Mass Effect Legendary Edition review in progress – better graphics, worse bugs

The whole of the Mass Effect trilogy has been remastered to make it look almost like it was made yesterday, but it does have a bug problem.

It’s almost a decade now since the controversy over Mass Effect 3’s ending made the upset over Game of Thrones Season 8 and The Rise of Skywalker seem like minor complaints. The series never quite recovered from the fan revolt that ensued, even after developer BioWare tried to address the issue with an extended epilogue via some unplanned DLC. The original team never worked on the series again and instead spin-off Mass Effect: Andromeda only muddied the series’ reputation further.

The Legendary Edition is EA’s attempt to re-establish Mass Effect’s good name, with extensive remasters of all three original games by BioWare themselves. A new game will follow at some point in the future, but at the moment all that’s been seen of it is a brief teaser trailer. That means a lot is riding on the Legendary Edition’s shoulders, as beyond the issue of trying to keep the franchise alive for the future there’s the fact that all three are great games and Mass Effect 2, in particular, is one of the best games of the Xbox 360 era.

Not that we’ve been able to play Mass Effect 2 again yet, as the review code for the Legendary Edition only turned up on Tuesday and there’s over a hundred hours of gameplay, across all three games and their DLC, to get through. We have got a fair way into Mass Effect 1 though, which also happens to be the game that’s been changed the most as a result of the remasters.

For newcomers to the Mass Effect universe, the franchise is BioWare’s attempt at their own original space opera, as you take control of Commander Shepard, a military hero whose physical appearance and story background can be customised however you want – although we recommend playing as the female Shepard, as Jennifer Hale’s vocal performance is far superior to the male alternative.

Set in the year 2183, humanity has recently discovered alien relics on Mars which lead to them developing faster than light travel (the titular mass effect) and being inducted into a galaxy wide community. This happens just as an existential threat appears from the Reapers, mysterious mechanical beings that appear to want to wipe out all organic life in the galaxy.

What transpires is a planet hopping adventure where you slow build up enough allies, both on a personal and planetary level, to take on the slowly emerging threat. Each sequel uses the save data from the previous one, so choices you make in one can effect the next, as you’re constantly bombarded with moral quandaries involving everything from petty thievery to potential genocide.

There are three key elements that make the Mass Effect trilogy so memorable: the surprisingly good combat, the personal relationships you form with your crew – potentially including romance, and the fact that unlike so many role-playing games (remember, this was years before The Witcher 3) the choices you make are frequently more dramatic than the action, no matter how good it is. You can often talk your way out of a fight, if you make the right choices and buff up your Charisma stat, even in situations which seem like they’re being set up for a simple boss encounter.

That not only helps to make you feel more in control of your character, in a way diametrically opposed to something like The Last Of Us, but it’s much more cinematic. No action movie worth its salt ends with the hero silently shooting at a flashing red spot on their archenemy’s chest, and that’s one area where Mass Effect 1 is actually superior to its sequels, as it in particular emphasises dialogue as being equal to combat in terms of resolving conflict.

Originally released in 2007 as an Xbox 360 exclusive (it was five years later, after the release of Mass Effect 3, that the game finally made it to PlayStation 3), the original Mass Effect was a significantly different game to its two sequels. All three are action role-players but in the first game the stats of characters, and the level of the enemies you fight, is made far more significant. The two Mass Effect sequels are basically action games with role-playing elements layered on top, while in Mass Effect 1 the two aspects are much more intertwined.

That makes the idea of playing all three, one after the other, slightly jarring and so BioWare has tried to make the action in Mass Effect 1 closer to the others and reduce the potential level gap between you and the enemies you face, although the latter can be switched back to the way it used to be if you prefer. Mass Effect 1 is also a much older game, obviously, so the graphical improvements that have been applied across all the titles make much different in the first one.

It really is a night and day difference too. Mass Effect 1 is 14 years old but catch the remaster at the right angle and it could almost pass for a modern game, especially some of the exteriors. Human characters often look a bit Bethesda-y but the aliens are uniformly great. The resolution and frame rate have been increased, as you’d expect, but character models, textures, lighting, anti-aliasing, and audio have also all seen a major overhaul. More modern graphical effects have also been added, to the point where short of a full remake you really couldn’t ask for more.

A lot of love and care has gone into these remasters but we have to say that it’s not all good news. The artificial intelligence doesn’t seem to have changed much at all, with allies and enemies running around like headless chickens. Your own movement also seems skittish during combat and the cover system is a complete lottery as to whether it works or not. There’s almost zero feedback when you hit your targets too, with enemies rarely recoiling or giving any indication that they’ve been hit.

We’re not sure if that last point is a bug or not but the game is full of them. The unreliable cover system is the worst but there’s also a lot of minor animation and lighting glitches (our Commander Shepard’s hair has a tendency to glow different colours at random moments) and more than once we had interactive buttons not appear or got stuck behind scenery that necessitated restarting the game.

The reason the game was sent out so late for review was so a pre-launch patch could be deployed first but we hope there’s a day one update as well because some of these bugs are pretty serious and make the combat very frustrating. It’s a shame we can’t be more positive at this point because fans have waited a long time for these remasters, but if the bugs are fixed then this is pretty much exactly what they’ve always wanted.

We’re certainly looking forward to playing more, when all the graphical and gameplay tweaks are working properly. As good as Mass Effect 1 is the other games are even better and we can’t wait to see and play it all again for the first time.

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Price: £59.99
Publisher: EA
Developer: BioWare
Release Date: 14th May 2021
Age Rating: 18

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