It's been a while since BioWare and EA first announced the Mass Effect: Legendary Edition alongside the as of yet unnamed next game in the series last November.
We've seen a reveal trailer earlier this year, showing off some of the new visuals and learned that all but one DLC will be included in the huge remaster. Now, BioWare has posted an in-depth blog entry digging deeper into the many improvements they're making to the seminal space opera RPG trilogy.
Launching May 14, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is the answer to the all the calls for a remaster of Commander Shepard's adventure. The previous three-game pack, Mass Effect Trilogy, didn't include any changes, improvements or DLC. Legendary Edition will be the actual remaster this series deserves, bringing it up to par with current generation releases.
As stated before, it's very apparent that the first game went through the most alterations for the Legendary Edition. Mass Effects 2 and 3 are pretty close in gameplay terms, while there is a deeper divide between 1 and 2. For this remastered release, all three chapters of the story will share similar gameplay and mechanics for the first time - for the most part, this means bringing the first game up to snuff with the latter two. That said, the developers were keen on not losing the things that made each game unique, and the mechanics that players loved.
Mass Effect 1 was much more traditional an RPG than the follow ups, with stat building and dice-rolls having a direct effect on the gunplay. This had some unfortunate side-effects, like the targeting reticule of low-accuracy builds covering just about your entire screen, making it hard to hit things even at point blank range. Extra attention was paid to gameplay tweaks and rebalances for the first game, like a complete accuracy overhaul to make the gunplay tighter across the board.
While maintaining the overheating mechanic as opposed to the use of ammo made things a bit trickier to tweak in Mass Effect, the developers felt that was too iconic an element of the original experience. The Aim Down Sights Camera has been revamped to be more than just the raw zoom present in the original, making it more accurate. To cap things off, the aim assist has also been tweaked to further improve accuracy. These tweaks are juggling two distinct goals - staying true to the original while also getting close to the action-oriented gameplay of 2 and 3 - while maintaining a fragile balance.
Abilities didn't escape rebalancing either. Once again due to the less action focused gameplay, the original Mass Effect had many more passive abilities and perks that contributed to your "character build" like in non-shooter RPGs. These have been tweaked the most, like the passive Immunity skill is now an active one - instead of providing a constant, minor buff, it will provide a major buff for a brief period of time.
While these are the biggest overarching changes coming to the gameplay of Mass Effect, there is a cadre of smaller tweaks to be excited about as well. Sprinting will be available outside combat, melee will be mapped to a key instead of contextual, all enemies with heads take headshot damage, Ammo Mods drop throughout the game and can be purchased, weapons cool down faster and Medi-Gel usage has been overhauled.
Another significant change is that all weapons can be used by every class without penalties, with the specializations being tied to classes going forward. The various benefits gained from progressing down weapon skill trees have also been increased to prioritize gunplay in combat.
When talking about changes specific to the first Mass Effect game, the Mako deserves its own litany. The six-wheeled APC handled about as well as a drunk whale in the original with confusing controls, weird physics and some particularly dumb insta-death states. While almost universally panned on a technical level, plenty of fans have a personal attachment to this big, stupid tank, so BioWare did its best to fix it all up.
A bunch of tweaks went into making the driving experience of the M-35 Mako not awful while still recognizable for old-time fans. Shields recharge faster, and a new speed boost has been added that's independent from the jump-jets, making it easier to scale the many, many mountains found on the side-planets.
Some of the baffling design decisions have also been remedied for the Legendary Edition. Now, you'll earn the same quantity of XP for kills when in the Mako as when you're on foot, and touching lava on Therum and other volcanic planets won't instantly destroy the poor thing - it was rather silly when a barely perceivable pixel on the outer edge of one wheel just barely touched molten rock and you were slammed with a mission failure screen.
All this isn't to say that the first game is the only one which got some love. In Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 also got some gameplay overhauls going on. Aside of specific gameplay mechanics, some encounters were changed in other ways to tweak balance and difficulty as well.
Still sticking to the first game for a bit - the entire Noveria final boss encounter got a once-over to the extent of having the room it takes place in changed, which seems to be the most significant alteration in the release - this isn't a graphical overhaul or a mechanics tweak, but a straight-up change in the game. Additionally, you'll be able to command companions in ME1 just like in the latter games.
The "sticky cover" system, though refined in the later games, still had some wonkiness going on as late as Mass Effect 3, so this had a lot of improvements implemented for the new release across all three games. We're speaking of both homogenization as well as general improvements - Shepard will actually mantle that stack of boxes instead of just pop up from behind them.
Ammo drops have been boosted for Mass Effect 2, so you won't find yourself running out of lead in the middle of a fight, and XP gain and some boss battles have been also rebalanced to be more fair, but still challenging.
While, in the grand scheme of things, the first game needed the most tweaking overall, there was one particular aspect of Mass Effect 3 that needed a lot of attention - the Galaxy at War mechanic. Derided at release due to being linked to the multiplayer nobody asked for (though it ended up being heaps of fun), Galaxy at War attached a "galactic readiness" statistic to your playthrough which affected the final outcome of the story.
Since BioWare chose to cut multiplayer from the Legendary Edition entirely, this system needed a huge rebalance. Not only is multiplayer out of the picture, but so is the original companion app that launched alongside the game back in 2012. You still need to complete a lot of content in ME3 to rack up a good level of galactic readiness, but it is no longer tied to outside factors, and several bug-fixes in the save-transfer system that previously incorrectly marked some interactions (like the notorious Conrad Verner bug, where he'll always think you punched him in ME2, cheating you out of his War Asset) locking out War Assets.
Moving on from game-specific improvements, we've gotten a better look at the ways the three titles have been unified across the trilogy for the Legendary Edition. One of the most apparent examples of this is the character creator, which is now unified across each title featuring every option from all three games, as well as a few new ones added specifically for the remaster. New options include hair styles, hair colors and skin tones. The option to change the appearance of your character the beginning of each game, even if you are carrying the same save across the trilogy, has been retained.
While each game will still be, broadly speaking, separate, there will be a suite of shared options for them that can be changed in the unified launcher program. The default female Shepard preset from Mass Effect 3 is now the default in all three titles, and there are some brand new, trilogy spanning achievements for you to unlock.
Something the developers had to consider with DLC integration is balance, as in Mass Effect 2 and 3 DLC armor and weapons were available from the get-go. Since all DLC items are now integrated into the games, this is no longer the case and you'll need to acquire, unlock or buy them as you progress.
To better display the kind of changes that went into improving these older classics, the Mass Effect development team released a comparison video showing how far we've come since the first time players stepped into the boots of Commander Shepard.
Next week, BioWare will be detailing the graphical upgrades coming in the Legendary Edition - keep an eye out for our coverage of that too.
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