I don’t know how many times I’ve played all three Mass Effect games, but that number sailed past “a lot” a long, long time ago. I’ve seen every decision, I’ve hungrily devoured all 40+ DLC moments, and I’m so very ready to do it again. This trilogy is Bioware at its very best. I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite game series — let’s get into what’s new as we set forth to once again save the galaxy.
I’ve gotta be frank — the first Mass Effect was a fantastic game, but it wasn’t without its issues. Painful load times in that damnable elevator, the Mako was made of whatever material they make Super Bouncy Balls out of, mining slowed the pace to a crawl, janky combat with balance problems, and some of the textures were… problematic. The second title all but fixed every aspect of the combat, arguably at the cost of the tightness of the story. The third nailed the combat, albeit with an incredibly polarizing ending. There’s plenty to pick at between the three games, but damn if it doesn’t have one of the best storylines Bioware has ever written, with over 100 hours of content just waiting to be explored. So how in the world could Bioware even begin to improve on it?
Let’s start with the most obvious upgrade to the series — the visuals. I could explain it in depth, but visuals are best demonstrated with… well, visuals. There are a lot of additional post-processing and secondary effects like volumetric lighting, ambient occlusion, far further draw distances, subsurface scattering (simulates light through objects like skin), anti-aliasing, and more unified controller and keyboard options for all three games. It’s more than a coat of paint, this is sanding down to the frame, giving it a new glossy paint job, clearcoat, paint protection film, window tinting, a new stereo, shiny rims, z-rated tires, and a supercharger. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s damned pretty. The Bioware team put together a fantastic 4K comparison video that showcases the complete overhaul — check it out for yourself:
Granted, the first game was released in 2007, so it should run well on just about anything, but with all of these improvements and the huge bump in resolution, it’s worth checking. With support for up to 240 fps and refresh rates to match, the PC version is naturally going to be the best way to re-experience this trilogy. The PS4 and XBox One both support 30fps at 1080p or 60fps at 1080p albeit with a “lower quality” option. The PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X bump that to 30fps at 4K or 60fps at 1440p. PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X owners show the widest delta between them, with Sony’s new console offering up 60fps at 4K, or 60fps at 1440p, but Microsoft’s newest iteration giving 60fps at 4K or 120fps at 1440p. Me? I’m happy to max out at 240fps at 4K — it’s buttery smooth with a remarkably stable framerate. At 1440p my CPU was only 28% utilized on average, with the GPU popping up to 44% on the most jam-packed scenes. Pushing up to 4K didn’t shake the framerate one bit, with the GPU hitting 77% and CPU inching up to 33% but maintaining the maximum 240fps.
The unified launcher is more of a unified frontend. Launching the slick new launcher prompts you to click on one of the three games, which then closes the launcher and launches up your selection. Thankfully, things that are meant to be carried from story to story are more unified than that. Your selected character will now maintain their look throughout the entire series, with improved skin tones, hair, eye colors, and animations. I tend to go with a variant of the iconic female Shepard from the third game, so it’s nice to see her again but in the first two games, and not with as many rough edges. Subtitles and language settings, text sizing, and controller vibration are all carried between all three once you make your initial selection in the new launcher. Similarly, your DLC and gear that can be carried between games is automatically handled instead of requiring any work on your part. You do have to beat the game to import that file into the next, but overall it’s a more seamless experience, and a welcome one.
There is another aspect back-ported from Mass Effect 3, albeit with a few additional tweaks — gunplay. The combat in the first game was frankly the low point for the series, and by the third title it was right and tight, making you feel like a biotic badass but not an invincible one. This combat tuning has been pulled backwards into the first game, completely altering the moment-to-moment feel of this origin story. I was honestly worried that it could change the feel of some of the more dramatic and tense moments, but surprisingly it actually helped. Some moments where you were rushing towards an objective and your character janked about with wonky animations and fiddly controls was replaced by a more tactical commander in control of her faculties and full of purpose. Before we dig in further, check out the first mission on Eden Prime — the prologue that sets up the entire series, now in bright shiny 4K.
There are still a few bugs in the Mass Effect universe. Resolution that won’t stick, had a crash to desktop during the final battle in ME1, physics bugs, dialogue being clipped or not playing at all, poor Kaiden getting misgendered in one conversation, and one highly repeatable problem in ME1 with the Mako. When parking too close to an interactive object with the Mako, frequently you lose the ability to interact with anything. The only remedy is to save and reload that save. Other than the Mako, it’s all cosmetic nuisance thankfully, but there are so many improvements that it’s honestly hard to care that much.
There are a metric ton of updates across all three games, but I want to call out a few. First, Elanos Haliat is now a Turian, as he was always meant to be. It fixes a small side mission that you could easily miss that, frankly, made no sense as it was originally presented. The team has also fixed Pluto to match our more recent looks at the planet from NASA. Salarians now have a more alien looking eye that has more depth to it, and the textures on uniforms are absolutely staggering — more so in 2 and 3, but that doesn’t mean the first game is a slouch. In fact, the game is filled wall to wall with small details like this that elevate this game beyond the usual remasters. Let’s take a look at Mass Effect as it was at launch, and the new Legendary Edition side by side.
You’ll note that there are a great many texture improvements, but the improvement to lighting cannot be overstated. Some of you have chimed in saying that you felt like it changes the feel of the original by brightening up the entire game, and I can see your point. That said, all that texture work by Bioware would likely end up nearly unseen if they hadn’t “turned the lights on”. While it’s not always perfect, it does such a wonderful job of bringing the scenes to life that it’s worth sacrificing some of the dark and brooding original approach for one that lets each character stand out.
What should be readily apparent from the two videos above is a drastically improved control scheme, better cover mechanics, improved UI that more closely resembles the one from Mass Effect 3, and more. As a dedicated sniper, I appreciate that it doesn’t feel like I’m trying to shoot off the back of a moving truck full of springs and bouncy balls anymore. Weapon handling in general feels better over the few hours I’ve played, and the reworked HUD and increased inventory space is welcome — I hate juggling weight and inventory slots. No longer worrying about weapon proficiencies and the fiddly bits that were ironed out of the series as it went on makes the first game far more palatable. Since we are talking major changes, let’s talk about the Mako.
The Mako was absolutely painful to use at times in the original release, and vastly improved in the sequels. Rather than simply porting over the feel from the sequels, Bioware went back to the drawing board for everyone’s favorite multi-wheel monster. She still leans into the corners, but she sticks like a tank should. Bioware wanted to make her a little more agile, though, so they also gave her thrusters that operate independently of the jump jets, both with separate cooldowns. This, combined with making the Mako take damage instead of triggering an instant fail when your tires touch lava, makes zipping around the planet Therum a little less aggravating. The Mako main turret has also gotten an overhaul, with balanced damage, but more importantly a better targeting system, making taking down the massive Thresher Maw enemies a little more reasonable. Anecdotal to be sure, but the overall handling and feel of the Mako feels less fragile now. I didn’t feel like I’m driving a paper mache tank any more, but a piece of specialized military hardware.
In terms of storyline, Mass Effect and its two sequels are easily some of the best writing Bioware has ever produced. In the past, you gritted your teeth to get through the rough combat and Mako sequences of the first title to get to the improvements in the latter two, but now it feels like a cohesive experience from start to finish. Sure, 2 and 3 feel more action than RPG, but the changes make the experience feel more fast paced and pressing. We can debate all day whether that’s a good thing or not, but there is no debate that Mass Effect 1 is no longer one you have to grind through to get to the good stuff.
There are over 100 hours of phenomenal writing and characters that are absolutely unforgettable. Additionally, 40 pieces of high-quality DLC like Lair of the Shadow Broker, Leviathan, and Overlord are now folded directly into the story, making them feel less “tacked on” than they did originally.
With all of these additions, it is worth noting that there is one big feature removed that I felt to my bones — multiplayer. It’s strange for me to say that because it’s normally heresy to even suggest my epic RPGs have a multiplayer component. The multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 was so damned good though that it leaves a huge hole in its absence. For those new to the series, you have activities that remind me of the war table from Dragon Age: Inquisition that has your team setting off across the stars to prepare for the final showdown. For a wide variety of reasons, I’m sure the least of which being having to restart online server resources, the team decided not to focus on bringing back this horde mode cooperative goodness. As a consequence, the third game instead imports your progress in the first and second game to affect your “Galactic Readiness”. It’s strange to say, but I miss grinding it out with friends online.
A new feature was added to Mass Effect Legendary Edition to take full advantage of the gorgeous vistas and epic showdowns — photo mode. Baked into the pause menu, you are now able to not only snap pictures, but also manipulate them with filters, angles, focal length, depth of field, saturation, contrast, and more. You can even adjust the camera to point at a different subject, removing the players and NPCs if you are so inclined. It’s a fantastic inclusion that I wish more games would embrace.
So here we are, at the ragged end of the universe (and this review) and I’m absolutely blown away by just how eagerly I devoured every scrap of content in this game, just like I did the first time. The Legendary Edition does the impossible, bringing it to life for a brand new generation of gamers, while remaining faithful to what veterans of the series loved the first time around.
I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite game trilogy of all time.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition
With a graphic overhaul, integration of 40 DLC, and an overall tightening all around, Mass Effect Legendary Edition is the best way to experience this magical trilogy. Whether you are a long time veteran or new to the series, it doesn’t get better than this.