Mass Effect 3: Why I Play Paragon

By Jordan Douglas on March 12, 2012, 5:22PM EDT

The long-awaited conclusion to Commander Shepard's grandiose, galaxy-trotting journey - otherwise known as Mass Effect 3 - has finally hit store shelves, no doubt consuming countless lives and leaving real-world relationships in ruins. We really enjoyed our time with BioWare's latest epic, as you can see in <a href="">our review, but with a game of such great scope, there's plenty more discussion to be had. Beyond Mass Effect's rich sci-fi universe and strategic third-person combat, shaping Shepard based on your view of morality is a signature selling point for the series. I chose Paragon, and this is why...

Before getting into the existential nitty-gritty of Mass Effect's ethical code, let's quickly go over the basics. Commander Shepard's worldview is unashamedly binary, focusing on the good (Paragon) and evil (Renegade) sides of a situation. While that may be over-simplifying things a bit, Mass Effect's morality system goes out of its way to create this black-and-white sense. Shepard can either be an understanding, compassionate saviour of the galaxy, or a ruthless, self-interested... well, saviour of the galaxy. There's really no benefit to occupying the Buddhist middle-ground - in this case, choosing a mixture of Paragon and Renegade - because Mass Effect rewards players for going to each extreme.

While this black-and-white approach to ethics is far from ideal, it works well enough in the context of Mass Effect's overall trilogy. That being said, I would much rather play a game which presented truly complex, ambiguous scenarios, one where an article of this nature wouldn't be necessary. From what I hear, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, is potentially such a game, so fingers crossed for its release on Xbox 360 next month.

Anyways, why did I choose angelic Shepard? I'm a nice enough guy in the real world, so escaping into a virtual existence should be the perfect place to let the demons out. Right? Well, for whatever reason, I usually can't bring myself to be a dick, even in the video game realm. Maybe it's because the outcomes are always exaggerated for dramatic effect on both sides, making the 'evil' choices feel even more unnecessary and foreign. With Shepard, your inherent role as galactic messiah seems to lean toward Paragon from the outset. To BioWare's credit, they don't take being understanding and compromising too far - Paragon Shepard still feels appropriately authoritative, far from being a pushover.

That being said, my Shepard wasn't purely Paragon - there were a handful of crucial moments during Mass Effect 3 in which being an impulsive Renegade felt like the only satisfying option. Without spoiling specific situations, let's just say there's only so many times a sane person is willing to spare those who have consistently betrayed or harassed you. One especially tense encounter lead me to click the Renegade pop-up simply as a reflex defense to what was going on.

Regardless of the moral route you take, Mass Effect 3 is a great game with many intriguing paths to discover. Stay tuned for our take on the other side of the coin, Why I Play Renegade, later this week.

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