'Mass Effect: Legendary Edition' Original Comparison Review

I take a look at the Mass Effect trilogy remaster and assess what improvements have been made from the originals.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition self-made box art
Self made 'Mass Effect: Legendary Edition' box art on the Bioware website

After a troubling hiatus for what is arguably one of the best sci-fi sagas ever created, Bioware has finally listened to its’ fanbase and restored and renewed interest in Mass Effect, with the, remaster of Commander Shepard’s story in his or her battle to defeat the dreaded Reapers.

Previous ambitious titles like the lacklustre “Mass Effect Andromeda” and “Anthem” hurt Bioware’s reputation considerably, so a lick of paint on one of its’ flagship titles has reminded us all of their former storytelling genius, and brought this incredible trilogy to a new generation, and loyal nostalgic followers. 

Bioware's 'Anthem' and 'Mass Effect: Andromeda'
'Anthem' and 'Mass Effect: Andromeda'. Source: Whatculture

I’ve personally been waiting for this title to come to current consoles ever since the Playstation 4 came out. I’ve Googled “Mass Effect Remaster” at least twice a week for the last seven or eight years, desperately trawling through rumour articles and praying for it to happen.

This trilogy means a lot to me and was there for me when I was down, so absorbing is its characters, story, and scale. While it was a welcome gesture when Xbox made the trilogy backward compatible, the constantly evolving demands and expectations for graphics performance among gamers renders the original Mass Effect game almost unplayable. Clearly, nostalgia alone wasn’t going to fit the bill, and I swore I wouldn’t play it again until a remaster happened.

Then on N7 day, (my birthday incidentally), Bioware answered my prayers by finally announcing that the rumours were true. The “Legendary Edition” would feature all three original games and mostly all their downloadable content. Improved graphics and gameplay performance, and next-gen forward-compatible. I’ve been counting down to May 14th ever since and took the time off work just to dive back into this amazing trilogy, and see what the Legendary Edition had to offer.

Original Mass Effect 1 box art
Original Mass Effect 2007 box art  Source: Microsoft

Mass Effect 1 Remastered Review

Arguably the most flawed of the trilogy in terms of graphics and sluggish gameplay, the original entry has had the most attention paid to it to bring it in line and hold up against its latter two titles. Mass 1, while good-looking back in its 2007 release window, displays some appalling graphics even to an untrained eye.

The eyelashes and hairlines on NPC’s are really blocky and seem disconnected from their surroundings. The textures blend into each other, and the background environments have a muted, inky colour palette: It’s like playing an oil painting.

Simple things like grass, sand, and rock on the planets you can explore all seemed as though not as much time had been spent on them as the foreground playable characters and vehicles.

The Mako vehicle in action in the original Mass Effect 1
Awful vehicle controls and grainy textures  Source: Xfire

The same is true in cutscenes: main characters like Shepard and Liara have great textures on their faces, but look utterly divorced from their dull, poorly defined surroundings. Visually dark shaders make it hard to see even these faces in certain environments.

Gameplay is similarly poor in that you can’t really run properly anywhere to speed things along, elevators are notoriously long to hide loading screens, and the Mako tank made every terrain mission a drag for how easily it could be destroyed and was tricky to maneuver.

The pause menu where you can direct your squadmate’s actions was finicky at best, to the point where I was reluctant to play as any other class than the soldier, as I just wanted to get the job done and use heavy armour.

Mass Effect graphics comparison
Graphics Comparison  Source: Gamerant

Luckily the Legendary Edition has addressed a lot of these issues. While still not picture-perfect the textures have been improved beautifully on the characters’ faces and clothes. Hair on NPC’s is more defined and the colour palette sharpened up beautifully.

You can move faster and loading times have dropped exponentially across the entire game. The Mako tank is more grounded and mercifully has a scope to shoot with which has shaved hours off my playtime.

The squad power menu is a breeze and you can focus your attacks better. It feels more streamlined and modernised, and feels like it is now the way it was supposed to be played. For a game, so ahead of its time it was let down by the technical limitations of 2007.

Characters have had more treatment than their backgrounds I’d wager because they still seem divorced from their surroundings, but it’s so worth it just to have a brighter, faster game.

Mass Effect 1 remastered graphics on Virmire mission
Better textures and health bar  Source: SlashGear

So for all, its graphical flaws, why do people keep going back to Mass 1 and replaying it? Simple. This game introduced players to a strange, nuanced, unpredictable space exploration game set in the near future, where you play as a race you recognise, and encounter strange, complex alien races you don’t, all with their own rich backgrounds and history.

You play as Shepard, fighting to make a name for humanity in a galaxy where elder races see humans as newcomers. We’re introduced to Quarians, Salarians, Turians, Krogan, and Asari. Racial tensions and political intentions are high, as you uncover a Turian renegade plotting to welcome an existential threat to the entire galaxy.

Your dialogue choices have ramifications among races and squadmates, and you truly make each run-through your own and carry the weight of your decisions.

Original box art for Mass Effect 2
Original box art for Mass Effect 2  Source: Gamespot

Mass Effect 2 Remastered Review

The one that started it all for me actually as I played this entry first and fell in love with the characters and lore. Following on two years after the ending of the first game, Shepard must now make an uneasy alliance with a known enemy with aligned goals, and recruit and gain the loyalty of a new crew before heading off onto a suicide mission, to save human colonies from being abducted.

Where in Mass 1 you were introduced to new races, recruiting your incredible new crew goes more in-depth into each races’ homeworld and lore. You learn more about their frictions with other races and come to understand and sympathise with each character. You understand why certain races hate each other through old rivalries and former misdeeds.

The companion crew in Mass Effect 2
The best crew ever assembled in Mass Effect 2 Source: ScreenRant

The beauty of Mass Effect 2 is that you come to care about the final outcome and want your team to survive. This is storytelling at its best: that you care about what happens to a fictional character because they are so fully realised and three-dimensional.

As you gain the loyalty of a representative from most of the other races, you come to realise the message of the game: that we can achieve enormous things when we put aside our differences and work together. It’s a message of hope. All these sparring personalities have something unique to offer, and all are worth saving.

The Normandy SR-2 ship in Mass Effect 2
The Normandy SR-2. Source: TheGamer

In terms of performance in the Legendary Edition, Mass 2 seems largely unchanged to me. I’m playing on an original PS4 on an HD TV, not 4K so I can’t speak for that side of things, but the textures again have been mainly improved on key characters like Shepard, Thane, and Garrus.

The gameplay was already faster and smoother than its predecessor and remains as suspenseful and fun to play as it ever was. The clashing personalities and the romances make the Normandy SR-2 still one of my favourite places to be in gaming history.

Female Shepard on the box art of Mass Effect 3
Female Shepard finally shared the spotlight for the box art of Mass Effect 3  Source: Glitchwave

Mass Effect 3 Remastered Review

The scope of this game is still phenomenal to me. While the galaxy now accepts that the Reapers are real, they are woefully unprepared for what an overwhelming force they are, as they arrive suddenly on Earth during Shepard’s Alliance meeting. Faced against a colossal, unknowable, terrifying enemy, Shepard must now unite entire races and pool all of their resources into the final conflict.

Where Mass 2 went more in-depth with each races’ problems, it’s now down to you to resolve all of their in-fighting and get them on board. The Krogans want a cure for their infertility plague, the Quarians want their homeworld back and the Geth robots are fighting for sentience.

You zoom around the galaxy, visiting stunning war-torn locations, and realise just what an all-consuming galactic threat the Reapers are. They turn the dead into their thralls which swell their numbers, and the action is more fast-paced and desperate than ever. 

The Reapers' army units in Mass Effect 3
The Reapers' army units Source: Comic Vine

Very little needed altering graphically here: any graphical enhancements seem negligible to the naked eye. Textures again have been sharpened, but Mass 3 was originally made on the Frostbite 3 engine, which the Legendary Edition now shares.

Unfortunately, the multiplayer feature is missing but thankfully it’s not needed anymore to get the best outcome in the campaign. The result is a thrilling conclusion to an epic tale. While the ending originally polarised fans, it seems that a certain post-credits scene has become easier to achieve, which lays the groundwork for the future of Mass Effect.

Across all three games, there is now a photo mode, which can be a lot of fun to capture those epic moments. Also across all three, annoyingly, is the addition of lens flare. Every light in all three games casts a long horizontal blue line across the screen with no option to turn it off currently. I don’t know if Bioware thought it would make it more epic but for me, it’s certainly not an improvement. 

Mass Effect trilogy is riddled with distracting lens flare
The whole trilogy is riddled with distracting lens flare. Source: CBR

To say that with the introduction of “Mass Effect: Andromeda”, Bioware was adamant that they were done with Shepards’ storyline. Even to the point where they got Jennifer Hale, the voice of the female Shepard, to voiceover a trailer that pretty much said “This is Commander Shepard, signing out”, to get fans to forget about Shepard. It seems that the piling pressure of a bad reputation has made Bioware change its mind. 

With a new trailer that shows Liara and the N7 chest piece, and the Legendary Edition reminding us of Shepard’s story, the future of Mass Effect has never looked brighter. It’s almost as though Bioware is whetting the whistles of old and new fans alike for a truly spectacular sequel.

Liara finds Shepard's N7 plate in Mass Effect 4
Could it be? Here's hoping for a Shepard sequel. Source: PC Gamer

In conclusion, I want to see the fruits of my labours from the previous games: the Krogan and Quarian homeworlds rebuilt, with uncovered Quarian faces. Sentient Geth. The fate of my squadmates. I want to see Old Shepard sitting on a porch with Liara surrounded by little blue children.

While it’s nice and easy to speculate, a “veteran team” is working on the next entry, which means original trilogy writers, who are hopefully sympathetic to the cause. I’m delighted and a little jealous that a new generation of gamers get to experience this game for the first time, discover these planets and races, and hear the sexy voice of Thane Krios.

I’m thrilled to see Garrus and Mordin pop up in current gaming articles, dragged from the past and back into relevance. I’m delighted to keep playing the original trilogy again and again on current consoles. Bioware: well done. And thank you.

Jason is a freelance content writer living in Nottinghamshire whose preferred topics are movie/game reviews and climate change.

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