Mass Effect: Why Commander Shepard’s Return Next Month is Huge

Editor's Choice: Mass Effect's 5 Best Companions
It’s now less than one month until the Mass Effect Legendary Edition launches—so here are some reasons why old fans and newcomers should be very excited to experience Commander Shepard’s remastered quest.

BioWare has elevated its groundbreaking trilogy to current graphical standards, polished up the gameplay, and brought all three games closer together than ever. Mass Effect is set in 2183, portraying a future where humanity banded together and discovered the secrets of interstellar travel, only to realize they were the bratty younger brother of the galaxy. Now as we humans try to prove themselves fully to the other races of the Milky Way, one soldier begins to unravel an emerging threat—an alien invasion that could destroy everything.

You are that soldier, Commander Shepard of the Systems Alliance, and the first human to become a Spectre, one of the galactic Council’s special operatives. A simple rescue mission propels Shepard to the forefront of a war that most of the galaxy refuses to acknowledge, pitting them against the alien invaders, criminal thugs, and human extremists. Along the way, Shepard will recruit teams of elite operatives and earn their loyalty, and likely fall in love as well.

 Mass Effect: Why Commander Shepard\'S Return
  Next Month Is Huge
Each Mass Effect game has slightly different gameplay, but the Legendary Edition looks to unify them subtly. (BioWare)

The Mass Effect series won gamers over originally with its unique vision of our future, in many ways achieving what Star Trek did decades before. It was also one of the first games to feature fully-voiced protagonists, unlike BioWare’s previous games Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. Combined with the dialog wheel for choosing responses, this lent players a deeper sense of agency than anything else had before, especially for female gamers and Shepards.

If you haven’t played the series before, you’re in for a real treat. Having just experienced it for myself last year, after years of being told “you have to play these,” I can say that the story was everything I was told it would be. I was used to BioWare’s well-developed characters, having played KOTOR and the Dragon Age series, and Mass Effect‘s various ensembles lived up to their high standard. Each teammate has a rich history to explore, building your bond to them before later missions may force you to gamble with their lives. Even seemingly minor characters are firmly established in the game world, giving a real sense of urgency to their requests.

Each game is driven by a particular mission which is Shepard’s overall focus, but along the way they will be thrust into a wide array of scenarios, from traditional heists to encounters with ancient forces that are beyond even the main antagonists, to battles in mech suits and a desperate quest to save a colony from a plant-based hive mind. Some of the best are your companions’ Loyalty Missions, which are more than just a way of unlocking new perks.

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Mass Effect’s gameplay blurs the lines between RPGs and shooters, with stats driving Shepard’s proficiencies but the player’s skill and strategy determine each firefight’s outcome. A variety of playstyles can keep the game fresh on replays, informing the tools at Shepard’s disposal—whether they focus more on telekinetic “biotic” powers, technical skills, straight-up military combat, or a combination thereof.

If you’ve already played the series, the Mass Effect Legendary Edition looks to add enough to warrant experiencing it again. The updated graphics are an obvious plus, but BioWare has also made tweaks to certain gameplay issues, like the unreliable aiming in the original game. All of the DLC is included, save the inconsequential expansion “Pinnacle Station,” and if you missed any of it before, you may want to give it another go. Mass Effect 3 offers some of the best DLC I’ve ever encountered, particularly the Citadel DLC, which is the perfect thing to do right before embarking on the final mission.

Many players felt disappointed with Mass Effect 3‘s original ending, especially those who played before the updated finale and Citadel DLC brought a huge sense of closure to the whole saga. Playing the whole journey from start to finish, carrying the same Shepard over between games, is the definitive way to experience BioWare’s sci-fi epic, and the Legendary Edition makes it easier than ever. (It also has a big impact on the rebalanced Galactic Readiness system in the third game.)

Plus, if the announcement trailer for the next game is any indication, you may want to brush up on the story so far.

 Mass Effect: Why Commander Shepard\'S Return
  Next Month Is Huge
The Illusive Man (Martin Sheen) changes the course of Shepard’s journey in Mass Effect 2. (BioWare)

Through all three games are casts of amazing characters, backed up by performances from legendary talents like Jennifer Hale, Martin Sheen, Seth Green, Keith David, Ali Hillis, and Steve Blum. Some you may fall in love with right away, others you may hate, and others you may not appreciate fully until you accidentally cause their demise, but all of them feel like fully fleshed out individuals.

We’ll have to wait another month to see just how the new improvements change the experience, but by all indications this is the definite way to experience—and re-experience—a landmark moment for the game industry. Despite their staggered releases, the trilogy is truly better played as a whole. The gameplay refinements should make it feel more like one three-part story than ever. But what’s more meaningful is seeing even minor sidequests bear fruit further down the line. It’s one of the rare few games that reward your investment in all departments, and I’m excited to not only relive it in a polished form, but to see new generations discover it, and older generations fall in love all over again.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition will be available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC May 14, combining all three games and their DLC into one package.

(If you’re a fan of Mass Effect, check out my Twitch channel, GuildTwoTaps! Since last April I’ve been streaming the trilogy and now Mass Effect Andromeda on Mondays and Wednesday nights. I’ll be streaming the Legendary Edition once it’s out, with BioWare’s sister-franchise Dragon Age to follow, and a variety of other things as well—so come hang out with some like-minded fans at 8:30PM EST!)

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