To boldly go
There isn’t anything quite like Mass Effect these days. Yes, RPGs still exist and sci-fi is seeing a resurgence as a genre with games like Returnal, Destiny, and even the troubled Cyberpunk 2077 all sharing DNA, but what makes Mass Effect different is its sheer audacity.
The idea of announcing an RPG trilogy these days seems ridiculous. Indeed, when it was announced that the currently in-development Final Fantasy VII Remake would be split between several games, people collectively groaned and wondered how many kids they’d have by the time it was finished. Thinking back on the absolutely ridiculous pace at which the Mass Effect games originally released, I can’t help but be impressed by their execution, and concerned for how brutally difficult that must have been for the developers at the time.
Not only that, but to promise in your announcement that the things you’ll do in one game will affect a game that won’t be released for 6 years… well, it didn’t seem possible. That was what made Mass Effect special. It felt bigger than other games.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition is the original three games plus almost all of their extra content, save for one notable piece of DLC that was unrecoverable due to some lost code. While the number of changes to the games is vast, including a completely new lighting model, refreshed visuals and extremely noticeable loading times, the collection doesn’t feel entirely divorced from the original games. It’s closer in line to something like The Last Of Us’s PS3 to PS4 conversion rather than something almost unrecognisable like 2020’s Demon’s Souls remake.
When you boot up the game you’ll be taken to a launcher, from which you can tackle the games in any order you like. For reference, I have finished Mass Effect, I’m halfway through a complete, every loyalty mission done, save everyone run of Mass Effect 2, and I’ve played a few hours of Mass Effect 3 as a burner Shepard.
Mass Effect, being the oldest and the most in need of an upgrade, was the game I was most curious to revisit. The original was… extremely clunky. I distinctly remember when I first played it aged 13, being unable to leave the Citadel without the help of a guide because it was so incredibly unclear as to where to go. My other reference for RPGs at the time, Fallout 3, gave you a lovely big marker on the compass, pointing you in the right direction, whereas Mass Effect wanted you to pay attention to what things were called, and the actual layout of your surroundings.
In some ways, this lack of direction is almost refreshing in an era where games will do everything in their power to stop you from missing anything, but in a game that’s so built on tiny, seemingly inconsequential stories actually leading to big, overarching consequences, I think I’d have preferred an exclamation mark over every important characters head. This hasn’t been improved in the Legendary Edition and as such, I managed to finish the game much quicker than I expected, purely down to missing a lot of side content.
Mass Effect’s controls are still clunky, but they’ve certainly been improved. While they’ve not quite been brought up to the standards of the series high in Mass Effect 2, the old cliche of the shooting being the worst part of Mass Effect, while still true, isn’t as egregious. The controller layout is incredibly awkward, however. For some 2007 reason, the square button is used to throw grenades, meaning in some particularly intense fights in which Shepard has the intestinal fortitude of wet toilet roll, I’d mash square trying to reload only for the Commander to rapidly throw five grenades in a random direction. The animation for running also looks like you’re absolutely dying for the space toilet.
I’m glad that I played Mass Effect again, the space political drama hits a lot deeper now that I’m older and I can actually be bothered to read codex and get context for what is happening in the world. The first game feels like the first season of a prestige television show where the world is so expertly set up that you can’t wait to see how later seasons explore it. It’s very successful in introducing a ton of races, planets, and galactic conflicts without it feeling like you’re reading the world’s longest Wookieepedia article.
Mass Effect 2 remains one of the best RPGs of the modern era. The best part of most role-playing games is the incredible side quests that stick with you long after the final quest has wrapped up. Mass Effect 2 is essentially a game entirely built from those iconic quests.
While not much was needed in terms of an update to the game, the fast loading times and visual improvements make an amazing experience even better. The inclusion of the DLC crew members somewhat changes the pacing, it’s now possible to have one of the strongest characters in the game on your team within the first two hours, but it doesn’t take away from the experience.
The characters in Mass Effect remain the stars of the whole experience. It was brilliant getting to meet them again, and learning their backstories and quirks like it was the first time. Mass Effect 2 is where these characters are at their peak, especially with the loyalty mission system. These are a series of missions for each of your crew members that will involve you joining them to right some wrong from their past. These missions are optional, but doing them influences your relationship with the characters and how the conclusion of the game will play out, depending on which missions you chose to do and which you ignored.
I hadn’t played through Mass Effect 2 since the original release, and I’m thoroughly enjoying going through every single planet, scanning everything and making sure I play every bit of it I can. I’m going to do every loyalty mission and shag as many of the crew as I can. The gameplay completely holds up, juggling between interesting weapons and the biotic powers means that the combat is never a chore, and even the smallest story is interesting.
As I mentioned, I played the opening to Mass Effect 3 again to see how it runs, and it seems to be just as solid as the other two. While still a PS4 game, playing it on the PS5 allows the Mass Effect Legendary Edition to run at 4K60, which throughout my experience has been utterly rock solid.
I’m genuinely looking forward to playing through Mass Effect 3 again without the absolute hysteria that surrounded its’ launch. It’s also the game in the collection that has had the most changes, not from strictly a gameplay perspective like Mass Effect, but from a content perspective. The multiplayer that gained a small, but dedicated following is missing, as is the accompanying mobile game that tied into Mass Effect 3’s Galactic Readiness system. Gone also are the predatory loot boxes, which outside of sports games, where some of EA’s earliest foray into the blind box microtransactions.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition is a collection of two great games and one of my favourite games of all time. The updates and improvements make the original far more playable, but it’s still a bit of a creaky experience that’s best moved through as swiftly as possible. Mass Effect 2 remains incredible, and being able to play the entire experience in 4K60 makes a simply amazing game even better. You may already know where you stand on Mass Effect 3. I actually can’t remember how I felt about it at the time, I just remember the endless moaning in its wake. I’m very excited to see it through, and conclude this epic without Commander Shepard making one single facial expression that resembles a human.