It’s been nine years since the final proper "Mass Effect" game was released on the Xbox 360. It was 2012 and that game was "Mass Effect 3," the third part of a trilogy that involved you as Commander Sheperd, the Reapers, and the vast part of the galaxy. It was the culmination of a wild ride that blended space politics, shooting, and RPG goodness, the coda to an epic saga by Bioware. And despite its imperfections (and a much-maligned ending) it was a truly special saga.
It’s also a saga that an entire generation of gamers hasn’t experienced. But Bioware is changing that, after essentially skipping an entire console generation, with the release of "Mass Effect: Legendary Edition." Nearly a decade after the original trilogy wrapped up, it returns again, and it does so with all the upgrades you’d expect (visuals!), and some other touches, too. It’s a chance for newcomers to enter the saga and gaming vets to revisit it, and while it shows its age, it still manages to feel epic.
You get all three "Mass Effect" games in the compilation, plus a host of DLC. And these are games from the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era, so they all draw hefty visual makeovers. (Bioware barely touched the Xbox One/PS4 era, delivering only the failed "Mass Effect: Andromeda"; that isn’t included here. That’s fine too, since "Andromeda" was a critical disappointment.)
Each game remains fundamentally the same as it once was, but Bioware smartly brings slices of its action into the modern era. This is most prominent in the first "Mass Effect," where the gameplay had aged the most. That first game set the stage for the franchise, but it wasn’t until "Mass Effects 2" and "3" and the title found its truest balance between shooter and role-player. Bioware amps the action in this remaster, with Shepard more naturally snapping to cover, and with a dedicated melee button. The action feels fluid, especially when coupled with improved load times on the Series X.
The visuals also receive the potent makeover you’d expect, and the Milky Way is now in 4K. The sharpened textures look tremendous, bringing out little details you’d never noticed, especially on nonhumans. Scales, spots, and scars on Liara, Wrex and Garrus suddenly pop, and the skin texture on Wrex looks that much more lizardly.
The visual improvements to human characters don’t feel quite as dramatic, but, overall, Bioware has worked hard to make this a game that feels visually modern. At times, you’ll wish planets, and even the Citadel, felt a bit more populated and . . . larger. Years ago, "Mass Effect" was among the first to deliver a fleshed-out world. In some ways, its areas feel smaller all these years later.
The game also delivers much tighter load times, a departure from the lengthy visual of that old "Mass Effect" relay. The entire "Mass Effect" experience, from game to game, winds up more fluid and easier to appreciate.
None of this means that the game doesn’t show its age. One of the most enjoyable things about the original "Mass Effect" trilogy was the way it put you in the driver’s seat, letting your decisions and dialogue responses wield heavy influence over how the story actually played out (until the end, of course). But a decade later, those decisions feel incredibly binary. You can deliver “good” (paragon) responses and “bad” (renegade) responses, but the moral gray of the world disappears here. For its time, "Mass Effect"’s sense of choice was fantastic and groundbreaking. Games like "The Witcher 3" and "Outer Worlds" have tried to push that farther.
DLC is also handled in middling fashion. At times, you’ll be able to access DLC content before key story points have played out, wrecking portions of the narrative.
Still, "Mass Effect: Legendary Edition" winds up being a terrific trip through an especially memorable chapter of Memory Lane. And no, the ending to the final piece of the trilogy isn’t any better this time around. But the hundreds of hours that come before that? They’re still plenty of fun.
'MASS EFFECT: LEGENDARY EDITION'
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed on Xbox Series X
Available on Xbox consoles, PlayStation consoles, PC
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