We've already covered Mass Effect Legendary Edition as it presents on Xbox Series consoles and PlayStation 5, with some very favourable results across the board - but the fact is that it's actually a project built around the last generation consoles, leveraging 'back compat plus' features to improve the showing on the new wave of machines. So how does the game look and run on the consoles it was actually designed to run on? The answer? It's actually quite dependent on which of the two quality modes you choose.
Yes, it turns out that every console gives you access to presets that allow you to target performance or resolution, but the ways in which each mode presents can vary from console to console and from generation to generation. So much so, in fact, that EA even published a table for all seven available consoles. But in this coverage, the questions we need answers to are actually pretty straightforward: firstly, can quality mode sustain an evenly frame-paced, high resolution 30fps? And secondly, what actually happens to performance in the 'favour frame-rate' mode? 60fps was the target for the new wave of consoles, but to what extent can the older consoles compete?
On the face of it, the situation with the base consoles is easy enough to nail down. Both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 target a native 1080p resolution in the quality mode; drops via dynamic resolution scaling are rare on each, though a lower-bounds measurement of 1440x810is occasionally sighted on Xbox One. Both machines cap at 30fps with v-sync enforced, meaning no tearing. The good news? Both put in a good 30fps performance for this quality mode, but there are certain stress points - the Citadel in Mass Effect 1, for example - that can show frame-rates dipping beneath the target. Xbox One hits a nadir of 24fps here most notably. Mass Effect 3's initial, explosive cutscene can also cause some issues, but overall, the outlook is good and while slightly improved, the base PlayStation 4 offers much the same experience.
To be blunt, the 'favour frame-rate' mode is a bit of a bust and not particularly recommended for base machines. Resolution typically remains at native 1080p even when the engine is under heavy load (though the excellent VGTech seems to have found DRS in their tests), and the visual feature set is the same, meaning that the game is effectively unlocking the frame-rate and doing little more. As a result of removing v-sync too, this mode is also accompanied by some ugly screen-tearing. Sadly the key point here is that with no hope of getting anywhere near to 60fps and with so much screen-tearing, 'favour frame-rate' offers little to the experience and personally, I'd avoid it.
The situation changes up slightly as we move onto the enhanced consoles: PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. For these machines, the quality mode bumps up rendering resolution to native 4K at its best though DRS is a factor here, meaning that in heavier spots, we'll resolution drops. It's something that occurs more often on PS4 Pro, forcing it to drop to 1800p at points, whereas One X holds truer to its 4K target. Even with a variable resolution, PlayStation 4 Pro does still have issues hitting the 30fps target and can dip beneath - meaning that it's actually a little less stable than the base PS4 at 1080p. Xbox One X is a star though: not only is its lock to native 4K more substantial in my tests, it barely moved from the 30fps target. Of all the last-gen versions of the game, the One X with quality mode in play delivers the richest, most consistent experience.
Moving back to the 'favour frame-rate' performance mode , it's clear the enhanced machines also struggle to target 60fps. Rather than retain the same resolution as the base consoles, there is a bit of give here: both PS4 Pro and Xbox One X drop down to 1440p, freeing up further GPU resources to pump out more frames. Dynamic resolution scaling is in evidence too, though rarely spotted in gameplay from our testing. Unfortunately, while we're getting higher performance (and resolutions!) than the base machines, we're still some way off the 60fps dream and once again, the action is accompanied by very intrusive screen-tearing. There is something very curious about this mode though. Despite looking visually identical to Xbox One X with the same 1440p output (again, VGTech finds some drops that weren't present in our samples), PS4 Pro has a higher level of performance in gameplay.
The Pro's lead is consistent across Mass Effects 1, 2 and 3 - and One X surprisingly trails behind despite being a higher-specced six teraflop machine and just to re-confirm, the pixel counts are matched at 1440p in countless frames tested, where resolution is so often the trade-off with performance in these machines. Potentially there could be differences in other core settings between them, or hidden optimisations, or some kind of CPU limitation on the Microsoft side - but all of these potential explanations don't quite make sense. Either way, it's a consistent result. Pro is undoubtedly a smoother way to play, but a further wrinkle is added when considering cutscenes. In these scenarios, v-sync is always engaged and bizarrely, Xbox consoles (base and enhanced) always outperform their Sony equivalents. It's all rather strange.
Similar to what we saw on the PS5 and Xbox Series analysis, the visual make-up of the game is effectively the same: textures, effects and lighting quality are matched. The ambient occlusion method on Pro and One X differs to the base machines, but between them, the difference is only very slight. Base machines have visibly lower quality texture filtering, but again, that's the only other major drawback. As far as the remaster's upgrades go, no one machine misses out on the tweaks and upgrades delivered compare to the original 2007 release of Mass Effect.
That's a lot of bases covered: four consoles, three games, two modes. The summary is pretty simple at least: firstly, 30fps is the better way to play on almost all of the last-gen consoles. Xbox One X delivers the target frame-rate with the best picture of the bunch, and is the one to recommend for overall stability. Secondly, for the smoothest 60fps game on last-gen you're looking at PS4 Pro's on frame-rate mode - but it's only a win by virtue of the other machines running with lower levels of performance. In practise, not even PS4 Pro can pull 60fps off consistently and despite some issues holding 30fps in quality mode, I'd still prefer to play it at 30fps. Overall, the Legendary Edition strikes me as best optimised for base machines at 1080p30, and the frame-rate mode is more of a curiosity - an extra to see what happens with frame-rates let loose from a cap.
Of course, If you're looking for Mass Effect at 60fps, that's where PS5 and especially Xbox Series X take point. All of which makes me wonder whether Microsoft may be planning some FPS Boost action for Mass Effect Andromeda...
Will you support the Digital Foundry team?
Digital Foundry specialises in technical analysis of gaming hardware and software, using state-of-the-art capture systems and bespoke software to show you how well games and hardware run, visualising precisely what they're capable of. In order to show you what 4K gaming actually looks like we needed to build our own platform to supply high quality 4K video for offline viewing. So we did.
Our videos are multi-gigabyte files and we've chosen a high quality provider to ensure fast downloads. However, that bandwidth isn't free and so we charge a small monthly subscription fee of $5. We think it's a small price to pay for unlimited access to top-tier quality encodes of our content. Thank you.Support Digital Foundry