The Mass Effect trilogy holds a unique place in gaming history as a grandiose sci-fi action RPG that takes players on a journey through a meticulously built universe that spans across multiple planets and races. Many years later, developer Bioware has now sought to rekindle the flame with the Mass Effect Legendary Edition, with each game in the trilogy getting the remastered treatment along with a bevy of other improvements.
The Legendary Edition comes packed with all of the DLC content originally released for the three games. Instead of having to access the extra content via menus, the DLC has been integrated into each of the base games to make it a cohesive and seamless part of them. Between the three games, Mass Effect 1 has received the greatest amount of attention from Bioware, as it was the oldest in the series and was therefore in need of a more significant overhaul.
The main menu screen works as a launcher for all three games. Once you choose which to play, you’ll be taken to a familiar-looking character creation screen, where you can customize the appearance of commander Shepard. The character creator is based on the one originally featured in Mass Effect 3 and is the same across all three games in the Legendary Edition. Similarly, the default female model for Shepard is also based on the one seen in Mass Effect 3. Your character details are seamlessly carried over to the next game, regardless of whether you’ve finished the one you were previously engaged in. However, the choices you make in, say, Mass Effect 1 will only carry forward to the second game once you’ve had the end credits roll. Naturally, this means that choices won’t carry over if you play them out of chronological order. It’s a robust system that brings all three games together and makes it seem as if they’re chapters within a single overarching story.
Aside from the boost to resolution and frame rate, the work on textures and lighting is what really stands out here. While the original Mass Effect 1 would struggle to hold up today in terms of visuals, the remastered version holds its own and shows that it can hang with the other two entries in the trilogy. There’s also an extra sheen of polish, with the addition of more screen-space and particle effects. Certain surfaces are now prominently reflective, although reflections appear to stutter in motion and can look quite distracting. Character models also play a major role in showcasing the improvements over the original. While the animations still stick out as stiff, the additional detail on face models and character outfits adds to the overall experience, especially during dialogue sequences.
As a result, Mass Effect 1 now looks about on par with Mass Effect 2, but Mass Effect 3 still stands out as the most visually impressive game in the trilogy. That said, the visual enhancements to the second and third games are subtle in comparison, which isn’t surprising given that both have aged better than the first game. The addition of some modern effects does have a positive impact on the overall visual makeup albeit not enough to meaningfully alter the look of both games to the same extent as Mass Effect 1. Moreover, nothing has been done to address the rigid facial animations found in the original trilogy, and it remains an issue across all three games in the Legendary Edition.
When it comes to the improvements made to Mass Effect 1’s gameplay, the Legendary Edition is more or less a mixed bag. It’s disappointing to see that the remastered version feels about as clunky and stiff as the original. Switching weapons is still cumbersome, the poorly implemented context-based cover system is still a struggle, and Shepard’s inability to sprint for more than a couple of seconds is still an annoyance. On the plus side, controlling the Mako, one of the more frustrating elements of the original, is a better experience this time around, thanks to more streamlined controls. While still not perfect, it’s more manageable than it was before. Other quality-of-life improvements include a rebalanced overheating system, which is now far more lenient with cooldown times and slighting more refined aiming. Headshots now do more damage than before, though enemies are largely bullet sponges here just like in the original.
Outside of some worthwhile quality of life changes, Bioware’s aim of making the experience seamless across all three games is largely achieved from a graphic standpoint, and you’ll find a similar gulf between Mass Effect 1 and 2’s gameplay that was present among the original releases. Needless to say, playing Mass Effect 2 and 3 is a much better experience, though Mass Effect 1’s gameplay is certainly more tolerable in the remaster.
Despite the first game’s shortcomings, Mass Effect Legendary Edition is a worthwhile package for both series veterans and newcomers alike. It’s great value for money, as it not only comes back with three games but also their respective DLC. The series is remembered for its character interactions, choices, a well-told story, with some of the finest worldbuilding seen in an RPG. Sci-fi fans who’ve yet to experience commander Shepard’s journey are in for a treat.