It's been five long years since gamers shuffled over the finish line of Mass Effect 3, which had riled fans so badly that BioWare was pressured into releasing additional DLC offering optional yet equally lacklustre endings on top of its whimpering existing climax.
While Mass Effect: Andromeda is by definition a sequel, the fourth outing in the revered RPG series, it is very much its own entity in terms of setting, characters and story.
So far there have been only vague details about the plot. Described as an adventure set in the Andromeda galaxy, it leaves behind the events of Commander Shepard and co, without a Reaper or semi-obliterated Normandy in sight.
But it's vital that Andromeda isn't a bland, non-progressive expansion of the first three. We need to be thrust in to new locales, with unknown faces, as much as we need inventive gameplay and next-gen touches.
Here are six things the sequel must accomplish to keep fans happy.
1. Do not regurgitate the same story
This is often an issue when franchises move from one generation to the next: a lack of imagination that can make a sequel feel too similar to its predecessor. Andromeda avoids this pitfall by reinventing itself in a different setting while retaining the quality synonymous with BioWare's first trilogy.
Indeed, this freshly conceived adventure will take place after a 600-year journey away from the Milky Way, which starts at a time between Mass Effect 2 and 3. As either Scott or Sara Ryder (you get to pick) you're charged with exploring untouched worlds in the hopes of colonising new planets for the Milky Way's inhabitants to prosper.
It's imperative that BioWare doesn't appear to be retreading Shepard's quest, no matter how epic and engaging it may have been, and focuses instead on something welcoming to newcomers – which is what the developers seem to have aimed for.
The villains of the story, the Kett, appear to be a horny – that's a literal reference to their skull-like, pointy heads, although with ME's romance options anything is possible – dead-eyed race of nasties that are a far cry from the metallic, sentient familiarity of the Reapers.
2. Add a healthy dose of levity
To some, the quieter moments of past Mass Effect games may have appeared insignificant or trivial. To a degree, that's true but that's only what made them so great. We don't know anyone who despised GTA 5's long list of side activities and opportunities to break from the game's main missions to indulge in, say, a nine-hole round of golf, a few rounds of ten-pin bowling, or simply getting wasted in a bar and stumbling into a group of bins.
The Mass Effect series generally did a solid job of keeping you on the straight and narrow of its main quest, but offered some tidbits that included protagonist Shepard's fascinating 'dance' animation. Whether it's bopping away on a Citadel dancefloor or gawping at an alien employee strutting her stuff, Andromeda needs distractions from the intensity of its campaign.
These quiet moments can bolster the player's relationships with companion characters, which in turn lends to the drama later on with the stakes raised. Mass Effect 3's best DLC offering tasked players to organise a party (complete with invites to send out) far removed from the mass-destruction of the story and it worked as a superb farewell to that series. Andromeda would do well to learn a lesson from it.
3. Drastically improve character creation
Mass Effect's character creation was restrictive and primitive, boasting but a handful of faces and hair, and little else to work with. Bethesda's Fallout 4 showcased just how engrossing facial creation can be so you'd hope that Andromeda will land closer to what was achieved there.
Having a protagonist with at least a passing resemblance to that envisioned by the player isn't the be-all and end-all but it draw players in that little bit more, elevating the overall experience when investing tens of hours in a game.
Given the previews from those who've played the opening of the game, this doesn't appear to be an area where BioWare has excelled.
4. Improve interactions and relationships
One of the strongest defining features of the Mass Effect franchise is how players are able to form and develop relationships with other characters while also developing the protagonist Shepard's own personality. This is a fundamental part of what made Mass Effect work.
Having the power to shape the persona and reputation of your hero was a big deal but when it comes to turning a friendly relationship into a romantic one this is an area BioWare needs to improve in Andromeda.
Regardless of who you wanted to hook up with in previous games, it was often a series of specific answers and reactions that allowed players to take the half-a-dozen steps towards a close encounter of the boot-knocking kind. Andromeda needs greater nuance and to give players the choices for full-on relationships or a quick space bang but with the build-up to either being convincing enough that it doesn't feel ham-fisted.
Producer Fabrice Condominas has stated that the team is "trying to get more nuanced by having, 'Oh, they just have a sexual attraction to one another?' 'Oh, maybe they just want to flirt'. Or the reverse, they just feel somewhere in between the friendship and a love relationship." If they can pull this off with believable and humanistic dynamics, then the subtleties of igniting said passions will work far better than before.
5. Scrap and replace planetary exploration
Planetary exploration across the Mass Effect trilogy was somewhat laborious. Whether it was driving about in the slow-moving Mako, strategically dodging incoming missiles, or the scanning for fossil fuels and pick-ups, they were all terribly implemented into otherwise fantastic games.
There's no denying that slower, contrasting moments to the games' high-octane third-person shooter moments came as welcome respite but driving from A to B, constantly checking your map, collecting crash site items, and engaging in monotonous battles was simply spoon-fed frustration.
Fingers crossed that exploration is completely overhauled, replaced by a more fluid and enjoyable way of traversing and exploring the numerous planets encountered.
6. Make multiplayer matter
Players could avoid the multiplayer arena in previous game and not lose out on much but it'd be great to have some sort of additional and alternative dynamic to the solitary experience of the single player.
In Mass Effect 3, multiplayer influenced the single player campaign but not in a way that struck a chord with fans.
Andromeda's APEX Strike Team missions will pop up through the campaign, allowing the player to partake in missions themselves with or without online partners, or send AI teams to do the work. It could be a stroke of genius, removing the hindrance of having to lump your way through any online content you otherwise wouldn't.
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