Mass Effect Legendary Edition Review

Boldly returning to where we've been before.

Pleasant exclamation, Mass Effect as a series is probably the best set of Star Trek games you will ever play. The Captain (AKA Commander Shepard), boldly went where some others had gone before, with a diverse crew, exploring planets and meeting different civilisations. It really was something to behold. A game where decisions mattered and you could either be a by the book Picard-esque good guy, a rule breaking Kirk-style ruffian, or even a Mirror Universe style bad guy, influencing key moments that would affect the game’s plot across the entire trilogy.

Sadly, the trilogy and the original game in particular is now slightly dated, making replaying a bit of a chore at times. Thank goodness for the Legendary Edition remaster, then!

Update: This is now the final review for Mass Effect Legendary Edition.

– ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW –

Considering the leaps forward that Mass Effect 2 made on almost every front, it’s the original Mass Effect that has been beaten the most with the remake stick, taking a fourteen year old game and giving it a serious graphical overhaul, and a sprucing up in other areas as well. While all three games have been improved, it’s the first game that is where the most significant changes have been felt.

For the most part, ME1 now looks very slick. Many modern games (and the new generation consoles in particular) have spoiled us with 60fps performance, so it was nice to see ME1 hit this new standards. Playing on PlayStation 5, the ‘Favor Quality’ setting targets 4K at 60fps, and I didn’t notice any dips in performance. By contrast the ‘Favor Performance’ setting had a noticeable drop in quality as it scales back down to 1440p. I quickly switched back to the higher resolution mode.

Bioware’s extensive refit of the game’s assets has seen things unified across the trilogy, and again, it’s the original Mass Effect that has been brought forward to meet later games. The revised textures look great about 95% of the time with my only real gripe coming from some of the human faces. Anderson being a prime example. His skin looks so shiny it’s just… odd. It’s like someone threw baby oil all over him. Some human faces are OK, but there are some real odd ones in there. Meanwhile, alien faces are brilliant and body models have been improved massively so overall, I’d call the overhaul a success.

It’s the improvements to the game worlds where the graphics really shine. Areas have been given some love, adding in small objects here and there, extra light sources, improved effects and some serious Michael Bay lens flare. I generally hate lens flare, but its addition isn’t too offensive here. I was driving through Therum on my way to rescue Liara T’Soni and had to stop for a second to take in the scenery. Comparing it to some old gameplay videos, I couldn’t believe how much work has been done to bring this up to scratch.

Often seen as the weakest link in the trilogy, combat has also been improved in ME1, most noticeably giving us a very smooth UI to bring it in line with the second and third games, and then making a bunch of quality of life improvements through the gameplay. Guns feel better, if a little underpowered in the beginning. The exception is the sniper rifle, which is massively overpowered! Weapon mods drop to give quicker access to customising your combat experience, and you also no longer receive penalties for equipping guns to characters that don’t specialise in that particular gun.

Personally, I’m still not a massive fan of ME1’s combat, despite the upgrades. It still feels a little stiff overall, and the cover system is clunky. A lot of newer games have refined the process for getting in and out of cover, but it’s lacking here. I also really struggled to hit with some of my Biotic powers in the early game. Lift just wasn’t connecting unless enemies were completely out of cover, and I fondly remember being able to lift enemies out of cover in order to batter them. Maybe my ageing gamer skills have thrown in some extra user error here?

By default, the leveling system is set to the new Legendary scheme, which caps out at level 30 instead of 60. This means you unlock more skill points a lot earlier on, making for a faster paced, more aggressive levelling as I progressed. I quite like this as an option because it means you can get stuck in, which will be appealing to veterans who have already run through the originals, multiple times. You can switch back to classic if you really want to, much like the Mako controls.

The Mako was the real villain of the original Mass Effect. So many players wrestled with the janky controls of what should have been a great experience of exploring planets! Driving the Mako now feels like less of a chore. It’s definitely weightier, having better physics and camera control, making fighting Threshers less of a dice roll. It’s definitely still not been refined to perfection and exploring areas is still a pain… it’s just less of a pain. The experience is enhanced with boosters, although it doesn’t help that much. Every piece of rock in the geometry still causes the Mako to bounce like it’s on Pimp My Ride.

There are of course a boat load of other quality of life improvements which make the experience a better one, like skipping lift sequences! I remember being able to go off and get myself a beverage during some lift sections, as BioWare hid some abominable load times. On improved hardware, a lot of those sections are now slimmed to around fourteen seconds, which is great. If you’re riding the lift, and the game is already loaded, you get the option to skip the dialogue. It’s great!

Getting around is generally a lot better thanks to the ability to run when out of combat, though it looks a little odd. They just took the animation of Shepard running with a gun and removed the gun. The first time I saw it, I did a double take trying to figure out  was going on with Shepard’s hands.

For all the improvements, there’s a bit of weirdness here and there with scenes being interrupted by the auto save. Normally these happen in the background and are relegated to a small icon at the top or bottom of the screen, but in Legendary Edition, you get a big pause in the action and a huge text box telling you the game is being saved. I also found some flashing leaves that flickered while moving around the Citadel, and there’s a step down to 30fps for the pre-rendered cutscenes that is a bit jarring.

It’s easy to focus on the first game here. The two sequels also see some significant improvements over their original release, with the graphical fidelity raised across the board, but without anywhere near the revisionism that the first game received. Despite the improvements to the original, Mass Effect 2 and 3 are the better experiences. They just straight up play better. Another thing worth noting is that Mass Effect 3’s revised and expanded ending is the only way to experience the trilogy’s conclusion, which is a good thing.

– PAGE CONTINUES BELOW –
Summary
BioWare has done a fantastic job of bringing the Mass Effect trilogy up to meet the standards of 2021. While it's still a bit rough in some areas, and there's quirks to how they've retrofitted some elements into the oldest of the three (which is still inferior in gameplay feel), this is the definitive version of the landmark trilogy you remember. 
Good
  • Most of the enhanced visuals are fantastic
  • Significant quality of life improvements through the first Mass Effect
  • The Mako is no longer complete disaster in the first game
Bad
  • Some human faces still look weird
  • A handful of strange bugs
  • Shep runs weird...
9
Written by
Consummate professional, lover of video games and all-round hero that can be found doing a podcast, writing about games and also making videos. Oh, I have saved the world 87 times and once hugged Danny Trejo. You're welcome.