Choice is something that we've found increasingly built into games over the last generation as developers aim to create living, breathing worlds in which we can craft our own unique journeys based on the judgement calls that we take. Often, these choices simply boil down to a "good" or "bad" choice and we're only being asked to decide whether our character is a goodie or a baddie. Increasingly, however, more complex and morally difficult choices are being put to us that live in between simply good or bad. There are many titles and series chock-full of such complex and profound choices that have made us step back and think, from Dragon Age: Origins Achievements to The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Achievements, from Spec Ops: The Line Achievements to Bastion (Xbox 360) Achievements. In fact, writing this Top Five in itself became a judgement call, choosing what to put in and what to leave out because there have been so many contenders this generation. Seeing as this Top Five deals in examining big decisions and their outcomes, there are many spoilers that follow.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Again, there are spoilers for Fable II, Singularity, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Fallout 3, Grand Theft Auto IV, BioShock, The Walking Dead, and Mass Effect.
The Needs of the One, the Few or the Many? - Fable II Achievements
In the closing moments of Lionhead's Fable follow-up, we are faced with seeing our beloved canine campaign die and hearing that our not-quite-as-beloved family has been slaughtered. After the defeat of Lucian in the heart of his tower of power, the Spire, ageless blind seer Theresa presents the player with a choice of three outcomes using the Spire's power. The first choice, Sacrifice a.k.a. The Needs of the Many, will bring back to life all the hundreds of people who were enslaved by Lucian and died in the construction of the Spire over the years, much to the gratitude of Albion's general population. The second choice, Love a.k.a The Needs of the Few, will resurrect your long lost sister and your recently lost family and dog. The third choice, Wealth a.k.a. The Needs of the One, will grant the player 1,000,000 gold instead of any resurrections.
Choosing Sacrifice will grant the player the adoration of all the citizens of Albion as their loved ones are returned to them. You'll get a nice letter from The People of Albion for your selfless act and a statue erected in your honour in Old Bowerstone. However, your journeys throughout the land will feel significantly emptier without your canine companion by your side.
Choosing Wealth will have the opposite effect on the citizens of Albion. They'll detest you for your selfishness and you'll also be without your closest companion and family. It's a lonely choice for sure, but still, you'll be rolling in gold and will have enough to purchase Castle Fairfax and lord over all those ungrateful sods.
Choosing Love will resurrect your sister (although you won't actually get to reunite with her), any family you've accrued and, most importantly, your dog. The people of Albion will be indifferent to your choice and you won't be as cash wealthy as the Wealth option or soul wealthy as the Sacrifice option, but you also won't be lonely in your remaining travels.
It's also worth noting that there is an achievement tied to each of these choices, so if you want to get them all without multiple playthroughs, reload as soon as you make each choice to avoid an auto-save after the credits, forcing a new playthrough.
So I can choose to get a bunch of money and leave everyone dead in a game where I can get a load of cash through real estate anyway, resurrect a family (or families as the case may be) who I really cared little for and had no bonding missions with, or bring back the lost loved ones of the rest of Albion's population for their gratitude and love, love that I can also earn by farting and dancing like a goon? Wait, which option brought my dog back? The second one? I CHOOSE POOCHIE!!!
Kill Demichev or Barisov - Singularity Achievements
After all sorts of timey-wimey manipulation to try and stop a crazed scientist known as Demichev from taking over the world by blowing up the research facility that allowed him to come to power, protagonist Renko returns to his own time to discover everything just as he left it. It turns out Demichev simply rebuilt the facility after it was destroyed. Sad times. Renko is faced with Demichev and another nutso scientist, Barisov, who created the Time Manipulation Device, whom Demichev has at gunpoint. The player is then ostensibly given two choices: kill Demichev to stop his reign of terror and go back in time to kill himself (it's complicated) or kill Barisov and join Demichev to rule the world together.
Let's kill Barisov and embrace our dark side, first. Renko and Demichev join forces in a reign of tyranny. Unfortunately, neither fully trusts the other leading to a new Cold War as both sides start weapons programmes against each other. Not a great outcome.
Instead, choosing to kill Demichev puts an end to his evil in the current timeline, but that leaves the 50 years of terror during his rise to power. Renko then goes back in time to kill himself. You see, the reason Demichev rose to power in the first place was because his life was saved by Renko at the beginning of the game (told you it was complicated). By killing the earlier version of himself before doing this, Demichev would never be saved. Renko successfully does this, changing the timeline forever. We then see the opening of the game again. But wait, what's this? Everyone's a Soviet! Turns out Barisov isn't all that nice either and, without Demichev in his way, he's used the Time Manipulation Device to take over the world himself. Nuts.
Ok, let's take the super secret third option and just kill both of them. That'll rid the world of tyranny and evil, right? Wrong! With all that power left in Renko's hands he decides to use it himself to rule the world. What's that saying about absolute power corrupting absolutely?
Wow, all of these ultimately leads to badness. But which badness to choose? I think killing both nutty professors and taking over the world myself sounds like the best outcome. Well, best for me, anyway.
Which Message to Broadcast - Deus Ex: Human Revolution Achievements
After working his way through a twisty-turny story of different organisations fighting for control over how human augmentation research and technology should progress, protagonist Adam Jensen arrives at a point where he is forced to decide what to do with the information he now knows about the dangers of augmentation, under the advice of three opposing but highly influential people, Darrow, Taggart and Sarif. The first option is to broadcast disillusioned augmentation creator Darrow's original message, which reveals all the shady information to the world, WikiLeaks style. The second option is to alter the message as anti-augmentation Taggart would like, covering up the truth and explaining away the bad stuff on Neuropozyne poisoning. The third option is to alter the message as pro-augmentation Sarif wants, blaming the bad stuff on the Humanity Front anti-augmentation group. Finally, Adam can simply take everyone else's influence out of the equation and blow up the entire facility in a self-destruct sequence.
Choosing Darrow's option reveals the difficult and dangerous truths about the research and technology that has been happening, and turns the general population against the path of augmentation.
Choosing Taggart's option means that the message focusing on Neuropozyne poisoning leads to much tighter regulations on the research and implementation of augmentations. However, it also allows Taggart's shady Illuminati society to gain more power, a Templar-like organisation dedicated to dominating and controlling civilisations in order to guide them to a New World Order.
Choosing Sarif's option means that public opinion turns strongly against more extremist groups such as the Humanity Front and allows augmentation research to continue unfettered.
Choosing to destroy the facility without broadcasting the message leaves humanity to decide how it should progress without Darrow, Taggart, Sarif or even Jensen himself getting to control the course of history. Oh, also everyone on the facility, including those four, die in its destruction.
So I have to choose between more augmentation, more restrictions on augmentation, no augmentation, or screw making a decision and just flood everything? That last one seems like my style, mostly because all the ins and outs and ramifications of what I'm having to choose from just hurt my brain. Let the world decide!
The Top Five
5. Megaton or Meganone - Fallout 3 Achievements
One of the first towns you're likely to come across in Bethesda's 2008 RPG is Megaton, a literal hole whose defining feature is the massive unexploded atomic bomb lying directly in its centre. After taking the time to converse with the mostly friendly locals, you may find yourself wandering into the local dive, Moriarty's Saloon, for a quick refreshment. If you do so, you'll run into the bespectacled and behatted Mister Burke, a very shady character with a an even shadier proposition. For a big fat cash payoff, Allistair Tenpenny, Burke's employer and owner of elitist community Tenpenny Towers, wants to see Megaton wiped off the map, presumably because it looks like an ugly blot on the horizon when he sits in his penthouse apartment, sipping irradiated martinis and admiring the empty wasteland. The protagonist has a choice: they can play along with Burke's request, get rich and thoroughly screw Megaton over, or disarm the bomb so it no longer represents a threat.
Choose to keep Megaton safe and disarm the bomb at its heart and you'll receive a small monetary reward from the town's sheriff and the deeds to your very own domicile. Also, everyone in town will treat you like a hero who saved them from possible doom, so you'll get a nice warm feeling. The downside to this choice is that Tenpenny will put a contract out on your head, meaning you'll have random encounters with Talon Company mercenaries throughout the game. If you don't like the idea of Burke getting away with his shadiness, you can also report him to the sheriff, although be prepared for him to not be arrested quietly.
Accept Burke's offer and, after planting the fusion pulse charge in the bomb, you'll need to make your way to Tenpenny Towers, at the top of which you'll find Burke and an alluring button. Pushing the button will give you a front row seat as Megaton and its residents are consumed by a very large mushroom cloud. Your reward for this heinous act? A butt load of bottle caps and the key to a suite in the Towers. You can go back to the ruins and investigate your handiwork, where you'll meet a be-ghouled Moira, seemingly unaware of her...affliction. Additionally, you'll randomly encounter rather angry survivors of the blast throughout the game.
Disarm the bomb and gain the unending gratitude of the residents of Megaton for "good feeling points". Then spend a good few hours elsewhere in the wasteland, leveling up and coming across a "Fat Man" mini nuke launcher, before returning to Megaton. Receive your heroes welcome and, just as everyone feels safe and comfortable, pull out the "Fat Man" and go on a killing spree. Who needs one big nuclear weapon to wipe out an entire town when you can have several small ones?
4. The Deal - Grand Theft Auto IV Achievements
After playing through a campaign in which protagonist Niko Bellic struggles with the morality of taking a path of criminality on his road to vengeance against those who wronged him in the past, the player is faced with a series of moral choices that will rewrite the course of Niko's life and those around him. He's only just made the tough decision to either kill or let live the main person he has been pursuing, but this next mission is what will define what his life will become. In the end game, Niko is presented with a mission from crime boss Jimmy Pegorino to facilitate a Heroin deal worth a significant amount of green. Although the reward for the mission will be very high ($250,000), it means working with sworn enemy Dimitri Rascalov. Niko has to make the choice to suck up his resentment and do the deal or kill Dimitri in vengeance.
Choosing to do the deal, Niko is naturally double-crossed by that snake Rascalov and the deal goes sour (i.e. everyone who Niko was supposed to meet is killed). However, Niko manages to escape with the money and makes it to his beloved cousin Roman's wedding. Unfortunately, Dimitri's assassin crashes the wedding to kill Niko but manages to get Roman killed instead. Driven by revenge, Niko tracks down Dimitri to a casino where he sees Pegorino killed by the Russian rascal. After a series of shootouts and chases, Niko manages to execute Dimitri on the appropriately named Happiness Island, avenging the murder of his cousin.
Okay, well that didn't end too well. So let's take the other option and go after Dimitri before he can ice Roman. Choosing the revenge path, Niko finds Dimitri and his goons aboard a freighter, executing them all and walking away. He then attends Roman's wedding, safe in the knowledge that the thorn in his side won't be there to...oh...wait... Clearly unhappy at being betrayed, Pegerino crashes the wedding with a spot of drive-by shooting, intending to take out Niko but actually gunning down his beloved lady friend Kate McReary. D'oh! Driven by revenge, Niko chases Pegerino down and after a series of shootouts and chases, manages to execute him on the appropriately named Happiness Island, avenging the murder of his girlfriend.
With a choice that ends up with an innocent dead no matter how you cut it, the moral of the story is, crime never pays. Also, don't trust someone who's defining feature is being disloyal to absolutely everyone. Also, if you're caught up in a high-profile gang war, don't go to a very public event surrounded by your nearest and dearest.
Do neither. Simply don't take the mission in the first place and continue playing the rest of the game, killing pigeons, fencing cars and going on bowling dates with Kate and Roman in an endless limbo world where neither of them die. Huzzah!
3. How to Handle the Little Sisters - BioShock (Xbox 360) Achievements
ADAM is used in the first two BioShock games to purchase genetic-bending abilities, powers and upgrades. Unfortunately, ADAM comes from Sea Slugs that have been embedded into the stomachs of orphaned girls, known as Little Sisters. In order to progress through the game, you're going to need to get your hands on some ADAM and you're presented with two ways of doing it: "Harvest" it by forcibly removing the slug from the Little Sister for a big ADAM boost, killing her, or instead "Rescue" the Sister and settle for a much smaller ADAM boost.
Harvesting Little Sisters does lead to quick wins in the upgrade department as the superior ADAM boost allows for more powers to purchased earlier in the game. However, aside from the morally dubious decision to tear open the innards of little girls to remove the parasite, the choice also affects the game's ending. After defeating the final boss, the protagonist turns on the remaining Little Sisters and harvests the rest of them, presumably to take Fontaine's place as the over-powered ruler of Rapture. Also, the Little Sisters' protector, Tenenbaum, is not fond of you in the slightest.
Rescuing Little Sisters, whilst giving a smaller immediate ADAM boost, does come with its own rewards (aside from the obvious moral ones). After every few Little Sister rescued, a gift will be given by the saved girls to the player, usually involving an ADAM boost to rival the one given if harvesting them. Additionally, after defeating the boss, the protagonist escapes Rapture with five of the Little Sisters, adopting them and allowing them to live full and happy lives together as a family. Awwwwww.
Put it this way: I love Oreos. If I had to tear open little children to get me some Oreos, that wouldn't be nice or fun. But, like I said, I do love Oreos...
2. To Turn or Not To Turn - The Walking Dead Achievements
In an episodic series that has been chock full of difficult choices, everything leads to this moment. Throughout the game, protagonist Lee has struggled with the fine balance of protecting his young ward, Clementine, from the horrors that surround her and allowing her some shred of innocence, and preparing her to live in a new world where danger and horror lurks around every corner and she needs to harden herself against the inevitable loss of those around her. After dealing with the Stranger who has been stalking them, covering themselves in zombie innards to pass unnoticed and discovering Clem's zombified parents, the pair end up in a jewellery store. Lee, on the brink of death thanks to a zombie bite in an earlier episode and (possibly) with an amputated arm, can either advise the distressed young girl to shoot him in the head to stop him from turning or save her the anguish and leave him to reanimate.
Although the outcomes of this difficult and emotional choice haven't had an impact on how the story progresses so far, the choice itself is a tough one to make and the results will have had a major impact on the psyche of the little heroine going into Series Two.
I spared Clem the pain of having to put her new best friend and protector down. Thinking practically, I also spared the bullet. However, I'm now playing Series Two in the constant fear that Clem's going to be snooping around somewhere only to be faced with a zombified Lee bearing down on her.
1. Kaiden or Ashley - Mass Effect Achievements
On a mission to stop the antagonist Saren from breeding a a krogan army at his base on Virmire, Shepard and co. attempt to destroy the base using an nuclear device. After some big revelations at the base, leading to Saren's escape, Shepard learns that two of his squadmates, Ashley and Kaiden, are pinned down at different locations. With the bomb ticking away, you only have time to save one. But who will it be? The religious soldier with a rather human-centric outlook? Or the biotically enhanced sentinel who struggles with the effects of his controversial implants?
Of course, this tough choice is one of many tough choices throughout the series, from deciding to choosing what to do with the Collector Base, to whether to let the Rachni Queen live (twice), to siding with the Geth or the Quarians, to who's going to get pillow-fighting privileges. However, it's often cited as the first one to make players really sit back and go, "hmmmmm", as well as having an immediate impact on how the game progresses, seeing as you're left with a hole in your squad where there was once a loyal teammate. Morally, there's no "good" or "bad" choice (although Ashley is quite a speciest), it just comes down to who you perceive as most worthy to survive and that's not an easy choice to make.
Apart from the obvious outcome of one of these people being dead for the next two games, the survivor will appear briefly in the second game but won't join Shepherd because of his ties to Cerberus. It's then possible for them to join your squad in the third instalment and also be a love interest, but it's also possible to kill them if you can't convince them to join your cause. Depending on who survives, the journey you take with the survivor will have a different flavour and you'll be left wondering, "Did I make the right choice?"
Seeing as I also do the Stats articles here on site, let's take emotion out of this choice and try and play it by numbers. Statistically, most gamers chose to let Ashley survive. Statistically, most gamers are male. Statistically, most males think with their trousers. Statistically, I'm male.
What are some of your favourite and/or difficult judgement calls in gaming? Let us know in the comments.
The TA Team will be bringing you The TA Top Five every Sunday until we run out of coolness to debate and discuss. If you have an idea for a Top Five you'd like us to do, be sure to let us know in the comments!