Can The Walking Dead deliver on its promise of past decisions affecting Season Two?
Carry over saves were a revolutionary idea, the concept that decisions you made could have repercussions that went beyond just later on in the game, but could carry over into the next game altogether put a whole new spin on things. Your decisions went beyond the immediate conflict, was it wise to anger or kill a certain character or faction you donít like? They might not appreciate that next time you run into each other. Or better yet, sticking by your convictions, even making the wrong call and having it come back to bite you years later in the next game can be immensely satisfying, it makes it matter, that your influence changed more than just the next line of dialogue. Truly, carry over saves left their mark on the face of the industry.
Weird, considering only one game series has actually tried it.†
With Season 2 of The Walking Dead
looming over us this Christmas like an Anti-Santa with a sack full of harsh realities, and with it the promise of carrying over our decisions, Iíve decided to explore why this feature isnít used more often. It can be devastatingly effective, it built Bioware
one of the most invested (and rabid) fanbases in gaming, I might even go as far to say itís something that can take game narrative to the next level. So why is it so ridiculously underused? Well, for starters...
Itís a logistical nightmare.
Having a decision leave big consequences in a game is hard enough, having it leave big consequences in the next game, yet alone a trilogy, is almost ludicrous. You need to create a tree of branching events that will matter to the player while not interfering too much with the main plot, and since games like this are very involved and responsive to fan feedback, thatís like putting together a puzzle before half the pieces have been made yet.
Fan-made chart depicting the various outcomes of the suicide mission.
Take the decision to cure the genophage for example, factors in those events stretch across the entire trilogy, whether or not you killed Wrex, saving or deleting Maelonís data, if Mordin survived the suicide mission, when and if you choose to reveal the sabotage, all these things change the characters involved, their interactions, and the context of the decisions you make. In one save I decided to do right by the Krogan and cure the genophage, in another with Wrex and Eve dead I decided it was in the galaxyís best interest to sabotage it.†
Now consider that in addition to all those variables they also have to consider which team members are with you, their dialogue, all the incidental dialogue in the game world stemming from your decision, ensuring there are no continuity errors in each version of events, double the voice work for a Shepard of either gender, no,†quadruple
†it because thereís at least two sets of dialogue depending on paragon or renegade speech options, and double the dialogue of everyone who speaks to Shepard to react to either of those speech options. Thatís a lot of work, a lot of assets, a lot of money, and a lot of headaches. One wonders if itís all worth it considering the other big caveat with carry over saves....
They only serve to shrink your audience.
Every publisher wants to sell as many copies as possible, they want to reach out to new players and get them interested in their product, thatís kind of hard to do when playing the last game is a requirement for your biggest selling point. It might be a good way to keep recurring customers, but assuming you got your new IP off the ground with the first game thatís not really your biggest problem. Thatís why Mass Effect 3
had to introduce so many new elements, and why so many old elements couldnít play a role too crucial to the plot.
Hey kids! Wanna play Mass Effect 3? All you have to do is find and buy a six year old game and its sequel and in about eighty hours youíre ready to go!
Thatís why the Mass Effect 3
marketing was based around ďTake back EarthĒ Ė itís the only thing in the Mass Effect
universe new players could relate to, thatís why Shepard is haunted by the Starchild Ė new players needed a face to represent whatís at stake, thatís why they included the everyman James Vega Ė to have someone as new to the world as they are, thatís why Felicia Day had to....actually no, thereís no excuse for that one. Mass Effectís
biggest strength, a consistent world and characters shaped by your choices, became its biggest weakness, all of it could alienate new players. Compromises have to be made.
Itís easy to forget, but nobody has attempted anything that ambitious before or since, the most weíve gotten out of previous saves is a line or two of dialogue, maybe a cameo, if youíre lucky you might get some early XP or unlockables. Will The Walking Dead
become the next game to carry on decisions in a meaningful way? Maybe, The Walking Dead
works on a much smaller scale than Mass Effect
, allowing it more freedom, but as evidenced by the different outcomes from episode to episode and 400 Days
, it seems The Walking Dead
is still beholden to the same limitations. Both also have a different approach, with The Walking Dead
working more with the illusion of choice, rather than actually changing the outcome of most events.
Of course, just because carry over saves are such an undertaking doesnít mean it shouldnít be tried, look at what just attempting it has done for these games. Even getting us part way there has elevated them to new levels of critical acclaim and success. I do hope more developers venture into this relatively unexplored area of gaming, carry over saves might be a near impossible dream, but the rewards are there for those who rise to the challenge.