Exploring Mass Effect's impact on fans ahead of Andromeda's release

Five years ago, fans said goodbye to Mass Effect's Commander Shepard when the video game trilogy came to a close.

The ambitious series ended on possibly not as high a note as BioWare would have liked, with Mass Effect 3 facing complaints from fans regarding aspects like its ending and day one DLC. Despite the final game's issues, many fans still think fondly of the series and even after all these years are looking forward to returning to that world in the upcoming Mass Effect: Andromeda. Nowhere was that clearer than at PAX East in Boston earlier this month.

Wandering the convention center, it almost felt like no time had passed since Mass Effect was released as evidenced by the amount N7 gear attendees were sporting. A few fans were even already wearing Andromeda apparel and accessories as well. It's perhaps no surprise since Andromeda will be released not long after PAX East on March 21 and BioWare made sure the game had a big presence in a few different ways at the convention, from a BioWare Base to a panel in the main theater.

The panel featured members of the Andromeda team and started with creative director Mac Walters addressing the five-year gap since Mass Effect 3, stating that they wanted to let the trilogy end and allow some time to pass before moving on.

"I think one of the things that gave us the opportunity to be so forward thinking with the original trilogy was this idea that anything was possible. So this was part of the concept behind Andromeda," Walters said. "We're taking it to a whole new galaxy and I think that really allowed the people who are up here today and all the team out there to really sort of go back to imagining and sort of finding that magic that made Mass Effect so special."

Walters described Andromeda as a fresh start for the team and franchise with some familiar things for fans to discover, along with the new, in a game that will have a lighter tone and be centered around exploration. The Andromeda team walked the packed panel room through a loyalty mission for a new companion before accepting questions from attendees. BioWare's Base was also crowded the whole weekend of the convention, with fans clearly eager to learn more about the upcoming game. The anticipation even led to the panel line starting to form at least two and a half hours before its start time.

Whether the new game will capture the same space magic of the old ones remains to be seen, but fans for the most part still have hopes despite the years that have passed since the last game and its controversies. The fans hoping to learn more at the panel were not just those who had been playing the trilogy since the start either, but included those who had found the franchise in the intervening years as well. Alise Brown from Columbus, Ohio for example started playing the trilogy around 2014 -- she was waiting for Dragon Age: Inquisition to be released when a friend recommended she play Mass Effect.

For her, Mass Effect 2 is in her top five all-time best games. The story was what kept her playing the series and she really enjoyed the way the continuity of the story was handled. Since then, she's played the series multiple times, is currently finishing a play-through, and was at PAX East for Andromeda. She's looking forward to the romances in the new game as well as the story, which she assumed will be good because she has "yet to be disappointed by a BioWare story." The story of Mass Effect is one of the reasons she thinks so many people are still passionate about the games; she also thinks it can be hard to find a good story in a video game, especially one that's "a quality, good, not trope-y story."

"Even though the original story was kind of trope-y, I thought they handled it very well. It was very space opera-y. So it was trope-y, but they were deliberately trope-y and it was still great. I think everybody likes a good story, like The Last of Us was an awesome story. You don't always get that," she said. "The diversity of the game I think is 100 percent another reason why people love this series. I mean if you look around and see how many different faces that you see. Also, BioWare's just really great with their fans. They tweet you, you can ask them questions [and] they respond back and say hi. I think it's all of those things that keep people."

For Josh McDougall of Maine, the storyline was the most important part of the series to him and has kept him interested since he started playing when the first game was released in 2007.

"The story all the way through going from one, two and three just kept me engaged. I've replayed it a couple times. Each game probably about two or three times [with] obviously the harder difficulties and then there was always the paragon or renegade trees you had to do so I'd go through and do each of those for each story," he said.

He thinks fans have remained interested in the universe because it's an engaging world overall.

"The story that they built for you, you feel like you really do want to be a part of it and continue on in it. It's interesting. Then the gameplay itself is always fun to play around with," he said. He was there for Andromeda because he's looking forward to returning to a world he loves with "a brand-new story in a Mass Effect universe that's like a clean slate starting all over again."

Mark Kenney from Boston has also been a fan since the beginning of the trilogy, describing himself as a big fan of BioWare games for a long time.

"Honestly when I played through, I was a little disappointed at the end of Mass Effect 3. A lot of people were for obvious reasons. The Extended Cut fixed most of those problems," he told Syfy Wire.

Kenney's kept up with Mass Effect in the last few years, replaying Mass Effect 3 and also playing a fan-made Dungeons & Dragons version of Mass Effect. Kenney preferred the exploration style of the first Mass Effect and is looking forward to Andromeda going back to those roots.

Fellow fans Kyle Benson and Caterina Riccardi from Connecticut were showing their passion for the series by both cosplaying as Commander Shepard. This was their second time wearing the cosplay, the first being at PAX last year. While they'd cosplayed as Elizabeth and Booker from BioShock Infinite before this, they told Syfy Wire they don't cosplay often. Riccardi said Mass Effect was really the only thing to motivate them to build such a cosplay.

Riccardi first came to the series through discovering Mass Effect 2 and then went back to play the first game while Benson had been a fan of BioWare since Knights of the Old Republic and highly anticipated the first Mass Effect game. Ever since they've been fans, continuing to revisit and play through the trilogy. Riccardi loves how you can make your own decisions in the games and pick however you want your character. Benson thinks the crew and characters were really compelling, recalling the moment in Mass Effect 3 when Mordin rides up the elevator and says "Had to be me" as a particularly emotional one.

"The games really show you the kind of stories that you can tell in video games," Benson told Syfy Wire. "The way you experience everything with your crew and going through the story, it's unique to the video game medium. You build these extreme emotional connections to all the characters because of that."

The games have also impacted the lives of some players in larger ways. Lexie Zarow, sporting a N7 jacket she made herself, first heard of Mass Effect in high school but wasn't able to play it because of living in a strict house where she couldn't play games that were violent.

"I didn't get to play until I was 19 this past summer. I played it probably over the course of a weekend, the whole trilogy, and it pretty much consumed my life but in the best possible way and became sort of this solidifying thing in my life," she said. "I'm a games major but I was sort of falling out of love with it and then playing the trilogy really solidified that love for games and that desire to be a games major."

It was the story and characters that gripped Zarow, a second-year games major at Northeastern University in Boston. She said she became very attached to her Shepard and she'll never get over the ending of Mass Effect 3.

"[The series] just inspired me. It elevated what I wanted to create," Zarow explained. "It was like this beacon of everything that I wanted my art to be, my storytelling to be. [It's] so memorable and incredibly important to me."

Now for Andromeda, she's excited to meet more aliens to befriend and characters to fall in love with. She's hoping the story will be emotional, but in a different way from the original trilogy, and is looking forward to the exploration aspect.

Of course there are also those fans that are not as quick to forget or forgive the more controversial parts of Mass Effect's legacy. It was clear during the Andromeda panel Q&A that some fans aren't going to just go easy on BioWare or give up having some fun at their expense by reminding them of the past. During that portion of the panel, a fan brought up the "red, green, blue debacle of the ending of Mass Effect 3" when asking a question about the new game's choices while another cosplayed as Electronic Arts, which owns BioWare, dressed in a suit and cloak complete with devil horns and holding a scythe as he asked if it was too late to have day one DLC before getting to his question.

Still, even with all of this, Mass Effect has clearly resonated enough with fans to draw them back with such interest after all this time. For Kenney, the fact that people still wanted to be at PAX for the game after "the big amount of disappointment that came with the third one" says something about the series' legacy.

"They didn't even start releasing videos [for Andromeda] until a month ago really and there's just so much anticipation. It really resonated with a lot of people," he said. "The characters aren't perfect. They have flaws and you like them anyway and it works. Too many games are like 'oh look at Master Chief, he's perfect.' They don't do that in Mass Effect and I think that's great.”

Zarow sees Mass Effect's continuing draw as the result of "an incredibly unifying game."

"The people that I've met who play Mass Effect, we all have stories to share like our favorite moments [and] things that made everyone cry. It's just super unifying. Everyone has a different story but can relate to each other and I think that's really incredible. The lasting effect that it has on people," she said. "Mass Effect 3 was years ago, but we all still so deeply care about all the characters and their stories so I think that's really incredible for a game to achieve that."

Only time will tell if Andromeda will continue Mass Effect's legacy, impacting old fans and earning new ones as time passes with its story, characters and promise of adventure.

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