With the video game expo E3 came a closer look at a lot of the most exciting and anticipated games that players can expect to get their hands on over the next year. One such title which fans were particularly excited to get a closer look at is Mass Effect: Andromeda, the continuation of the long-running science fiction roleplaying game series by acclaimed developer BioWare.
The trailer brought a lot of new and interesting insights into the direction that the project is taking and what fans can expect from Andromeda. It’s been five years since the release of the most recent Mass Effect game, and almost ten years since the release of the first title in the original Mass Effect trilogy, so it’s interesting to see how advancements in technology are being used to give the upcoming game a level of depth and detail that has never been seen before in the series.
All of this is more than enough to get any fan of BioWare’s games excited. Based on the latest trailer, here are some of the things we’re hoping to see in Mass Effect: Andromeda.
17. A Complex Morality System
BioWare is a studio known for its roleplaying storytelling – in particular, its willingness to let players choose for themselves how the story will progress by making crucial decisions in the heat of battle, the outcomes of which affect the political landscape of the entire game world.
For Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, one of the most enduringly popular BioWare titles, the studio developed a morality system that mirrors the struggle between the Light Side and the Dark Side in the wider Star Wars universe. This has carried on into many of their more recent games, including the entirety of the original Mass Effect trilogy, wherein players can choose ‘Paragon’ and ‘Renegade’ actions throughout the game to either help out people in need or be absolutely awful to them.
As enjoyable as choosing to be a bit of a meanie in Mass Effect games might be, for many players, this binary approach to morality feels very restrictive – research by BioWare has shown that most players choose the moral high ground the majority of the time without thinking too hard about their choices. The more poignant and difficult decisions throughout the games are the times when there is no right answer – for example, when the player has to sacrifice a crewmember in the first Mass Effect, or decide which alien race to save and which to leave to die in Mass Effect 3. As there’s no objectively moral right answer to these questions, players have to put more thought into their decision making.
A scene in the new Mass Effect: Andromeda trailer shows a character being dropped off the edge of a cliff – this is likely an example of the kind of Renegade choices that players will be making in the game. That said, an approach to morality that has a little more nuance to it would go a long way to making the next instalment of the franchise even more emotionally impactful than those that have come before.
16. The Return of Familiar Faces
In Mass Effect: Andromeda, the player leaves behind everything and everyone they knew before to travel to an entirely different galaxy as part of a colonizing mission. This being the case, it’ll be difficult for the new Mass Effect game to feature too many cameos or recurring characters from the earlier trilogy, and that’s fine – a clean break is nothing to be upset about for a game that’s looking to introduce exciting new planets and aliens.
That said, while saying goodbye to old friends from the first Mass Effect trilogy makes sense, it would be a shame not to see a bit more of the alien races that players have already come to know and love. The trailer features appearances from new characters belonging to the Krogan, Salarian, and Asari races, so at least a few fan favorite alien species will return. With any luck, the game will also see a return for other popular alien races, such as the Turians, the Drell, and possibly even the more abstract races such as the jellyfish Hanar and the rotund Volus.
15. Customizable Backstories
One of the things that made Commander Shepard, the protagonist from the first Mass Effect series, so compelling and endearing, is the character’s level of customizability. Players can choose the Commander’s gender, facial appearance, and skillset, creating a character that looks and feels unique to play.
Players are also given the choice to choose Shepard’s backstory, including the planet that the Commander was raised on, and the military legacy that Shepard had developed before the start of the game. Depending on the backstory players choose, Commander Shepard will run into unique side quests throughout the games as people and influences from the past come back to haunt the crew of the SSV Normandy.
Not much yet is known about Ryder, the protagonist of Mass Effect: Andromeda (although players do get a look at what will be the default character at the end of the new E3 trailer). Hopefully, true to form, BioWare will yet again allow players to start from scratch in crafting every aspect of their player character, including deciding on their background and motivations.
14. Expansive Planets
With Mass Effect: Andromeda, BioWare is returning to the original concept that they had envisioned with the first game in the Mass Effect trilogy. While the second and third instalments in the franchise focus more on character development and politics, the first game is concerned primarily with exploration as players travel the galaxy in their own private spaceship, discovering new worlds and settlements across the cosmos.
It’s likely that BioWare’s attempt to return to this concept which has prompted a move to a new galaxy in Mass Effect: Andromeda – as players have already explored the Milky Way, there’s not much left by way of exploration to do in the new game unless a new setting is introduced.
The one downside to the original Mass Effect’s planet-hopping core gameplay is hardware limitations – because of limits to what last-generation consoles are capable of, it wasn’t possible to give every planet in Mass Effect the same level of attention and care, meaning that many planets in the game turn out to simply be lifeless rocks with a small explorable zone and a single quest to undertake.
It looks as though with Andromeda, BioWare are hoping to create a more expansive, Skyrim-esque open world game in which players can truly explore to their hearts’ content. Here’s hoping with the new technological capability of current-gen hardware, this concept can finally be done justice.
13. A Better Mako
One of the other big downsides to traversing the galaxy in the original Mass Effect is the universally despised Mako; an all-terrain vehicle which more often than not ends up tumbling upside down into a crater or off a ravine. Notoriously difficult to drive, and equipped with small jet stabilizers that somehow make things worse, the Mako has been conspicuously absent in subsequent Mass Effect titles (aside from a few in-game references, a brief DLC mission, and some stationary models that are glorified background decorations).
The Mako does, however, appear again in the new trailer for Andromeda, tearing across a desert plain. It appears as though a lot of effort has been put into redesigning the vehicle’s handling, which will no doubt be a welcome addition for anyone who got sick of the original vehicle while playing long, non-optional levels within the original game. Either way, the Mako looks fantastic with the updated graphics in Andromeda, and if BioWare are choosing to return to such a controversial aspect of their earlier work, it has to be with good reason.
12. A Worthwhile New Threat
When it comes to creating a powerful, imposing adversary for a computer game, it’s hard to top the Reapers. Over the course of three games, players do battle against an armada of giant robot squid monsters who are determined to wipe out all intelligent life in the galaxy and turn them into mutant zombie abominations.
If BioWare wants the antagonists in Andromeda to live up to the imposing precedent that the company has set for itself, they’d better have something truly impressive up their sleeves. The trailer for the new game doesn’t show the heroes facing off against a particular threat in firefights – instead, the game’s mysterious protagonist is seen doing battle with a series of large, very aggressive monsters. While it’s possible that these monsters might be part of a larger conspiracy, it’s likely that they’re only tangential to the main threat of the game.
One thing that would aid the experience of playing Mass Effect: Andromeda would be an alien threat that could play a bigger role on the battlefield. In the original Mass Effect trilogy, it’s very rare for Commander Shepard to go toe-to-toe with another Reaper, as most threats are instead mercenary gangs or zombie husks – this is the downside to having a Lovecraftian horror for an antagonist in a cover-based shooter. A more humanoid enemy for the new game would make a lot of the battles far less contrived.
11. Interactive Space Battles
Considering that most of the battles against actual Reapers happen in space in the first Mass Effect trilogy, it feels like a bit of a disappointment that players don’t have the chance to get involved in space battles personally – either through piloting the SSV Normandy or controlling fighter ships or cannons as part of the attack. There’s even a precedent for such content: the original Knights of the Old Republic features a minigame in which players have to shoot down enemy ships from a gun turret.
Based on evidence from the new trailer, it seems that Mass Effect: Andromeda will have just as large a focus on enormous, powerful spaceships – some of the most visually stunning moments from the trailer involve the new SSV Tempest (which is likely a reference to Shakespeare and probably an indication of the fate of the ship’s crew within the game).
If space battles are to make up a big part of the game (and there’s no reason to suspect that they won’t) it’d be nice if the game gave the player an opportunity to wade into the fray by taking control of the ship or even blasting away enemies in an on-rails shooting minigame.
10. New Biotic Abilities
When it comes to combat, Mass Effect games handle pretty much like every other cover-based shooter, with one exception: biotic powers. The ability to perform feats such as creating a miniature black hole or turning off gravity for enemies gives an extra layer of complexity (and enjoyment) to the experience of shooting enemies throughout the Mass Effect universe. While Mass Effect is far from the only game to combine super powers with guns, its own unique take on the idea is one of the defining elements of the franchise.
The trailer for Mass Effect: Andromeda shows the recording of a motion capture movement which is then turned into an in-game biotic ability – the player flies through the sky while glowing with blue light before punching down at the ground, creating an explosion. It’ll be interesting to see what new tricks and abilities BioWare have in store for players, and how the combat for the game will be improved thanks to the efforts that the studio is putting into streamlining the superpower firefight experience.
9. Customizable Gear
First and foremost, the Mass Effect series are roleplaying games, and one thing that comes along with that is the ability to equip, customize, and improve upon gear. In the original Mass Effect, the player has access to a variety of special armor, weapons, and other items that can provide a tactical advantage on the battlefield. Subsequent games in the series built on the customization options for weapons and armor, albeit not necessarily allowing the player direct control over what equipment they can equip (Commander Shepard is permanently stuck in N7 armor for all fights within the two latter games in the series).
The N7 armor returns again for the upcoming Mass Effect: Andromeda, with the trailer going out of its way to show off the dust and grime effects that build up on the suit during gameplay. It’ll be interesting to see to what extent players will be able to seek out new upgrades and improvements for their equipment, and how this will affect stat progression within the game.
8. Solid (Optional) Multiplayer
Since BioWare’s purchase by video game giant EA in 2007, the company’s products have slowly been morphing to fit the traditional EA mold, better fitting a company whose main contributions to gaming involve multiplayer, online play. As such, it wasn’t much of a surprise when Mass Effect 3 launched with a sizeable amount of content that was multiplayer-only, pitting teams of players against waves of AI-controlled enemies.
At this point, it’s almost a certainty that Mass Effect: Andromeda will have a similar multiplayer mode for players to sink their teeth into. For a series that revolves primarily around an in-depth and detailed single player story, though, a half-hearted multiplayer element would ultimately feel wasted. As such, it’s to be hoped that the game’s developers do this side of the game justice.
At the same time, though, the game shouldn’t lean too heavily on multiplayer elements. The majority of fans of the series, after all, have come to love the single player aspects, and it’s frustrating when multiplayer modes get more attention during development. One particularly galling element of Mass Effect 3 was the fact that multiplayer rankings affected the level of ‘galactic readiness’ present in a player’s single player campaign – in order to have access to the best possible resources, players had to slog through a multiplayer shooting match that they might not have actually wanted. With any luck, players will be spared these strong-arm tactics in the next game.
7. Non-Combat Alternatives
BioWare’s games are built on the revered template of pen and paper roleplaying games. Many of their games have been direct adaptations of the Dungeons & Dragons original source materials, and the developers often go out of their way to try and capture the magic and spontaneity that accompanies a session of roleplaying.
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to plan for every eventuality in video games, and often a lot of the potential solutions to problems are cast aside in favor of more shooting matches. This doesn’t always have to be the case: almost every quest in Fallout 4 has a non-violent solution, should players manage to charm their way through interactions with various characters.
It would be nice to see BioWare give players more opportunities to do likewise – some of the pivotal moments in the Mass Effect trilogy are made all the easier through a high persuade skill, and it would be wonderful for Andromeda to build upon this to offer more options to the kind of player that likes to talk their way out of situations, rather than go in guns a-blazin’.
6. Romance Options For Every Preference
While Mass Effect is a complex franchise with many elements to it, the series will ultimately always be known primarily as a science fiction dating simulator. Romance subplots throughout all games in the series are highly regarded by the gaming community as well-written, compelling interactive storytelling, and BioWare has made a name for itself as a provider of romance options for a variety of sexual orientations.
Sex is a complex issue, though, and there are plenty of different avenues that players may wish to explore. While previous Mass Effect games have provided opportunities for players to engage in many different kinds of relationships (most notably interspecies romance, in classic sci-fi tradition), there are always more options to explore, and some groups who feel left out.
With BioWare games, though, it’s often about more than just providing a compatible romance partner. Mass Effect titles excel at providing characters that feel nuanced and alive for gamers to fall in love with. No doubt BioWare are making these kinds of romantic partners a core element of the upcoming game.
5. References to Commander Shepard
In the immortal words of Miracle of Sound, “You can fight like a Krogan, run like a leopard – but you’ll never be better than Commander Shepard.” The main star of the original Mass Effect trilogy is not without fans, and the character has had such an enduring impact on many players’ experience of the games that last November BioWare issued a final message from the Commander as the reigns for the series were handed over to Ryder, the new protagonist.
While the new game’s setting and, potentially, its time period, will be far-removed from Shepard’s war with the Reapers, there’s still hope that everyone’s favorite N7 soldier might have some form of impact over the events of the new game. The actions that Shepard takes throughout the Mass Effect trilogy have far-reaching influences, to it’d be nice to see these reflected in Andromeda as the events of Shepard’s life pass into legend.
4. Weather Conditions
The trailer for Mass Effect: Andromeda lingers on impressive visual weather effects just long enough to suggest that they might be important to the overall gameplay. At one point, a large tornado can be seen, while winds and rains on other planets imply that there might be a variety of different weather conditions that the player could come up against.
While these weather conditions are visually striking, there could well be more at work within the game – perhaps a dynamic weather system that changes the terrain and conditions on a planet’s surface at different times, or simply static but gameplay altering effects that mean that in certain parts of the game, the ground is more slippery, visibility is impaired, or aiming is more difficult. If this proves to be the case, it would be interesting if the player could use these weather effects to their advantage, pushing enemies back into sandstorms or other landscape hazards.
3. Lifelike Character Models
The game trailer for Mass Effect: Andromeda has shown off the full power of the Frostbite engine, rendering beautifully detailed and lifelike character models that are capable of far more complex and realistic facial expressions and movements.
This is a welcome addition to a series which, while revolutionary at its launch, hasn’t necessarily aged too well. In many cases older character models are laughable in their jerky movements and vacant expressions which, while a good approximation of human emotions considering the technology at hand, lack the spark that would otherwise make them feel alive. This is most prominently noticeable during romantic scenes, where to models mashing their faces and bodies together almost feels reminiscent of that scene from Team America.
While trailers for Mass Effect: Andromeda have gone out of their way to show the vast, uninhabited worlds that players can look forward to exploring, relatively little is known about the more developed parts of the new galaxy. Whatever new technology, cities, and sentient life the game might hold in store, nothing concrete has been revealed to the public at this time.
In previous Mass Effect titles, each game has had an enormous focus on the busy sprawling cityscapes that make up the game’s universe. Commander Shepard has bravely journeyed from the immaculate leafy streets of the Citadel’s Presidium, to the grimy back alleys of Omega’s slums, all the while visiting an endless array of nightclubs. For Andromeda to continue in the tradition of the games that have gone before, it’ll need to place big sci-fi cities at its core.
It’s possible that by not showing what might be hiding in the more established parts of the Andromeda galaxy, BioWare are deliberately keeping a few surprises from the audience. Whatever they might have planned, it’ll be interesting to see it in action.
1. A Solid Ending
By this point taking a jab at the ending to Mass Effect 3 has been done so many times that doing so feels like picking on a sick child. While fan reaction to the conclusion of the original Mass Effect trilogy was less than positive, the issue has taken on a life of its own and in many eyes has come to define not only the science fiction franchise, but the company of BioWare itself: a strong reputation for excellent storytelling which is marred by the moments that most stand out in recent memory.
Whether or not the level of abuse that BioWare have suffered for the ending is justified (it’s up to each individual player to decide whether or not the gaming community has been unfairly harsh regarding the matter), at this point it goes without saying that in order to win back the support of its critics, BioWare really needs to stick the landing with this next game’s ending. Providing a compelling, complex ending with lasting consequences will be essential to redeeming the Mass Effect brand in many people’s eyes.
While it’s still a bit too early to make too many predictions about what might appear in Mass Effect: Andromeda, as things are currently shaping up it looks as though the game is likely to be one of the big talking points of 2017.
In the meantime, though, there’s little that eager gamers can do beyond rewatching the latest E3 trailer and speculating about what might make the cut into the new game.
What features are you hoping to see in Mass Effect: Andromeda? What elements from older games do you think will make an appearance? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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