This particular review feels a bit odd to write. I’ve already written extensively about the Mass Effect games; all four of them remain amongst my favourite games of all time, and each one totally scratches the sci-fi itch that I have nagging at me all day. I wonder, then, what can I really add to what I’ve already said with a review of the (at time of writing) still very recently released Legendary Edition? I knew exactly what I was going to get out of playing it at least, and barring any major hiccups I was pretty confident that I’d relish playing the trilogy once again. But, as a returning fan, I suppose the overriding question that has to be asked is was the Legendary Edition a worthwhile purchase? What does this collection of the trilogy and its DLC offer an already established fan like myself, compared to someone who might be a newcomer to the world of Mass Effect?
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Released May 2021 | Developed: Bioware | Published: EA
Genre: RPG, Third-Person Shooter | HLTB: 19 (ME), 35 (ME2), 37 (ME3)
Returning to the original Mass Effect feels strange. There’s something very odd about knowing and loving these characters, and yet returning to the beginning of the relationship and seeing them so standoffish or different to the people they become. It makes for an eerie feeling; it’s a weird aspect that feels unique to these kinds of long-form RPG games where the emphasis is on character development according to the personality set forward by the player. In no other arena can we roll back time and begin relationships all over again, and yet, the pathways these characters in Mass Effect develop along are so exquisitely written that it’s almost painful to move them along lesser or different arcs. Perhaps that explains the proliferation of memes online about yet another replay of the trilogy but making the same choices every time. Hell, it’s something I’m guilty of; I can’t even begin to count how many runs of the trilogy I’ve done as a Paragon Vanguard FemShep, and her soulmate and sniping buddy Garrus – as far as I’m concerned that’s my canon Shepard.
I was surprised by how few changes I felt I really noticed in Mass Effect. It might just be me, but I felt like the marketing for the Legendary Edition made it seem like there were far more profound alterations to the first game. In reality, it’s a remaster, but it should be said that it’s a very fine one. The visual changes are the most obvious ones, with much improved textures and models, which is particularly noticeable when driving around in the Mako as the planets look fantastic. There’s also been a change to the HUD, which is cleaner and feels more in-line with the later games. However, many changes are more subtle. Apparently the Mako’s controls and physics have been improved though I couldn’t say I noticed during play; it felt the same bumpy, clunky ride as it’s always been. I definitely noticed that the gunplay has been made a fair bit better as well, as the annoying gun restrictions have been removed so that any class Shepard can use any weapon, and without the aiming reticle being pointlessly wide and useless. We also get an actual melee button as well, which is nice. The cover system got a bit of a rework so it’s significantly less awkward to try and use, which I’m sure players who want the challenge of the Insanity difficulty will be grateful for. The performance is also a little better than the original release; on my standard PS4 I still experienced odd moments of texture pop-in, but they were very few and far between and it largely ran smoothly, and although I encountered a couple of bugs, they were nothing a quick reload couldn’t fix.
The first game certainly gets the bulk of the changes, and that’s the right decision, in my opinion. However, I can’t help but wish the alterations addressed the more glaring problems with Mass Effect, and it’s why I kind of wish that the game had been approached with a bit more daring and intent for this remaster. The gear and upgrades remain a constant annoyance, forcing you to still engage with one of the clunkiest and least intuitive barrage of nested menus in a modern AAA RPG, and I don’t feel like it would have been too great a loss were they replaced. While you can now flag items as junk, making it simpler to convert them to omni-gel, and there’s also a new sorting option to try and alleviate some of the headache of dealing with it, I can’t help but wish they’d changed it completely.
The upgrades to the sequels are decidedly more minute. There’s the same swathe of visual updates, either to ensure models consistent through all three games or to simply clean up the games’ appearances. There’s also a host of bug fixes, although it’s not an exhaustive list (if it ever could be); I noticed a few hiccups while playing both Mass Effect 2 and 3, and one occasion in the third game which necessitated a reboot as an encounter failed to end, leaving Shepard stranded in a room with no-one to fight. Mass Effect 3’s most notable change is the removal of the multiplayer mode entirely, rendering the trilogy a completely single-player experience. I admit to preferring single-player as a rule, and I understand why the multiplayer mode was excised, but I can sympathise with anyone who had hoped to return to Mass Effect 3’s genuinely fun arena shooting multiplayer. Along with that, the War Assets have all been rebalanced due to the cutting of the original release’s truly obnoxious companion app.
The biggest change to the trilogy that is present in the Legendary Edition is, without a doubt, the addition of almost the entire catalogue of DLC for the series, and I think this is the primary reason why folks will buy the collection. Mass Effect had a huge array of DLC, from weapon packs and skins to full additional missions and storylines, and collecting all of it on any of the previous releases was an expensive prospect. It’s a shame because the big centrepieces you could get were excellent, as a rule, so to have them all preserved here is a great bonus. I did say almost the entire catalogue though, and that’s because there is one notable exclusion. The first Mass Effect has two main pieces of DLC: Bring Down the Sky, in which Shepard stops vengeful Batarian terrorists from firing an asteroid into one of humanity’s biggest colonies, and Pinnacle Station, a space station on which Shepard could fight in combat training simulations. Unfortunately, due to corrupt source code, the Pinnacle Station DLC remains missing from the Legendary Edition. Still, the rest of the series’ DLC getting included is more than worth the price of entry; if you’ve not played Mass Effect with them yet, you owe it to yourself to try them out, and even without Pinnacle Station, it leaves this collection as pretty much the most definitive version of the trilogy.
If you’ve not played Mass Effect before, and perhaps you’re thinking of getting into it via the Legendary Edition, I’d highly recommend it. The trilogy remains among some of the finest games released in their generation, and regardless of how many times I’ve already played Mass Effect, I’m always happy to launch into another replay. If you are unfamiliar with them, the games are a series of sci-fi RPGs with heavy third-person shooter elements. Each one follows the exploits of Commander Shepard, a hero of humanity who investigates, and later leads the efforts to defeat, an invading force of ancient biomechanical aliens called the Reapers, who flood the galaxy whenever they judge galactic civilization to have become advanced enough to harvest. The first game draws more cues from older BioWare RPGs than its successors; although it is still a third-person shooter, it’s got a somewhat clunkier interface and there’s a greater emphasis on earning experience points from completing dialogue or doing minigames like hacking encrypted systems. The sequels toned down the RPG elements in favour of more streamlined combat, which while not to everyone’s taste, I think makes the games eminently more playable, with less downtime spent trekking around barren planets looking for sidequests. However, all three remain beloved games I think largely due to their utterly excellent character writing and an undeniable effort to build emotional connections with the cast; the fact that your actions can and will have repercussions across all three games is the icing on the cake, creating a gameworld where you really feel like you have an impact.
A thought did nag at my mind however, as I played through the Legendary Edition. It was an incessant, annoying thought, one which I struggled with during my entire playthrough, and that was how exactly do I come up with a fair score for this collection, particularly when I’m not entirely sure who it’s for. If you’ve never played Mass Effect, then I honestly cannot recommend this collection enough. Mass Effect remains one of my favourite franchises in gaming, and replaying the trilogy gave me such a wonderful feeling of contentment all over again; it’s like coming home to something familiar and brilliant. This is the thing though; for me it’s a series I know and am very familiar with, and it’s fair to assume that plenty of people just like me, who already know and love Mass Effect, will want to play the Legendary Edition. For the vast majority of those folk, I would suggest the Legendary Edition is another must-play; this is especially true if you’ve never had the joy of trying out the excellent DLC that the trilogy has.
However, there is one type of fan to whom I’d actually struggle to recommend the collection to, and unfortunately that’s people who are exactly like me. Here’s the thing: I paid full whack for the Legendary Edition, because I was hyped and excited. The daft thing is, from where I sat to play this entire set of three games, right next to the TV were all 3 Mass Effect games, sitting in their boxes, for the Xbox 360. I actually own the trilogy three times now. I originally owned them on PS3; by the time I began this blog, my PS3 was long gone, and so I bought the games again, plus all the DLC, for Xbox 360 so I could play it for review on my Xbox One. Those games are still there, and still eminently playable. There’s no reason beyond hype and avarice, I suppose, that I went and bought the Legendary Edition. The graphical updates and minor gameplay upgrades are genuinely not worth the price tag. If you already own Mass Effect, and already own all the DLC, and you can sit down and play it right now, then the Legendary Edition honestly doesn’t have a lot to offer you. I didn’t need to buy it to enjoy Mass Effect. That said, I’m still glad I did. I love this trilogy, and I don’t care that I bought it for a third time.
7/7 – TOP TIER.
As close to perfect as it gets, a game that surpasses any faults it might have and comes with the highest of recommendations. A must-play.