As storytelling in games continues to get more and more complex, with deeper plots and richer characters, we sometimes get to dictate the outcome. Certain titles force us to decide the fates of characters, or even entire species and worlds, to create a more immersive experience.
Depending on the option you choose, these moral quandaries can leave you doubting yourself and affect your enjoyment of the game. After all, we’ve probably all made a decision, regretted it, and gone back to an older save file to choose the better, less guilt-inspiring path. This doesn’t apply to every game with moral choices, though – but a few are so tough you just don’t know what to do.
Here are five of the hardest …
Fallout 3 features its fair share of choices, but one of the toughest has to be deciding whether or not to destroy the small settlement of Megaton.
This little town is built around an unexploded atomic bomb (hence the name), and is one of the first places you’ll visit after leaving your vault. Later in the game, you can buy a shack there, set up home, and use it as a place to recharge your batteries.
Unless, that is, you refuse Sheriff Simms’ request to defuse said bomb and choose to detonate it instead, as instructed by the mysterious Mister Burke. You’ll receive a handsome payout if you do so, and get to watch it explode from Tenpenny’s balcony (which is a pretty awesome visual, it has to be said).
However, if you go along with Burke and Tenpenny’s plan, you’ll be killing the people who call Megaton home … and reducing your own karma in the process. You’ll also be depriving yourself of a valuable trading centre, and another place to establish a base.
Depending on how you want to play Fallout 3, and what kind of reputation you’re aiming for, blowing up Megaton is either a chance to be virtuous – or just another rung on the ladder to being a total douchebag.
Splinter Cell: Double Agent: Blow Your Cover or Kill Your Pal?
If Sam Fisher does one thing brilliantly, it’s staying low-key. Shimmying along walls, creeping in shadows, moving without making a sound – he’s got a natural flair for it.
Still, there’s nothing particularly low-key about the decision he (by which we mean, YOU) faces in Splinter Cell: Double Agent. Fisher is working undercover with a thoroughly unpleasant terrorist cell, when his old pal Irving Lambert gets captured by said scumbags.
Lambert, by this point, has become a familiar face in the series, and the moral choice the game lays in front of you is something of a sucker punch. Fisher is tasked with executing Lambert, and the decision you make affects the rest of the game.
Refuse, and you’ll blow your cover, making things a tad trickier from then on. Do as your dubious new ‘friends’ ask, and you’ll be wasting one of your friends while gaining the cell’s trust. If this is your first foray into the world of Splinter Cell, you might not give a monkey’s what happens to poor old Lambert, but for long-time fans, having to ice him was a tough thing to face at the time.
Still, Lambert was taken out of continuity later on, making your good-hearted decision to save him a tad pointless.
Heavy Rain: Kill a Father of Two to Save Your Son?
Heavy Rain is an interesting, complex game with a distinctive feel. Set around four characters involved (in one way or another) with the brilliantly-named Origami Killer, Heavy Rain’s plot hinges on your decisions.
One of these is incredibly difficult to make, and forces you to confront a tough moral question: is it right to kill a stranger, who has done you no wrong, to save the life of a loved one?
Your character, Ethan, is told by the Origami Killer to kill a man – for no obvious reason other than to save Ethan’s son. By speaking with the stranger, you discover that he’s a drug dealer (which may ease your guilt) and that he has two children of his own (which may NOT ease your guilt).
Now, for some people, the choice might be simple enough: kill the guy and come a tad closer to getting your son back. It’s only a game, after all.
For others, though, the decision is a lot harder, as you know you’ll be depriving two children of their father even if you do manage to get your son back (which isn’t guaranteed). The quality of writing and immersion only serve to make it even tougher.
Of course, if you do execute the dealer, you learn the item you need to advance has been in your gun all along. Typical!
Mass Effect 3: Which Race is Worth More?
Ah, Mass Effect 3. Whatever your feelings about that ending, no one can deny the game has some fantastic moments.
One of which is an incredibly tough moral choice, that sees you choosing between two races: the quarians and the geth.
Now, if there’s one thing we know from the first two games, it’s that the geth aren’t exactly the most lovable group, but they will make a powerful war asset. They’re also facing the opportunity to achieve a new level of intelligence.
The quarians, meanwhile, are a decent race, and your long-time crew-member, Tali, is just one of them. Assuming she’s survived to this point, you may or may not be in a relationship with her, making the following decision even tougher.
The Priority: Rannoch mission in Mass Effect 3 asks you to either let the geth or quarians be eliminated. If you choose to save the geth, the quarians will be killed and your friend, Legion, will sacrifice himself for a noble purpose.
Tali, meanwhile, throws herself off a cliff.
Save the quarians, and you’ll be forced to kill Legion and watch as the geth are destroyed.
Whoever you’re more fond of, Legion or Tali, knowing that your actions will result in the destruction of an entire race (one of which has the potential to become better) makes this really damn hard. Of course, if you have more than one save file, you can try both and see which outcome you prefer!
The Walking Dead: Kill your Friend or Let Them Turn?
Telltale’s The Walking Dead games throw one choice after another your way, but one of the most brutal comes when Clementine has to decide whether or not to shoot Lee, after surviving through multiple episodes together. The pair have grown from strangers to close friends … which only makes it harder when Lee is bitten and facing imminent doom.
Clementine can either let Lee turn into a walker, or kill him to save him from that rotten fate. Whether or not you can actually bear to execute this character, this is a brutal ending to their shared experiences – but it’s a grimness true to the TWD experience.
What’s the hardest moral choice you’ve had to make in a video game? Let us know!