Legendary role-playing game developer BioWare closed the door on the Mass Effect trilogy and its hero, Commander Shepard, in epic fashion in 2012. Five years later, the series’ next chapter, Mass Effect: Andromeda, looks beyond Shepard and the trilogy’s antagonists, the Reapers, instead telling the story of a pair of new heroes — the Ryder twins, Scott and Sarah — in an unfamiliar corner of the universe as players search for humanity’s new home.
As Andromeda edges ever closer to release, we’ve now seen a cinematic trailer and a showcase of in-game action in 4K and HDR, learned about the new combat and skill system, and even spent some time with the game. If you can’t wait until Mass Effect: Andromeda comes out in 2017, then you can read everything there is to know about the game right here.
What’s the story?
The original Mass Effect trilogy featured plenty of planet-hopping and a diverse selection of playable locations, but its story always revolved around Earth. In Mass Effect: Andromeda, this is no longer the case. In the game’s second cinematic trailer, we learn that the temporary name for humanity’s future home is “Habitat 7.” 20,000 people are stranded in a nearby space station, unsure if it’s actually safe to land on the rusty planet. We also know that you have to choose between playing as one of the Ryder twins, Scott or Sarah, recruits of the human Pathfinder team.
A joint-race task force referred to as “the initiative” bands together to colonize new planets in the Heleus cluster of the Andromeda galaxy. The task force includes scientists, colonists, and other important figures. Those familiar with the series will recognize some of the species tied to the project: Asari, Krogan, Salarian, Turian, and, of course, Human. Five Arks were constructed to send these groups of the initiative to the Andromeda galaxy.
The human ship — the Ark Hyperion — left Earth directly following the events of Mass Effect 2. Interestingly, because of the length of the trip — multiple centuries — the game takes place well after the events of Mass Effect 3, but not many of its characters know about the catastrophic warfare that took place in the final leg of the original trilogy.
Naturally, the Ark Hyperion runs into some trouble. Ryder and a fellow companion Liam find themselves up on the aforementioned “Habitat 7,” without a means to communicate to the rest of the team, and in constant threat from the alien race that inhabits the world.
This setup allows the game to resemble the atmosphere of ME2 in that you, as one of the Ryder twins, forge alliances with those of “the initiative” you know, all the while exploring completely foreign lands.
With this premise, the game was designed to appeal to both newcomers and those who saw Shephard’s story through to the end. Speaking to Polygon in June, BioWare creative director Mac Walters referred to the original Mass Effect trilogy as a “foundational background” for Andromeda, with “returning species and themes,” but the game would take time to explain these components to newer players, making Ryder’s adventure a good starting point for first-time players.
The story will still be affected by choice, as the dialogue wheel used throughout the trilogy remains. This time, however, instead of the paragon and renegade system gauging morality, there’s four classes of responses that shape the way others see you: casual, professional, emotional, and logical. During our preview of the game, we learned that often times you will be asked to choose between casual and professional, or emotional and logical, depending on the situation. While the different paths you can take through dialogue may not sound as explosive as “paragon” or “renegade,” the overall dialogue system really hasn’t changed much at all.
Although Andromeda may not be the start of a trilogy, creative director Mac Walters said BioWare expects to the game to kick off a arc for the series, according to an interview with Game Informer. While the broader vision for the series was described as “TBD,” Walters did emphasize that major concepts in the first game — like the Pathfinders — will likely carry over to future games and that it would not hurt for players to hang on to their saves after they finish Andromeda. He also added that Andromeda will have a “big, bold ending” with a decent amount of variation in how things play out.
Industry insider “Shinobi602” reported some finer, more concrete details on both the game’s story as well as changes to its mechanics in a post on the forum NeoGAF.
The Ryder twins and the squad
The original Mass Effect trilogy gave players at least some control over the direction of the story based on dialogue interactions and relationships forged. Still, it still felt as if much of the story and its characters were on a pre-determined track. With Andromeda, BioWare is taking steps to ensure that the story holds a greater element of realism. A large aspect of that is making the characters feel more “human,” and that starts with the game’s protagonists, the Ryder twins.
Unlike Commander Shephard, the Scott and Sarah Ryder are not seasoned combat veterans. Speaking to Polygon at E3 2016, Creative Director Mac Walters said the team “leaned into the more personal aspect” this time around, and that, though alien races have always played a large part in the Mass Effect series, the story is ultimately viewed “through human” eyes, so the Ryder twins are by locked down to being humans. When you start the game you can choose between either Scott or Sarah Ryder, depending on whether you want to be male or female. You can change their first name if you so please.
If the default looks don’t catch your eye, you can customize your character’s appearance. The other twin will also be modified to resemble you, in addition to Alec, the twins’ father. Whomever don’t choose won’t head onto the battlefield with you, but you will interact with your twin on a regular basis through dialogue.
As opposed to being a cookie-cutter character with a series of pre-picked choices to advance the story, Walters stressed that the team wants “to embrace choice and diversity with what you can do in the game.” Essentially, these characters are setup to be canvases, as a means for you to explore the vast and strange world through the eyes of a relative beginner.
This means that your squad, on the other hand, will be slightly more advanced than the Ryder twins. BioWare released a “Pathfinder Team Briefing” trailer to introduce some of the team members, and also has character profiles available for your squad mates on the Mass Effect site.
While not technically a member of your squad, Alec, the Ryder twins’ father is the leader of Ark Hyperion. He was among the first of mankind to take steps across the galaxy, and also played a big role in putting together the team. He’s the scientist behind bringing mankind to “the next great frontier, Andromeda.”
A former police officer, the aforementioned Liam is one of two initial companions when Ark Hyperion makes an unexpected stop in “Habitat 7.” He specializes in crisis response, and was hand-picked by Alec because of his vast array of skills. Liam’s prefers close-range combat.
The other beginning companion, Cora is the team’s operations specialist who leads ground missions. She previously served in the Alliance military, and is Alec Ryder’s appointed successor to take charge of Ark Hyperion. She specializes in Biotics combat.
Of the Asari species, but she seems to not follow the Asari mold from the originally trilogy. A bit of a wildcard, Peebee is independent but easy going. She came to Andromeda after growing tired of the Milky Way, desiring a new adventure. Her personality seems to match her combat preferences, as she’s adept with physical weapons as well as tech powers.
A member of the Turian species, Vetra has been all over the roughest areas in the galaxy, meaning that she has learned how to adapt. From her time exploring other galaxies, she’s learned it’s best to be loyal to those she deems friends and family. She acts in the “tank” role as she wears heavy armor and prefers a high-powered assault rifle.
1,400 years old, Drack is by far the oldest companion you’ll have in Andromeda. A member of the the Krogan species, Drack has held positions as a soldier and mercenary and even had stints as a pirate. Drack prefers a shotgun, but he also has a devastating power called Blood Rage that turns him into a frenzied hand-to-hand combat machine.
Jaal is a member of the new species to the Mass Effect franchise, Angara. She was recently revealed by producer Michael Gamble on Twitter. We don’t know much about her role yet, but thanks to the recent combat trailer we know she is a “Resistance Fighter,” so she’s obviously sympathetic to your cause.
Also helping your squad is S.A.M., an AI designed by Alec Ryder. Through a special neural link, S.A.M. is able to see and feel exactly what Ryder does, and will assist in tactical combat maneuvers.