Mass Effect Legendary Edition Review

November 3, 2021
Also on: PC, Xbox One
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Mass Effect Legendary Edition is undoubtedly the best way to play the Mass Effect trilogy in 2021. For many people, that sentence alone will be enough. A franchise in desperate need of direction, allowing players to revisit this world with a new coat of paint and an upgraded lighting engine is a shrewd move from EA. However, for everything the Legendary Edition does right, it also shines a light on the things that nostalgia glosses over.

Mass Effect is the game that has seen the most change from its original release. Serious efforts have been made to overhaul the oldest game in the trilogy to first bring it into line with subsequent games in the series as well as up to something close to a modern standard. Improved aiming and controls to match those of the sequels, updates to sound design, a whole raft of changes to character models, plus upgrades to environments and lighting make this version of Mass Effect the best the game has ever been. They even allowed users to choose to skip elevator rides or listen as dialogue played out. The MAKO sections also see an upgrade to make them better, but they remain a huge blight on the game as a whole. 

“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.” — Review, Mass Effect (Legendary Edition)

The huge amount of changes to the first game is almost the biggest reason to pick up the Legendary Edition package. It still shows its age and there are occasional struggles with frame rates, but as someone who had never played the first game before — I know, I know — it was great to see where the franchise began without it feeling antiquated compared to its more modern successors.

In truth, the changes seen in Legendary Edition actually come before the first game. A ubiquitous character creator allows players to create Commander Shepard in their image from the very beginning with nothing lost or gained between games. Further to this, the female Shepard model from Mass Effect 3 has been introduced from the start too. Both of these are small touches that make a big difference. 

Did anyone REALLY like Kaidan?

Given the positive start, it’s a shame that not all of the game menus and inventory systems were given a similar universal overhaul. The menus in Mass Effect may be the biggest relic of that game. Often unintuitive to navigate, it took a long time before I was sure of what I was doing. They’re still clunky in the sequels, but it would have been preferable to have systems that carried between the three titles. 

Despite there only being three years between the release of Mass Effect and its sequel, there’s definitely more of a modern feel to Mass Effect 2 and the same can be said for the third game as well. As such, a lot of the initial ‘wow’ factor of the first game’s upgrades is lost with each new title. However, the additions made in the Legendary Edition still make a big difference even if you have to look a little harder to notice them. 

“The mysteries of Cerberus and The Illusive Man, played expertly by Martin Sheen, were now my sole focus, whilst I anticipated the epic final battle that is still one of the very best in gaming. I don’t expect this to be a unique experience for me. Returning players will get just as much out of returning to Mass Effect 2 as new players will. All of this goes to show just how good Mass Effect 2 still is.” — Review, Mass Effect 2 (Legendary Edition)

One of the most surprising things about playing through the games in quick succession is noticing just how different they are. It’s quite jarring at first to enter combat in Mass Effect 2 immediately after playing the first game and for it to feel much more like a third-person shooter. And by the time you get to Mass Effect 3 it starts to feel more like a cover shooter with some RPG elements surrounding it. As such, Mass Effect Legendary Edition operates almost like a time capsule. Seeing the evolution between the games so clearly is fascinating; a benefit to them remaining largely the same aside from the visual and quality of life improvements required of a remaster.

Of course, it also makes plot holes far more obvious — particularly when it comes to Mass Effect 3 — and highlights the elements of the series that were eroded over time. Whilst it might be a sci-fi adventure, the original Mass Effect felt far more grounded in its approach. Conversations and relationships felt almost as important as boots on the ground. In contrast, the opening of Mass Effect 3 throws Shepard almost immediately into a firefight. Whilst these changes were clear upon the games’ original release, it’s quite startling to see that shift happen over the course of a few hours as opposed to a few years.

“Much like the changes to gameplay, the story itself is now more akin to a summer blockbuster film than the slower build of Mass Effect 2 or the more politically charged sci-fi found in the first game.” — Review, Mass Effect 3 (Legendary Edition)

I say “a few hours” but there’s a serious amount of content here. Not only are you looking at likely 100 hours of the core games, there’s a significant amount of additional content included here too. From a value standpoint, Mass Effect Legendary Edition is incredibly hard to beat.

To make that time worth it though, the games still have to be good. Thankfully, all three games still hold up incredibly well and the extent of the improvements is suitably vast. Of course, there are elements that can’t be changed in a mere remaster — but I’ve already spent far too long talking about the ending of Mass Effect 3.  

Pretty colours and an all-star cast of characters when you look back

In all seriousness, these games are lauded for a reason, and I’m pleased at just how well they hold up under modern scrutiny. The benefits found in Mass Effect Legendary Edition absolutely outweigh any issues I have. As such, I can’t recommend them enough to returning players and those new to the series alike. The games still feel fresh, their stories are (mostly) fantastic and you’ll find yourself easily lost in a tangled web of characters and sidequests. You’ll have a great time exploring all of that though. 

Mass Effect Legendary Edition isn’t a spotless remaster, but there’s no denying that it's the best way to play this incredible trilogy of games in 2021. The updates to the original Mass Effect steal the show, and they alone will be enough for many to step into Shepard’s space suit once again, but the other two games in the trilogy are given just the right amount of polish to make the whole thing worth it.

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Mass Effect Legendary Edition is one of the most complete packages in all of video games. It rarely drops the ball and is absolutely the best way to play this trio of modern classics.
Ant Barlow

Started with the PlayStation, now I'm here... with a PlayStation. Once skipped school to play the Metal Gear Solid demo repeatedly. I love stories big and small. Trophy hunter. Recent VR convert. Probably a hipster.