I swear I only turned this on to see what it looked like on a big, newish telly. And I only bought the Mass Effect Legendary Edition because of favourable exchange rates making it about £25. Genuinely, I didn’t intend it to get as out of hand as it has, but… well, at the time of writing, I’m pushing 30 hours in the remaster of the original Mass Effect, close to catching up with (excellent) antagonist Saren, most planets you can land on very much landed on and Mako-d around in to the point of boredom, and very much played more than you need to in order to see what an old game made new looks like on a modern display.
[Update for the world of online: dear reader, I did indeed finish Mass Effect. Again.]
After playing through Mass Effect: Andromeda not too long ago and documenting that effort here on these very pages all the way back in issue 15 (yep, just realised that was less ‘not too long ago’ and more ‘quite a while ago’), I had a feeling in my brain of what I thought – what I felt – about Mass Effect as a series. It was something I once loved, but something that I’d moved on from. It felt odd. The characters weren’t as interesting as I remembered. Missions were bland, and the storyline forgettable.
Turns out that was just Andromeda corrupting my brain. The original Mass Effect is still superb fun – even with the modern updateifying BioWare has undertaken for the Legendary Edition, it’s still clearly a 14-year-old RPG made for console. But it’s also one of the most assured, defined, confident universes to drop right into I’ve ever seen in gaming. From the moment things kick off, you’re aware of what’s going on: you’re on a human ship in a galaxy teeming with sentient alien life. The aliens are established, while humans are the upstarts. Few in power trust humans, or want to give them an inch. There’s an existential threat on the space horizon, and this human crew is in the best position to make a difference. From there, you go.
One thing I just want to segue off towards here is how brilliant your interactions are with the Council – three representatives from alien races who oversee the affairs of ‘civilised’ space. The Council does not trust humans. You are a human. Every time you contact them, they pick at you, needle you, treat you – frankly – like someone they don’t like or trust. It doesn’t sound like much, but it works phenomenally well and really reminds you, consistently, both of who you are and what your place in the power structures of the universe is. It also makes hanging up on the Council after they’ve spoken to you like a child again all the more fun.
Anyway, yes, aside from space phone calls with disappointed space parents, Mass Effect’s other thing that’s had me smiling the most has been the Mako. It’s your six-wheeled personnel carrier-slash-tank used to navigate the surface of any planet you encounter which you’re able to land on. Controls of the Mako have been tweaked to make it a bit less hellish compared to how things originally were, but the feel of things is still pretty much as it was.
That is to say, it’s like riding a horse in Skyrim: you point in a direction and really just try and go there as much as possible and, even if it’s a sheer face of rock in your way, eventually you’ll probably get over it. It’s dumb, the physics are still a bit messed up, planets are both too big but with too little to actually do on them, and once you’ve realised it’s a case of one mission, two side artefacts/bits of debris to discover, and three minerals to find then you’ll realise just how little the planetary sections evolve as you play.
I’ve found myself driving around every single planet I can, though, taking in the views and gawking with delight, a feeling of genuine discovery washing over my insides. It’s less involved than even day one No Man’s Sky, but that’s not the point: you’re on an (almost) empty alien planet, you’re exploring, you’re discovering, and you’re going wherever you like. Time has shown Mass Effect wasn’t quite as open and free as I once thought, but it still feels like you’re out there. It is, as they say, a vibe. And that’s before I even start gushing about how much I love going through every single codex entry and reading all the flavour text for every one of the dozens of planets you can check out in the game. Why yes, I am a nerd.
Oh yeah, it looks OK too. Like a 14-year-old game with fresh wallpaper layered over it, the original skeleton and raggedy animation visible just below the surface. Might as well get that in there, given it’s the entire reason I switched Mass Effect on to begin with.