You can always spot padding in open-world games. Sometimes it's a superfluous fetch quest or a recycled boss fight. More often, it's busywork that involves doing the same repetitive task to open a door or access a new area. In Mass Effect: Andromeda, this takes the form of vaults guarded by Remnant Puzzles—little sudokus that you have to complete to cleanse planets. And they're the worst.
Remnant Puzzles embody everything I hate in bad game design: they're repetitive, tedious, and add little to no value except to keep you busy. You can see that BioWare added them simply because they wanted players to have to do something more than press a button to access the various planetary vaults. But the solution they chose for Mass Effect: Andromeda is pretty much the worst kind of fluff.
Why Remnant Puzzles are the Worst
The Remnant Puzzles tie heavily into what is ostensibly Mass Effect: Andromeda's main objective: cleansing planets and making them viable again. Doing so enables you to establish a settlement and open up more perks. You can accomplish this by simply exploring and completing a handful of quests; but if you want to really fix a planet and make it livable, you need to engage with the Remnant Puzzles.
These puzzles are used to access the vaults, which are annoying in their own way. First, though, you have to drive to three different monoliths and activate each one. But before you can do that, you have to climb up the different pillars to collect glyphs. Sometimes these glyphs are in hard-to-reach locations, sometimes they're completely buried in ice. Wherever they are, they're usually a pain in the ass to get to, making the process that much more agonizing.
Once you finally have the glyphs, you will usually have to complete a Remnant Puzzle to properly unlock the console, which involves placing the symbols in such a way that they don't repeat across a row or column, or within a designated box. These puzzles aren't hard per se, but they are time-consuming, and some planets require that you finish up to three of them.
Your first taste of Andromeda's Remnant Puzzles comes during the tedious opening hours, which drops you on the rather staid desert planet of Eos (someone compared it to Arizona and I agree). In lieu of actual quests, you are required to motor your way through three different monoliths so that you can collect glyphs, battle Remnant, and randomly meet a pair of new characters—Drack and Peebee. It's slow as hell, and a big reason why everyone turned hard on Andromeda even before the reviews came out (the animations were the other reason).
After Eos, the puzzles become more or less optional (thank god), but still tend to pop up whenever you're dealing with Remnant locations. And even if you successfully establish a settlement without terraforming the planet, you still have to head to the vault to change the hazardous environment. Personally, I've been inclined to ignore them, but Andromeda does kind of hang them over your head while tacitly asking, "You want to do everything, right?" And so I go.
The real kicker is once you actually enter the vaults and discover a whole new mess of busywork. In the vaults, you have to mess around with even more consoles to activate platforms, power up objects, and open doors, all while fighting wave after wave of robots. On Elaaden, this includes traversing the vault by leaping from platform to platform over electrified water that will kill you pretty much instantly—another pet peeve of mine. It's substance-free game design of the sort that you implement because you have no other ideas. I've done my best to avoid it like the plague, but there's no escaping the fact that it's a rather large part of Mass Effect: Andromeda's core design.
So to summarize, here are the various sins that Mass Effect Andromeda commits with its vaults:
1. They're repetitive: Having to drive to three different monoliths to complete the same three tasks is not fun. It's busywork.
2. They require no thought: The actual sudokus require a small amount of brainpower, but otherwise completing the vaults is mostly a matter of being patient enough to drive around, climb monoliths, and hit the right switches.
3. They're time-consuming: Opening a vault takes what feels like forever, and the whole exercise feels like something you have to get through to access more interesting content. That's never a good feeling to have in a game.
4. They don't offer enough of a reward: So the planet isn't quite as deadly and you get to put down a settlement. So what? The best rewards you get are a few mediocre perks and the chance at a few more quests. Opening a vault is dull grind with very little reward.
My biggest problem with the vaults, though, is that they just lack imagination. All of the vault puzzles feel like they exist because BioWare needed to fill in some time. This is a common issue with triple-A games, by the way. At some point, developers run out of time and just need to churn out content as quickly as possible, and that's how you end up with filler like Mass Effect: Andromeda's Remnant Puzzles.
It's a shame, because there are bits of Andromeda that I really like, but there are also bits that I really, really hate. The Remnant Puzzles are one of those bits.