Mass Effect Retrospective 9: Paragade

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Aug 19, 2015

Filed under: Mass Effect 232 comments

While Virmire doesn’t feature the worst use of the in-game morality meter / conversation metagame / roleplaying tool, it does have the moment that – for me – perfectly crystallized how silly the system can be at times. So let’s talk about…


I've killed thousands of people, but I wasn't RUDE to any of them, so I can't intimidate this guy.
I've killed thousands of people, but I wasn't RUDE to any of them, so I can't intimidate this guy.

It’s obvious that BioWare never totally nailed down the whole Paragon / Renegade system and what it was supposed to mean. Good vs. evil? Idealistic vs. practical? Merciful vs. Ruthless? Cunning vs. brutal? Doormat vs. leader? Sensible vs. sociopathic moron? You can find examples of all of these in the game.

I understand that BioWare felt like they needed to have this. It’s been a staple of the last few games and I guess fans have come to expect it. KOTOR had it because the game played around with the light and dark sides of the force. Then it was turned into the open palm / closed fist, which was an admirable idea that kind of turned into a philosophical mess in practice. So they tried again here in Mass Effect with paragon vs. renegade.

Mechanically, it’s a little more nuanced than the light / dark side slider we had in KOTORAlthough narratively, I think KOTOR wins out. A bit.. The paragon meter fills independently of the renegade meter. Yes, when I save the puppy instead of eat the puppy I get paragon instead of renegade points, but at least it doesn’t subtract renegade points. This makes it a little less painful to cross lines once in a while. If you’re a paragon but right now you really want to shoot this annoying pain in the ass mook who’s trying to pick a fight, you can do so without feeling like you’re being punished. At worst, you’re just passing up the possible reward of more paragon points.

On one hand, the system is a great way to give the player some short-term choice. Every single decision can’t echo forwards, creating an ever-growing landscape of possibility. At the same time, it feels good to make decisions and have the game respond, even in small ways. So you can save the hostages or you can capture the bad guy. Each path gives a few paragade points and some varying dialog, but either way you never see the hostage or the bad guy ever again. I’m basically okay with that, as long as the game doesn’t jerk you around by creating “Sophie’s Choice: The Videogame” where you just plow through a constant stream of frustrating no-win situations.

Leave the crazy man in his cell to die in an explosion, or open the door and murder him myself? I don't know that the morality arrow has much to say about this decision.
Leave the crazy man in his cell to die in an explosion, or open the door and murder him myself? I don't know that the morality arrow has much to say about this decision.

On the other hand, we always end up having the same damn arguments over what each path “means”. And these arguments always end up in the same gutter, because they don’t actually mean anything. They’re just a low-cost way of telegraphing, rewarding, and acknowledging player choices. There’s no clear philosophy behind them other than “nice” and “meanie”, even though individual choices can be interesting thought experiments and make sense in isolation. This is probably because actually judging player behavior would require knowing why they’re doing the thing they’re doing.

One of my favorite illustrations of this problem is here on Virmire. The Salarians are going to attack Saren’s base head-on to create a diversion, while you sneak in the back. It’s basically a suicide mission for them. During your ingress, you run into several opportunities to make life easier or harder for the Salarians out front. You can destroy the Geth communications array. You can ground their air units. You can set off various alarms to make the enemy move into a different position. Each of these actions will allow you to fight more foes so your allies can fight less.

The paragon / renegade points are awarded under the assumption that taking more heat on yourself is altruistic and paragon-ish, and easing your way by dumping more foes on your allies is the renegade thing to do.

I saved Ashley because I love space-racism, but the game didn't give me any renegade points for it.
I saved Ashley because I love space-racism, but the game didn't give me any renegade points for it.

Let’s ignore that fact that some of these actions (like blowing up the communications array) can easily happen by accident in a firefight, without you even realizing you’d done something other than shoot some robots. What’s funny about this situation is when I tried playing through this section as a renegade. I wanted to fight as many Geth as possible, because they’re filled with lovely delicious XP that will level me up and let me kick more ass. The game assumed that I was killing these Geth because I wanted to help my allies, but in reality I was motivated by simple videogame bloodlust. Helping your allies is undeniably the optimal thing to do, so you kind of have to screw yourself here if you’re fishing for renegade points.

No matter how many choices you give the player or how much granularity you offer for their reasoning, I don’t think you can make a system like this work outside of Star WarsAnd even then, the game will need to make assumptions about how you “feel” about the choice you’re making., but at the same time I’d hate to see them abandon it entirely. Like the Mako, the Paragade system isn’t perfect and sometimes it’s downright irritating, but the game would feel shallower if it wasn’t there.

Saren and Indoctrination

How appropriate. You fight like a cow.
How appropriate. You fight like a cow.

Here on Virmire Saren has captured some Salarians and stuck them in prison cells to expose them (somehow) to Sovereign’s indoctrination field. This is where the Reapers start to take on that “Elder Gods” vibe. Just being near them will inevitably warp your mind and bend you to their will. This isn’t a brute-force enslavement like the Thorian, where you’re tormented if you don’t do what the master says. This is subtle, quiet, and insidious. You might not even know its happening.

When we finally confront Saren, he reveals that there’s a trade-off at work here. Indoctrination can work fast and turn you into a gibbering psycho, or it can work slow and you keep your skill and mental acuity. Saren’s thinking is that he can give the galaxy – or himself – a more favorable outcome by being useful to Sovereign so that Sovereign will let him keep his mind. This also reveals that Saren has already fallen and he can’t even see it. You can tell he’s delusional. He’s blind to the truth that this cycle has repeated countless times. No doubt lots of people tried to do what Saren is doing, and in the end it didn’t make any difference. You can die standing still, you can die struggling, but either way you and your civilization are going to die.

This makes Sovereign a much more terrifying threat than simply showing that he’s got powerful space-lasers and Level 100 shields. Maybe we can invent better guns or get better armor, but how do we defend ourselves from undetectable mental manipulation? How do we protect against agents of the enemy when they themselves might not even know they’re serving the enemy? It drives home the point that even if we could somehow miraculously overcome our staggering technology disadvantage, we would still be hopelessly outmatched by the superior intelligence and experience of our enemy.

Uh. Garrus? Little help, buddy? You don't seem very busy.
Uh. Garrus? Little help, buddy? You don't seem very busy.

The research that Saren is doing is the biggest clue in the game that Saren is – or was – fighting against indoctrination. If he was truly loyal (either ideologically, or because he’s too far gone to have a will of his own) then he wouldn’t be spending his time studying this. But he knows that the indoctrination field exists, he knows he’s susceptible to it, and he probably suspects that once he’s fully indoctrinated, he won’t know it. So he’s looking for a way to work against Sovereign without losing himself. It’s a doomed plan, of course, but Saren would rather embrace a pipe dream like “outsmart a machine god” than give up and die. This is both why he chose to serve Sovereign, and why Sovereign chose him as his principal servant.

The game never spells any of this out for us, of course, but it is the simplest and most satisfying explanation for his behavior. There have been times in the game where Saren makes some poor decisions. He leaves the beacon behind on Eden Prime, which gives Shepard a chance to use it. You can nitpick lots of his moves like this, but “indoctrination” is a handy excuse that can plug almost any of his possible plot holes. If we accept that he’s mostly a thrall to to Sovereign but he’s sort of fighting back in small ways then we can excuse any of his mistakes.

This is another area where trust in the storyteller is crucial. If we trust the author, then we give them the benefit of the doubt. If the rest of the story is stupid action schlock, then we’re not going to go looking for subtlety and subtext when someone does something apparently dumb. We’ll just assume they’re an idiot like everyone else in the story.

Kaiden vs. Ashley

I'm looking for a volunteer to stay behind and die heroically. The first person to do that overused 'arms folding' animation gets the job.
I'm looking for a volunteer to stay behind and die heroically. The first person to do that overused 'arms folding' animation gets the job.

Everyone talks about this decision. “Kaiden vs. Ashley – WHO DID YOU SAVE?” I see polls now and again. Most of them seem to indicate the split is roughly even. I actually don’t feel strongly one way or the other. Being human, they’re both tied for last place in my list of favorite characters in Mass Effect 1. I don’t dislike them, but I also didn’t experience the gut-punch sense of loss that the writer clearly hoped I’d feel.

Ashley feels a little more “real” and vibrant – I’ve known a few Ashley-types in my life. Kaiden is a little more quiet and distant. He comes off as boring at first because he doesn’t seem to be very passionate about things the way Ashley is, and you’ve actually got to dig for a while before you get to the interesting parts of his backstory.

I do find it interesting that the split is so even when so many people played as Maleshep. I don’t have numbers for Mass Effect 1, but in Mass Effect 3 the breakdown is a landslide 82% to 18% victory of Maleshep over Femshep. If we assume that the numbers are similar in Mass Effect 1And they could conceivably be worse. Remember that Femshep got an HD facelift and appeared on the box in Mass Effect 3, which might have boosted the number of people playing as female in the third game. then it makes the Kaiden vs. Ashley outcome even more strange. You’d assume that a lot of people would go for the obvious early-game romance, which would stack the odds drastically against Kaiden. But it comes out about even?

Maybe Liara messes up the romance numbers, since she’s available as a partner to either gender? Maybe too many people interpreted Ashley as racist? Maybe a lot of people couldn’t prevent Wrex from dying and blamed Ashley? Maybe Ash’s personality just doesn’t resonate with the typical sci-fi fan the way quiet Kaiden’s does? I honestly don’t know.

In any case, it was an interesting and rewarding choice, even if I didn’t personally bear the emotional brunt of it. It’s a good character development moment for the team, it raises the stakes a bit by showing not everyone gets to go home, and it gives the player a huge degree of agency to choose who lives and who dies. And unlike some decisions in the series, this one stands. You don’t come back in Mass Effect 3 and find robo-Kaiden, or clone Ashley, or revived-by-Cerberus Kaiden, or VI-hologram Ashley, or whatever. Dead is dead.



[1] Although narratively, I think KOTOR wins out. A bit.

[2] And even then, the game will need to make assumptions about how you “feel” about the choice you’re making.

[3] And they could conceivably be worse. Remember that Femshep got an HD facelift and appeared on the box in Mass Effect 3, which might have boosted the number of people playing as female in the third game.

From The Archives:

232 thoughts on “Mass Effect Retrospective 9: Paragade

  1. Henson says:

    “You don't come back in Mass Effect 3 and find robo-Kaiden, or clone Ashley, or revived-by-Cerberus Kaiden, or VI-hologram Ashley, or whatever.”

    I bet the Bioware writers are kicking themselves right now. “Damn it, why didn’t we think of that?”

    1. Grimwear says:

      That’s better than Dragon Age 2, where even if you chopped off Leliana’s head in DA:O they basically said, “Nuh uh! She wasn’t dead yet. She got better.”

      1. Orillion says:

        Be fair, they didn’t know Leliana would be the best character in the first game.

      2. guy says:

        I am of the opinion that Lelianna is the single most qualified character in the entire setting for spontaneous returning from the dead.

        1. Mike S. says:

          It’s hard to see how that works. The Maker, if he exists, is the ultimate hands-off deity. It’s core Andrastian theology that he turned his back on the world after Andraste was burned, and won’t relent until the Chant of Light is sung from the four corners of the world.

          There’s not much support in any of the religions or magic systems of Thedas for returning from the dead period, as far as I know. Your body can be inhabited by a spirit, before death (Wynne, Anders, every abomination) or after (Justice/Kristoff, various undead). (And wouldn’t it be a kick in the pants if the rather more driven and potentially more ruthless Leliana were actually a Fade spirit in her body?)

          Healing is obviously doable, and Oghren explains away all the Andrastian stuff surrounding the Urn as spirits + a high lyrium concentration in the mountains.

          But if Leliana is actually confirmed dead in some unambiguous way (head cut off, say), returning from that is as far as I know outside even their extant myths.

          Since I’ve never tried desecrating the Ashes, I have no idea how ambiguous her death actually is. If she’s just on the ground and not moving, sure, she may have just gotten better.

          (But a Warden treading that path seems as if he or she would be smart and ruthless enough to double-tap.)

          1. Grimwear says:

            Well it literally comes down to slight chance. You can kill her at which point her body just falls to the ground or you can actually get a head cut off animation. Regardless, once the battle is over and you loot her the body disappears and becomes a pile of bones.

          2. guy says:

            Lelianna is the only character alive who claims to have actually been contacted by the Maker. That is in direct contradiction of Chantry doctrine, but she claims it anyway.

            1. Mike S. says:

              It’s really a shame that conservation of detail in sequels means that Leliana becoming Divine can’t have the major ramifications that it should. In the face of the vacuum created in the Chantry hierarchy by the events at the beginning of Inquisition, the impact should be on the level of Pope John Calvin. Or possibly Pope Joseph Smith.

              1. Deadpool says:

                Honestly, I’d prefer if Dragon Age went more the way of “You make choices but we pick the true canon” than the wishy washy “You make choices and we pretend they matter in the next game” that Mass Effect did.

    2. Zekiel says:

      As several people have said, Bioware missed a really, really obvious trick by not having the StarChild at the end of ME3 use the form of whichever Ashley or Kaiden is dead…

      1. James says:

        Or throughout the game, just ignore the star child and make it Kashley and make Shep indoctrinated or something. oh well hindsight is 20/20 i suppose

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          I really didn’t care for the indoctrination theory. MrBTongue articulates why better than I could but basically, the story ceases to mean anything. All details are up in the air, we have no basis for comparison. Any plotholes are conveniently spackled over.

          I feel like its equivalent to the complaints about ideas in real life that are not falsifiable. We don’t know if there’s such thing as invisible pink unicorns. We can’t prove the indoctrination theory isn’t happening, but if thats true, we also can’t say what is happening or even what has happened. It could just as easily be the case that Shepard was indoctrinated fully on Eden Prime and everything after that is a hallucination representing Shepard fighting the mind control. After all, the details about how it works (the bit about it needing to be slow if you want to keep the mind) are related after that, so it could be part of the hallucination as well. We don’t know that it actually takes that long. Basically the Newhart ending.

          I would have even gone for a basic “Yay! We beat Cthulu, lets have a party.” ending over that.

          In fact, I don’t think the ending we actually got is as bad as the Indoctrination Theory. All the leading fan complaints apply to it equally, it denies the player choice (and in fact retroactively invalidates choices we’ve already made because we hallucinated making them), it defies the themes, it takes us from a universe that has rules to one that doesn’t, and we don’t get to reunite with our friends. In fact, we don’t even know if our friends even are our friends. Maybe your LI is a pillow.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            the story ceases to mean anything

            As opposed to the actual ending.

          2. INH5 says:

            You’re right about that. This kind of plot twist needs to be handled with great care, because if done wrongly it can easily render the whole story pointless. Generally, the best way to do it is, as MrBTongue said, lay down some simple rules for where the distortion of reality is and how it functions and stick to them through the whole story.

            For example, in Fight Club when the big reveal happens there are several quick flashbacks that establish nearly everything we saw happen in the movie did actually happen, it’s just that most of things we saw Tyler doing were actually done by the narrator.

            Similarly, in Spec Ops The Line, the ending makes it clear that, apart from the obvious hallucinations, only the parts where Walker was talking to Konrad were hallucinatory, and even then it was usually only the speech coming out of the radio that wasn't real.

            Even if we accept the evidence of the Indoctrination Theory, the progression is all wrong for something like this. Supposedly, Shepard starts out seeing realistic hallucinations of the boy while he is awake, then for most of the game he sees the boy only in dreams while allegedly all of his perceptions while awake are lucid (even though he spends a decent amount of time around Reapers during ME3's campaign). Then suddenly at the end, Shepard is knocked out and transitions to fully hallucinatory dreamworlds. Like you say, it raises questions about what else wasn't real.

            But the single biggest problem with the Indoctrination Theory, and which really should have stopped the whole thing before it started is this: About 2/3 of the way through the game Shepard walks right up to a Prothean VI that has the demonstrated ability to detect indoctrinated organics, and is programmed to shut down if any indoctricated organics approach it, and it doesn’t have any adverse reactions to Shepard at all. Then at the end of the Cerberus base mission, right before the final mission and maybe a few hours before the ending, Shepard meets the VI again, and it still doesn’t negatively react to Shepard.

            So it’s an open and shut case. By the end of the Cerberus base mission, Shepard was not indoctrinated. Period. You can’t even speculate that something happened in Priority: Earth to greatly accelerate the process, because all that happens there is that Shepard fights Reaper ground forces, gets within a few hundred feet of a Hades Cannon (whatever that is), gets within a mile of a Reaper Destroyer, and gets within a few miles of Harbinger. If any of that was enough to rapidly indoctrinate Shepard, it would have already happened on any of the many, many previous levels that had Shepard fighting husks while Reapers stomp around in the background.

            1. guy says:

              It also doesn’t really match how Indoctrination was previously established to work. There have been previous encounters and logs from people mid-indoctrination. The primary noticible symptom is apparently a pervasive chorus of whispering, with vague visual hallucinations at the edge of vision, and either memory transfer among victims or false memories based off events they’ve heard described. Shepard displays precisely none of those symptoms. Plus, there has been no sign that indoctrination victims are ever not aware of what is happening around them.

      2. Wide And Nerdy says:

        Problem is, they were trying to accommodate people who were coming in fresh on ME3 (and a lot of people who jumped on with ME2). The Virmire survivor would mean nothing to them.

        1. Mike S. says:

          I’d guess that a flashback, or conversational references to Virmire, could have been inserted for no more resource investment than the initial encounter with the boy on Earth and his dream sequences. For a new player, either one is about building investment in someone you know little about, and the idea that a soldier would be haunted by past losses isn’t out of left field.

          Basically, handle it the same way as the first game handles Akuze or Torfan or the Blitz, except with the addition that Shepard actually keeps seeing and hearing her first big loss of the Reaper conflict. (Sorry, Jenkins.)

          Though Jenkins wouldn’t be awful in principle: the first Normandy crewman to die in this war. But it requires hiring another actor, has fewer characters who recall him (just Anderson, Chakwas, Joker, and Adams), and returning players have less reason to care about him.

          1. MrGuy says:

            Some crew member died!

            1. Thomas says:

              I don’t know if it would elevate the character, or make it worse by just reminding people what a useless and predictable character he was

              1. Mike S. says:

                Chakwas’s reminiscence about Jenkins while drunk made me think that he could have been salvaged in retrospect and made into a symbol. (Add some manipulative bits– you’re already visiting Eden Prime in ME3, so have Shepard meet his parents or his widow and kids there as they’re evacuating the planet.)

                But it’s probably more trouble than it would be worth– Kaidan/Ashley is much simpler.

          2. Wide And Nerdy says:

            I’d have loved to see it be Comrade Verner.

    3. Wide And Nerdy says:

      See I don’t understand the complaint. Lets break it down.

      Arlakh Squad is going to have a leader whether its Grunt or not. And it makes sense that you’d be coordinating with the leader.

      Whether its Wrex or Wreav, Urdnot clan is going to have a Chief and there are plot important differences between the two.

      If Tali is dead, they don’t replace her. Any essential dialog with her is handled via another quarian admiral who is on the ship whether or not Tali is there.

      Mordin is the only problematic one. He’s supposedly the one who tips off Wrex about the research into the cure. If its not him, then its conceivable that Maelon did. But it is possible for both Maelon and Mordin to be dead. They could have handled this by having it established that Eve is such a compelling and charismatic figure that she wins the sympathy of whichever Salarian doctor is assigned to her (Mordin or Not-Mordin). But either way, once you accept the idea that there’s going to be a cure, there has to be a doctor assigned to work on it.

      Also, if you want to be cynical, there aren’t replacements for Kaiden or Ashley because one is the replacement for the other storywise and they can count on at least one of the two being alive thanks to the decision to limit them to a cameo in ME2.

      1. Christopher says:

        The complaint, at least in my case, is that choosing different things should lead to different paths, not stand-ins or being locked out of content. It’s not about in-game logic. I’ve had this conversation in these comments before, mind. I get that it’s not a viable option, either financially or manpower-wise. But if the different choices have microscopic effects, then they aren’t a pull for me anymore.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          The impact is the characters themselves. Mordin is the best character in the series. Having Not-Mordin for that mission makes me feel the loss.

          And I think you’re putting the causality cart before the horse.

          You’re dealing with Wrex or Wreav not because of them but because the Turians want Krogan troops on their homeworld if they’re going to commit their fleet to Shepard. Thus if you’re dealing with Mordin or Not-Mordin its because the Krogan leader is using this as a bargaining chip to get the cure. If those things are going to happen along one branch, there’s nothing about the squad members living or dying that should have a large impact on that sequence (the biggest impact makes the most sense, whether or not you trust the Krogan leadership enough to actually lift the cure. They bubble that event nicely)

          You’re doing this stuff because it needs to be done. It just so happens that if your buddies are alive, you can work in some time with them.

          1. Christopher says:

            I’m not arguing about how much sense it makes ingame to have the death of a companion affect the story. I’m saying that what I want out of choices is meaningful gameplay differences, different stages, a different route for the story. That’s apparently not what you want, and as a result you’re happy with a different kind of impact, while I think it is understandable but weak.

            1. Wide And Nerdy says:

              Its cool when choices have impact. I’m just addressing these specific choices. They make sense to me. I’ve heard people complain about these specific choices before.

        2. INH5 says:

          Though the thing is, I think that for most players characters dying in ME2’s suicide mission wasn’t a choice, but instead a consequence. Unlike Ashley/Kaiden or to a lesser degree Wrex, I think that very few people made an explicit choice of “I want this character to die.” More likely they thought something like “when we met Thane he crawled out of a vent, so I bet he’s the right guy to go through this vent,” or “Miranda says she can handle the biotic bubble thing, so sure, she’s on bubble duty,” or “this game has no space combat elements, so I don’t see the point in researching these upgrades to the ship’s armor and guns.” In fact, ME3 Final Hours says that Thane, Jack, Tali, and Legion have the lowest survival rates of all the ME2 squadmates because they die if you don’t research the right ship upgrades.

          In my case, I sent Grunt to escort the crew back to the ship because I figured that escorting a bunch of unarmed people through the Collector base would be a really tough job. Then at the end I didn’t even realize that the game was going to measure how good at defending the people you left behind to guard your back were, so I took Garrus along with me to fight the final boss. As a result Zaeed, who wasn’t loyal because I had saved the factory workers and didn’t have enough Paragade points to get his loyalty anyway, died.

          This is why I’m torn on things like this. On the one hand, having some plot difference with Padok Wiks like having him be unable to save Eve or easier to persuade into not curing the genophage would give player choices more impact and add some weight to Mordin’s mantra of “had to be me, someone else might have gotten it wrong.” On the other hand, I know that a lot of people had Mordin die because, like me, they didn’t even think about the rear guard calculation, and Mordin is the first on the chopping block there if everyone is loyal. It’s a legitimate question if attaching even more heavy story consequences to what was for most players who made that “choice” just a mistake is a good idea.

          But I still think Padok Wiks is one of the best handled ME3 replacements, because he’s fleshed out enough and distinct enough from Mordin that scenes with him legitimately feel different even if all of the same things end up happening.

        3. Joe Informatico says:

          But BioWare’s writing strengths have always been character, not plot. By and large, BioWare plots are boilerplate Hero’s Journey/Chosen One Above the Rules stuff, or built around characterization (e.g., Revan, Hawke). Even something potentially interesting like ME1 (however much it’s built on KOTOR’s foundation) was just hammered into a rote Messianic plot by ME2.

          Maybe that means the ME2 “anyone can die” suicide mission premise was bullshit marketing crap. I certainly think it is–if Shepard dies in ME2 they’re replaced with a different Commander Shepard? Are they the cousin who happened to enter the exact same field? Or maybe it means the alternate versions of essential characters should have been more interesting and fleshed out characters of their own, instead of bland exposition delivery vehicles. But I don’t think massive dicking around with branching plotlines (outside of consequences in the epilogue) is in BioWare’s wheelhouse. BioWare gonna BioWare.

          1. INH5 says:

            If Shepard dies at the end of ME2, then you just can’t import the save into ME3.

            1. Mike S. says:

              If they’d thought of it, there’d have been something to be said for following Shepard’s death with something like what happens in the Arrival DLC if the countdown timer runs out.

              (Shown slowed down for more detail here.)

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        The complaint is that things youve mentioned were built around those companions,whether or not they are alive,with an added replacement as an afterthought.Compare it to witcher 3,where if you let triss go,any content that would involve here later on is simply gone.

        There was no need to deal with clan urdnot,other than it was wrexs clan.There was no need to have a rachni enemy other than rachni were mentioned in me1.There was no need for mirandas father to be involved with anything in that plot.There was no need for that school for biotics.Etc,etc,etc.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          I don’t know if you’re talking about ME2 or ME3. In two, you’re dealing with Clan Urdnot not because of Wrex, but because of Grunt. And one clan is as good as another.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Riiiiight,because grunt couldnt have been any other clan because…um,reasons.And we needed a warrior krogan instead of the scientist krogan,who was bait and switch because…um,other reasons.

            1. Wide And Nerdy says:

              Grunt needed to visit a clan. Something was wrong with him. He needed Krogan help. You want them to put in a completely different clan for us to visit just to make Wrex death more impactful? From a meta perspective, Grunt needed a loyalty mission and helping him with his rite of passage makes a lot of sense for the character.

              I don’t know what your complaint about Okeer dying for Grunt is. I took it as things not going according to plan We wanted Okeer, we didn’t get him. He left Grunt behind. We decided to use Grunt. It was nice to see that not everything goes according to plan.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                Again,Im questioning the very existence of grunt.He was there only to fill the wrex hole.Everything that comes from that is irrelevant.Same goes for every other stand in.Their whole missions are pointless,they are pointless.There are very few things that have been established and developed earlier that actually make sense for them to happen,other than “because first game”.Those are the genophage mission and geth/quarian resolution.The rest are simply “See,its still the same series!We havent forgotten!Like us!”.

                And the bait and switch with grunt was laaaaaame.Here we finally have another crew member with actual useful skills for the main mission(other one being mordin),but naaah,we dont need him when we have this foot soldier.

                1. Wide And Nerdy says:

                  If you’re going to write off a whole game, fine. I find the experience of being around those characters in that universe more meaningful than staying right on the damn Reaper plot all the time. They’re a neat villain but they really aren’t three games worth of neat and I want more than one game in the ME universe. If you don’t, then ME1 should have you plenty satisfied.

      3. Henson says:

        Complaint? I wasn’t complaining, just indulging my usual snark. I haven’t played ME3, so I don’t know how well the character-swapping works.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          I was just grouping my comment under yours. Keeping discussion of that point to one section of the comments.

    4. Hitch says:

      I think it would have been much better if Shamus’ favorite character, Kai Leng, had turned out to be revived-by-Cerberus robo-Kaiden.

      1. Daimbert says:

        It definitely would, as it could give him a reason to hate you and give him some kind of link or personality. For me, Kai Leng was a bug on the windshield, not a credible threat or any kind of real nemesis. They didn’t even pull off the “The new version of you!” idea.

    5. MrGuy says:

      Wait – Miranda and Jacob AREN’T supposed to be Ashley and Kaiden clones?

      1. Mike S. says:

        They really don’t have much in common other than Jacob and Kaidan both being biotic. Kaidan’s a straight-arrow working through legitimately serious trauma, who’s inclined to be your conscience. Jacob’s all about going outside the system when given half an excuse to decide it’s not working. (His Corsair career, Cerberus, sneaking up to Shepard’s room however hamhandedly.) In the game’s terms, Kaidan’s a Paragon Sole Survivor (even if not technically), Jacob’s a mildly Renegade War Hero.

        Likewise, Ashley’s a grunt who loves her family and keeps her head down, Miranda’s a certified genetic genius science/admin type who hates her dad and wants everyone to know how special she is. There’s not a lot of overlap at all.

    6. Blinky says:

      “Revived by Cerberus dead crewmate indoctrinated into hating you for abandoning them on Virmire” would have been a much more compelling dragon than Kai Leng.

  2. Da Mage says:

    Again I have to look at Fallout New Vegas for a really decent Karma system. Truely evil acts (like cannibalism, unprovoked murder etc) will earn bad karma, but helping people will earn good karma. The karma level also don’t effect gameplay too often, and it is more important to gain favor with factions rather then always ‘do the right thing’.

    The good guys will sometimes make you do bad things, and the bad guys will still want you to do good things. Way better then the ‘this guy is evil, you earn evil points by doing his tasks’.

    In Mass Effect I liked to have a high paragon and renegade so that I could actually choose the option that made the most sense, instead of it being locked behind a silly point system.

    1. Erik Baars says:

      You make a decent point EXCEPT:

      They fucked it all up by giving you bad karma from looting from enemy factions that attack you.
      “I’m being attacked by legion soldiers because im hated by them. Better give me bad karma for looting that crate they where standing next to”

      1. Da Mage says:

        Agreed, the whole stolen flagged items is a bit of a mess. If I killed a camp of legion bad guys and the killing didn’t effect my karma, why does taking their knick-knacks count as bad.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Its pretty funny to kill raiders and get positive karma for that,then rob the house they were in and get negative karma.

        But its obvious that when making new vegas they wanted to ditch karma completely,which is why its used only in a few cases.Your reputation is much more important,which is a good thing.

        Also,cannibalism is not a truly evil option.But it can be a very pragmatic one.

      3. James says:

        I’d expect that id was wayyyy to much work to fix the system or specifically flag certain owned items as not theft or remove flags when x dies or something. sure it would have added to immersion for some people. like you like me. but overall not really worth it.

        1. pdk1359 says:

          Or alternatively, some kind of victory setting, so if you’ve slaughtered everyone in a enemy faction holding (or just killed the boss/site commander) the faction loses possession of the site and you can take things freely.

          Or if the victory condition wasn’t directly tied to killing the boss, you could also set it to your effective allegiance; you’ve gotten in good with the brotherhood of steel? well now you can loot powder ganger stuff, as a valid privateer.

          oh, well.

    2. Bitterpark says:

      I dislike the Fallout karma system in general, I’d rather they ditched that altogether and just left the reputation system. There’s just too many ways in which it doesn’t work or can be exploited. My (least) favorite one is how the game rewards good karma for killing feral ghouls in certain areas. As an evil, self-interested character, I killed them to get their loot or in pure self-defense, but still got good karma which felt like the game is wrongly interpreting my character, just like in the virmire geth example. Would an evil person run away, or lay their weapons down and let the ghoul kill them? Doesn’t make a lot of sense.

      1. SlothfulCobra says:

        They practically scrapped it in New Vegas. There was still karma, but it was mostly vestigial. All it really did was scold you for stealing (and maybe killing innocents, but I can’t remember), and it also provided a sort of benchmark for your companions to tell whether or not you’re a massive jerk.

    3. Wide And Nerdy says:

      Pillars of Eternity does it even better. They keep faction reputation like in Fallout but they replace Karma with some kind of trait/personality/reputation hybrid.

      -Benevolent: charitable, kind, soft, or weak.

      -Cruel: merciless, sadistic, brutal, or imperious.

      -Clever: sarcastic, sassy, foppish, or irreverent.

      -Stoic: tight-lipped, cool-headed, or simple-minded.

      -Aggressive: hot-headed, bold, or impatient.

      -Diplomatic: cautious, tame, or courteous.

      -Passionate: zealous, romantic, or obsessive.

      -Rational: practical, standoffsh, or cold.

      -Honest: guileless, sincere, or straightforward.

      -Deceptive: dishonest, manipulative, or shrewd.

      You accrue points in each separately and they affect how NPCs react to you sometimes in surprising ways.

      For example, I was able to get an enemy to hesitate to attack me because I had a reputation for Cruelty, when they asked why they should trust me to let them go, my simultaneous reputation for Benevolence came into play. I was able to persuade them by showing that I am cruel to my enemies and kind to my friends. They could do more with it but its the most nuanced system I’ve personally encountered in a video game rpg.

      Now one advantage fallout new vegas had was that it allowed mixed bag faction reputations. You could be known as someone who had done both good and bad things for a particular faction and your reputation would reflect it.

      If you combine that with POE’s disposition system, you’d have the best system yet.

      1. Joe Informatico says:

        And there’s a system for Priests where their holy aura of buffing gets more or less powerful depending on how much the priest embodies their chosen deity’s preferred reputations. Didn’t play one so I’m not sure how it works in practice, but I appreciate the attempt to encourage characters whose powers are dependent on a deity’s good favour to try and retain that deity’s favour.

        1. Orillion says:

          Personally, I hate that no matter what system it’s in. You should never control your player’s allowed behaviour just because they wanted to play the “wrong” class. With my paladin I at least had a decent choice in the Darcozzi Paladini, but it still prevented me from choosing options I would have if I knew it wouldn’t affect my combat performance.

          1. Wide And Nerdy says:

            At least with priests, both in this game and in D&D, the behavior restrictions are dictated by your choice of deity which makes the maximum possible sense.

            And in Pillars, even the Paladin can choose which order she belongs too and thus which restrictions she roleplays under.

            1. Thomas says:

              And all the classes in Pillars come with their unique twist on the world, so I feel like it just makes Paladins more special. I don’t think it ever becomes unplayable if you go against your God either (although early on in design they were talking about creating consequences for that?)

            2. Orillion says:

              Sure, but mechanically they’re balanced against every other class, generally. It’s just that, for reasons that can only be explained by Gary Gygax (since that’s basically where it started), clergy members of both types are often railroaded into a specific way of acting. I wanted to be a dispassionate smartass, but none of the order options allow for that. Darcozzi is the closest, but Passionate is specifically one of the allowed behaviours while Rational is disfavoured.

              If I have to act a certain way (because traditionâ„¢) I want to be measurably rewarded for that, but it’s more like you get to be on par with everyone else if you act the right way.

              1. Wide And Nerdy says:

                Then play another class. There are only two classes in Pillars that have those requirements (and in D&D the vast majority of classes don’t have those requirements.) There’s sufficient variety. And allowing Paladins of just any old disposition destroys there meaning. Allowing cold dispassionate Paladins destroys that identity. Paladins are righteous crusaders.

                And it really depends on the edition of DnD as to whether Paladins or Clerics have an advantage over other classes. In 3rd edition, Clerics and Druids (who have their own roleplay requirements) were considered the two strongest core classes. In Pathfinder, I’d say Paladins definitely have an overall edge on fighters.

                1. Was the 3E Druid/Cleric considered the most powerful before or after they nerfed spell duration? As I recall, the use of “Stoneskin” made them pretty much invulnerable, and it originally lasted based on however many points of damage were taken vs. the caster’s level and only then it dispelled.

                  There was another weapon spell that would also last a really long time, though which one it was escapes me for the moment.

                  1. guy says:

                    They were considered the most powerful before and after. They had a few things going for them.

                    1) Every Cleric and Druid has access to the entire spell list. Thus they can prepare whichever spells they expect to be most effective. They also automatically get every new spell printed.
                    2) Cleric buffs are pretty solid. They can cast a spell that gives them Fighter BaB, and then they have spells left over.
                    3) Druids don’t have the Cleric self-buffs, but they can turn into a bear. And there’s a feat that lets them cast spells while transformed.

          2. I don’t think you get how currying favor with a deity works…

            1. Wide And Nerdy says:

              Especially given that its a plot point that the gods, though real, were created to impose morality and order on the chaos and barbarism of the age. Thus there would be heavy ludonarrative dissonance if the gods were lax about how Paladins and Priests behaved.

    4. Bropocalypse says:

      It kind of rubbed me slightly wrong that cannibalism was an inherently evil act. I mean, the person’s already dead(for better or worse). It’s just recycling at that point.

    5. Pseudonym says:

      I’d also point out that it isn’t strictly “unprovoked murder” that you lose Karma for, it’s “killing characters that the game has flagged as innocent”. As far as I know you can kill as many members of Caeser’s Legion as you like without losing anything, even if they don’t shoot first.

      1. That’s more arbitrary in Fallout 3, since some people are flagged as “evil” right out of the box.

        The problem comes down to intent vs. real-world effect, I suppose. I mean, killing some random dude suddenly earns me good karma whether or not I know if he’s a criminal or not.

        Caesar’s Legion might not be a great example, though, since I believe the first time you see them, they’re torching Nipton and crucifying people. I don’t think I’ve ever gone out of my way to find and kill any Legionaries before that encounter. I don’t think they’re flagged as totally evil, however, as you lose karma for stealing from them (at least in the camp where they have powder gangers held prisoner).

    6. The Rocketeer says:

      New Vegas, like its predecessor, made karma way too easy to reverse. When I realized my character had slipped pretty far towards the Evil end, I cleared out the Fiends in Vault 3, and ended up far into the Good end of the scale. Nevermind that gunning people down, regardless of who it is, should probably never result in good karma; the fact stands that about fifteen minutes of unloading some .45-70 was all it took to turn me from a “Devil” to a “Messiah.” Karma is a trivial non-consequence.

      And while having a sliding karma scale isn’t an invalid choice per se, it seems much stranger in New Vegas, occupying the same space as faction reputation. They went out of their way to design faction reputation so that good deeds and bad deeds don’t cancel each other out like they do for karma; people don’t forget you murdered their friend just because you delivered some mail for them, and vice versa. But the Wasteland as a whole, or the powers that be, or whatever, really do forget all the rotten things you’ve done as long as the past fifteen minutes paint you in a good light. Either system is fine on its own, but it seems strange to have a more grounded, cumulative, and permanent system like reputation overlaying a mystical, sliding, fickle system.

      1. Bropocalypse says:

        On the other hand, stealing a couple dozen pencils will also land you squarely in Eviltown.

      2. Syal says:

        That’s been a problem with Fallout since the original; survival pretty much always gets you light side points.

        It would be interesting to try to develop a binary system that worked better. What if getting yourself to one side of the scale gave a resistance to gaining points in the other direction? So murder gives you -50, and delivering mail gives you +2, but when you’re at -50 you get a -5 to positive gains so delivering mail does nothing, rescuing a cat goes from +6 to +1 and such.

  3. Thomas says:

    Faction points.

    In ME4, the protagonist should meet with two factions who’re ideologically opposed to each other in this part of the universe (or two Godlike beings or two parts of the Alliance) and actions should gain you reputation with one or the other faction.

    It even helps with the writing because you don’t have to contrive ridiculous evil scenarios and what impresses a faction or not can be more mushy and ill-defined. And it gives you a really easy ideological conflict to hang the themes of the game on.

    1. Thomas says:

      It doesn’t even have to make a lot of sense. If you’re divided between working for the military part of the Alliance or the exploration and science part, they can give you point depending on whether you look at flowers or stamp on them and you don’t really have to explain how the Alliance _knows_ you’ve stamped on a flower. And hopefully it still feels good in the way Shamus explained

    2. Zekiel says:

      Yes absolutely. Obsidian seem to prefer this approach, as evidenced by Fallout New Vegas and Pillars of Eternity.

      Actually one approach to roleplaying in ME1 (only) kind of fits this factional approach – you can quite successful roleplay Shepard as either “humans first” or “everyone together” and (if I recall correctly) either approach will sometimes lead to paragon points and sometimes to renegade. (ME2 to some extent and ME3 to a stupid extent unfortunately assumed you’ll be “humans first”)

      1. James says:

        ME 3’s system was the best of them all. you didn’t need 20 Paragon points for the 20 paragon hard option you just needed 20 Reputation (paragon and renegade combined). so you could role-play effectively combined with some people importing a character that was like level 30 or something and you basically started the game with max reputation.

        1. Ringwraith says:

          Yeah, this was a great version of the system. Like a lot of mechanical things, they only really got it down on the third try.
          The overall leaning of paragon/renegade determined what sort of reactions people had to you instead of solely dictating what persuade options you can take.

    3. Syal says:

      You’ve convinced me that Mass Effect 4 should be a System Shock crossover.

      1. Orillion says:

        Pretty sure they already did that, and sold it as Project Overlord.

    4. MrGuy says:

      Why do you even need to introduce new factions? Just have a reputation with the Quarians, the Humans, the Salarians, the Turians, the Geth, the Krogans, etc., based on how you’ve interacted with that group before. Heck, have separate reputations for the Krogan rebels, or any other “non-leadership” group within a race.

      It’s not unreasonable for the Quarians of the fleet to know how you’ve interacted with Quarians (or, for that matter, Geth) elsewhere.

      1. Thomas says:

        Most of those races are unlikely to be present in ME4. The idea is new galaxy, new worlds, new people.

        I was also thinking how you could fit it into a more generic “every action improves your points with one of two things” and make it feel better than Paragon/Renegade, so that’s what I think having to factions would do. (And they could be anything from direct competitors to near Gods).

        Personally though, I agree with you that I would prefer standard faction points ala New Vegas. But I’d be interested at least in seeing what happens with a game with a faction binary.

        1. Mike S. says:

          I bet most or all of them will have gotten there the same way the humans did. (Whatever that turns out to be.) Quarians and geth may be dropped, depending on when the trip to Andromeda took place. (Especially since their story is really over regardless of how ME3 goes, and if Bioware is smart they’ll keep the new series far away from the AI Question by some handwave or other.) But I’m guessing krogan, turians, and probably salarians and asari will all be there.

          1. INH5 says:

            We know that at least one krogan will be there, because a krogan is visible in the E3 trailer for about half a second. If the krogan made to Andromeda, it’s a safe bet that more established races like the turian, asari, and salarians (and maybe even the hanar, elcor, and volus, all of whom have better standing in galactic society than the krogan) got there too.

            The presence of quarians and especially the geth would be hard to explain in just about any imaginable backstory, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they somehow end up in Andromeda anyway because 1) those races are really popular with the fans, and 2) the Geth Juggernaut not being available in ME4 multiplayer would be a great loss.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “This also reveals that Saren has already fallen and he can't even see it. ”

    Actually,that may not be quite true.If you judge how sloppy numerous of his actions are,and that it is true what everyone says about him being very intelligent,its quite possible that he saw his indoctrination long ago.My view is that he saw he has no hope to fight sovereigns mind,so he decided to at least warn everyone by deliberately making these few mistakes here and there.Sort of last effort to fight cthulhu that you know will devour you one way or the other.

    EDIT:Shouldve read further before posting.You said basically the same thing.

    1. swenson says:

      If you look at it in retrospect, Saren is… well, “a hero” isn’t the right word, and he was manipulated by Sovereign every step of the way, but I at least have to respect that he wasn’t just evil for the sake of it. He was a clever, pragmatic person, and while evidence suggests he was immoral anyway, it’s not like he was trying to sacrifice the galaxy for personal benefit. I think, even before indoctrination, he legitimately thought the only way to mitigate any of the inevitable apocalypse was to work with the Reapers.

      Actually, it kind of ties into the turian meritocracy thing. I don’t know how much Saren knew about the Collectors or harvesting people to make new Reapers or whatever, but he may have thought that if he could prove that turians were useful as fighters and leaders, the Reapers may have preserved them. At the very least, even if the rest of the galaxy fell, his people could survive.

      Saren is hands-down the best major villain in the series.

      1. Mortuorum says:

        Probably true, although that’s mostly because the competition is so weak. The reapers are too alien; the Illusive Man just comes across as an ass (yet still better than Udina); Aria doesn’t get enough dialog (and is mostly an ally); and nobody else really makes enough of an impression to be memorable. Morinth, maybe, particularly if you choose her as a squadmade?

        1. Thomas says:

          I really like TIM but I don’t think I could persuade many people on the site to agree with me :p

          If you’re not put off by how you start meeting him in ME2 (which I wasn’t), then he’s a Saren like figure, but one with a lot more quirks and vulnerabilities even before the indoctrination kicked in. And whilst I do dig the Saren/Shepard respect thing, I enjoy TIM/Shepard’s asymmetrical respect much more. I love that TIM thinks Shepard is amazing and that they could be allies together whilst Shepard thinks TIM is piece of crud who can’t see beyond his ego.

          1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

            I like the character just fine. It’s his place in the narrative that is nuts.

            1. Ringwraith says:

              Yuuup. They stretch Cerberus out a bit too much in many places, and some of the only ‘explanation’ for their resources is hidden away.
              I did like the whole explanation for suddenly cranking out goons in 3 like no tomorrow, and was suitably horrific.

        2. SlothfulCobra says:

          They never really tried to replace Saren. ME2 doesn’t really have any real villains that you interact with, just Harbinger yelling at you. It’s almost like the writers decided that being able to speech-check Saren at the end was a mistake.

          And then in ME3, there’s a little junk with the Illusive Man, but really it’s all about the faceless threat of the reapers who just want to kill everybody without talking about it. Harbinger’s goofy taunting is gone, replaced with nothing.

      2. MrGuy says:

        Saren is… well, “a hero” isn't the right word

        because, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man, and, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He just fits right in there. And that’s Saren. On Virmire. Sometimes there’s a man. Sometimes there’s a man. Aw, shucks. I lost my train of thought here….

  5. Galad says:

    I generally try to play with a female character in a long game like this. “If I’m going to be staring at an ass for a few dozen hours, it might as well be a pretty one”

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      People often say thats a sexist statement,but it actually isnt.Most of the time in video games,female models are way prettier than male models.But if playing garrus was an option,Id definitely go with that.

      1. Galad says:

        *shrug* Gender politics are only something in the internet, as far as my RL is concerned.

        Also, I played ME1, waaay back when it’s been relatively new, on a console, in an internet cafe. I have no idea who I’ve saved :))

      2. Mephane says:

        I am a male who also prefers to play female characters for a number of reasons, which also include the “prefer to look at a female rather than at a male” point. But this works both ways. My significant other plays male characters almost exclusively, especially tall and strong hunks. Can’t fault her for that. :)

        One of the other reasons is that I prefer to play a character who is distinctly not like myself. This includes a different gender, but also means that I prefer any non-human option, too.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          I like to use this latter reason sometimes when I want to push myself to play a character who is not like me. Playing a woman helps me disconnect enough from the character to play an evil run.

          As for reason one, it seems lately that most of the models are too covered up at least in the games I play so that reason isn’t holding for me. The push to cover female PCs up may backfire for this reason.

          1. Sleeping Dragon says:

            Hairstyles. Seriously, so often female models get all the varied hairstyles when males get seven varieties of buzzcut, a mohawk and bald.

            1. Mike S. says:

              I tend to feel compelled to give characters like Shepard practical hairstyles regardless of sex, even if I’d rather look at something else. A marine who frequently wears a space helmet can’t have flowing locks all over the place!

            2. Wide And Nerdy says:

              YES! I actually find that I’m frequently unable to give a male character a basic normal hairstyle other than buzzed. Its either buzzed, fancy or weird.

              Geralt in particular bugged me. The third game was the least bad with the swept back elven “rebel” hairstyle that looked pretty close to normal. That combined with growing his beard out made him look non-douchey for the first time in the series. (Seriously, what hundred year old white haired old man shaves the sides of his head and grows the rest long into a pony tail? That seems too fancy for Geralt’s personality).

            3. Fallout had loads of hairstyles, though I didn’t really care for a lot of them. I mean, mohawks fit the setting, they just weren’t for me, and I didn’t want to play with a dude sporting a comb-over.

              I think the variety of hair often has more to do with the variety of NPC models the game is going to show you. If most of them appear wearing helmets, hats, hoods, or other alliterative things that cover one’s melon, then there’s not a whole lot of pre-made coifs to toss in the character generator. If the female NPCs are more often shown with bare heads, then that could be the explanation right there.

              For Mass Effect, I kind of think they should’ve limited the hairstyles to what could be called “regulation.” I mean, you’re in the military, so I’d assume that at some point, you’d be ordered to get a haircut, if only to keep it from getting in the way when you put a helmet on.

              1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                See, I kinda agree with you and Mike S. that ME (and other military settings) have the “regulation” and “practicality” arguments, but I still seem to remember that female toons get nicer variety (I may be misremembering), plus if I want to pick my hairstyle for roleplay reasons I still have that option if the other hairstyles are in addition to buzzcuts.

            4. guy says:

              I’m actually usually annoyed by female hair choices. Sure, there are lots, but never the one I’m actually looking for: a straight bowl cut hanging about to the ears. All the available cuts feel too messy, too fancy, or too short. I usually find one that feels about right from the front but has a ponytail or something.

            5. SlothfulCobra says:

              Then again, about half the female hairstyles in Mass Effect are just “hair pulled up into a bunch behind the head.”

              The exact way it was bunched up might’ve varied, but it doesn’t matter because you can’t see the back of the head during character creation.

        2. Thomas says:

          I realised that I’d never made any of my PCs black before so I’ve been trying that out recently – it’s a good way of finding out if you’ve got any subconscious biases and it’s a good way of fixing any you do have.

          1. Mike S. says:

            I’ve been trying to mix up my Mass Effect ethnicities, though the ME1 face generator didn’t always give great results. (A character who was initially supposed to look east Asian wound up more Latino-looking… and maybe as if he’d been in a few too many fights without face protection.)

            My wife let SWTOR’s randomizer assign her first character’s skin tone, which turned out to be brown. Since all of her other non-alien characters are supposed to be related she’s gone with that since. They’re also all supposed to be the descendants of her KotOR character[1], who was paler, but chalk that up to whoever she wound up marrying. (Who definitely wasn’t Carth.) Plus whoever her descendants ditto– it’s been centuries, after all.

            [1] As far as she’s concerned, the guy running around SWTOR is a nut driven over the edge by the Emperor.

          2. Wide And Nerdy says:

            Play a black human noble in Dragon Age Origins sometime just for laughs. Spend the entire game insisting that you’re totally the legitimate heir of House Cousland.

            1. Mike S. says:

              IIRC, they got better at making the family match the character creation process in later games. (Maybe DA2 with Hawke’s mom and siblings?)

              1. Wide And Nerdy says:

                I think they do match the skin color in DA2 but you can make Hawke look older than his mother.

      3. Otters34 says:

        “People often say thats a sexist statement,but it actually isnt.Most of the time in video games,female models are way prettier than male models.”

        Yeah…that’d be because sexism. Since, you know, it’s assuming that women/female characters need to look pretty and appealing or else why play as one or put them in the game at all.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Well yes,but its not the sexism of the statement,but of the developers.That was my point.

        2. MrGuy says:

          And that’s why Saints’ Row 3 is the game of the year.

          1. I haven’t even clicked the link and I know it’s HAWP.

        3. jd says:

          Men liking to look at pretty women in a game (or any setting) isn’t sexist, it’s just biology. Stop manshaming.

    2. Henson says:

      I suppose I have some of this sentiment, but it’s not so much the ass that does it for me. I like looking at an attractive woman’s face.

      But really, it’s the voice that’s more important. If I ever play DA: Inquisition, my character will be decided by whoever’s voice I like best. I did the same thing for Saint’s Row IV, and boy was that a great decision.

      1. Thomas says:

        DA:I gives you a choice of two voice actors for each gender which I really liked

        1. Jokerman says:

          Sadly… i didn’t like any of them that much, the two americans were overly deep and the British male lacked any passion what so ever.

          The female British was ok, a bit to dainty… but not to bad.

        2. Wide And Nerdy says:

          I liked the deeper of the two male voices.

      2. Wide And Nerdy says:

        Nolan North right?

        Of course, you don’t have to match your voice to your body in Saints Row IV so I liked to play Nolan North with a female body.

        1. LadyTL says:

          You too? I wonder what the stats were on that. I just found the Nolan North voice to be the funniest since they took out the russian female voice.

          1. Orillion says:

            Her, uh, “replacement,” the French voice, was pretty much the same, but with her characterization updated to match the more nostalgic tone the game was going for. Still no Tara Platt (yes, that is who voiced her; Yuri Lowenthal was Matt Miller, too, such a shame I couldn’t put them together in IV) but good enough.

          2. Matt K says:

            Man in SR3 I went with the Russian Female voice and metallic purple skin. That was a lot of fun. I’m actually sad that it wasn’t a choice in SR4.

            Although I guess going Dr Mrs the Monarch when I eventually play SR4 works.

        2. Henson says:

          No. Laura Bailey.

        3. Ringwraith says:

          What bugged me about the Nolan North voice option was that it was mostly just the first male voice’s (Troy Baker) script, with comparatively minor changes.
          The other voices tended to vary more between each other.

    3. Pyrrhic Gades says:

      Mate, the reason I chose Fem Shep my first (complete) shoot through of Mass Effect was because I wanted to roll-play as Julia Gillard with a shotgun (Who was the prime minister at the time).

      1. Lachlan the Mad says:

        The Femshep that the Spoiler Warning crew played in ME2 & 3 already looked a lot like Gillard. She had the right hair and face, just needed a sharper nose and chin :)

    4. Khizan says:

      I always play Femshep because she has the best voice actor. Voice actress?

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I saved ashley the first time around,simply because kaiden was too bland.But then I talked to ashley bitch in me2,and now she is dead to me.I didnt even talk to her the second time through the games,and Im always a completionist.So while the choice didnt impact me emotionally itself,the consequence of it did spark great anger in me.

    1. Jokerman says:

      Kaiden says basically the same thing though doesn’t he?

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Basically.But keep in mind that my first run through me2 started with “Wooo!Sequel!Yeeaaaah!Lets get deep into this!”,while on my second run I already knew what was going to happen,and I increased the difficulty so I could focus on combat instead of the things that pissed me off.Plus,add to that that I still find kaiden a bit bland,so from his mouth those words lack the punch they had from the character I was actually interested in.

    2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      This, I think, is actually one of the better choices in the game. Far better than the rachni one. It doesn’t actually matter because Kaiden and Ashley are basically interchangeable. So from a programming standpoint it is really easy to accommodate anything.

      But the reasoning and dramatic possibilities are extensive.

      Ash is expendable (she’s a grunt, while we prefer they not die, it is, ultimately, their job).

      Kaiden is an officer who ordered her out of the fight (dramatically, it is the privilege of rank to pull “get out of here, that’s an order” while making a last stand).

      The one with the salarians is far away, and might be overrun before you get there.

      The one with the bomb just had the geth drop on them in the open and may already be dead.

      Whichever one you are romancing -do you ignore the counter argument and go after the love interest? Or do you go for the other one because you can’t let emotions cloud Shepard’s judgment?

      And then the fallout from that – does the Shepard who let Kashley die at Virmire decide to move on with another person? Is that second person a replacement? (Jacob/Kaiden is a pretty similar substitution, as is -if you turn your head and squint -Jack/Ashley) or a someone in their own right (Thane/Kaiden are pretty different, as are Miranda/Ashley). Or, perhaps the new crew just isn’t the same as the old one (Garrus/Tali romance).

      The Paragon Shepard who loses someone at Virmire -does that person try to save everyone from the Collecters? If they fail, do they redouble their efforts against the Reapers, or just fall into expedience as a Renegade?

      1. Matt K says:

        See for me I was playing female Shep and so I saw Ashley as someone I had been grooming for a leadership role. For Kaiden, well things went south when Shep laughingly proposed a threesome with Liara. Choice seemed pretty obvious while quite unprofessional.

  7. Nixorbo says:

    “82% to 18% victory of Maleshep over Femshep.”

    So only 18% of players know the magnificent performance Jennifer Hale gave us? That’s a shame, it really is.

    1. Mattias42 says:

      What, that hundred plus hours of snarling?

      I know she has a lot of fans, but frankly, I vastly prefer Mark Meer’s performance. He might be subdued, but he at least has a range beyond: ‘Proud Warrior’ and ‘Pissed Off Proud Warrior.’

      I personally tried playing fem-shep ONCE due to how much good I’d been hearing, and I got to the Citadel before deleting the save in disgust. Snarl, snarl, sneer, snarl…

      Don’t get me wrong, Hale’s an excellent voice actor, but I honestly think Female Commander Shaperd is one of the most overrated things ever, and I’m glad the actual stats back my opinion up on it being a vocal minority that’s obsessed with her.

      1. Henson says:

        Well, I tend to think that a lot of players chose Male not because they preferred the voice, but because it was essentially the default option for all three games; I think a significant number of players don’t want to customize (a whopping 43.7% of ME3 players went with the default Soldier class, after all), they just want to shoot aliens and bang aliens. Also take into account that none of the Mass Effect games let you hear Shepard’s voice before choosing your sex.

        1. Thomas says:

          I like that Bioware have realised this and they’re beginning to implement solutions. Each time you go into the creator screen in DA:I it changes the default gender. For the next game they make it might be fully random.

          Aside from anything else, it makes sense as a business decision to allow them to see how much the player base actually appreciates gender choice. (Though, tbh 18% sounds quite good to me given the default thing)

          As far as voice actors goes, it’s much harder to imagine Jennifer Hale’s voice is anything but a particular character. Then again, Mass Effect doesn’t really allow you to establish a character anyway

        2. Wide And Nerdy says:

          They did everything they could to promote Femshep, even backporting her ME3 default face back to ME1 and ME2. But it was still only 32 percent that played Femshep in Legendary Edition.

          For me, I don’t like Femshep’s romance options.

      2. Christopher says:

        I agree. I like Jennifer Hale! She’s voiced a lot of stuff and has quite a bit of range. But the delivery for Shepard’s lines grates on me, and I sort of regret getting stuck with it for 3 games.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          I agree with that about ME3. ME2 she was pretty good but something was off about her ME3 performance. I preferred Meer’s more neutral performance to whatever Hale was trying to do. Plus, I think he does funny line deliveries better.

        2. Ringwraith says:

          Jennifer Hale often gets hired to play Jennifer Hale, and the result is most of her more prominent roles sound really similar.
          She’s certainly capable of more than that, and this even gets proved within at least one game (the female sylvari player character and queen Jennah in Guild Wars 2 don’t sound alike), but it just doesn’t often happen. (She’s playing Jennifer Hale as the sylvari PC incidentally).

      3. Orillion says:

        I’m glad I’m not the only one. Honestly, I think Hale herself is a bit over-rated as a voice actress, but she does decent enough work in other works. The key is in not making her a main character, though. Naomi Hunter and Emma Emmerich were both pretty good performances, until MGS4 where Naomi was a main character and fell kinda flat on the acting. I found Bastila obnoxious to listen to, but she was quite good as the voice in your head in the Doom 3 expansion.

        Basically, Jennifer Hale does her best work when she gets credited as “Additional Voices.”

    2. Joe Informatico says:

      That’s only players who completed the game. They didn’t share the stats for incomplete playthroughs, or for distinct characters created. Or how many players only did a single playthrough, and thus probably played ManShep, versus players who completed multiple playthroughs, and maybe played both at some point?

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:

        Yeah, I don’t know how they’d count me. I did multiple playthroughs of ME2 and ME3 and in both cases played Male Shep most playthroughs but played FemShep at least once per game(honestly, in ME3, Samantha Traynor was what got me to try femshep again.)

    3. Jokerman says:

      I must be the only person who did not really like her performance as FemShep, i actually liked Mark Meer more… as goofy as he is.

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:

        You’re not alone, at least in ME3. I found his more neutral performance less jarring. Hale could pull off some powerful moments but sometimes, especially in the third game, it sounded like she was trying too hard to sound gruff. Which is funny considering she did an excellent job of it with Krem in DAI.

      2. jd says:

        The scene that really shows to me how much better Hale is as Shep (IMO) is set in some bar, I think in ME2, but it’s been a while so it might be ME1, definitely not ME3. Anyway, s/he gets some weird drink from the alien bartender (assuming you made that choice) and you can keep asking for more. Shep has a line in there “Not done yet” but they have totally different takes on that line (which I suppose is a fault of the director, who should have told whoever was doing it “wrong” based on the intent of the line). Male Shep says it in a flat angry manner like he just wants more booze. Lady Shep says it like she’s having a good time, wants to keep the party going.

        I did playthroughs of 1 and 2 as both male and female and definitely preferred Ms. Hale.

        ME 3, I only played as male, because the game came out with the character import busted, and I didn’t want to play with her look messed up, but I didn’t care so much about his face (which I could get back to a fairly reasonable degree much easier). Then by the time I was done with ME3 with him, it was such a let down (and I don’t mean the ending, I was fine with it even pre-“fix”) I didn’t feel like replaying again with her.

        But my plays don’t go towards these privacy invading stats of who played how, since I don’t play online, and don’t even have an account to do so with.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I have to compliment me3 now(saying that made me want to vomit):The merge of paragon and renegade into a single reputation was an excellent move.Because no matter whether you save the burning orphanage,or set it ablaze yourself,people will hear about it and react to it.

    In fact,that what games should be doing:Reputation,not morality.Unless the universe itself has good/evil as actual things and not abstracts,like the star wars universe or d&d,there should be no meter for how good/evil you are.But a reputation you get for your actions,that is always going to happen.And in this case your reputation doesnt even have to be consistent:You may make a corrupt deal with a politician no one knows is corrupt,and be considered a good guy for that,because they would be the one spreading such a rumor.

    Also,the way bioware handled morality back in their d&d games was far better.In mass effect,whether you pick paragon or renegade,you get the same outcome most of the time,only your words differ.Whether you intimidate someone into letting you through the plot door,or charm them into doing so is irrelevant.But back with their d&d system,you simply did not have an option to do a bunch of stuff if you werent of the proper alignment.Your party members were also dependent on your alignment.It doesnt make sense in the real world,but it makes for an interesting gameplay decision.Though I think having an alignment/reputation you build over time while playing is better than just picking it at the very beginning.

    1. Karthik says:

      > (saying that made me want to vomit)

      Really? A rather strong reaction to a merely flawed game.

      Speaking of which, I hope a small tangent is okay. I finished playing through ME3 again last week, and the good bits remain just as good. And there’s quite a bit that works in this really big game. This time the thing that irritated me the most, the itchy tag on the inside of the cloth, the callus that snagged on everything, was not the lack of forethought, the contrived main plot or the confused plot structure with too many cooks. Even the sucky bits of ME3 are better than most other AAA games that were written on this scale.

      It was how the incoherence and inconsistency extended to the cutscenes, which have a logic of their own, independent of both the mechanics of the game and of the lore. Consistently wrong weapons, no shields, one shot kills, no powers, and separately, Shepard behaving in the dumbest way possible in them. It was almost like they outsourced the cutscenes to a team that had no idea about the world of Mass Effect and specialized in cop dramas. It was just a niggle last time, but has since bubbled up to the top of the list.

    2. Thomas says:

      Often the words don’t even change on the Paragon/Renegade super options. Which is terrible

    3. Zekiel says:

      Personally I generally loved the paragon/renegade system. Sure, it wasn’t always consistent – and it was very annoying in ME2 to be sometimes locked out of conversation options – but if you approached the game roleplaying I felt it worked well. My FemShep is probably my favourite every CRPG protagonist because I felt like she was a real person, and that’s due in large part to the combination of Paragon and Renegade choices I made for her. She was basically grumpy Captain Janeway* with a gun – generally tending to take the most direct route to accomplishing the mission, happy to threaten people, but extremely protective of her crew. The fact that sometimes (even often) the paragon/renegade choice made no practical difference didn’t really bother me – I was getting to express (and develop) my Shepard’s character through the choice.

      *I’m aware that’s probably extremely unfair to Janeway, who in any case had a massively changeable character depending on who was writing her.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        She was basically grumpy Captain Janeway* with a gun

        So just captain janeway then.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          C’mon! A fellow SFDebris fan such as yourself should know that Janeway is never grumpy when she gets to be violent.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Unless there is a coffee shortage.And I didnt see a single cup in the whole trilogy.

            1. Mike S. says:

              If you played Mass Effect 3, you sure did. Constantly.

              (IIRC, you could even grab it during the Citadel DLC.)

        2. Zekiel says:

          Well yes (I was trying to forestall objections for any Janeway fans on the site)

    4. Pseudonym says:

      The Bioware D&D games handled morality like a particularly annoying kind of D&D DM – smacking you over the hands with a ruler if you didn’t behave in the way the game thought a character with your alignment should behave.

      Jaheira was particularly annoying in this respect. She’d tell you to help people at every possible opportunity, then because she was “True Neutral” she’d leave the party if your reputation got too high.

      1. Grudgeal says:

        Just a quick correction: Neutral people never left you for high reputation. The breakdown were as follows:

        Good: 20-13 happy, 12-9 neutral, 8-6 unhappy, 5-3 angry, 2-0 leave
        Neutral: 20-18 unhappy, 17-6 neutral, 5-4 unhappy, 3-2 angry, 1-0 leave
        Evil: 20-19 leave, 18-16 angry, 15-13 unhappy, 12-9 neutral, 8-0 happy

        So, yes, Jaheira would ask you to help most people, and then complain about it if you did it too much. Bioware never were very good at subtle.

        1. Jokerman says:

          Well… putting a “neutral” character into a game that reaction to your binary choices sounds pretty hard to do.

          Neutral characters should’t react at all, they shouldn’t care.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            And here we go into interpretations of good/neutral/evil.Is good the one who doesnt kill a defenseless enemy,or the one who kills them because they know the enemy would stab them in the back at the first opportunity(captain carrot from discworld)?Is neutral not caring,or fighting for balance of everything?Is evil despicable self serving,or the one that does everything in order to achieve the goal?

            The answer is simple:In a setting where you have literal embodiments of good and evil,those are exactly what the gods decree them to be.

            1. Mike S. says:

              When did Carrot kill a defenseless enemy?

              1. Zekiel says:

                Well he did throw the book at that one guy, but that was just over-literalism…

                I can’t recall him ever deliberately killing a defenceless person. But I wouldn’t be surprised if TP put in a scene (somewhere I’ve forgotten) of a bad guy being surprised by him not being naive in dealing with someone who had supposedly surrendered.

            2. Ringwraith says:

              I like the definition (in terms of roleplaying systems for behaviours anyway) being the extent of one’s ‘circle of care’, how far removed from them they have to be to care about their well-being.
              So a ‘good’ character is more likely to care about complete strangers, while a ‘neutral’ character may only do so for friends or family. Meanwhile those on the ‘evil’ end of the spectrum usually care very little beyond themselves.

        2. Ringwraith says:

          Jaheria was probably constrained by the 2nd edition restriction of druids always needing to be true neutral. She felt more like a neutral good if anything.

  9. Fizban says:


    Uh, I’m pretty sure I was trying to save Ashley but the game gave me Kaiden instead. It asks you like three different times who to put where/which way to move and it’s not clear which one’s gonna die or even what the options you’re picking mean. If it was game data rather than a poll I’d assume it was just chance for a lot of people.

    1. Raygereio says:

      You might be remembering something wrong, because when it pops up the choice is pretty obvious.
      It doesn’t matter if you send Kaiden or Ashley to go with the Salarians. Near the end of the mission you get a message saying both are being overrun by Geth. At that point you’ll get the choice of saving one or the other.

      1. Karthik says:

        Although I think you also end up saving Captain “Hold The Line” Kirahe if you rescue the squadmate you sent with the salarians, and not otherwise.

        Which brings up the question: Who’s around on Sur’Kesh in ME3 if Cap. Kirahe is dead? Cmdr. Rentola, his second in command?

        1. INH5 says:

          To answer your first question, no, actually whether Kirrahe dies is entirely dependent upon whether you complete the various tasks on the mission to help out the STG team. The Ashley/Kaiden choice has nothing to do with it.

          To answer your second question: this guy in the start of the mission, and then later by a different and unnamed Salarian soldier who dies in the cutscene that introduces the Cerberus engineer and turret.

    2. Christopher says:

      If we’re counting, I saved Ashley. That’s not the full story though. I tried saving Kaidan, but somehow messed it up and had to start that checkpoint over. Ashley and Kaidan are equally boring to me, so I figured Kaidan had his shot and grabbed Ashley instead.

    3. Zekiel says:

      Kaiden for me. But it was a tough choice for an odd reason. I kind of sped through ME1 (something I’ve never done for any other CRPG, before or since) since I wasn’t really sure I’d enjoy an action-RPG and just wanted to get an experience of it. As a result I didn’t really talk to either Ashley or Tali (I figured I’d speak to them more if i ever replayed).

      As a result when it came to making a choice between Kaiden or Ashley, I was torn – I didn’t care about Ashley at all since I’d barely said anything to have after her introduction. You’d think that would make the choice obvious – but actually I felt like it was a great shame that a tragic sacrifice would have so *little* effect on me. So I seriously considered saving Ashley (although in the end I didn’t).

    4. Mephane says:


      I don’t remember who I actually saved in the one play-through where I got to the end, but it must have been Kaiden for I would not have accepted an outcome where it turns out my actions would lead to the death of Kaiden when it could have been Ashley. I would have reloaded an older save and replayed, if necessary, the entire planet in order to prevent that outcome. (It is also very interesting to logically deduce one’s own past actions because you can’t remember the actual deed, but you’re dead sure which one it must have been.)

      I do like the character especially because he is an introvert. We are not getting enough (positive) treatment in all kinds of media, and stories that are about an introvert protagonist usually boil down to “how I overcame my introversion”, as if that were a character flaw or even mental illness.

      I felt very sorry for him when the potential romance didn’t work out, I wanted to be BFF with him but iirc the game turns that into a potential romance which you then have to reject and break his heart, and afterwards he seems more distanced again. I am really sorry, Kaiden, if the game didn’t have these showstopper mechanics* that once seen, cannot be unseen, I would do another play-through and my character would totally pick you this time.

      *a) Paragon/renegade system, b) XP reward depending on play style (e.g. Mako kills getting punished), c) statistical advantages from previous play-throughs in particular styles, like 10% more damage with some weapon type if you completed the game as a particular class already, not just because I don’t like this concept so much, but mostly because I don’t have my original savegames any more so the bonus from them is not enabled and I feel utterly cheated out of the 10% assault rifle damage bonus I feel very much entitled to.

    5. krellen says:

      The choice was pretty clear to me. My first playthrough I saved Kaiden because militarily it is the right decision – Ashley is right when she tells you (basically, this is paraphrasing) her job is to die; as a front-line grunt she’s pretty easy to replace while Kaiden is a highly-trained biotic technician, much more difficult to replace. I didn’t feel good about it, though.

      My second playthrough was with a pro-human renegade maleshep who saved Ashley because he was trying to get in her pants.

      1. Victor McKnight says:

        I felt the same way, but for slightly more elaborate reasons.

        1) Kirrahe is leading a diversionary assault. You also need someone with the technical skills to operate a nuke. Even if the game doesn’t care, form a role playing perspective, the former is up Ashley’s alley and Kaiden is implied to have at least the basic tech knowledge to perform the latter. So Ashley attacks and Kaiden operates the nuke.

        2) Destroying the base is priority one. The nuke being compromised is therefore a mission failure. Not ensuring the nuke goes off means many Salarian lives are wasted. Therefore you go back to Kaidan and the nuke to ensure mission success, leaving Ashley to die.

        It doesn’t help that if you do, Saren shows up, and poor Kaiden is not going to hold of Saren on his own. (Yes, Saren meets you at either location, but that is besides the point.)

        Sure, there are other ways to look at it, but for a first time play through, for me, it felt like a pretty obvious choice.

    6. Mike S. says:

      I’ve done both in different playthroughs. But my first time through I saved Ashley for pure needs-of-the-many reasons (she was with the salarians), even though my Shepard was romancing Kaidan.

      And even though my wife had fallen for Kaidan watching over my shoulder. She wasn’t there when I finished Virmire, and telling her what had happened was like delivering the telegram from Washington. (“We regret to inform you…”)

      I eventually wound up replaying that character through New Game+ (partly to put off paying for ME2, partly in a misguided effort to hit level 60, not realizing that I’d probably need a third playthrough for that), and in that I wound up saving Kaidan so Shepard could continue the romance.

      (The same character then forked in ME2: in one playthrough she continued as an Adept and wound up with Kaidan in ME3. In the other, Cerberus modified her implant to make her a Vanguard, which sent her into an identity crisis spiral: was she the same person who was at Virmire or a bad Cerberus copy? The resultant reevaluation of her life choices ended with her kicking Kaidan to the curb for his repeated failure of trust, and winding up with Traynor.)

    7. Benjamin Hilton says:

      I understand Thematically why having someone die was important, but I Hated the execution. If anyone remembers the commercials for ME1, they really played up the saving/leaving people to die thing. Shepard is on the Normandy and a distress call comes in, but he cuts it off as he hears people dying because they don’t have time with the galaxy threatened.

      This seamed really cool…until you actually play the game and realize that no matter how “urgent” a message is, you can take as long as you please to get around to it and there are no repercussions. So when I get to Virmire and I have to make this choice all I could think was:
      “Now? Really? Now we don’t have enough time? I left a bunch of people trapped in a cave with space zombies for a month and no one cared. An asteroid that was going to shatter a planet dutifully hung in the sky until I was ready to deal with it. The Galaxy literally pauses it’s strife until I arrive. But now that the life of one of my crew is in danger suddenly there’s not enough time? Screw you game”

      So yeah it was off-putting for me.

  10. Karthik says:

    Shamus, this post showed up in my RSS feed twelve hours ago, so I hopped over to comment… and it wasn’t on the website. What gives?

    1. Shamus says:

      When editing a post, there a re a couple of buttons in the upper-right corner of the interface: “Publish” and “preview”. About once a month I manage to hit one when I mean the other.

  11. Duoae says:

    I know paragon and renegade fit nicely together to make paragade but that word just does not roll off my tongue easily!

    For some reason, my OCD mind would prefer “paragrade” because it also reflects the stupid gradients of either one or the other in order to be able to perform actions in the later games… Ugh. Now I feel dirty just thinking about that feature in the later games…

    IIRC, it doesn’t work that way in ME1 and that, for me, was great… locking actions out depending on your previous play style really ruined (well, put one more nail in the roleplaying coffin) the whole paragon/renegade thing for me because you ended up socially min-maxing the game in order to achieve the outcomes you wanted rather than interacting organically in a social manner.

    Interestingly this is flipped from ME1 to ME2-3 and shows a complete contrast in philosophy between mechanics where originally, you had to min-max the combat and abilities but not the social interactions but then in the latter two games didn’t have to worry about the combat (squad interactions are less important on normal!) and instead had to min-max the social interactions.

    Neither approach worked 100% for me but I much preferred having to min-max the combat than the social because it really undermined the RPG part of the game for me.

    RE: indoctrination

    Maybe we can invent better guns or get better armor, but how do we defend ourselves from undetectable mental manipulation? How do we protect against agents of the enemy when they themselves might not even know they're serving the enemy?

    And this is what, I think, drove so many people to believe, at least partially, in the indoctrination theory of Shepard. It’s such a neat contrivance and works so well with the themes established in the first game and also explains the stupid as hell child dreams very tidily…

    RE: Ashden

    I saved Ashley because I’d been talking to her (and presumably Kaiden as well) and managed to get her to become un-space-racist. Kaiden just wasn’t such an interesting character for me. I don’t really even remember what his deep dark secret was compared with my other favourite characters over the three games.

    1. newplan says:

      Maybe the story writing team was indoctrinated and writing a story that makes no sense unless it’s partially a hallucination by a Shepard trying to fight off indoctrination is their way of fighting it. Like Saren leaving clues.

      Yep, sticking with this – the writing team was indoctrinated.

    2. guy says:

      In ME1, your paragon/renegade scores cap your charm and intimidate skills. However, the unlock rate is generous enough that having enough points in both for the final Saren conversation is entirely plausible.

  12. Zekiel says:

    The implication that Saren was fighting indoctrination, and his philosophy of “making ourselves useful” to the Reapers, were what made me love him as an antagonist. They made him a tragic and somewhat relatable character – though I didn’t agree with him, I could totally follow his logic. It’s not at all impossible that he could have been right in a pragmatic and short-term sense – that the Reaper invasion was inevitable (as ME3 showed) and that by co-operating, at least he (and those allied to him) might have been spared death during the reaping cycle.

    Interestingly I read something that suggested that the Synthesis ending of ME3 was basically indicative of Saren’s approach (i.e. working together with Reapers), just as the Destruction and Control endings were exemplified by Anderson and TIM.

    1. SlothfulCobra says:

      You can lay a lot of Saren’s behavior on indoctrination and trying to use diplomacy with these giant machines that want to kill everybody, but according to Anderson, Wrex, and the various media outside the games, he was still a massive human-hating asshole before he ever met Sovereign.

  13. Mephane says:

    After experiencing this evil-vs-good mechanic in a lot of games now, I am of the opinion that the very concept is inherently detrimental to games in general. It is not just the particular implementation in some cases, where the connection between player action, the game’s judgement, consequences for the story and/or rewards are inconsistent or illogical. No.

    The problem is the very gamification of morality. Let’s start with the most immediate problem: depending on the amount of good points and bad points, certain dialogue options become available or not.

    Huh? How does that even make sense. I can’t threaten someone because the I have been too nice in the past (or not un-nice often enough)? I can’t save the puppies because my goodness meter is not yet high enough, because I missed that side quest where I could save a kitten for some extra good points? I did the side quests in the wrong order so that I now lack the bad points to kill off a very annoying character for good? This is completely silly nonsense.

    Let’s not forget that in reality people can change their minds, yet these gamified morality systems basically gimp your character in one regard or the other (disabled dialogue options, unable to access certain sidequests, unable to attain or use certain equipment etc.) if you change your mind midway through. The systems inherently reward maxing the meter in one direction or the other, or where both exists in parallel, maxing them both, and meeting the right threshold in time for any branch in the story or a dialogue where a certain option becomes enabled. A 2nd play-through doesn’t start with the question “what if my character had personality X instead?” but with “what if I maximize morality point type B instead?”.

    The gamer in me, the part that wants to optimize a character’s stats and maximize the outcome of a situation, grab all the loot and all the experience points, always has to fight the part of me that wants to experience a story with meaningful decisions and a protagonist with an actual personality (regardless whether that personality is set by the game or by the player).

    Morality meters in general have entered my private list of anti-features, the kind of things that developers might deem a good idea and even promote, but for me it is a sure sign the entire game will be a pure struggle between the two sides of me, the optimizer and the story-experiencer.

    P.S.: Also on this list of anti-features:
    – Last-hitting. In most MOBAs and FPS that don’t properly reward assists – please note that I don’t care about kill/death ratios or other hollow statistics, but when XP, ingame money or any other actual progression reward depends on how the game assesses my performance or contribution, you better don’t even start rewarding the actual killing blow unless everything is one-hitting everything all the time anyway.
    – Kill-technique-specific rewards in closed games. By closed games, I mean games where the amount XP/gold/credits/gems/whatever your character can ever attain is fixed. Most single-player RPGs, including Mass Effect, work like this. A finite number of quests giving a finite amount of total XP and credits, a finite number of foes giving a finite amount of total XP and credits, etc. If you do that, don’t even start manipulating these finite numbers up or down depending on how I prefer to play or spend my skill points. When I think of howkills in the Mako give less XP than on foot, I immediately lose any will to ever play Mass Effect again. The same thing killed my will to ever replay Deus Ex Human Revolution, with its stealth vs open and kill vs incapacitate rewards.
    Please also note this consideration does not apply at all to open games, i.e. games where is effectively infinite XP/gold/etc. to be had. MMORPGs, for example, or anything with respawning foes, multiplayer shooters where you can just play another match for another bunch of XP for your progression, etc.
    – I am also generally not fond of the closed-game approach in principle. I still fondly remember, for example, Secret Of Mana (which I would, in retrospect, classify as an open-world game) for giving me the option to revisit a location and find it filled with foes again, in oder to gain a few more levels so I can overcome some harder challenge, or just restock on gold or resources. This is one of the reasons I so much more prefer a game to be designed as a real open-world game. When I need more dollars in Saints Row 3, I can just go around and do any of the many activities where I can gain money. The game never tells me “well, you have exhausted all quests and enemies in this area, your only option is to progress further, regardless whether you are satisified with the amount of resources or XP you have accrued this far”.
    – Tied into this, I do prefer regenerating health unless a game provides a realistic way that is not just an utter slog to grind through again and again, of regaining lost health. Just as I don’t like the concept of a finite pool of XP from which you draw, I prefer not to have to draw from a finite pool of health that exists at the start of the game and all I can do is optimize the rate at which it is depleted, and the real difficulty lies in making sure this pool lasts until the end of the game.

    1. Pseudonym says:

      I’m ambivalent on finite-XP games. I do get the frustration of realising that it is only possible to get X amount of XP in the game, and that if you play non-optimally it then only becomes possible to get X-Y amount of XP. On the other hand, even in an “open” game, the amount of XP one can realistically acquire in a single playthrough is finite anyway and since I have little patience for grinding it winds up being the same principle for me. It’s either “I know that not doing this will cause me to miss out on 10,000XP that I can’t get anywhere else” or “I know that not doing this will cause me to miss out on 10,000 XP that I can otherwise make up only by killing womp rats.

      I think there are some types of game where infinite grind also just doesn’t really make sense. Story-driven biowareish games don’t really have structural space for you to just grind respawning enemies for the kill-XP (weirdly, MEIII would have been something of an exception, since the reapers really *did* have limitless armies, so you could easily have done procedurally generated combat missions that would have made logical sense *somewhere* in the galaxy).

      Ironically, perhaps the best option for a “closed” game is to have a relatively low level cap. I never had to worry about XP in KotOR because I knew that I’d definitely hit level 20 by endgame, and that I couldn’t go any higher.

      1. Mephane says:

        Well the thing is, if the level cap is set so that you are guaranteed to hit it anyway sooner or later, and you can only influence how soon – you typically don’t know that until it happens. Especially now, in the era of “new game plus” modes, it is often the case that a single play-through cannot even get you to the max level, so you cannot count on that.

        But I think the best option for a closed game is really to just ditch the concept of rewarding a different amount of XP for different approaches. If I overcome a foe, it need not matter (for XP progress, for the story it may very well have a huge impact) whether I talked them out of attacking me, killed them or stealthed my way past them.

        A very clever way for this is to not award XP for kills at all, but for the completion of objectives. So the thing you optimize is then not to defeat as many opponents in the most XP-efficient manner possible, but to fulfill as many objectives/quests as possible.

        1. Pseudonym says:

          I think it’s a tricky one, because I think it depends a lot on the type of game you want to design.

          If you’re designing an open-world game set in a hostile environment where a lot of the core gameplay involves fighting, then I think XP-for-kills is the way to go. Otherwise it would be hard to see how you could progress in a game if you chose to just ignore the plot and wander around the wilderness fighting orcs/raiders/space orcs/whatever.

          If you’re designing a linear and highly checkpointed game, I agree that XP-for-kills is kind of a weird holdover from D&D that doesn’t really make sense.

          If you’re designing a game that is specifically supposed to encourage multiple approaches to situations, some of them non-violent, then I agree that awarding more XP for one approach is counter-productive.

          1. Syal says:

            You could get around it by tying the leveling to an item that random enemies can drop, and that mission-based enemies don’t.

            1. Mike S. says:

              I think at that point it may be time to think about a system other than levels. (Which, after all, most tabletop RPGs that aren’t D&D or close derivatives have gotten away from.)

  14. Bubble181 says:

    A problem most pure good-vs-evil choice morality meters have is that, very often, to be bad, you have to be stupid. It pretty much comes down to “kill the puppy or install it in a rich house with loving children to play with”. An evil mastermind or an amoral humans-first space-racist would be “evil”, but might still want to help people occasionally. Likewise, asking for a reward is often “evil” in a game, where, in reality, asking for “more” from a poor person might be questionable, but asking for compensation from a big corporation isn’t morally all that significant.
    As I said elsewhere, in KOTOR 2, they sort of started with this – there’s different types of interactions (psychotic vs cunning) with different results with regards to your companions. Both usually give the same Dark Side points, though. Doesn’t make sense for a scheming Xanathos style mastermind to kill the puppy and torch the orphanage when you can train the puppy to be a fight dog and use the orphanage as a slave labor training camp, say. And, again, likewise on the other side – “realistic” good vs goody two shoes. Han Solo is arguably a “good guy”, but he isn’t as idealistic as the Jedi and wouldn’t turn down a reward or consider killing a thief “wrong”.

    A system such as Pillars of Eternity – where you have reputations on one hand and dispositions on the other – seems like a great way to mimic several different metrics (“honest” is mostly a good thing…Except sometimes when it’s callously telling the kid her mom’s dead. Some people may not trust you simply *because* you’re honest and they aren’t. “Deceptive” is lying and manipulating, it causes some people not to trust you but helps in planning schemes that rely on subterfuge. And so on), and on different scales (reputation is per town/allegiance/group, disposition is more general).

    Of course, such a system is harder and would require too much thinking and too many different options sometimes, for a game like ME. It’s also very hard to properly min-max for players who want to :p

    1. guy says:

      Yeah, the stupidly binary evil thing has always been a problem. I think my first playthrough of Jade Empire managed to really highlight it, because I specifically went in planning to not let min-maxing the morality meter determine my choices. I was planning to play a character who was polite and somewhat nice but very combative. I kept to this in a lot of tense meetings by responding to any sort of threat with whatever option most closely approximated *cracks knuckles* “Bring it!”

      Then every time I got to a choice that had a Closed Fist option, my response was always “No, I’m not going to that. It’s stupid and pointlessly cruel.” With the admitted exception of the guy with the stalker gang leader ex girlfriend, where the option to have his wife and his ex fight a duel over him was so hilarious I nearly picked it. On my next playthrough, where I deliberately went maximum Closed Fist, I discovered that if you pick the Dam Closed Fist option the villains rightfully and non-hypocritically call you out for being pointlessly destructive.

      1. Trevel says:

        They didn’t pull it off consistently, but I remember there being a number of Jade Empire decisions that offered Open Palm, Closed Fist, and Psychotic Madman options.

  15. Chris The Gamer says:

    Hey, I know this is a silly complaint, but would it be possible to give these posts a title that isn’t just a rising number? It would be easier to tell them apart. Also, there could be puns.
    Again, just a little nitpick from me, the series is great so far, looking forward to the other games, as I think a lot of us (myself included) were very angry with the series at a few years ago, so a bit of distance might be benefit for the analysis.

    1. Otters34 says:

      I think the sub-titles work pretty well, though I too would rather each essay had its own separate title. Considering they’re all parts of one over-arching whole, probably for the best to keep it as-is.

  16. INH5 says:

    The game never spells any of this out for us, of course, but it is the simplest and most satisfying explanation for his behavior. There have been times in the game where Saren makes some poor decisions. He leaves the beacon behind on Eden Prime, which gives Shepard a chance to use it. You can nitpick lots of his moves like this, but “indoctrination” is a handy excuse that can plug almost any of his possible plot holes. If we accept that he's mostly a thrall to to Sovereign but he's sort of fighting back in small ways then we can excuse any of his mistakes.

    I would be more inclined to buy this if there was any indication of it in the game itself. For example, if persuading Saren included Shepard asking Saren why he left the beacon on Eden Prime, or talked to Shepard instead of continuing to try to kill him on Virmire. But no, it’s just “some part of you must realize this is wrong.”

    In the specific example of the Eden Prime beacon, the game actively undermines such an interpretation. After Eden Prime, we’re shown a cutscene where Benezia says that a human might have used the beacon, and Saren gets so angry that he starts throwing things around the room. Which would seem to indicate that, yes, Saren really didn’t want anyone else to use the beacon.

    Even if we take this excuse as a given, it can only cover so many things. A few small mistakes are believable, but at some point you only move the problem from “why isn’t Saren carrying out his mission more effectively?” to “why isn’t Sovereign keeping a closer eye on its minions?”

    1. swenson says:

      Interesting side note on the “Saren gets mad and throws stuff” scene, a lot of people theorize that that’s not really Saren having a temper tantrum, it’s Sovereign having a temper tantrum through him. I don’t know that I buy Saren leaving the beacon was deliberate (I think he/Sovereign didn’t know about Shepard and assumed that the bombs being set would blow up both the beacon and anybody nearby who might’ve interacted with it, which is still stupid but is slightly less stupid than just leaving the beacon behind), but it’s not necessarily contradicted by this scene.

      I’ve always felt Benezia was being slightly snarky in that scene, too… She says everything so flatly, it comes across as sarcastic. “Oh noooooooo. The humans might have used the beacon. A true tragedy.”

      1. Mike S. says:

        Saren could also have been playing for the audience– i.e. Sovereign, Benezia, and any other Indoctrinated witnesses. I’m not convinced it was intentional either. But Benezia’s own whipsawing between gloating self-justification and desperate resistance and reassertion on Noveria leaves room for a lot of variation in Saren’s observed behavior. Any rebellion would have to be furtive, and involve as much doublethink as he could manage.

        (“Leaving these explosives on long timers will ensure that any investigators are well within the blast zone and will thus be more surely eliminated.” “Standing and bandying words with Shepard is much more productive than getting as many krogan clones as possible evaced out of nuke range, since he’ll be a valuable recruit if I can talk him into it!” “Fighting from a hoverboard absolutely isn’t tactical insanity!”)

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          An important thing to realize about the “doublethink” here is that it’s not a conscious process, it’s not sitting down and thinking “how can I make a convincing argument for doing something in this inefficient way”, it’s two parts of Saren’s psyche waging a war below the level of his consciousness. Knowing what I knew once I’ve completed the game I always looked back at that scene as Saren being mostly furious at himself and venting. He did things that, at the time, seemed reasonable but now looking back he’s thinking “what a fing idiot I was?! What the hell was I thinking!?” and he lashes out to vent the anger, and possibly shift the blame.

          It’s a fascinating spiral where the indoctrination becomes self-perpetuating. The more Saren invests in his plan, the more he sacrifices (of himself or others) the more he becomes convinced that he needs to push through with it. Heck, people have done this kind of thing without any supertechnological influence constantly pressing on their psyche. Saren is at a point where he will murder his friends and wipe out planets because “it simply must work and when it does it will all be worth it” and all the while he is his worst saboteur. This is why I love (the subtler form of) indoctrination in ME1, it’s both extremely sinister and it’s related to how a mind can really work.

          I was rather disappointed they haven’t really explored it in later games (indoctrination theory for ME3 aside). Heck, I just thought they could tie it to the paragade system in the last game, making it that Shepard is somehow or otherwise partly indoctrinated which dulls his thinking and if his convictions are strong enough (one way or another) it helps him maintain focus and truly act to the best of his ability.

  17. Christopher says:

    I took the choice as a professional choice. The entire purpose of the Vermire mission is to hit the installation and blow it up. That is it. In war and combat people die, but if the mission is a success they don’t die in vain, and Ashley and the Salarians volunteered to die in order for the mission to succeed.

    On the other hand, if Saren was at the bomb site, which he was, you risk the entire operation becoming useless, meaning everyone who’s died up to that point died uselessly because you weren’t able to stop him disabling the bomb.

    Now we know that this doesn’t happen, even if you pick Ashley the bomb goes off fine, but I always tried to look at it from a professional officers view point. When I had Shepard as a professional officer in my head. My first play through was as an engineer who never romanced anyone, ever, in all the games.

    1. Mike S. says:

      Can’t either one be at the bomb site, depending on how you assign them?

      (I agree that there’s a tension in the game between protecting the bomb and protecting the most people that, in practice, turns out not to matter as much as it really should.)

      1. Christopher says:

        I genuinely don’t remember, but Kaiden is the one with technical skills so I always stuck him with the bomb and Ashley is just a grunt so I stick her with the assault squad.

  18. The Rocketeer says:

    What Swenson says in a comment above is right: Saren didn’t intentionally leave the Beacon to be found on Eden Prime. He had the entire spaceport rigged to explode.

    If the bombs had been rigged to a switch, instead of a timer, the Milky Way might have been a very different place after a few months. It’s still a mistake by Saren, but an understandable mistake that comes down somewhat to chance, rather than a fridge logic “but why this stupid thing” mistake.

    1. INH5 says:

      The question is why didn’t Saren take the beacon off of the planet for further study, since it can clearly be moved? Or alternatively, if he wanted the beacon destroyed, why didn’t he just have the geth shoot it with a rocket or otherwise destroy it right then and there? It’s like the old question of, “why doesn’t the bad guy just shoot James Bond instead of leaving him unobserved in a needlessly complicated death trap?”

      But I don’t think I would have complained about it if not for that scene immediately afterwards where Saren absolutely freaks out when he learns that someone else might have used the beacon. If a James Bond villain had a similar freak out moment upon learning that Bond has escaped the needlessly complicated death trap and is now loose, it would make the moment even more implausible.

      Like Josh says in this Hitman Absolution Spoiler Warning episode, if you’re going to have something happen in your story that doesn’t make a lot of sense, don’t have the characters talk about it. If that Hitman Absolution cutscene had cut all the back and forth about how Dexter is going to frame a hitman for murder in an extremely conspicuous manner to avoid attracting attention, and had just had Dexter set the fire, yee-haw, and run, it would have made the scene a lot more tolerable. This isn’t nearly as bad as that, since the scene that establishes that Saren really doesn’t want anyone else to use the beacon doesn’t happen until after the scene where you find the beacon that he left behind, but the same general principle applies.

  19. TMC_Sherpa says:

    I don’t have a twitter thing so I’m gonna dump this here instead.

    I enjoyed Waiting for God, it was a good episode but now I have to ask. What colo(u)r is your hat?

    To bring this slightly back on topic when I play games like this (ME or Deus or whatever) the only time I replay them is to refine who I think the protagonist is. I’ll play around with the character build a little to suit my tastes mechanically but I don’t change the personality (I’ve never done a renegade run just to see what changes for instance). I’m happy that the “choices” are there but I don’t worry about the content I’ll never see.

  20. Rory Porteous says:

    Confession time, my first time playing through (femshep) I was, like everyone else, just talking to all my crew whenever I could to get to know them, and playing as a paragon it meant I was nice to everyone. Obviously this included one Kaiden Alenko, a man with a fairly tragic backstory who clearly only wanted to do his best for the team and the Alliance. Now at some point, I can’t remember where, Kaiden started getting the idea that I was being a bit more than friendly, and that when he and I could find a moment that was going to be hookup time. Now this came as a shock to me, but I didn’t have it in me to tell him straight up that I wasn’t interested, and I figured that I’d get a ‘let him down gently’ option in another conversation.

    Cue Virmire, where via the gift of a nuclear bomb, I found a way to not only prevent Kaiden and femShep from happening, but also prevent him feeling unloved in his final moments.

    The ultimate Paragon check.

    1. The Rocketeer says:

      I think you found the most thorough possible way to friendzone someone, bravo.

      1. newplan says:

        He blast-radius zoned him.

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      I’ll be honest, far as emergent narrative goes? This is pretty amazing.

      1. Rory Porteous says:

        It’s absolutely one of my favorite gaming memories, and it’s certainly one of the funniest.

  21. bobisimo says:

    Paragon tries to do everything right and help others (heroic) while working toward his objective. Renegade is ultra-focused on the objective and isn’t concerned with any collateral damage. Both are “good” but Renegade is a little too black and white, while Paragon adds unnecessary risk considering the importance of the greater-good objective. I think this is the core of the morality system, but I don’t think the scenarios you play through use this consistently.

  22. Phantos says:

    I didn’t know until very recently that you can switch up who stays with the bomb and who helps the Salarians. I thought it was fixed, so that Ashley’s always far away and Kaiden is always guarding the bomb.

    So I save Kaiden, just because the bomb takes priority. And also because, despite her abrasive insensitivity regarding other species, I feel like it’s more effective from a dramatic standpoint to lose Ashley.

    I dunno, this is just a personal preference, but I get more of a buried, understated “It should have been YOU!” vibe if Kaiden is still around. I guess it’s just harder for me to like Kaiden, so that it feels like a personal accomplishment when I actually do like him by the time the third game is nearing its’ end.

  23. Phantos says:

    Also, the paragade system in ME1 is screwed up.

    First time played as a Paragon. Somehow had access to the Renegade option with the last Saren confrontation. Even though I didn’t have nearly enough points for it.

    I played it again recently going almost full Renegade. When I got to Saren, both options were grayed out.

    BioWare, go home, you’re drunk.

    1. Ringwraith says:

      Although in the first game, it’s not tied completely to your paragon/renegade points, it’s tied to the points invested in the charm/intimidate skills, which get free ranks and more ranks unlocked the more paragon/renegade points you have.
      Interestingly, the free points carry over onto a New Game+ even though the paragon/renegade meters do not, so you can technically max both skills and never put any points into them.
      If you play the same character a lot.

  24. I didn’t think that Kaiden vs. Ashley promoted player agency because the choice is so friggin arbitrary. It’s just boom, we’re gonna steal one of your teammates. But we’ll let you pick which one! That’s not player agency. That’s the DM being a dick. Player agency would be if they let you TRY to save both of them, but made it incredibly difficult and if you didn’t succeed, BOTH of them would die. Or some other catastrophe would take place instead.

    Choices like these are not “hard”. They’re merely arbitrary and pointless. There is literally *no* choice criteria other than “I like this one better than that one”.

    “You can have what you want, but you have to make an ugly compromise for it” is much better than “Pick A or B because we said so”. Particularly if there are potentially several “what you wants” and a number of different ugly compromises.

    1. Ringwraith says:

      The whole thing would’ve been a whole lot better if you don’t make the choice in a dialogue, and instead have to run to whichever one you want to help first.
      There’s a lot more you can do with that, and makes it feel like less of an arbitrary choice.

      1. MrGuy says:

        The potential issue would be if we set the player expectation that this is a “save the teammates” situation where it’s possible to save both. Then people keep playing over and over again when one does, because surely the game WANTS you to save both. Then they bitch about the difficulty being too high for this mission. It’s never good to imply the state the game expects (one of them dies) is a failure state for the player.

        1. Ringwraith says:

          Although you can have people mention there’s probably not enough time for it or whatever.
          It’s actually almost set up for that, as Joker brings the Normandy down to where-ever you decide to go.

      2. Yes. Choosing in dialog is one thing that really makes it just an arbitrary DM switch instead of an organic situation.

        There are ways to make this situation ambiguous and much more satisfying without implying that there’s a “win” state. It’s just a matter of how you spin it. They should have presented it that saving ONE of your companions was a “win” instead of stating from the outset “pick one to save”. The beginning state should have been “they are BOTH going to die and probably you also if you don’t hustle”. But instead they actually argue about who you should leave, making it obvious that one will live and one will die depending on which you choose. If they’d written it as more “this entire mission has gone to crap, EVERYONE is going to die now” and turned the whole thing into a hail mary pass that basically ends with Shepard punching Saren and squeaking out of there at the last possible second, it would have been much, much better.

        Choices like these area actually much MORE impactful if they don’t tell you up front what it is that you’re choosing, only that you have to Do Something Right Now. The only choices in life where you KNOW what the outcome will be are utterly trivial. If you order the steak instead of the hamburger, you will get the steak instead of the hamburger. And it might even be a nasty, overcooked steak, too, so even that much you don’t know. Giving you this kind of clear, trivialized alternative in a narrative is what makes it stupid and arbitrary from the get go.

    2. INH5 says:

      I agree. This choice always did feel pretty artificial to me. No matter which one you assign to guard the bomb or the Salarians, they both end up in trouble at the same time, and you happen to be exactly in the middle between them when this happens, and regardless of what you previously did with the Salarians you can only save one of them, and regardless of which one you go to Saren always meets you there and you have the exact same fight. Everything is very disconnected from the context of what has previously happened during the mission. Especially on later playthroughs, it becomes clear that this all just boils down to “which character do you like better?”

      1. Slothfulcobra says:

        Yeah, it seems wrong that Kaiden and Ashley are the only ones who matter during that whole sequence. It would make sense if the Salarians got killed if you abandoned them.

        Saren just has to meet up with the player at some point though, and that’s the only real place to do it.

  25. Taellosse says:

    I actually kind of suspect that the male/female player ratio in the first game wasn’t nearly so slanted as the released stats from later games might imply. I base this on a couple admittedly inconclusive data points: Bioware games in general tend to have a higher than average female player base – this is particularly true of the ones that slant more towards “RPG” than “action,” which describes ME1 much better than either of its sequels. Second, the market that Bioware courted for ME2 and 3 skews extra-heavy towards men over women, and thus they were probably the vast majority of the increased player base of the subsequent games. Thus, I suspect that the ratio of FemShep to Broshep characters in ME1 was more in the territory of 30/70 or even 40/60, but the influx of shooter enthusiasts for ME2 and 3 skewed the ratio much further.

    1. INH5 says:

      This infographic claims that 86% of Mass Effect players are male. Though considering the other games on the list, it’s possible that that just meant “the latest game in the Mass Effect” series, and so it only referred to ME3. However, we do know that 82% of ME2 players played as a male Shepard. I haven’t been able to find any numbers that definitely only apply to ME1, and it’s possible that not even Bioware has them, seeing how player tracking scripts were less common back then.

      But regardless, I would be wary of making estimates of the player base demographics based on what kinds of people participate in message boards and fansites. It’s true that the online fanbase of Bioware games has more women than the online fanbase of most AAA video games, but that doesn’t necessarily say anything about the total player base, and it could just be a vocal minority.

      For whatever reason, certain kinds of fandom activity have far more female participants than male participants. See how the overwhelming majority of fan fiction is written by women, even, for example, erotic female/female fan fiction. This can and has resulted in fandom demographics that are quite different from the larger consumer demographics. More than 60% of Harry Potter readers were boys, but you’ll never guess that looking at any Harry Potter fansite. Bioware games have elements that appeal to this sort of crowd, so it’s not surprising that they have a large number of vocal female fans, but I’d be hesitant about extrapolating that to the larger player base.

      1. Taellosse says:

        Yeah, I looked into whether there were any ME1-specific demographics before I posted, too, and couldn’t find any. I suspect ME1 didn’t include a means of sending that kind of data back to Bioware, since they didn’t start releasing those sorts of stats until after ME2 came out.

        You raise valid points about the potential faults in my reasoning, but without hard data, we’re both just speculating, unfortunately. I wish there were some actual numbers to review – it’d be interesting to know what effect the shift in focus had on the demographics of the player base.

  26. General Karthos says:

    I played as MaleShep first because I didn’t realize that FemShep was SO MUCH BETTER as a voice actor.

    Which meant I played ME2 as MaleShep first, then as FemShep, and finally, I played ME3 ONCE, as MaleShep. Couldn’t face it a second time…. I like the game most of the way through (pissed as hell about the Rachni, but LOVED Mordin’s “noble sacrifice”), but I’m one of the folks who had the whole series ruined for me by the ending. I was able to get past it and replay ME1 and ME2 on my new 360 as FemShep, but…. Yeah. I don’t know. I could never quite get behind ME3.

    (Incidentally, all three games I collected and read all of the codex entries. That was one of my primary goals.)

  27. RCN says:

    “Ded is ded!”

    Damn right it is.

    I still stand that the Paragade system was supposed to be “ideology vs pragmatism” in the first Mass Effect. It derailed badly in the sequels when “renegade” became “doing awful but awesome renegade interrupts”, but I felt they wanted to tailor it as two equally valid choices as to how you choose to solve problems, and certainly was very far from KotOR 1’s “Evil points for pointlessly petty theft of the bereft and disenfranchised”.

    Whenever there was a Paragon x Renegade choice, it was actually a difficult choice for me in the majority of ME 1, not knowing how the outcome of some of the comically naive paragon choices would still turn out alright in the end. I guess it works because I really felt in that play through that I was giving up terrain to Saren and setting myself back whenever I made a Paragon choice, and so I only kept myself to make a Paragon choice when it really meant something to me, and it was only pointless in hindsight.

  28. Zaxares says:

    I wonder if the 82-18% split between MaleShep and FemShep in ME3 existed even back in ME1, or whether the huge influx of the CoD-crowd from ME2 onwards was a major contributing factor. ME1 was a real sleeper hit, but when ME2 came out, it was obvious that Bioware (probably with EA’s influence behind it) had made a major effort to make the game more shooter-y, with an eye to picking up players who were used to more conventional 3rd person shooters.

    I will say, though, that the scene where Kaidan/Ashley’s doing a last stand against the bomb, and he/she watches the Normandy fly off without him/her, it was a fairly emotional moment. Even with the technology of the time, the artists did a great job in conveying a sense of “resignation followed by grim determination” when Kaidan/Ashley realizes that they’re going to die.

    1. INH5 says:

      Like I wrote in reply to Taellosse, there aren’t any statistics available online about that kind of thing for ME1, and it’s possible that not even Bioware has them because they didn’t put this kind of data gathering software in ME1.

      Regardless, I will object to the idea that only the sequels were an attempt to appeal to shooter fans. The ME1 launch trailer is at least as action movie esque as the ones for the sequels. Even ignoring the marketing, the game was clearly set up to play at least a little like a TPS, what with the camera, the manual aiming, and the simplified RPG elements compared to Bioware’s previous games (the inventory only contains guns and armor, for example). And if you want to blame the publisher, keep in mind that ME1 was published by Microsoft Games, which also publishes the Halo and Gears of War series.

      All of the games were intended to be RPG/shooter hybrids that would appeal to the shooter crowd. It’s just that only the sequels were successful at that.

  29. Zanfib says:

    I saved Ashley. I saved her because she was with the salarians and saving Kaiden would have meant leaving them to die. Saving one person vs saving a group of people. I sent Ashley with the salarians because she seemed to be more usefull as part of their mission than Kaiden.

  30. Vorpal Kitten says:

    “Everyone talks about this decision. “Kaiden vs. Ashley ““ WHO DID YOU SAVE?””

    I always find it kind of weird that this is the conversation – because for me it was all about “Did you save the salarian forces or not?” I happened to have Ashley with them and Kaiden with the bomb, so saved Ashley – but it was entirely coincidental because I chose to save the large group over the single person.

    1. Ringwraith says:

      A bunch of them and Kirrahe are saved regardless as long as you didn’t make things more difficult for them. They end up hanging around in the Normandy’s cargo hold until you dock somewhere.

  31. SlothfulCobra says:

    The thing about Mass Effect is it’s a massive departure from every other Bioware game. It’s not about talking or politics, it’s about being a soldier and fighting battles as a soldier. That’s why they made somebody die, because that’s what happens to soldiers in real war. There’s no running out with the skin of your teeth while the stormtroopers just happen to miss every shot they take at you, people can die even when they’re not some loser in the prologue like Jenkins.

    That’s pretty much the one thing that defines the narrative of the whole series. This is a story about soldiers in a war, not a story about talking or diplomacy or fetch quests. It is just a matter of fact that every single problem in this setting can be solved through the correct application of men with boots on the ground and guns in their hands.

    1. Ringwraith says:

      Although shouting at everyone for being stupid sometimes helps.

  32. Jakob says:

    Actually, first time through, I didn’t choose between Kaidan or Ashley:

    In the situation, you have a nuke that is set to explode to destroy Sarens lab. The one who didn’t went with the salarians, is the one who is setting up the bomb. So, I decided to go to save the one at the bomb, since I reasoned that was the most important objective to secure. This meant that Kaidan survived.

    1. SlothfulCobra says:

      Interestingly enough, it’s players making decisions like this that probably led to war assets in ME3. It seems like such a good idea, a nice and simple way to acknowledge the tactical components of story decisions and reward the player accordingly. It was a great idea for its context, it just had some implementation problems.

  33. DrMcCoy says:

    This is probably because actually judging player behavior would require knowing why they're doing the thing they're doing

    Well, you could try probing the reasoning out of the player in conversation, by giving at least a few plausible options. Maybe with some trusted companion character, if no other related NPC is available. Probably difficult to achieve without feeling very clumsy, though.

  34. Ite says:

    On my first playthrough I played a paragon black queer equalitarian femShep, because it was just awesome that such a thing was even an option. She saved Ashley (since I felt Kaiden was kind of annoying and flat, while Ashley was quite likable and someone Shepard would like.) I ended up romancing Liara, Miranda and Samantha.

    On my second playthrough I wanted to play an opposite character and make all the choices different just to see what happens. Generally this meant letting a ton of bad things happen. I played a humans-first womanizing renegade maleShep. This kind of spiralled his story out of control when it came to his romances.

    In ME1 I obviously then had to romance Ashley and get her killed. In ME2 I romanced both Talia and Jack, going with Jack in the end, having her open up to you… and then I had to have her killed because hey, last time I had saved her. By then I was fully committed to this path and romanced Talia in ME3, only to watch her kill herself because of decisions I had made.

    That renegade maleShep was so ready to die in the end.

  35. natureguy85 says:

    I hadn’t considered the idea that Saren, despite acting for Sovereign, was leaving little breadcrumbs for Shepard, hoping Shepard would be able to catch and stop him. That was apparent to me in the end, but not before. That makes a lot of sense and I love it.

    I saved Ashley on my first playthrough for purely tactical reasons. It still makes the most sense to me, even though I’ve done otherwise to experience other paths.

    1) The reason I am sending one of my team with the Salarians is for coordination. Therefore I am going to send an officer. So Kaidan goes.

    2) Ashley is guarding the bomb and even though Kirrahe said the bomb can’t be deactivated, the central objective comes first. So Ashley, as the person at the bomb, gets saved.

    I like how the survivor will comment about it immediately after. This should have been a running thing for their character arc.

  36. Krud42 says:

    Almost two years late on this, but…

    My decision to save Ashley wasn’t based on romance options or whether or not I thought she was racist. Because until you pointed out the realism of Ashley in an earlier post, all of this time I saw her as xenophobic. And I was FemShep, so romancing her wasn’t an option. In fact, I was mid-romance with Kaiden, when I decided that letting Kaiden fend for himself while I rescued Ashley was the right decision at the time, making Kaiden’s death all the more dramatic and somewhat meaningful.

    I’m now replaying the trilogy, and this time around I’ve spared Kaiden’s life, though I’m not romancing him, and I let Ashley die, just to see what that was like. And I have to say, her death felt much more anti-climactic to me. And I can’t remember much from ME2 or ME3 that I will miss as it pertains to her. And I’m curious to see what impact, if any, Kaiden makes on the last two installments of the series, as this is my first playthrough where he lives.

  37. Mr. Wolf says:

    “Kaiden vs. Ashley – WHO DID YOU SAVE?”

    I feel like this question is completely backwards. Nobody ever asks who you saved on Eden Prime. Nobody ever calls Liara the Therum Survivor. That’s because survival is default – dying is the exception. The game shouldn’t have framed the question as “Who do you save?”, but rather “Who do you sacrifice?”.

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