Mass Effect 3, possibly the most anticipated game of the year, has just been released, and it's sure to have many stalwart fans of the series calling in "sick" for at least a week. Of course, nearly everyone who nabbed a copy off the retail shelf or downloaded it from the comfort of their couch is well versed in the storyline, having completed at least one of the two previous entries. Knowing this, developer BioWare has done a beautiful job transitioning your decisions and outcomes of both Mass Effect 1 and 2 into this epic conclusion.
Of course, our decisions were rarely neutral in stance, and many have decided early on to follow a certain path of morality, or played both ways to experience each side of the coin. Unlike nearly every other game with a morality system, Commander Shepard's endgame always emerges as the savior of humanity, and even the galaxy. The system is not labeled Evil and Good, but rather Renegade and Paragon. "The ends justify the means" is perfectly fitted to your experience, and while your mission concludes the same in both the first and second title, it could have been laden with sacrifices and selfishness, or compassion and benevolence. But is one path better than the other?
In the first Mass Effect game, the choices had a greater impact on your skill sets, with Charm ranks in the Paragon path yielding bonuses to first aid, maximum health, and faster cooldown times on powers. On the other hand, Intimidation ranks in Renegade helped with weapon cooldowns and damage, as well as health regeneration. After a certain threshold, each also unlocked an exclusive quest, offering an incentive to walk both paths. The ending had less to do with your moral preference but rather your choices overall, but the music and backdrop against Shepard in the final scene reflected those choices: a pristine bluish planet and hands free of weaponry with Paragon path, or a reddish nebula and a firm grip on an assault rifle with the Renegade path.
Charm and Intimidation ranks were done away with in Mass Effect 2, and the conversation choices for either side depended on your built up percentage in either Paragon or Renegade. Because the second game was more a team-builder than an epic plot, there was a lot of role-playing involved, which made nearly every decision more substantial and gripping. Also added were conversation interrupts, basically stopping an NPC's action through a show of mercy or assault. If registered in time, these interrupts typically granted a boon to the respective path. It was quite impressive to watch both, and to see how BioWare could so smoothly craft a neutral character, and yet hit the extremes of both sides with just your conversation selection.
An interesting superficial addition to the morality system in Mass Effect 2 was Shepard's facial scarring. At the beginning of the game, your reconstruction from the Lazarus Project in the Cerberus facility was stopped prematurely, and, as a result, your tissue couldn't completely heal. You are afterwards informed that your moral actions will affect the healing process. So if you followed the Paragon path, by the end of the game your skin was as smooth as a baby's bottom, but if you ventured down the path of a Renegade, the scars widened and reddened. Even your eyes glowed red, making you look more like one of Skynet's Terminators than anything else. As in the first game, your path at the conclusion will do nothing to stop the Reapers from invading Earth in the third installment, but may decide whether you remain on good terms with Cerberus.
With Mass Effect 3, your choices will have the greatest impact, not only on your relationship with the crew and with different races, but also on the fate of humanity and the galaxy, which this time around could drastically affect the finale. I'm very interested to see how my character from Mass Effect is perceived and how true the relationships remain from my Mass Effect 2 save file (especially in regards to Tali for myself).
Honestly, because BioWare did such an incredible job creating a relationship between the gamer and Shepard, there is no way one side could be viewed as better than the other, because every choice is personal, and every person is different. I maxed out my Paragon Shepard, but I still made some Renegade choices, just because they seemed like the choice I would have made had I been there. I didn't play a Renegade all the way through, but did enjoy watching the Renegade choices unfold before reloading the game.
If you like your hero as a ruthless badass, then of course you'll assault and demoralize at every possible chance. I will concede that the Renegade path is more appealing, simply because the Paragon Shepard is the overused cliché, but my personal conscience will always choose the little guy on my shoulder in a white garb, not the red one.
Date: March 8, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*