Cue the Mass Effect Hype Music
The Mass Effect games changed my life, not hyperbole. I have replayed them a lot. I have tried to convince my friends to play them. And now that Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is actually on the horizon (coming May 14 to PS4, Xbox One, and PC), I wanted to start channeling that hype in a new short series on The Punished Backlog.
So, here are five things I loved about the original Mass Effect series, and five hopes in terms of feature changes (some new, some improved) for Mass Effect: Legendary Edition (which is a combined set of the original trilogy of Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3, plus all DLC).
Note: There are zero serious spoilers in this piece.*
Hope To See: #1 – Beautiful Starry Vistas
Mass Effect: Andromeda (released in 2017 as a “standalone-ish” follow-up to the trilogy) was a very troubled game, yes. But one place where it excelled was the view from your ship’s deck where you could see beautiful expanses of stars, nebulae, and planets.
I want to feel the way I felt when I was seven years old in a planetarium, awed at a screen that could bring me close to scarlet-tinted galaxies and distant cerulean planets. If the February 2, 2021 trailer above is any indication, we’ll hopefully get to see some gorgeous large-scale space sets.
Loved: #1 – Origin Story Selection
I bought my Xbox 360 at a lonely GameStop in Rhode Island at a deep discount toward the end of that console’s lifespan in 2015. I browsed the sale bin alone, ticking through cases. It’s where I found a copy of Mass Effect 1 for $5. Space? Role playing? Romance? Guns? Cool, whatever.
I threw it onto the checkout counter with a bunch of other games whose golden age I had missed by five to 10 years. Then I went home, played the absolute shit out of Mass Effect, returned to that GameStop bin, and then played 2 and 3 in rapid succession.
Within the first five minutes of Mass Effect 1, I knew it was going to be a special game. Why? Because it offered a choice, one of three, of an origin story close to my own that I have very rarely ever seen before in media: being a military brat. Pictured above, the Spacer origin story in Mass Effect mirrored my childhood of service-oriented communities and frequent moves.
Throughout the series, there are small callbacks to whatever origin story you choose. It still honestly gives me shivers when I think about those moments in the games that ring so true to my own upbringing that is largely unrepresented in any of the popular media I’ve experienced.
(For the record, the other two stories are essentially Small Town Farm Kid on Distant Planet, aka “Colonist,” or the street urchin “Earthborn.”)
Hope To See: #2 Less Boring Planets
This was one of the biggest disappointments of Mass Effect: Andromeda for me. There were these truly huge planets with nothing cool to do, where you were forced to drive around with bleh controls for required fetch quests. Companions barely spoke as you drove the car around for minutes at a time, so it’s not like you were getting comedy or inspirational vibes as you did so.
And what’s so disappointing is that this was a pretty central element of Mass Effect 1, meaning that some poor team at BioWare thought, “We’re doing that but better this time!” I hope no one thinks that cursed thought again.
I’m not sure how much of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is actually going to be new gameplay, but honestly just give us fast travel points to the points that matter on those old planets or commit to filling the space with something. Otherwise, the very rare fetch bits can be incorporated within the actual main levels. Make the Mako good or make it go away. Please.
Loved: #2 – The Homies
I miss my friends during the pandemic. I know you do too. Which is why I’m that much more excited about seeing my old crew from the SSV Normandy.
Yes, all the legit squadmates are awesome (I know there’s literally dozens of think pieces about how great the companion quests in Mass Effect 2 are). And don’t get me wrong, I’m a Garrus stan for life. But, honestly, I miss everyone.
I can’t wait to get loaded with sassy Dr. Chakwas. I want to impress father figure Captain Anderson (voiced beautifully by the always great Keith David) so badly. I’m excited to tell my old pal, the pilot appropriately nicknamed “Joker,” to STFU. I’m even looking forward to those bickering morons on the engine crew and hope they just realize they’re in love already.
Hope To See: #3 – The Homies With a Skincare Routine
One of the most beloved PC mods for the original Mass Effect series is a set of texture gradients that dramatically improve the “realness” feeling of alien companions. In the most recent trailer, they’re looking excellent.
Hopefully everyone will look like that throughout gameplay and not just in cinema trailer moments?
Loved: #3 – The DLC
I’ve been toting around all my old $5 discs and frequently confirming my DLC still tracked from my 360 to my Xbox One Live account because I’ve replayed the series multiple times. I am so beyond hyped that the DLC packs are going to be packaged into this edition because they make the games so much better.
I give OG BioWare a lot of credit for this content. Except for maybe Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds and Fallout 4: Bar Harbor, I don’t think I’ve ever played DLC anywhere as strong as Mass Effect 3: Citadel.
I know a few people who will be playing through this series for the first time on Legendary Edition. I am so hyped for y’all to get to experience this trilogy, with side characters and whole packaged worlds like Shadow Broker, in its full glory.
Hope To See: #4 – More Customization Options for Shepard
Female Shepard, nicknamed FemShep by the fans (the male version is “BroShep”), changed my life. She is and was so freaking cool. Part of this thanks to the glorious voice acting by longtime BioWare performer Jennifer Hale.
In Mass Effect’s original release run, Hale and FemShep got very little airtime by the marketing team despite being one side of the same protagonist coin and having unique content. Now, almost 14 years since the release of Mass Effect 1, FemShep gets major looks in the release trailer.**
This is so big for me as it is I’m sure for thousands of other people. Given how dope that is… I’m really hopeful for a character creation system with more diversity and inclusivity. And also, maybe this is just me, more fun customization options for Shepard? Mass Effect 3 lets you have some fun with outfit choices, but Mass Effect is a third-person shooter so you’re looking at Shepard constantly. It’d be cool to be able to have this experience early on.
I mean, we can buy hella fish for her aquarium. Can I get Shep a haircut too?
Loved: #4 – The Game’s Balance Between Humor and Ambition
Look, these games are funny. There’s a whole plot quest in one game where you can essentially sell Shep’s soul for a few couple hundred dollars by recording voice ads for storekeepers on a space station. Then, as you run around the space station throughout the rest of the game, you hear the shops blasting Shepard’s voice, all saying, “I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite store on the Citadel.”
It’s hilarious. And the BioWare team knows it’s funny and enjoys hyping up this and other meme-worthy content when they can. It’s a really delicate balance between some of the heavy places that Mass Effect goes, including topics of genocide, free will, over-dependence on technology, interracial love, capitalism, #fakenews before that was even a thing… and the Mass Effect series handles it all with grace.
Hope To See: #5 – Mass Effect 1’s Combat and Inventory Overhauled
OK, this is a big, big wishlist and, unlike my Hope #3 above, I honestly think there’s little chance this will happen. But Mass Effect 1’s combat system and inventory management just sucks so badly.
It’s enough to turn off many players new to the series and honestly even me when replaying it.
To contextualize this—if you’ve ever tried to rewatch Friends, you may realize how much you hate them for that big ass apartment in New York while they complain about money, how white the show is, and how much they consistently gaslight Monica. It doesn’t hold up well. Same for Mass Effect 1’s combat and inventory, systems that you’re required to interact with constantly. It’s just not good, and unless you’re committed to how great the rest of the game is, it can put a huge damper on the experience.
That being said, I obviously think that the story beats are obviously worth the (re)play for ME1, especially as the series builds upon relationships with old characters and even multi-game quests. Which brings me to…
Loved: #5 – Just the Sheer Commitment to its World
This series is truly its own world. It constantly rewards players who learn about the backstory. Main quests give you plenty of context, which I appreciate, but reading more of the in-game lore—about topics like inter-alien conflicts or a space station’s significance—advances your appreciation of Mass Effect’s world-building.
Players who go out of their way to do all the little side quests will be rewarded with a notable emotional payoff later (if you’re a diehard fan, you know exactly what I mean!). The Mass Effect series builds into a major crescendo of an experience. Levels and bosses clearly grew over the course of the trilogy as the technology and studio’s skills and resources evolved too. The series is a love letter, and I can’t wait to read it all over again.
Over the next couple months until Legendary Edition’s May 15, 2021 release (supposedly, fingers crossed), I’m going to share a few hype articles exploring some superfan Mass Effect topics including: I show Mass Effect Romance Options to People and Have Them Guess What Happens and Unpopular Hot Take: A Loving Defense of Mass Effect 3. Maybe something about Mass Effect: Andromeda? Analyzing the build options from Mass Effect 1?
IDK, what do y’all think I should write? Tell me the things because I want to talk about them. I can’t just keep googling “Mass Effect” before bed every night like I’ve done for the last six years. I need more.
*Some of my other pieces in this series may have spoilers 🙂
**In a video tweet responding to the Legendary Edition trailer and FemShep having equal airtime, actress Jennifer Hale said: “I’m just sitting here ugly-crying because I’m just so moved. […] You guys are the best and to be part of this is the greatest thing in the world and I’m so grateful. BioWare, thank you, fans, thank you so much. It’s so beautiful. I just wanted to share that I’m ugly-crying because it’s so cool.”