Why Mass Effect: Legendary Edition Doesn't Use Unreal Engine 4

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition will still rely on Unreal Engine 3 as opposed to taking advantage of Unreal Engine 4.

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You might expect a modern remaster to utilize the newest technology possible, but that's not exactly the case with Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. The original trilogy ran on Unreal Engine 3, and it's a version of that--not the more recent Unreal Engine 4--that powers the upcoming remastered collection. There's a specific reason for that, and it comes down to not wanting to sacrifice the feel of playing those original games, according to game designer Mac Walter.

"One of the things we did early on, to sort of set some context, is we actually talked to the people at Epic and we said, 'What would this look like if we brought it into Unreal 4?'" Walters told us during a presentation for the Legendary Edition. "And it very quickly became clear that that level of jump would really change fundamentally what the trilogy was, how it felt, how it played."

As an example, Walters pointed out how Kismet--a visual scripting language in Unreal 3--has no exact equivalent in Unreal 4. "Which means every moment, every scene, everything would have had to have been essentially redone from scratch and we knew, at that point, that we'd really be taking away from the essence and the spirit of what the trilogy was," he said.

That said, BioWare has been using some clever tricks to push the limits of Unreal 3 and craft a more visually pleasing experience for the Mass Effect trilogy. Via Unreal 3, BioWare has implemented forward rendering in the remaster. Essentially, the developer has just stuck another camera into every scene, rendering each one twice, allowing for real-time dynamic reflections.

Additionally, the Legendary Edition will be playable in 4K HDR, running at 60 FPS on Xbox One X, Xbox Series X|S, PS4 Pro, and PS5 and with unlocked frame rates on PC. "Ultimately, what this was about was bringing [the trilogy] forward onto the current gen--and future generations as well--with a new kind of fidelity and taking off some of the edges with that," Walters said.

Mass Effect 3 was the last game in the series to make use of Unreal Engine before BioWare--and most of EA--shifted to DICE's Frostbite engine. However, Respawn Entertainment has used several other engines for its projects, so it's possible the next full Mass Effect will shift back to Unreal.

For more on what's different, check out our rundown on the changes in Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. The package releases in May, and Legendary Edition preorders are now live.

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