Earlier this month, Electronic Arts and BioWare released Mass Effect Legendary Edition, a compilation that remasters the three games in the original Mass Effect trilogy and offers all of them – along with their DLC – in one package. It’s a rather ambitious release, particularly as it concerns the original Mass Effect. BioWare’s impressive efforts to update the first Mass Effect for the modern era haven’t completely saved the game from feeling dated, but despite the fact that even a remastered Mass Effect shows its age to some degree, it’s still worth playing today.
Mass Effect, after all, is a game from a different time. By the time Mass Effect came out in 2007, BioWare was already a big name in the industry thanks to games like Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, and the perhaps lesser known – but still very wonderful – Jade Empire. Expectations were high and it’s safe to say that BioWare delivered, as Mass Effect launched to rave reviews and spawned a trilogy that only got better with each new release (for the most part, at least, but there will be no talk of Mass Effect 3’s controversial ending here).
Playing through Mass Effect in the Legendary Edition, it’s clear that BioWare was still figuring out what it wanted Mass Effect to be with this first entry in the series. The two succeeding games in the trilogy are a lot more polished and fluid than the original. Combat in those latter two games felt a lot better, and of course, there’s also the fact that Mass Effect relied heavily on a vehicle called Mako for planetary exploration, which did not control very well in the original version of the game.
Thankfully, all of those who hated the Mako didn’t have to deal with it in subsequent Mass Effect games. It wasn’t in either Mass Effect 2 or 3, probably because of negative feedback it received following Mass Effect 1. Even in the Legendary Edition, BioWare has updated the vehicle’s controls to feel less awful. Since it’s been years and years since I last played Mass Effect, I don’t exactly remember what made the Mako so awful to drive, but I do remember thinking that the vehicle wasn’t as bad as people claimed once you got used to it.
Even with better Mako handling and updated combat, the first Mass Effect still manages to feel the most distinct among the games in the trilogy. There’s a certain rough-around-the-edges quality in the first game that isn’t present in the other two. Combat, while improved, still feels a bit clunky. Shepard – specifically the default male Shepard – frequently makes some weird faces during conversations. Sometimes NPCs can feel like exposition dispensers too, which can lead to discussions that don’t feel particularly realistic.
All of these things got better in Mass Effect 2 and 3, at least as far as my memory serves. It’s been years since I’ve played any of these games, but I can remember trying to start Mass Effect a number of times only to put it down because it didn’t feel great to play and didn’t look all that great – especially in comparison to its sequels. The Legendary Edition changes that, too, giving Mass Effect a fresh coat of paint that I think looks really good.
Even though there’s some degree of clunkiness still present in the original Mass Effect, it’s definitely worth playing today. It does a good job of kicking off the trilogy, and at times it feels more focused than either of its sequels. Perhaps that’s because the full threat of the Reapers won’t be realized until later games – in Mass Effect 1, players are mostly concerned with stopping Saren, while the looming return of the Reapers feels further off than it does in Mass Effect 2.
Saren is a fantastic antagonist, too. He’s smart, calculating, and violent, and like most good villains, his methods might be suspect but his goals aren’t entirely without merit. Saren knows that the Reapers are coming back eventually and believes that if the organic species of the galaxy can prove their worth to the machines, they’ll be spared from the purge the Reapers carry out whenever they reemerge.
For my money, Saren is the most compelling antagonist the Mass Effect series has. The Reapers and the Geth are intimidating foes, yes, but they’re both faceless hordes of enemies. With Saren, things get a lot more personal – he hates humans, for example, and since players are essentially donning the mantle of humanity’s representative on the galactic stage, it’s hard to not take that personally. In later games, I wanted to stop the Reapers because I wanted to be a hero and save the galaxy’s sentient life. In Mass Effect 1, I wanted to stop Saren because I just plain hated the guy by the end.
Don’t get me wrong, later games in the series are definitely easier to play and benefit from a lot of refinement, but for all of the blemishes it might still have, it’s been really great to revisit Mass Effect 1. I’ve been taking my time with the first Mass Effect as I attempt to complete everything the game has to offer, and while I’m definitely looking forward to playing through Mass Effect 2 and 3 again, I’ve really been enjoying this return to the Mass Effect series’ roots.