On the eve of Mass Effect Andromeda's EA/Origin Access trial and just a week out from the game's launch, we decided it was time to refresh our memories of gaming's greatest sci-fi trilogy.
Andromeda is a fresh start for the franchise, but you'll enjoy it more with an understanding of its core concepts, and a rough idea of where the game fits in the series.
Perhaps you never played the original trilogy - or maybe you'd just like a refresher of what happened? Mass Effect 3 was five years ago, after all. Join us below for a discussion of everything we think will help you on your way to Andromeda.
So, what is Mass Effect? Assume I know nothing.
Alright, well, Mass Effect is sci-fi role-playing series from BioWare, which also makes the Dragon Age series and Star Wars: The Old Republic. It has aliens and shooting and the occasional romantic liason.
The space-based franchise comprises three main games starring the same main character, Shepard, and a familiar cast of characters. Each game let you carry over your story decisions into the next, until Mass Effect 3 ended the trilogy's story with you saving the galaxy. Mass Effect Andromeda, which launches this month, is something of a fresh start.
Because this one's set in Andromeda, right?
Right. Previous games were set in our galaxy about 200 years in the future. Andromeda is about an expedition to our neighbouring galaxy after a further 600-year trip in cryosleep.
That's a long way to go to get away from all the internet comments about Mass Effect 3's ending.
Oh, you heard about that? Yeah, that was a thing. But really, a Mass Effect 4 in the Milky Way wouldn't have made much sense. The choices players were given for how to conclude the trilogy's story were real galaxy-changing stuff - and it was time for something new.
Andromeda takes place in a different place and time, and the expedition it follows handily leaves just before the events of Mass Effect 3 take place, so you can ignore all of that. You also play as a new character - either Scott or Sara Ryder, whose father Alec Ryder is humanity's leader, or Pathfinder, on the expedition.
You mentioned choices in previous games. Do I need to have played them? Can my save carry forward?
Your saves do not carry forward, and story-wise Andromeda features a fresh cast of characters. You don't need to have played the trilogy or read the various spin-off comics or novels to play the new game. But do keep reading this!
Okay, I'm still reading. Can you sum up each game in a sentence?
I mean, they are 50-hour games... But fine.
In Mass Effect 1, Shepard and friends uncover the imminent threat of the Reapers, an advanced part-organic, part-machine race which culls the Milky Way of intelligent life every 50,000 years.
Mass Effect 2 sees Shepard and more friends fight off the Collectors, Reaper allies targeting human colonies, while relying on a shady group named Cerberus for support.
And it all goes down in Mass Effect 3, where the Reapers finally show up in force, Cerberus turns properly evil and everyone wishes they had listened to Shepard's warnings earlier - although a last-minute plan to unite the Milky Way's many races against the Reapers eventually prevails.
Thanks, although the meat of each game is really how the various races and factions either help or hinder Shepard - and the challenges of bringing different groups together. This was a thing both on the galactic stage and on your crew, which featured lots of different personalities.
Another important element was your ship, the Normandy, where you spent a lot of time hanging out after missions getting to know your squadmates. It was your flying base of operations, and Andromeda is of course giving you a nice shiny new one - the Tempest - to fill with new space friends - human and alien.
Okay. Talk to me about these various races. Who do I need to know about?
Well, there's the humans. We're relatively new on the galactic scene - the other races are only just starting to really accept us as serious players. The other main races are the turians, asari, salarians and krogan, who are all part of the expedition to Andromeda as well.
Let's start with the turians then, who are they?
Bony-faced humanoids with mandibles, the turians are a disciplined, military-focused race - the first humanity met upon discovering faster-than-light travel. Inevitably, we ended up having a fight, but this First Contact War is now water under the bridge. They can be a little cold, but loyal - the best example of this was your best buddy Garrus, who grew from detached drop-out cop to your closest pal.
Alright, how about the asari?
Blue-skinned humanoids with hair-like tentacles, asari are mono-gender, but distinctly feminine. They have some of the longest life-spans in the galaxy, often over 1000 years, which leads to the asari outlook being considered as more mature and diplomatic. They're also naturally talented with biotic abilities - basically Mass Effect's space magic - which lets someone wield and fight with special force-like powers.
We'll get back to that.
Okay - how about the salarians?
Again, they're humanoid, although amphibian-like. Generally, salarians tend to be scientists or special agents rather than straight up soldiers - physically they're weaker, and have short life-spans of about 40 years. They have a reputation for cunning and espionage, and along with the asari have been a part of the Milky Way community for the longest amount of time.
And finally, the krogans?
The krogans are really interesting - they're physically the toughest out of the other main races and the only one not to have a seat on the ruling Galactic Council. The salarians helped boost the krogan race's evolution to shape them into the galactic community's footsoldiers in times of crisis - like when an insect race known as the rachni invaded - but this plan backfired when the krogan became too powerful and aggressive. Oops.
The result was the genophage - a pretty horrifying genetic mutation spread among the krogan population which would drastically reduce the amount of successful births.
Couldn't you cure the genophage in Mass Effect 3, though?
Well remembered! You could (or choose not to, you monster). But as I said, Andromeda's prospective colonists left just before Mass Effect 3 so none will have the cure. It's something BioWare has said will be addressed.
If all of the above got a bit plot-heavy, the thing to remember is that krogans have more bad blood towards the other races than all others combined - and the feeling can be mutual.
Got it. Turians are stuffy, salarians are sneaky, asari are noble and krogan are angry.
Well, yes. But it's also true that like humans, every alien is different. You'll meet others who have different views - this is just a general guide.
And are there any other alien species?
Lots, though only the ones detailed above are along for the ride in Andromeda. The original trilogy contained plenty more - the monotone elcor, the jellyfish-like hanar, the green-skinned drell, the portly volus and the more mercenary batarians and vorcha. Then there were the quarians - a group of nomadic, suited aliens which had lost their homeworld to the geth, an AI race they created.
So none of those will appear?
The only race to watch out for, BioWare has said, is the quarians. They are by far the most central race to be left out of Andromeda's main narrative. We suspect a hint at their presence at some point.
I remember a race called the Protheans, too.
Yes - so before the Reapers turned up last time, the Protheans were the dominant Milky Way species. They conquered all the other races of their time and were pretty darn powerful, but not strong enough to stop the Reapers. Still, they left a lot of ruins and ancient technology lying around - including on Mars, which helped us achieve long-distance spaceflight. In Mass Effect Andromeda you learn that Sara and Alec Ryder both previously researched the Protheans, so expect them to be referenced a bit.
You also mentioned space magic. Don't think I'm going to let you end this without explaining.
I mean, this is all in Mass Effect Andromeda's codex.
Also, what does 'Mass Effect' actually mean? I mean, Dragon Age, I get that. It's an age full of dragons.
Fine... So, Mass Effect's technology is based around a yet-to-be discovered element zero which can change an object's mass. This stuff can power spaceships and also give people special abilities, like telekinesis.
And that's why it's called Mass Effect?
Yes. Also, because it's a cool sounding name.
Alright. So - we're off to Andromeda. Is there anything else I should know before I depart? Like, why are all these people suddenly going?
We don't have all the answers yet - and we're veering into things Andromeda will end up expanding upon, but it's an interesting point because this may well end up calling back to the Mass Effect trilogy. We know the folk behind the expedition - the Andromeda Initiative - were keen to have a backup plan if something like the Reaper invasion ever happened. It's a fair bet someone was heeding Shepard's warnings and working on a set of very expensive lifeboats.
And how many Milky Way inhabitants are off to Andromeda?
The Initiative is sending four arks - one for each of the humans, salarians, turians and asari - with around 50,000 colonists on board. There's also a central ship, the Nexus, to serve as a spacestation hub. (That's where the krogan are, if you were wondering.)
And that's it?
Like I said, Andromeda is designed to be an entry point into the series - expect a lot of fresh races and concepts which the game can explore on its own!
Alright. I think I'm all set. Oh - one last thing - I've heard there's lots of banging. Can you tell me more about that?
I should go.