Mass Effect Andromeda was announced by Bioware executive producer Casey Hudson back in November 2012 and since then we’ve heard very few details about the project. What we do know is that Mass Effect Andromeda will take place in the Andromeda galaxy, the game will not be a direct sequel to Mass Effect 3 and that the planetary transport the Mako will return. Since its initial announcement there have been various rumours and more recently even leaked gameplay footage. Mass Effect is now a franchise that holds a great amount of respect and it will be interesting to see what direction the series takes after the dramatic ending of Mass Effect 3. Here are 5 things I’d like to see in Mass Effect Andromeda.
1. Embracing the RPG
The Mass Effect games are role-playing games. In the previous three titles you play as Commander Shepard and your choices shape how the game turns out, who lives and who dies. The fantastic branching dialogue in these games are about as good as it gets when it comes to narrative and player choice but the developers have at times shied away from making Mass Effect into an RPG in every sense of the word. The first Mass Effect game had a focus on exploration as you discovered planets, uncovered raw materials for XP and completed side missions. The subsequent games removed this exploratory feature in favour of simply scanning planets, which was simplified even further in Mass Effect 3. This simplification extended to other areas too as the franchise gathered steam. Side missions have always ranged from collectibles to more in-depth stories in the games but Mass Effect 3 removed a large portion of that narrative potential in favour of ‘fetch and carry’ missions – go get an item and bring it back to the Citadel. Other side missions were pretty cool but there was a lack of creativity. The N7 missions for example, were essentially single player portions of the multiplayer game types.
The rumours surrounding Mass Effect Andromeda suggest a renewed focus on exploration as humans are now seeking to colonize a new galaxy. This is an opportunity to give the game a sense of exploration that other RPG’s give you such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or Fallout 4. If the game does focus on exploration, then side quests should feel organic as you come across them while exploring on foot or in the Mako. Flying halfway across the galaxy and back to deliver some artifact that someone is missing isn’t very fun and isn’t the best use of Bioware’s time. I should feel rewarded for exploring, not disappointed that I’ve found another tedious side quest to scan another planet. If this means sacrificing so many planets in the game then so be it, I’d rather have a smaller number of planets with lots to do than a multitude of planets with the gameplay stretched thin across them. Bioware’s roots are in RPG’s so they should embrace that fact, from skill trees to exploration to side missions. It should all be treated with as much care as the fantastic dialogue and characterization.
2. A Mix of the Old and the New
The Andromeda galaxy represents an opportunity for Bioware and EA. It’s a smart way to still have a Mass Effect universe but a fresh start in unfamiliar territory. That means we are likely to see new species, new environments and new personalities. Nevertheless, I think it’s highly unlikely we won’t go through the whole game without seeing some of the familiar species we’ve grown accustomed to, including the asari, salarians and krogan to name a few. Aside from the occasional nod here and there to the old cast, I don’t want to see any characters return from the previous Mass Effect games, we already know we won’t be playing as Commander Shepard so the developers should distance themselves from that storyline.
Amongst the new species we encounter there’s an opportunity to explore new themes and sci-fi elements that Bioware has yet to tap into. For instance, the original trilogy focused a lot on the relationship between organics and synthetics and the galactic threat of the Reapers but there are years and years of sci-fi inspiration to draw upon. I’m excited to see what developer Bioware can come up with for Mass Effect Andromeda. I’d personally like to see more storylines be personal troubles rather than another faceless galactic threat. It sounds like the game will be about humanity’s place in the galaxy and it will be fascinating to see potentially new species interact with humanity for the first time. There’s so much history to the Mass Effect universe and it would be nice to participate in more of it. For example, many events such as the First Contact War, the Krogan Rebellions and the Rachni wars have already taken place once you begin the first Mass Effect. It will be interesting to find out how new species react to humanity and if they have a similar reaction to the turians.
3. Address the Elephant in the Room
Mass Effect Andromeda takes place far away from the events of the original trilogy and supposedly long after the events of Mass Effect 3. That means your actions and choices in those three games are unlikely to carry over which is a good thing. The one choice that could factor in is the final choice you made at the end of Mass Effect 3 however even that may not factor into Andromeda‘s story. What we do need though is some explanation as to how humanity (and possibly other species) reached the Andromeda galaxy without the mass relays to guide them. If the familiar species return then there has to be at least some acknowledgement of previous events, after all the war with the Reapers is presumably the biggest event to ever happen in that galaxy. While I don’t need acknowledgement of Shepard specifically, it would be nice to know the impact of that final choice in Mass Effect 3. One of the biggest criticisms of the ending of that game is that it was too ambiguous and there’s an opportunity here to ‘choose an origin’ by selecting how you ended Mass Effect 3, much in the same way you chose a ‘career path’ for Commander Shepard. Bioware shouldn’t dwell on this too much as this is a fresh start but I wouldn’t be surprised if in some way previous events do tie back in eventually in future titles.
One thing that bothered me about previous Mass Effect games is the level to which you can customise your character. Players have previously commented on how strange it is to see other people’s versions of Shepard. They just don’t look right because they aren’t the Shepard they’ve grown accustomed to. That’s a testament to how attached players grew to that character so it’s a shame not to allow players to customise their experience beyond the choices you make. Yes, you could customise your weapons, armour and character outfits in limited ways but there’s a chance with Mass Effect Andromeda to go deeper. I’d prefer if armour and the way your character looks doesn’t affect bonuses in gameplay. This forces you to look a certain way and being able to fully customise lots of different aspects of your character from hairstyle to the type of armoured greaves they wear rather than presets would be a welcome feature, one that further solidifies the series’ place in RPG territory.
The customisation doesn’t have to stop there either. The Normandy was a character unto itself in Mass Effect, its upgrades would have an important impact on your suicide mission against the Collectors and your crew cared about it and spoke about it in reverent tones, whether it was Garrus calibrating the guns (so many calibrations), Tali tuning the engine or EDI detailing the various features of the ship, it all gave the Normandy personality and evoked the personality of ships it was emulating such as the Millennium Falcon or the Starship Enterprise. Bioware could take this a step further and allow for more upgrades to your ship and give you the ability to design and craft the ship to however you want it to look. This customisation should also be extended to the Mako if we will be spending a large portion of our time with it.
5. Less Good vs Bad, More Gray Areas
When you look back over the Mass Effect series, the decisions and choices you made were defined as paragon or renegade. Where you someone who always did the right thing or would you put others in harm’s way to achieve your goals. Choices were often clear-cut, black and white and simple to make depending on how you wanted your character to behave. That’s not to say there wasn’t tough choices, after all who’s to say if killing the quarians or the geth in Mass Effect 3 was ultimately the ‘right’ choice. Nevertheless, the morality system needs overhauling in Mass Effect Andromeda. Although Mass Effect is science-fiction, the best science-fiction draws from real world issues in the here and now. Ultimately, humans and the choices we make often can’t be defined as good or bad. Instead, choices are more nebulous and easier to define as ambiguous. Mass Effect should reflect this by giving us more than just good, bad or ambivalent choices and instead offer us more nuanced options. This does cause a problem for the dialogue wheel, how do you keep the interface uncluttered with more choices? How do you explain more complex choices in a few words? Nevertheless, in the long run I believe the game will be better for it.
Looking to the Stars
Overall, Mass Effect Andromeda and the series at large has a very bright future. It is preceded by three fantastic games that offered us refined gameplay, excellent narrative, fantastic world building and consequences to our actions. Mass Effect Andromeda offers a fresh start for the series and there’s really no telling where the series is headed in terms of story until we hear more from EA and Bioware, likely at this year’s E3. I think these five additions would set the series on another extraordinary path to success.