With Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, the long-anticipated, beloved & at times maligned revival of Mass Effect by BioWare is also the first step in image recovery in the studio.
Sometimes, they almost sound like they're playing God when people at BioWare explain what they've changed in the remastered Mass Effect trilogy. Kevin Meek, the environment and character director, said during a hands-off remote presentation in January that the sun was moved completely in an early scene during the first game. This way, he explained, the view can be appreciated by the player, which makes the alien planet seem like a perpetual sunset.
The biggest and most noticeable changes in the visual and cosmetic Mass Effect Legendary Edition are like this. In terms of previously cut content or tweaked storylines, don't expect to play through the beloved sci-fi series and find anything new, which means yes, there is still that controversial ending. Even so, while reviewing comparison shots from the older games against the spruced-up versions, which will be playable in 4K and HDR, I was struck.
Your memory tends to sand off the edges when you remember a video game, particularly one near and dear to your heart. The original Mass Effect looks good in my mind's eye. 2007 was a long time ago, however. It is now painful to return to Mass Effect-wooden faces, flat textures, animation glitches, never mind mechanical mishaps such as the infamous unruly vehicle sections or the awkward sequences of elevator loading. I remember this stuff, but none of it was that bad in my head. It is a small shock whenever I revisit the game.
During the preview event, BioWare compared the remaster of the Mass Effect to the restoration of the car. While all the games have been touched, it is clear that the first entry in the series was the heaviest lift. The goal was to bring the original Mass Effect more into line with the successes of its sequel.
In order to achieve this, BioWare had its artists play through levels multiple times, pen in hand, so that developers could see which specific assets they could target for maximum impact. From there, the studio raised the cap on texture sizes and used the AI program to increase the resolution of textures, allowing for better particle effects and more immersive cinematography. Basically, every level has got a paint-over.
The changes are immediately obvious. You can see pores of some characters in some scenes. Skin tones are more varied and flush with depth, more closely approximating the faces of actual human beings. I even found myself noticing eyelashes that no longer look like a little child scribbling on a character's face with a black pencil. To accompany all of these upgrades, players also have extended options in the Character Creation menu, including better hair options for Black Shepards.
Of course, such palliative graphical measures can only go so far. There were times during the presentation when certain textures only highlighted the limitations of the tech of that time. Seeing every crease on the 3D model of a non-human species, for example, could sometimes make them look more off-putting in ways that did not seem intentional. Other times, however, higher resolution allowed me to appreciate the individual scales that make Thane Krios. In general, the squadmates and their uniforms have been upgraded to make them look more real. Eyes sparkle; leather looks soft. The team tried to "hand-touch" almost every single character and armor set. So when you hire the Legion version with a hole in your chest, it really looks devastating to peer through.
There are a few different things, it turns out. The Mass Effect PC version now supports controllers, and the key bindings have been updated. The HUD was given a facelift to look more "modern," although the team noted that it's still a work in progress. Aim Assist has been strengthened. Weapons have been re-equilibrated, and boss encounters have also been adjusted, although BioWare's team was not specific to these changes. Class arms restrictions are gone. You can expect your squadmates to be smarter—but the enemy AI will be smarter, too. "Tens" of animation glitches have been fixed. Minigames are less frequent and a little easier. In other words, the newcomers won't be stuck in the roughest version of the franchise.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition will be released on May 14 for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One, and will be playable on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X via backward compatibility. The remaster will include all content that can be downloaded from the story, as well as armor and characters.