Mass Effect is a special series. As role playing games, as third person shooters, as stories, as casts of characters, as games the strike the perfect balance between player agency and scripted storytelling- BioWare’s role playing franchise has excelled in more ways than one over the years, especially with its original trilogy. The chance to relive that glorious era of BioWare, when the developer and this franchise were both at their absolute best, is something fans have been asking for for a long time now, and that is exactly what Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is. Appropriately enough as a remastered collection of one of the best gaming trilogies ever made, Legendary Edition is an impressive remaster, and an excellent way to experience BioWare’s best work to date for both returning fans and newcomers alike.
Commander Shepard’s three-part fight against the Reapers is still a story worth experiencing, especially with all the DLC and expansions included and baked into the trilogy. All of it is made richer by all of the inter-galactic politics, conflicts and battles between multitudes of fascinating alien races, oodles of lore lending incredible life and personality to places and species, and some of the most astounding alien locations you’ll ever see in a game. BioWare’s creative juices were flowing like never before (and never since) when they were working on the Mass Effect games, and the chance to experience that all over again is a real gift. This is far, far from my first playthrough of this series, but I’m still as obsessed as I was more than a decade ago with everything to do with the genophage, the quarian-geth conflict, the Migrant Fleet, the First Contact War, the origins of the Reapers, the inter-race politics of the Council, and a bunch of other things that I could go on and on and on about.
"Appropriately enough for a remastered collection of one of the best gaming trilogies ever made, Legendary Edition is an impressive remaster, and an excellent way to experience BioWare’s best work to date for both returning fans and newcomers alike. "
Of course, as good as all of the lore, world-building, and high-stakes storytelling are, the true magic of Mass Effect lies in the characters (which is saying something, considering how good those other things are). With Legendary Edition, being able to play through the entire trilogy in a single, near-unified package really does wonders for that as well. Some of the best characters in the trilogies have excellent arcs and do a great deal of growing from the beginning of Mass Effect 1 to the end of Mass Effect 3, especially including the likes of Tali, Liara, and Garrus- and watching them grow more confident in their skin and going from being rookies to badass world-beating soldiers is a pleasure. Meanwhile, it’s just as gratifying to see the bonds between these characters deepen with shifting dynamics and strengthening friendships as well- just as an example, Garrus starts out as being a bit stiff and formal around Shepard, but it’s an absolute joy seeing the friendship between the two blossom as they become equals rather than commander and sidekick over the course of the trilogy.
Of course, all of these are things that were just as true in these three games when they first came out as they are right now- Legendary Edition only gives us all a chance to experience all of that yet again. As far as remastering work is concerned though, there’s still plenty to talk about here. Of the three games, Mass Effect 1 that has received the most significant upgrades- which makes sense. ME1 hasn’t aged very well, and going back to the original game and trying to play it now can be a bit of an exercise in patience, for all of its strengths. Thankfully, even though some of that age still shows, Legendary Edition does a great job of making the game feel much more polished and modernized.
Most noticeable are the visual changes. There’s still some jank here, especially in terms of animations, but by and large, Mass Effect 1 is one of the most impressive remasters I’ve ever seen- short of being a remake, of course. Rather than just boosting the resolution and touching up some jaggies here and there, Legendary Edition’s ME1 goes the extra mile to redo entire assets, make environments more dynamic and much more dense, drastically improve the lighting, add touches and flourishes of detail, improve character models and objects, and much more. The result is a game that can easily pass for a mid-budget eighth-gen release, and that’s a big deal for a remaster, not a remake, of a game that launched nearly a decade and a half ago.
"Rather than just boosting the resolution and touching up some jaggies here and there, Legendary Edition’s ME1 goes the extra mile to redo entire assets, make environments more dynamic and much more dense, drastically improve the lighting, add touches and flourishes of detail, improve character models and objects, and much more."
On the gameplay front, the improvements are less effective. In almost every area, Mass Effect 1 makes noticeable and often major improvements to how it plays in Legendary Edition, and while those improvements do make an instant difference, they don’t do quite enough. Combat, for instance, is snappier and feels better than it did in the original game, but shots still lack the punchy impact of Mass Effect 2 and 3, cover still feels too inaccurate and unreliable, and the selecting powers for yourself and your squadmates in the heat of battle feels unintuitive. The Mako sections have improved as well, and the new boost functionality in particular is worthy of praise, but thanks to a combination of frustratingly designed terrain and driving that still feels very floaty, these sections are still more often than not a bit of a headache.
Meanwhile, it’s not just the combat where the UI needs improvements- scrolling through a single long list at vendors and having to open the menu every time you want to bring up the map, for instance, are just a couple of examples of issues that haven’t been ironed out in Legendary Edition. Meanwhile, checkpoints are still a bit too unforgiving- on a couple of occasions, I died in combat due to the frustrating cover mechanics, and ended up losing dozens of minutes of progress. Finally, Mass Effect 1 in particular also has some annoying technical issues, from characters refusing to move after coming out of elevators to only moving backwards and refusing to turn around and face the right way, for whatever reason.
Still, even with all of these issues, Mass Effect 1 is still a classic. Its story, characters, world-building, and choice and consequence mechanics were pioneers and trend-setters back in 2007, and now, more than a decade later, all of that is just as good. You do have to put up with some jank and lack of polish to be able to experience the highlights of the experience, but those highlights are so densely packed and so excellently crafted that it becomes much easier to tolerate the problems that go hand-in-hand.
"Mass Effect 2 was already one of the greatest games of all time, while Mass Effect 3, even with its controversial ending, is an excellent game in its own right as well- so the fact that Legendary Edition only touches them up and makes them prettier while tweaking a few things here and there is perfectly fine by me."
The upgrades made to Mass Effect 2 and 3 are much more conservative in comparison- and honestly, those games didn’t need a lot of upgrades anyway. Both of them look better, of course, while progression has been rebalanced as well, and the Galactic Readiness system in Mass Effect 3 has also been retooled, now that the multiplayer is no longer part of the experience. But by and large, they stick to the script much more closely. Mass Effect 2 was already one of the greatest games of all time, while Mass Effect 3, even with its controversial ending (which is now the Extended Cut by default), is an excellent game in its own right as well- so the fact that Legendary Edition only touches them up and makes them prettier while tweaking a few things here and there is perfectly fine by me. They both still feel amazing to play.
As a whole, this is pretty much exactly what fans have been asking for for so long- the entire Mass Effect trilogy brought together in a single package that, rather than just making the games better looking, helps their qualities stand out much more while ironing out the kinks. Of course, there are still some problems here, especially with Mass Effect 1, but short of remaking the game (or at least some of its fundamental systems) entirely, I really don’t see how else BioWare could have improved the game more in any meaningful way.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is a fantastic love letter to one of the greatest gaming trilogies ever made.
The PlayStation 4 version of this game was reviewed on PlayStation 5 via backward compatibility.
Fantastic visual upgrades (especially in Mass Effect 1) go above and beyond to make everything look significantly better; Aged gameplay systems in Mass Effect 1 have seen some notable improvements; The Mass Effect trilogy is fantastic, and Legendary Edition lets you play it again.
In spite of big improvements, the UI, combat, and Mako sections in Mass Effect 1 can still be quite frustrating.