Most MMO players will admit to feeling the need to step away from the multiplayer genre from time to time. This seems especially true for those enjoying PvP games, which are typically filled with adrenaline, quick reflexes, and at times toxicity and varied amounts of salt. It recently occurred to me that I’ve been indulging in exclusively PvP content (World of Warships, Hell Let Loose, and EVE Online) for nearly two years straight, and the edginess was starting to wear on me. Therefore, it was time to dig into the back catalogue for a little break.
To my surprise and delight, I discovered that I had picked up the Mass Effect Legendary edition during some holiday sale of days gone by. This is of course not my first exposure to the franchise; I played through ME2 and ME3 a few years back. I also tried to play ME1, but after first playing the second installment, I found it simply felt too clunky, slow, and confusing. This time, I decided to start with the legendary edition of ME1 to see if the changes BioWare included would be enough to allow me to stick with it through the end.
I realize most of our readers are familiar with the series, but it bears repeating that the Mass Effect IP achieved something that remains unrivaled to this day. It consists of three separate single-player games that allow a player to carry forward not only progress but also the ramifications of previous decisions, throughout the entirety of the series. In other words, if you make a decision that results in the death of a character in Mass Effect 1, the ripples from that decision will resonate throughout the next two games. And yet, players are also able to start the adventure in the latter entries if they wish and retain a logical, self-contained experience.
It still makes my head hurt to think about how BioWare accomplished this, and I wish someone would attempt it again. Mass Effect remains the champion of designing and including impactful decisions. It’s a feat that no other studio seems willing to challenge.
One of my favorite aspects of the Mass Effect series is the theatrical feel of the cinematic cut scenes. They never choose the obvious camera angle, and cuts from establishing wide-angle shots to closeups (including some more modern techniques like snap zoom) cause the players to feel as if they’re playing a part in an action film. The legendary edition has left many of the cinematic sequences intact, except for a few that were perceived as objectifying female NPCs. With those issues corrected, the rest of the shots hold up very well considering the time that has passed.
One of the most frustrating mechanics of the original Mass Effect game was the Mako all-terrain vehicle. The Mako was used for planetary exploration and was a pivotal requirement for some parts of the original Mass Effect story. It was clunky, it was annoying, it required attention for repairs in the middle of combat, and it generally felt like an annoyance rather than something that added fun to the game.
When I heard that the studio was revamping ME1, my hope was that it would somehow rid us of the Mako altogether, as ME2 and ME3 did not require its use. However, some players did have a sort of twisted nostalgia for the Mako, and it would have been difficult to remove it from the storyline completely.
So BioWare did the next best thing: It removed the irritation.
I found the new Mako nearly indestructible on normal difficulty and was never able to get it stuck somewhere unrecoverable. Even driving the Mako feels more intuitive now. Maybe my memory is poor; maybe it was never so bad to begin with. Still, I suspect that these improvements are mostly intentional design choices in order to get the Mako “out of the way” from the best parts of the game – and maybe even nudge it into the enjoyable category.
Something else that caused me to give up on the pre-Legendary edition of ME1 was the clunky interface. Shields and health bars were in an inconvenient screen location, and I seem to remember pausing the game a lot in the middle of combat to apply medi-gel (heals), but that could also be a misremembrance on my part.
At any rate, the original ME1 felt dated and was in drastic need of a combat overhaul. Luckily, the Legendary Edition changes are spot-on. Health and shield indicators have been updated to appear more like the crescent-moon design of ME2 and 3, and many functions (squad heals, biotic powers, gun type) can now be accessed and changed in-combat with a few quick keypresses while allowing the action to continue. Overall, the flow and feel of the game is much more seamless and less choppy.
The series as a whole is also known for its in-depth characters and engaging story arcs. Besides acting as combat companions, each of the NPCs in your crew has a unique backstory that can be uncovered during dialogue sessions. This has always been one of my favorite aspects of the game, as the characters seem to develop over time. I always make sure to visit my NPC crewmates between missions to see if they’ve got anything new to talk about.
Of course, this is Mass Effect, so there are some conversations that include choices that will have either positive or negative effects on certain companions. You just can’t please everybody!
In all, I was very happy with the Legendary changes to ME1. It says something this was my first ME1 completion in three tries (the previous two in the non-LE version), and it felt fairly effortless. My one gripe is that the game stutters even on my previous-generation GPU. I’ve tried various fixes mentioned in forums but have yet to figure out the issue. It’s only occasionally an issue when needing to move your reticule quickly to track a fast-moving foe. Otherwise, it’s a tolerable annoyance.
I look forward to continuing my Mass Effect journey with the second entry. Rebuilt Shepard, here I come!