Why Mass Effect Andromeda is worlds apart from the competition

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BioWare’s latest RPG is looking to set a new bar for the genre

There’s risk and reward to be found in a clean slate. On the one hand you can begin again, head down some paths that might have been closed off to you before, take a few risks that might have felt more dangerous in the past and journey forward with a little less baggage. On the other hand you have less to ground you, more work to do to meet your previous achievements and often more scrutiny to deal with. So, while Mass Effect Andromeda might be setting itself up in a new galaxy in order to reset the clock, there’s no shortage of challenge ahead for BioWare.

Why Mass Effect Andromeda is worlds apart from the competition

But the Montreal team appears to be more than up for that. After almost a decade, the team is made up as much by veterans of the series as it is by people who got into working at BioWare because they were fans of Commander Shepard’s adventures. It’s perhaps because of those fan-employees that Andromeda carries a sense of wide-eyed wonder and a fresh take on well-established ideas. There’s a changing of the guard happening at this massive studio and this game is the first evidence of the transition.

So, what is Mass Effect Andromeda doing to reset the clock on the series? First, it appears to be pulling together a greatest hits of concepts from its back catalogue with a depth of narrative and world exploration closer to the original Mass Effect, but with the smooth action chops of ME3. But there’s also a distinct hint of Dragon Age: Inquisition to be found here too. The team’s approach for that sequel was to put you in the shoes of a relative novice to the world and its demands, challenge you with morally grey decisions to make and pack out your team with diverse personalities whose relationship to you was a little more complex than love and hate.

We’re seeing a lot of those elements in Andromeda now, too, not least in the role you’ll be occupying as one of the Ryder twins, Scott and Sara. Both are commissioned to the Andromeda Initiative, but are not highly-trained operatives like their father Alec Ryder, an N7 classified member of the Alliance military just as Commander Shepard was at the beginning of Mass Effect. During the course of the game (we’re assuming rather early on) something is going to mean your father passing on the title of Pathfinder (essentially mission leader for the Earth ark Hyperion in this new galaxy) to you as one of his children. That means that, while your character has something of a predetermined past (and name), they’re young enough and inexperienced enough for you to make them whatever you want. Whether you play as Sara or Scott, there are no specific classes that you need to preselect at the start of the game. You can pursue biotic and tech abilities as you see fit, specialising in whatever weaponry you care to take on.

Why Mass Effect Andromeda is worlds apart from the competition

Ultimately, though, you will be given the opportunity to specialise in a certain skill if you reach a high level with it, not unlike the training specialisations in Inquisition where tutors would offer you expertise in a certain discipline of your class for additional special abilities. At this end point you might end up with something closer to the original trilogy’s class system, but it’s still much more fluid in approach and execution.

Likewise, you won’t be experiencing the classic Renegade and Paragon choice options of the original trilogy, but rather a more nuanced and sometimes grey selection of actions and responses in conversation – again perhaps influenced by the approach in Dragon Age: Inquisition. As an extension of this, relationships will be a little more naturalistic and dependent on the personalities of the people you talk to, so romances in the game become a little more complex (or perhaps simpler if the target of your affection is quick to respond). That said, interruptions will return during conversations, allowing you to break the flow of the scene with a physical action (such as punching a reporter in the face, as was the case previously).

That freedom also applies to BioWare’s approach to side missions and your main quest, where the team doesn’t want you to feel that passing by opportunities or focusing in on only a couple of side characters is going to negatively affect your progress through the game. So, while loyalty missions return for Andromeda, they are not going to be necessary in order to succeed in your primary quest line. Instead the studio is using these side missions as good excuses to play around with gameplay and offer more dedicated insight into your companions. It’s a very smart idea, really, and one that Mass Effect 2 touched on but didn’t necessarily fully explore.

Why Mass Effect Andromeda is worlds apart from the competition

If BioWare can guarantee at least one squad member is fixed to be in your team for a side quest it has a lot more room to write dialogue and play with mechanics around that character than in the open world where you could be working with any combination of team members. The Stealing Memory mission for Kasumi in ME2 is a pretty good example of this line of thinking, sending Shepard on a Bond-esque espionage caper. If that’s the degree of gameplay twist we can expect throughout Andromeda then we’re definitely onboard for this approach.

We know of four confirmed squadmates so far. The first is Liam, a human male colleague aboard the Hyperion (humanity’s ark to Andromeda) with a background in law enforcement, who acts as chief of security. He’s been described as an enthusiastic member of the crew, full of energy and humour, but also quick to anger. The other companion we know about – who many fans fell in love with before we even knew her name – is Peebee, an Asari who travelled aboard the mission command ship named Nexus. The reason why she’s not with the other Asari is that she’s described as a bit of a lone wolf, albeit with an adventurous spirit. She’s fast-talking, incredibly smart and very blunt. We think we’re going to get along famously. And then there’s the slightly more mysterious Vetra (a female turian) and Drack (a male krogan) revealed in the most recent gameplay, but little is known about their backstory at present.

However, we do know that there are five ships in the fleet sent to Andromeda, four of which are largely operated and occupied by a single Citadel race. 20,000 representatives of humanity are stationed on the SSV Hyperion as well as on the command ship Nexus, lead by the human project founder Jien Garson. Each ark has its own assigned Pathfinder, like Alex Ryder, so there’s a chance you might meet the others. The other three arks are believed to be run by the Asari, Turians and the Salarians, being the primary members of the Citadel council, so team members from these races seem likely and have been spotted already. We would be surprised if someone from the local systems didn’t cross your path at some point as it would be interesting to have an Andromedan native join the mission.

Why Mass Effect Andromeda is worlds apart from the competition

So far the only confirmed native race in Andromeda is the Kett (besides some generic wildlife) and they’ll be acting as your primary antagonists through the game. They’re a militaristic people who don’t take kindly to tens of thousands of aliens from another galaxy arriving in their backyard. BioWare wanted to imbue them with a very different look while still being able to work comfortably within the Frostbite engine, so while the Kett are bipedal just like the majority of races from our own galaxy in the game, they have prominent skeletal shielding on their bodies and a more intricate, organic look to their tech and weaponry. And as with all the great BioWare villains, they’re maybe not as straightforwardly bad as they might first appear. You are, after all, the invaders in this scenario, so they have good reason to be concerned.

Other races seem highly likely, however, so it will be interesting to see what else – besides giant sand worms and mechanical monsters – makes an appearance. We’re likely to see a contrast between the Milky Way’s sleek and stylish design (helped along in this game by vehicle designer Daniel Simon who also worked on Tron Legacy and Oblivion to great success) and a more naturalistic and sometimes rough look of the indigenous species. But for all the contrasts there might be visually, the theme of subtlety and nuance is likely to permeate everything. By the end of Andromeda we wouldn’t be surprised to find that the citizens of the Milky Way had more in common with Andromadeans than they could have imagined.

For even more in-depth analysis of Mass Effect Andromeda’s characters, classes and multiplayer, check out games™ 184, on sale now!