Release Date: 05/14/2021
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Mass Effect was a big part of my teen years growing up. It was a massive sci-fi odyssey that let you explore planets, and BioWare created a giant world with lore that could rival Star Wars. Alien species with in-depth military and political backgrounds, and the amount of detail spread across the whole game that fully incorporated the lore and detail. Being able to talk to numerous species such as the Elcor, Hanar, Volus, or Asari about their individual lives or more galactic issues. It was fascinating and ground-breaking for the time. The facial animations, the graphics, the sheer scope of the game were unheard of. Fast forward over a decade later and it’s still impressive, but video games have evolved and so have action RPGs. The flaws are big red scores on the game, but it’s still fun to play through.
The game starts out like any other BioWare or Western RPG. You create a character, and pick a class, and a background. Mass Effect’s character customization was never grand, and LE’s improved version helps a bit, but it’s still not very detailed. You can choose a pre-made character, but I chose to create from scratch. I picked a class that balances biotics and weapons and a female. Biotics are powers you can use in the game (and describes how humans become biotics in fascinating detail) and you’re off. You start out right off the bat learning that dialogue is a huge part of the game here. In fact, every choice you make shapes the ending and the outcomes of missions that carry across all three games. You can be Paragon or Renegade based on how you respond. There are usually three different levels. Nice, mean, and down the middle. One major complaint players had was the Renegade path was Shepard just being a complete asshole and nothing in between. It also doesn’t serve you to be neutral through the whole game either. This path can unlock dialogue options for either side that can change the tide of the entire game including making missions easier or harder.
Once you learn the ropes and get into your first mission you will learn how to play with the combat and shooting in the game. Mass Effect never had amazing combat, but the shooting here is slightly improved and is more enjoyable than it was before. You can move into cover, peek around ledges, sprint, and throw grenades. You can carry four weapons. Assault rifles, pistols, shotguns, and sniper rifles. Throughout the game, you can acquire crap tons of loot that allow you to mod the weapons in various ways as well as acquire new weapons and armor. This is essential to staying alive and you also need to manage your crew’s armament as well. Over the course of the game, you will meet various characters such as Wrex the Krogan, Liara the Asari, and Garrus the Turian. These characters are quite memorable and some even offer missions. I didn’t particularly care for Kaiden or Ashley as they were just boring humans honestly, and there is nothing exciting about their personalities and you only learn about their past through optional dialogue when visiting them on the Normandy (your ship) after each main story mission.
One of the major hub areas of the game is the Citadel. A giant spacecraft that trillions of aliens live on. There are various parts you can visit and can easily get around through a fast travel system. There are about a dozen missions to complete on the Citadel as well as vendors to visit. Some missions are given to you here to complete in space, but overall the Citadel isn’t a very enjoyable place to explore. Most of Mass Effect suffers from slow exploration, linear corridors, and various other problems. It’s a flaw of the times as the Xbox 360 wasn’t powerful enough for the vast open worlds we have now and there were also time constraints for development. Honestly, exploring in Mass Effect just isn’t very enjoyable. I only really liked the main story missions. Side missions are a bore fest with nothing truly gained outside of cash and loot and there’s too much of it. The game is so short that you will end up with millions of credits with nothing to spend it on. About halfway through I acquired the best gear just through completing missions and opening crates.
It’s a very unbalanced game difficulty-wise. I found the game very easy early on as acquiring loot so fast and quickly means you can kill everything in a couple of shots. This also led to me never really venturing outside of my pistol as my class specialized in that weapon. I nearly maxed out my level by the end of the game and there are so many different things to put points into that it feels unnecessary due to the short length of the game. All these biotic powers, weapons, mods, and classes for a game that can be finished in less than 20 hours? I wound up finishing everything in the game in about 33 hours. While this sounds strange that there would be so much RPG stuff in a short RPG, the game mostly just runs itself. I micromanaged my inventory a lot, but the game is so easy that I never worried about trying to find the best stuff. It basically falls into your lap.
That’s also not the weirdest thing about the game. The MAKO driving sections are a notorious and infamous chore and bore-fest. The vehicle has a mounted turret and shoots grenades, but there’s not much reason to use it outside of main missions. The vehicle is floaty and the worlds you drive on are insanely difficult to navigate. The terrain feels like it was made by a child who was given a terrain deformation editor and they went nuts. Nothing makes sense, there’s no logic. Just cheer cliffs and mountains on every single planet that are a pain to drive on. You can go around and discover hidden anomalies and metal deposits (these are for credits), but it’s such a chore and it’s boring. The first few planets are interesting, and it’s fun to feel like you’re exploring planets in space, but they’re completely empty. There are no other colonies or cities to visit outside of the Citadel itself. Just hours of empty driving and getting out to do a stupid puzzle to complete a few fetch quests.
Most side missions are given once you enter a new cluster on the Galaxy Map. You are looking at a solar system and can click on planets and you get a zoomed-in view of them. These are actually quite awesome and they are all different. You get info sheets on what type of planet it is and that part is really more fun to explore than actually landing on planets. Most clusters have one planet you can land on, and once you enter a cluster that has a side mission you will get an incoming message. Then you land, explore, find anomalies to complete the fetch quests, find deposits for credits, then you go into the same three generic interior buildings that are rotated to shoot something dead to complete the side mission. Maybe there’s one that involves dialogue to complete the mission. These interior levels are boring with just a few hallways and open rooms.
With that said, what’s the point of completing side missions then? Maybe completionists will want to for achievements, but it’s not needed to get the credits to buy weapons and armor. You end up getting all that stuff organically as you play anyways. The most enjoyable moments are the dialogue sections though and combat is fun for the most part. It’s just clunky and most everything feels underutilized. However the story is fantastic and the majority of characters are memorable, and that’s Mass Effect’s strongest point. The world-building, the lore, the characters, the story, the writing, and everything involved in that.
The game looks good and the LE upgrade is definitely several steps up visually from the Xbox 360 original. There’s better lighting, higher resolution textures, more detailed models, and everything in between. The music in the series is also fantastic, and the PC graphics options are decent. There’s ultrawide screen support which is a huge plus in my book as well. Overall, Mass Effect 1 Legendary Edition improves mostly on the visuals and that’s it. You can’t fix the core gameplay too much. They tried to add sprinting, but it’s only for three seconds, so why bother? You can skip elevator rides, but only some of them, and interesting dialog takes place here, so again, what’s the point there? I also had physics issues, stuttering, slow down, and the game would randomly crash sometimes. Hopefully, this gets patched at some point.
If you can look past the awful MAKO missions, the clunky combat, overly easy difficulty, and the unbalanced loot system, the game is worth playing. The main story is short, and the side missions aren’t worth investing time into unless you want to complete everything. The story, lore, characters, and dialogue are what make the game so great, but it really hasn’t aged well over the years and feels like a time capsule of two generations ago.