Mass Effect: Andromeda marks the much-anticipated return of BioWare's esteemed sci-fi-inspired RPG series. Much has changed since our last visit, though, so we caught up with the folks at Bioware behind it in order to learn how best to prepare.
This is everything we know about Mass Effect: Andromeda's gameplay, release date, characters, and more.
This article was originally published in —prior to Sony's PlayStation Pro event which showcased Mass Effect: Andromeda's first in-game footage. More information has since been revealed, so we've added it here as and where necessary. We'll add more info as we receive it.
Who are you?
So long, Shepard. Mass Effect Andromeda marks the beginning of a new story, and that means a new main character. Meet Ryder, or one potential variation of her (or him). As with the original trilogy, you’ll be able to customise the look and first name of your Ryder—giving you a sense of ownership and making everyone else’s screenshots look really weird. Don’t expect the customisation options to be too outlandish, though. As in previous games, the main character is destined to be human. Sorry about that, Elcor fans.
The name itself is most likely a reference to a real life astronaut. As Shepard was named after the first American in space, Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr, it seems Ryder is a reference to the first US woman in space, Sally Ride.
, Andromeda’s female and male playable characters are sister and brother—both of whom exist in the game world at the same time. What's more, we've already met their father. "Another fun little tidbit is the character we saw two E3s ago, in the N7 [armour], is actually their father," says BioWare’s creative director Mac Walters. "So we have got the full Ryder family revealed—we'll do names and things in the future as well."
What's Ryder's mission?
As the name suggests, this new Mass Effect is set in the Andromeda galaxy. Ryder is a Pathfinder, meaning it’s her job to not only explore, but also to find a new planet for humanity to colonise. Despite being the closest galaxy to the Milky Way, Andromeda is many light years away from Earth—even with the benefit of ancient technology. As such, the action is, according to creative director Mac Walters, set “hundreds of years” after the first three games.
That isn’t to say Ryder was born hundreds of years after Shepard. In the most recent E3 trailer, we see Ryder wake suddenly in a ship as its lights begin to switch on. The suggestion is that her journey to a new galaxy took place in suspended animation—a classic sci-fi trope that would fit with the new themes BioWare is looking to explore.
What about the ending?
This might be a bit of a stretch—BioWare is staying tight lipped—but I suspect Ryder left Earth before the events of Mass Effect 3. Perhaps her Pathfinder mission was even in response to the emerging threat of the Reapers. It might seem like an unimportant detail, but it would allow BioWare to bypass Mass Effect 3’s conclusion.
Depending on Shepard’s final choice, the galaxy could be in one of a number of different states. That decision was transmitted via the Mass Relays, meaning that the entirety of the Milky Way was affected. Andromeda would remain untouched. It’s a way for BioWare to keep the choices you made in Mass Effect 3, but also tell a new story that doesn’t need to acknowledge that decision.
“We could have had the Normandy 3,” says BioWare general manager Aaryn Flynn, “but we decided to take a step to the left.” Cue the Tempest. It sports a similarly sleek design, but where the Normandy was a joint project between humans and turians, the Tempest’s look suggests a broader range of influences.
One of the big differences is in the intended use of both ships. The Normandy was fast and technologically advanced, due to its purpose as a military vessel. “This is a story of exploration, not a story of conquest,” says Walters. “We wanted you to feel like your ship was designed for that purpose, to actually help you explore and discover and survive in a hostile environment.”
Who's in your crew?
Prior footage suggests both a krogan and salarian companion. The asari are about too, although it’s not clear in what context. It all suggests that the Pathfinder initiative is a joint effort between multiple species within the Milky Way. It sounds as if the initial relationship between the various species will be different, too. “If you’re going to embark on an endeavour that takes you to another galaxy, you’d better find people who are likeminded in that effort,” says Walters.
Politics and diplomacy has always been one of the major storytelling pillars of Mass Effect and that will be the case for Andromeda too. Nevertheless, you can expect a greater sense of harmony among the crew of the Tempest. “When it comes to your own personal team,” says Walters, “it’s fair to say everybody is pulling in the same direction.”
Renegade or Paragon?
Shepard encountered many moral conundrums during her adventure. As to how BioWare has thought about morality and decision making in Andromeda, Walters assures it’s done so “frequently and carefully... We want a more natural, organic experience,” he continues, echoing sentiments about making other aspects of the game less formulaic.
The Paragon and Renegade system was a major part of the original trilogy. It’ll be difficult to replace such an iconic part of the series, but a more nuanced system could lead to some challenging decisions.
One of the main new themes of Mass Effect Andromeda is that Ryder is a newcomer to the galaxy. “You are the alien,” says Flynn. “These are all really deep themes for us as human beings to wonder about and to challenge ourselves with. We’re lucky in that we get to give you a game now that puts those kinds of themes front and centre.”
As a stranger in a strange land, many of Andromeda’s inhabitants will have questions about your presence, and the legitimacy of your goals. “It creates a different tension, a different way to tell all those stories,” says Walters. “Even just some of the stuff we skipped in the trilogy. We went 20 years past first contact, but now we can actually engage in some of those stories, which we never got to do in the trilogy.”
Everything shown so far suggests combat will play out similarly to previous Mass Effects. Once again, your companions will support Ryder with their own abilities and weapon specialisations. As Walters puts it, “At its heart Mass Effect is a third-person cover shooter with squad mechanics.” From there, BioWare is able to introduce new concepts and challenges—what Walters refers to as “difficult situations we can put the player in”.
“At the same time,” Walters continues, “we get a chance to imagine new gameplay scenarios.” Leaked footage in April showed Ryder using a jetpack to jump to the top of a building.
Given the newness of the setting, the implication is Ryder will encounter many new species and all of the problems that could go along with that. Unlike Shepard, Ryder won’t be under the watchful eye of the council, so contact with alien species could require more interesting solutions.
Despite wanting to create an air of newness and mystery, BioWare is still respecting previous games. “We always gut check things with the original trilogy,” says Walters, “whether it’s with the aesthetic, the sounds... But at the same time, one of the things I often say is we have to be careful not to spend too much time looking back. We also have to look forward, because it’s ten years on since we started this. We want to treat fans to something new and something that surprises and delights them.”
Mass Effect 1’s Mako is back, although, like the Tempest, it’s got a new name and design. The purpose is broadly the same: allowing Ryder to land on and explore planets, even if they’re not critical to the main story path. Expect lots of sidequests and bonuses to be hidden throughout Andromeda’s planets.
“We’ve gone back to looking at open world mechanics and simulated worlds,” says Flynn. Dragon Age: Inquisition saw BioWare experiment with huge, open environments. Andromeda will likely push the size and scope even further. While it’s not clear how detailed each planet will be, the technology underpinning Andromedaallows BioWare to push the detail further than before. “You can really get lost in the worlds, the characters, the stories and the environments,” says Walters.
Once again, the evolving relationships between crewmates will be a major part of the story. The chance to introduce new characters with new dynamics gives the chance to try new things. "Some of the relationships were maybe a bit formulaic in the past,” says Walters, "so we’re trying to find a more organic way to evolve those relationships that’s less systemic in nature and feels more like real life."
"We’re building on what we know for the relationships," he continues "but a lot of it is in the execution of how you discover those relationships. We’re providing more freedom than we’ve ever done before. I think that’s across the board—we want players to feel like they can engage in it at their own pace in the way they want to."
BioWare wants Andromeda to evoke a sense of discovery. “Going to Andromeda is intended to, and will, invoke this incredible sense of wonder and incredible sense that everything right over the horizon is new to me,” says Flynn. “That’s a rare feeling in our lives today, but I think when you look at people, we all crave that feeling. We all want it.”
“One of the advantages of going to Andromeda is that it’s a new galaxy so not everything’s defined,” says Walters, “and you wouldn’t expect everything to look the same as it would back home.”
DICE’s engine now underpins almost every EA game, from Battlefield to FIFA 17. Naturally, Mass Effect Andromeda is no exception. For BioWare, it seems, the shared engine is a chance to utilise the experience and knowledge of EA’s other studios. “We can actually go to a Frostbite team, like the Need for Speed team, and go, ‘What do you think of our car?’” says Walters, “and they’ll tell us, and they have. It allows us to push past an area which isn’t necessarily our wheelhouse and deliver something that’s much higher quality than anything we’ve been able to do before.”
It sounds as if BioWare is also lending its storytelling expertise to other studios. “If you saw the FIFA story stuff, the BioWare folks helped with that,” says Flynn. “So it’s pretty cool.”
Dragon Age: Inquisition stands as the only RPG made in the Frostbite engine. While BioWare’s Mass Effect team is taking cues from the openness of environments, they’re also looking at Inquisition’s quests—both what worked and what didn’t.
“We learned that there were some quests in Dragon Age that didn’t resonate and were kind of flat—fetch quests and stuff,” says Flynn. “The nice thing is, you take those lessons, you package them all up, and you talk to the Mass Effect team and say, ‘These are the things you should do, these are the things you shouldn’t do.’ And the Mass Effect team get the pencils out and they build all that into it.”
If true, it hopefully means Andromeda will never ask you to collect stuff from dead bears.
“It’s been a really interesting phenomenon,” says Flynn. “Some of the newer folks who’ve joined the Andromeda team are developers who were first fans, because Mass Effect is ten years old now.”
That’s created an interesting dynamic for veterans like Flynn. “We spent some time educating them on why some decisions were made back in the day—hopefully they benefit from that. But at the same time, they remind us of what they loved about Mass Effect as a player back in 2007. We kind of sit back and go, ‘Oh, we didn’t realise that.’ That’s very compelling, and so we challenge ourselves.”
While still unconfirmed, it seems Dark Horse Comics may have . An Amazon listing of the publisher's incoming The Art of Mass Effect: Andromeda states the book will be released "simultaneously with the game" which is due March 21, 2017. At the time of writing, Amazon's UK site suggests a launch date of March 23—which could point to a delayed release for the UK and Europe.
We've reached out for confirmation, however with N7 just around the corner—BioWare's annual Mass Effect appreciation day that runs on November 7—expect to find out more in the coming weeks.