Right, seeing how I can’t seem to focus enough to get the comic arranged proper at the moment, I’ll try to channel my mental disarray into something else and hope it helps the storm disappate. In this particular case, with my vast amount of praise for Mass Effect 2 already over with, I’ll move on to another matter that’s been on my mind since Dragon Age: Origins and is further replicated in Mass Effect 2; I’ll try to keep this post largely spoiler free so it should be safe to read, but if things slip, my appologies.
I’ll admit this is likely going to be one of my more pettier gripes, but this is something that actually got to me in Dragon Age: Origins as well, and while not a new issue by any stretch, it’s one that comes into existance not by a decline, but rather by improvement. David Gaider, lead writer for Dragon Age, once mentioned on the forums that with Dragon Age he noticed that one of the reactions people were having to the characters were that as characters grew more authentic to people, their expectations of them similarely grew along with it. As computer-controlled team members become less like rabid attack dogs with snippets of dialogue and more like real people you care about, you start expecting to be able to talk to them about more things.
More simply put: I want my character to be able to be insecure. Sure, fine, stalwart hero of the land saving everything, but there’s some tough choices and obstacles in there sometimes; there’s only so much weight a single person can carry. So not only am I saving world/galaxy/backyard shed, I’m also the rock an entire team huddles to when the storm comes. Where is my rock?
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not asking for heroes that are mewling wrecks throwing angst parties at every given opportunity, but I wish there was an opportunity to talk over a tough decision, a difficult moment or whatnot, even if only for a supportive slap on the shoulder. It was probably the one most fulfiling moment of the romance with Kaidan Alenko in the first Mass Effect for me – the part where he‘s the one to tell you “It’ll be alright.”
There were some decisions made in Mass Effect 2 that I knew wouldn’t float down well with some party members. Sure, they trust my judgement so I’m free to do what the hey, but when my first reaction is to go to that person and want to explain what I did and why – wanting them not only to trust me, but to understand me – and not having the option to, it can be a tad jarring. Of course, I acknowledge this is a rather petty gripe since being actually able to do things like that is somewhere between rare and unprecedented, but it’s still something that stuck out to me. There were times I wanted to talk; times where I’d love to have not only their idle thumb but their approval – or even their disapproval, just some reaction to what I was doing outside of their own little narrative sphere.
Of course, I know why things are the way they are – there are definite limits to how far you can push a narrative; if everything can branch off of everything, you quickly end up with an infinitely complex narrative – there’s only so much you can do, both narratively and in terms of game design. On one hand, I’m amazed at just how extensive and variable some narrative and dialogue elements are, and how much work has gone into trying to make it a memorable experience. On the other hand, every so often the feigned reality shatters by stand up evidence that it’s still just a game, and there’s still very constrained limits to what you can and can not do.
I remember a point in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic where Bastila Shan asks you whether or not you find it difficult to stay on the Light Side of things – it gives you a number of answers and you have an option of speak of your burdens, but it’s entirely contained within Bastila’s narrative sphere – her question isn’t about you, it’s about her own issues – her own burdens, her own failings. There’s a reason for this design to be as it is, and even the earlier mentioned moment with Kaidan where he (or another love interest, depending on your pick) comes to your character in her time of frustration and adversity is contained within his – or someone elses’ – narrative sphere.
Even so, it’s a rare situation where another character lends a shoulder, and while it’s not something that should happen constantly, all the time.. it’s something I wish could happen slightly more often – atleast with those characters my own character has stood with, fought for and sacrificed for simply because she considers them her friends. Or in the very least, if my character does something difficult – something she knows they might have trouble accepting – I’d like for her atleast to be able to talk with them about it; she doesn’t have to succeed in making them understand, but sometimes I wish she had the option of trying.
In Dragon Age: Origins it was very obvious with Alistair sometimes – now make no mistake, I really liked Alistair, he had some really good writing and voice acting behind him and I definitely count him as among the high points of Dragon Age. On the other hand, though – if you look at it, it’s pretty obvious that very much of Alistair’s dialogue is about him – it’s about his difficulties with his past, his issues that he hasn’t overcome yet, his insecurities, his internal conflicts. In Dragon Age, your character generally will by default have their own recent tragedy to deal with – I don’t mind that he needs time to deal with his baggage or that he needs help dealing with it, but my character accumulated quite a bit of it too in a very brief amount of time and I think she’d like someone to help her sort through it.
Shepard is in a different situation – he/she has already gone through a whole lot and will generally already be ready to face the dangers up ahead. Still though, with how so many of your team members in Mass Effect 2 seem to be allowed to drag significant amounts of baggage around and then ask you to care about it, it’d be nice if they asked how you were once in awhile – in the least in a way that’d let you answer honestly and talk things over. Shepard is tough, sure – he/she pulls through where most others falter, that’s why they succeed. But I wouldn’t mind if there could be the occasional kink in the armor.
Ultimately, where am I going with all of this? Not sure; like I said, to a point it’s an issue that comes into existance out of believing characters are real, not just blank constructs made to follow orders or hand out subquests. The more believable they are, the more we expect out of them, and the harder it’ll be to live up to those expectations. Personally, I’d love to see more towards that end, but I also understand the significant investment it represents in time, work and resources, ultimately for content few might even see. BioWare have a whole lot of work ahead of them tying a whole lot of ends together with Mass Effect 3, with several starting points that are ultimately going to be unique for each player.
It’ll be interesting to see where it all goes.