If your once-popular franchise has fallen on hard times with recent entries, simply release a remastered collection to remind fans of why they enjoyed it so much.
Activision has renewed interest in “Crash Bandicoot,” “Spyro the Dragon” and “Tony Hawk Pro Skater” in recent years with remastered collections. All three topped the sales charts after years of neglect and ridicule. It’s amazing what quality remakes of some of the most popular series of all time can do after countless poor entries.
Now, it’s EA’s turn with its “Mass Effect Legendary Edition” release — a collection of the original “Mass Effect” trilogy remastered for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, though the collection runs even better on next-generation hardware. After the one-two punch of the controversial ending to “Mass Effect 3” and the maligned “Mass Effect Andromeda,” it appeared as if the star-faring franchise was going to be put on ice for good, alongside “Dead Space,” “Mirror’s Edge” and so many other once-promising EA franchises. But developer Bioware has gone above and beyond with its compilation to give “Mass Effect” fans the rejuvenation they deserve — and not a moment too soon, as a new mainline “Mass Effect” title is in development.
“Mass Effect” originally released as an Xbox 360 and PC exclusive in 2007. It was ambitious for its time, featuring literally hundreds of planets to visit and survey, a massive branching narrative with dozens of sidequests, numerous characters to interact with and employ. The game was unlike anything else on the market at the time — and ran like complete garbage. To say its technical issues were glaring would be an understatement. “Mass Effect” never maintained a solid framerate and was plagued by texture pop-ins, excessive loading times and numerous bugs and issues that crippled an otherwise amazing experience.
Its sequels, “Mass Effect 2” and “Mass Effect 3,” remedied the technical problems and smoothed over some of the less refined gameplay elements to create more fluid experiences that embraced the action gameplay, but at the cost of some of the deeper RPG elements that fans had enjoyed of the original game. As the series progressed, it moved away from being a classic Bioware RPG and more of a third-person shooter with RPG elements.
The real disappointment was found in “Mass Effect 3,” which was touted as the conclusion to a three-game arc. Bioware wanted the decisions made by players across the first two games to matter. The decisions would have consequences, and no player’s final game would play exactly like any others. Except, “Mass Effect 3” was rushed to the market and its ending was disappointing, to say the least. Three games of decisions, branching storylines and epic stakes concluded with a literal choice between three colors delivered by a deus ex machina character never seen in the series before.
Still, the series has always held a special place in the hearts of its fans. And this collection is the perfect way to finally enjoy all three games unencumbered by technical issues and the expectations that Bioware would stick the landing of a trilogy of experiences. All three games run at exceptionally smooth framerates with improved graphics and animations. The oldest of these games is 15 years-old, so expectations must be kept in check. They don’t look as good as modern games, and the once impressive facial animations are a little less impressive these days, but they still hold up. The writing of the “Mass Effect” series is where the franchise always shined — ending notwithstanding — and that’s been untouched.
Bioware did go back and make some minor gameplay changes throughout. The horrible Mako exploration sections of “Mass Effect” have been tweaked. The Mako, a clumsy all-terrain vehicle, handles a little better than before. It’s still cumbersome and not nearly as refined as it should be, but it’s a bit heavier and its weapons have more punch and heft than the original release. It also helps that the framerate is smooth and not the complete slideshow of its Xbox 360 incarnation.
For series fans, “Mass Effect Legendary Edition” is the best anyone could hope for. Especially when played on an Xbox Series S/X and PlayStation 5, this release is the absolute best way to enjoy the franchise, and reminds us why we fell in love with this universe so much. For those who never played the original trilogy, or who only joined the hobby after its release, this is a good chance to experience one of the prime series of its generation. It may not be as smooth or advanced as a modern title — or as groundbreaking as it was 15 years ago — but “Mass Effect” is still a top notch RPG, and scratches an itch that few new releases seem to manage.
“Mass Effect Legendary Edition” is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PS5 and Xbox Series S/X.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton and writes a weekly gaming column for The Lawton Constitution.