Last week, BioWare gave fans an in-depth look at all the changes and improvements the developers have made to the gameplay of the seminal space opera role-playing series for Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. Now, the spotlight is being shined on the many graphical adjustments and upgrades being given to the trilogy to make it seem like it truly belongs in the current generation.
Alongside some fancy slider comparisons that you can check out in the official blog post, alongside an awfully in-depth and lengthy writeup about the process of how the team tackled visually upgrading the games, there is also a video giving us a proper comparison of the visual changes in motion.
Some interesting things to note are that, while there has been a great deal of unification across the three titles to make them closer in terms of gameplay and visuals, some deliberate differences were maintained.
Some characters who pop up in two of the three titles or across every entry of the trilogy retain their different designs across the games to signify the way they change or mature over the years. It wasn't only real-world years that passed between the release of the games, but the story also has some time skips that would make it strange if characters would use the same assets in Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2.
This means that, while Garrus loses the low-rez head textures in Mass Effect one, it will still be spotless, whereas his stunt in Mass Effect 2 where he decides to block a warhead with his face will leave him scarred. In both cases, the native game's assets were touched up instead of both using a new one. Another example is Liara, whose face changes a bit between the games - though, to be honest, this is a stranger decision, as there is a notable shift in design between Mass Effect 1/2 and Lair of the Shadow Broker that cannot be chalked up to "maturing".
Much like in the case of the gameplay changes, here too the first Mass Effect got the bulk of the love. Lighting, textures, visual effects and animations all needed significant work to be brought in line with the rest of the trilogy and to hit the level of quality expected from a modern remaster. Something that becomes painfully apparent from the comparison shots is how dark the original was.
The official post about the process that went into bringing the Legendary Edition to life in all its graphical glory is a fascinating look into the remaster process - most behind the scenes looks into gamedev concern new products. First off, the team at BioWare had to do some serious archival work by cataloging every single individual asset across all three games.
Something that comes up a lot in remasters - in fact, in the case of one DLC for the Legendary Edition too - is whether or not the developers kept the "source assets", meaning the original creation files. When source code or source assets are lost or corrupted, many companies decide that recreating them from scratch is not worth it. Luckily, in the case of Shepard's journey, the vast majority of source assets were retained.
Another thing the team had to consider was redundancies. While each entry in the series introduced new characters, species, locations, weapons, vehicles, buildings and more, they also share a lot of designs. While in the case of some characters retaining multiple versions was necessary as outlined above, for some things it was enough to take the best looking version and just use that - like a plant, a common weapon, a floor panel and so forth.
Back when the Mass Effect trilogy was still new on the block, we were still gaming on hardware mostly limited to 1080p or even 720p - the Mass Effect games were released on consoles, after all - whereas nowadays 4K is becoming more and more ubiquitous. Even if it isn't the most common resolution for gaming due to the cost of hardware needed, the ability to support it is expected from AAA titles.
Textures were definitely the main target when it came to prettying up Mass Effect. This didn't just mean bigger, nicer textures, but the tweaking of underlying technology, like compression to ensure quality without ballooning the install size, and engine overhauling.
Raw fidelity upgrading wasn't the only improvement implemented either - in some cases, modernization meant change, once again focusing mostly on the first title. Some of the locations got much more than just a texture overhaul, with completely new visual effects implemented to make the feel of the planet pop. On one of the comparison images, this seems like it means "add enough lens flare to humble J. J. Abrams", but there's more to it than that.
Shaders, particle effects, lighting, 3D geometry and animation rigs were all given a good once over - especially faces. Characters in the Legendary Edition will be more expressive and emotive than in the original releases, and we expect this will help alleviate the problem of the "BioWare Face" when whoever you are talking to freezes into an emotionless death-glare while waiting for you to click on your response.
Cutscenes in particular also received a lot of attention. In this case, we're not just talking about a graphical upgrade but straight-up maintenance. The Mass Effect trilogy has its fair share of buggy cutscenes, some of which became memes in the fandom. The team went back and debugged the worst offenders, but being the absolute ledges they are, the spinning-head bug that spawned one of the top ME3 memes is still in the game.
This suite of graphical improvements, paired up with the changes made to the gameplay will alleviate any issues newer players would have with getting into the original titles, while also offering old fans new and streamlined ways to re-experience the legendary story - all wrapped up in a nice package including almost all the DLC.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition launches on the 14th of May.