My Pivot Away from Video Game RPGs

A few weeks ago, I started playing Mass Effect 2 and was instantly sucked into it. Well, instantly after playing the initial, 15 minute, unskippable cut scene sequence 3 or 4 times because I couldn’t get the controller working in Windows properly. Anyways, I was instantly sucked into the giant universe and cinematic feel. I knew there was an epic story ahead for me to be invested in. Within 2 weeks and maybe 4┬áhours of gameplay, however, I was over it.

Despite having grown up on computer role-playing games (RPGs), I have been turned off by them recently. RPGs are different from strict action or adventure games in that the player character grows stronger over the course of the game. Games typically accomplish this with either an experience or loot system. Along the way, an overarching plot and a variety of side quests fill out the game.

Recently, I have found myself wanting more out of the story and my investment into my character. Instead, I have found most games to be a grind, which I quickly become bored of. Today, consumers expect at least 30 hours of gameplay out of RPGs, and although developers do their best to vary the content, most of it ends up being somewhat similar. To contrast, a season of a TV show may not even last 20 hours, and there’s plenty of filler in that.

It’s interesting how increased player choices also seems to decrease variability in games. I have 2 examples in mind. First, many RPGs allow players to pick one of a few possible playable classes, each with different gameplay strategies, such as brawlers, snipers, magic users, etc. This choice, however, means that enemies and encounters must be designed in a way that allows different techniques for success. And the easiest way to do this is to make all enemies bland since unique challenges would be imbalanced against different classes.

The second example is the open-world RPG, where the player is allowed to roam around a big world and loosely follow their own path through the story. Although it sounds liberating, the lack of “railroading” means that game developers have to account for a lot of different cases. Again, the result typically isn’t detail into specific encounters and enemies: the content instead ends up being generic so that all paths end up roughly the same.

The last point I’ll make is that the RPG and action genres have crossed over in modern action RPGs like Diablo and first-person RPGs like Borderlands, which really mix the genres up. Again, I have found these games something of a grind because they usually based on similar, known gameplay and interfaces (FPS or clickfests) but also mix in extended game content through grinding for experience or equipment.

Of course, these are all opinions based on my changing preferences in games. I once was happy to spend night after night running the same Diablo 2 boss to hopefully get loot. Nowadays, I’m looking to get the most story per hour of gameplay and cut out the grind. Although I appreciate the cinematic feel of AAA roleplaying games, they are hard to justify the hours spent compared to, say, reading a book or watching a movie if I wanted a story.

In writing this post, I have realized I should be playing more adventure games. They’re usually tighter and closer to 10-15 hours and have some novel gameplay. And they’re made for the story instead of trying to just generate content for one to grow and grind through.

I have Alan Wake on steam: I’ll give that a shot and follow up on how that goes.

4 thoughts on “My Pivot Away from Video Game RPGs”

  1. Yes for me too I’ve found that my video game preference has shifted a bit growing up.

    I hate sandbox games because I don’t feel like I’m being presented with an experience – it’s more up to you to find your own. My favourite moment in Half Life is near the beginning when you walk forward towards the door and it suddenly breaks and you realize oh.. I’ll have to go the other way. Interactive environment. Makes me think the game designer had to pour a lot of time to fine tune that specific sequence.

    Linear vs non-linear is an interesting thing. In the case of Bioshock, they have literally placed a golden arrow on the top of your screen so you know where you’re going at all times. Dead Space made it a bit more subtle with breadcrumbs. I couldn’t stand Borderlands or Elder Scrolls because I found the tremendous amount of freedom resulting in me being less engaged.

    So I’ve veered away from RPG’s and leaned more towards action/adventure/puzzle with a linear storyline. Batman Arkham City has probably been my favourite so far. I’ve become so picky that I basically only pick games up that win Game of the Year, or indy cult hits.

    Let me know if you come across any games that blow you away!

    1. Ryan, sounds like we have come to very similar sort of preferences. I find it interesting that you mention Bioshock because there is so much that I like about that game: you really only get the scary moments and connections through scripted events, and assuming it’s well done, I don’t mind being pushed along. I finished the first one, and I think my biggest issue is that I’m a completionist by nature despite it clearly hurting my enjoyment. It’s no fun reloading and reloading the same encounter to get it just perfect with minimal ammo used and not getting hurt. They even tried to prevent that behavior by putting max ammo and the vita chambers around, but it’s a hard instinct to shake. The only way I could get through it was to play on easy and breeze through, which from a gameplay perspective wasn’t particularly engaging.

      I’ll have to check out Arkham City. I think I got it in a humble bundle at some point. I’ll try to do more video game reviews on my blog to see how well calibrated various games are to my current expectations

  2. Hey Kevin,

    I love RPGs still, although I definitely agree with what you’re saying about how they tend towards the middle of the road to not be imbalanced. I actually got a game in a Humble Bundle recently called The Legend of Van Helsing, or something like that. It’s great because its a hack-n-slash RPG but there’s no grinding required. If you explore the game fully and check out all the quests you can do, you will hit max level right before the final boss, which is perfect. And there are monsters which are more difficult for different classes which is great. It’s a small game and not exactly well known, but it’s got a great self-aware sense of humour and just balances everything I want in a game, including being pretty challenging.

    But yes, story is where the great games are made really. I mean, Chrono Trigger is great more because of its story than for what it did for RPGs, though it’s a good example for both sides.

    1. Hmm, I might have to check out this Van Helsing game. My last big hack-n-slash was D2, which I was a huge fan of at the time, but I don’t think I could really bear to play another game like it (e.g. D3). I guess the fact that I did enjoy it so much indicates that perhaps the greater change has been in my own preferences rather than a change in games themselves.

      Recently, I have been playing more tabletop RPGs, and the freedom of gameplay there has rapidly developed my preferences in games. As a DM, I largely find combat (particularly random encounters) boring since they’re just an exercise in rolling dice. My mindset has shifted away from seeing combat as a grind within itself for gold and XP. I’m trying to add unique conditions and affordances to the environment or weave them into an aspect of the larger challenge and story to make them more meaningful. That sort of approach seems doable in a video game as well but requires deeper, controlled design than what I have encountered in RPGs recently.

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