Feature Article

How Mass Effect: Andromeda's Characters Deal With Science, God (And Why That's So Exciting)

Ryders on the Storm.

My fondest memory of the Mass Effect series is a conversation I had with Thane Krios. In a quiet corner of the Normandy's Crew Quarters he explained that his species, the Drell, believe their souls exist as separate entities from their physical bodies. For Thane, this belief allowed him to reconcile his nature as a virtuous figure with his profession as an assassin for hire; the deplorable actions of his body could not tarnish the purity of his soul. The Mass Effect series is about intergalactic politicking, mediating interspecies relationships, navigating moral dilemmas, and--of course--engaging in warfare. But it's the moments in which characters reveal something deeply personal about themselves that are the most profound.

I've always been fascinated with the series' depictions of religion, the way it leans on frameworks of faith that have parallels in real life but then creates a layer of abstraction by exploring them through alien species or relating them to existence on an intergalactic scale. These are the moments that stick with me, and in my hands-on with Mass Effect: Andromeda, it was a moment like this that I walked away thinking about the most.

Andromeda follows thousands of people from numerous species as they venture from the Milky Way galaxy to a distant world in search of a new home. For these characters, and the player, Andromeda is positioned as a journey of exploration and discovery. From a broader gameplay perspective, it's the discovery of new planets to adventure in, quest threads to follow, decisions to make, and conflicts to resolve--either through diplomacy or violence. But the theme of discovery also drives the narrative arcs of Andromeda's cast, all of whom are hoping to find something beyond a new home.

Aboard the Tempest--the ship that players will use to travel around Andromeda's Helius Cluster--I encountered one such person: Suvi. She's staring out into the the depths of space and admiring the view. To her, the distant stars and majestic planetary bodies are "a constant reminder of the divine intelligence behind all of creation."

Like Thane, Suvi reconciles two parts of her that, to outsiders, seem contradictory: she's a woman of science, but also of faith. During our conversation she reveals science brings her closer to something greater than herself. She's lived her life having to justify these beliefs and needing to prove that her faith in the divine doesn't diminish her work as a scientist.

As a person from a traditionalist Muslim family that has grown up in Western society, I couldn't help but relate to Suvi. That perceived incompatibility between faith and science has been mirrored in my own life, and Suvi expressed an idea that I've held but never been able to adequately verbalize. In that moment, I found myself remembering why I love the Mass Effect series and why I find Andromeda's potential so exciting.

After this exchange, I took the time to wander around the Tempest and speak to more of the crew joining protagonist Ryder in the search for a new "Golden World." In the engine room Gil questioned his decision to join the Andromeda Initiative but said he ultimately did so to find a purpose for himself. Similarly, Vetra, a well-connected Turian that specialises in gathering information, felt the need to justify her presence on the mission, indicating that she's dealing with issues of inadequacy and self-confidence. Jaal, who is part of the new Angara race native to the Andromeda galaxy, is an outsider trying to find footing among people from unfamiliar cultures. PeeBee, the wise-cracking Asari, refused to entertain any personal questions and outright said she has no interest in putting down roots or finding a new family in the crew of the Tempest. She bounced between happy-go-lucky, guarded, and distant.

For me, the series' strength lies in textured, layered characters offering unique perspectives that I can learn to understand--and perhaps even relate to. Based on the few hours I spent with Andromeda, it looks like there will be an abundance of them.

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Beyond the promising characters, Andromeda looks to have made a number of interesting changes to the familiar Mass Effect framework, the majority of which I was able to experience in the game's opening missions. Don't worry, there won't be any spoilers ahead.

Our search for a Golden Planet began aboard Hyperion, an Ark housing a human colony numbering 20,000 people. Player-character Ryder is awoken from cryosleep 600 years after departing from the Milky Way galaxy. As Ryder was getting her bearings, a doctor approached and gave me my first taste of the new dialogue system, which looks to address the binary nature of the series' role-playing.

It does this by asking players to select responses based on tone. In any given conversation you're presented with the option to be casual, emotional, logical, or professional, depending on the scenario. Instead of having a series of neutral probing questions and then two responses that align with either the Paragon or Renegade moral archetype, responses now represent a diverse set of emotions that shape each relationship dynamic.

For example, Cora Harper is the Pathfinder's second in command and technically Ryder's superior. When I later became the Pathfinder (despite the fact that she was better suited for the role), some tension began to grow between us. This informed the way I conducted myself around her; I opted to remain professional to prove that I was capable of handling the responsibility. For PeeBee, however, I adopted a casual tone in conversation, purely because she came across as someone that prefers to be around a leader that isn't uptight all the time.

As a result, Andromeda doesn't feel like it's funneling you down a path of good or evil. Instead, the different flavors of responses invite us to play different roles with different people and define relationships with greater nuance.

Ryder's first mission takes me to Habitat 7, a planet set to be the new Earth. However, upon my arrival it became abundantly clear that it was less than golden. In fact, Habitat 7 looked like it had been torn and twisted into something uninhabitable.

It's blue sky and sparse plant life indicated that it could have once been a new home for mankind, but it was now fraught with thunderstorms, and oxygen levels had plummeted as the atmosphere became choked in argon nitrogen. Intense magnetic activity meant that rock formations were floating in the air, and metallic inclusions attracted destructive electrical phenomena, the danger of which I experienced first-hand when a lightning bolt hit our ship and scattered my crew around the designated landing point. With only security specialist Liam Costa in tow, I began searching for the rest of the team.

The different flavors of responses invite us to play different roles with different people and define relationships with greater nuance.

Taking a page of out of Dragon Age: Inquisition's book, Mass Effect: Andromeda's planets are built to be a series of contained spaces where players explore and complete quests. Although they're not connected to form what we'd traditionally consider an open-world, each location is large enough to hold story missions, as well as side missions you can uncover and complete by venturing off the prescribed path and exploring.

To accommodate this, Ryder has been given a robust set of traversal abilities, most notably a jump and a dash enabled by a rocket pack. Ryder was also able to clamber up Habitat 7's rocky cliff faces to reach elevated areas, a skill that proved necessary to track a distress call from a teammate for a sidequest.

These abilities are also at the core of Andromeda's new combat mechanics, which I employed against the aforementioned Kett. At one point we came upon a friend who had been cornered by this unfamiliar alien race. Wearing armour made of bone and brandishing guns, they looked to be hostile but, as pointed out by Ryder, first contact protocols dictate that you cannot open fire unless fired on. Given the option to act first and talk later, I decided to let cooler heads prevail and attempted to talk to the Kett. Since they spoke an unknown language and weren't treating our friend very nicely, I had no option but to engage.

Interestingly, Ryder voiced her displeasure about how things unfolded and even made the case for the Kett feeling as threatened by us as we were by them. Andromeda makes attempts at presenting the Kett, and the mysterious Archon leading them, as figures that could also be on a journey that parallels ours. Since the portions of the game we played were devoid of necessary context, it wasn't clear what their motivations were, but I got the feeling the game doesn't want to present them as clear-cut bad guys.

In this scenario it was us versus them; the perfect opportunity to put combat through its paces. Mass Effect 3's combat serves as the foundation for the way Andromeda plays, in particular the increased freedom of movement. However, one major difference is that the role of cover has been significantly diminished. Although Ryder will automatically move into cover as you approach any appropriately large, solid object--and in fact it's often necessary to recover from damage--but between the new movement abilities, Biotic powers, and destructive weaponry, Ryder feels like a character designed to always be on the offensive.

The Kett didn't make a habit of coming out into the open, preferring to obscure themselves behind cover and quickly move between objects in the environment. As a result, I was forced to take the fight to them by leaping out of cover and launching myself into the air with a jet pack. Once airborne, I could hover long enough to aim and fire off a few shots. Ryder's dash could then be used to quickly maneuver back into cover and begin the loop again.

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While combat in previous entries in the series felt very stop-and-start--with players moving between different cover points and popping out to fire their weapons or use powers--Andromeda's skirmishes feel like they're focused on forward momentum. However, the combat's newfound energy comes at the cost of a degree of control and a layer of strategy that series fans are used to having.

Unlike previous games, you only have direct control over Ryder, and teammates can't be issued commands beyond moving to a specified location or focusing fire on a designated enemy. BioWare has also reworked how Biotic powers are implemented to ensure you aren't spending extended time in a radial wheel. Instead of having a suite of powers on an instantly accessible wheel, you have three favourites that are assigned to shortcuts so that they can quickly be employed in the heat of battle, much like in Mass Effect 3. It is possible to create four loadouts that you can switch between during battle, but given that they're two menus deep, it only makes sense to do this in order to adapt to changing battle conditions between waves, rather than as a workaround for the new system.

Another major change for Andromeda is the new freeform class system. Instead of selecting a specific role and developing a set of abilities limited to that class, you're able to learn any ability and even reassign Ryder's skill points at any time. This is a welcome change as it allows you to create unique play styles and experiment with ability combinations. Those that opt to specialise when acquiring and upgrading abilities will unlock Profiles that correspond to classes from previous games. These are used to enhance abilities by bestowing Ryder with stat bonuses. Together these changes empower the player to have greater control over the type of Ryder they develop and guide through the galaxy.

After the delays and relatively little we'd heard about Mass Effect: Andromeda, I began to worry that it may not live up to the series' legacy. And while I can't outright say I'm confident it will deliver, Andromeda's tweaks to combat and dialogue are smart. However, my passion for the Mass Effect series is tied to the connections I developed with its characters. So in the end, that personal moment with Suvi is what makes me optimistic about the series' future.

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Now Playing: Playing Mass Effect: Andromeda Left Us Conflicted

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tamz

Tamoor Hussain

Fear the Old Blood.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Mass Effect: Andromeda

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NaotasBack

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Christianity is "rammed down your throat"??

Where?

Television?, public school?, college? Pop music? Movies?

Where?

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scottabc

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@naotasback: The main place I had it rammed down my throat was called "church". This is an institution that you can find in numerous places in every community, has tax-free privileges even as many engage in politics to varying degrees and many more attempt to influence the culture through all kinds allied institutions such as non-profits and so on.

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connorman01

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@scottabc: no one makes you go to church, you dingus

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scottabc

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@connorman01: I used past tense for a reason: this was when I was young. Dingus

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KallenX

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@connorman01: Actually in most cases, people ARE forced to go to church by their parents. Indoctrination is real, and in a limited information sphere one can find the box of their world being made very small, very quickly.

I'm sure I'm not the only one this has happened to. Cultural expectations I'd imagine are much tougher in the US where many communities operate theocratically via church influence. Look at the US Republican party... they are not exactly hiding their religious association.

Even if you do not go to church, Americans still have the flag and God and country shit in their schools every morning.

It is good to learn about religions though, all of them. It helps you determine how to build the rules you want to live by personally and how you will deal with the unknown people and places and things you encounter.

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Lach0121

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Edited By Lach0121

@naotasback: Its called "the bible belt" for a reason. Try living below the Mason-Dixon line. It is quite rammed down our throats here, as the majority here is still quite anti-intellectual.

Mogan already covered some so I won't echo him, but to add to it... its even in the white house with executive orders basically censoring science. The VP wants the federal gov to enforce superstition to be taught in public science classrooms.

You would have to be blind, or completely biased not to notice.

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Keyrlis

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@Lach0121: Been there, born there, did that, moved out.

The temperatures aren't the only thing better away from there, I tell you. Seeing Jeff Sessions in US Gov. is terrifying. #CalExit

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Lach0121

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@Keyrlis: Getting out of the South is one of our long term goals. I agree Jeff Sessions, and Spicer are both a nightmare for logical thinking people, before you even get to the P, and VP. (which is just evidence this country would rather believe than understand... anything really.)

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Mogan

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Edited By Mogan  Moderator

@naotasback: Probably depends on where you live. I live in the southern midwest, and here you've got Christian merch in stores, several massive Christian churches, people upset the 10 Commandments were removed from school, state government praying before starting meetings, government officials refusing to serve people on religious grounds, planned parenthood being defunded because of Christian led pro-life activism, tax money going to build bible oriented museums and theme parks, and at least one camp where parents can send their kids to "Pray the gay away".

Outside of the occasional Jehovah's Witness knocking on doors, or crazy person ranting at college students in the free speech square on campus, nobody is out and out trying to covert the masses here, but Christianity is the only religion you don't have to go looking for to find outside a church.

I work for a newspaper, and local Christian churches advertise every week, but we get a couple angry letters to the editor every time the little Muslim community center in the next town over has their semi-annual community outreach event.

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whatsazerg

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@privatedad1334: What a stupid, close minded (missing the point) comment. You're obviously a christian. A COUNTRY SHOULDN'T BE CHRISTIAN..... OR ISLAMIC. People should feel free to believe whatever crazy sh*t they want.... but everyone shouldn't be expected to believe the same crazy sh*t, OR ELSE!

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Fedor

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@privatedad1334: way to completely misinterpret a post.

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Mogan

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@privatedad1334: What about my post makes you think I'd fit in in a Muslim country or want to move there?

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RadPro

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@Mogan: I'd hate to live there, personally.

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Mogan

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Mogan  Moderator

@RadPro: The Governor leading prayers in the capital, and the de-funding of Planned Parenthood because Christian hardliners don't like birth control bothers me, but otherwise the effects of living in the Bible Belt aren't too bad. The more rural areas of the state can get pretty ignorant and closed minded, but I'm only 15 minutes from one of the two largest cities here, so overall I like where I live.

Though, if I weren't straight, white, and male I might not be able to say that. : \

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deactivated-5ebc942967df5

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@Mogan: I don't think birth control is the issue here. It's the whole killing babies thing that people take issue with.

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Mogan

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@Prats1993: The PP in my town doesn't perform abortions (in fact, I'm not sure any of them in this state do, but I couldn't say that for sure), but we've had pickets and protests outside anyway. We do have two universities (and multiple technical colleges) though, so there are a lot of students here with the will and way to have lots of sex, but not the money or necessarily healthcare for birth control. Planned Parenthood is a good thing for this town to have.

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whatsazerg

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@Prats1993: A fetus isn't a baby... if there is no brain activity you are not an individual... a fetus is merely the potential for a human to form. Now if the unborn has brain function.... that is a problem and should be considered a human with rights as far as I'm concerned.

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LonelyStep

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@whatsazerg: "if there is no brain activity you are not an individual"...according to who? Furthermore, you know the brain begins developing all the way back at week 5, right?

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Chadak

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Edited By Chadak

I'm sick and tired of faith as a topic, but I well expect that that's because I live in the United States in a place where 'faith' equals 'christianity rammed down your throat and trying to micromanage every aspect of your life'.

I know its a bigger subject than that, but my experiences have been too one-sidedly terrible for me to ever be qualified as a neutral commentator on the subject.

I'd prefer not to see it at all in video games, but I'd also prefer to not be rained on when I go outside. I know full well that its an irrelevant preference that will never matter, and shouldn't matter.

I just wish I could have such an optimistic outlook on it. Reading this article reminds me that my entire concept of faith has been utterly destroyed, and I cannot even begin to imagine a scenerio in which it could be made anything but worse.

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digitalheadbutt

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@chadak:

The ME games have never been particularly churchy so I wouldn't stress on it too much. In fact, I think they have always approached faith in a respectful way, not favoring any particular viewpoint. If anything their world is very much "secular humanist" paradise with faith-based belief systems being sort of pushed to the fringes and used as flavor.

Besides The Hanar's deification of the Protheans, Thane's litanies on his faith and Ashley admitting that she was some flavor of Christian, I can't think of any overtly religious stuff in the game.

Looking forward to this game.

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IanBrettCooper

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@digitalheadbutt: "The ME games... have always approached faith in a respectful way,"

I think that's part of the problem. When you give a ridiculous delusion respect, you allow it to exert way too much influence. People deserve respect. Childish beliefs do not.

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Chadak

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Edited By Chadak

@privatedad1334: I've been to several. Lived and worked in Dubai for two years, bounced around doing contract work all over the middle east for the DOD for a good four and a half more.

What difference to me if control freakish misogyny and ideological tyranny is in Arabic or English? If you think the United states is dramatically superior, you should get out more.

Most middle eastern folk are exactly like us, just trying to live and get by. And some few are just as crazy and zealously fundamentalist as our own religious crazies.

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TyroneFonsworth

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@chadak: Problem with that theory is the amount of violence perpetrated in the name of Islam RECENTLY. Through the recently in there so I won't get the "what about the crusades?" nonsense.

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LonelyStep

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Edited By LonelyStep

@chadak: Really, no one can be a neutral commentator on a subject like religion, but you still seem quite level-headed and decent in your appraisal. The thing is, I feel like the industry is large enough to cater to just about everyone's tastes and there's no reason to wish that any of it was suppressed. The fact that there are games individuals are turned off to because of their themes isn't a problem, because there are still plenty of other titles that better suit them. Just imagine if a religious person were to say they "prefer not to see [gay characters] at all in video games". Not cool, right? So it goes both ways. There's enough quality titles out there for you, for me, for everyone and we shouldn't wish to undo that.

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Sol_Invictus3

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I don't see how science and religion is at odds that an historical myth many of the most famous scientist in history were very religious and many of the top universities in world started as religious institutions. A person of faith looks at existence and sees proof of the divine a nonreligious person sees nothing more than coincidence who is right is matter of faith not science.

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RO-nIn187

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@sol_invictus3: the big difference is that if our civilisation would perish and a new one would emerge one day, scientists would rediscover our physical laws and it will always be the same... they would probably have religions too but never again the ones we have... that alone is proof enough that it's all made up...

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privatedad1334

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@RO-nIn187: Who knows if and which religion is the right one, but none of that disproves the existence of God. The fact that every society has created a religion indicates that humans need faith regardless.

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Cyanak

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@RO-nIn187: it's not a proof if it relies on a "if" and a "probably". Just a theory. But I get what you mean.

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LonelyStep

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@RO-nIn187: I guess it depends on what your definition of a "religion" is. Names change and all, but themes largely remain consistent, even across past civilizations and in contemporary civilizations that had no knowledge of one another.

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RO-nIn187

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@LonelyStep: yes it is mostly the same, you dont know so god is responsible. if it is peaceful or agressive depends on the cultures that invented the religion... but it will always vary in big ways... nobody will rediscover the jesus story on which christian religion is based... nobody will know a muhammed... the belief in a higher, conscious power may be tempting because it is an easy answer but it just holds us back from finding out what really happened...

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Judeuduarte

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"Andromeda doesn't feel like it's funneling you down a path of good or evil."
Yeah in ME 1 and 2 since the points gained in either Paragon or Renegade were necessary for some choices you ended up always choosing the same, not because that's what you felt like at the moment, but because you needed to max the your karmic path.

I liked that in ME3 it only mattered the total points, that way you could really choose what you felt like in each situation. Also to me it felt like a metaphor that in a war for survival it doesn't matter how you do something just that you do it.

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blindbsnake

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@Judeuduarte: "I liked that in ME3 it only mattered the total points, that way you could really choose what you felt like in each situation. Also to me it felt like a metaphor that in a war for survival it doesn't matter how you do something just that you do it."

This is why ME died... Tell me wich crime is your favourite? Red, blue or green?

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bbq_R0ADK1LL

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It's always difficult to tackle faith in media. Mostly because the kind of conflict audiences have come to expect involves characters who who either kill or screw everything that moves. (Seriously, look at Ross from Friends or Ted from How I Met Your Mother, even the 'nerdy nice guys' have far more sexual partners than any real world averages.

It's hard to have characters explore faith in a real way. How many times have we seen the extreme version where some parent won't let their child be treated in a hospital because of their religion? How many times have we seen the 'goody two shoes' Ned Flanders type or the guy who judges every one else because he's secretly gay? Writers would rather tell these extreme stories than have characters wrestle with problems in a realistic way.

Bioware's strength is in their characters. It's not gold all the time but they do a lot better than most media at actually exploring some interesting multi-faceted characters. I'm hoping they can bring some nuance & tell an interesting story arc with Suvi.

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Lach0121

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I hope more games break through such a taboo barrier. Though I don't see it happening all that much... alienating blocks of target audiences, but hopefully some devs will take the chance.

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GameDelay

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Regarding the video, I just beat Dragon Age: Inquisition for the second time, loved the Trespasser DLC, and hearing that this is like an improved Inquisition only makes me more excited for Andromeda.

And being worried that the new game will lack the 'wow' factor that Mass Effect 1 and 2 had? That strikes me as a vaguely ridiculous complaint. Of course this won't have the same surprise and wonder as a completely new IP doing new things with the RPG genre. It's a Mass Effect game. I'm buying a Mass Effect game. I want another Mass Effect game. That's just fine.

Regarding Tamoor's article, thanks for looking deeper at the narrative elements that have made Bioware games so satisfying in the past.

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bbq_R0ADK1LL

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Edited By bbq_R0ADK1LL

@gamedelay: I recently finished a second playthrough of Inquisition as well. I haven't played the DLC yet though, it's ridiculous that the whole game GOTY edition is cheaper than buying just a couple of the main story DLCs.

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ice-milk

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Man, I keep wondering when will Alec Ryder die... 5, 10 min into the game? 1hr? Is he already dead and we're just looking at flashbacks in these screens, when!? Or maybe we'll get a moment when Mufasa... eee.. Archon throws him off a planet in a dramatic fashion somewhere. So excited about this game!

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Mogan

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Edited By Mogan  Moderator

@ice-milk: I'll bet he get's Obi-Wan Kenobi'd at the end of act 1, when the badguy attacks your colony ship to prove that he's the main antagonist of the game.

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Fartman7998

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Edited By Fartman7998

I hate the fact that it's straying away from the RPG mechanics, but Bioware hasn't steered me wrong yet.

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Mogan

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Mogan  Moderator

@Fartman7998: For Mass Effect, I think that's a good thing. The first game tried to marry an RPG loot and character skill leveling system with third person shooter combat ... and it kinda sucked. I think ME2 and 3 were much better playing games for having decided to be shooters first and RPGs second.

Though, I'd agree that everything I've seen of Andromeda so far just looks like third person Destiny. Not sure much of your combat performance is going to be based on skill points spent in this game.

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rodrigo_i

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Edited By rodrigo_i

Nothing about the mechanical changes looks even remotely good. Five minutes into Inquisition and it became painfully obvious how absurdly convoluted the maps were just to make it feel like a small space was a big one, and they were riddled with "can't get there from here" moments where your hero was blocked by a three-foot tall rock.

Bioware has crawled too far up their own behinds and are more interested in making movies interspersed with lackluster gameplay than in making fun games with an interesting story.

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PCsama

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the leveling system and spending points on abilities worries me, how much points we will get in each level up (2-3 points) not enough since we will have that massive branches of abilities, for me i will stick to vanguard as always played all mass effect trilogy, most people who played the 4 hours gameplay felt the game unfinished yet.

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Mogan

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Mogan  Moderator

@PCsama: In one of the videos I think it shows a character that's over level 100. BioWare has said there's enough content in the game that a play level up to the point where they have EVERY ability in a single play through.

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csward

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Well this article sets my mind at ease a bit, you do reference DA: Inquisition when is unsettling.

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Alecmrhand

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Good article.

The facts mixed with personal feelings tied to your experience....thats the kind of writing i find most interesting.

I cant wait to play Andromeda.

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bottaboomstick

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I can't be more excited about this game. All of these changes sound wonderful, combat, dialogue and the open spaces. I'm confident that the characters will be fleshed out as teh game goes and that i will grow to love them as much as any of my favorite characters from the first series

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videogameninja

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Edited By videogameninja

Oh no, lol. The mention of faith/God was used in this article.

Cue 9999999999999999999 comments belittling people for their views regarding faith or lack thereof.

-HERE WE GO AGAIN NINJA APPROVED-

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Trenchcoats67

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@videogameninja: It helps if you don't perpetuate it. But, inevitably, theres always that one guy/gal who starts it. At least this time it was the awesome Video Game Ninja!

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videogameninja

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Edited By videogameninja

@trenchcoats67: I know, right? LOL.

Just wanted to see if my remark would somehow make people actually think before writing down the first thing that comes from that space between their ears (like you Ninja? shhh... quiet!).

No doubt this comment section will more than likely turn into a battle zone but hey... maybe this will be a first. Fingers crossed, lol.

-TRENCHCOATS67 APPROVED-

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Mcwalen

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I have never read a preview so different from what is portrayed in the video. In the video Tamoor almost seems upset and negative about Andromeda, but reading through his written preview I am left feeling upbeat about it. Strange.

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-esw-dragoon_77

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Edited By -esw-dragoon_77

@Mcwalen: The video was narrated by Jake Dekker, not Tamoor.

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