A Shepard of Black or White in a World of “Grey”

So I just finished Mass Effect 2.  The gripe train is ready to leave the station.  Today though, we’ll be talking about the Paragon\Renegade system.

(WARNING: This will contain spoilers)

The two meters of rage

So ever since Dragon Age, Bioware has been on this dark and edgy kick lately in trying to include morally ambiguous situations in their game.  Which is fine, doesn’t thrill me but as long as it’s executed well I don’t have any problems.  Except that the game punishes you for not going fully one way or the other.

Here’s what I mean.  You amass a large crew of varying alien races.  Tempers are going to flare as this diverse population butts heads and old grudges come to a boil.  Fine.  There are two of these situations where after completing two loyalty missions for the characters, they end up in a catfight that you need to mediate.  NPC conflict?  Sweet.  So far so good.

Except you can only resolve it in the best way possible if you have either a perfect paragon rating or a perfect renegade rating.  Which would have nutted me if I didn’t do some ahead of time research.  RAGE.

Some people have claimed that they have resolved these conflicts with less than a perfect rating.  AFAIK, this was not the case for me or for many other people.  In other words, if you already used up most of the content playing situations case by case instead of lock-stepping to a single tune, you are screwed and people are going to die in the final mission.  I actually replayed some missions 5-6 times over to keep checking if I needed anything less than perfect to resolve these conflicts.  For those players wondering, to stop Miranda and Jack from fighting, and to convince Zaeed to stay despite screwing over his revenge plans, I needed a perfect paragon score or so close to perfect that I could barely see the margin between my bar and completion.  I ended up having to scour the galaxy for every last bit of Paragon points, and even then I barely managed to top out my meter right before the final mission.

What bothers me also is that these character conflicts are literally thrown in the player’s face.  NPCs interact with each other so little outside of the scripted scenes that its hard to gauge how bad the animosity is before it’s too late.  Which strikes me as bad design.  Since the mechanic is never introduced to the player in a gentle manner, the player has no idea what to expect.  Bioware really should have done a better job at showing the build-up between NPCs and that only mediation from the PC is keeping things in check.

However, what makes this entire paragon/renegade system irritating is that the player is unable to play things case by case in a morally ambiguous world.  They *have* to play entirely in one shade or the other to achieve the best possible outcome.  This strikes me as cognitive dissonance.  It also strikes me as a veiled attempt to coerce the player into playing through the game 2-3 times to make up for the brevity of the main campaign.  It’s a cynical assumption.  But the inclusion of a new game+ feature not included in past Bioware games, as well as achievements for  completing this game twice, makes me suspicious.

Really Bioware, why bother with the entire “work with the morally ambiguous to do good” story if you aren’t even going to allow the player to explore that nebulous region?


3 Responses to “A Shepard of Black or White in a World of “Grey””

  1. March 18, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Well said Eric. I’m really tired of playing games trying to min/max my characters. Would be nice to just make decisions on a case-by-case level. That’s a common problem tho, jack of all trades who change frequently to suit the circumstances are rarely rewarded with power. Guess the same could go for RL, with the top three highest paying careers being specialized anaesthetic surgeons.

  2. March 19, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    I dunno, a system of morals made with taffy seems to work quite well for our political class.

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