Fans have been begging BioWare and EA to remaster the original Mass Effect trilogy for a long time now, and that wish will soon be fulfilled when Mass Effect: Legendary Edition launches on May 14. Announced a couple of months ago, BioWare recently revealed a bunch of new details on the game in an online event streamed for media, which we were able to check out, and here, we’re going to talk about the key details that we were able to parse from the event.
STILL ON UNREAL ENGINE 3
The original Mass Effect trilogy was built entirely on Unreal Engine 3, and that’s the engine that the remastered trilogy is sticking to as well. Project director Mac Walters spoke during the event about the choice of engine, saying that though there were some conversations early on about bringing the game over to UE4, they felt that sticking with the original releases’ engine would allow for an experience in the remasters that was more faithful to them. That, and the fact that there are no 1:1 equivalents in UE4 for certain aspects of its predecessor meant that BioWare ended up deciding to stick with Unreal Engine 3.
When Mass Effect: Legendary Edition launches, it will be bringing the entire trilogy together in a single unified experience. There’s plenty of work that’s gone on to ensure that that unified nature can be seen in visuals and gameplay elements as well, but that’ll be true even on a more fundamental level. All three games will be in a single package, in a single launcher, with players selecting whichever of the three they want to play from a single menu screen.
MASS EFFECT 1’S IMPROVEMENTS ARE MUCH MORE RADICAL THAN 2 AND 3
Something that was made abundantly clear by BioWare, even though they didn’t outright say so in as many words, is that the improvements they’ve made to Mass Effect 1 are much more significant than those for Mass Effect 2 and 3. And honestly, that makes perfect sense- Mass Effect 1 is over thirteen years old at this point, and it hasn’t aged particularly well from a gameplay perspective, especially compared to its successors. Its visuals, too, don’t hold up too well from a tech perspective in today’s day and age, and Legendary Edition is making a lot of improvements to ensure that the game receives an appropriately significant facelift.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is going to run at 4K and 60 FPS with support for HDR, but the remaster is more than just a simple upres. Tens of thousands of textures have been upresed from all three games, lighting and reflections have been improved (quite dramatically in some cases), assets and models look better, and things such as ambient occlusion, bokeh field of depth, volumetrics and fog, subsurface scattering, and more help scenes look much better than in the original games.
ENVIRONMENTS AND LEVELS
From what we’ve seen of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, the visual enhancements that are most blatantly visible are the ones they’ve made on a larger scale to environments and levels. BioWare showcased several scenes from Mass Effect 1, and while keeping the art from the original game intact, they’ve made changes to lighting and added more elements like additional foliage, smoke, fog, fire, and more. What this does, according to environment and character director Kevin Meek, is strike a balance between keeping the look of the original game intact and updating the visuals in a way that speaks to the tone and atmosphere of locations and their stories much better.
Something that BioWare seem to have focused specifically on during Legendary Edition’s development is your squadmates- which makes sense, because they are, after all, the heart and soul of Mass Effect. As you’d expect, character models for the main characters in the trilogy have received significant facelifts. We saw Liara in her casual outfit from Mass Effect 1, and the likes of Thane and Jacob and Zaeed from Mass Effect 2, and everything from their faces to the patters and textures on their clothes exhibits much more detail than their original counterparts.
COMBAT AND MAKO
As we mentioned earlier, BioWare have made improvements to Mass Effect 1’s gameplay and design to bring the experience more in line with the experience in its sequels, and as most series fans would tell you, the combat and the Mako sections were in need of significant upgrades. As per producer Crystal McCord, knowing full well that Mass Effect 1’s combat wasn’t at the same level as ME2 and 3 (which were far more refined as third person shooters), shooting in the first game’s remaster has been made snappier and smoother. Driving in the Mako has also been improved, though BioWare did not go into too much detail about what exactly those improvements are.
MORE GAMEPLAY IMPROVEMENTS
While speaking about the gameplay improvements being made in Legendary Edition, BioWare also briefly showed a whole list of other finer changes that are being made in the remaster. A dedicated melee button in Mass Effect 1, better auto save placements, improved first aid cooldowns, improvements to enemy AI and squad controls, rebalancing of XP and progression, removing class-based weapon restrictions, improved boss fights, and more- there’s a whole list of improvements here that will hopefully come together in a significant way.
Some other gameplay improvements made to Mass Effect 1 were also detailed. Notably, the game will finally have controller support on PC, while other changes have also been made to inputs, such as controller mapping and keybinding options. Additionally, BioWare have also modernized the combat HUD in Mass Effect 1’s remaster to, once again, bring it closer to Mass Effect 2 and 3.
As you’ll remember, it wasn’t until Mass Effect 3 that BioWare introduced what we now know as the default face for the female version of Commander Shepard. With the Legendary Edition, which is looking to unify the entire trilogy as a more cohesive experience, that’ll no longer be the case, and the default FemShep face will be available in both Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2.
Of course, players don’t have to go with the default face for Commander Shepard’s male or female versions. Mass Effect has always allowed you to create your own custom look for Shepard, and that character creation element is also receiving upgrades in Legendary Edition. The character creator will be unified across all three games, and will feature more customization options than the originals, for things such as skin tone, hairstyles, and more.
In response to a question about whether or not Mass Effect: Legendary Edition will feature PC-specific enhancements like ray-tracing, BioWare confirmed that that’s not going to be the case. That said, improvements targeted specifically for PC have been made. Support for 21:9 has been confirmed, for starters, while Legendary Edition will also feature a wider range of options settings. As opposed to the original trilogy’s more erratic and inconsistent settings even within itself, the options settings in Legendary Edition will be unified across all three games.