Shepard was “dead” when Mass Effect: Andromeda’s cast left the galaxy.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is set in another galaxy from our own, in the wake of a multi-species colonisation project that saw whole crews put to sleep for 600 years as they travelled to a new home.
We’ve known that for a while, but we still didn’t know how Mass Effect: Andromeda fits with the rest of the series. Thanks to newly-revealed timeline details on the Mass Effect website, we can figure it out.
According to BioWare’s timeline, the Andromeda Initiative was scheduled to launch in 2185 CE, meaning the events of Mass Effect: Andromeda kick off sometime around 2785 CE.
What makes this interesting is how that launch dates fits with events in the original Mass Effect trilogy. According to the Mass Effect Wiki, which draws on the whole Mass Effect canon, the Battle of the Citadel at the finale of Mass Effect happened in 2183 CE. Later that same year, the Normandy was destroyed, and Commander Shepard presumed dead, in an incident depicted at the start of Mass Effect 2.
Shepard wasn’t resurrected by Cerberus until 2185 CE, the same year the Andromeda Initiative launched. That means it’s possible the crew of the Andromeda fleet never knew Shepard had been brought back to life, or what happened in their home galaxy. We don’t know enough about communication in the Mass Effect universe – especially in the wake of the destruction of the mass relays – to be sure how much they might learn from messages broadcast to the ships as they drifted through space.
In any case, this timing, the distance and the six centuries of history that have passed all add up to explain why Mass Effect: Andromeda can stand alone as its own game rather than hooking into the original trilogy. It’s a neat bit of work, isn’t it?