The influence of the Mass Effect trilogy cannot be overstated.
The first game, released in 2007, set the bar for role-playing games, or RPGs, by placing unprecedented weight on player choices. Though rough around the edges technically, its epic science fiction narrative about a galactic warrior named Commander Shepard, who was on a quest to save the galaxy from a primordial evil force known as the Reapers, faced players with a series of seemingly unresolvable dilemmas — and every decision had far-reaching consequences that dramatically changed the course of the story.
With Mass Effect 2 and 3, developer BioWare worked out the chinks in the first game’s armor and further expanded the choose-your-own-adventure mechanic by allowing players to import their choices from each game into the subsequent one, creating an epic, immersive narrative experience that seems to flow directly out of players’ personal choices.
In the decade that has passed since Mass Effect 3’s release, gaming technology has grown increasingly sophisticated and accessible, making the original trilogy feel dated in comparison. But now, BioWare has released Mass Effect Legendary Edition, a remastered compilation that brings gaming’s definitive sci-fi action RPG up to modern standards.
Legendary Edition constitutes one of the most extensive remasters in recent memory, far surpassing others such as last September’s Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning. Not only has BioWare greatly updated graphical quality — in the form of higher resolution textures, improved lighting and particle effects and more detailed character models — but it has also made major quality-of-life improvements such as implementing near-instant load times and re-balancing the games’ RPG leveling system. Further, a photo mode has been added, allowing players to grab screenshots of the games’ most captivating vistas.
The updates are most notable in the first Mass Effect; the original version has stood the test of time with the least grace by far. The original and the Legendary Edition versions are like night and day — BioWare has fully revamped Mass Effect 1’s combat by fine-tuning the shooting mechanics, making controls more precise and reducing seconds wasted waiting for cooldown timers. BioWare also redesigned the first game’s head-up display to align more closely with the other games, remixed sound effects and streamlined inventory management, greatly increasing the game’s overall pace and bringing it closer in line with the sequels.
Mass Effect 2 and 3, which, graphically, already fared much better than the first game, are now rendered even more visually stunning. While the first game looks incredible for a 14-year-old title, Mass Effect 2 and 3 look as though they could have been released last year.
One of the greatest innovations in the Mass Effect series was its morality system. Players identify either as a Paragon, by performing moral deeds, or a Renegade, by acting immorally. As Shepard aligns more closely with one of the moral poles, paths forward appear in the narrative and lead to unique outcomes.
In the Legendary Edition, BioWare has tweaked the criteria for achieving certain game states, so that previously obscured, vital outcomes are no longer locked out for the majority of players. This is a subtle but crucial fix, addressing one of the few major frustrations in the original releases and making the games’ branching narrative infinitely more immersive.
In addition to the three base games, Mass Effect Legendary Edition also includes all the major downloadable content, or DLC — with the exception of the inessential Pinnacle Station DLC — which comprises some of the best content in the original series, such as Mass Effect 2’s Lair of the Shadow Broker narrative expansion. It also includes the Extended Cut DLC, which updates Mass Effect 3’s controversial original ending, making the series’ grand finale far more satisfying.
The composite experience created by following one character, carrying over players’ choices through all three Mass Effect games and their DLCs, constituting hundreds of hours of gameplay, is one of gaming’s quintessential experiences. With Mass Effect Legendary Edition, BioWare has given longtime fans and players alike the best way to get wrapped up in it.
This review is based on the PC version of Mass Effect Legendary Edition.