The idea, for most modern epics, that an adventure isn't about the end, but about the journey certainly has its appeals. These kinds of adventures make for great reads and some of the finest multimedia franchises out there. When it comes to video games, I need some more meat on my RPG sandwich.
Skyrim is a beautiful, vast, game with tons of things to do. You can follow the story and face the dragon that has been threatening the realm of Skyrim, or you can build a house. You can choose to hunt vampires or become a vampire. The world is your playground, it's just not for me.
Perhaps it's the lack of focus or definition that keeps me from getting lost in this apparently deep world. The icy realm definitely sounds cool on paper. My main gripe is the player has too much flexibility and that kills the sense of danger and immediacy and, therefore, the sense of adventure. I need a good reason to set out and invest time into an RPG. Call me cynical, but the first dragon-born in however long to come around trying to figure out why he/ she is chosen and tasked to save a bunch of creepy people that stop to stare at you whenever your near aren't good enough reasons to run all over the place and risk your life for.
I like my RPG's to have character. The it-thing now in RPG's is to have a kind of create your own adventure aspect to it. You can choose your own race, sex, class, age, features, yadda yadda yadda. You can choose actions that determine how people react to you and even effect certain story-arcs. I prefer my character to have a bit of definition starting out. Commander Shepard, from Mass Effect, comes to mind.
What makes these games special to me is learning about my own character as I play, as well as whatever companions may come along. Both Dragon Age games, the Mass Effect trilogy, The Witcher and Borderlands 2 give enough back-story to the characters that I care why I'm saving the galaxy and about who my character is. This helps me get more involved in the game and makes it easier to embrace the warm sense of escapism.
Another big draw to these games are the loot. Diablo 3, Torchlight 2 and Borderlands 2 dangle the loot over my head like kids playing with a cat better than most games. Many guns, swords, armor, shields, grenade mods, off hands await my discovery. Just the prospect of all the swag makes me go into a twitchy, drooling, day dream.
Back to character. Borderlands 2 has plenty of its own. Sure, the game-play may not be as deep as most RPG's, but the insane personality the game exudes, helped by the gonzo art-style, keep it fresh and fun to play. The personality poured into the game stretches out into the world, making Pandora one of the most interesting game worlds in recent gaming history.
I also enjoy a good challenge. Note: throwing a level 15 cat into an area where a level 10 character is trying to get to a level 9 quest area is just cheap. Dark Souls is a great example of difficulty done right. It holds the gamer responsible for figuring out their past, finding out where to go, and making sure you pay attention to your surroundings and enemies. It also requires that you have patience and learn certain strategies to survive the many dangerous obstacles and encounters. The game punishes you, severely, if you die, but also brushes you off and urges you to continue. Borderlands 2 is similar in that way, it can get very challenging and does punish you for dieing, but you spawn close to where you die and you try, try again.
Narration is also very important in RPG's. Varric, from the critically debated Dragon Age 2, holds a special place in my heart. His witty, dead-pan delivery of Hawke's rise to fame in Kirkwall a fun and engaging story, despite the abrupt ending. Mass Effect, on the other hand, has a more cinematic vibe to it. Following your build of Shepard throughout his/ her epic campaign against the reapers to the end is just as thrilling and arguably more gratifying than watching the ending of most celebrated sci-fi movies.
There is certain appeal to open-world RPG's. I just prefer more structured, story heavy adventures. However, the making-choices aspect does appeal to me. Just don't forget the swag and story.
I completely agree. Story is THE biggest factor for an RPG. The problem is with the proliferation of RPG element into otherwise non RPG titles that can get lost. I grew up playing extremely long RPG epics. They were not long because it was a sandbox to play in and do all sorts of little sidequests, but because the story itself was so intricate and large. Character interaction was huge as was the many twists and turns in the story. This is essentially lost in today's RPG. It seems deep and engrossing story lines have become niche in a way within the gaming community.
"I also enjoy a good challenge. Note: throwing a level 15 cat into an area where a level 10 character is trying to get to a level 9 quest area is just cheap."
Oh god I couldn't agree more. Games like The Witcher 2 and Mass Effect handle the levelling up of characters in a much more intelligent way that the old-fashioned and pointless level up style.
I also prefer a focussed story than a big roaming world although it didn't stop me spending 30 hours on Fallout!
I think the one thing about most RPGs lately that's dragging the genre down is the need to be open world. I played the crap out of both Fallouts and Skyrim, but I never felt like I was playing a RPG. It's like GTA with swords, or crazy mutants. I find myself wishing RPGs would go back to the "old" style of gameplay, and I've been replaying FF6, Chrono Trigger and the like as a result. I totally agree with you on how I feel drawn to a character's story, and it's a total lost art in not only RPGs but games in general. Just because you tell me that a person should have a relationship with person X doesn't mean he cared or anything. When you establish a character, don't be afraid to develop them. It's frustrating when games won't take a clue from that. Anytime we can all learn from Halo 4's story is a time when we start seeing problems.
I totally agree with you on the issue of swag in games as well. My favorite RPG of (semi) recent gaming is FF12, simply because you actually gained items and things you may actually want as you were leveling or just playing the story (which drags early, but then becomes great). It's the place that FF13 got everything the most wrong in my opinion. I never cared that the story was linear because it was good and compelling. But when things opened up, I had nothing to do but level up to be able to continue. That wasn't a draw, and to this day my game is saved on Chapter 12. Diablo does a good job with loot, making you want that one last kill to get that good item. It's the place Fallout did it right, and Skyrim did it wrong. I have a million and one items on Skyrim, hanging out in barrels and such, but why bother? I know I'll need these dragonfly wings one day....
Short story long (apparently), I totally agree with you, but I think the root is the focus on the player being able to do anything he wants. If I could play Skyrim for 100 hours, never do the story, level to 50 and be way over powered before I even START?! Is that all really necessary or are developers trying to hard for us to "make our own tale." I like a choose your own adventure book, but Skyrim (and others) never take me to the page where I die.
"What makes these games special to me is learning about my own character as I play, as well as whatever companions may come along."
This I think is the key point. There's a certain something about playing an "established person" that is appealing over the "Character Generated Goon" mechanic. Discovering lore/plot twists in the world is great, but sometimes it's really nice to discover tidbits and backstory about the character I'm playing.
speaking of RPG games that i spent days and days playing them and i never found anyth like them , Dungeon Siege 2, The Witcher 1, Deus Ex 1,2 , and offcourse Never Winter Nights ( all of them ) , Mass Effect 1, Fable 1, Fallout, Oblivion ... and my very first RPG game i ever played which is OMIKRON : The Nomad Soul (1999) .. i dont know if anyone played this game but hell if u didnt, u've missed a lot !!
I played Morrowind and Oblivion until my eyes dried off, and i just dont get the urge of playing Skyrim. In part it is due to what you already mention, too much freedom could be a dangerous thing, it could overwhelm the player. You spent hours doing only one thing in the game and realizing that maybe was not that important. I think Morrowind was the pinnacle of open world RPGs, it had good structure, lots of different weapons, in part it was whay i did not like about Oblivion, they took off some of my favorite weapons, and I suffer breaking bug during the game which would not let me finish the Fighter guilds quests.
After that, i figure that was the last time that I would play a game like that, I try to play Fallout 3 and New Vegas but I just could not bring me about to finish the game or even play it. So this time i decided not to buy Skyrim, I like games with more focus now, something that will engage me to the point I truly want to achieve a 100% completition.
Maybe Skyrim's not for you because it's a crappy game that follows linear and basic design but just happens to do so in an open world. The game has the depth of a drying puddle. What Skyrim does was impressive back in 2003 when Morrowind came out. Skyrim is especially dated when compared to the advances in world-building, writing and quest design demonstrated in Fallout: New Vegas. That game genuinely let you roleplay as you affected how the world around you would change, with four branching main questlines that led to a different set of quests with different characters and various factions all at play. It's an open-world RPG done right. Even the sidequests tie in to the overall effect on the gameworld. With Skyrim, sidequests are all just filler. Same deal with every Bethesda RPG. They have no notion of quest design and feature horrible writing on top of it all. Skyrim's a dud.
Anyway, I agree with you on all points. Challenge, character and narration are key. Loot has its place in the proper game as well. I hated Diablo III, but I love Torchlight II. I've just purchased Borderlands 2 actually and it'll be my first experience with that game so I'm looking forward to it as well. I hear it's pretty addicting to constantly go in search of loot in that game.
@NeonNinja My friend is obsessed with New Vegas and I saw the Ultimate Edition is on sale on Steam, so I may get that tomorrow
Funny you mention Morrowind, to me still is the best Elder Scrolls game to date. I don't know why... I think is the horses and fast travel, that killed the sense of discovery/adventure in the series. I hope they make a HD remake of Morrowind, or they go back to that format in the future. One can only dream huh?
For an RPGamer who doesn't want his RPGs to forget story and structure, I'm kind of surprised you didn't mention any JRPGs in your article. Well, that's alright. Some people don't go for the anime-ish look, or how they stretch from realistic personalities.
Besides that, I totally agree with everything you said. I also want my RPGs to be more solid on the story and character. I want established characters, watch their growth as characters, and focus on their objective and purposes, with a little distraction of fun exploration every now and then.
I also don't particularly like multiple endings or make-your-own characters and imagine their personalities. I want canonicality. I just can't use "nobody" characters as vehicles to put myself into the story.
On the other hand, there is a downside to stories that are unavoidable and invariable. You either like the story, or you don't. If you don't like it, you'll get it anyways. If the main character irritates you, you'd better hope he grows up and improves.
All in all, I just don't like games where you make your own character, drop him in the game, the game tells you where he is and what he can do if you want him to, and then you do whatever you want. It's like the character will not change throughout the game, and his whole story is either finished right after introduction, or already written in the manual.
@Tenaku I'll tell you, I hate the anime/manga style, I even hate most mangas and animes (I only like Studio Ghibli's stuff. Akira wasn't bad, and I've yet to see Ghost in the Shell) but I love JRPGs. I remember the first time I played Tales of Symphonia when it came out, it was the best game ever back then, and I personally still think it is! Xenoblade came close, but hell, Symphonia will always be in my heart!
@Tenaku Oh yeah, JRPG's! FF VII and Skies of Arcadia all the way ^_^
The old Final Fantasy like FFVI was my ideal RPG. You have a story and caracters that you care for, at one point in the game you are free to go but at that point, even if you are free to go where you want and all, you still think that everything you do is to be better prepared to beat the last boss. You never loose your focus.
My problem with Borderland is : it is too much like Diablo but with guns. The only point in that game is to grind and collect.
game like Skyrim and Fallout is : too much freedom to the point that they can't make a very deep story since you can do many quests in various order. I remember being very let down by the "last boss" in Fallout3 ... nothing epic a level 1 could beat him.
@Coco_pierrot That's a matter of perspective: you say a game that's like Diablo with guns is bad, I say 'give me more'. Borderlands is not a role-playing game in the sense that you decide how your character is, it's an RPG due to how you can customize the gameplay with different characters, branching skill trees and a variety of mods and weapons. People need to realize that not every game is going to have a mind-blowing storyline, and that ocasionally the focus will be the gameplay. Heck, both Borderlands have fantastic storytelling (humor, wit, characters) but a lack of story that, to be honest, detracts in nothing from the game (although BL2 did make more of an effort to have a decent story). Honestly, 'grind and collect' is, to me, more entertaining than watching story cutscenes. The only point of the game is to play and kill difficult bosses. I'm glad it isn't pretentious and doesn't try to be something it isn't.
I know that, I played the first Borderland like I played the first Diablo. It just isn't what I want from an RPG. I just loose the feeling of progression and of course my interest is very low when the only thing to do is collect. Even in real life I hate to have many thing just for the sake of having them.
I will have to say that Borderlands 2 does offer what it has and more in terms of loot and difficulty.
@Witchblade13 Disagree with Borderlands difficulty. I agree that some parts are hard, but without any real consequences of death, what's the point really?
This is the main reason I didn't like BL2. Same thing that turned me off Dead Island as well. Played them both with mates, had good fun initially, until I realised there was no tension, because death just doesn't matter.
@modernsocks I remember that game with both great fondness and pure rage, lol.
@Bad_Gamers83 Yes, it's frustratingly difficult and is the best example of a game that handles difficulty perfectly, it always boils down to the player's skill. Of course I suppose that can't be compared to an RPG, or maybe it can, RPGs aren't quite the number games they used to be...
Funny, but what you call "lack of focus or definition" is exactly what I love about Skyrim. You can ignore the main story and do whatever you want, instead of being forced down a linear path to the end. I've clocked many hours, even days, in that game, and I've yet to complete the main quest. And I've enjoyed every minute of it.
@starduke Good, it's just not my thing :) A bit of linearity can be a good thing. I guess I'd like something that has a fair balance. To each their own.
@Bad_Gamers83 Well, it could be said that Skyrim's main flaw is that the main story is so easy to ignore, and not interesting enough for me to play it.