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‘Mass Effect: Legendary Edition’: The Good, The Bad, And The Memes

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‘Mass Effect: Legendary Edition’: The Good, The Bad, And The Memes

After what appeared to be aeons of rumours and rumblings that the Mass Effect games would be getting a remaster, the news was finally confirmed on N7 Day 2020. Fans were thrilled that one of the most iconic sci-fi shooter series was receiving the TLC that it so deserved, especially after Andromeda's turbulent development and launch turned a fair few off the franchise. Over a decade since the original game started it all, this would be a clean slate for Mass Effect and a brand new opportunity for curious players to dip their toes into the Milky Way galaxy without the baggage of older tech.

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But, how do the games hold up with their impressive number of improvements across the board? Do they reinvigorate this epic saga or were they better off the way they were? I played the first two hours of each one, and here's what I found.

A picture paints a thousand words, but a moving picture, well, that's in its own league entirely. Check out a video comparison of the original Mass Effect and the changes made in the newest Legendary Edition version of the game here.

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Mass Effect

Oh, boy. Let's just bite the bullet here. Mass Effect doesn't look that good. The visual improvements and new lighting bring a brightness and crispness to the original game that shrouded the plasticky textures of the time with this fuzzy pale orange filter. It diminishes the vibrancy of the palettes on show and dissuades migraines triggered by the shine and luminosity of miscellaneous sci-fi gizmos. In 2021's Mass Effect, it's Syd Mead dialled up to eleven, and while in theory, this would be a brilliant thing, in practice, it produces a different impression.

I guess the comparison that comes into my mind the most is when you get a new prescription for your glasses and you're stunned by the realisation that oh God the world really looks like that. It's much too much. Shepard's pores are like pockmarks on their skin and their eyelids are like those of Furbies. Open. Close. Open. Now, don't get me wrong - this effect is fabulous on the Citadel, where it checks out that the metals and polymers of its architecture would be extremely shiny and high quality. No one builds a big ol' space station like that and skimps on the aesthetics. Furthermore, the alien races and their outfits look grand and I could swear I could count the scales on an Asari's crest.

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Surprise, surprise - it's the humans that look scary, yet the old animations reminiscent of a haunted animatronic ride and matter-of-fact delivery that Mark Meer gives his lines really uncovers a gold mine of meme material. Once I'd shut my mouth in bemusement, I was snickering into my hands at moments where the stakes were high. To be clear, this isn't a criticism, as I've not played Mass Effect for literal years and it was brilliant to be thrust back into its world in this way. If you're new to the games, I'd advise you adopt this approach. It's a bit ridiculous, compared to the games you've played in the last year or so, but lean into it. Reapers? Cripes. Best to only emote by waving my hands vigorously like Wallace from Wallace and Gromit.

Mass Effect has more than a handful of gameplay tweaks, aligning the control scheme with the second and third games and offering improved aiming. Apparently there are AI improvements, but my squad members were big fans of standing right in front of Shepard and the enemies formed a conga line ready to fall like a pack of cards. Keeping track of inventory across the level has been altered, letting you see the difference between the weapons in a much bigger and neater layout. Again, if you're new, don't skip the lifts. This is where you'll hear a lot of the important world-building information and banter between squad members. As I played Mass Effect on PC, it took me a minute to get used to the way that swapping weapons and using abilities worked, but it eventually became intuitive.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition / Credit: BioWare, EA
Mass Effect Legendary Edition / Credit: BioWare, EA
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Mass Effect 2

The middle child of the trilogy, yet somehow the most popular. I was amped to get into the remastered version of this one, and not only because I'd jettisoned from the Uncanny Valley system of Mass Effect. Some of my fondest memories come from the screams of my sibling who I'd fooled into playing the game on the basis that you get to play as a girl and there's lots of talking - I failed to mention the shooting bits in between all of that talking.

Mass Effect 2 begins with a bang (if you know, you know) and I'm happy to report that this section has truly benefited from a lick of paint. It's much more cinematic and exciting, if that's possible, and audio has been improved so that the impact of these events are much more palpable. There are subtle differences to the original that heighten the drama here, like you've been shoved into a Michael Bay movie but he's not here being weird to Megan Fox.

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Later on, Jacob and Miranda look really realistic with lots more detail added to their faces and uniforms, no longer having that vibe of an Action Man and a Barbie doll and more like extras in The Expanse. Again, cutscenes have been minorly altered to reflect the expectations of storytelling today when compared to ten years ago. However, this isn't to say that this remaster has gone off without a hitch. I noticed that characters were floating an inch from the ground in some sections, notwithstanding the gravitational strength of the planet. Shepard's back plate flickered in and out of existence, and if you charge past a certain part, dialogue will stop and move on immediately, and the subtitles for it will disappear. Not ideal for first-time players. Animations were a little robotic, like Mass Effect, and the contrast between the upgrades and the things that stayed the same is stark.

Still, I've got a soft spot for Mass Effect 2 and additions like more available ammo throughout levels let sniper rifles actually be a viable option for multiple classes. And, I've certainly noticed the audio adjustments for depth and enhancements to ensure that combat sounds as satisfying as when you snag a floating baddie in a singularity with one shot.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition / Credit: BioWare, EA
Mass Effect Legendary Edition / Credit: BioWare, EA

Mass Effect 3

You'll find that here I've not got as much to impart as the other new versions of the games. The third game released in 2012, yet through the tireless efforts of modders, the image of Mass Effect 3 in my mind isn't too far from the improvements made by BioWare here. This time, the greyish tones of the first few scenes have been brightened and saturated with colour and this shifts the atmosphere of the game. Instead of things feeling like things are about to blow at any second, it's got a much more exciting vibe to it, like the moment in a Marvel movie where the hero has shown up at the last second. I get that this could be personal preference, but I don't know if this change necessarily serves the story - for example, the red beams of Reaper tech aren't contrasted as significantly as in the original.

However, the new high quality textures are wonderful for those of us on console, offering greater immersion and an experience that's more in line with the visuals of more recent sci-fi titles. In comparison to Mass Effect, there wasn't a whole lot to address here, so it's the gameplay differences that will decide how far things have come. Combat does feel snappier, where snagging satisfying headshots does feel like you've dealt a heavy hit, and cover has been both expanded and modified for better strategies in sticky situations. Bioware is confident that it's squished a huge number of bugs in the original, but I encountered an unfortunate issue which meant I had to reload one of the early missions on Mars so that I could progress. If you're playing through for the first time and you're finding that a mission is unduly difficult, it's probably exactly that.

I will also mention that the control scheme is similar in Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, but Mass Effect has Medigel bound to triangle and Grenade bound to square. This is something to bear in mind when moving through the games as important things like how to heal are not as easy as tapping that button in the second and third games. Furthermore, if you choose to play Mass Effect 3 before the other two, you'll need to exhaust this game of every extra mission that it throws at you in order to avoid "massive galactic losses" at the end of the story. Overall, the improvements here work well bar a minor number of wrinkles. But, as this is the most recent release of the trilogy, you'd expect that, and hopefully the changes throughout Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 weave their way into Mass Effect 3 with ease.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition / Credit: BioWare, EA
Mass Effect Legendary Edition / Credit: BioWare, EA

Conclusion

It's only reasonable that the starkest change from the original release is to be found in Mass Effect, and the additions to the second and third games are like fitting a dress that you've not worn for a while. While I am impressed with this labour of love from BioWare, there are areas where it's been susceptible to the "brighter is better" curse of remasters and remakes. What I adore about the series is that there is all of this incredible technology that allows humanity to travel across the galaxy... and that it isn't a squeaky clean future to look forward to. Things are tough, grimy, messy, irritating, corrupt, awkward. It was in spite of these things that Shepard prevailed and fought back against the enemy that would see all life eradicated. The gameplay changes are welcome, absolutely, but the artistic direction of the trilogy has ever so slightly veered off course. For newcomers, I hope you have a brilliant time with Mass Effect. For veteran players, I say look before you leap into the Legendary Edition.

Featured Image Credit: BioWare

Topics: Features, Bioware, Mass Effect

Imogen Donovan
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