Mass Effect director hopes Legendary Edition changes your feelings about the infamous ending
Project director Mac Walters and character and environment director Kevin Meek talk about the trilogy conclusion that broke the internet back in 2012 and the possibility of multiplayer making a return.
Sean KeaneFormer Senior Writer
Sean knows far too much about Marvel, DC and Star Wars, and poured this knowledge into recaps and explainers on CNET. He also worked on breaking news, with a passion for tech, video game and culture.
BioWare's original trilogy came out in 2007, 2010 and 2012, bringing gamers into a sci-fi universe in which humanity has discovered the secrets of faster-than-light travel and has journeyed across the galaxy, allying itself with alien races along the way.
You play as customizable hero Shepard and gather an excellent squad of now-iconic characters as they discover the horrifying threat of the Reapers, a machine race intent on purging the galaxy's sentient life. Your choices determine the fates of your allies, enemies and billions across the galaxy, carrying between games in the trilogy and creating a unique narrative for each player. The series sold millions of copies and each game was critically acclaimed, despite some controversy over the third game's ending.
Given how long ago the trilogy came out, the team behind the Legendary Edition had to put in a gargantuan effort to bring the the pieces up to a standard that would satisfy the gamers of 2021 while remaining true to the classic experience. Their work included improved character models, high-resolution textures, new lighting, depth of field and other visual updates, along with some control tweaks.
We got our first look at the collection back in February, with a trailer that reminded fans how glorious this trilogy was and how much we missed Liara, Garrus and company since we last saw them in 2012.
Ahead of Legendary Edition's release, I chatted over Zoom with project director Mac Walters and with character and environment director Kevin Meek about those emotional attachments, the changes they've made to the games, how they think Mass Effect 3's ending will go down in 2021 and the chances of its multiplayer mode making a return. Here's a transcript of the interview, edited for clarity.
The trailer you guys released back in February had a huge impact -- the one on the official channel alone has more than 3 million views. It also made me a little misty-eyed to a degree I didn't expect. Why do you think the series has such resonance? Walters: The trailer focused a lot on the characters and moments from the games, but layered on top of that was that it was everyone's own personal experience. The goal of the trilogy was this epic space saga, but you got to pilot the course of the narrative. Not just the course of the action, but you got to tell your own story through it. I think that makes it so much more personal to everyone. That was our hope with the first trailer, to remind people of moments that mean something special to them again, because of that element of choice.
So what do you want players to feel when they boot off this collection for the first time? Walters: That'll be quite personal, if you're a new player or someone returning to it. I hope people feel a sense of wonder, being able to experience all three games in a new way with the updated graphics. And now you can experience it as a trilogy, with all the downloadable content at your fingertips.
Meek: They are old games, but they've still held up over the passage of time. Looking at the original release, we sometimes found there was a sense of friction in the controls or distracting moments in the art. We tried to smooth out -- sometimes literally -- a lot of what you're seeing and experiencing. You can experience that story as it was meant to be, and you really immerse yourself. That's what I want people to fall into when they first boot it up.
Walters: So ideally, people playing it say "Yeah, this is exactly how I remember it." Then we've successfully remastered their memory and nostalgia -- it's evoking the same feeling and experiences. It's only when they actually compare it to the original that they see how much work was done.
What advice would you give to fans looking to spice up their playthrough, with this new version of the trilogy, aside from switching from Paragon to Renegade or vice-versa? Meek: I'd suggest for people to try different character classes. When I played Mass Effect 1 for the first time, I played as a soldier -- the generic right-down-the-center option, with access to all the weapons. I didn't know what type of game it was going to be or what the biotic powers were.
Now we've eliminated a lot of those class restrictions on weapons. You can choose Vanguard, which gives you a bunch of biotic powers and still use whatever weapons want. And then when you get to Mass Effect 2 and 3, those powers let you do all these really fun things like lifting people up and throwing them off buildings, and warping yourself across chasms to slam into enemies.
Walters: Another good one is the DLC, especially in 2 and 3, if you didn't play it before. We used that additional content to experiment with the level design and gameplay -- there's some really cool and fun stuff. If you finish Lair of the Shadow Broker (a piece of DLC from Mass Effect 2), you can re-spec all your characters, plus all these other cool bonuses that come with it.
Whenever I've talked about this collection to people, a lot of them will bring up the negative response to Mass Effect 3's ending. What would you say to those players, especially those on the fence about the Legendary Edition? Walters: The ending's extended cut was part of the DLC, so that's part of your new baked-in experience with the Legendary Edition. But I guess people have to make up their own minds about it -- we haven't changed any of the story. It's also been a little bit of time, so people play through it as a whole and then reassess. If they still have the same feelings about it then, that's fair. I know I viewed the trilogy in a very different way now that it's all together. I'm hoping other people will see it that way as well.
Meek: I think the sci-fi beats of the ending might hit people in a different way now than they might have nine years ago. Playing it as a whole trilogy and treating it as one giant arc, rather than three arcs, goes a long way to potentially changing people's experiences.
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What can next-gen players like people on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S expect in terms of the performance improvements compared to PS4 and Xbox One? Walters: It's more in line with high-end PC performance. You can get the full 4K experience closer to a 60 fps right across the board. And an SSD just makes things load faster -- it's like magical technology from the future, I love it. So it can make those elevator rides [in Mass Effect 1] even shorter if you want.
Is there any possibility of the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer mode (which isn't in the Legendary Edition) coming back in some form? I got super into it back then because you could try all the different abilities and just zip around as an Asari or one of the other races. Walters: I would never say no to that -- we want to see what kind of reception the Legendary Edition gets and what the demand for the multiplayer is. And then we'll ask ourselves if we have the resources and time to bring it up to the quality level we and fans want.
Can you give us a hint about the next Mass Effect? And are you planning to have players' decisions in the Legendary Edition factor in? Walters: Yeah, that one's a no comment. Good try though, I like it.