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Mass Effect Legendary Edition Review: Gameplay Impressions, Videos for Trilogy

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2021

BioWare

A remake of the Mass Effect trilogy was always one of those things whispered about in corners of the internet any time a company decided to bring other old classics back, reshaping them around current hardware.  

And like the Reapers, the long-awaited remakes have inevitably arrived. 

Developer BioWare has made the dream come true, bringing one of the most beloved trilogies in gaming's history to the forefront again with a compilation effort consisting of the original trilogy: Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. 

As if there were ever any doubt, the souped-up remasters live up to most expectations.  

    

Mass Effect

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Originally released in 2007, Mass Effect was always the game surely to undergo the most change if BioWare and EA opted to go all-in on a remaster—and it's also the one gamers wanted to see the most. 

Despite its status as a classic of a space opera RPG, the original game had some serious faults—cover was clunky and scarce, weapons could feel inaccurate and the graphics, albeit superb at the time, haven't held up all that well. 

But gameplay was especially a contentious issue for those who debated how BioWare should handle a remaster. Tweak the gameplay too much and this nostalgia trip of a classic loses the charm. Don't tweak it enough and critics will hammer it with understandable outdated accusations. 

It was also interesting to see whether Mass Effect 1 would scrap the cooldown mechanic on guns in favor of the ammo system found in later games. Negative, there—some of the tried-and-true mechanics remain. 

The verdict? There's still some of the RPG-randomness when it comes to accuracy. But this remake feels much closer to the over-the-shoulder gunplay of Mass Effect 2 than it does its original state, which still makes it a pretty significant upgrade.

Gone is the big circle of a crosshair that presents players with where shots might land and in is a more precision-based crosshair. It still manages to feel just as good, just modernized. The same goes for the cover system, which is still pretty clunky but does its job well. 

One will still notice a pretty big gameplay leap when jumping from this one to the other two, but that's the preservation of a classic factor coming into play. It's not the next two games and shouldn't be—gameplay-wise, this is about as spot-on as even the grandest of expectations should have had for Mass Effect 1. 

Then there's the Mako, the biggest point of anger from almost any review of the first game, critic or gamer alike. The vehicle still bounces like it's got balloons tied to every discernable surface. But it's also weightier and more responsive with a boost that helps move it out of tough spots. 

This is to say the Mako is modernized and therefore not as much of a chore, which is all players can really ask of the change-of-pace gameplay there. 

Graphically is where this updated version of the first game shines. 

It's almost a little creepy how close the game now resembles Mass Effect: Andromeda, the most recent game in the series. Characters are immensely more detailed and move with more modern machinations. There are little extra details all over the place, from clothing to things scattered about environments, which will send players diving into comparison screenshots and videos. 

Mainstays of the game, such as Eden Prime, have staggering new effects like fog and extra particles. Those are modern by today's standards and not too shocking, of course, but they were unheard of back in the day on the horsepower the old consoles had for the original release.

Much of this can file under the "expected" column, but going over a classic again with some much-needed modernization love is nothing short of a great thing. 

    

Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 arrived three years or so after the original with some blatant leanings toward action games and away from the heavy RPG influence of the first game. 

And for the most part, it was a resounding success. There was still an enthralling story there, but BioWare weaved in modern details like regenerating health and ammunition juggling to make the gameplay smoother. 

Much of that remains and feels just as good as it did then. Commander Shepard and crew move much smoother through a variety of graphically souped-up environments, and modern players will feel more at home with what the game asks them to multi-task in regards to action and abilities. 

As the cliche goes, the devil's in the details when discussing the graphical enhancements for the middle child of the trilogy. Mass Effect 2 looked great when it released in 2010 on systems like the Xbox 360, but it's a wonder to see some of the characters and locales working with modern technology. 

Headed up by a healthy dose of lens flare all over the place, tons of new light sources, shadow work and upgraded textures, this should have players who even worked through the second game multiple times excited to see what's around the next corner. 

    

Mass Effect 3

As the most modern game in the original trilogy, it's safe to suggest Mass Effect 3 needed the least amount of remaster love. 

Still, that won't stop players from noting the same graphical attention given to the prior two entries. And some of the game's original gameplay elements were taken from here and applied to the other two. 

One thing worth cramming into the third game's section is the Legendary setting for progression, which offers a new, lower level cap. Across the board, players earn more experience and skill points earlier, which leads to a faster game across all three of the offerings. 

Personally, that's meant to have the first two games mimicking the pacing of the third—which is a hard thing to complain about. There's still an adequate challenge across the board no matter how fast the player levels his or her crew, but the option to go back to default progression in each of the individual games remains. 

    

Performance and more

As a three-game package, Mass Effect Legendary Edition has some nice things going for it.

All three games can be started from the same launcher. There's a solid list of options to tinker with, including a "calibration" menu, which is a funny nod to a certain character. 

Narratively speaking, the story is exactly how fans will remember it. It's the example of a space opera RPG/action series done right, and to this day it doesn't have much of an equal. Players are free to be as good or evil as they want, questing for different endings in this timesink of a series that can transfer progression and details from one game to the next. 

Across the board, it's clear the universal additions like extra details and particle effects aren't alone. Body compositions and face details, with some impressive attention paid to alien features, are a highlight of the overall package. 

Load times are noticeably shorter, and those dreaded lift sequences that used to mask loading screens are either widely short and/or outright skippable. 

Of the notable issues, most come on the technical side. There are bugs here or there, including graphical hiccups with textures sometimes. An issue with lips synching properly to the audio can distract, though like the other items, a patch or two will eventually smooth things out. 

Elsewhere on the technical side, it's a little weird to see the lack of a FOV slider, even just on the PC version of the game, especially given the presence of a standalone photo mode. That's surely something that could be added at a later date. 

But those negatives, as hinted, pale in comparison to the overall package. It's a marvel to see something like the first game at a stable 4K and 60 FPS. Planting them all on equal footing presentation-wise is a long-awaited feat that is as epic as it sounds. 

We'd be remiss not to mention the omission of multiplayer from this remake. The multiplayer component of Mass Effect 3 was shockingly competent and fun, which made it something of a cult hit. Popping into it even in 2021 would be a fun time because its ideas hold up so well, so here's to hoping it resurfaces at a later date. 

    

Conclusion

There's a hesitancy to wishing for a remake of a classic game on modern hardware, let alone hoping a whole trilogy gets the love and attention it deserves. 

Yet Mass Effect Legendary Edition is a shining beacon of how it's done. 

Like the first game that started it all, this remastered collection isn't without small hiccups here and there. But it's a stunning feat, and longtime fans of the games will have a silly smile while playing through it—though it doubly serves as a perfect starting point for players new to the series. 

Few modern game releases can boast hundreds of hours of superb content. It's almost an unfair comparison to make, of course, but the point is simple: Three modernized classics are out in the wild via an incredible package anyone with even a hint of interest should experience. 

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