The first Mass Effect is fourteen years old. That's right, it's been fourteen years since we first waited for the camera to swing around Shepard’s shoulders on the bridge of the Normandy, revealing the glorious monstrosity of a face we somehow botched after spending hours in the character creator.
It’s safe to say that the Mass Effect series – at least the first two games – are widely beloved, and that they provide some of the finest space opera roleplaying available in any game before or since. But when you create something so special, it’s really hard to go anywhere near it again without taking a thorough beating from people’s sky-high expectations (see: Andromeda). Which is fair enough. That’s the burden of creating something that beds so deep inside so many hearts.
Considering the obsolescence of Mass Effect 3’s Datapad companion app, which was handy for accessing the game's best endings, and that all the games had a slew of DLC that you’d have to fork out for in order to get the full experience, the original trilogy was practically crying out for a fresh coat of paint and a repackage.
But it’s a precarious proposal. The games are etched deep enough into the minds of fans that even the Legendary Edition’s pre-release screenshots were met with extreme scrutiny. A lot of it is a matter of taste, true, but let’s be absolutely clear: the remastered games – particularly ME1 – look a damn sight better than before. The new textures are pretty much straight upgrades, particularly Anderson’s face (shout out to that guy for just being great). There are also new effects and shaders – the Citadel’s water features are now splashy – ooh. And you can pore over it all for hours thanks to the new photo mode, which lets you pause the action in the middle of a firefight to capture the perfect shot of your squad.
A few of the lighting changes may be contentious – the dramatic, high-contrast shadows across the trilogy are gone, for better or worse. But one thing nobody will miss is how weird eyes looked through a helmet visor in the original games. Even my FemShep looks bangin’ first try, thanks to the new character creator (but I still went back and tweaked her chin, because it’s a personal ritual at this point). Generally, the new effects are excellent, especially as BioWare is still operating within the limitations of the original engine, which is readily apparent in some of the low-poly objects, facial animations, and, well… the combat.
Gunplay has been heavily tweaked in the ME1 remaster, bringing it more in line with the second and third games. Weapons feel more balanced and accurate, the camera moves around less erratically, the UI is cleaner, and better squad and enemy AI makes the action more realistic. However, there are still moments where it feels like a fourteen-year-old game. On Eden Prime my pistol feels like it’s firing foam darts as I struggle to hit a Husk careening in comical circles before it explodes, killing Kaidan in the process.
Combat feels much smoother in ME2 and 3, but the series still feels untenably clunky if you’re used to modern FPS games. That said, it didn’t take me long to readjust, and throwing people around with Biotics is as fun now as it’s ever been.
The Legendary Edition applies a much-needed coat of polish to the original trilogy, oiling as many creaky joints as possible – these are still Unreal Engine 3 games at the end of the day. Even the devs note that porting them to UE4 would not only be an astronomical amount of work, but the games would also lose a lot of their character in the process. Change too much about how each game plays, and you start losing what makes Mass Effect so magical.
And it’s still magical. I got lost on the Citadel again in ME1 – how the heck do you find C-Sec? – and was instantly transported back fourteen years to when I’d wait until my parents went to bed before paying a visit to the Consort. Ahem.
Everything is still there, from the fiddly hacking minigames, to the tedious probing mechanic from ME2… only a single piece of ME1 DLC (Pinnacle Station) failed to make the cut. Even the bonus content that gives FemShep a weird plastic minidress is in there.
The key takeaway is that Mass Effect fans will be happy; this is the same Mass Effect we fell in love with all those years ago, painstakingly polished and wrapped up in a neat ribbon. To those who have never played before, though, fair warning: for all its charm, Mass Effect Legendary Edition still plays like a series that started in the ’00s. But if you like RPG games with rich sci-fi settings then you’ll have a ball.
The Mass Effect Legendary Edition release date is May 14, so it’s not long until you can board the Normandy again. In the meantime, you can check out our picks for the best space games on PC or grab Mass Effect: Andromeda here in case you’re curious.