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The most difficult choices gamers had to make

Interactivity is the defining characteristic of video games, and the decisions that they offer give us opportunities to express ourselves. Should we equip the stylish armor, or go for pure defense? Should we choose the fire spells or the ice spells? Do we want to stealth our way through this level, or go in guns blazing? But some games go further and put us face to face with big, epic, story-defining choices. These are the choices that stick with us–the choices that make us want to replay the entire game to see how else it could have played out. The choices that we tell our friends to hurry up and get to already so that we can talk about it and compare notes. Here are some of the choices in games that we had the hardest time making. And it goes without saying, but major spoilers ahead.

Deathsheads or tails

When Wolfenstein: The New Order first released, we figured the most important decision we'd have to make would be whether to slaughter Nazis with a shotgun or an assault rifle. But within the first hour we found ourselves facing a gut wrenching choice. 

BJ Blazkowitz and his squad are captured by the aptly named General Deathshead, who forces us to choose which of our squadmates to dissect for his torturous research; the young, plucky, overeager Private Wyatt, or the tough as nails, sarcastic, Scottish Commander Fergus. Not only does this choice affect which of these two characters will accompany you throughout the rest of the game's story, it also determines whether you'll encounter the brilliant and eccentric Tekla–an homage to Nikola Tesla– or the suspiciously familiar guitarist "J," clearly implied to be the legendary Jimi Hendrix. 

The choice also affects the availability of certain upgrades and whether you'll have access to lock picking or hot-wiring. Most importantly, both Fergus and Wyatt are unique and likable, and so we care about them even after only a single chapter of the game. This makes the choice a brutal one, fueling your rage and desire to get revenge on Deathshead–and boy is it satisfying when you finally do.

The recently released sequel Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, even allows you to choose which of these two timelines to carry over into that story, making this one of the most impactful game choices around.

Megatough decision

The wastelands of Fallout 3 offer all sorts of tough decision, but none are quite like the decision of whether or not to blow up an actual city. From the minute you enter the quaint, rickety settlement of Megaton, you know that something's got to happen with the undetonated bomb in the center of town. On the one hand, the charming and confident Sheriff and Mayor of Megaton, Lucas Simms, offers you a reward to disarm the bomb for good, appealing to your decency to protect the innocent citizens of the town from potential harm. On the other hand, the shady and well-dressed Mister Burke pitches you an alternative: detonate the bomb (at a safe distance of course) and wipe out this "blight on a burgeoning urban landscape," appealing to your greed and desire to see a gigantic explosion.

If you decide to disarm the bomb, Lucas offers you citizenship at Megaton, rewarding you handsomely with a deed to your own property, and some good Karma. Meanwhile, refusing Burke causes him to put a bounty on your head. Conversely, if you go along with Burke's plan and detonate the bomb, you're similarly rewarded with property at Tenpenny Tower, and a bounty on your head from the other side. The material consequences are roughly the same either way. What you're really choosing here is what kind of person you are: Are you the type of person to protect the innocent and stand up to ruthless greed? Or are you the type of person who likes gigantic explosions? 

Don't Scoia'tael me what to do

Everyone's favorite silver-haired monster hunter, Geralt, has plenty to get done in The Witcher 2: stop this execution, deal with that drunken troll, investigate that espionage, prevent that war. Always busy with something or other. But when his ally and lover, Triss Merigold is abducted, he needs a strong partner to help rescue her. Players must choose between siding with Vernon Roche, the stubborn Temerian commander, or Iorveth, the scarred guerrilla fighter and leader of the Scoia'tael. 

Either one could be a powerful friend, but they lie on opposite sides of a political conflict. While Roche seeks to advance the interests of Temeria, Iorveth seeks an independent state for the oppressed elves. Which side's cause is more righteous? Which ally will be more effective in helping you rescue Triss and clear your name? And, most importantly, which of these two gruff dudes do you like hanging out with more?

Not only does this choice dictate who you'll be spending the next chapter with, but it also sends you to completely distinct locations for the middle third of the game, all with their own unique characters, quests, and choices of their own. Choosing Roche lands you in a Kaedweni camp, at a bleak battlefield, to deal with political intrigue and military matters at the highest level. However, choosing Iorveth sends you to dwarven town of Vergen, carved into the mountain face, where a patchwork of uneasy factions and residents struggle to survive. This major crossroads makes replaying The Witcher 2 a must.

Chloeasier said than done

Life is Strange offers a neat twist on the Telltale-style adventure game by giving the protagonist, Max, the ability to rewind time and see how your decisions would play out if you chose another option. Unfortunately, this power causes a catastrophic storm that threatens to destroy Arcadia Bay. 

No matter how much you use this power to make things right, it inevitably leads to destruction. The only way to prevent this catastrophe is to go back to the moment just before the first time Max uses her power, and choose not use them at all. The catch? The first time you use this power is to save Chloe, the most important person in the world to Max. Saving Arcadia Bay means sacrificing Chloe, and saving Chloe means sacrificing Arcadia Bay. Eesh.

On the surface this is a choice between being a hero and being with the person you love, but there are some other interesting angles here. Max has been using her power to avoid the consequences of her actions throughout the events of the game. Going back in time again to prevent the catastrophe could be interpreted as another avoidance. Letting the storm destroy Arcadia Bay might be the only way to truly accept the consequences of what Max has done. The real power of this ending, however, comes from the connection you form with Chloe over the course of the game. At the end of the day, it's not so easy to let her go.

The Walking Dead Wrong

One of the most difficult and memorable choices in the first season of Telltale's The Walking Dead comes in the very first episode. During a sudden zombie attack, you're forced to choose whether you want to try to save Doug, the nice but unmemorable IT professional, or Carley, the sharp, straight talking reporter. This decision determines which of those two characters will accompany the survivors throughout the season, significantly affecting how the story plays out.

This choice is difficult for a number of reasons. From a practical perspective, Carley has a gun and Doug doesn't, so saving her could potentially increase the group's possibility of survival. However, Carley reveals to Lee that she knows about his past, and Lee could choose to let her die in order to protect his secret. 

Telltale's brilliant decision timer forces the player to make this choice in a matter of seconds, throwing you into a state of panic that leaves your heart racing. This is definitely a hard one to forget.

Paarthurnot so simple choice

It's one thing to kill a dragon in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but when the Blades, an ancient order of dragonslayers, tells you that you must kill Paarthurnax, the leader of the Greybeards and your mentor in the ways of the Dragon Shouts, it's not a simple choice.

Firstly, there are significant moral implications. Long ago, Paarthurnax was Alduin's lieutenant, during which time he committed many unspeakable atrocities against mankind. But when players first encounter him, he's long since atoned for those sins and is currently a force for good in Skyrim. Is it right to punish someone for their past transgressions if they've truly changed? Or should they still be held accountable for their actions. Can one truly be redeemed?

If the moral quandary isn't of interest to you, the decision also has significant consequences for game itself. Killing Paarthurnax will cause the Greybeards to refuse to speak to you further, cutting off their assistance in finding Words of Power. Alternatively, if you refuse to kill Paarthurnax, the Blades won't work with you further, and their quest line can't be completed. On top of that, it's hard not to grow fond of Paarthunax after all those long mountaintop Dragon Shout training sessions, making this one of the toughest out of the many decisions in Skyrim.

Shaundid you think this was gonna be easy?

Sure, the Saints Row franchise doesn't take itself too seriously, but it does a great job of making its characters memorable, and Saint's Row: The Third is no exception. During the game's climax, you're forced to choose between saving your best homie Shaundi, or getting revenge on Killbane. If you choose to save Shaundi, then you foil STAG's plan, save Steelport, and prove to the world that The Saints are true heroes–but Killbane gets away. On the other hand, if you opt to go after Killbane, then you not only rid yourself of a nemesis, but you completely wipe out your rival gang, The Syndicates, leaving The Saints uncontested. Either way, you face a high price. What's more important, friendship or revenge? You decide.

What's even more epic is that, in choosing, you must drive across Steelport to either Shaundi or Killbane, all while fighting off hordes of goons as Bonnie Tyler's "Holding out for a Hero" plays over the radio, completing the perfect action hero sequence that manages to be both tongue in cheek and completely sincere at the same time.

Kaathe-22

The story in Dark Souls is easy to ignore, but there's a lot to dig into. Driven by an old prophecy, you come to Lordran in pilgrimage to ring the Bells of Awakening, without really knowing why. Once the bells have been rung, you come face to face with Kingseeker Frampt, who explains that you must replace Lord Gwynn by linking the flame, thus preventing Lordran from descending into an age of darkness. Simple, right? 

Unfortunately not, as you later learn that the flame itself is what perpetuates the curse of the undead, keeping humanity trapped in an endless cycle of death and decay. After defeating the Four Kings in New Londo, you meet another primordial serpent, Darkstalker Kaathe, who offers you another path. Instead of taking Lord Gwynn's place and linking the flame, choose to defeat him and then let the fire burn out, becoming the Dark Lord and ending the Age of Fire.

In addition to the overarching lore implications, choosing Frampt will prevent you from joining the Darkwraith covenant for the remainder of the game. Alternatively, choosing Kaathe will prevent you from using Frampt's ability to trade in items for souls. While not a very straightforward choice–it's possible to commit to Frampt before you even meet Kaathe at all–it's nevertheless a pivotal one.

Spec Ops: On the Fence

Spec Ops: The Line is a game that constantly challenges our preconceptions about the portrayal of war and violence in video games, with some shocking and powerful moments. Captain Martin Walker and his squad are pushing through the ruins of Dubai in pursuit of Colonel Konrad, a deserter. Early on in the game, Konrad forces Walker to choose between killing either one of two prisoners–a citizen or a soldier–and threatens to kill both the prisoners and Walker's squad if you refuse.

Although Konrad, and the game itself, frame this as a binary choice, it impressively allows for a number of spontaneous player decisions in the moment. You can choose to run, choose to try to free the prisoners, or choose to target the snipers directly. But the only choice that allows you to save either of the prisoners at all is to shoot the other one. This bleak choice isn't just difficult because of the treacherous nature of the situation, but because it's a demonstration that the best possible outcome is one in which the player has to commit heinous acts. This moment, like many others in Spec Ops: The Line, will stick with you long after you've finished the game.

Dilemmass Effect

The Mass Effect series is renowned for giving us fascinating characters with whom we form deep and powerful connections over the course of the series. You don't just charge into battle with them. You laugh with them, lament with them, and share intimate moments with them. 

That's why, towards the end of the first Mass Effect, when Commander Shepard is forced to choose between saving Ashely or Kaiden, you're not just choosing between squadmates, but close friends or even romantic partners. They're each eager to sacrifice themselves to complete the mission, and both urge you to go save the other. No matter what you choose, one of them will die.

This decision shapes the rest of your experience through the entire Mass Effect trilogy, as both Ashley and Kaiden have the potential to appear throughout the remainder of the series. There isn't any other franchise that feels quite as tailored to personal choices and experiences as Mass Effect, and that's what makes it so memorable. You're the Commander, so you decide what experiences you're going to have. It's a tough job, but we wouldn't have it any other way.

Blood on your hands in Far Cry 3

Ubisoft's 2012 release of Far Cry 3 introduced gamers to a pirate-infested island full of lore, a tribe called the Rakyat, and lots of potential for ritualistic killing. Following our protagonist Jason Brody, players engage in a series of quests for the Rakyat, slowly earning their trust and catching the eye of their Priestess, Citra. The Rakyat, in essence, adopt Jason into the tribe as an honorary member, trusting him with more and more sensitive tasks and adorning him with tribal tattoos.

At the end of Far Cry 3, Jason, and in turn, the player, is faced with a difficult decision that many gamers agonized over. Do you align yourself with the Priestess Citra and kill your girlfriend Liza in the process, or do you abandon the Rakyat tribe to save your friends? By this point in the story, Jason has become fully invested as a Rakyat tribe member, enjoying their ways and easily adapting to their lifestyle. But believing Jason to be a great warrior of legend, Citra gives him a difficult decision to make. She kidnaps his friends and girlfriend, asking him to stay on the island with her. If Jason decides to stay with Citra, his girlfriend Liza will be killed. If Jason decides to leave the island with his friends, Citra will be killed. With blood on your hands either way, it's no wonder this decision was so difficult.