Mass Effect Andromeda Preview: where no Shepard has gone before
When writing a preview for a sequel or one kind or another, it’s usually a good idea to recap the most essential things about the predecessors. But I doubt recapping Mass Effect is really necessary. The franchise is modern BioWare’s crowning achievement. So let’s skip over the truisms and things we already know and jump right in.
What awaits us in the Mass Effect Andromeda? Let’s take a look.
Welcome to the Initiative
The core story behind Mass Effect Andromeda is one of exploration and discovery. The Andromeda Initiative is a project spearheaded by the Asari, Turians, Salarians, and humans to send large groups of each race’s representative on a journey to the Andromeda galaxy in a search for new places to live.
The central piece of the journey is the Nexus, a massive space station reminiscent of the Citadel from the original trilogy. Just like the Citadel, the Nexus will serve as one of the hubs, and will contain enough activities to make going there worthwhile.
Docked to the nexus will be four Arks, each holding thousands of souls, each holding primarily one of the leading races. The known Ark names are Parcero, the Turian-dominated Ark, and Hyperion, with human majority.
Are we there yet?
It turns out travelling to another galaxy takes a long while. The Nexus and the Arks took a good 600 years to get there. Yes. Mass Effect Andromeda will take place well over half a millennium after whatever happened to the Reapers in your playthrough. So unlike some heavy-duty shenanigans happen, no familiar humans, no familiar Salarians. The Asari and Krogans are fair game, although I don’t think we’ll see some old friendlies.
New story, new characters, sort of old universe.
It wouldn’t be a BioWare game if we didn’t get a full team to take care of, talk to, and generally enjoy having aboard. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Each Ark is led by a designated Pathfinder. As one of the in-story trailers describes the role, Pathfinders are ‘experts in survival, diplomacy, and if that fails: combat”. The leading Pathfinder for the human Ark is Alec Ryder, an N7 soldier, and a member of the task force which made the first human jump through the Charon mass relay back in 2149 (the Initiative ships launch in 2185). He’s not only a veteran soldier, but also a scientist (he made the ship’s AI: SAM). He’s an NPC.
So who do we play as?
We play as either Sarah or Scott Ryder, Alec’s offspring. They are Alliance-trained, and each has previously served in military outposts and scientific bases. Whichever of the two you pick during character creation, the other will be available as an NPC in some capacity. It remains unclear if, when, and how the PC will become a Pathfinder, but let’s all hope that ifwhen it happens Alec Ryder won’t end up being just a BioWare Tutorial Character.
There is but a handful of confirmed companions at the moment. There’s Liam Kosta, an ex-jack of all trades, serving as a security specialist. There’s Drack, a Krogan with 1600 years’ worth of experience in being unkillable. We have Vetra, a female Turian with penchant for custom armors. There’s an obligatory Asari, PeeBee, who joined the Initiative mostly because of being bored with the Milky Way.
The last revealed crew member is Cora Harper, and she gets her own paragraph because of a potential connection spotted by eagle-eyed fans. “Harper” is the last name of the Illusive Man, known from the original games. What that means remains to be seen. Is she a relative? Or maybe just happens to have the same last name? Yeah, right. When has that ever happened in fiction? Oh, and she’s biotic who trained with Asari commandos too. So, you know, don’t mess with her.
Mass Effect Andromeda will roll out some time after the fifth anniversary of Mass Effect 3’s release. Five years is a lot of time in game-years (it’s like dog years, but dogs age more gracefully than games). Thankfully, judging from the materials available at the moment of writing this article, BioWare did not fail to keep up with the industry.
Move, move, move
Mass Effect Andromeda has jetpacks. That probably tells more than enough to get the idea where the developers decided to take the series. Overall it appears that movement in general, and combat specifically are now much more slick and dynamic, which is good. Jumpjets will allow you to flank your enemies, easily get to a higher ground, or just to hover for a moment and shoot down on your foes. It’s a very pleasant change after no jumping in previous Mass Effects unless you get a propt. It all looks very nice, flowing from one motion to another.
The Ryder you choose has access to three ability categories: Combat, Tech, and Biotics. You will be able to pick whatever skills you want, and barring individual skills’ upgrade choices nothing will be mutually exclusive. Do you want to put a sticky grenade from the Combat tree on an enemy, light them up with Tech flamethrower a biotically throw the poor bastard into his or hers crowded allies?
You can do it in Mass Effect Andromeda.
Interestingly, at any moment you will have access to four sets of three abilities. It reduces clutter in the UI, and you’ll be able to switch them easily to tackle the ever-shifting tides of battle.
Oh, and respec will be available in your ship’s med bay, for credits. The costs will increase every time, but hey, that’s the price of being indecisive.
En face or profile?
In addition to ability trees, you will also have several profiles available, each providing different bonuses. According to the trailer, they’ll rank up as you invest points in related skills, and provide increasing bonuses. Switching them is going to be a breeze, giving you yet another way to adapt to current situation on the battlefield.
Pew, pew, pew
There will be five weapon categories in MEA: pistols, shotguns, assault and sniper rifles, and melee weapons like hammers and swords. Their exact functioning will depend on where they were made.
Milky Way guns are projectile based, so you’ll have to watch your ammo. Mysterious Remnant weapons fire beams, so no ammo problems for you, but watch for overheating. It brings back memories of the first Mass Effect game, which is nice. Finally there are weapons from Andromeda’s Helius cluster, which are plasma based, and some of them can be supercharged for extra damage.
Mix it up. Explosively!
What is even more fun, is that we’re going to get even more ability interplay like Singularity+Warp from the previous games. Every skill is said to either initiate or detonate a combo. So now you can freeze enemies up and shatter them with a biotic lance, for instance. Setting up a team-combo will allegedly be easy, fun, and very satisfying to execute and watch.
The storyline’s focus
For obvious reasons we don’t know all that much about what’s going to happen, but there are some things we do know. One of them is that game will be focused primarily on exploration. It’s unknown if that’s going to be reflected in the mostly open-world structure only, or we’ll actually get some kind of “Around the Galaxy in Eighty Lightyears” (yes, I know lightyear is a measure of space, not time). I’d be much more open for the latter, open-world games are only as good as the reasons to explore them.
Kett you believe it?
We also know who the main antagonists are going to be. They’ll be a race called Kett. They look like…something. Humanoidal in shape, they are covered in bone armor. A more “organic” design is supposed to be a feature of Andromeda races, by the way.
The Kett are said to be antagonistic to PC goals, but reportedly not in a “big bad” kind of way. Reports come in that their leader has a personal beef with Ryder, revolving around using ancient technology and some bad early impressions.
A smattering of other things
There’s going to be a new AI to manage your ship. SAM, developed by Alec Ryder will have a neural connection to your crew members, allowing it to see and process everything they perceive. Will SAM replace EDI in players’ minds? We’ll see.
We’re getting a Mako 2.0, called the Nomad. BioWare borrowed from EA the guys from Need for Speed team to make sure this time it makes fewer gamers grind their teeth.
Conversations abandon the Paragon/Renegade mechanic in favor of a more attitude-based approach, like Professional, Casual etc. You rarely go wrong by allowing your player to express their attitudes better.
There will be crafting, most likely using resources you mine while riding around in your space six-wheeler. You will be able to customize, also visually, your weapons, and give them names. I wonder how many Veras and Biankas will start popping up. Your Nomad will be customizable too, with a selection of skins.
Fast travel will come mostly in the form of mining pods occasionally dropping from the sky when you find something worthwhile. They’ll also be a way to change your loadout beyond what you currently have on you.
Your ship will be called Tempest, and it will be your primary mode of travel between planets. It will be a more pacifistic Normandy, without sturdy armor and a main gun, but quick and evasive to make up for it. They are space explorers, not soldiers.
Although companions will be romanceable, because that’s a BioWare game after all, reportedly there will be non-sexual relationships available.
To Andromeda and beyond!
Mass Effect Andromeda is shaping up very nicely. Fresh, but familiar combat, dramatically improved mobility, more flexible, thoughtful conversation choices… It is very possible that MEA will be BioWare’s saving grace after the distaste of ME3’s ending and slightly divisive reception of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Let’s hope the antagonists will end up more interesting, than their visual design, and that we don’t get a “you’re special, kid” kind of story.
Mass Effect Andromeda launches on March 21 this year. With a little less than a month left, there is still some time to buy a pre-order, if you feel this game is for you, or look up other previews, to see different points of view before making a decision.
Will we meet in Andromeda, traveler?