There are only a few games that I distinctly remember the day I purchased them, and the original Mass Effect is one such game. I had gone to my local Best Buy in search of Rock Band accessories when I made an impulse decision to grab the sci-fi RPG as well. I was, of course, familiar with Bioware’s work, but was definitely a casual fan. Commander Shepard’s maiden voyage changed all of that, though. Despite being on a tight, college-student budget at the time, I still made sure to buy the two follow-up sequels on launch day. All three rank among my favorite games of the last generation, and not even the disappointment of Andromeda could dampen my enthusiasm for the arrival of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition.
For the uninitiated, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is a compilation of the complete Shepard saga. It includes all three original games and just about every piece of DLC released for the trio. The only notable omissions from the set are the Pinnacle Station DLC from the first title and the fan-favorite multiplayer mode from the third. Newcomers and veterans alike will still get to relive just about every epic moment with this collection, from the opening mission on Eden Prime to the final showdown with the Reapers. That’s a ton of content to sift through, so expect this set to take up a good portion of your gaming time going forward.
Of the three included titles, the original Mass Effect was the one that was going to need to most work. With its 14th birthday coming up later this year, it would have been a tragedy if Bioware ported it over with no significant changes. Besides the requisite tweaks to the visuals and performance improvements, the title has received some much-needed overhauls. Use of different weapons is no longer barred by whatever class you chose at the outset of the campaign. Shepard is still more or less adept at using certain firearms depending on his/her class, but you can now use any weapon you need to in a pinch. Overall, the gameplay feels snappier in this release; more akin to the two later entries now, which is definitely an improvement in my eyes. I loved the first outing, but I’m not gonna lie to you and say that it wasn’t just a tad janky.
And then there is the Mako. The much-derided vehicle has been a major thorn in the side of Mass Effect since it first released. Thankfully, Bioware has heard the cries and made some smart adjustments to these sections. The vehicle moves way faster than it did before and is significantly easier to control as well. It’s been given some additional heft too, which makes it feel more like an actual vehicle rather than a floaty pile of junk in the shape of a car. These sections are still probably the weakest part of the campaign, though. I’m more of a hands-on Commander, and the less time spent behind the wheel, the better.
Mass Effect is also the biggest recipient when it comes to visual improvements. It’s still a remaster of a game from two console generations ago, but the work done to get it up to modern levels is seriously impressive. The environments, in particular, look excellent — greater detail has been given to each new planet you travel to. This helps them all feel unique from one another, and sells you on the idea they are all separate entities in the massive universe of the series. With the number of gorgeous vistas you can find across all three games, you’ll want to take advantage of the new photo mode.
With all of the tweaks and improvements given to it, the original now stands as my second favorite entry included in the Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. The gameplay still can’t stack up to Mass Effect 2, which, in my opinion, balanced the RPG and shooter DNA of the franchise better than the other two entries. However, the combination of improved gameplay and the best story in the series makes it a top contender to the crown. While the latter two entries stumble to a conclusion, the first game has an epic run-off to its finale. Everything from Virmire on is just as magnificent as I remember it being. Plus, it introduced us to Garrus, and for that, we should all be eternally grateful.
Both Mass Effect 2 and 3 required less work to bring up to speed than their predecessor did, but that doesn’t mean updates haven’t been made. Again, the work done on the environments is incredible. Each of the three titles always had its own vibe about them, and the visual refinements help further define them from one another. With the mechanics already firmly entrenched at the time of their original release, not much needed to be done to the gameplay. The biggest change is the tweak to the Galactic Readiness system from the third entry, and that was only due to necessity. Without the multiplayer mode being factored in, the system had to be adjusted.
One slight issue that extends across all three titles, though, is the occasionally off-putting character animations. They definitely look better than they had in the past, and there is a good amount of new detail put into them. Improved hair textures, better-defined uniforms, and less clunky animation, to name a few. However, there does appear to be some issues with dialogue syncing up. Facial animations come off as less animated than you would expect. It’s definitely more of an issue with the human characters than it is with the various alien species you come across. But since this is the story of a human leader often working with other humans, it’s also something you notice quite a bit.
Mass Effect 2 still takes the top position in my heart, though. The story may not end the strongest, but the adventure beforehand is remarkable. It also helps that the crew Shepard brings together is the strongest in the entire series. From familiar friends like Garrus and Tali to new allies such as Thane and Jack, the cast is aces across the board. It’s something that the third entry struggles with. The less said about the divisive finale and notable dork Kai Leng, the better. I will say, though, that the added DLC does improve the story, however. The addition of Javik is a game-changer, and Citadel is arguably the best piece of additional content released for the franchise.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is exactly what I wanted out of the set when it was first announced: a remaster of three of the best western RPGs in recent memory. Remasters that make smart and necessary tweaks to each title, but still retain the heart and soul that made them so beloved in the first place. It’s crazy to think that almost a decade after the saga wrapped up, and with my massive backlog, I’m ready to spend hundreds of hours reliving the story of Commander Shepard once again. Yet, here we are, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. A review code was provided to us by Electronic Arts.