As I close in on the end of Virmire (my Mass Effect playthrough is going to get very condensed shortly, since March 6th is closing in), I did notice a certain trend on the Bioware Social Network regarding the Mass Effect 2 DLC Arrival.
I’ll admit that, at this point, I have not played it, since it was unavailable when I was playing ME2. From what I have gathered, this particular mission presents the player with something of a no win situation by removing any real options from Shepherd. This made a lot of people unhappy.
So, as I progressed most of the way through Virmire, I got to thinking. Virmire is pretty similar to (what I understand of) Arrival: a moment in a game that is primarily choice oriented opting to either present you with a false choice (the Virmire decision not really being a “choice,” per se) or no choice at all (in the case of Arrival). And this, I believe, is a good thing.
The fact of the matter is that the removal of choice (especially in areas where you would generally expect the game to give you a choice) increases the impact of the choice, since it hammers home your helplessness/powerlessness. Yes, you are Commander Shepard. Yes, you are totally awesome. Yes, you have kicked ten kinds of ass across the galaxy.
No, you can’t save everyone.
The stark contrast it provides to the rest of the game where, generally speaking, you can save everyone is solid and really brings it to the forefront. A false/no choice situation is there to reign you in and remind you about the danger that you’re facing.
Of course, with this comes the risk of what I’ve seen on the BSN, which is that players rebel because they feel cheated by the fact that they can’t make a difference. Which, unfortunately for them, is the point.
In the end, you pretty much have to make the decision about whether you want to go for storytelling integrity or you want to risk frustrating/alienating players. The answer, unfortunately, is unclear. There are merits to both approaches, of course. I, for example, was quite happy that I was able to make it through the Suicide Mission in ME2 without losing anyone. If my favorite characters had been placed in a no-win situation, it might well have annoyed me a bit.
I’m a sap for happy endings, what can I say.
So, ultimately: From a storytelling perspective? The removal of real choice is a very powerful tool that SHOULD get use and Bioware would not be at all in the wrong running Arrival the way they did.
Pending me actually playing Arrival, of course.