Mass Effect has always been a complicated series for me. I am always excited to play the next entry in the series, but I would hardly consider myself a huge fan. Abstractly, they should be among my favorite games as I am a fan of space operas, RPGs, and shooters. However they always seem to fall short of my expectations. Though I finished the strongest entry, Mass Effect 2, in a matter of days I still felt like the game was missing something. While being extremely detailed games, I am continuously amazed by the fact that I find the experience to be rather mundane. There is certainly no lack of content, and the universe is rich with story, lore, and history. With decisions and dialogue trees that span across all 3 games, there is a lot of replay value especially considering the length of each game.
Ultimately my feelings on these games boil down to my issues with the lead character, Commander Shepard. It should be noted that I have always played these games as John Shepard, the male counterpart. This article will reflect only my experience playing as him. Had I played as Jane Shepard, my feelings on the games may have been different. I find John Shepard to be a very lackluster and uninspiring character. His is personality is virtually nonexistent and I want to fall asleep when he’s engaged in a stiff conversation with one of his companions. I began to hate hearing him talk so much that I would always put a helmet on him during cutscenes so that his voice would be filtered through an external speaker. In my mind, this gave him more of a Star Wars bounty hunter persona which made his character more interesting for me personally.
When Mass Effect 3 completed the story arc of Commander Shepard, I was largely unsatisfied due to my disinterest in the character. Mass Effect Andromeda has been announced for an optimistic late 2016 release. Hardly any information has been revealed about the game other than the fact that it will take place in the Andromeda galaxy and is completely separate from the original Mass Effect trilogy. This means a completely new story, new planets, and, of course, a new lead character. Despite all the detail and content in the Mass Effect games, I always felt like I was inside a library. I never felt like I was really part of the experience, but rather absorbing a lot of information. The fun factor was just never quite high enough for me to become completely absorbed.
Putting my mixed feelings on the previous games aside, I have very high hopes for Mass Effect Andromeda. So far there has only been the E3 announcement trailer as well as some speculative rumors about story and gameplay. The trailer has a heavy emphasis on the environments and shows a quick glimpse of six new planets. In the trailer footage, a person presumed to be the new protagonist stands at a navigation console sorting through planets. I take this as a hint that Mass Effect Andromeda will have a great emphasis on exploration.
Planetary exploration is something that we really have not seen since the first installment. In Mass Effect, planets were physically explored by means of the Mako, a six-wheeled rover that was terribly unsatisfying to drive. Even though you could land on a large quantity of planets and freely roam around in the Mako, there wasn’t much to see. Each planet was essentially a variation on a theme: a moon-like terrain full of craters and mountains. In the follow-up installments, this aspect of the game was replaced with planet scanning or “resource mining” from a galaxy map, which was also terribly boring.
Mass Effect Andromeda sees the return of the Mako and I hope for it to be a great asset to the exploration that the trailer alludes to. After all, we drove the first Mako 9 years ago and BioWare is sure to have developed it into a useful and fun gameplay mechanic. If there are combat sequences with the new Mako, hopefully they won’t be as dull as the first game. I have terrible memories of trying to get through those Mako levels. Picking off enemies with the vehicle’s lousy, inaccurate cannon proved to be more stressful and repetitive than it should have ever been.
Though I am sure the core gameplay elements will be the same, I have high hopes that the Mass Effect series will reinvent itself lore-wise. We know that no characters from the previous trilogy will be reappearing in Andromeda, which in my opinion is great news. A new galaxy means new cultures and new stories to be told. I hope that the new game will have lower stakes for its protagonists. I have little interest in saving another galaxy or working for a government agency. If they reuse these plot points, I feel that the game will be considered a rehash. It might be cool to be a rogue smuggler or part of a small faction, though; this way, the series is not only known for a story seeped in government politics and noble causes.
All in all, I want Mass Effect Andromeda to feel exciting and suspenseful. I want to identify with a likeable character with a rich personality, in contrast the monotonous John Shepard. More interesting characters and an increase in the exploration aspect are very important to me with this new installment. A space opera needs beautiful landscapes and unique planets. Hopefully the game will not suffer the same type of “galactic hub” setting that bored me to tears in the first three games.