The Toughest Life Or Death Choice In The Gaming Universe

The Toughest Life Or Death Choice In The Gaming Universe

Many games in the previous generation gave us choices about who would live or who would die. This was, I dare say, the best one.

In some games, like BioShock, we could do the maths on a life or death choice and strip emotion out of it. Go with the most beneficial option for levelling up our abilities. And some choices, like many of the ones in The Walking Dead, were all emotion. It wasn’t really going to matter, but we had to follow our hearts.

And then there was that big one in the first Mass Effect: kill Wrex? Or let him live? What was the right choice? Should we follow our head? Our heart? This was going to be a hard call.

The choice was shocking. Wrex was a loyal support character and spouted many of Mass Effect 1‘s best lines. Suddenly, it seemed, the game was giving us a chance to kill him off. In fact, the game was forcing us to decide if he deserved to live!

The stakes were high.

The choice comes up while the player was trying to stop the villainous Saren by destroying a facility he was using to breed Krogan warriors. Wrex is a Krogan. The Krogan were nearly extinct. Wrex didn’t want this place destroyed. Suddenly, this was a face-off, with guns drawn. What was a gamer to do?

Shoot him?

Don’t shoot him?

Have someone else do it?

There was no obvious right answer. Whatever you decided, you lived with it for two more games. If you let Wrex live, he’d appear in Mass Effect 2 and be a good computer-controlled ally in Mass Effect 3. If you killed him, well, that was the end of that.

Back in 2007, I interviewed the cinematographers behind this and other scenes in BioWare’s big game. This is how one of them explained the staging of that scene:

Notes on the Wrex scene from BioWare’s Ken Thain:

In the first dialog with Captain Kirrahe we began building tension for the upcoming confrontation by having Wrex step into the conversation when the Krogans are mentioned. We brought the tension to a head with an extreme side-angle shot of Wrex facing off with Captain Kirrahe. The shot is unlike any other in the dialog; its composition really screams conflict.

After Wrex storms off, we focused on the digital acting by holding a single shot while the squad discusses how to diffuse the situation. By switching the player’s focus to the relationship of the characters, we allow some of the tension to fade away so we can start ramping it up again with the next conversation.

For the confrontation with Wrex, we wanted to slowly build the tension to the extreme over the duration of the conversation. Shepard initiates the dialog from a distance as Wrex is staring angrily into the distance. As the conversation heats up, the actors move closer, and low angle cameras visually represent the struggle for dominance. Just when the two can’t get any closer, they pull weapons on each other, sending the tension through the roof. The player is now dramatically engaged and has a tough choice to make. Wrex is a very strong and useful party member, but he has a shotgun in your face. What would you do?

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      • He’s dead on all 3 of my saves. Racist Shep never trusted Krogans, straight shooter by the book Shep would never allow a member of her crew to pull a gun on her, and psycho fuck the galaxy Shep ended up getting almost everyone killed.

        Long story short, I hate Wrex.

    • I killed him in one of my playthroughs, just to see how it went.

      Definitely better to let him live though. He’s pretty awesome in ME3.

  • YES! For me no other last-gen game put the stakes quite as high as Mass Effect. They sucked you in and slowly got you attached to your squad members then put you in situations where those bonds were stretched and twisted beyond belief. I can’t remember the exact moment but I seem to remember Shepherd and Wrex talking about this moment in Mass Effect 3.

  • That wasn’t really much of a choice – Wrex is favourite character from the entire Mass Effect series. There wasn’t any way he wasn’t going to be following alongside me.

    A better choice there might have been whether to go against your orders and side with Wrex. They could have made it a choice between having to kill Wrex and follow orders or kill Ashley and help out your turtle homey. I think it could potentially have worked better than the Ashley or Kaidan choice that pops up shortly afterwards.

  • I remember playing this part through the game, and I chose to have Ashley shoot him, thinking she would only stun him. Then she fired again, and again and I realised this game wasn’t going to let me so carelessly make a choice without serious consequences. Probably the turning point for the whole game here. I of course had to reload the game from a save and replay about an hour of gameplay in order to avoid killing him again.

    • Yeah, I hate it when you accidentally look away and you missed a paragon moment where some poor person dies because you didn’t click fast enough.

  • The choices in Mass Effect did my head in. Some of them spent 20 mins thinking what should i do. Such a great game.

  • Not much of a choice for me. I would do anything to diffuse the situation and not have my party members killed. The game was about stopping Saren, its not like that would not happen even if I did what Wrex wanted.

    The problem with a lot of choices in games is that there is clearly a good or evil, paragon or renegade, path. I consider myself a good person, so naturally I’m always seeking the good path. Mass Effect’s choices would have seemed more grey if they’d done away with the paragon/renegade labelling all together. The one true ‘grey’ choice I recall in recent games was the very end of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I found myself trying to figure out what the ‘good’ choice was, and I was totally surprised to realise what was good out of all these decisions was actually, for once, truly subjective. There was no underlying good/bad dichotomy.

    • Yeah I think games would have a better impact on the choices you make without falling into a clear good and bad. And removing things like status bars that show how good or bad you are would make things a lot better

  • In dragon age 2 my sister died in the dwarf mines and i had to go and tell the characters mother i killed my sister. I was using autosave so couldn’t undo it. It was my fault because I had a choice of who to take and didn’t have to take her. That did my head in.

  • I have to say there’s one that was much more difficult for me but relatively few people would play far enough to get to it. Dragon age 2 had a very weak start, but improved drastically about 1/3 of the way through and the ending, while more than a little forced, had some genuinely tough dilemmas for the player to work through.

  • The choice wasn’t really that tough. One of Mass Effect’s biggest problems for me was that it’s choice system essentially boiled down to the same choices you make when deciding what skills to level up. It wasn’t a choice of “Keep Wrex and have an unruly member who could potentially rebel against your orders and maybe shoot you in the back during combat, thereby adding a whole new level of consequence to your choice”. The choice was “Keep your hard hitting, tanky party member or lose them.”

  • I actually felt pretty bad that I had to choose between Kaidan and Ashley the first Playthrough.

    • Then you remember how Kaiden has the same voice actor as carth onasi and that hate boils to the top and you choose Ashley, again and again and again…….,,

  • “There was no obvious right answer.”

    please, mass effect almost always had a “right” answer, especially if there are paragon/renegade options, all the way up to the synthesis ending. This case is no different. what’s more impressive to me is that wrex appears In the games afterwards if you let him live. the kaidan/ashley choice is an far better example of one of the few choices in the series where there is no right or wrong choice.

    I’ve never been a fan of how mass effect handles choices, the morality bars combine the majority of choices into pretty much, one large one, and the game makes an ethical value judgement on your choices by giving you renegade/paragon points when you make them.
    galactic readiness giving those choices numerical values didn’t help either.

  • On my first playthrough of ME3 I did the Geth/Quarian missions in the wrong order so I was faced with the choice of whether the Quarians massacred the Geth or the Geth massacred the Quarians. For fairly cold-blooded reasons I chose the Geth (I didn’t know at the time that the army strength basically didn’t matter) but damn I could feel every character in the ship judging me afterwards.

    And then on my second playthrough I found out that since I’d played ME2 I can save everyone, so I did that.

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