The Mass Effect Legendary Edition is out now for PCs as well as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, which enhanced forward compatibility for next/new gen systems as well. We couldn’t wait to be reintroduced to the original three games in the series, and played them on both a PS4 and PS5.
The first three Mass Effect games are undeniably modern classics of videogaming, to the point where it’s hard to believe it’s been almost ten years since Mass Effect 3 came out because it’s still such a prominent title for today’s gamers. The lukewarm reception for Andromeda didn’t do the franchise any favors, but at least we now have the Legendary Edition to remind us of why we regard this series so fondly.
Included are the first three games, so if you want the full saga then you’ll want to pick up Andromeda as well if you haven’t already. This collection focuses on the Xbox 360/PS3 era of games that were released 2007 and 2012, and although all games were released within one console generation it’s easy to see that the biggest leap forward has been applied to the first game in the series.
This isn’t simply a remaster with higher res graphics and better framerates, this is a case where the visuals have been reworked to the point where the environment looks stunning all over again. Thanks to improved lighting, more and better animations for the characters and smoother transitions between gameplay and cutscenes, it is a heavily streamlined experience that can hold its own in 2021 amidst the release of a brand new generation of consoles that’s two iterations away from the original version of Mass Effect.
The user interface, especially in the game’s menus and journals, does show its age and could have been more streamlined, though we assume this would have had a big impact on the game’s code. The in-game HUD did get a makeover though, and looks incredibly sleek in its new high res form. The gameplay itself didn’t remain untouched either though, with optimizations that include better auto-aiming that puts the experience more in line with Mass Effect 2 and 3 – which is great for having a more consistent experience across the entire trilogy.
Getting into cover has also been simplified and happens automatically in combat, though I’m still not sure if I like it better than having to actively make the choice by hitting the ‘cover’ button on the gamepad. Other optimizations include an improved driving model when you’re in a vehicle, and the inclusion of all the post-release DLC weapons and armor pieces. Unfortunately the Pinnacle Station DLC didn’t make it in because it was originally outsourced and the code for it has been lost, but other than that every bit of DLC for all three games is accounted for.
Switching to Mass Effect 2 and 3 feels like less of a leap forward, but part of that is no doubt that the ‘oooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ for all the gorgeous environments aren’t as strong the second time you see them. Both games look great in 2021 with this new rework, with a closer inspection needed to realize that under the hood some of their aspects are a tad dated. Characters models, for example, don’t move as fluidly as those in more modern titles, and facial animations aren’t up to what games like The Last of Us and Spiderman: Miles Morales have recently shown us. This is probably as good as it gets for a remaster though, as doing any better would mean having to do a full remake. It’s pretty stunning to see what the development team has managed to squeeze out of the dated Unreal Engine 3.
Other technical improvements include better load times and improved resolutions, including 4K on a PlayStation 4 Pro at 30 frames per second and the same experience but with 60 fps on the PS5. On more powerful systems you can select between two performance modes as well, with 120 frames per second being possible on the most powerful Xbox.
The biggest asset that these games had has been untouched though, and that’s its stellar storytelling. Today we’re experiencing the narrative highs and lows of games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and The Last of Us Part II, but these Mass Effect games show us that good storytelling is timeless, and playing through these games is as exhilarating as it was almost 15 years ago. With characters that will stick with you long after you wrap up the story, this is a must-have for those who missed them earlier and a wonderful reunion for longtime fans.