"In the year 2148, explorers on Mars discovered the remains of an ancient spacefaring civilization. In the decades that followed, these mysterious artifacts revealed startling new technologies, enabling travel to the furthest stars. The basis for this incredible technology was a force that controlled the very fabric of space and time.
They called it the greatest discovery in human history."
Had there been no pandemic in the world right now, in a few weeks the traffic in the streets would shorten by a certain bite of society - namely, the Mass Effect series fan base. The timeless, classic space opera created by BioWare has raised at least two generations of players - and soon will have a chance to repeat this success, thanks to a new, complete release: Legendary Edition.
Rumours about its content have been circulating over the internet for past months. Rumours and speculations alone - because despite the official announcement of the remaster in November, the developers for some reason decided to keep the details concealed. They won't be able to keep it up anymore, though. Last week, I was invited to a press show, and I was able to see Mass Effect Legendary Edition in its (in)complete glory.
Because of the archaic mechanics of the first Mass Effect, (therefore, understandably, most demanding of a full remake), countless issues with installing DLC, or nearly unplayable ports on PlayStation 3, fans of the trilogy have been asking for years for it to be re-released in a refreshed, affordable package.
After an hour of presentation, I could say that BioWare, exhausted by the unending stream of requests, most likely delegated a small team just to get it over with - or at least that's how it feels. While the developers assured that they didn't want to interfere with the original game, promising merely minor changes and touches to its format, it's been known for a long time, that the series didn't lack in elements that needed urgent repairs. Whether we get to see those was a question, with which I headed to the game presentation.
Let's start by asking ourselves what Mass Effect Legendary Edition is supposed to be. If you are expecting a release being a full remaster, or maybe even a remake, then at this point you can abandon your dreams. The Legendary Edition will focus primarily on enhancing textures and resolution, improving performance with additional effects and... that's basically it. Everything else, starting from animation and sound and ending with content, remains utterly unchanged.
Graphicswise, refreshed ME2 and ME3 do not seem to differ much from their original releases, even if they are definitely more clear to the eye and adapted to 4K displays. Naturally, it's the remaster of the first game from the series that offers the most improvement in this field - although it is difficult for me to discern it from just a few slides.
I had an in-depth look at the Eden Prime colony, which in terms of colour palette and environment resembles now its version in "From Ashes," the DLC for the third game. We were not shown the Mako rides or any changes worth mentioning in other locations, and when we asked about the tweaks to the level design, the developers replied that none had been made.
What it means is that all those repetitive ME1 side missions bringing us back to identical, generic stations over and over will remain such. BioWare announced that the shooting system and Mako controls will be adapted to modern standards, but after merely a few seconds of the presentation I am simply not able to confirm whether it's true. At first glance, I did not see much differences from the original, but since the developers swear that the change will be visible, I will judge it after the actual release. It's also unknown whether we can count on any fixes to ME's infamous, messy interface, as questions about it were not answered.
The most outstanding change to the games was unification of the character creator in all three parts of the trilogy. This included upgraded hair, eye and skin colours and sliders, which enabled the creation of even more unique character. New hairstyles were added and the skin tone range appeared expanded. Most importantly: Legendary Edition's female Commander Shepard has a default model adapted to its iconic version from ME3. On the presentation, however, it looked as if her red hair had merely grown more auburn.
Models of all companions and story characters are now pleasantly upgraded, mainly thanks to the razor-sharp textures. I am mostly impressed with how accurately these blocks were shaped, considering it has been fourteen years since their first appearance. It is, however, a pity that nothing has changed in terms of animation and sound: the dialogue still tends to break off and the characters motion still feels stiff, because - as the developers admitted - working on the animations would require too much effort. Fortunately, they did fix over several hundreds of bugs related to transitions between individual positions.
And that's about it. Mass Effect Legendary Edition will offer in one package the entire classic space opera, with all the expansions that have ever seen the light of day, including extras from old pre-orders. Yet there is still a sour disappointment in utter lack of changes where they were most awaited - not the outdated visuals or sterile environments, but the content of the games itself.
With it returning after nine long years, it was an unmissable chance to fix various minor, yet still iconic shortcomings: Tali's face which turned out to be a stock photo effortlessly edited in photoshop, removed scenes, dialogues and relationships (like final conversation with Anderson) and even the sculptures of Protheans in the first game, not corresponding to their design in ME3. A whole plethora of things fans looked forward to be eventually patched, will stay unchanged.
Ever since BioWare officially announced the Legendary Edition, I have also been trying to get necessary information about localisation of DLC. Lair of the Shadow Broker and Arrival have never been properly localised in several countries - the question is, will they be translated now? And which language options will Legendary Edition offer in the end? What about dubbing? Subtitles? Many fans were understandably peeved when the base game and part of the DLC was fully playable in their own language, but upon entering the content of the Shadow Broker, the whole thing would suddenly switch to English. I asked local PR specialists about it, both European and American ones, but none of them could dispel my doubts.
When the Legendary Edition launches on May 14, 2021, we will get a complete edition of one of the best sci-fi trilogies not only in the history of video games, but works of media culture in general. Without a doubt more beautiful and more accessible than ever, though not in every aspect. Old fans will not, however, be offered any new experiences in the form of extended scenes or previously unavailable romances. Announcing Legendary Edition has given BioWare an excellent chance to correct past mistakes, but it doesn't look like the developer has taken advantage of it - or at least that's what I concluded from the disappointingly lacklustre presentation. I'm hoping in future that once I get a copy, I will be able to see the details that for some reason have yet to be already mentioned.