Almost Nobody Played A Bad Guy In Mass Effect

Almost Nobody Played A Bad Guy In Mass Effect
To sign up for our daily newsletter covering the latest news, features and reviews, head HERE. For a running feed of all our stories, follow us on Twitter HERE. Or you can bookmark the Kotaku Australia homepage to visit whenever you need a news fix.

One of the key appeals of playing the Mass Effect series at its time of release was the way, like BioWare’s older games, your in-game decisions and actions would propel you towards the ends of a binary good/evil scale, potentially changing the game’s story. Turns out BioWare almost needn’t have bothered, since so few players went to the dark side.

Responding to very good tweet by @Mewd462, former BioWare cinematic designer John Ebenger revealed this:

That’s a bit of a shame (at least in terms of the unseen work) but also, not? Just because BioWare gave players the choice to be either good or bad didn’t mean they were of equal merit. The problem with binary morality systems in games, and this has been true from KOTOR to Fable to Red Dead Redemption, is that the bad side is always fighting against the grain of not just the game’s design, but its story as well.

You could be as bad as you could possibly be in Mass Effect, but where would it get you? Your end goal in each game is still to save the day as part of a team, and while bring a prick about it might get you a few cool dialogue sequences or encounter outcomes (and some that haven’t aged as well), it also cost you relationships and crewmates, which are the foundations of the series’ success, especially in Mass Effect 2.

Newer games (specifically The Witcher 3 and Red Dead Redemption 2 here, along with Mass Effect’s own Andromeda) have learned from BioWare’s earlier work and found out it’s a lot more interesting, and a lot more fun, to make your moral choices a murkier proposition, to make the experience about the agony of your reasoning itself, not the narrative outcome.


  • I did Renegade runs of 1 and 2, preferred Paragon but the Renegade playthroughs were fun.

    Also loved the “Commander Shepherd is a jerk” series on youtube showing the Renegade interactions. Laughed my butt off watching those

  • Played both paths in the first 2. I very much agree, as with the inFamous games, “good” vs “evil” routes are too binary.

    I liked HZD’s approach, where different response types worked better in different situations – just blindly going “Nice” didn’t always give you a great outcome, but neither did being brutal consistently.

    • Not sure I’d put ME in with inFamous. I thought ME, at least in the first two, did pretty well with their morality systems. It was good cop vs bad cop 95% of the time rather than good vs evil. Although admittedly that last 5% did sort of ruin it by coming down to ‘save the puppies vs get orphans to adopt the puppies, wait for them form a deep emotional bond and then eat the puppies right in front of them’.

      They definitely aren’t the best examples. They’re heavily set back by BioWare’s attachment to the idea of a single Morality Score and their habit of ‘good’ rewarding plenty and being coherent plotwise while ‘evil’ disrupts the story in favour of more sort of worthless assets. However I’d still be interested in seeing how many of the better examples can trace their philosophy back to ME’s experimentation with By The Book vs Loose Cannon choices.

  • I’m curious as to how they know this, if it’s just going from achievements or what.

    I went primary renegade, but more paragon regarding crew mates and being non racist (unless it involved Stupid Jellyfish… that was always worth a laugh)

  • Mass effect is about the journey not the destination, most renegade options (and paragon) decisions gained you nothing.

    However in ME2 there was quite a few renegade options that served a tactical advantage, like pushing a guy out a window, shooting a cargo Bob so it drops explosive barrels and quite a few where you can convince people too stand down saving their life’s.

    The Paragon options though really served as a way too show compassion, I quite liked the side quest where if you where space born orphan you where kidnapped and later rescued, one mission sees you trying too talk down someone you once knew the paragon option just like the renegade option gains nothing other than showing either malice or humanity.

    The way it changed in Andromeda was interesting even though I still prefer a light side dark side concept having the consequences of your choices be more in the moment rather than an overall philosophy was pretty freeing.

  • There’s enough bad guys in real life. And in real life, the bad guys almost always win. Corrupt police, corrupt politicians, exploitative corporates, and well-connected wealthy who the rules simply don’t apply to. The good guys? They don’t win. The wealthy of the world were revealed to be all involved in a global conspiracy to avoid paying their fair share of taxes and contributing back to the societies they exploit. What happened? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not one extra dollar grabbed. Not one wealthy scalp taken. Oh, no wait… journalists involved in telling us all got assassinated. That’s what happened.

    And now, as we face a climate apocalypse, those who’ve put us there, those who knew full well what was coming and what impact their actions were having, have shifted the blame, called it unavoidable, all while profiting from the apocalyptic decisions they made. Again: no consequences. They will die wealthy. And their progeny will mostly inherit that wealth, and have comfortable, secure lives that no-one else will enjoy.

    On a scale as small as our own nation, politicians have been caught lying, caught manipulating public money for their own benefit, caught abusing their power, and caught rigging the game for the sake of their mates. No consequences. None. Forget jail, they don’t even fucking get fired or fined. They pass laws that let them do as they please, robbing the public purse, and destroying our environments, and then they pass laws to ban us from protesting, to prosecute the whistleblowers, the track down and learn anything and everything about anyone who might expose them… but they needn’t bother, because nothing happens even when their corruption comes to light. They wait it out, and sure enough, there’s another election and 45% of the nation votes team red, 45% votes team blue, and the pair of them fight over the remaining 5-10 that aren’t green. Same as always.

    Honour is dead. Justice is a fantasy. The bad guys always win.

    We deserve a fucking fantasy where the good guy can win, where they can save the day, where they can make people happy, where they can actually make a fucking difference.

    Because god knows no-one in real life can.

    • Except that playing the bad guy can give some great stress relief ala KotOR 1 & 2, where going near pure Sith is fun.

      ME going full renegade? Racist douche. Which my FemShel wasn’t. At least to my own crew.

    • Wow someone hard peed on your weetbix this morning, didn’t they? 😛

      (You’re right though, the lack of consequence for the rich and powerful of our society is one of the great failures of the Late Capitalism era).

  • Moral systems in games tend to be heavily tied to rewards so really all you’re deciding is “Do I want this item/power/path/crew member/etc” rather than “Do I want to be a villain, chaotic neutral or pillar of justice?” Even in murkier moral choice games you’re still deciding on which option is going to get you the best results according to what you want.

    That being the case, aren’t we always playing the villain? You’re the hero that kills everyone who doesn’t fit your moral view, you act purely out of self-interest in the hopes of rewards, and you hoard all the cash and treasure.

  • I feel like this data is maybe only going off first playthrough. So many people have done paragon plays first and then a renegade run, myself included. Theres no way only 8% of people have done renegade at all.
    Or their data is going just off which side you had more ‘points’ in overall. You can nearly max out both if you play right, but its easy to have slightly more paragon in the end even then.

    I loved the clear contrast between lawful good paragon shepard and the chaotic good/lawful evil (not sure exactly which really) of renegade shep.
    Combine playing each of those with having a different love interest and different loadout/class and your two playthroughs can feel SOOOO different.
    Most replayability i’ve ever had in any big AAA RPG. So many only really give a class choice, or maybe class and love interest. Or have story choices but dont have too much change in the class/love interest areas.

    • A quick google search tells me over 6 million copies of Mass Effect were sold. I highly doubt that all 6 million players had more than one play-through.
      Supposing that people went paragon first, if even half those 6 million had a second play-through as the opposite alignment, that would put renegade at 25%.
      3 million sounds like an absurdly high number of people who played the game twice.

      Interestingly, Biowares stats say that for ME3, 35.5% of players went Renegade.

      • I could likely count for an unreasonable amount of playthrough of ME1 using the freebie points on NG+ to complete max out both paragon and renegade. I have a few dozen playthroughs to my name on 360.

      • I mean i never said half and half, i know it was never and will never be that much.
        Just a lot more than 8% of people have played renegade.
        Also even if you play mostly paragon im sure a lot of people had a few renegade choices chucked in, which at least means renegade content is getting experienced.

        Im just saying his “its sad only 8% of people have experienced our renegade content :(” comment is certainly exaggerating. Regardless of if it was from a second playthrough or just some occasional renegade choices, im sure more than 8% of people who played experienced some of the renegade content.
        As you say even their data suggest a lot more people did ME3 renegade (i had remembered seeing that but couldn’t remember the number, so didnt mention it.)

    • As we have learned from numerous devs who have shared their data over the years, the vast majority of players don’t even make their way through a single play through. The idea that some significant percentage of players are going to persevere with the same story line with minor variations a second time is just fanciful.

      • You are right there, but i somewhat clarified above i didnt mean that a majority of people do multiple playthroughs or anything, just a decent amount, and that overall more than 8% of people have experienced some of the renegade shep.

  • I’d like to see a breakdown on how many were 100% paragon and how many were Paragon with a few Renegade moments of opportunity.

    Cause that’s how I played. Generally siding with Paragon for the big moments and the occaisional renegade moment for laughs or benefit (ie punch the reporter)

  • I’m a space-girl scout, almost all of the time in ME playthroughs. I get a healthy renegade score by shooting first, a lot, but I try to find the non-shooty and non-jerky solutions when I can.

    For me, the work in the renegade/bad guy path is lovely because it means I am secure in the knowledge that I am making a real choice as to how to behave, and I could make another and still have a path through the game.

  • Yeah the thing with ME is Renegade options were mostly just being a jerk for no real reason or reward. And since you kinda needed to go all in on one side to make convo checks, it came down to one question: do you want your hero to constantly act like a dickhead?

      “Hello Shepard. Unfortunately, [less than ideal restriction.]”
      “That IS unfortunate. Could you explain why?”
      “Why yes! [Reasonable justification].”
      “Well, let us engage in mutually respectful and mature conflict resolution.”

      “Hello Shepard. Unfortunately, [less than ideal restriction.]”
      “You jerk, you’re [aggressive accusation]!”
      “Actually Shepard, [reasonable justification].”
      “Oh. Well… well… well… fuck you anyway! MURRICA!”

  • the bad side is always fighting against the grain of not just the game’s design, but its story as well.

    I think that’s why Obsidian’s Tyranny was such a blast. The choice was Chaotic Evil or Lawful Evil, and being “nice” always seemed like a copout.

  • See the problem is everytime I try to take asshole option, I end up feeling like an asshole. see I invariably end up a good guy by the end anyway.

  • Turns out BioWare almost needn’t have bothered, since so few players went to the dark side.

    Even though I never went full Renegade (arsehole) in any play through, I did like having the choices presented – some playthroughs, I picked Renegade options for expediency or “hollywood action movie” purposes.

    I feel like any RPG would be the worse without even the illusion of choice – being able to choose between being the good guy or the bad guy in a variety of situations, and thinking about the choice is a big part of the draw for these story-styled games, even if the choice(s) is an illusion.

  • I did a rogueshep after I completed the game as a Paragon, and it was hard. I struggled to be mean. My hero complex constantly raised its head, saying “you should…” and I wanted to listened. But I persevered and ended up with a hard-faced arsehole. I faced similar struggles tried to go Dark in KOTOR and being Bad in any Fallout game.

    My Arthur Morgan would be helping little old ladies cross the street if it was an option.

    I guess supervillian just isn’t a valid career path for me. Just call me Gru.

  • I don’t do ‘good’ or ‘bad’ runs of video games. The entire point of a roleplaying game is to roleplay. I don’t make choices or decisions based on whether it’s obviously the good or bad choice, I do it based on what myself as the character would do naturally. For that reason I always end up about 75% of the way up the good side.

  • I played a full renegade run through on both ME1 and 2. while some of the actions were genuinely funny (like chucking the guy out the window). most were just you being a dick, not just towards random people but your own team mates.

    having worked in a toxic team environment before… let’s just say that hit way too close to home to be comfortable

  • I think they just framed the content wrong. IRL somebody you’d consider a villain doesn’t generally see themselves as a bad guy, they have a whole narrative set up where they’re the hero of the piece. Andrew Bolt doesn’t see himself as a hate-monger, he’s just playing by the hero-of-free-speech ruleset. It’d be quite objectionable to do, like the developers were unaware they were condoning a nasty worldview, but if you want people to play the villain, you’d have to set up a narrative where all their douchebaggery was redefined as ‘another kind of good’.

  • In ME it always felt like the overall story pushes Paragon harder.
    The renegade content probably would have had more people see it if someone with authority in the storyline encouraged it. As it was, all your superiors in the first game (council and alliance military) are naturally supportive of Paragon and in the sequels the Illusive man was pragmatic but still clearly expected professionalism, never truly felt like an ally and later turned on you regardless of your decisions anyway
    For renegade to really have been played more the games would have basically needed an anti-Anderson, or Saren-like character who was unambiguously on your side, not a party member and would have the rank/influence to have Shepherd’s back when they cut through red tape or cracked heads. Which from the way they talked about Spectres in the first game, it’s kind of baffling there wasn’t since apparently that was the more common Spectre attitude.

    That said, People enjoy being a hero and it has more meaning when you’re given an actual choice.
    Sure not many people may end up seeing the renegade content but the Paragon content was made much more impactful because there was a whole other fleshed out path.
    The last thing you want is a no choice experience or the shattered illusion of choice that Telltale games by the end.

  • I played Renegade, to get the straight up, badass glowing eyes.

    That said, I tried to stretch the story as much as possible: I played a racist Paragon and an ultra-pragmatic, inclusive Renegade.

    Even 100% Renegade doesn’t really translate to “villain” though- particularly given the “renegade” ending of ME3 was the best one- and Shep lives, which I guess is the ultimate incentive.

  • Renegade for life! I’m about to start my 5th or 6th play through of ME & will be doing renegade again. Like I have every time.
    You headbutt a reporter!

    I still laugh about some of the evil stuff my characters were able to do in KOTOR & Jade Empire

  • Gotta experience every side of these games. I started out my first play through as a generally paragon run, 2nd play through was a full paragon run using a guide to inform my choices. but I’ve also done full renegade runs and a hybrid run where i made choices based on the best outcome rather than whether the choice is paragon or renegade.

  • Since when have the reporter punches aged badly?
    They’re still the funniest moments in the whole series, that reporter was incredibly annoying.

    If it’s just because she’s a woman, the way I see it ME is set in a future where gender is meaningless, afterall half of your badass team are women and it’s not played up like that is out of the ordinary.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!