Here's why Mass Effect Legendary Edition launched to mixed Steam reviews

Two women in sci-fi armor stand on an alien planet: it's a Mass Effect 1 remaster screenshot.
Taken on Mass Effect 1's first mission with the new photo mode. (Image credit: BioWare)

Mass Effect Legendary Edition released on Steam on Friday, and the reception was lukewarm: For most of the day, the remastered RPG trilogy had a "mixed" user rating on Steam. (Just after this article was published, the Steam rating changed to "mostly positive," and on Saturday, it has become "very positive.") Don't resign yourself to disappointment because of that, though. Many of the negative reviews cite technical complaints that won't necessarily apply to you, and there are some enthusiastic thumbs-ups in there, too. 

For $60, Mass Effect Legendary Edition is a 100GB package which contains remastered versions of Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3 (minus the multiplayer), and all the DLC (except Pinnacle Station). Being the oldest, Mass Effect 1 has gotten the most attention. Along with the graphical remaster, the combat has been modified to feel more like it does in Mass Effect 2 and 3, and some may be disappointed that the original's cantankerous RPG systems have been relaxed. For example, you now have an accurate crosshair rather than a circle that loosely suggests where your bullets will go.

Granular design criticism is not the focus of the current Steam reviews, though. Here's a paraphrasing of the primary complaints I've found in the negative user reviews so far, and what I've experienced playing the ME1 remaster myself.

"The Steam version launches Origin in the background, which is annoying, and may require troubleshooting."

This is true, and it did cause a brief problem for me: On first launch, a prompt complained that I couldn't run EA Desktop and Origin at the same time. I'd forgotten all about installing the EA Desktop beta and had to find and kill the process in Task Manager. Once I did, it launched fine and Origin is not too intrusive: It automatically pops up when the game is launched and then hides in the taskbar. (If you have other EA games on Steam, you'll be used to this annoying little process. And obviously this is a non-issue if you bought Mass Effect Legendary Edition directly through Origin instead of on Steam, but that does make you slightly weird.)

"The mouse control in Mass Effect 1 feels wonky, as if mouse acceleration is on."

Shepard's turning radius takes some getting used to (if you're new to the Gears of War era of third-person shooters, welcome), and finding the right mouse sensitivity is tricky. The camera does seem to spin at an uneven rate at times, but I can't tell if it's just my perception. As far as I can tell, the mouse control is just like it was in the original, although perhaps the remaster didn't need to replicate that aspect of the old PC port.

"The ultrawide support doesn't include cutscenes, which are 16:9 with black bars."

I haven't tested this, but I think we can safely take the word of ultrawide owners, the PC's most vocal special interest group. I used to have an ultrawide, too, so I get it. It's annoying going from full screen to black-barred cutscenes. It's not too surprising that these 15-year-old cutscenes weren't recreated in a wider aspect ratio, though.

"There's no FOV slider."

It's true. While it's pretty typical for a third-person game to lack an FOV setting, it's a surprising omission here given that the remaster includes an excellent photo mode with an adjustable camera. Perhaps there's something tricky about getting certain levels or cutscene transitions to work with the FOV tweaked.

Whatever the case, rarely have PC gamers found a game they can't change the FOV in. I haven't figured out a way to do it in the Mass Effect 1 remaster yet—the config file system has changed, and I'm not sure how to get access to the dev console—but someone will probably make it happen.

Update: There's a fix for this now, a mod you can download that will let you alter the FOV from its base setting of 70.

(Regarding the photo mode, it's really good. You get a free camera and can adjust the focal length and depth of field blur, tweak the saturation, brightness, and contrast, apply filters, and toggle character and vehicle models.)

"There aren't many graphics options, and it doesn't look as good as I expected."

It's true that the graphics options haven't changed much. In Mass Effect 1, you can now pick resolutions above 1080p, of course, and there's a framerate cap setting that maxes out at 240 (not sure why uncapped isn't an option), as well as new checkboxes for anti-aliasing and ambient occlusion. That's all that's new. (Correction: Earlier I said "resolutions above 720p," but 1080p was always an option, if hard to find. Legendary Edition should be crisp at 4K.)

For the first game, it's a significant visual improvement. The unremastered Mass Effect was made when HDTVs were new, and the original textures look blurry today. The remaster may not be stunning, but at 1440p it's crisp-looking and I find the simplicity attractive—something about modern lighting techniques paired with older-looking graphics is cool. (It seems related to the way physical miniature models look cool when lit realistically.) The characters move their mouths as if their jaws have been loosely wired shut, but hey, it's an old game. I don't find it distracting. Others at PC Gamer think the remaster is ugly, though, so I may just be a softie.

"The performance isn't as good as I expected."

Playing the Mass Effect 1 remaster with my RTX 2070 Super, I'm getting between 150 and 220 fps at 1440p with all the settings turned up. Rachel said she was getting over 60 fps on a Radeon RX 5700. Everything is fine here, but some on Steam say they're not getting the framerates they expected. If you have an older graphics card, gently brace yourself for potentially disappointing results. (We'll have a better idea of how it runs when our performance testing is done.)

"I can't run it at all."

Some players are unable to launch the games at all, or are experiencing crashes. I haven't had any crashes, even after alt-tabbing in and out Mass Effect 1 a few times. It isn't clear yet whether this is a widespread issue, or if it's only affecting a small number of players.

"You can't set the audio and subtitles to different languages."

This is true, and pretty silly. Seems like an oversight that can be fixed in the first patch.

(Image credit: BioWare)

(False) "There's no controller support."

I don't know why someone wrote in a review that there's no controller support. There is controller support. The UI automatically swaps between key and button prompts. Perhaps some specific controller driver doesn't work, but my wireless Xbox One controller works fine.

Update: A reader, Steven, wrote in to say that although he was seeing Xbox button prompts, the game wasn't recognizing his Xbox One controller and the camera was spinning in one direction. For Steven, the fix was unplugging his HOTAS setup, so if you have controller problems, check that you don't have any extra controllers or joysticks plugged in. Steven also says he was having framerate problems caused by the Steam and Origin overlays, but with those turned off, everything's peachy.

I've only mucked around in Mass Effect's first mission (why did I shoot the gas bags again even though I know they're harmless?), so I don't have anywhere close to a complete set of feelings on the visual and design changes yet—this is just some context for why the user reviews look like they do right now, and what you may or may not experience.

Alan over in the hardware department will have an in-depth Mass Effect Legendary Edition technical analysis published pretty soon, and Jody is working on a new review of Mass Effect 1—not just a review of the remaster's technical updates, but also of the game itself. It's been nearly 15 years since the first Mass Effect released, after all, and RPG design has changed just a little bit. If you want to know how it holds up before considering a play, keep an eye out for that review on Monday.

For more, check out Jody's recent interview with some of the devs behind the remasters.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the rise of personal computers, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on the early PCs his parents brought home. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, Bushido Blade (yeah, he had Bleem!), and all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now. In 2006, Tyler wrote his first professional review of a videogame: Super Dragon Ball Z for the PS2. He thought it was OK. In 2011, he joined PC Gamer, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.