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The Legendary Edition Final Verdict – Classic Mass Effect Charm in a Modernized Skin

By: Devin Rardin

PLATFORMS: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

RELEASE DATE: May 14, 2021


PUBLISHER: Electronic Arts

MSRP: $59.99

ESRB: M for Mature

Disclaimer - A digital copy of this product was provided by EA for Review purposes. This game was reviewed on PlayStation 5. Gaming Instincts is an Amazon affiliate and does get financial benefits if you choose to purchase this product on this page.

Deep-rooted nostalgia roused the development of countless remakes and remasters from a bygone era. Thanks to sentimentality’s pull, the younger generation can experience a refurbished relic for the first time and the older generation can relive their childhood treasure. Only specific games excel across generations and deserve this kind of treatment - magical games that resonate in the heart and never retire. Mass Effect is one of those games.

From the first moments of Commander Shepard’s determined stare into space to the disgruntled grimace of a shimmering blue beam, Mass Effect grasped hearts like no other. While the remake was inevitable, the quality was uncertain thanks to the trilogy’s glorified status and BioWare’s current ignominy. Luckily, The Legendary Edition renovates three cherished games for the modern era while staying true to their original personality and charm. 

The much anticipated Legendary Edition bundles Commander Shepard’s journey with improvements in graphics, frame rate, and gameplay. Before we dive straight into the specific improvements, let's take a moment to remember just how good Mass Effect is. Besides, that’s what the collection is - a reminder and preservation of gaming’s best sci-fi trilogy.

A Trilogy Worthy of a Remake 

Right before Mass Effect 1’s final mission, Shepard must return to the shiny, multi-layered streets of the Citadel. As soon as she/he exits the Normandy, an abrasive reporter bombards the Spectre with questions. At this moment, players can show the world and themselves the type of Shepard they want to be. Respond as the counsel’s puppet, stand up against the blatant racism of the Citadel, reveal political turmoil, stand strong for the human race, or knock out the measly reporter with one punch.

Throughout the trilogy, gamers can play the way they want and be whom they choose. Choices ripple throughout each game from relationship status to major character deaths, making each moment feel impactful and powerful. This freedom is empowered by strong voice acting from the main cast, especially Jennifer Hall’s demanding gravitas as FemShep, and a fully realized galaxy that completely enraptures players.

It’s fair to say that each game comes with small critiques here and there including Mass Effect 1’s slow-burn, Mass Effect 2’s detour from the Reaper storyline, and Mass Effect 3’s disregard of complex RPG mechanics. Though aggravating for some, these critiques barely tilt the scale away from the franchise being a masterpiece. Overall, the trilogy allowed anyone to feel like they belong due to the in-depth roleplaying capabilities and impactful choice reverberations.

The best example is Mass Effect 2’s suicide mission, a daring venture through the Omega 4 Relay, a transport of which few ships return. The voyage outcome is reliant on player choices throughout the game, particularly companion loyalty status. Specific choices and actions can result in a brevity of outcomes including the death of every single crew member. It's the perfect encapsulation of player agency. 

Game altering scenes like this make the Mass Effect experience a timeless one, at least concerning the story. Gameplay and combat are less refined, but that’s due to technical limitations, not developer inadequacy. This is where the Legendary Edition proves its relevance and unveils effective modernization techniques. 

The Improvements

BioWare spent most of their time on Mass Effect 1 and so did we. Whereas the two follow-ups match our current standards, the original fit nicely within the 2007 era. The third-person gunplay is clunky, plagued by nonsensical aiming, and several character animations are awkward as NPCs turn around with a quick jolt. It may not be revamped from the ground up, keeping some classic Mass Effect charm, but the improvements do merit significant applause. 

The story starts as Shepard gazes upon their reflection in a spotless Normandy window. The added reflection not only signifies a major graphical update but also adds to the scene’s gravitas. Ray tracing overall is one of the most notable improvements to the game. The Flux’s wasted customers, for example, are reflected through the bar’s wall of windows, impressively bonding a 2021 graphical technique and a 2007 game. 

The next substantial showcase was the lighting as evidenced through the player’s first steps on the Normandy. Bright lights glow in the dark blue command deck while shined railing glistens from a distance. As Shepard talks to crew members, we see the original Play-Doh facial textures are replaced by realistic rivets and wrinkles. While we are amazed by the improved faces, the animation instantly brought us right back to 2007. Voice lines and mouth movements don’t line up and Shepard's stares can be uncomfortable. We wish BioWare went the extra mile, but, at the same time, these quirky details are oddly nostalgic and charming. 

On top of graphical enhancement, the combat was also reworked to feel closer to Mass Effect 2 and 3. Small quality of life issues goes a long way in making combat bearable including snappier aiming animation, smaller reticles, and easier cover mechanics. Additionally, the health bar is a long, easy-to-see semi-circle instead of a compressed white bar. All of these gameplay changes enhance Mass Effect’s approachability while keeping the original’s DNA, a difficult balance that few remakes master.

The same can’t be said for the Mako, which still suffers from its weightless design and touchy controls. One would think the vehicle is the center of improvements, but we found ourselves driving off bridges and flipping over an unforgivable amount of times. This would be charming, like the animation mentioned above, but it's the centerpiece of gameplay making us question BioWare's lack of refinement. At least the disobedient vehicle has a newly installed boost to make insufferable driving sections pass a little faster. 

Another infamous critique from the original saw a much better revision for the Legendary Edition. The Citadel elevators are now skippable, eliminating the uncomfortably long wait times between floors. These fast loading times are standard across the game, a much-needed improvement for any RPG. This is especially helpful in eliminating some of the slower aspects of Citadel gameplay. The multi-layered city causes some pacing issues as players spend the front half of Mass Effect talking to NPCs and navigating the complex, puzzle-like setting. Fast loading times and an added sprint button go a long way in mediating this issue. 

For all the game design issues of Mass Effect 1, we’re delighted BioWare took the effort to modernize it beyond graphical improvements. Besides the clumsy Mako rides, the original Mass Effect is finally playable without the hassle of 2007 gaming standards. 

Mass Effect 2 and 3 received similar graphical improvements as its predecessor while gameplay stayed mostly the same. These games look stunning on current hardware, taking Mass Effect 1’s improvements to the extreme. The amazing opening scene of Mass Effect 2 dives players straight into the jaw-dropping visuals. When the Normandy is attacked by a mysterious, spherical-shaped ship, Shepard must escape before he/she is blown to pieces. 

The fiery ship is composed of different shades of red and the floor panels are disfigured to create a sense of destruction beyond that of the original. Once Shepard progresses they find a missing roof with a large planet in its place. The planet casts a blue tint on the ship and we can’t help but bask in the Legendary Edition’s immaculate lighting. 

The rest of the trilogy consists of similar glorious scenes from the reflective walls of Cerberus to the skyscrapers of Earth. Even though the graphical overhaul is the primary upgrade, BioWare did make small changes here and there to please fans. A historic controversy, on top of the ending, was Tali’s face reveal, a momentous occasion ruined by a lazy stock image. The Legendary Edition finally crafted a face worthy of the long-running character. 

Other less dramatic additions were also included like a 2015 version of Pluto and more ammo pickups in Mass Effect 2. Things like this are not significant, but they do prove that BioWare put thought into the Legendary Edition when a simple graphical enhancement would suffice. 

Comprehensive Mass Effect Experience

Speaking of going above and beyond, The Legendary Edition includes every piece of downloadable content, indispensable segments that substantially enhance the trilogy as a whole. Mass Effect 2’s Arrival brings The Reaper invasion back into focus after a prolonged break while Liar of the Shadow Broker fleshes out a controversial character change. Not to mention, Mass Effect 3’s The Citadel is a masterfully crafted exploration of every crew member in the series.

On top of the DLC, Legendary Edition includes the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut, which crafts a well-rounded ending based on character choices, essentially combating the original’s lack of closure. Suffice to say Mass Effect Legendary Edition offers the best version of the trilogy: every story element ends with a blatant period instead of a mocking ellipsis. Now gamers can experience the Mass Effect trilogy in its most complete form. A whole galaxy is open for exploration with no red tap or additional payments.

The craft and care of the Legendary Edition, from Mass Effect 1’s upgraded combat to Mass Effect 2’s new Pluto, honors its legacy for the dedicated fanbase. Barring minimal Mako fixes, every improvement is meaningful, making the Legendary Edition the foremost platform for a Mass Effect playthrough. It signifies a shining moment for the video game industry, BioWare, the passionate fanbase, and the fans to come.

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Fun is dependent on player freedom not necessarily combat and gameplay
The Legendary Edition greatly improves graphics bringing Mass Effect up to modern standards
The iconic soundtrack returns along modified in game audio
There are many different paths and relationships to explore, encouraging several playthroughs