With BioWare releasing further details on Mass Effect: Andromeda, one writer looks at how breaking away from the first three games could work in the title’s favor.
Fans of the Mass Effect series have been long awaiting news on Mass Effect: Andromeda, and although E3 2016 did not quite deliver in terms of major updates, developer BioWare has let a trickle of information out to curious gamers. Aside from the behind-the-scenes video that aired during Electronic Arts’ presentation, which revealed what was later confirmed to be a first glimpse at new Mass Effect protagonist Ryder, the company has also released a few more pieces of information on the title. Some of these seem to put the game a little at odds with its predecessors.
To begin with, BioWare has confirmed that the plot of Mass Effect: Andromeda will not vary based on the player’s choices in Mass Effect 3. This was met with a little relief from some gamers, given the disappointment felt by many at the end of the original trilogy of the sci-fi RPG series. However, the second announcement being rung in by BioWare suggests that the game will be making somewhat larger changes.
The developer has confirmed that the Paragon and Renegade morality system, which has long been cemented in the Mass Effect series, is going to be facing a redesign. Instead of this clear black and white morality, instead the new system is apparently going to be much more nuanced, leaving players with more shades of grey. Indeed, the Paragon/Renegade system may well be retired from the franchise altogether.
Such changes, however, may well be necessary to ensure that the new Mass Effect title becomes more than simply a follow-on of the previous story. BioWare has made no secret of its desire for Andromeda to take a large step away from the original trilogy, and instead tread its own path into the current generation.
In particular, the move away from the old morality system should be applauded by fans. Although Paragon/Renegade worked well in the original trilogy, there was still a bit of a feeling that it was too by-the-books an approach for a series with such a twisting, complex story. As the lines began to blur even further as to what decision was the ‘right’ one to make, the system felt a little shoehorned in, with players relying on choosing either Paragon or Renegade not necessarily based on how they wished for individual elements of the story to progress, but instead to push forward new aspects of Shepard’s skill tree.
Since these games were released, however, notions of morality in gaming have changed dramatically. With BioWare continuing to emphasise storytelling in its games, it makes sense for the developer to pursue other options, away from its tried-and-tested formula. Therefore, with video game narratives themselves asking more questions of players, why should Andromeda’s users feel like they are trapped into only two pathways?
What’s more, the game’s setting may well actually require this fixed morality structure to have a severe makeover. After all, Mass Effect: Andromeda is leaving the Milky Way galaxy, and as such one can perhaps expect even tougher moral choices to ensure the survival of whatever expedition Ryder is a part of. Apart from this, escaping from the moral structures of the Milky Way, and the various alien races found within, is bound to throw the Paragon/Renegade structure out of the window – after all, these new races are likely to have very different societies to those found in the Milky Way.
Equally, this detachment from our galaxy means that the events of the original Mass Effect trilogy should have little repercussions on the adventures found in Andromeda. BioWare has made it clear that although there are some ties to the story of Shepard’s fight against the Reapers, Mass Effect: Andromeda is going to be distinctly separate.
This certainly makes sense from a storytelling point of view. The developer has given cryptic suggestions that Mass Effect: Andromeda is both going to be tied in some way to the original series, but also take place far away from the events that defined Commander Shepard’s story. As such, having extremely strong connections to the ending of Mass Effect 3 would offer severe restrictions on gamers.
What’s more, the third and final entry of the original trilogy could have left many players in totally different places. Mass Effect 3’s ending was widely criticized, but one thing that can be said about it is that it was finite. Whichever way the player chose to take Shepard, there was a finality to proceedings, and with a variety of outcomes to boot.
As such, having Andromeda so intrinsically tied to the player’s choice at the end of the series is certainly not in BioWare’s best interests. It would be extremely hard to build a cohesive story when the future of an entire galaxy could vary in such extreme ways. The alternative would be to have an immediate branching story, based on the player’s choice in Mass Effect 3 – but this in itself would be a minefield to ensure all stories felt thematically similar, and that’s without even mentioning the additional work that BioWare would have to put into writing the game.
Instead, then, a new experience from Mass Effect: Andromeda should be anticipated and cherished. A ‘new’ console generation brings with it new chances for BioWare to explore the future of what an action RPG can be, and those expecting the developer to keep treading water have not exactly been paying attention to its history in development.
Parallels can instead be drawn with 2014’s Dragon Age: Inquisition. It could have been easy for BioWare to simply build a more advanced version of the original Dragon Age, while writing the wrongs that some fans felt happened with Dragon Age 2. Instead, the developer created a huge and immersive RPG universe, at times both similar but distinctly separate from the adventures that had gone before it.
The same, then, may well happen with Mass Effect: Andromeda. With Mass Effect 3 garnering praise aside from its ending, and with some fans calling for a return to the original game’s style, the more explorative feel of the first Mass Effect could be due for a comeback – particularly with the Mako making another appearance. However, the title is also likely to feel very much like its own entity. Indeed, the only thing that’s a near-certainty is that Mass Effect fans should expect the unexpected.
Mass Effect: Andromeda arrives for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in March 2017.