I May Be Ruined

I am about ~15 hours into Mass Effect 2.

Everything is going swimmingly, although I am beginning to suspect (all) other games have been ruined for me in two very specific ways.

First, I am not sure I can go back to text boxes in RPGs anymore. It is not just about BioWare’s penchant for fully-voiced stories, it is about the equally gripping body language. Everyone has heard about the whole “93% of communication is nonverbal,” right? We are now at a point in game design when at least one company is capable of delivering on that 93% and I do not know if I can go back.

It isn’t just about the smiles, the winks, the nods, or the scare quotes by characters with only three fingers either. It is about the more subtle touches that keep my eyeballs glued to the story exposition. For example:

Asari Facepalm

I should have shot him in the foot when I had the chance.

The asari bartender in the background facepalms when Conrad speaks the part about his wife buying the ticket. I actually had some difficulty taking that screenshot because the time between the background facepalm and the camera switching back to Shepard is less than a second – I had to redo that part of the conversation twice to get the shot.

Think about that for a moment. Someone actually went through the trouble of programming a facepalm into a (presumably) throwaway, non-required dialog option, with less than a second of screentime. Understated is an… er, understatement.

Going back to strict text and using my imagination to fill in the blanks? I am not quite sure it will feel the same knowing that the blanks are literal blanks; unless the developers clearly make up for it in other areas of the game, I suspect I will recognize the gaps as deficiencies rather than “imagination opportunities.”

The second way I have been ruined actually came via The Witcher, and is very clearly manifesting itself in Mass Effect 2. Specifically, I now believe I can and should be able to romance anyone and everyone, simultaneously.

Romance All the Things

Romance All the Things!

I first noticed this tendency when I was flirting with the ship psychiatrist – whom should really know better – and became nervous that things might get out of hand before the entire playing field became available, so to speak. This was not a problem in The Witcher; in fact, you typically only had a single opportunity for “romance” at any given time, so it was a series of all or nothing encounters.

To be honest, this probably has more to do with my methodical nature in gaming than anything else. The baseline assumption I operate on is that I will only ever play a game once – I am looking to maximize my fun, not fill time, and 2nd playthroughs almost always lose out to the dozens of other games available. Ironically, this leads to counter-intuitive game behavior wherein I suck the very marrow out of a game’s bones, completing every sidequest and bonus mission long after such things have ceased being fun and/or make sense to do. Exploring every planet in every system cluster in Mass Effect 1, running Miscellaneous quests in Skyrim as a level 54 character with 100k+ gold, and so on.

As you might suspect, mutually exclusive romance options present a certain difficulty to me.

I do have a residual desire to play ME1&2 again as FemShep, which I would have done originally if not for the availability of romance options at all (that’s another post). The ideal romance scenario would be the “Deus Ex ending” one, wherein you could save right before the critical choice and I could reload to see each outcome. I am getting the impression that this is not how things will shake out.

Youtube exists, but it is just not the same.

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Posted on February 28, 2012, in Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Tali is the best romance option imo. Funny and sentimental. I also really like the bioware style dialog wheel with it’s options and the way the characters react. However they didn’t do as good of job bringing it into MMO’s. For the time I played Swtor I found very few of my chat choices actually changed things in anyway. All your choices just converge to a single point and do so quickly. As opposed to if you killed Wrex in ME1 he is gone and the way the story plays out in ME2 is flipped on it’s head.

    If you haven’t played the Dragon Age games I suggest you play them too. If you want to see companion dialog at it’s best, you don’t get better then Alistair and Morrigan. Combat is pretty unbalanced in DA1 so pick your class carefully and it’s corresponding difficulty. By DA2 they have combat done better however it is balanced a little to easy compared to the same difficulty setting from DA1. If you played DA1 on normal, play DA2 on hard. Personally I liked DA2 better then DA1 but most people liked the first one better. Mostly because I was able use more variety of characters in DA2 then DA1 from the overall improved combat. Though I did game DA1 by making a mage that could solo the endboss on hard so I’m probably skewed.

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    • According to Steam, I last played DA:O on 3/15/11, with a total time of 95 hours. I also played Awakening, which was pretty disappointing overall. I loved the game, although I made the “mistake” of rolling a female toon (which I’ll talk about soon) as far as romances go.

      I actually have DA2 all set up to go, but have been waffling based on all the negative talk I’ve been hearing. It’ll get played eventually, but I’m in no particular hurry.

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      • I’ll be interested in what you had to say about that. Personally, I found the female romance with Alistair to be quite strong/compelling. The one with Zevran was pretty meh, but gained some superficial, emotional complexity later on. The romance with Leliana was questionable though, mainly because my famale warden activated it accidentally by simply engaging in normal “girl talk.” It is good that the option was there, but I was left feeling like they did not think the female side of that romance through all the way.

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  2. Tali is the whiny teenage brat kid. And as you can see the most controversial character in ME.

    As for second play throughs, the ME series just begs for it. You really want to maximise the paragon/renegade side as it does impact the game regarding loyality. That means you miss out on some really cool interrupts. And the dialogue (along with expressions) for both sides are different. A common thing is a paragon male Shepard and a renegade femshp. Not sure it this is enough to entice you to play it twice but when I coupled it with the very different strategies of soldier/infiltrator/adept/vanguard etc, it just begged to be played more than once.

    In fact if you play on insanity those classes force you to play differently in combat.

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  3. I haven’t played ME2, but your comments about body language are interesting, given how poor that was in (the little I played of) SW:TOR. I found it painfully obvious that the animation was done separately to the voice acting, and that the voice actors recorded their parts separately to each other. There was no natural flow whatsoever.

    Why is ME2 so much better? Reckon it’s just because it was developed on a more manageable scale?

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    • Could be different internal teams (SWTOR’s teams were worldwide), could be the density of dialog period. I found a link that says, and I quote:

      “The biggest challenge for this game is the sheer amount of content you have to create,” boasted Ohlen. “This is a HUGE game. Just to give you an idea of how huge this game is, we were taking a look at it, and it has more story content than every single other BioWare game that’s come before put together. That would mean Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate II, Neverwinter Nights, Neverwinter Nights II, Knights of the Old Republic, Knights of the Old Republic II, Mass Effect–and all the expansions.” Currently, the Old Republic has 12 full-time staff writers who are “cranking out” content, some for as long as two years.

      I imagine that that sort of density would lead to… shortcuts.

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  4. I have not finished ME2, but my femShep opted to skip the romance options in ME1 completely. Liara personally gets on my nerves and Kaidan was not much better. I know that in game romances are pretty contrived anyways, but Kaidan was all but declaring his love for you (and claiming to have been receiving “signals from you) very very early into the game … even if femShep had chosen the most neutral dialogue options possible early on. Between that and Liara throwing a textbook’s worth of information at you regarding Asari reproduction when she first boards the Normandy … in the end it simply just made more sense to not get involved with anyone and focus on the mission at hand.

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