One of the biggest games to come out lately was Bioware’s Mass Effect 2 (ME2.) Although most of the reviews have been positive, the buzz on the internet has come from people comparing it to Bioware’s other game that came out late last year: Dragon Age: Origins (DAO), especially in terms of romance and sexuality. To be fair these games are not the same, but they aren’t completely different. It’s like comparing red apples to green apples- somewhat the same, but each have a distinct taste that’s hard to equate to one another. So the actual gameplay will not be compared, but there are two things that I think are worth comparing: the characters and the romances. The games being compared are both the Xbox 360 versions.
First, a short description of both games. ME2 is a combination Role Playing Game and Third Person Shooter. The RPG element is very streamlined and although the player can customize their character, it’s not to the extent of a pure RPG game. The combat is in real time, you are able to give your teammates directions, but are not able to take control of them. DAO is a pure RPG game, with the player able to customize down to the most minute detail. The combat is turn based, and the player can take control of the teammates at anytime during combat. ME2 takes place in the far future, out among the stars and many different aliens, and DAO takes place in a land called Ferelden among elves, dwarfs, humans, and other creatures.
First, a look at the characters and character development in both games.
Dragon Age: Origins: In DAO, the player can choose between 6 origin stories from three different races: human, elf, and dwarf. Depending on the character and origin you choose, this will change how people in the game react to you. Since elves are looked down upon, playing as an elf will not make you popular in human settlements. If you play as a human, you will not be welcomed by the elves, and so forth. You have the chance to pick up various teammates throughout the game, and how you interact and the choices you make on missions will change how they interact with you. For instance, always choosing what seems like the good dialogue option with your teammates may actually make them dislike you MORE. So being polite and nice to all your teammate might make some of them actually leave you. Learning how to interact with these various characters is a challenge, and makes the game very interesting. It is very hard to play as a purely “good” or “evil” character in this game. At times you think that you are making a good choice, and 3 hours later it will come back to bite you in the ass. This games LOVES it’s morally gray areas, and if you are a person who wants a clear line between good and evil, this is not a game for you. When you finish the game, the epilogue lets you know just how well you did with your choices, and trust me, there is no perfect good or perfect evil ending. No matter what you choose there will be both good and bad things that happen.
One of the best parts of this game are the way the teammates interact with one another when you bring them on missions. To be blunt, their conversations with each other are hilarious. If you bring two characters who are vastly different, they may spend the entire time mocking each other. If you start a relationship with one of the characters, the other characters will randomly comment on it and may possibly tease you. It is important to listen to these random conversations, as they give you insight into their personalities, and will help you gain their loyalty. The more they like you, the more they are willing to stick around and help you. Each of your teammates has a fascinating background, and you will have to talk with them many times, and gain their trust to find out their stories. You can spend a good hour back in your campsite just talking to the various teammates to see what makes them tick. If their like of you is not high enough, though, they may not open up to you, making you work hard just to get one morsel of information.
Mass Effect 2: In ME2, you play as either a male or a female human named Shepard, You have a choice on your background and personality. You can either have been born on a colony, a space ship, or earth, and you can have a war hero or a ruthless personality. At the beginning this does not affect how people react to you, but it helps you gain either paragon (good) or renegade (evil) points quickly. You gather your team, the same at DAO, with a few major differences. If you choose to do so, you can completely ignore your teammates, and they won’t leave you. EVER. Once you have convinced them to follow you, they will do just that. You never have to talk to them again if you like. You will have the choice to do a side mission with them to gain their loyalty, but all that will effect is who survives in the end. Talking to your teammates, though, does get you some bonuses. You can be super nice or a complete asshole to them, and in the end you’ll get the same reaction. This was disconcerting the 2nd time I played through as a Renegade, and realized I was getting the same responses from my teammates. In the end, it didn’t really matter if you were Paragon or Renegade, the game ended almost the exact same way. The one thing I found really odd in ME2 was that at a certain point, you couldn’t talk to your teammates anymore. They would tell you they were busy, and that was it. I never got that point in DAO, but perhaps the same thing happens there too. Clearly, there can only be a finite number of conversations you can have, but in ME2 there seems to be so few. It was very abrupt and jarring, and made me a little sad I couldn’t interact with my teammates more.
That’s not to say the characterization was terrible- it was not. The conversations between your teammates on missions was just as amusing, and the banter between Joker and Edi on the ship was pretty damn hilarious. You saw how their relationship changed throughout the game, every time you talked with them. It was very clear which choices talking with your teammates were the good, and which ones made you a jackass. If you wanted to be purely good, you could do that, and all your teammates would love you by the end. The nuances that you saw in DAO are not as clearly well defined, if there at all.
Now, a look at the romance options for both games.
Dragon Age: Origins: In DAO, there are a total of 4 romance options. If you play as a male, you can romance either Morrigan, a female witch, Liliana, a female bard, or Zevran, a male elf assassin. If you play as a female, you can romance Liliana, Zevran, or Alistar, a male Gray Warden. to court them. Some are easier then others (such as Zevran) and others are much more difficult (such as Morrigan.) The romance is not easy though- you have to figure out each person’s personalities, and take the time to get to know them. Once again, figuring out what makes each person tick is key- your romance may get pissed off at you due to some action you make and leave the team. They may think you are hitting on another teammate and confront you about it. In short, the romances are almost as complicated as they are in real life (although I doubt that giving your significant other shoes will have the same effect that it does when you give them to Liliana…..).
Mass Effect 2: The romances in ME2 are a little more complicated. If you played Mass Effect 1, then you have the option of importing your character over to ME2. You may have already completed a romance from that game- Liara or Ashley if you were a male, Liara or Kaiden if you a female. In ME2, those characters are not available to romance (since any of your teammates may die in the final battle, the word on the street is that Bioware wanted those three choices to survive for ME3 to wrap up the story), but there are 6 romance options. If you play as a male Shepard, then you can romance Miranda, Jack (a female), or Tali. If you play as a female Shepard, then you can romance Jacob, Thane, or Garrus. In addition, you can flirt with another member of the crew, Kelly Chambers, although this does not count as a “true” romance as you do not get the paramour achievement with her, and does not count as “cheating” on your former romance from ME1. And don’t even get me started on her “dancing” for the male or female Shepard. The less said about that gratuitous display, the better. Romancing is relatively easy for ME2. All it requires is to talk to your romance interest a lot, and to be nice to them. Since the top options are always the paragon options, as long as you use those, your romance will progress with few bumps in the road. The only requirement is that you complete their loyalty mission, but in order to get the best ending on the game, you will want to do that anyway.
The most glaring difference between the two games? How each game deals with homosexuality. In DAO, you can have a gay male relationship or a lesbian relationship. Two of the characters are bisexual, which is even MORE of a rarity then a gay or lesbian character. I bought DAO the day it came out, without knowing that as a female you could romance Liliana. It came as quite a shock to me when I realized she was flirting with me! One of the better parts of the game is that the other teammates never cared if you were romancing a male or a female. They treated it like it was every day life- a breath of fresh air to many gay and lesbian gamers who are used to seeing homosexuality mocked in video games. ME2 has no such homosexual option. I know people will argue that if you romanced Liara in the first game, that counts as a lesbian relationship. Liara is part of a race of aliens called the Asari, who are “mono-gendered.” I am right there with you, since all the Asari are voiced by women and have typical female bodies. But Bioware insists that they are neither men nor women. This is too bad, because I know many lesbian gamers who LOVED the idea of playing as a strong female character with Shepard, AND then getting to have a romance with another woman- it was a dream come true! So why wouldn’t Bioware, which had such options in DAO, not do that for ME2? In an interview with IGN, Ray Muzyka of Bioware answered that question:
“Here’s how the games are different: Dragon Age is a first person narrative, where you’re taking on an origin and a role, and you are that character at a fundamental level. It’s fundamentally about defining your character, including those kinds of concepts. In Mass Effect it’s more a third person narrative, where you have a pre-defined character who is who he is, or she is. But it’s not a wide-open choice matrix. It’s more choice on a tactical level with a pre-defined character. So they’re different types of narratives, and that’s intentional…..
It’s first person versus third person narrative, and the types of choices you get to make within that are related to that, whether you’ve got a pre-defined character or a wide-open character.” You can read the rest of the interview at IGN AU.
Nice try Mr Muzyka, but I am calling Bullshit on that excuse. The very nature of video games is that it’s a predefined character. No character is truly wide open- the player is bound by the code the programmers have put into the game, which means, you chose not to have a homosexual romance programmed in. It’s a shame, because the Mass Effect story as a whole is such a good one. But especially for the gay or lesbian gamer, this glaring omission is very apparent, and leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth as they play. And if you wanted Mass Effect to be a predefined character as you defined, then why even have the player choose a romance, or even have a romance at all? Other games have the romance built into the storyline, where the player does not get to choose. The fact that you do let the player choose, but then limit those choices, is disappointing. The other question is, if the character is so predefined, what is wrong with having Shepard as bisexual, which the player being able to choose? On various forums where this is being argued, players have pointed out that then even more code would have to be written, in and more romances added in, and that takes up valuable time and space. This would be true, IF you were introducing other characters as options. You can easily do as DAO did, and make a male and female teammate able to be a romance options for either a male or female Shepard. This is not totally out of line in the story, either. Jack alludes to have romances with both men and women. So, why is she not an option for the female Shepard, as she is for the male? You can use the same dialogue, so nothing would need to be added. This has the distinct aroma of homophobia, and it just plain stinks.
In the end, both games are fun games to play, and although I love the Mass Effect franchise, I have to give Dragon Age: Origins the proverbial gold medal when it comes to the romance. I will probably buy every Dragon Age sequel that comes out right away, even though there are fewer characters with which to have a romance, the fact they can be both either male or female make this game much more enjoyable to play. Mass Effect toes that line, but is then pulled back at the last minute. This disappoints myself and the other gamers that have been waiting for the sequel. I can only hope that Bioware attempts to change this before Mass Effect 3 comes out. Changing this could make what is a great game into a fantastic, must-buy game.
Article by Xan