Mass Effect: LE Revitalizes the Best Sci-fi Story Ever Told in Gaming

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mass effect legendary edition review

This post was authored by: Anonymous | Play time:120+ hours | Console: Playstation 5.

In an era where remastered editions of games are becoming increasingly common, it’s easy to become fatigued and apprehensive towards them (Bethesda, I’m looking at you—stop with Skyrim already!). Mass Effect (2007-2012) was critically acclaimed at the time the games were released, and Mass Effect: Legendary Edition (2021) is a welcome entry to the horde of re-releases. This trilogy is a tremendous gaming experience, and after a complete overhaul of the series down to graphics and gameplay along with all accompanying DLC, there is no better time to dive into these games for yourself and treat yourself to the exceptional universe and story Bioware has so lovingly crafted.

Story

Mass Effect begins in the year 2183, shortly after humans have discovered remnants of a long extinct precursor race known as the Protheans on Mars, whose knowledge has gifted the human race many technological advancements (including the Mass Relays, enabling interstellar space travel). Humans soon discover they’re not alone in the Milky Way, a galaxy teeming with highly advanced organic and synthetic life and governed by an entity known as the Council who resides on the galactic hub known as the Citadel. As the game begins, you are dispatched to the colony of Eden Prime to recover an ancient Prothean artifact. The mission quickly takes a turn for the worse when the planet is invaded by a hostile alien force who are also on the hunt for the same artifact, and what begins as a simple mission to recover an ancient artifact quickly escalates and absolutely devolves into a complete SNAFU—an epic adventure consisting of nothing less than the Herculean effort of rescuing the entire Milky Way Galaxy from complete annihilation by a mysterious race known only as the Reapers, who are hell-bent on harvesting organic life in all its forms. Along the way, you’ll careen across the Milky Way visiting different planetary environments and meeting a diverse cast of characters, including your own rag-tag group of squadmates.

mass effect legendary edition review

The story is finely tuned down to the smallest detail, and there is considerable lore at the player’s fingertips if they are willing to hunt down datapads or engage with NPCs or squadmates, who will readily provide background knowledge about individual species, galactic history, or otherwise omitted information about the current mission. These characters each have their own backstories which not only serve as lore but are questlines you can actively participate in, whether you’re helping a team member prevent the slow extinction of his species from a bio-engineered virus, or another who made that same virus as he attempts to redeem himself. These are separate questlines, and like many others, stories often intersect and create moments chock-full of tension in which the player has to act as arbiter in disagreements and attempt to preserve decaying relationships.

The background information may sometimes seem insignificant, but it always finds a way to weave itself back into the larger narrative. Likewise, side-quests never deviate too far from the main story, and always tie back in even as they open up new storylines. The DLC (which is commonly an afterthought in most games) is wonderfully tied into Mass Effect’s story and provides closure to plot elements seemingly forgotten about, or even goes so far as to add new squad members or war assets to assist in repelling the Reaper invasion. Even the fetch-quests, common trappings of RPG games with no purpose whatsoever, serve their own purpose and find a way to contribute to the main story. For players willing to go out of their way, it is shocking that a trilogy of this magnitude found a way to avoid filler content. The first two games are relatively lighter in tone, but by the third game when I fully realized the magnitude of my mission, the story became much more tense and I could feel the walls closing in around me.

Character Building and Immersion

In these games you take control of Commander Shepard, and as the game begin you are able to customize your hero beginning with the choice of a male or female version. Personally, I chose to play as the female Shepard, because I’m familiar with Jennifer Hale’s voice-acting as a die-hard fan of the Metal Gear Solid series (from what I could gather on forums, her delivery surpasses Mark Meer’s male Shepard). Like any self-respecting RPG, you can alter your characters appearance using face modelling, hair, makeup, and scars, and you can also choose your characters backstory, psychological profile, and military specialization (from six job classes). My complaint in this regard is that the character creation menu is very limited by modern standards and I had to spend a long time fine-tuning my character’s face, as many of the options can make your character look sub-human in the worst-case scenario, and downright weird at best. I’m sure many Shepards out there have looked very similar. I’m not quite sure how backstory and psychological profile play into the game besides allowing for more immersion and occasional references in dialogue. Military specialization, however, is a crucial element that will have a huge impact on your enjoyment of the games, which I’ll come back to further below.

mass effect legendary edition review

Like Red Dead Redemption 2, the game functions on a Paragon/Renegade system where you are provided with plenty of opportunities to make “virtuous” or “evil” decisions, whether it’s killing someone instead of arresting them, causing the extinction of an entire species, or saving an industrial area from a missile attack instead of a colony inhabited by thousands, and the decisions are often difficult. To add some levity, there are also more light-hearted decisions such as pursuing romantic relationships with several of the main characters. The games give you the option of transferring your character profile from previous games, and you likely won’t understand the consequences of any decision in the moment. Few decisions made in ME1 have severe repercussions, but as early as ME2 it seems every decision you make is of huge significance. What may seem to be minor could cause a domino effect that results in the death of a major character, or a decision made in the first game can significantly impact which ending you get in ME3. I was so pre-occupied with achieving the best ending in the game that I ruined much of the story for myself, and if I could give you any advice it would be this: fight the urge to read ahead for the best ending and just enjoy the game—you can easily watch the other endings on the internet without spoiling a great story for yourself in the process. The character creation, far-reaching consequences, and the ability to customize my character’s armour sets down to patterns and colours (I’m a sucker for cosmetics) meant that every element of the character customization really pulled me in and made it easy for me to immerse myself, as I became heavily invested in the character I had curated.

Gameplay

Mass Effect is a third-person, cover-based shooter on fairly linear maps, where each mission will have you fight waves of various enemy types on the road to completing your objective. At the start of each mission, you’ll choose two squadmates to accompany you from a variety of those you’ve recruited, each with their own abilities. You have some control over what enemies they target and abilities they use, but they’re mostly independent and you’ll focus on how you yourself approach battles. Guns are the primary weapons in the game, but there are also biotic abilities (think spells), which you can level up via skill trees, although these skill trees are very limited in their branching. For the first two games, I played as a standard Soldier who specialized in… shooting guns. In hindsight, this decision turned this game into nothing more than a standard run-and-gun, which was fine until I realized how much fun I could have been having. For the third game, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and chose Vanguard, a class specializing in shooting guns AND biotic abilities, which made me feel like a god damn Jedi. Guns are nice and all, but being able to instantly charge across the battlefield into my enemies in a blaze of blue light and reposition in the process, or launch enemies into the air only to slam them back into the ground, using their bodies to cause a fiery explosion? Yes please. The lesson here—choose your military specialization wisely. It’ll have a massive impact on your experience.

mass effect legendary edition combat

The games increasingly build on each other, thankfully, because ME1 was a janky piece of shit lacking many gameplay elements modern gamers take for granted. You’re not able to run and shoot at the same time, you have to come to a full stop to shoot or turn and sprint in a new direction, and having a very low stamina meter in missions where you’re traversing huge environments really made the game feel exhausting. I wouldn’t call the gameplay in the first game great, but I would say that combined with the story there’s enough meat on the bones to keep you engaged. However, ME2 got a little better, and ME3 greatly improved with the additions of rolling to dodge attacks, repositioning to new cover with the tap of a button, running and sliding over obstacles, and most importantly to me, endless sprinting. Whereas in ME1 I felt like a regular civilian who was handed a gun and told to figure it out, by ME3 the added gameplay elements really made me feel like an unstoppable force, causing absolute mayhem as I dipped in and out of cover. I will admit that I played the game on Normal, so deaths were rare except during bossfights, or when I got a little too confident in my abilities, or I accidentally mantled an object and threw myself in front of an onslaught of gunfire.

You commandeer your very own spaceship very early on, the Normandy SR-1, and you’ll be given every opportunity in between missions to visit different solar systems throughout the galaxy using a map on the ship’s bridge, for better or for worse. The vast majority of planets can only be observed from orbit, where you can scan them with probes for resources or simply read lore about a specific world, but there are also a surprising number of diverse worlds you can physically step on for main quests, side missions, and planetary exploration. With rare exception, the game doesn’t push you forward in between missions, so for those bitten by the travel bug and willing to play a rudimentary version of No Man’s Sky, you’ll be free to peruse what the galaxy has to offer to your own heart’s content, and there is plenty.

mass effect legendary edition space ship combat exploration

There are certain irritating gameplay elements present, but these thankfully played minor roles; by the third game Bioware had really listened to their fans and cut these out entirely. The first game had the occasional mission using an awkward and clunky vehicle called the Nomad, and as soon as I figured out that I could just drive past enemies it just felt like a way to stretch out missions. The first two games have simple puzzles to unlock doors and safes, but they became tiresome and overused at a certain point. The most irritating element was in the second game—scanning and launching probes into planets from orbit to gather resources for upgrades (and ultimately add assets to achieve a certain ending in ME3). Avoid it if you can—it’s excruciatingly boring and has very little actual impact on the final outcome. By the third game, the focus was shifted more towards the gunplay and for the most part you could just run through missions seeking the next battle, with occasional sidetracking to pick up a new gun, armour set, or weapon modification.

Graphics, Environment, Cinematics and Sound

I’ve played enough games over the years with graphical issues (Fallout 3 stands out, and I will admit without shame that I thoroughly enjoyed Cyberpunk 2077). I’ve never let graphical issues get in the way of an otherwise good game, and as such I have a high tolerance for game glitches and texture pop-in and may not have noticed as many bugs as other players. With this being said, I’ll add that while ME2 and ME3 were remastered to 4K UHD, ME1 is less polished. Some environmental and character textures can seem a little crude in the first game, and there is some clipping into surfaces, especially when it comes to limbs and guns being holstered and unholstered, but nothing significant or game-breaking. The game will transport you to various environments, including military bases, cities, or alien planets. Not all environments are created equally, but as a whole they are detailed down to individual buildings, blades of grass, rubble, and downed spaceships, and incredible background vistas to gaze at in between firefights. I was pleasantly surprised to see one mission take place in a recognizable, if futuristic, version of Vancouver, with Canada Place and Rogers Arena clearly rendered in the background. Lighting and shadows are well done, especially the glint of armour. I found the cinematic cutscenes in these games particularly striking, even from the very first game, and I can’t overstate this. I currently have over 200 screen captures from the cutscenes alone.

mass effect legendary edition review graphics

Character models of alien species are fantastic and wonderfully created, but humans never seem to look quite right throughout the series, including Shepard. During dialogue, animations often seem minimalist and brief, and facial expressions aren’t always perfect, making characters appear very robotic and causing dialogue scenes to sometimes lack empathy. But where the animations may be lacking, the series possesses tremendous voice acting. With Jennifer Hale, Carrie-Anne Moss, Martin Sheen, Seth Green, and Keith David (among others), lending their talents to the cast, I never found the voice-acting to be lacking and they always nailed emotional undertones on the head. My biggest gripe would be that the sound is otherwise adequate, as nothing is particularly great or immersive. The guns sound like guns. The music didn’t stand out to me, except for orchestral pieces during speeches—those managed to hit me right in the feels. As a whole, the game is well-rendered and can even be beautiful, and the sound is just good enough.

In Conclusion

I first purchased Mass Effect: Legendary Edition on a whim after hearing from so many friends just how good the original games were. When I finally popped it in, I was a few hours into ME1 and I remember thinking, “THIS is what everyone was raving about?! This is nothing special!” It’s important to know that while the three games share the same narrative, universe, and gameplay (to a degree), each new game vastly improves upon the previous entry. All three games were remastered, but it’s easy to see that not all games are remastered equally, and Bioware definitely poured more love into ME2 and ME3. I’m not going to lie to you. The first game is going to feel dated, and it’s going to feel like a chore at times. However, ME2 and ME3 are genuinely great games. The character-building elements encourage heavy immersion, the gameplay is fantastic, and as a die-hard fan of science-fiction, I can personally vouch for Mass Effect’s exceptional story that was well-thought out from beginning to end. If you can work your way through the first game (or watch a playthrough online), I can promise you’ll experience an epic and unforgettable adventure—one that truly lives up to every accolade it has ever received and is, in my opinion, among the greatest stories ever told in gaming.

This post was authored by: Anonymous | Play time 120+ hours | Console: Playstation 5.

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