The PlayStation Event earlier this week revealed a lot, from new PS4 consoles to Mark Cerny’s possible future as a Batman villain. Most surprising of all was the gameplay footage of BioWare’s Mass Effect Andromeda. We finally got an idea of what the game will look like visually, along with some minor plot details involving alien vaults and freaky gas clouds. Even after the footage ended, the news kept on coming, with the reveal of the playable character, Ryder, is actually three different people.
The one at the PS Event (and apparently voiced by Nolan North) is the Male Ryder, the woman spotted at the end of the E3 trailer is his sister, and the man that we saw in the very first trailer for Andromeda is their father. Their mother is nowhere to be seen, but since the last BioWare game to have a connected family was Dragon Age II and the dad in that one died offscreen, it’s likely she passed. You know, assuming that their mother’s disappearance isn’t a plot point later brought up down the line.
It’s an interesting development for many reasons on both gameplay and story levels. The latter is where it matters the most, in the sense that we have something that was missing from the original Mass Effect trilogy: character history. Despite Shepard being a driving force behind the events of those games, we never really got to know them as a character. Part of this is by design, since you could choose between Shepard being a war orphan, army brat, or colonist, but only the middle option allowed you to briefly converse with your mother. Choosing the war orphan or colonist origins means that your family is already dead by the time you’re in control of the Commander, and there’s nothing for them to look back on.
But at the same time, there isn’t definitively much to know about Shepard, making them both tangible enough for fans to make head-canons about while also being blank enough that if some random person from their past showed up and went, “I know you” it wouldn’t be an emotional home run. Derided as Dragon Age II was back when it released five years ago, one thing that it did right was that Hawke felt like a genuine person, one who had a family that drove their actions. It makes sense for BioWare to do that with Andromeda, since the Mass Effect series (and Dragon Age) has been very family driven. It’s to the point where a commonly agreed upon thing is that Mass Effect 2 is effectively a game about bringing a family together by helping them get over their various parental issues. Having a character with a set background will help players connect better than three vaguely defined ones.
Gameplay also presents some interesting opportunities in this regard. Now that we know the Ryder we’ve been seeing are three different people, does this mean that the dad and sibling will be squad members? What happens if you prefer one family member over the other for leveling up and squad lineups? Sure, your dad may understand why you’d prefer your sibling over hanging around with him, but does that apply the other way around? If there’s an argument that breaks out between them and you have to play mediator, that may not end in your favor, especially if a character’s survival is dependent on their loyalty like in Mass Effect 2. Dragon Age II had a friendship/rivalry meter that, depending on your actions, could change the way a companion felt about you. Certain bonuses would unlock based on which end of the spectrum your companions fell on, and it would be a good idea for that to return in Mass Effect Andromeda. BioWare games are no strangers to putting players through the emotional ringer, and it would be incredibly devastating if you had a conversation with your last piece of family go south before they die in your arms.
While it’s unlikely that Andromeda will have players switch between the Ryders at the press of a button GTA V style, the family does still provide the opportunity to see a mission from different perspectives. You got to control Joker for a brief moment in Mass Effect 2, and perhaps moments like those will be making a return here. For one thing, it provides even more incentive to save someone if that someone is you, and this could also lead to an interesting swerve at the end of the game. If we assume that you have the ability to canonically die in this game like you could in ME2, what if your Ryder can die, and the next two or three sequels are spent with the sibling and father? It’d be ballsy and divisive to be sure, but wouldn’t that also be kind of awesome? To know that even though you failed, you can get a second chance and do right as the alive sibling? Or, if it’s possible to lose both of the siblings, and you have to play the rest of the series as your dad, having failed to protect your entire family?
Are those dark scenarios? Well, yeah, but it wouldn’t entirely be a shock if any of them ended up making their way into the final game. And even if Mass Effect Andromeda doesn’t decide to go down that more than a little depressing path, the Ryder family still has plenty of potential in terms of storytelling and gameplay. The new slate of Mass Effect games on current gen consoles will need plenty to bring in new and old fans, and going with an actual family of protagonists isn’t a bad way to announce that this is something different.