The day has finally come for BioWare and Electronic Arts to reveal something more about the new Mass Effect. Although we still haven't seen any significant portion of gameplay footage (which is to be shown during The Game Awards event on December 1), there’s some video material and information that can help us make a preliminary outline of Andromeda. Below, I will try to analyze the most important news brought by this year's N7 Day. And things to work on are a plenty.
Characters and plot outline
Until now we hadn’t known much about the main characters and the story behind the journey to a new galaxy. The information published on the N7 Day allows us to distinguish several main characters, who will most likely be playing key roles in the Andromeda Initiative, as well as the story of the game.
Founder and leader of the Andromeda Initiative. The project, which was established in the year 2176, is a joint concept of the numerous races of the Milky Way and aims to colonize planets in the Andromeda galaxy. Jien is the mysterious woman that we have so far assumed to be the mother of the Ryder siblings. You can see and hear Garson here.
Father of the twins who will be the playable protagonists of Mass Effect: Andromeda. Alec is a member of the N7 program, an elite group of Alliance soldiers. Ryder senior was chosen as the Pathfinder, effectively the captain and commander of Hyperion, one of the Arks sent to Andromeda. Alec became famous as a member of Jon Grissom's unit – the first group of humans to travel through the Charon Relay, the first mass relay ever discovered by humanity. Alec is voiced by Clancy Brown, associated primarily with the role of Hades in the English version of God of War III.
Sarah and Scott Ryder
Mass Effect: Andromeda will offer two protagonists to choose from at the beginning of the game. Scott and Sarah are twins, who, together with their father Alec, take part in the expedition to the new galaxy. While Alec is an experienced frontline soldier, his children haven't had the time to make a name for themselves and cannot boast the status of a hero, such as the one Shepard enjoyed at the beginning of the series. This doesn't mean, however, that they are complete greenhorns – the people selected for the Andromeda Initiative, especially if they belong to the Pathfinder's recon unit, have to be able to deal with firefights as well as with survival and diplomacy.
Choosing one of the twins doesn't remove the other one from the story. Remember Dragon Age II, in which the main character had two siblings: a sister named Bethany and a brother, Carver? Depending on the player’s choice when picking Hawke’s class, one of the siblings died in the prologue and the second took part in the story. In Andromeda, however, if you decide to play as Scott, Sarah will still remain part of the story – and vice versa. Apparently, it has something to do with the mystery surrounding the Ryder family. During the game, their story will unfold.
The character of Scott Ryder is voiced by Tom Taylorson, whom you may have previously heard in the titular role of Octodad: Deadliest Catch. Sarah will speak with the voice of Fryda Wolff, the narrator of Civilization: Beyond Earth.
According to a statement by one of the developers, we will be given the tools necessary to change the appearance of the main character, and they are to be far more extensive than those available in the original trilogy. Moreover, we will also be able to change the appearance of our brother/sister and father to some extent. If we’d rather not, there is always the option of using default characters.
What should we expect?
While it is difficult to talk about specifics right now, the newly-released trailer gives some indication as to the in-game events, which can be supplemented with the information found in places such as Game Informer’s article. The expedition sets off to a new galaxy with Alec Ryder as Hyperion's Pathfinder. The purpose of the human Ark is to reach the planet known as Habitat 7; on arrival, however, it turns out that the planet's condition is far from what was expected. Moreover, when Hyperion arrives at the designated location, it is unable to establish contact with other Arks and the Nexus, the giant vessel that was schedule to reach Andromeda before them. Then, for some reason our father is no longer the Pathfinder (was he killed? kidnapped?) and it falls on us to take his place and ensure the survival of races living on our Ark.
The Andromeda Initiative
The new Mass Effect takes us on a journey to the Andromeda galaxy, where the races of the Milky Way are looking for a new place to stay. The main objective of the project is to settle in the new reality and eventually find a better way to travel between the two galaxies. Why the need for a better way? Getting to Andromeda takes our travelers 600 years, during which everyone will remain in cryostasis – this isn't the fastest way to share resources between two galaxies.
The Andromeda Initiative was founded in 2176 by Jien Garson in cooperation with the most important races of the Milky Way. The trailer revealed that the fleet consists of a total of five ships: four Arks and the Nexus. Each Ark carries one of the races on board and is led by a Pathfinder – a person that combines the features of an elite soldier, scientist and guide. It is the duty of the Pathfinder and his team to examine the so-called "Golden Worlds" and find the perfect place to settle.
The trailer features representatives of some of the species known from the Mass Effect trilogy: Humans (listed purely out of principal), Asari (on the trailer we see an Asari with characteristic facepaint called Peebee), as well as the Krogan and Salarians. Michael Gamble, one of Andromeda's producers, has confirmed that the game will feature Turians as well. If we look for common points, this probably means that each of the four Arks was given to a Council species (in the aftermath of the first Mass Effect, the Asari, Turians and Salarians were joined on the Council by humanity). And then there's the Nexus, the giant vessel acting as a forward base and resembling the Citadel. In summary, many races will take part in the journey to Andromeda, but only four of them will lead the missions to explore uncharted planets.
Taking a quick look at the Initiative's placement in time, let’s remember that the project began 19 years after the First Contact War with the Turians... and seven years before the events of the first Mass Effect. This means that the planned journey to another galaxy was unrelated to the emergence of the Reapers; the original reason behind the Initiative had to be the natural desire for exploration and expansion. It can be assumed that the occurrence of the new threat to the Milky Way accelerated these plans, but the intense recruitment of volunteers hasn't started until the year 2184 (since this is the date shown on the Andromeda Initiative website), which corresponds with the "death" of Shepard at the hands of the Collectors. Arks and the Nexus launched in 2185, that is during the fight with the Collectors, even before the infamous destruction of the Alpha Relay in the Batarian-inhabited system. This means that everyone who embarked on the long journey has no idea how the whole Reapers turmoil eventually concluded. What’s more, we can hardly count on the appearance of our favorite companions – any character that appeared in Mass Effect 3 needs to be immediately ruled out to avoid inconsistencies in the storyline.
Things to find on an Ark...
The recruitment movie entitled "Andromeda Initiative Orientation Briefing" is another source of interesting information. Firstly, as it was already mentioned above, the fleet consists of the Nexus and four Arks; so far we know the name of only one of them – Hyperion (not to be confused with Jim Raynor's ship). Each Ark has its own Pathfinder, who was chosen from the race commanding the vessel, and is equipped with two smaller means of transport – the Tempest, a ship modeled after the Normandy, which is the flagship of a Pathfinder, and the Nomad, a ground vehicle modeled after the well-known Mako. The game will also feature the series' iconic weapons – on one of the screens we have seen a new version of an assault rifle of the Avenger family and a Carnifex heavy pistol. Nothing to be surprised about, though, as the level of technological advancement of all races will be the same as the one known from the trilogy, despite the 600 years separating the stories.
The orientation for recruits also includes the information about establishing outposts or bases. It’s rather unlikely that we should get a ME version of the Skyhold from Dragon Age: Inquisition (the Tempest will probably be that kind of base; an identifying feature of the series is commanding a ship after all). We should expect that establishing outposts will be similar to setting camps in Inquisition… which I think is bad news, since it will probably be just another item to check off on the list of activities required for completing everything there is on the planet.
In an interview for Game Informer Art Director Joel MacMillan emphasized how important it is to have your own ship. The Tempest is a scout, exploratory ship – as opposed to Normandy, which was a military vessel designed for special tasks. Hence, the new ride will be much smaller; it has one advantage though – getting from one area of the ship to another will now be seamless, with no loading screens.
The video also mentions one more aspect, i.e. the first contact protocol for encountering intelligent races. If it’s not simply a filler designed as part of a Codex, we can expect that our relations with other races will depend on our conduct. In such a case, it will probably be possible to either establish alliances with Andromeda’s natives, or provoke open hostility, in case of erratic behavior. Let’s keep one thing in mind: we are the aliens here, and whatever reservations Andromeda’s races have about our arrival are totally justified.
New races, new faces
BioWare are in for quite a challenge with the new Mass Effect: they have to combine the established universe, worshipped by thousands of fans, with the new reality of the Andromeda galaxy, which obviously brings new ideas, places, and species. Right now, we know of two of the latter: the first one is a race called the Remnants, and it has already appeared in the video prepared for the reveal of PlayStation Pro. They seem to be indifferent to the player’s actions (somewhat like the Keepers – that semi-synthetic race of insectoids maintaining the Citadel), as long as we don’t interfere with them. From the information that has surfaced to date, it looks like this mighty and enigmatic race controls the technology allowing to dominate that region of Heleus Cluster. The Remnants are also responsible for building the vaults (or crypts), which we’ll explore during the search for forgotten knowledge and technology.
The recent trailer has also confirmed the second race – the Ketts. Apparently, they’ll be the humanity’s main opponent in the new galaxy; the events shown in the trailer present a rather violent clash with the Ketts, and it’s possible that this will cause the escalation of conflict in the Andromeda.
What’s interesting, the hints on both these races surfaced around a year ago as part of a major leak. In the Reddit post we see mentions of a “Khet” race; Michael Gamble spoke of the “Kett” on his Twitter, but that’s probably due to a small change of the concept.
In the same leak we could read that there will be up to seven members on our team. The number may vary, but we can be sure that our team will consist of both members of Milky Way races, as well as the Andromeda natives. As of today, we can be sure to see two squad mates: the already mentioned Asari, Peebee, who came to Andromeda aboard the Nexus, and Liam – former cop, part of the Pathfinder crew on the Hyperion. Notably, the loyalty missions will come back in ME:A, in a slightly altered form. The relations with our comrades can be developed up to the point when they decide to reveal a piece of information about an individual mission of great importance to them. However, while Mass Effect 2 treated the loyalty missions as an integral part of the main thread which impacted the game’s ending, in Mass Effect: Andromeda there will be no punishment for not having finished them before the endgame. The idea is to give the players a choice: they’re able to get to know the team better, while not being forced to finish these quests in any specific order. In the Game Informer interview, Mac Walters states that doing the loyalty quests will be possible after finishing the game’s main plot. The New Game + mode will also be there.
Changes in gameplay
Andromeda introduces some changes in the two major aspects of the gameplay: combat and character progression. Although the new Mass Effect is still just a cover shooter, the hostile encounters are supposed to be multi-level and more fluent. The skill system has been changed –global cooldown has been replaced with individual ones, and the introduction of the jetpack not only enables us to get to different levels and close in on enemies quicker, but also allows the player to hover in the air for a while to get a better look at the environment or just shoot an enemy hiding behind cover. The cover system has also undergone some changes – the protagonist sticks to cover automatically, and leaves it after we press the right button.
In the role playing department, Andromeda’s developers dropped the character class system. After reaching new experience levels, the players will be allowed to choose whichever skills they find interesting – hence playing a biotic soldier will be totally possible. If you invest enough points into one tree, however, the game will unlock certain profiles – specializations of sorts – named according to the classes we already know (focusing on biotics will unlock the Adept, etc). What’s more important, the game will also allow the player to relocate the already allocated points, so if you decide mid-game that you want to play a different build, you can just change the existing skill set into something different without having to start from scratch.
The clear division into morally good and bad choices – the paragon and renegade – was an integral part of the original series’ dialogue system. That’s no longer the case in Andromeda, where there’s more room for moral ambiguity and subtleties. The world will no longer be black and white (or rather red and blue), thus giving more liberty in creating the sort of character we want, without the need to fit it into a predetermined pattern. That doesn’t take away the interrupts first introduced in ME2 – the contextual reactions during dialogues will still be there, however also rather grayish.
The Mass Effect series has introduced us to multiplayer already in Mass Effect 3. Plot-wise, this mode was related to the single player campaign, but not mandatory to finish the game. Things will be similar in Andromeda: the Horde mode, where a group of players faces waves of AI-controlled enemies, is likely to appear again. It will be more similar to ME3’s multiplayer than the one from Dragon Age: Inquisition; the Origin store provides some information about the experience and item packs. The multiplayer will also be intertwined with the game’s plot – this time, we’ll play as part of the Apex force, protecting the Milky Way races in the Andromeda galaxy.
One way ticket
Mass Effect: Andromeda faces a difficult task – on the one hand, it has to live up to the standard set by the epic tale of Commander Shepard, well imprinted in the collective memory of gamers around the world; on the other hand, it must avoid the mistakes of Dragon Age: Inquisition. The information that’s been revealed so far indicates certain similarities with the third part of the DA series: scanning the vegetation on planets, gathering resources and establishing bases. This raises many concerns, but Mass Effect was always about narration. As long as this element is maintained in an unchanged form, we can be rather confident that the balance of the story and the mechanics will hit the right spot, and we won’t be bored to death after visiting the umpteenth planet.
Andromeda is still due in spring 2017, and at present there’s nothing to indicate that the title will be delayed, even despite the fact that EA has announced they won’t hesitate to postpone the release as much as five months if such a need would arise; right now the possibility of playing Andromeda as soon as March doesn’t seem very unlikely. During the months to come, we’ll be able to learn more about the Andromeda Initiative, and you already can apply for multiplayer tests, although there’s no precise information regarding the date they are to start. Time to let Shepard go and say hello to the Ryder family. A fascinating journey into the unknown is waiting.
Mike Manka | Gamepressure.com