I’ve beaten all of the Commander Shepherd-led Mass Effect games several times over. I’ve thwarted Saren, saved Wrex’s race, defied Cerberus, beaten back the Reapers, and found love among my crew more times than I can remember. Each journey back was a delightful adventure to see what ripples the variation of my choices had across the trilogy, yet always… I've dreaded going back to Mass Effect 1. I’ve played through it as well of course, but Mass Effect 1, while containing all of the narrative and adventure one should expect out of a Mass Effect game, was always the homework before the fun. I hate the original Mako. I hate the original gunplay. And nothing about it had the same pizazz for me that Bioware clearly found when they moved into Mass Effect 2. I say all of this as a precursor to the fact that having seen what Mass Effect Legendary Edition has to offer in a recent hands-off preview event… ME1 is finally a game I’m excited to try again.
I’m pretty sure even the most stalwart of Mass Effect fans knows what I’m talking about when it comes to the first Mass Effect game because many of my issues have been echoed for years. Where Mass Effect 2 and 3 took on a more arguably cinematic and immersive approach to combat, interaction, and exploration, as well far more highly detailing its characters (yes, I’ve seen the ME2 face memes, because how could you be a fan of this series and miss them?), Mass Effect 1 felt like a testing ground. It felt like a proof of concept for so many good things that would come later. The original is a game full of crash test dummies putting on a very good narrative show before going back to some of the most stilted action and activity you ever did see in that era. I appreciate Mass Effect for the things it did well. Setting up that story, offering galactic exploration through the Normandy, exploring Paragon and Renegade affinity, leaving side opportunities for you at every turn… Many of the franchise's great staples had to walk in Mass Effect 1 so they could fly in Mass Effect 2 and 3.
That said, then there’s things like the combat and driving in Mass Effect 1. We’re talking about things like the dreadful Mako, which somehow made exploring alien worlds tedious and boring. We’re talking about the rigid combat, which is so built around RPG mechanics that a weapon like the large and potent sniper rifle feels like it’s a pellet gun that just happens to shoot instakill numbers out of it. These are the things that are prevalent throughout Mass Effect 1 and they’re also the things that make taking a character through the original version feel like a drag.
And the really frustrating part is that if you want to get the most out of the original Mass Effect trilogy, you should want to go through the first game! There’s a great story in there, there are narrative choices all over the place in it that have a huge impact on Mass Effect 2 and 3, and it feels so much more connecting and impactful if you’ve actually been through those things! We’re not just talking about whether or not you handled a colony of space bugs or saved or killed a race’s would-be savior - the broad strokes. We’re also talking about if you stayed true to a first game love interest, if you punched a reporter, if you learned the truth about a shady pro-human organization. There is so much there, and despite my gripes, I really hated that the prospect of Mass Effect 1 felt mostly like eating unseasoned, uncooked brussel sprouts before the steak and potatoes that were the sequels.
Re-building a chapter worthy of the trilogy
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Mass Effect 1 in the Legendary Edition has completely killed the issues I and many others had with the first game. What I can say for what Bioware and Electronic Arts allowed me to see is that I’m excited for the first time in over a decade to give ME1 another try. For one, Bioware’s work on repainting the entire first game and reworking its textures and visuals makes me very much want to explore everything it has going on and see all of the outdated things I remember in a new and revitalized form. The game looks beautifully recrafted. Eden Prime looks more intense than ever, the Citadel looks downright gorgeous, and the characters look alive, rather than like automaton dummies acting out their parts from the original. Everything visual in Mass Effect Legendary Edition has been delightfully improved, but Mass Effect 1 definitely had the most to gain, and so far, it’s looking like Bioware has knocked it out of the park.
That said, I don’t think I could rightfully be 100% excited if it was just a fresh coat of crisp new paint over the same annoying issues I had with the original in its mechanics (for me, I could be like 85% excited. I do love the franchise and want to explore the revised locations and characters). It’s the down and dirty details that make me want to see what Bioware has done with this freshly crafted game.
From the release date announcement and the preview I was allowed to witness, I’ve seen gunplay improvements to bring the game more up to pace with its sequels, a huge deal for me. I’ve also heard of Mako control improvements (I’m also hoping the upgrade in visuals makes the planets more enjoyable and immersive, but that’s just me for now). Furthermore, I’ve seen some delightful quality-of-life improvements coming to Mass Effect Legendary Edition, such as loading times. Remember the horribly long and obnoxious elevator rides as the game loaded? I do. Legendary Edition has fixed them. Now you can skip the ride if you want after the game loads in a fraction of the time it took before. It’s just one of many improvements I’m excited to see in action in the overall package.
First impressions are everything
I’m excited for the very prospect of Mass Effect Legendary Edition, and a lot of that has to do with what they’ve done with Mass Effect 1. Bioware has put some stellar work into improving a ton of things across all three titles of the original Shepherd trilogy, but they also made it a point to make Mass Effect 1 feel like you’re playing it for the first time again. Over 13 years removed from the original launch, this truly is the first time many players are getting to explore this glorious journey, and my only fear was that the contrivances of Mass Effect 1 might be a turn off to new players as it was to me many years ago. Little by little, those fears have been heavily alleviated by what I’ve seen. The improvements are making Mass Effect 1 look like a title worthy of being placed next to its sequels. I’m finally excited to engage in the first chapter of the trilogy again, and when it launches in May 2021, I think many other players, old and new, will be as well.
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Mass Effect Legendary Edition finally makes me want to re-explore ME1, instead of dreading it
Sorry TJ, but this is a bad take. ME1 is the best game in the series precisely because of the Mako, because of the emphasis on mapping, planet scanning, and exploration. No other game gave me the sense of wonder as I felt watching a delicately pastel-colored planet filling the screen and slowly rotate, reading the history of the system's discovery and astrophysical make up, wondering what surface topography and unknown points of interest I'd encounter. All of that was just gone in ME2, and it was and is a fuggin tragedy. Combat was vestigial because it deserved to be.
Perhaps a bit too hot of a take. I just really, really don't like the Mako. Truly, to each their own because ultimately, the Mako is staying in Legendary Edition and it sounds like they're aiming at improving both its control and the environments, which were a big part of what I didn't like about it to begin with.