The Mass Effect franchise is nearly 10-years old. It seems fitting then that Mass Effect: Andromeda, the latest entry in the sci-fi space opera, is designed to hark back to the series’ roots. We managed to get our hands on the PC version of the game for a few hours at a press event. We’re under very heavy spoiler restrictions in our coverage, so this preview will focus on the nuts-and-bolts of the game.
One of the main differentiators for Mass Effect: Andromeda is its combat. Previous games in the series were driven by mechanical conventions spawned in the late 2000s – enter a room full of waist-high objects, hide behind them when enemies storm in, and proceed to shoot. It was methodical, and – by the end of the era – exhausting.
Cover still plays a part in Andromeda’s combat, but there are wrinkles to it that keep the action moving forward. Instead of having a dedicated button, your character will organically move behind objects when shooting. Initially this got me killed a few times, but it soon become natural. Enemy AI also keeps you on your toes, constantly trying to flank you or flush you out with grenades.
Thankfully, you also have tools at your disposal to keep your foes guessing. If an enemy is behind cover, clever use of jump-jets can position you above them, letting you rain death from above – either in the form of bullets, or melee ground-pounds. Lateral dashes are also a new addition, allowing you to perform mid-air acrobatics or cover short distances to close the ground for a kill. Direct melee strikes are an option, but they appeared to be a little clumsy, often-times missing.
Players can equip three active abilities, which are triggered with either shoulder button, or by pressing both. A skill system allows players to select from weapon-based abilities, or biotics – meaning you’re no longer locked down to a class’ particular move-set, like in previous games. There’s also a great level of granularity there, from passive skills, to individual upgrade trees for certain active abilities.
Conversations have moved away from the binary paragon-renegade morality system that drove Mass Effect 1 through 3. Instead, players choose from different attitudes – thoughtful, logical, or comedic. That’s not to say that branches don’t happen in conversations, they’re just more about the relationship you have with a particular character, rather than a point total for how good-or-evil others perceive you to be.
Moments outside of scripted conversations in the standard game world can have an impact too. One mission involved me fighting some aliens after attempts to communicate turned sour. They were holding a fellow human at gunpoint, and I failed to react quick enough. Conversations after the fact referenced this event. I’m interested in seeing if this more organic interweaving of the story and gameplay is a major part of Andromeda, like Spec Ops: The Line.
Traversal around open-world parts of the game can be handled on-foot, but by-and-large you’ll be using the Nomad to cover large distances. While it was initially billed as the spiritual successor to the Mako from Mass Effect 1, that shouldn’t scare you. Producer Fabrice Condominas talked with me about how they went to the team behind Need For Speed to help build the all-terrain vehicle’s physics modelling. Two modes are available – one for high speed, and another for all-wheel drive. Getting the hang of knowing when to switch between them was a hurdle, but at no point did I wildly flip around or completely lose control. A small vertical jump can also be used, but it isn’t floaty, nor did it appear to push me off-balance.
As you explore the world, side quests and exploration opportunities will organically open up. Some of the more mundane ones will have you clear out bandits from camps, while others will see you explore abandoned bunkers with unidentifiable alien tech, or scratch your head at giant bio-luminescent mushrooms in underground caves. These felt like the premises of a Star Trek episode, and really lean into that hard sci-fi “stranger in a strange land” angle. This is really encouraging to see, because Mass Effect lost that mentality by its second entry, becoming entangled in its own sweeping story-lines.
These quests give you the opportunity to scan objects with your omni-tool. From there you’ll get a look at the material composition of the object, and its probable purpose. Scanning also unlocks research points, which you can funnel into select projects, like different guns, or boost and armour upgrades for the Nomad. The list that I managed to get a look at had countless upgrades available – if you’re a completionist, I expect you’ll be pouring a lot of hours in.
BioWare seem to be making good on their claims that Mass Effect: Andromeda would hark back to the series’ roots of hard sci-fi and exploration. We’ll know for sure when the game releases on March 23 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
Keith travelled to a preview event in Sydney, courtesy of EA.