Mass Effect Legendary Edition Part 1: Mass Effect Review
Editor's Note: Mass Effect Legendary Edition includes each of the original Mass Effect trilogy's three games. That's a lot of game. As such we've decided to review each game separately, and score it accordingly, too. We'll let you know what our overall thoughts are at the end though. In the meantime, here's our review of Mass Effect.
The original Mass Effect was the game I was most curious about as part of EA and BioWare’s shiny new 4K remastered package — Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. As the first, and therefore oldest, game in the package it seemingly stood the most to gain over its sequels. Plus, I’d never actually played it before. Yes, whilst I devoured both Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, my experience with the opening chapter of this epic space opera was practically zero. As such, I was giddy to shape my own Commander Shepard from the very beginning — I opted for a Paragon-leaning FemShep for those intrigued — and I don’t think I could have asked for a better experience.
Playing the game on PlayStation 5 on the ‘Favour Quality’ setting sees the game running at 4K and targeting 60fps, making it look and play incredibly well for the most part. These technical upgrades stand out from the very beginning, particularly when it comes to the enhanced character models. That’s not to discount the overall resolution bump to environments and the huge upgrade to the game’s lighting. The boost in loading times is also welcome: with the potential tedium of planet-hopping and loading into new areas avoided across the board. Even the fabled elevators — I’ve heard about them, even if I’ve never experienced them first hand — are also a non issue, even if there are far too many of them.
BioWare was clearly keen to impress from the beginning, and in that it has succeeded. Minor frame-rate hiccups, whilst disappointing, are easily forgiven considering everything else that has been added to what remains a huge game. Less forgivable are the handful of hard crashes I’ve experienced but on the whole my experience, from my initial curiosity in the beginning to the thrilling conclusion, was very smooth.
Even with this new coat of paint and an overall tune-up, Mass Effect’s 2007 roots aren’t completely avoidable. From cutscenes (which themselves have also been enhanced) right through to gameplay, animations are stiff. The new models definitely help make everything feel a little more human, but there’s a distinct living statue vibe to everyone during conversations. Facial animations looked particularly poor and at times were incredibly distracting, which is a shame when the dialogue is more often than not the best part of the game.
In action, it’s a little less noticeable until it really isn’t. Combat sequences ranged from me feeling like I was in the midst of an intense and exciting battle to little more than annoying roadblocks on the path to the next story beat. Despite supposed improvements, more often than not, characters will often just stand stock still and fire at one another until one of them eventually crumples into a heap. Getting into and out of cover was far from fluid and also took some getting used to and there’s just an all-around stiffness to every action. This being a remaster, these issues don’t hold much weight and were easy to overlook for the most part. However, it was hard not to look at characters running into walls or AI barely responding to my presence and not have that pull me out of the experience somewhat.
I was going to argue that combat was the biggest weakness Mass Effect had. However, that honour is reserved for the Mako. Much like the elevators I’ve heard tales of the Mako sections for years — I’d bet that somebody brought up this maligned six-wheeled space vehicle every conversation I’ve ever had involving Mass Effect. They were absolutely right to do so. Like the game’s combat, the Mako has also had significant work done to improve the experience. Improvements to the handling, aiming of its weapon, changes to the camera and more are not enough to save these sections from making me wonder why I’m having to do this. At their very best, they’re tedious and they also serve as the biggest reminder of Mass Effect’s age. Thankfully they’re reasonably spread out and don’t last too long but, unlike the clunky combat or stiff animations (and despite there being no reasonable workaround to avoid these sections) I’m less inclined to forgive the Mako for it’s indiscretions.
So the animations are arthritic, the combat is hit and miss and there are whole sections of the game that I wished I was doing literally anything else; yet I still very much loved Mass Effect. Why am I, after 18 or so hours with the game, willing to look beyond systems that seem primitive by modern standards? The characters, the world and the story.
Mass Effect drew me in very early on, setting up a world that I was curious about and that I wanted to explore both on foot (and yes, even in the Mako) across a variety of planets and through the game’s vast dialogue system which remains incredibly impressive. Getting to see different parts of this world (even in a very basic way) and meeting weird and wonderful characters is exciting. Concerned about how well it would hold up, I set out to mainline the first game. By the time I reached The Citadel, the game’s first hub world, I was wandering around hoping to solve the problems of every alien I encountered.
It helps that the game is very well written. Granted there has been huge growth in the video game story space in the almost decade and a half since Mass Effect first released, but it remains the best kind of pulpy sci-fi drama. Tired of saving the world from a rogue agent intent on resurrecting an all-powerful race of machines? Why not help out a preacher who looks like a jellyfish with a permit or put a stop to a high-ranking commander spreading rumours about an ambassador. Whatever I found myself doing I was always engrossed. The main plot is concise by the measure of modern RPGs and it sets things in motion very quickly. I grew attached to my crew over the course of these main quests — some more than others — and the scenarios it presents are rarely black and white. This being a game all about choice, you can make them that way if you want to. Playing a Paragon superhero who wants to unite the galaxy (that’s me!) or a Renegade badass who doesn’t play by the rules are both valid options, as is dabbling in the grey areas between. It does a great job with all of its options so regardless of how you choose to play, once Mass Effect’s story has its hooks in you it isn’t letting go.
Of course, the story is the only area of Mass Effect where I had any prior experience. So it's safe to say that by knowing where this story could go — there are tonnes of different directions depending on your choices and actions — definitely helped. My inaugural playthrough definitely helped provide additional context to my experiences with the sequels almost a decade ago. However, most importantly, the way it builds its world has me excited to play those games all over again. I can’t see why that would be any different for a new player just about to take their first steps into this universe.
There’s no getting away from it: Mass Effect feels every bit of its almost fifteen years. However the improvements found in the Legendary Edition have made this the best way to play what I’m now convinced is one of the best games of all time. I’ve no doubt that some players will struggle with the archaic approach to combat amongst other things, but if you can look past that there’s an experience here that is like few others out there.
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