Legendary role-playing game developer BioWare hasn’t released a game in its Mass Effect series since 2012, which closed the door on the series’ hero, Commander Shepard, in epic fashion. The series’ next chapter, Mass Effect: Andromeda, looks beyond Shepard and the trilogy’s antagonists, the Reapers, telling the story of a pair of new heroes — the Ryder twins, Scott and Sarah — in an unfamiliar corner of the universe as players search for humanity’s new home.
As Mass Effect: Andromeda edges ever closer to release, we’ve now seen a cinematic trailer and a showcase of in-game action in 4K. But that’s not all, thanks to Best Buy jumping the gun, we now know what the box art looks like too, as well as some new details on bundles and Collector’s Editions. If you can’t wait until Mass Effect: Andromeda comes out in 2017, then you can read everything there is to know about the game right here.
BioWare has released a few trailers for Andromeda. The 2015 announcement trailer does not show any gameplay, but gives us a sense of the game’s focus on exploration, as a masked figure (presumably the game’s protagonist, Ryder) cycles through planets before choosing one to drop down on.
A more cinematic trailer hints at the nature of humanity’s mission to the Andromeda galaxy, as well the dangers that lurk there.
Some familiar species appear, suggesting mankind has not left the entirety of its friends behind, but once again they find themselves outmanned and outgunned against an ancient and technologically superior enemy. The trailer also features narration from Clancy Brown, who plays the Ryder siblings’ father, Alec.
On November 7, 2015, BioWare released a teaser featuring narration from Commander Shepard (Jennifer Hale).
Finding a new home was never going to be easy and that was proven when a lengthy gameplay trailer was released during the Game Awards 2016 (shown at the top of this article). It presents some of the varied environments players will visit during the game’s story, its combat, conversational sparring, and the six-wheeled Mako in action.
What’s the story?
The original Mass Effect trilogy featured plenty of planet-hopping and a diverse selection of playable locations, but its story still revolved around Earth. In Mass Effect: Andromeda, this is no longer the case.
In 2015, a Reddit user revealed they took part in a survey for the then-untitled fourth Mass Effect game. According to the survey, Andromeda takes place after the events of Commander Shepard’s defense of Earth against the Reapers, at a time when humanity has begun searching for a new planet to call home. Andromeda will follow a new hero named Ryder, according to a tweet from BioWare producer Michael Gamble. Referred to as the “pathfinder,” Ryder is reportedly a novice explorer tasked with venturing into the Andromeda galaxy’s Helius cluster to locate a suitable planet for humanity.
Speaking to Polygon in June, BioWare creative director Mac Walters referred to the original Mass Effect trilogy as a “foundational background” for Andromeda, with “returning species and themes,” but the game would take time to explain these components to newer players, making Ryder’s adventure a good starting point for first-time players.
Game Informer revealed Mass Effect: Andromeda would be gracing the December issue’s cover. Industry insider “Shinobi602” provided finer, more concrete details on both the game’s story as well as changes to its mechanics in a post on the forum NeoGAF.
The “Andromeda Initiative,” which BioWare has been teasing as a super-secret program for the most loyal of Mass Effect players, appears to have an in-universe definition, as well.
The program concerns a “multi-species project” containing scientists, colonists, and other important figures who were sent on a one-way journey to both populate the Andromeda galaxy and create a “reliable route between it and the Milky Way Galaxy.” Four separate “Arks” were built to independently send earthlings to Andromeda, each led by a different Pathfinder — one of these is Ryder (players choose to play as either Scott or Sarah), who is granted the role at the start of the game.
Not all went as planned during the Andromeda Initiative, however. The Hyperion, which is the Ark containing humanity, “arrives at an incorrect location” and loses contact with both the remaining Arks as well as the Nexus: a “forward command center” containing a small number of species scheduled to arrive ahead of the remaining pioneers.
The Game Informer cover story also revealed what might be the most surprising change to the series in Mass Effect: Andromeda — the paragon and renegade system, used for gauging morality during conversations and at crucial narrative segments, has been removed. There will still be moments to make quick, potentially damaging choices, but BioWare is leaving the options more morally ambiguous this time around.
Although Andromeda may not be the start of a trilogy, creative director Mac Walters did say that BioWare expects to make a series of it, according to an interview with Game Informer. Walters explained that the broader vision for the series is “TBD,” but did emphasize that major concepts in the first game — like the Pathfinders — will likely carry over to future games and that it would not hurt for players to hang on to their saves after they finish Andromeda. He also added that Andromeda will have a “big, bold ending” with a decent amount of variation in how things play out.
Out with Shepard, in with Ryder
BioWare is aware that the dialogue options and character development in the first three Mass Effect games could leave players wanting a little more, and the studio is taking steps to ensure that Mass Effect: Andromeda’s story feels more “human.” Speaking to Polygon at E3 2016, Creative Director Mac Walters said the team “leaned into the more personal aspect” this time around, and that, though alien races have always played a large part in the Mass Effect series, the story is ultimately viewed “through human” eyes, and Ryder will only be available as a human character — or characters, we should say. BioWare revealed to PlayStation Access in September that the male and female character options for Ryder are not variations on a single character, but siblings, and we have already seen their father during E3 2014. His name was revealed to be “Alec” during the Mass Effect “N7 Day presentation,” and he is voiced by veteran actor Clancy Brown. Though both siblings can have their first names changed, they will be “Scott” and “Sara” by default.
Ryder won’t be a cookie-cutter character with a series of pre-picked choices to more the story forward. Walters stressed that the team wants “to embrace choice and diversity with what you can do in the game.”
Speaking to IGN during E3 2016, Walters cited the series’ romance and relationship system as an area the team hopes to improve improvement. In the past, the series tied the ability to initiate a romantic relationship with a specific character to completing “loyalty” missions and other key events. “In the past we’ve been very, eh, I’d say somewhat formulaic in the way we presented them,” Walters said at the time. “We’re trying to look at more organic ways to have those relationships evolve.” In Andromeda, the moments that affect Ryder’s chances at love aren’t quite as obvious this time around. How he or she interacts with the other members of the Tempest crew will also have an impact.
A ship needs a crew
December 2016’s Game Informer cover story officially revealed two of the new cast members. One of these, Liam, is a former police officer present on the same Ark as Ryder. Speaking to Game Informer, Walters described him as “youthful, enthusiastic, and in some cases, the idealistic follower.”
The piece also introduced Peebee, an Asari researcher whom players can recruit as they explore the galaxy. Although fans might assume she will be an echo of the original trilogy’s Liara, Walters assured readers that she is a very different, “very bubbly” character. “Peebee will buck the norm at any given time. She’s not about rules or culture or anything like that. She’s not even about teams or teamwork.”
BioWare said there are more relationships available in Andromeda than any other game the developer has made, and though your sibling Ryder cannot join you in combat, they will still be available to interact with.
The previously mentioned Reddit leak also mentioned some of potential Tempest crew members. According to the survey, there will seven separate teammates to recruit in all, though the leak only makes mention of two specific characters.
The first is a Krogan named Drack, who has a strong affinity for his own people and wants no harm to come to them. By defending Krogan ships and settlements against enemy attacks, you can raise his loyalty and unlock new abilities.
The other teammate mentioned in the leak is named Cora, who has the ability to drop down a biotic shield to protect Ryder and your squad from enemy fire.
You will be able to find out a lot about these new friends too, thanks to the return of loyalty missions. A fan-favorite feature from Mass Effect 2, loyalty missions saw you going on quests to aid your shipmates, all the while learning more about their unique backstories. It helped build bonds with some of the characters in the game, making the romances more intimate and the battle-bonds tighter.
That feature is making a return in Andromeda, giving us better insight into why some of our alien allies have traveled with us and how everyone’s psyche is holding up after so much time and distance away from home.
New galaxy, new species
In addition to returning races such as the Krogan, Asari, and, of course, humans, Mass Effect: Andromeda will also introduce at least two new alien races. The Reddit leak called the first of these the “Remnant,” a “once powerful and mysterious alien race whose forgotten technology holds the key to gaining power in this region of the galaxy.” The Remnant were revealed during Nvidia’s CES 2017 keynote presentation in January and appear to be mechanical creatures. One particular class, the “Observer,” has spider-like limbs and the ability to project a shield — this enemy will be featured in a “loyalty” mission for the crew member Peebee.
The second race the leak makes mention of is the “Kett,” a race that is also in search of the powerful items. Though details on the Kett are scarce, they appear to be your primary enemy in Andromeda and will attack humanity’s settlements as they attempt to gain more influence in the Helius cluster. Naturally, Ryder can venture into Kett outposts to limit their growth — these particular encounters reportedly play out as a sort of horde mode, with several waves of enemies defend against your attacks. It’s possible that these missions might eventually lead you to this location, which Eurogamer suggests may actually be the Kett home planet.
Although the Kett remain an enigma, early details reveal them to be a militaristic species with a decidedly organic look, wearing bumpy bone armor that stands out from the svelte clothing of the Milk Way’s denizens. Andromeda art director Joel McMillan explains that the goal with the Kett was to make a species that is very alien to the classic species, while still being relatable, showing off the evolution of the design in an interview with Game Informer. Although the Kett are ostensibly the main antagonists in Andromeda, McMillan said that there will be side-stories that show them in a sympathetic light.
Combat and class changes
Though Mass Effect: Andromeda will still feature cover-based shooting, information revealed in a Game Informer story suggests a “dynamic” cover system similar to games like The Last of Us. One of the most notable additions is a jetpack that allows Ryder to move around the battlefield more freely to defeat enemies.
Ryder will still be able to issue orders to a squad and queue attacks, but abilities will no longer follow global cooldowns. The game’s class system has also been removed completely, but you are still free to invest skill points into particular areas of interest to create a Ryder that fits your playstyle. This will be possible through what BioWare calls the “dynamic profile” system, which allows for players to essentially change their class on the fly. In the CES 2017 keynote presentation, we briefly saw Ryder use a flamethrower — which looks like it fires from the user’s hand instead of a dedicated weapon — as well as more traditional rifles and guns that we’re used to seeing from the series.
With the power of a new console generation, it appears that Mass Effect: Andromeda will be substantially larger than Mass Effect 3. According to the same survey cited on Reddit, the game world will be more than four times the size of its predecessor, and feature “hundreds of solar systems that are seamlessly connected,” allowing players to fly through space, drive the Mako land vehicle, and venture on foot without noticeable load times. This was later confirmed, at least in part, by studio producer Aaryn Flynn, who told Game Informer back in June that the game would be moving to an open-world structure. The same interview also confirmed the name of Ryder’s new ship, the Tempest.
During Sony’s 2016 PlayStation Meeting, publisher Bioware Montreal demoed a brief portion of the game to show off the visual enhancements of the PlayStation 4 Pro.
Electronic Arts later clarified to GameSpot that, while the Pro increases the game’s visual fidelity, Andromeda will be locked at 30 frames per second on both the PS4 and PS4 Pro.
A focus on exploration
As detailed in Game Informer’s December cover story, you will be able to explore entire planets, instead of just the small segments available in previous Mass Effect games. Mineral mining as seen in Mass Effect 2 will not be making an appearance, but you will still be able to explore and establish “forward stations” if the planet is habitable.
Planets will typically have “one major enemy base” as well as bosses that do not appear to scale to your experience level and they will also feature natural dangers like acid pools and hazardous weather that can kill Ryder.
There will no longer be loading screens when landing a ship onto a new planet. Instead, a landing sequence will play on screen and then you are free to explore. Loading screens have also been removed when walking about the Tempest ship.
“With memory limitations, with loading limitations, there was a real problem [in previous games]; if you wanted to go from one place to another, you had to unload everything, you had to reload everything — it was a long time,” explained technical director Harold Chaput.
“It really broke the flow of the game. Now, it’s so much smoother to be on the ship, land on a planet, jump around, go inside a building. It’s all very seamless, so breaking down the barriers frees up the player to explore and do activities. It makes it easier to make a rich and full environment.”
Building in a little bit of survival gameplay into the Mass Effect formula, Andromeda will see you searching for materials and crafting items and survival gear to keep yourself standing in some of the galaxy’s harshest environments.
Side missions are a large part of what makes the Mass Effect series so special, and it looks like Andromeda will be no exception. The Reddit leak (the amount of information apparently revealed in this survey is truly staggering) details “Strike Team” missions, some of which will actually be available to play cooperatively. “Active” Strike Team missions can be tackled either by yourself, with your multiplayer characters, or with up to three other players, and have you fighting against “increasingly difficult alien attacks” while trying to complete objectives.
Should you not want to venture into the unknown, you can also order a “Deployed Strike Team” mission, where you can send AI on “randomly generated, time-sensitive missions” to defend settlements or gather supplies. Placing these settlements in strategic locations will clear the fog-of-war effect from the space map, opening up even more Strike missions. Playing in the game’s dedicated multiplayer mode appears to follow the same basic blueprint, with additional gear rewards as well as “APEX,” a currency that can be used in the campaign.
The multiplayer component, will not, however, have any direct impact on Mass Effect: Andromeda’s story. Though Walters told Polygon he wanted the game’s multiplayer to have “more positive ties” to the campaign, BioWare’s attempt to link the modes in Mass Effect 3 was met with a mixed reception. In Mass Effect 3, completing multiplayer missions could increase players’ readiness for the game’s final mission, affecting the fates of their campaign characters.
Release date and merchandise
Mass Effect: Andromeda releases for both PC and consoles on March 21.
The official announcement from Electronic Arts comes after an Amazon listing from publisher Dark Horse for the art book The Art of Mass Effect: Andromeda appeared to reveal the game’s release date several months in advance.
Mass Effect: Andromeda also looks like the only game in the series that BioWare is currently developing. Though fans have requested a remastered version of the original trilogy for Xbox One and PlayStation 4, EA executive Peter Moore said a port was unlikely. Specifically, Moore said that remasters are “not what we do” at Electronic Arts, during an appearance on IGN Unfiltered
While the experience will be decidedly next-gen on whatever platform you purchase it on, we cannot help but feel like PC gamers got the best-looking box art, though you will be the ultimate judge.
Listed early by Best Buy, the various versions of the game are priced a little differently too. Buying a console version at this point will set you back $70 for a Deluxe Edition, while PC gamers are asked to pay $60.
PC owners can pre-order Mass Effect: Andromeda on EA’s Origin service, although no release date is available.
In addition to the basic and deluxe packages, you can spend $100 to get the Collector’s Edition, which comes with a die-cast replica of the Nomad rover. If you want to get everything and unlock the super-fan achievement, you will need to spend $200. That version of the game comes with a Nomad too, but this one is remote-controlled.
Mass Effect: Andromeda’s gargantuan story won’t just be limited to a video game. A “Rights Guide” released by publisher Titan Books revealed that a set of four Mass Effect: Andromeda tie-in novels are in the works, and will hit stores over the next two years. The first book, Mass Effect: Andromeda Initiative — or Initiation, according to its cover — by N.K. Jemisin was scheduled to arrive in August, but this release window has passed. The second, third, and fourth books are scheduled to arrive in March 2017, September 2017, and March 2018, respectively. They will “act as prequel and sequels to the events in the games” and will provide insight into the Andromeda chapter of the Mass Effect saga.
Updated on 01-04-2017 by Gabe Gurwin: Added official release date.