Inevitably Good

I recently replayed Mass Effect to completion on the PC and am already headlong into the much-beloved sequel for a second time. I went into the effort wanting a new experience from the cookie-cutter, Eagle Scout Shepard from my first foray into the series. My former milquetoast was the very definition of a dull, predictable and largely unpalatable hero like Jack from Lost or a white-bread, cold-cut combo from Subway. This world has had enough bad heroes; I was committed to breaking the cycle.

This new fem She-pard was to be an unpredictable galactic force: tough, independent, unrestrained and unafraid to get her hands dirty. She was to be a gender-bent, space-age version of 24’s Jack Bauer, only with better hair and a sports bra. Janeway, if Voyager had had better ordinance and writers. Sarah Palin—only she can break things with her mind.

This was a good plan that, had it been properly executed, would have set the stage for a flawed, though idealistic protagonist. But once I was in the game, I could not escape the nature of myself. Much as I might want to pursue the dark corners of Shepard’s potential modi operandi, inevitably my hand consistently pushes the dialogue wheel to the happy and familiar corners of the paragon path, and by the end this new hero was as edgy and morally corrupt as a very special episode of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Once again, really dull good had triumphed over some interesting evil I could have been doing.

This is the part where I am supposed to blame Bioware and similar companies for making the good vs. evil path too black and white. Renegade options, I am supposed to point out, are too archetypal and often distasteful, leaving no options to create really interesting social choices that swim in the murkier, grayer waters of morality. I suppose that’s true, but on the flip side it’s not like the good choices are any less archetypal or unimaginative.

In fact, that’s sort of the point. Being a paragon of good and light and hope and kindness in the dirty universe of Mass Effect is no less contrived than embracing one's inner Satan or Donald Trump. Further, it’s not like I have the sense that following a darker path would ultimately leave the universe unsaved. I’m pretty sure I could go back and treat every character in the universe as though he, she or it were my own emotional, occasionally physical, punching bag, and somehow, someway the masses would still have embraced my ruthless galaxy-saving actions.

No, the problem is mine. I can’t play an evil or even particularly compromised character. The best I can achieve is a kind of chaotic good—the kind of character that might punch someone in the kidneys if they are rude to an old lady or something. Sure, I can get impotently snarky with Ambassador Udina when the mood hits, but when the chips are down I’m going to save a bureaucratic and occasionally jingoistic counsel of aliens every time they happen into the line of fire, just because.

What’s interesting about this phenomenon is that it only exists in games where there is a clear intention of choice between good and evil. If I play a game like a Grand Theft Auto, I find no internal conflict in making the instantaneous decision to run over a murder of pedestrians if it means evading the feds, but if the game were to suddenly pop up a dialogue box and ask, “Do you want to hit those wheelchair-bound nuns with your Buick?” I would be forced to say “no” every time.

There is a subtle difference in those two actions, and it triggers totally different components of my morality. Something about having a game call a quick time-out and make you explicitly describe the action you intend to take escalates the situation into first-degree moral corruptibility that I can’t stomach. If Counter-Strike had queried, “Would you like to headshot that terrorist, or engage him in open discussion about poverty as it influences geo-political conflicts?” every time I sighted down an enemy, my user name might as well have been “Professorial_TreeHuggerXX1.”

I have, at least once in the past, forced myself to pursue a dark path in one of the Knights of the Old Republic games, but I was only able to stomach it for a few hours before, frankly, I just couldn’t reconcile an interest in the character any longer. Had I made a similar attempt again, I suspect I would have reached the same conclusion. Instead, my angelically smug Shepard has once again spread rainbows and sunshine across the Traverse.

I suspect it’s inevitable.

Comments

One thing I don't think has been mentioned about Mass Effect, but similar systems are in most Bioware games, is morality (or attitude, or whatever you describe it as) as a system. The more choices you make towards one side the further the game pushes you down that side, and the game encourages you to go all-in on that side as it unlocks options that are advantageous in your missions. The game discourages making choices mixing alignments, meaning if you want to do well at the game you have less choices as you should always choose the same option, or if you decide to go wherever your mood takes you at the time you will have a harder progression.

This has been one of the back and forth topics in the ME threads.

mwdowns wrote:

Damn, it, MrDeVil909...you Tanhausered (spelling?) me while I was writing my comment! Curse these slow typing hands!

Can't believe it took so long myself.

drphil wrote:

The best video games make it difficult for you to disassociate yourself from the protagonist.

For me that was also one of the strengths of The Witcher. Despite the RP limitations I identified with the character of Geralt and made choices that I felt I/Geralt would make.

It helps that unlike ME, as Scratched points out, the choices aren't a game system. If you make a couple of Paragon choices on your Renegade playthrough you can potentially gimp your character. Once you have picked a path ME rewards you for sticking with it consistently.

I'm surprised the thread has gotten this far without Alpha Protocol being mentioned, and with respect to Mass Effect I feel compelled to link this video (note, at the time ME2 wasn't released). They're discussing their own game, but it makes good contrast against ME1 where on one hand you have decisions that are assigned to an alignment, and on the other where they don't and it's up to the player to decide if that's 'good' or 'bad'.

The player is making the character they are playing, instead of what I feel is an uncomfortable middle-ground between the game makers making part of the character and the player making part of the character.

And to contradict myself, I feel The Witcher's 'identity' quest is going towards the half authorship of the Geralt character, although for some reason I can't put my finger on why it works for me. Perhaps because each path you choose (Order/Neutral/Scoia'tael) is authored and feels complete.

"She was to be a gender-bent, space-age version of 24’s Jack Bauer, only with better hair and a sports bra. Janeway, if Voyager had had better ordinance and writers. Sarah Palin—only she can break things with her mind."

I read this last night and shot Gin out my nose.

Jennifer Hale is so good, too.

I am going to attempt an 'evil' playthrough when I get the PS3 version so I hope I can make it! My first time through I think I made one renegade interruption (I think it was the Saeed mission) and it was pretty funny so, I am optimistic I'll be able to overcome my natural tendency to be nice.

I played through both Mass Effect games as full renegade and never felt that I was choosing the 'evil' path. A bit of a dick, maybe. Sarcastic, no-nonsense, get sh*t done attitude. I may not have been Super Mr. Nice Guy, but I still saved people, earned my crew's loyalty, and saved the universe. And I never felt evil.

I really liked that about the Mass Effect games. Usually I have the same issue as Elysium - unable to stomach choosing the not-good side in an RPG game. But the Mass Effect games were the first time I was able to do just that, and I had a blast doing it. It never felt like the typical Bioware morality choice of 1) Save the little girl's kitten from a tree, or 2) Kill the little girl, put her head on a spike, use that spike to beat her parents to death, and then burn down their house while laughing maniacally. Instead, Mass Effect let me still be the good guy, but I just didn't have to be so damn nice about it.

Scratched wrote:

One thing I don't think has been mentioned about Mass Effect, but similar systems are in most Bioware games, is morality (or attitude, or whatever you describe it as) as a system. The more choices you make towards one side the further the game pushes you down that side, and the game encourages you to go all-in on that side as it unlocks options that are advantageous in your missions. The game discourages making choices mixing alignments, meaning if you want to do well at the game you have less choices as you should always choose the same option, or if you decide to go wherever your mood takes you at the time you will have a harder progression.

This has been one of the back and forth topics in the ME threads.

This is exactly how I have felt. I played ME2 the first time through making the decisions that I felt I would make in those situations. I ended up going about 65% paragon, 35% renegade. Once the second half of the game began, I couldn't even pick half of the dialogue options. It was pretty infuriating. Why bother putting in a "morality" system when you are essentially forced to pick one path and always act that way. After experiencing that, it was pretty easy to run a second play through going all renegade because you have to in order to get all the renegade options. I didn't care anymore about the consequences of the dialogue options, but mashed the renegade button like having my reflexes tested by a doctor. The game was pigeon-holing me into a certain character and there was no positive to resisting my "role".

Clemenstation wrote:

Accidentally running over a pedestrian while driving a dying patient to the hospital in a stolen ambulance is by far the more interesting moral dilemma.

This, this, THIS is what all gaming moral choices should be about! All of those indie RPGs I play (often referred to as hippy games for some bizarre reason) put situations like this front and center rather than shoehorning in alignment stats. The more a video game can create these kinds of situations, the more real and meaningful your kharmic decisions become.

I liked Alpha Protocol for all the interconnectedness of characters and side missions. It wasn't necessarily good or evil to kill someone but it closed off doors to side stories and made me feel like I was missing out on some great story moments.

I play a renegade Shepard but never full renegade. The reason being that if I always choose the options at the bottom of the wheel it means I'm not only smacking around civvies, but I'm also being a dick to my crewmates. Everyone who loves Firefly talks about the crew of the ship as a family unit. If shipboard scenes consisted of Mal swaggering around his ship casually abusing Wash or Kaylee he would be reviled instead of worshipped.

I tried to play New Vegas as a neutral character and avoid any particular entanglements. Then I found a Ranger outpost that the Legion had destroyed at which they had left behind a note saying that they had taken all the women. I guess rape is the line for me. I've since become a hero to the Rangers because I'll jump at any chance to put a bullet in a Legionnaire's
brain pan. (It's odd that people say FO:NV is lighter in tone than FO3.)

On the GTA angle; in the cinematics Nico is ashamed of his past life as a mercenary and wants to stop being a killer but under player control he could wade out into a city park with a flamethrower. Then in the next cutscene he is still the same remorseful protagonist. There's no moral choice in any GTA game. Just the LC police, who are woefully moronic.

Sheazy wrote:

I played through both Mass Effect games as full renegade and never felt that I was choosing the 'evil' path. A bit of a dick, maybe. Sarcastic, no-nonsense, get sh*t done attitude. I may not have been Super Mr. Nice Guy, but I still saved people, earned my crew's loyalty, and saved the universe. And I never felt evil.

I did the same thing. I tried to play the Paragon path in a second play, but I found it surprisingly boring. Surprising because I've always gravitated towards the paladin-esque style of gameplay. What I like about the Mass Effect games is that you can choose the darker, more aggressive options without being evil. My Shephard had a hard life growing up, joined the military and won a massive military engagement by being the last man standing. He was a man who was all about being unapologetic about making hard choices. He was very much like Saren, but with some humanity (for humanity!).

That's not to say I picked the renegade options all the time. I chose whatever response fit the no-nonsense, gritty space commander I saw as my Shepard. It wasn't about being good or evil, or even about being a nice guy vs a jerk. It was about a guy who was aggressive and always in command. Most of the time, that makes him a jerk, but he was a jerk who was trying to achieve good goals. That Mass Effect let me play a character like that is a real step forward for dialogue tree based RPGs.

Neither Renegade nor Paragon option in ME2 is out and out evil. That said, I wouldn't say that the Paragon choices are all that "good" either. It's interesting to me that many people apparently see Paragon Shepard as a pure white, unstained boyscout whereas I see even Paragon Shepard as a racist with a violent streak.

LarryC wrote:

Neither Renegade nor Paragon option in ME2 is out and out evil. That said, I wouldn't say that the Paragon choices are all that "good" either. It's interesting to me that many people apparently see Paragon Shepard as a pure white, unstained boyscout whereas I see even Paragon Shepard as a racist with a violent streak.

He's a boyscout with a shotgun. What do you expect?

My problem in the Mass Effect series is that I am never "good enough" or "renegade enough" to be classified as either one. It's fun to play that way, but bad for unlocking the exclusive dialogue choices and *sigh* achievements.

I had the same problem in the Knights of the Old Republic series, especially the second one: I followed too closely to the Grey Side of the Force.

It's worth being evil in Fallout 3 just to see the beautiful Megaton explosion. I felt bad after, though, so I took it out on old Alistair Tenpenny and his henchman later in the game...

TsuDhoNimh wrote:

It's worth being evil in Fallout 3 just to see the beautiful Megaton explosion. I felt bad after, though, so I took it out on old Alistair Tenpenny and his henchman later in the game...

I just shot every car I saw. Smaller scale, but occurs more often. Parking lots were great fun.

For me the problem does seem to be Bioware (or others) confusing 'badass option' with 'real douchebag move'.
Can't remember if it was mentioned on the conference call or somewhere else, but you do end up paying for the paragon options (if you're playing male Shepherd) with lots of shots of that oh-so-genuine smile of his...iiiick.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
El-Taco-the-Rogue wrote:

Man, as long as we have clear-cut moral decisions, rather than embedded moral dillemmas games will never interest me with their moral choice systems. The choice always seems to be 'Are you good or evil?', as opposed to something that makes you examine your values, or stand for one value over another. I want to see moral decisions that sneak up on you, where you don't realise a choice is presented until you've chosen.

You tried the Witcher? It's the closest I've seen to a game that forces you to make tough choices. What's especially cool is you only find out the consequences hours later.

I actually picked up a copy last Christmas! However, I only got a PC decent enough for it recently, but I'll be sure to play it soon!

-Also, I haven't yet played ME2, but I was bothered by the classification of racism as 'renegade'. The renegade approach seemed to be about being more direct, and avoiding unnecessary risk of the many for the sake of the few. And then they added that renegade Shepard has a trait that can be seen as simply wrong, rather than different.

Ah yeah, I too have trouble picking the "evil" choices, but Bioware's black/white choice system does compel me to do it for the sake of completeness. The bigger problem is the lack of a good, consistent tone.

I'm just finishing up my all-renegade playthrough of ME2 now, and unlike with the paragon character, I have no idea who this Shepard is. Is he a selfish thug, who'll bully shopkeepers into giving him a big discount? Is he an ultra pro-human xenophobe? Is he an inherently noble guy who just tells it like it is, has no time for bureaucracy and diplomacy and is willing to break the rules to get the job done? Or is he just a big prick for the sake of being a prick, when it doesn't even affect him one way or another? I honestly have no idea.

This was also a huge problem with the dark side choices in KOTOR. Dark jedis should be about crushing anyone who stands in their way, manipulating people into doing their bidding and even sacrificing their companions for the sake of more power. They should not be about knocking down beggars for a few extra credits or screwing people over for no reason whatsoever.

Put me squarely in the vanilla, can't-play-GTA camp. However, whereas in real life I'm a vanilla desk jockey most of the day, in games I'm a vanilla space-marine epic hero! That's enough for me.

That said, I do wish more games offered complicated moral choices.

Though I play most RPGs as a heroic champion (Fallouts for example), what I really liked about ME and ME2 were their much more nuanced choices. I played both games as around 90% renegade (I could probably check my saves for the exact ratio). My redheaded space-lesbian FemShep was a no-nonsense juggernaut of justice, working for the greater good, but who went out of her way to support her crew and friends, plus protect innocents as best she could.

Following every lower left choice (the ones that typically give Renegade points, even when colored white) would definitely result in a rather horrible person. However, I don't think even going down a renegade path necessitates picking every renegade option.

I generally find myself doing just the oposite in most games with a "choice" in morality. As an example:

In Fallout 3 I recently got all the DLC and expansions. I start a new character with the full intention of being a goody 2 shoes. After a couple of hours I find myself exiting the vault having stolen everything not nailed to the ground and having brutally mudered at least half the residents, fully looking forward to blowing up megaton.

I geuss its just too much fun being evil.

Yeah, I think I'd rather see a law/chaos split than a good/evil one. Very few people actually believe they're evil; nearly all of them are trying to do good as they see it, but take different paths to get there. Conservatives, as an example, tend to believe in systems, established orthodoxies, punishment, and purity; liberals are less consistent, distrust authority, believe in rehabilitation more than punishment, and don't really have a purity concept at all.

Both are perfectly capable of killing in some circumstances. Both like to impose their views of the world on others. But both sides believe they're doing good, and are trying to improve the societies around them, even when, in fact, they are being extremely destructive.

I think a game exploring the ramifications of these competing worldviews could be tremendously interesting.

Oh, and:

I'm just finishing up my all-renegade playthrough of ME2 now, and unlike with the paragon character, I have no idea who this Shepard is.

Yeah, I totally agree with that. Renegade FemShep has the best voice, but the whole renegade character is a muddled mess. I'm pretty sure they're writing the stories from the paragon viewpoint, and then adding in exceptions for the renegades, and they're inconsistent about doing so. Sometimes Shep is just a dick, sometimes she's selfish, sometimes she's coldly calculating, sometimes she's authoritarian, and it can change almost sentence to sentence.

I'm so glad I found this discussion, because it's something I've thought about a lot. I definitely found the implementation of the morality system in Mass Effect constraining, in similar ways to other people here. I think a major reason is that I conceptualize my character's moral/ethical alignment on two different levels. At one level, there's the person's basic moral principles and beliefs: how should society be organized, and how should people treat one another. But then there's also the question of how one puts those moral beliefs into to practice, in situations where you may have to sacrifice your ideals in the short run for the long-run greater good.

Like the author of this post, I have a hard time effectively role-playing a character whose underlying principles are wildly different than my own. But I have played through both Mass Effects twice, with a male and a female character that are wildly different from each other. The way I made this work for myself was by giving both characters the same moral principles--which are basically similar to my own--but having them put those beliefs into practice in totally different ways.

Both of my Shepards are basically egalitarians and anti-racists. They want humanity to be treated as equals in the galactic order, but they also believe that saving the other races from the reapers is just as important as saving humanity. My male Shepard, however, approaches things as an anti-authoritarian who takes his personal moral consistency very seriously, and who always puts his personal loyalties ahead of his allegiances to institutions. My female Shepard, on the other hand, is consummately political: she is willing to temporarily compromise her principles or even sacrifice those close to her, if she thinks doing so is necessary to achieve her ultimate goals. She regards people like my male Shepard as being naive and self-aggrandizing types, who place their own sense of moral righteousness ahead of actually making the world a better place.

Using that basic framework, I was able to make very different choices with the two characters in ways that felt fairly natural. But both ended up with a pretty similar paragon-renegade balance, because the guidelines I was using didn't align with the conception of morality that Bioware had set up.

Ideally, a game would let you vary both the core moral beliefs of your character and their pragmatic judgments about how to implement those beliefs. But writing a game which is that morally open ended is very, very hard. So maybe an acceptable compromise would be to just stipulate the core beliefs of the character, and only give the player control over how they put those beliefs into action. That would probably make for a more consistent experience, and mitigate the problem that a lot of people here have identified with Mass Effect: it's never clear whether being a renegade means being ruthless and unsentimental about doing what it takes to achieve the same basic ends as a paragon, or whether it just means that you enjoy being a cruel and callous dickhead.

No, the problem is mine. I can’t play an evil or even particularly compromised character. The best I can achieve is a kind of chaotic good—the kind of character that might punch someone in the kidneys if they are rude to an old lady or something. Sure, I can get impotently snarky with Ambassador Udina when the mood hits, but when the chips are down I’m going to save a bureaucratic and occasionally jingoistic counsel of aliens every time they happen into the line of fire, just because.

I don't see this as a problem.

My view has long been that the characters we play in games say something about the people we are and want to be. There's an old quote that character is what you do when nobody's looking. Your own fantasies are the ultimate in private action, because nobody can know what's happening in your mind but you. So your fantasies are a kind of mirror into your own true self.

Video games allow you to live out a fantasy on-screen. You can do anything your heart desires with no consequences. Nobody's looking. And the character you want to have is that of a morally upright person.

This is some kind of failure of personality?

I always play the paragon paths in games that give me the choice (I've never harvested a little sister, and I never will), and I tend to not play games where I have to do things I find morally reprehensible (I used to play the GTA games, but one day I thought about what exactly it was I was having fun doing, and it stopped being fun.) This shuts me out of a lot of the game market these days, since it seems like game developers managed to convince themselves that goody-two-shoes heroes are trite but selfish douche-bag anti-heroes aren't. But it saves me money in the long run, so I'm not complaining.

My ideal game would involve a morally ambivalent protagonist with a thin story that I can put my own context on. The moral choices wouldn't even be tracked by the game.

My main problem with moral choices in games is that sometimes I don't like any of the choices. It's not that I don't want to be the good guy, it's that I disagree with the developers about what makes me a good guy in that scenario, and my choice isn't presented to me. This happened a lot in Fallout New Vegas, which is why I've already sold the game but I still have Fallout 3 on my shelf.

I wonder if one of the ways to get around this is to take your character out of the equation of what gets influenced by your choices. Like Bioshock you're forming some other mirror to yourself that learns from what you do. A common trope is that at the start of a game you're the rookie following a more experienced super-space-soldier as a tutorial, with a role reversal the 'mirror' could be a rookie and the player the experienced one, and then the rookie goes and makes all kinds of hilarious mistakes because you told them to.

I've found that humming Chris Remo's "Space Asshole" every time I have to make a moral choice in a Mass Effect game invariably leads to Shepard being a thorough douche.

Dyni wrote:

Good Lord, reading this thread makes me feel like such a douche. I blew up Megaton, played as evil Cole in Infamous, and ran through Mass Effect 1/2 as a pure renegade without reservation. I'm a goodie goodie in my real life. I don't have much desire to recreate my own persona in my games unless I'm going for additional playthroughs. Am I alone?

There's nothing inherently wrong with getting outside yourself in a role-playing game. It's right there in the genre's label, after all.

Your hatred of your own life, though—that's something you should talk about.

Clemenstation wrote:

Under these circumstances I feel every available option is blaringly obvious in its utility: to make my character more 'good', or more 'evil', or to access additional and optional dialog (which I happen to like doing).

But because many games reward you in some way for swinging to one extreme or the other in morality, I know I'm going to 'game' the dialog before I even hear it. It's rare for mildness to be the most compelling option, from a narrative or gameplay perspective. So I find the interrupts boring by default, even if the story is well-written and enjoyable to watch. I'm a good guy or I'm an evil guy, and maybe some interesting stuff comes along with that, but it's so simple it's on autopilot.

MeatMan wrote:

I assure you I will have no problem sticking to the renegade path. After all, it's just a game - a damn good one, but still, just a game.

Since a few people mentioned BioShock, I'll state that I harvested every little sister I came across. Not because I was making a conscious decision to be "evil," but because doing so gave me the most ADAM.

I know people who live their lives viewing morality in this sort of linear, rule-based system. I won't say they're wrong, just that I think there can be more to it than that, and that I think it's good for people to demand more from their ethics. There is an ethics beyond this sort of moral abacus, and I celebrate when a game allows that.

gains wrote:
Clemenstation wrote:

Accidentally running over a pedestrian while driving a dying patient to the hospital in a stolen ambulance is by far the more interesting moral dilemma.

This, this, THIS is what all gaming moral choices should be about! All of those indie RPGs I play (often referred to as hippy games for some bizarre reason) put situations like this front and center rather than shoehorning in alignment stats. The more a video game can create these kinds of situations, the more real and meaningful your kharmic decisions become.

Agreed. If there has to be some sort of measurement and in-game consequence, I'd rather it be amoral, like an infamy rating or the more relationship-based system of Dragon Age (though I'm sure Dragon Age is more of a classic BioWare system than it lets on). And if it has to be a good-bad scale with rewards, I'd reward staying within a range toward the center. Because frankly, I think that going to extremes is usually the least effective tactic.

It's funny - I'm often the same do-gooder in RPGs. Partly because I like playing the good character, but even moreso because I'm usually driven away in disgust by the alternative. I hated the evil options in KOTOR and Jade Empire. But in Mass Effect, I'm happy to play a (partial) Renegade, because I feel there's actual reason to do so.

muttonchop wrote:

Part of my problem is that the evil path almost always forces you into acting like a psychotic douchebag. If I could play as a cold, calculating villain who acted purely out of self-interest, I could probably get behind that. Unfortunately, every game with an evil path always seems to hit a point where you can't be properly evil unless you drown some kittens or set fire to an old lady or something.

Nail head, meet muttonchop's hammer.

Sean's comparison to GTA is interesting, because GTA is the exact same thing as KOTOR for me. I don't want my evil Sith Lord to kill the beggar because there simply isn't anything to be gained by it. And I can't bring myself to hit the pedestrians in GTA, not so much because it's an evil thing, but because there's just no narrative reason to do it. The most fun I had in my short time with GTA was when the roommate who had lent me the game came and watched me play for a bit. I reveled in his horror as he watched me drive around, not only avoiding pedestrians, but obeying traffic laws, ye gods! He asked why I would do such a thing. I asked why I would not: what did I have to gain by attracting unwanted police attention or risking a car accident?

I don't find any fun in being evil simply for the sake of mayhem. Give me a reason to be evil, so that it's not just mayhem. That's something I find Mass Effect excels at: I'm killing this character because of horrible things they've done, not because I feel like shooting someone. I'm holding on to this horrendous technology because who knows what can be learned from it, even if it could easily be misused - not because keeping sinister things around is what dark characters do in between kicking kittens and murdering the down-and-out.

-------

Regarding Renegade Shep:
gewy is correct that Pure Renegade Shepard is a bit of a mess, but those who play partial Renegades have a good point: if you pick and choose just a few of the elements that make up the renegade options (just xenophobic or just utilitarian or just harsh), rather than all of them, you have a much better character than pure renegade (and pure paragon too, frankly).

Scratched wrote:

One thing I don't think has been mentioned about Mass Effect, but similar systems are in most Bioware games, is morality (or attitude, or whatever you describe it as) as a system. The more choices you make towards one side the further the game pushes you down that side, and the game encourages you to go all-in on that side as it unlocks options that are advantageous in your missions. The game discourages making choices mixing alignments

I also didn't like this change to ME2 at first. (I suppose ME1 was somewhat the same way, but in ME1 it was at least possible to upgrade both persuade paths, if not easy.) But I'm starting to come around.

It makes absolutely no difference in combat, unlike some previous Bioware games, so there's no downside there to being gray. The alignment meters are solely there for Persuade options that affect story. And I'm not so sure those persuade options are always good things to have. In some instances, they're Win Buttons for story, saving you from a lot of choices you otherwise have to make. Just look at Zaeed's or Tali's loyalty mission. There are hard choices you have to make there, that affect both the story and whether you get to flip that "Loyalty" bit for each character. Unless, of course, you have a high alignment meter. Then you get to use a persuasion option to let you have your cake and eat it too, and everyone lives happily ever after. So, I like that they tried to limit access to them - as much as I do still try to chase after them all the time.

Certainly, ME2 doesn't do it in a very good way. As you say, there tends to be a point where your alignment is simply too mixed, and you get cut-off for good from upper-tier persuades because of a vicious cycle, where you don't have the points, so no persuasion options are available -> you can't use the persuasion options -> you don't gain alignment points -> you don't have the points, so no persuasion options are available.

So don't get me wrong: ME is definitely a game that manages to have interesting choices in spite of alignment meters, not because of them. I can't think of a single game that I thought was improved by morality metrics, and I wish game devs would stop using them. Dragon Age had a much better middle-ground with Approval (and with an entire different, simple part of the skill tree for persuasion), and other games get along fine with nothing in the way of meters.

Kloreep:

Mass Effect 2 isn't particularly clear about whether killing an enemy for being a threat or getting in your way is evil or Renegade. Some Paragon choices also involve killing guys - just not as commonly as it occurs in Renegade choices.

All you who can't stomach more than a tiny bit of evil-doings in a game, go back and play some more VERSUS mode on Left 4 Dead. You simply won't be good at it until you appreciate how sadistic you and your team can be as Special Infected.

Note: my Shepherds are paragons, too, though. I can't be a jerk to NPCs, just other players.