I’m not much of a Renegade player. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no stick in the mud – in general I tend to play as the class clown, always cracking jokes no matter how imminent death may seem. But when it comes to making decisions that are selfish, aggressive, or otherwise unbecoming towards people, I shy away from conflict like the sun from the night sky – it’s scientifically impossible for me to overcome my own agreeable tendencies.
Mass Effect was always a bit different. I’m still a good guy, mind – my Shep always has high enough Paragon to save Wrex on Virmire – but there are times when what’s right isn’t necessarily what makes everyone smile. I would never in a million years sabotage the Genophage in an attempt to trick Wrex – Mass Effect’s best character – but there are plenty of instances where a certain sacrifice may be the lesser evil.
In general, though, I find I usually unconsciously play an almost entirely Paragon run. Renegade sounds fun when I hear people speak about it, but in the moment I’m always incapable of detaching my decisions sufficiently far away from my own personality to follow through. I’ll kill the Rachni Queen and immediately reload a save from five hours beforehand because I know I won’t be able to get the fact I did something bold off my mind.
It’s the same with most BioWare games. I’m replaying Dragon Age 2 at the moment – which most modern RPGs could do with studying – and I almost always choose the funny responses. I indulge in diplomatic, charming, and helpful answers as well, but I haven’t been aggressive or direct a single time in this playthrough, despite the fact I’ve already gotten through the entire first act. It’s just not in my nature to play Renegade or be aggressive.
There is one Renegade decision, however, that I will never, ever, ever feel bad about making: punching Kai Leng’s sword and gutting him with my weird techy space dagger (I know it’s called an omni-tool, shhh).
Even if your memory of Mass Effect is a little hazy, I think it’s reasonable to assume you remember Kai Leng, the Cerberus assassin tasked with taking you out in Mass Effect 3. There are a couple of permutations as to what Kai Leng does in the story, but he will always kill at least one NPC you’re familiar with, the options being Thane, Miranda, and non-squadmate Captain Kirrahe.
If you successfully keep Thane alive during the suicide mission and import your save into Mass Effect 3, he will always be the person Kai Leng kills. This may not have been the case if not for the fact that a codex entry in Mass Effect 2 meant Thane was destined to die even if the writers wanted to save him, but that’s another story. Because I always bring the entire squad through the Collector’s Base, Thane is always still around for me in Mass Effect 3 – and so, Kai Leng always kills him.
There’s a moment in the last instalment of the trilogy where, after you defeat Kai Leng, he gets up off the ground and quietly tries to assassinate you. He will always fail, but the way in which he does so is optional because of the Renegade interrupt you can opt to take. Triggering this will cause you to smash his blade in half and stab him, whereas waiting it out will cause you to dodge his attack and, well… stab him. Regardless of which option you choose, Shep will kill Kai Leng and say, “That was for Thane/Miranda/Kirrahe you son of a bitch.” But the non-Renegade option falls flat.
I don’t think this is a Renegade decision at all, and I’m not sure the game necessarily does either. I mean, you kill him either way and always deliver roughly the same line – the only difference is that Renegade Shep breaks his sword instead of dodging it. But it’s the physical act of hammering on the trigger to turn around and make Kai Leng pay that does the heavy lifting here. This is a man who killed your friend, and who has just made an attempt on your life despite being on the verge of losing his own. Choosing to kill him instead of letting the game choose for you affords you the kind of closure that lets you rest easy with your friend’s death, safe in the knowledge that you have avenged them and ensured that the last thing their killer knew was your intent to do so. If I wanted max Paragon points, I could just let the scene play out – Kai Leng would still die, Shep would still say the line, and I’d have avoided descending into Renegade territory. But it’s so much more than that – if I didn’t make the decision myself, I’d feel as if I was doing wrong by Thane. I mentioned earlier that I tend to play Paragon, but that’s because those are usually the decisions I would make myself. I don’t care if an option is marked as Renegade if it’s what I would do in Shepard’s shoes, and you’d better believe I’m breaking the blade on this one.
I’ve played series like Mass Effect and Dragon Age multiple times and I almost always make the same decisions. Shep romances Tali, the Warden romances Morrigan, the Genophage gets cured, and Zevran doesn’t turn on me in the middle of Denerim. While I’ve made tons of Renegade choices in the past, I know that, given the state of the world right now, I’ll end up leaning into Paragon more than ever – something that our own Stacey Henley articulated brilliantly in her article on the subject. Still, I know the closest I’ll ever get to a max Paragon playthrough is one off perfect, because there’s no hope in hell I’d ever refrain from hammering that Renegade interrupt the second it pops up on screen. When I play Mass Effect Legendary Edition, I’ll probably be the good guy – the poster boy hero of the galaxy who smiles and says “this is my favourite store on the Citadel.” The second I see Kai Leng in The Illusive Man’s office, though… well, my virtues as defined by the game’s morality system might slip up a little bit. It’s the one Renegade decision I will never not make.
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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