Thursday, March 25, 2010

ME2, pt.8: Illusive Freedom

There is one final system I want to bring in my complaints about dialogue.

Paragon & Renegade
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the dialogue wheel is that it displays options unavailable for selection unless you've proven to the designers that you are enough of a "paragon" or "renegade" that Shepard would select them. What? My proof that Shepard would select them is that I am Shepard, and I want to select them.

There are other problems, too. First, I cannot tell the intent of Shepard, so the only way to effectively judge the morality of my actions is by its position on the wheel. Second, if I want the freedom to make the any dialogue choice and prevent the scenario where no choices but restricted ones are descriptive of my actual interest, it encourages me to care more about the designers' intent than my own. For a game with such emphasis on my choices, this seems like a horrible oversight.

I'm curious why the paragon / renegade limitations are necessary. It strikes me that simply having all options available at all times, or just based on previous interactions with that character, would do perfectly well. Why call out whether an action is evil? Just let me make my decision and see how it might realistically play out, perhaps to my displeasure, just as in real life.

Illusive Freedom
Beyond the disconnect that happens because Shepard did not act the way I intended, or because sex seems micromanaged to some nebulous purpose, or because options are chosen only to juice the system toward some mechanical gain (more options), is the disconnect that happens from these things combined. That going into the game, I was enticed by the opportunity to make decisions, explore intimate relationships, and say what I please, only to discover that my freedom was an illusion.

I remember in Knights of the Old Republic being excited when I saw that I could put skill points into anything I wanted, and began to imagine the Han Solo character I would strive towards, only to feel increasingly strung along by game mechanics into being a "good" or "evil" Jedi. I also remember in Mass Effect (1) how astounded and utterly impressed I was that I could, in the final chapter of the game, convince Saren of the error of his ways, and watch the final boss kill himself. I thought I was witnessing an amazing turn in the history of mainstream gaming only to cringe when he came back to life as a zombie and I had to fight him anyway. It sucks when the cake is a lie.

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