One of the most beautiful things about the Mass Effect series, is that anybody who has ever played them has their own unique story to tell. How about the one where they were vastly under-prepared for the suicide mission in Mass Effect 2 and lost most of their squad? Or that one person that decided to romance Kaiden as FemShep? Me? Literally a couple of weeks before Microsoft introduced cloud storage my hard drive went kaput and I lost my best playthrough of Mass Effect 2 where I had only lost Tali to that point. As such, I have never played Mass Effect 3 before.
But all that changes now with the release of Mass Effect Legendary Edition; a remaster that brings together one of gaming’s greatest sci-fi trilogies into the one package with a host of improvements and updates. We already know these are fantastic games, but has the work that’s gone into the remaster done them justice?
Mass Effect Legendary Edition also marks a bit of a crossroads for Bioware themselves. After the lacklustre reception to both Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem – neither of which were bad games, but just not up to the standards fans had expected – the Legendary Edition appears to have been released in an attempt to get fans back onside. Thankfully then, most of the tweaks in the Legendary Edition only improve these games.
For anyone living under a rock the size of a planet, the Mass Effect trilogy has represented a high point in gaming since the first one released exclusively for the Xbox 360 back in 2007. Set 176 years in the future in 2183, humanity has stumbled across Mass Relays that allow for faster than light travel. Now part of the broader community of outer space, humanity is mixing it up with various alien races whilst trying to find their new place within the hierarchy. As Commander Shepherd – playable as both a male and a female – you are sent to the planet of Eden Prime to recover an ancient Prothean beacon. What you see instead is a member of the Citadel Council’s elite group of agents – known as SPECTRE – activate the beacon and engage with a hostile AI race of creatures known as the Geth. To track down this usurper, Shepherd is given SPECTRE status – becoming the first human to ever be granted the privilege – whilst also trying to prevent the vision of annihilation you received from the beacon itself.
This is just the basic plot summary for the first game in the trilogy, but the games included in the Legendary Edition can be played in any order. There are merits to starting with Mass Effect 2 in fact, such as it being the best out of the three, but expect major plot spoilers if you do. You will also put yourself at a massive disadvantage when it comes to the final mission in the third game if you don’t start at the very beginning.
The Legendary Edition brings together almost everything from Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Mass Effect 3 into the same package. The games were always designed to be played as a trilogy and this remastered collection allows them to be experienced that way in a much more streamlined experience. Also included is much of the DLC, and playable at more appropriate times within the story itself. Pinnacle Station from the first game is unfortunately missing due to compromised source code, but as this barely contained any new story beats, it isn’t a massive omission.
Also missing though is the multiplayer mode from Mass Effect 3, that does have larger implications. Originally, Mass Effect 3 had a system called Effective Military Strength, a score assigned to how prepared you were for the final mission. This could be improved by playing the multiplayer and improving your Readiness Rating. In the Legendary Edition however, all this is simply tied into how much you see and do in the entire trilogy.
That’s what isn’t included, but what is included goes above and beyond a typical remaster. Obviously, the first game in the series has had the most work done, being that it is nearly 15 years old, but there are universal improvements across all three titles as well.
The changes become immediately apparent when you land on Eden Prime. Firstly, returning players will appreciate the changes to the combat; reticules are far smaller resulting in shooting being a much less percentage-based affair, and Shepherd can now competently wield any of the four weapon types regardless of which class they are. Then, under the hood are more beneficial tweaks such as weapons overheating far less, cooldowns on powers and medi-gel reduced significantly, more balanced weapon stats and an increased inventory limit.
Weapon cooldown is not an issue in Mass Effect 2 and 3, making the overall combat system much more preferable in these two than the first. Instead, these feature more traditional ammunition with clip sizes and reloading. The changes made to the first game bring it closer to the combat system introduced in ME 2 and it feels a lot better as a result.
The HUD has also been massively improved, giving you better visibility on you and your party’s shields and health. Instead of tucking it away in the corner, it is now bigger and better presented at the bottom of the screen.
Shepherd will now enter and exit cover automatically, as opposed to previously pressing a specific button. It isn’t flawless in its execution but is an improvement. They can also sprint at any point and any location, but only for a very limited time before needing to catch their breath again.
One of the main sticking points from the original game was the Mako vehicle. Loved and loathed in equal measures, this too has received a lot of love to bring it in-line with the complete collection. It still feels janky, but it is easier to handle and still maintains its unique charm.
Also, driving it into lava no longer results in an instant game over. Thanks, Bioware.
The changes introduced in the new and improved original Mass Effect don’t change things too much, which may be good or bad depending on your feelings of the first game. It still plays largely the same; returning fans will feel very at home. But if you weren’t a fan of the original, even with the improvements introduced, there may not be enough work in this remaster to sway you.
However, for all the love and work gone into this remaster, some things haven’t worked as well, and this is predominantly to do with character models. Environments have been improved a hell of a lot, and the inclusion of a Photo Mode allows you to really enjoy the vistas, but the same can’t be said for Shepherd, his team and the various human NPCs you encounter.
Due to the additional lighting elements, many human NPCs have a very unnatural shine. Anderson and Udina – both characters of colour – come off worst from this new lighting. At times in the Citadel, Udina has a grey forehead and looks pretty ill in all honesty. Visuals across the board have been enhanced from models and textures to shaders and effects, but sometimes these updates combine to give a negative ‘improvement’.
Sometimes they absolutely do work though, and more so in the second and third games. These looked a lot better than the first title when originally released anyways so the improvements aren’t as visible as those in the first Mass Effect, but they’re still noticeable.
Whilst this remaster is perfect for newcomers looking to give this inimitable space opera trilogy a go, returning fans will also find a new lease of life in Mass Effect Legendary Edition on Xbox. And this starts the moment you load up the game; there is a new launcher with a new piece of original music, but after picking the title you want to play it is like slipping on your favourite pair of slippers. Whether it is the understated title screen of the first Mass Effect, sitting at the console for Mass Effect 2 or seeing the imminent destruction in Mass Effect 3, the nostalgia starts as soon as you load the game up.
You can also exit back into the launcher from any of the titles main menus and load your latest save file from here too, all without having to navigate through the individual game’s initial screen. And a really neat feature for those short on space means you can pick and choose which games to have installed or not from this new launcher menu.
A lot was said initially regarding why the Mass Effect Legendary Edition was a remaster and not a remake, and one of the prime examples given was that the transition from moving away from Unreal Engine 3 would have taken too much work. Don’t let this detract though, as this is far more than a standard remaster. There are three excellent games here as a baseline, with a whole host of tweaks and improvements to make them even better.
If you haven’t played Mass Effect before, the Legendary Edition provides the perfect opportunity. If you are a veteran, you owe it to yourself to play through them at least one more time in this collection.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition is currently available on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One