Mass Effect Andromeda’s new gameplay trailer is out and I have mixed feelings about it

It’s not a bad trailer, not by a long shot. It’s actually a very good trailer. Every frame veritably oozes Mass Effect, bringing back memories of the Shepard Trilogy. Which, in my opinion, is sort of the problem. But let’s start with the positives.

Fantastic alien worlds

Really, really fantastic. Only a handful of them were shown off at the beginning of the trailer for no more than a couple of seconds each, but that was more than enough to get me excited. Since the focus of Andromeda is exploration, there’s fairly significant pressure on Bioware to create places worth poking around and, goddamn, it looks like they’ve pulled out all the stops.

In my review of Arrival (the movie, not the Mass Effect 2 DLC), I wrote about the sense of wonder that it left me with. Those brief glimpses of alien worlds did much the same thing. It felt like seeing the Citadel for the first time all over again, or being onboard that derelict Reaper in Mass Effect 2, and if Andromeda comes even halfway to capturing that feeling, Bioware will have a resounding success on their hands.

Fun looking combat

A lot of the weaponry looked very similar – if not identical – to stuff that was in Mass Effect 2 and 3, but given the setting, I’m not entirely surprised. Mass Effect 2 and 3 had gunplay that I enjoyed and having biotic or tech powers to throw into the mix made for some very frantic, high adrenaline fights.

A lot of that looks to be making a return. Biotic Charge is featured more than once in the video, I saw Pull somewhere in there as well, along with Combat Drone and a couple of other familiar powers. The shield mechanic is hardly new but I do like the way it’s being executed – having a shield in front of you will force movement and repositioning in combat, possibly making it somewhat more dynamic than the fights of the original trilogy.

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More environmental interaction

This is something that a lot of games have gleefully ‘borrowed’ from the Batman: Arkham series of games and, for the most part, I think it’s an good addition. The scanning mechanic would – for me at least – force me to look around the game’s admittedly very pretty environments, which I would otherwise probably run through on my way to the next objective marker on the mini-map.

Whether or not it dramatically affects gameplay – whether it’s integrated into more than just investigation-style missions and planetary resource acquisition, for example – remains to be seen. For my part, I hope it does.

What I’d like to see if something that was introduced in Destiny’s Taken King expansion. Bungie made it possible for player to scan certain objects with their Ghost – a tiny, robot companion – and get a little snippet of lore in return. That is something I’d like in Andromeda as well.

If the scanning tool allows players to access small bits of the wealth of information that are typically buried in a billion codex entries, it’ll go a long way to make the experience of Andromeda significantly more memorable, simply by fleshing out the smaller details of places and races.

Unfortunately, that’s about everything I enjoyed about the trailer. Everything else is far too much of the same.

While I understand the Andromeda has a logical, story-based reason for why this strange new galaxy seems full of Krogan, Turian, and Asari, I really don’t want this strange new galaxy to be full of Krogan, Turian, and Asari. Hell, I would even have been thrilled if we played as the races of Andromeda instead, forced to fight off the invading fleet that shows up out of nowhere and says, “I like this place, I think we’ll take it.”

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So, now, here’s what I don’t like about the new trailer.

Settlements. Why are there settlements?

One of the longer continuous segments of the trailer focuses on a populated segment of Andromeda’s world. I do not like that there is a settlement. While we don’t know how long the Arks have been in Andromeda before the Pathfinders are deployed, I imagine it hasn’t been very long. So, by that logic, there should not be a settlement. There should not be any settlements.

Instead, what there should be is a quest to set up that settlement. Andromeda should ideally start with you being woken up from cryostasis and introduced to the game’s mechanics via a tutorial masquerading as the unfreezing (defrosting?) and rehabilitation process. From there, your first quest should be some form of ‘Find somewhere for us to touch down, Pathfinders.’

Then the lot of you scatter, you find a planet, and lo, the first settlement is born.

From there, you should be able to branch out and, as you find more hospitable planets, flag them for occupation with settlements springing up and growing as the in-game clock ticks along. That’s what being a Pathfinder should feel like. If there’s a bunch of people living safely somewhere in a planet, it’s because you did something to help them get there.

And if that’s what Bioware’s done, great. I’ll be thrilled. If not …sigh…

What really sets this whole Pathfinding thing apart from being N7 or a Spectre? It’s very little more than an in-game title with no implications on the world itself. For reference, I direct you to either the Witcher games or to Obsidian’s most recent piece of RPG deliciousness – Tyranny. When Geralt shows up, or when the Fatebringer makes an appearance, stuff happens. The world reacts. Decisions are made. Things change.

Being among a handful of people to explore a new galaxy should feel like that. If it doesn’t, then being a Pathfinder probably doesn’t mean a whole lot.

Combat also looks like more of the same

Again, because of the way the story sets up the gameplay, familiar biotic powers are back, familiar tech powers are back, old guns are being dusted off and pulled down from the attic. There’s very little in there that did not feel exactly like it did in Mass Effect and, while I enjoyed the combat in the original trilogy, I wouldn’t have minded something new.

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A jetpack is not new enough because ‘huzzah, I can now jump’ is not an exhilarating feeling. A biotic equivalent of Blink, perhaps? Something like Tyranny’s combo powers that let you and another party member pull off a super-powered move together? The ability to drop a small asteroid on someone’s head? Conjure up biotic shades of yourself to confuse the enemy? Summon a space dragon?

While there are obviously plenty of abilities that we haven’t seen yet, what has been shown just doesn’t feel exciting enough.

Facial animations, good lord

People have noticed this and tweeted at Bioware; Bioware has said that’s being worked on. So I won’t start foaming at the mouth about that just yet.

And finally, the Tempest

It brings back too many memories of the Normandy for me. Those are all good memories, mind you, but I don’t want to look at the Tempest and think of Shepard. I want a blank slate upon which I can write new stories.

But, I suppose, Shepard casts too long a shadow for Mass Effect to fully escape. How much ‘new’ can Bioware risk without alienating fans of the franchise? And how much old can they bring in without making it too weighty for new players to hop in?

The goal, from what I can tell, seems to be to balance the familiar with the new, to recapture as much of the feeling of the Shepard Trilogy as possible while spinning the franchise off in a new direction. And while that is a sensible and admirable goal, that’s also why my excitement isn’t as high as it would be if Andromeda was something else entirely.

Andromeda feels haunted by the Ghost of Shepard Past. And if Bioware really wants to movie the series forward, into new and wondrous places in the inevitable sequel, they’re going to have to get an exorcism done pretty quick.

While Bioware goes searching for a suitably powerful Space Pope here’s the trailer itself and, as a bonus for getting all the way to the bottom of this post, a fantastic breakdown of the trailer from My Name is Byf.

As a small aside, if you’re a Destiny player you may already be familiar with Byf’s channel. If you aren’t you may want to subscribe. His videos are excellent, I like that they’re thoughtful pieces of content and the video I’ve stuffed below is a good representation of his style. Unlike most trailer breakdowns, there’s no wild speculation – he talks about stuff that’s in the video itself and he has a pretty good eye for detail.

Anyway, videos below. Have fun?

Trevor Coelho

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