Guide: The Best Way to Play Mass Effect 1 on PC
Mass Effect 1 is a classic action-RPG from BioWare. For me and many fans, it’s dripping with nostalgia, and the branching plotlines you can explore give it a lot of replay value. However, as an almost 12-year old game, its visuals are surprisingly dated, even when compared with other games that came out around the same time. Thankfully, if you’re playing on PC, with the proper modifications, it can be made to stand proudly alongside its sequels to look like a modern game. In this guide, we will explore how to get the best experience out of Mass Effect 1.
Step 1: Install the Vanilla Game and Change the Settings
This may seem obvious, but it’s a crucial first step. You can purchase this game on Steam or Origin. If you purchase it on Origin, there are a few steps in this guide that you can skip, but you will get an identical experience upon completion. Once you download and install the game, run it and change the graphics settings to suit your needs. Set the resolution (use the left and right arrows to select resolutions not visible in the drop-down menu) and set all graphics settings to the highest setting available. If you wish to see what the vanilla game looks like as is, so you can be wowed by the improvements later, feel free to create a character and start the game. Then, close the game and proceed.
Origin users must disable automatic updates for all games in Origin settings before continuing, or else Origin will revert the game back to its initial state once you install mods. To do this, open Origin and click Origin in the top left of the screen, then Application Settings. Under the Client Update section, uncheck the automatic game updates option (if it’s grayed out, it’s off). Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to turn off automatic updates for individual games at this point, so it’ll affect all your Origin games.
Step 2: Edit Bioengine.INO File (Steam Only)
As a port from the console version, Mass Effect on Steam is locked to the texture resolution of the original release on Xbox 360. The LOD (Level of Detail) is set fairly low due to the restrictions of the 360’s hardware.
To fix this, you must do some editing of the game files. (Thanks to user Croft on Steam for this information.) The Origin version of the game has already been fixed, so Origin users can skip this step.
- Navigate to your My Documents folder – BioWare – Mass Effect – Config and find the BIOEngine text file.
- Back up the BIOEngine file. This way, if something goes wrong, you can replace the file with the original without having to reinstall the game. To do this, simply copy the file and paste it in a separate folder.
- Open the file. Make sure you use Notepad and not Wordpad, as Wordpad causes problems with the file. Around the midpoint, you’ll find section called “[SystemSettings]” (without quotations). You can also use the Find function by pressing CTRL+F and typing “SystemSettings” as a single word without the quotations. Change “Trilinear=FALSE” to “Trilinear=TRUE” (without the quotations).
- Scroll down two more sections to find “[TextureLODSettings]”. Replace the top 11 lines (12 including the section title) with the following:
- Save the file. After this, launch the game again to make sure it runs. I would recommend starting a new game at this point, so you can see the changes for yourself.
Update: If you’re planning on using the ALOT mod (see Step 7 for more info), skip this step. According to Mgamerz, developer for the ALOT installer, the installer does this work for you, and editing this file will crash the game.
Step 3: Free DLC (Steam Only)
On Origin, the game’s two DLC packs (Bring Down the Sky and Pinnacle Station) are included with the original download. EA also released these packs for free for Steam users, however, they must install them manually, as they are not available through Steam itself.
Follow this link to download Bring Down the Sky: http://lvlt.bioware.cdn.ea.com/bioware/u/f/eagames/bioware/masseffect/dlc/MassEffect_BDtS_EFIGS.exe
Follow this link to download Pinnacle Station if you wish to download the English or Spanish version: http://lvlt.bioware.cdn.ea.com/bioware/u/f/eagames/bioware/masseffect/dlc/MassEffect_PS_ES.exe
If you prefer the French, Italian, or German version, you must follow this link (https://help.ea.com/en-us/help/origin/origin/download-dlc-for-classic-origin-games/#masseffect) and pick your language from the list. All languages are included with the Bring Down the Sky download link.
Install them one at a time. Simply run the .exe files for each and follow the instructions. Pinnacle Station requires a product key when installing. This code is as follows (as quoted from EA’s official site): 5GUCXRFPQNBMTJBD3L5J.
Once you install these, I recommend again that you run the game once more to ensure that the game is working properly.
Step 4: PC Tweaks (Optional – Not Recommended)
There are a variety of PC tweaks that are available to you. Changing these settings requires you to make changes to files in the Config folder, which can cause a variety of issues if done improperly. For most users, I would not recommend messing with them.
An exhaustive list of the tweaks is available here: https://masseffect.fandom.com/wiki/PC_Tweaks
Be sure to back up your files before making any of these changes. The only tweak that I made was to enable cutscene skipping for the repetitive scenes, especially the docking scenes entering or exiting the Citadel. However, this only works for certain scenes, and if you do it at the wrong time, it can freeze the game. I found it worth the risk, but again, I would not recommend this for most people.
Other tweaks include giving you the ability to command each squad member individually (although the HUD allows you to do this inherently, but not with key bindings), customizing quick-slot keys for abilities, and adding a quickload function to the game. Proceed with these tweaks at your own risk.
Step 5: Controller Mod (Optional)
If you’re like me, the Xbox 360 version was your initiation into the franchise, and therefore, you learned to play on controller first. It may dismay you to learn that the game does not support controllers out of the gate. What’s odd is that the overlay files and inputs are present within the game’s files, however, some of the controls were rendered inactive when the game was ported by Demiurge Studios.
Thankfully, the modding community has your back. It does not include an installer, so you must install it manually. However, the mod makes it easy for you. All you have to do is replace certain files (after backing them up) with the ones included in the mod. Follow this link (https://www.nexusmods.com/masseffect/mods/60/) to download it. Follow the instructions there to install it.
Keep in mind that if you install this, the mouse and keyboard controls become inoperable. It also replaces the HUD that you use to command squadmates and select abilities and weapons, as these overlays are separate on the controller. It is difficult to change this back after installing, so make sure that you want to play on controller before proceeding. Keep in mind that the mouse and keyboard HUD allows you to command your squadmates separately, and this function is lost when using controller.
Step 6: Install Other Mods (Optional)
If there are any other mods you wish to install, make sure you install those before proceeding. Some of the most popular include the unofficial patch ME1 Recalibrated, which includes a variety of fixes to cutscenes that weren’t rendered properly.
For those who despise the elevator scenes, there’s a fix that speeds them up. Similarly, if you’re impatient, there’s a mod that removes the BioWare screen that comes up when the game starts.
There’s also a mod to improve the Mako’s controls, which makes it less bouncy on rough terrain. Speaking of the Mako, there’s a mod that changes the Mako’s mouse and keyboard controls, which some may prefer.
There’s a restoration mod that enables all romance options to your playthrough, regardless of what gender you pick, using some unused dialog options so the romance scenes make sense (the dialog for both male and female romances was recorded by the actors for Kaiden and Ashley, but was unused in the game’s final release). Keep in mind, this mod doesn’t allow you to import these romances into subsequent games.
For those who want the Asari to have continuity with ME3, there’s a mod that changes the look of Liara and the Asari.
If you like to take screenshots, there’s a photo mode mod that allows you to stop time, enable fly cam mode, and turn off the HUD.
For those who like to keep it casual, there’s a casual hubs mod that allows you to enter the Citadel without all that pesky armor. (You will appear as you do on-board the Normandy.)
If you have a newer AMD CPU, some users report a strange glitch on certain planets that causes characters to be rendered as a black blob. There’s a fix for this, which also enables FPS counting, anti-aliasing, and a few other features.
If any of these mods interest you, install them and give them a try. The great thing about PC gaming is that we get to change the game to play how we want it to. Again, be sure to back up your files before installing the mods, and run the game once you’ve installed them to ensure that the game functions as it should.
Step 7: MEUITM (Mass Effect Updated/Improved Textures Mod)
This is the main event – the Mass Effect mod to end all Mass Effect mods. It’s also one of the easiest mods to install. The installer included does all the heavy lifting for you.
Follow this link to download it: https://www.nexusmods.com/masseffect/mods/1/
The Nexus Mods page includes instructions for installing, including a video that demonstrates the install for you. There are a variety of options when you install the mod, such as different looks for characters’ eyes, characters and armor updated to look like they do in subsequent games, and different looks for FemShep. There are videos on the Nexus Mods page that demonstrate the difference between these options, and it’s worth taking a look to see which you prefer.
Be sure to check the “Install Indirect Sound” option for improved audio. There is also a ReShade option which includes a variety of changes, including sharpening, improved anti-aliasing, and greater clarity. It also puts a bloom effect on the game that I personally didn’t care much for, however this can be configured through a helpful overlay, which allows you to turn on and off all the ReShade features individually (press Shift+F2 to make these changes). Keep in mind that the ReShade option causes the game to stutter on startup while the effect is applied.
Once you select the options you want, all you need to do is press install, and it’ll do the rest for you.
Another texture mod worth checking out is the ALOT mod. It is made to work with METIUM with no overlap, so you can install it before or afterward.
Step 8: Play and Enjoy!
Now that you’ve done all that hard work, you can finally enjoy the fruits of your labor. The galaxy is yours to explore, and now it looks as good as it can be.
Brian Schuchert is a writer and filmmaking professional. He’s been playing games since before he could read and will continue to play them until he’s a big-shot director in Hollywood with no time on his hands. You can follow him on YouTube & Twitter.