Welcome! This column is part of a regular series in which we share what members of the Tom's Guide staff are playing and enjoying right now, with an eye towards helping you find great games that you may have missed. Be sure to check out our recent entry, where we talk about God of War Ragnarök.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition was an unexpected surprise for me when it came out last year. It took an already amazing trilogy of games and brought them into the modern era of gaming. Upgraded graphics and faster loading times were big wins for new gamers and old fans alike. But the biggest win may be the inclusion of all the downloadable content that Bioware had developed for the trilogy.
For those unfamiliar with Mass Effect, it's a third-person shooter/role-playing game that becomes more of an action/adventure game in the second and third games. While fans adore the franchise (Mass Effect 2 is my favorite game), they didn’t age gracefully in every aspect. And despite being more than a decade old, you used to have to pay full price for the DLC. Considering that DLC like Lair of the Shadow Broker and Citadel were as great as the mainline games themselves, deciding whether to forego the DLC was a genuine dilemma. Do you pay for old content, or risk missing out on incredible storylines?
Luckily, Mass Effect Legendary Edition eliminates the need for that debate. That's especially true, as the game is part of Electronic Arts' EA Play, which you can access as part of your Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription. That same subscription also gives you access to Xbox Cloud Gaming, which includes Mass Effect Legendary Edition. As I sat in my parents’ house over this past Thanksgiving weekend, I decided to see if I could stream the game to a Chromebook, and have been testing it ever since.
Why you should play Mass Effect Legendary Edition
Before getting into my Chromebook testing, I need to sing the praises of the Mass Effect trilogy a bit. If you’ve never played any of the games before, the trilogy follows Commander John (or Jane) Shepard as they fight the Reapers. This race of alien/machine hybrids causes mass extinction events across the galaxy every 50,000 years. Mass Effect 2 takes a brief detour as you combat the Illusive Man, a xenophobic power player in galactic affairs, voiced by Martin Sheen. But the Reapers are your main enemy throughout the series.
As incredible as the main story is (except perhaps for Mass Effect 3's controversial ending), the real beauty of the game lies in its world-building (or perhaps galaxy-building). BioWare created entire planets, races, and histories, and expanded these concepts through quests and exploration. The first game is more straightforward, as the open-world revolution simply had not begun yet when it came out. But by the end, Mass Effect had created a setting that still holds up against the greatest modern open-world games.
For RPG fans, there’s also plenty to enjoy, especially in the first game. The original Mass Effect definitely has the most RPG elements of the three, but each game has story decisions that lead to unique outcomes. Character-building, dialogue choices and a morality system all contribute to each playthrough feeling different. Your choices in one game can affect the others, as the series allows you to import your character as you progress through each game in the trilogy.
Xbox Cloud Gaming still needs some work on Chromebook
While Mass Effect is still as amazing as ever, the Chromebook is probably not the right system for it. The game lagged frequently. Dialogue interactions felt pretty good, but even just walking through the starship Normandy's corridors would cause the game to stutter. The game sometimes buffered extensively during combat, although that's not such a big deal in the first game, where battles have a slower pace.
However, I did discover some tips to improve Mass Effect's performance on a Chromebook. To start, I recommend that you have a good internet connection. The performance was much better at my house where I have gigabit speed internet. I'm glad I tested it in both locations, since it made me suspect that the internet could be just as much of an issue as the Chromebook itself.
I also advocate using the Chrome browser site to play the game rather than the Xbox Game Pass app on weaker connections. The streaming experience is just a bit less clunky. This could be because the app is optimized for mobile devices, even though you can use it in Chrome OS.
My other suggestion is to play the game on your phone. If you have a modern Android smartphone (I have a Samsung Galaxy Ultra S22) and a decent internet connection, the Xbox Cloud Gaming app works pretty well. Mass Effect ran much better on the dedicated app. I have even used it for Halo Infinite multiplayer matches and and held my own. The Xbox Cloud Gaming app is not quite on the same level as a top gaming PC or even an Xbox Series S, but it is surprisingly close, at least in terms of gameplay functionality.
Mass Effect is awesome; Chromebook gaming isn't
If you take away anything from this piece, I hope it is the overwhelming desire to boot up Mass Effect Legendary Edition this weekend. The Mass Effect trilogy still holds up, and the Legendary Edition is far superior to the original versions of the games. If you have Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, you get the game included with your subscription.
The second thing I hope you take away is to not buy a Chromebook as a cheap cloud gaming machine. On paper, it may seem like it would work — and at times, it did. But the end result is just not worth the cost. You’re much better off buying a relatively inexpensive gaming laptop. That may change once gaming Chromebooks become more prevalent, but today's average Chromebook can’t quite cut it. Even the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 — which is a great computer — can’t provide a gaming experience that's as smooth as a smartphone. Still, I’m glad I tried it firsthand.