Everything we currently know about Mass Effect: Andromeda, the franchise’s debut game for Xbox One
In classical mythology, Andromeda was a pretty lady who had to be fed to a giant sea monster after her dad annoyed the gods. She was spared this fate when the hero Perseus came by on a winged horse. Typical Ancient Greek playboy behaviour, that. Now, imagine that Andromeda is actually a trillion stars arranged in a rough spiral, that the monster is some sort of angry extraterrestrial species, that Perseus is a refugee from the Milky Way galaxy, and that the winged horse is a tricked-out spaceship. Congratulations: you’ve basically just thought of the elevator pitch for Mass Effect: Andromeda.
BioWare has yet to reveal much about the first Mass Effect game for Xbox One, but it has dropped hints aplenty in addition to some fetching concept artworks, and it’s obviously possible to extrapolate from the events of Mass Effect 3. Polish off those calibrations and join us for a rundown. Beware major series spoilers.
SO WHY ISN’T IT CALLED MASS EFFECT 4?
The developers have tied themselves in knots attempting to summarise Andromeda’s link to the original trilogy. The game isn’t a “sequel” to Mass Effect 3, apparently, but it does take place later in the chronology. It’s a fresh start for the series, conceived by a new team at BioWare Edmonton and set in a separate galaxy with an all-new cast, but this is no spin-off. It’s to some extent a return to Mass Effect 1 – the hope is to cultivate the same wonder players felt on first setting foot on the Citadel, free of the general emotional baggage you’d amassed by the close of the trilogy. But for all that, we shouldn’t call this a reboot.
However you categorise it, Andromeda sounds thrilling. The gist is as follows: many years after the fall of the Reaper threat in Mass Effect 3, the Milky Way galaxy is still in a bad shape. It remains shaken, it appears, by the destruction of the Mass Relays during the Reaper attack on Earth, which has put a stop to easy communication between systems and thus left entire planets and species utterly isolated. It’s not clear which of the original trilogy’s endings the new Mass Effect treats as canon – this may prove to be one of the choices you’ll make when setting up your game – but given that BioWare has promised a mix of new and returning species, we can probably scratch the “Synthesis” ending, under which all organic and synthetic lifeforms were merged into one.
Seeking a new home for humanity and its allies, the protagonist and his or her entourage set out to scour the nearby (well, give or take a couple of million light years) Andromeda galaxy or new planets to settle on. How this is achieved remains to be explained, but the presence of familiar weapons and gear in promotional materials suggests not much time has passed, and ergo, that the Milky Way’s civilisations have bridged the gulf quickly.
Another possible explanation for the reappearance of old tech is that the player and his or her allies have spent hundreds of years in stasis aboard a conventional spacecraft. According to the Mass Effect Wiki, a Citadel starship can travel around 15 light years in Zk hours. Assuming the ship leaves for Andromeda around the close of Mass Effect 3, this would place the events of the game in the 27th century.
AND WE’RE DEFINITELY NOT PLAYING AS SHEPARD?
Nope. The protagonist of Mass Effect: Andromeda has yet to be officially named, but Shepard is long gone. There are a few clues about the new lead’s identity. Where Shepard began the original Mass Effect as something of a celebrity – an acclaimed warrior, and humanity’s top candidate for the job of Citadel Spectre – the newcomer will be a relative unknown, though very capable and equipped with their very own ship. The sight of the N7 logo on the uniform from the first trailer isn’t, BioWare suggests, necessarily proof that you’ll play a veteran of Earth’s legendary special forces unit – though that’s a possibility. It was apparently included partly for the sake of establishing a symbolic through-line with the original trilogy.
Redditors have gleaned a few further hints about Andromeda’s poster child from the trailers. A dogtag bearing the word “Ryder” or “Rider” is just about visible on a console in the last N7 Day video – a teasing touch that recalls the choice of Johnny Cash’s Ghost Riders in the Sky for the announcement video. BioWare’s Yanick Roy claims there are “very good reasons” that this song was picked to introduce the game. One explanation could be that BioWare will cultivate a sort of Wild Western frontier ethos to match the focus on exploration (more anon). A more striking possibility is that Andromeda’s lead is named in honour of Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, much as Commander Shepard is a tribute to the first American man in space, Alan Shepard.
Whoever he or she proves to be, the character will ultimately lead efforts to explore and colonise the Andromeda galaxy – perhaps as part of the ARKCON pathfinder initiative, logos for which appear on Mass Effect merchandise tweeted by BioWare. The ARKCON logo resembles a giant space structure, possibly a warp gate of some description, from one of Andromeda’s concept artworks.
SO IS THIS AN EXPLORATION-DRIVEN GAME, LIKE DRAGON AGE: INQUISITION?
“Exploration” is the keyword, yes, and the latest Dragon Age is indeed an influence, though far from the only or most important one. Partly, it’s a question of building on a technological investment: Andromeda runs on the same, extensively tweaked Frostbite game engine that permitted the creation of vast, complex landscapes for the acclaimed Inquisition. “We’ve said the next Mass Effect uses some of the technology from DAI,” BioWare’s general manager Aaryn Flynn observed on NeoGAF in January 2015. “We’ve been enjoying building larger areas that you can explore with less friction, so that’ll be there as well.”
An official blogpost also lingers over what you can learn just by looking at the landscape, with “Lived-in worlds that tell their own stories… Whether it’s shattered doorways and the scars of battle, or [structures] overgrown with moss.” And the exact nature of these playscapes? Well, going by concept artworks, you can expect forbidding ice fields, low gravity planets with chunks of asteroid hovering near the surface, “garden worlds” patrolled by frilled living blimps, and cave systems punctured by creepy pyramid structures.