,” Sorjoy spoke without turning around, “You are in my company, and that means the riff-raff and leeches are nothing you pay any attention to unless they happen to affix themselves to you.”
Cleo followed after Sorjoy as he spoke.
“And in those rare instances where you find them attached, you rip them off, and let them take the blood they claimed as their soul reward,” Sorjoy said walking towards his limo, “knowing that they’ll never be able to survive with their own blood. Keep what you can, and never consider the parasites ever again.”
Cleo blinked in confusion as Sorjoy stopped outside the limo.
“I am furious you struck her, Cleo, not because the harlot didn’t deserve far worse,” Sorjoy narrowed his eyes, “but because you lost control to make her think that she mattered enough for you to strike.”
Naberious walked from the limo and towards Sorjoy.
“Now get in,” Sorjoy motioned to the limo, “we have work to do that in an hour will produce Karkade’s entire lifetime income.”
Inside the church, Jax checked his phone, looking at a message, and giving a simple reply: “You were right. Sorjoy was at the funeral. What next, Persphone?”
After a few moments, a reply came, “So I can count on you, Cerberus? - Persephone”
Jax smiled at the message, “Cerberus is yours to command.”
Palma hung up a phone, as he grumbled to himself. Palma wore a black trenchcoat, waiting in a hallway near a door.
Inside the door, several monitors illuminated showing data and some low-resolution images.
Hoffman stood there waiting by the multitude of monitors, Richard next to him. “You said you wanted to show me something?”
Richard nodded, “yessir, I got two sets of codes sent to me. One’s our normal satellites, but the other is codes to Fondsworth satellites.”
Hoffman narrowed his eyes on Richard, “oh? Show me”
“Yessir, from that same contact, Persephone,” Richard smiled, “Seems there’s a hacker that is really good at getting their inner workings.”
“You don’t say,” Hoffman said.
“If we can get this information out before Tomorrow’s auction, then we could do some real damage to Fondsworth’s image, maybe even cause a few investors to drop from the auction,” Richard surmised.
“As if it would matter at this point,” Hoffman grumbled, “Fondsworth’s stocks blew up after they unveiled that damn diamond, so much so that they could likely pay off their debt just by selling off a few hundred shares.”
“I doubt it’s that high, sir,” Richard protested.
Hoffman narrowed his eyes on Richard while taking another inhale of his cigar, blowing the smoke towards Richard’s face.
“Sir, if you could not smoke here?” he coughed, “It’s bad for the equipment,” Richard pointed out.
“Who pays for the fucking equipment, Richard?” Hoffman snapped.
“Y-you sir, sorry sir,” Richard typed a few things into the terminal, “okay, I should be getting a live aerial view of where Yuki Karkade is.”
“Who?” Hoffman asked.
“The Miner, sir,” Richard reminded Hoffman.
“Hmm,” Hoffman took another puff, and his eyes narrowed as the image that appeared on the screen was that of a large city surrounded by a thick outer wall.
“What is this?” Richard gasped, his eyes wide as he looked over the image.
Hoffman remained silent.
“I thought… this can’t be! The Nite Dragons are just primitive tribesmen, how could they have built something like this?!” Richard cried out.
Hoffman looked to the door and then to the screen, “who have you shown this to, Richard? I want to be first to the press. Its astounding Fondsworth has been hiding this from the world.”
“Sir, you and I are looking at a live feed!” he hit a button, printing out a photo, “I’m going to make some calls, sir!” he grinned, “Fondsworth isn’t going to be able to get out of this, not with all the marketing in the world!” he rushed to the doorway.
With a movement so swift Richard’s smile hadn’t even left his face by the time Palma’s hand slammed into his chest.
Richard looked down, eyes wide in shock and confusion, still smiling, as Palma’s hand moved away from Richard’s chest, revealing a large combat knife was buried to the hilt in Richard’s heart.
Palma smiled, bringing his index finger to his lips, “Shh.” He whispered softly to Richard.
Richard fell forward into a bag Palma had at the ready.
Palma silently pulled Richard into the bag, zipping it closed, ensuring there was no blood left.
Hoffman gave a nod to Palma as he hefted the body bag containing Richard inside, “A thousand feathers.”
“For a single Scale,” Palma said, vanishing down the hallway.
Hoffman pulled out a small device and plugged it into the terminal in front of him. In an instant, all of the images and data vanished, followed by error messages on all of the screens. Soon they all turned off, only to power on again with loud popping noises, smoke rising from the computers below.
Hoffman removed the device, and walked down the hallway, heading to his office. He picked up the phone, “Hello, Miranda? Richard didn’t show up today. See that he’s terminated..”
“Yessir, Mr. Hoffman. Anything else?” Mr. Hoffman’s secretary, Miranda asked.
“That’ll be all,” Hoffman grumbled, “I’m winning something good today,” as he hung up and dialed another number.
After a few short rings, a soft voice answered the phone, “Mimi speaking. The usual, Albert?”
Sorjoy sat at the back of a small auditorium. Cleo sat next to him. On either side of the pair were several men in suits, wearing black gloves and earpieces.
At each door there stood two armed guards.
Outside the building, Palma and his officers were on guard, in riot gear, ready for in case anyone attempted to steal the diamond.
“Mr. Sorjoy,” Cleo frowned, “isn’t this overkill?”
“This diamond has the future of Fondsworth Inc,” Sorjoy rationalized, “I am taking no chances, today.”
Cleo turned her attention to the stage.
Upfront an auctioneer walked up, wearing formal attire, his wings wrapped in extravagant silver chains, “Honourable Ladies and Distinguished Gentleman, please be seated. The Auction is about to begin.”
Cleo sat back, making sure her eyes were equally divided between her tablet and the stage.
A few imps helped to wheel the diamond out onto the stage, gently locking the wheels of the pedestal it rested on before they all scurried behind the curtain.
“The Heart of Lucifer,” the auctioneer smiled to the crowd, “226 kg of flawless diamond, with a mysterious, yet to be identified liquid, housed inside. The geologists have taken to calling this liquid, the ‘Blood of Lucifer’, for what else could rest within His heart,” the auctioneer grinned and many of the seated angels laughed.
“To save time,” The auctioneer beamed, “we’ll set the opening bid at seventy million lumens.”
The bidding shot up quickly, Cleo noted that the first bidders to begin were museum curators and scientists, but quickly were outbid by the affluent members of Dei’s upper crust of high society.
The Auctioneer reached over 1 billion shortly after, and the bidding continued upwards from there.
Sorjoy was all smiles, “to even meet our basic balance sheet needs we needed the sale at-”
“Six hundred and seventy-five million lumens,” Cleo pointed out. “Low balling at seventy million was just more pageantry, wasn’t it Mr. Sorjoy?”
Sorjoy laughed, “that it was, but you can’t argue with the results.”
Cleo nodded, her face still listless as the numbers soared to unimaginable heights.
As the auction continued, the shouting died down, as fewer hands went up, “1.595 lumens. Do I hear anyone else?” the auctioneer shouted.
One more hand flew up from a well dressed elderly woman, “1.6 billion lumens,” she announced.
“I have 1.6!” The auctioneer gasped, “any other offers?”
The old woman smiled softly, knowing her investment would be worthwhile.
“1.6 lumens going once… no other offers? Then I’ll say-” the auctioneer was cut off at the last second.
“Two,” the old voice of Mr. Trueman spoke confidently over the crowd, his hand raised with his auction paddle.
“2? 2 Billion, sir? Are you certain?” the auctioneer said, agape.
Mr. Trueman stood now, steadying himself on his cane, “yes. Two billion lumens.”
“2 billion going once… 2 billion going twice…” no one else spoke as Trueman smiled wide, “sold!” The auctioneer shouted, “for 2 Billion lumens to Mr. Reginald Trueman! Congratulations, sir!”
There was clapping and Mr. Trueman bowed before taking his seat.
Cleo tapped a few things on her tablet.
“You don’t seem shocked, Cleo,” Sorjoy said, noticing that Cleo had not even clapped, nor was she shocked at the price.
“Mr. Trueman’s schedule is what dictated today’s auction, Mr. Sorjoy, if he wasn’t here then I would have rescheduled,” Cleo said matter-of-factly.
“Why?” Sorjoy asked, “there are plenty of billionaires in the world.”
Cleo scoffed, “you dubbed the gem ‘the Heart of Lucifer’, Reginald Trueman is the most generous donor to the Church of the Lord of Light.”
Sorjoy gave Cleo a curious look, “is he?”
Cleo nodded, “it was a foregone conclusion that Mr. Trueman would outbid anyone who tried to lay claim to this artifact. He’ll likely donate it to the church,” She tapped a few more items on her tablet, “or keep it for other religious purposes. Either way,” Cleo turned to Sorjoy, “my only goal was to find people to drive the bidding up to a point where Fondsworth exceeded its projected profit margins.”
Sorjoy got to his feet as Trueman walked past the pair, smiling wide, “Mr. Trueman, I thank you for your generosity.”
Mr. Trueman shook Sorjoy’s hand, and turned to Cleo, “and you, clearly, are the lovely young woman I had the utmost pleasure of speaking with over the phone.”
Cleo smiled, “yes, Mr. Trueman, sir,” Cleo bowed.
Trueman frowned a bit, reaching out to her, “sad to see you a victim of trends…” he leaned closer, however, blinking.
“Trends, sir?” Cleo looked up to him.
“...white. Natural white?” he wheezed.
Cleo blushed, “yessir.”
“Why… I never thought I’d live to see the day,” Trueman blinked at Cleo, looking to Sorjoy, “you truly are blessed.”
Hoffman shut the TV off in his office in disgust, grumbling to himself. “Playing favorites, Mr. Trueman?” he hissed.
Teryn soon slid a pair of red satin gloves over Hoffman’s bare shoulders, “Baby, you’re so tense. Turn that thing off and let me take care of you?” she whispered in a sexy voice in his ear.
Hoffman grinned to Teryn, “you get prettier every time I see you, my lovely Teryn.”
“Oh stop, you big lug,” Teryn winked at Hoffman.
Hoffman grinned, “oh, I’m done paying for you once in a while, I need you around me all the time. So why don't you just Marry me?”
Teryn blinked, her heart skipping a beat as Hoffman proposed. “Alby…” she smiled, “I'm flattered baby but I’m a very in-demand woman… I’m not sure how Mimi would feel-”
“I’ll pay Mimi whatever it takes to keep you all to myself,” Hoffman grinned, “you will be my wife.”
Teryn frowned, “Alby… you know how protective Mimi can be, are you certain-”
“I’ve been outbid on everything today, like oblivion I’ll let anyone else outbid me on you,” he grinned, “you’ll live a lavish lifestyle in my mansions, and be waited on hand and foot. All I want is for you to always look beautiful for me and I want to have you whenever I desire.”
“You sure stud?” Teryn grinned, “I have really expensive tastes.”
Hoffman grinned, “and I have deep pockets.”
Teryn smiled, “well, if you're sure it's going to be okay with Mimi.”
Hoffman smiled wide, “oh, it will be, you little firecracker!” he grabbed her, as she giggled girlishly, “you’re going to be mine for as long as I live, my lovely little Teryn.”