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, trades in Shepard and the nemeses, the Reapers, for a pair of new heroes and an unfamiliar corner of the universe as players search for humanity’s new home.
Mass Effect Andromeda is edging ever closer to release and we now have the cinematic trailer and a showcase of in-game action in 4K to go on. 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.
In a new world …
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.
Last year, 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.
Much of this information was confirmed when the cinematic trailer was released, which showcased just why Ryder takes on the job as Pathfinder, what sort of environments players will be exploring and battling in and some of the gargantuan foes they might face. There are a few familiar-shaped heads for alien companions, 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.
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 the 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.
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.
Combat shows the traditional mix of superpower-like abilities and a healthy dose of technological firepower too. You’ll need all of it to succeed, and the hopes and dreams of humanity itself are resting on your shoulders.
A botched attempt to save humanity
Game Informer revealed Mass Effect: Andromeda would be gracing the December issue’s cover,and industry insider “Shinobi602” was able to provided finer, more concrete details on both the game’s story as well as changes to its mechanics in 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 (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.
Not so cut and dried
The Game Informer cover story also provided 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, is no more. There will still be moments to make quick, potentially damaging choices, but BioWare is leaving the options more morally ambiguous this time around.
The game’s ending is also described as “different than the trilogy” and Mass Effect 3‘s controversial conclusion, but says that it will be “a surprise.”
A next-gen universe for a next-gen franchise
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 showed 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 increase the game’s visual fidelity, Andromeda will be locked at 30 frames per second on both the PS4 and PS4 Pro.
Explore enormous worlds
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 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 other weather effects 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.”
Combat and class changes
Though Mass Effect: Andromeda will still feature cover-based shooting, information revealed in a Game Informer story suggests a system similar to what is offered in games like The Last of Us, and a new jetpack 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 by on 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.
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.
With prices like that, spending $100 to get the Collector’s Edition with a die-cast replica of the game’s Nomad, ground-based vehicle, might not be such a stretch. If you want 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.
Oh, the humanity!
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 during E3 2016, creative director Mac Walters said that 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 actually 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.
The Magnificent Seven crew members
The previously mentioned Reddit leak also mentioned some of the Tempest crew members Ryder will have fighting by his or her side in the effort to save humanity. 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. This ability seems to fall in line with the Asari race, who we’ve seen extensively in the previous games, which has led avid Redditors to suggest she is the Asari visible in several of Andromeda’s trailers.
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.
And other new friends
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.” It is not made clear whether any members of the Remnant still alive, but their influence apparently still permeates several components of Andromeda. Special “Remnant Vault Raids” task Ryder’s team with locating “Remnant Monolith” structures that contain special “Remnant Artifacts.”
But you won’t be alone in your search. The second race the leak makes mention of is the “Khet,” a race that is also in search of the powerful items. Though details on the Khet are scarce, they appear to be the primary aggressor in Andromeda, and will attack humanity’s settlements as they attempt to gain more influence in the Helius cluster. Naturally, Ryder can venture into Khet 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 Khet’s home planet.
A Game Informer cover story, which has been detailed at gaming forum NeoGAF, gives an alternate spelling for the Khet, referring to them as the “Kett.”
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.
Time to strike
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 director Mac Walters told Polygon he wanted the campaign and online mode to have “more positive ties” to the campaign, he said BioWare’s attempt to link the modes in Mass Effect 3 were 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.
Take a look, it’s in a book
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.
When can we play it?
According to publisher Electronic Arts, Mass Effect: Andromeda is on track to hit Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC in “early 2017.” An Amazon listing from publisher Dark Horse for the art book The Art of Mass Effect: Andromeda, releasing on March 21, claims that it will launch simultaneously with the game, which is the first time we have heard a specific date from any official source.
Mass Effect: Andromeda also looks like the only game in the series that BioWare is currently developing. Though fans have cried out for a remastered version of the original trilogy for Xbox One and PlayStation 4, executive Peter Moore said during an appearance on IGN Unfiltered that remasters are “not what we do” at Electronic Arts.”
Gabe Gurwin and Lulu Chang also contributed to this report. Updated on 12-2-2016 by Jon Martindale: Added new gameplay trailer from Game Awards and added some commentary on its contents.