Remasters are boring. There, I said it. I love a chance to re-experience a classic as much as the next person, but they have become a replacement for new ideas at best and a lazy cash-in attempt at worst.
That said, I was ambivalent about Mass Effect Legendary Edition. This trilogy quickly became a standards bearer for blockbuster gaming in the noughties — treating players to a lore-soaked universe with a story that is so well written, even the most lovingly crafted stories of recent years don’t compare.
And, as I’ve been self-isolating over the past 10 days under strict NHS instructions, it’s given me an opportune time to lose myself in BioWare’s universe once again. Is it more than just a boring remaster? Is it just a quick cash-in/attempt to make us forget about Anthem? Let’s find out.
To 4K and beyond
Let’s get right to answering the question at the heart of this remaster — that is, are the actual remastered elements good enough to hang with the visual fidelity standards of 2021?
The answer is mostly “yes.” Textures, models and shaders were updated, along with seriously improved lighting and dynamic shadows, more balanced audio, and HDR — all of which load much faster than in past games.
All of this makes for an overall presentation that has a remastered look but is a better effort than what you normally see in updated games. BioWare is so confident of the impressive graphical upgrades that Mass Effect now has a photo mode. With this feature, you can really scrutinise the updates and recognise just how good the second and third iterations look. Getting back to our question about the visuals; I emphasize the answer is mostly “yes,” because — and this will be a running theme throughout this review — the first game is a bit of a weak link.
Don’t get me wrong, the biggest graphical differences can be seen in Mass Effect 1, but this enhancement only exposes the robotic character movements and far more empty, repetitive environments to explore, which can sometimes make getting through the first beats of this adventure feel like a chore.
Aging (sort of) like fine wine
Speaking of the first game, it's commendable to see just how much work Bioware put into improving the gameplay of Mass Effect 1. Your inputs are responsive and grounded to the point that Shepherd doesn’t feel like he’s floating over the ground. Plus, squad and enemy AI are now a lot smarter, and the camera has been improved.
Not only that, but the team has been busy addressing common complaints, such as tweaking the Mako gameplay to be a little more forgiving, decreasing weapon and item cooldown times, and updating the control scheme to be more in line with the sequels.
The overhaul is dramatic, but these tweaks are still not enough to make the gameplay of the first game feel any less awkward and janky at times. The gun combat is still weak, the cover system remains off, you can get lost easily in inventory management, and the pacing is hit-and-miss.
But let’s be honest, all of these shortcomings are forgotten once you experience the fantastically gripping Mass Effect 2 and 3. These represent BioWare at its absolute best, from the episodic structure making those multiple-choice moments and dramatic consequences all the more impactful, to the drastically improved third-person shooter combat and streamlined RPG elements that help you get more emotionally invested in the fully realized characters.
It’s just a shame that the opening chapter of your trilogy feels mediocre in the face of these two strokes of greatness, but yet, is required to understand the lore and prepare for the sequels. If you find yourself getting bored during Mass Effect 1, just keep going, as it gets a whole lot better.
So. Much. Content
There’s no denying the value for money of this package; you get the entire trilogy with at least 30 hours of gameplay in each game as well as all of the DLCs too (except for multiplayer).
It can seem overwhelming at first given the average length of games nowadays, but this massive wedge of content is far and above anything you’d expect for a $60 game. Yes, the package even includes the Citadel expansion which gives players a more fitting conclusion than the one in Mass Effect 3. Sure, it’s mostly fan service, but by that point in the game, you will be invested enough to appreciate the change to an ending more frustrating than Game of Thrones. I just wish this arrived earlier in the lockdown, so the stay-at-home orders were a little easier to handle with space adventures.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition PC Performance
To play Mass Effect Legendary Edition on PC, the minimum system requirements are an Intel Core i5 3570 CPU, Nvidia GTX 760 GPU, 2GB of RAM and 120GB of space.
Translation: this game absolutely flies on most laptops, including my old Asus ROG Zephyrus M15 with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 and an old AMD Ryzen 5. At 1080p, you can confidently hit well over 140 frames per second with specs like this. At 4K, you can really make the system sweat, but if you’re OK with 30 fps gaming in exchange for those super crisp textures, then have at it!
What is frustrating, though, is the limited graphical settings available to play around with. All you get is three choices: low, medium or high. None of the nitty-gritty options. I get it's challenging to understand what your PC can handle, but removing these is not the answer. Educating people on what each setting does is the best approach, so I hope BioWare provides more visual options in an update.
Remasters are boring, but some can breathe new life into a series that transcends its own time, to make for an experience that will be loved by both loyal fans and newcomers alike.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition is such an example. It walks this tightrope with expert precision, to give you something that doesn’t feel like it’s only a new coat of 4K paint. Not only that, but it’s also possibly one of the best value packages over the past few years — I’m roughly 60 hours in and I’ve barely touched the side quests.
Is it perfect? No. I encountered a few glitches across all three titles and Mass Effect 1 is the weakest link, which can make it feel like a slog to get to the superior second and third entries. It’s a remarkable feat that, after 14 years, Shepherd's story remains the most gripping galactic adventure in gaming.