One of the best things about games is being able to play exactly how you want to. Where do you want to go? Why do you want to do it? How do you want to play the character? It also asks some interesting things like ‘Are you the character?’ and ‘Why do you play in that way?’. I’ll ask some of these questions in this article when exploring the world of Mass Effect for the Xbox 360.
For those of you who don’t know, Mass Effect is a single player role-playing game that came out in November 2007. It’s sci-fi based, with various alien worlds and life forms to interact with. Your character, Commander Shepard, can be male or female. You see your ‘avatar’ from the third person.
I’m not about to review the game here, but I will say that it’s very good. The action is quite tight and the powers (including psionics and technology) are all very well integrated in the main. Yes, there are a few bugs such as being trapped in walls but generally the game is well put together. What really interests me in the game though is the dialogue.
Like any RPG worth its’ gold (ha ha ha) Mass Effect features dialogue. And rather a lot of it in fact. What makes it a bit special is that all of the dialogue is spoken, and characters on the whole convey what they have to say rather well – none of the voice acting that we’ve seen in the likes of Shenmue, Tenchu etc.
So, returning to your character for a moment – when you enter a scripted dialogue sequence, you have normally three options at your disposal. Do you give a sensible, reasonable answer (nice); do you give an answer that’s curt (direct) or something resembling that which you’d say to your boss on a Monday morning if given the chance (nasty)? These three options form the core of much of the non-violent interaction with the characters in the Mass Effect world and as such as colourful experiences.
What really interests me is that generally speaking a lot of these interactions won’t really affect the story. Whether you help the scientist get his body released by the government through threats or sweet-talking is really irrelevant – and that’s a good thing. You’re free to explore, via your character, some interesting openings and dialogue without jeopardising the ‘main mission’ if you will.
Your character does have an alignment of sorts and it’s one that fluctuates throughout gameplay. Paragon is the ‘good’ alignment, making your character more virtuous. Renegade does exactly as it suggests; your character is somewhat the wild card and will behave as such. This will give you access to different endings, depending on whether you have a higher Paragon or Renegade meter.
The morality of the game is the crux of this feature – and is something that I feel will be made much more of as games immerse players more fully. As points are not removed (only added on in a form of ‘reputational factor’) your character, under your guidance, changes the course of the game.
The fact is that many choices in Mass Effect are ambiguous – the fact that a large number of decisions don’t affect the main quest makes them even more so. So, should you shoot? Should you switch off the life support? Do you leave him or her behind to their fate? If so, why? These are the sorts of questions you’ll be asking yourself when playing Mass Effect.
Truly, one of the most interesting parts of the game for me was a moment of dialogue. It’s only happened once so far but I’m sure it’ll happen again. I was engaging in conversation regarding the return of a body and my character was quite aggressive. I didn’t play that option – but it seemed the only sensible recourse. The fact that I got to the outcome was pleasing, but thinking about it afterwards, the way my character went about it made me smile.
The dialogue and branching options are something I’ve no doubt we’ll see much more of in the future. Aside from the action sequence, emotive dialogue is really the only way forward for games – to create something truly dynamic, exciting and immersive then games must become emotive. This might not be the ‘Nintendo Wii’ way of doing things, but HD is here to stay, along with simpler control mechanisms. When these two converge we’ll start to see something really special.