At long last, the Mass Effect Legendary Edition has come out. Though these sci-fi RPGs originally released from 2007 to 2012, people the world over now have an excuse to play them again. Even better, some say that this extensive remaster is now the best way to play these storied titles.
Indeed, the Legendary Edition has improved a lot. Aside from the smoother gameplay, the textures and presentation are a sight to behold. This isn’t surprising, though. The developers took inspiration from the various mods released through the years, giving them a good handle on which improvements players wanted. However, not all is well in the galaxy. While the trilogy boasts many technical upgrades, some scenes and features don’t quite measure up to the originals in terms of looks. BioWare clearly had a different team and mindset going into this new release, as most of these lesser aesthetics come down to creator choice rather than developmental limitations.
10 Human Eyes
Sure, the faces in the original Mass Effect weren’t the most advanced, but the eyes functioned well enough. They had the appropriate texture and reflected light in the iris. For all its other facial improvements, though, the Legendary Edition dropped the ball in the optical department. Now, the light shines over the whole eye.
Combined with the brightened colors, it gives the humans a constant glassy look in their peepers. Not only does it conjure images of the creepy eyes of Uncharted 2, but it makes Shepard and company seem like they’re always about to cry. The Reaper threat must be pretty demoralizing if it brings the galaxy’s greatest heroes to tears.
9 Conversations In The First Game
In this case, inferior graphics turn out to be an asset. The first Mass Effect portrayed conversations simply yet effectively. The characters were fully rendered in the foreground while the backgrounds were blurred out. This maintained an emphasis on the dialogue exchanges.
The remake utilizes this same technique. The problem is that the more detailed character models stand out even more from the blurry backgrounds. It makes the game look unfinished. Now, instead of focusing on the conversations themselves, players will be wondering whether the levels are done loading.
8 The Council Holograms
These projections were previously just the regular character models. They were fully rendered yet transparent. The remake abandons this and blurs out the edges, leaving only the people’s faces and central bodies with any texture. This is seemingly intentional.
Why did the developers do this? After all, there was no reason that they couldn’t fill in these details. Maybe they thought it would look more stylistic. Unfortunately, it mirrors the problem with the conversations, carrying the uncanny effect of an unfinished game. Worse, it makes players hate the Council even more.
7 Stylistic Shadows
What’s immediately noticeable about the Legendary Edition’s aesthetic is that it’s very bright, vibrant, and colorful. This is presumably to show off the improved graphics and make the visuals pop more than they previously did. Sadly, this somewhat misses the point in some areas.
Much of Mass Effect has a distinct neo-noir flavor akin to Blade Runner. The second game, in particular, uses shadows and contrasting colors to great stylistic effect in its seedier storylines. Lighting everything up diminishes this vibe. It’s not unlike what happened with Batman: Return to Arkham; the games aren’t meant to look this bright and shiny.
6 The Quarians
Because of their longstanding, costly conflict with the Geth, these beings can’t survive outside their helmets. The original trilogy illuminated these helmets enough to distinguish color for each Quarian. At the same time, they were still dark enough that the whites of their eyes were visible.
How ironic that more light actually makes something less clear. The Legendary Edition brightens the Quarians up so much that they could double as walking, talking lamps. This also makes their eyes and other dimly lit facial features harder to make out. What a bunch of bosh’tets.
5 The Red Sky Of Eden Prime
The first mission in Mass Effect sets a dour tone for the whole journey. As Shepard and crew touch down on Eden Prime, the local base lies in ruins after a Reaper attack. Environments are empty except for enemies, and the sky is blood-red.
The Legendary Edition somewhat lessens this impact by going for a dull peach color. This is a confusing choice. Although one could argue it’s more realistic, it also undermines the apocalyptic atmosphere. Rather than a foreboding glimpse at the hellish horrors to come, Eden Prime is now just another planet.
4 The Mako’s Snow Trek On Noveria
Thankfully, the improved graphics and gameplay extend to the first game’s Mako sections. Tragically, so does the lack of style. As Shepard and crew drive their galactic dune buggy up the mountain on Noveria, everything appears better on a technical level. The textures are all there, and the snow effects convince players of the raging blizzard outside.
What’s missing are the striking blues and reds in the distance. These made the climate seem (for lack of a batter word) otherworldly. Something clearly made this tundra different than the ones on Earth. It had a foreboding, ethereal quality, and this is part of what spurred curious players on. Without this small detail, the Mako might as well be driving over a plain, old mountain.
3 The Attack On Earth
For the most part, the sublimely detailed presentation benefits the large-scale set pieces. Everything looks so crisp that it’s hard not to marvel at the epic backdrops. However, some instances raise the question of whether that’s appropriate.
The opening of Mass Effect 3 is a prime example. As the Reapers descend on Earth, the cleaner visuals undermine the apocalyptic chaos meant for this moment. Meanwhile, the original’s higher contrasts and dirtier aesthetic sell the destruction more naturally. Perhaps a planetary siege isn’t supposed to be pretty. Perish the thought.
2 Onscreen Damage Effects
The health bar in Mass Effect is easily visible at the bottom of the screen, clearly indicating Shepard’s shields and vitality. The games also convey damage by framing the screen with a bloody damage outline, steadily growing thicker and shrinking the player’s field of view.
The folks in charge of the remaster take this further. Not only is the screen more obscured at the edges, but it’s also peppered with countless bits of dirt and damage. They presumably intended this to convey a greater sense of danger, but it just winds up as an annoyance. These effects become so extreme that it’s hard to see what you’re even doing. Needless to say, that’s a problem when Shepard’s about to die. Anyone attempting an Insanity run should take note.
1 Every Section With A Lens Flare
These light shows were always there in the original trilogy, but the Legendary Edition dials them up in both frequency and intensity. Lens flares are a neat camera trick to make a movie appear sleeker and more futuristic. On the other hand, overusing this technique reduces it to a desperate gimmick and an annoying distraction.
Just look at Man of Steel or J.J. Abrams’s recent Star Trek flicks (or any J.J. Abrams flick). Lens flares are practically a punchline for how much they pop up, and that’s exactly what happens here. While this strategy started as another way of spicing up the visuals, it winds up doing the opposite.