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There are rare occasions where I say, “It’s about time,” outside of all the moments, it usually pertains to my Door Dash delivery or finally reviewing a good game. We wait for many things in life, and sometimes when we look at something specific, time ends up going slower; a watched pot never boils, as the saying goes. After our hopes and dreams were dashed by EA publicly stating that the Mass Effect series was on indefinite hold after the commercial failure that was Andromeda, it wouldn’t be too long before we experience BioWare’s next failure and universal punching bag: Anthem. As games as a service titles continue to flood the market, and BioWare having the inability to capture the magic that the company once seemed to exude, faith rapidly diminished.
Despite this dark period, a light appeared at the end of the tunnel as news of a new Mass Effect title was confirmed to be within the early stages alongside one thing fans have been begging for, Mass Effect Legendary Edition. This fully remastered collection of the space opera has finally dropped in our laps after many years of wishing for another science fiction epic to grab us. But the question remains, do these games hold up? Do the improvements make the trilogy worth replaying? Is this more than a “break glass in case of emergency” situation? Let us discuss.
I’m going to be incredibly forward with you right now, Mass Effect Legendary Edition is essentially the same experience you remember from years ago with a multitude of graphical and performance upgrades. Therefore, I will state that if you are a fan of the franchise, buying this and re-experiencing everything in a complete package is basically mandatory. If you are remotely interested in the franchise and are new to the series, I’ll go out on the limb and say that this is the best way to spend $60 of your hard-earned money.
While this Mass Effect collection has received a plethora of upgrades in terms of resolution and framerate, Mass Effect 1 gets a majority of the love. With upgraded graphics, enhanced performance, and improved controls, Mass Effect meets a more modern style that reduced some of the issues that have caused headaches for fans, but not by an exorbitant amount. Apart from having to rebuild the game from the ground up, Mass Effect has greatly improved in all areas but still feels a bit ancient, and BioWare is fully aware of that. A new leveling system has also been integrated, giving you the option to halve the max-level from 60 to 30 while still rewarding you with the necessary skill points to make you feel more powerful as you run through the game.
Mass Effect is just one of those games that can be completed in either 10 or 80 hours, and the Legendary Edition gives you full control over that experience. Mass Effect 1 has essentially turned into a prologue, giving you all the juicy details that help push the story forward without compromising the fun aspects that feel too drawn out.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time revisiting my favorite areas within Mass Effect 1. The upgrades to locations like Noveria and Ilos astonished me, leaving me impressed and begging for more. No longer did I see the grey globby statues of the Protheans. I saw finely crafted works of art that have been decaying for the 50,000 plus years.
I won’t lie to you though, some of the problems with gameplay still exist. As I briefly mentioned before, Mass Effect 1 still feels old and out of place compared to the other titles. It doesn’t share an ounce of the mechanics that solidified Mass Effect 2 and 3 as the “better titles” amongst fans. It is a raw RPG with team and item management that is reminiscent of BioWare’s previous works like Knights of the Old Republic. I will boldly state that Mass Effect seems to be the final remnants of a BioWare that still had a love and passion for the world of classic-style RPGs. Everything about this title would be re-imagined with the sequel that is almost unrecognizable in every facet, with an opening that signifies the true rebirth of Commander Shepard.
Mass Effect 2
While Mass Effect closed with a bang, and set the pieces in play, Mass Effect 2 acts as the allegory reset that changed the landscape of the modern RPG. Graphics have been upgraded to a point, but the full-on remaster treatment ends with this installment. Most elements have been preserved with edges smoothed out, providing enhanced details to face structure and even drab environments, making the details more eye-catching than before. Framerates are stable, characters don’t tend to float away like they did to me almost twelve years ago. Mostly everything is intact, just as you remembered it.
For people who have never played the franchise before, you might experience a bit of whiplash going from the first title to this sequel. While Mass Effect focused on a main story that would bring you from point A to point B, Mass Effect 2 creates these interesting moments where characters and combat are placed at the heart of it. Going from Mass Effect 1 to 2, you instantly see a new combat engine that feels more responsive and is akin to the modern shooter. Overheating guns have been replaced with thermal clips with cover-based combat standing at the forefront. Micro-managing in every aspect is gone, which streamlines the experience but leaving a huge gaping hole for those who really enjoyed fine-tuning various aspects of their party.
While the lack of familiar combat and level-up systems are gone within Mass Effect 2, there is a reason why it still stands amongst the greats, and that is because of the solid story. Featuring well written characters that have their own hang-ups and complexities, Mass Effect 2 gives you a lot of stories, almost 4-times more, immersing you deeper into the galaxy. You’ll see some familiar faces from Mass Effect 1, and they will comment on your actions and question your allegiance with Cerberus.
While Mass Effect 2 will always be known as the pinnacle of the franchise for many valid reasons, it serves to be equally as important as the first title. The combat change was incredibly necessary, the dumbing down of the level-up system was not. There are story elements that left me scratching my head out of pure confusion. But for the sake of leaving this spoiler-free, I won’t discuss them here.
One controversial aspect of Mass Effect 2 happens to be the concept of exploration and how it seems to be lacking entirely. Mass Effect 1 allowed you to touchdown on planets and explore the areas to find a couple of useful materials, mods, and sometimes side-content that will push you to continue exploring the universe. Mass Effect 2 did away with that concept, cutting traversal down exponentially. One could argue that relying on the Mako was troublesome, and perhaps exploring the planets wasn’t necessary to begin with. Either way, Mass Effect 2 was clearly designed to provide you with an experience that felt more like a hallway than this grand universe to explore, leaning further into the simplification of the franchise. You must understand, everything about Mass Effect 2 was about simplification while trying to produce a story that excelled in so many areas, but also didn’t quite make sense especially when you consider the climax of the game.
For everything that Mass Effect 2 lacked, Mass Effect 3 attempted to repair. Striking a balance between respective fans of the first and second titles. Mass Effect 3 delivers the final act in a way that can only be described as controversial despite it inheriting the best aspects of each game.
Mass Effect 3
If Mass Effect 1 was the foundation, and Mass Effect 2 was the first story of the house, Mass Effect 3 is the roof and siding. It is the final touches on a house that will always show up in the pictures you take when you look back at some of the greatest moments in gaming. Some people might not like the blue or red finish, but rest assured, it was never about the color, but the journey.
Mass Effect 3 continues the upgrade tradition, but as BioWare stated it didn’t need to be touched-up as much as the previous games. Funny enough, this is where I found most of the graphical and performance glitches. Sounds were off, textures and assets straight up appeared and disappeared. Parts of the background would flicker like a dance club hosting an 80’s night. While Mass Effect 1 and 2 got a lot of upgrades, I notice that Mass Effect 3 only received upgrades when necessary, and to be honest, that is okay with me. Everywhere else within this game absolutely delivers from story elements, to combat, and an incredibly controversial ending.
Like the gap presented going from Mass Effect 1 to Mass Effect 2, another gap involving core systems appears in the most upgraded way possible. This is where combat, exploration, and team management meets the apex of the franchise. It might not be as in-depth as Mass Effect 1, but it is far more effective than 2. You choose a loadout with every mission or wherever you see a weapon bench, you have various powers you can gain and some you can swap out. And you can also manage your teammates abilities to focus on different combat scenarios.
Combat in general just feels a lot smoother, with the cover system containing massive improvements and adding huge versatility to your character. Weapons and armor have stats that can help you build towards a specific loadout, and improve your overall effectiveness which plays into the class you started with. As someone who played a Vanguard through my entire 120-hours, the class never felt as good as it did in Mass Effect 3. It allowed me to charge at targets off in the distance, and unleash a devastating ground pound that produced huge amounts of damage to my surrounding foes. In exchange, my shields would be reduced thus leaving me vulnerable for a few seconds. This added to the tactile feel that the series desperately needed.
In addition to ability management and general weapon management, you had to decide what to bring with you on your battles. You could be decked out in weaponry, but your powers would recharge slower, so you need to think about what you are bringing along with you on your journey. Thanks to one piece of DLC, I had a weapon that practically dealt out one-hit-kills, making my power recharge rage double, allowing me to dole out pain to unsuspecting foes in a surprisingly effective fashion.
When it comes to exploration, Mass Effect 3 streamlines the process again. Less planet bouncing and landing, but a lot more to do. The Citadel isn’t the hallway it once was in Mass Effect 2 and has been split amongst several levels and areas that open up further when you jump into the included downloadable content. There are bigger story moments and plot hooks that last longer than a single zone. Everything is grander in scale, impressive, and almost daunting.
The plot itself takes a turn and goes for an almost avant-garde style of storytelling that ends in a way that is both incredibly controversial, but also understandable when you really consider it. People who have disliked the ending when the game first released will find some added lines of dialog that might help others gain a better understanding of what it all really means. The problem is the direction this game took with the ending. And to be honest, I don’t think there is any possible way to end the series on a note that would appease everyone.
At the same time, I am aware of how obnoxious I sound spouting a somewhat, “you just don’t get it” tone in a disconnected way. Trust me, I’m not insulting anyone’s intelligence. To me, it goes down the same path as other media such as LOST, where it was never about the ending, because we all know it could only end in two ways. Instead, this is about the journey and how we got to this exact position.
I love Mass Effect immensely to say the absolute least. It is rare to see a piece of video game history come back so strongly. It says something about the fans who can accept and overlook the dumpster fire that was Andromeda, while still holding onto hope that the next iteration provides us with the same feelings we had when we first met with the council and first encountered a Reaper.
The Mass Effect Legendary Edition as a complete product does a lot of wonderful things, like taking your character and seamlessly allowing you to bring them along between games without hassle. The incorporation of a photo mode is amazing for those who like to get experimental with their scenes. The vast upgrades to so many elements within the game makes Mass Effect worthy of revisiting time and time again. The shorter elevator rides alone are a sight to behold. Simply put, this sets the bar on what a collection should be, and anything less than this amount of effort would be a detriment to whoever decides to release a modern remaster.
I still have a couple of personal issues with the game though that seem to span all three games. Aside from each game having its own internalized system (which is understandable), I found team tactics to be the most useless thing ever made since Microsoft invented Clippy. What is even worse is how this concept was able to make it into Andromeda without questioning if it was even necessary to begin with. Health regeneration and ally power management just doesn’t flow as well as it should either. With a new Mass Effect coming in the future, I would implore BioWare to look at these elements and figure out a better way of implementing them, while simultaneously finding better usage for the D-pad.
As I said before, Mass Effect is the easiest $60 a fan could spend. If you are remotely interested and have yet to pick it up, it is worth diving in and becoming a fan just like the lot of us who have an undying dedication to the franchise. Mass Effect is a wonderful story that is near and dear to an entire generation of gamers. This Legendary Edition is nothing short of handing someone your favorite book, and hoping they come out with the same appreciation we all have.