Andromeda and "Ludonarrative Dissonance" Jun 30, 2020 16:36:53 GMT capn233, DragonKingReborn, and 5 more like this
Post by Shinobu on Jun 30, 2020 16:36:53 GMT
I had not heard about ludonarrative dissonance before today, when this article from Polygon popped up. It focuses on The Last of Us 2, but gives a good overview of the topic and is an interesting read.
Basically, ludonarrative dissonance is the disconnect between the plot of the game (narrative) and the gameplay itself ("ludo" apparently means "play" in Latin). The core gameplay in many games is "shoot people, it's fun!" while the story centers around the protagonist being a hero who isn't acknowledged to be a psychopathic mass murderer. An example used in the article is the Uncharted franchise, where funny and charming Nathan Drake nonchalantly guns down hundreds of people with zero consequences (psychological or legal).
Reading the article crystallized something that had been bothering me about Andromeda from the start. I think the OT did a better job of justifying the shooty bits than Andromeda did.
Firstly, the OT understood that most gamers feel okay about killing zombies, N*zis, robots and bugs and accordingly gave us Reapers, Cerberus, Geth and Collectors. Cerberus and the Collectors were further dehumanized by the alterations made by the Reapers. ("No soul, replaced by tech. Whatever they were, gone forever." as Mordin said.) We did spend some time killing mercenaries and pirates, but most of the game time was spent on the main four factions. Secondly, as a Spectre, Shepard basically had a license to kill with impunity. In ME3, some nod to the psychological toll all of the killing was having on Shepard was made. ("There's only so much fight in a person. Only so much death you can take before...") Finally, even if Shepard wanted to stop killing, the narrative didn't allow it because the fate of the galaxy was literally at stake. (Cue the infamous "We fight or we die" line.)
In contrast, in Andromeda we are mostly killing Kett, Roekaar, Remnant and ex-Initiative members. These factions are not dehumanized enough for me personally to feel okay about slaughtering them wholesale, and the narrative itself argues against the morality and utility of killing them. During the mission to rescue the Moshae we find out that the Kett are actually genetically altered and brainwashed Angara prisoners. Although Lexi doubts they can be reverted, there is no definitive statement like Mordin's that it is impossible. The Roekaar are seen to be misguided and redeemable during Jaal's loyalty mission. The Remnant aren't aggressive murder-bots like the Geth, but are peaceful (armed) Roombas that are just trying to keep the place tidy while the Master is away. On Elaaaden, Lexi finds out the former Initiative members are suffering from cryo-psychosis, which she then immediately synthesizes a treatment for. After this point, shooting them feels like I'm murdering the mentally ill when it's the Initiative's fault they are unstable in the first place. To top it off, killing outcasts makes zero sense narratively speaking if the Initiative wants to keep a large enough genetic pool to make colonizing Heleus possible. Each species has approximately 20K colonists and can't afford to lose many because there are no replacements coming. (Yes, the human race went through a bottleneck of about 14K during our evolution and we did okay, but one pandemic could wipe the Initiative out even without adding Ryder's kill count to the problem.) Ryder is a Pathfinder, not a Spectre, and as such should not be legally immune for killing, nor should s/he or the crew be psychologically immune to it. Jaal cries once, but then goes happily back to sniping Kett.
I think many of the narrative choices in Andromeda ("They are us") were done intentionally to try to make the game more nuanced and morally gray than the OT, but the unintended side effect was increasing the ludonarrative dissonance to an unsupportable level. The second time I played the game, I drove past all of the Kett jumping out of shuttles, non-vault Remnant sites, and outcast firefights without stopping, because engaging them in combat felt pointless and immoral. It increased my enjoyment of the game quite a bit.
To be clear, I liked Andromeda and hope for a sequel. I am not hating on the game. However, I feel that Andromeda 2 needs to better align the story and the gameplay. I'm all for exploring "no one is really bad" if the game gives me the option of not killing them. Shepard was given nonlethal gas grenades on Feros. I think it would be interesting if Ryder had the task of distributing Lexi's antipsychotic on Kadara. What would s/he do if a pirate band refuses to take the medication -- kill them, incapacitate them and administer the drug without their consent, or find some way to persuade them? What if the treated groups get wiped out by the untreated groups if Ryder doesn't get everyone treated fast enough? Would s/he cut corners to save lives? What if taking the medication reduces Ryder's ability to kill efficiently -- does s/he take it? Why can't Ryder reprogram or stun the Remnant instead of destroying all that valuable tech? Then Ryder has to protect this limited resource from treasure hunters that just want to loot the vaults. What if the Angara scientists (not the Initiative, please) find a way to reverse the transformation of the Kett? This could be an opportunity to introduce stealth to the game, where Ryder has to neutralize a Kett commander either through assassination or kidnapping and deprogramming. Or maybe another faction that really deserves being murder hobo'd shows up. What if the Jardaan return and turn out to be Jardaan-supremacists that want to wipe Heleus clean and start over, forcing the Kett, Angara and Initiative to cooperate in order to stop them?
Andromeda had some of the best combat gameplay in the franchise. It really needs a better justification for engaging in it.