The first full cinematic trailer for Mass Effect: Andromeda has dropped. The title was officially announced in 2014, at the EA press conference at E3, but has been in development since November of 2012. It has been received with everything from eager excitement to outright skepticism since the announcement and subsequent teasers. After the tumultuous conclusion to Mass Effect 3, many fans felt that Andromeda would be a money grab by EA, using the original series’ hype. Bioware has kept the title under surprisingly tight wraps, providing teasers at E3 2015, N7 Day 2015 (for the N7 operative designation of the previous protagonist, Commander Shepard), and at E3 2016. The first major gameplay trailer dropped back in September, at Sony’s Playstation event, and was the first good look players received at the in-game graphics and world build. The trailer released today, N7 Day 2016, is the first major cinematic release since the game entered development, and has been paired with a radical web update and the early release of the Gameinformer cover article for their subscribers.
First and foremost: holy god this trailer is pretty. Andromeda is being developed on the Frostbite engine, which will be available on all current platforms (PS4, Xbox One, PC), and is specifically being developed to be compatible with 4k graphic standards. The development effort shows in this trailer, from the cinematic cuts to the handful of what appear to be in-game pans. The lighting and color palettes are stunning, and the detail of the world and the characters reveals just what Frostbite is capable of. My hat is also off to the animation and artistic teams, as the cinematics and final renders are stunning.
This trailer is our first solid look at the content of Andromeda, along with our protagonists: the Ryder family. Previous teasers informed us that we’d have the choice of playing as male or female Ryder–two twins who are a part of the Andromeda Initiative, along with their father, who holds an N7 designation. In a Gameinformer article released this morning, Bioware introduced our cast by name: Alec Ryder–voiced by Clancy Brown–is the N7 we see in the trailers and the father of the twins, with Sarah and Scott–voiced by Fyrda Wolff and Tom Taylorson, respectively–being the default names of the Ryder siblings. Bioware assures us that the Ryder sibling will play a large role in the game, regardless of which the player chooses to play. We also learn that Alec is a Pathfinder: a leader within the Initiative tasked with guiding his Ark, (more on this later) as a mix of elite soldier, scientist, and guide. The Ryder twins are a part of the Initiative on Ark Hyperion, and the trailer alludes to them becoming a Pathfinder over the course of the new game.
The trailer opens with a narrative by Alec, informing us that the crew of the Ark, Hyperion, has been in cryosleep for 600 years. His narrative is cut with visuals of what looks like the Ark crashing, and Scott (maleRyder) falling to a planet’s surface as Alec describes the hope of a new home being shattered. I believe it’s safe to assume that the Hyperion was attacked, leaving the crew in a position of conflict with a species no one has yet encountered. This narrative is followed by series of cuts featuring a variety of of landscapes and a few more shots of Scott, what looks like the classic three-person squad, and even a Yagh (a species featured in the Mass Effect 2 DLC, Lair of the Shadowbroker). When it cuts back to Scott’s face for a second time, it’s paired with the line, “You’re the new Pathfinder,” implying that something may have happened to Alec (assuming he’s the Hyperion’s Pathfinder). We cut then to a cockpit shot, followed by what appears to be a new alien species hovering up towards an artifact of some kind, and then the squad peering into and prodding some alien tech. Things rapidly escalate from there as a modulated voice says, “I have a bad feeling,” and everything seems to go to hell. Armed aliens stride across screen and Ryder’s line, “We are the aliens,” sticks out as he holds a woman–not his sister, according to Producer Michael Gamble–and a tower emits a nasty looking vortex of energy. Things pick up as we get shots of combat and mechanical enemies interspersed with cuts of the camera pulling away from a dark planet. Our last shot gives us a look at some Salarians and the underbelly of the Tempest, known from previous teasers to be a smaller transport to help Ryder get around. We cut then to the back of an alien with strange, chitin-like armor and a full ring horn extending around it’s head addressing Ryder: “I know what makes you so special.” It has been mentioned that there is a mystery surrounding the Ryder family, and the alien may be making a reference to whatever this mystery is.
There’s a lot here. The narrative has very distinctly left the original trilogy behind (by 600 years, even), and we see some familiar species amongst the snapshots and cinematics. There’s a new big bad coming, and we don’t know the first thing about it, what it is, or what it wants. What was supposed to be a peaceful mission to find a ‘Golden Planet,’ a new home world, has obviously gone awry and it’s up to Ryder to find a new path.
This trailer also puts to bed a few of the concerns regarding Ryder and friends as colonists exploring and taking over new worlds. There has been some discussion regarding morality and how it will manifest in game, but the goal no longer seems to be, ‘Find a new home, regardless of the cost,’ but, rather, ‘Survive.’ Additionally, there is material on the new Andromeda Initiative page that implies that the Initiative recruits have all been trained regarding a, “First Contact,” protocol. The first briefing supplements the trailer with some key backstory regarding the Initiative, its goals, and its inception. True, the Initiative sent Arks to the Andromeda Galaxy to search for a, ‘Golden Planet,’ but the First Contact protocol and training documentation referenced in the video implies that their goal is a peaceful one, and the Initiative doesn’t want to start unnecessary conflicts with other sentient species. Considering that the idea of colonizing already populated worlds was one that turned many players off, this information is a welcome relief for those that feared a narrative that would glorify colonialism, and this may entice some players to jump back on board.
The new web materials also inform us more about the Initiative, who’s involved, and provides some context in the Mass Effect timeline. Headed by Jien Garson, the Andromeda Initiative is a civilian project developed apart from the Systems Alliance (the human military from the original trilogy), aimed at finding a new homeworld in the Andromeda Galaxy. The Hyperion is one of four Arks developed by the project, and the one where much of the narrative seems to take place. The other we know of is named Nexus, lead by Jien herself. The other three Arks each harbor their own species, though which species have participated in the Initiative is still unknown. We know humanity is involved, and can guess the involvement of the Asari and Salarians from their inclusion in the trailers, but we’ve seen nothing of the Krogan or Turians yet beyond some early concept art and teaser speculations. The materials also inform us that all four Arks departed at the same time: 2185, or before the Reaper War broke out in the original trilogy. A number of theories can be derived from this information–do the Initiative recruits know about the Reaper War? Did they believe Shepard about the Reapers, and build the Initiative as a failsafe?–but there isn’t enough evidence available currently to verify or deny any of them. Many have taken to twitter to ask questions of the writers and developers, receiving a range of maybes and a few confirmations to specific gameplay questions.
It has been confirmed that each team member will have a loyalty mission in Andromeda, and that there will be a variety of romantic options in game. Creative Director Mac Walters confirmed on Twitter that there would be alien romance options, and that Peedee–the Asari featured in many of the previous trailers–would be among them. He also confirmed that there will be same-sex romance options for both Sarah and Scott. In addition to discussing romance options, Walters also discussed the loyalty missions that will be appearing in game, and the impact they’ll have on the greater narrative: “‘The big difference between this and ME2, where you did a loyalty mission and that all impacted the ending, is that they’re much more optional in this case,’ Walters says. ‘If you don’t want to engage with them, you don’t have to. If you want engage with them after the critical path is done, you can do that’” [Gameinformer, “Loyalty Missions Return in Mass Effect: Andromeda”]. Each team member is confirmed as having a loyalty mission, but it will be the player’s choice whether or not to complete said mission and learn more about that team member.
After going through all of this material,–and, dang, did they give us a lot–the excitement is real, but a few lingering concerns remain. We’ve learned a lot, now have a better idea about what the narrative may shape up to look like, and got to enjoy the impactful spectacle that Andromeda is aiming to be. I am disappointed that they’ve continued to push the stereotypical, scruffy, white male as the protagonist after they received such a great response to featuring Sarah Ryder in the E3 Play trailer earlier this year, and I am concerned at the portrayal of the female cast from what we’ve seen thus far. Jien Garson and Peedee are the two prevalent, female-bodied characters we’ve seen thus far, and Peedee in particular has already been subjected to some unfortunate cinematic camera work that emphasizes her body over her skill sets. Additionally, the narrative is feeling akin to Halo 4, which could be both a good and a bad thing. Halo 4’s head writer, Chris Schlerf, did work on the project, so some similarities are to be expected, but the repetition of, “Oops, I woke up the big, alien bad accidentally,” may only go so far in the Mass Effect universe. However, paired with the strong character writing Bioware is known for and the gameplay goal of open-world exploration, the narrative has the opportunity to take some unexpected twists as the player progresses and discovers new things.
Mass Effect: Andromeda still has many mysteries yet to be revealed. Today’s trailer and web update has given us more information and context than we had previously, and the game looks promising both narratively, and in gameplay. The cast promises to be full of lively characters, and more information is on it’s way regarding the mission, and who we’ll be working with. I, personally, am excited for the next Mass Effect installment, and excited to see what other secrets the Mass Effect universe holds.