Legendary role-playing game developer BioWare closed the door on the Mass Effect trilogy and its hero, Commander Shepard, in epic fashion in 2012. Five years later, 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 Andromeda edges ever closer to release, we’ve now seen a cinematic trailer and a showcase of in-game action in 4K and HDR, learned about the new combat and skill system, and even spent some time with the game. 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.
What’s the story?
The original Mass Effect trilogy featured plenty of planet-hopping and a diverse selection of playable locations, but its story always revolved around Earth. In Mass Effect: Andromeda, this is no longer the case. In the game’s second cinematic trailer, we learn that the temporary name for humanity’s future home is “Habitat 7.” 20,000 people are stranded in a nearby space station, unsure if it’s actually safe to land on the rusty planet. We also know that you have to choose between playing as one of the Ryder twins, Scott or Sarah, recruits of the human Pathfinder team.
A joint-race task force referred to as “the initiative” bands together to colonize new planets in the Heleus cluster of the Andromeda galaxy. The task force includes scientists, colonists, and other important figures. Those familiar with the series will recognize some of the species tied to the project: Asari, Krogan, Salarian, Turian, and, of course, Human. Five Arks were constructed to send these groups of the initiative to the Andromeda galaxy.
The human ship — the Ark Hyperion — left Earth directly following the events of Mass Effect 2. Interestingly, because of the length of the trip — multiple centuries — the game takes place well after the events of Mass Effect 3, but not many of its characters know about the catastrophic warfare that took place in the final leg of the original trilogy.
Naturally, the Ark Hyperion runs into some trouble. Ryder and a fellow companion Liam find themselves up on the aforementioned “Habitat 7,” without a means to communicate to the rest of the team, and in constant threat from the alien race that inhabits the world.
This setup allows the game to resemble the atmosphere of ME2 in that you, as one of the Ryder twins, forge alliances with those of “the initiative” you know, all the while exploring completely foreign lands.
With this premise, the game was designed to appeal to both newcomers and those who saw Shephard’s story through to the end. 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.
The story will still be affected by choice, as the dialogue wheel used throughout the trilogy remains. This time, however, instead of the paragon and renegade system gauging morality, there’s four classes of responses that shape the way others see you: casual, professional, emotional, and logical. During our preview of the game, we learned that often times you will be asked to choose between casual and professional, or emotional and logical, depending on the situation. While the different paths you can take through dialogue may not sound as explosive as “paragon” or “renegade,” the overall dialogue system really hasn’t changed much at all.
Although Andromeda may not be the start of a trilogy, creative director Mac Walters said BioWare expects to the game to kick off a arc for the series, according to an interview with Game Informer. While the broader vision for the series was described as “TBD,” Walters 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.
Industry insider “Shinobi602” reported some 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 Ryder twins and the squad
The original Mass Effect trilogy gave players at least some control over the direction of the story based on dialogue interactions and relationships forged. Still, it still felt as if much of the story and its characters were on a pre-determined track. With Andromeda, BioWare is taking steps to ensure that the story holds a greater element of realism. A large aspect of that is making the characters feel more “human,” and that starts with the game’s protagonists, the Ryder twins.
Unlike Commander Shephard, the Scott and Sarah Ryder are not seasoned combat veterans. 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, so the Ryder twins are by locked down to being humans. When you start the game you can choose between either Scott or Sarah Ryder, depending on whether you want to be male or female. You can change their first name if you so please.
If the default looks don’t catch your eye, you can customize your character’s appearance. The other twin will also be modified to resemble you, in addition to Alec, the twins’ father. Whomever don’t choose won’t head onto the battlefield with you, but you will interact with your twin on a regular basis through dialogue.
As opposed to being a cookie-cutter character with a series of pre-picked choices to advance the story, Walters stressed that the team wants “to embrace choice and diversity with what you can do in the game.” Essentially, these characters are setup to be canvases, as a means for you to explore the vast and strange world through the eyes of a relative beginner.
This means that your squad, on the other hand, will be slightly more advanced than the Ryder twins. BioWare released a “Pathfinder Team Briefing” trailer to introduce some of the team members, and also has character profiles available for your squad mates on the Mass Effect site.
While not technically a member of your squad, Alec, the Ryder twins’ father is the leader of Ark Hyperion. He was among the first of mankind to take steps across the galaxy, and also played a big role in putting together the team. He’s the scientist behind bringing mankind to “the next great frontier, Andromeda.”
A former police officer, the aforementioned Liam is one of two initial companions when Ark Hyperion makes an unexpected stop in “Habitat 7.” He specializes in crisis response, and was hand-picked by Alec because of his vast array of skills. Liam’s prefers close-range combat.
The other beginning companion, Cora is the team’s operations specialist who leads ground missions. She previously served in the Alliance military, and is Alec Ryder’s appointed successor to take charge of Ark Hyperion. She specializes in Biotics combat.
Of the Asari species, but she seems to not follow the Asari mold from the originally trilogy. A bit of a wildcard, Peebee is independent but easy going. She came to Andromeda after growing tired of the Milky Way, desiring a new adventure. Her personality seems to match her combat preferences, as she’s adept with physical weapons as well as tech powers.
A member of the Turian species, Vetra has been all over the roughest areas in the galaxy, meaning that she has learned how to adapt. From her time exploring other galaxies, she’s learned it’s best to be loyal to those she deems friends and family. She acts in the “tank” role as she wears heavy armor and prefers a high-powered assault rifle.
1,400 years old, Drack is by far the oldest companion you’ll have in Andromeda. A member of the the Krogan species, Drack has held positions as a soldier and mercenary and even had stints as a pirate. Drack prefers a shotgun, but he also has a devastating power called Blood Rage that turns him into a frenzied hand-to-hand combat machine.
Jaal is a member of the new species to the Mass Effect franchise, Angara. She was recently revealed by producer Michael Gamble on Twitter. We don’t know much about her role yet, but thanks to the recent combat trailer we know she is a “Resistance Fighter,” so she’s obviously sympathetic to your cause.
Also helping your squad is S.A.M., an AI designed by Alec Ryder. Through a special neural link, S.A.M. is able to see and feel exactly what Ryder does, and will assist in tactical combat maneuvers.
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 three new alien races. There’s the aforementioned Angara species, which seems to aid in your efforts. 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 other 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 Heleus 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.
In the game’s second cinematic trailer, the Kett’s leader, known as “Archon,” warns Ryder and the rest of humanity that they must “surrender or burn.” Naturally, they’re not going to choose either option.
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.
Skills, weapons, and squads
Though Mass Effect: Andromeda will still feature cover-based shooting, BioWare has learned from games like like The Last of Us to implement a “dynamic” cover system. This means that Ryder can take cover behind almost everything, and has been implemented to let players choose their own play-styles. One of the most notable additions is a jetpack that allows Ryder to move around the battlefield more freely to defeat enemies. Andromeda will also shake up the Mass Effect formula when it comes to items and weapons. Andromeda tasks players to search for materials to craft items and survival gear in order to endure the galaxy’s harshest environments.
BioWare showed off the dynamic system, in addition to weapons and skills, in the first leg of a three-part gameplay trailer series.
Andromeda has four types of weapons: pistols, shotguns, assault rifles/snipers, and a wide array of melee weapons including swords. Andromeda has abandoned the character class system, so you won’t be locked down to weapons that only fit your build this time around. Weapons and gear are separated into three technology classes depending on their galaxy of origin. Milky Way weapons shoot physical projectiles, and will be familiar to those who played the original trilogy. Remnant weapons are beam guns that don’t rely on ammunition but an overheating system, similar to that of alien guns in the Halo franchise. The third technology of weapons are plasma-based, native to the Heleus cluster of the galaxy.
Although skills are not restricted by class either, there’s three categories to spend your precious skill points on: Combat, Tech, Biotic. Combat skills increase damage and efficiency of weapons. Tech skills allow you to take greater control of your squad, implementing a wider-array of strategies. Biotic skills give your Pathfinder the ability to control the world around you, playing with gravity to throw enemies, catch them in invisible traps, or even use them as tactical shields.
In essence, you can adhere to a particular skill class if they so choose, but you are free to dole out skill points across all three “classes.”
Acquiring skills also builds towards the new Profiles system. In the second part of the gameplay series, BioWare demonstrated the feature, and how it relates to squads and combat.
Ryder will unlock up to seven profiles based on the skill points that you assign. These profiles provide additional bonuses tailored to your style of play. So far, four profiles have been revealed: Adept, Explorer, Infiltrator, and Vanguard. The Adept profile adds Biotics damage, the Explorer profile is a jack-of-all-trades, the Infiltrator profile specializes in stealth, and the Vanguard profile emphasizes physical combat. All Profiles act like character classes, as they customize your experience with a mixture of customized powers from the three skill classes. Players have the ability to set up to 12 favorite powers, allowing you to cycle through all of them within one enemy encounter if you so choose.
Throughout Andromeda, Ryder will link up with six squad-mates. Each squad member has three active and passive skills. Ryder will still be able to issue orders to a squad and queue attacks, but abilities will no longer follow global cooldowns. Andromeda also adds Power Combos, which deal out large-damage when you utilize multiple squad members to take out an enemy.
A focus on exploration
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.
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. As part of the three part gameplay trailer series, BioWare released an exploration trailer viewable below.
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.”
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.
Impactful side quests
Side missions are a large part of what makes the Mass Effect series so special, and Andromeda will be no exception. Speaking with PC Gamer, game producer Fabrice Condominas claimed that side missions will be more than just busywork. BioWare referenced The Witcher 3 as part of the inspiration for this change. Side quests will be “meaningful,” although Condominas acknowledged that in order to deliver rich optional missions, you don’t necessarily need to tie each one in with the main narrative. By the sounds of, some of Andromeda’s side missions will be standalone short stories that will enrich your views of the massive galaxy, making them worthwhile, but not mandatory to the story at large.
Although it’s unclear exactly the types of side missions we’ll see, 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.
Multiplayer will feel familiar
BioWare has been rather secretive about the multiplayer component of Andromeda. Thanks to a trailer showing off pre-order bonuses, however, it’s expected that the multiplayer will be similar to Mass Effect 3, essentially a horde mode, where you and a team of friends take on waves of increasingly tough enemies.
We also know that unlike many EA titles as of late, Andromeda won’t have a season pass, but it will receive post-launch content updates — for free. It’s unclear how many updates Andromeda will get, but from a tweet by BioWare GM Aaryn Flynn, we know that the content will include additional multiplayer maps.
— Aaryn Flynn (@AarynFlynn) March 5, 2017
The multiplayer component is not expected to have a direct impact on the single-player story. However, Walters 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.
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.
BioWare has released several general overview trailers for Andromeda. The 2015 announcement trailer did 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 Nomad in action.
Release date and merchandise
Mass Effect: Andromeda launches for both PC and consoles on March 21. PS4 Pro owners will see an uptick in fidelity, but the game will still be locked at 30 frames-per-second.
EA Access subscribers will gain access to a 10-hour trial on Xbox One and PC March 16, but the single-player will be roped off, limiting players from progressing past a certain point ahead of the game’s official launch. The multiplayer portion will be fully open, though.
While the experience will be decidedly next-gen on whichever 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 also pre-order Andromeda through EA’s Origin service.
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.
This article was originally published on September 14, and updated on March 7 by Steven Petite to include new details regarding the game’s story, combat, skills, profiles, and multiplayer components. It was updated again by Gabe Gurwin on March 10 to include the game’s launch trailer.