Mass Effect: Andromeda Preview – A trail to blaze
Mass Effect: Andromeda is easily one of the most anticipated games of the year, and thankfully the half-decade long wait will be over on March 21 when the game launches. ME:A is going to be a huge game, one of the biggest, if not the biggest game in BioWare’s portfolio. There is a lot of info to cover, so let’s get to it.
This is what is probably best to know before Mass Effect: Andromeda launches.
Who’s the new hero?
Shepard is history (literally, at the point in time Andromeda takes place, more on the later). As a result ME:A needs a new hero, and Alec Ryder, a decorated N7 veteran and skilled engineer is not the one. Instead, we get to play as either of his offspring: Sara or Scott Ryder, both of them Alliance-trained and entered the Initiative fresh from military and scientific outposts.
No “multiple-choice past” scenario
Interestingly, BioWare managed to remember than this not one character in either male or female trappings, but, indeed, two different people, albeit of one blood. As a result the Ryder siblings reportedly have different personalities. How different and how much it’s going to influence the narrative remains to be seen, but it’s always nice to have a good excuse for playing a game once again.
At character creation you will choose which young Ryder you want to play as, and, of course, tweak the appearance of both. The faces you generate this way will indirectly influence how Alec Ryder looks, too.
What’s the story?
The slightly canon-stretching Andromeda Initiative is a multi-species program meant to find new places to live outside of the Milky Way galaxy. It was founded a good time before the events of Mass Effect 1, and the ships launched between ME2 and ME3. Each of four Arks carried 20,000 individuals picked and accepted from volunteers across several species, mainly Turian, Salarian, Asari and Human, but other races of course pitched in. What that means is that just before the Reaper invasion some of the galaxy’s best and brightest went on a sightseeing trip to another galaxy. Perfect timing, congratulations. As a hub for the Arks a Nexus base was created, serving as ME: Andromeda’s Citadel.
Are we there yet?
Oddly enough, it turns out that getting to another galaxy is a tiny bit harder than getting from one star system to another. It took more than 600 years for the Ryders to reach. What it means for the narrative is that almost all the characters you loved in the original trilogy are dead and their lineages died as well. Sorry. On a less depressing note, when supported by a brand new galaxy to pillage it provides a decent fresh start, without a ton of plot baggage carried over. Reports come in that you get to specify the sex of your Shepard, but that’s about it, or at least nothing else is known.
Who are they?
New galaxy, new species, new baddies to frag. The new antagonist species we’re going to have multiple kerfuffles along the way are the Kett. They are a humanoid species, but with bone armor naturally covering their bodies. They have a non-specific beef with a player-Ryder, allegedly revolving around using some ancient technology.
On the friendlier side, we can expect the Angara. Angara look like nothing in particular, although their faces could be said to be vaguely feline-looking, if you squint your eyes a lot. We’re even going to get an Angaran companion in our crew, for better or worse.
What about the gameplay
Short version: the keyword for Mass Effect: Andromeda’s combat redesign is “dynamic”. It applies to nearly everything we’ve seen of the gameplay so far. From improved movement, to combat profiles, to loadouts… but let’s keep it ordered.
Move, move, move
Remember how Commander Shepard had no idea how to jump? Or how to use cover other than a chest-high wall? Things have changed.
Your PC and squad members can lean against anything that could conceivably be used as a cover, and instead of sticking to it, they can easily leave anytime they want, no button prompt necessary. They also know how to jump. Oh, and they’ve been issued their own jetpacks. Jet-jumping allows Ryders to quickly dodge, reach high places and rain down death on your enemies while hovering mid-air.
Gone are the days when you were bound by rigid classes. Cast off your chains and taste the freedom. Or something like that. In Mass Effect: Andromeda your available skills and abilities aren’t limited by the class you pick. Instead, by investing in skills (from three lists: Combat, Tech, Biotics) you indirectly upgrade Profiles, some of which reflect classes from the original trilogy.
In turn, each Profile provides significant boosts to related abilities. And if you don’t like your choices, the respec will be easy, although more and more expensive, depending on how many times you found your build unsatisfactory.
It’s complex, but easy to grasp, and gives the players much more freedom.
On the fly
While exploring the planets you will have access to a total of 12 abilities of your choosing. To reduce UI clutter they will be divided into four three-ability sets you will be able to switch on the fly. You can easily customize each set to contain abilities useful in different tactical situations. This kind of focused flexibility sounds interesting, and will make players think about how they want to approach fights.
Pew, pew, pew and other weapons
Mass Effect: Andromeda introduces five types of weapons, and three general technologies they use.
On the “type” front you have your standard pistols, shotguns as well as assault and sniper rifles. You also get melee weapons: omni-blade, hammers, swords, shivs etc. Their specific functioning remains more or less unknown, but it’s both an interesting and slightly odd choice in a game where you can zap enemies with lasers.
As for the technologies, you get the Milky Way weapons, using solid projectiles we all know. Milky Way weapons have to care about ammo, however, which is not a problem of guns from Andromeda’s Heleus Cluster. They fire plasma, the projectiles are often heat-seeking, and you can usually supercharge them for extra kaboom. Finally there are beam-based Remnant weapons. Although extremely accurate and enjoying a high fire rate, they tend to overheat like guns in Mass Effect 1. Ah, memories.
A whole new galaxy to see
Since this is a game of visiting an alien galaxy for the first time, exploration is going to be big deal in ME: Andromeda. According to the developers the planets are handcrafted, to avoid boring environments that are too often created with randomly or procedurally generated worlds. Instead, exploration will be rewarding, with loot, stories and resources hidden off the beaten path if you want to look for them. Reportedly you will always have a goal to reach, so no reason to worry about aimless wandering if it isn’t exactly your cup of tea.
Six wheels of fun
All your journey plans will be aided by the Nomad, a younger brother of the infamous Mako from Mass Effect 1. Nomad has six wheels, navigational thrusters and proper handling, with some support for mining operations thrown in for good measure. In short, it’s all a brave trailblazing Pathfinder needs on a journey.
There are still some things revealed in other previews, and trailers, but why spoil it all right off the bat? We did enough of that already.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is shaping up nicely, with fresh, but familiar combat, vastly improved mobility, and enough complexity to make it probably look better in practice than on paper.
New heroes, new galaxy, new aliens to invite to your cabin (what, they even refer to it in one of the trailers). What revelations and excitement the story brings remains to be seen, but there are high hopes.
Mass Effect: Andromeda launches on 21 March, so there is still some time to decide whether buying a pre-order version is a good investment. If you ask us, we’re going toÂ be busy deciding which edition to choose.