Everything that is known about 'Mass Effect: Legendary Edition' so far
By Elise Favis
"Mass Effect: Legendary Edition," the long-awaited remaster of the space-faring video game trilogy "Mass Effect," lived as a rumor for years until BioWare confirmed its existence late last year. Even then, details remained sparse, with just a short teaser released on N7 Day (the unofficial "Mass Effect" holiday, November 7).
Although BioWare is also releasing an entirely new "Mass Effect" game, which was announced and previewed at The Game Awards 2020, attention right now is on the remaster, which releases May 14.
So, how does it look? Will gameplay be different? Those questions were finally answered in an hour-long, virtual press event last week, which The Washington Post attended. We were given details about visual enhancements, gameplay changes to "Mass Effect 1" and expanded customization options, among other things. Below is everything we know so far about the "Legendary Edition," which releases on PS5, Xbox Series X, PS4, Xbox One and PC.
- All games are receiving visual and performance enhancements
BioWare calls the "Mass Effect: Legendary Edition" a modernization, moving the experience from old consoles to recent machines. With that change comes impressive visual upgrades that let you play all three games in ultra 4K with HDR support. On the performance side, expect higher frame rates - up to 60 FPS - and quicker load times (yes, this includes faster elevator rides, with the option to skip!).
BioWare increased the resolution to textures "across the trilogy," including updated, crisper character models. The team also touched up every "character, enemy, armor, gun, casual outfit" through "Mass Effect 1 and 2," and "many" in the third entry. Players can also expect updated shaders and VFX, as well as enhanced, pre-rendered cinematics for story moments. On PC, support has been added for 21:9 widescreen and DirectX 11. PC players will finally be able to use compatible controllers, too, which fans have long requested.
As the team modified different art assets through the trilogy, they had to be mindful of certain images and symbols not seeping into the wrong game, which could cause narrative inconsistencies. This includes SR2 uniforms, which can't exist until "Mass Effect 2" with the new Normandy ship. Characters who can stick with you through the entirety of the trilogy, like Liara and Kaidan, needed art and models that lined up with their character arcs with aging and evolving personalities.
"Liara undergoes a dramatic personality arc from being quite reserved and doe eyed in 'Mass Effect 1,' but by the time you see her again in 'Mass Effect 3,' she's confident and hardened," environment and character director Kevin Meek said. "So we really wanted to make sure that the art still supports those stories."
- The bulk of changes are directed toward 'Mass Effect 1,' including gameplay tweaks and revamped environments
Last year, a VentureBeat article detailed how the original "Mass Effect" was not living up to modern quality standards internally, which played a part in delaying the game into 2021. The team took time to tweak "Mass Effect 1″ further, and we now know what some of those changes are, from combat to load times.
The camera, for example, will be more pulled back, giving players a wider view of their surroundings.
"The camera movements are much more smooth," project director and original trilogy lead writer Mac Walters said. "Getting in and out of cover feels much more smooth now as well."
For gunfights, BioWare said it gave careful attention to weapon balancing and tuning, such as improved aiming over the original version. (We did not get to see any combat encounters during the preview event). The team took cues from "Mass Effect 3," bringing certain looks and mechanics from that game into "Mass Effect 1," including its cover system and an adapted combat UI. For exploring wide-open terrain on big planets, the Mako (the controllable space vehicle) will be easier and less clunky to control. In terms of load times, elevator rides have been cut down significantly, with the option to skip them entirely to return to gameplay as quick as possible.
According to producer Crystal McCord, BioWare consulted with fans, modders and cosplayers while adding various tweaks and quality-of-life improvements to "Mass Effect 1," including letting them playtest the game before release.
"A lot of things that we are addressing in 'Mass Effect 1' are a result of the conversations that we had with those players," she said. "One of the modders, after playing said, 'I don't feel the need to mod on this game anymore.'"
In terms of visual changes, BioWare is adding more depth and detail to different environments throughout "Mass Effect 1," including planets Eden Prime, Ilos and Feros. For Eden Prime, they "flipped around" the sun so that you now see a beautiful vista with sun rays peeking through tree leaves, as soon as you enter the level. For Feros, the vistas have more depth, along with additional smoke, fire and debris, to help visualize a "crumbling megatropolis," Meek said.
The "Legendary Edition" comes with all downloadable content
The "Mass Effect" trilogy has an enormous amount of downloadable content, including cosmetic packs, weapon packs and story DLC (some of which unlock new planets and squadmates). All of it will be playable in the "Legendary Edition" at no extra cost - some of it available immediately at the start of the game, while others must be unlocked.
As the remaster is focused on Commander Shepard's story, the fourth entry that is considered separate from the trilogy, "Mass Effect Andromeda," will not be included in the pack.
A remake was considered, but ultimately BioWare chose a different direction
At the beginning of the press event, Walters spoke about how they approached the remaster as though "restoring a beautiful car."
"We don't want to cut ourselves off at the knees if there's not a good reason to do so," he said. "So everything was evaluated, whether it was multiplayer or doing more of a robust remake versus a remaster. [That] was all on the table at some point."
But as they paid attention to community feedback and what fans were craving, they decided it wasn't a remake.
"I think the remaster was just the best fit and allowed us to really stay true to - in my opinion - the original vision of what was there and just elevate it to what we as developers had once imagined we'd get to."
It's not clear if original saves from the trilogy will transfer over
The narrative of "Mass Effect" can adapt depending on a player's in-game decisions, even from one game to the next. This continues to be true in the "Legendary Edition," but your saves from the original trilogy may or may not work. However, BioWare is hoping they will.
"We've actually done some testing on that, and it's sporadic," he said. "So by the time we ship, I don't know what the status of that will be, to be honest."
Expanded character customization comes with new hairstyles, skin tones and more
Players can expect new hairstyles and an expanded range of skin tones for customizing Commander Shepard. Some of the hairstyles we saw during the press event included braided short hair, a shoulder-length bob haircut and a few buzzcuts.
One of the big motivations for the remaster is "unifying" the three games, BioWare said, including quite literally by allowing players to access all three games in a single launcher or menu screen. But one of the bigger ways this is felt within the games themselves is allowing all customization options to be available throughout every game. This is different than how it was in the original games, which forced players to change their look in "Mass Effect 3" under certain circumstances.
"The iconic female default character wasn't introduced until 'Mass Effect 3'," Meek said. "If you played as a female in 'Mass Effect 1 or 2,' and you went through all of these moments as your Shepherd . . . then you get to this character creation screen in 'Mass Effect 3,' and all of a sudden you're given this choice to completely change your look to like the box art Shepherd, that could be a bit of a tough choice for people. So we definitely want to make sure that we're able to bring her back as an option throughout the entire trilogy."
The remaster will not include content that didn't make it into the trilogy originally
For the "Legendary Edition," there will be no story changes, leaving the only tweaks for gameplay and visuals. Content that never made it to the original games will not be present.
Through the "Mass Effect" trilogy, you can optionally romance certain squadmates on their ship, though some can only be romanced depending what gender you play as. For example, Jack can't be fully romanced if you're a female Shepard, and Jacob can't be romanced while playing male Shepard.
Yet, BioWare considered gay romances for both Jacob and Jack at one point. Ultimately, these were cut, according to a report from TheGamer and subsequent tweets from former BioWare animator Jonathan Cooper. Both romances were removed in fear of backlash, Cooper said in a tweet from January.
"[I] was told at the time 'America isn't ready for it.' Perhaps it still isn't," Cooper tweeted.
"Those are interesting examples, because if there were changes to them, they were changed more in ideation," Walters said. "This wasn't content that was created that was then cut or anything like that. And Jack's a great example, I think the convict character that we had envisioned in 'Mass Effect 2' was originally male and then became Jack. And there wasn't really any sort of intent for Jack to be anything other than what she was."
Nor will it include any multiplayer content
"Mass Effect 3″ introduced a multiplayer mode to the series, letting you combat waves of enemies on different maps with friends. This will not return in the "Legendary Edition."
Just like the extended cut edition of "Mass Effect 3," players will be able to achieve full military readiness (a certain level needed as you build an army to defeat the villainous machines called Reapers) before the final mission of that game, through single-player content only. This is a shift from before, where players needed to play multiplayer to fully level up their readiness, which some found frustrating.
The extended cut endings for 'Mass Effect 3' will be considered standard in the remaster
BioWare is including the additional scenes and fourth ending sequence from "Mass Effect 3′s" extended cut in the "Legendary Edition." The extended cut was originally released after BioWare faced backlash for the controversy surrounding the game's endings, which players felt did not reflect their in-game choices up until that point.
"When we did the extended edition, it really felt like we were adding in some of the things that we just wish we could have done and we didn't have time to do," Walters said. "And so to me, it feels like that really was canon."
The Washington Post