Feature Article

Mass Effect: Andromeda is Bioware's Biggest Game Yet

"In some ways, we’re trying to explain why we took five years"

Bioware wants you to know that Mass Effect: Andromeda is the biggest game the team has made so far. After saving the entire Milky Way from being destroyed by Reapers in Mass Effect 3, it's hard to imagine anything more ambitious. But Bioware has a whole new galaxy for us to play with, new planets for us to explore, and on paper it's a little hard to fathom. We spoke to producer Fabrice Condominas, and asked him to help us quantify it.

"If you take some of the story planets--which are the biggest we have--they’re the size of Dragon Age: Inquisition as a whole in terms of footprint," he said. "Keep in mind though that the context is different, because you’re moving way faster [driving] the Nomad, but we still have to build all that content."

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During our time with a preview build of Andromeda, we got a small taste of that scale. Heading to main mission objectives required us to hop in the Nomad and drive for a few minutes at a time, with the occasional distraction on the way. There was the odd outpost filled with hostiles, the Nomad's mineral scanner occasionally prompted us to drop mining probes, there were clusters of minerals we had to physically collect, and we stumbled upon a cave that unknowingly led us into a side mission. However, the planet was nowhere near as dense as Inquisition's Thedas--we often drove through stretches of landscape where we saw nothing but rocky mountains and toxic lakes. Though we appreciated being able to push the Nomad to its limits in wide opens spaces, we did come away feeling that areas outside the bustling city hubs were quite sparse.

"We went for quality over quantity for sure," Condominas said when asked about their process in designing each planet. "We play it and say ‘Okay, on that specific planet I get bored after one minute and thirty seconds, or whatever it is. Let’s place content."

"But we don’t want to place just any kind of content,” he continued, "they have to have a narrative impact, or it has to tell you something about the lore of the galaxy. Obviously we also have some very secondary content to do if you want to, but we make sure that you have side quests where you learn something."

"In the end, if we still have a way-too-open world--in the sense that you can go anywhere and you can’t have moments when you’re not bored--then we use the environment to constrain it. But the overall idea is about perception. We want the player to perceive that they’re totally free to go wherever they want, so that is important. But, we have control. We’re not a sandbox game, we’re an 'open' game."

Emotional bonding is still a very important part of the game.
Emotional bonding is still a very important part of the game.

Condominas also placed a huge emphasis on the sheer amount of dialogue they recorded for Andromeda, stating that squad members have more lines of recorded dialogue than Shepard did in previous games. Bonding with characters on an emotional level is still very important. He continued to go into the size of the skill trees, the depth of crafting, and the number of possible loadout combinations. "In some ways, we’re trying to explain why we took five years," he said.

One of Bioware's primary concerns with Andromeda was to bring back the "feel" of the original Mass Effect. While the series' more accessible and action-focused sequels attracted a number of fans, there are still devotees of the more RPG-flavoured original. So, we were curious to decipher what the "feel" actually referred to.

Does it refer to the return of a more intricate, RPG skill sheet where you can really nail down a specific type of character? Well, yes and no. Condominas says Andromeda's skill trees are "probably the deepest we've ever made," but similar to other contemporary video game RPG systems, Andromeda is removing set classes, giving players the flexibility of adopting Soldier, Biotic, and Tech skills without any restrictions.

Bioware knows this is a divisive decision. Codominas explained, “We see it internally. There’s the guys that are like ‘I want to be a Vanguard', and he’s going to build everything as a Vanguard, and he can do that. Nothing forces you to do otherwise. If you know from the start that this is the kind of character you want to shape, you’re going to do it and the depth of the skill trees will really allow you to optimise it to the way you want it like good, RPG tradition, to the bone. But what we're saying now is that at the same time, if you’re the kind of person that kinda wants to be more versatile, we also offer that, and it’s not through pre-determined classes that have a 'versatility' stamp on it. It’s just, you make it. My bet is from what we’ve seen so far is that it will be 50/50."

Enemies also require heavy bonding. With bullets.
Enemies also require heavy bonding. With bullets.

"Feel" doesn't refer to the combat system either. We've already gone into Andromeda's faster, more fluid action mechanics, and it's clear that Bioware are leaning further into its learnings with the dynamic combat in Mass Effect 3's multiplayer mode rather than away: You can no longer pause combat to aim and fire powers or tell your squadmates to do so, and combat arenas are designed to accommodate Andromeda's emphasis on increased character mobility and fast-paced third-person shooting.

Rather to Bioware, the "feel" of the original Mass Effect is a little less quantifiable. “It’s all about the discovery," Condominas clarified, "That feeling that you’re in an unknown place and you have to find your own place in that space, that uncharted world, the feeling of getting into something totally new."

"I think in building Andromeda we had the opportunity to look back at the trilogy and take the best parts of all three", he said. "So obviously there was the exploration, that feeling of discovery in [Mass Effect] 1, the quality of relationships and the emotional bonding you had with other characters in Mass Effect 2, and the more dynamic gameplay of Mass Effect 3. And now we're trying to balance that all into a single game, and it only takes five years to get that right."

Mass Effect: Andromeda will be available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on March 21, 2017.

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Edmond Tran

Editor / Senior Video Producer for GameSpot in Australia. Token Asian.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Mass Effect: Andromeda

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