Cmdr. Shepard’s intergalactic adventures wrapped up back in 2012, but the Mass Effect universe is too big to end with a single character’s saga. Mass Effect: Andromeda is almost upon us, and it will take the excitement and thoughtfulness of the series into a whole new galaxy. Whether you’re the very model of a scientist Salarian or the first human Spectre, there’s a lot to know before setting out for the Andromeda galaxy.
What is Mass Effect: Andromeda?
Mass Effect: Andromeda is a sci-fi action/role-playing game developed by BioWare and published by Electronic Arts. The game launched on March 21 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One, and it retails for $60 (although fancier versions could cost up to $100). Not counting mobile spin-offs, Andromeda is the fourth game in the Mass Effect series.
What’s the game all about?
Mass Effect: Andromeda casts you as one of the Ryder siblings as they, along with a team of brave explorers, set foot in the Andromeda galaxy for the first time. BioWare hasn’t been too forthcoming with exact plot details, but the setup should be pretty familiar to Mass Effect fans. You’ll take control of a small squad of explorers from a variety of different alien races and professional classes. Dialogue will play a central role in the game, and your decisions will have a large effect on how the story plays out.
As you explore the Andromeda galaxy, you’ll encounter fantastic discoveries and — spitballing here — heroes, villains, betrayal, intrigue, adventure, tough moral choices and everything else that goes into an open-ended BioWare RPG.
Do I need to play the first three games to understand Andromeda?
“Need” is a strong word. Mass Effect: Andromeda is largely its own story. Because it doesn’t even take place in the same galaxy as the first three titles, Andromeda has minimal direct story ties to the original trilogy. Saved files from Cmdr. Shepard’s adventures don’t transfer over to Andromeda, and the ending of Mass Effect 3 — which had three very distinct possible outcomes — appears to have no bearing on what happens in the new game.
On the other hand, the Mass Effect mythos is big and sprawling, with lots of futuristic technology, alien races and conflicting organizations to keep track of. Knowing a Turian from a Batarian can only be beneficial, as will knowing a little something about how humanity reached the stars and what its next goals are. Beyond that, the first three games are excellent — although, if you wanted to play them before Andromeda comes out, you’re running a little short on time. Each one takes between 30 and 50 hours to finish.
What’s the story so far?
While Mass Effect: Andromeda is (or at least seems to be) a stand-alone game, it couldn’t hurt to learn what’s happened beforehand. Here, very briefly, is what transpired in the first three Mass Effect games. Naturally, the descriptions are full of spoilers.
In Mass Effect, Cmdr. Shepard, of the futuristic Alliance Navy, encounters an ancient beacon on a remote planet with a dire warning: Something is coming to wipe out all civilized life in the galaxy. Unfortunately, the message was intended for an alien mind. To decipher the message — as well as hunt a rogue government agent named Saren who may know more — Shepard assembles a team of specialists aboard the starship Normandy. Traveling from world to world, Shepard and the team uncover what Saren has been hiding: an enormous, techno-organic, sentient spaceship called Sovereign. Sovereign is the advance force for a race known as the Reapers, which periodically purge the galaxy of advanced technological life. Although Shepard and the crew successfully defeat Sovereign and Saren, the Reapers are still coming.
Mass Effect 2 picks up a few years later. While trying to investigate the pending Reaper threat, Shepard dies when the Normandy sustains heavy damage. The Illusive Man, the enigmatic leader of a xenophobic human faction known as Cerberus, invests considerable resources into bringing Shepard back to life. Even if the Alliance doesn’t take the Reaper threat seriously, the Illusive Man does, and he believes that Shepard is the only person who can stop it. Assembling a new team of specialists, the newly revived Shepard crosses swords with Harbinger, a Reaper who is trying to collect human specimens to create a horrifying new human Reaper. The crew of the Normandy thwart Harbinger’s plans, but the Reapers are closer than ever.
The trilogy concludes in Mass Effect 3, when the Reaper threat finally becomes apparent to the rest of the galaxy. As the Alliance’s foremost expert on the Reapers, it’s up to Cmdr. Shepard to force the rest of the galaxy to put aside their petty squabbles once and for all, and unite every spacefaring race in a desperate last stand. An ancient superweapon known as the Crucible might be the only way to repel the Reapers, but to find it, Shepard will have to go up against the Illusive Man, his former ally. In the end, the Crucible offers Shepard three options: destroy the Reapers, control them, or “synthesize” all organic and synthetic life in the galaxy. The choice, as all things Mass Effect, is up to the player.
Will Andromeda have multiplayer mode?
Yes. Gamers will be able to party up and form Strike Teams to tackle AI opponents, just like in Mass Effect 3. As in Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer system, completing Strike Team missions will have positive repercussions in the single-player game, but it’s completely possible to skip it without missing anything important. Players will be able to transition between single-player and multiplayer missions without having to quit the game, which will hopefully make them feel like an integral part of the world.
How else can I satisfy my Mass Effect craving until Andromeda comes out?
Like most major video game series, Mass Effect has a ton of tie-in media to tide you over between entries. There are four novels, about a dozen comic book series, a handful of mobile games and plenty of online codices. To go into each one in detail would require too much space, but Wikipedia keeps a pretty comprehensive listing.
Fair warning if you pick up the novels: The first three are OK, as far as video game tie-in media go. The fourth is abysmal, to the point where BioWare had to alter subsequent printings of the book to make it more in line with the game canon. It’s a rare book indeed that requires a patch to fix bugs.
Why should I play Mass Effect: Andromeda?
If you played and enjoyed the first three games, Andromeda should be a no-brainer. If you’ve been curious about the Mass Effect series, or just want a big, action-packed sci-fi RPG, that seems like a good reason as well. You can check out the full review on Tom's Guide, and learn some early-game tips to help you out.
Why shouldn’t I play Mass Effect: Andromeda?
BioWare games are a bit different from what they used to be. Recent titles (Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age: Inquisition) tend to prioritize action-packed combat and tons of content — which may not be all that deep or involved — over the meticulous side quests and robust battle systems we used to get. Mass Effect: Andromeda definitely seems like a more streamlined game than its predecessors, and that may mean that its RPG elements are toned down. We’ll have to see how the game plays, but old-school, PC-style RPG fans should probably approach it with a grain of salt.
Will I be able to romance lots of sexy aliens?