Imports/Exports

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.

Despite my complaints, she is one cool character.

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?

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