Mass Effect Legendary Mode vs. Classic Mode: Which Level Scaling Option Should You Choose?

Mass Effect Legendary Edition's Legendary vs. Classic mode debate is the result of a somewhat confusing option that really comes down to personal preferences.

Mass Effect
Photo: EA

We’ve spoken before about the numerous changes that Mass Effect Legendary Edition makes to the original Mass Effect, but the one change that seems to be throwing most players for a loop is the ability swap set the game’s “Level Scaling” setting between Classic Mode and Legendary Mode in the options menu.

The game’s menu tells you that “in classic mode, the original 1-60 level range will be used instead of the new 1-30 level range. XP and talent points progression remains the same, but the number of levels is doubled.” It’s understandable the developers wanted to keep that menu explanation as concise as possible, but that brief summary of the differences between those options has also understandably raised some additional questions.

As it turns out, though, the biggest difference between these two modes really comes down to the preferences of individual players. If you’re still trying to figure out which mode you may prefer, though, then here’s our look at the biggest differences between these two options and which one may be right for you.

Mass Effect’s Legendary Mode Lowers the Level Cap From 60 to 30

The heart of the differences between Legendary Mode level scaling and Classic Mode level scaling is each mode’s level cap.

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Mass Effect‘s Classic Mode sets the level cap at 60 while Legendary Mode reduces that level cap to 30. More importantly, as you’ve probably guessed from the names, Classic Mode more closely replicates the leveling experience of the original Mass Effect (not accounting for differences enforced by other changes made to the game) while Legendary Mode offers a new kind of leveling experience built around the lowered cap.

Lowering a game’s level cap is an easy enough chance to understand, but it’s when you dive into the specifics that things start to get a little weird.

Mass Effect’s Legendary Mode Offers More Skill Points Less Often

In order to compensate for the lowered level cap, Mass Effect’s Legendary Mode increases the number of skill points you earn when you reach a new level. It seems that the idea is that you receive twice as many skill points per level than in Classic Mode (which makes sense given that the level cap has been “halved” in Legendary Mode), but as we’re going to discuss in a second, there’s some debate regarding the specifics of how skill point distribution actually works.

The more important factor to consider is how “fast” you will level in each mode. In Classic Mode, you’ll level up more often, but you’ll receive fewer skill points with each new level. In Legendary Mode, you’ll level up less often, but, as noted, you’ll receive more points with each new level.

As you can probably tell, the two modes are trying to offer a “separate, but equal” kind of leveling experience (at least up until a point). So why have a new level scaling option in the first place? Well, the Legendary Mode changes are largely based on how players reached the original level 60 cap in the first Mass Effect.

Mass Effect’s Legendary Mode and Classic Mode Should Let You Reach the Level Cap in One Playthrough

While it was technically possible to hit the level cap in the original Mass Effect in a single playthrough, you needed to take advantage of some glitches to do so. You weren’t “supposed to” reach level 60 until you played Mass Effect‘s New Game+ mode.

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Now, though, you should be able to hit the level cap in either Legendary or Classic mode without having to do a New Game+ run. While some suspected that Legendary Mode would allow you to reach its level cap in a single playthrough while Classic would still “gate” you, that doesn’t appear to be the case based on initial reports. Some players are still debating this point, but the popular consensus is that if you do enough to level up during your first Mass Effect run (which is still a lot) it is possible to hit level 60 in Classic Mode without starting a New Game+ run. The developers also seem to support that theory based on these lines from an early blog post regarding Legendary Edition alterations:

“Players who complete most aspects of the game should be able to more reliably get to higher levels on a single playthrough rather than needing to play through a second time to do so. Additionally, there is no longer a level cap on a first playthrough.”

Because you can now reach the level cap in one run, though, it seems that the Legendary Edition team wanted to offer you a couple of different ways to experience that run whereas the original Mass Effect was a little more rigid in terms of how players were expected to reach the cap.

Legendary Mode vs. Classic Mode: Which is Easier?

Does the choice between Legendary Mode and Classic Mode come down to difficulty for you? Well, you may be disappointed to learn that the choice really isn’t that simple.

Some early tests of Legendary Mode’s skill point distribution system indicate that Legendary Mode doesn’t exactly utilize a 2 to 1 distribution format across your adventure. In fact, some tests suggest that you get more points to spend overall during the game’s early levels if you play on Classic Mode. While things obviously come closer to evening out by the end of the game, it seems clear enough that Legendary Mode isn’t specifically meant to be an “easy mode.”

In fact, it’s important to remember that Mass Effect already has difficulty modes that will obviously impact the difficulty of the game more than the level scale option. While a player who reaches the level cap in Legendary Mode will be more powerful than one who hasn’t in Classic Mode, Mass Effect isn’t a PvP game. Between the different difficulty levels and the fact that Legendary Edition already alters enemy difficulty and XP distribution (along with other factors that affect your player level), Legendary Mode shouldn’t offer an inherently easier experience from start to finish.

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That said, Legendary Mode does allow you to make more substantial changes to your character with each new level, so you could argue it makes it slightly easier to build a specific type of character (assuming you want to reach more impactful levels “sooner” without needing to make more incremental upgrades along the way). Some are also suggesting that a Legendary Mode run is still faster than a Classic Mode run (if you’re aiming for the level cap), but speedrunners and casual players are still testing out how substantial the time differences really are.

It’s also important to note you can swap between Classic and Legendary as you wish, so if you really want to get a feel for how powerful your character is in either mode at any given time based on your gear, difficulty, and build, that may be the best way to do so.

Mass Effect’s Legendary Mode Makes Level Scaling With Mass Effect 2 More Consistent

One other thing we should mention is that the level cap in the original version of Mass Effect 2 was 30 and is still 30 in the Legendary Edition version of the sequel. In a way, that means that Mass Effect‘s Legendary Mode unites the level cap in Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2.

However, since Mass Effect 3 raises the universal level cap to 60, it’s not like Classic Mode or Legendary Mode is the path to a universal leveling experience across the trilogy (at least in the minds of the original designers).

Mass Effect Legendary Edition: Should You Choose Legendary or Classic Level Scaling?

Despite all the complexities and a few of the unanswered questions regarding certain mechanical differences, the choice between Legendary and Classic level scaling is pretty simple.

If you want to replicate the leveling experience of the original Mass Effect as closely as possible, you should choose Classic Mode. It’s also probably still the better choice if you’re hoping to continue leveling during your New Game+ playthrough (since it seems to offer more of an “opportunity” to still level during a New Game+ run), and it’s obviously the better choice if you like to reach new levels and distribute skill points more often.

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If you want to experience what that leveling experience would have been like if Mass Effect had 30 levels rather than 60 (or at least a close approximation of that experience), then you should probably pick Legendary Mode. Some are arguing that it’s also the better choice for “new” players, but that’s really based on what they assume those players’ preferences will be and if they’d rather utilize what you could call a slightly more streamlined leveling system.