Mass Effect: Andromeda was a disappointment to series fans for several reasons, and among the biggest ones was how few new alien species players encountered in the game. In spite of the fact that you were travelling to an entirely new galaxy and expected to run into many new alien races, with just the Angara and the Kett, Mass Effect: Andromeda had only two new ones (or three, if you want to get technical about it and count the Remnant as well). Of those, the Kett weren’t really a separate alien race either.
According to several former BioWare devs who recently spoke with The Gamer, a lot of that was down to budget cuts. Former BioWare writer Chris Hepler stated that he had ideas for “five or six” new alien races while Andromeda was in the early stages of its development, while fellow ex-BioWare writer Jo Berry also pitched “a few”. Former senior writer Neil Pollner also had his own ideas.
“But we were only given the budget for two new species, plus the Remnant,” Pollner said. “Not to mention that we couldn’t even include all the Milky Way species. And we weren’t going to be able to let you travel throughout the galaxy. This meant that we had to develop the story around some pretty glaring inorganic limitations. So, not only did you get something that felt (and was) much smaller than what you got before, almost everyone playing the game probably had something that they really liked about Mass Effect that just wasn’t there.”
In fact, the budget cuts and limited scope of development was a hindrance in other areas as well. Pollner mentioned that there were ideas for having a dynamic system in place that would inject much greater complexity into the idea of the players, as Ryder, having their first contact with the new alien species and then trying to communicate with them.
“Ryder the explorer should have a challenging and dynamic first contact experience,” Pollner said. “Instead, you’re almost immediately killing kett. So, some very basic pillars just weren’t lining up.”
“That first contact expectation I mentioned? We’d developed ideas for how the player would navigate that,” he added. “We were working on a process for the Milky Way species to learn how to even communicate with the new alien species. We were developing several additional species for the new galaxy, as well as several different storylines for why the expedition had been undertaken. Most of that pre-development work ended up not being used.”
Interestingly enough, something else that limited the scope of development and creativity as far as creating new alien races was concerned was considerations for cosplays, with the decision being made to stick with humanoid designs for new species.
“I remember some early concepts that were pretty out there,” former design director Dorian Kieken said. “One of the strengths of the original Mass Effect trilogy is that you can actually cosplay most of the alien characters – except the Hanar, although I wouldn’t underestimate the creativity of some cosplayers. The intention in Mass Effect: Andromeda was to introduce new races that would still be in the realm of cosplay, which is probably why more crazy concepts were abandoned.”
“In the early development of the game, we explored a lot of new species,” Kieken added. “I’m not sure why we settled on the specific number that were in the final game, but my guess would be a mix of production reasons and having a reasonable amount of races to deal with knowing we were already bringing quite a few from the Milky Way as well.”
It’s disappointing to see the discrepancies between what the original ambitious vision for Mass Effect: Andromeda was and what it actually ended up becoming. At the end of the day, it was a solid enough game in its own rights (especially once the technical issues were ironed out), but there’s no doubting that it didn’t come close to matching the highs of its predecessors.
Meanwhile, we do have Mass Effect: Legendary Edition coming up in May, so series fans definitely have something to look forward to.