Collections of games are a great way to rediscover classic games, at least when done right. Konami are the masters of doing it badly, with the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection having Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 and the Silent Hill HD Collection also only having Silent Hill 2 and 3, and they weren’t even good ports. If you’re buying a ‘collection’ you want the whole set and you want them to play as you remember them, which means actually improving them to modern standards as your rose tinted spectacles blur your memories. Thankfully Mass Effect Legendary Edition is exactly that. The original trilogy, following Shepard on his/her adventure to save the galaxy, with some tweaks and extra bells and whistles.
In this collection you get Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. You have to install all three which is a bit of a ball ache, with everything coming in at over 100GB but after that it’s a pretty smooth experience. Launching the game puts you into a menu where you can choose from each game and the last game you played will have a quick resume option to get you back into your save game with as few button presses as possible, which is very nice. Being on the last gen system there is some loading involved but it’s nothing too offensive.
The original Mass Effect came out back in 2007 so has needed the most attention with regards to modern upgrades. It’s been pretty much that long since I last played it so like I said in the opening paragraph, it plays how I remember it. From what I’ve read however the shooting mechanics have been improved, as have the powers and just the combat in general. The powers aren’t brought up to the usefulness of Mass Effect 2, let alone 3, but I still find Mass Effect has its charm.
You play as Shepard, a male or female member of the Alliance who you can customise yourself, both their face and story background. It is the far future and after finding a Mass Relay humanity has advanced leaps and bounds and discovered that they aren’t alone in the universe. Humans are still relatively new to the table so the other races look at them with a tentative respect. There is a lot of story that you can discover by talking to NPCs and reading the exhaustive in game Codex which has lots of information with regards to alien races and history. At the beginning of the game you are put forward to become the first human Spectre, a special agent for the Council which oversees all races to assume some form of peace.
It’s the story and world of Mass Effect that are its strengths. I’ve always found this first game to be an RPG with third person shooter mechanics, which is ideal for me. Later titles became shooters with RPG mechanics but we’ll get to them later. After your initial assessment on Eden Prime (which doesn’t go to plan, of course) you’ll go to the Citadel, a space station, the home of the Council and a multicultural hub world. Here is where I re-realised what a good game Mass Effect is. The visuals have had a touch up so everything is higher resolution, higher frame rate and shinier, though human faces haven’t aged well despite the aliens still looking fantastic and there is the odd frame rate drop. The load times have been shortened, which means rather than standing there listening to your squad mates talk during lift rides you can skip them if you wish.
The music is also incredible, really giving you a sense of how serene and advanced the Citadel is. The voice work was great already and still is. It’s the exploration that won me over though. There are many different districts on the Citadel, each housing characters of different races and motivations. It can feel a little like each is a historian for their specific race but it’s a new world to the player and so it’s a good way to flesh out the different races beyond their appearance. They’ll give you quests to complete and you’ll even run into a few which will end up joining your crew, some of which you can get into a romantic relationship with.
As you talk to people you can decide how to respond. Less so specifics but a general nature. The game labels these as Paragon and Renegade, which basically equates to good and evil. There is a middle choice generally as well but, unless you’re really playing a role and choosing the responses that suit you then you’ll probably want to stick to extremes as they can unlock new dialogue options if you’re good/bad enough which can get you extra rewards or avoid fights.
You’ll get experience from completing missions and defeating enemies which you can use to put points into your characters skills. You can auto level up but there are enough skills that you’ll probably want to take control and level in a certain direction. There are passive bonuses as well as new skills to unlock, Shepard can raise a charm and intimidate stat to help with conversations and if you want to get extra gear and loot when out exploring you’ll need someone in your squad with a high enough Electronics and Decryption skill, which will result in a simple minigame of Simon Says.
Speaking of, there is a lot of loot in this game. Armour, weapons, grenades and attachments will accumulate and this is an area where I can see a difference from the original release. I remember handling your inventory being a pain originally with the list resetting when trying to sell or break down items. That’s not the case any more and you can mark items as junk for bulk disposal. It’s still not perfect and you’ll have to sort out your items more often than you’d like but it is better and having some control over your equipment is welcome.
When you leave the safety of the Citadel then you can chose locations from a galaxy map, which will lead to main quests, side quests or planets with nothing of note on it which you can explore for materials. Side missions can often lead to copy/pasted buildings which is a shame and something they improved on in the sequels. When planet side you’ll be in the Mako, which has supposedly had some adjustments made to it as well but I actually didn’t mind it first time around so it feels about the same to me. It’s a car/tank which can drive over pretty much any terrain and has boosters on it to lift it off the ground briefly and guns to take out any resistance you may face. There are quite a lot of planets to explore (maybe too many, with fewer, tightly designed planets probably being a better idea) so you’ll be driving over mountains, avoiding mines and fighting giant worms aplenty.
In missions you’ll more than likely need to engage in combat on foot. Here you and your two squad mates can take cover, choose a weapon type to use and use your biotic/tech powers to battle. Guns come in pistol, shotgun, assault rifle and sniper rifle forms and now any character, regardless of class, can use any weapon but will get bonuses for certain ones. Powers will depend on the character with abilities like Lift suspending enemies in the air, whilst drones can be deployed or shields strengthened. They aren’t as crazy as later games but they’re still fun to use and add an extra dimension to the combat.
There are some key differences which they changed later that are still present. You have infinite ammo with every gun but each has a cool down to stop you spamming attacks. Similarly when you use an ability that will need to cool down, but you can use other abilities in the meantime. Cover is automatic here, so you need to rub up against a wall to press up against it, rather than pressing a button. It’s a little clumsy but it does work. There tend to be far less enemies too, what you see in a room is what you’ll get rather than the trick in later games of waves constantly coming at you.
Your AI squad mates, and the AI of the enemies for that matter, aren’t that great as they flit in and out of cover or run straight at you. As your squad mates level up they do become more useful and you can give them limited instructions but you’ll often be left completing bigger fights solo, especially on higher difficulties. You can revive them with Medi-Gel but it’s pretty limited and they’d die so fast I usually wouldn’t bother.
To me though, Mass Effect is an RPG, not a shooter so the briefer combat encounters, even if they were a little clunky at times, were absolutely fine. It was just something I encountered whilst exploring, completing missions and making my way through the story. The story is a very good one, with a lot of intrigue and a progression which leads up to a big finale. Famously you can make many, many decisions as you play through the game and they’ll have an impact on the following games. These decisions can dictate who lives and who dies and looking forward to how your choices impact the story as you move through the sequels is a big part of the joy and adds to the replayability of these already long, full of content games.
Which moves us onto Mass Effect 2. Here they made quite a few changes. You’re still taking on quests, side quests, talking to people and making important decisions in a good or bad way but the gameplay is quite different. The powers in combat have been improved, but you can only use one and they will then all be on a cooldown. You can combine certain powers with your teammates to create special effects like large explosions and ammo is now required for your weapons, the cooldown system has been replaced but ammo is universal. You no longer pick up masses of weapons and armour, you don’t have an inventory at all in fact. You’ll find new guns when on missions and they’ll be added to a selection for you. You are restricted as to what you can take out depending on your class and it doesn’t offer up any stats which can be irritating, you just have to suck it and see. There are far less options when levelling up too, which makes individual characters more unique but doesn’t offer you too many directions to build in.
You need fuel to explore the galaxy now and rather than landing on planets with the Mako you scan planets to find resources which you can then use to purchase upgrades back on your ship. Scanning basically involves using the old point and click method of ‘window washing’ to see if there’s a reading for a material and then firing a probe down to the planet to collect it. It was bad back then and it still sucks, even if the movement of the scanner has been sped up. Hacking minigames have been changed to two different ones, one has you finding specific lines of coloured text and the other is a match two puzzle. Both are pretty straight forward but are more interesting than the Simon Says minigame.
As these changes might imply it feels a little like Bioware were trying to simplify things, maybe make it more mainstream and since a lot of people say Mass Effect 2 is their favourite I guess it was the right choice. This continues into the locations and the plot. There are no towns, for a better term, the size of the Citadel in ME2 and most missions have you load into its own little area to complete them so it doesn’t feel like such a cohesive whole. Plot-wise it doesn’t continue straight on from the last game and feels a little like a side story in hindsight, with the majority of the game having you assemble a new squad (you will see old friends and some will join you), there aren’t that many main missions to the central story.
Saying that the characters are much, much stronger this time out which is where the love for this game comes from. Rather than just being encyclopedias for their species each character has a story to tell and a personality of their own. Once recruited you can chat to them back on the ship and they’ll eventually entrust you with a loyalty mission, which will make them stronger if you complete it and improve the chances of success in the final, epic, suicide mission. You also have a larger variety available for romance.
Mass Effect 2 is still a fantastic game that improves on ME1 in many areas but it doesn’t scratch the same itch for me. I can appreciate it more now than I did at the time of release when I wanted more of the same and a direct continuation of the story but it is many people’s favourite and I can understand why. For me it went too far down the action route, with battles going on longer thanks to enemies constantly entering in waves, with less customisation and world exploration.
And Mass Effect 3 is similar in that regard. The whole point of ME3 is to finish up the trilogy and as such there’s a lot of tying up of story beats, meeting old friends and saying goodbye to others. If you’ve interacted with someone from the previous two games (and they’re still alive) then you’ll probably hear from them. It has a similar theme to ME2 in that you’re trying to bring people over to your side, but this time rather than squad members you’re doing it on a galactic scale ready for one final battle. Completing quests, making important choices and scanning worlds (though you don’t have to do every planet this time) will up your galactic readiness, requiring a certain score to attempt the final battle and a higher score again if you want to get the best ending.
The ending was a pretty big issue for people first time around and although it was expanded in a patch originally nothing else has been changed for this release. Rather than the ending itself being bad it’s more the form it takes following three games worth of decisions but its a hell of a journey to get there.
Combat has been improved yet again with powers feeling great to use and you can bring whichever weapons you want with you, that can be upgraded, but they weigh you down and the more weighty you are the slower your powers recharge which is a good trade off. You can modify weapons with materials you find too. Levelling up has been changed again, you have more options and as you power up the skills you’ll be able to modify them as well by going along different paths.
It’s a decent end to the trilogy though, with slightly more mission variety than ME2. The included DLC is generally high quality, with one in particular just being a love letter to the characters you’ve enjoyed the company of along the way. Again it’s a little too action heavy for it to surpass the original for me but I realise I’m in the minority there. It rounds out a strong trilogy of games and this collection makes them easier to play, better looking and can introduce new players to a sci-fi epic.
There are a couple of things missing from this collection that I should mention. The Pinnacle Station DLC from the first game is absent, but that was just a wave based survival mode effectively so I didn’t miss that even if it would have been nice for completionist sake. The other is the multiplayer mode from Mass Effect 3. This was again a wave based survival but the combat had improved enough by this point that playing with three friends (or strangers if you like) was a lot of fun and you’d unlock new characters allowing you to play as different races for the first time in the series. It was rife with microtransactions (so it’s a little surprising its not in here) and you were actually required to engage with it to get 100% galactic readiness (this is no longer a problem) so I don’t miss that aspect of it either. EA have said they’d bring the multiplayer back if there was enough desire but we’ll have to wait and see.
Overall the Mass Effect Legendary Edition is a fantastic collection of a superb series and easily the best way to experience it today. Even one playthrough of all three will take you the best part of a hundred hours but the choices you can make, playing Paragon or Renegade, who you romance as well as all the different classes you can play as make it a very relplayable title too. Seeing the series progress is interesting as you can see the influence other titles have on their approach and so each player will have a different favourite game in the series whilst none of them are below great. It might be time for me to give Mass Effect: Andromeda another try and whilst I do that EA and Bioware should get onto a similar collection for Dragon Age. Thanks.
+ Some nice improvements in gameplay and visuals
+ Lovable characters
+ Lots of content and replayability
- Some minor bugs and slow down
- Couple of omissions