Messiah Complex Prt 2: Towards Mass Effect 3

By Kieron Gillen on June 3rd, 2010 at 3:40 pm.


I left Mass Effect 2 in a similar mood to the way I left Dragon Age. I admired the craft, enjoyed it a lot but found myself dwelling on the question of “what next for Bioware?”. There’s ribs of the old Bioware skeleton sticking out, but some of the changes in format feel – to me – like transitional ones, on the way to something else. This is about thinking about the something else.

What it isn’t is what Tom Francis did with Bioshock, rewriting its ending to be more satisfying. It’s more about trying to put a microscope on some philosophical bits of pieces which don’t quite hang together. Mass Effect 2 played with this more than any Bioware game in ages. I’d like to see it pushed further.

Let’s go back to Mass Effect: the Renegade/Paragon system is a revelation, in terms of actually rewarding entertaining behaviour. Traditionally, act good and bad equally, and you end up neutral-boring. Here, your major decisions boost your abilities in being a Renegade or a Paragon, as such allowing you to excel in lovely-fellow-tude and dog-kickery. But…

Well, I don’t even want to touch on the fact any time a Renegade or Paragon option appears, it’s basically a win-button. It does reduce the game down to it being a style thing of whether you want to go one way or another at any moment – both are often equally effective. In some ways, it works stylistically, making you equally as much of a decisive figure either way, but separating them totally does really remove much of the moral element to the game. The interrupts are wonderful… but they’re rarely – as in, I never saw one, but there’s apparently one – applied antagonistically. Offering a Paragon or Renegade option simultaneously would become a “What will I do now?” rather than “I’m going to press it to just see what I do. And why not? It’ll almost certainly be better than what would happen if I didn’t… and I’ll end up with a more powerful character too”.

The last thing is my main problem with the system. All the other abilities in the game are based on freely applying skill points you earn when levelling up. So if you kill dudes, you can get any ability you want. The Renegade and Paragon skills are an exception, based around you practising them. In other words, every time you actually select the sensible, middle-ground action, your character becomes comparatively weaker, giving up “XP”. You’ll always be better off going for the extremes. Any attempt to make your character show complexity or even-handedness is, in terms of developing your character’s power, a bad move.

There are a few solutions – the obvious one would be to weaponize the middle route, so that being reasonable is a skill too. Alpha Protocol, for all its apparent flaws, pretty much allows you to walk the game if you go for the “professional” options. Separating Paragon into its two component parts – “Plea by Ethics” and “Plea by Authority” would work here. One is about being nice. One is about being in charge. And the renegade – which picks up some of the “in charge” – becomes a purer plea-by-anti-ethics intimidation skill. You’re already offering three choices. This would just make each one an actual feasible option.

Which leads to the crew. Arguably Bioware’s biggest change is the step away from the much critiqued standard opening/branching-bit/end-game model. Instead, it has the long-mid-game about gathering your team. A dozen or more sub-quests before the game heads towards the conclusion. As I talked about last time, this does cause other problems.

Firstly, it extends the second act enormously, making it feel more like a TV show than a movie. To intro all the characters and give them a mission to gain their loyalty is a vast amount of content. Secondly, it still has what’s been big head-scratcher in every Bioware game. In short: what the fuck are all these idiots doing when I’m off saving the universe? Let’s pile-on to the Balrog/Borg-knock-off instead of going in with a couple of mates.

It was worse in Dragon Age, where people are just sitting around a camp, polishing their swords and braiding their hair when you’re off saving the world. At least in Mass Effect 2, there’s the theory that they have a ship to look after. Dragon Age was desperately in need for something to keep your companions busy – the one really smart idea in Neverwinter Nights 2 was the mid-game where you run a castle, which is a sensible place to leave your friends… though it’d be better if the castle had to be defended at all costs. If you’re going to do something as openly atmosphere-shattering as leaving most your friends behind, at least work in some manner of justification in the fiction.

There’s a couple of other ways they could go, however.

Firstly, say fuck it and let you bring them all along. Or at least more of them. The interesting thing about Mass Effect 2 is that it’s streamlined your companion management to such a level that I personally could have handled another couple of team-mates. If I could have a mob of them along, I suspect I’d accept some further streamlining, swapping scale of conflicts for the intricacy.

Especially in the end-game, where the game explicitly talks about splitting your team into two halves, I was hoping for a surprise mission with a load of your friends along. You can work out in-game justifications to bring the team size down…. but I did crave to have a Omaha Beach moment. On the action side, Mass Effect 2 is a game about spectacle. I’d be interested to see a game which managed to be as smart as ME2 is, while having the genuine scale of a Gears of War or Halo. In fact, if you asked my late-nineties self, ME2 is very much what I’d imagine the early-00s equivalent of Halo would play like.

The second approach is to say fuck it, and just lose half your crew. Basically, the Planescape Torment approach of having fewer, but better detailed characters. Rather than having a pair of character specific missions, you could have four. Alternatively, you could only have the same amount of character-specific missions, but use the extra resources to expand the main arc of the plot. With less companions, one of the major critiques of Mass Effect 2 – the relatively limited number of missions which actually have anything to do with your actual objective – could be answered.

Also, if you’re willing to let me go well into Back-seat designer territory, there’s another, more extreme option I’d love to see someone try. Keep the same number of companions. Just half the amount you have in any given game, with you getting a selection of five or six to form the middle-act. The game is shorter, but doesn’t have the over-extended middle arc, and it rewards (and encourages, because the game is a more manageable length) replaying to get a different selection of chums. You could make it a standard set first time around. You could make it entirely random. You could make it selectable from the full list once you’ve played them. You could experiment to see how different characters actually worked together or argued. And you also avoid all the problems described above of “What on earth are all these people you’re recruiting actually DOING while I’m saving the universe?”

(I’m aware why no-one in the mainstream would do this, by the way. The idea of resources not being seen is something which sends people into a panic. But I still think it’s interesting.)

And now we head to the thing which left me a little sad about Mass Effect 2’s ending. Put simply, it’s a suicide mission which simply isn’t. It’s actually a perfectly sensible mission. You do the bare minimum of preparation and planning – get the ship upgrades, do the loyalty missions and select the reasonable person for any task when actually on the mission – and pretty much everyone will get out alive. After the build up, all the promise of darkness and drama, this was disappointing. I didn’t deserve the prize.

Solutions to this?

Obvious one: go less dark. This is a game which called back to the Seven Samurai, the Dirty Dozen and – implicitly, being the second part in a sci-fi trilogy – the Empire Strikes Back. The ease of the ending betrays that. However, if Bioware want to make Star Wars… well, make Star Wars. When you’ve got a crew as genuinely broken as the one in Mass Effect 2, you’re primed for darkness. I stress: this is a game where the comedy character has committed an act of genocide. Tone back the tragic characters and you’re not primed for tragedy. From the quotes that have come out so far, this seems to be the way Bioware are going.

There’s other ways they could have gone. Less obviously, commit to the theme. It wasn’t that I got everyone bar-one person out alive which was the problem. It was that I so easily got everyone bar-one out alive. I’m probably a better player than average, but – as explained above – the things which made me do as well as I did weren’t things which demanded much skill or thought.

The original Mass Effect threw in a Sophie’s Choice situation where one character died and one lived. While I thought it actually worked, I don’t think this is necessary to do it that directly. I think you just needed more decisions before you went to the final mission about the nature of the mission. Where are you going to go into the target? What equipment are you going to take on your ship? What intel are you trying to gather? Having a choice of non-crew allies or equipment to gather, with you getting one meaning you can’t get the other. That kind of thing.

In other words, turn the game into less the Seven Samurai and more Oceans Eleven. Getting the team is part of the battle. Having the plan and the equipment thereof is the other. This could have the dual effect of making any of your crew’s death feel more directly attached to your decisions – “Well, I did think it was a good idea to send their team through the route which I knew was dangerous” – and making the middle-act more obviously related to the conclusion.

And now… offing the crew.

Last time, I was a little extravagant in my choice of metaphor for what the supporting cast in any fiction are for. As in, supporting casts exist for us to care about and then be killed. It’s not exactly true. Supporting cast exist to be threatened. Fear of them being hurt. In a lighter-leaning story, we know they’ll probably get away, but our sympathy makes us care even despite of that. In a darker-leaning story, we’re petrified for them. We know they can die. Hell, we know they’ll probably die.

This makes the concept of “Loyalty missions” is another somewhat odd one. They made a team-mate loyal to you. That’s a deceptive labelling. It does no such thing. A better description may be “focused”. As in, their mind is entirely on the mission so they’ll perform better. “Loyalty” would imply a character wouldn’t betray you or would die for you. And they probably would. But the irony is that a character who is loyal has far less chance of dying for you…

Which leads to a few ideas for a meaningful character death. If the mission is harder to get everyone else out alive, a loyal character – with true 100% loyalty being harder to achieve – would end up wanting to sacrifice themselves to save everybody else. This would all depend on the plan you put into play and where the risks were taken. It’d be a meaningful death, and a high-point of heroism for that character’s life – because heroism is sacrifice, or the willingness to make sacrifices. It would be an important moment for the character – and one which through your actions you helped create, though arguably with less guilt actually put at your feet. After all, it was their decision.

Bioware seem sensitive to those who are upset over any deaths at all. I’d note that in geek media, fan outrage is a necessary thing to face. Let’s take comics, with Miller receiving death-threats about him killing the woman they loved when he killed Elektra in his Daredevil run. It was the critical apex of the run, and still talked about today. You cannot try to create Macbeth or Hamlet and turn it into Measure for Measure or Midsummer Night’s Dream. Focus Testing would have given Romeo and Juilet a happy ending. And, it should be noted, all the story experiences that are cited as great in games are tragic ones. Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Planescape Torment, Another World – all tragedies.

Have faith in your story, and don’t deny it. If this is the sort of game you want to make, you have to commit to it.

Which leads to the most radical idea I’m going to throw out here, and the one which gave this article its title. As I said in the first part, I wanted them all to live but was disappointed that it was all so easy. I was disappointed my devotion wasn’t questioned. I’d have done anything to save them.

Would I, really?

It’s a game where your character progresses into the next game. Your character’s survival has meaning. The mission is at its climax. Maybe some have fallen. Maybe some haven’t. But your other team is trapped, sent on a necessary diversion. You know they’re doomed. But then an option opens up – that if you go to a certain place, and strike as well as you can, they can escape. Your friends – all your friends – will get out.

You won’t.

I can save them all… or I can save my save.

Would I have managed to make that sacrifice? I don’t know. But I’d love to have seen a game offer me my nails, my cross and ask to hammer them home.

, , .

131 Comments »

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  1. Heliosicle says:

    I’m sure there was one point where it gave you both reaction options at once. It could have been during a side mission.

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      skalpadda says:

      I’m not sure about the same time, but I know there was one point where I got one the “renegade interrupt” after not choosing that the other followed.

    • westyfield says:

      When you first meet Mordin and he won’t stop talking, there’s a renagade option to tell him to shut up. If you don’t choose it after a few seconds it turns into a paragon option to calm him down.

    • Superbest says:

      You know it’s funny how for years now RPGs have utterly failed at being, you know, role playing games and gave us number wank instead. And now one game comes along and actually has some decent role playing, and everyone yells at it for not accepting that “Good RPGs are impossible, there’s only shitty and slightly less shitty”.

  2. ChaK_ says:

    More RPG, less shooting

    KTHXBAY

    • Psychopomp says:

      I don’t understand what you mean. ME2 was filled to the brim with talking and choices. Did you ac-Oh, wait, you mean wanking to numbers. Right.

      Diablo is that way.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Psychopomp

      Right, because RPG mechanics and meaningful choices and dialogue are mutually exclusive somehow. Some of us want both, and mechanics define a game genre far more than narrative. ME2 was a great shooter bolted to a pretty good adventure game, but it was a pretty shallow and crappy RPG.

    • Psychopomp says:

      That’s exactly what I’m talking about. If something labels itself an RPG, and only has stat wanking it’s RPG OF THE YEAR ALL YEARS

      If something labels itself an RPG, and only has talking and choices, it’s a “shallow and crappy RPG.”

    • Alexander Norris says:

      Asking for more RPG in any CRPG is absurd, because no CRPG can ever be an RPG. There’s no GM to shape the world, the plot and the NPCs’ reactions according to your character’s motivation and ideology, so there’s no RPG.

      If you wanted more XP and levelling up and loot, though, I can point you in the direction of a thoroughly boring game called Dragon Age. Or, like pomp said, you could always just skip the god-awful plot and go straight to Diablo.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Psychopomp

      If something labels itself an RPG, and only has talking and choices, it’s a “shallow and crappy RPG.”

      If it has no RPG mechanics, it’s a shitty RPG. That doesn’t mean it’s a shitty game, hell ME2 is a very GOOD game, but it’s a terrible RPG because its RPG mechanics are painfully shallow.

      Again, genre is defined, first and foremost, by mechanics. When people like you define a brilliant shooter like ME2 as an RPG, people like me spend the first few hours in misery looking for an RPG that isn’t there before realizing that despite being misadvertised they’re actually playing a brilliant narrative shooter. Genre names exist for a reason, they have meaning, and they create expectations. You can go around calling shooters RPG’s, action games RTS’s, and whatever else but all you’re going to do is cause a lot of people a lot of unnecessary irritation over potentially good games.

      Some of us LIKE making choices about character development in a statistical sense. I get that you hate that, and seem to hate us, but I don’t see how lying to us about what a game is serves any meaningful end on your part.

    • Ginger Yellow says:

      “If something labels itself an RPG, and only has talking and choices, it’s a “shallow and crappy RPG.””

      I don’t think it’s that. I loved the talking and choices in ME2, but I found the combat mostly tedious and repetitive. If the entire game had been talking and choices, with no stats at all, I’d have been thrilled. I adore RPGs where you can talk your way through almost any situation. My main problem with ME2 was that you couldn’t, and that the talky bits were so clumsily split off from the shooty bits. KOTOR seemed to handle the balance better.

    • Chris D says:

      Haven’t we done this before? RPG means both conversation, choices and character development and also a genre involving stats, loot and levelling. These are both fine things either separately or combined. We should possibly come up with two handy terms for distinguishing which we want to refer to but in the mean time we should probably not jump to conclusions too quickly about what someone implies when they use the term.

      Can’t we all just be friends?

    • Deston says:

      Mass Effect 2 is not an RPG!

      Is the new

      Games are not art!

    • Psychopomp says:

      Some of us LIKE making choices about character development in a statistical sense. I get that you hate that, and seem to hate us, but I don’t see how lying to us about what a game is serves any meaningful end on your part.

      I don’t hate that, or you. I’m just tired of being told that a game is an RPG, and it having zero roleplaying. JRPG’s, Hack’n’Slashes, and whatnot are about as much RPG’s as a corridor shooter as far as I’m concerned. They’re just wanking to numbers. It’s still fun, I’m calling it wanking for a reason, but if that is all it takes to make something an role playing game, then all it takes to have a shooter is a gun. No shooting, just a gun.

      tl;dr, to deny that Mass Effect 2 has no role playing game mechanics is fucking ludicrous.

    • Psychopomp says:

      That tl;dr came out wrong.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Psychopomp

      In the same way that many RTS games contain virtually no strategy, many RPG games contain virtually no role playing. The acronym has gotten away from us, I agree with that, but at this point, again, it pertains to the mechanics (in the stats, loot, character development etc sense) and not role playing. This is actually ok, and I’ll tell you why: If role-playing game actually meant “game where you play a role” it would be a massively cross-genre term of virtually no use. I play most grand strategy games as “role playing games” for example, but if they were labeled as such it’d just be confusing.

      I agree with you that games that contain meaningful choices and quality dialogue are very good things, I agree with you that ME2 is a good game that did these things well, our disagreement is a semantic one and nothing more. While I’m sure you and I could hash out a solution to this little issue between us without difficulty, we’d never be able to get everyone else to follow it, so I think we’re probably done here.

    • Nick says:

      Oh christ, AGAIN? I thought that post Kieron (?) did on it would lay the matter to rest.

    • Nosredna says:

      Would everyone be happy if Mass effect had turned based battles like Xcom instead?

      Oh wait… I think I just imagined the game of my dreams…

    • Vinraith says:

      @Nosredna

      I quite liked the tactical shooting in ME2, but an X-Com style turn based combat system would certainly be awesome as well.

      It’s interesting to consider, actually, whether the shallowness of the RPG mechanics (skills, weapons, upgrades and so on) would still be as acceptable to people if the combat resolution system were something radically different. Do most people just expect less from shooters?

    • Jimbo says:

      Focusing purely on the combat side of it, ME1 was a bad RPG and an even worse shooter. Stripping out the bad RPG was precisely what enabled it to become an excellent shooter. I think ME2 actually had much deeper and more thoughtful tactical combat than ME1, it just managed to put it all at your fingertips and allowed you to react on the fly.

      Sure, ME1 had ‘more’ RPG elements, but they did nothing for the game because they were irrelevant. They were just unnecessary housekeeping for the obsessives among us who have to have their party set up ‘just so’ at all times. The game never required you to pay attention to any of that stuff in the first place, so what was the point in it being there? It was badly implemented and tinkering with it just destroyed any sense of urgency when urgency was called for.

      I don’t think it’s that people expect ‘less’ from a shooter necessarily, but if that’s what you’re trying to make then you have to commit to it.

      For me, an RPG is defined by the ability to impact the storyline in a meaningful way, but those choices must also impact on the gameplay in a meaningful way. If there is no crossover between the decisions and the gameplay then all you really have are two seperate games masquerading as an RPG. I don’t consider stats or any other baggage we’ve built up over the years to be a strict requirement, even though you could still refer to those as ‘RPG elements’.

      I consider ME2 both a Shooter and an RPG – and not a ‘Shooter/RPG hybrid’ either, because they’re entirely independent terms.

    • malkav11 says:

      It would indeed be ludicrous to deny that Mass Effect 2 has RPG mechanics. They are just very light and largely meaningless.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      Nosredna: you just re-invented the Gold Box series.

      This is, of course, a good thing.

    • Vinraith says:

      @FunkyBadger

      Amongst all the games that they don’t yet have, the Gold Box games are what I would most like GOG to add to their catalog.

  3. Joe Martin says:

    On the whole ‘letting you choose four or five characters from a bigger list’, Bioware has done that in the Baldur’s Gate series, where the characters also had a lot of depth to them (well, some). The issue is more one of consumers demanding a certain quality of content – we want voice recording, not written text.

    With the NPC selection model you can’t justify hiring that many voice actors for that much time, but you can justify the required number of writers.

    • Joe Martin says:

      In fact, they did that idea that I am in the middle of doing exactly what you suggest: replaying with different chars, just to see how they argue and interact.

    • ChaK_ says:

      I would do bad things for a BG3 3d isometic with 20 NPC and text message

    • Chris D says:

      I’d like to see less voice acting in games. I wrote a detailed justification of this but the captcha ate it, so here’s the short version.

      There’s a place for good quality voice acting in games but many times text is both more evocative and more efficient so I don’t want to see voice acting become a requirement for all games, especially not if we’re trading off other things to get it.

    • Joe Martin says:

      @ChrisD

      I agree, kind of. I like text. I didn’t have a problem with it in Planescape: Torment, etc. On the other hand, voice acting adds much to a world and to a game and is generally preferable and required in the modern market.

      Also, it’s possible to be too nostalgic about text. It encourages waffle, which, for all it’s beauty, was definitely a weakpoint of PS:T. Waffle. If they’d had someone reading those lines you can bet your ass it’d be more succint and accessible. Just saying.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      I think they give us a large assortment of companion characters specifically so that the choice *is difficult* for who to take with you. All the arguements raised in the article are valid, but it doesn’t take into account replay value. I also think the large amount of publicity surrounding the game actually hinders the RPG elements, which strikes me as the crux of the article.

      The variety of characters has encouraged me to replay the game(s) using different paragon/renegade play styles and companions to fill in the biotic, tech or firepower gaps in my build. It’s a testament to Bioware that we can even be having this discussion of how ‘much more’ emotionally involved we can be with our games and still replay them.

      ME2’s failures I think are purely mechanical. The new cover system, lack of Mako exploring, silly resource scanning. The plot and the background detail is superb and I couldn’t ask for more.

      The idea of the ‘suicide mission’ being less then suicidal is perhaps more of a result of the context to which the public and the press has portrayed it then the actual game does. In the plot, it’s always portrayed as a ‘potential suicide’ – heading into the unknown Omega relay of the climax with a high chance of failure. It’s a dramatic tool basically to foreshadow the decisions you’ll be making later on.

      But when one person has to tell another person about it, be it a review or a synopsis etc, the term ‘suicide mission’ is completely out of context with the rest of the narrative, so when we get to actually playing it, it feels like a dramatic let-down. Oh that was just another mission. It’s like, telling someone about the movie ‘Sixth Sense’ and saying ‘Oh you’re going to love or hate the twist at the end’ – it reduces the impact of the twist because you’re anticipating it now. It’s been foreshadowed out of context of the narrative if that makes sense.

    • Vinraith says:

      The issue is more one of consumers demanding a certain quality of content – we want voice recording, not written text.

      Like some others, I genuinely think the expectation of 100% voiced everything in games is strangling RPG’s to death. It fundamentally limits the amount of content, number of characters, and depth of choices available by requiring a massive additional investment of money and time for every line of written dialogue. We’re obviously not going to see big-budget mainstream games move away from it at this point, but it’s one more reason I wish there were more independent, small-developer RPG’s being crafted. Most of the time I don’t even listen to the voice acting anyway, I turn on subtitles and skip to the next line once I’m done reading, so VO is pure downside from my perspective.

  4. Dean says:

    I like the final idea… the Elektra comparison is probably the strongest for ME2, rather than even Planescape or Romeo and Juliet. Because it is part of a series, and your actions have consequences going forward which is sort of outside of the story. Romeo and Juliet dying worked fine. Because it’s the end of the play, that’s the story. Killing Elektra genuinely upset people as it meant a character they liked would not be in the series going forward. There’s a sort of measurable loss for fans of the character there.

    So it is with Mass Effect. And generally people don’t want any of their characters to die, on the assumption that the best, most complete experience in the third game will come from having them still alive. It’ll be interesting how this is handled. That’s an assumption now. Though I can easily envisage one or two of the ME2 characters who play a big part in ME3 having ‘alternative’ characters to cover the same story beats if they’re dead. If those characters turn out to be a lot more interesting, we might get people replaying ME2 to get save files with particular characters dead…

    But until we know that, “everyone alive” is the ending that implies the best pay-off in ME3. After all, if a character is dead, you can’t really develop their story, so you’d essentially be missing out on that bit of ME3…

    And of course, it’s a game. So you can replay it and re-do that last bit until you do get everyone through alive.

  5. Mike Russo says:

    SPOILERS for Dragon Age:

    DA sort of did the thing you’re talking about at the end — it wasn’t mandatory, but if you make a certain decision, either you or one of your party members needs to die to kill the Big Bad. It was pretty effective, I thought.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Mike: Awesome. I haven’t completed it. That’s brilliant. And annoying that John didn’t mention it to me when writing this :)

      KG

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      DA also kinda threw in a Mea Culpa concerning the lack of use of your friends. At least it seems BioWare is aware of these problems. Because by the end of the game, you will meet all of your friends at the Denerim city gates and they all will assist you in getting through the masses of darkspawn. You can even change the composition of your party and will have to crate a second party from the remaining friends for a later stage in the game.

      The more friends you collected, the merrier you are. And the better they are equipped, the less trouble you will have dealing with it.

    • Kirian says:

      Continuing the spoilery theme, there is a way out of that. But it’s an interesting one in that the way out may well be worse, depending on how the game made you feel about the characters, than the simple sacrifice. For the world, that is.

      You really should finish Dragon Age. Loghain Mac Tyr has one of the legendary voice actors behind him, and he gets to deliver an actually fairly decent piece of in-character writing toward the end, in the meeting of the barons.

    • Ian says:

      @KG: I was about to ask had you finished it as that seemed a fairly major thing to forget. :D

    • bleeters says:

      What I found most interesting about that ending consequence in Dragon Age was that it’s actually avoidable, but only through making a few fairly questionably rational decisions beforehand. And no, I’m not talking about that way of getting out of it.

      Essentially, you can avoid making the inevitable sacrifice through a certain set of conditions that are put in motion far, far earlier that culminate in another-character-who-would’ve-died-anyway doing it for you.

      Or, in a more heavily spoilery way, have Loghain do it. Alistair won’t be too happy and, unless convinced to stand up for himself more during his personal quest and then convinced to joint-rule with Anora will either a) become king and over-rule your decision to spare him, b) leave, becoming a wandering homeless drunk or, unless you talk Anora out of it, c) be executed.

      Reason I like this, specifically? It’s entirely unpredictable. You can’t reasonably work out the criteria of this ending ahead of time, and it’s an ending that directly relates to the survival of yourself or another character.

    • Manley Pointer says:

      Stacking up crazy spoilers to keep this combo going!

      If you make an unexpected decision regarding Loghain, you might find he’s not such a bad guy after all!
      If you choose your dog to be your champion at the Landsmeet, people will get mad!
      At the end of the game, you find one of the characters has had an agenda all along — and it makes sense! And the decision you have to make is a bit weird!
      Plus, heartfelt goodbyes and stuff.

      DA:O’s endgame had it all. ME2’s ending was not bad either, but didn’t do as much, I thought.

    • Jimbo says:

      It’s true that Dragon Age did what KG is talking about, but it still wasn’t very good, for a couple of reasons. Primarily because they pulled the ‘logic’ behind it out of thin air at the last minute, but also because they bottled it when it came to the expansion.

      As for ME2, I think the game itself was mostly fine, they just shouldn’t have marketed it as a suicide mission so hard in the first place (at no point did I think “Suicide mission! Yes!!”). Not making the game mechanics quite so obvious probably would have helped a bit too (as is the case with most Bioware games), but I still expect only a minority of players made it through the end without losing at least one character.

      I think they’re probably saving their big heroic death scene for ME3. Maybe Shepard (Paragon choice) or Joker (Renegade choice) staying behind on the Normandy and going down in a blaze of glory?

      The thing I’m most interested in about ME3 is the party roster. Liara is the only party member from either game who is definitely still alive at this point, so I would imagine she will return. I could see them bringing back Kaiden/Ashley, because I think that would be a ballsy move (in terms of potentially wasted resources) whilst still being manageable, because everybody is at least going to have one or the other. I can’t see anybody else returning in a party role (possibly Legion). If they just start miraculously reviving more people it will become ridiculous.

      I would love to see the roster scaled right back for ME3, even to the point where you have no choice at all about your party. This would allow them to focus entirely on the main story thread and tying everything up. There is a whole lot of ground that needs covering in ME3, because as good as ME2 was, it didn’t really serve its purpose as a second act at all. It’s weird when you think about it – they just spent a whole game/act introducing amazing characters which they can no longer use.

    • Manley Pointer says:

      @Jimbo: “[ME2] didn’t really serve its purpose as a second act at all”

      I couldn’t agree more with this. Usually whenever a game or film comes out, a lot of reviewers will put forward the same thought in a sort of mass critical redundancy (not that they read each other, necessarily, just that many people write up the same obvious idea). With ME2 the critical meme was “the story might not seem so epic on its own, but as the second act in a larger trilogy it’s great.”

      Fuck that! It’s a horrible second act. The second act is when the problem introduced in the first act gets worse and worse until it looks like all is lost for our heroes at the second act’s conclusion. The proper second act to follow ME1 would be Reapers taking over half the galaxy, exterminating a few of the races you met in the first game, the council being hopelessly lost in their own petty squabbles and trying to save their own races, etc., and things looking their worst right at the end of game. Maybe you have to blow up the Citadel as the Reapers start taking it over, or something like that. And half your crew dies. Roll credits!

      I would like to play that kind of game, where you fought a losing fight the whole time, where you won battles but lost the war. You can still do a traditional three-act structure within my nightmare vision of the second game, but the overall story could be about you losing everything you were counting on to save you. (But you pull something together in the third game.) That would be an interesting story! But of course, they couldn’t do a crazy thing like that.

      Instead, you get a second act in name only. This isn’t Act 2, this is Episode 2: More of The Same. (Plot-wise, not mechanics-wise.) After defeating the fairly overwhelming threat in ME1, you defeat a rather underwhelming threat in ME2, and now it’s humans 2, reapers (and allies) 0. The game ends with you winning, and you get a little cinematic saying “oh, they’re on their way.” So what? Act 2 is supposed to make you worried , you should have some creeping unease going on as you see the societies of your allies falling apart and Reaper influence starting to screw everything up. ME2 only contains the lightest suggestions of these kinds of things. You’re steamrolling the other side.

      So yeah, I don’t think people should ever call ME2 a second act, or pretend that the trilogy has been plotted as a whole unit. Bioware’s PR people do, but nobody should listen to them.

      ME3 might prove me wrong on this, but I very much doubt it. In fact, after hearing about how they’re planning to “bring some fun and lightness back into it,” I am kinda curious about what the hell they’re doing. (http://www.oxm.co.uk/article.php?id=19778). The next installment will have “a lot more darkness but also a lot more humor”? Haha. What a brilliant narrative direction: “a whole lot more of everything.”

    • Ginger Yellow says:

      “So yeah, I don’t think people should ever call ME2 a second act, or pretend that the trilogy has been plotted as a whole unit. Bioware’s PR people do, but nobody should listen to them.”

      This is a very good point. ME2 was very clearly designed and marketed, from a gameplay and a narrative perspective, to appeal to people who never played ME1 while also capturing most of the people who did. It’s very much standalone, despite the callbacks to ME1.

    • bleeters says:

      I think what bugged me the most about ME2s story and how it fits into the overall plot is more to do with the collectors only showing up now, when they could’ve (and really, why wouldn’t they) done so in ME1 to help Sovereign attack the citadel. That and the fact everyone in the galaxy seems to know who they are already, but is only just getting around to mentioning them. It’s a little jarring.

    • qrter says:

      ME2’s main plot is horrible. Basically, you end up where you started.

      The only significant plot development might be (SPOILERS blah blah) whether you saved or destroyed the Collector base, but only in the context of the third game.

    • cjlr says:

      Pretty much the last shot of ME1 was a reaper armada in dark space.
      Pretty much the last shot of ME2 was… a reaper armada in dark space.

      Way to go.

      Although do you think they were going for something to do with the nature of space, time, and circularity? To end 2 where 1 ended brings us full circle, recalling the dharmic wheel of life. The cycle of sowing and reaping of intelligence is one which has repeated itself uncountable times. Straight lines in curved space give us circles – rotating planets, solar systems, up to the scale of entire galaxies, wheel-shaped and turning across the void…
      Yeah, I don’t think that’s what they intended either.

    • bleeters says:

      Huh, you saw a reaper fleet at the end of ME1? I don’t remember that.

    • cjlr says:

      I could have sworn… either right at the end, or even post credits, there’s a split second zoom out and BAM, reapers…

      Did I hallucinate that? I’m pretty sure not…

    • Vinraith says:

      @cjlr

      If it was a hallucination, it was a shared one, as I remember that too.

    • cjlr says:

      At the very least that was the overarching situation in question, even if Vinraith and I are both masters of fuzzy memory. The point still stands.

    • bleeters says:

      Oh, I wasn’t being incredulous, apologies if it seemed that way. I assumed I’d missed it, and was thus hoping for a point-in-the-right-direction as to when that was.

    • Ian says:

      @ Jimbo: I’ll be more concerned with BioWare having “bottled it” if the sequel is set around the same time as the original and there’s as little direct follow-on as the expansion had. As it is I’m beginning to wonder if the sequel won’t be set a decent way into that setting’s future.

      Also: Isn’t that common* in these somebody-might-have-to-die-at-the-end scenarios? The last-minute This Changes Everything information? “Somebody’s gonna have to stay behind and trigger the MacGuffin!” or whatever.

      * I realise that it being common doesn’t necessarily make it GOOD, but I didn’t think it grated too much in this scenario.

  6. Bioptic says:

    I think that’s hit the nail on the head – it’s not so much making it too easy to get everyone out alive, or people not being able to deal with character death, more that people want the optimal gameplay experience for the next game. The characters in Mass Effect 2 all have the same trajectory – Recrutiment, Loyalty, Endgame death or survival – nothing is changed for the better narratively by having them die, and you’ll almost certainly be depriving yourself of content in ME3 by doing so (a la Wrex in ME2).

    To me, Alpha Protocol gets around all of these issues. The characters are a massive amount of the game experience, but outside the absolute narrative core, have huge flexibility on the paths they can take. Killing someone doesn’t just deprive you of future content involving them, it also changes the attitudes of other characters towards you and may open up new paths of content. Likewise, the dialogue system doesn’t just dictate whether you do or don’t get content, it determines *which* content you get. The stories of each character also intersect to a certain extent, again leading to more complex interactions and making future playthroughs in alternate style required to see anything *like* everything the game has to offer.

  7. nine says:

    Your final idea (save your save, or your team mates) is fantastic. Up until I read this series of articles I was just of the inclination “the finale should have killed a few random characters no matter what!”. The degress of nuance you talk about here are great and all of them would be superior again. Stop writing comics damnit, and get onto the Bioware story team!

    Sidenote: I felt like a real bastard the one time (out of two playthroughs) in Fallout 3 when I sent my power armour companion into the radioactive water chamber at the end rather than do it myself. It would be a real challenge in ME2 to have killed my entire party to preserve my save, even though I think the idea of save-game migration is a really fantastic one we should see more.
    It would also give a good reason for ME3’s party to be more or less the same people as ME1.

  8. Mario Figueiredo says:

    Nice article Kieron. Very nice indeed. Lost of food for thought.

  9. Selendor says:

    For me Bioware is trying to please two types of gamers playing their games – the completionists who’s experience will be spoilt if they cannot achieve the best possible outcome (ie everyone survives) and the role players who make decisions as they feel their character would and are happy with that unique consequence (good or bad).

    As Kieron rightly says, the game falters at the last because it makes it too easy to achieve the former. Perhaps forcing sacrifices to be made a la Mass Effect 1 is the better way to go, and after some time has passed I now feel the first game stands out as a more memorable experience.

    But bless them for going on this journey when few other developers go near this kind of thing, and who knows how they will resolve the third installment’s multi-path permutations without annoying a lot of people!

    Hate the planet scanning though, depressed to hear they will be keeping it.

    • Paul B says:

      Actually, I was looking forward to an expansion of the Planet Scanning game and less of the RPG mini-game filler that took place in-between scanning…

      (Sorry, had a flashback to that Bioshock piece along the same lines.)

      @Selendor – I don’t think it was as clear cut as completionists vs role-players. I’m sure some role-players chose to save all the team members at the end. I wanted to save them all because I had built up a relationship with them through the loyalty missions, and talking to them on the Normandy. I wanted that relationship to continue in the next game. Sure, I would probably have sacrificed Miranda or Jacob at a push, but I think it comes down to personality types and values, whether you save or shaft.

    • qrter says:

      Loved BioWare’s reaction to all the criticisms on the planet scanning minigame.

      It more or less came down to “No, no! We playtested the minigame extensively and you DO all actually like it!”

  10. PHeMoX says:

    Oww come on. The game wasn’t THAT good.

    Although I must say it was the best of it’s kind since probably Knights of the Old Republic I and II

  11. Masked Dave says:

    ME2 also suffers from the Every Character Wants To Fuck You syndrome seemingly put in to cater for all fans various tastes and fetishes.

    The options are good but when you’re surrounded by them all being quite blatant about it, it gets a bit silly. When Tali started I actually groaned “No, not you too!” Because the second they do that you suddenly have to be careful about all your conversation so you don’t inadvertently fuck the wrong person.

    Personally I really like the idea that characters might never join your party, or would leave at the earliest opportunity if they disagreed with you. And the fact you were stuck working for Cerberus even if you didn’t want to struck me as odd.

  12. Ginger Yellow says:

    “interrupts are wonderful… but they’re rarely – as in, I never saw one, but there’s apparently one – applied antagonistically”

    They definitely did that in the interrogation sequence (during Garrus’s loyalty mission?). I played it about five times to see what doing the different interrupts at different points would do. Also, on a couple of instances, you’d get a renegade interrupt, but if you left it, a paragon interrupt would come up a short while later. As for the larger point, I have to admit being a goody two shoes I only ever did one renegade interrupt, and that was an accident. So in effect the antagonism was there anyway – be bad, or not.

    I definitely agree about cutting down the number of characters, or at least making the number closer to the number you bring with you. I barely used Jack or Miranda or Jacob outside of their loyalty missions. Or, if they’re going to keep the current set-up, make your choices have more of an impact – the jilted characters get jealous of the selected ones, or the selected ones can perma-die, or repeated use unlocks multiple side-quests (a la KOTOR, if I recall?).

  13. Premium User Badge

    skalpadda says:

    I don’t really see a big problem with the “middle part” being the majority of the game. It was also broken up by the occasional main story bits, with the colony mission, the collector ship and the derelict Reaper. I felt that the “TV-series” format, with a long middle where you got to know the characters more closely made it a lot more playable, the forced missions that popped up and the kidnapping of your crew lent it more of a sense of urgency, a reminder of the threat you were working up to face that I never really felt in the first game, although that was more focused on the main story.

    The next paragraph is a little spoilery!

    I do agree that it was far too easy to save your team in the suicide mission, although I just feel it would’ve been enough to make it harder, with more important choices. It would also have been nice to see the “loyalty” play a part in how your team members live or die. The special skills they gain after their missions is an example of how that could be done, so say Kasumi could get into a tight spot but get away with a flash grenade, or maybe Morinth could use her domination ability to mind control a collector in a key moment, things they couldn’t do if you hadn’t completed their loyalty quests. Instead when they did die it would mostly be from just being shot or carried off by the seeker swarm or something silly like that.

    Oh, and it would’ve been nice if gaining their loyalty actually meant you had to make a tough choice rather than having the option of using the magical blue/red text with an absolute success rate.

  14. Seamus says:

    Am I the only one who really didn’t care for most of the characters in Mass Effect 2?
    It’s not that they weren’t exquisitely designed and realized, and the amount of character development was cool, but I honestly found the vast majority of them really unappealing.
    Ha, hell with it, I might just go and have a deliberately bad run through ME2 just for the sake of being an arsehole to the characters I don’t like :P

  15. Shazbut says:

    I’m hoping for at least one genuine moral choice. The Paragon/Renegade thing is an improvement over the good/evil sliding scale so commonly seen, but only for gameplay reasons. It’s still meaningless because there is always a clearly “correct” course of action. The closest it comes to being properly grey, that I can think of, is with choosing to reveal the info at the end of Tali’s loyalty mission, but even then, the correct choice is the one that gets Tali on your side. I made the wrong choice, because I was naively choosing to do what I thought was the best thing to do in the situation.

    On a level playing field, nobody chooses evil. Renegade is still evil: there is no need to kick heads in if you could just ask nicely. Renegade is played for fun. You play it because you don’t care.

    If you can’t script a situation that doesn’t have an obvious outcome that leads to obvious gameplay advantages, then why not just stop assuming moral authority and stop bracketing the player’s behaviour? Ditch Paragon, ditch Renegade and just leave me with my actions. Leave me with actual choices to make! ME2 was great but it was as shallow as everything else.

    Except Heavy Rain. Heavy Rain is wonderful. And Pathologic, obv.

    • Ginger Yellow says:

      ” It’s still meaningless because there is always a clearly “correct” course of action. The closest it comes to being properly grey, that I can think of, is with choosing to reveal the info at the end of Tali’s loyalty mission, but even then, the correct choice is the one that gets Tali on your side. ”

      I don’t know about that. The end of Mordin Solus’s loyalty quest, where you have to decide what to do about the genophage research data, was, I thought, a brilliant and genuinely difficult moral dilemma. Indeed, Mordin’s whole backstory is in my opinion the pinnacle of Bioware’s *serious* writing.

    • Corporate Dog says:

      If I’m reading between the lines correctly, those “close to morally grey” decisions that were made in ME2 will most likely be “properly morally grey” once we get to ME3.

      For instance, I kept Tali’s father’s research data away from the Quarian admirals, which earned me Tali’s loyalty in ME2.

      But the aftermath of that mission makes it sound like the Quarians are still determined to go to war against the Geth. I’d bet anything that they get their war on between ME2 and ME3, and without the advantages that the research data might have given them, they’ll get decimated.

      So my version of ME3 will probably feature a weakened Quarian armada that won’t be able to lift a finger against the Reapers. It’s the same ME1-to-ME2 key decision carryover feature, writ large.

      In a similar vein, the aftermath of Mordin’s loyalty mission, probably means that I can make a choice in ME3 to cure the genophage, and get the Krogan more intimately involved in the war against the Reapers. The aftermath of Legion’s loyalty mission probably means that I’ll have Geth on my side. And one of the decisions I made back in ME1 probably means that I’ll have Rachni siding with me as well.

      Ironically, while these decisions mean I’ll probably have a lot of support in the upcoming war that’s been foreshadowed, it also means I’ve awakened all sorts of sleeping giants that were left sleeping for a reason. I suspect that the epilogue to my version of ME3 will be an uneasy one, even if we end up defeating the Reapers.

    • bleeters says:

      @Corporate Dog

      To go with your example of the Quarians, you can suggest they do/don’t go to war with the geth as part of your Tali-is-innocent speech at the conclusion of the level. It’s just an option that doesn’t appear unless you’ve uncovered the politics behind the trial by talking with the admirals beforehand.

      Handing the data over is, unfortunately, the Bad Choice in every regard. Tali isn’t exiled but dies anyway, and the flotilla starts to seperate, some Quarians wanting to continue the tests. Eventually, the political infighting causes the fleet to divide.

    • Corporate Dog says:

      @Bleeters: Right. You get a chance to plead with the admirals not to go to war, but it sounds like they have no intention of listening to you. The only admiral who’s arguing for peace with the Geth is the one who’s hellbent on sending Tali up the river for her father’s experiments.

      If you get a chance to speak with Cal Reeger (the Quarian marine from Tali’s recruitment mission) after the trial, he even suggests that the predominant mindset among the Quarians is that they’re sick of being the galaxy’s punching bag. They’re tired of being blamed for the Geth, they’re tired of living in hermetically-sealed spacesuits and cramped spaceships, and they want to take back what they feel is rightfully theirs.

      Even Tali cops a ‘tude with you during her loyalty mission, if you suggest that the Quarians should just settle somewhere else.

      A few pretty-sounding words about peace aren’t going to sway these people.

    • bleeters says:

      @Corporate Dog

      Yeh, this is true. Though my Shepard has to date talked two people into putting a gun to their heads and pulling the trigger. She’s pretty persuasive.

      Maybe I’m just being foolishly optimistic. I am pretty foolish, really. But the impression I got from Tali’s loyalty mission was more that, yes. They’ve had enough, they want their world back. But nagging away at the back of their heads is the knowledge that if they tried, they’d be obliterated.

    • Hidden_7 says:

      I thought the end of Legion’s loyalty mission was pretty grey, took me quite a while to decide, and in the end I settled on the Renegade option as being the right one. Not pragmatically, but ethically.

      But yeah, overall I’d agree with you, Renegade, being of the pragmatist bend, loses its effect when you get the same results by being kind, reasonable, and unwaveringly ethical. If I were designing the system I’d have Paragon and Renegade be better at different things, some people can’t be reasoned with, some people can’t be intimidated. That might add a little more grey area, of the only option that provided success (in the persuasive sense) was to be a jerk about things, how many people would choose not to succeed to avoid being a jerk. The interrupts are like this a degree, as you’re sometimes given only one choice. There were definitely interrupts I ignored because they were renegade (the news reporter, for one).

      Overall game designers that are having morality scales need to learn that being evil is rarely a preference for sadism, but pragmatism. If given a choice between threatening someone for something, and asking nicely, and BOTH will result in getting what you want, the selfish person is far more likely to ask nicely, because they get what they want and don’t risk further repercussions for threatening someone. Bioshock threatened to understand this before it came out, but dropped the ball in execution, but I’d love to see a game where a pure good player is actually handicapped to a degree. They don’t have as much money or supplies, or had to go the long way or the more difficult way more often, because being good isn’t just doing the right thing, it’s doing the right thing when the right thing is hard and the wrong thing is easy.

    • malkav11 says:

      Dragon Age actually does offer some reasonably interesting moral choices – unflagged by any sort of morality meter. One of the things I’m continually surprised no one seems to bring up about Dragon Age. It’s the first and so far only Bioware RPG without said morality meter.

  16. castle says:

    Sometimes if you pass up the first one, it’ll give you an option to take the opposite route (i.e. it’ll flash a paragon choice up for a few seconds, and if you don’t activate it, it’ll flash up a renegade choice instead). I’d imagine this happens more often if your score for both is high. I doubt all players are aware of this–given that it functions as a “you win the conversation” button, it’s hard to pass up when you see it flashing the first time.

    • castle says:

      Sorry, that was meant to be a reply to heliosicle’s first comment RE: the quick-choice format morality actions.

  17. Pace says:

    If you finish Dragon Age, and then play it all the way through a few more times, you begin to appreciate the complexity and array of choices they give there. I really think ME2 was intentionally kept simpler in many ways.

  18. Jeremy says:

    Yeah, I am all on board with this, specifically owning up to the tragedy of a suicide mission. Why was it so easy to save everyone? Not only that, but the “sending out the best man for the job” choices during the last section were so blatantly obvious. Just because I choose the right man for the job, doesn’t mean he wouldn’t sacrifice himself to see it to completion. Maybe that is what would have made him right for the job! I’m okay with developers choosing death for my characters, sometimes doing the right thing gets people killed, sometimes doing the right thing is getting yourself killed. Essentially, they wanted the player to have full control over what happens (understandably), but that completely deflates the drama, and once the dust settles at the end of the game, you suddenly realize you’ve been had.

  19. Fergus says:

    I’m glad you said all that. That feeling of disappointment at the end mission is exactly what I experienced.

    The last part is basically what I was expecting when I went into the final mission. I expected to be faced with a huge decision between me and my teammates. The game is primarily focused on setting up the relationship between you and these people, making you care about them and what happens to them, and in doing so sets itself up absolutely perfectly for an absolutely epic and soul-tearing decision, and then seemingly wimps out at the last moment.

    Right up until the ending cinematic, I was still expecting that choice to come. It didn’t.

  20. suibhne says:

    The most significant issue for me is just as it was in DA: Bioware stages a climactic battle/meeting/whatever, to expose and reward the consequences of your choices throughout the game, but those consequences turn out to be fairly unsophisticated. In fact, they’re downright simplistic once you understand what’s going on. In DA, for example, the Landsmeet appears far more responsive to your in-game actions than it actually is; it offers a mere illusion of choice-and-consequence which quickly breaks down on critical reflection (or, for me, on merely experiencing it and rapidly becoming frustrated with its lack of flexibility/responsiveness). Same goes for the entire “suicide mission” in ME2: many of the consequences amount to the crude equation “if you’ve done A, then Cutscene X plays; otherwise, Cutscene Y plays and someone dies”, and the on-foot part of the mission is equally reductive.

    I’m hesitant to say this, because I think NWN2’s trial is equally flawed (and even more so, in some ways)…but it still felt more satisfying to me as a set of narrative reactions to the choices I made, within the gameworld and through developing my character. Bioware simply doesn’t get how to do narratively-complex scenes with numerous, intertwined choices and consequences, and that lack of aptitude is increasingly glaring now that they’re designing central moments in their games around such a conceit.

  21. Stevesey says:

    I meant an editor for the rambling, poorly-written articles, not the comments!

  22. Obdicut says:

    As long as you can save separately, you can make both choices– sacrifice yourself and let your whole squad die– and have your save and eat dirt, too.

    I did think the recruit + loyalty + random side-scanning missions was a little blah. I do wish you could, say, leave Grunt with Wrex to help him in his quest to remake the Krogan, or engage in politicking so that Talia becomes the new admiral. These guys who help you are all stupendous in their own right.

    Hell, find the Illusive Man, put a bullet in his stupid maybe-Reaper-face (he wants lots and lots of humans around, and so do the damn Reapers) and let Miranda take over Cerberus. Obviously that one would be pretty involved. But setting up the circumstances for these people to be the stars of their own particular stories in the same timeline that you play, rather than just running into Wrex in ME2 after helping him in ME1.

    That being said, it’s nutty to equate plot choices with RPGness. They have nothing to do with each other at all. Earthbound is an awesome RPG that is completely linear. Anyone equating freedom of choice with RPGness is silly, as is anyone who thinks that choice on its own is meaningful.

  23. Wulf says:

    Here’s the thing though: meaningful is a delusion.

    Let’s say that we’re talking about a Sci-Fi movie, and one character throws him/herself at a foe to hold the door alone to get everyone out. That would be a sacrifice, but it would be an incredibly meaningless sacrifice, and this brings us to shitty writing, because I genuinely believe that the meaningless death of a character is a lack of creativity and/or imagination on part of the writer. If a character really is versatile, clever, and simply brilliant then they can pull through most things.

    It would be like Amy Pond throwing herself in front of a Dalek to save the good Doctor. The problem here is that the Doctor’s a clever man, Amy’s aware of that, and they always pull through everything together, as a team, and they realise they’d be less without the other. That’s why I was glad that RTD (for all of his foolishness) didn’t kill off Rose or Martha, which I expected him to do because he’s so fond of his meaningless deaths.

    Now, if Garrus was in a position where he needed to get everyone out safely, what would he do? He’d pull up the rear, he’d organise strategy, he’d dominate the battlefield and he’d get everyone and himself to safety before that door closed. Now where the clever writing is is that you have to do that convincingly. The point I’m trying to make is that you need to convince the reader that Garrus is capable enough to actually do what he just did.

    Killing off Garrus would be a meaningless death, it would be a cowardly thing to do, and in my eyes it shows a lack of capability on part of the author. Because there are so few meaningful deaths, there are so incredibly few properly written tragedies. Mostly they’re shitty, pointless, ill-considered tragedies, and completely meaningless, unrealistic, and unjustifiable deaths. Would I buy that smart old Garrus would sacrifice himself if he had a plan to get everyone out safely and knew he could od it? No, I wouldn’t buy it. Because sacrifice is for cowards. The real hero sees their work through and lives to see another day. And if they fail, they have to live with that and their ongoing life is then an atonement as they try harder, because, again, death is the coward’s way out.

    Darkness, fine, okay, I get that… but I still couldn’t buy a capable, intelligent character doing something so profoundly stupid. I do like the point you made about focus though, that’s a good one, because if they’re focused then they’re going to be clever enough to pull through. We have a different taste when it comes to storylines though, because it seems what you call darkness I would call a lack of writing prowess, a lack of vision, an inability to think up solutions to scenarios that the characters could. And it’s often obvious when a character is often supposed to be more clever than the writer, but the writer can’t quite pull it off.

    So at the end of the day, if i encounter ‘darkness’, I’m just really sort of… disappointed. Because, yay, another author that kills people off for knee-jerk reactions. Like any old talentless hack couldn’t do that. But keeping a character alive, evolving them, keeping them interesting over the course of the entire story, coming up with clever solutions to their problems that might have otherwise killed them? That takes effort. Lots of. And that’s what I usually praise in writers.

    And if one of these characters is taken down, it better not be something meaningless, it needs to be a singularly written, Universe-shattering, unavoidable, devastating, huge thing that only happens once in the book, just to denote how much it takes to bring down a really well written character.

    • Chris D says:

      I take it you don’t believe in the Kobayashi Maru test?

      I’m not sure what that I follow what you mean about death being meaningless. Surely it’s only the cowards way out if you genuinely have nothing left to live for. Most people would rather live than die and to choose to give that up to save another is surely meaningful under any circumstances.

      Would Garrus sacrifice himself if he thought he could get everybody out. I don’t think so, but the question is what would Garrus do when he looks at the odds and thinks “I got nothing good left”

      You also seem to suggest that a well written character is by definition ultra-competent and hard to kill. I think I may be misreading you as it seems like an extraordinary point to make. A hero is not simply the most badass person in the room, they’re defined by their choices rather than by their abilities.

      In art and in real life good people die by being in the wrong place at the wrong time and just sheer bad luck. The reason they die may be meaningless, the choices they make in how to deal with that and the effect their death has on others never is.

      I won’t comment directly on your Doctor Who example for fear of spoilers but I will say that while there may have been things to complain about in the tenth Doctor’s exit his choice to sacrifice himself for Wilf wasn’t one of them. He’s a hero not because he’s the smartest guy, the Master is just as smart, but when even he can’t save everyone he chooses to sacrifice himself.

    • suibhne says:

      Given that pretty much everyone and their mother knows that ME3 is inbound and will allow savegame imports just like ME2, why does “taking down a character” even require their death? Let’s say Mordin or Garrus were crippled – they lose an arm or a leg or they’re paralyzed or whatever. That would have felt to me like a truly powerful event, maybe even more so than their death, and it could have echoed in ME3 in some pretty powerful ways.

    • Wulf says:

      @Chris

      “I take it you don’t believe in the Kobayashi Maru test?”

      The one that Kirk hacked? Just making a point, here, but Kirk all ready proved that cleverness can overcome even that test.

      “I’m not sure what that I follow what you mean about death being meaningless.”

      I think at this point you’ve all ready misread, which could cascade down throughout the post. It’s not about death being meaningless, but rather meaningless deaths being commonplace. There is a difference.

      “Surely it’s only the cowards way out if you genuinely have nothing left to live for.”

      I disagree. Sometimes you just have to keep living for other people, and that’s important. This is a point of pure subjectivity based on personal philosophy though, so all we can do is agree to disagree.

      “Most people would rather live than die and to choose to give that up to save another is surely meaningful under any circumstances.”

      I don’t see that at all, to me that’s just tossing a potentially brilliant character aside, squandering their potential for a knee-jerk reaction.

      O hey, I just killed that character you like. I bet you’re upset now! See? I can do emotional reactions too. They don’t have to be deep, or compelling, or anything like that. You just have to kill someone off for an incredibly stupid reason! :D

      That’s what these come over to me as. But I’ll touch upon this in an upcoming reply (in this post).

      “Would Garrus sacrifice himself if he thought he could get everybody out. I don’t think so, but the question is what would Garrus do when he looks at the odds and thinks “I got nothing good left”.”

      In my opinion, even if he thought that, he’d still want to make sure everyone got out safely. If he were to toss away his life, he wouldn’t be able to make 100 per cent sure when he died that everyone was safe, thus he’d be doing a half-arsed job of protecting people. Garrus lives to protect people, if you hadn’t noticed, as is evidenced in his Archangel storyline. He always cares, even if they’re complete strangers. What you’re suggesting doesn’t fit his personality profile at all.

      And this is where it gets (I’ll keep using this word, because it’s the best word) stupid. The thing is, Garrus cares, so we care. If you create a character that didn’t care about anything, then it wouldn’t be a main character, and thus no one would really care if that character died. So to get a knee jerk reaction, they have a character who does care suffer a completely meaningless death, either via sacrifice or some other, similar method.

      Again, this is just for a knee-jerk reaction, to trick the readers into believing they did something deep and emotionally involving. But it isn’t.

      “You also seem to suggest that a well written character is by definition ultra-competent and hard to kill.”

      They usually are clever, at least from my experience. See: Rincewind, Arthur Dent, or The Doctor. They always seem to be able to come up with some bizarre method of getting themselves out of jams. That’s why I like them so much.

      The kind of meaningless death that a writer would inflict upon them isn’t something they’d fall for, and thus they don’t die.

      “A hero is not simply the most badass person in the room, they’re defined by their choices rather than by their abilities.”

      For me, a hero is defined by their cleverness, and how intriguingly they can accomplish the goals they set for themselves. I didn’t really intend ‘badass’, in fact I dare say that’s your wording, and if I were cynical I’d even cite a straw-man. No, not ‘badass’. Clever.

      “In art and in real life good people die by being in the wrong place at the wrong time and just sheer bad luck.”

      This is true, but if it happens to a main character it’s usually a show of poor writing. For every well written character death, for every character who dies exhausted of potential, rather than with an ocean of it waiting to be explored, there are a million deaths where it happens before the character’s time, and it just comes over as a waste, and really a bit cheap.

      I think your Reality == Fiction point is a bit silly, really. But that’s just my opinion. A tale is meant to be something truly stunning, beautiful, and amazing that does much to transcend reality and allow us to taste something more. That’s what I want from stories, anyway. Maybe you only read real life-based stories, in which case I can see where our disconnect is.

      “The reason they die may be meaningless, the choices they make in how to deal with that and the effect their death has on others never is.”

      It’s meaningless because it’s squandered potential and a cheap death, you seem to be making a case that it’s excusable, I think it’s inexcusable, but again, this might just be a difference in how we perceive things.

      “I won’t comment directly on your Doctor Who example for fear of spoilers but I will say that while there may have been things to complain about in the tenth Doctor’s exit his choice to sacrifice himself for Wilf wasn’t one of them.”

      He didn’t sacrifice himself for Wilf, that was just RTD hamming things up, as is RTD’s wont. The Doctor is always the same man, regardless of body. The same memories, the same knowledge, and thus the same person. That new Doctors tend to play out like a mix of old Doctors is evidence enough of this.

      The Doctor just didn’t want to be re-energised at that point, he’d gotten into a rut of mooding it up, thanks to the way RTD writes (which really isn’t very Doctor-like at all), and he knew that if he regenerated he’d probably be able to move on again. But it wasn’t a sacrifice because the Doctor is still very much alive. So I don’t see how it’s relevant.

      For your point to be relevant, the Doctor would no longer be able to exist.

      “He’s a hero not because he’s the smartest guy, the Master is just as smart, but when even he can’t save everyone he chooses to sacrifice himself.”

      Yep, but only because he has Extra Lives. I mean, if we had Extra Lives, would we mind throwing ourselves i front of a car to save an old lady? The way you’re using the Doctor is incorrect, because you’re implying that when he makes that sacrifice, it’s penultimate, and that’s that, it was the last choice he’ll ever make. But that’s not true, is it?

      @suibhne

      Exactly.

      That would pretty much be a clever feat of writing, because it would allow focus to be removed from that character without killing them off. Then, when the writer feels they have a genuine amount of inspiration for that character again, once the potential is realised once more, they can bring them back into the storyline, fixing them up in some way or other. But until then, you’re going to miss them, you’re going to mourn for them, you’re going to feel bad about the shitty thing that happened, but you’re still going to be hopeful for better times to come, because that potential is still there.

      Killing a character cuts the cords of potential, and that’s a pretty shitty thing to do in a story. At least, I think so. I never did feel the inspiration of a writer when they did that. But give them a mortal injury and take them out of the story for a bit? Sure, that works!

    • Kid A says:

      tl;dr – Killing a character off to give a story “emotional depth” only makes sense if they’re the sort of incompetent or suicidal character who would sacrifice themselves. The better the character is written, the better an end you have to give them, if you really have to give them an end at all.

    • cjlr says:

      @Wulf
      Mostly agree, but it’s going to take some damn fine argumentin’ to convince me that there’s actually no such thing as a no-win scenario. Well, other than by taking the line that since all of reality is, at a fine scale, probabalistic, anything can happen – one of those beautiful facts that is both technically true and entirely useless.

      “sacrifice is for cowards”
      I think I see what you’re getting at, but I can’t give a full-on assent. To stay behind alone to ‘slow down the enemy’ is painfully stupid – but to die holding down a rearguard isn’t intentional self-sacrifice, it’s just the way things work – people die.

      And so I think the converse point is equally applicable – if there is NO sacrifice, there is no drama. The characters lose nothing, and that’s not interesting either.

    • Cradok says:

      Congratulations, Wulf, you seem to have completely missed the point of Wrath of Khan.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      Death is meaningless and mostly futile – if everyone dies the death of Leonidas then no-one does. The inversion in games terms must follow that shabby pointless deaths are more harrowing.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      Oooh, just remembered the finest sacrifice scene I’ve ever encountered – Alamo Gulch, the penultimate chapter of The Subtle Knife.

      On a lesser plane, but still pretty good – the film Serenity handled character death pretty well, when *SPOILER* happens just before the final sequence, it really heightens the tension for the rest of the film. Expertly done.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      Kaneda in Sunshine’s another awesome scene.

      And there’s always Sturm too…

    • Zwebbie says:

      Wulf: do you think a part of it might be that it’s just a breaking of the rules? The game clearly establishes that your companions can’t die; if they fall, they rise up again. Throughout the whole game, they’re immortal, until that point where the designers decide they need to throw in some emotional impact. This, for me at least, makes it very fake, because you realise that there’s a writer at work (since the rules are abruptly changing) and what he’s doing.
      In addition, I personally thought the ME1 sacrifice scene – you know the one – would have been better if it hadn’t played out during the cutscene in a set up where you almost see the if-then code behind it all, but if it just gave you a timer and made it impossible to save both characters in that time period. That’s more like how it would’ve worked in real life; play, don’t tell.

    • Chris D says:

      Zwebbie.

      The only enough time to save one person thing is evil. I would still be there trying to save both of them. Actually, I guess Wulf would be too. And I didn’t think we were going to be able to agree on anything…..

  24. Schadenfreude says:

    Some more spoileries.

    “If the mission is harder to get everyone else out alive, a loyal character – with true 100% loyalty being harder to achieve – would end up wanting to sacrifice themselves to save everybody else.”

    If you chose to sacrifice yourself at the end of DA it’s possible that a certain other character will shove you aside and do it themselves for this very reason, with no way to make him change his mind. It caught me off guard, so used am I to decided the fate of men from a selectable list of conversation options. It was really quite excellent.

    • Schadenfreude says:

      ^^^^^^^^^^^
      That’s a spoiler concerning Dragon Age and should have been in reply to the thread further up. Soz.

    • bleeters says:

      I had that happen too actually, on my first playthrough. What made that damn thing worse was that, essentially, it was my fault. He was dying to save me. The shocked expressions your character shares with whoever-else-you-took-along whilst they watch with a mix of helplessness and awe was a fairly accurate reflection of what was going through my head at the time. WHY DID YOU DO THAT?

      Also, I wanted the achievement. Damnit, man.

  25. perilisk says:

    I think they could have improved the gameplay mechanics and tension of the suicide mission by expanding on the vent aspect of the first part — that instead of plowing a path of bullets straight to the center of the base, you’re providing support for a few other teams pursing specialized objectives, and all at the same time — unless you’re really adept at micromanaging, those teams will take some casualties, but can still complete their parts of the task (unless they’re completely wiped out). Then, the performance of the final group will depend heavily on all of the abilities of the survivors of the first section. At least one leader, tech, medic (e.g. Mordin), biotic, and as many warriors as possible would maximize the odds.

    At that point, everyone’s survival isn’t a function of multiple choice decision-making or time investment or number of planets scanned (though those things can help), it’s a question of gameplay competence. Getting everyone to survive would be more like a speed run or similar hardcore challenge.

  26. Dan says:

    Probably a bit silly and off-topic:
    but … woah!! That’s totally my Shepherd in those pics! Uncanny.

  27. Adam Whitehead says:

    One of the more interesting (and non-broken) elements in KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC 2 was when, having selected your two companions and gone off to do the mission you’ve just been assigned, the game would suddenly flip back to your other party members facing some unexpected crisis and you’d then have to guide them (your ‘B-team’, whom you’ve usually loaded up with weaker equipment and may not have bothered levelling up for the last 10 hours) through a parallel mission whilst your main team is elsewhere. That happens a few other times later on in the game, and would have made tha planned climax awesome except they didn’t finish it (leaving two of your PCs in a Mexican stand-off with one another).

    Initially I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea, but it actually got more of the game’s overall story and more of the individual character arcs on-screen, and allowed me as the player to appreciate characters I normally wouldn’t have looked twice at more.

    It’s an interesting idea that could be integrated into MASS EFFECT. Whilst Shepherd and your favoured campadres are off on a moon assault mission or something, the game flips back to the Normandy being boarded and you have to use the B-team to fend off the assault.

    I do miss the old days of BALDUR’S GATE and ICEWIND DALE of just rampaging around with six PCs, which makes a lot more sense.

    • suibhne says:

      ME2 spoilers follow…

      The thing I most hated about the pivotal event that happens on your ship just prior to the “suicide mission” is that it forces all of your badasses to be off the ship at the time – even tho:

      A) I had no more (non-“suicide mission”) missions to do at that point, meaning that Shepard and my posse had absolutely zero reason to be off-ship (seriously, Bioware, you couldn’t have anticipated this issue?); and

      B) I wasn’t allowed to take my entire posse with me on any other mission, so it just beggared belief that Bioware would suddenly force all of us to cram together on the relatively tiny shuttle. I mean, given that I’m allowed (for some irritatingly artifical reason) only two companions on any mission, does it really make sense that I would want all of my other companions to park their butts in the shuttle, rather than back on the Normandy where they could be doing good work? – where Mordin could continue his research, Tali could keep tinkering with the engine output, Garrus could further optimize the weapons systems, etc.?

      That whole “plot twist” was stupidly contrived, beyond even my lowest expectations – easily one of the worst “what the fsck” moments in the game for me. The illogical, forced crisis totally undermined all sense of agency I felt as the player, like something out of a Final Fantasy game.

    • bleeters says:

      Yes, that irked me too, especially since I doubt my entire team could even fit in that tiny shuttle, and it caused the following scene to be utterly, incredibly unsuprising. On the plus side, it was wonderfully written.

      “Urgh, you want me to go crawling through the ducts again?”
      “I enjoy the sight of humans on their knees”
      “…”
      “That was a joke”
      “…Right”

      Ham-fisted, predictable plot twist that I knew was coming ever since Miranda and Jacob started bickering about whether to pickup the IFF or not, yes. I still laughed my way through the entire thing.

  28. Dan says:

    Ok, a bit more on-topic, I didn’t read the whole article because I skipped bits where it seemed like there might be spoilers.

    One of the things I thought about Dragon Age was that not enough was made of the campfire scenes. Think about campfire scenes in any film, it’s about a place to gather, share heroic stories, have banter, sing songs etc. They bring people together, but in DA all the characters were spread out over a huge field. I feel like they missed a huge opportunity when it came to interesting dialogue and party dynamics.

    Another option with the whole ‘team lying about doing nothing while you’re saving the world’ is the multiple missions at the same time approach. It happened in the KOTOR games a few times, and at the end of DA. The only issue being that it takes the emphasis away from the hero, but I personally don’t mind that, I really like the idea of multiple teams and it also adds an element of resource management. Party selection becomes much more about balance.

    Anyway, sorry if I’ve gone over anything already mentioned, as I said, very wary about spoilers.

    • suibhne says:

      Sure, it risks de-emphasizing the hero to some degree…but isn’t the point of ME2 that you’re building your team? It seems to me that an approach like you’re suggesting would actually be in perfect harmony with the game’s (apparent) goals.

  29. kelvingreen says:

    Also, if you’re willing to let me go well into Back-seat designer territory, there’s another, more extreme option I’d love to see someone try. Keep the same number of companions. Just half the amount you have in any given game, with you getting a selection of five or six to form the middle-act. The game is shorter, but doesn’t have the over-extended middle arc, and it rewards (and encourages, because the game is a more manageable length) replaying to get a different selection of chums.

    As I recall, Baldur’s Gate 2 did this. It’s still my favourite Bioware game, partly for that reason.

  30. Danarchist says:

    I think my only issue with ME2 was the finite amount of resources available and the incapability of any true customization in your team members. There is literally no way to “respec” anyone but yourself, and even if you could what would you do with the points? The fact that you had 4 skills you could raise per character left very little in the decision making side of things. That and the fact that there are a very limited number of “missions” you can do for experience gives you a very pseudo open world. This is basically a variation of the rpg-on-rails that everyone seems so angry about in the new final fantasy game. Your “choices” boil down to do all missions, do some missions, fail. The only thing you can do above and beyond the current standard offerings of the story line is to mine every planet to depleted….and then what? A cargo hold full of heavy metals that will far exceed all available “blueprints” available in the game. You cant even sell the extra minerals to vendors, not that the money would do you much good, there is a finite amount of items to buy.
    I guess it perhaps is a rpg in the zelda sense of the word. Sure that new shop you found sells exactly one level higher version of sword, bow, shield and heart. And some minor maintenance items. But nothing truly customizable. There is no “do i use this gun that has a higher rate of fire but less ammo?” There is “this gun is an upgrade to the last gun, no decision necessary”. Hell it even auto selects your newest latest gun for you on all your characters.

    • cjlr says:

      I got totally shit on for mentioning that once. Thanks, people I was talking to at the time!

      “Gun B > gun A end statement” is not very interesting to me. It’s half-assed. If the behaviour is no different, why bother? Couldn’t you just make ten louder, and make ten the loudest instead? It’s like the design process was, “we overdid the number of weapons in ME1, so let’s drop the concept entirely instead of doing it properly”. Eh, sure, guys. You do that.

      I think the game’s as linear as it is (the only choice you have is what order to do things in, for the most part) because… well, it’s just easier. They had to balance a lot of conflicting desires to throw together a successful product, and it shows.

  31. Brer says:

    Kieron, some interesting ideas here (such as presenting paragon and renegade “trigger” choices at the same time), but I think there are some serious holes in your reasoning.

    First, I take issue with your definition of heroism. Heroism is about -accomplishment-, succeeding in accomplishing some great good against significant odds, not sacrifice (something which has no inherent moral virtue). It may involve sacrifice, but that is secondary to the quality of heroism. In fact, a person who accomplishes some great good against heavy odds and lives is MORE heroic because a greater good has been achieved. More good people live, increasing the chance of doing good in the future. Putting a moral premium on sacrifice for its own sake is illogical at best and perverse at worst. Finally, in real life (especially in the context of military/paramilitary operations such as the ones depicted in games like Mass Effect), if your side has heroes, it means that someone has fucked up. You do not accomplish anything by dying gloriously for your cause/the greater good. You accomplish it by ensuring the other guys die for theirs.

    You also refer to renegade as being an anti-ethical position, which is very far from both the designers’ stated intent and how it’s portrayed in the games. At most, it’s a more pragmatic/utilitarian ethic, not simply “moo-woo-wa-ha, look how evil I am”, glowy terminator eyes notwithstanding. If anything, I’d argue that the greatest failing of Mass Effect when it comes to giving your choices weight is to never make the player question their decision to pick paragon. It’s easy to take construct scenarios that allow you to take shots at the “renegade” attitude. It’s harder, but far more realistic, to look at scenarios where the paragon choice results in obviously immoral outcomes.

    In real life, moral choices more often than not are a balancing act, minimizing the harm done and maximizing the good done. To date, Bioware has made the “play by the book, always negotiate if you can, always be merciful” Paragon path the absolute best path in every circumstance except -one- minor case in ME2, and even then it’s softened (you can let someone go who later turns out to be guilty, but in finding that out you have evidence to give to the police and they say they can find her). Sure, the game may occasionally -pretend- that there’s a downside, but it never really drives it home. Of course they won’t, because if the Rachni had shown up in ME3 committing genocide against colony worlds, or the Batarian terrorist from Bring Down The Sky nuked western europe, and the game rubbed your noses in it, lots of would-be Paragons would be offended as all get-out.

  32. Elpizo says:

    About last idea:
    What about it being actual mission, rather than a cutscene. Like covering your teammates until death and be able to fail doing so. That would be interesting.
    Actually, I missed some of renegade interrupts and ended not being able to sort Tali vs. Legion situation, so Tali died in the end just because she was not “loyal”. It looked like game erazed “non-loyal” chars, even though I cared about Tali a lot.

    • cjlr says:

      Not to mention Tali’s got either serious balls or a bad case of memory disorder, starting off disloyal to Shepard. I mean, seriously.
      “Remember how I saved your life and helped you ace your pilgrimage, Tali? No? Fuck you. Oh. You actually wanted to? Erm…”

  33. Arglebargle says:

    I must really have sucked at my first run of ME2: I had three of my group go down, including the two I respected the most.

    This discussion gave me more interest in completing the run through again, all renegadish this time. One thing I did find, it was difficult to reply ala Renegade, with the same voice acting. It just felt wrong. Probably should have switched genders.

    Oh, and while survival of the hero may be a greater good, I don’t think it is absolutely more Heroic. The attempt is heroic, regardless. Or even irregardless…;) Certainly, if you view the recipients of the modern era Victoria Cross or Medal of Honor, they have a sizeable chunk of posthumous awards.

  34. Andy Griffiths says:

    I don’t know, films are riddled with Jesus metaphors, I’m not sure if I’d be comfortable with games entering the same territory.#

    It would be much more powerful if a character, which is effectively an extension of yourself, was to be put to the sword for the benefit of others but for me it tends to feel like a cop-out unless the story is really, really well done.

  35. Cradok says:

    I do like the Paragon/Renegade system more than I do the usual Good/Evil thing, but I’ve got serious issues with the way that it’s implemented. For one, as you say, you know that the coloured dialogue options are always going to trump everything else, and that not focusing on one path exclusively can leave you boned towards the end of the game – I couldn’t get everyone loyal to me because my scores weren’t high enough in either. While this works somewhat with a G/E split, the P/R isn’t about that at all, and simply reflects exactly how you want to deal with the current situation. My crew, my friends, the downtrodden: they all got the paragon treatment. The bad guys would just get shot. Like Jim Kirk, but with breasts.

    Torment is the only game I’ve ever played that did the alignment thing right. 75% of what you say or do – literally – has an effect on your alignment score, which influences things, but you’re never actually constrained from just snapping and deciding to brutally murder everyone you meet, or suddenly turning into a saint.

  36. teo says:

    Hmm, this was a very focused article. The changes I want BioWare to make lie deeper in the game design.

    There’s not enough interacting with the world and all the interactions are automated. I think the way Deus Ex did interaction was closely linked to how it did choice and there’s a lot BioWare could learn from that. There’s no intent behind hitting the use key to do whatever, but in Deus Ex when you bring out the nanokeyring to unlock a door, simple as it may be, there’s intent behind it. It doesn’t simulate the action of unlocking the door but it creates a very short thought process. These add up over time and help immerse you into the world. There’s no thought process behind a universal contextual use button.

    At one point in ME2 you can get a dialogue option to “kill x” or “kill y”; it’s such a bad way to do it. In Deus Ex, on the plane, you can kill Anna Navarre but the game doesn’t even tell you it’s a possibility, it doesn’t spell out your options instead it teaches you to just act. The choices are more powerful because of it, they’re not always handed to you on a plate. Same thing with saving Paul, he tells you to GTFO and it’s not apparent that you even can save him.

  37. Kyle says:

    Great, now I hate the ending because it isn’t that one.

    Nerd tingles, Gillen. Nerd tingles

  38. Pattom says:

    The game does that fairly often, I believe. I saw the same thing happen at the end of Thane’s loyalty mission, while confronting Kolyat: first the Paragon option appeared, then Renegade…

    • Pattom says:

      …Sigh. This is meant to be a reply to Heliosicle’s post about the Paragon/Renegade interrupts appearing at the same time.

  39. Silver says:

    superb writing..

  40. Theo says:

    The choice you’re talking about in DA is quite superficial IMHO because it’s at the end of the whole thing, so it all comes down to how you feel about the various characters, but doesn’t completely affect the gameplay.

    I have two more meaningful decisions here though:
    1) Okku or One Of Many from NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer: To put is simply: If you want to recruit One Of Many, Okku has to die. And, because that happens somewhere like a third into the game, it affects the gameplay in a major way because Okku is the ONLY Fighter class character available to you. But that’s what makes it all great and meaningful.
    2) Heavy Rain: I know, I know… it’s not a RPG, but the choices & consequences are masterfully implemented. You start with 4 characters and you can finish the game with all of them alive (and the ending is all “Happily ever after”) or you can get all of them dead (and the ending is tragic), but you don’t “lose” either way. Yeah, it’s hard for the regular gamer… hell, for the regular person, not to take that as “losing”, but it’s not actually losing. It’s getting the tragic ending. And, even between these two extremes, you can have some character(s) die or, at least, fail, and that opens up new possibilities for that character or for some of the other characters.

    So, in the end, the point is that BioWare are barely scratching the surface here and pandering to the least common denominator, which is quite a shame because they had “it” and lost “it” somewhere around Jade Empire and it’s been all downhill from that.

  41. Adrian says:

    One thing that really bothered me about the special Paragon/Renegade moves during cut-scenes was that you had to react so quickly. One might say that there is actually enough time to react but since almost all cut-scenes in me2 involved some talking i always leaned back during the cut-scenes and took my hands off my mouse to relax. I missed like half of the special moves because of this!

    • Cradok says:

      At least it wasn’t like the ‘view the glitches’ thing from Assassin’s Creed 1. You had to pay rapt attention throughout all the tedious cutscenes if you wanted that achievement.

    • Adrian says:

      Why would you want that achievement then?

    • Cradok says:

      Because otherwise it would have been all lonely being the only one I didn’t have…

  42. Jamesworkshop says:

    nice article but i think the issue here is ME is far too complex to be perfect its forced to make trade offs outside of the basic has to be accessable to people who didn’t play 1 and 2 when ME3 arrives

  43. malkav11 says:

    I really don’t like the trend of having more characters than I can actually adventure with. I’d rather just have a decent small party of fully realized NPCs that stick with me. If you must have more characters than that, remove one or more initial party members for plot reasons (and give me back their gear!) and swap in new folks. But try to minimize that.

  44. Tim says:

    ME2 was by far the best game I’ve played in a couple of years.
    Just sayin’

  45. JackShandy says:

    Here’s what I think they should have done, for one thing:

    In the game, Once you have done the loyalty missions of two opposing members of the team, you’ll be called to a scene where they fight and you’re forced to choose one over the other. You have to choose one to be loyal, one disloyal… which do you choose?!

    Unfortunately, if you have a high enough talky score you can just keep them both loyal with no penalty. Meaning that it is easily possible to save every single person in your party, with no hard choices. Ugh.

  46. Sobric says:

    I finished ME2 for the first time about 20 mins ago. Wow. Got my whole squad through alive, can’t say I’m that disappointed about that, but I take your point KG – it would have tugged on my heart strings a lot more if more squad members died.

    I’d also like to voice my appreciation for Mordin’s singing. Oddly enough, I think it was this that propelled ME 2 into a classic in my mind.

  47. Matarsak says:

    There’s also the Rendegade-followed-by-Paragon option when you meet the Quarian from Tali’s group who has holed himself up on some planet or antoher.

  48. Wraggles says:

    I think the final mission should have been less clear cut. It shouldn’t have said “you need to pick a tech guy to get through the pipes”, it should have left it more in the air, like, you need a tech guy, but sneaking is involved, and they’re environment pipes, so someone with a good constitution. So you’d sit there going, well garrus is sneaky and has tech, but tali is better at tech, but a fragile constitution etc. So you’d actually be worried when sending someone through them.

    Inter party conflict would also have made the choice of teams a more interesting dilemma. For instance leaving Jack with Miranda in the same party with one of them as second fire team leader should have caused problems.

    For the future, I want my entire party with me, I want the ability to split them into 2-3 logical squads, and then comand squads the same way I currently command individuals. I’d like some larger scale battles, especially, “hold this location” style battles. Also to bring some RPG back into this combat system each squad could be assigned some basic behaviour.

    Actually it could be set up as a very simple paradigm, with characters default behaviour set to match thier personality. Jack would auto set to offense, as would grunt, thane and legion both play defense, while tali and mordin run out the support. Then seperate into 3 teams, 1 with you 2 others with everyone else. Each team is then given behaviour, support, defensive, offensive which determines thier AI in a given scenario. With you having the ability to tell them to hold position, or to go to certain locations.

    And for those who hate decisions, they could do “auto assign behaviour” like they do with the auto leveling.

  49. Kevin says:

    I have to agree, I really didn’t dig the persuasion system in the Mass Effect games. Mass Effect 2 exacerbated these problems in my mind since it punished players for being a mixed alignment character, which is something that I think makes for a much more realistic role-playing experience.

    I think it would be interesting to see persuasion dialogue options in RPG’s becoming more transparent like in Fallout 1 and 2. In Mass Effect (and to an even greater extent, unfortunately, Vampire – The Masquerade), it has beg neon signs around persuasion dialogue options. I think it’d be a better gameplay experience if people sat down and thought about which line would sound right in order to get somebody to do something rather in investing in points like charm and seduction or what have you.

  50. Murray says:

    Regarding the “too many party members” issue, it’s clearly a compromise that Bioware have made with the people they answer to (I guess that’s EA now). Having party members that you can’t take with you whenever you want means that you’re not going to be able to access all the content in one playthrough, resulting in cries of “OMG unseen resources!!1″ being shouted in the boardroom.

    Except they seem to have forgotten that they’ve done exactly that before, and in one of their most critically acclaimed and famous titles: Baldur’s Gate 2. Did that suffer for it? I doubt anyone would say that it did.