It took me a while but I finally finished all 3 games in Mass Effect Legendary Edition! I went through the entire trilogy with a single FemShep and completed practically all of the side quests so I think I have a good handle on the entire experience. However, since this is more like reviewing 3 subsequent games and not one long game, this review for Mass Effect Legendary Edition may seem a bit screwy as I’ll be reviewing each game individually before wrapping it all up in a consolidated write-up on my thoughts on how BioWare put together this rather extensive package.
As you probably know, Mass Effect Legendary Edition basically bundles together the first trilogy of Mass Effect games featuring Commander Shepard. It has a very impressive pedigree as all of the games have received numerous accolades in their own right. The games also are known for the numerous choices you have to make and how these decisions will affect the story as well as what will happen in subsequent entries of the franchise.
The games basically take place some time in the future, wherein mankind, thanks to a cache of alien technology found on Mars, have started exploring the known galaxy and have met various alien races. During one faithful mission, Commander Shepard, or, if you’re playing as a female version, FemShep, discovers that synthetic race known as the Reapers will eventually destroy all sentient life in the galaxy. This starts FemShep’s adventure in trying to prevent this from happening and it’s an adventure that encompasses 3 whole games.
Let’s start with Mass Effect 1, the game that started it all. In all honesty, even with all of the upgrades and updates BioWare and EA have added to it, it’s still very rough around the edges. You can easily tell a lot of work was put into improving the graphics as Mass Effect 1 was released way back in 2007. Textures have improved and there’s a less plastic-y look to the human’s faces. That doesn’t stop these same faces look weird, though! The best example would be the bug-eyed expression Captain Anderson always has on his face! Some of the acting or animations also look a little too robotic or forced by today’s standards.
Where things get a little bit weird are the environments. There’s a certain blockiness to every place you visit. Sure, some places you visit may be teeming with different alien races, such as the Citadel, but the areas simply don’t feel bustling with life. The planets you get to explore on the Mako feel all the same, even though they may have a different coat of paint on them. The side mission bases you enter all have the same layout, which is really disappointing. It still looks good but definitely a little too sterile and unimaginative by today’s standards.
The gameplay and combat do feel rather good. I’ve made fun of driving the Mako but I didn’t really mind the floaty controls all that much. It felt fine, especially if you consider you’re driving a heavy 6-wheeled tank in low gravity environments. It’s still maddeningly difficult to find the right steep incline to climb a mountain properly but, other than that, I thought the Mako was fine. However, I can see why BioWare nixed this vehicle in later installments as exploring worlds in this manner just felt extremely boring. It was mostly driving around, looking for stuff and getting resources. With all the bland environments, I would’ve gladly skipped them.
Combat is where you can tell the developers and programmers focused their time on as things do feel good, if not a little basic. Shooting feels just okay and getting precise head shots is strangely satisfying. However, there are some mechanics that just feel weird. For one, you can crouch and, for the life of me, I can’t really see why you’d want to do that. I didn’t feel my aim get steadier while crouching or anything like that. Maybe you’re a smaller target? Anyway, I also didn’t like you couldn’t reload your gun manually and you’d have to wait for your weapon to cool down instead. It just felt strange for a shooting game!
I will say I really loved Mass Effect 1’s story. There is a feeling of a grand mystery regarding the Protheans and the Reapers. You have a fairly charismatic big baddie in the former Specter Saren. It also did a good job in all of the world building, or in this case, “galaxy building,” regarding the animosity the aliens races have with humans, the history of the krogan and the genophage, the origin of the geth and the real reason why the mass effect relays and other ancient technological marvels were built. I was kind of let down by the final boss being a monstrous version of Saren in an area filled with geth fighters. I just expected something more than a plain shootout to attrition.
Mass Effect 2 is where things really get kicked up a notch. Everything is vastly improved from the first game. You have more squadmates and each and everyone of them feels distinct from each other. You also get to know a whole lot more about them thanks to a deeper conversation mechanic as well as their own loyalty missions, which you have to complete if you want to improve your odds of surviving until the end. Facial animations are also vastly improved. No more bug-eyed faces as characters do look like real people most of the time. The choices you make here also feel a little less black and white but mostly shades of gray, which did make me pick the Renegade options a few times since I felt it fit the situation.
Speaking of the Paragon and Renegade system here, Mass Effect 2 makes the distinction between them much more definite. Rather than leveling up a stat in your character status menu, your Paragon/Renegade levels are determined by you actual actions. This adds a whole different layer to the choices you make. There is a certain feeling you have to immediately pick one and concentrate on making “good” or “bad” choices to level your desired one up as fast as possible as some conversational options only open up if your Paragon or Renegade levels are high enough. Even though it does feel a little artificial because of this, I appreciate this much more as you don’t have to waste a level up point to do this and it makes your choices matter in both the long and short term.
Combat is also vastly improved over the first game. The cover mechanics feels much better and popping up to shoot at enemies feels much more fluid. Not only that, you can actually reload your weapon at any time you want! Hooray! One thing I also enjoyed about Mass Effect 2 is you can finally custom your armor. Instead of equipping a one-piece suit of armor like in Mass Effect 1, you can now mix and match armor parts depending on your playstyle. You can also make changes to things like the armor’s color scheme and look, which adds a whole lot of personality to my FemShep than in the previous game.
BioWare strangely cut out a lot of stuff to really make Mass Effect 2 a whole lot more user friendly, which is both a good and a bad thing. For one, there’s no more driving around in the Mako to explore worlds to get resources. Instead, you launch probes from the Normandy to mine for minerals and anomalies. While the boring Mako exploration levers have been ditched because of this, it adds a whole new boring “scan the planet” mingame. It’s fun for the first few planets you do it, but gets downright exasperating by the 71st planet you scan. You don’t get any weapon stats anymore nor can you modify them. This actually made picking which weapon more difficult as you don’t know which is more powerful or has the best accuracy. You can read the description of each gun and get a vague idea but I would rather get into specifics for this kind of thing.
I have rather mixed emotions regarding the overall story of Mass Effect 2 as it’s not directly connected to the Reaper threat. The big threat in this game is the Collectors, who are working for the Reapers, but the threat does feel a little more tangential to the possible Reaper invasion. What does make up for it is the interpersonal connections you make with your crewmates. You really get a chance to know them and, because of the way the game spaces them out, you get the right amount of time to get to really know them. Because of this, I do feel the story is more hit than miss.
We finally get to Mass Effect 3, which does feel like a weird step down from Mass Effect 2. On the surface, everything seems to have improved. Graphics look much better. They’ve added some logical improvements to the combat system. They even tried to tie up a lot of loose ends, such as solving the krogan genophage and the geth’s role in the future of the galaxy. However, there’s just a feeling something is missing. It’s like Mass Effect 3 got all of the superficial details right but wasn’t able to capture the heart of what made Mass Effect 2 such a fantastic game.
I guess the first thing I have to talk about is, as Mass Effect 3 is the last game of the trilogy, it had to have a definitive ending. Unfortunately, the folks at BioWare and EA kind of botched this up. None of the choices you’ve made in the previous game directly influences what ending you get. None of your Paragon or Renegade dialogue has any bearing on what happens to FemShep by the end. Instead, you have to make an on the spot decision on what to do with the Reapers. None of the endings also really feel all that satisfying. I get it’s their creative vision but that doesn’t mean I have to like it!
It’s not just the endings that seem odd. The entire art style looks a bit wonky as well. I don’t get why there are so many times when they would use lens flares while in the middle of the game. It feels out of place as the previous games didn’t have any lens flares. This disparity with the art direction also bleeds into the character designs as well. EDI gets a new robot body but she really looks strange as she has a metallic but flexible face. Ashley Williams was made up to look a lot more sexy, which doesn’t suit her no nonsense personality.
It’s not all bad, though. Mass Effect 3 has some really brilliant side quests and they really come off as very substantial. The mission to take Omega back for Aria is super long and fun. The final stretch of Leviathan, where you have to fight off waves of Reaper forces, can get really intense. Even the ones where you’re just hunting for ancient artifacts can make you feel the pressure as the Reapers will be hunting your ship if you scan too often.
Of course, the biggest and best side mission is the Citadel DLC. It comes off as a really cheesy fanfiction where someone is trying to steal FemShep’s identity and most of your crew, such as Wrex, return to help you solve this mystery. It knows it’s silly and even manages to poke a whole lot of fun at itself. However, the story is more of a prelude to the actual best part of the Citadel DLC package: the party. Just the mere act of everyone just relaxing for a bit is such a joy to see!
The main missions also come off as extremely well made as well. Things like summoning a giant thesher maw on Tuchanka to fight a Reaper and exploring the geth consciousness add a lot of personality to the story. Even things like Cerberus assault on the Citadel, while a little unnecessary, feels like it adds to the world building. I also have to commend how much chatter actually adds a lot of personality to the background characters. It adds a lot of atmosphere and makes the worlds feel alive.
Unfortunately, the main crux of the story does fall flat on its face. All you’re basically doing is trying to get as many resources to build a magical macguffin which will destroy the Reaper threat. You do this by scanning for requested items in other solar systems, searching for items on foot and doing missions. It just doesn’t feel all that involved and leaves you kind of directionless as you’re not directly involved with the magical macguffin’s creation. You’re just giving the people who are making it stuff so they can build it better.
Overall, I did like my time in Mass Effect Legendary Edition. I’m now going through a second playthrough but as a male Shepard this time. I’m going to try to see if I have the willpower to do more Renegade options as this is not something in my nature. I will try to make some more different choices and I’ll even try to play the field this time around. I say keep your expectations low when you play Mass Effect 1 but don’t skip it. Play through it so you can be amazed with all the improvements of the later games. I say Mass Effect Legendary Edition isn’t quite as legendary as it should be… but close enough.
Have you played through the entire Mass Effect Legendary Edition? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments section below!