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.