I love revisiting incredible games after my memories of them have faded. The sense of familiarity coupled with a renewed wonder as the sights and sounds wash over me creates an endorphin rush like little else. That's especially true of the Mass Effect universe, the video game equivalent of the original Star Wars trilogy.
The Mass Effect: Legendary Edition trailer gave me a taste of that feeling back in February. Seeing Liara, Garrus and the rest of the team again reminded me of all of the joy their adventures brought me as I played the trilogy in 2007, 2010 and 2012, and developer BioWare was going to let me do it again, in 4K Ultra HD.
The original game guides you into a sci-fi universe in which humanity used faster-than-light travel to journey across the galaxy, allying itself with alien races along the way.
As customizable hero Shepard, you gather a squad of memorable 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 -- you can shape Shepard into a diplomatic Paragon, a brash Renegade or something in between.
A smoother 2007
You might remember how janky the original Mass Effect was, even in 2007. The excellent writing, engaging world-building and awesome character design made up for some awkward gameplay and graphical quirks, with the sequels vastly improving those aspects.
Diving back with the Legendary Edition on PS5 this week, I was caught in Mass Effect's dramatic orbit all over again. I only got to play the first 6 hours, but was immediately struck by how smoothly BioWare had sanded the game's rough edges off. Gone are the graphical glitches that plagued almost every step on the Xbox 360 version -- between that and the shortened loading times, the friction of exploring space stations, ships and uncharted worlds is gone.
However, it hasn't been completely redone, like last year's Final Fantasy 7 Remake or 2019's Resident Evil 2, so it still feels like the same game you played in 2007. The movement is lovely and smooth in 60 frames per second, but controlling Shepard felt like steering a tank for those first few seconds of gameplay.
The facial animation also triggered a major sense of uncanny valley. Some characters (particularly Shepard's mentor Captain Anderson) stare a little too long, like they're trying to pierce your soul. The voice acting remains absolutely stellar though, even as characters overshare when you ask about their past and culture.
That level of detail is one of the keys to Mass Effect's success -- the world-building in the game's first few hours drew me right back into the universe. Making dialogue choices as Shepard and Anderson negotiate the interspecies politics of Citadel Station is utterly engaging, as they try to carve out a place for humanity among the more established alien races.
This sees Shepard being chosen as the first human to join the Spectres, an elite group of Citadel agents, and tasked with hunting down rogue operative Saren. You learn more about the other races as you gather your diverse squad, which will feel like reuniting with old friends if you've played the series before.
Shepard the explorer
As all this unfolded, the sense that I was playing a game from 2007 melted away and I drank in the glorious atmosphere of the ultra-clean Citadel as the sci-fi synth score set the mood. Setting out in the Normandy, this series' Millennium Falcon, to explore the galaxy, the same sense of awe I got in 2007 set in.
The game's uncharted worlds are largely empty or feature similarly designed settlements, but driving the Mako -- your six-wheeled tank -- around them is blissful. The art direction and music makes them utterly believable and atmospheric, while the Mako controls have been refined to make getting around more pleasant.
The tweaks to the game's combat system are pretty subtle, but the shooting mechanics feel closer to the tighter ones in the second and third games. I must admit that, if BioWare hadn't provided detailed notes on all the changes, I may not have realized anything was different because my memories of combat in the three games have jumbled together over the years. It certainly didn't feel too dated or off-putting as I took down countless Geth and other goons.
The remastered adventure continues
Playing the remastered version of the original Mass Effect has been a joy so far. The developers have done an incredible job of bringing my nostalgia up to modern standards while keeping the core experience intact. The universe I fell in love with in 2007 is as compelling as ever.
I can't wait to plow through the whole trilogy this summer, especially since downloadable content like Mass Effect 2's Lair of the Shadow Broker -- a delightful tale of underworld intrigue that remains among my favorite pieces of DLC in any game -- and the third game's emotional Citadel is included in the Legendary Edition as opposed to coming out later. It'll slot smoothly into the overall narrative and enrich the adventure.
And if you threw down your pad or slammed on your keyboard in disgust after seeing Mass Effect 3's ending in 2012 and never bothered with the extended version, which was released a few months later, this collection is the ideal time to try it out. It still isn't quite the ending we were hoping for, but it's a vast improvement.