I’m not much of a video gamer, but I finally got around to the Mass Effect trilogy last year and was blown away. Prior to that, I was tooling around with World of Warcraft (I generally only invest my time and energy in one game at a time, if at all), which was an almost-got-it collection of stories that helped fix the problems of the first three games and then slowly began collapsing as the franchise returned to the “bleep continuity” problems of its origin. For a guy who thinks story is primary in gaming, Warcraft just became too much trouble to be worth the subscription.
And then I tried Mass Effect, and wondered why the heck no one at Blizzard could do what Bioware had done. Fun gameplay coupled with an expansive world, wrapped in a story so detailed that I spent hours pouring over the lore just for the fun of it, rather than because I was confused about what this quest-giver was talking about or why the heck I was suddenly off in this new land.
Maybe I’ll do a longer post about that; or maybe I’ll leave that up to Lori, our Opinionated Organist, who like many Mass Effect fans has a few choice things to say about the ending to the trilogy (some of which we can even print!), but for now I want to talk about the next installment to the series: Mass Effect: Andromeda.
At E3, they released a new trailer on this new game, and we finally have some hard evidence that we hadn’t had before!
First, the new ship is named the Tempest, and it appears (based on the quick shot of the Mako under the engines) to be a frigate the same size as the Normandy SR-1.
Second . . . um. Well. Actually. There’s . . . kind of nothing else.
Oh, sure, we’ve got lots of pretty shots of what it will all look like, but we don’t have anything nailed down about the story. And as I said, for me, story is paramount. So my excitement at seeing a headline this morning about a new trailer quickly faded into irritation. See, when I hear that word, I expect a bit more information.
Here’s the video in question, for you to watch for yourself:
We have a few things. We have confirmation that salarians and asari are in the game (the salarian is easy to miss, but look for that distinctive head on the right at 0:30), but that’s hardly world-shaking news. There’s no possible way that the designers, even the people who handed down the disappointing last few minutes to Mass Effect 3, would avoid having them in the game, just as I expect to see turians and quarians and geth pop up. (I also expect to see an unshackled AI modified off of EDI as one of her “children,” but that’s more of a guess on my part.) We see more shots of the landscapes and the new Mako, but they’re really more of what we had before.
We still have no idea who we’re fighting, why we’re in Andromeda, or who we’re playing as the protagonist.
Now, let’s tackle that last bit first. The articles I’m seeing pop up say that the woman at the end — actually, I feel like “girl” might be more appropriate; she seems more like she’s just graduated high school at best — is the protagonist. I doubt it. We’ve seen a woman fighting alongside an N7 character before; she’s either asari or human, and I’d say she’s the same one at the end of this trailer. For that matter, while we only have a single look at her, she’s acting so wet-behind-the-ears that I highly doubt she’d be the intended successor to Commander Shepard. Shepard came to us already an accomplished figure, and with how much they’re insisting that this game will “feel” like Mass Effect, I don’t think they’ll remove that crucial element.
Yes, it could be that Ryder (more on that name in a moment) is being shown to us as a younger figure here, as part of a prologue, and that the game itself begins years after arriving in Andromeda. However, think of that from a design perspective. In order to show that, the designers would have to figure out a way to show a younger version of a character that you build with the appearance generator. The whole reason why Shepard was often less visually expressive than your squadmates was because their animations only needed to be programmed for one face at a time.
There has been speculation that the masked N7 figure is not Shepard, but rather another squadmate. I disagree with that as well, for two reasons that were both in the original trailer from last year’s E3. I’m going to link to that here:
Even in that still image you see there, our N7 figure is doing the heroic surveying-the-land-before-me pose, rarely given to supporting characters. He’s leading the charge at the end of the trailer, ahead of even the krogan fighting next to him. Our attention is drawn to him as an heroic figure, and that spells “main character” to me about as much as spiky hair and a big sword does in an anime.
But I said there were two things. Remember how, in the original Mass Effect, you couldn’t access the galaxy map until you took command of the Normandy? Here we see our N7 figure accessing (what we now know to be called) the Tempest‘s equivalent. If he is not Ryder, and not the captain of the ship, then something very odd is going on; odd to the point of losing something from the original trilogy’s “feel.”
Now, why Ryder? Well, if you haven’t been keeping up, if you zoom in on the console on the left at 0:43 in the following clip (the N7 Day trailer), you can just barely make out what looks like either “RIDER” or “RYDER.”
In case you need a better visual, here it is:
As others have pointed out over the last year, the original protagonist was named Shepard after the first American man in space; the first American woman was Sally Ride, which many have said (and I agree) would be an excellent choice. Plus, it makes the choice of Johnny Cash’s “Ghost Riders in the Sky” in the original trailer to take on extra meaning.
I’m not so focused on Ryder (it looks like a Y in that image; I’ll use this name until proven otherwise), because the main character’s story is going to be left mostly undefined like with Shepard’s. Your character is always going to be slightly different, even with the same background choices.
I’m much more interested in how we get to Andromeda, and why. This new trailer mentions making a “new home for humanity.” That sounds almost ominous, but if we’re told in the first few minutes that we somehow lost Earth, then it will cheapen our sacrifices and efforts in the previous trilogy. If it’s more about needing the space, then we’re ignoring the established lore: each mass effect relay only defined a certain region of the galaxy, and you needed a shipboard FTL drive to get to nearby systems. Most of the galaxy was still unexplored even after thousands of years of the current cycle. It would take a very long time for us to fill all that up.
There’s also the issue about the other species with us. Why would they be going along with a new home for humans? Why would there be a joint effort for something like that?
That brings up something telling about the appearance of the Tempest. While the hull markings are in English, there are no other insignia. The symbol of the Earth Alliance is conspicuously absent, as are anything else that would seem to indicate the ship’s allegiance. It’s almost as if it’s a joint-polity/species operation and so does not use a special symbol.
But that just fuels the question: why are we there? Why is it a joint operation?
And how do we get there? That ship we saw in the N7 trailer is pretty big, but now we have a vague scale for it; it looks Reaper-big, but not Citadel-big. It’s not guaranteed that we’ll have a Citadel equivalent (we didn’t really have one in Mass Effect 2, after all; really, the place other than the Normandy where we spent the most time was actually Illium, if you count the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC), but its prominence suggests some sort of special importance for the storyline. Yet it doesn’t look big enough to be a generation ship, nor does it really feel like something powerful enough to jump us to another galaxy.
My metaphorical money is on an experimental mass effect relay, but that’s more extrapolation. The game is named after the technology, after all. Yet the enormous power costs that would have to require would be so far from what would be needed to expand the relay network in a more conventional fashion that I have to wonder, again, why bother?
If I were to put on my editor-hat and someone asked me, “Okay, Mr. Bowman, here’s the problem. We want to set the next game in Andromeda and we need a reason to go there. Can you help us?” then I would say we should have someone else visit us first. Someone from Andromeda pops into the Milky Way, and we want to go back. Perhaps there’s hardly anything left, and we want to know what happened. Perhaps the survivors of the trip asked for help against a Big Bad. Maybe the Big Bad came to us. Whatever the reason, we decide to go poke around, but the problem is that we can’t go immediately back; we’d have to build a return relay first. That means the big project is to establish colonies and outposts and establish a foothold so we can reconnect back home, much as with Stargate: Atlantis.
The point is that we’re not just jumping out into the unknown, but rather pursuing something more tangible. You can only go so far on “humans love to explore.” Sure we do, but there’s a reason we’re not already loading up ships and headed for other stars. There’s a limit to our tech and economy. If the Mass Effect setting suddenly has that much in the way of resources to spare and nowhere left in our galaxy to go and therefore the only way to indulge that curiosity is to jump to another galaxy when there are others closer to us, then that changes things drastically. When worldbuilding tech and magic systems, it’s actually more important to consider what you can’t do, rather than what you can. That much power and resources to spare has implications for what the setting is like; and if it’s just barely within our resources, like the Crucible in Mass Effect 3, then we need a reason to devote our economies.
It’s almost pointless to speculate at this stage, because of how little information we have and how many ways Bioware could take it from this point. We’ve got most of a year before the game’s release, so we probably have a lot more information to come. This sort of release costs Bioware almost nothing: it gives pretty visuals, generates buzz, and saves the juicy bits for later, after people have done their viral marketing for them.
And you can bet that Bioware has people sniffing around, looking for speculation, and passing on some of that to the development teams. If I were them, that’s what I’d do. I’d see how I can tweak things based on fan speculation, both to reenforce “cool factors” as well as try to avoid any plot twists that people are predicting already. The major part of the story is set now, but there’s still room to tweak dialog to reflect fan favorites and expectations.
For me, at this point, I’m probably going to pick up the game pretty early on. I’ll probably wait until after the independent reviews are out, though . . . unless they offer such a tempting preorder pack that I decide to lay down extras just for some Mass Effect/N7 goodies.
Hey, just because I’m not a blind fanboy doesn’t mean I’m not a fanboy.