Mass Effect Legendary Edition revitalizes Mass Effect 1 in all the right ways

Mass Effect Legendary Edition
Mass Effect Legendary Edition (Image credit: Windows Central)

We live in an era of remakes and remasters. Some of them have been incredible, such as the full Resident Evil 2 remake. Others have been less than stellar — the Silent Hill HD collection comes to mind. The Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S have the capability to automatically enhance previous games too, with Auto HDR and FPS Boost technology, giving older games a fresh coat of paint. Some games deserve a little more oomph though, particularly beloved franchises like Mass Effect.

Mass Effect is an incredible video game franchise, arguably among the top 5 of all time. The epic space opera charts three games, hundreds of hours of content, with an unprecedented branching narrative that moves your decisions between titles.

The Mass Effect Legendary Edition is here, and so far, I adore it.

While I've always held that Mass Effect 2 and 3 hold up relatively well even today, the first game has certainly started to feel incredibly dated. That's one game I was hoping would get the full remaster treatment at some point, but perhaps it also makes sense to preserve it as it is; it's not that old after all. Regardless, there is a range of small issues in Mass Effect 1 that made it fairly tough to play by modern standards, until now.

The Mass Effect Legendary Edition is here, and so far, I adore it. I've been going back through Mass Effect 1 for the Nth time, playing the game on "Insanity" difficulty to hunt down that one final achievement that always eluded me from the original. Mass Effect Legendary Edition has a range of improvements for all three games, but the more I play, the more I'm enjoying the vast collection of smaller tweaks BioWare has injected into the game. Here are some thoughts on what you can expect if you jump in to save the galaxy, one more time, and why once again, Mass Effect remains one of the best Xbox games of all time.

Welcome visual enhancements

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I've seen a whole bunch of criticism for the lighting in Mass Effect 1's remaster, but I can't help but feel like this is purely a case of rose-tinted SDR glasses. Mass Effect introduces a huge amount of dynamism with the new version, which moves far beyond the bump in resolution and frame rate.

Mass Effect's Legendary Edition sports rebuilt skyboxes, which add a new dimension to some of the original games biggest setpiece moments and vistas. The first glimpse at the Reaper ship just soars with foreboding beauty, as it ascends from the destruction wrought upon the defenseless Eden Prime colony. Indeed, thanks to boosted draw distance and resolution, I noticed details in the environment I simply missed on previous playthroughs, despite probably completing Mass Effect more than any other game in my life.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

4K resolution with HDR is just what Dr. Chakwas ordered for Mass Effect. Backward compatibility on Xbox does offer some enhancements, but when you combine this with new volumetric lighting, improved texture resolution, boosted shadows, it coalesces into something far grander. Mass Effect 1 was the entry I was most concerned about since the original had aged the worst by far. It was BioWare's first outing with the Unreal Engine, and it really showed. Many aspects of the original game were creaking at the seams, despite having some of the best character work and world-building in the history of the medium.

Even Mass Effect's barren side mission planets got a bit of a facelift. Mass Effect had a strangely ambitious feature that lets you land on empty planet landscapes, dotted with the occasional enemy outpost or resource to collect. Many reviews described this as tedious, but it really did add some otherworldly mystique to the game that is hard to put into words. The lonely trek across barren planetoids in the rover-like Mako really did make you feel like a pioneer of sorts, charting unknown worlds.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I thought these parts of the game would be something BioWare would leave behind, but no. I was surprised to discover alien sunsets cutting across the horizon, creating tons of opportunities to dive into the game's new photo mode. The landscapes have also been enhanced with denser ground clutter, modernizing them without removing that mysterious barren alien frontier aura.

The visual improvements would have been enough by themselves to sell me on another journey across the stars, but BioWare wasn't done there.

Huge combat boost

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Quite arguably, the worst thing about the original Mass Effect was its combat. The delta between gameplay quality between Mass Effect 1 and 2 is quite stark, and honestly, remains so. The Legendary Edition bridges the gap, however, with some much-needed polish.

Playing the original Mass Effect on Xbox 360 was, at times, a huge chore. It was BioWare's first outing with the Unreal Engine and it really shows. The frame rate was a big systemic issue with the original's combat experience. Completing the game on "Insanity" is the only achievement that eluded me in the past, due to the frame rate tanking in certain fights. Battling Matriarch Benezia, while being ragdolled through the floor at 15 FPS is enough to make anyone rage quit. Naturally, the Mass Effect Legendary Edition sings on Xbox Series X, up to 120 FPS, eliminating performance degradation-related mishaps.

There are also a bunch of small improvements that elevate combat. The UI is improved, giving you a better overview of your party, your health pool, and so on. The Mako combat has been boosted too, with new sound effects, improved aiming, and lower HP on some targets that were just tedious and slow to fight previously.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition also polishes up some of the game's combat gameplay design decisions. Mass Effect 1 erred more towards RPG than shooter, but that doesn't exactly make for a great experience for a solid 90% of the game. For example, weapon sway and accuracy are lower at the start of the game, and increase as you get more points. It's only really by the end of the game your shots actually line up with your aim, which makes playing weapon-oriented glasses a bit annoying and unrewarding. Thankfully, the Legendary Edition fixes that, giving you proper aiming accuracy from the start of the game, with weapon damage increasing by progression rather than shot precision.

The boost to performance also improves certain abilities, particularly physics-based biotics. The ability "Singularity" which creates a black hole-like storm used to introduce a huge amount of performance degradation if there were lots of objects being sucked into the gravity well. Thanks to modern hardware, that's no longer the case.

Generally speaking, everything just feels more punchy. The Legendary Edition adds a range of new weapon sound effects too, coupled with hit markers for headshots and the like, really gives gunplay an edge. While still not perfect by modern standards, it brings it far closer to Mass Effect 2, eliminating any sense of it feeling too dated.

All the little things

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Mass Effect Legendary Edition also tweaks a variety of smaller things here and there, adding polish and improvements, while incorporating some features from popular mods on PC. Tali's photograph in Mass Effect 3 was famously derided, simply for being a model's photograph with a purple hue. The Legendary Edition replaces it with something a little more sensical. You can skip those long elevator rides, too, by hammering the "A" button. Thanks to SSDs, you no longer need to wait for the elevator ride to fully play out before the next scene has loaded.

Some odd bugs from the original have also been fixed up, I've noticed. A nearly 15-year-old bug that prevents you from completing one of the early side quests has been fixed — no more invisible keepers. The backward rotating Earth from Mass Effect 2 has also been fixed, alongside the backward Earth graphic in the moon's skybox in Mass Effect 1. BioWare even updated the Pluto image to a more recent one based on photographs from NASA. Vistas shine in the new Photo Mode too. There are just so many small details tweaked or smoothed out, that it makes discovering the galaxy all over again that much more rewarding.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I'm still plowing through the entire trilogy, really taking my time savoring every detail and feature before I put out a full review. But so far I've just been reminded all over again why I love this series.

They just don't really make games like this anymore, and it's sad. Mass Effect: Andromeda wasn't even a bad game, per se, it just didn't live up to what fans ultimately want from this franchise: decisions that actually matter, a storyline that feels personal to our choices, set in a vast space opera the likes of which feel quintessentially BioWare. After Anthem, the long, slow development of Dragon Age 4, alongside EA's reputation for mismanaging franchises and studios, my optimism for the future of Mass Effect isn't exactly great. No matter what EA does to the franchise in the future, the Legendary Edition is a worthy send-off for one of the industry's greatest high points, and I urge everyone, returning fans or new, to give it a try.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a galaxy to save, making all the same decisions I did through my previous 15 playthroughs.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!