Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – “Death by a thousand cuts”

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Mass Effect trilogy, including Mass Effect: Legendary Edition.

After several weeks of working my way through Mass Effect: Legendary Edition following its launch last month, I’m now in a position to put pen to paper and actually deliver a final verdict. This hasn’t been an easy process, because what I want to do is separate my thoughts and feelings about the Mass Effect trilogy from the way the games have been tweaked and presented in Legendary Edition specifically.

I adore the Mass Effect trilogy. I even stuck with Andromeda, despite its issues, and was disappointed in 2017-18 when it seemed as though that game’s failure had led to the franchise as a whole being put on the back burner by Electronic Arts. So I can hold my hands up and say I had a great time with Legendary Edition. Replaying these games that I hadn’t touched in five or six years (when I played through the trilogy several times on the Xbox 360) was a fun time.

But it was nowhere near as fun as it could’ve been. Legendary Edition represents a phenomenal missed opportunity to take these games and do more with them. For its current asking price of £55 ($60) it’s not worth it, not by a country mile. If you already own the Mass Effect games some other way, there’s very little to be gained by purchasing Legendary Edition, and while I could tentatively recommend it if it goes on sale, even that has to come with the caveat that the three games are not all that they could be. BioWare and Electronic Arts took the path of least resistance and churned out a passable but severely underwhelming upgrade.

The reason I’m headlining this review “death by a thousand cuts” is because there isn’t one single overwhelming issue I can point to that encapsulates Legendary Edition’s undoing. Instead, what we have are a collection of smaller issues and faults which work in tandem to drag the experience down and ensure that the trilogy is not all it could have been. Now that we’ve got this introduction out of the way, let’s look at as many of them as we reasonably can.

I’ve divided the individual points of criticism into four sections, then I’ll bring this review to a conclusion at the end.

Graphics/display issues:

When it comes to visuals, even in the run-up to Legendary Edition’s launch I was decidedly unimpressed, as I wrote when we got our first look at the game earlier in the year. Because the Mass Effect trilogy wasn’t made that long ago – only during the Xbox 360 era – I felt it wasn’t always possible to tell which screenshots were supposed to be from which version of the games, especially when dealing with Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. There just didn’t seem to be a particularly significant upgrade. However, we were promised sharper textures, higher resolutions, and that the games would look better than ever.

Obviously it’s easier to tell the difference when playing the games than it is when looking at compressed jpeg images and YouTube videos, and Mass Effect 1 in particular has seen some moderate upgrades. But even so, the trilogy is in a strange place visually. It feels like a half-step, with Legendary Edition looking sharper than one might expect of a game from 2007, but absolutely failing to feel like a modern game in so many respects. Some visuals look absolutely stunning. Other textures are pathetically low-res and look awful on a 4K display. The nicest thing I could say is that Legendary Edition is a mixed bag from a visual perspective, but considering a visual overhaul is basically the main objective of a remaster of this nature, that in itself is damning. Let’s look at some specific visual issues.

1: There’s a screen tearing issue on PC.

The PC version – at least in my experience – suffered greatly with screen tearing. This happens when the game and the refresh rate of a monitor are not properly synched, but it’s difficult to fix and incredibly annoying. I don’t have an unusual monitor with an obscure resolution or refresh rate; I played Legendary Edition on a 4K, 60Hz decent-quality PC monitor. This issue was also present on a 4K television which I use as an alternative display, so it’s not specific to one monitor. For reference, my PC has an Nvidia Geforce GTX 1660 6GB graphics card, which is a modern mid-range graphics card.

Mass Effect 1 suffered basically no significant screen tearing issues, but Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 both did, and it was only after wasting a lot of time messing about with display settings that I was able to lessen the issue. I couldn’t get rid of it entirely.

2: Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 have a graphics bug which reset the screen resolution multiple times.

This may be connected to the issue above, but for some reason both Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 reset my screen resolution even after I changed it manually – and it was reset to a stupid low resolution that isn’t my PC’s standard nor properly supported by my monitor. Where I had asked the games to display in either 1920×1080 or 3840×2160, several times both games reset to the lowest possible resolution that Legendary Edition supports. This was random and seemed to happen for no reason on booting up the game.

3: Textures which could have been improved further don’t look great, and some that have been improved are in meaningless areas like backgrounds.

Look at Shepard’s hand in the image above. That texture has clearly not been touched from the original version, meaning it looks pretty crappy on a 4K display. Because some textures have been improved, those that haven’t been look even worse by comparison. They stick out like (low-res) sore thumbs.

The biggest visual improvements appear to be in the background – quite literally. While exploring or on a mission, pausing to admire the scenery is actually worth doing as there are some beautiful vistas and backgrounds to see. But then Shepard will continue the mission and encounter a crappy-looking NPC whose visuals and textures haven’t been upgraded or who received only a minor upgrade, and it’ll yank you right out of the immersion.

4: Despite the upgrade, some textures are still remarkably low-res.

As above, there are a number of incredibly obvious low-resolution textures across all three games. Some appear not to have been touched or improved at all from the original versions of the games, which doesn’t make sense to me. The point of Legendary Edition was to make the Mass Effect trilogy look as good as it could; to look comparable to a modern game. If that was its objective, the fact that there are so many individual visual elements that weren’t improved should automatically give it a failing grade.

5: There are major clipping issues, even in cut-scenes.

“Clipping” is where supposedly-solid objects appear to pass through one another. Legendary Edition is quite literally full of low-level clipping issues. Though we’re not talking about anything game-breaking like falling through the floor or getting stuck in a wall, these issues are prevalent through all three games, and it can be very distracting to see Shepard’s hand pass through their gun like it was a ghost, or for a character’s arm to disappear into a solid object.

This even happens in cut-scenes, for heaven’s sake! In the image above, we can see an example of this, as Garrus’ shoulder clips through the armour around his neck. I can kind of understand how, during dynamic gameplay, occasional clipping could happen. It would still be frustrating given that the games are old and the remaster was an opportunity to fix these kinds of issues, but I could forgive it in open gameplay to an extent. But for cut-scenes to be similarly bugged is just plain ridiculous. Most characters have two or three outfits at most – it wouldn’t have been difficult or particularly time-consuming to make sure both (or all three) outfits don’t have these issues.

6: Lip-synching doesn’t work and looks pretty crappy.

As I mentioned in my initial look at Legendary Edition, lip-synching hasn’t been improved from the original games. Characters’ mouths flap open and shut all willy-nilly, with the barest connection to the words they’re supposedly speaking. Though this is something you get used to, when you compare lip-synching in Legendary Edition to modern games like Control or Jedi: Fallen Order, the difference becomes patently obvious. Is it immersion-breaking? Not really, because it’s something I found I got used to, and on alien characters like salarians or krogan it isn’t as obvious as it is on humans. But nevertheless it’s something that could have been worked on when the games were being upgraded.

Differences between the three games:

This next cluster of issues are all to do with consistency between the three games. This is something BioWare said they were working on numerous times in the run-up to the game’s release, yet there are so many examples of petty, stupid inconsistencies that make going from one game to the next an unnecessarily complicated experience. These minor things are precisely the kind of issues that a remaster or tweak of this nature is meant to address – yet BioWare wholly failed to do so.

Here are just a few examples of things working differently between all three games:

1: The pause menu.

Different menus are in different places on the pause wheel, and different buttons do different things – in Mass Effect 3, for example, there’s no “exit game” menu option, with this task being assigned to a button instead. Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2 have a separate codex and journal, yet these two menus are amalgamated in Mass Effect 3. How hard would it have been to standardise the pause menus and which items are where, for heaven’s sake?

2: Some biotic and tech powers behave differently from game to game despite having the same name.

Powers – also known as talents, because Legendary Edition can’t even standardise its naming conventions – don’t always behave the same way in all three games, which is incredibly counterintuitive. Standardising this from a gameplay perspective may have been a more difficult task, but it would have been worthwhile. Notable examples are hacking, damping, and electronics, but we could also add the way weapons in Mass Effect 1 work into this category as well.

3: Hacking, bypassing, and unlocking doors.

I know for a fact this is something BioWare said they were working on! Did I miss something? Is there some hidden menu option to standardise this that I just didn’t see? Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2 have mini-games to pick locks, hack computers, and so on, and Mass Effect 1 has the option to use a generic item called “omni-gel” to perform these tasks. Mass Effect 3 has no such mini-games, with a single button press and an animation accomplishing these tasks. If BioWare hadn’t said this was going to be worked on I would still think the lack of consistency was silly, but having explicitly said it would be addressed I just don’t understand what happened here.

4: Armour.

Mass Effect 1 uses a completely different system of armour for Shepard and their squad compared to Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, which use a broadly similar system. This was a prime candidate for standardising, yet BioWare ignored it and left the original system in place in Mass Effect 1, even though that system allows far less customisation and is generally worse. How hard would it have been to replace the armour in the first game with the system present in the second two games?

5: Armour at the beginning of Mass Effect 3 specifically.

Mass Effect 3 uses the same basic armour system as Mass Effect 2, as already mentioned. Yet when Shepard picks up their armour at the beginning of the third game, all customisations from Mass Effect 2 are gone and Shepard’s generic black armour is back. Considering that Mass Effect 3 doesn’t allow any customisation until well over two hours and three missions have passed, why couldn’t Mass Effect 3 have retained at least the basic colour scheme present in Shepard’s armour at the end of Mass Effect 2? This may seem petty, but customisation like this is what makes role-playing games feel immersive for many players. “My” Commander Shepard doesn’t feel right in boring black N7 armour – they need colour!

6: Maps and mini-maps.

Mass Effect 1 had a fairly comprehensive map and mini-map. Mass Effect 2 ditched this in favour of a button-press pointing Shepard in one direction using an arrow. Mass Effect 3 uses maps in peaceful areas but no maps in missions. This is a prime candidate for a feature to standardise; doing so would make the three games easier to play and would make Legendary Edition a more consistent and seamless experience.

7: Levelling.

Shepard retains their level at the beginning of Mass Effect 3 from Mass Effect 2 – but this doesn’t work when going from Mass Effect 1 to Mass Effect 2! Either have standardised levelling across Legendary Edition – so that Shepard’s level grows from the first game to the second to the third – or make Shepard start from level 1 again in each game! One or the other – not both. Again, this is something that could have been changed for Legendary Edition, as this is exactly what a remaster is supposed to do. BioWare is selling the trilogy as a single package, yet levelling is not the same across all three games. This is a ridiculous oversight.

8: Difficulty options.

Mass Effect 3 introduces a “narrative” (i.e. ultra-easy) mode that isn’t present in Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2. Again, this makes the three games an inconsistent experience. Either have this ultra-easy mode present in all three games – considering that it’s arguably an accessibility feature it should be present – or don’t have it in Mass Effect 3. A remaster of this nature should aim to make its constituent parts as seamless as possible; inconsistent difficulty settings undermine that.

Bugs and glitches:

In this section we’re going to cover bugs, glitches, and other errors that shouldn’t be present in a released game. While it’s certainly true that Legendary Edition avoided the trap Andromeda fell into when it comes to being overly buggy, the trilogy as presented in June 2021 is not the perfect experience it ought to be.

If we were talking about a brand-new game, perhaps I’d be a little more lenient. But the Mass Effect trilogy is not new, and Legendary Edition is built on top of the existing games – they weren’t remade from scratch from the ground up. So there should be fewer bugs to begin with, and those that came up during the remastering process should have been fixed before release. Some of these are what I’d consider major – bugs which actively hamper the experience and get in the way of gameplay and/or narrative progression. In a game of this nature, that shouldn’t happen.

1: Shepard is often holding the wrong gun in cut-scenes, especially in Mass Effect 3.

This bug was present in the original version of Mass Effect 3. It’s a bug that’s now nine years old, yet BioWare still hasn’t fucking fixed it. That’s beyond pathetic, it’s atrocious and testament to how sloppily and lazily Legendary Edition was put together.

In short, in cut-scenes in Mass Effect 3 Shepard is often seen holding a “default” assault rifle weapon instead of the weapon they were equipped with by the player. This damages immersion, and as with issues above with the “wrong” armour, makes the role-play of stepping into Shepard’s shoes feel less impressive and less immersive.

On its own it would be an annoying issue, but considering it was present in Mass Effect 3 in 2012, I can’t forgive the appalling lack of care to let it slip through once again without being corrected.

2: Another lingering bug from the original Mass Effect 3 deselects all of Shepard’s weapons at the beginning of the mission to Rannoch.

When starting the mission Priority: Rannoch, all of Shepard’s weapons are de-selected, leaving them with only the basic starting pistol. This is easily overlooked, especially if you’re like me and tend to keep the same loadout for multiple missions. This bug was present in Mass Effect 3 when it launched, as I remember it from the Xbox 360 version, and forum comments can be found online from 2012-13 making note of this.

The inability of BioWare to fix pretty basic bugs that were present in the original game when releasing a so-called “remaster” is atrocious and pathetic. In this case you could argue that the bug is not particularly egregious; in my case I had to restart a mission but that’s all. But the principle remains – and the lack of care and lack of attention to detail is the point.

3: Shepard’s ability to use weapon types is still restricted in Mass Effect 2 despite promises to the contrary.

In Mass Effect 2, Shepard can only use certain weapon types depending on their character class. This is despite a promise by BioWare during development of Legendary Edition that this limitation would be removed. It’s been addressed in Mass Effect 1, allowing Shepard to use any weapon regardless of their character class. But it remains in Mass Effect 2, as highlighted in the image above (an Engineer can only use pistols and submachine guns for much of the game). This is not just a bug, but an inconsistency between the different games, something which, as noted above, makes Legendary Edition far from seamless.

4: Some cut-scenes are bugged or don’t play properly at all.

I encountered several bugged cut-scenes, including one during the first mission of the game (on Eden Prime) which sets up the entire storyline of Mass Effect 1. In that case the cut-scene didn’t render at all, with dialogue being heard over the top of a grey fog-like texture. No characters could be seen, nor any backgrounds or actions, but dialogue could still be heard. In other cases, cut-scenes didn’t trigger at the right moment, such as during the mission to Omega in Mass Effect 3. In many cut-scenes there are issues with clipping, as mentioned above, particularly characters’ outfits, armour, or weapons clipping through the environment.

5: A bug in Mass Effect 3 depicts Shepard with their helmet on in some cut-scenes even if the option to have it off is selected.

All three games have Shepard wearing a helmet, with more armour customisation and thus more helmet types present in the second two games. There is an option in all three games for Shepard to be shown in cut-scenes without their helmet on, which is a nice touch that allows players to see the face they worked hard to customise! But in some cut-scenes in Mass Effect 3, including a significant one right at the end of the game as Shepard arrives at Earth for the climactic final battle, Shepard’s helmet is on, obscuring all or part of their face.

As with the weapon bugs above, I believe this was an issue present in the original version of the game that has just not been fixed. I won’t keep repeating myself, or this review will contain far more uses of the word “pathetic” than I intended.

6: Squadmates sometimes wear the wrong outfit in cut-scenes, particularly in Mass Effect 3.

In Mass Effect 3, squadmates have four outfits at most. Is it really that hard to ensure they’re wearing the right one in cut-scenes? Again, this can be immersion-breaking, particularly if you like one outfit more than the others or feel it fits the character best.

7: The launcher is useless and serves no purpose on PC.

When booting up Legendary Edition, at least on PC, before you can play a game you’re hit with a launcher. This launcher, as stated, is useless and serves absolutely no purpose. Each game has independent settings menus for subtitles and graphics options, and literally the only thing the launcher does is get in the way by putting an unnecessary hurdle in between players and the games.

I think the launcher represents a vision of Legendary Edition that was originally broader in scope. The vestigial options menu present in the launcher hints at this – perhaps there was a time early in development where more effort was going to be put into standardising the three games such that only one single set of options would be necessary to configure all three games. I wish we’d seen that version of Legendary Edition.

8: The PC version suffers from occasional hard crashes.

Though this doesn’t happen all the time, and hard crashes don’t always have an easily-identifiable cause, it’s still a pain in the backside when they happen. Legendary Edition crashed to the desktop during my playthrough on about a dozen occasions. That’s not a huge number in 80+ hours of gameplay, but it’s not nothing either. I haven’t heard a lot of complaints about crashing, either on console or PC, but you should be aware that it can and does happen. Saving often is a good habit to develop in any game – especially Legendary Edition.

9: There is a bug where subtitles will appear but no dialogue can be heard.

This one is present in all three games, and usually happens during play rather than during a cut-scene. In short, Shepard will pass by an NPC who should be saying something, including making comments that set up side-missions and quests, but while there are subtitles and sometimes an update to the journal, the dialogue that should be heard doesn’t trigger.

I noticed this on Ilium and Omega in Mass Effect 2 in particular, but it happened on a few other occasions as well.

10: There are a handful of typos in the codex.

The codex is a repository of the lore of Mass Effect, able to be accessed via the pause menu. Some entries, however, contain typos, and in entries where audio is provided, the audio occasionally differs from the written entry. Not a major bug, admittedly, but another example of the lack of care and attention afforded to Legendary Edition during development.

11: A bug shows Legion’s name in their first appearance – before they are given their name aboard the Normandy.

This is a bug from Mass Effect 2 – now over eleven years old – that is still present in Legendary Edition. During the mission to the derelict reaper, in which Legion is encountered for the first time, their name appears in subtitles calling out Shepard’s name. This is before Legion is officially “named” when aboard the Normandy after the mission. Again, not the worst bug in the world, but an example of how little care was taken during the remastering process to fix incredibly basic issues that BioWare has known about for over a decade.

12: A bug prevents interaction with certain mission-critical items forcing a reload.

This is one bug that I noticed during the Leviathan missions in Mass Effect 3 in particular (as shown above) but also appeared randomly throughout all three games. I would estimate it happened 15-20 times in total, which again isn’t a huge amount, but is more than enough to be considered an annoying bug. In short, Shepard would be unable to select or interact with mission-critical items, such as the diving mech in the final Leviathan mission or the asteroid engine controls in the Bring Down The Sky mission in Mass Effect 1. The only way to resolve this was to save, exit, and reload the game.

13: The PC desktop icon is low-res and looks shit on a 4K display.

This isn’t an issue unique to Legendary Edition, and it’s something I find annoying in many different games. In short, some games – like Legendary Edition – use low-res PC desktop icons. It’s 2021 for fuck’s sake, 4K displays are commonplace – and Legendary Edition was explicitly made to run in 4K! It would take no effort at all to make a desktop icon that doesn’t look like a blurry mess, yet the one that appears when the game is installed looks awful.

14: There’s a bug with Origin and EA Desktop that prevents the game from launching.

This bug won’t apply to everyone. As you may know, I’m a subscriber to Xbox Game Pass for PC. I also use Steam as my other main PC gaming platform, which is where I bought Legendary Edition. When trying to boot up Legendary Edition from Steam, the above error message appears if the Xbox app has been opened on my PC.

Because EA Play on Game Pass uses a different launcher, something called EA Desktop, and the Steam version of Legendary Edition uses Origin, the two platforms are incompatible with each other (despite both being made by EA) and if the Xbox app has been opened before trying to launch Legendary Edition, this clash of programmes means the game will fail to launch. The only fix I’ve found for this is to open Task Manager and force-close EA Desktop.

No significant changes made:

In this final section we’re going to cover a number of areas where BioWare changed nothing. In each case there was absolutely a need to shake things up, and Legendary Edition provided the perfect opportunity to do so. Yet for some reason, these things were left unchanged.

I know BioWare stated that they weren’t going to go back to the drawing board, bring voice actors back, and radically change the entire trilogy. This was never going to be a Resident Evil 2-style remake. It could have been, and that decision is in itself a mistake on BioWare’s part, but that’s a different matter. I’m viewing Legendary Edition through that lens – based on the limitations BioWare set for themselves. Even when I do so, however, I find Legendary Edition lacking. There are many areas where minor tweaks and changes – in some cases literally changing static images – would have improved the game massively, yet those changes never happened.

1: Certain missions which were originally DLC are not well-integrated.

Here’s one example from Mass Effect 3: during the Leviathan missions, Shepard and the crew will encounter Banshees – Reaper-corrupted asari. However, it’s possible to play Leviathan before playing the mission to the asari colony – the mission which brings back Samara and introduces Banshees for the first time. Thus Shepard and the crew will react with shock and surprise at seeing their “first ever” Banshee – despite having already fought and defeated a number of Banshees previously.

This is also noticeable with the Citadel DLC in Mass Effect 3, which is designed to be one of the last things played before the endgame missions, as well as the Arrival DLC in Mass Effect 2, which was designed to be played at or near the end of the game. In both cases, the stories make less sense because these DLC missions are poorly-integrated into the games.

2: The final third of Mass Effect 3 was not even tweaked to better reflect players’ choices across the trilogy.

Without making fundamental changes to the ending of Mass Effect 3 – a major point of criticism in 2012 – it would still have been possible for Legendary Edition to make some tweaks that would have shown off players’ unique choices across all three games as the trilogy drew to a close. The example I’ve picked on in the past is this: it’s possible to save both the geth and quarians at a key moment when it looks like it should only be possible to save one. Having both powerful fleets should matter as the war against the Reapers approaches its climax – but it doesn’t.

Despite the path to geth-quarian peace being a difficult one across all three games, the only difference it makes is a tiny scene as the combined galactic fleet arrives at Earth. That’s all. No geth or quarians are ever seen in combat, the final battles in space and on the ground don’t change one iota even if this difficult feat is pulled off. And it’s just one example among literally hundreds. It’s possible, depending on many different narrative decisions across the trilogy, for very different combinations of races and fleets to be present during the final mission to Earth, yet none of that actually transpires in-game.

In a broader sense, across the final third or so of Mass Effect 3, as the war ramps up and afflicts more planets, we should really see the pay-off from numerous decisions across the trilogy. BioWare ignored this aspect in 2012, because Mass Effect 3 was rushed. Legendary Edition presented them the chance to right this wrong – and they didn’t take it.

3: The Mako in Mass Effect 1 is still shit.

Ah, the Mako. What a horrible vehicle, and what a crap element of Mass Effect 1. Given the scope of Legendary Edition, it’s obvious that removing the Mako missions entirely, or changing them to make the vehicle less prominent, wasn’t on the cards. It could have been if Legendary Edition were given a broader scope, but that’s beside the point. Although the Mako received an additional forward booster that wasn’t present in the original version, it’s still a poor element of Mass Effect 1 and a chore to drive.

The Mako doesn’t handle well, twisting and flopping around as if it has no weight to it at all. Though its new forward boost can be helpful in some circumstances, it doesn’t come close to making up for the vehicle’s limitations.

If it wasn’t possible to cut the Mako – or to give players the option to use it far less – surely something else could have been done to make these sessions less of a chore. There’s a reason why, in the real world, a tank-like armoured vehicle has a separate driver and gunner; trying to perform both roles is tricky, especially in timed sections like the race to the Conduit! Having the option to automate the Mako’s driving, with players operating the gun only, or having automated firing with players only having to worry about driving would go some way to lessening the unpleasantness of these sections.

4: Mass Effect 1 side-missions still use copy-and-paste environments.

Mass Effect 1 has some great levels for its main story missions, with clever layouts, distinct visual styles, and generally great world-building making each location feel unique and exciting. The same cannot be said of side-missions.

Practically every side-mission features a base, ship, or facility that uses an identical map – an entryway, a large room, and two side-rooms. These levels use one of a handful of visual styles for all of their textures, meaning the walls, floors, and everything looks the same from one side-mission to the next. They even feature recycled enemies from other side-missions or even story missions, which not only makes no sense but can actively detract from the experience.

At the very least, BioWare could have introduced new visuals for each of these identical maps, meaning that even if the layout was the same, each base or facility would at least look slightly different. The stories which set up some of these side-missions – like an artificial intelligence on the moon going rogue, or geth planning an attack on a major system – seem interesting on the surface, but the boring gameplay, repetitive enemies, and literally copy-and-paste maps and textures make them incredibly dull to play through. In 2007, when limitations like this were just part of gaming, it didn’t feel so bad. But in 2021 this is incredibly noticeable.

5: War assets in Mass Effect 3 re-use the same image multiple times.

This one I just do not get. Mass Effect 3′s war asset system is already pretty poor, with only text to read to explain each aspect of the coalition Shepard builds for the war effort. But many of the entries in this menu use the exact same static image to represent wholly different fleets, units, and even cultures. How hard would it have been to add in another couple of dozen jpeg images to give each war asset its own picture? This is honestly – sorry to keep repeating myself – pathetic.

6: Many NPCs can be seen wearing the same outfit.

Remember how games a few years ago would have like three or four NPC outfits, and every minor NPC would wear one of them? Legendary Edition’s NPCs are in this category, despite the fact that remastering the games presented the opportunity to add new outfits. Even significant characters like Admiral Anderson and Councillor Udina can be seen in a generic NPC costume, and once you’ve seen several dozen supposedly different characters all sporting the same outfit it really wears thin and damages the sense of immersion that games like this should be aiming for.

This doesn’t apply to uniforms in the same way, as obviously uniforms are designed to look the same. But when dealing with civilians, too many of them look like they’ve been copied and pasted. Unless the Mass Effect galaxy’s fashion sense works in a different way, some more variety in costumes is called for.

7: Some supposedly “busy” areas have far fewer NPCs than they should.

Some levels manage to get the right number of NPCs to achieve the goal of feeling like a lived-in world. But others, including levels on worlds that are supposedly densely-packed, just feel too light, as if there aren’t enough people. Look at the “bustling spaceport” of Nos Astra on Illium in the image above as one example. This was, in part, a limitation inflicted by older hardware – older systems couldn’t handle densely-packed environments or large numbers of NPCs. But this is a remaster, and those limitations should be long gone.

Doubling or tripling the number of people in locations like Omega or the Citadel wards would bring Legendary Edition closer to that sci-fi dystopia, futuristic underworld feeling that some of these locations are clearly intended to represent. It wouldn’t have been that difficult to add more NPCs in some of these areas.


Legendary Edition is a difficult one to review. On the one hand, the Mass Effect trilogy remains one of my favourite experiences in gaming… ever. And this version does update some aspects of it and give it a bit of polish. On the other hand, there are so many missed opportunities to take it one step further and make it significantly better that I simply can’t overlook them.

For someone who’s never played the Mass Effect trilogy, I would recommend Legendary Edition for its simplicity. Instead of having to track down older hardware and get each individual piece of DLC one by one, having it all in one package is by far the easier option. These games are worth playing for anyone who likes sci-fi and role-playing games.

But for someone who’s already played Mass Effect, and particularly someone who still owns all three games in an easily-accessible format, it’s a hard sell. I couldn’t recommend Legendary Edition to someone in that situation, especially not at full price. The few upgrades that are present simply aren’t worth it, and it’s actively frustrating to keep stumbling on more and more aspects of the games that either haven’t been upgraded at all or where the upgrades are so minor as to make no functional difference to the overall experience.

I’d conclude by saying this: the Mass Effect trilogy is great, despite its controversial and somewhat disappointing ending, and well worth playing for any sci-fi fan. But Legendary Edition specifically is poor and misses the mark as a remaster. Too much is left on the table unchanged from more than a decade ago, there are literally bugs which were present in the original versions of these games that haven’t been fixed and have reappeared in Legendary Edition, and the experience as a whole is a long way away from where it could be – and from what I would have expected from a full-price package billed as a “remaster.” Mass Effect may be fantastic, but considering the hype Legendary Edition built up, this version of the trilogy is nothing short of a burning disappointment.

So that’s it. It was great fun to go back and replay the Mass Effect games after a long break, but at every step I couldn’t help feeling that Legendary Edition was so much less than it could – and should – have been. I came away in two minds: happy to have replayed these fun games, but deeply disappointed that this remaster did not improve them in any meaningful way and did not succeed at updating them for 2021. By all means buy this when it’s on sale if you want, but there’s no way it’s worth £55.

Legendary Edition presents three fantastic games in a package that’s mediocre at best, barely deserving of the word “remaster,” and plagued by basic issues that have not been addressed from the original games, including the rushed Mass Effect 3. The reason it fails is not because of one overwhelming issue, nor are the games buggy, unplayable messes. There are simply a lot of small issues which are individually disappointing that add up to making the entire remaster an underwhelming one, particularly from a visual standpoint. It really is death by a thousand cuts.

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. The Mass Effect series – including Legendary Edition, its three constituent games, and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of BioWare and Electronic Arts. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.