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Mass Effect: Andromeda’s character system is worrying fans

What we learned from the trailer

Mass Effect: Andromeda - standing on a cliff BioWare/Electronic Arts

Let’s talk about the challenges of releasing any kind of trailer for Mass Effect: Andromeda. It’s hard to imagine the pressure the marketing team is under when they decide to release a chunk of story or gameplay to the public.

The latest trailer, if you can call it that, shown during Nvidia’s keynote was basically a short chunk of combat with a little bit of the updated menu system thrown in. It looked good; without the need to support legacy consoles the team has the freedom to raise the overall graphical bar. But there’s little here to get excited about if you’re not already sold on the world of Mass Effect.

And who isn’t already sold on the world of Mass Effect?

What it did well was show off the general tone of the game. Seeing a Normandy-style ship flying through space was enough to get my fingers twitching, and the short look at combat assured us that yes, this is combat from a Mass Effect game. No wheels are being reinvented. There is very little narrative information on display, nor is there any kind of surprising reveal to get everyone talking. It was a tiny taste of the game, and that was it.


What we saw, and why it has people worried

We know more is coming, and the fans have already started to dig into the small tidbits of detail we saw in the trailer.

It was previously reported that Andromeda was getting rid of the class system from the previous games, allowing you more freedom in how you react to each situation. We also know there is a narrative reason for your hero’s ability to flip between profiles as the game progresses, although we may not learn what that reason is until the launch of the game.

“If you like throwing gouts of flame, you aren't restricted to a particular class,” Game Informer wrote last November. “Because of Andromeda's flexible skill system, Ryder can learn any ability, and isn't locked into a single progression tree. This capability is unique to Ryder as the Pathfinder; other party members fill more traditional roles.”

But this is the first time we’ve seen the skill systems in any kind of detail.

“Looked like a lot of skill per category and you can get from all types (combat, biotic, tech),” one fan wrote on the Mass Effect subreddit. “Really not liking the fact that it looks like you only have three abilities 'equipped' at any time though. Abilities are always more interesting than shooting a gun not to mention it pretty much eliminates ability focused play styles which used to be the focus of half the classes....”

The first shot of the menu from the trailer
Bioware via Polygon

This approach to the game’s lead character has proven controversial after the trailer was released, although we still don’t know exactly how it will work, nor what kind of cost will be associated with making adjustments to your character as the games goes on.

“Dont let this class change be like a Diablo 3 thing. Plz no,” another player wrote on NeoGAF. “Plz plz plz no. I want my choices have consequences! Not a clean slate cause i feel like it. Fuck off with the participation trophies.”

Here’s a look at another one of the menu-based sections from the trailer:

It’s hard to get upset or excited about these changes to the character systems without knowing exactly how they will work, and the sense of indignation about perceived shortcomings is a perverse sort of thumbs up from the fans. This is a game where players want to feel ownership of and control over their characters, and creating an avatar that can be easily adapted to any situation means those decisions may have lessened consequences. But it’s unlikely Bioware threw its hands into the air and gave up asking the player to make hard choices

The game will be released this March and we know next to nothing about its story, characters or how any of it will work in actual practice. BioWare and EA are likely releasing these trailers and teasers in a deliberate manner to get us talking about certain details ... or it’s possible they have no idea what they’re doing and someone decided to just show a random bit of combat.

Mass Effect: Andromeda already enjoys a huge built-in fanbase; the normal rules of marketing may not apply. We still hope to see more soon.

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