It’s been almost a decade since we last set foot on the Normandy, Captain Shepard’s iconic spaceship, and it feels good to be back. While Mass Effect: Andromeda was a perfectly passable Mass Effect experience, arguably with some of the most refined action in the series, somehow it didn’t have that special something. We just didn’t warm to the protagonist in the same way we did with Shepard - in fact, we’d struggle even to remember their name...
There are tons of weapons, though they all conform to the familiar shotgun, pistol, assault and sniper rifle archetypes. In the first game these work on a cooldown rather than needing to reload, which can make for more strategic combat encounters. Any excess weapons can be assigned to teammates, sold and/or broken down into omni-gel used to skip hacking mini games and repair Shepard’s land vehicle.
In the second and third games, these more unique elements are nowhere to be found. Weapons need loading with thermal clips (presumably to speed up combat), for example.
There’s so much to cover here that it feels like we can only scratch the surface in terms of what players might discover.
Getting back to the first instalment, which has undoubtedly seen the most change, Mass Effect now has smoother combat mechanics in general. Improved cover mechanics, squad orders and a dedicated melee button are cribbed from its sequel to give players more control. That said, utilising biotic and tech powers (essentially magic and tech-based skills, respectively) can still feel quite clunky. Faster enemies are especially hard to take out, as they overwhelm the relatively immobile Commander Shepard easily.
BioWare have taken the time to smooth out the visuals and performance, too. While there’s still the odd janky animation here and there, players will notice the lighting improvements in the first game in particular, which would often require squinting to make out characters’ faces when they had helmets on.
The game runs from a fairly pedestrian, but reliable, 1080p at 30fps, all the way up to 4K UHD at an eye-watering 240fps on PC – provided the graphics card can handle it. What users get ultimately depends on whether they go for the “favour quality” or “favour framerate” graphics mode. For example, the Xbox Series X outputs up to 60fps at 4K UHD on the former setting and up to 120fps at 1440p on the latter.
Characters and companions have always been the Mass Effect series’ crown jewel, however. While there are too many noteworthy examples to shout out individually (though we have discussed some of our favourites), it’s fair to say the depth of interaction varies quite significantly both between games and between squadmates and general NPCs.
The first title doesn’t go into too much detail straight away, but, in time, players learn about how companions differ and their individual values. Relationships with some characters can develop into romantic entanglements, all depending on how users behave.
Where this system - and the accompanying dialogue - can start to creak is when users do things the game doesn’t really expect. In ME1, for example, an Asari consort is having problems with a client. Since the mission structure is fairly open, especially in the bustling Citadel, players might follow this quest line through to completion before another NPC suggests they check on the (already solved) situation.
These kinds of inconsistencies follow through to romantic connections as well. Characters that are romanceable in one game aren’t always in the next, and being reunited with them can feel jarring instead of a natural continuation as would likely be the case in a single, longer game.
Dialogue options directly link to a meter which awards users points for paragon (noble) and renegade (ruthless) behaviour, too. There are benefits to hitting either end of the spectrum, which can lead to the system feeling like it encourages suboptimal decisions in certain situations.
There’s so much to cover here that it feels like we can only scratch the surface in terms of what players might discover. For those who’ve done it all before, the nuanced characters might feel more primitive than you remember, and the gameplay transition between each game can take some getting used to.
For those who are new, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is a real treat. It’s filled with thoughtful touches and memorable moments that are up there with some of the most dramatic set pieces in gaming history. It might not feel quite as polished as a modern game, but BioWare and EA have done the work to smooth out some of the rougher gameplay and visual edges. It’s now easier and more enjoyable than ever to follow the journey of Commander Shepard from beginning to end, allowing players to fully appreciate the epic space opera in comfort.