Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Mass Effect: Legendary Edition and its ending.
Though the release of the underwhelming Mass Effect: Legendary Edition earlier this year was partly a money-making ploy on the part of BioWare and Electronic Arts, there is another significant factor in the development of what we’ll generously call a “remaster.” Legendary Edition had the task of rehabilitating the series’ reputation following the disappointment of Mass Effect: Andromeda, and was also tasked with bringing in new fans – as well as getting existing fans hyped up – in time for the upcoming release of Mass Effect 4. In that sense, Legendary Edition does seem to have largely succeeded, as excitement for the next entry in the series is higher than it’s ever been.
No details have yet been announced for Mass Effect 4, and we’ve only had the tiniest of teases in the form of a CGI teaser trailer, so any details of the game’s story are complete unknowns. But based on what we know about the Mass Effect galaxy, perhaps it isn’t too early to speculate about what might come next for Commander Shepard and their crew… assuming Shepard is coming back, of course!
One of the key things Mass Effect 4 will have to balance is the scale of its story. Whether we get to play as Shepard or not, Mass Effect 4 will almost certainly be picking up the story in the aftermath of the Reaper War. This conflict saw the whole galaxy – led by Shepard – fighting for its very survival against a seemingly unstoppable foe, so from a narrative point of view that kind of epic tale can be hard to top.
This was the fundamental problem that befell Mass Effect: Andromeda. Even if that game had been launched in a better condition, without the bugs and visual glitches that would go on to define it for many players, the underlying story still felt anticlimactic. I’ve described Andromeda in the past as a game that feels like an overblown side-quest, and partly this is because of the story that came immediately before it. Andromeda was an attempt to branch out, to take Mass Effect away from Commander Shepard and spin it out into a larger franchise. But it failed not because of its bugs and other technical issues – though those were catastrophic in their own right – but because it told a story that many players simply weren’t interested in.
Coming on the heels of the Reaper War, Mass Effect 4 has to avoid feeling anticlimactic in the way Andromeda did. But it has to balance that against telling a story that’s too derivative or repetitive; another galactic-scale threat caused by invaders from beyond the galaxy would feel like a cheap knock-off of what came before. Look to Star Wars’ old Expanded Universe for countless examples of this, as fan-fiction versions of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia battled clone after clone of Palpatine and fought dozens of bland, derivative Sith Lords and Imperial wannabes.
What comes next for the Mass Effect galaxy has to feel consistent, too, with what we already know about the setting. After Shepard succeeded at uniting the forces of practically every major faction in the galaxy, having one of them turn on the others and become an antagonist wouldn’t only be difficult to pull off narratively, it would risk upsetting fans and coming across as annoying.
So I think we can rule out stories like a krogan or turian uprising, or the sudden return of the long-dead Protheans looking to conquer the galaxy! Those kinds of stories might seem interesting – and perhaps the game will ultimately try to go down a similar path – but for the reasons mentioned I think they’d be too difficult to execute in a satisfying way.
Instead I want to focus on a faction from Mass Effect 3′s DLC – the Leviathans. The Leviathan DLC is integrated into Mass Effect: Legendary Edition (albeit not especially well; there are some issues which arise from the timing of its insertion into the story) so I think we can safely assume that it’s fully canon and that most Mass Effect fans will have played it. Leviathan introduced Commander Shepard to the titular Leviathans – ancient lifeforms with the power to control minds.
The Leviathans revealed to Commander Shepard that their species created the Reapers; much like the way the quarians created the geth, the Reapers were artificial intelligences designed to aid the Leviathans. Of course, they soon betrayed their masters, having interpreted their directive to “preserve” all life in an apocalyptic manner.
Commander Shepard encountered a handful of Leviathans hiding deep below the surface of an uncharted ocean world. These were the survivors – or more likely the descendants of survivors – of a race whose empire once spanned the entire galaxy. The Leviathans were unapologetic for their dominance of other “lesser” races, who they forced to worship them as gods. The survivor who spoke with Commander Shepard had little regard for humans or other races, and seemed only willing to act in the Reaper War out of self-interest.
Despite being in hiding for millions of years – perhaps longer – the Leviathans’ sense of self-importance was undimmed. They regard themselves as the galaxy’s “apex race,” and used their mind control powers to attack or kill anyone they perceived as even a minor threat.
The Leviathans seem to regard the entire Milky Way galaxy as their own personal fiefdom; their domain. Sharing power or joining a broader galactic community is simply not on their agenda, and with the destruction or removal of the Reapers, it seems at least plausible that they might seize the opportunity to emerge from hiding to reclaim the empire they had lost in the distant past.
On a much smaller scale, this was the Protheans’ idea. At least two Prothean facilities – on Eden Prime and Ilos – were designed to host hundreds of thousands of Protheans in hibernation, to emerge after the Reaper threat had passed. The Protheans failed in their goal – though a single individual did survive – but the Leviathans didn’t. They managed to sustain a viable population at the bottom of the ocean on an uncharted world, and although we only saw a few individuals it’s possible that there are hundreds, thousands, or even more Leviathans. They may even have populations on other worlds.
Of the three endings offered to the player at the conclusion of Mass Effect 3, a Leviathan return works best with the “destroy” ending. If Shepard opted to take control of the Reapers, it stands to reason that the Leviathans would still consider them to be a threat, whereas if Shepard chose the “synthesis” ending then presumably the fusing of organic and synthetic DNA across the galaxy would also have affected the Leviathans.
But if the Reapers were destroyed – the most popular ending choice – suddenly the Leviathans could find themselves in a galaxy where their biggest foe has been vanquished. Not only that, but with the Mass Relay network critically damaged and the combined fleets and forces of the galaxy all massed around Earth (and feeling a lot worse for wear after months of conflict, no doubt), the Milky Way might appear to them to be practically undefended – and ripe for the taking.
Striking out from their hidden undersea base, the Leviathans could use similar tactics to the Reapers to gain control of key worlds – using their mind control abilities to sway military and political leaders and bring them into the fold. From there, Leviathans could abandon their base, taking up residence at key locations around the galaxy before the survivors of the battle for Earth even realise what’s happened.
Repairing the Mass Relays will take time – if the assembled scientific minds can even figure out how to do so – and with communications and travel disrupted across the galaxy on account of the long war, the Leviathans could establish a commanding position even if they didn’t make their move immediately.
A power vacuum on this scale is chaotic – and many war-weary citizens and refugees might even welcome Leviathan rule if it were accompanied by stability, and if the Leviathans could provide them with basic supplies like food and shelter. By the time the Council races realise what’s happened, large swathes of the galaxy could already be under Leviathan control – perhaps even including three of the four Council homeworlds.
Fighting the Leviathans would be similar, in some ways, to fighting the Reapers – their armies would largely consist of enthralled mind controlled victims of the galaxy’s races. The difference might be that taking on an actual Leviathan would be comparatively rare – unlike the Reapers, the Leviathans don’t seem like they’d want to get involved on the front lines, preferring instead to sit back (or hide) and let their enthralled victims do their dirty work.
So that’s the extent of this theory, really. To summarise it in a single sentence: with the Reapers defeated, the Leviathans finally emerge from hiding, intent on reclaiming a galaxy they’ve always considered to be “theirs.” Commander Shepard may be pressed back into action to save the galaxy all over again, or maybe we’ll take on the role of a new character when Mass Effect 4 is ready. Please keep in mind that, as always, I don’t have any “insider information.” This is nothing more than a fan theory – and it may very well be completely wrong!
Despite how I felt about Legendary Edition, I do like the Mass Effect series. In fact, the reason I was upset at BioWare for the sloppy work and unimpressive upgrades that Legendary Edition offered was because the games are so enjoyable – the series has the potential to be so much more than Legendary Edition made of it. I’m hopeful that Mass Effect 4 will be a game worth getting excited about – but there’s no rush. If BioWare and Electronic Arts have learned anything from recent releases, it should be to take their time!
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. A new Mass Effect game – referred to above as Mass Effect 4 – is currently in development, but no release date has been announced. The Mass Effect series – including all 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers present for the Mass Effect games, including Legendary Edition and Andromeda.
When rumours of a Mass Effect trilogy remaster were swirling last year, I felt sure that one of the big reasons for working on an updated version of those games would be in anticipation of a sequel. We’ve had the tiniest of teases from EA and BioWare that a new Mass Effect project is in the works, and I’m tentatively calling the game Mass Effect 4.
There’s certainly an argument to be made that the original Mass Effect trilogy was unique, and we can point to the failure of the overblown side-mission Mass Effect: Andromeda to say that other projects set in this fictional world haven’t succeeded. Perhaps the Mass Effect trilogy doesn’t need a sequel; it’s very hard to top saving the entire galaxy from a narrative standpoint, after all, so any sequel risks feeling anticlimactic.
Regardless of any misgivings we may have, a sequel is coming. And while it may yet be several years away – the next Dragon Age game seems likely to be BioWare’s next project – barring any major problems we will eventually see it. So this is a preliminary wishlist from a Mass Effect fan, detailing a few things that I think the next entry should and shouldn’t include.
As always, please keep in mind that I have no “insider information.” This isn’t a list of things that definitely will be part of Mass Effect 4 or any future game in the series. It’s just a fan’s wishlist, nothing more. If I include something you don’t want to see, or exclude something you think the next game needs, please keep in mind that this is just one person’s subjective opinion! With all that out of the way, let’s jump into the list.
Number 1: A sequel not a prequel.
I’ve heard some suggestions that the next Mass Effect title could be a prequel, perhaps focusing on humanity’s first contact with the turians. Over the course of the first three Mass Effect titles we’d learn that first contact did not go smoothly and led to a brief conflict. While that could be an interesting story to see, at least in theory, I don’t think now is the right moment for a backwards look.
After the disappointment of Mass Effect 3′s ending and the failure of Andromeda, the franchise needs to re-establish itself. There is absolutely scope for a Mass Effect prequel at some point in the future, but every fan I’ve spoken to would rather see the story move forward than look backwards, at least right now.
It took the Star Trek franchise decades before the idea of a prequel was taken seriously, and it feels to me like Mass Effect could do more to build on what the trilogy accomplished in terms of setting, characters, and story. If Mass Effect 4 can guide the wayward franchise back to solid ground, maybe then we can reconsider the idea of making another attempt to expand beyond Commander Shepard and other familiar characters.
Though Mass Effect 3 did provide a definitive ending to Shepard’s story, and to the story of the Reaper War, all three variant endings teased that there was more to come for the denizens of the Mass Effect galaxy. Fans want to see that; we want to know what happens next.
Number 2: Bring back Commander Shepard.
Some stories feel very narrow, as though the world they’re set in doesn’t exist much beyond their protagonist. Mass Effect is not one of those, and the world-building done across the trilogy has created a setting that feels truly lived-in, inhabited by billions or perhaps trillions of unique individuals. So it may seem odd to return the series’ focus to its original protagonist, but in light of the failure of Andromeda, I think that’s what needs to happen.
Although the story of the war against the Reapers was decisively concluded – one way or another – by the end of Mass Effect 3, the story of the Mass Effect galaxy and of most of our crewmates and familiar characters was not. In that sense, the trilogy ended on a cliffhanger; we got a tease of what might come next, but nothing conclusive.
That’s part of the reason why Andromeda was unsuccessful. It was a good idea – in theory – to try to expand Mass Effect beyond Commander Shepard, and I think that’s something we need to see more of in future. But because of the way the trilogy ended, fans wanted to know what came next for their favourite characters and races. Andromeda made absolutely no attempt to address any of that, instead trying to ignore the potential consequences of the Reaper War and tell its own story.
What BioWare and EA should have learned from the underwhelmed reaction fans had to Andromeda – aside from the need to actually finish their games before releasing them – is that sidestepping the Reaper War and its repercussions is not an option. We want to see familiar characters return, and follow the next chapter of their story.
Number 3: Significant visual and gameplay improvements over Legendary Edition.
Legendary Edition was a disappointment. The three games themselves were fine, but they hadn’t been upgraded or worked on anywhere near as much as they could’ve been, and overall I felt that the so-called “remaster” was not worth the price. Mass Effect 4 can’t repeat that mistake. The new game needs a brand-new game engine, one suitable for a third-person role-playing shooter in the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 era.
The Mass Effect trilogy as presented in Legendary Edition was in a weird place both visually and in terms of gameplay. Some aspects aged well and felt good in 2021 – the basic cover-based shooting being a good example. But many other parts of the trilogy felt really outdated when compared to genuinely modern titles. Lip-synching is a good example – characters’ mouths in Legendary Edition seemed to flap open with the scantest connection to the dialogue supposedly being spoken. There are dozens more examples of things like that; areas where the gameplay was fine in 2007 but not 2021.
Mass Effect 4 needs to address those issues and make sure they aren’t present. Nobody wants the visuals of Mass Effect 3 again – not even the Legendary Edition version. Games in 2021 can look significantly better as well as feel more expansive – look at games like Jedi: Fallen Order or Control as just a couple of examples, or even how titles like Subnautica and No Man’s Sky pushed for different gameplay mechanics and visuals.
The cinematic teaser that BioWare showed off a few months ago looked good, but any idiot can make a pretty CGI trailer. The actual game engine is where the real work needs to be done, and the adapted engine used for Legendary Edition is out of date and won’t cut it.
Number 4: Don’t re-use the same basic narrative.
Narrative is difficult to get right in any project, not least one which is taking place after a story has already been completed. Mass Effect 3 was a definitive end to the trilogy, and that leaves Mass Effect 4 with a problem. What comes next after the end of the Reaper War? Not only that, but how will players interact with a post-Reaper galaxy?
There will be a huge temptation to basically recreate the original trilogy, substituting the Reapers for some other nefarious, galaxy-threatening faction. But that would be far too derivative, and as the Star Wars franchise has learned to its cost, there is a line between paying homage to what came before and outright copying – and fans can tell the difference.
At the same time as avoiding a simple retelling of the Reaper War, Mass Effect 4 has to manage not to feel anticlimactic. That will be very difficult, because if Commander Shepard comes back from the dead and is tasked with apprehending a minor criminal or helping Aria keep the peace on Omega, the story will feel too small in comparison to what came before.
Once again, there’s a balance to be struck. The new game needs a new story – one that doesn’t rip off the original games or try to retell the same basic “galactic threat” narrative. It also needs to have a story that can match the epic feel of the original without leaving players feeling underwhelmed. It’s a difficult path to navigate – and as we know from Star Wars, even highly accomplished storytellers can get it utterly wrong.
Number 5: Pick one ending from Mass Effect 3 and stick with it.
It isn’t going to be possible for one game to incorporate three totally different narratives based on the three endings of Mass Effect 3. The ending options are too different from one another for each to be the jumping-off point for the same basic story. The “destroy” ending killed off all synthetic life; “control” saw Shepard seize control of the Reapers and simply make them fly away; and “synthesis” fused synthetics and organics together. Even if the basic storyline of the game is based around something that would impact the galaxy no matter which ending were chosen, the galaxy is going to be a very different place when that narrative kicks off.
I’m all for ambitious games, but trying to incorporate all three ending choices into Mass Effect 4 would either mean BioWare would have to make three very different games in one package, or it would mean that one story would have to be forced to fit three very different settings – and that almost certainly wouldn’t work in two out of three cases.
If Mass Effect 4 intends to bring back Commander Shepard, there’s only one option based on what we’ve seen on screen: the “destroy” ending. That ending is, according to information I could find, at any rate, the most popular among players – and I would argue that it probably best represents Shepard achieving their goal!
But Mass Effect 3 appeared to present “synthesis” in the most positive light, both during Shepard’s conversation with the Catalyst and based on EDI’s epilogue. Choosing “synthesis” as a starting point for a new game would be incredibly controversial, I think, and the changes made to everyone in the galaxy by that ending may make it hard to craft a story. It’s also an ending in which Shepard is unequivocally dead. Regardless, I think those are the two most likely choices.
Number 6: Resolve dangling story threads from Andromeda.
This doesn’t need to be a big part of the game. It could literally be a collection of codex entries or other random bits of information picked up over the course of the game. In short, Andromeda’s story was left unresolved due to the decision to cancel its planned story DLC. All Mass Effect 4 would need to do is somehow acknowledge what happened with the final arks that were heading to Andromeda.
The quarian ark was the main one that I can recall being missing, and if Commander Shepard were to pick up a datapad in Mass Effect 4 that showed the quarian ark departing for Andromeda a few weeks behind schedule, we could consider the mystery resolved. The characters from Andromeda could thus continue to exist and we could assume that they all lived happily ever after.
There will never be a sequel to Andromeda, I think. The game was memed to death due to its bugs and glitches when it launched, and its reputation never recovered. EA’s decision to abandon the failing game meant that there was no chance of a No Man’s Sky-style rehabilitation, and the game is an overlooked part of the franchise. If people remember it at all, they remember the bugs and the memes.
Even I can’t remember every detail of Andromeda’s story. I just know that there was a sense that it ended somewhat abruptly, and if Mass Effect 4 could do something to mitigate that, even just by way of an “easter egg” for longstanding fans of the series, I think that would be great. It really wouldn’t take a lot of effort.
Number 7: A story that genuinely reflects player choices.
The worst part of Mass Effect 3 wasn’t the “pick a colour” ending. It was the fact that, across at least the final third of the game, myriad choices that players made across the entire trilogy received no meaningful payoff. Even the War Assets that Shepard collected on the path to defeating the Reapers were only ever shown as text on a screen, and many War Assets even reused the same stock image.
Things like saving both the quarians and geth, which required players to navigate a specific path across all three games and multiple optional missions, should have been more impactful in the final push to defeat the Reapers. The fact is that Mass Effect 3 was rushed, and whatever intentions BioWare may have had ended up being cut or curtailed as a result.
Mass Effect 4 simply cannot repeat this failing. The game will almost certainly follow a non-linear narrative – as is the Mass Effect tradition – with paragon and renegade options, a branching storyline, and optional side-missions. Those choices have to feel like they matter to players; if everyone gets the same basic ending regardless of how they played the game, Mass Effect 4 will receive one heck of a backlash.
It’s possible that Mass Effect 4 will be the jumping-off point for a new trilogy of games, and if that’s the case its ending may need to be simplified in order to ensure the next game in the series works as intended. But if that is the plan, the story still needs to offer a good degree of choice – and reflect those choices properly while the game is progressing.
Number 8: The return of all surviving squadmates.
Mass Effect 3 picked up some criticism at the time of its release for cutting back on the number of squadmates, with very few members of Shepard’s team from the Suicide Mission in Mass Effect 2 returning in squadmate form. Practically everyone had something to do in the game – but many fan-favourite squadmates were no longer part of the team, with their appearances relegated to a mission or two at most.
Depending on many different choices across the trilogy, it’s possible for a number of squadmates from all three games to have survived – or at least to have still been alive as of the final act of the game. I would love to see Mass Effect 4 bring them all back as proper squadmates. It would take some creative writing in certain cases – Wrex, for example, appears to have a leadership role on Tuchanka in one possible version of the story – but it would absolutely be worth doing. In the Star Trek franchise, Worf, who was a character on Deep Space Nine, was able to be included in three films with the crew of The Next Generation despite having a different posting. If Star Trek can do it, Mass Effect can do it!
Not every squadmate resonated with every player, and giving fans the freedom to pick and choose from every past member of Shepard’s crew instead of being constrained to a few hand-picked ones would make the roleplaying experience so much better and more immersive. I mentioned this during my review of Legendary Edition, but “my” Commander Shepard is a different character to other Shepards. They had different friendships, different relationships, and the game is a different experience as a result. Mass Effect 4 will do its best to reflect that, no doubt, and one way to do so is to bring back every surviving squadmate.
This doesn’t mean that there can’t be one or two new characters, and indeed I’d welcome a new couple of squadmates in addition to returning favourites. The franchise needs to grow, after all!
Number 9: Allow players to carry over characters from Legendary Edition.
Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 allowed players to take their Commander Shepard from the previous game and import them. This worked really well, and meant that players could complete the entire story without having to begin from scratch with each new game. Though Legendary Edition has some problems and inconsistencies with the way this save importer works, I think it’s absolutely worth allowing players to take their version of Commander Shepard into the next game.
There are a couple of roadblocks that I can see – the first being the ending choices. If Mass Effect 4 does what I suggest and picks one ending, players who made a different choice would have to either reload their save and re-do the ending, or the importer would have to simply ignore this choice.
However, if Mass Effect 4 is to reflect other choices, like which characters survived, which factions players chose to help and ignore, etc. then an import facility is really the only way that could happen. Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 originally came with an “interactive comic” to allow new players to make certain key decisions, but that really isn’t a great option.
Part of the reason Legendary Edition was made was to bring the Mass Effect series back into contention so that Mass Effect 4 will generate hype, excitement, and sales. It succeeded in that regard, bringing back old players, picking up many new ones, and wiping away most of the stink left over from Andromeda and, to a lesser extent, Anthem. People are looking forward to Mass Effect 4. Having played through the trilogy with our own custom characters, though, and made many decisions which impacted the Mass Effect galaxy, those characters and choices need to carry over to the next game in the series. Even if Commander Shepard isn’t coming back, Mass Effect 4 needs to have the facility for players to import their choices from the original trilogy.
So that’s it.
Mass Effect 4 is several years away from release, and we’re unlikely to get any more details any time soon. I don’t even want to guess at when we could see the game – it could be 2023, 2024, or even later still depending on all manner of development-side factors.
Despite that, it was a bit of fun to look ahead and consider what I’d like to see from the title. Although I felt Legendary Edition was underwhelming and not all it could’ve been for a remaster, the Mass Effect games are great fun, and the world-building is exquisite. The Mass Effect galaxy feels genuinely lived-in in a way few sci-fi or fantasy worlds ever really achieve, and I’m not alone in looking forward to finding out what happens next!
If we get any significant Mass Effect 4 news, such as casting information, a new trailer, or anything else, be sure to check back as I’ll do my best to analyse it all here on the website.
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 and all other titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Electronic Arts and BioWare. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the second time in less than a year, I’ve spent a whack of money on an updated version of an older trio of games that I enjoyed playing in years gone by. Super Mario 3D All-Stars, which I bought in September, left me seriously underwhelmed, and despite adoring the Mass Effect series, I didn’t see much in the run-up to the launch of Legendary Edition that I felt justified the upgrade. In that sense, picking up the game was a risk, but as I only own the games on the Xbox 360 and haven’t played them in at least five years, it was a risk worth taking. Best case, I get to play a massively enhanced version of all three games and I’ll have a fantastic time. Worst case, I’ll play a disappointing fake “remake” – but still three great games meaning I’ll likely have a decent time.
So which is it? I’m about two hours into Mass Effect 1, and I’ve taken a very brief look at Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 as well. This isn’t a full review – it’ll take me weeks to fully play through all three games! But I’ve spent enough time to share my first impressions, especially considering that Mass Effect 1 was the title which supposedly received the most attention from BioWare. And I have to say, it’s a mixed bag. In some areas there have been significant improvements, but in others – especially the visuals – I’m underwhelmed.
It’s worth mentioning, before we go any further, just how large the game’s file size is. At well over 100GB (and more than 90GB of data to download via Steam) Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is huge. If you’re on fibre broadband or otherwise have a decent internet connection, that’s probably okay. If your data is capped or your connection is slow, however, it’s worth being aware of that. My download speed is dire, so if it wasn’t for Steam allowing me to pre-load the game I’d have been waiting, well…
a long time, as you can see! Thank goodness for Steam allowing pre-loading of certain titles. Large file sizes like this are increasingly common, but as I hope to upgrade my internet connection in the months ahead, hopefully it won’t be too much of a problem for me in future! But we’re off-topic.
Upon booting up Legendary Edition after waiting for it to download, unlock on Steam, and then install, the game’s launcher left me confused and deeply unimpressed. I wanted to look through all of the options and tweak things like graphics, subtitles, and so on, but there were practically no customisation options. I was ready to write a couple of paragraphs complaining about how threadbare this makes Legendary Edition, but after checking the three games individually, the expected graphics, audio, and gameplay options are all present. The three-game launcher – at least on PC – feels like a bit of a waste; why even have a page for options if you’re meant to configure things in each game individually? The launcher also serves as another hurdle in the way of actually playing a game, taking up a few seconds of loading time each time you want to play. So in that sense, my very first impressions were poor!
After getting into the actual game, the first thing to do is use the character creator. Many players seem to be happy with the “default” look of Commander Shepard, and if that’s you then power to you, friend. But I love customisation aspects in games, and I’ve been known to spend ages just getting my character to look exactly the way I want them to! The original Mass Effect’s character creator was limited, but BioWare had promised it had been upgraded for Legendary Edition – and that the character creator was now standardised across all three games. So I had reasonably high hopes.
However, the character creator feels scarcely changed from where it was in Mass Effect 3. There are more options than Mass Effect 1 and 2 had, but not many more, and in terms of things like hairstyles, I’m not seeing many that I didn’t see in Mass Effect 3 almost a decade ago. The character creator is thus a bit of a let-down – it’s adequate, and perfectly usable, but also very dated and nothing special. There was scope for BioWare to have added dozens more hairstyles, facial hair styles, tattoos, and the like, as well as giving more options for tweaking and personalising Shepard’s appearance. This opportunity was missed, and Legendary Edition essentially has the character creator from Mass Effect 3. That isn’t awful – as I said it’s adequate. But it was one of the features I heard BioWare talk up in the run-up to the game’s launch, and considering it’s the first step toward playing Legendary Edition, I don’t think it serves as the game’s best feature nor a great advertisement.
Regardless, decisions abound! There are nine possible combinations of options for Shepard’s background, each of which have a minor effect on the game. There are also six classes to choose from. And then, of course, there’s deciding whether to play as male or female Shepard! At this point I want to mention that there are no options for trans or non-binary characters, and things like makeup are exclusive to a female Commander Shepard. An increasing number of games offer some kind of options in this area, and considering the character creator has received some attention, it’s worth noting that it’s lacking these options.
So let’s talk visuals. I mentioned at the beginning this is one aspect of Legendary Edition that I don’t feel is as good as it could be, and I want to briefly explain why. Legendary Edition is not a full remake. In order to put the game together, BioWare built on top of the existing games’ assets, adding what they could where they could, and the limitations of this approach are evident in the final game. In cut-scenes, characters mouths flap wildly, with basically no attempt made to make their lips mimic real speech. This was a limitation in 2007 that we don’t have to the same degree in 2021, and the difference between Legendary Edition and a brand-new game (such as Jedi: Fallen Order which I played through last year) is incredibly obvious in this regard – and many others.
Legendary Edition is thus in a strange place from a visual point of view. Despite the fact that the textures look sharper, draw distance is better, framerates have been improved, and so on, the games don’t feel brand-new. Yet because they’re not that old – having been released from 2007 to 2012 – they don’t feel too out-of-date either. Visually, Legendary Edition is a very polished version of those original games… but under a very thin coat of paint the original games are still there. The upgrade, while nice to look at, is not as impressive as it could be.
In the run-up to Legendary Edition’s launch, I stated on more than one occasion that I couldn’t always tell, from the screenshots and videos BioWare put out for the game’s marketing campaign, which were from the original games and which were from the remasters. As expected, that isn’t quite true when playing the actual game versus looking at screenshots – but I stand by what I’ve said in the past: games from the past couple of console generations, like the Mass Effect trilogy, are difficult to improve from a visual point of view with the technology we currently have. In areas where there could have been improvement – like with better lip syncing – the improvements aren’t there. And in areas where it doesn’t matter so much – like backgrounds and random textures – they’re often difficult to spot.
Playing through Mass Effect 1 feels familiar – almost too familiar for a game billed as a remaster. I don’t want a different experience, but BioWare promised a better experience, and when considering the game’s visuals, that improvement is simply not present to any meaningful degree. That doesn’t make Legendary Edition bad – but if you already own all three games in an easily-accessible format, you don’t gain much from a purely visual standpoint by buying them all over again.
However, when it comes to gameplay I do feel that there’s a noticeable improvement, at least as far as Mass Effect 1 is concerned. Gunplay and movement both feel more fluid and energetic, bringing the game’s action closer to what we got from Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. Those two titles dropped some of the first game’s roleplaying elements in favour of a more streamlined action-shooter approach, and while Legendary Edition doesn’t fully commit to that with its interpretation of Mass Effect 1, what we get is a decent compromise; a halfway house between the original game and the gameplay from Mass Effect 2 and 3.
There are areas where further improvements or changes could’ve been attempted. For example, weapon overheating is back in Mass Effect 1, having been replaced with “thermal clips” (i.e. ammo) in Mass Effect 2 and 3. This can be annoying, and although BioWare claim to have made changes to the way it works, it’s still an issue that could have been switched out.
I haven’t encountered any bugs or glitches in my couple of hours with the game so far, which is good. That should be expected, but given the state Mass Effect: Andromeda launched in a few years ago, and even some of the issues players found with Anthem, it’s no longer a given in this era of “release now, fix later” games! However, as far as I can see there are no major bugs, glitches, or graphical issues – at least on PC – and although that should be expected from a product that costs £55, it’s worth paying a compliment to developers and publishers who manage to put out a game in a playable condition!
I was pleased to see that Legendary Edition has a photo mode, which is a nice addition and something I may well take advantage of! It’s always nice to have this feature in modern games, and there seem to be a decent number of options for players who want to capture the perfect screenshots for their collection!
Although not every change is substantial, everything in Legendary Edition that I’ve seen so far works well. And at the end of the day, the Mass Effect trilogy is a great series, well worth playing for anyone who hasn’t and well worth replaying for someone like me, who hasn’t touched it in five or six years. Even though I have the nagging feeling that this remaster could have done more, the games themselves are great and I have no doubt it’ll be fun to replay them.
So that’s where things sit, in my opinion, based on a short amount of time with Legendary Edition. In terms of making a recommendation, I guess what I’d say is this: if you’ve never played the Mass Effect trilogy, go for it. This is certainly the easiest way to get started with all three games, rather than messing about with older hardware and DLC. If you haven’t played the games in a while, like I haven’t, but you want to get stuck in all over again, it might be worth it if you have £55 burning a hole in your pocket. However, there are other new games on the horizon, and with Steam’s summer sale coming up, that £55 could go a long way and pick up half a dozen or more other titles to play while you wait for Legendary Edition to drop in price or go on sale next year. If you’ve replayed the games recently, or own the trilogy plus its DLC on a console that you still have easy access to, there’s still some benefit to Legendary Edition – but it’s definitely nothing major. The original games in their original form are still playable, and considering that this is not a full-blown remake, I could absolutely entertain the idea that someone in that position should save their money. There just isn’t enough in Legendary Edition to justify re-buying, at full price, something you already own in a decent, playable state.
Since my Xbox 360 is packed away in a box somewhere, and I haven’t replayed the trilogy in several years, I felt it worth a shot. I’m not disappointed, because I know I’m going to have a fun time with Commander Shepard and the crew all over again. But having spent some time with Legendary Edition today, I have to say that I’m not ecstatic or thrilled with it either.
After continuing to play Mass Effect 1, I’ve now encountered a handful of bugs and errors. One or two wouldn’t be worth noting, but there have been enough over the first few hours of the game that I thought I would come back and rescind my claim that there are “no” bugs or glitches in Legendary Edition. In the worst case, an entire cut-scene was obscured in a grey fog, making it impossible to see anything going on. There have also been missing weapons, leaving characters looking like they’re holding nothing, as well as clipping, with characters’ feet and limbs passing through supposedly-solid objects. I’ve also seen enemy NPCs “taking cover” in mid-air.
Those are just a couple of examples that I was able to capture screenshots of. These issues have afflicted the PC version, and given the praise that Legendary Edition has received overall, I daresay it hasn’t been a huge problem for everyone. Regardless, it’s worth being aware that there are some bugs and glitches present in the game.
End of update.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The Mass Effect series – including Legendary Edition 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Mass Effect series.
Rumours swirled for much of 2020 that the Mass Effect trilogy was to be remastered. The project was confirmed a couple of months ago – Mass Effect: Legendary Edition will be coming to PC, Xbox, and PlayStation in May. I didn’t cover the initial announcement, though, because there really wasn’t much to say. Electronic Arts and BioWare saw fit to publish only a brief teaser, and from that there was very little to gleam.
After a couple of months of waiting, however, we now finally have some details about Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, so I wanted to take a look at some of them and give my thoughts. Some games journalists were invited to a digital event for Mass Effect: Legendary Edition in which they were able to speak with developers and managers at BioWare, so in addition to the official trailer and announcement we also have some more details to look at. My invitation to that event must’ve got lost in the post!
Prior to the official announcement of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, I wrote up a wishlist of things I’d like a remaster of the trilogy to include. Obviously not everything I hoped to see has been included, but some key things will be. I would reiterate a point I made in that article, though: it’s only been a few years since the trilogy wrapped up. The Mass Effect trilogy was released during the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era, and, like many games from that generation, they still look pretty good today. I questioned the need for a remaster so soon, given that there hasn’t been that much of an increase in computing power and graphics technology in the intervening nine years.
And on that point, which is arguably the single biggest reason to remaster any game, I have to say that I’m not especially impressed with what I’ve seen of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition so far. There are some improvements, of course, and it can be hard to properly convey the scale of the changes made when dealing with compressed digital video on platforms like YouTube. But I have a decent 4K monitor, and when I looked at a number of scenes from the official trailer as well as high-resolution screenshots provided by BioWare, it was hard to see a significant improvement, especially when looking at scenes from Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3.
When Capcom remastered Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 over the last couple of years, both games saw a colossal improvement from a visual standpoint. In fact I think it’s arguable that the remade versions of those games told their stories in a much better and more immersive way – except, of course, for the cut content from Resident Evil 3. Both titles were beloved by gamers of a certain age, but bringing them up-to-date allowed a whole new generation of players to experience the horror and excitement of Raccoon City. That won’t be the case with Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. Aside from the fact that the games have all been available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and even the Wii U, there just isn’t such a noticeable change in the way the games look, and while there have been tweaks and adjustments to gameplay, none of the games have seen a huge overhaul in the way the Resident Evil titles did.
So I come back to my original question from my first piece on the subject: is now the right time to remaster the Mass Effect trilogy? Although it seems mad to think ahead to the PlayStation 6 when we’ve literally just had the PlayStation 5’s launch, I would argue that waiting another five to ten years and another console generation would have allowed the Mass Effect trilogy to see much more of an improvement. The original games are good enough – especially the second and third titles – to stand on their own two feet. A re-release or a repackaging of all three titles would have been sufficient, and I don’t really see a significant advantage to what EA and BioWare are billing as a “remaster.”
This is not, by the way, a problem unique to the Mass Effect series. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was remastered in 2016, less than a decade after its release, and was similarly underwhelming. Partly this is psychological – we have a tendency to remember games looking better than they actually did. But in the case of many modern titles it’s also due to the fact that visuals and graphics have not improved in a huge way over the last decade when compared to earlier decades. So while Mass Effect: Legendary Edition looks decent, it’s not always easy to see – at least from the footage shown so far – that it’s substantially better than the original versions of its three constituent games.
The second point of criticism I have is that no action has been taken to change the story. As I wrote last time, I didn’t expect the ending of Mass Effect 3 to fundamentally change. That would require far too much effort for a project of this nature. The “pick-a-colour” ending of Mass Effect 3 is arguably the weakest part of the entire trilogy, and while it would be great to have seen that changed I knew it wouldn’t happen. So that isn’t what’s disappointing!
What is disappointing, though, is that the final third of Mass Effect 3 appears to be left unchanged. For me, the “pick-a-colour” ending was only one part of what let the game down; countless smaller decisions taken across the whole trilogy that should have mattered were either entirely ignored or only given the barest lip service in the story’s climactic final act. The most egregious example is that of the Quarians and Geth. To make a long story short, if players follow a specific path across all three games, it’s possible to save both the Geth and Quarians at a decisive moment where it looks as though it should only be possible to save one. This choice should matter; having both powerful fleets on side should be hugely impactful in the final battle against the Reapers. Yet it isn’t. Aside from a couple of seconds of cut-scene where both fleets warp in, and one line of dialogue, this massive choice fails to make any impact.
That may be the worst example; it’s certainly the one which stuck with me. But there are dozens of others, and the final third or so of Mass Effect 3 was undeniably rushed. Revisiting the project should have been an opportunity to right some of these wrongs, and to at the very least make a conscious effort to pay off, in a meaningful way, more of the player’s choices and efforts as the story reaches its conclusion.
The lack of payoff to some of these choices will be even more noticeable in Mass Effect: Legendary Edition than it was when we played Mass Effect 3 back in 2012. This is for the simple reason that Legendary Edition is actively inviting players to play all three titles back-to-back as one continuous story – a story whose lacklustre ending and underwhelming acknowledgement of significant moments will be all the more recognisable for it.
I do understand the argument that there wasn’t enough material left on the cutting room floor to reincorporate into the game. But unlike in cinema, video games use voice acting and with practically all of the principal voice actors from across the trilogy still alive, there’s no reason I can see why bringing some of them back into the studio to record new dialogue should have been impossible. The final act of Mass Effect 3 would be massively improved by as little as fifteen minutes’ worth of extra dialogue and cut-scenes, and while the Extended Edition DLC will be included in Legendary Edition, even that could stand to be improved.
So I think that covers my main criticisms of the project based on what I’ve seen and read. Now let’s get into the good points!
We’ll look at specific overhauls and changes in a moment, but first I wanted to acknowledge that, despite their reputation as a money-grubbing company, Electronic Arts is releasing Mass Effect: Legendary Edition as a single package. All three games, plus all of their DLC, are included. It doesn’t look like there are any pre-order exclusives, special editions, or anything of the sort, and while some critics will say that such behaviour should be the bare minimum, the reality is in this industry that it isn’t – so it is worthy of praise when companies do behave themselves! EA could have easily tried to split the project up and sell different parts of it, so the fact that the entire trilogy and all its DLC are part of one package for one price is great. I would argue that perhaps full price (£55 here in the UK, at least on PC) is a bit steep for games from 2007, 2010, and 2012, but I guess for the remastered version of all three I can’t really complain about that too much.
If you recall, Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 were early pioneers of cut-content DLC. Mass Effect 2 had a couple of its characters peeled off to be sold separately, and Mass Effect 3 had Javik, the series’ only Prothean character, sold as day-one DLC. So the series is no stranger to courting controversy with the way its games are sold, which is another reason to heap praise upon the decision not to do so with this version!
Now into some specifics. The character creator has been overhauled, and while we don’t know exactly what’s changed, BioWare have promised new hairstyles, faces, and customisation options for Commander Shepard. Even by Mass Effect 2, the limitations of the original character creator were becoming apparent, so this is one area that needed work. I’m glad to hear that changes have been made in this area, as a role-playing game needs a decent amount of customisation. Making Commander Shepard feel like a unique and personal character is part of the appeal of games like the Mass Effect series.
Mass Effect 1 is seeing a number of gameplay changes and tweaks in order to bring the experience more in line with the second and third entries. Of the three games, Mass Effect 1 is the only one which felt even close to being “outdated” in 2021, and considering the substantial gameplay improvements which debuted in Mass Effect 2, I’m glad to see EA and BioWare updating it.
Specifically BioWare mentioned changes to the heads-up display, the way the Mako vehicle handled, the hacking/slicing mini-games, the removal of class-based weapon loadouts (i.e. players will be allowed to use any of the game’s guns regardless of their character’s stats), changes to aiming to make lock-on better, the ability to skip the lift (elevator) scenes, as these were only in the game to begin with to hide loading times when transitioning between areas, and a higher level cap.
All of these sound good, and will update Mass Effect 1. However, BioWare has not mentioned weapon overheating, which was a difficult mechanic to get the hang of in the first game. Overheating was dropped in Mass Effect 2 in favour of “thermal clips,” which was just technobabble for ammo, and I’m surprised in a way that ammo isn’t coming to Mass Effect 1. Also unchanged is the game’s inventory system, which could be complicated and would quickly fill up with dozens of different tiers and categories of weapon upgrades and ammo options.
There will be other tweaks and rebalances across the three games, including to enemy and boss AI. The games will all run in 4K at 60fps, which is really the bare minimum that we should have expected from any AAA remaster in 2021! Finally, there are some PC-specific changes, including keyboard and mouse options and support for ultrawide monitors.
So that’s it. Mass Effect: Legendary Edition will bring some aesthetic changes to the table and some gameplay tweaks that will hopefully make the experience smoother and more enjoyable… but I’m still left with a sense best summed up thus: “what’s the point?” The second and third games are perfectly playable in their current form without being upgraded, and the offered upgrades seem minor, even from a visual standpoint.
Packaging all three titles together, along with their DLC, is admirable, but it would have been just as easy to re-release the trilogy with its DLC and spare the effort of “remastering” some of these already-decent looking scenes. It isn’t like any of the three Mass Effect games looked bad by today’s standards, and I can think of a lot of recent games that have been less impressive.
There was an opportunity to expand Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. By bringing back some of the original voice actors and adding a few extra scenes, particularly toward the end of Mass Effect 3, the remaster could have taken the story to new heights and genuinely improved the worst part of all three games. Even without a major rewrite of the ending, by adding more context and better paying off more choices and combinations of choices, Legendary Edition would have at least felt worthwhile. At the moment, it kind of doesn’t.
Bringing games from 2007-12 “up to date” is unnecessary. Maybe in another ten years we could argue that enough time had passed and enough technological improvements had been made that the games would feel new again, but everything I saw in the trailers has left me with the belief that they won’t feel new. A shiny coat of paint and throwing the entire story together in one package is really all you’ll get.
If you’ve never played the Mass Effect trilogy, go for it. Wait for Legendary Edition, which is due out in three months or so, and give it a try. The games are great, and while the ending is a bit of a let-down, if you go into the games with your expectations set you will at least know what you’re letting yourself in for. But if you’ve already played all three games, I feel like this is a hard sell. I was genuinely interested in Legendary Edition when it was announced, but having heard what’s included and seen the minor changes for myself, I’m probably going to give it a pass, especially for £55. Maybe if it goes on sale in a couple of years I’ll pick it up then.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition will be released in May for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5. The Mass Effect series is the copyright of Electronic Arts and BioWare. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.