The epic space shooter/RPG hybrid is one of the most influential and formative video games ever created. It redefined the genre by presenting a game with complicated, lovable characters and a driving narrative experience that players could actually influence through choices that carry over from game to game. Many have said the Mass Effect trilogy is this generation’s Star Wars — a comparison I personally agree with in terms of influence and scope.
I’ve played through the original trilogy more than 15 times at this point, on several different systems, so I know it — and its various PC mods — like the back of my hand. For console gamers, this remaster is almost a no-brainer purchase. For PC gamers, there’s a lot more to consider.
“Mass Effect Legendary Edition” (or MELE, for short) takes all three original trilogy Mass Effect games and all DLC (with the exception of Pinnacle Station in ME1) and crams it into one convenient package, with a substantial graphics, load-time and frames-per-second (FPS) upgrade. Apart from extremely minor changes, the story is identical to the original outing (more on that later). Developer BioWare wanted to “modernize the experience” for this generation of gamers while staying true to the trilogy’s original vision. And in that regard, “Mass Effect Legendary Edition” absolutely succeeds.
The majority of the work went into the first game, which is understandable. The original “Mass Effect 1” had clunky gameplay, and it had a different design from the other two games. It was more RPG focused, with larger explorable hub areas and worlds offering an experience closer to RPG than shooter.
MELE retains that original experience, while cleaning up its gameplay. It has a revamped combat HUD and controls. Players can snap in and out of cover much more easily than in the original, and aiming and bullet spray is tighter and more manageable. The upgraded FPS increases the speed and smoothness of combat from the original, which felt sluggish at times. I only noticed FPS dips in combat during sections with huge amounts of enemies, like the ending section on Feros.
There are two level scaling options present in “Mass Effect 1” — Legendary and Classic — but it’s unclear what exactly they do. After testing both, I can say it makes such a minimal difference to combat that it doesn’t really matter. Finally, the equipment menu is redesigned to be less cluttered. It still feels a little unintuitive, but it’s certainly more manageable than in the original.
The infamous Mako, the exploration vehicle with its baffling, gravity-defying movement, also got a controls redesign. The original version felt like a cat’s toy bouncing off objects, seemingly at random. This new version is much tighter, with less wonky physics, which makes visiting foreign worlds a much less frustrating experience. The Mako clearly takes design inspiration from “Mass Effect Andromeda’s” Nomad — it feels and controls exactly like that vehicle.
ME2 and ME3 have the same gameplay as their original outings, but the tweaks to the gameplay make “Mass Effect 1” feel like an entirely different experience at times. That’s a good thing: my impression while playing was that this is what the developers intended the first game to feel like. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the design direction BioWare took for its next game in the series.
The graphics have been drastically upgraded from the original across all three games (although it’s most noticeable in ME1). Some environments get completely different color and lighting schemes to enhance their visual splendor. (Eden Prime, Feros and Freedom’s Progress being the biggest changes.) There’s enhanced lighting thanks to ambient occlusion, and there are massively upgraded textures, especially on the aliens.
MELE offers one of the best visual upgrades in recent remaster memory. But I cannot stress this enough — the best upgrade to the trilogy is the shortened load times. The infamous elevator sequences can be skipped with a press of a button after approximately 6 seconds. Each sequence connects to the next incredibly quickly. It creates a cinematic feel that propels the narrative even more than the originals did.
Perhaps most interesting are the subtle, unannounced tweaks Bioware has made to the story. Project developer Mac Walters stated that there was a concerted effort by the team to unify each game into one, cohesive experience. While there are some major oversights to this endeavor (why are the pause menu options in different positions through the three games?) for the most part they get it right through subtle changes.
Several smaller characters on the Citadel in ME1 surprised me with their appearance. Another example: Yeomen Kelly Chambers in ME2 gets a redesign to more closely match how she appears in ME3. It’ll be interesting to see what other tweaks players catch throughout the games.
Those expecting new content or changes to the narrative should temper their expectations, and this is where the question of “should you buy this game?” gets more complicated.
The Mass Effect community is a lovably nerdy, highly devoted fan base that’s worked on countless PC mods to enhance the experience of the original trilogy. These mods ranged from graphical and load time upgrades, to restoring cut content, to creating additional story content and entirely different endings. Some of these are fantastic additions that, in my opinion, enrich the experience without betraying the original vision BioWare had for these games.
BioWare stated it actually used the community’s mods as a benchmark for MELE. As someone who has played both the community mods and MELE, though, I have to say that I find the community mods to be most robust. The technical components between the two, like the graphics and load times, are comparable, but the mods get an edge in terms of the additional experiences they provide. Just check out mods like the Expanded Galaxy Mod, which adds ship customization and additional side quests, the Ken and Gabby Recruitment Mod, which restores a cut scene from ME3, and the ME2 Squadmate Pack Mod, which allows you to use the ME2 squaddies in ME3 at appropriate story moments.
Since it remains unclear how and when MELE will be compatible with modding, PC gamers may want to hold off on purchasing MELE. Community mods to the original games provide a comparable experience with additional perks MELE can’t offer. But if you’re a console gamer, or someone who doesn’t want to dabble in modding and just wants a convenient package of all the original trilogy’s content, then MELE is for you.
You should buy this game if:
• You’re a console gamer
• You’re a hardcore ME fan who wants to support the next game in the series
• You’re looking for a convenient package of all ME content
• You want to play ME1 at its very best
You shouldn’t buy this game if:
• You’re a PC gamer who’s looking into mods
• You’re looking for new narrative experiences
• You’re more interested in ME2/ME3 enhancements