One of the few good things 2020 brought us was a higher expectation of video game remakes. Through both Square Enix and Vicarious Visions going above and beyond when remaking beloved classics with Final Fantasy VII Remake and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2. I actually spoke about this last year, saying that this higher standard of remake needs to become the new norm. Using one of my favourite video game trilogiess as the prime example moving forward.
I may have been a tad excitable back then, under some delusion that EA would afford the same time and care into a Mass Effect Remake as those two amazing video games from last year. Because, if Andromada taught us anything, it was that if EA want to us fall back in love with the Mass Effect universe, they need to do a little bit more than slap a fresh coat of paint over it if they expect people to stop being embarrassed by their N7 tattoos.
As of the time of writing this, EA and Bioware haven’t really given all that much away about the content within the games, but it’s pretty clear that it’s way more of a Remaster than a Remake. Which is the opposite of what fans have been wanting pretty much since the release of Mass Effect 3.
Despite us all talking about a full trilogy remake, it’s actually only the first game in the franchise that needs some real love and attention. The first Mass Effect is a very different game than the two that followed it. Mass Effects 2 and 3 were action-driven games first and foremost, having become cover-based shooters with RPG elements. Which was the total opposite of the first game, in which it almost felt like the gameplay was an afterthought behind all the RPG and world-building it was doing.
And that’s exactly why fans go back to the first game; for the world-building and the story. By the time we got to Mass Effect 3, people like me were sticking around for the gameplay more than anything, gameplay that had become robust and fun enough in its own right. Enough so that it supported a compelling multiplayer mode that I became obsessed with.
The dream always was, right after Mass Effect 3 came out, that an eventual remaster of the game would remake both the first and second Mass Effect game with the same gameplay and graphical changes to bring them at least up to par with the third game and make the experience seamless between the three stories. Making it almost feel like one, excruciatingly long video game.
As it turns out, all of that was something of a pipe dream. And we’re now forced to deal with what feels like a pretty minimal amount of effort expended in the remastering of this Mass Effect trilogy based on what information has been shared about them so far. And the major let-down from my perspective is how little the gameplay seems to have changed in the first game of the franchise. The game that needed rebalancing the most thanks to the archaic gameplay design.
From my memory. Playing that first game resulted in a wide array of different experiences based on what class you picked and how you built your character. While the weapon and biotic based classes ended up trivialising most of the encounters, the tech based classes felt ineffectual in the extreme. With many of the powers on very long cooldowns not actually feeling effective in the slightest.
Coupled with the fact that the game provided you with all the weapons no matter what class you were playing, it just made most of them hilariously useless. Something that is, thankfully getting addressed in this remaster. While it does look like the bulk of the work going into this trilogy is graphical, there are some efforts being made to make playing the first Mass Effect a less painful experience.
Making weapons more useable between classes, just without bonuses afforded to the combat based classes. As well as things like a dedicated melee button to stop you from punching enemies when you have a perfectly good shotgun pointed in their faces already. The true scale to which these changes will make the first Mass Effect a better playing game remains to be seen, something I’ll undoubtedly experience when I inevitably buy this remaster anyway.
The Mass Effect Trilogy is an incredibly important trio of games to me, one that defined my approach to and attitude towards consuming video game stories for years after they came out. So much so that an excuse to go back and experience that story again isn’t anything I can pass up, especially when it’s going to come in slightly different packaging. They’re three video games I’ve played more times than I care to remember, and seeing anything different about them is novelty enough to quench my desperate thirst for more of this series.
Ultimately though, I am disappointed that we never got a more robust remake in the same vein as Final Fantasy VII or Tony Hawks. Mass Effect is certainly a franchise that carries that same weight of fan expectation and deep-seated fan admiration of the franchise. But maybe we should count it as a blessing that this current version of Bioware isn’t being expected to remake the games from the ground up.
While the reimagined Mass Effect 1 gameplay that drove Andromeda was far from the worst thing about that game, it still wasn’t a gameplay style that I really enjoyed spending time playing compared to the simple but functional cover-based system of Mass Effect 3. Had this team, the one responsible for both Andromeda and Anthem, had a crack at the trilogy, then maybe we would have had three games that played like that rather than Gear of War with powers.
In the end, it’ll be nice to return to the world of Mass Effect and at the very least play a prettier, slightly more streamlined version of those original games. An experience, hopefully that isn’t as riddled with bugs and glitches to add another nail into Bioware’s coffin.
Despite my cynicism and misgiving, I genuinely hope with all my heart that this remaster turns into an astounding success. Because with the announcement last December that there is another Mass Effect game in the works, a direct follow-up to Mass Effect 3 it seems, there is hope for redemption for this franchise and the kicking off of a new set of stories set in a world I care about so deeply. I just have to hold out hope that despite all logical evidence pointing to the contrary, Mass Effect can return and be as great as it was during the heady years of that original trilogy.