Mass Effect Legendary Edition shows why realism isn't better than style

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

As far as remasters go, Mass Effect Legendary Edition is one of the best in recent memory. With significantly upgraded textures, more detailed models, wider range of colors, some new lighting effects, multiple quality of life gameplay enhancements, and support for 4K resolution, this remaster is nothing short of extensive and impressive. There's not a doubt in my mind that it's easily one of the best Xbox One role-playing games available.

However, some of the realism-focused changes that the developers have made in the game — especially when it comes to the original Mass Effect — bother me considerably. To be clear, I'm not saying that the changes look bad. They look gorgeous. The problem I have with many of these changes is that they feel like a departure from the tone and mood of the original games, as opposed to a modernization of them.

Realistic graphics that don't set the mood

Source: BioWare/EA Noveria in the original Mass Effect and in Mass Effect Legendary Edition. (Image credit: Source: BioWare/EA)

The most obvious example of the updated graphics ruining the tone of a scene is the overhauled version of Mass Effect's Eden Prime, which trades the ominous blood-red skies of the original game for a bright and warm sunset vista, complete with a giant lens flare. This makes the location look more realistic based on its in-game description, but it also makes the game's opening level feel much less nerve-wracking and tense. There was something distinctly terrifying and downright intimidating about how the Sovereign made a paradise world known across the Milky Way for its lush beauty look like a hellscape. That has been lost in the remaster.

I feel that when a game is remastered, steps should be taken to preserve its style.

Noveria, the freezing, barely-habitable planet where Commander Shepard and crew discover the Rachni species, is another good example. In the original game, the path to the labs where the Rachni are located is characterized by its cold blue color scheme, dim lighting, and dark haze. In Mass Effect Legendary Edition, Noveria is much brighter overall, featuring more realistic white snow and more authentic whiteout. It's true that the remaster's version looks a lot more like an actual snowstorm, but the original version felt much harsher and more frigid. This, I think, was a much better fit for the wider context of Noveria itself — the dark weather set the mood for players perfectly as they prepared to venture into creepy, alien-filled laboratories.

It's not just skyboxes and weather effects, either. One of the largest and most noticeable differences between the original releases of all three games and the remastered editions is that the new versions feature much lighter environments and fewer deep shadows, which is due to how the lighting feels more natural. Some people may view this as a good thing overall, and this is understandable; after all, there are some new details in the series' worldspaces that were harder (or impossible) to examine closely without more realistic lighting.

Source: Electronic Arts Captain Anderson in the original Mass Effect and in Mass Effect Legendary Edition. (Image credit: Source: Electronic Arts)

However, I think the loss of Mass Effect's darker, moodier lighting has a net negative impact on the atmosphere. Thematically speaking, Mass Effect is quite a "murky" series. Widespread political corruption, oppression, racism, and other types of social issues are all threads frequently woven throughout its narrative. The original visuals complimented these types of story beats well, giving these sensitive topics a fitting backdrop. A more realistic approach is certainly beautiful and impressive on a technical level, but is it worth sacrificing the original's distinct look and feel, ruining any possible environmental additions to the tone?

Final thoughts

As I said previously, some may think the changes are beneficial, but I feel that when a game is remastered, steps should be taken to preserve its style. The point of a remaster should be to elevate an older game to modern standards with things like new textures, better lighting effects, and gameplay tweaks. To its credit, this is largely what Mass Effect Legendary Edition does, but by overhauling the actual style of the lighting and the skyboxes to make them more realistic, the game goes a bit too far.

Overall, Mass Effect Legendary Edition is still an excellent remaster, and despite my gripes, I'd still argue that it's the definitive version of the trilogy thanks to its more positive visual changes and its numerous quality of life enhancements. I just wish that the developers at BioWare had chosen to modernize the atmosphere that was present in the original games instead of significantly change it.

What do you think of my argument? Do you agree that Mass Effect Legendary Edition should have preserved the atmosphere of the original games more, or do you like the changes the developers made? Let me know.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition is available now for $60 on Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One consoles, PS5, PS4, and Windows 10 PCs. For more on the game, check out what we feel the 5 things the next Mass Effect could learn from the Legendary Edition as well as our revisiting of Mass Effect 3's ending.

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.