Mass Effect Legendary Edition is out today, remastering BioWare’s space trilogy with 4K HD graphics and other kinds of tweaks and twinges to bring the games into the current generation. Of the trilogy, the original Mass Effect stands out as the game benefiting the most from graphical updates and quality of life enhancements. From what I’ve seen so far, the changes are welcome additions that make a great game even better.
The first major difference I noticed was the character creator. In a blog post leading up to the game’s release, BioWare said, “Customization options and character appearances have also been improved with updated textures and hair models.” This news was especially appealing to me because BioWare has a history of disappointing me with character creators that fail to properly account for diverse skin and hair options. The enhanced character creator underwhelmed me, especially since I was hoping for a few more kinkier hair options. I understand Commander Shepard is a military woman and therefore can’t run around the galaxy in bantu knots (imagine trying to get those under a helmet), but an awkward-looking high top fade and five piddly cornrows just ain’t doing it for me. Also, some of the darker skin tones look really weird on my TV. There’s one that’s very red-looking, like Commander-Shepard-is-secretly-a-tiefling red. I moved my Xbox to a different TV, toyed with the settings, and played during the daytime to see if it was just me but no, homegirl is just red. (She looks far more normal on my computer monitor, but still a little reddish.)
The character creator aside, I did appreciate the ability to import face codes. In Mass Effect 2 and 3, every character you created generated a unique code that you could save and share with others. In Legendary Edition, face codes now work with vanilla Mass Effect, meaning that I could import the code from my Shepard in ME2 and have a new Commander with an old face all ready to go. The translation from old ME2 face code to new Legendary Edition face isn’t one-for-one. Skin tone and makeup colors didn’t quite match, but it was a good enough template for me to work from in order to revive my Shepard.
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I remember combat in the original Mass Effect as being sometimes overly difficult, and I was eager to see how BioWare’s improvements might make a difference in Legendary Edition. I already love love the removal of restrictions on weapons: Before, if you were a class trying to use a weapon for which you had no training, the game—in its abundant generosity—would let you fire it but good luck hitting anything. Your reticle was just a comically wide circle in the middle of the screen, and even if your target was dead center of that circle it was still a 50/50 chance you would hit it. Now Shepard can use any weapon, no prerequisites required, and that skill comes in handy. I’m playing a vanguard. In the first mission on Eden Prime I’m given a sniper rifle—a weapon old vanguards could not effectively use. There were a lot of instances in combat in which I was grateful I could use my sniper rifle to pick off enemies at my leisure rather than get shot-up trying to close that distance to finish them off.
Shooting feels better than it did before. In the old Mass Effect game, continuous firing of a weapon caused your reticle to get wider and less accurate and your weapon muzzle to point higher up. In Legendary Edition, that’s been tweaked such that it’s no longer as noticeable. Your shields recharge faster, but I still feel very squishy. There were a couple of times fighting on the Citadel in which popping out of cover long enough to squeeze off two shots still ended in my immediate death. The combat updates are good enough that I can confidently recommend that if you were considering skipping the original Mass Effect, don’t.
Of all the combat quality of life upgrades, I was most excited to try the enhanced Mako. I was initially dismayed to hear that BioWare was going to take away some of that big, beautiful, behemoth’s atrocious handling—after all, part Mass Effect’s fun is bouncing around on a six-wheeled tank that’s never heard the word “shock absorbers” before. I am glad to report that the Mako is still the wonderfully frustrating-to-handle machine you knew it to be. The first thing I did upon gaining control of the Normandy was find the nearest planet I could land on and use the Mako’s new propulsion thrusters to yeet myself off the tallest peak I could find. The joy was sublime.
The graphical updates, which BioWare has shown off in the lead-up to the game’s release, are nice; the enhanced lighting allows you to actually see people’s faces now instead of them always being cast in shadow. The colors and textures are sharper, making all the planets in the galaxy absolutely gorgeous. The photo mode is great: I like that I can remove Shepard or my squadmates from a shot to get clear pictures of the beautiful alien vistas. It does suck though, that I can’t use it in cutscenes to get close-ups of my handsome husband’s as-yet-un rocket blasted face.
From the start (as in literally from the start screen), I knew my time with the first Mass Effect was going to be an enjoyable, nostalgic experience. Mass Effect’s start screen is simple and subdued, and yet I can’t describe the intense feeling of calm that washed over me as I let it run. I sat on my couch, smiling, delaying getting to the actual game just so I could sit with the start screen as the calming tones of “Vigil” played. Mass Effect’s portion of the Legendary Edition is like the feeling of recognition when gazing at an old yet beloved toy reclaimed from the back of a dusty closet, “Yes, I remember you. We had such great times, and we will now have them again.”