Electronic Arts' upcoming remaster of the entire Mass Effect trilogy won't include a next-gen version of the game, but the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions of Mass Effect Legendary Edition look so good, it'll hardly matter.
Almost a decade after Mass Effect 3 closed out this space opera saga in spectacular, albeit divisive fashion, a full-on remaster of the entire trilogy will be released for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. On Tuesday, Electronic Arts announced a release date of May 14, 2021 with a brand-new reveal trailer showcasing many of the visual upgrades in store.
The trilogy includes all of the story content from the entire saga, including more than 40 DLC, all remastered within a single launcher. The games have been remastered for 4K Ultra HD and HDR, and Mass Effect Legendary Edition also supports 60 FPS on Xbox One X, PS4 Pro, and all next-gen consoles. It also supports a high refresh rate and support for ultra-wide displays on PC up to 21:9.
"We had never really dipped our toe into the current generation — now last generation — with the trilogy," Project Director Mac Walters said during a press preview of Tuesday's announcement. "It quickly became this archaeological discovery." Walters likened the project to restoring a beautiful but beloved car ... "if that car had been buried in cement, and every time you cleared off some cement, you'd worry about digging into the paint or ripping off a mirror."
BioWare estimates that uncompressed source art textures numbering in the "tens of thousands" were sent through AI programs that increased the resolution anywhere between four to 16 times. That includes various models, lighting, shaders, and special effects. Assets were prioritized based on what objects players might encounter in a playthrough and even the pre-rendered cinematics were overhauled.
All three of the original games were made within a single console generation (Xbox 360 and then PlayStation 3) and on the same developmental engine (Unreal 3). The original games will look even more outdated when Unreal Engine 5 is released later this year. So the remaster team initially considered moving the trilogy into Unreal Engine 4. But it would have meant rescripting the entire game and rebuilding it from the ground up. In short, a remaster in UE4 would have been more like a full-on remake.
The real challenge then became: How do you remove the rougher edges of the original and increase the graphical fidelity work on a somewhat antiquated game engine?
The focus of these remasters, Walters revealed, was less about overhauling the authentic Mass Effect experience and more about making everything look better than it ever has before. That means while all three games underwent a graphical overhaul, the overall experience and combat will remain mostly the same.
"Mass Effect features updated interfaces and UI as well as a variety of quality of life improvements," a press release reads. "Combat and exploration have been modernized through improved aiming, squad controls and behavior, Mako handling and cameras." Character creation is also unified across all three games, including the iconic Female Shepard default appearance that was created for Mass Effect 3.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition was made specifically for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in mind, but the fidelity bumps up against the top performance thresholds of that console generation. Rest assured that all three games will look very good on Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, and higher-end PC builds.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition will be released May 14, 2021.