Mass Effect Legendary Edition Review
Time to Revisit Those Calibrations
BioWare is known for creating some of the most engaging, popular, and impactful narratives in the gaming industry. While different fans will point to different titles as the best the developer has offered, many will point to the Mass Effect trilogy as being one, if not the best. It’s not hard to see why when playing Mass Effect Legendary Edition. The world, the choices, the alien races, romances, and above all the characters have become staples of modern pop culture. For years, since the completion of the trilogy in 2012, fans have been begging BioWare for a high-definition, updated version of the series and the developer has finally delivered.
The story of the Mass Effect trilogy follows Commander Shepard, a member of humanity’s Systems Alliance in a future version of our universe where new technology has propelled humanity into a galaxy of already coexisting alien races. During a typical mission, Shepard comes across a machine that came from a civilization that had been snuffed out over tens of thousands of years ago. This discovery begins Shepard on an epic quest to find out who the Reapers are, why they’re hellbent on destroying all life in the galaxy, and how to save us all. In typical space soap opera fashion, friendship, romance, and politics also present themselves in the narrative.
A major reason why Mass Effect has so much appeal, even today, is how well it blends traditional sci-fi tropes with the video game genre. Shepard is customizable as male or female and the Legendary Edition attempts to make a more cohesive playthrough making cosmetics not previously found in the first two games available for all three. Behind Shepard is a motley crew of unique characters who represent each of the alien species in intriguing ways. Some standouts include the turian Garrus Vakarian and the krogan Urdnot Wrex.
The Mass Effect trilogy also centralizes its narrative on a morality system. Players choose between Paragon and Renegade solutions to problems. Shepard has to make some important decisions — some of which can doom an entire species. This morality gauge was a great idea during the beginning years of the Mass Effect franchise but hasn’t held up well over the years. It feels more like a “good” or “bad” morality gauge, instead of truly allowing players to explore morality. More often than not, picking the Paragon choices gives the best results. Renegade Shepard feels more like being evil for the sake of evil, instead of a version of the hero who understands they must make some tough decisions. Players will notice, however, that BioWare began to move away from this in Mass Effect 3.
Playing through the trilogy back-to-back with all the DLC, multiple fixes, and upgrades is more fulfilling and cohesive with the Legendary Edition. Small changes like playing through all three games as the iconic red-haired Female Shepard adds to the immersion. Playing through all three completely also makes it easier to down the multiple “ahah, I remember you” moments, which further enriches the experience. It is easy to replay the trilogy and notice new or forgotten details.
Both old and new players will still have to decide how they feel about the trilogy’s endings. BioWare did go back to fluff up the endings in Mass Effect 3 with more context, making them more bearable. It is easy to wonder what might have been if BioWare went back and completely reworked the endings now, but the point of the Legendary Edition is a remaster not a remake.
The music in the trilogy is another high point that must be mentioned. Mass Effect 1 contains the popular main theme that weaves its way through all three entries and plays during moments of significant change and peace. Music group Faunts contributed “M4, Pt. II,” a lyrical rock song that plays during the end credits and makes the desire to want to start all over again palpable. Composers Jack Wall and Sam Hulick arranged most of the music in Mass Effect 1 and 2, with the first game featuring the most traditional sci-fi noir sound chock-full of synthesizers and moody strings. Jack Wall took over for the second game, which leans more towards the traditional summer blockbuster sound featuring a full orchestral arrangement. Mass Effect 3 saw the return of Sam Hulick with the addition of Christopher Lennertz, Cris Velasco, and Sascha Dikiciyan. Giving over the composition responsibilities to four different composers provides Mass Effect 3 with the most diverse-sounding experience.
Even with its flaws, the Mass Effect trilogy is still a grand adventure. It features some of the best world-building and character development in gaming culture, and the story is so intriguing that the missteps at the end are easily overshadowed by the previous story beats. The sense of agency that comes with the choices made in the game is impactful enough to make replaying the series exciting.
Mass Effect 1
The original Mass Effect is the game that shows the most enhancements of the three. From the visuals to the core gameplay, the game received substantial reworking. All can now be used by any class, and sniper rifles were given much-needed aiming stability. Ability cooldowns are minimized so using them to disable enemies or heal allies is more efficient. Taking cover, while still a bit awkward and clunky, isn’t as frustrating as in the old game. Allies seem to be more capable too and commanding squadmates is smoother. Despite these tune-ups, it was apparent that BioWare wanted to keep the first entry rooted in its fusion of strategy RPG and shooter styles. Weapon and armor upgrades are still an important part of enhancing squad resilience, and players still spend a lot of time in menus figuring out which randomly dropped items are effective and which ones aren’t.
The most interesting change made in the first installment is to the Mako. Divisive in nature, the tank became known for some control issues that made driving it more infuriating than exciting. This time around, the Mako feels like it’s got more weight to it and drives smoother. It also gained a boost feature that comes in handy in rocky terrain. Players can take out enemies with the Mako’s turret and cannon and get full experience for it, unlike the old version of the game which penalized using them. Fights with enemies such as the monstrous Thresher Maws also feel more balanced and fair.
A majority of Mass Effect’s changes were made to address its frustrating aspects that either kept new gamers from playing it or didn’t age well. BioWare should be commended for making the experience of replaying the beloved first entry far more palpable.
Mass Effect 2
Right away, it’s obvious that Mass Effect 2 hasn’t received the same level of refinement as the first entry. Character models and cinematics do look sharper, but the core gameplay feels like it was plucked straight out of the original. The benefit of the Legendary Edition is that it contains all the DLC and extra items added to the original game. BioWare made sure to integrate the items naturally instead of giving them all to the player at the beginning. This creates a more balanced experience, especially at the Hardcore difficulty.
Speaking of the higher difficulties, Mass Effect 2 shows its weakest element when playing on Hardcore and Insanity: its combat. Enemies are very mobile, intelligent, and create a true challenge. Unfortunately, Shepard and the squad can’t keep up. Shepard moves like a snail, constantly gets stuck on cover, has a poorly executed melee attack, and no way to roll away from oncoming assaults. Replaying Mass Effect 2 was by far the least engaging experience in Legendary Edition.
Many of the glitches from the previous version are still present. Using cryo-based abilities proved to be problematic when targeting enemies in hard-to-reach places. Enemies would freeze and topple over out of reach. The game assumes they are still alive, and allies will try in vain to attack them, thus making progress impossible until the game is reset. It took about ten different resets to realize that freezing enemies was the problem. Ammo drops, on the other hand, occur more frequently. This makes playing classes like Soldier a lot of fun, while low ammo weapons such as sniper rifles can be used with more frequency.
What continues to hold up in Mass Effect 2 is its story. It’s easy to see why so many people continue to believe that it is the best part of the trilogy. Most of the crew have unique stories and quests involving their growth. Conflicts between some of them feel realistic and preparing for the suicide mission is still an exciting and anxiety-ridden affair.
Mass Effect 3
Containing the fewest changes, Mass Effect 3 still proves to be the most polished of the trilogy. The Legendary Edition removes the multiplayer component, which means that BioWare have rebalanced the Galactic Readiness mechanic. Originally, it combined players’ war efforts made in-game with bonuses from multiplayer as an incentive to get players to play online. Now, the mechanic seems to rely more on imported saves from previous installments. If a player were to jump into the third one, they would need to complete a significant amount of additional content in Mass Effect 3 to receive one of the better endings.
Visually, the game holds up well. The introductory scenes feel cinematic and do a great job of expressing the helpless feeling of fighting against the Reapers. Mass Effect 3 is the grimmest entry in the trilogy and gives Shepard the most character depth. Psychologically, the war has taken its toll, and the game does a great job of conveying this in subtle ways like Shepard’s shifting facial expressions and dream sequences.
Romances are an optional side story in all three games, but 3 has the most developed and variety of them all. The third entry was the first game to allow Male Shepard to have a same-sex romance. This was quite a significant change in 2012 and broadened the appeal of Kaidan Alenko, who became a romantic option for Male Shepard. Unfortunately, Legendary Edition didn’t add the ability for Male Shepard to romance him in Mass Effect 1, so the romantic subplot feels a bit unbalanced. This additional content may have not been added due to time and resource constraints (the need for additional voice acting, etc.). Regardless, each of the romances in 3 culminates into rewarding sub-narratives that help create a personal attachment to the chosen lover. The romances are particularly endearing to watch unfold in the Citadel DLC, a piece of DLC added toward the end of Mass Effect 3.
The trilogy as one package was given a nice visual overhaul. Many parts of it have aged well. All three games have scenes and animations that continue to impress. BioWare picked some of the best voice actors in the business, and to this day, many of the artists who portrayed those characters still acknowledge and celebrate them. Jennifer Hale and Mark Meer, the voices of female and male Shepard, proved that customizable characters can have depth, individuality, and personality.
While not perfect, especially when it comes to combat in Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect Legendary Edition is still a gem. Most of the changes were put into Mass Effect 1, and the effort made it far more replayable than the original. Mass Effect 3 holds up the best of the three, proving that regardless of the controversial ending, it is still one of the best gaming experiences BioWare has made to date. Mass Effect 2 could’ve done with some more tweaking to bring it up to 3’s combat. Legendary Edition gives hope for the future of the franchise. For now, prepare for launch in the S.S.V. Normandy and remind the universe which stores on the Citadel are Shepard’s favorite.
The trilogy never looked better
Improvements to Mass Effect 1's gameplay
Story is still compelling
Characters are remain some of BioWare's best
Mass Effect 2's combat is clunky and frustrating
Old glitches still present