Are the Complaints About Mass Effect Legendary Edition Fair?

The reveal trailer for Mass Effect: Legendary Edition has been out for a week now and many have been dissecting the game’s visuals and comparing them to the original games. The Legendary Edition boasts 4K, Ultra-HD, better overall FPS, and higher resolution textures. Having said that, with graphical improvements often comes a shift in art-direction and much of the released footage of the Legendary Edition has fans wondering if the new design choices will alter Mass Effect’s overall atmosphere.

The Legendary Edition and the Mystery of the Fog

Looking at the various comparison videos and screenshots provided by BioWare, it seems that a lot of the focus of the Legendary Edition has been to reduce blurriness and sharpen textures.

mass effect legendary edition 2 2

mass effect legendary edition 2 1

In the above comparison of Eden Prime, the first planet the player finds themselves on in Mass Effect 1, we can see that there is certainly heightened fidelity in the Legendary Edition. The greenery looks lusher, the rocks are more tactile, and shafts of light define shadows more precisely. There is, however, a strange amount of fog added to the newer version, most likely to allow light to bounce around scenes nicely and to help keep the framerate steady by obscuring certain background elements.

fog1

This image of the Mako gives a good example of a lot of the graphical changes that fans are struggling with, in the Legendary Edition. While the textures and details are certainly crisper in the screenshot on the right, things like excessive lens flare and fog feel like they overpower the scene. There seems to be an emphasis on reducing saturation and stripping back colour, a change that could see the vibrancy of Mass Effect's varied locations replaced with dull greys and browns in the name of realism. 

My Favourite Character Models on the Citadel

Player models have also been altered, most notably, both the male and female Shepard have seen a revamp.

Legendary-Edition-Shepard

Whether or not the new models look better is up for debate. Female Shepard certainly has a more realistic facial structure, but some of the character of the original has been lost. She seems to be wearing a lot more makeup for some reason as well –smoky-eye is apparently an important aspect of space battles– and her lips are definitely fuller. Many have noted that the new male Shepard looks a bit off as well, with his deeply sunken eyes being a bit glassy and lifeless —does this unit have a soul?

Certain characters do seem to look better though. Zaeed looks far more realistic in the below comparison, with his damaged eye being more clearly defined and the Legendary Edition’s lighting removing the plastic sheen from his face.

Legendary-Edition-Zaeed

Why Is the Legendary Edition Not a Full Remake?

Mac Walters, project director for Mass Effect Legendary Edition has stated that a push for a dedicated next-gen remaster of the series was “more than [they] could have done” and would be “better suited for the next Mass Effect.” Much of this has to do with the difficulties in working with the older Unreal Engine 3 and attempting to eke out performance increases.

These limitations are obviously a major reason why fans won’t be seeing the kinds of improvements that other older games have seen in recent years, such as Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 in 2019. While speculative, it could be argued that BioWare doesn’t want to take anything away from what is currently only known as “The Next Mass Effect”, a project announced in December of last year.

It seems likely that Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is intended to spark interest in the untitled Mass Effect game, as the series hasn’t had a new release since Mass Effect: Andromeda —a game that received incredibly mixed reviews upon its launch in 2017.

This means that the Legendary Edition is more of an entrée, with the newest Mass Effect game being the main course, and having the Legendary Edition’s visuals match the newer title’s graphical fidelity may detract from the game’s overall impact. Rebuilding the game for Unreal Engine 4 and next-generation consoles would be a much larger workload for Bioware’s team as well, forcing them to slow progress on their untitled Mass Effect project.

Don’t Be Too Cynical

While there are certain aspects of the new graphical improvements that could be criticised, it does feel like BioWare is attempting to maintain the style of the original series. Slight alterations to Mass Effect 1’s HUD to comply more with the updated version from Mass Effect 3 and other gameplay changes are nice touches that will help make the series feel more cohesive during full series playthroughs.

The removal of a lot of the blur from the original, coupled with higher definition textures and improved resolution really go a long way to improve large-scale scenes, like this establishing shot of Omega from Mass Effect 2:

Legendary-Edition-Omega

It is important to note that it is early days as well. Fans of Demon’s Souls had similar concerns when footage was released of the FromSoftware title’s remaster. Once the game was actually released, however, it was met with almost universal acclaim.

This isn’t to say that Mass Effect: Legendary will necessarily meet the standards of Demon’s Souls Remake –mainly due to Demon’s Souls being built from the ground up as a PlayStation 5 title– but fans should try to understand that the game is likely to go through some changes between now and its final release. What we have seen so far is merely a fraction of what the final product will be. The original Mass Effect series is made up of three very lengthy RPGs and the fact that all of them are receiving a graphical overhaul, along with gameplay improvements, is a great sign of life for the franchise. In the words of Saren: "Is a remake not preferable to extinction?"

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