Years ago, when I caved to the pressure and bought my first Xbox console ever, a friend who worked at Microsoft bought me copies of Mass Effect and Lost Odyssey. She said she knew I would love these games, and had to give them a chance. It wasn’t until after Mass Effect 2 released that I finally jumped into the first game—I ate Lost Odyssey up as soon as it arrived—and here I sit, multiple playthroughs throughout all three games and three Mass Effect tattoos later. It was an absolute honor to get to review the re-release of the trilogy, Mass Effect Legendary Edition. After playing and reviewing Mass Effect Andromeda a few years back, I (and we) definitely needed a palate cleanser.
While Legendary Edition was indeed that palate cleanser, it also deeply showed the age of the games. Even though I love Mass Effect more than most people, it’s incredibly hard to recommend the re-released trilogy to newcomers due to how outdated so much of it is.
Upon starting the original Mass Effect, it’s impossible to miss the visual upgrade. The first game released in the early days of the Xbox 360, and by the time the third game released the original was looking a bit rough. But now it’s up to par with Dragon Age Inquisition graphics from the PS4/Xbox One era. That said, though, not all of the visual upgrades were improvements. Things are highly textured for sure, but it comes with weird costs. For instance, the backgrounds look like green screens set behind characters, like it doesn’t really fit where they are. The biggest issue is the strangeness of the white of the eyes. More than once, I had to turn away from my TV screen because someone’s eyes would creep me out.
But hey, now my original Shepard design carries over across all three games. Those who played on Xbox 360 will remember that even though you could import your design from ME1 to ME2, for whatever reason, ME3 did not support that second import.
Not to mention, the eyes issues and oddly fitting backgrounds clear up in the other two games. Thankfully. Other issues pop up, like how Shepard looks while running (yeeesh), but it’s somewhat expected of a port of older games.
Other things are outdated as well. Let’s look at the gameplay, because I forgot how janky things were in the original game. This was one of BioWare’s earlier RPGs for consoles, and, well, they uh, tried? All three Mass Effect games have weapons and powers wheels, for better or for worse, and they improved over time. But good God Almighty, those original concepts were rough. This also includes the idea of weapons overheating, Shepard running out of stamina while running, and those gosh-darned QTE mini-games. Those QTEs from the first game are like getting a tattoo. You forget how bad it is until you get another one, and then you remember exactly how much it sucks while you’re under the needle. Mass Effect 2 only slightly improved them, in that they had some variety (sort of). The dev team learned its lesson by the third game, where mini-games for hacking were tossed out all together.
So if you were expecting a gameplay overhaul, you aren’t getting anything major. That is, except for the Mako. No one has fond memories of driving that Mako all over planets from the first game. We did it, and all of the insane side quests too, but we weren’t happy about it. Even BioWare knew it was bad to the point that the Mako never appeared again until Mass Effect Andromeda, and that game made fun of the original. For good reason. It handled poorly, it flipped over if you looked at it funny, and it was all too easy to send it careening into rivers of lava. For the Legendary Edition, BioWare completely redid the Mako for one smooth ride. After a while, I started to try to flip the thing over, and I never did, no matter how fast I had it zipping down a sheer cliff. Even when it looked like it was going to flip, it bounced on its side back upright. I can’t believe I’m typing this, but the Mako was actually enjoyable to drive! And thanks to the new Photo Mode, you can take beautiful horizon screenshots like this:
Outdated mechanics and weird running animations aside, the story and characters of the Mass Effect trilogy still hold up. Even though I have played the first two at least three times each, I still loved every minute of the story, the side quests, and the characters. I laughed at Garrus’ and Joker’s snark. I got emotional all over again when Kaidan dumped Shepard on Horizon. I cried when I couldn’t save Mordin. Learning the truth about the geth and quarian war is still just as heartbreaking. And I felt that same thrill of excitement barreling through Ilos to reach the Conduit as I did the first time. The blaring horns of the Reapers still made me jump. There’s just something about Mass Effect that keeps me and thousands of others coming back to it.
The best part about having all three games at your fingertips to play them back-to-back-to-back? It’s remembering all of the NPCs Shepard dealt with along the way. There’s a pregnant woman and her brother-in-law you can talk to in the first game about gene therapy. By the third game, I was looking for them at the Citadel, wondering what has happened with the baby boy. I’m able to remember that one random decision I made one or two games back when NPCs reach out to say hi or ask for another favor. It completes the overall experience and really helps me see how the little things I chose in the first game affect the third game, even if it’s just one or two War Asset additions.
While I loved every second of replaying Mass Effect for the fourth and definitely not final time, I have that history and nostalgia keeping me through the outdated gameplay. I would recommend anyone jump into this series if they love BioWare RPGs, but I’d have a string of caveats. A lot has not aged well, especially from the first game, even though the first game arguably has the best story of all three. The Mass Effect Legendary Edition is an absolutely incredible walk down memory lane, but that’s really all it is. If you’re a newbie to the trilogy and you’re dying to see what all the fuss is about, better buckle in for one bumpy ride.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition is currently available for the PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.