A strong morality system makes a good RPG great and I’m already a massive RPG fan. Fable, Mass Effect and The Witcher, three very different RPGs with three very different systems.
Floundering in the shallow end of this principled pool, we have Fable: your character’s atheistic adapted to your alignment, some weapons were linked to morality and a handful of missions had good or bad alternatives.
The whole Fable series fell foul of the biggest mistake a morality system can make, being completely black or white. Either you were murdering villagers by the score or frolicking with puppies and being a vegan – I don’t think being a vegan inherently makes you good, but you get the imagery.
Venturing a little deeper, but not without their armbands and a floaty pool noodle, Bioware offered more of a tick box than complex cause and effect. What they did do very well however was companion reaction.
Companions in Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic and The Old Republic came with their own agendas and opinions, reacting positively if your choices aligned with their views; or adversely if you said something that rubbed them up the wrong way.
This could encouraging you to play with a certain style or “voice” to impress a character you like – Or in ME’s case, one you want to bang.
The main problem with Bioware’s system was that to achieve a “perfect” ending – like having everyone survive the suicide mission at the end of ME:2 – you needed to choose an alignment and stick to it in order to be good enough, or bad enough to pass an arbitrary check.
This means that you can’t make choices on a decision-by-decision basis. Which more or less completely invalidates morality: neutrality and passivism should be, and are, acceptable choices.
It also implies that a “good” person will be good in every given situation and a “bad” person will always be bad. Where is the lovable rogue? Where is the wealthy philanthropist who murders homeless people in his down time?
CD Projekt Red’s Witcher series strikes very close to being a perfect system in my eyes. Mostly because it doesn’t assign arbitrary point values to your decisions and blends seamlessly into the world.
It still shapes your game and places you in narrative positions where you have to make difficult choices, like which morally ambiguous tyrant you will buddy up with.
The most interesting aspect is that Geralt is an established character who has his own motives and agenda which are key to the narrative and can’t be overruled.
There are boundaries to your decisions, but the choices you can make are extremely compelling branching points, whereby the narrative subtly adapts and sculpts Geralt gradually into your chosen image.
Take your interaction with Keira Metz in The Witcher 3 for example.
You can choose to sleep with her, or not. Are you dedicated to Yen/Triss? Or are you the same sorceress-banging, card-collecting Witcher from the original game?
You can let her go and parley with Radovid, possibly ushering her to an early grave; convince her to come to Kaer Morhen with you; or kill her, rather than letting the research aid a character you may or may not like.
The result is either that she stays a part of the story or she doesn’t. No arbitrary devil points for killing her or a glowing halo appearing atop your noggin for letting her live.
That’s the beauty of the morality of the Witcher: it’s a grubby, morally grey world inhabited by grubby, morally grey people, viewed through the lense of an amoral sword-for-hire.
What’s your favourite game with a morality system? Got any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments or on my Twitter account @JPPostsTweets