Review: Mass Effect: Andromeda: Annihilation

If there’s one question Andromeda left me wanting an answer for, it was the fate of the Quarian Ark. Oh, there are many more unanswered questions from the last Mass Effect game, but none of the others have such an immediacy. Questions about the Kett, Jaardan, and Benefactor can wait for the sequels — and yes, for all the doom-saying around Bioware in general and Mass Effect in particular these days, I do expect Andromeda sequels, though perhaps not for a while.

Cover art for Mass Effect: Andromeda: Annihilation by Catherynne M. ValenteThankfully, that burning question has at last been answered. In the new novel Annihilation, author Catherynne M. Valente uncovers the true fate of the Keelah Si’yah.

I will say off the bat: This is a delightful book. Initiation was fun, but not really essential reading, even for hardcore fans. Annihilation, on the other hand, is something I’ll recommend to any fan of any of the Mass Effect games. Not only because it answers a crucial mystery from Andromeda, but just because it’s so good.

In the truest Bioware tradition, the best feature of Annihilation is its characters. The Keelah Si’yah carries not just Quarians, but members of many other less influential Milky Way races, allowing for a cast as diverse and colourful as any of the Mass Effect games. Particularly memorable are the acerbic Volus fashion designer Irit Non, lovesick Quarian outcast Senna’Nir, and the Elcor wannabe thespian known as Yorrick.

What really surprised me is how funny Annihilation is. I was expecting a very dark, unhappy book, and in some ways it is, but the characters are such oddballs and the writing has such a wry, quirky style that I found myself laughing out loud on almost every other page.

Not to say that it can’t be serious when it needs to be. Actually I found the mystery of why so many things are going wrong aboard the Ark quite effective. The ultimate reveal is not at all what I was expecting, though it makes perfect sense in retrospect — everything a good mystery’s conclusion should be. It’s also far more interesting — at least in my opinion — than any of the popular fan theories for what wrong aboard the Keelah Si’yah.

It is not entirely perfect, of course. I really only have one complaint, but it does cut down on the enjoyment of the book a fair bit: It’s much too short, and much too rushed. These characters could have carried a book twice this long. They could have carried a trilogy, or a quartet. I wanted to spend more time with them. I wanted to see their relationships continue to grow and evolve.

Annihilation is like a delicious, inventive meal, but the portions are all too small, and it leaves you hungry for more.

Overall rating: 8.1/10

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Odds and Ends: Venom, ESO, Hard in Hightown

I’ve had a few topics I’ve wanted to discuss but which didn’t seem meaty enough to fill a blog post on their own, so I’ve decided to cram them all into one Frankenstein monster post.

Venom mini-review:

A shot from the movie Venom, starring Tom HardyI wanted to do a full review of the Venom movie, but as I’ve said before, mediocrity is hard to review, and I just don’t have much to say on the matter.

It’s not a bad movie in general terms, but it may be a bad Venom movie. I’d expect Venom to be a very dark, gritty story, but instead it’s more of a light, campy romp. As light, campy romps go, it’s actually pretty fun, but it just doesn’t fit the character very well.

I wouldn’t advise against seeing it, but it’s definitely not a must-see, either.

Overall rating: 6.9/10

ESO’s bribery:

Despite my griping, I’ve been playing a fair bit of Elder Scrolls Online lately. This is in large part due to the fact Zenimax has been showering players with a number of incredibly generous giveaways as of late. It’s shameless bribery, and it’s working.

Probably the most notable giveaway is the palatial Grand Psijic Villa home. Given how over-priced housing in this game usually is, giving away a house of this scale is kind of incredible. My previous home in the Rift and its yard could comfortably fit in the Psijic Villa’s main hall.

One of many beautiful views from the Grand Psijic Villa home in Elder Scrolls OnlineMy focus lately has been furnishing the new dwelling, which given the high costs in gold and crafting resources of furniture is actually quite a challenge. Not even sure why I’m bothering given the total lack of practical functionality for housing in this game, but there is something satisfying about it. It’s a pale shadow of the creativity I got to display back in Landmark.

It has had the side effect of helping me learn to earn gold more efficiently. I’m trying to get in the habit of doing crafting writs every day. That’s easy money. Along the way I’ve been developing my crafting skills further. I had already maxed out woodworking, clothing, and blacksmithing a long time ago, and I’ve now maxed my provisioning skill, as well. Enchanting, alchemy, and jewelry crafting are lagging behind, but they’re a good source of writ income if nothing else.

While the story of Summerset may have disappointed me, it remains a beautiful zone, and Alinor is a very conveniently laid out city, so I’ve made Summerset my “home” for the time being. I spend most of my time there, doing dailies and farming.

I’ve also been playing my warden a little.

Oh, yeah, I have a warden.

Don’t think I’ve mentioned her before — probably because I haven’t played her much — but yes, I have a High Elf warden. When I pre-ordered Summerset, I got Morrowind for free, and while I haven’t explored its content yet, I did want to try out the new (to me) class.

My High Elf warden in Elder Scrolls OnlineThe warden marks my third attempt to play a pure caster, the previous being a Khajiit dragonknight and a Breton nightblade. It finally seems to be sticking this time. I think it may be because I’m building this one as a healer.

One interesting — if possibly unbalanced — quirk of healers in ESO is that they use largely the same stats and gear as magicka DPS, meaning there appears to be little penalty to doing both on the same character, which is exactly what I’m doing with my warden. One action bar uses a resto staff and is pure support, while the other uses a destro staff and is pure damage.

One thing I’ve learned from D&D is that a hybrid of support and damage may just be my ideal RPG playstyle, or at least as close as someone as indecisive as me is ever going to find.

A final interesting note about my warden is that although she’s now well into her 20s, I have yet to do any significant amount of questing with her. And honestly, I haven’t missed it. There may be a whole post to do about that…

Hard in Hightown thoughts:

Finally, I recently finished reading through the physical copy of Varric Tethras’ Hard in Hightown. Yes, the book you can find chapters of in Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s a real book in the real world now.

Cover art for Hard in Hightown by "Varric Tethras" (really Mary Kirby)Well, for a certain definition of “real book,” anyway. There wasn’t actually that much effort put in, sadly. The whole thing is only about seventy pages, and it’s barely been fleshed out any more than the chapters you could find in Inquisition. In the end it’s more of a gag collectible than a book that’s worth reading on its own merits.

It does have some cool illustrations, though.

Overall rating: 5.8/10