Last week Nvidia had their keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show and showed approximately two minutes of new Mass Effect Andromeda gameplay — to my mild annoyance, as it forced me to pay attention to CES. I'm usually only vaguely aware of it for trying to convince me that the future is in three-screened laptops and jeans that know where in the world your ass is. The new gameplay was actually full of information on the combat and levelling/skill trees (you can see it below), but one piece of information on Andromeda continues to be conspicuous by its absence.
I'm talking, of course, about who you can fuck in it.
The new footage showed that as Pathfinder you can pick a character specialisation similar to the Mass Effects of old (soldier, engineer, adept, and so on). It shows that your squad will still be three people including yourself; that you have abilities coming under Combat, Biotics, and Tech; that combat takes place in real time; that you have an inventory with an item limit (interesting, and almost certainly related to crafting items you need for survival and colonising and so forth). You fight robots that make noises a bit like the original Geth A.I. enemies. You can have a flamethrower in your arm like Iron Man, or whatever. We saw a beautiful silent asteroid field, and a vast volcanic vista, and other things that inspire alliteration. But no goddamn romance confirmations.
I've spoken before about the secondary function of BioWare games as dating sims (or possibly primary function, depending on your point of view), and the previous Mass Effect games were disgustingly amorous. You could seriously violate employment laws with almost all of your squad mates, the notable exceptions being an adorable Gilbert and Sullivan lizard, the robots you pretend you don't find strangely charismatic, and the giant screaming war dinosaurs known as the Krogan.
So far BioWare has been playing its gross alien sex cards close to its chest, which is understandable given how much people want to know about it — also, presumably, to maintain a player's sense of childlike wonder as they discover the 'FLIRT' dialogue options. Information on your squad-mates and relationships in general (including those of the non-ugly-bumping variety) is being released slowly, though we do know that there's at least one Turian, one Asari, and one Krogan on your team, and that there will be 'alien kisses' for all gender preferences.
In these instances variety is said to be the spice of life, or at least of open world RPG space games. While I'm not that personally invested in it, and never missed the option in the previous games — I don't care whether you believe me or not — one of my friends is desperate for the option to shag a Krogan (it is, in fairness, perhaps too much to expect BioWare's GM Aaryn Flynn to walk on stage at an Nvidia Keynote and announce 'We're pleased to confirm that in Mass Effect Andromeda, yes, you can fuck a Krogan!' with a winning smile). One of the jokes I found the most quietly funny in Mass Effect 2 was the inter-species sex-ed you get from your science officer Mordin, which is different depending on who your prospective partner is. In the absence of actual sex scenes the hints at the logistics are often hilarious, and continue to be when applied to the potential of Andromeda. I've always considered Krogan body language to read as incredibly aggressive frogs, and frogs fertilise externally by spraying their amphibious milk everywhere, which is basically a subgenre of human porn already anyway.
But there's kind of more to it than being zero-g disgusting, or so we're lead to believe. Relationships will progress differently with different characters, i.e. some will want a serious relationship, some will want to jump into bed and do the nasty right away, and some will just want to be your friends. There will be instances where you can go on dates with characters who aren't even your crew-mates, thus breaking the time honored Mass Effect tradition of every relationship incurring a seminar on appropriate behaviour in the work environment from your HR representative.
Adopting a more nuanced and realistic approach to relationships is a great step! Obviously games will never be able to achieve the genuine mix of terror and excitement that is social interaction with real people, but it's great to adopt an approach that doesn't use sex as the main win-state for getting to know someone, something that BioWare has been chipping away at in their games.
In Dragon Age: Origins you could get someone to neck you just by giving them enough small carved statuettes or jewellery regardless of whether they approved of your actual actions. These days there are at least some emotional shades of grey to navigate — as well as the sort of shades of grey in that book with all the sex, yeah? — though it may still be the case in Mass Effect Andromeda that if you don't go out of your way to run errands for your team members they will literally die, which doesn't tend to happen if you tell Mike you're not free the day he's moving furniture into a new flat.
I quite understand the BioWare team want to keep some surprises up their sleeves, but given the changes they've made to make the system bigger, more immersive and natural, and given that there are a lot of us excited about said changes, and given that voice actors are teasing things in vague tweets already...
Could you not at least tell my buddy if he can fuck a Krogan?