Thursday, 5 April 2012

Mass Effect and the illusion of choice

Choice is a funny thing in modern video games, every action/rpg/farming game these days seems to be marketed heavily as being a choice filled fun fair where your decisions actually effect every aspect of the game and etc etc, essentially this is just clever marketing to draw people who like thinking that their actual thoughts and feelings will effect the little things in a pre-programmed game universe.

One of the victims of this is Mass Effect, Mass Effect is a fantastic series, filled to the brim with a ridicioulus amount of backstory, creative characters and for the most part a great storyline. I can hear you now, why are you criticising it if it's so great? Well, it was one of the first games I remember putting the whole choice aspect at the forefront of it's marketing.

The first Mass Effect game was easily the best in the series, it had excellent sci-fi elements, great characters, shooting dudes in the face, conversations and RPG stuff. I don't remember too much of the storyline or the choices in there but I do remember some of the desicions you had to make and ME1 actually contained decisions that would affect the course of the whole series (namely Kaiden vs Ashley). I will refer back to some of the more miniscule decisions in ME1 a bit later on.

The second Mass Effect was great, more of a middling game however, it also introduced us to the Illusive man and cerberus. It was also one of the first (in my memory) console games that allowed you to import your save from the first game. Which would in turn effect some aspects of the game. Namely the whole Kaiden and Ashley thing as well as determining whether characters like Wrex stayed alive. Nothing really wrong with Mass Effect 2's handling of this, did you pick Anderson to be the human counciller in ME1? If you did, he was doing that shit in ME2 and so on, see where I'm going with this?

The third and final Mass Effect 3 was where the whole illusion of choice falls apart and you finally realise that every decision you have made through the course of the first 2 games falls apart (apart from the kaiden/ashley thing). Was Anderson the human counciller at the end of ME1 and through ME2? Not anymore, Udina's taken over. Is THAT really Ashley? (I don't think so), were you best bros with the illusive man and did you give him the collecter base at the end of Mass Effect 2? Doesn't matter, he hates you now too. I'm sure there are some other alterations but these are the ones that bugged me the most. The worst thing about Mass Effect 3, however, is that all the big decisions in the game boil down to a "one or other" choice, they will tease you with an option that allows you to compromise for both but normally something will happen that prevents you from doing that. Also, this was more prelevant in Mass Effect 3 but has been a issue of mine with the whole series, the dialogue wheel is all smoke and mirrors, apart from the branching bits where Shepard asks question. What i'm trying to say is, the dialogue options will usually amount to Shepard saying the same thing but in a differing tone. I don't see how "Let's amass the fleet" in a menacing tone makes Shepard more of a renegade than he already is but it's the bioware way.

The biggest thing Mass Effect 3 does to shit all over the "it's YOUR choice" mantra is the ending, remember all those decisions you made in the last 2 games? Yep okay, remember how long you spent finding cortez that dragon dildo on the citadel so you could get the LBGT fleet and increase galactic readiness? Yeah, well, none of that means shit when it comes to the end game. The end game of Mass Effect 3 does not take into account your galactic readiness or any of the choices you have made prior to it, it just throws you into a dialogue tree where you make a decision, destroy the reapers, control the reapers or merge with the reapers. Considering that you spend most of the game MAKING DECISIONS it is really annoying that they don't mean shit at the end. Everyone gets the same choice to make, everyone gets the same endings.

It is unfortunate that Mass Effect 3 went this way, there are so many inconsistencies in the plot as well as the fact all your decisions are meant to carry over into 3. It also really sucked that the big main bad guy "the reapers" weren't at the forefront of doing bad guy shit, it was more cerberus than anything.

If you want freedom of choice in your video games, look elsewhere, try Way of the samurai, in that game you make your own choices and they all have differing effects, you pick who to work for, who to kill, how to play, everything is at the leisure of your will. Just try not to fall for molyneux-esque excitement like this:

"As Mass Effect 3 is the end of the planned trilogy, the developers are not constrainned by the necessity of allowing the story to diverge, yet also continue into the next chapter. This will result in a story that diverges into wildly different conclusion based on the players actions in the first two chapters"

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