As a longtime fan, I'm already all-in on the idea of jumping back onto the Normandy ship as Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect Legendary Edition. The remaster looks set to breathe new life into the much-loved trilogy, giving newcomers and diehard fans alike the chance to experience the iconic sci-fi RPG with various tweaks and enhancements. From the outset, BioWare stated its goal for the Legendary Edition is to "tune-up the trilogy and make it more consistent from game to game while honoring the things that make each unique." Thanks to recent blog post updates, offering insightful looks into the studio's approach to polishing and refining the series, it's evident that a tremendous amount of care has gone into delivering on this goal. As a result, I'm more convinced than ever that the studio is striking a difficult balance between modernizing the experience and staying true to what makes Mass Effect, well, Mass Effect.
With graphical enhancements, combat and UI improvements, additional character customization options, and more, a lot of attention has been paid to the first game in the series. Released in 2007, there's still a nostalgic charm to the classic RPG that started it all, but it's hard to ignore how dated Mass Effect feels by today's standards. From all of the changes and improvements detailed so far when it comes to the first game, there's plenty to get excited about, but what's most apparent is just how BioWare seems to balance bringing the original Mass Effect more in line with Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, while still maintaining the classic parts of the game's DNA that fans remember.
"More consistent from game to game"
I found myself replaying the trilogy in early lockdown last year, starting with the original Mass Effect. While I'll always have a soft spot for the very first game that introduces us to Commander Shepard and its own unique blend of space-faring action, there's a comparable jump both graphically and gameplay-wise when you tuck into Mass Effect 2 directly afterward. It makes sense, then, that Mass Effect received the most attention from BioWare when it came to trying to deliver on its aim of making the trilogy feel more unified in the Legendary Edition.
Outside of the graphical enhancements to Mass Effect, which seem significant by most remaster standards, the biggest leap in quality appears to be with the combat and UI elements. In a recent "gameplay calibrations" update, BioWare detailed how the team approached combat tweaks and tried to improve on it without taking away from how it evolved throughout the series entirely: "We wanted to make the experience better across the board, but we didn't want to unnecessarily change what our fans have come to love about each game," the post reads. "That proved to be a unique challenge, as the first game is quite different from the second and third in terms of gameplay and combat."
The reason the original Mass Effect feels so different from the games that followed it isn't necessarily because of time, but by design. Where the sequels started to lean heavily into action as the tension in the story began to escalate, Mass Effect instead drew inspiration from traditional RPG systems and mechanics – arriving just a few short years after Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. As a result, there are elements of its design that feel antiquated within the wider context of the series, and so BioWare is taking steps to change that.
After taking on board feedback from players, improvements were made to elements such as making the aiming reticle for weapons more reliable and in line with the second and third games. UI and HUD features have also been updated and are now closer to the setup in Mass Effect 3, with squad member icons along with health and shield bars at the center of the screen. Other small improvements also add to the overall feel of consistency, such as letting you command each squad member individually in Mass Effect just as you can in 2 and 3 – as opposed to commanding them both at the same time. I can see how all of these tweaks could make the experience of playing Mass Effect smoother and more refined without taking anything away from it.
Staying true to the original
While the team is striving for a unified experience, the updates also demonstrate some of the ways the team are maintaining some of the well known differences in the series that are unique to each entry. This is evidenced in Mass Effect by keeping in the overheating system on weapons rather than using the thermal clips (that are more akin to ammo reloads) that came in Mass Effect 2 and 3. Features like this demonstrate that BioWare wants to keep the fundamental elements that set apart the games to keep the sense of evolution the trilogy went through alive.
One of the best examples of balancing modernization with the original experience is the classic elevator sequences, which were used as an alternative to a loading screen in areas such as the Citadel. During these elevator rides, your squadmates strike up a conversation to pass the time. These loading scenes became a well known feature of the first game and feel like a part of the series' history. BioWare took this into consideration and implemented an optional skip button to make the most of faster loading times without removing the sequences altogether.
It must be difficult to tackle remastering a well-known trilogy – especially considering BioWare's aim to make a series that evolved throughout each iteration more consistent across the board. But everything I've seen so far seems to be getting the balance just right, with a host of improvements that look set to enhance the games to benefit longtime fans and newcomers alike, while still maintaining what we all know and love about the original experience. Personally, I'm more excited than ever for the Mass Effect Legendary Edition's release on May 14.