Love choice-based RPGs? I do too, but we’ve all experienced a moment where our choice didn’t necessarily reflect our intention. Sometimes, your character just goes absolutely wild and says something out of pocket.
This experience has cemented a fear in me for saying the wrong thing. Your intention versus the presentation of choice versus what actually happens doesn’t always line up. That’s because everyone reads words differently. You and I can have a conversation and walk away with different understandings of what happened. It’s a similar experience in these choice-based games.
I’ve selected a few times where games like Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher 3 gave us a dialogue choice and it didn’t necessarily land the way we wanted it to.
L.A. Noire — X to doubt
When I brought this pitch up in our daily meetings, the first game that came up was L.A. Noire, and for good reason.
The beloved “X to doubt” meme comes from this game, and it’s a particularly iconic choice for providing the most wild dialogue sequences. Keep in mind that the only prompt here is “Doubt,” and we get some wild lines like:
“You keep lying to me and I’ll send you and your baby to jail.”
NO, why did you say THAT?! I want to call someone out on their BS, not threaten their baby with jail time. What is wrong with you? It’s not hard to disassociate from the protagonist when a simple investigative choice makes you seem like a horrible person.
Mass Effect — Yeah, right.
Another game notorious for having dialogue prompts that don’t line up whatsoever with what’s being said is the Mass Effect trilogy.
The best example is in the first Mass Effect, where you ask Joker about why people call him Joker. He jokingly says it’s because it’s shorter than his actual title. And you have the option to respond with “Yeah, right.” Guess how that turns out?
“I was just thinking how much you remind me of Santa Claus.”
Shepard just met this man, and he’s Joker’s commanding officer. I cannot imagine my new boss coming around the corner and saying this to me. I’d absolutely lose it.
The Witcher 3 — Shove aside. Forcefully.
I love The Witcher 3, but it definitely has its misleading dialogue moments.
Okay, maybe this example you should have seen coming, but the severity of which the scene plays out is not at all representative of the choice you make. You have the option to “Shove aside. Forcefully.” Yep, okay, I’m expecting a push or maybe a punch. What happens?
Insert scene where Geralt brutally beats a man and then proceeds to break his leg.
What I wanted was to be intimidating, not to make a blood enemy that’ll follow me to the ends of the Earth to see my head on a silver platter. Listen, it was hilarious, and I loved it, but it was not at all what I wanted at the moment.
Cyberpunk 2077 — Shit…
Cyberpunk 2077 is a long game with a ridiculous number of dialogue options, so trying to track down a specific dialogue that truly exemplifies my point was difficult.
While there were plenty of misleading moments that had me reload, this wasn’t one of them. Guess what happens when you say “Shit…” in a certain dialogue sequence?
This is hilarious and not impactful in any way, but stuff like this is the problem! Obviously, this choice is inoffensive, and made me cackle. However, this is just a joking example of what actually happens throughout the game.
Detroit: Become Human — Don’t trust
Detroit: Become Human is also one of those choice-based games that provide one-word prompts and expect you to make quick decisions with very limited information.
But this one is just straight up terrible. The choice is “Don’t trust” when talking to Connor, the other main protagonist. Guess what happens?
Insert scene where Markus pulls out a gun and shoots Connor in the head.
WHAT?! How in the name of everything that is holy and unholy does “Don’t trust” mean execute someone on sight. Bro. Please. I just want some spicy dialogue. Why are you making me reload this whole game?
Some of these dialogue choices are significantly worse than others, but the underlying problem is the same — player intention clashes with developer intention. The presentation of the choices read differently depending on your life experiences. Everyone reads things differently, and that makes sense.
You could solve this issue by giving players more insight into what vitriol our protagonist might be spitting out if they say a certain thing. Of course, I understand that you don’t want to spoil the dialogue for the players, but give us the option. It’s better than breaking the immersion by reloading because we accidentally killed someone.
Really, developers, you’re the one that pulled the trigger.
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Rami Tabari is an Editor for Laptop Mag. He reviews every shape and form of a laptop as well as all sorts of cool tech. You can find him sitting at his desk surrounded by a hoarder's dream of laptops, and when he navigates his way out to civilization, you can catch him watching really bad anime or playing some kind of painfully difficult game. He’s the best at every game and he just doesn’t lose. That’s why you’ll occasionally catch his byline attached to the latest Souls-like challenge.