Mass Effect remastered: Everything we know

Image: BioWare/Electronic Arts

Sometimes, when folks at BioWare explain what they’ve changed in the remastered Mass Effect trilogy, they almost sound like they’re playing god. During a hands-off remote presentation in January, environment and character director Kevin Meek said that in an early scene during the first game, the sun was moved entirely. This way, he explained, the player can appreciate the vista, which makes the alien planet seem as if it’s in a perpetual sunset.

The biggest and most noticeable changes in Mass Effect Legendary Edition are like this — visual and cosmetic. Don’t expect to play through the beloved sci-fi series and find anything new in terms of previously cut content or tweaked storylines, which means that yes, that controversial ending is still in there. Even so, I was struck while reviewing comparison shots of the older games versus the spruced-up versions, which will be playable in 4K and HDR.

When you remember a video game, especially one near and dear to your heart, your memory tends to sand off the edges. In my mind’s eye, the original Mass Effect looks good. But 2007 was a long time ago. Returning to Mass Effect now is painful — wooden faces, flat textures, animation glitches, never mind mechanical mishaps like the infamous unruly vehicle sections, or the awkward elevator loading sequences. I remember this stuff, but in my head, none of it was that bad. Whenever I revisit the game, it’s a small shock.

“We really stayed true to everything that you would remember in your mind’s eye, like your nostalgia of the game had to be consistent,” said project director Mac Walters.

Image: BioWare/Electronic Arts and Image: BioWare/Electronic Arts

During the preview event, BioWare compared the Mass Effect remaster to restoring a car. While all the games have been touched up, it’s clear that the first entry in the series was the heaviest lift. The goal was to bring the original Mass Effect more in line with the successes of its sequels.

To achieve that, BioWare had its artists play through levels multiple times, pen in hand, so the developers could see which specific assets they could target for maximum impact. From there, the studio raised the cap on texture sizes and used an AI program to increase the resolution of textures, allowing for better particle effects and more immersive cinematics. Every level basically got a paint-over.

The changes are immediately evident. In some scenes, you can see some characters’ pores. Skin tones are more varied and flush with depth, better approximating the faces of actual human beings. I even found myself making note of the eyelashes, which no longer look like a small child scribbled on a character’s face with a black crayon. To accompany all of these upgrades, players also have expanded options in the character creation menu, including better hair options for Black Shepards.

Granted, such palliative graphical measures can only go so far. There were times during the presentation where certain textures only highlighted the limitations of the tech of that time. Seeing every crease on the 3D model of a nonhuman species, for example, could sometimes make them look more off-putting in ways that didn’t seem intentional. Other times, though, a higher resolution allowed me to appreciate the individual scales that make Thane Krios. In general, squadmates and their uniforms have been upgraded to make them seem more real. Eyes sparkle; leather looks supple. The team tried to “hand-touch” nearly every character and armor set. So when you recruit the version of Legion with a hole in his chest, it genuinely looks devastating to peer through it.

Image: BioWare/Electronic Arts and Image: BioWare/Electronic Arts

Apparently, working with an older engine allowed BioWare to render scenes twice for better reflective surfaces, along with a second camera to get real-time dynamic reflections. Levels with greenery have added vines, or perhaps more puddles on the ground. During a flyover of a stage that is full of trees, leaves slowly floated to the ground as smoke billowed in the distance. Another scene saw an alien ship with a current running through it, while a fiery planet’s magma bubbled like a cauldron. Ocean waves waxed and waned naturally, as water does.

None of that was there before. While breaking down the changes in a specific level, the developers acknowledged that these environmental tweaks approximate how they’d make the game today, in 2021, if given the chance for a do-over.

“There’s a lot of friction in Mass Effect 1,” Walters said. This became especially evident after consulting a focus group consisting of fans, modders, and cosplayers who offered feedback on what could be improved. The first game, by far, had the most suggestions.

Some upgrades you might expect: Yes, the loading times are much faster now, and the Mako has better controls for things like speed-boosting. The environment has better depth of field, and some bloom and bokeh for good measure.

But also, BioWare’s designers were preoccupied with making the first Mass Effect a better action game.

“It was really more of an RPG than a shooter,” said Crystal McCord, producer on the remaster, “so what can we do to make that a little more smooth or seamless?”

A few different things, it turns out. The PC version of Mass Effect now supports controllers, and the keybindings have been updated. The HUD has been given a facelift to look more “modern,” though the team noted that it’s still a work in progress. Aim assist has been beefed up. Weapons have been rebalanced, and boss encounters have also been adjusted, although BioWare’s team wasn’t specific about those changes. Class weapon restrictions are gone. You can expect your squadmates to be smarter — but the enemy AI will be, too. “Dozens” of animation glitches have been fixed. Minigames are less frequent and are a little easier. In other words, newcomers won’t be stuck wading through the roughest version of the franchise.

“It is like playing it for the first time again,” Walters said.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition will be out on May 14 for PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One, and will be playable on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X via backward compatibility. The remaster will include all story downloadable content, as well as armor and characters.

Correction (Feb. 3): A previous version of this article misspelled Mac Walters’ name.

Comments

That before/after of the Mako is too funny. Retroactively adding giant JJ Abrams lens flares to Mass Effect 1 in 2021 is certainly a choice. I get they’re going for a consistent look across all 3 games, but still.

Exact same reaction, was this remaster directed by JJ Abrams?

The sun isn’t on screen so it can’t cast a flare in the first shot.

It isn’t? There’s a slider on the image in the article, and you can see the star that is emitting the flare.

I think they mean that it isn’t on screen in the original shot. Lens flare is super on brand for ME1.

Yeah, the whole ME series was lens flare city. The screenshots they picked were ones where they’ve moved the sun to make the scene more dramatic, which makes it seems like they’re adding lens flares, but that’s not the case at all.

Mass Effect 2 and 3 were lens flare city. Mass Effect 1 came out before the first JJ Abrams Star Trek movie, so it’s much more reserved with them. After Bioware saw Hollywood go completely crazy with them they decided to do the same. There was a lot of talk about it back when ME2 came out, this isn’t some new revelation.

And either way, the color correction and size of the lens flares makes me think they’re definitely going for more of a ME2/3 feel, at least from that screenshot. Which again, I get it, but weird they’re going so hard pitching this remaster as keeping the original games’ look intact.

Lens flares were a thing way before JJ Abrams. They’re in Planet of the Apes, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Alien just to name a few important Sci-Fi movies. And that’s the thing, Mass Effect 1 wants to be a movie; it’s in the score, the cinematography, and the goddam film grain filter.

Wasn’t saying Mass Effect invented lens flares or that they weren’t trying to make it look like a movie from the start. Just said they’re changing the look to match the rest of the series.

I mean c’mon man, look at this:

I’m looking at it, and the original is MUCH better for the purpose of the actual scene. The fact that the Reaper ship is the only source of light draws your attention to it, which is important, because the whole point of it is ‘HOLY SHIT WHAT IS THAT’.

The second one has the lens flare drowning out the Reaper itself. You can actually see it less clearly.

…in fact, looking back at it, the new coloring of the shot throws off the entire vibe of the scene. The red sky gives a great feeling of alien malevolence, which is great for seeing an evil alien ship on a planet that’s not Earth.

The remaster’s look instead gives me a vibe of… well, not that. If anything it gives off almost a hopeful vibe, of the ship against the setting sun. The only reason I know I shouldn’t be seeing that as ‘flying to a bright tomorrow’ or something is because I know personally that the ship is an evil ship.

I’ve only played the 2nd game (and only once, so I don’t remember a ton of the plot), so I don’t know the context of the ship’s arrival. Based on the brief description you gave, I totally agree that the look in the original is better. Definitely appreciate the upgraded textures, but the new sky gives off a totally different vibe. The ship looks like it’s a building always there and it’s just another day on this planet. The original gives off this unmistakable menace. You see that ship and know something bad has happened or is about to happen.

I would’ve kept the dark red sky. The sun could still be there, but toss the lens flare in this one instance (another tip off that the situation isn’t right) and instead make it this glowing, orange orb.

Yikes, yeah. I liked the trailer, but this change is so wrong-headed I’m suddenly very worried. Maybe it’s just for promotional art? Just modernize the lightning effect and leave the rest alone.

Well just came across another screenshot comparison from the same scene and it shows the same change from ominous red to golden magic-hour sunset. So much for We really stayed true to everything that you would remember in your mind’s eye…

>so it’s much more reserved with them

No.

It’s like they’re enhancing all the bad decisions of 2008.

Nice, so they’re taking a page from 2008 and adding brown filtering to everything?

The color palette seems straight out of an early 10s Call of Duty game, too. Not sure why a muddy brown aesthetic is being used as a promotional image to tout the graphical upgrades – it looks like a downgrade, honestly.

hopefully that isnt the case for the majority of the game but it looks like that’s got more to do with any environmental changes they go with for certain parts

in the mako screenshot note the inclusion of a sun in the rework, which would necessarily change the pallete from blue to warmer colors. but the thane image just a glow-up with the same colors, no coffee mug filter at all

Those lens flares have always been a part of ME. This just makes them more pronounced. It looks nice, so long as it’s not dialed up to 11 like in NuTrek.

Me1 had lens flare.

Personally not a fan of doing away with class weapon restrictions. I thought it was a good give and take, especially in the first game. Having access to a full range of tech or biotics as well as weapons seems ludicrously overpowered, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.

But it’s not like you can truly use them all in combat. You still need to make a choice as to what to put your points into and take into encounters (unless i’m forgetting things). Seems like all this is doing is opening up the possibilities for players to make the gameplay experience more their own. It should add loads of theory crafting to an already pretty rich game.

In the first game you can technically use any weapon. My favourite thing in ME1 is taking the Spectre Master Gear assault rifle with no proficiency, and add mods that makes it fire indefinitely with no recoil.

But the truth is, if you have tech and biotic powers, guns are kinda lame.

Having access to everything and being proficient at everything are two different things.

That ME1 had both proficiency skills (using gun types without appropriate skills was a very poor experience) and all-out restrictions (certain classes couldn’t use some guns AT ALL) made no sense.

A hyper-elite soldier can use a shotgun. Period. Whether they are GOOD at it or not based on how much experience they have using them is certainly variable. But to think that they somehow couldn’t even figure out how to use it at all? Come on.

Letting people access everything and then CHOOSE what they want their character to be good at is both more sensical and a better game-playing experience.

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