Roughly 60 hours ago, EA and BioWare dumped all 103GB of the upcoming Mass Effect Legendary Edition into my inbox. Then, they told me the embargo would lift today. I proceeded to chug a concentrated energy drink cocktail of Bawls, Red Bull, and lukewarm coffee grounds while taping my eyelids open so I could bring you a full review of all three touched-up Mass Effect games. Every romance option, every side quest, every unnecessarily rude conversation-wheel option: Sure, let’s shotgun the whole thing like an M-11 Wraith in ME3.
…or, uh, maybe not.
Clearly, that was not enough turnaround time for a “full” review. And a full review is arguably unnecessary anyway, since you don’t need us to tell you that the source games in question are very, very good. Yet EA is otherwise letting us run wild with MELE coverage starting right now, ahead of the remastered trilogy’s retail launch tomorrow. So I’ve found enough time to go through Ars-caliber tests of the package’s technical makeup, putting everything through the paces on multiple PCs and Xbox consoles.
In addition to my thoughts, I’ll be hopping onto Ars Technica’s official Twitch channel starting two hours after this article goes live, at 10 am EDT on Thursday, May 13, to not only play the PC version for Ars viewers but to also offer on-the-fly answers, feedback, and tests in the attached chat. (The VOD should be embedded directly above this paragraph, but if it doesn’t appear, head to twitch.tv/arstechnica or subscribe to our channel via that link while you wait.)
Should you miss the stream, which will last for approximately three hours, we’ll preserve its VOD here. But if Twitch embeds aren’t your thing, don’t fret—this article still has plenty of info for aspiring Paragons and Renegades to sink their teeth into.
Now, onto the big question: Are these remasters indeed “Legendary?”
Unable to confirm whether love breaks the game
Yes, EA is insane for sending me a “review” code this close to the game’s launch on Friday, May 14, on Steam, Origin, Xbox, and PlayStation. Just consider exactly what is advertised on the game’s box:
- All three original campaigns
- Every piece of DLC at no additional charge, ranging from bonus items to plot-filled campaign content
- Visual tweaks for all three games for the sake of 4K resolutions and HDR toggles
- Deeper updates to Mass Effect 1 to bring it up to engine parity with later games
Is there a chance that this megaton package is watertight in its first dozen hours, only to buckle thanks to a hairline fracture in the code as exposed by a ME1 relationship’s metadata being referenced in ME3? Absolutely. I can’t yet offer a technical review of the full package, and if you feel negatively about EA and BioWare’s decision to pace the “review” period so tightly to the retail launch, I invite you to follow that feeling straight into “buy some other time” territory. That’s especially true if you’re interested in the compilation’s PC version. and my woes with EA’s Origin launcher will soon be made quite clear.
So far, at least, MELE feels like a very solid starting point for anyone who has a decent reason to buy the full ME trilogy, plus its scattered DLC packages, at $60 in 2021. As a top-to-bottom touch-up by BioWare, MELE feels just substantial enough to rise above the PC community’s best modding efforts over the past decade-plus—at least, that’s the case for anyone who’d rather hit “install” and have a good-enough experience instead of fussing with old code and various mod downloads. MELE is clearly built in the one-size-fits-all way that you’d expect from a package launching simultaneously on consoles, and the new version’s modding potential isn’t entirely clear yet.
Better light balancing on faces and bodies does a lot to lift the series’ late-‘00s tech out of the uncanny valley.
Still, in its effort to deliver an unmodded, vanilla package, BioWare has struck the right balance between the old, original code and handsome, new updates to everything. Textures, skyboxes, reflections, and revised lighting techniques receive the biggest updates, while BioWare has gone to the trouble of smoothing out various polygonal structures and models to make curved structures and surfaces actually look curvy this time around. Outfits and armor get modern-day texture fidelity and anisotropic filtering, and a mix of manual rebuilds and AI-powered upscales means BioWare retains the original trilogy’s aesthetic and art direction while still advancing the visuals.
For many aspects, particularly character geometry and animation, lighting-based effects do a lot of the remastered games’ heavy lifting. Better light balancing on faces and bodies does a lot to lift the series’ late-’00s tech out of the uncanny valley, though you’ll still see some freakish facial expressions emerge when an eye protrudes a little too excitedly out of a model. Those moments are rare, and they’re not as bad as the earliest state of ME Andromeda, but it happens.
Ambient occlusion has finally been applied across the board, which looks fantastic in outdoor scenes with new infusions of foliage and grass. This visual effect applies a mix of shadows and bounce-lighting effects to the edges of objects close to the ground. But while this makes chest-high cover like stones, boxes, and crates look more realistic, ambient occlusion doesn’t make those rooms look any less ripped out of the Xbox 360 era.