In many games with a Karma Meter, you get extensive bonuses in terms of special moves, bonus interactions and influence with squadmates. But you tend not to get too much for not being an utter saint or total bastard.
People who take the middle of the road miss out on all the nice event flags, combat bonuses and team relationships that moral or immoral characters gain. Rarely is it that a game plans a specific path for a neutral character. In many cases this is taken to the extreme with the game not even recognising the neutral path. Equally, if there's an axis for Order Versus Chaos, people who take the neutral path there are not going to be recognised for their behaviour. Game designers almost seem to assume that players will go to one extreme or the other.
At the extreme end of this, players trying to maintain neutrality may be forced into doing one good thing and then immediately doing an evil thing to balance it up, for example, saving an orphanage and then killing the orphans inside immediately after they say thank you for saving them to maintain the balance after finding there is no "Ignore the orphans' plight altogether" option available. Many developers don't even make a neutral option, forcing you to go good or evil. Some may even actively torpedo considered ways to go neutral à la Railroading.
The end result is a character who may have missed out on crucial special abilities, who will not have gained from any morality-related side quests and whose relations and issues with his team will be unresolved to a large extent, leaving a weaker team and an empty, unresolved feel to the game.
In short, being neutral sucks.
One of the principal reasons for this is that the number of ways to deal with a problem that aren't obviously "good" or obviously "evil" is enormous. Each player might have their own different ideas about how to go about it, and they wouldn't be happy if you offer 5 choices where none of them are theirs.
Even harder is how to effectively communicate what these possibilities are to the player. Nuanced morality options don't work if the player doesn't understand all of the nuances involved. Even with diametrically opposed morality options, some players become confused about what an option really means until they actually press it. Adding nuances to that makes it a lot more difficult to really know up front what you're getting.
One way of balancing this up is to make a hero demand an exorbitant reward for his or her services in doing good things, or generally acting against evil but for money and rewards instead of for doing good. Well, unless you want to run a character who does good for the sake of good, but isn't going to turn down extra money while they're at it. It helps them do good works.
Another way would be to make sure that in addition to any extraordinary bonuses, going to either extreme also results in restrains, as options open to the other side are now blocked. This puts neutrally-minded players in the realm of Boring, but Practical and/or Combat Pragmatist — perhaps (to some) less interesting, but certainly playable way of getting through the story.
- In Baldur's Gate, you can play a neutral alignment, but most quest rewards are based on a good/evil option, and rewards are biased towards good, subverting the normal temptation for players. Neutral-aligned party members will stay with a group with saintly reputation despite occasionally complaining, and even evil companions will only leave at the highest (19-20) reputation levels.
- Furthermore, the end of the second games have the 'Hell Tests'. These have only two outcomes: Good and evil. If you pick the evil choice a single time, your characters' alignment becomes Neutral Evil (in the first versions of the game, it even did this if you were Lawful Evil or Chaotic Evil). Thus, being neutral boils down to being good.
- Knights of the Old Republic forces you to miss out on the top range upgrades for certain force powers if you aren't the right alignment. Good characters miss out on top-range bad powers like kill, Evil characters lose the best healing-related arts, and neutral characters don't get any of the top-tier abilities.
- Also, if you max out the karma meter in either direction, you get a substantial bonus to one of your stats. You get nothing at all for maintaining perfect neutrality aside from being able to cast Force abilities from either side of the spectrum without the opposite alignment penalties.
- This is why cross-class mods are very popular for Carth and Mission. They're actually higher on the Karma Meter than the Jedi you recruit and get some interesting bonuses as a result.
- In the sequel (although it was made by Obisidan), your Pet Crystal will be super-powerful if you are neutral. This doesn't really make up for the loss of prestige classes, which require extremes, as you would still have a pretty decent crystal.
- Also in The Sith Lords, both your Prestige Class and access to the tomb on Korriban require you to be at least 75% aligned one way or the other.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic: Certain relics and clothing can only be worn by people with the correct dark/light side rating; although the end-game relics are alignment neutral. In addition, all of your characters gain access to a light side (50% reduction of damage taken for you and your companion for 12 seconds) or dark side (feed on half of your companion's health instantaneously) ability at the respective maximum alignments. You only need to reach max alignment on two characters to unlock each of them for all your characters on the server however; so a tier 5 dark sider can use the light side ability and vice versa. The two abilities share a cooldown.
- In Shadow of Revan there are some uncommon-quality lightsabers that you can only equip if your alignment is neutral (by any version's level cap, this is by having 5000 points in light and 5000 points in dark), but these are usually completely useless to most players.
- Mass Effect:
- Mass Effect 2 characters who avoid going Paragon or Renegade lose key dialogue options which can be crucial to resolving conflicts without having to get into a fight, as your Karma Meter directly determines what Charm or Intimidate options are available.
- Averted in the first game. Your Karma Meter unlocks the full range of the Charm and Intimidate skills, but there you can max out the skills and then start a New Game+ to play as you want while keeping the rewards.
- Even further averted in Mass Effect 3. Paragon and Renegade now both add to the same bar, the Reputation bar, which can also be increased by getting non-alignment reputation points (which increase the size of the bar while maintaining the same Paragon to Renegade ratio).
- And even more with Mass Effect: Andromeda, which does away with Karma and Reputation entirely. Instead it restructures dialogue options to be based on tone and personality rather than morality, allowing for greater roleplaying options.
- Jade Empire has a choice of really powerful techniques you can only learn if you're strongly aligned with one end of the meter or another. Open Palm gets Stone Immortal and Paralyzing Palm while Closed Fist gets Tempest and Hidden Fist.
- Dragon Age:
- Thankfully averted in Dragon Age: Origins. The karma meter has been removed completely, replaced with personal approval meters for your companions. But you don't have to pander to them. You can also bribe them with gifts and act however you want to otherwise.
- Played with in Dragon Age II. The Dialogue Tree averts it - the top option is generally nice, the bottom option is usually the nasty one, and the central, "neutral" option is snarky, charming, and gets all the best lines.
- Played straight with the Friendship/Rivalry meters and the Mage-Templar conflict. Choosing not to go for full friendship or rivalry with companions deprives them of special abilities, removes romance options and certain story options — in Isabela's case she ditches you in Act II — and ensures that they will side against you in the endgame if you pick a side they don't like. Being wishy-washy with the Mage-Templar conflict throughout the game will deny you access to sidequests in Act III. And in the end, you have no choice but to pick a side anyhow.
- In Star Wars: Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight, as well as the sequels, Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy, you can go down either the light side or the dark side.
- Although Dark Forces 2, at least, is an aversion in multiplayer: only full Light- or Darksiders can use the most powerful Force powers, but neutral characters can use a balance of both, making them more versatile. The single player mode doesn't have this option.
- Everything after the first Jedi Knight either has only one ending or a single moment where you choose. Kyle himself is in fact neutral, being loyal to the Republic but not actually a follower of the Jedi philosophy and with full access to all the force powers from both sides in the later games. Jaden from the last game will probably also end up this way for most players, since the good-aligned powers are totally useless other than healing.
- Given that in Jedi Academy your Light-side or Dark-side alignment is decided by pretty much one choice with no effect on gameplay besides the final mission (Luke and Kyle caution you about using too many Dark-side powers between missions if you take too many but there's no effect besides that), it's entirely possible that you'll wind up as a Light-side character with loads of Dark-side powers. That guy using loads of arc-lightning and telekinetically throwing people off of high things? Yeah, he's a good guy. Can't you tell?
- Also see Knights of the Old Republic in the BioWare section.
- In both Overlord games, you must have 100% of either alignment to get the alternative endings. Otherwise you just get the vanilla ones.
- Fable series
- Fable is a notable aversion of this. While there are times where you have to make a flat Good or Evil decision, most of these are pretty clear-cut cases (will you spare the bandit or kill him?) and you don't recieve any penalties for staying neutral. The townsfolk will even comment on this, discussing your characters unpredictability. The ending of the Lost Chapters is pretty neutral, coming down to a straight fight between you and the villain.
- Fable II likewise doesn't really penalise you for staying neutral, other than affecting prices, and even then you don't have to be a paragon of virtue or the scariest person alive to talk the townsfolk into giving you a better deal. There are also more neutral choices. At the start of the game, you have a chance to free some townsfolk or let them become slaves for a bribe. One of the options is to walk clean away from the situation altogether after the bandit attacks you anyway, leaving them in their cages for someone else to either let out or enslave. You've cleared the roadblock to Bowerstone, from your perspective it's someone else's problem. And there is an explicitly neutral ending option.
- Averted in Shadow the Hedgehog. Going down the "neutral" path means not helping either the heroes or Black Doom, but instead going after Dr. Eggman. The main conflict still goes on, but Shadow isn't much of a factor in it. Though, individual levels, especially those on the extreme ends of the map, can sometimes play this straight if there's no neutral option. And the game does take this trope's title literally- the good and evil goals add and subtract points based on your morality, while the neutral goals ignore morality and only judge your score by speed and rings collected.
- inFamous: If you're not a total saint or utter bastard, you're limited to the basic combat powers that you start with.
- Averted in Catherine. Neutrality is a perfectly viable option for the player from beginning to end, and the neutral path offers some very satisfying endings. This isn't surprising given how neutrality is usually handled in the game's parent series.
- Averted in Super Smash Bros Melee: The Switzerland bonus is won by going through a match without ever being attacked or attacking anyone else.
- BioShock rewards you for saving the lives of little sisters instead of killing them for ADAM, but you only get the good ending for saving all of them; the 'neutral' finale is almost identical to the 'evil' one. The sequel has more moral options and more variations depending on your choices through the game. Averted by its sequel which does have a neutral ending. Two in fact (chosen by Press X to Not Die).
- Mostly averted in Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War. Playing the 'Soldier' Ace Style is just as viable as the two others, but it's much harder to maintain, particularly if you're after the Supreme Soldier medal, which requires you to finish the game with the karma meter almost perfectly in the middle (in essence, you need to shoot down exactly half the yellow targets in every mission)
- City of Heroes has a few examples of this. On one hand, you have the level 1-20 Praetorian content, which forces you to be either a Loyalist or Resistance fighter. However, each side has two different inner factions which are functionally either good-hearted (you're trying to subvert the other side without risking lives) or hard-line extremist (allowing citizens to die or even actively killing them in pursuit of your goals). Then you're forcefully booted into Primal Earth as either a hero or villain (no staying a Praetorian), at which point you can side-switch between Hero, Vigilante, Villain, and Rogue. Vigilantes and Rouges can go to the "other side's" areas and run missions, but only full heroes or villains have the benefit of being able to earn special currency to help get the rarest items in the game. All that aside, former Loyalist Praetorians are nonetheless forced to fight Emperor Cole in the end-game content.
- In Anarchy Online, players join the Mega Corp. Omni-Tek, the Clans fighting them, or the neutrals, who are just trying to stay out of the mess. Neutrals can go anywhere without being attacked by either faction, but miss out on a lot of good Omni and Clan-specific equipment.
- Destroy the Godmodder: there are three alignments a player can choose. Anti-godmodder, Pro-godmodder, and neutral (good, evil, neutral). Anti-godmodder has tons of players, so the AG players have friends to back them up. The PGs also get their days in the sunlight since they have the godmodder on their team. Neutral gets nothing. Even the PGs get more team mates since neutrals don't really get to team up.
- supposedly there is an increase in power for the neutrals, but it only ever makes a significant difference if they're controlled by the GM.
- Played straight in Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, where there is a gauge that measures whether you use technology or magic more. If you stray too far in either direction, things from the other side won't work with any reliability. If you remain neutral, you can use both magic and technology, but the spells will be notably weaker than when cast by a full mage and likewise inability to learn and use the best technology.
- The actual alignment gauge affects which companions you can have with you: good aligned companions will refuse to follow an evil protagonist and vice versa, while a neutral protagonist can have any companion follow them. However, unlike the magic/tech effects, this can be negated entirely by maxing out Charisma and the Persuasion skill and getting the Master training in the latter, making companions willing to ignore your alignment completely.
- Halfway through Dark Souls II, you can encounter two characters you've had friendly interactions with before, fighting each other to the death. If you choose to help one of them kill the other, the survivor will reward you with a key to their secret treasure stash. Picking Creighton also nets you his armor set. If you don't do anything, one of them will kill the other (chosen randomly), and refuse to give you the key at all.
- Averted in The Witcher. The neutral path is actually the path closest to the source material. The neutral path also opens up several rewards and cutscenes that are not available to the other extremes. Besides, neither side is really good or evil so in the end it's a choice between three alternatives where the neutral choice is simply a choice not to choose (some quests have to be abandoned or avoided altogether to get the neutral path thus avoiding the Stupid Neutral problem).
- In the text-based MUD Dark & Shattered Lands, there are gods of Good, Evil and Neutrality, and characters are required to pick one at character creation. Unfortunately for the neutrals, the whole game is an enormous battle between good and evil, and all of the useful options and killer clans are aligned as such.
- Averted in NetHack, where neutral characters are expected to follow their own set of behaviours that are more distinct than those of chaotic and lawful characters, as well as possessing their own set of gods and Infinity +1 Sword.
- Averted in the Shin Megami Tensei series, where the Neutral path is usually the hardest to obtain but the only way to avoid humanity's annihilation or enslavement. Of course, depending on your viewpoint, this may not qualify as the best ending...
- Also, more Experience points for you.
- Of course, the neutral path is usually the hardest in SMT games. For most obvious choices in each game, a lawful character in a scenario might have to beat a chaos boss, while a chaos character has to beat a lawful boss. In neutral play throughs, you typically have to beat BOTH bosses to continue.
- Played with in Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne. It eschews the tradition of basic "Law, Neutral, Chaos" alignments, and instead asks you to sponsor one of the three opposing "Reasons" that will serve as the basis for the new world God will createnote , plus a True Demon ending where you blow everyone off and side with Lucifer insteadnote . But its equivalent "Neutral" paths are also divided: if you devote yourself to your neutrality and fight to restore the world to what it was, you earn the "Freedom" ending where the world is saved despite earning God's enmitynote ... but if your choices are noncommittal and dubious, and you lack the conviction to stand up for yourself, then God becomes disgusted with you and ignores you outrightnote , earning you the "Demon" ending where the remaking of the world stalls out and leaves it stuck as the demon-filled Vortex World.
- Also played with in Shin Megami Tensei IV. As is the norm for the series, the neutral ending is the best possible ending, but the decision tree that immediately precedes the alignment lock has such a massive effect on the karma meter that a character with a perfectly balanced meter entering the choice is actually locked out of Neutrality and would wind up on whichever path corresponds to their last choice. Only by leaning slightly to one side and then picking the opposite side at the last moment can one reach the Neutral path.
- Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse inverts the trope by making either the Law or Chaos endings bad endings, and its major endings being different flavors of Neutral.
- Inverted in Record of Agarest War (known as Agarest: Generations of War in certain areas, and on certain systems.) You're basically working for the embodiment of Balance, and one of the main challenges in the game is to stay Neutral - various choices will push you towards either Light or Dark, and if you go too far in either direction, you'll end up missing recruitable characters and other good stuff. On top of that, the best ending - and, indeed, most of the arguably 'good' endings, requires you to be Neutral at key points. So basically, there's No Points For Anything BUT Neutrality.
- Unintentionally averted in Fallout 3 (but not in the first two games), where the karma meter has such a minuscule effect on game play that the player can pretty much do as he pleases with little penalty. There's one perk called "Impartial Mediator" which gives you a substantial Speech bonus as long as you retain neutral karma, presumably reflecting that most such players are fond of the "make everyone talk through their problems" solution, but it's not much compared to the bonuses of going to one extreme or the other. Quest paths and rewards do often go by the good vs. evil choices, which is a shame, although there's often an option to take a slight reduction in good karma in return for taking a material reward.
- Fallout's one-dimensional meter (positive is good, negative is bad) means that if you're neutral, no matter how much you've done, people will act like they've never heard of you.
- In Fallout: New Vegas, the karma meter has virtually no effect on any part of the game until the ending, as your reputation with various factions is far more important. Morality is essentially replaced by ideology, and the way that the whole system is set up makes it impossible to take a neutral stance. The Courier's good and bad deeds towards each faction are tracked separately, so doing equal parts good and ill to a faction won't balance out to neutral, but to "unpredictable loon", and the Courer will be treated as such. By the end of the game, whatever you have done up to that point has been done for the sake of a cause.
- In Twilight Heroes, there are bonuses for having a certain Reputation, but only if that reputation is at one end or the other of one of the two Karma scales (Honor and Selflessness).
- The roguelike Omega has a pantheon of religions, two pointing to each of Law, Chaos and Religion. One of the neutral gods explicitly names this due to the messages saying your choice was completely useless each time you advance in that religion. However, it does give a safe path to the endgame.
- Averted in Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City. You don't get to commit to the neutral path until after you're made to pick a side, so you get all the associated rewards plus the fuzzy feelings of not having to kill the leaders of the 'other' side. You have to perform certain actions beforehand, but you're neither rewarded or punished for doing so.
- Most sidequests in Wasteland 2 have "good" or "bad" consequences, with doing nothing resulting in, at best, an outcome little better than the "bad" outcome. One exception, however, is a conflict between the Servants of the Mushroom Cloud and the Diamondback Militia in their struggle for control of the canyon. Arguably the best possible ending outcome is achieved by not intervening in their conflict at all.
- In Undertale, the only "points" for neutrality are one of a series of text epilogues explaining the fate of the Underground. Story and gameplay only has major changes if you dedicate yourself to a Pacifist Run or to being an Omnicidal Maniac.
- In The Sims 2: Apartment Life neutral witches only get half the number of spells as their good and evil counterparts (due to neutral spell being able to be cast by any witch, while good and evil spells can only be cast by their respective alignments), and cannot craft any special witch furniture, such as the motive restoring thrones.
- Played Straight in Warlock II: The Exiled: In order to research and cast ANY of the divine spells, you must curry favor to one or more of the 8 gods, which means pissing off the gods who are opposed to them. Given how powerful some of the divine spell trees are, remaining neutral can put you at a disadvantage, depending on your chosen race and playstyle. It also acts as a diplomatic bonus or penalty to other great mages, depending on if you follow similar gods to them or not.
- Both played straight and inverted in Europa Universalis IV. Muslims get bonuses for being very pious or very impious, but not in between. On the other hand, Buddhists benefit from being in the middle of their (literal) Karma Meter. Too low and their armies get penalized as everyone refuses to fight for such a jerk. Too high and their diplomacy suffers as everyone else takes advantage of them.
- Galactic Civilizations II:
- Averted when your civilization chooses an alignment, all three alignments (good, neutral and evil) have bonuses. Some players even argue that the Neutral choice gives the best bonuses.
- Keyword here is choose. The permanent alignment selection is a Screw the Rules, I Have Money! event that allows you to totally ignore your Karma Meter and set your alignment to whatever you want as long as you can pay for it. But up till then, the game plays this straight. The best bonuses from Karma Meter actions almost exclusively favor Evil choices while having Good alignment helps you diplomatically. Neutral ones tend to give you a small benefit for no downside.
- Inverted in Ogre Battle, where keeping your leader neutral allows the recruitment of more special characters.
- Dune II: Battle for Arrakis features the noble Atreides, the dastardly Harkonnen...and the Clever Ordos. The Ordos, as it turns out, get new, heavier vehicles one or two turns after everyone else already does. Their unique units also tend to be inferior to those of the other factions.
- Totally straight in Lords Of The Realm 3. In long games, Good-aligned players will attract various champions, as well as four archangels. Evil-aligned players amass an army of infamous villains, as well as the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Neutral-aligned players have no special benefits to speak of.
- Medieval II: Total War: has this. You'll get bonuses to your chivalry stats if you keep taxes low and do other "honourable" things while governing your lands and leading your men to battle, and dread points as your characters march merrily towards villainy burning, raping, pillaging and taxing all the way. But you get nowt for more moderate decisions (keeping the taxes at neutral, sacking towns rather than exterminating or peacefully occupying them in a manner unlikely in an undisciplined medieval army, or ransoming prisoners, the normal method of returning captured soldiers to their side.) Except for lots of money. Sacking and ransoming may not lead to you being feared or loved, but you'll be much wealthier from it.
- In the Civilization games, if two AI civs are at war, you can expect both of them to ask you to join in against the other. Attempting to stay neutral will simply piss them both off and make it much more likely for either (or worse, both) of them to declare war on you in the future, particularly on harder difficulties and AI who are designed to love war like Montezuma.
- In any given level of Majesty, you have to choose whether you build temples to the Order gods or the Chaos gods, and also choose between either one of the Sun or Moon gods separately. Or just eschew them all for the True Neutral barbarian god Krolm, which means you lose out on a lot of useful spells and some of the best heroes of the game. Then again, Krolm does offer up one really useful spell in particular, if you can afford to use it regularly...
- Warframe features the Invasion mechanic, where mission nodes will periodically get invaded by an enemy faction different from the norm; whenever this happens, the Grineer and Corpus will offer the Tenno rewards for their assistance. As you might have guessed, there's no Playing Both Sides allowed to get both rewards from a given Invasion; each run for the Grineer negates a run for the Corpus, and vice versa, and you need to complete multiple runs for your chosen side to qualify for the reward. The Invasion mechanic has been utilized in two different events so far, each centered around a larger conflict: the Gradivus Dilemma, a dispute between the Grineer and Corpus over the eponymous territory which introduced Invasions to the game in the first place, and Tubemen of Regor, in which Alad V and Nef Anyo both sought the research of Grineer geneticist Tyl Regor for opposing ends. In both events, not only did the individual missions function as Invasions, but so did each player's progress towards the event as a whole; earning battle pay for a mission would also give the player a point for the relevant side towards the event's rewards, with points for opposing sides cancelling out.
- Yahtzee regularly discusses this in Zero Punctuation. His main gripes are that it feels like he's being forced to play the game twice, and that the two sides are often mutually exclusive. He even calls out games he otherwise likes on this, such as inFAMOUS and its sequel.
- Plus, the fact that instead of the player wondering about the moral implications of each choice given, there's only the choice between "Take the good/evil option since I took the good/evil option during the previous choice" or "Suck". In his opinion, such games might as well ask you once if you want to do a good or evil playthrough at the start of the game and be done with it.
- Averted in earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Many alignment-specific abilities (protection from good/evil, detect good/evil) were removed from the latest edition because many players chose neutral characters for the sole reason to be immune to these abilities.
- Additionally, 3rd Edition split the Detect Alignment spell into Detect Evil, Detect Good, Detect Law, and Detect Chaos. If someone registered false to all four, he was either True Neutral, or magically masking their alignment.
- The benefits of being a neutral character in D&D are ably summed up in this Full Frontal Nerdity strip.
- Played straight by a series of spells in D&D 3.5 (Holy Word, Blasphemy, Dictum and Word of Chaos) that inflict Standard Status Effects up to and including instant death not on those with the opposite alignment, but on everyone in range who's not the spell's own alignment. Trying to blast away a bunch of demons slaughtering the city militia with a Holy Word? Better hope that the entire militia is staffed by self-sacrificing do-gooders, because every neutral one is going to bite the dust as well...