Since my legs are broken and I’ll be spending my foreseeable future indoors, getting swept up in a good RPG sounded appealing. I dabbled with the top-down apocalyptic RPG Wasteland 2 but ultimately found that the game’s isometric perspective limited my enjoyment. Staring down at my characters like ants through a magnifying glass as they endured the punishing plights of a world gone mad didn’t quite resonate emotionally. I wanted to see the subtleties of their expressions, their movements, their actions: to see their story unfold up close and personal as a human would.
Thankfully, the recently-released Mass Effect Legendary Edition offers exactly that. I had already played through BioWare’s cinematic sci-fi action-RPG trilogy, but that was nearly a decade ago. Enough time had passed that I figured much of the games would feel unfamiliar and novel again (and prettier with the new graphical improvements). So I bought the collection, booted up Mass Effect 1, and immediately found myself drawn into BioWare’s vivid and fastidiously crafted galaxy once more. Here’s what I noticed — and what caught me off guard.
The Stakes Are High (Almost Too High)
In my first playthrough of Mass Effect, much of its appeal revolved around discovery. Discovering its alien races, culture, technology, and more for the first time was thrilling.
But on my second playthrough, I was well-acquainted with the game’s universe, and its world and story were considerably less engaging for it. That’s probably because, beyond an initial introduction, there isn’t actually much to delve into here: the game’s strong narrative drive doesn’t allow it. Chasing after the story’s villain takes precedent, moulding the game into a series of high-risk military ops. And with the galaxy at stake, little time is (understandably) spent delving into the characters or the universe’s intriguing granularities.
I can understand why BioWare took the “save the galaxy” direction. But I can’t help but wonder what a Mass Effect title with less narrative urgency would be like. Supposedly, Mass Effect: Andromeda “breathed” easier in this respect and offered somewhat of an answer. But I haven’t played it.
Main Quest; Forget the Rest
For me, solid side content is the cherry-on-top for any great RPG. But unfortunately, Mass Effect doesn’t offer many memorable or compelling side missions. I would know: I completed every piece of side content in the game just to see what I had missed the first time around, and it wasn’t much.
Where Mass Effect’s main course is engaging and creatively charged, the side content is contrived and threadbare. Environments are reused, diplomacy options are limited (kill the offending spacefarers or let them go!!), and gameplay is scarcely reinvented. It’s not like modern games have spoiled me in this manner, either: back in 2007, games like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion were packed with hand-crafted side content that kept you guessing and on-edge.
Galactic Saviours Ain’t Got Time for Friends
The Mass Effect series is known for allowing you to build close relationships with your squadmates. But in the first Mass Effect, that’s not really the case. You can probe squadmates to reveal more about themselves and enjoy awkwardly animated sex scenes with some of them, but that’s about it. Thankfully, BioWare knew they had more to offer in this area and deepened squadmate relationships in the sequel.
The Remaster is Great, Though
BioWare could’ve left Mass Effect’s archaic design choices intact with the Legendary Edition remaster. But they went the extra mile and ironed out many of the gameplay quirks that likely discouraged newcomers from sticking with the 2007 original. Most enemies will take extra damage when shot in the head, navigating cover is easier, and the infamous Mako vehicle no longer handles like it’s full of helium.
The finished product is a game that often looks and feels deceptively current-gen at times, despite being fourteen years old under the hood. For my money, this is the glow-up that Mass Effect deserved.
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