A research team has just uncovered a rare Prothean beacon, which has been primed for immediate extraction. As the SSV Normandy approaches its location, however, it becomes strikingly clear that danger is afoot – and so, Commander Shepard disembarks on Eden Prime with his strike team, guns at the ready. The sun behind their backs, they press on towards an unimaginable predicament, each step bringing them further into the planet’s distinctly dreary hellscape, all shrouded in orangeish fog.
That’s how I remember my first experience with the Mass Effect series: terrifying spikes skewering weird husks, the shapes of which were made vague by thinly-veiled, orange fog. And so, when I was told we were on our way to Eden Prime during my hands-off preview of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition last week, my nostalgia pistons fired into overdrive.
The first thing I noticed was that the sun was in front of me. This was then confirmed by one of the devs guiding us through the preview – the sun had been cleanly hoisted out of its position at the rear in order to be propped up right in front of where you land on Eden Prime, shining bright above the desolate plains below. It looked immensely pretty and I was stunned – although in hindsight, I’m not sure if I was impressed.
Let me be clear: the first Mass Effect game looks fantastic. It looks far better than I ever could have reasonably expected it to given that this is a remaster, not a remake. Also, this specific technique – moving the sun, the main source of light illuminating a scene – is put to excellent use elsewhere. The war-ravaged skyscrapers of Feros are even more imposingly desolate when their fissures and fractures are exposed to harsh sunlight, and wow does the Citadel look spectacular. I was always curious about how a respecced Citadel might look, and I can’t help admitting that BioWare did a far better job than I ever could have imagined.
My qualm, though, is with Eden Prime, as well as – to an extent – Ilos. Admittedly, all we saw of the latter was a screenshot, so it could be totally fine. Based on that single image, though, I’m concerned that the most aesthetically distinct and fascinating alien landscape of the entire first game has been made… less alien. I think it looks far too pretty, but I hope I’ll be proved wrong.
Eden Prime, on the other hand, really does look far too pretty. This is where you first learn that something is amiss in the Milky Way, that you can’t quite trust all of the information you’re being given and that entire human colonies are being subjected to an unknowable, nefarious force. You return to Eden Prime in Mass Effect 3 and it’s much greyer – the orange and red hues of the planet under attack visited two games prior are little more than a distant, seemingly inaccurate memory.
But that’s the power of this, for me. It’s like in the remastered version of Halo: Combat Evolved. The second mission, Halo, sees you land on Installation 04, one of the seven rings that make up the humongous Halo Array the series is named after.
In the original version, the sky is relatively plain – aside from the fact that vague outlines of imposing superstructures make you feel as if you’re one millionth the size of a speck of dust. In the remastered version, everything around you is loud. There’s too much color, too much flair, too much of everything that detracts from the creation of a certain mood. It looks nice, sure, but I think one of the most important aspects of art direction is atmosphere, which is lost when we focus on brightening up individual assets as opposed to communicating a feeling via the design of an entire, composite world.
This is why I’m concerned about Mass Effect. I appreciate how much work went into this – the art team had AI upres every costume and face in the game back in 2019 before coming in to manually touch them up in even more minute detail. Also, as I said above – it’s immensely pretty. My issue is with the fact that Eden Prime, in its current state when you arrive at the beginning of the first game in the trilogy, is not necessarily supposed to be pretty. It is supposed to illustrate the fact that the galaxy is at war.
I recognize that there’s artistic integrity in juxtaposing natural beauty with impending doom, and I am not arguing that Eden Prime should have been left as is. During the preview, Mass Effect lead Mac Walters personally admitted to having “struggled” with the first game. I am absolutely delighted and beyond grateful that one of my favourite series is being brought into the future in an incarnation that improves its visual fidelity to an absurd degree.
I just think that Eden Prime could have been given the remaster treatment without making it all bright and happy. It could have been made prettier without fundamentally changing the atmosphere of your first ever mission as Commander Shepard. I haven’t played it yet, and I have my fingers and toes crossed that I’m wrong on this one – but, from what I saw, I believe my concerns are valid.
Next: A Mass Effect Spin-Off Game Inspired By Han Solo Was Cancelled Before Mass Effect 2
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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