Mass Effect: Andromeda is in a peculiar situation. We’ve been on the lookout for it for the past four years – the game was announced some half a year after the release of Mass Effect 3, and people expected it to be released during the following year. It’s 2016 already, and we still don’t know much. Yet “not much” is still better than “nothing”. To date, BioWare has shed some light on the game, so we thought it’s a good moment to try and sketch a bigger picture of the upcoming space opera. Here are the facts, seasoned with a fair share of speculation.
As you probably already know, the new Mass Effect is set in a totally different place than the trilogy recounting the tale of Commander Shepard and the Reapers – namely, it’s the Andromeda galaxy, where some of the Citadel Space races, including humans, are headed in search for a new home. Andromeda is situated some 2.5 million light years away from us. It’s so far that even a faster-than-light journey via a mass relay would take thousands of years, so the place seemed beyond anyone’s reach. This obviously spurred BioWare’s creativity, for the world is unconstrained in any respect: races, environments, and technology could all be invented from scratch. We’ll surely see these elements in the game, but the studio could actually (if they wanted) create a completely new universe, not linked with any of their previous games.
However, millions of hardcore fans expect Mass Effect to remain Mass Effect, so the question arises of how the developers are going to be able to maintain the connection between the trilogy and the new game. We already know that the decisions made during the trilogy (and, most importantly, at the end of ME3) will have no impact on the new game (no gamesave import). On the other hand, the studio has assured the fans that there will be many fun tidbits and references for the fans of the series. What should we make of this? In theory, the trip to Andromeda would have to take thousands of years. MEA cannot take place after ME3, because the effects of the decision made by Shepard (regardless of the choice) were enormous, and would have to have affected the events of the new game. MEA also cannot take place long before the events of the trilogy, because in such a case there could be no humans taking part in the interstellar voyage in the first place; plus, any references to the trilogy would be impossible.
That’s why we should consider the Ark theory as a valid concept. According to this theory, a group of Citadel Space citizens managed to escape the Milky Way when it was being ravaged by the Reapers and all hope seemed lost. The journey was made possible by means of an ancient mass relay, which even Shepard knew nothing about. This may sound a bit far-fetched, but such a solution would be very elegant (and crafty), allowing new players to get acquainted with the universe in a smooth manner while keeping a link to the original trilogy that would satisfy the veterans. Still, I guess no one would complain about a possibility of learning the fate of commander Shepard either.
Let’s now focus on the plot. The protagonist will be a human by the name of Ryder (either a man or a woman). We don’t know the background of this character yet but we do know that s/he will play an important role in building the relations between the star drifting Citadel Space races and Andromeda natives, who, as we assume, won’t bring any turkey to the starving newcomers. At the same time, Ryder won’t be as famous or experienced from the beginning as commander Shepard was – some work will actually have to be done before enjoying the label of a hero; the same goes for the rest of our team. Apart from that, there were some rumors about the plot in the new game being more personal and involving the whole Ryder family – is this the ghost of Dragon Age II, where much attention was paid to protagonist’s mother and siblings?
Just as in previous games, the base of our operations will be the ship, onboard which we will travel through the galaxy (or at least a portion of it). On the latest trailer from E3 we could see the new vessel, and it seemingly looked like the Normandy’s twin sister. However, the new spacecraft, called “The Tempest”, is much smaller than the Normandy – so small, in fact, that it will be able to land on a planet’s surface. Still, it has to be big enough to carry the (in)famous Mako – the basic tool for exploring new worlds.
And the matter of exploration seems to be the most controversial so far. The developers seem to emphasize this element every time they take the floor, so it will surely be a very important part of the game. It’s only natural to wonder whether exploration in this new game will be solved neatly and provide many interesting worlds and mysteries to discover, or will it resemble Dragon Age: Inquisition (and a number of recent RPGs), and give us a world full of ludicrous collectibles, hordes of respawning enemies, forgettable side-quests, and repetitive “diversions” such as setting outposts.
I am indeed afraid that such a case is very probable – let’s keep in mind that BioWare received great ratings and many prestigious awards for the latest Dragon Age installment. Hence Andromeda will probably offer the same sort of semi-open world, featuring vast and diverse locations on different planets, where a great many activities fight for the player’s attention. Maybe we’ll also get crafting materials to collect – crafting has become a fairly important element of RPGs lately, and some people have already suggested that the new Mass Effect will be pretty advanced in terms of customization of armors. Gathering resources needed for the execution of different endeavors (e.g., political) on the galaxy map, similarly to DA:I, is also very possible.
On the other hand, creation of a game such as Mass Effect, a sci-fi shooter RPG, is governed by different rules than the creation of a classic fantasy RPG such as Dragon Age. Mako will make a comeback in MEA – equipped with a booster – so the areas will have to be much bigger, which in turn should render the density of different collectibles and POIs much smaller. What’s more, an exchange of fire in a vehicle requires the areas to be open; there also has to be enough cover for the infantry – which compels me to assume that enemies will not be numerous. I sincerely hope that BioWare will not ignore the growing discontent with the collectibles and side quests in Inquisition, and will be able to draw the right conclusions.
This hope is not without solid foundations since the developers have promised an evolution of the dialogue system and decision-making mechanics. It seems that we’ll have to say goodbye to the clear division between paragon and renegade. The experience of building our team (which, allegedly, will consist of seven individuals) is said to be another stage in the development of natural interpersonal relations in videogames (based, to a degree, on the convergence of traits of different characters). Even more interesting are the mechanics of maintaining relations with Andromeda natives. BioWare says that players’ decisions – even the order of completing quests – will shape those relations, ranging from proper and respectful to openly hostile. The players’ actions will also impact the aliens’ perception of our race.
The early announcement of the multiplayer can hardly be called a surprise since this module was pretty popular in Mass Effect 3, and was successfully transferred to Dragon Age: Inquisition. Unfortunately, only a few details about this element of the game are available other than the fact that it’s going to be similar to the multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 – cooperation in a PvE mode, but on a bigger scale (more freedom and maybe even vehicles?). The multiplayer will not, however, have any direct impact on the single player, but both modes will be somehow linked (story-wise, most probably).
Let’s move on to the technical side of things, which is the last matter we’ll look into. It’s long been known that Andromeda will be powered by Frostbite engine (Battlefields, Dragon Age: Inquisition), which means that great graphics are almost a certainty, but at the same time the game should not require a supercomputer to run smoothly. Mass Effect Andromeda should have similar system requirements to Star Wars: Battlefront, released last year. The minimal specs for that game were as follows: Core i3 6300T, 8GB of RAM, and GeForce GTX 660 GPU or similar. One important element of the Frostbite engine, apart from nice textures and cool effects, is the fact that it allows destruction of environment, so we’re counting at least for shattering covers.
All things considered, Mass Effect Andromeda is not very forth-coming, and so far it’s hiding its assets well. Still, we can already see what it’s shaping up to be. We can even make a careful assumption that the upcoming game will contain all the key ingredients that we loved in the original trilogy, along with some solutions that have already proven successful in Dragon Age: Inquisition; first and foremost, a more open world. Should we be concerned about the emphasis that the developers are supposedly placing on the exploration? I trust BioWare know better than to repeat the mistakes of their previous productions. And even if they fail to do so, I at least believe that the new Mako will be less dysfunctional than the old M35 from ME1. In any case, all those things should be revealed pretty soon. While the game is still due in the beginning of 2017, we’re hoping for some gameplay and news during gamescom in August, and in the worst case in November, on the N7 Day. One way or another, the lengthy wait for the next Mass Effect is slowly heading towards its conclusion.