Mass Effect Andromeda does not cater to power gamers who expect to be able to pick an ideal path in a single playthrough.
Mass Effect Andromeda moves away from the save-the-galaxy action epic the original trilogy evolved into, embracing a more freeform experience in which players face fewer binary choices and can poke around their new stellar home at their own pace.
This remarkable change plays up some of the strengths of the original Mass Effect, traded off along the way to Mass Effect 3 for other priorities. On the one hand I welcome the elusive atmosphere of the first Mass Effect back to Andromeda, but on the other I worry about changes to the formula.
“If that frustrates you, you probably shouldn’t play the game. Because that’s exactly what it is about.”
As a shameless meta-gamer who likes to establish a “perfect” save by the end of each BioWare game, I’m nervous about Mass Effect Andromeda’s more subtle systems; I don’t want to make mistakes as I play, but I also don’t want BioWare to protect me from those mistakes by making choice consequences shallow.
Speaking to producer Fabrice Condominas, I aired some of my worries on the new, non-binary systems in Mass Effect Andromeda; the relationship between side content and the critical path; and the (non-)feasibility of seeing everything in one playthrough.
(Oh, I’m sorry; did you think I went to play Mass Effect Andromeda and only thought about banging?)
VG247: One of the things you’ve talked about before is getting rid of the Paragon/Renegade binary, and getting rid of the perception that there is a better or best choice in any given situation.
But I think one of the reasons people want to see the best possible path when they played through the original Mass Effect trilogy is they maybe didn’t want to invest another 40 hours playing through again, to save a dead character so they could see everything.
How do you solve that? And are the choices still really meaningful if there’s not a major critical path difference between them? Are people just going to have to do six or seven play throughs to see everything?
Fabrice Condominas If they want to see everything, then yes. But the idea is to get away from the more judgmental position. This is where the binary thing opens. The choices you make influence the story and the plot and all that. But the idea is to get rid of the A versus B, because that’s how you create the idea that one thing is better than the other.
When everything is more nuanced, and the consequences of the choice are less obvious than going Paragon or Renegade, it’s focusing on the journey. It’s focusing on your journey and the choices you make now.
“You’ve got the freedom to make the choices you want, it has consequences and it builds your story. So you will replay only if you want a different story.”
If you fix yourself goals like, I want to [see every possible outcome of every] loyalty mission, then obviously you have to replay the game. But if you knew in the Paragon/Renegade system that a character was definitely Paragon, then you’d go through full Paragon in order to have it. But again that’s the gamification, and it has a judgmental aspect to it that we’re trying to get away from.
The idea is: you’ve got the freedom to make the choices you want, it has consequences and it builds your story. So you will replay only if you want a different story.
But won’t that be frustrating for people? If there are no obvious cues, and they get locked out of the outcomes they want to see.
Maybe, but if that frustrates you, you probably shouldn’t play the game. Because that’s exactly what it is about. There’s no way you’ll know all the possibilities and all the paths you can take.
Sure there is. There’s wikis and stuff. It’ll get online. We’ll all know soon enough.
Sure, maybe, after ages and ages. It’s funny you should say that. For the first time in my career – I’ve been doing games for 15 years – this is the first time in my career I haven’t played myself through all the possibilities in a game I’m going to release. Just because it’s too much – it’s too time consuming.
You have spent five years working on this so I imagine there’s quite a lot of it.
Yes and over those five years, all the branching wasn’t done! And I also had to make the game, so.
So does Andromeda still have those big dramatic branches though? I mean, when you talk about judgmental and better paths – in Mass Effect 3 a lot of people were really disappointed that they didn’t save both the Geth and the Quarians. I did, and that was definitely the better path. Will Andromeda have that same sort of hugely impactful decisions? Or is it just like, oh, you’re a sarcastic Ryder or an aggressive Ryder? Do you like, change worlds?
Absolutely. Situations like that exist in Andromeda.
You talked about how the Andromeda Initiative was a kind of Plan B for the Milky Way Galaxy when the threat of the Reapers rose up in the original trilogy. Is that something the original team had in the back of their minds as a possible extension of the franchise storyline in the future, or is it something you came up with on the new team when you started brainstorming for Andromeda?
A bit of both. When the original trilogy was built – as with Andromeda, and with any game we make – there are a number of ideas put on the table, and then we don’t explore for whatever reason, just because you do a different direction.
When we started thinking about Andromeda, it’s both in the sense that there were some pieces of idea that we took from [the original trilogy], but we also expanded the story in a brand new direction. There were definitely bits and pieces [from the original team], and then what [the Andromeda team] need for the story.
We build characters, we build personalities, and there’s a story I want to tell. And then you rewind from there. So it’s a mixture.
In the presentation earlier you said that Mass Effect has always been about the place of humanity among other, alien races. I feel like that took a backseat by the time we hit Mass Effect 3. Is that what you meant when you said the series had lost some of its “space opera” theme?
Yeah, I think that’s part of it. It’s also that the story of the trilogy was going narrower and narrower. Obviously that’s because you’re focused on the resolution of your story, so that’s good, but it means that you get away a bit from the space opera, from the main theme at a high level.
That is definitely part of the vibe I wanted to bring back. It’s not the only aspect: you’ve got the space travel, the notion of going to uncharted worlds. It’s a bundle of things. But it is part of it.
Apart from narrative gating, can I do any side content at any time, or are there consequences for not tackling things in a set order? In previous Mass Effect games, characters would sometimes die if you didn’t get things done.
We consciously removed the time pressure. The people in the Ark are waiting for a home, right, but this is why most of them stay in cryo and all that. The idea is, we want you to be able to explore freely. You’re right, in Mass Effect 3 sometimes it was like “what am I doing, people are dying and I’m just hanging around”.
“We did remove the time pressure. We keep the stake – you need to save these people – but you can take time to explore.”
“I’m looking for minerals.”
So it’s a good question. But no, narratively, we did remove the time pressure. We keep the stake – you need to save these people – but you can take time to explore. Also in this game, unlike the others, once you’re done with the story you can keep exploring. [The world state] will remain consistent with the choices you made along the main story, but it’s still open. The game is not done when the story’s done.
I know you won’t tell me how many planets there are and stuff like that. But speaking of side content, can you tell me what percentage of planets are not critical path?
I don’t even know myself. I could, but I don’t know. There’re more landable planets than the critical path [visits]. There are a lot of planets out there.
And they all have some sort of story element on them?
With landable planets? There are story-heavy planets, but there are some landable planets with really light content. But you’ll know before landing on them. So the expectation is set, [before] you choose to land on a planet: you don’t expect to have the same density of content as on the other planets.
But there will be some gameplay rewards for completionists to go down there and scan a flower or whatever.
Absolutely. And the game is a bit more vicious because it gives you a level of completion for the planet. So you can be stuck at 97% and wondering, what the hell is that 3%? But you get an idea for where you are for each planet.
Mass Effect Andromeda releases on March 21 in North America and March 23 in Europe, for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.