Moral choices are something we deal with every day in our ordinary lives. Tell the truth about a friend’s ugly shirt and hurt their feelings or lie to their face and hate them a little more each time you see them in that shirt. Find someone’s wallet on the street, do you return it to the owner or leave it where it is?
Moral choices also appeared as a staple of narrative-driven games in the early 2000s with Telltale games using it as their bread and butter until their butter ran out and their bread rotted away and then tried to substitute it with whatever that Minecraft story mode game was going on about. They’ve tapered off in recent years and although not a lot of these moral choices were well done, some knocked it out of the park.
Now obviously, there are going to be spoilers in this list so if you’re planning on getting around to the gaming pile of shame there anytime soon probably best to skip this article and read some other of my blog posts.
5. Renounce the Dark Side or Return to Darth Malak’s side – Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic (2003)
Bioware’s 2003 foray into the world of George Lucas’ space dream, Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic is quite well regarded by critics and fans of RPGs alike. The game begins with your character awakening in the middle of a pitched space battle between your Republic starfighter and the starfighter of Darth Malak, former apprentice to the feared Sith Darth Revan.
After escaping the harrowing space fight you’re sent on a mission to recover the missing Jedi Bastila Shan which sends you down a rabbit hole that ends with you gaining acceptance into the Jedi Order and confronting Darth Malak. The entire time you’re playing the game, you are regaled of tales of the notorious Darth Revan from the Jedi and see the consequences of his actions firsthand as you play through the game.
After hours of gameplay, you finally confront the former apprentice of this monster only for Malak to drop this tactical nuke on you… you are Darth Revan.
Now obviously this is a bit of a shock to you considering just a half hour earlier you thought you were the good guy of this story only to have that entire notion turned on its head. The choice is now yours whether you continue your agreed course of action or return to Malak’s side and retake your place as the most feared Sith in the galaxy.
Turn your back on who you once were and embrace the way of the Jedi or relapse back into the horrible monster the entire galaxy fears… the choice is yours.
4. Spare or Kill Lord Shimura – Ghost of Tsushima (2019)
2019’s Ghost of Tsushima is next up on the stage and while this game is beautiful with its sweeping vistas and seamless combat, the real sucker punch (pardon the pun) comes from the story department. You control local Samurai lord Jin Sakai as he fights by any means necessary, forgoing the honourable Samurai teachings he was raised with and utilizing the ‘cowardly’ tactics of the ninja to take on the fearsome Mongol invaders.
This puts Jin on a collision course with his uncle Lord Shimura who believes that the Samurai code cannot be broken or even bent slightly even in order to save their homeland from the Mongols. With neither character refusing to compromise on their principles and the Mongols repelled successfully, Shimura has been ordered by his master to kill Jin to retain the status quo.
After forty-odd hours of fighting to help save your home and uncle only to have him defer to his principles and force you to duel him is heartbreaking as you can tell both Jin and Shimura know what has to happen but neither wants to continue on their current course of action. It’s a solid gut punch that makes you want to just hug your loved ones.
3. Break the Loop or Enjoy immortality – Deathloop (2022)
Immortality sounds like it would be a pretty sweet deal, right? I mean you could do whatever you want and never die. You would be untouchable! You wouldn’t have to worry about disease, wars or anything. The only thing you’d need to come to terms with is watching all your loved ones die… or getting trapped in an inescapable situation or just becoming bored with life and entering into a nihilistic death spiral much like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day.
That’s the main dilemma running through Bethesda’s Deathloop. You play as Colt Vahn, a former security officer stuck in a time loop on an ultimate party island where the only way to break the loop is to kill the Visionaries all within the space of one particularly bloody day.
Once you finally assassinate the Visionaries you are given a simple enough choice – kill yourself in order to end the loop once and for all or refuse to end the loop and enjoy hunting the inhabitants of the island for sport. Feels like the inevitable ending for Phil Conners.
2. Join the Beast or destroy the Beast – inFAMOUS 2 (2011)
The inFAMOUS series has always been a bit of a slave to the binary moral choice system with you pretty much deciding right off the bat to either be St. Cole the pious or Cole the bastard in order to get the best abilities that either side offers.
Despite that, the writing team at Sucker Punch studios managed to craft the story of InFAMOUS 2 in such a way that whether you decided to avenge the destruction of your hometown and destroy The Beast or succumb to the lure of power and join The Beast to ravage the world as an outlet for your rage and power-hungry desires both decisions feel like they have real consequences.
The moral choice isn’t just confined to inFAMOUS 2, if you completed the original and carried over save data into the sequel this choice becomes the culmination of two games’ worth of character development and struggle for Cole with the players’ choice changing the entire tone of Cole’s story from a tragic hero or a power-hungry lunatic which is something you don’t normally get with the good/bad moral choice structure.
1. Pretty much the entire game – Disco Elysium (2019)
If you’ve played ZA/UM’s 2019 detective RPG, you’re not surprised that this game is included on this list. Disco Elysium follows your character as they struggle to hold themselves together as they investigate the suspected lynching of a foreign worker in the union and crime-controlled city of Martinaise dealing with their internal emotions and values embodied in pages and pages of dialogue.
There are way too many to point out in this list and I would recommend you play this exceptional game yourself and see where your own moral compass leads you. Rest assured the moral choices and conundrums thrust upon you are complicated with no clear-cut answers, just different shades of grey that will leave you and the characters around you grappling with the consequences of your actions or inaction and I absolutely love it.
What moral choices in games have been difficult for you? Do you play as a Saint or a Sinner? Let me know in the comments below.
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