Arriving five years after the divisive Mass Effect 3 and the close of Commander Shepard’s storyline, Mass Effect Andromeda has a lot to prove. It’s set 600 years after the events of Mass Effect 2, introduces a whole new galaxy and a new threat to humanity all in one swoop. But ahead of the game’s launch in March, we’ve been hands-on with the game in an immense Mass Effect Andromeda preview session.
We played through the opening and fourth mission and have been sincerely impressed by the results. It’s clear that the development time for this title has paid off, making it already feel like the best Mass Effect game to date.
Sara and Scott Ryder Are Great Shepard Replacements
Our new twin protagonists, Sara and Scott Ryder are panning out to be quite the leading team. You obviously only play as one of the twins, but they’ve got clear personalities and a little backstory for you to build upon.
Sara is our clear favourite at this stage, strong yet sassy, a little more down to earth but also concerned for her squadmates. Scott, on the other hand, comes across more like a Nathan Drake character, all flirt and bravado. Of course, that’s just what we got from playing the opening mission as Sara, and the later level as Scott, but it’s really up to you how these two characters pan out.
Gone is the binary Paragon/Renegade morality system from the original Mass Effect trilogy, instead replaced with what BioWare is calling the Tonal System. Instead of good, evil or neutral dialogue options, you’ve now got toned replies that range from romantic/compassionate to casual. Replies now feel much more natural, with conversation reflecting more how you’d actually react in real life, without feeling tied to going down a good or evil path.
“What we wanted to do with this system was to allow you to feel free to make choices without judgement,” explained Mass Effect Andromeda producer, Fabrice Condominas. “It has its limits, but going away from binary systems with way more nuance, suddenly there is no obvious, explicit consequences to what you say, you don’t really know.
“What we want is for you to have the freedom to shape the personality you want for your Ryder. But at the same time, all those choices are recorded.”
Gameplay Feels More Modern, But Still Classically Mass Effect
The same goes for the move away from the traditional Class system of the original trilogy. You no longer have to decide before the game starts whether to be a soldier or a Vanguard, for example. Instead, Andromeda now has profiles, which are far more open-ended than the Classes. The different profiles can be switched between, according to the combat situation you find yourself in.
The basic outlines of soldier, Vanguard, Adept, explorer and more are still there, but it’s up to you how you harness the various skills and traits. We didn’t get a chance to fully explore how these profiles work in practice in our preview session. But they certainly make you feel like the game gives you the freedom to create the Ryder that you really want; whether that’s for combat or merely the interactions they have.
Mass Effect Andromeda's gameplay itself feels very familiar, in the best ways. This is still a third-person shooter where you combine weaponry with powers using your omni-tool. It's all very seamless and intuitive, with the first mission playing out as a kind of tutorial. It does well introduce you to new features like the scanner and the jet-pack, which is an awesome traversal and combat addition.
That's not to say that it's perfect, though. The new cover system is meant to be more dynamic, in that you'll automatically bob down behind cover mid-battle without having to press any buttons. However, what that can mean is that it's incredibly easy to get stuck out in the open, while you attempt to huddle down behind something.
We died several times because of cover issues, or at least came close to it, so we feel that the system may be one of the irritating quirks of the game come launch.
The Kett Are a Fascinating Foe
And then there's the story. As you'll know from the trailers, there's a mysterious new foe for Mass Effect Andromeda called The Archon, who is the boss man of a new race called the Kett. These ultra-aggressive new enemies aren't all brawn, though. Instead, they seem to be a very scientific species and are keen to unlock the secret strengths of each of the new races arriving from the Milky Way, from the humans to the Asari.
Although we're not going to spoil the story secrets for you here – that's part of Mass Effect Andromeda's huge appeal – we will tell you that they almost had to wrestle the gamepad out of our hands at the end of the preview session. Andromeda's story is utterly absorbing from the very earliest moments and the Kett present an incredibly interesting foe.
And while we can't say we're keen on all the characters we've seen so far, there's plenty of depth to each of the members you'll meet on your ship, the Tempest. FYI, we found Liam is incredibly irritating, but we're already very fond of Peebee and Cora.
Heck, there's even a rather major choice to make at the end of the fourth mission. It's one that seems to have an impact on your relationship with your new Krogan recruit, Drack.
We can't wait to see what tales Mass Effect Andromeda has to tell, but we're certainly reassured that it has a set of strong characters and top-notch gameplay to take us there in March.
Mass Effect Andromeda is out on March 27, 2017 worldwide on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.