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The change to the Paragon/Renegade system between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 was pretty significant. In the first game, you could eventually unlock the entire Charm / Intimidate trees, and attaining either kind of points was a positive thing. In Mass Effect 2, you were no longer able to dabble in both kinds of actions - if paragons didn't continue to act as paragons, they could eventually lock themselves out of potential charm dialog.

In the reviews and pre-release info that's now circulating the web, I've been hearing that the Paragon/Renegade system has changed again, replaced by a more generic-sounding Reputation. What is Reputation? How is it different from the system in ME or ME2?

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up vote 26 down vote accepted

The Bioware blog recently posted about this information, which I'll summarize here.

Mechanics

Earning reputation in Mass Effect 3 is a bit different from the first two games. Rather than earning only Paragon and Renegade points, you can also earn Neutral reputation, so there are 3 types of rep in ME3.

This means you can now mix being Paragon/Renegade without worrying about getting locked out of the more difficult Charm/Intimidate options. When you earn Paragon/Renegade rep, it'll show up as Blue/Red, whereas if you earn Neutral rep, it'll increase your reputation bar's size as a whole while retaining the same blue/red ratio.

Reputation Click through for the larger version.

Your total reputation (blue/red/neutral) will determine whether or not you'll be able to pass a Charm/Intimidate block. The lines on the bar are "checkpoints" which serve as gates for more difficult dialogue options. I marked them with the thin lines of red, in case it was difficult to see (this is not my Shep, this is the photo from the blog post).

As per usual, you get rep from completing missions and making dialogue choices. For missions with no Paragon/Renegade choice but still have a large impact, you will get Neutral rep.

Story Impact

In contrast to older Bioware games, you can never actually be the villain in ME3, though this should be rather clear from how they handled the first 2 games. No matter what, you will be fighting to save the galaxy. The manner in which you do it will be what differentiates a Paragon from a Renegade. Also, bullying people into giving you more money or discounts won't be the crux of what makes a Renegade decision in this game. Who needs credits if there's nowhere to spend them because civilized life has been destroyed?

Reputation gain will be based on when you have to make a decision in the game. Here are a few examples of what kind of rep you would get, taken from the blog:

  • Confronted on the Citadel by a desperate refugee with a gun, you give her some credits and help her find a place to sleep. (Paragon)
  • As a human colony falls to Reaper forces, you order down an orbital strike, brutally killing thousands of colonists to prevent the Reapers from turning them into husks. (Renegade)
  • You land at a turian fuel depot taken by Reaper forces and clear it out, enabling allied forces to keep fighting. (General Reputation)

TL;DR

BioWare has finally made a single-player game that lets you make morally grey choices without nerfing yourself, gameplay-wise. Rejoice!

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9  
I'm Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite answer on this question! –  Fluttershy Mar 3 '12 at 18:05
7  
Hey everybody! This answer discriminates against poor people! –  Raven Dreamer Mar 3 '12 at 19:34
4  
The tl;dr is not quite correct. One of the final choices you can make in the game will be greyed out unless you are 100% paragon or renegade: gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/55186/… –  Daniel Lew Mar 15 '12 at 17:23

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