I’m a few loose ends away from wrapping up Mass Effect 2, and that terrifies me.
I know, I know. I shouldn’t be so frightened. I’ve turned the galaxy upside-down, shaking loose its roughest, toughest customers and sweeping them right onto my ship. My crew and I have fought back-to-back time and time again, leaving robots, aliens, and entire mercenary organizations battered and bloody in our wakes. But it’s not my crew I’m worried about. It’s me.
I mean, let’s be honest here: the term “suicide mission” doesn’t inspire much optimism. And here we are, betting the whole space farm on those abysmal odds anyway. But whatever, right? Mass Effect 3’s already been announced. Unless the game’s actually a bouquet of colorful Game Over screens, I’m pretty sure we’ve got this one in the bag. We may as well be running a victory lap at this point.
However, we’ve got one more major factor working against us – one that not even the great, no-longer-late Shepard has taken into account: I, the player, am not reloading a previous save if things go awry.
Oh, sure, if I slip up and take a headlong dive right into a red, pulsating Game Over screen, I’ll restart a combat scenario, but that’s just assumed. No – I’m talking about story-altering consequences here. Crew members can – and depending on my actions, may very well – die permanently during Mass Effect 2’s final hours. It used to be that, when this kind of thing happened in games, I’d simply hit the reload button and roll back the clock a couple of minutes as a quick, clean necromantic ritual. Then I’d do things the “right” way. No unnecessary blood or tears shed.
Now though, I’ve realized something: Undoing my in-game mistakes robs my actions of all meaning. In videogames, we can make mistakes. Sure, other mediums have filled tome-upon-tome, tape-upon-tape with tearful tales of regret and guilt, but only in games can we truly
those feelings. If I accidentally lead my exceedingly loyal teammates right off a bridge, that’s on me. And one of my favorite aspects of Mass Effect 2 – or BioWare’s recent works in general, for that matter – is that it leaves room for those sorts of game-changing mistakes. That, in my opinion, is a big step in the right direction for story-based videogames.
Take Dragon Age, for instance. I’ll try to keep this as vague as possible, so as to minimize spoilers, but here’s how it went: My party could have made it through the game’s final encounter fully intact. It didn’t. It was my fault. And before I knew it, I was saving my own hide at someone else’s expense. As I witnessed one of my companions selflessly charge through death’s gates, warm tears streamed down my face, uncontrolled – partially because I was saddened by my party member’s passing, partially because I was ashamed of my own cowardice, and partially because
I could have done something to stop it
If only I’d known what would happen.