Only a couple months out, and we still know shockingly little about Mass Effect: Andromeda. BioWare has kept its cards close to the chest with its latest title, and chances are that isn’t going to change all that much in the last two months until launch. While keeping the hype level at a manageable roar, the slow trickle of information has also just made fans look that much closer at the information and gameplay we have seen.

Among the handful of trailers and comments from developers, it’s already clear Mass Effect: Andromeda is going to be a different beast from its predecessors. We knew the game would be a step up, switching to the new Frostbite 3 engine, and all the sleek sci-fi style would still be there. But, a few key changes to the formula are primed to help the game stand apart as a true, fresh chapter for the franchise.

New characters and new dynamics

mass effect andromeda ryder

Just to get the most obvious aspect out of the way first, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a clean break from the previous trilogy. Taking place in an entirely separate galaxy, roughly 600 years after the Nexus and Ark ships first left the Milky Way in between Mass Effect 2 and 3, it’s more than likely that we won’t see a single familiar faces from the first three games. While the original trilogy made a point of carrying a select number of characters between each game along with Shepard, Andromeda is starting from ground zero.

As far as your companions go, you’ll have a Krogen named Drack, a Turian named Vetra, an Asari named PeeBee, a human named Liam, and at least one more character named Cora. We even know you will have a Salarian pilot and an AI named SAM.

Possibly the largest change however, comes down to the player character, Ryder. Unlike Shepard, both the male and female Ryder characters will be canon as brother and sister. But more than that, similar to how Dragon Age: Inquisition allowed you import or customize your own Hawke character from Dragon Age II, BioWare promises you will be able to customize both of the Ryder twins and their father. That alone suggests all three characters, even if you don’t play as the other twin or the father, will have at least a temporary role in Andromeda, adding a level of family dynamics the original trilogy never explored.

Exploration is back

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Speaking of exploration, even if you hated the Mako, it’s hard to deny there was something special about coming to a planet in Mass Effect 1 and simply striking out to see what you could find. Despite the next two games moving away from that sort of free-form design, Mass Effect: Andromeda equips you with the new all-terrain vehicle, the Nomad, and sets you loose. Taking a page out of Dragon Age: Inquisition’s book, the worlds are bigger and already appear more dense and alive.

“I think Andromeda is more of a persistent experience, more of an open world than we’ve done before,” Creative Director Mac Walters explained to Eurogamer. “Even once the critical path story, the main narrative, is done there’s still a lot to accomplish. It’s a game of exploration…” And the player will be able to really interact with the worlds we come to. Speaking about settlements like what we’ve seen in the scant gameplay, he adds, “You will be able to build [settlements] as well, on the planets you encounter. Not on all planets: there are certain criteria you have to fulfill, but you will be able to establish them as a player.”

Add in the fact that you will have to search for resources, deal with alien wildlife, and even cope with inhospitable planetary conditions like extreme heat, and you end up with a much more open-ended Mass Effect experience than fans are used to.

Crafting makes its debut

Mass Effect: Andromeda

What’s the use of exploring and collecting all those resources, though, if you don’t have something awesome to do with them? Not only will players be able to craft armor and weapons from their collected resources, but we will be able to name and customize them. At first glance it’s easy to see comparisons with the crafting system in Dragon Age: Inquisition, but according to Lead Designer Ian Frazier, it’s “quite a bit different.”

The mere fact that we will be able to make our own gear, despite the details, is a large step up from simply buying or finding new equipment like in the original trilogy. And it turns out the things we will be crafting add a whole new layer to the game’s combat all on their own. In discussing crafting, Frazier also explained that characters will have a dedicated melee weapon. Starting with the classic omni-blade, players will eventually be able to work their way up to swords, Krogen hammers, and who-knows-what-else.

But building up your team and your assets might not stop there. As a Pathfinder, Ryder’s job is to find and claim new resources, and generally support the colonization efforts in the Andromeda galaxy. That includes the settlements discussed above, but it seems it might also include the Nexus itself, the Citadel-styled space ship/station that serves as the hub for the Pathfinders and colonists. In released gameplay, you can see a Nexus Level listed on the menu screen, along with a required resource called A.V.P. While this too will likely take a different form from something like upgrading Skyhold in Dragon Age: Inquisition, the ability to build up the Nexus is definitely something to look forward to.

A whole new kind of enemy

Mass Effect: Andromeda

When it came to the villains in the original trilogy, be it the Geth, the Collectors, the Rachni, Cerberus, or the Reapers themselves, they all eventually brought a surprisingly deep nuance to the Mass Effect universe. None of them were ever simply evil, and those shades of grey are exactly what made the first games incredible. Leaving all that behind, BioWare is looking to forge an entirely new set of enemies for us to fear, hate, and empathize with during our time in the Andromeda galaxy.

Though we still know little about the overall plot of the game, BioWare has revealed one antagonistic race: the Kett. Designed to look more organic and more alien than many of the Milky Way species, they have bone-like armor and milky eyes, making them at once recognizable, but also off-putting and foreign.

“I think the Kett is going to be one of the standout races in general,” Art Director Joel MacMillan explained, speaking with Game Informer. “Their architecture, their race, their movement, everything. I think they are going to be an impressive addition to the franchise.”

Say goodbye to Paragon and Renegade

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Arguably one of the most defining aspects of the original trilogy was your ability to play either as a kind-and-loving Paragon or a get-the-job-done-at-any-cost Renegade. Unfortunately for fans of the old blue and red system, things won’t be as cut and dry in Andromeda.

While you will still have interrupts, the ability to take action when someone else is talking, a feature previously connected to the reputation system, the actions will no longer show a specific affiliation. The same can be said for your interactions with your crewmates. Working with more of the ambiguous elements of morality, your actions will still have consequences, changing how people see and treat you, but there will no longer be reputation bars or a morality gauge showing you how you stand.

Far from removing the system entirely, it sounds instead like BioWare has made it much more complex.

Even more RPG freedom

Mass Effect: Andromeda

But above all else, any game will always be judged on its gameplay. Looking to mix-up the RPG side of the franchise in a rather interesting way, BioWare is removing character classes, at least in the traditional sense. Instead of picking a single class for the entire game, you will be able to switch your class, or Profile, leveling up each individually.

While some fans have already pointed out that this new system has the potential to rob Ryder of those more underlying characteristics that we associate with classes and view our characters’ personas through, there’s no denying it will change up how we play the game. The ability to switch Profiles at any time, for different stat boosts and abilities, offers players a lot more options when tackling any given situation.

All the original classes return, along with a new Profile players aren’t familiar with yet, simply called Explorer. If the system really does allow you to level up each as you go, BioWare could be aiming for a more organic RPG system like Skyrim or Fallout 4. You can do anything, but eventually, through specializing, you will be able to do some things better than others.

Mass Effect Andromeda releases March 21 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Do you like the changes we’ve seen so far? Or do they have you pining for a Mass Effect Trilogy Remaster even more? Let us know in the comments.

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