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Command The Normandy Once More In Mass Effect Legendary Edition

Mass Effect Legendary Edition Splash
Courtesy of BioWare

Mass Effect Legendary Edition

Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: May 14, 2021
Available as: Digital and Physical

A Fantastic Voyage

The Mass Effect franchise has been going strong for 14 years since its release in 2007. Already a strong year for video games, the first Mass Effect blurred the lines of what a shooter could be. Before that, hybrid games were almost unheard of as shooting games were “shooting games” and RPG games were “RPG titles.” Very rarely did a game seek to combine the two genres and none did it as successfully as BioWare’s Mass Effect. It was a title that featured a main character who players could personalize to their liking. 

No two Shepherds are the same, aside from obvious gender choices, as one Shepard may be virtuous while another Shepard may be a warmonger. While the overall plot is the same, the player’s actions determined the path for how the game’s story would pan out. Your crewmates and important characters’ fates all rested on the player’s actions and it was that amount of freedom in an otherwise linear title that made Mass Effect a runaway hit.

The Beginning Of A Space Legacy

The following two sequels in the trilogy built on what the first game used as groundwork, introducing new characters, gameplay mechanics, and most importantly development of already existing characters. Decisions that were made in the previous game carried over to the sequels including existing relationships with other characters. You could form a relationship with a crewmate in the first game and have that last throughout the entire trilogy or you could find love in the second title and persist onward in the third game. The choices players made were relevant to the point where they lasted over five years.

During the following 9 years, Mass Effect would be placed in stasis, leaving enough time for fans new and old to enjoy the five years that BioWare gave to players while releasing other content to keep the series relevant. Unfortunately, the latter backfired with the infamous release of Andromeda in 2017 with a launch so disastrous fans considered the title dead on arrival. It was then that the series was truly placed on hiatus until news of a Mass Effect Trilogy surface. Eventually, the working title became known as Mass Effect Legendary Edition and in 2021, the original trilogy complete with quality of life changes, and all of its DLC was released.

Mass Effect 

Mass Effect Menu Screen
Mass Effect - Xbox Series X Direct Capture

As the oldest title among the three featured, this was the one game that took me by surprise for various reasons. For starters, this was the only Mass Effect title I’ve played, much less complete several times, as it was the one that got me familiar with Shepard and their Normandy crew. Another reason was how I played Mass Effect way back when, as I played the title in 2008 during a time when I was a broke high school student. I didn’t play it on an HDTV but rather on an old CRT television that had no HDMI input whatsoever. In fact, the cables were incompatible to the point where I had to use a switch converter from Radio Shack to use a 360. 

Point is, my experience with Mass Effect was in 480p and although the game looked amazing at the time for what it was worth, the jump from my experience in 480p to 4K is literally like comparing an old black and white video to color television. Storming through Eden Prime was like playing an entirely new game and the gameplay felt modernized in comparison to the clunky controls of the original. Gunplay is refined, aiming is no longer counterintuitive, and I felt like I had more control over Shepard than I did in the original. The developers didn’t have to polish the original as much as they did and could have just left things as it was, making this version an appreciative one.

Mass Effect Aim Down Sights
Mass Effect - Xbox Series X Direct Capture

Everything was kept as close to the original as possible including the customization options, cutscenes, and dialogue choices. Some of the dialogue options are just as amusing as they were back in 2007, especially early on when Shepard loses their patience and knocks a poor man unconscious to put him to sleep. 

The modernization of Mass Effect made me wonder what would happen if Dragon Age Origins had the same treatment, which then made me want a Dragon Age Trilogy in the same way that the “Legendary Edition” exists for Mass Effect. Unfortunately, this is where the positives end and the negatives start to begin. Ironically it’s not even the fault of the Mass Effect games but rather the interface used to play the trilogy. Specifically, this problem comes to light when trying to play Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 for console players, as I’m sure the PC version does not have this issue.

Installing Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3

Players who bought the physical copy of Mass Effect Legendary Edition would notice that there are two discs bundled inside, a Play Disc and an Install Data Disc, in which the contents on the latter aren’t exactly clear until I began to mess around with things. The Play Disc is self-explanatory and it’s the first disc that players use to install the Legendary Edition while also containing the entirety of the first Mass Effect. The Play Disc is the only disc needed for players who wish to play Mass Effect and only Mass Effect.

Players who wish to play the second and third games, as it’s the intention of Legendary Edition have two methods of obtaining them, with the first method involving an internet download. An internet connection is all that is required for the download and installation of Mass Effect 2 and 3, although it is discouraged to download both games at the same time. I attempted to do the same just to see what would happen and it caused my game to crash within the first five minutes. But what about players who may not have the best internet yet still would wish to play the other two titles? That’s when the second disc comes into play.

Ashley Cutscene Mass Effect
Mass Effect - Xbox Series X Direct Capture

Mass Effect Legendary Edition will never ask for the second disc unless the console is offline, offering no prompt to give players the option to install from the second disc otherwise. This proves to be a glaring issue as players will need to deliberately force their console offline. In my case, this caused the entire installation to remove from the Xbox, causing me to have to not only install the game once more but download the huge 10 GB patch once again.

As a word of advice, if your connection is not the best and you don’t wish to wait hours to download a 70 GB game, it’s best to use the provided disc method as reading from a disc is much faster than downloading data from a server more often than not. This process works because parts of the data for Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 are included in the Play Disc. At some point, it will ask to swap discs with the Data Disc, which it will then install the other half of the game via the second disc. Once the installation is complete, the first disc is required once more to play the game.

This strategy of distributing three massive AAA games onto two blu-ray discs is an impressive feat, but the “online-only” requirement makes these loopholes annoying, almost coming off as counterintuitive. However, for the curious who wondered what the second disc was used for, this was the reason, for the players who didn’t have the capabilities to download the game from the servers online.

Difficulties In Installing The Games
Xbox Series X Direct Capture

At least, this would be the case, if the system worked the way it was supposed to. After hours of attempting to install the other two titles from the second disc, I grew tired of the main game soft locking me on the main menu. I yielded and allowed both games to download via the internet as it was the original intention. Each game took about an hour and a half to download with download speeds averaging 30 MB/s, so those with faster internet may see downloads cut in half at least.

Mass Effect 2

ME2 Start Screen
Mass Effect 2 - Xbox Series X Direct Capture

Going into Mass Effect 2 there was one thing that I experienced during Mass Effect 1 that took place and it was a random crash during an opening cutscene. Due to the consistent auto-save feature of the original title, I didn’t lose too much progress however Mass Effect 2 was a different story. During the game’s intro sequence, which is long enough if players consider the inclusion of the comic prologue, Mass Effect 2 crashed. 

The lack of an auto-save feature, not present until after the player edits Shepard’s appearance, meant that it would take anywhere from 10 minutes to a half-hour of cutscenes before the game saves. The game crashed moments before the next cutscene began that would trigger an auto-save, just to serve as a kick to the head metaphorically. It makes me fear if I will approach a bug that will crash Mass Effect 3 as I’m already 2 for 2 in “game crashing bugs.”

After the opening cutscene involving the fate of your crewmates and the Normandy ship, the player is given the option to view the events of the previous game in an interactive comic known as Mass Effect Genesis. Originally Genesis was a DLC for Mass Effect 2 that not only served as the primary way for players to get caught up to speed with the events of Mass Effect but also give players the option to choose Shepard’s fate during the original game. At certain intervals, players will decide how crucial events unfolded, including if Shepard had a love interest, which crew members survived, and which crew members did not. 

Mass Effect 2 Genesis Screenshot
Mass Effect 2 - Xbox Series X Direct Capture

This is similar to how BioWare handled sequel titles in the Dragon Age series, through the usage of the Dragon Age Keep. I’ve discussed this in more detail in my Dragon Age retrospect, but essentially it’s a website that updates player’s progress across each sequel, meaning that actions taken in a previous game will reflect in another. While Genesis simplifies the decisions made in Mass Effect, omitting several altogether, it is still an important comic for getting players reacquainted with the series as Mass Effect 2 was released three years after.

The Genesis comic also emphasizes the biggest elephant in the room thus far and that’s how DLC was handled for the trilogy. Occasionally, the games would go on sale, yet the DLCs which were a requirement as they contained important story content would remain its base price. This meant that even after a decade, new players were expected to pay near the retail price at best and well over the logical amount at worse. It was the main reason why some players, like myself, were turned off by the series as I’m a firm believer in not being willing to play through an “incomplete” game. The Legendary Edition adds all of the DLC from all three titles for the first time in Mass Effect history, including the comics that prefaced both ME2 and ME3.

Commander Shepard Gameplay
Mass Effect 2 - Xbox Series X Direct Capture

The gameplay builds upon the original by improving the gunplay in various ways. Cover shooting, which was awkward to initiate in the previous title, is now as simple as pressing a button, with the ability to vault seamlessly over objects. The UI is also cleaned up, making it easier to access ally abilities while managing Shepard’s. 

The pacing of the game, being a sequel and all, thrusts Shepard almost immediately into combat if the player forgoes the optional Genesis comic, fighting off waves of rogue androids after surviving a near-death experience. Shepard is introduced to new allies having been forced to forego previous ones, bringing emphasis on “new sequel, new game, new experiences.”

Commander Shepard Gameplay 2
Mass Effect 2 - Xbox Series X Direct Capture

Overall Mass Effect 2 is a fine game, but as far as it plays on the Legendary Edition, random crashes and soft locking during the menu muddle the experience a tiny bit. The inclusion of past DLC including an important one in terms of recapping Mass Effect’s story is seamlessly handled and despite the random crash, the game runs and looks just as amazing in 4K running on 60 fps.

Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3 was the final game in the original trilogy, released early in 2012 to much anticipation from fans of the series and gamers alike. At this point, the Mass Effect series became a franchise in the same discussion as Borderlands and Assassin’s Creed when it came to successful 3rd party IPs. The conclusion to Shepard’s legacy meant that BioWare had to do more than reinvent the wheel. It had to swap the wheel in favor of a hoverboard.

That is to say, Mass Effect 3 is different from the previous games in almost every way. First is the graphics and presentation, using cutscenes that appear CGI rather than utilizing the in-game engine. If the in-game engine was used, I would have never known, as the movie cutscenes offer a different sort of polish that the main game doesn’t. That’s not to say that ME3 isn’t visually impressive as it’s a sight to look at. 

Commander Shepard Gameplay #3
Mass Effect 3 - Xbox Series X Direct Capture

The two opening levels, fighting through the Alliance headquarters in a destroyed bright metropolis above clear blue waters offered a stark contrast to the following mission held on Mars. Arrid brown desert whipping about with the wind as a massive dust storm approaches Shepard and his crew combined with the dark hallways of an abandoned military base gives the game a range that the first level teases. 

Much like Mass Effect 2, there’s a featured comic known as Genesis 2, which was an optional DLC much like the first Genesis. The second comic is meant to keep players up to speed with the first two titles, although the synopsis of the first title is the exact same as it was in ME2. From the voiced dialogue to its delivery, everything was kept the same until it segues into Mass Effect 2’s story, offering the player choices in-between important moments within the story. 

Commander Shepard Gameplay #4
Mass Effect 3 - Xbox Series X Direct Capture

I’d prefer if they gave the player the option to revisit either the first game or the second game’s story, as there’s no way to speed through the first part of the comic if the player is already familiar with the events of the first game. Regardless, much like before, it offers a great way to condense hundreds of hours of story into a 30-minute package.

In the small instance I played of Mass Effect 3, from a gameplay perspective, Shepard is all about action. They can break into a sprint outside of combat, giving their best Olympian sprinter impression as they traverse and leap over terrain which was something that was only reserved in combat previously. Compared to the intro sequences of the first two games, there’s an extreme emphasis on action, with Shepard given the ability to perform dedicated melee attacks that weren’t possible before.

Commander Shepard Mars Gameplay
Mass Effect 3 - Xbox Series X Direct Capture

This meant that weapons that seemed niche in previous titles, like the shotgun, felt right at home in Shepard’s hands as they could sprint to their heart’s content, ambushing enemies with close-range blasts that completely decapitate enemies. Shepard appears like a confident supersoldier, which coincidentally fits the role that they play in Mass Effect 3 as they fight off the Reaper invasion once and for all while rekindling frayed relationships with former comrades.

On to other odysseys...

Commander Shepard Lianna
Mass Effect 3 - Xbox Series X Direct Capture

Overall, this is the best way to experience the “legendary” trilogy of Mass Effect with all of its DLC intact and all of the games in one easy package. No extra discs for each individual title, no purchases of DLC, just all three games the way they were meant to be played. Console players may need to be wary of the difficulties involving running the menus to install the other titles as crashes and soft locks can dampen the experience. However, internally each game runs sound, offering newcomers and veteran commanders an experience that will last them months to come.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition is now available on the PC, Sony PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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