November 7 was N7 Day (get it?), which means a fresh blast of Mass Effect news. This time, we got a fresh cinematic trailer for Mass Effect Andromeda full of dramatic staging and new information to glean from the bits of it. That old feeling of being excited about being in the Mass Effect universe came rushing back.
Of course, we still don't know a ton about Andromeda yet. BioWare has their heads down deep into development mode, and information about the actual gameplay is scarce. So with that in mind, here's what we know about Mass Effect Andromeda so far.
The Final Frontier
The universe is 600 years out from the Reaper conflict in the first Mass Effect trilogy, and humanity is scattered in ships known as Arks to search for new planets to colonize. You play as a male or female human Pathfinder, a specialized N7 officer who's job it is to scout for potential new homes. Unlike the first Mass Effect trilogy, however, the gender of the sibling you didn't choose will still be in the game as part of your crew and part of the main story. Family looks to be a theme straight off the bat, as you basically inherit this mission when your father dies.
The Andromeda Mission trailer gives further details into the nature of Pathfinders and the fate of humanity. Those who volunteer are put into stasis for 600 years and are flung to the far reaches of the universe to establish outposts on out-of-reach worlds. It's also a one-way trip, which suggests a part of the universe without Mass Relays. Don't expect to be reporting back to Earth or any of the planets you're familiar with from the original games.
You can already sense hints that Andromeda will tackle the subject of colonialism in more than just a benign way, as you hear someone on your crew say “We're the aliens” in the cinematic trailer. This suggests that N7 will be unwelcome on at least some of the worlds that they will be visiting, and with the inherent emphasis on choice in the Mass Effect series, a potential possibility for you to bully native intelligent lifeforms off their homeworlds. This is well-worn territory for sci-fi media, but by and large, games have yet to tackle the subject in a meaningful and satisfactory way. Will Andromeda pull it off?
Finally, a note about one big departure for the Mass Effect series: Your save files from Mass Effect 3 can't be imported. While there are some connections to the previous games here and there, Commander Shepard's story is over, so there's no real point to importing how that story concluded.
The Mass Effect games generally play out in a similar manner to most other BioWare RPGs this side of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: semi-linear stories with different parts of them segmented off into regions that have their own self-contained arcs that play out and feed into the game's conclusion somehow. Andromeda diverges from this formula by being open world, and though we don't know the exact shape of what that will look like, we can guess from the game's themes that it will revolve around exploration of a series of unknown planets and colonization efforts. This is ambitious on the face of it, but don't forget that this is a AAA game series we're talking about. BioWare is going to deliver on density of gameplay and not scope for the sake of scope a la No Man's Sky.
What is making a return, though, are vehicles like the Mako sections in the first Mass Effect game. Now this may sound like a cause for concern, as the Mako sections were by far the worst part of the game. But you need to remember that they represented a tiny portion of the game at large, so BioWare could afford to treat it as an afterthought. Here, though, vehicles are going to be essential as a method of exploration and transportation in a game about exploring and colonizing unfamiliar planets. What's more, all signs point to there being no combat while you're in the vehicle, which his a huge relief given how awkward and clunky it was in previous games. Expect a much-improved vehicular experience all around.
Also interesting is the planned multiplayer integration, which evolves Mass Effect 3's N7 objectives and has shades of Destiny's Crucible. Active Strike Team missions will be special campaign missions that allow for multiplayer cooperation. More traditional multiplayer modes will also be included, with rewards for excelling being benefits in the main game.
Mass Effect Andromeda uses EA DICE's Frostbyte 3 engine, which is also used to power Battlefield 1. Looking at Battlefield 1 can give a taste of what we can expect. The sprawling battlefields of its multiplayer mode feels like you're really in a war zone, and its single player campaign makes the most of the maps, making everything seem bigger and vaster than it really is. This is exactly what Andromeda needs to pull off, so BioWare at least have the right tools for the job.
Mass Effect Andromeda releases next year for PC, Xbox One, and PS4. Don't expect it on the Nintendo Switch, as BioWare definitively ruled it out. If the Switch is popular enough, though, you might see a port down the road. After all, Mass Effect 3 came out for the Wii U, though that was a launch game. Still, I wouldn't hold your breath at the moment.
A solid release still has yet to be revealed other than a vague Q2 2017, which could point to a big E3 coming out party. Regardless, barring further delays, it looks like Mass Effect Andromeda will be one of the biggest games of the summer.