I’ve long been a fan of the original Mass Effect Trilogy. It landed at a pivotal point in my gaming life, just as I began to explore more genres and experiences in the medium. I’d never played anything like the original Mass Effect, with its Sci-Fi drama and political tensions, and it’s a game and series that have stuck with me ever since. So, when I was presented with the opportunity to get an early look at Mass Effect Legendary Edition and hear from Director Mac Walters, Producer Crystal McCord and Environment and Character Director Kevin Meek, I jumped at the opportunity.
What I saw was largely focused on the original Mass Effect, and the modernisation its receiving, but first lets run through some of the wider improvements to the overall trilogy. The character customisation has now been unified across all titles, with all existing (and a few new) customisation options available right from the start. No more worrying about your character’s appearance altering between games as the tech improved and more options were added. This also involves the default female Shepard from Mass Effect 3 now being available from the beginning of the trilogy.
Visually, plenty of additional effects and touch ups have been added across the entire trilogy. This includes dynamic shadows, volumetrics, depth of field, updated lighting and shadows, along with updated textures and character models. Interestingly, much of the initial upres work on textures was done via AI before being manually checked and further worked on by artists who prioritised assets that were prominent on screen. It’s a technique being embraced by the modding community, and it’s great to see bigger developers starting to take advantage of the tech as well. The upgrade to general visuals is distinct in comparison to the original games, especially on characters such as Thane, but it’s very much in the realm of other remasters we’ve seen before. It also resulted in some shown character models, such as Captain Anderson and Zaeed, looking lumpy-faced and weird. Overall, though, the visual upgrade is definitely noticeable.
Where this begins to shift, however, is in the work that has been done to the original Mass Effect. Environment and Character Director Kevin Meek spoke to this, indicating that after their initial touch ups were finished, it was clear that the lower visual starting base of the original game resulted in a rougher experience. It makes sense. The original Mass Effect came out early in the Xbox 360 generation, and each subsequent game in the trilogy jumped forwards in visuals and mechanics. So what they’ve done here is beyond the treatment that other games in Mass Effect Legendary Edition has received.
This included bringing in Derek Watts, the Art Director on the original Mass Effect, to assist in modernising the games environments. This has included adding new props and structure to environments, updating lighting techniques and colour schemes, adding puddles, introducing new elements and more. There were a few examples of this shown, such as a transformed Eden Prime. The constant red haze has been swapped for clearer lighting, giving you a better view of the horizon, while the early forest is now a much more complex looking environment. The examples shown were all great artistic updates to the environments, without losing the signature style that existed before.
The other big changes coming to Mass Effect come in the form of gameplay, with the original game being the roughest game to play in the trilogy. Produced Cyrstal McCord ran us through some of the improvements coming with Mass Effect Legendary Edition including smoother aiming, as well as balancing of weapons, which should help reduce the shock felt when you go back to that game as I did last year. The HUD has been updated, to bring it more inline with later games, while improved enemy AI should also help make combat a bit more dynamic. The Mako looks to be getting some updated controls, while mini-games are being unified across the trilogy (although examples weren’t provided for these). If you’re a fan of the elevators in the game, you can still sit through them, with an optional skip button enabled for those who don’t want to sit through the hidden loads.
On a technical level, the biggest shift comes on consoles, with the Xbox One X, PS4 Pro and next-gen systems support 4K, 60fps, HDR and faster loading times. PC players will get all of those improvements, along with native controller support (something that was sorely missing from the original releases) and support for 21:9 resolutions. Director Mac Walters also confirmed that a number of glitches have been cleaned up as part of the remaster, although the game’s animations have basically been left alone.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition is shaping up to be a fantastic way to play the original trilogy, but it is still clearly recognisable as a previous generation game. With little shown of Mass Effect 2 and 3, it’s still hard to judge just how those later games have been updated, but I’m keen to see more in the future. For now, this definitely looks like a project that fans of the trilogy should keep an eye on.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition will be release for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on May 14th, and will also be forwards compatible on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S.