Folks, humanity has been counting down the days, and we've finally reached that inevitable moment: the Reapers are on the horizon, and will invade the planet Earth this March. Mass Effect 3 will be upon us, and all of the galaxy's Shepards - both male and female- will begin their journey to conclude the current gen's most definitive RPG franchise. This blog series will pay tribute to the franchise as we brace ourselves for the upcoming finale by chronicling my own journey and experiences with the Mass Effect series. We'll continue this series with a look at my own personal opinions of Mass Effect's latest morality system. DUE TO THE NATURE OF THE REVIEW, SPOILERS MAY BE PRESENT.

So you guys should remember the last segment in my blog series. I began a discussion on some of the toughest choices I've had to make as a Renegade. Of course however, these choices weren't simply tough because of their nature, so much as tough because they contradicted what a typical Renegade was. Let me start by saying that I have multiple profiles where I play as a Renegade, in addition to profiles as a Paragon. While it's nice to try to follow a strict alignment path, I've found it pretty confining and ultimately unrealistic. This isn't to say that I haven't admired what the Mass Effect franchise has done in terms of dealing with moral and ethical issues.

The first iteration of Mass Effect was a breath of fresh air when it came to morality; that I have no problem of admitting. Contrary to KOTOR, where any Dark or Light side points were tallied into one single alignment spectrum, Mass Effect distributed them separately. There were Paragon points, assigned typically to the traditionally "heroic" and empathetic choices players made, and Renegade points, attributed to choices that reflected more of a general air of disregard or moralistic apathy. The excellent implementation of choice and effective acting and writing made living out these experiences engaging and in some cases, also presented the illusion of true depth, which registered with players on an emotional level.

Players, for instance, actually felt rewarded for helping people in need - such as when players assisted Samesh Bhatia or took out Banes' mercenaries. Those who had the guts, felt the thrill and consequence that came with their actions - such as the murder of Wrex or the colonists possessed by the Thorian. However, in some cases, their morality system suffered due to how polarizing certain choices became, especially for perspectives that weren't supposed to literally represent good and evil dichotomies.

The morality's confined and restrictive nature only became more problematic in Mass Effect 2, where players who didn't have items or bonuses that granted them extra alignment points- the Death Mask - were literally forced follow strict alignments in order to successfully resolve certain conflicts, either between characters or other key missions that played some considerable influence on the game's results. In fact, not adhering to a stricter playing style punished most players.

While I was a proud Renegade who didn't hesitate to intimidate people foolish enough to take me for granted, there were certainly limits that I wouldn't go - such as, from the perspective of a male Shepard, punching a woman in the face, no matter how annoying; or, abandoning people to help an unstable jerk who'd literally put their lives in danger. I had integrity. Or, as a Paragon, I wasn't afraid to keep the Collector Base or kill off Samara in favor of Morinth. I wasn't completely impervious to occasional urges of mischief. I'd learn as I met other fans of the series, the issues I had with Mass Effect's morality system were far from isolated.

Enter the Paragade and the Renegon: two ways of describing players who didn't limit themselves to a particular alignment, and what these players considered to be a far more reasonable method of gameplay. For the uninitiated, the Paragade was merely a person who was primarily a Paragon but also had a significant Renegade alignment, while a Renegon was the opposite. I tried out both sides in my profile experiences: as a Paragade, I assisted the Alliance in secret, but also had no qualms rejecting the Council's offers or helping a sick Krogan regain his composure. I was a compassionate man that also happened to have a short temper, or in the case of a pair of grave robbers, a very intimidating presence.

As a Renegon, I was merciless, but also partial to the needs of the innocent I met, including a Quarian a Volus was harassing. I detested the Geth, but I gave Legion an opportunity to show me a perspective to their motives others - including Tali - refused to see. These different approaches allowed me to enjoy Mass Effect 2 unlike I had when I spent my time trying to follow a superficial guideline; I was good when I wanted to be, and a rebel at other times. The diverse mixture of choices also brought on unexpected surprises and made encounters with people from older playthroughs especially more fulfilling. Yet, Mass Effect 2's morality system of course, naturally limited my ability to express myself this way, and became one of my chief criticisms and concerns of the franchise.

I'm pretty sure others ran into this problem at least once: you'd just finished Jack's loyalty mission and saw the angry biotic fighting with Miranda. As their argument came to a standstill and you had to decide how to handle them, you were surprised; you had not earned enough Charm or Intimidate points to use a response that would not cause one of them to become disloyal, possibly from not role playing strictly enough. Similar happened with Tali and Legion as well, and it was possible to have a strong alignment and yet still not have enough due to certain missions you had not yet completed. This system detracted from my emotional involvement in the game and became more of an annoyance that kept me self-conscious and unable to completely immerse myself. Thankfully, my concerns regarding this have been cleared with the latest information - I advise reading this to get a better understanding of what I'm discussing.

Mass Effect 3 is introducing another feature to their morality system, known as a player's "Reputation". At first glance, it seemed like an enhanced version of the currently established Paragon/Renegade dichotomy, until I took time to scrutinize it. In contrast, while Shepard's ability to influence others depended on how high a player's Charm or Intimidate meter was, or in Mass Effect 2, their Paragon/Renegade gauge, Reputation is a general tally of influence that increases over time.

Players can increase their reputation by making decisions that are either Paragon or Renegade- they both count - and it will increase, being tallied by the sum of both combined, rather than primarily on the alignment that's dominant. The twist to this, however, is the addition of neutral Reputation points, usually received after a normal mission that will increase the overall size of your Reputation bar while maintaining the ratio of your Paragon and Renegade points, which in theory will unlock tougher dialogue options that you can aim for in order to complete certain tasks. Similar to Mass Effect 2, certain dialogue options won't be unlocked until your Reputation reaches a certain point, clearly indicated. However, the combination of these makes it easier to reach these parameters, unlike in Mass Effect 2. It's a brilliant solution to one of Mass Effect 2's most glaring flaws, and will undoubtedly give players like myself the freedom we need to play the moral roles we desire uninhibited, rather than due to a slight design oversight.

My only interest lies now in how diverse these choices are. As a gamer, especially in a game as important as this, I'm undoubtedly interested in major choices that are successful - and not limited to Paragon and Renegade decisions. I can understand that certain situations won't always offer you multiple avenues or solutions, but I'd like to see the presence of more nuanced choices players can select in future games that aren't trapped by labels. Otherwise, we'll just have a game that plays "morally gray" yet doesn't feel as developed emotionally. Nonetheless, I'm excited at this latest development from Bioware and expect only the best.

Concluding, I'm definitely pleased by the new and more accommodating route Bioware has taken in the approach to their morality system. Instead of choices that appear to clash dividing the player, all of their actions - even the neutral ones - will contribute in some way to their evolution as Commander Shepard, the way a truly organic and realistic character feels. While some choices will naturally have a greater significance than others, there will always remain other choices that also enrich who we are to ourselves and to those we encounter. Thanks to Bioware's latest accomplishment, I and fellow Paragades and Renegons will have the chance to do and live as we please.