Mass Effect Legendary Edition Review

The Mass Effect trilogy is a collection I hold close to my heart. As a pure shooter fan heading into the 2010s, this series acted as my gateway into the RPG world. What I found within the first Mass Effect was a galaxy fleshed out with fascinating races, amazing lore, an epic story, and a cast of characters to fall in love with - literally. The journey through the rest of the series was truly incredible, and I plowed hundreds of hours into multiple playthroughs over the years. So, as I picked up my PS4 controller to play through Mass Effect Legendary Edition, I was left wondering to myself: Can this trilogy captivate me as it did a decade ago?

Mass Effect stars you as Commander Shepard (male or female), a high-ranking officer of the Human Systems Alliance. Throughout the series, you discover that the galaxy is under threat from the Reapers, a race of sentient machines set on harvesting all advanced organic life in the galaxy before retreating to dark space where their existence is hidden. You have to take action to stop the Reapers yourself, as you and your crew are among the few in the galaxy that believes in the oncoming Reaper threat. To do this, you will need to recruit people to your cause and convince people around the galaxy to unite as one.

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The best parts of this trilogy, by far, are its story, world, and characters. BioWare has constructed a galaxy that feels so real. It's complete with a multitude of races, its own history, and characters that have lived their own independent lives and aren't afraid to share their experiences with you. Most of the crewmates you pick up for your journey are extremely interesting individuals that you’ll genuinely want to get to know. You're always learning new things about the galaxy from various people around your ship and on your missions. Reading the in-game lore in the first game can give you so much information on this world. It's amazing how lived-in this world feels.

Despite being a trilogy, each of the games has its own distinct feel. The first Mass Effect feels the most like an RPG. It has the most side quests, open exploration of planets, an inventory system, and the best story in my opinion. Mass Effect 2 is a well-balanced mix of RPG and third-person shooter. Streamlining most of the RPG elements from the first game, Mass Effect 2 also improves the third-person shooter mechanics, which were somewhat rigid in the first game. Mass Effect 3 has the feel of a true third-person shooter, with RPG elements mostly taking a back seat. This is not an indictment of the way each game was handled, as they have their own strengths and weaknesses.

I'm happy (sad?) to report that all of these games are still the same at heart. Playing through the trilogy again felt just like the first time. Purists will probably like that not a lot has changed, especially in regards to Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. The original Mass Effect was the game in need of an overhaul the most, and indeed, the first Mass Effect is the game that BioWare spent the most time remaking. I spent as much time as I possibly could on the original title to see what had changed.

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The major changes to Mass Effect broadly come down to updated graphics and improved gunplay. I don't know if it was intentional, a lack of understanding of the Xbox 360's hardware, or inefficient programming, but the original Mass Effect had something of a different visual identity than the other two games. The first Mass Effect had a more stylized look to it, while ME2 and ME3 went for a more realistic look. ME1 joins its successors in ME: LE by going for a more realistic look. I'm not sure which "style" I like better: the original or LE. I was more concerned about the changes to combat. 

In ME1, characters were more or less locked to using specific weapons based on their class. Using weapons that weren't suited to your class meant you’d be less accurate, do less damage, and you were locked out of using certain weapon skills. Sniper rifles suffered the most, with Shepard waving the weapon all over the place if you weren't a class that could use it effectively. That issue has more or less been resolved. While classes still have specific weapons they have skills for, you are no longer penalized for using a weapon that your class isn't specialized in. The UI has also been changed to be more in line with other Mass Effect games. You and your squadmates' health bars are no longer awkwardly stuffed into the bottom left corner, and you can now see your teammates' primary skill cooldown without needing to open the 'Powers Wheel'. While these changes are nice, combat in the original game still feels the same.

At times, Mass Effect 1 still feels as janky as ever. Despite it being 2021, it still plays like a game made back in the day, including feeling like the game might collapse on itself at any moment. ME1 had some awkwardly placed autosave spots, and sometimes if the game needed to autosave and load a cutscene, some… interesting things could happen. Even in ME: LE, I've seen a man's midsection twist up like a pretzel as the game loaded in enemies right after a cutscene, the game's infamous Mako got stuck in the ground, I glitched myself inside a door, and Shepard started moonwalking as my controls reversed. I don't know if these will get patched out, or if they're "features" at this point. Either way, ME1 is still ME1. The same goes for ME2 and ME3.

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The most unfortunate cut to Mass Effect Legendary Edition is the removal of Mass Effect 3's multiplayer. Granted, not a lot was cut out of ME: LE (the other notable missing piece is an original ME1 DLC due to data corruption of the source files), but losing ME3's multiplayer is a big blow for me. I spent hundreds of hours playing the original game's multiplayer. At first, I played it because you had to in order to help get the best ending, but I soon began to play it even if I wasn't progressing the story. One of the main draws was being able to play as other races, which was a dream for ME fans. The series is full of these cool aliens that we could never play until ME3's multiplayer. I'm going to seriously miss taking out an enemy from afar as a salarian STG agent, hacking geth as a quarian, charging down the middle as a krogan, or assassinating from the darkness as a drell. 

The sound department across the Mass Effect series is pretty good, with a couple of notable tracks ("Vigil" and "Leaving Earth") that pop in my head whenever I think about the series. The sound design improves as the series goes on, with ME3's in particular being a highlight. The voice acting is pretty good all the way through, with a couple of highlights being Ash Sroka as Tali, and Martin Sheen as the Illusive Man. 

Mass Effect Legendary Edition is sure to bring in both new and returning fans with its slick presentation and positive word-of-mouth about the series over the years since the original game's release. I enjoyed playing through the series again on more recent hardware, and not needing to hook up my Xbox 360 again. While the games haven't changed much from their initial releases, which can sometimes make the games feel dated, this is still an amazing collection of games to experience.

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