Update (January 2022): With Mass Effect Legendary Edition joining Xbox Game Pass Ultimate via EA Play this week, we're republishing this hands on feature / review to give you a better idea of what to expect.
Original story (May 2021): Back in 2007, when Master Chief was still finishing the fight in Halo 3 and before Kait Diaz became the face of the Gears of War series, BioWare released the first Mass Effect game. As you might recall, it started out as an Xbox exclusive on console and was originally published by Microsoft Game Studios, prior to EA taking total control.
From here onwards, the sci-fi series - where the player's decisions actually mattered - evolved into a full-blown blockbuster franchise powered by Electronic Arts, and starring arguably one of the greatest video game protagonists of all time, Commander Shepard. This was well before characters like Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher series had truly peaked with their own Netflix series.
Now, more than a decade after the original game's release, and over eight years after the conclusion of Mass Effect 3, the original trilogy has returned as Mass Effect Legendary Edition - a remaster of all three games, with graphical enhancements, improved load times, over 40 DLC, and pretty much everything else you associate with Mass Effect in one package.
Firstly, if you've not played this series before, you might want to read up on that - admittedly we're not here to give you the rundown on the story and how it pans out. This one is for returning players and how this remaster improves upon the original releases. Is it worth it, or should you play each classic version on Xbox Game Pass instead? Well, it's a tough one to answer in all honesty - and very much depends on how much of a Mass Effect fan you were back during the trilogy's prime.
If you are Commander Shepard's number one follower - straight up, don't even hesitate. Sure, it might seem a little bit pricey for a remaster, but as you would know, there's a hell of a lot of gameplay, story and cinematics in all three games to potentially entertain you for months on end (even if you have played it before). More simply put, this is now officially the definitive way to play the entire trilogy on console platforms. If you're still not entirely convinced, here's why you should consider saving humanity from the Reapers once more.
For OG players, the Legendary Edition is worth it for the first game alone. While you likely already have fond memories of this particular entry (at least for most parts), it's now even better and most certainly the one that benefits the most from this remaster. Just about everything - and we really mean this, has been improved. Reflect on the original and you might remember quite a few frustrations such as long load times and the infamous Mako sections. It's all been touched up to make Commander Shepard's original outing that much more enjoyable.
Thanks to the custom SSD in the Xbox Series X|S, and faster drives in next-gen consoles in general, those seemingly never-ending elevator sequences are now no longer a problem - with the ability to completely skip dialogue exchanges between the characters. Fast travel is just as quick. As for the Mako - as in the vehicle Shepard and co use to explore planets - it's now much easier to control and aim the turret in battle, and even comes with "camera-relative" steering. Other standout features are the improved handling and physics (reduced drift, too), and then there are some upgrades like increased shield regeneration and additional boosters. Driving into lava will also no longer result in an instant critical mission failure. Sure, it's still a long way off something like Halo's Warthog, but it should make these slightly less exciting sections of the first game a lot more tolerable. And if you really want, you can switch the old control method back on.
As for the combat in the remaster of ME1, there are improved controls and better aiming - making targeting easier and the overall feel a lot more modern, and various other adjustments such as reduced medi-gel cooldowns - so you've got more chances to survive firefights. Additionally, all weapons can now be used across all classes without penalties, and there's a larger inventory and redesigned UI, similar to the second and third games. AI improvements have also been made to the squad and enemies, and while we did see some silly movement from enemies at times, it didn't have any impact on our play sessions. The talent points have been rebalanced in the game's Legendary mode (Level 1-30) as well, or you can stick with the classic mode (level 1-60). It means you can now hit the cap in just one playthrough.
Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 were already in great shape on release - with the second game, in particular, making some major overhauls to combat. This included proper cover system mechanics and the introduction of ammo rather than relying on a cooldown bar. And just like the original game, both of these entries feel better than before.
While it might not be quite as noticeable as the first game, again, you'll be experiencing the very best versions of these games. Combat now feels slicker, and speedier load times and higher frame rates also help (we'll get into all of that a bit more later). DLC packs containing promo weapons, armour and more have now also been integrated into each of the games, and can be obtained by research or from merchants. Unfortunately, not all of them made the cut, with the Pinnacle Station DLC for the first Mass Effect unable to be recovered, as the files for this were apparently too old and corrupted to include. Bummer!
On a more positive note, there's now a photo mode across all three titles - which is a nice way to document your team's adventure across the galaxy.
This brings us to the biggest talking point of these remasters - how each game looks. While all three have obviously received a facelift, the one that will probably be the obvious standout to most veteran players is the original title. EA and BioWare's aim here was to not only update the visuals, but at the same time stay true to the original games' artistic vision and aesthetics - and it's safe to say they've succeeded.
All of the games have been remastered for 4K UHD with HDR support, and there are enhanced models, shaders, FX, updated and improved lighting and textures, improved anti-aliasing, depth of field, dynamic shadow improvements and much more. You name it, it's there. You only have to look at a few comparison screens or videos (like the one below) to see the obvious differences.
As an example, the environments in the first game now look better than ever (while retaining the original artistic vision), and there are extra details included in areas of the game that weren't there before, which sort of make the world feel a little more lively than it once was.
As you work your way through the collection, ME2 and ME3 offer the same sort of improvements - you'll see more fine details on characters that once weren't there, enhanced models, everything looks brighter and more colourful than before, and while body and facial animations don't match today's standards, it's still a step up on the original trilogy release. The cinematics also look better than ever, and audio has been improved and rebalanced - making the gunfights, big moments and conversations more engaging than before. Although, there has been one issue identified that's tied to wireless headsets, which EA is working on a fix for (update: this has now officially been fixed).
If you're wanting to prioritise performance over visual fidelity, you can favour framerate in each game's setting menu. This will give you 60fps at 1080p on Xbox One, 60fps at 1440p on Xbox One X and Xbox Series S, and up to 120 fps at 1440p on Xbox Series X. Notably, the XSX version offers the highest framerate of all console versions - with the PlayStation 5 version capped at 60fps.
When prioritising quality, you can expect 30fps at 1080p on Xbox One, 30fps at 4K UHD on Xbox One X and Xbox Series S, and 60fps at 4K UHD on Xbox Series X. At the highest quality settings, the PS5 version also runs at 60fps at 4K UHD. And even though there is no true Xbox Series X version, we can assure you this Xbox One version via backward compatibility still looks and runs great.
So how does all of this gel together? The Legendary Edition is a unified launcher that increases in size as you download the second and third games. The base files contain the first game, and after that, you choose whether to install two, three - or both, and can uninstall each one as you please.
If you do want to jump straight into the third or second game, the interactive Mass Effect: Genesis comics by Dark Horse are still there to help decide Shepard's previous choices, if no existing saves are detected. If you have got a save though, it will carry across. This includes the option to import your character (provided you've finished the game) and previous paragon/renegade scores acquired will also provide bonuses. As an added bonus - Xbox users' saves can be transferred across from Xbox One to Xbox Series X|S with "save roaming" which is all thanks to Xbox's Smart Delivery service.
Unfortunately, one noticeable omission in the collection is multiplayer from the third game, which contributed to the solo game. It just means without this, you now need to really complete everything in each game in order to get the best outcome at the end. Although, at the time of writing, the project director says he's open to reviving it.
The launcher also contains trilogy-wide settings for options such as subtitles and languages. For the first time ever, you can now additionally play as Female Commander Shepard from Mass Effect 3 across all three titles, as she now acts as the default female player. The character creator has been unified as well, meaning players can use a code to bring their characters over to all three games, if they don't go with the default option. Achievements have also been streamlined.
One last time - Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is the best way to experience the original series. It turns this trilogy into what feels like a single massive game. The story is as gripping as ever (even if you weren't a fan of the original ending in the third game) and there's been an extreme level of care with each change, adjustment and improvement to the game, to ensure it feels and plays just like it should more than a decade later.
Mass Effect is back, and we can't wait to see what BioWare has planned for the series' future following this amazing remaster. So what are you waiting for - get out there and save the galaxy (again).