Mass Effect Andromeda: The Pathfinder


One of the most jarring elements of Andromeda’s dialogue was how everyone called you Pathfinder all the time. It was ridiculous, as if they’d written the script before coming up with Ryder’s name, so they just used the title and never bothered to search-replace that shit afterward. This would have been halfway acceptable in the Dragon Age canon, because at least in the more rigid formality of a medieval caste system being referred to by title was more common. Yet even with a built in excuse, Dragon Age: Inquisition still didn’t refer to you as Inquisitor nearly as much as Mass Effect: Andromeda called you Pathfinder. It’s true that Shepard is called Commander, but that at least makes sense in the rigid hierarchy of the military and even then it’s not as overused as the Pathfinder moniker. So what the hell, guys? What’s with the title?

I admit I can’t even fathom why anyone thought this was a good idea, but I sure as hell can rip it apart and show you why it’s wrong.

The Pathfinder

Isn’t that god damn special…

Pathfinder_briefing_logo.png

Being constantly referred to as “Pathfinder” was one of the most distracting elements of the game. For one the Andromeda Initiative is a civilian project, if there’s some kind of weird military hierarchy in place it’s never really elaborated on. Plus even if I could get past the idea that everyone in the Andromeda Initiative calls the Pathfinder by their title (which I can’t), I could never get past the fact that even the damn Angara refer to you by that title.

I think the new writing team behind Andromeda should have gone back and played Dragon Age: Origins before writing the dialogue. The character in Dragon Age: Origins has no name and yet the dialogue was written in such a way that it was never a problem. A few characters do refer to you as Warden, notably Loghain himself, but most of the time the dialogue simply finds a way around having to identify you by name.

Which is how conversations work, if you think about it. How often do people actually refer to you by your name when you’re talking to them? Unless you’re greeting or saying goodbye to someone, or trying to get someone’s attention, most of the time our names don’t come up in conversations we have with friends.

Unfortunately the writers of Mass Effect: Andromeda are apparently unfamiliar with how normal humans communicate with one another. Still, even if they couldn’t get around that, they could have at least used the very name they came up with: Ryder. There’s absolutely no excuse why I get referred to as Pathfinder more than Ryder.

Of course even worse than all of that, is how the Pathfinder is treated by the people he meets.

“Wait… you’re the pathfinder! Oh my god, I can’t believe it’s you!” – Pretty much everyone you meet.

Oh you can’t believe it’s me? Here, in the very outpost I founded by painstakingly making sure this planet is fit for human habitation? Really? What the hell is wrong with you?

The Best and Brightest
The best and the brightest of the Andromeda Initiative.

In the best case scenarios, the people you meet often treat you like a child meeting Mickey Mouse on their first trip to Disneyland. In the worst case scenarios, you’re treated like the second coming of Christ and the NPCs would fall to their knees in adoring rapture if someone at Bioware could have been bothered to animate that. Even Shepard, who legitimately saves the galaxy three god damn times in a row isn’t treated with the reverence the Pathfinder receives.

On the Nexus I ran into several “concerned citizens”, nameless NPCs that show up to complain about some decision you made in a threadbare attempt to make choices seem important. Instead of lively debates with these people, or being heckled and threatened by them if I disagreed, all these encounters ended with some variation of “well, you’re the pathfinder, you must know what you’re doing.”

Even worse is how much the administrative arm of the Andromeda Initiative defers to the Pathfinder. I realize that none of the characters were meant to be in charge of the Andromeda Initiative, and were elevated due to the deaths of their superiors, but come on, they’re not helpless either.

Tann.png
Especially this guy.

Director Tann is clearly made out to be a stereotypical bureaucrat who, while wanting to do good, is also deeply concerned about retaining his influence and power. Then the moment you show up it’s WHOOP here’s a ship, a crew, and a blank check to do whatever the hell you want. Ostensibly the reasoning is that Ryder is at least willing to do “something” about the situation. I could have swallowed that excuse if the narrative had shown us even an inkling that Ryder was qualified to do anything.

At some point the narrative needed to specifically tell us why Ryder is so god damn special. The Pathfinders are supposed to be highly trained specialists, the best of the best. The Turian pathfinder is former Blackwatch and his replacement is an ex-Spectre, the Salarian Pathfinder is a Dalatrass, and the Asari Pathfinder is a Matriarch and her replacement a legendary Asari Commando. Even Alec Ryder was former N7, an alumnus of the same program that gave us Commander Shepard.

Ryder on the other hand… was a glorified toll booth operator. Seriously, the game actually goes out of its way to point this out by having Ryder tell several people all he did in the Milky Way was guard a Mass Effect Relay. Why on Earth is this guy responsible for the survival of the human race?

God save us
When the apocalypse comes, it will fall to this man’s grandchildren to lead us to a new home.

Turns out the only reason Ryder is even on the Pathfinder team at all is good old fashioned nepotism. Ryder has no special skills, no advanced training, not even any applicable life experience to justify Ryder becoming a Pathfinder or even being on the team. But Daddy apparently wanted his kids on board, so to hell with it, his favored child gets to inherit the Pathfinder title like we’re a space-borne feudal kingdom. There are tons of stories where the hero can be a Joe Everyman forced into a situation beyond his skill level.

Unfortunately the narrative isn’t telling one of those stories.

Had Mass Effect: Andromeda told the story an in over his head Ryder struggling to fill his father’s shoes, then many of these problems would be moot. In fact that could have been a fun story, and one that would have made far more sense. Suvi Anwar has dual doctorates in both astrophysics and molecular biology. Two skills that would actually be helpful in the search for a new home, and all she contributes to the narrative is being a love interest for female Ryders.

I think Kallo speaks for all of us.

Yet instead of having to rely on your incredibly credentialed crew, everyone relies on you instead: the new guy with no discernible skills, education, or personality…

Ryder succeeds because the plot demands he succeeds, and that’s why the hero worship he receives from everybody is totally unearned. That’s why being called the Pathfinder was so awful, because all it did was remind us about how the narrative failed to make Ryder a hero.

In short: The Pathfinder is a fraud and it sucks to be kept being reminded of that fact.

More on Mass Effect: Andromeda

All That Matters is the Ending: Mass Effect Andromeda

Mass Effect Andromeda: The Importance of Family

Wrex versus Drack: Nuanced versus Obvious Writing 

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6 thoughts on “Mass Effect Andromeda: The Pathfinder”

  1. This is why a much more sinister undertone for the whole AI (and its origins) would have been so justified. In the Fallout universe there is this story, that all the vault-tec vaults were basically just an experiment and these people weren’t even supposed to survive an actual apocalypse. Rich and powerful people had their own (better) vaults.

    Using something similar for MEA would have explained why many members of the initiative weren’t up to the task. In fact I couldn’t believe how many people I met who didn’t want to be there and only complained. How is this possible, when the recruits would only consist out of pioneers – people who volunteered for this?!? Tons of characters sounded more like people who were kidnapped.

    Even the explanation that in reality a faulty/lacking artificial intelligence was behind the Andromeda Initiative (get it? too “smart” for this game’s story?) would have been better.

    The only good thing about the pathfinder title in the game is this moment when it’s pointed out that it’s just nepotism. Literally anyone could have done it, if they would have been given the Sam implant. I don’t even have anything against that in general, but they failed to play with this circumstance in a fun way.

    PS: I really don’t like the first opening picture (perfectly rendered armor) because it is supposed to fool people into believing this is how the game actually looks, which it really doesn’t. Not even remotely… There obviously is a reason for not using actual in-game graphics…

    1. Yeah a more sinister overtone with the Andromeda Initiative could have gone a long way. In fact before the game came out there was a fairly convincing fan theory speculating that the AI would turn out to be a Cerberus project. The murder mystery with Jien Garson and the mysterious “benefactor” makes me think they’re still planning to go this route too, unfortunately that should have been the main plot for the game rather than whatever the fuck was going on with the Kett and dark energy. I’m sure we’ll find out in some upcoming and inevitably overpriced DLC.

      As to the picture, yeah it is kind of misleading. I generally just choose a nice photo with the game’s name for easy identification, I didn’t really think of it in terms of how it was portraying the game. I’ll find something better (probably by crudely photoshopping the title onto a picture of one of Ryder’s Derp faces.

  2. When I hear the title of Pathfinder, all I can think of was Bioware trying to pump up the player’s ego so they could ignore the problems with the game. It felt like Bioware had conflicting impulses. They wanted to start fresh but they couldn’t help themselves using the same old formula they used in about every sci fi/fantasy game. At least the Inquisitor had some legitimate reasons why the character was bestowed with such a title.

    Its funny what you said about Ryder being awarded the title of Pathfinder based on nepotism. Which is true but it could have been used for great drama and internal conflict. Whether our Ryder was suited for greatness or not. Our Ryder being constantly judged by his peers and trying to live up to Alec Ryder’s reputation. Bioware could have been very clever with their writing as they would have been turning the same formula on its head. Instead they played it very safe, afraid to offend anybody.

    1. Indeed, I still don’t understand how Cora was so okay with being passed over for Pathfinder. I mean she brings it up once, but even then she’s like “Well Alec must have known what he was doing.” You’re right, Bioware played it way too safe.

  3. Participation medal. That’s what this game feels like. Simply put, you can’t fail.

    You could fail in Fallout and I did the first time. In Fallout 2 you had multiple points of failure. You could fail to help the people of Modoc in a couple of different ways and the Slags over-run them or they could leave Modoc because of the drought. If you failed with the Den, it could become a slaver/gang hub. You could foul-up Vault City. New Reno could go multiple different ways, some ‘good,’ some ‘bad’ depending on what you did. And so it went.

    With these last few BioWare games…. Nothing matters. It’s all superficial choices as you’re lead to the ‘successful conclusion’ of the game. Whereas in ME2, the last good BioWare game, you could partially, or completely, fail that final mission. I think i ran it five or six times until I got it completely correct and saved everyone.

    1. Yeah it’s crazy how BioWare just won’t understand that this is so much more fun than winning anyway, no matter what it is you do.

      It’s so true, that the “suicide mission” in ME2 was only this much fun, because everyone could die.

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