Mass Effect Legendary Edition - Everything You Need to Know
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 03:00am 03/02/21 | Comments
All the details and info on BioWare’s remaster of the original Mass Effect trilogy, straight from the source.
BioWare’s Mass Effect trilogy spans three games, all releasing (remarkably) within the span of a single console cycle -- that being the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 era. From the studio behind the groundbreaking Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on the original Xbox, Mass Effect presented -- at the time -- the next-generation of the sort of epic western-style RPGs the studio was known for. Complex choices to be made, class flexibility, systems built on classic pen-and-paper rulesets, memorable characters, but now with cinematic high-end visuals and the promise of entire planetary systems to explore.
Although Mass Effect 2 and 3 would push the series closer to the action-RPG-meets-shooter realm, the story, customisation, characters, and outcomes never wavered. The rest, as they say, is history. All three releases in the mainline Mass Effect trilogy are not only held in high regard, but taken as a whole still seen as the seminal piece of interactive sci-fi.
With recent news that BioWare are currently returning to the universe in a new title that will pick up the story (and pieces) after the exploits of Commander Shepard and his or her crew, we now have full details on the planned Original Trilogy Remaster out this year. A single release that packages Mass Effect (2007), Mass Effect 2 (2009), and Mass Effect 3 (2012) together in what’s being called the Mass Effect Legendary Edition.
A release that will include all story-based DLC from the original trilogy and all additional content in the form of weapons, armour, and other promotional bits of pre-order-style DLC.
Remastering a Classic
Long rumoured to be coming, the existence of the Mass Effect remaster project is something of a relief for many. An option (finally) outside of backwards compatibility, to replay these classics. And do so with a fresh coat of modern 4K paint and improvements made here and there. Basically, a version of the game where the long elevator rides masking loading times are all but eliminated thanks to the power of modern storage devices. Which is happening, with elevator rides in the Legendary Edition not only being tens of seconds quicker, but skippable too.
All three releases in the mainline Mass Effect trilogy are not only held in high regard, but taken as a whole still seen as the seminal piece of interactive sci-fi.
With Mass Effect Legendary Edition being developed in-house at BioWare, the team includes many that worked on the original trilogy. As part of a preview presentation we got to hear all about the process, thinking, and work that has gone into this new Legendary Edition.
At this point it’s worth highlighting the distinction between a remaster and remake, the latter refers to recreating something in full -- often with a new perspective or take. A remaster on the other hand is more like a restoration. This means that any changes or alterations relating to the story or the overall narrative were quickly taken off the table -- with the focus placed squarely on the trilogy’s presentation, the look and feel, and creating a sense of cohesion between all three games.
After all, remastering Mass Effect meant retaining exactly what made the series special to its many fans. Thanks to Mac Walters (Project Director), Crystal McCord (Producer), and Kevin Meek (Environment and Character Director) we now know that the effort here is more than a simple upscale. Like anything else, a remaster can be unimpressive or sloppy. Based on what we’ve seen so far -- and heard -- Mass Effect Legendary Edition has been a labour of love.
In fact, that’s how the project began. With the team looking to remaster all three titles it began as an almost archeological expedition into the digital archives at BioWare. After amassing all of the assets and textures and art found, they were put through a simple AI-powered up-res and detail pass -- to make it all 4K. The process, which netted immediate and impressive results, all but cemented the need to bring the trilogy up to modern standards. Fidelity-wise that is.
Naturally, from here artists went through each scene to pour over the presentation, art direction, and see where modern technology could help bring some of that vision into the modern era.
Focusing on The First Game
Early on the team discussed moving the trilogy to Unreal Engine 4, which would open the door to moe moden visual effects -- a discussion that included Epic Games but was passed on due to the differences between versions of the engine and how the change would fundamentally change a lot about how the systems within Mass Effect worked. Again, the key thing driving the project was not to mess with the content or narrative, that side was always to remain -- for the most part -- intact.
With the team looking to remaster all three titles it began as an almost archeological expedition into the digital archives at BioWare.
That said, there are some pretty big differences between each Mass Effect game -- not only in terms of visual upgrades or changes in art direction, but combat and quality of life stuff related to itemisation and skills and other elements. Even things like enemy AI continued to improve as the series progressed -- something which was expected as BioWare was working on each title in succession.
The first game in the series is the one that feels the most different, and in remastering the trilogy the original looks to be getting most of the attention. From a visual standpoint areas like Eden Prime, Ilos and Feros have been given a visual upgrade beyond new textures -- with new objects, better lighting, and more visual information present to sell each scene. This might be as simple as more tables and chairs scattered throughout the citadel through to repositioning planetary alignment and adding smoke and debris to create stunning cinematic backdrops to better suit the moment-to-moment action.
For the visual aficionados out there this also means the arrival of ambient occlusion, subsurface scattering for improved character skin detail, bokeh depth of field, volumetrics and fog, tonemapping, 4K assets, HDR, improved shadow detail, and more. All of the above is instantly noticeable when looking at characters.
The visual stuff is consistent across the entire trilogy, but the original Mass Effect sees improvements made to enemy AI, a revamped UI, and streamlined combat to remove the somewhat clunky feel it had compared to the second and third game.
One Launcher to Rule Them All
This uniformity in the approach to the look and feel across three titles also brings with it a single-launcher, and a single-character creator for all three games. Not only is the default female Shepard from Mass Effect 3 now the norm, additional options for character detail and customisation have been added to highlight the improvements made and to offer up players a little more choice in defining the look of their Shepard. Yeah, new Shepard hair styles confirmed.
In the end though its this player approach that has defined development on Mass Effect Legendary Edition, where each artist at BioWare wasn’t merely assigned a list of 100 different objects and environmental pieces to update. Instead they were treated as players and given sections to replay and wander about -- and from there make decisions on exactly how things should look, what needs to be changed, or what might benefit from a bit of additional detail.
The level of attention and care put into this new Legendary Edition is both refreshing and something akin to letting out a long sigh of relief, especially when remasters vary in quality from release to release. You don't need to look any further than the pre-rendered cinematics to see the level of detail and care taken. Not only were they upscaled to 4K, but an additional and impressive detail layer has been created to improve the quality and presentation of the still impressive cinematics found across the trilogy. Like watching an animation cell reach its full potential, this looks to be the case with Mass Effect Legendary Edition - a remaster and release Commander Shepard would approve of.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition is Out May 14, 2021 for PC, PS4, Xbox One, with support for PS5 and Xbox Series X and S. The release targets 60fps on Xbox One X and PS4 Pro with the PC version supporting DirectX 11, high-refresh rate and ultrawide displays.