Despite its branching dialogue, Mass Effect’s voiced protagonist works quite well, serving as a reminder of how badly implemented Fallout 4’s was.
The release of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition has brought new and returning fans back to classic science fiction RPG series, and its protagonist, Commander Shepard, is a reminder that having a branching dialogue system with a voiced player character can be done well. Despite releasing a few years after the Mass Effect trilogy ended, Fallout 4 simply fell short on its implementation of a similar system.
Dialogue options in the Mass Effect series come on a radial menu, where a maximum of six choices can be displayed at a time. The game’s Paragon and Renegade morality system usually makes it so the top half of the circle displays the “good” options, while the bottom half displays the “bad.” Sometimes, an option will be grayed out if the player hasn’t accumulated enough Paragon or Renegade points to select it. There are often even more options, usually in another radial menu behind an “investigate” option.
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The dialogue system in Fallout 4, without mods installed to improve it, took a much less thorough approach. There are never more than four options at once, and there are no branching paths. Prompts sometimes have the player character ask a question, but little more investigating can be done. The other options in the dialogue tree tend to boil down to “yes,” “no,” and a sarcastic or joke response.
Fallout 4’s Dialogue Is A Watered-Down Version Of Mass Effect’s
Having a voiced protagonist in Fallout 4 was a big change from the other modern Fallout games, which featured a silent hero. Fallout 3 and New Vegas featured a selection of the player character’s responses fully written out, which made it especially frustrating when one of Fallout 4‘s one-word dialogue options resulted in an unexpectedly hostile or sarcastic response. Mass Effect manages to avoid this for the most part by having fairly thorough blurbs in its radial menu, well representing Shepard’s upcoming voice lines in tone. Having branching options that allow for more than just six responses also helps players feel like they have some control over the conversation. The “investigate” menus are completely optional, but they allow players to gather more information before making their next choice.
Fallout 3 and New Vegas also had skill checks in conversations frequently, another feature taken out for Fallout 4. If the dialogue system had been more thorough, then there’d be no reason skill checks couldn’t have been included, with separate voice lines for failed and successful checks. The Paragon/Renegade system in Mass Effect isn’t perfect, but it at least affects dialogue choices in meaningful ways, especially via the first game’s Charm and Intimidate system. Fallout 4 has plenty of gameplay mechanics that make it more accessible than its predecessors, but the release of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is a reminder that voiced protagonists can be implemented much more effectively.
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