It shouldn’t be too surprising that Andromeda was already one of my most anticipated game of next year. After all, I’ve made no secret of how much I enjoyed the Mass Effect trilogy. Its universe, filled with interesting characters and a rich history, has given us some of the most memorable sequences the medium has produced. I only have to say ‘Virmire’ or ‘Rannoch’ to get fans reminiscing (for better or worse, based on their choices), or if I write “assuming direct control” you’ll more than likely have read it in Harbinger’s voice. Sure, the very end of Shepard’s journey fell short once he got back to Earth, but the battles fought and friendships forged over the 90 or so hours was truly amazing.
But that was then, and the next instalment in the Mass Effect series is now mere months away. Since N7 day last month BioWare have been slowly drip-feeding information on the next galactic adventure – starting with a visually great if slightly generic cinematic trailer, along with the much more engrossing Andromeda Initiative website (which you should all sign up for if you haven’t already for muchos lore and free in-game swag.) This was closely followed by Game Informer dropping exclusive reveals every few days, giving us a much better idea of how our journey will unfold in the new galaxy.
For instance, we now know that loyalty missions return as true side missions (meaning they can be done after the main campaign is over), and how each planet will have its own unique storyline. It’s exciting to know that, while players can specialise in specific ability types, there are no classes (and they can even re-spec during the game thanks to a narrative device.) The reveal that reactive cover is now a gameplay feature fits with the free-flowing movement BioWare have previously spoken of, and that the Multiplayer from ME3 returns with a vengeance (and isn’t as integral to the single player this time) is great news. The confirmation of armour customisation, allowing sets to be mixed and matched (similar to Dragon Age: Inquisition) also proved that BioWare really are aiming for the depth of the original Mass Effect with the gameplay of Mass Effect 3.
However, reading about something isn’t the same as actually seeing it in action. Sure, I liked what had been said, but I was keeping my enthusiasm (relatively) in check until some actual gameplay footage was shown. Thankfully, near the end of The Game Awards last night, we finally got an extended look at the game in action. The virtual slice shown not only looked (mostly) fantastic, but it did more than enough to convince me I should finally let myself get excited.
Let’s start by discussing what was probably my personal highlight – the sense of a huge open world. To put it into context, I recently started playing through the DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition and rediscovered why I enjoyed exploration in that game. Picking up resources and climbing mountains to look out over another vista is something I never get tired of, especially in the Frostbite engine despite its clumsy controls and menus.
The Andromeda gameplay video demonstrated that not only will it encourage such exploration, but will offer more responsive controls. In fact, the openness of the game world came off like a sci-fi gold rush, with the races of the Milky Way trying to tame the wild frontier. As such, I can already see myself spending more time than is reasonable just driving around in the Nomad, let alone scanning everything and anything. So, a win-win for me at the very least.
We only got a glimpse at one of the hubs – the seemingly pirate-esque world of Kadara (that has a hint of Omega about it, in fairness.) It gave me a similar feeling to wandering round Stone-Bear Hold in DA:I’s Jaws of Hakkon expansion, filled with smaller stories to get involved with or just listen to. Of course, what we all want is for the narrative to be rich and varied like Noveria in Mass Effect 1. It’s rightly held up as one of the best hubs in the series, and with so much freedom to tell new stories in Andromeda BioWare have a huge opportunity to silence their critics.
One aspect that I will voice concern over is the facial animations. I’m not the only one who noticed, either, as three of the leading developers for the game took to Twitter to calm fears that what was shown won’t be reflective of the final product (or, to harness my inner sceptic for a moment, it won’t be anymore.) Otherwise, I liked what was shown of the quite clearly cut-down dialogue exchange, especially the new interrupts. Confirmation that the Paragon / Renegade morality system is gone in favour of more ambiguous choices pleases me. After all, not all opportunities to pull a gun on someone makes you a terrible person.
Then there was the combat. Oh boy.
Seeing the combination of the jetpack and biotics in action was a joy to behold. It proved that the freeform nature of movement will be ever so important in Andromeda, be it in taking out an enemy or moving from harm’s way. Even the reactive cover worked looks as I had hoped, meaning those who decide to not go down the front line approach still have options when the bullets start flying. Speaking of which, the return of thermal clips might be a bit of a let-down for some, but I can understand its inclusion from a gameplay balance point perspective (especially in regards to the multiplayer.) At least we also saw some recharging weapons in the video, so they’ll be available at some point in our journey (and as I always say, choice is good.)
There’s still plenty that the gameplay trailer didn’t tell us, though. As previously mentioned, we still haven’t seen the true depth of the customisation options. Beyond that, we still have no idea if any decisions from Mass Effect 1 & 2 will be referenced or even affect the narrative. It has been confirmed that we won’t see any familiar faces (as most previously-met feature in Mass Effect 3 so won’t be in the Andromeda Initiative that launched at the end of Mass Effect 2. Hurrah for lore!)
That said, will Papa Ryder mention Shepard at all? Could Peebee have bumped into Archangel or the Shadow Broker in the past? Does Liam know that Admiral Anderson was born in London? Will anyone in the Andromeda system ever see a Blasto film again?! Hopefully we will get some sort of Dragon Age Keep feature (even in limited form) to help ensure those in Andromeda are from my version of events. After all, it’s the little details that brought the original Mass Effect experience to life.
But I digress from the real point of this article, which is highlighting why the gameplay trailer hit all the right notes. It showed us the fluid traversal, it demonstrated the action-based combat, and it gave us a sense of how big the open world will be. As a fan of the Mass Effect series I came away eager to learn more, and more than excited to get my hands on it next year.
Mass Effect Andromeda is expected to release in Spring 2017 for PS4, Xbox One and PC.