Mass Effect: Andromeda is all about the big changes. We already know this is a game where we’re outside of our comfort zone and in the Andromeda system. Humans are searching for a new home. We’re going to encounter both new and old alien races and deal with settlements and issues an an array of planets. We aren’t going to know what’s right and wrong yet in this whole new world. Which is why it seems appropriate that this entry is abandoning the Paragon and Renegade system.
As a brief refresher, that’s the system that was in place in the first three Mass Effect games. When Commander needed to make a decision, there was typically a blue Paragon and red Renegade response. One was “good” and the other “evil.” In Mass Effect 2, Shepard’s visual appearance would even change depending on whether you were being naughty or nice. BioWare has decided that concept was irrevocably tied to our previous hero and is going in a new direction for Mass Effect: Andromeda.
This is a fantastic idea for many reasons. One of which has to do with structure. The first three Mass Effect games followed a very straight path. You could choose to do some missions in different orders, sure. But A would always eventually lead to D, even if you went from event A to B, then on to C and D or from A to C, then B, before finally hitting D. Mass Effect: Andromeda seems far more open-ended from what we’ve seen. All of the initial promotional materials suggest more planets and opportunities than ever before. A more structured story would require things to fall into more specific paths. Going with Paragon, Renegade, and perhaps neutral is necessary for the tale BioWare was trying to tell. If Mass Effect: Andromeda is more about dealing with self contained encounters when they arise, more narrative freedom is available.
It also makes for a more realistic game. Listen, I know we all love the idea of responding to someone we don’t like in Mass Effect by, I don’t know, kicking them through window. But in the first three games, it almost felt like you were forced into decisions you might not have necessarily wanted to make, all for the sake of remaining a Paragon or Renegade. It limited us and our characters. Removing these restrictions means we could be a mostly good person who occasionally punches an obnoxious journalist in the face or a Renegade who sometimes encourages his or her friends to show mercy.
Besides, we know BioWare has grown when it comes to games with more nuanced responses. In Dragon Age 2, the possible dialogue responses could sometimes seem vague. We could make a decision where the summary in the dialogue wheel didn’t match the actions our heroes and heroines would take. (I recall accidentally sending Fenris back with Danarius, because I thought the “take him” response meant I’d let Fenris handle this and beat up his former master on his own.) Dragon Age: Inquisition shows that it’s possible to offer dialogue options that fall into the shades of grey and allow us to have characters that better represent ourselves or the people we’d like to be. It’d be great if Mass Effect: Andromeda can do that too.
Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t going to be like the original Mass Effect trilogy. It seems like it will be a more open experience. There’s no Illusive Man. We haven’t seen any sign of Reapers. It’s more about finding a new home for humanity and establishing ourselves. There’ll be more shades of grey than black and white issues to address. Abandoning the Paragon and Renegade system makes sense for this entry.