Other Gamers’ Underpants: Mass Effect And Choice

By Richard Cobbett on March 9th, 2012 at 12:00 pm.

+1 Morrigan Approves. As, apparently, does Alistair. And yes, this would have been a Mass Effect pic if there was any way to take the characters' clothes off outside of hilariously awful sex scenes

My Shepard isn’t saving the universe in Mass Effect 3. I wanted her to, but as I play through the final instalment, she’s still stuck half-way through the immeasurably dull scanning missions that would ensure Mordin and my other best people survive Operation: Certain Death. Instead, I’m playing with someone else. She looks the same – red hair, the right eyes, the same voice and the same no-nonsense approach to saving the galaxy. She’s even had many of the same experiences. But she’s not my Shepard. She’s Bioware’s – the sum of their choices.

And while I’m sure I could find a Shepard closer to my own, ready to import, from Mass Effect 2 Saves, that’s even worse. Mass Effect is inherently a sum of Bioware’s choices – a few more in character creation hardly makes much of a difference. But to just climb into someone else’s story? That feels… weird. In an era where ownership of our own characters is an increasingly rare privilege, you may as well ask to borrow another gamer’s underpants…

Irileth, you're not really getting into the Casual Friday spirit here...

It’s notable that of the last few major single-player RPGs, only Skyrim and Kingdoms of Amalur: Chinny Reckoning have embraced the idea of creating your own character. Fable 3 gives you moral choices, but is essentially locked down unless you want to put on silly trousers and fart around the kingdom instead of saving it. The Witcher 2 was built around Geralt and his existing story. Mass Effect has a very specific canonical Shepard, even if he is the wrong gender. Dragon Age 2 picked up on this with Hawke, which also subtly pushed players towards the character Bioware wanted them to play as by offering a higher-fidelity look than you can create by playing with the sliders, as well as heavily pushing a consistent vibe in marketing and advertising.

This part is increasingly important. Characters are, at least, one of the most important parts of any narrative driven IP. They’re the face of the game, and typically the most instantly recognisable thing about it – even if they’re not the specific hero. Bioshock for instance has a cool city and premise, but it’s the Big Daddies and Little Sisters rather than Jack and Ryan who provide its most iconic elements. In Crysis 2, the character isn’t the guy you play, Alcatraz, but the Nanosuit he wears. Still, the same rules apply, even with an inhuman face.

This is a lot of both creative control and marketing power for any company to give up, even discounting the additional effort it takes to offer character creation tools and heavy customisation. Without a big license or established lore, it’s easier to sell an experience as “This could be you!” than “You could meet this guy!”, as well as dodging issues of why you’re not playing as whoever it was who drew you to the franchise in the first place.

(Oddly, MMOs are the exception there, since it’s assumed that you’re going to be a scrub compared to the world’s actual heroes. In most cases, it’s even reversed, with the marketing and any spin-offs used to try and get you excited about exchanging a handful of words with a character in game, who’d otherwise be little more than a generic opponent/quest terminal.)

The result of all this is a general slide away from player customisation and anything approaching freedom. Even Shepard and Hawke are bastions of empowerment compared to, say, a MOBA, where you simply pick a character and have the option to put a unique spin on them by buying one of a couple of custom skins that hopefully not everyone else is using. This lets the creators cash in, as well as make a big fuss over newly released characters, keep their games balanced, and have over a hundred chances to create something iconic. It makes sense. It makes for a more interesting cast. Still, it feels like a missed opportunity – especially when something obvious gets overlooked. Gotham City Impostors for instance is built on the idea of creating your own Batman or Joker fanboy/girl, but only one of the five available body types is female.

And the game was pants too.

For Mass Effect though, the real question is about ownership of choices – especially as it’s the only big game series where you could have been waiting up to five years to see the result of one. Bioware talks about over 1000 decisions being ported across, and while a handful of those are obvious (who died, how you dealt with the Council, whether Udina or Anderson is in charge, who you had a hysterically awful sex scene with), you’re never going to find a save with everything just right – being mean to Conrad while not punching Al-Jilani for instance.

Even the obvious choices simply aren’t the same when you’re using someone else’s game. Personally speaking, I rarely feel guilty about anything my character does that I didn’t specifically initiate, and in Bioware’s fresh start of Mass Effect 3, I’m always one-step removed from the big decisions, even if I made the same ones. By default for example, and pardon the minor spoiler, Bioware’s canonical Mass Effect background has Shepard killing the Rachni queen back in the first game. I did that too, and if I was playing with my Shepard from ME1, there’d be a sense of lingering dread at this whenever said aliens appear. Any deaths would have felt like a direct result of that choice. Anything good would have been a testament to my mercy. Even if nothing happened, there’d be the tension before finding out in the all-important first play.

Instead… honestly, it’s on Bioware’s head. They made that specific decision, not me. More to the point, I have no idea what their motivations were at the time. Distrust of the Rachni Queen? The needs of the many? Already planning to help the Krogan and deciding that one potential galactic plague is enough? Simply being a kill-crazy psychopath whose idea of fun is ripping off Quarians’ face-masks and running off down the Presidium? None of this makes even the slightest difference to the game, but it’s essential to giving the result the proper emotional resonance.

(As an aside, I still maintain that Bioware’s biggest mis-step here was using the Cerberus Network pass for worthless DLC instead of automatically uploading your save ready for ME3. The second? The Mass Effect 3 Collector’s Edition box not using that information to print out a custom cover for the series of your personal Shepard looking like a badass.)

Choices and consequences build a connection to a universe like no other, which at least in part is why Shepard is so successful. She may be a more defined character than someone like the Dragon Age Grey Warden Commander, but she’s still one who gets to make big, galaxy redefining choices that feel like they might matter. By churning over the consequences in your head, you’re forced to get inside hers in a way that simply doesn’t happen with a Nathan Drake or a Guybrush Threepwood or a Marcus Fenix. By having to wait years and years for resolution… and having confidence that that resolution will come, rather than forgotten like most games or simply fizzling out like the average episodic… what would be a throwaway choice in another RPG becomes something you desperately want to see finally play out.

It’s unlikely that many other games will build on Mass Effect’s series-wide choices. Dragon Age 2 regressed, ignoring almost everything that happened in the first game and playing out much the same regardless of what you chose to do. Even The Witcher 2, so devoted to choices that a full third of the game is different depending on how you end the first act, largely shrugged off the idea. You can import a save game, sure, but you still start off in bed with Triss, and there are few big changes of note. It’s a hell of a lot of effort to make a game this flexible, even if it’s purely adding adding alternate conversations to explain things like how Liara still became the Shadow Broker if you didn’t stump up for that (awesome) bit of DLC in the previous game.

None of this means that Bioware did a bad job with Mass Effect 3′s defaults. If you didn’t know how many choices there were beforehand, you could simply take everything on face value. Its smart decisions include swapping out one key character instead of bogging a mission down with unnecessary extra lore, filling you in on what happened in DLC like Lair of the Shadow Broker without pretending that Shepard was there, and (at least so far) treating most of the series’ big decision points as merely Things That Happened rather than pinning them on Shepard/the player directly. It’s an excellent, well-written epic that I’m having an absolute blast with.

It’s simply… it’s simply not the same. I wish I’d held off a bit longer, to finish up Mass Effect 2 and get the perfect start for this final instalment. I can’t take everything on its own merits because I know full well what I actually chose… and any time something deviates from ‘my’ Shepard’s story, it’s jarring. I feel out of the loop in a world I feel I should know intimately by this point, and frustrated by the presets instead of empowered by the new choices emerging from them.

It’s still another gamer’s underpants. It’s just better washed than most.

Sigh. If only Bioware had offered a more comprehensive starting questionnaire.

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148 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    These post tags must find use again in the future.

    As for the article it was just pants!

    • Ian says:

      If we’re wanting peculiar tags to get re-used then “horribly confused homoeroticism” from the Tall-Nut post is at the front of the queue, I’d hope.

      • Premium User Badge

        jezcentral says:

        Or in the case of that last screenshot, a Staring Eye tag.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          It’s worse if you know the name of the game is “Hard To Be A God”.

          • malkav11 says:

            I was just impressed that someone else knew that game existed.

          • Ringwraith says:

            I actually recognised that screenie, despite the fact I’ve barely played any of that game.
            This worries me.

  2. Premium User Badge

    El_MUERkO says:

    According to people who know more about the save file than me the game there are over a hundred small choices that are to be taken into account, do you really want a questionnaire that covers all of them? Would you even remember all your choices?

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      All? No, that’d be silly. But the major ones, sure – who lived, who died, what happened in ME1 – rather than simply “I have experienced loss before” and waiting to see what Bioware had picked. The Genesis DLC for ME2 covered the biggies at the start of that game, so there’s precedent for it. And it’s not like they’re afraid to offer granular choices when it comes to much less relevant stuff like what Shepard’s nose looks like or whether she’s an Earthborn Sole Survivor.

      • Ninja Foodstuff says:

        But then why not just use the save game editor mentioned previously? It will let you make all those changes.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          Mostly because of not necessarily trusting the results and not wanting something to break 10 hours or so into the next game. Not saying that it would, just that I didn’t want to take the risk on my first run through the game.

          • jerkstoresup says:

            I felt the same way. I played ME1 and ME2 and just used the questionnaire for ME2, but imported someone else’s underwear for 3 knowing that the questionnaire wouldn’t cover everything. I opened it in the editor, but I also refrained from too much fiddling to prevent impossible scenarios that could mess the game up (even though they probably developed the save import to take any variable in stride even if it doesn’t make sense).

    • DaFishes says:

      Yes, I want the full questionnaire. Give it to me and I will fill it out and be super happy about this. I say this as someone who lost their ME1 game save and had to play ME2 without it. Now every NPC from ME1 in ME3 doesn’t know my Shepard, and that’s freaking tragic.

      Of course there should be a shorter questionnaire for people who don’t care. That’s fine. But I care.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    On a more serious note (and now with nested comments I can pun and immediately follow up with a vaguely sensible comment without looking like a complete mentalist) I agree entirely.

    I replayed ME2 with a renegade Shepard that I got from a save database as I couldn’t be bothered completing ME for a third time. It just felt odd and I abandoned the game pretty quickly.

    As for the one true Shepard, she’s looking forward to getting going again this weekend.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I did for Mass Effect 2, because I’d played the first one on a TraitorBox. After a couple of missions, I just quit back to the menu and started fresh because I didn’t want my Shepard to have had a relationship with Kaidan at any point.

      Goddamnit, Bioware – Udina? Seriously?

      • Enso says:

        For me it was a very intense week leading up to the release of ME2, getting aquainted with a lovely little gamespeed console command. I had played it on the poxbox too, so after renouncing it’s kind I spent a week playing through the PC version at 5times the speed. I completed everything. Everything. And leaving the romance to the last minute, things are now a little awkward between my Shep and Liara.

      • Premium User Badge

        Lambchops says:

        I decided to live with the mistake of my accidental romance with Kaidan. Partially because that’s what my Shepard would do and partially because I wanted to avoid such accidents, with all the clunky dialogue they entailed, in the future!

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          Ah, Kaidan. I will always remember him as that guy who took up room on my ship for a while…

          • SanguineAngel says:

            I really liked Kaiden! He was far more likeable than Ashley and when I realised that my decision had led to his death… over hers! Gutted. I decided to live with THAT mistake as it marked a significant loss for my shep who at that time probably counted Kaiden as his only true friend.

          • Premium User Badge

            Bluerps says:

            Yeah. Poor Kaidan deserves more love!
            I liked them both, but I still decided to nuke Ashley.

        • Enso says:

          Took that approach with ME2. The screams of my crew, as they were liquidised, still haunt me. One day at a time, Shep…one day at a time.

  4. Snidesworth says:

    My friend started playing this recently, using the default Shepard because he couldn’t find his saves. When I informed him that default meant “everyone is dead and everything is ruined” he was just a little upset. Nabbed a save online so he’d get to see his best bud again, but he’d already sunk a few hours into the game by that point.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      The weirdest bit was that the section in the shuttle was pretty obviously intended to serve as a KOTOR2 style ‘what happened before’ bit.

      • Snidesworth says:

        You mean in Mass Effect 2? Yeah, though for some strange reason all choice there was scrapped, even for new Shepards. I was talking about Mass Effect 3, however. I won’t name names, but he played through a couple of missions before I informed him that certain characters should be there if they weren’t dead.

        Also, I’d say that there’s no canon Shepard. There’s a default one for people jumping in mid series, but it’s more a case of keeping everything as simple as possible rather than declaring what the One True Shepard did.

  5. Initialised says:

    I love the attention to detail, both the women have camel toe! Brilliant.

  6. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    Lovely article. It’s such a shame that the most pertinent choices you can make in ME3 are “will I play the multiplayer” and “should I fly over there and press the scan button” rather than anything more emotional.

    EDIT: Also yes, some sort of cloud-based save should be mandatory for any games that span multiple episodes now. It seems like Bioware could have done this, seeing as there was some sort of half-arsed autoblog feature, so it’s really a shame they didn’t. Still, pleased we’ve got Origin in our lives!

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Nah, there are several big ones that spring to mind immediately, including at least one all out genocidal choice. Though I won’t name them because that would be spoiler territory.

      • KvP says:

        Aside from two different choices that have an effect on whether or not party members die, I didn’t read a lot of in-game feedback from my choices that didn’t just constitute an addition to the war asset table (essentially reducing them to numerical scores to be taken in aggregate, which I think is the least interesting possibility w/r/t player choice but also the easiest in terms of game design). The best that we get is a roll call in the final battle letting you know who shows up.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Cerberus Network was just ridiculous. A few DLC things are all well and good, but uploading a couple of endgame saves (not even all the interim) so that you could just click ‘Continue’ when ME3 came out is so spectacularly obvious an idea – and a great bonus feature for EA’s Project Ten Dollar.

      • SanguineAngel says:

        Cerberus seems like it should really have been used to a) allow cloud based saving, including uploading your ME1 save and b) allow you to purchase and download/install all and any dlc directly in-game. As it was, all it really did was say “Hey, there’s some DLC you could have, click here to be taken to the wrong webpage”

        • Ninja Foodstuff says:

          Because of Microsoft most likely. I’m sure they don’t allow games to take payments directly, just like Apple don’t, just like Steam don’t.

          • SanguineAngel says:

            True but some of that DLC was FOC to ceberus subscribers and it still just directed you to the [incorrect] webpage

  7. karthink says:

    I don’t understand the point of this write-up. Okay, so we are increasingly being restricted in our choice of the character we play, and nudged towards what developers consider canonical.

    Everything after that, about choices in Mass Effect, sounds like you’re saying “I’m playing someone different from the previous games and this is causing narrative dissonance.” Well, weren’t you expecting it going in?

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Yes. But it still bugged me while playing, especially as Bioware could have taken steps to stop it being an issue at all. Think of it as Mass Effect musing if you like.

  8. JackShandy says:

    I’m currently playing through all mass effects in order, because I couldn’t stand the idea of losing my choices. I forgot how terrible ME1 was.

    Anyway, you should try/mention Saints Row 3. The character customization on it is far better than mass effect’s. You can change your look beyond generic space marines 1 through 55, there’s multiple voice actors that each add in their own lines, and it even gives women their own separate walk cycle! Innovation.

    (If ME3 gets to be an RPG, so does Saints Row 3).

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Originally I did! Saints Row is a good comparison, not least because Volition doesn’t make a big deal out of what they think the Boss should look like. I took it out though, along with some stuff about MMOs, because that was casting the net a little too wide.

      The Boss is an awesome blue-haired Hispanic woman in a business suit, incidentally. I was so glad to see that voice actress was back.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      I think you meant to say you forgot how brilliant ME1 was! I am doing the same thing and actually had forgotton how much more I enjoyed ME1 than ME2. All choices and character interactions feel much more important and far far more organically integrated.

      (NB I do actually recognise your right to hold a differing opinion)

      • Richard Cobbett says:

        ME3 is the best of both. The improved mechanics of ME2, the more organic structure of ME1. The Reapers may have turned into the Darkspawn Of The Future, but I don’t feel like I’m just ticking planets off a star map/working down a list this time around.

        • SanguineAngel says:

          That is good to know! Thanks :) I seriously can’t wait to play it. Only like 5 – 10 hours of ME1 and ALL of ME2 left to go!!

      • JackShandy says:

        I’m just finding so much clunkiness in ME1. There’s also these constant, tiny story/gameplay disconnects. I just killed a guy with a shotgun, then was treated to a cutscene where he gets up and goes “Ok, ok, you win!”

        • Dreforian says:

          I hated that too. Shooting someone into submission isn’t really the same as roughing them up (like in Assassin’s Creed missions for instance). They kind of handled this a little better in the Bring Down the Sky DLC though.
          ****MINOR SPOILER*****
          At one point an enemy calls out to you to hold your fire. While still at a distance you can just shoot him, in which case a battle ensues OR you can close to conversation distance, in which case a dialogue tree ensues (which can still end in a battle depending on your choices).

    • Artista says:

      (first time commenting here so there’s a chance I’m doing it wrong) Anyway…

      I’ll be doing the same thing tonight. I no longer have my save files, so I thought I’d just start ME3 right away with a generic Shepard, but after a total of 4 or 5 hours, I had to quit. There was something off about it. I’m aware that our decisions hardly matter in the end, but still… I want “my” Shepard to be there. Sure, Mass Effect 3 will have to wait a few weeks now, but at least I’ll be able to enjoy it then.

      ME2′s Jack was my favourite character in the series (strange choice, I know), and I did everything I could with her, making sure she survived the events of ME2, but the moment I saw her name on a list of fallen Normandy crew members, I just couldn’t enjoy ME3 anymore. I know she has no part in ME3, but I still want to see her alive in it, even if it’s just a 30s cutscene. Silly I know.

      Oh well, at least this will give me some perspective on the changes Mass Effect suffered over the years.

      • CDSpeck says:

        Uh if Jack survived your ME2 she should be alive in ME3….you might want to check and make sure you imported the right save. While I’m not as fond of Jack as you are I am playing from an save import where no one died at the end of ME2 and I’ve meet Jack already in ME3. If you are looking at screenshots of ME3 and see Jacks name on the list of the fallen it means they didn’t save her in ME2. In fact I’m pretty sure you can continue your romance with her in ME3, I just don’t think she can be apart of your party (not positive of this though).

        • xsikal says:

          Artista said that they did not have their save games anymore.

          So, while Jack survived in his/her play-through, when they started the ‘new game with no import’ in ME3, she clearly had not, and that took him/her right out of the story immediately.

  9. McDan says:

    “The Mass Effect 3 Collector’s Edition box not using that information to print out a custom cover for the series of your personal Shepard looking like a badass” Now that would have been awesome. I still think they missed out by not calling the the Reaper’s edition anyway.

  10. Cunzy1 1 says:

    Here’s a question for you Richard. Is your Shep specifically the one carried over from ME2 or would you be happy to be presented with a “What decisions were made in the past” tree on start up to re-choose (might take a good memory) the decisions you made before?

    Or would that just be a ‘copy’ of your Shep and not the real one?

  11. Hypernetic says:

    The sad part is that, for the most part, none of the decisions even matter. There are some subtle differences if you play through it with your own save, but like ME2 before it most of the roles your previous crew would have filled (Wrex for example) are now filled with random new characters that are basically exactly the same minus the past history.

    The ending is TERRIBLE as well. Nothing you did over the last 5 years of playing ME games matters in the slightest when it comes to the ending.

    • Snidesworth says:

      From what I can tell your past choices largely weigh into what war assets you get which should determine just how many people are left standing after the grand finale. The big choice is independent however, from what I understand.

      • Hypernetic says:

        There are other ways to get those war assets though. Your previous crew survivors matter, but not that much. In the end nothing you really do matters anyway. It was all a colossal waste of time and you would have been better off letting the reapers win while you had a party.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          Honestly, for my money the war against the Reapers is largely irrelevant – it’s simply a device to smash the status quo and tell much more interesting smaller scale stories.

          • KvP says:

            I don’t think that’s what it’s used for, though, certainly not by the end of ME3. For me, the best thing about the Mass Effect series (and most Bioware games besides, even abysmal ones like NWN1 and Dragon Age 2) were the characters, so the reaper-centric Final Choice and subsequent lack of denouements left a really bad taste in my mouth (as it did with a lot of other folks).

            It’s the anti-Lost, essentially – the creators of that show ended with what a lot of people felt was a half-assed handwave of all the mystery elements that had sustained the show, focusing instead on the characters and their relationships. They said that contrary to what people had assumed, Lost was “character driven” rather than “plot driven”. The end of ME3 is the total opposite, completely plot-driven (re: the Reaper war) and lacking in closure w/r/t all characters who didn’t receive it by virtue of dying.

            Honestly that, and a few other weird details of the ending, remind me a lot of the end of KOTOR2. How EA / Bioware would let that get past them is beyond me.

    • DrGonzo says:

      That is my problem, but I think it goes further than that. NONE of the decisions you make ME1 and 2 (haven’t got around to the third one yet) make a difference to the story. Details get changed, but the story goes the same, this is not how we should be doing story in games.

      Also I would say “well-written epic” is being a bit generous.

    • DaFishes says:

      Agreed, the endings are all fucking grievous. And Bioware’s PR machine is taking that feedback from the players and churning out dismissals like this https://twitter.com/#!/JessicaMerizan/status/178300250149224448 and this https://twitter.com/#!/JessicaMerizan/status/178297723433390080 and this https://twitter.com/#!/JessicaMerizan/status/177521296471629826.

  12. DogKiller says:

    Bioware remove more player choice with every game they make. Mass Effect 3′s dialogue system seems to have been reduced to paragon or renegade responses and a whole lot of autodialogue. If they’re going to just shoehorn you down one of two paths then what’s the point?

    • Hoaxfish says:

      I think the dialog system in newer Bioware games is very much a symptom of the whole “it’s their plot not yours”… the prime example being that most of the options no longer reflect the actual words that will come out of your mouth, and the resultant “plot changes” will often be exactly the same just with +Paragon or +Renegade.

    • NathanH says:

      In practice, almost every dialogue tree in any RPG ever funnels you towards a couple of conclusions. Mass Effect just does this in its own way. The main flaw is not that there are only two choices per node, but that it’s good play to choose the same path for every node. If you could choose paragon or renegade and it wouldn’t provide paragon or renegade points, just responses and outcomes specific to that conversation only, then you wouldn’t be funneled down one of two paths, instead you would have 2^n paths where n is the number of conversation nodes. 2^n is a very big number.

  13. Risingson says:

    I have not read the text and just looked at the pictures. And wondered, again, why the Bioware graphic designers have such a bad taste in clothing. These people look like 70s softcore, or something. And don’t make me remember the love/sex scenes in Dragon Age, something like Adrian Lyne inspired after watching 200 episodes of my little pony would film.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      The funniest one in Dragon Age is Morrigan, one of the many gaming ladies who quite obviously is not wearing an ugly beige bra under her regular outfit.

    • DogKiller says:

      I have to admit, the romance scenes in Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2 always creeped me out a little. It’s like watching somebody make their Barbie dolls gyrate and grind against each other. I don’t think computer game animation has really reached a level where that kind of thing doesn’t look embarrassingly bad just yet.

      • Richard Cobbett says:

        There’s no reason they can’t work – some of ME2′s were decently touching (Tali and Garrus especially). Dragon Age’s were just hilariously coy, from the light touching to the This Is A Tender And Beautiful Moment music playing in the background to the way everyone kept their knickers on. It might be okay for an Alistair romance, but Morrigan? Zevran? Not a chance.

        • DogKiller says:

          I’m not very good at putting my thoughts into words, so I don’t know how to explain it very well, but the scenes always made me feel kind of awkward, like I want to just spacebar or turn away. They just… bugged me somehow, as though they didn’t look quite right to my eye. I did really enjoyed Dragon Age Origins, though.

          • SanguineAngel says:

            I think I find that most of computer gaming’s love & sex scenes are so ridiculously out of context in style, setting, dialogue and character development – often due to being designed to be played at no specific place or time – that they are actually painful and embarrassing. The same is true in films and TV when romance scenes are shoehorned in to appeal to a demographic.

            ME2 and Uncharted 2 for me hold the joint honour of least cringe worthy love scenes. As Richard says, the Tali scene is rather well handled i think because of the build up to it, it fits in quite well (shep’s animations are still a bit awkward though). Uncharted 2 blew me away really.

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            All the best sex scenes are played out primarily in the mind. A couple of grinding 3D meshes have no inherent emotional connection. It’s all about what leads up to them, and what happens as a result. Which in games, is usually ‘absolutely nothing because the sexytime was the whole point’, unfortunately.

          • E_FD says:

            For me, the pinacle (or nadir, depending on how you look at it) of video game sex scenes will always be Gothic 2, which started the “ingame character models hump and gyrate in the deepest depths of the Uncanny Valley while sappy overwrought romance music plays” craze well before Bioware made it one of their defining gimmicks.

            To this day, I don’t know if the scene was intended as a parody or not (probably not, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt), but it sure manages to be hysterically funny.

      • Drake Sigar says:

        And The Witcher 2′s sensual scenes were good. I mean… damn!

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          The Witcher 2 had some excellent sex scenes. They’re set up properly, they’re carefully done, and most importantly, they’re true to the characters involved, whether it’s Triss doing a magical strip-tease before sharing a bath with Geralt, or Ves developing feelings for him due to him respecting her enough to treat her like a warrior and not throw a fight in her favour.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      I think my biggest problem with “game underwear” is that it seems terrible common to be a slightly yellowy brown colour… which frankly looks like it is need of a very hard scrub to clean off some very unhygienic stains. I don’t really care that faux medieval settings don’t generally have access to modern cleaning agents.

      • Richard Cobbett says:

        The big exception being Vindictus, which goes to the effort of selling sexier underwear for real money. They call it “Inner Armor”, but still…

  14. Drake Sigar says:

    I’ve loved importing saves since Wing Commander (even though that one was basically just a kill score) and am obsessed with the idea of continuing a personal character. Being forced to recreate my character in the editor or borrow another player’s save would offend me. I don’t care if he’s physically identical and made all the decisions of his counterpart. I will always know he’s a second-rate clone.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I liked it in Quest for Glory as well, where it made literally no difference beyond giving you slightly better starting stats unless you became a Paladin. And even then, you could cheat and tell the games “Oh, yeah, I totally did that…” about a game later.

  15. NathanH says:

    One good thing about using Bioware’s default canon is that it makes a good story, but it’s basically impossible to get anything remotely like it yourself unless you’re deliberately playing badly.

  16. Henson says:

    Personally, I wasn’t even satisfied with the way decisions carried over from ME1 into ME2. Haven’t played ME3 yet, but my expectations are not high.

  17. FadedCamo says:

    I was most of the way through a ME2 game for the PC without an ME1 import, when I realized how awful all the decisions are that Bioware “defaults” your shepard to have made from ME1. I had beaten both games previously on the 360, but wanted my ME3 experience on the PC. So, instead of running through with this incomplete Shepard, I got my 360 save transferred to the PC, finished the Shadow Broker and Arrival dlc, then loaded up to save the galaxy. I feel all warm and fuzzy that I’m using MY Shepard all the way from ME1.

  18. Bhazor says:

    Leliana has a hell of a pair of shoulders on her.

    Check out those motherfuckers.

  19. Vraptor117 says:

    This article completely overlooks Fallout: New Vegas. Create your Courier however you want and make meaningful choices that have an impact on the gameworld. As a bonus, you also get companions that aren’t retarded, dialogue that isn’t retarded, and endings that actually make sense.

    • Drake Sigar says:

      There’s a basic narrative structure which Fallout New Vegas is missing. For well over half the game your character is not given a reason to complete quests. Most of the time he/she can’t even ask about payment, he/she’s basically the human counterpart of Yes Man. At times the game refuses to acknowledge your character and addresses the player directly, assuming you’ll want to complete these quests simply because they exist.

      Still a great game though, better than Fallout 3. :)

      • Vraptor117 says:

        Haha, you’re joking, right? FNV’s main path has a very clear (and very basic) 3 act structure:

        First Act – Finding out why you were shot, who shot you, and what the chip is. Ultimately, you reach Vegas.

        Second Act – Learn about the major factions vying for Vegas. The player is introduced to House, Legion, NCR, and Yes Man. Do missions for chosen faction (which have the aim of allying with or eliminating minor factions).

        Third Act – The Dam assault.

        Very complex, I know.

        • cjlr says:

          Shhh…. You’ll rile the fanboys.

          Only in gaming have I seen a “good but not great” evaluation provoke such anger.

        • Drake Sigar says:

          There’s no need to be rude. I’m talking about everything inbetween which isn’t part of the character’s core personal story. I’ll provide an example: you’re saved by Goodsprings doctor. Soon after you can approach the Powder Ganger leader and ask him to take over the town. So you’re going to solidify your character as an asshole and have him betray the people who helped you, cool. Now we get to the motivation. The Ganger asks you that all important question – why? To which you reply… “err, free food I guess?”

          He doesn’t know why. You don’t know why. You aren’t given any incentive. Only after the job is done are you given a small reward which the ganger didn’t bother to tell you about beforehand. If he had bothered to say ‘if you help us we’ll let you into our fortress’ that would have been something. Instead you betrayed your friends because… you’re a raving psychopath who does evil for the sake of being evil?

          This situation happens all the time in New Vegas.

  20. eduh says:

    I lost my previous saves, and i refused to play a default shep.
    I highly recommend that you try this save editor out: http://social.bioware.com/project/4373/#files
    It allows you to effortlessly shape every detail of your shep.

  21. malkav11 says:

    I was kind of expecting this article to be about the frankly shocking fact that characters imported from ME1 to ME2 cannot have their customized face read into ME3. Only characters that started in ME2 can do that. How on earth do you let something like that happen in a franchise where one of the biggest selling points is the continuity of storyline based on imported saves? I mean, I could probably achieve something vaguely like my original Shepard with some fiddling, but…why should I have to?

    • NathanH says:

      If you don’t use the default Shepard from Mass Effect 1 or 2 (they are very similar; I think the one in 2 looks a little bit better) then you are a dangerous heretic who deserves all you get.

    • Mut says:

      Likewise. Really hope that gets patched soon, because there’s no way I’m starting the game with any other Shepard but mine.

  22. fearghaill says:

    Richard – it’s mild cheating, but have you considered editing your own ME2 save to give yourself the resources needed to buy the upgrades? Then provided you’ve done all the loyalty missions you can head for the suicide mission and as long as you don’t do something silly like make Zaeed leader of the second team (“but he led the blue suns!” “All his stories end with ‘and I was the only one who got out alive’”) you should be alright.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I considered it, but was concerned about damaging my save game. Probably without any cause, but still…

      • fearghaill says:

        It’s safe enough, and you can always backup your save first if you’re extra cautious.

        • cjlr says:

          Yep. Backup, THEN meddle.

          ‘Course, I’m one of those people who has a whole hard drive full of backed up gamedata. Every savegame since 1999, baby. Who knows when I’ll get the urge to go back to a half-completed playthrough of some mediocre early 2000s RTS or RPG?

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          It’s more the fear of getting halfway through and hitting problems than corrupting the original save.

          • cjlr says:

            And that, I grant, is a better concern.

            To which I’d say, would you rather try to have “your” experience, only for it to go tits up, or just not bother at all? All you’d lose is time. So I suppose it depends on how much time you’ve got for gaming. 20 hours on a dead end might be an expensive (and frustrating!) propect – it’d piss me right off.

            But then, flipping some bits in an old save ought not to have any risks concommitant. It’s pretty foolproof.

  23. TheWhippetLord says:

    Your first illustration makes me wonder if anyone’s ever explored the in-universe reaction of an RPG PC who discovers that his/her entire party are wearing underwear that matches their leader’s. There is no answer which would not terrify, I say.

  24. Bantros says:

    Sorry but if the game, character and story is that important to you, (it is to me, Mass Effect is one of my favourite series) you go out of your way to make sure everything is ready for the next chapter. It’s not like you haven’t know about the trilogy for years.

    Back ups on an external drive, USB disk, even online like Dropbox are so simple it’s hard to feel anything but “it’s your own fault” especially when you can always replay the game or cheat and do everything exactly how you did with the save game editor.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      I suspect you are not sorry at all! ;o)

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      “It’s not like you haven’t know about the trilogy for years.”

      Bioware knew about it much longer, and they weren’t ready to deal with it.

      • Bantros says:

        I don’t think that’s the issue! We’ve all known since ME that there is no automatic cloud backup and if you feel so strongly about the game and the decisions you made it really is just a simple matter of taking 2 minutes to do it yourself.

        Like I said, you always have the option of hacking a save file to create your older save or playing through again. If your enjoyment of the final game is being spoiled, which to any fan of the series of course this is going to be the case, then you can only blame yourself!

  25. aircool says:

    Heh. I haven’t heard ‘chinny reckon’ since the 80′s ¬_¬ Now all we need is a ‘beard on’ or a ‘beardy weirdy woosh-woosh’.

    Old stuff is great.

  26. Iliya Moroumetz says:

    Mr. Cobbett, aside from the lovely article, I was inspired by said article to register, so I could share with you, one of the greatest shorts made about pants, ever!

  27. pilouuuu says:

    I think that more games should let you import your character in the sequel. As for creating your own character, I don’t know if it is the crappy story and fake environments but I feel a lack of direction in Skyrim and prefer Bioware approach. It can be better, no doubt, but it’s quite good already. I heard that Alpha Protocol is good in changing the game according to your decisions. That’s what I dislike about Bioware, sometimes different decisions are just cosmetic and the result is basically the same.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Alpha Protocol is phenomenally good at it. It’s dragged down by a lot of its other stuff, but the dialogue system and responsiveness of it to your choices puts every other game out there to shame.

      • pilouuuu says:

        Thanks. I need to try AP just for that. Hopefully I won’t be too pissed off by its other annoyances.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        From what I’ve heard, the Witcher 2 is pretty good with actually altering the game based on your choices.

      • xsikal says:

        Alpha Protocol is one of the most enjoyable $4 games I’ve ever played. Got it on sale from Steam a year or two ago, and enjoyed the hell out of it, despite some of its questionable gameplay (the minigames which I hated, and some of the bugginess). If it had more polish and fewer bugs (perhaps the most over-used if statement ever, when it comes to Obsidian games), I really think it would have been huge, as it does a lot of things better than Bioware seems capable of.

        • malkav11 says:

          The sad part is I really don’t feel it’s earned the reputation for lack of polish and bugginess that it acquired virtually immediately. I mean, it does have a few issues on some systems, and I’ve encountered one or two irritating bugs, but in general it’s a pretty solid game that I think is mostly let down by some people’s expectations (i.e., the gunplay is stat based, so people coming in expecting the more shootery combat of, say, ME2, are going to struggle), and Obsidian’s heavily exaggerated reputation for unfinished games.

  28. Hoaxfish says:

    Personally, I dislike any series which doesn’t get put out in “good speed” if it is trying to build as it progresses. Obviously, games have a problem with this if they intend to keep up with technology etc, since development time extends to time required to “deliver” the next instalment.

    A book, game, or film, etc needs to be whole as an individual product. If it acts as a part of a series, then it does need some glue to tie it to the others (which can be as simple as the same hero, or just the same world), but that does not mean dropping the “start” and “end” of the story. The whole “we’re making a trilogy!” is always a bad signal for this, especially for the “middle child” of the series.

    The “parallel story” is probably my preference for roleplaying games, as it allows each game to be individual, without assuming you played any of the other games (and starting your character at level 1 again makes sense). By ME3, Shepard has done a billion different things, from punching a reporter, to blowing up multiple large things, and visiting more planets than you can count.

    DA’s parallel story is probably incidental in their game design, with the switch from “your character” (race, gender, “origin”, etc) to the fixed “Hawke” character… I’m not sure it was a conscious choice to do that, but rather the path they were forced down in trying to “Shepard” it.

    Ever start reading a book series, only to find the author hasn’t written the final chapter… leaving you hanging with a “to be continued…” That’s my problem. ME’s form of this is basically “…don’t you remember what happened last time?” which is unsatisfying. Even ME1 had this problem in a way, with my character constantly being reminded of the horrible event he’d lived through before the game even started… it just didn’t relate to what I was trying to play.

  29. MistyMike says:

    I *loathe* the generic bodybuilderesque physiques of these characters.

    Hey, developers! In your grim and dark fantasy world there are no ‘roids and diet supplements. Adventurer types don’t go on crash diets to expose those chiseled abs just in time for the screenshots session. Thedas is not SoCal.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      It can be amusing how Bioware simply assumes you’ll make your character hot. You can create a true obscenity of humanity in Dragon Age, but if you set the gender to ‘female’, Alistair will still drool over how you’re the most beautiful creature he’s ever seen.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        Maybe that’s just his fetish. Like a very abstract form of player choice… no matter how ugly you appear, it is just the right appearance to turn that character on.

        Same with Mass Effect’s “make-up” settings for female characters can make you look like some form of murderous goth clown.

      • Premium User Badge

        Bluerps says:

        I also like that every woman has a young, firm body in that game – even Wynne, who is supposed to be quite old.

      • NathanH says:

        Personally, if I’m going to have a power fantasy, I want to be a hottie.

  30. ThaneSolus says:

    I finished the game yesterday. The endings are pretty bad, almost the same ending for any choice.

    The scanning was dull and stupid, i started to miss the ME 2 system.

    The War Assets which seemed interesting at first, it develops into BLEAH. Nothing. They couldve do so much things with that.

    The itemization is FUBAR.

    Combat is much better, more fluid, thats the good part.

    The choices you made in the past, dont affect much, or not all. Unless u see new cutscene, or switch a character, pretty fake. Not all, but its all PR bullshit.

    The script writing is as bad as any cheesy stupid Hollywood movies. Good and Bad…no middle ground, and SHEEEPARD has the dumbest lines ever. Perfect Brainwashed Soldier.

    Overall 7/10 (thats because of the presentation, as the core is a mediocre game at best)

    Of course every Sunday Editor on those lovely sites will give it a 10/10.

    • deke913 says:

      One of the main reasons I joined here was the variety of opinion on reviews. And while I may not agree with all of them, at least the reviews here don’t look like a cut and paste of a company memo.

    • Snidesworth says:

      How is the Itemisation bad? You get several weapons for each category (most of them being distinct from each other), can modify them for assorted bonuses and all linear upgrades are purchased once and applied to the model. There’s none of the inventory management hell of ME1 and gets rid of the horrible lack of variety that ME2 had.

  31. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I don’t think I could even play the game without my Shepard. Maybe with a savegame that includes all my decisions, but I think even that would feel off, somehow.

    Also, I agree – a detailed questionnaire for the decisions made in the previous games should have been included (without being DLC). I even think that this questionnaire should have offered the option to be super-detailed, so that every tiny option could have been set.

  32. codename_bloodfist says:

    Sir, I wholeheartedly disagree with your tags. The underwear on that blood elf lady is in fact very nice.

  33. Wut The Melon says:

    Funny: you don’t like playing a savegame that’s not yours, even though it has the choices you made. I didn’t like Mass Effect 2 pretending that I made choices that I didn’t actually make in the first game ON MY OWN SAVEGAME. Now I’m wondering how buggy the ME3 import will be, or whether it will correct any incorrect imports from ME1 to ME2.
    (Will probably pick up ME3 in the bargain bin, considering I still have some 9 games to play through, including one or more replays of the first two ME’s)

  34. Ronin1325 says:

    Actually I’ve been thinking about this since the game came out. Liking the game (or not), thinking it’s well written & presented (or not), thinking the ending is a complete rip-off (or not), are all secondary to me. My biggest problem with ME3 is that Bioware blatantly *LIED* about the game. They said repeatedly that this game would have the most choice of the trilogy, that your decisions from past games would matter more than ever, that because it was the last game it would be the most ‘open-ended’. That has now proven to be completely untrue. That’s false advertising in a big way. How can they be held to account for this?

  35. Oof says:

    I don’t really understand what this article’s about.

    I just want to point out the fact that the Quest for Glory series did it first!

  36. nzmccorm says:

    That’s just sort of built into how BIoware handles narrative though, innit? Games like Skyrim are sort of built around the player assembling their own narrative as they go along out of bits and bobs of story and quest that the devs have scattered around the world. Fallout: New Vega took this further by making the main quest more ephemeral and making the consequences of how the player dealt with major side content just as important when it came to the ending.

    Bioware has never really been interested in letting players play a story, they’re interested in telling you the story that their writers wrote. It’s compounded by the fact that their gameplay and story sections are basically hermetically sealed off. In Skyrim or NV the narrative progresses outside of cinematic cutscenes, whereas in Bioware games the two are rarely really that connected. It’s like Frictional said on their blog: How you reach the objective is just as much a part of the narrative, from the player’s perspective, as the cutscene that plays when you get there.

    Also I’m p. sure the scanning is tedious on purpose in order to encourage people to pick up the side games/buy DLC later/play multiplayer with its microtransactions

  37. Ronin1325 says:

    @nzmccorm

    I certainly don’t disagree with what you said. But marketing the game with ‘choice’ as a main feature, when there really isn’t any is false advertising. If a car maker marketed a car with 450HP, but it was later learned it only had 250HP, they’d get nailed to the wall. But videogame companies can say anything they want about a game & that’s okay? :-/

    • nzmccorm says:

      I think that from there perspective there is a lot of choice and, to be fair, most linear video game narratives don’t offer any choice at all. The fact that they’re years behind Bethesda, Quantic Dream, Obsidian, etc is more of a reflection of the fact that the entire industry is even further behind.

      • malkav11 says:

        And to be fair, even the limited way in which your choices carry forward into subsequent games in the Mass Effect trilogy is a long way past the norm. Can you imagine how hideous it would be to structure a strong narrative across three games while having decisions from previous games have impact on the level of, say, Witcher 2′s completely different second act? Combinatorial explosion nightmare in the making.

        I think Bioware could have handled it better in terms of creating a cohesive overarching narrative (WTF, ME2?) and ensuring a better continuity of things like game mechanics, but I think what they -have- managed to achieve is still fairly special.

        • nzmccorm says:

          Even so, the fact it’s stretched out that long makes it necessarily half-assed. A game that offers, well, substantial choice like Skyrim or Heavy Rain would be incredibly difficult to reflect through importing. A game like AP or New Vegas would be impossible. They have to nullify the player’s choices to stretch it out, but the fact it’s such a long experience, to my mind, does not negate the fact that the player’s choices are nullified.

          More isn’t better if it means having to do it badly.

  38. Fumarole says:

    Story discontinuity like this is why I stopped playing Baldur’s Gate 2 recently. In the first game Imoen died horribly after being turned to stone by a basilisk and being blown apart by a fireball. Having her in the second game was just too much of a stretch for me to continue playing.

  39. Brun says:

    But she’s not my Shepard. She’s Bioware’s – the sum of their choices.

    This is a hugely important point. I realize I’m taking it a bit out of context since I think the point of this article is to discuss series-wide choices (i.e. choices that you can make in the first title will affect things in the finale). However, it makes an important point on its own, and I don’t think that should be overlooked.

    In BioWare’s formula, you’re playing through BioWare’s story, with BioWare’s character. They invented someone named Shepard and let you pick one of three backstories (which they created), and the choices you are presented with are typically dialogue-based and consist of a few options which they also created. This makes it end up feeling like you’re playing someone else’s story, rather than creating your own.

    Contrast this with something like Skyrim (or any TES game for that matter), which has a player-named character, establishes no solid backstory (you’re free to invent and play to one if you wish), and most of the more important choices in the game involve how you play it (where you go, how you overcome challenges, etc.). Combine that with the tremendous amount of freedom the sandboxy nature of TES games provide and despite the fact that the story writing and presentation in those games is typically inferior to BioWare’s games, it all ends up feeling more personal, more like your own adventure.

    I feel like this is a critically important element that so many AAA developers neglect. Console-focused developers are so concerned with making things feel “cinematic” that they forget that you’re playing a video game and that should beg a higher degree of engagement from the player than something like a film or book.

  40. Ronin1325 says:

    @Brun

    I agree, and it’s why despite all their flaws & limitations, Bethesda’s games are some of the closest to real P&P RPG’s out there. The two ‘biggies’ in terms of engine advancement that would make their creations truly stellar would be a clock for the story-world (as done in the still-brilliant Star Control 2), and the NPC’s of the world reacting to your changing status. I.E., when you’re a shlub in the Mage’s Guild nobody pays much attention to you, but when you *become* the head of the Mage’s Guild people show you the proper deference and you could even give orders to them.

    • Brun says:

      I think they would be better served by investing in procedural technologies that would allow the world to be MUCH more dynamic. First thing, as you suggest, would be to ditch the Radiant AI system and replace it with something more robust.

      That said, BioWare’s games weren’t always like this – back when they still used the AD&D rulesets the depth of the alignment system allowed for a bit more complexity in their stories.

  41. Eversor says:

    Just wait until you get to see the ending. Choices? Heh, yeah, funny thing about those, silly human…

  42. Ronin1325 says:

    Well the ending to ME3 is actually even worse than that. Due to a cannon event in ME2 (“Arrival”), *any* end choice in ME3 results in well… the end of everything. :P

    • marlin says:

      People, please… it’s ‘canon’.
      A ‘cannon’ is a sodding huge bit of metal-chucking death-maker.
      ‘canon’…it’s ‘canon’.
      I appreciate that English is not the first language of many an RPS reader but ‘canon’ is easier to spell – one less ‘n’

  43. Ronin1325 says:

    As an aside though, I still have to reiterate, that given the gaming technology of 20 years ago, Star Control 2 still puts most modern RPG’s to shame in its ability to reflect a dynamic, living environment.

  44. Dreforian says:

    Originally I played ME1 having my first Shepard try to make all the Lawful Good choices. I also enjoyed the option of playing the renegade good guy (which was tougher since “renegade” was often synonym for “jerkface” at the time). When I discovered what carried over from ME1 to ME2, I didn’t even bother to retrieve my saves from my old computer. I ended up replaying ME1 again (TWICE) in an attempt to maximize my paragon and renegade scores without compromising any of my ideal shepard’s’ major decisions. Incidentally I discovered it’s a lot easier to accomplish as a renegade Shepard since there are simply more paragon points to be had, especially without renegade analogues.

    • Dreforian says:

      ME2 had its own, slightly more insidious ways of pushing your decisions towards ideals that weren’t necessarily your own. ~~~~~Spoiler Warning for know-nothings~~~~ The issue of working with Cerberus and who’s really in charge comes up a lot, particularly in para/gade responses. Cerberus is basically indefensible to anyone outside of the organization and nearly unassailable (with the subdued exception of Jacob) to anyone in it. So then when you get into tiffs with former associates over what you’re doing now, the “paragon” route says THEY NOT THE BOSS OF ME while the “renegade” route says Cerberus ain’t so bad, not for realz. Loyalty to your old life means being a bastard to your new allies (or tools), giving your current comrades a chance means you have to tell your old friends to kiss off. It makes unintended consequences part of the choice forcing you to play your Shepard in way you may not want, not just forcing you to deal with events you couldn’t forsee.

  45. Ronin1325 says:

    As I’ve said on Bioware’s ME3 forum- if they *wanted* to make a linear JRPG-style game that is perfectly fine with me. They should just not have made player-choice a huge part of their advert campaign.

    http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/323/index/9718306/5

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      Agree. having finished ME3 I feel like all of my choices and advertized player narrative were kicked in the face in the last 10 minutes. Any discussion on choice in the ME universe will now be tainted by this unfortunately.

      IT DOESN’T MATTER.

      • Premium User Badge

        Big Murray says:

        Maybe that’s just a reflection of the entitlement we feel as gamers by the Mass Effect series giving us choice. When it ultimately came down to us having none at the last hurdle, somehow people feel cheated.

        I read an article a while back on how Mass Effect 2 gave the player too much control, how everybody who was there was pretty much maliable in whichever way you wanted. Would like to find that somewhere again.

  46. Ronin1325 says:

    @jaimenalee

    Ah, Master of Orion2. I’ve put piles of time into that game, and thanks to GOG.com, I still do. :D