Posts Tagged rpg
Potential Spoilers for The Witcher 2
Geralt of Rivia is being questioned down in the dungeons. His interrogator believes that Geralt may be, as he claims, innocent of a serious murder, and offers him an opportunity to catch the real culprit. Normally, our Witcher protagonist would jump at the chance to clear his name – but not this time. This time, whenever a dialog choice appears, I choose the most belligerent, uncooperative option. You know, just to see what happens. What could be the harm?
Before long, the game gives me this choice:
Attack? Hell yes! Geralt charges back, fists flying, beating down his interrogator…and gets shot in the back by a soldier’s crossbow. He falls to the ground, bloody and still. The screen fades to black. Game Over.
Clearly, attacking the interrogator is a Bad Idea. Geralt is a prisoner in a dungeon filled with hostile soldiers, he knows there is a guard within hearing on the other side of the door, he’s unarmed, unarmored, and the man in front of him has more or less admitted to wanting to help him escape.
And yet, the game allows me this obviously bad choice, one whose only result is death. I imagine the developers of The Witcher 2 scolding reckless players, “Hey. Pay attention. We put a lot of effort into this game, so take it seriously.”
But really, the reason I love this option is that it defies the notion that dialogue options are defined by their results.
As I’ve written before, the typical RPG dialogue choice is one where you choose a consequence, as opposed to an action. Choose to persuade, and you will persuade. Choose to kill a character, and the target will die. You know exactly what will happen before you even click your mouse.
Now, I’m not opposed to having results match the chosen action. After all, we are playing a game, and frustrating player desire too often is simply not fun. Most of the great choices in RPGs are about deciding outcomes, and serve as either a chance to shape the world to your liking or as a moral barometer for difficult situations.
But at the same time, I’m a little tired of the notion that my player character is the ultimate superman who can never fail. It bugs me that, every time I see that [PERSUADE] icon, I never have to think about the content of the choice or whether the person I’m talking to is the receptive sort, or any number of other factors that come into play when dealing with real people. No matter what, the choice is instant success. My RPG adventures are populated by weak-willed, easily-manipulated, easily-killed humanoid approximations. They cower before my awesomeness.
Please, RPG developers, give me a conversation where I can make a mistake; even if you never let me stumble for the rest of the game, that one instance will keep me on my toes. Let me believe that I’m part of living world, full of a plethora of different people with different motivations. Let me think about how I want to interact with the world, not just how I want the world to interact with me.
Don’t be afraid to let me get myself killed. I’ll thank you for it later.
Potential spoilers for Mass Effect and Witcher series
For gamers like me, there’s a certain appeal in games with an import feature; to carry a character you’ve come to feel some kinship with into a new adventure, to see the results of your actions from the previous one. Developers certainly see the appeal, as more and more titles are allowing us to carry over characters from one game into its anticipated sequel(s). And while import functionality is not exactly new (the Ultima series was doing this back in the late ‘80s), it has a lot more potential in an era where digital storage space is no longer an issue.
And yet, I just haven’t been satisfied with the way it’s been handled. Maybe I expect too much, but so far, there’s always been something in the imported save that doesn’t sit right. The results are either big, gaping inconsistencies or a lack of consequences that reduces the saved data into a file of trivialities.
Take Mass Effect 2, a game with the unhappy burden of dozens and dozens of binary choices to account for. The solution to this wide array of possibilities is to reduce the number of factors that actually have some tangible effect – and while it makes sense that not every action you take will have significant consequences, at some point I began to wonder if all these people I helped from the first game had anything better to do than send me email messages.
On Illium, I ran into Gianna Parasini, an acquaintance from Mass Effect‘s world of Noveria. She recognized me, quipped about how I didn’t help her out all those years ago…and then asked me to help her out. What was the point of my choice again? Shouldn’t I be expecting some real consequences, and not just flavor text?
I’m not expecting every choice to change the fate of the galaxy. I’m not looking for wildly divergent paths based on past choices. But while there are a few real interesting consequences (the Rachni resolution, in particular, works well because the result is both flavor text and a dissemination of new, interesting information), most choices make me feel like everything I did in the first game had no point – and not in the in-character dramatically fatalistic way.
The most disappointing choice, by far, was probably the biggest and far-reaching one: whether to save or doom the council. The fate of the ruling governing body was in your hands, and yet, no matter what you do, the result in the sequel is the same: whoever is on the council refuses to help you out. End of story. And while this could work as a commentary on the fickle nature of politicians, the way it’s presented makes it feel like a cheap cop-out.
I harp a lot on Mass Effect 2, but other games fare little better. The Witcher 2 uses an import feature, yet almost none of your import data make a dent in the story. There are some references here and there to whether you saved a character or sided with one group over another, but in the end, it’s just an after-the-fact sidebar.
Now, I could overlook most of this: after all, almost all the events of the first game took place in the city of Vizima, a locale that you don’t see once in its sequel. It makes sense that the fate of a single brothel in Temeria wouldn’t have an effect on any person in the whole Pontar Valley.
And yet, the game commits the great sin of ignoring one of the most potentially important characters from the first game. Did you start a serious romance with her? Forget it! It’s been thrown out the window, replaced in the sequel’s first scenes by ‘canon’ (sexy canon, but canon nonetheless).
Why did you give us an import option again? Oh, right: that sword I got in the first game. That was somewhat useful.
Maybe I’m expecting too much from game developers, but the way I see it, if you decide to feature imported saves, you should take the time to make the imported data matter.
What do you think? Is flavor text enough?