I’ve not been taken aback by how strong my nostalgia has been for something as I have with Mass Effect. I’ve played all the games, multiple times, across hundreds of hours. Still, I’ve never revisited them properly outside of their respective launch years. Rumours abound of a remaster; I’d held off, but part of me was worried that my nostalgia was entirely rose-tinted. Now, over a decade later, I’ve spent a considerable time with Legendary Edition, and I’m enamoured. There is just something undeniably comfortable about sinking into the original game after over a decade and knowing that just some things never change.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition brings together the original three Mass Effect games and downloadable content to offer up the story of Commander Shepard and their journey through the galaxy. Considering nothing else and the amount of content on offer here, there’s at least sixty hours of content here, and that’s if you’re skimming things. This is easily over a hundred hours’ worth of content and good content too. Controversial artistic choices aside, the Mass Effect trilogy are some fantastic games.
But the original Mass Effect was released for the Xbox 360 over a decade ago, and it was when developer BioWare was at a point of transition. Neither fully committing to a shooter nor an RPG, the original Mass Effect was a fantastic game that I and many others remember fondly. It’s an awesome game and one of my all-time favourites, but the original version doesn’t stand up to modern scrutiny today.
Arguably the centerpiece of Legendary Edition, the original Mass Effect has been completely revamped to resemble something a little bit more contemporary. There’s a laundry list of specific improvements available elsewhere, but many of the changes are welcome. Purists need not fret; the original game still feels like more of an RPG than others. But the aspects that didn’t make sense have been adjusted accordingly to provide a better experience and closer mimic the better parts of Mass Effect 2 and 3’s combat.
In the original, weapons would be exclusive to the class you chose. Of course, choosing any weapon not for your class would be possible, but they’d have such insane spread and so little accuracy that it pointless. This is a key example of where the RPG aspect got in the way of the shooter aspect of Mass Effect and has been corrected in Legendary Edition. You can now use any weapon with any class, but specific weapon skills are still exclusive to your class. This feels like a healthy compromise for both purists and newcomers. For one, Mass Effect now plays more like a shooter. But keeping the weapon powers exclusive to your class is a better way to honour the original game’s RPG roots without betraying them entirely.
Other minor aspects have been adjusted that might not seem like much but make a lot of difference. Movement, squad AI, enemy behaviours, and general aiming controls have all been tweaked to bring the game more in line with Mass Effect 2 and 3. More notably, the cover has especially been improved – ironically to the point where it feels a bit more modern than the later games – with Shepard able to automatically enter and exit cover without the press of a button. They sound like small additions to the gameplay, but trust me, go back and play the original Mass Effect. It’s obvious just how much has improved for the better.
These improvements are all great, but there’s still only so much you can do without veering into total remake territory. While I’m convinced that Legendary Edition is, without a doubt, the best way to play the original Mass Effect, two leering issues are perhaps untouched blemishes from its past. For one, the sprint is horrendous. I understand not improving it for balance purposes in combat, but it feels entirely pointless outside of combat when you’re exploring and finishing quests. I’d have loved to have seen that improved.
Similarly, and perhaps due to its roots, the autosaves in the original game felt too few and far between .I’ve spent hundreds of hours with the original game, and to the developer’s credit, I’m sure Legendary Edition includes more frequent autosaves. But it doesn’t feel like enough. Too often, I’d find myself losing thirty minutes to an hour of progress after a quick death on an Insanity mode run. Perhaps I’m completing quests in a different order than intended. However, it still feels like a bit of an oversight especially considering how much has been tinkered with and improved here already.
The core of the original Mass Effect’s identity was the uncharted worlds. Big open maps with almost nothing in them, they’re one of the resounding triumphs of Mass Effect. They perfectly encapsulate a sense of isolation and a sense of exploration of foreign alien worlds. You’d often explore these barren locales with a vehicle called the Mako, and it’s been overhauled too. I struggle to think anyone would be upset with this – it controls better, still has a bit of goofy physic defying jump but now has a separate boost with a separate cooldown and better aiming. It’s an immediate improvement and, once again, a strong case for Legendary Edition being the best way to play the original game.
I’d be remiss not to talk about Mass Effect 2 and 3, however, as those games make up over half of this package. These games haven’t needed anywhere near as many adjustments to play well today.
Mass Effect 2 was a critical darling when it was released, and you can see why. It still plays like a dream today, even if it has strayed from the exploration and RPG roots that the original game so firmly planted. There have only been some minor adjustments here – ammo has been rebalanced, and morality point requirements have changed to make things a bit more manageable and less obtuse if you’re gunning for a specific response from your team members. Nevertheless, it’s still a great game and arguably the best of the trilogy.
Mass Effect 3 has had the multiplayer component entirely dropped. However, this has brought with it some interesting opportunities to balance all three games. No longer do you need to participate in multiplayer to get the best ending; instead, completing quests across all of the games will contribute to the game’s conclusion. Mass Effect has always been about player choice – with your choices in each game having some kind of ramification in future games – and this change further doubles down on that notion.
A huge aspect of this collection, then, is how it all comes together. If it weren’t apparent by now, brilliantly, but it’s clear that the original Mass Effect is the real highlight here. Every planet, every area, has been redesigned from the ground up to give it that pulpy sci-fi vibe to create worlds that, quite frankly, I want to go and live in. The collection includes many visual options, too – favouring framerate or quality, that elevate the game higher than it already was. I’ve played these games so much that I would remember when the frame rate would drop when using certain powers. To be able to use those same powers without any visible frame rate drop today is the stuff my teenage self would only ever dream of over a decade ago.
There were some bizarre visual glitches, though – sometimes Shepard would get stuck in a walking animation and start animating as if to walk sideways while still walking forwards. The most glaring (perhaps literally) is on any surface with a reflection. The original engine didn’t support them, so the team has had to implement some interesting ways to mimic them. But on higher framerates, it’s as if the reflections can’t keep up with the camera and keep “snapping” back in place after they linger for a while. It’s a minor issue but one I noticed a lot, especially on Noveria.
Given that the original Mass Effect has been given such a visual overhaul, it’s to a point where the improvements to Mass Effect 2 and 3 are much less pronounced. But, of course, both of the latter games are still offered up with improved framerates and resolutions. In addition, the textures have also been improved where possible to offer better overall image quality. But make no mistakes, Mass Effect is the star here. But it’s a testament to how strong the art direction was in both those games was.
Legendary Edition is more than a remaster. It’s possibly one of the best re-releases I’ve ever played. But it successfully does what it seeks out to do – offering the best way to experience Commander Shepard’s story and celebrate what we love so much about Mass Effect.
THE XBOX ONE VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED ON THE XBOX SERIES X FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL COPY OF THE GAME WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition stands tall as one of the best remasters that I've ever played. The amount of care and effort that has gone into restoring the original Mass Effect along with the other two games is unmatched. While there are some underlying minor design issues with the original game, Legendary Edition is the best way to experience the Mass Effect trilogy. Period.