EDITOR'S NOTE: Mass Effect: Legendary Edition won a "highly recommended" honor for best story in the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for gaming.
Mass Effect is one of the most influential game series of our time. The original trilogy holds a truly mythic status amongst its fans. To honor this legacy, BioWare has lovingly updated those three games and packed them into the Mass Effect Legendary Edition. Featuring not only key upgrades to the first Mass Effect, but also huge swaths of texture updates and much more, this collection is what many BioWare fans have wanted for years.
This collection allows fans old and new to experience (or relive) the story of Commander Shepard, forging relationships with supporting characters and seeing different solar systems in the Milky Way galaxy. You forge your own path, make several important narrative decisions and ultimately save the galaxy from the terrifying biomechanical Reapers.
Read on for our full review of Mass Effect Legendary Edition.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition review: Gameplay
At its core, the Mass Effect trilogy is a cover-based third-person shooter with RPG elements. You use a variety of guns and special abilities to slay enemies. You begin the first game by creating your own Commander Shepard — male or female, it doesn’t matter, because both voice actors (Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale, respectively) perform extraordinarily well. You’ll then pick a class with its own perks and powers.
You’ll explore a variety of open zones both in and out of combat. A lot of quests rely more on your diplomatic skills than your combat prowess. Mass Effect has more conversations, exploration areas and cutscenes than it does combat, because BioWare wanted to tell a deep story first and foremost.
While Mass Effect 2 and 3 play very similarly, the first game has always been something of an outlier. Much like the first Witcher game, you suffer through the gameplay to experience the story and characters. Between extremely long elevator rides and unsatisfying combat, playing through the original Mass Effect is generally not as fun as working through its sequels.
BioWare understood this when it remastered the trilogy. The first game didn't get a complete overhaul to feel like Mass Effect 3, but it features improvements to the combat and loading times. You can now skip time-filling elevator dialogue and news broadcasts because the game loads so much faster now.
And then, there are the improvements to the Mako, the exploration vehicle from the first game. It feels much, much better now. You no longer have to fight as hard to control it. It drives smoother, jumps more accurately and even features new sound effects. I don’t think anyone actually enjoyed driving the Mako back in 2007, but now, it’s actually a fun part of the game.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition review: Story and setting
Mass Effect drew in millions of people with its incredible story, characters, side quests and setting. This science-fantasy galaxy is full of interesting NPCs to meet, baddies to shoot and planets to explore. Almost everything you do matters to some degree, even some of your decisions in side quests, or during your downtime. If you've played these games in the past, then you already know what’s up.
In case you haven’t touched the Mass Effect trilogy before, the game takes place several hundred years in the future, where humanity has unlocked interstellar travel. Not only is faster-than-light travel possible, but there is a network of colossal mass relays that permit instantaneous movement along preset pathways.
You play as Commander Shepard, an elite soldier for the human Systems Alliance. Shepard finds him/herself embroiled in intergalactic politics and other nonsense. You’ll meet all sorts of humans and aliens along the way, making for quite the cast of characters. You’ll also explore the Milky Way galaxy as you find a way to stop the arrival of a dreaded ancient race called the Reapers.
The Mass Effect trilogy is arguably the pinnacle of old BioWare’s storytelling prowess. Mass Effect sticks with you. Many years later, I still love poring over the incredibly detailed codex, or scanning all of the insectile Keepers on the Citadel, or choosing the dialogue options that best suit me. All three games tell an incredible story of people fighting fate.
If you’ve never played these games before, then you’re in for a treat. Along the way, you'll create bonds of friendship and romance, because Mass Effect tells a heartfelt story about relatable people.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition review: Visuals and sound
Other than the adjustments, tweaks, and improvements made to the first Mass Effect game, the Legendary Edition features a whole host of visual upgrades across the board. From higher-res textures to smoother frame rates, the Mass Effect trilogy has never looked better.
Surprisingly, what hit me immediately was the mass relay loading screen in the first game. It looked sharper than I remembered. Every time it popped up, I remarked to myself how nice it looked. Strange, I know, but that “all of this feels different” sentiment persisted throughout my time with the games. The first Mass Effect felt particularly special, with upgrades in lighting and textures that made me question my memories of the original version.
Mass Effect Legendary Editoin's sound design is absolutely incredible. The music alone — a dark, synthy vibe that feels well-suited to the sci-fi setting — makes me feel like a kid in high school again. I love just talking to different characters to hear the excellent voice acting performances, especially from Hale and Meer. I may have heard these conversations several times before, but hearing them again never gets old.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition review: Verdict
Mass Effect Legendary Edition puts all three games together within the same launcher. In the press build I had, this launcher could lag or erroneously minimize itself sometimes. This incredibly minor inconvenience pales in comparison to the joy of playing all three games in their remastered glory, however. BioWare did an excellent job overall, and Mass Effect Legendary Edition is for all fans, new and old, to enjoy.
If you never played the Mass Effect trilogy, now’s the best time to get your feet wet. You’ll lose a decent chunk of your life to these games, but there’s a reason that fans like me love the original trilogy.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition is absolutely worth your time and money. The value proposition — three massive games for a total of $60 — is out of this world.