[Bioware, DA:O] Choices and consequences
Stubborn at 'Sheep the Diamond' has written a thought-provoking article on SWTOR which sums up why I am very weary about trying that game. Bioware has already done this thing in his RPGs (announcing a story that allows your decisions to have meaningful consequences), and it didn't work well.
A couple of words on the game that I'll use as an example: Dragon Age: Origins. For those who are unfamiliar with it, DA:O was publicised as one of the most dynamic storytelling games of the era, because of the multiple options that it would allow as an origin for your character. In reality, the game offered a series of beginnings that would all of them connect to the main storyline, but without very much changing its course. There was no real difference in choosing a Mage, a City Elf, a Dalish Elf, etc, beyond the initial act with its own adventure that precedes being conscripted for the job of saving the world. After that, being an Elf (a race that had been enslaved and oppressed by humans in the game's lore) only meant that you were called 'Elf' in a pedantic tone from time to time. But this is the impression I received after my second playthrough, because the choice-consequence system collapsed.
My first playthrough of Dragon Age: Origins was superb. The world reacted to my choices in such a way that I, the player, could be held responsible for how it had all unfolded. But this first impression would soon be dismissed when I played for the second time and saw the same outcomes proceeding from seemingly opposite decisions. [Spoilers] It was particularly the part when my helping a mage rebel escape the Magi Tower so he could pursue a happy ending with his lover. Too late I learnt that this mage was a dangerous element that was practising forbidden magic. There were no real consequences to my disobedience of the Order, I was just frowned upon and 'saved' by a man that had been conscripting recruits for his cause to save the world. In any case, the alleged consequence came later, when I encountered the mage I had helped in a prison in a castle. He had been contracted to poison the Earl, and therefore I had to clean the terrible mess, kill some undead that had risen, and save the Earl. [/Spoilers]
Not to mention that NPC that you could 'kill' in DA:O, but that is too powerful to simply be killed, and therefore Bioware could bring her back in DA2, no matter what the players had done in the prequel. Actually, none of the potentially world-changing choices taken by the player in DA:O, which takes place some years before DA2, although in a different province, actually have any repercussion beyond the one-line comment.
Such a long storyline for one false move. I was amazed by the amount of work put into it, but didn't quite suspect that this storyline could have been the default. Later on, when I tried different Origins that had not been involved in the decision that I took with my mage, and therefore could not have screwed that up, I saw that the outcome had been the same. In fact, had I made a different decision with my mage altogether, still the storyline wouldn't have been changed, and I would have had to face the same monsters, undertaken the same quest, etc.
Then, what was the point of choosing in the first place? The only satisfactory explanation that I can come up with without ruining my experience of the game is thinking that the player should only play through the game once, and without comparing his experience to that of other players. As if it were a film whose narrative pieces fit in to cater to my personal experience. Still, I am not convinced by the course that Bioware has taken with its games in the past few years. Stubborn's commentary on SWTOR about the game being on rails is exactly what I felt about Dragon Age. It looks as if the developers weren't comfortable enough to make a game that allowed different outcomes, because it might be not the story they wanted to tell.