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Mass Effect Legendary Edition Review

How has our star pupil fared a decade later?

The original Mass Effect came out in 2007, but somehow it seems like the intergalactic space opera has been around a lot longer than that. Much like BioWare’s other lauded RPG Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, the original Mass Effect game and the brilliant trilogy that it eventually formed one third of has left an indelible impact in the gaming community. Ask any fan of the trilogy about their experience with it and they’ll no doubt get that misty look in their eyes, staring into the distance as they recall the epic tale of their ragtag crew of humans and aliens who struggled to save the galaxy against all odds, and perhaps even shed a tear for those who didn’t make it to see the new dawn. In credit to BioWare’s storytelling prowess and their ability to weave in both subtle and monumental gameplay decisions that shaped the narrative over three whole games, it’s unlikely that any two peoples’ thoughts, feelings and experiences will be the same either. But these games are…old…and as can happen in the gaming world, not everything that’s old and revered turns out to be truly timeless. As I fired up the remastered Mass Effect Legendary Edition, I was wholly aware that this well-meaning modern remaster was dragging my beloved back into the spotlight almost a decade after its final chapter had concluded, and was also entirely capable of dispelling some of the illusions about the series I had perhaps created out of wistful nostalgia; you can put lipstick on an old pig, a really great old pig you genuinely loved with all your heart, but it doesn’t mean the bacon still tastes good.

Back from the dead and loving it

Thankfully, the bacon still tastes good. Very good in fact. While some of the games’ mechanics and stylings may have aged with slightly less grace, there is a beating heart at the centre of Mass Effect’s universe that still has the power to draw you into it like a Singularity biotic of emotion. Even after well over a decade, I slipped straight back into the persona of my Renegade FemShep like I was pulling on a favourite old shirt. I was once again the non-compromising intergalactic arsehole who got the mission done at any cost, all while fiercely protecting my loyal crew. Few games have ever made a technically evil playthrough feel so good where you feel like you’re doing it all for the right reasons, and so bad when you realise that the sacrifice might be greater than you were initially willing to make. For the purposes of this review I will be mostly addressing the technical aspects of each title, rather than addressing the specific story beats, but I will emphatically say that the Mass Effect story, and the brilliant characters that paint it are still wonderful in every sense of the word. Whatever misgivings I have in this remaster are not nearly enough to tarnish my love for the series, a love both renewed and proven true.

Mass Effect

Let’s not sugarcoat it, the gameplay in the original Mass Effect has aged about as nicely as an open bottle of Passion Pop in the sun. The cover system is beyond clunky, guns and biotic powers lack punch, enemy AI is awful, and the RPG elements are undercooked. However, as a gateway drug to the rest of the trilogy, it is essential playing. If you’re like me you’ll probably overlook the ordinary action and simply revel in meeting old friends again. Characters like Tali, Wrex, Garrus and Liara, who had languished on the peripheries of my subconscious gamer memory for so long, suddenly sprang back to life and the nostalgia hit was strong. Updated visuals or not, the story and character writing is still top notch, and still just as easy to get lost in. Kaidan still sucks though.

I’m still sorry, Wrex

Being the first game in the series, on a technical level it was always going to be the longest bow to draw.  It’s clearly also the game to get the most amount of attention to bring it up to modern standards, with a veritable laundry list of upgrades and improvements. This includes improving the quality of the audio and mixing, reworking environmental details, a phenomenal increase in the quality of lighting and much improved anti-aliasing. While you certainly won’t trick yourself into thinking you’re playing a game from this decade, the level of work that has gone into the facelift is significant, and has paid dividends. It does feel a bit sparse at times, but textures and environments have a sharp and clean look about them that breathes new life into the art direction. Character models also seem to have been given a bit of a spruce, and the alien races all look fantastic, however the human facial models still have significant real estate holdings in the uncanny valley, and the game is still the poster child for BioWare’s continuous struggle with animating eyes in such a way as to not make me reach for a crucifix and call the local priest.

As we’ve seen in a fair few newer titles, there’s an option to opt between higher framerates and higher resolution on console (and whatever the flipping heck you want on PC). You can check out the various boons of the modes below which will of course vary from platform to platform. These modes are common to all three games (as is the inclusion of HDR), but I would have thought that getting the games to run at high resolution and framerate at the same time on current-gen consoles wouldn’t have been quite so difficult given their age, but I’m no technical boffin. On Xbox Series X I definitely enjoyed the 4K mode the most across the titles, as it helps to highlight the graphical improvements and elevate the immersion.

Updated visuals or not, the story and character writing is still top notch, and still just as easy to get lost in. Kaidan still sucks though.

Mass Effect 2

The leap from Mass Effect to its sequel was immense. The four years between the titles allowed a massive increase in graphical fidelity, with many familiar spaces feeling like they were infinitely more dense and detailed. NPCs, both of the window dressing and interactable variety, populated interesting and diverse spaces, and did a much better job of selling what was supposed to be a massive universe. If the story hadn’t already dug its claws into you, then ME2 also cemented the deeply personalised narrative and characters, aided by the novel mechanic of being able to import your old save from ME1 and bring all the decisions (and mistakes) you made with you. The same option is available here as long as you finished the first game (which you should), but you can also jump in with an interactable Dark Horse comic that covers the major plot points from the original.

ME2 looked phenomenal when it released, and in the Legendary Edition it is simply stellar. The atmosphere in spaces like the Citadel and Omega is amazing, and there were several moments where a particular vista caught me off guard and had me staring for a bit. ME2 was responsible for really solidifying the visual character and depth of the Mass Effect universe, and the remaster now confidently holds a candle to post-patch Andromeda.

This game is over a decade old

The gameplay comes leaps and bounds from the original

The gameplay is much improved from ME1, feeling more kinetic and satisfying when blending biotic powers with your standard arsenal. The cover mechanic is also far better, although light years from perfection (they really didn’t get that right until the last one). The remaster can’t hide the fact that the action gameplay is fairly shallow, with severely neutered access to weapons based on your class, and a barebones RPG systems that makes progression feel a little bland. It should be mentioned that the Legendary Edition includes access to all DLC, including the cosmetic stuff, and I seriously fell in love with the Dragon Age-inspired Blood Dragon armour, which went a long way to spicing up the cutscenes. Talking about cutscenes, the pre-rendered cutscenes look quite nice in the Legendary Edition, however the in-game ones do tend to have an awkward level of jitteriness. I forgave it in the first Mass Effect, but was hoping for slightly less jank in the sequel.

If the story hadn’t already dug its claws into you, then ME2 also cemented the deeply personalised narrative and characters, aided by the novel mechanic of being able to import your old save from ME1 and bring all the decisions (and mistakes) you made with you.

Mass Effect 3

ME3 is the brilliant culmination of the trilogy, and I love the sense of palpable desperation it instils. This is the galaxy’s final stand against what seem like insurmountable odds, and once again I felt the weight of command heavy upon my shoulders. People will live or die based on your decisions, and the excellent storytelling really comes to the fore. I was one of the few that didn’t mind the original ending, as I felt it was more about the journey than the final colour of the Normandy’s jetstream, but the Legendary Edition of course contains only the amended ending and features a more personalised feel while addressing some plot holes.

The ME universe’s story and characters are the strong glue that binds all three titles and allows one to overlook some of the less palatable gameplay mechanics, but ME3 managed to incorporate genuinely good gameplay that was finally at the level of its story. The cover system was expanded to make things like cover switching possible, and it made battles feel more dynamic as a result. Weapons and biotic powers had a significant feeling of punch to them, and flashy explosions resulting from biotic combos were uber satisfying. RPG elements were still fairly simple, but a little more diverse and meaningful, and the health system finally made sense. All the remaster really had to do was double down on these features, and that’s exactly what it has done. With the visual upgrades to resolution, lighting and character models, ME3 in the Legendary Edition even does a fine job as passing as a modern title. Even if all you are doing with the first two titles is revisiting them for nostalgia, ME3 is a genuinely good time and turns up everything the series has to maximum volume.

I aced this class back in the day

Back to where it all began

 These expertly handled remasters have given me the ability to revisit places I thought I had forgotten, and to meet again with friends I thought I’d never see again.

Final Thoughts

The Legendary Edition brings together a historic trilogy in a single brilliant package. The team at BioWare has clearly laboured extensively to bring their iconic works to modern consoles, and considering the age of the source material the results are amazing.  These expertly handled remasters have given me the ability to revisit places I thought I had forgotten, and to meet again with friends I thought I’d never see again. While the third-person shooting mechanics of the first two titles isn’t exactly going to knock people’s socks off, there have really been few series that hand you this much narrative choice and really make a story feel like it’s yours. Mass Effect was peak BioWare, and it’s my fervent hope that this remaster gives as many people as possible a chance to see what that looks like, given the recent failings of Andromeda and Anthem. I’m Kieran Stockton, and this is my favourite remaster on the Citadel.

Reviewed on Xbox Series X (Xbox One version played) // Review code supplied by publisher

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Mass Effect Legendary Edition Review
We'll Bang, Ok?
Aspects of the gameplay of the earlier titles will probably no longer satisfy, but the Legendary Edition is a stellar compilation and dutiful upgrade of three classic titles that show BioWare at the peak of its storytelling and world-building prowess.
The Good
BioWare's near-unparalleled flair for storytelling, character writing and world building is on full display
Painstaking upgrades to lighting, audio, character models, anti-aliasing and environmental details have done wonders
4K HDR gives even the older titles a clean and sharp aesthetic
ME3 still hits like a freight train in terms of its overall quality
Come on man it's Mass Effect
The Bad
The action gameplay of ME1 does not really pass muster, and in ME2 it still feels a bit shallow
In-game cutscenes feature some awkward jitter across all titles
I never liked you Kaidan
9
bloody ripper
  • BioWare
  • EA
  • PS4 / Xbox One / PC
  • May 14, 2021

Mass Effect Legendary Edition Review
We'll Bang, Ok?
Aspects of the gameplay of the earlier titles will probably no longer satisfy, but the Legendary Edition is a stellar compilation and dutiful upgrade of three classic titles that show BioWare at the peak of its storytelling and world-building prowess.
The Good
BioWare's near-unparalleled flair for storytelling, character writing and world building is on full display
Painstaking upgrades to lighting, audio, character models, anti-aliasing and environmental details have done wonders
4K HDR gives even the older titles a clean and sharp aesthetic
ME3 still hits like a freight train in terms of its overall quality
Come on man it's Mass Effect
The Bad
The action gameplay of ME1 does not really pass muster, and in ME2 it still feels a bit shallow
In-game cutscenes feature some awkward jitter across all titles
I never liked you Kaidan
9
bloody ripper
Written By

Kieran is a consummate troll and outspoken detractor of the Uncharted series. He once fought a bear in the Alaskan wilderness while on a spirit quest and has a PhD in organic synthetic chemistry XBL: Shadow0fTheDog PSN: H8_Kill_Destroy

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