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Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: BioWare
Release Date: May 14, 2021


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PS4 Review - 'Mass Effect: Legendary Edition'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on May 31, 2021 @ 2:30 a.m. PDT

One person is all that stands between humanity and the greatest threat it’s ever faced. Relive the legend of Commander Shepard in the highly acclaimed Mass Effect trilogy with the Mass Effect Legendary Edition.

Buy Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

If Bioware has a magnum opus, then it's probably the Mass Effect series. While it has had plenty of other successful franchises, none have had the impact of Mass Effect, including its aesthetic designs that have become part of popular culture. It's a distinctive franchise with a dedicated fanbase that remains passionate about the trilogy years after it has ended. It's good news that Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is everything that fans could want — aside from, perhaps, an entirely new ending.

If you've never played Mass Effect before, the series (minus the ill-remembered spin-off Andromeda) follows the story of Commander Shepard, who lives in a far-future Star Wars/Trek-style society where humanity is one of many races that populate the galaxy. During a routine mission, Shepard encounters a machine that belongs to a civilization that had been wiped out tens of thousands of years ago. This starts Shepard on a quest to investigate the Reapers, a group of beings who threatens all life in the galaxy unless Shepard can stop them. Not only do you fight the Reaper forces but, you also must navigate the complex and interweaving politics between the many races of the galaxy.

A big part of Mass Effect's appeal is that it's an epic space opera where your hero and their allies stand against an impossible force and pull off miraculous victories. It's a game that posits interesting moral, social and ethical dilemmas and asks the player to decide an outcome. For example, one race in the galaxy, the Krogans, is a violent and powerful mix of Klingon and Orc. They were raised in a space-facing culture to battle a swarm of deadly space monsters, and then their entire race was promptly sterilized with a plague that reduced their birthrates to near-zero. The ethics and moral quandaries behind this decision radiate throughout the series and impact a huge portion of the plot. That's one of many storylines in the series and a big part of what makes it interesting.

However, there is a fly in the ointment in the Paragon and Renegade choices. Your character can take actions that are either Paragon (heroic) or Renegade (not so heroic). In the first Mass Effect, this comes across as a good/evil meter, and while that lessens as the series progresses, it influences much of the game, since you need to maintain a fairly high Paragon or Renegade score to get some dialogue options. Legendary Edition lowers some of these requirements, but it doesn't change that it's a weird mix. In Mass Effect 2, you get a Renegade option to shoot an oncoming enemy with a sniper rifle while you're scoping them out. This is considered a Renegade option, but if you don't take it, you'll shoot that same enemy in gameplay instead, which is somehow seen as heroic. It doesn't ruin the story, but Mass Effect would be a better game if your choices didn't impact a visible good/bad meter.

Mass Effect plays differently as a series of back-to-back games with all DLC and fixes implemented. In some ways, it is a positive. "Hey, remember this random character?" feels more meaningful when it's someone you saw a few hours ago instead of years ago, and it makes the story feel more cohesive and coherent in many little ways. I noticed plot beats and themes that I had missed on my original playthroughs simply by having them back to back.

At the end of the day, the series still ends on a weak note. It's nowhere quite as bad as it was when Mass Effect 3 was released, but playing all of the games back to back also emphasizes the unsatisfactory final outcome in terms of characters and themes. To Mass Effect 3's credit, the Extended Cut content and various DLCs go a long way toward making it feel more satisfying. Rather than a huge mess, it's just a slight disappointment, but it is still tough to see a strong series end on such a bland note.

The ending is the only big flaw in Mass Effect's fun sci-fi adventure. The characters are likeable, the story is engaging and well told, and the world-building is genuinely interesting. Having your choices carry through the series and have both big and small impacts on the final story adds some nice weight to the plot. Knowing that someone lives or dies in Mass Effect 3 based on your choices in Mass Effect 1 & 2 goes a long way toward making a linear game feel more open-ended.

Mass Effect

Of the three games in the trilogy, the original Mass Effect has seen the most significant changes. While it isn't a full-on remake, it is about as close as you can come without starting over from scratch. Every element of the game, from the visuals to the core gameplay, has been updated and revised. Combat has been revised to be as close to Mass Effect 2 as possible without changing the core mechanics. You can now storm and charge enemies, get into cover more easily, and command your squadmates with a button press, all of which adds some weight to the basic combat.

The original Mass Effect was the most RPG-like of the games, and that showed in a lot of design decisions, such as loot aplenty and accuracy being a crapshoot. Legendary Edition doesn't totally change this, but it minimizes the impact that stats have on anything other than damage and defense. All classes can now use all weapons and are significantly more accurate by default, including sniper rifles not wobbling if you're not a class that's proficient in them. This makes the core combat feel more natural and enjoyable. Loot is still overwhelming, but it's easy to quickly trash everything you don't need, and certain items (like special ammo modifiers) are more plentiful.

Perhaps the most welcome change comes to the infamous Mako tank. In the original Mass Effect, you were able to drop down and explore planets with your own tank, but it was infamously awful to control and a total chore. Legendary Edition has given it a full makeover (should we say "Makover"?). The tank is weightier and easier to control, so it no longer careens all over the place. A boost feature lets the tank get around quicker and scale mountains, so it's less tedious to get from point A to point B. EXP gain has been changed, so you retain full EXP for beating enemies in the Mako, which removes the annoying requirement of hopping out of the machine to kill enemies. Even enemies have been rebalanced, with the terrifying Thresher Maws feeling significantly more fair.

A big chunk of the changes in Mass Effect are geared toward minimizing the annoyance of the original game rather than improving them. The Mako still is kind of dull, but it's no longer a huge chore, so that segment doesn't stand out as much. It's no longer an element that I dreaded so much that I didn't want to replay the entire game.

Mass Effect 2

In comparison to the first game, Mass Effect 2 hasn't seen much in the way of significant changes. The visuals have been given a slight upgrade, but it's not as significant as in ME. Likewise, the core gameplay hasn't seen many updates, aside from the inclusion of all the DLC, which is integrated more naturally into the game. Weapons and items from the DLC content can now be found or purchased in stores rather than just appearing in your inventory.

The DLC weapon availability impacts the game balance, as a lot of the powerful DLC weapons are fairly easy to access. You can get weapons that are more powerful than anything else for a handful of credits. It's not enough to ruin the game, but it makes some of the other weapon upgrades feel a little pointless, and it's enough for me to encourage someone to try the Hardcore difficulty their first time through instead of the default Normal.

The other significant change is that ammo drops have been rebalanced. They are more plentiful, which matters a lot if you're using a low-ammo weapon like the sniper rifle. It's now much more viable to focus on one weapon without worrying about running low on ammo. This is great for classes like the Infiltrator, who can now use their iconic weapon without concern of running dry. It's a small change but a really nice one.

Mass Effect 3

Of the three games, Mass Effect 3 has seen the fewest changes, since it served as the baseline for the other two games. The biggest change is the removal of the excellent multiplayer mode, which is somewhat understandable, as Legendary Edition is packed and the multiplayer mode likely wouldn't be as popular, but it's disappointing since ME3's multiplayer was some of the most fun I've had, and Bioware's subsequent attempts in Dragon Age and Anthem didn't capture the same feel.

With the removal of multiplayer comes a significant change to the Galactic Readiness mechanic. In the original release of ME3, Galactic Readiness was a convoluted mix of in-game war readiness combined with bonuses from multiplayer and apps, which eventually determined which ending you could get. Since the apps and multiplayer are out the window, Galactic Readiness has been rebalanced to be far simpler, with your score determined only by your in-game actions. Importing a save that has gone through Mass Effect 1 & 2 offers you a significant number of bonuses based on actions in those games, which eases the requirements for the best endings. It's clear, concise, and far superior to the convoluted multi-platform mess that was in the original game.

All three games in the series have seen a visual upgrade, and all three games have aged surprisingly well. There are some moments of genuinely impressive animation that stand out, and there are still some rough bits. The voice acting is among the best parts of the franchise, with some excellent voice work carrying a number of scenes, especially Jennifer Hale as the female version of Shepard, who turns a create-a-character into someone with their own style and personality.

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is absolutely fantastic. The amount of effort put into Mass Effect 1 alone is more than I've seen from a lot of other remasters, and overall, it's an absurd amount of content for one bundle. The games have aged well enough that they're still a ton of fun to play both for newcomers and returning veterans alike. Even the sour points, like ME3's ending, sting less when you play the whole thing as a package. If you like epic space adventures, then there's no single better buy than Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. Now let's hope that Mass Effect 4 can live up to the high bar set by the originals….

Score: 9.0/10

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