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Probing the latest Mass Effect 4 leak

Filled with constellation?

A new marketing survey for Mass Effect 4 has leaked online and claims to reveal detailed descriptions of the game's setting, story, missions, online multiplayer and more.

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The galaxy map from last E3's teaser. Is this Andromeda?

Originally posted on Reddit, the survey contains countless new details about the untitled Mass Effect sequel. The Reddit poster who revealed the survey has since deleted their account, but it's worth remembering that accurate Dragon Age: Inquisition information previously leaked in the same manner.

So, as is Mass Effect tradition, it's worth probing the survey, comparing its innards with information we've already been told, as well as a few other discoveries uncovered by eagle-eyed fans.

The survey itself reveals its information in categorised chunks, which recipients were asked to rate (likely for the benefit of EA's sales division, to determine which elements should be emphasised during ME4's marketing campaign). Below lies the survey in full, along with our thoughts in text and video form:

THERE MAY BE SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Next Mass Effect Context:

  • The next Mass Effect game takes place in the Helius Cluster (a cluster of 100s of solar systems in the Andromeda Galaxy), far removed by time and space from Commander Shepard's heroic acts and the final events of the Mass Effect trilogy. You are a pathfinder, a combat trained but un-tested explorer leading an expedition into the Helius cluster to establish a new home for humanity. As you explore this sprawling series of solar systems (over 4x the size of Mass Effect 3), collecting resources and building colonies, you will encounter the savagery of untamed lands in the form of cut-throat outlaws and warring alien races. To survive and colonise the wild reaches of space, you will need to grow your arsenal, your ship, your crew and make strategic (and often uneasy) alliances to fight against increasingly menacing foes. Along the way, you will encounter the remains of a once powerful and mysterious alien race, the Remnant, whose forgotten technology holds the key to gaining power in this region of the galaxy. As you uncover who the Remnant were, and the mysteries their ruins contain, you are drawn into a violent race to find the source of their forgotten technology that will determine the fate of humanity.

There's a huge amount of information here, but the paragraph opens with an answer to what is currently the biggest question for Mass Effect fans: how ME4 will relate to the existing game trilogy. Mass Effect 3's ending can leave the Milky Way galaxy in one of several different states, and crafting a canon ending that somehow ties all these together would likely have to handwave a lot of elements or retcon them entirely.

BioWare boss Aaryn Flynn previously said that the developer had "a really cool idea for how we're going to carry on," and - as many fans have suspected - it looks like BioWare will sidestep the matter entirely by setting ME4 beyond the reaches of ME3's ending.

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Alliance Recon something something...

This is perhaps the wisest move, although it begs the question to what extent the original trilogy will still be referenced. Regardless, this fits with several things we have seen already, including the new spiral galaxy shown on ME4's galaxy map during BioWare's E3 2014 teaser. Word of a "pathfinder" fits well with BioWare's assurances that this game will return to a focus on exploration and fits word for word with the logo on BioWare's team shirts that it previously gave out to ME4 developers.

Seen right, the clothing shows off an orange logo with the words "Pathfinder Initiative A.R.K.C.O.N". Fans have taken this to suggest an ark-like mission from either the final stages of the Reaper war or shortly after, where the galaxy decides it should probably have a backup option for where to call home. We're betting those first two initials stand for "Alliance Reconnaissance..." something something.

Travel to a new galaxy opens up a whole host of other questions: how is travel to there possible? Once there, how will you travel within the galaxy without Mass Relays? How much will this limit the number of familiar races present? Some sort of long-term cryo sleep has been suggested by fans, as has a new version of the Mass Relays for inter-system travel. Handily, BioWare seems to be relying again on an ages-old alien race - "the Remnant" - so advanced technology could again be traced to them, just as it was to the Protheans and Reapers in the original Mass Effect trilogy. We'll revisit the Remnant in more detail below.

Finally, it's worth noting that the game puts a limit to your exploration on just one sector of the Andromeda galaxy, which also saves other areas for future sequels.

Collect Resources to Fuel your Growth:

  • Scour solar systems and planets within the Helius Cluster to find valuable resources and blueprints of long forgotten alien technology that will allow you to craft better equipment and weapons, such as improving your leg armour to allow you to jetpack jump, or upgrading your cryo-beam (laser cannon) to target enemies or do area damage around you to clear out close threats. As you build your arsenal and resource infrastructure, you will be able to explore deeper into the increasingly dangerous and resource-rich solar systems of the Helius Cluster.

Some of this was mentioned above, but a return to resource and schematic-finding, crafting and customisation comes as no surprise. The ability to upgrade your physical abilities is new, such as with an expanded jump, but would also fit with the expanded focus on easy exploration.

This paragraph also lays out how your efforts will feed back into unlocking more areas - which all sounds very much like the Power system in Dragon Age: Inquisition. It's worth remembering that Inquisition shares the same game engine with ME4, and BioWare has spoken of how development of the former has influenced the latter - especially in its new focus on building large, open areas to explore.

BioWare's E3 2014 teaser.

A Capable Crew:

  • Throughout the story, you will recruit seven distinct crew members to fight by your side. Each crew member has a unique personality and specific abilities that open up strategic options as you choose which two of them to bring into each mission. For example, Cora has the ability to deploy a biotic shield that protects everyone in the bubble while still allowing you and your squad to fire out of it. Your crew will grow alongside you as you explore the Helius Cluster, and you can choose how you upgrade your crew's weapons, gear and abilities to increase their individual combat effectiveness. Create the perfect squad to react to any situation and to support your preferred gameplay style.

A seven-strong set of squadmates seems a little small compared to other games, but fits with BioWare's recent focus on reducing potential party member counts and a greater focus on the characters themselves. The developer has also given more time to major characters who remain behind while you go off adventuring - not party members, but still central characters and potential love interests (eg. Samantha and Steve in ME3, Josephine and Cullen in Inquisition).

Cora, our first named squadmate, is a biotic - suggesting that even in Andromeda galaxy, combat and powers will remain similar. Our money's on her being an asari.

Your Crew, Your Story:

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Look closely and there's the first krogan rendered in EA's Frostbite engine. Is it Drack?

  • Your crew members aren't merely hired guns - they are part of the living universe in the Helius Cluster that develops in response to your actions and choices. Increase each crew member's loyalty by pursuing missions that are important to that specific character. For example, when a krogan colony ship has been stolen by one of the outlaw factions leaving the colonists stranded without resources to survive, your krogan squad mate, Drack, is determined to strike out against them. If you take the mission and help him track down the outlaws' hideout to return the ship to its rightful owners, Drack's loyalty toward you and your squad will increase and Drack will unlock a brand new skill tree.
  • Explore each individual's backstory and develop your relationship with them through conversations and unique missions. True to Mass Effect, what you choose to say will directly affect your crew's loyalty and relationship with you, and will open up different conversations and narrative opportunities at the end of the game depending upon how you approach each encounter.

Drack, another squadmate, seems to be travelling with the player separate to the colony ship of his own people, which suggests that the pathfinder initiative is an effort larger than any one specific race (ie. the humans).

A krogan can be seen in the E3 2014 teaser trailer, and the angry horned race remains one of the series' most popular. Each game so far has featured a krogan squadmate (well, if you kept Wrex alive and played ME3's Citadel DLC), so their return in ME4 is not a surprise.

Deployed Strike Team Missions:

  • The Helius Cluster is 1000s of light years across, and you can't be everywhere at once. As you develop more colonies, resource bases and settlements, you have to be able to keep them safe. Spend resources to recruit mercenaries and develop an AI controlled Strike Team that you can deploy to take on randomly generated, time-sensitive missions. Strike Team missions take many forms, including settlement defence and Remnant artefact recovery, which will take real-time to complete. Send your Strike Team out on a mission while you continue playing the main game and they will return, 20 - 30 minutes later, having gained rewards such as XP, currency and equipment based on the success of their mission. Spend money and resources to train your Strike Team and acquire better gear for them, which will increase their success rate and allow them to take on more difficult missions for greater rewards.
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Dragon Age Inquisition's cut Keep defence system.

This new mechanic seems similar in part to Dragon Age: Inquisition's war table missions, where you send out resources to complete missions in real-time. The ability to balance resources and keep areas secure also sounds similar to a Keep defense system intended for Inquisition but then cut during production. Inquisition's creative director Mike Laidlaw previously told Eurogamer that this was due to the problems of supporting last-gen consoles, something which ME4 will not have to consider.

Active Strike Team Missions:

  • When you encounter a Strike Team mission in the Single-Player mode, you can leave your Strike Team at their base and decide to tackle the mission yourself with your multiplayer roster of characters. You also have the option of tackling the mission by yourself, or recruiting up to three friends to play with you. The more friends you bring, the greater the challenge and the greater the reward. These missions will play out using the Next Mass Effect's multiplayer Horde mode (more details on this later). These missions will include a variety of thematically appropriate objectives, like defending a Settlement against Khet attacks, or recovering a Remnant artefact off of a planet before an outlaw gang gets there first. By taking an active role in strike team missions, you can earn special Single-player rewards in addition to the usual multiplayer specific characters, weapons, weapon mods, and pieces of equipment which can be customised between missions. Additionally, players who join another person's Strike Team mission will receive bonus in-game currency and multiplayer XP for helping others with their missions.

This feature mixes the N7 missions from ME3 (which were a similar way of introducing that game's multiplayer maps), although expanded with the ability to hop into other player's games at will. We'll cover the mention of the Khet race further below.

Multiplayer "Horde" Mode:

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Hopefully Cerberus will not return.

  • The next Mass Effect's "Horde" multiplayer pits you and up to three of your friends against waves of enemy troops on various battlefields throughout the galaxy. Players fight together to survive increasingly difficult enemy attacks and accomplish objectives, like disabling a bomb near a colony base or assassinating a target. Progress through multiplayer missions to gain XP and earn new multiplayer specific weapons, characters, weapon mods, and pieces of equipment, which can be customised between matches. Multiplayer play will also earn you APEX funds (in-game currency), which can be used to purchase items and gear in the Single Player game.

It's no surprise to see that multiplayer will return to Mass Effect after the success of ME3's player-versus-enemy mode. BioWare has previously said that it was surprised by the PVE offering's success, and it is pleasing to hear that this new mode sounds fairly similar to the old.

Establish Settlements:

  • Search solar systems for rare habitable planets to establish a settlement that could serve as a base for humankind's new home in the Helius Cluster. As you build permanent settlements, you will make strategic choices on where to focus your new base's resources. For example: Recon Settlements will clear fog of war from the space map and give the player more strike team missions to choose from, while Mining Settlements will periodically supplement the player's supply of crafting materials.
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Iridium levels high? Let's get mining.

The survey is light on details of the game's overall story, but this is our best guess yet at why you're in the Andromeda galaxy - to find a new home for humanity, just in case a Reaper-sized enemy threat ever threatens the Milky Way again. It's interesting to see the emphasis on finding a home for humanity - suggesting that the game's single-player mode will once again be locked to a human protagonist. BioWare has remained cagey on whether it would offer playable alien races for the game's campaign - despite their popularity in ME3's multiplayer - presumably due to the narrative complexities it might add. This may be our answer.

BioWare has also said that it realised many players got bored with the mining part of ME2. The ability to automatically see your crafting materials refilled over time is a neat addition and response to this.

Dialogue:

  • Building upon the rich history of strategic dialogue that has defined the Mass Effect series, you can make meaningful choices in every conversation you have with characters that impact the way your game evolves. The next Mass Effect adds deeper control over your conversations through a greater ability to interrupt and change the course of the conversation as it is happening. During certain conversations, you will be able to take action based choices, such as the option to pull out your gun and force someone to open a door instead of convincing them to do it through conversational guile. Action based choices give you more options for how you approach dialogue with characters in the game and can lead to more extreme outcomes on the story as it evolves around the decisions you make when interacting with a huge cast of NPC characters.

BioWare has previously spoken of wishing to expand the opportunities given to players via Paragon and Renegade interrupts. While the survey does not mention the series' good versus evil reputation system, this all but confirms its return.

Seamlessly Travel Through the Next Mass Effect Universe:

  • As you pilot your space ship, Tempest, across the 100s of solar systems that are seamlessly connected in the next Mass Effect, you will encounter new planets filled with valuable resources, intelligent life, conflict, and alien technology that all give you opportunities to increase the power of your character, your ship and your team so that you can build them into a force that perfectly suits your gameplay style. Transitions between activities, like flying your Tempest (space ship) across a solar system to land on a mineral rich planet, then jumping into your Mako (land vehicle) to explore the surface of planet, all happen smoothly without loading screens.

BioWare first showed off its new space vehicle in an image from N7 Day 2014, and talked then about how it wanted to smooth the transition from planet to planet. The early E3 2014 teaser footage showed a vastly improved method of cycling through planets in a new solar system. All of this fits with what we know, including the return of the Mako vehicle for on-planet exploration.

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A ship (presumably the Tempest) flying through open space in an image from N7 Day 2014.

Customise and Share Your Experience:

  • Discover new things in Andromeda Galaxy, like alien artefacts and natural wonders, that serve as trophies and decorations that you can use to modify the look of your character, Tempest (Space Ship) and Mako (land vehicle). Customise the way your squad and your character look with clothes and aesthetic modifications that you unlock throughout the game. Photos you take from the far reaches of the galaxy can be used to decorate your starship or sold to certain characters.
  • Remnant Vault Raids: Find and activate Remnant Monoliths to unlock Remnant vaults. Explore abandoned Remnant ruins to find and locate a powerful artefact, but once you remove it you will trigger the vault defences that will arm traps, activate defences robots and even change the architecture of the vault itself to stop you from escaping. Fight your way out of the vault and you will be rewarded with valuable loot, including powerful gear, crafting resources and Star Keys that can be used to unlock massive orbital facilities in space that grant permanent stat bonuses.
  • Optional Elite Remnant Vault Raids are scattered around the Helius Cluster located in special orbital facilities that are unlocked by Star Keys. Similar to the standard Remnant Vaults, you enter them to retrieve a special artefact which will trigger the vault defences that arm traps, activate defence robots and change the architecture of the vault itself to stop you from escaping. However, Elite vaults ratchet up the difficulty of the encounter with increasingly powerful defence robots and traps, as well as roaming outlaws and deadly Khet patrols that are also in search of the elite artefacts. Elite Remnant vaults will test the limits of your combat and puzzle solving acumen, but with greater difficulty comes greater rewards. Gain rare loot, narrative acclaim and huge rewards for completing these daunting challenges.

This details what you will be searching for. BioWare has previously mentioned the ability to customise your Mako, too.

Importantly, this details more of the two new races named in the survey: the ancient Remnant and the apparently antagonistic Khet. These two major additions fit well with the descriptions of two new alien races that BioWare mentioned back at N7 Day 2014, and which before that were detailed even earlier in the PAX Prime 2013 leak (based off of early discussions between BioWare and a core group of chosen fans, one of which decided to break their NDA).

Back at PAX Prime, a select group of fans were shown concept art for two new alien types - an "ancient, advanced guardian" race with a sci-fi golem-like look and an "arrogant", skeletal race with glowing eyes.

Then, last November, BioWare debuted art of two new homeworlds, one for a peaceful race that lives in harmony with its surroundings and another which is dark, angular and foreboding. It sounds like the Remnant and Khet are their names.

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One of two new homeworlds, this presumably belongs to the Remnant.

Khet Outposts:

  • As you explore planets throughout the Helius Cluster, you will encounter Khet Outposts. These outposts are optional combat experiences where you enter the outpost and fight off waves of enemies. Destroy Khet outposts to earn XP, rewards and thwart their growing power in the region. Your allies will reward you with praise and increased narrative options as you fight to remove the Khet presence from the region.
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The other new homeworld, presumably belonging to the Khet.

Drive and upgrade your Mako (land vehicle):

  • Explore the surfaces of 100s of planets in the Helius Cluster in your versatile land vehicle, the Mako. Whether you are looking for a place to set up a colony, searching for a Remnant vault or attacking a Khet Outpost, you will enjoy getting there in your Mako. Equip and upgrade your Mako in dozens of ways, like adding turbo boosters, upgrading your shield generator or adding a Hostile Detector to your radar to create the ultimate planetary exploration vehicle. Finally, get your Mako looking the way you want with a custom paintjob.

Hundreds of planets sounds like an impressive target, but BioWare has spoken of how it is using the Frostbite engine to build many new areas. The question is - how detailed will these all be? Inquisition's Mike Laidlaw previously told Eurogamer that he was aware fans didn't like some of that game's later, more sparse locations.

BioWare has not responded directly to the leak, although studio boss Aaryn Flynn did post on NeoGAF to correct discussion surrounding the number of colonists needed to repopulate a new galaxy. Perhaps not so strangely, it seemed to be a topic he was well-versed in.

Fans have also since noticed a leading post on Twitter from Chris Wynn, ME4's senior development director. The post, which dates back to January 2015, links to an article on Andromeda. "There must be something awesome there," Wynn concluded.

Here's hoping.

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