Mass Effect Legendary Edition has given me a chance I missed the first time around. Though I’ve played through the other games of BioWare’s long-running space opera—3, Andromeda, and, years later, 2, in that order—’m tackling the first Mass Effect for the first time ever.
Playing Mass Effect in 2021 is, of course, very different from playing Mass Effect in 2007, when it first blew everyone’s minds into the nearest binary star. (That would be the Alpha Centauri system, more than four light years away.) For the re-release, BioWare updated the graphics, giving Mass Effect the 4K treatment and bringing its framerate to 60 frames per second. The shooting, too, has apparently been fine-tuned to play more like the second and third games. And all three games were bequeathed with a unified character creator.
But, despite the face lift, the first Mass Effect is still very much a creature of its era, something that’s apparent in some of its dialogue and its, face it, utterly useless map. After six hours, I’m not quite sure what to make of the game, but here, directly from my notes, are some musings (edited for clarity):
- Let me preface this by saying that I have no clue how uneven the shooting was in the original game. Following the first few missions I’ve played in Legendary...it’s not so bad! I love that you have infinite ammo, with clips tied to a heatsink rather than an ammo supply. Starting with four guns (my Shepard’s a Vanguard) is nice. Sure, the cover system doesn’t seem as refined or utilized as it is in Mass Effect 2 or 3, but I suppose that’s the tradeoff for a game that’s a bit more RPG in nature.
- That said, drones are the absolute worst. How do they dodge everything?! Not fair. I want that power.
- Man, the Citadel in this game is just so, so beautiful. It’s a delight in Mass Effect 2, no doubt. But strolling along the Presidium, with its Aegean blues and Carribean greens, inspires the type of travel envy one only feels while looking at the most inspired video game settings (typically landscapes from well-crafted JRPGs).
- What’s with the sound mix for Ambassador Udina’s voice? Why is he so much louder than everyone else? Is that just me? Dude sucks anyway. I’ll just skip his dialogue.
- Aajhhfkjdhfkdjnf [So, I’m not positive about what I meant when I wrote this, but I think it was an expression of frustration about the sprint feature—both that a stamina meter is missing from your screen when you’re unarmed, and that you can only sprint for 0.000001 seconds. Did Shepard not go through rigorous physical training before becoming a space super soldier?!]
- Love driving the Mako! There are utterly no repercussions for poor driving. You can boost straight up a mountain. Time it right, and you can (kinda) do a kickflip. Such a blast.
- I take it back. Those landmines are some bullshit.
- Just kidding about taking it back. Is there a more satisfying movement in gaming than bunny-hopping over a flurry of incoming rockets by tapping “X,” sending a gazillion-ton space jeep directly up, defying all laws of physics? What a patently ridiculous vehicle.
- I do, however, wish I got to try the thing in its original state, what with the busted camera and control scheme that were apparently akin to driving on ice with butter-soaked wheels. Though BioWare said before launch that players would be able swap between new and old control schemes, that option is apparently only available on PC.
- Going into the first Mass Effect, I did not expect the extent to which you can just drop onto planets in your vehicle, drive around aimlessly, explore uncharted interstellar frontiers, pop out of said vehicle, shoot things, loot things, pop back into said vehicle, and repeat. It reminds me a bit of the exploration in Mass Effect: Andromeda, where you could land on, say, a desert planet and spend ages just poking around. This makes sense: As one BioWare developer told Kotaku, the intention with Andromeda was “to go back to what Mass Effect 1 promised but failed to deliver, which was a game about exploration.” Basically, Andromeda is the finished house, and Mass Effect is the floor plan, and I’m really enjoying experiencing that out of order.
All of this amounts to one throughline: I get why everyone fell head over heels for this series from the jump. The first Mass Effect is admittedly not perfect, but its universe feels real, even if it doesn’t always look as much. I fully understand why players wanted to get lost in it in 2007, and would want to get lost in it today, too, whether it’s their first foray (like me) or their fifth.
I’d also be remiss to not square with you about my true motivation for playing: Un-fucking my calamitous playthrough of Mass Effect 2 from last year. Throughout the climactic “suicide mission,” I apparently made every possible wrong choice without realizing it. By the end, half of my team—including Garrus, and Thane, and Tali, and Garrus, whose death stung so much it merits a second mention—died on my watch.
In addition to giving me a taste of how it all began, Legendary Edition offers me an opportunity to right my wrongs, to course correct, and to lay the groundwork for a successful not-killing-anyone playthrough of Mass Effect 2. Garrus, bud, you’re not dying on me again.