Mass Effect Legendary Edition

We play Mass Effect Legendary. We should go.

Renegade Edition might have been a better title. All you’re paying for is a launcher menu and a HD textures pack. I don’t know why I hoped for a Paragon choice from EA. Okay it’s not that bad, but it’s not far off. ME:L is all three games and DLC (ME3’s multiplayer and Pinnacle Station is missing) bundled together in one menu - not one game. It would have been so much cooler to just launch ‘Mass Effect’ and play through a single narrative with bridging cut-scenes to sew them all together. The launcher is just a glorified shortcut, you can’t manage audio, visuals or key-bindings from it, you have to go through each game’s settings in turn. It keeps them as separate games, not the one, interconnected, increasingly desperate experience Mass Effect is.

Obviously ME1 had the biggest graphical upgrade, although it looks like the re-do was supervised by J. J. Abrams. It’s clear a lot of careful reworking has been done, but everything is obscured by HDR glare and lens flare. It does run faster and load quicker – now the followers barely get chance to ramble in the elevator before we’ve arrived. The Mako is more robust, even if it still makes no sense to get out and hack a rock. Threshers have had an upgrade too – they now shoot up tenacles, which makes no sense, and the ground breaks as they move. ME2 looks a lot cleaner and smoother, while ME3 is pretty much the same. Basically, it brings 1 & 2 up to 3’s standard. And that’s 10 years old.

It does look better, areas have been overhauled and views extended making it feel deeper, and weapon aiming, modes and sway have been tightened up making shootouts more exciting. And anything in ME3 that appeared in 1 & 2 has been retrofitted, aligning the look, while DLC weapons now appear in shops. The HUD is updated but changes from game to game, and in ME1 you have a meter to warn of exhaustion as you dash but it’s not there in 2 or 3, where you listen out for Shepard wheezing after a few steps.

There’s more consistency - guns, locations, characters, armour, all look better although in some cases, the graphical upgrade seems to make the characters less real since they’ve not been reanimated. Their stoic faces, glances, and occasionally muppet-style movements are more noticeable now. And there’s still bugs, missing elements (more than once characters reacted to a blank screen), enemies don’t trigger, Shep still carries The Avenger in cut-scenes while showing my chosen Harrier on her back, characters get stuck or freeze, and more than once, character animation reminded me of Andromeda. Legendary.

Still, continuity and other oddities have been addressed; that ME1 pirate that traps you in the mine with a nuclear device was human in the original despite talking like a Turian. Now he has a Turian model. Little fixes like those appear throughout, but weirdly there’s inconsistencies in what they have mucked about with. Why fix the Turian pirate but not make Vigil look like the Victory VI?

It just doesn’t go quite far enough for a series as epic as Mass Effect, so the actual experience is the same – no new areas, no major cut content reinstated other than some audio files, no tightening or loosening up of locations or missions; beyond the flarey visuals, it’s not an expanded, deep-dive experience the word ‘legendary’ promises.

Where this missed a trick was in not altering 1 & 2 to align with the focused ME3 approach. Like the endless jumble sale of team loadouts in ME1 – done away with in 2 & 3, why couldn’t that have been removed in 1 too? Or more mission detail when in the star map, or the reduction in mini-puzzles game to game. And the damn planet scanning in ME2 – it never made any sense for Shep to do it, but at least in 3 it was reduced to ‘found something’. Shep should be focused on stopping the Reapers, not choosing Garrus’ wardrobe, slapping medigel on tech and mining for minerals. And that’s where you start to notice there’s no actual fundamental changes to the trilogy that make this worthy. This isn’t Legendary, it’s just all of it. Why not rebuild it into one sleek consistent experience?

There’s bits that were dying for a makeover – the security team on the Citadel are still looking out at an empty swimming pool, why can’t they have dropped a ship in there? Or made it a star field, or the landing approach? The Citadel in ME1 is half-empty, we couldn’t have expanded it to some of the locations we saw in 2 and 3 just for fun?

Why couldn’t characters we met in later games cameo in the earlier ones? Like seeing Kai Leng beside the Illusive Man at the end, or have Brooks appear in the background during the Lazarus project tapes. And other elements could have been added easily enough, like that Shephard VI appearing in the captain’s quarters. At least mentions or cameos that set up later events and tie the whole thing up. Even some hints about Mass Effect 4 (No, it’s not ME5, Andromeda didn’t count) …

It’s not that I expected a remake, just subtle narrative or editorial changes to pull it together and give fans more. It might be true that that level of tinkering wasn’t possible without major re-working of the games, but then don’t call it Legendary, call it a Remaster. They expected us to drop 60 quid on this, that’s new AAA game level pricing. For that I expect more than Shep’s empty fish tank reflecting on the floor.

For me, the ultimate change would have been the removal of choice. Well, one choice specifically. It never made any sense that the dozens of decisions you’d made, the kind of Shepard you’d become, didn’t matter once you reached the Catalyst. The outcomes themselves didn’t bother me, just that I could play Shep 100% renegade then sacrifice myself. It should have been the Catalyst who made the decision based on your Shep, and then everything we did would have mattered. BioWare knew they’d f’ed up with that ending, having Shep’s choices actually count would have saved it. And I’d not miss the bratty know-it-all Catalyst-kid either. That should have been Kaiden/Ash, Shep’s first loss in the Reaper War (No one remembers Jenkins). There’s bound to be a fan mod that resolves it better, BioWare shoulda just used that.

Ultimately, I think this is a rip off for 60 quid. As a Remaster, it’s top-notch, a FTL jump ahead of disasters like the Bioshock ‘remaster’. It’s just not… the stuff of legends. But, ME is one of the greatest trilogies of all time and that has not been diminished in this edition. It’s clearly had a lot of care put into it. What Legendary is, ultimately, is the best version of ME, at least it goes down the Skyrim route and gets an Anniversary Edition. Even as I’m playing, I’m planning how I’ll handle choices, characters and decisions in the next playthrough. No matter how many times you play ME, you stumble across a new line, reaction or impact, and every Shepard is different in a multitude of ways. It is a legendary trilogy, but this edition is just clean and convenient.