There are a few reasons why this isn’t a full review of the new Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. Number one is that the sci-fi trilogy contains dozens and dozens of hours of content and doing a full review will take a while. The second reason is that there are already hundreds of reviews for all three games, and while those reviews might not be for the Legendary Edition they remain largely relevant today, so it makes more sense to focus on the technical side of things. But the biggest and most important reason, at least to me, is because I want to take my time with this one. The Mass Effect games are special to me, a massive part of my teenage years and a huge factor in my love of the Xbox 360 era. To review this new Legendary Edition in a timely fashion I’d have to rush through them all, and…well, I’m just not willing to do that to myself. Sorry. I’m going to savour every moment, do every quest and maybe even chase down every Platinum trophy. This partial review, then, is based on 20-hours with the first Mass Effect and a quick look at the other two games. Plus, the first game features the vast majority of the remastering effort due to its age, and so focusing on that seems sensible.
This remastering of the entire Mass Effect trilogy was long lusted after, then rumoured to exist, and then finally one of the worst kept secrets in the industry. Although the franchise was tarnished by the third game’s ending, and a massive fan-driven campaign to get said ending changed, the Mass Effect games remain one of the beloved, cherished and respected series in all of gaming. Expectations have been high, then, especially since BioWare has fallen from grace, becoming a shadow of what they once were.
Slipping back into Shepard’s N7 suit after years and years is like sliding into a tattered dressing gown – rough around the edges, but endlessly comfortable. In total, I’ve sunk well over 150+ hours into the original Mass Effect, and much more into Mass Effect 2. And yet, I’ve not touched the series in years now because in the back of my mind I was worried that they weren’t as good as I remembered, or that their gameplay hadn’t aged well and would make me remember them less fondly. BioWare has done good work here smoothing out the rougher edges on these classic games, though, and I’m exceedingly glad the Legendary Edition exists, helping a whole new generation experience these amazing titles.
So, for now, my impressions are mostly based off of 20-hours or so with Mass Effect 1, and some gentle dabbling in Mass Effect 2 and 3 since those have been tweaked and tinkered with the least. Although there have been a couple of overarching changes, such as Galactic Readiness now being influenced by everything you do across the three games due to the multiplayer component being removed. There have been changes to the character creator, too, so that you can carry your custom Shepard across all three games more easily. Although annoyingly, controlling Shepard’s head in the character creation screen is still like trying to wrestle a small child who refuses to hold still during a haircut, and so you’ll spend ages in the menus only to start the game and discover your Shepard has cheekbones that could slice paper.
As weird as it might sound, sprinting is perhaps the best example of what I love and what I don’t love about the Legendary Edition. You see, BioWare was happy enough to go in and actually alter aspects of how the game plays and feels, blurring the lines a little between remaster and remake. And I’m completely okay with that considering even at the time of its release Mass Effect did feel clunky to play. The thing is, because BioWare was willing to change parts of the original game, it constantly made me wonder why they changed that thing, but not this thing. For example, you can now sprint outside of combat, which is awesome for navigating the Citadel or any of the large, open spaces. But for some reason, BioWare didn’t alter how long you can sprint for, and so Shepard, the elite SPECTRE agent, can only run quite slowly for about five seconds before he becomes winded and starts wheezing like a McDonalds addict trying to use stairs. I can understand not changing this for combat for balance reasons, but outside of gunfights why keep sprinting so limited? Let me charge through the Citadel like I’m late for an important meeting.
Right, lets dive into this proper. Graphics are up first, since that’s the biggest and most obvious change. I downloaded the Xbox 360 version of Mass Effect to refresh my memory and OH MY GOD! Is that what it looked like back then? Good grief. Anyway, textures have been either improved or completely reworked in some areas, combining with the resolution to create a wealth of new detail in the environments and character models. While it’s certainly not up to the standards of a modern triple-A blockbuster, it looks like a mid-tier 2021 game which is quite impressive given its age. BioWare apparently used mods to judge the level of quality they were after, a ringing endorsement of the modding community, although it’s slightly funny that some of the custom mods actually do look better. Still, there’s no denying that this looks goooooood.
Honestly, some of the best changes are in the lighting and the use of HDR. Once you have the HDR properly dialled in (go into the options, because for me the default looked washed out) there’s a whole new experience to be found. There are areas that are genuinely impressive in their use of lighting and colour, making them look so much richer, deeper and interesting.
The colour grading changes in some places are harder to judge, largely because they alter the tone of some levels and scenes and whether its better will be purely subjective. Darker scenes have certainly been lightened up considerably, partially due to the HDR but largely due to the reworked lighting and colouring. Looking back at the original, there were some moments where it looked like somebody had forgotten to switch on the lights and were standing around in the dark, chatting to each other.
There are so many alterations to the graphics that I couldn’t possibly mention all of them, but here is a couple I really liked: some Mass Effect 3 assets were brought over into the first game to make the Citadel look more lively and interesting, like flocks of birds flying overhead; Realtime reflections have only been added to certain surfaces but look great; depth of field is much more natural, and there are now a lot more particle effects that make everything more dynamic.
While the game does look leaps and bounds ahead of the original Mass Effect, BioWare opted not to touch the animations, creating a slightly strange disconnect. Characters move stiffly, most notably during conversations, and facial animations look even more awkward when paired with the much better looking skin. Considering how much improvement was made in the sequels I would have liked BioWare to have touched up the animations to help bring the first game more inline with its successors. Eventually, you do get used to the slightly creepy faces as they move and contort, but…yeah.
The level of performance you’re going to get depends on the platform and whether you choose performance mode or visual mode in the options menu. Here’s the breakdown.
|Mode||Playstation 4||Playstation 4 Pro||Playstation 5||Xbox One||Xbox One X/Series S||Xbox Series X|
|Quality Mode||Up to 30FPS at 1080p||Up to 30FPS at 4K||Up to 60FPS at 4K||Up to 30FPS at 1080p||Up to 30FPS at 4K||Up to 60FPS at 4K|
|Framerate Mode||Up to 60FPS at 1080||Up to 60FPS at 1440p||Up to 60FPS at 1440p||Up to 60FPS at 1080p||Up to 60FPS at 1440p||Up to 120FPS at 1440p|
As you can see the Series X pulls off an impressive 120FPS if you have a compatible screen. Aside from that, performance is pretty much what I’d expect across the board, although do note the use of the term “up to” when talking about framerate. I cannot comment on what lower-end hardware is getting, but as for the Playstation 5 I was happy enough to leave it on quality mode because it seemed perfectly capable of maintaining 60FPS with only the occasional drop. Still, if the idea of even an occasional framerate drop has you perspiring like a kid being given the stare by their annoyed mum then framerate mode holds that 60FPS like a freaking boss.
The UI has been redesigned, too, and looks a lot nicer and is easy to read at a glance. The new design fits in with Mass Effect 2 and 3, giving the whole package a slightly more unified feeling. But it baffles me that BioWare didn’t redesign the inventory and vendor menus, leaving them as annoyingly long lists that are a chore to use. You get weapons, armour and mods piled into your inventory like you’re the world’s sneakiest kleptomaniac and if you don’t keep trashing stuff your inventory is a hassle to deal with. I do, though, appreciate the new option to mark items as junk and then deconstruct them all, and the new filters do make sorting through stuff a little bit better than it was.
Speaking of U.I. stuff, there are a couple of small gripes I have. Why can’t I bring up my journal on the Galaxy Map? It makes looking for a specific mission a pain in the backside because you have to back out of the map, bring up the journal, remember the system and cluster you’re looking for, go back into the map and find it. If you’re a forgetful twit like me, by the time you’re back in the map you’ll have forgotten the names you’re looking for again. Also, do we really need the short cutscenes of the Normandy using the Mass Relays when moving between systems in the map? They do nothing except slow the game down. Maybe there’s a technical reason for that, but it’s still an annoyance that could have been sorted.
But hey, they did sort out the elevators! Oh, the elevator rides! God, Mass Effect had notoriously long elevator rides that were used to mask the next area being loaded. BioWare made them more interesting by having characters converse, sometimes sharing important plot information and sometimes just delivering a bunch of cool lore and character development. So BioWare has done the best thing they could do since loading times are obviously so much faster, especially if you have an SSD, and that’s to make elevator scenes skippable. Provided the conversation occurring isn’t part of the core story you can skip it and get into the next area, or you can opt to listen to your squadmates. If no conversation plays then the loading times will be as fast as possible. Simple.
I do absolutely love the new Legendary levelling option that you can toggle when you fire up the game. This condenses the original game’s 60 levels into 30, letting you level up so much faster and hit the cap in a single playthrough. With this option on, almost every mission will have that awesome little level up jingle playing at some point. It gives the whole adventure a punchier, quicker pace that I really like. And if you like the classic, slow-burn style of the original game you can have it. Great stuff.
Stepping back into Mass Effect’s combat is the most jarring part of playing the Legendary Edition. Although there is no shred of doubt about the astounding quality of the writing and the world and the game as a whole, I think even diehard fans will admit that the combat was always a bit rough. Hell, the combat felt cumbersome way back in 2007. The Legendary Edition has smoothed things out quite a bit, and the finished product still isn’t great but is much more playable than the original game.
The first change of note is how the combat isn’t as driven by your stats anymore. Originally, you had wide aiming reticles. You’d let off a couple of shots with an assault rifle and suddenly the aiming reticle was almost as big as the damn screen. It could be frustrating because no matter how good your aiming was you’d still wind up missing shots like crazy. Now the reticle has been tamed down considerably, making it easier to consistently land shots while also still keeping a little of that RPG randomness in the mix. For the real die-hard fans, though, there’s no way of bringing the old system back. Sorry!
Weapon cooldown times have been slightly reduced now, making firefights a touch faster since you don’t have to hide behind walls for quite so long. This is a great little tweak, in my view.
Another pleasing combat change is that every class can now equip and use all the various guns without penalty, so your Biotic build can unleash a sniper rifle instead of trying to use a pistol at range. Of course, this is still an RPG so you’ll be considerably better when using your favoured guns, but it’s awesome to be able to whip out the appropriate weapon for the situation. Including sex scenes *cough*. It also just makes combat more interesting because you don’t feel like you’re being limited to one or two guns for the entire adventure.
Squad commands have been made a lot more useful because you can dish them out separately. Previously squad commands applied to both of your squadmates, but now you can tell Garrus to get into cover over there and order Wrex to focus on that Destroyer. I found myself actually using squad orders, whereas in the original game I barely touched them.
Another nice change is the inclusion of a dedicated melee button for smacking some faces. It’s much better than the original way of running up to the enemy and hoping Shepard would hit them automatically, or sometimes accidentally smacking them when you actually wanted to use your shotgun. Although melee attacks still lack any sense of impact.
There are two areas of combat I wish had been changed, though, and the first is the cover system. Both Mass Effect 2 and 3 used the Gears of War style cover system where you slam into walls and stuff with a tap of a button. The original game, though, uses a soft-cover system where Shepard hopefully automatically takes cover when you run into a wall. BioWare has tried to smoothen it out a little but it’s still a clunky way of doing things and sometimes Shepard won’t register cover properly. However, you no longer have to crouch to enter low cover, which is a very nice change. Personally, I would have preferred it if BioWare had gone in and changed the system to match ME2 and ME3, but I’m not sure that would have even been possible on a technical level.
The second thing is the A.I. which feels like it had its brains scooped out and replaced with ice cream. Enemies are prone to doing all sorts of weird things, including running straight through your group in order to take cover beside you. Even on the harder difficulty settings, the wonky A.I. can make fights quite easy since you can take advantage of the enemy’s stupidity.
Overall, then, combat is certainly improved. It feels smoother and more natural when compared to the original game’s cumbersome style, but even with the improvement it is still quite dated. That’s not a huge criticism, I think it’s simply good for potential new players to keep in mind. Mass Effect was published back in 2007, and while the world had been gifted Gears of War and its gloriously smooth cover system by that point, Mass Effect wasn’t trying to be a shooter, despite the amount of fighting you actually do. It wasn’t until Mass Effect 2, and arguably even Mass Effect 3, that the combat became quite good.
Something which does improve the combat is the audio overhaul. BioWare went in and cleaned up a lot of the audio, and the result sounds cleaner and crisper to my ears. A few bits of audio also seem to have been more substantially altered, most noticeably the weapons which now sound brutal and powerful. It might seem strange, but that little change to the sound design helps the combat seem more engaging.
One of the bigger changes comes in the form of the Mako. You might remember driving this thing around was like trying to drive a dune buggy in low gravity. It was less than enjoyable, and easily one of the weaker parts of Mass Effect. For the Legendary Edition the handling has been altered and the vehicle now feels heavier, and there’s added boosters to make it easier to get up tricky hills. It does still wallow and bounce around, though, so while it’s certainly better than it was before the Mako still isn’t all that fun to drive, in my opinion. At no point did I particularly enjoy cruising around planets.
I do like how you now earn full XP for killing stuff when you’re in the Mako, though. Previously, you got a massive XP penalty for shooting stuff in your off-world car, meaning if you wanted to get the most XP possible you had to climb out and go on foot. Now you can remain firmly ensconced in your personal tank and blow everything up. Good times.
I have no doubt that there’s probably a bunch of other stuff I’ve missed, but for now everything I’ve talked about is what grabbed my attention the most. So, is the Legendary Edition worth buying? Absolutely. At least, based off of my initial 20-hours with it. While it is possible to mod the PC version of Mass Effect up to an amazing standard, that’s not a viable option for most people who just want to be able to play the game without needing to worry about installing mods. The Legendary Edition is a fitting remaster of a stunning trilogy, and the definitive way to play the first game. If you’ve been itching for a reason to revisit these exceptional games then the Legendary Edition is that reason. And if you’re part of a newer generation of gamers who picked up a controller long after the Mass Effect trilogy wrapped up, then this is a chance to experience one of the coolest, most well-developed universes in gaming history. Just go into being aware that despite the graphical overhaul, the first game, in particular, does feel quite old.
While I do think BioWare could have done more with the Legendary Edition, this is still a solid remaster that delivers a lot of great changes and tweaks to help make the original Mass Effect nicer to play in 2021. I cannot wait to reach Mass Effect 2 which I still deem to be both one of my personal favourite games of all time, and one of the best video games of all time. And then, of course, I need to revisit Mass Effect 3, the only game in the trilogy that I didn’t play more than once, so hurt was I by the ending. Now that I know how things will play out, I’m much more ready to accept the game for what it is. Plus, I never went back and visited the special DLC that was released afterwards, so that might help give me some much needed closure for a cast of characters that hold a special place in my miserable, grubby little heart.