Thursday, May 3, 2018

On Role-Playing Games: How I Define "RPG" and What I Expect From RPGs

The term "role-playing game" has become somewhat nebulous and unhelpful these days when it comes to categorizing video games, in large part because so many games have started implementing RPG elements in their gameplay designs, causing the line between "RPG" and "not-RPG" to blur. Sometimes the distinction is easy to make, if the RPG elements are obviously secondary to some greater gameplay emphasis, but the advent and popularity of hybrid games (like the Mass Effect series, for instance, which are equal parts RPG and action-shooter) have raised serious questions about how we should classify RPGs, since nearly every RPG these days now falls on a wide spectrum based on "how much an RPG" it actually is. When thinking of what games I'd put in a "Top 10 Favorite RPGs" list, for instance, I struggle with deciding whether certain games should even be on the list; for example, is Deus Ex actually an RPG? What about Dark Souls? In both cases, my gut says "no," but you could make an argument for both games, based on how you actually define what constitutes a role-playing game.

A key issue with this debate is that different people have different definitions; for some, the simple presence of a leveling system makes any game an RPG, while others insist that it's more about choice and consequences, while still more people would say that it's about being able to make a character (or an entire party) and explore a large open world, playing the game however you want. In truth, there are a lot of specific mechanisms and general concepts that go into making an RPG, but it's probably not appropriate to draw a hard line in the sand and declare that "if a game doesn't have have these specific elements, then it's not an RPG." As the folks at Extra Credits have pointed out, mechanics don't define genres; why we play them, or what we're looking to get out of them, does. And as the classic Potter Stewart quote goes, "[I can't define it], but I know it when I see it." Which is to say, there's an inherently subjective logic about how we perceive and classify these games, and it's not always easy to put into words. But I'm going to try.

The term "role-playing game" stems from tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons and other pen-and-paper RPGs, where players would gather around a table, create fantasy characters with different stats and skills, and act out their characters' adventures, making decisions and rolling dice to determine their character's successes and failures, while being guided by another player known as the "dungeon master" (or DM) who told the story to the party of adventurers, reacting to their decisions and rolling dice for any monsters or non-playable characters the party encountered. This is, in its purest form, what an RPG truly is, and how a video game RPG should strive to be. The earliest computer RPGs of the 1980s all took heavy inspiration from D&D, for instance, and the games of the "golden age of CRPGs" in the 1990s evolved from there. It's impossible to truly recreate a tabletop RPG in video game format, however, since everything in a computer game has to be scripted in advance -- the AI can't go "off script" and dynamically alter the game in response to the player's creativity, like a real life DM could -- but there are a lot of things developers can do to emulate that same feeling of creative freedom, even with the greater restrictions of the video game medium.

Some dice and a character sheet for D&D.

When playing a video game and evaluating how good of an RPG it actually is, my main thought process tends to be about how well the game captures the spirit of tabletop RPGs. For instance, does the game give players the ability to create or customize their character in a way that will change the gameplay in meaningful ways that reflect their own unique character, allowing for multiple playstyles and personalities to coexist within the same game world? Does it use numerical stats, skills, and attributes to represent the player-character's abilities, and does it have a progression system that shows how the character becomes stronger or more experienced as the adventure progresses? Does it give players a sense of adventure, that they're on an epic quest with a campaign-style narrative that can unfold a little differently depending on what they do? Does it offer an immersive world that makes the player feel like they're truly in and a part of that world, with opportunities to explore and to go "off script" doing whatever they please?

Note that it's not just about fulfilling these kinds of questions in a simply superficial sense, because it's entirely possible for a game to check all of these boxes on a mechanical level, while never capturing the deeper spirit of their RPG intentions. Fallout 4, for instance, lets you create a character with your own stats, whom you can further customize with a bunch of perk selections, but those character choices don't really affect the way you play the game in the grand scheme of things, since all characters will be pretty much forced to do things in the same general way. Shadow of Mordor has a progression system complete with experience points and skill trees, but it's not really there for a role-playing purposes, or even for character development purposes, since it's mostly there to reward the player with fun, new maneuvers. The RPG elements in both of these games are clearly present, but the games either fail to understand the ultimate point of those elements, despite trying to be an RPG, or else use them in a way that's not necessarily how RPGs intended them, because it's clearly not trying to be an RPG.

I therefore also like to consider how well I could see a video game working in a tabletop setting; if you were to strip out the graphics and controller inputs and replace everything with a human DM, narrating your actions through spoken word and keeping track of everything with pencil and paper, would the general feel of the game -- what you do in the world and what you're trying to accomplish -- still feel largely the same? And how much would you have to change the game's systems (or gameplay, if you will) to make more active things like combat translate to a tabletop setting? Something like Fallout 2 would be pretty easy to convert to tabletop form, since much of its gameplay is already loosely based around tabletop systems, but something like Mass Effect (or any other game with action-based combat) wouldn't translate as well without making serious changes to how the game is played. This type of reasoning has its flaws, certainly -- video games are fundamentally different from tabletop games, and the nature of the medium allows them to do things differently and, in some cases, better, and so it's perhaps not fair to say that Mass Effect is less of an RPG than Fallout 2, or not as good of a game as Fallout 2, just because it embraces the positive qualities of video games more than Fallout 2 did, or could for its time.

Third-person shooting in Mass Effect 2.

This discussion pops up everywhere, all the time, with a lot of different opinions about what should constitute an RPG, which should go to demonstrate that this isn't a hard science with firm rules that we can use to mathematically draw our conclusions, or else the gaming community would've already come to a consensus ages ago. "Beauty is in the eye of beholder," as they say, and how you would define "role-playing game" ultimately depends on your own personal expectations, based on why you play role-playing games and what you hope to get out of them. But, there is a definite origin and history to role-playing games, and those tabletop roots are what define RPGs to me in the most logical and objective way, since that's what they were originally intended to be. Video games have changed the way we interface with RPGs, but the core principles should remain the same.

In no particular order, these are the types of qualities that I look for in an RPG, explained in terms of their tabletop origins; if a game has all (or most) of these elements and executes/implements them well, then I consider it to be a good RPG. Note that these qualities are based on my desire for tabletop-esque RPGs, and are what I would consider good qualities in a "pure" RPG -- they aren't necessarily applicable for every type of subgenre, and I'll sometimes use examples from RPG subgenres (and other genres, as well) to contrast what I mean.

1. Campaign-style narrative
To me, an RPG absolutely must have a main story, and it must be a main focus of the game. It needn't be a completely linear, 100% story-driven game, but there must be a narrative purpose for the things you do in the world, and an ultimate point to everything. Likewise, the mere presence of a main story doesn't qualify as a "campaign-style narrative." While tabletop RPGs can revolve around "one-off scenarios" where players make new characters at a certain level, just for the purpose of that one session, the main appeal of tabletop RPGs, to me, is being able to carry my character through multiple adventures, and it's even better when those scenarios are linked as part of some greater story since it makes you feel like you're on a truly epic adventure, with each session and each scenario being another chapter in the overall story.
A cutscene in Dragon Age: Origins
BioWare games are usually pretty good at this, with a lot of them giving you some overarching goal and then breaking the game into a bunch of sub-goals that usually require you to travel to different areas of the map completing a variety of quests, most of them technically stand-alone but always in service of the main story. Those games are, much like a tabletop campaign, a bunch of smaller adventures linked together to form one full campaign. Gothic 2, while not having the same grand sense of scale as a typical BioWare game, accomplishes this with literal chapter progression; the main story is absolutely essential, since you simply cannot progress the game without advancing it, and each chapter represents one smaller adventure on the way to finishing the main adventure. And since the main story is the focal point of the entire game, all of the optional side content (like side quests, exploration, etc) is built around it, fully complementing the story and lending itself a strong feeling of weight and significance to everything you do.
Part of the point with this section, besides the "epic adventure" aspect of things, is to also contrast against sandbox games and dungeon crawlers (or other types of games) with strong RPG elements, that don't have a meaningful main story. Skyrim, for instance, has a main story that deals with a civil war between the Nords and the Empire, as well as an apocalyptic "dragons are invading" scenario, but the main quest is entirely optional, and all of the adventures you can go on are entirely self-contained, having no real relation to anything else you might do. Although your character persists from adventure to adventure, most of Skyrim's content is a bunch of stand-alone, "one-off scenarios." Action-RPGs like Diablo and Titan Quest have main stories, but they're not a main point of emphasis, as the main reason you play those games is for the raw gameplay -- killing monsters, getting better loot, and leveling up -- with the story almost being an afterthought. These games all have main stories, but they'd score relatively low on this metric because of how their stories are treated. 

2. An immersive world to explore
The setting in which an RPG's story occurs is perhaps almost as important as the story itself, maybe even more important, since it's within this world that the player is hoping to immerse themselves. A world should be more than just architecture, geography, and level design -- it should be a character in its own right, providing context for everything you do. This extends beyond the natural or otherwise physical characteristics, and includes things like characters, lore, and world-building as well. It should feel like a real place, with consistent rules for why things are the way they are, and it must be brought to life in a believable way. The whole point of an RPG, after all, is the fantasy element of becoming a different person in a different setting, and the setting is usually the main thing that draws people into a specific RPG, whether that be the traditional fantasy setting of Pathfinder, or the modern superhero scenarios of Mutants & Masterminds. If the setting doesn't immerse you, then it's hard to role-play your character, and it becomes harder to engage in that world.
Overlooking Touissant, from The Witcher 3: Blood & Wine.  
Besides being immersive, a good RPG needs to allow players the freedom to explore. In tabletop RPGs, this stems from the players' ability to do practically anything, at any time, as long as the DM is capable of thinking on their feet and making things up as they go. While the DM may be intending for the players to go to the tavern to pick up a quest, the party may decide to go to the market, instead, and then just might decide to leave town for random adventures. Even if they go to the tavern, they may choose to initiate conversations with random other people, or just start messing around with boisterous shenanigans, just to see what happens. When the DM is describing a scene to the players, the party will likely inquire about specific things, either asking outright from a player's perspective, or rolling skill checks to see what their character can observe -- even when following the DM's intended path, the players are still actively exploring the scene on their own, trying to find options and gather more information.
In video games, this is achieved mostly through open worlds like in The Witcher 3, where players can go virtually anywhere at any time, unrestricted, or through semi-open worlds like in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, where the map is broken down into a bunch of smaller hub areas. In both cases, they offer plenty of freedom for the player to go where they want, seeking out content as they please, with plenty of side-quests to distract themselves. The size of the explorable area needn't be the only factor here, though, as smaller and more focused (ie, more linear) mission-based games like Alpha Protocol can still offer players opportunity to explore within (and even between) levels. A game like Gothic 3 succeeds at providing a huge world to explore (although it's not really that rewarding to explore so it kind of fails in this regard), but drops the ball when it comes to painting an immersive, believable world, because all of its towns and NPCs feel so "video gamey," like they're only there to fill a production quota to give the player enough Things To Do.

3. Stats and skills
The whole point of role-playing games is that you're supposed to be playing someone other than yourself. The character you control is not you, the person playing the game; your character is supposed to be their own independent entity with their own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. The traditional way of representing these character traits is through stats and skills -- quantifiable numbers that measure things like the character's physical and mental traits (how quick they are, how easily they learn new things, how friendly they are, etc) as well as their ability to perform different actions (persuading people, identifying magical items, shooting a gun, etc). Usually when a character performs an action, a "check" is made by the player or the DM to determine how successful they are, which is usually done by rolling dice and comparing the results (modified by the character's stats) against the particular action or encounter's own matrices, with varying degrees of success based on the results of the check.
 The stats and skills screen from Fallout 2.
The key, here, is that RPGs are fundamentally games of numerical abstraction -- taking thematic elements and specific actions, and distilling them into a bunch of numbers meant to represent those actions. The more a game relies on abstracted numbers instead of active gameplay elements, the more of a pure RPG it is. Stats and other numbers play a huge role in a game like Dark Souls, for instance, but how successful you are in combat in that game is more a matter of your personal skills as a gamer -- your hand-eye coordination, your reflexes, your ability to recognize patterns, your timing, etc -- none of which is represented numerically in the game, and none of which is reflected in your character's stats or skills. Dark Souls is ultimately more about action than abstraction, hence why it's often put in the subgenre of being an "action-RPG" as opposed to just an RPG. A game like Pillars of Eternity, on the other hand, leans more towards abstraction than action, since its gameplay systems are based more on issuing commands and seeing how your party's stats and skills effect those commands, with far less reliance on active player input to determine your overall success.
So while stats and skills are an absolutely essential aspect of RPGs, how they're implemented and how they're balanced against other gameplay systems is ultimately more important than the mere presence of stats and skills themselves. Killing Floor 2, for instance, has a leveling system complete with binary perk selections that affect your character's stats and abilities, but it bears no resemblance to an RPG because the only abstraction in that game is but a minor, passive modifier to a more active gameplay element -- first-person shooting. The term "RPG elements" doesn't even get mentioned in relation to Killing Floor 2. Abstraction should be all about defining your character in terms of numbers, with a strong degree of separation between the player and the character. You should be there to guide and direct your character by issuing commands and making decisions for them, while they carry out the action themselves based on their stats and skills. As a more practical example, when you pick a lock, it should be based on your character's lockpicking skill, not how well you do at playing a mini-game.

4. Progression
RPGs also tend to feature progression systems that are meant to show how your character grows as a result of their adventures, usually with you earning experience points for the things you do until you eventually "level-up," having reached a new experience threshold where your character gains some new type of ability or other improvement to their stats. Having the player-character get stronger over the course of the game isn't unique to RPGs, but it is a pretty essential part of RPGs to me. The point of a progression system in an RPG isn't just to compel the player to keep playing, like some kind of more entertaining form of operant conditioning -- it's yet another instance of abstraction, a numerically quantifiable way of showing the cumulative effect of the experience your character gains from session to session. As in the previous section, it's supposed to be more about the character than the player, and like many things in this list, simply having a progression system doesn't make a game an RPG, since it needs to be implemented in such a way that facilitates actual role-playing -- ie, a way to make choices about how your character is going to evolve over the course of the game, further shaping the type of role you're going to play.
Getting killing by a tough enemy in Elex.
Progression should also serve as a mechanical barrier, the type of thing where you simply have to get stronger in order to progress in the game, because it'll be practically impossible to if you don't. RPGs have pretty much always gated progression behind stats and levels -- you simply don't go into end-game areas at level 1, because you will be slaughtered -- as a way to demonstrate your character's relative inexperience to the rest of the world. It doesn't necessarily mean that your character should start out as a total "noob" with literally zero experience (although this does allow the player to experience the maximum amount of growth, getting the full "zero to hero" treatment), but leveling up should be something you do out of mechanical necessity to overcome tough obstacles, not simply because it gives you a fun new ability to play with. While it's fun to feel your gameplay evolve as you level up, it's important that the player experience challenge and adversity that can be overcome with raw stats, since that shows how much your character has improved, and makes leveling up feel genuinely rewarding since it enables access to forbidden fruits -- areas that were previously too dangerous to enter, or enemies that were previously too difficult to beat, or quest solutions that were previously impossible for you to succeed at.
Of course, you don't want progression to feel like a tedious grind because that takes emphasis away from the rest of the role-playing systems, making it more about the game (and its underlying mechanics) than your character, or the world, or the story. Grinding for higher levels in an MMORPG serves as a mechanical barrier that pushes the player to improve their character, but it's really just a manipulative way of getting you to spend more time in the game. You also don't want progression to feel too "smooth" or "natural" (through level-scaling, or similar systems that keep everything naturally pretty close to your level) that the player doesn't even notice it, and never experiences any sort of mechanical barrier. In such cases, you never really get to feel challenged, and leveling up therefore isn't really a matter of getting stronger, because if everything else is getting equally stronger with you, than you're not really getting stronger. The ideal balance should be somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, where progression is not a stop sign that brings you to a screeching halt, but also not a green light that lets you cruise through an area at full speed -- think of it more like a yield sign that makes you slow down and be more cautious, before either stopping or advancing, depending on the situation.  

5. Choice and consequences
The most important thing about RPGs is that you should actually be able to role-play as your character, and the only way to really do that is if the game gives you options about how you can play the game. In tabletop RPGs, the amount of choices available to you are theoretically infinite, as long as the DM is willing to play along. This could mean something completely outlandish like making a character who specializes in climbing and trying to solve as many problems as possible by climbing things (a true story from one of my own Pathfinder sessions), but in more realistic terms it means this: a burly warrior should play the game and solve problems differently than a cunning rogue or an intelligent wizard. And I mean it should actually be a meaningful, significant difference -- not just "a warrior uses a battleaxe and wears heavy armor while a rogue uses a dagger and light armor" since those are pretty much just two flavors of the same thing. Rather, I mean that a warrior should be able to intimidate people by flexing their muscles, or settle disputes by challenging someone to feats of strength (like arm wrestling), or open locked chests by bashing the lock open, and so on, while a rogue would use sleight of hand to trick people, or sneak past someone to avoid a conflict, or open the treasure chest by picking the lock.
Malkavian dialogue in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
These choices should be almost entirely dependent on your character's stats and skills, meaning that you should have to operate within the confines of your particular class and build, such that your stats and skills determine how successful you are at something with some options being completely beyond your capability. To use an iconic example from Skyrim, a burly warrior shouldn't be able to rise through the ranks and become the Archmage of the College of Winterhold, if he only has novice-level magical abilities. You're not really role-playing in that case, since your character's role isn't taken into consideration in terms of how the quest plays out, or what you're ultimately capable of accomplishing. Fallout 4, likewise, gives you a lot of choices about how you customize your character, but those choices don't matter much when it comes to quests or interacting with the world, since you'll be doing basically the same thing no matter what stats or perks you have. Compare this to Fallout 2, where a player-character with low intelligence will actually speak to people like a simple-minded idiot, or Vampire Bloodlines, where playing as a Malkavian will make all of your dialogue "insane" -- in both cases, NPCs actually react to your character, changing the nature of dialogue with these types of characters.
The choices you make in an RPG should actually affect the way you play the game, as well as the way the game reacts to you. There should be consequences for your choices, in other words, both positive and negative, because it's these consequences that give significance and meaning to your decisions. Without consequences, the decisions feel hollow and unsatisfying -- if it doesn't matter what you do, then what you do doesn't matter. Story games like Life is Strange or any of the Telltale games (The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, etc) are pretty good about giving you choices and consequences, but keep in mind that these aren't RPGs because the decisions aren't based on your character's stats and skills. You may be role-playing a character in those games, making decisions and acting as if you were that character, but without the statistical abstraction of attributes and skills, those choices are purely narrative choices, like making decisions in a "choose your own adventure novel," and not really RPG choices, so to speak.

6. Systems-based gameplay
Tabletop RPGs are all based on extensive rule sets that govern how the game is to be played, in terms of using mathematical functions to compute the mechanical effect or application of your decisions as a player. If you want to barter for a lower price at the market, there's a skill check and a formula for that; if you want to examine a strange object a little closer, hoping to find some hidden detail, there's a skill check and a formula for that; if you want to throw something to distract an unaware goblin, then run up to him and jump over him and grab onto a ledge, all without getting caught, there are skill checks and formulas for that. Rule books for these RPGs are huge, containing hundreds of pages of information that a DM has to parse to run a successful session (though you don't need to know or use the entire rule book for every session, and the DM is free to make the game as mechanically simple or complex as they desire), the point of which is to provide enough depth and breadth of rules to handle any type of situation that might arise, so that the adventure can continue to run successfully within the context of the game's rules system.
The combat log in Baldur's Gate
In video game terms, this means that the game needs to have enough gameplay systems to give you ways to do things, based on a logical set of established game rules. As Trent Polack puts it, it should be about creating a simulation -- "a series of mechanics in which the game reacts to player interaction using its initial design stance. That is, standard player actions lead to complex game reactions. A system’s integrity (or fun/complexity/depth, whatever you’d like to call it) is only as good as the systems that affect it and, in turn, are affected by it." He uses Dishonored 2 as an example of a good simulation, since the rules established in the first game (based around the player-character's tools) were robust enough to allow Arkane to design the second game to be playable as either the original protagonist or a brand new second character, who played completely differently, and have them both function equally well in the same environment. Arkane's more recent game, Prey, works as another great example, since all of the different items and abilities follow a consistent logic that you can use in creative ways to come up with your own solutions to problems that the designers perhaps never intended -- the true definition of emergent gameplay.
Basically, this is my way of saying that an RPG needs to have actual gameplay mechanics, all of which should be able to interact with one another and should be based on a consistent set of rules. In typical RPGs, these consist of things like combat systems, dialogue systems, inventory systems, skill check systems, leveling systems, skill tree systems, questing systems, faction and reputation systems, and so on. Pure adventure games like Myst or The Longest Journey, and even certain action-adventure games like Heavy Rain, for instance, have gameplay elements like exploration, problem-solving, and decision-making, but their gameplay isn't based on systems since you're almost always in a limited environment expected to do one very specific thing, with the specific gameplay mechanics sometimes changing from scene to scene -- you're essentially just following a script, and not actually getting to role-play your character through gameplay systems.

Using these six criteria, it's pretty easy to see how a game like Dark Souls might be considered an RPG, since it seems to check all of the boxes, at least in some sort of way. Problem is, it doesn't score consistently high in all of them. The story implies the epic scale of a grand journey, and you could maybe argue that finding and killing the four Lords of Cinder is a bit like campaign-style progression, but the story plays such a background role to everything else that it practically doesn't even exist. "An immersive world to explore" is probably its strongest asset, since despite being more linearly-structured it offers a ton of freedom to explore, all in a world that is, in fact, pretty immersive. Stats and skills play an important role in Dark Souls, but as a decidedly action-RPG, a lot more weight is placed on your personal skill as a player, than on your character's stats, and there's no in-game skills system, either. It scores pretty well in terms of progression, since it has leveling systems that do a good job of showing your character getting stronger and it is (generally) required to advance through the game to tackle more difficult challenges. In terms of choices and consequences, there are only a handful of real choices that extend beyond combat-related scenarios. And while it has deep and complex gameplay systems for things like combat, exploration, and leveling, it doesn't have the full breadth of other systems that more straightforward or "pure" RPGs have. This is where the "I know it when I see it" line comes into play, because Dark Souls just doesn't feel like an RPG to me, in large part because the scope of role-playing is so narrowly focused on combat, and practically nothing else.

Completing a quest in Gothic 2.

My favorite game of all time, Gothic 2, is another interesting game to examine under these criteria, since I'd say that it scores pretty high in all categories except for two, where it kind of hits the middle of the road. The story is definitely a main point of emphasis, since literally everything in the game, even the optional side content, is based around the story, and all of the major steps you have to take to finish the game (getting and recharging the Eye of Innos, fighting the dragons, and sailing to the Isle of Irdorath to defeat the Avatar of Beliar) feel like individual adventures, all linked together as part of a larger campaign. Its world is one of the best that's ever been designed, as far as I'm concerned, since it's open-world while still having a sense of pacing and structure to it. As a fellow action-RPG, Gothic 2 has a definite element of player skill involved, but the balance between stats and player skills is much tighter than, say, Dark Souls, since skill alone will not save you -- you ultimately need to be a certain level with certain stats to stand a reasonable chance against certain challenges, which ties in with the progression system. The amount of role-playing options available to you isn't as robust as something like Fallout, but it does present you with a lot of important choices in a world that reacts to your actions in a pretty realistic manner, with actual consequences for many of those decisions. And in terms of systems, it has a lot of that going on as well, with several inter-woven systems like combat, exploration, equipment progression, level and skill progression, dialogue, and questing all working hand-in-hand.

From my experience, these six criteria apply most directly to isometric point-and-click RPGs of the late 90s and early 2000s, like Fallout 1+2, Baldur's Gate 1+2, Planescape: Torment, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, and others of that time period, plus more recent revival games that are designed in the style of these classics, like Pillars of Eternity, Wasteland 2, and Divinity: Original Sin (of these, I've only actually played Pillars of Eternity, so I can't vouch for the other two directly). It helps that all of these games are heavily inspired by tabletop RPG systems (Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment are literally based on D&D rules, and Fallout 1+2 were originally designed to work with the GURPS system, before eventually developing their own system), and so they bear a pretty close resemblance to the type of gameplay experience you'd get out of a tabletop RPG, except played on a computer as a single-player experience. And since my whole foundation of "what constitutes an RPG" traces back to their origins as tabletop games, these are kind of the gold standard for how I judge video game RPGs.

Choosing dialogue options in Planescape: Torment.

Note that while my general preference is for video game RPGs that take heavy inspiration from tabletop RPGs and that play like these older classics, I like it just as well when RPGs take advantage of what the video game medium can offer over tabletop systems. Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Wizardry 8 play pretty similarly to these other games but have different camera perspectives and control schemes, which helps to immerse you in the setting a little better than the point-and-click isometric schemes of these other examples. Gothic 2, as I've mentioned previously, is my favorite game of all time, and it plays rather differently than these other games, with a more active combat system and with less of an emphasis on dialogue options. Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines and The Witcher 1, likewise, have pretty active gameplay systems that make them feel decidedly more "video gamey" than my "gold standard" examples. And Deus Ex, well, that's such a unique game that it almost transcends genres (although that didn't stop me from shoehorning it into the #2 slot of my Top 10 Favorite First-Person Shooters article) and shouldn't really count as an RPG, even though it does score pretty well on each of my six criteria and would therefore qualify as a pretty good RPG. All of these games (plus my "gold standards") are among my favorite RPGs of all time.

I should also point out that I consider the difference between "Western RPGs" and "Japanese RPGs" to be rather substantial, to the point that I don't even consider JRPGs to be actual role-playing games. Bear in mind that my experience with JRPGs is limited primarily to Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII, Dragon Quest VIII, Chrono Trigger, Golden Sun, and Skies of Arcadia (these games I've actually completed) with hints of Xenogears, Legend of Dragoon, Dragon Warrior VII, Persona 3, Shining in the Darkness, and Phantasy Star (these games I've played for several hours, but never finished). There's also Illusion of Gaia and Parasite Eve (both of which I've completed) which people consider RPGs, but I really don't. I'm certainly no expert on JRPGs, and I'm sure an avid JRPG fan would say that I haven't even played the best JRPGs, but I think there's enough experience here to have a good enough impression of what I'm dealing with, and to know that I don't really like these kinds of games, at least, not as so-called RPGs.

Cross-dressing in Final Fantasy VII.

As a rough generalization, JRPGs tend to force you into a pre-defined role -- an established character with their own personality and history -- and offers you no opportunity to play as anything but that exact character. Playing an established character isn't the problem, however; it's having no control over how that character acts or solves problems. Planescape: Torment (a WRPG), for instance, gives your character a rather detailed history in a heavy-handed story, but you're free to play The Nameless One's current iteration as you please, shaping and ultimately changing the nature of his character by the end. In JRPGs, you're essentially just pressing buttons to make the game move forward along its pre-determined path. You're not there to role-play a character, you're there to be told a story. Imagine sitting down to play a tabletop RPG, and the DM hands you a pre-made character sheet, and then decides to play your character entirely for you, such that all you ever do is issue commands in combat and roll the dice -- that's how playing a JRPG feels to me. While that's fine for that type of game (I've been known to enjoy certain JRPGs, for instance I really like Chrono Trigger, and Persona 3 seemed really interesting from what I played before losing my save file), it's absolutely not what I expect out of an RPG, and not what I consider an actual role-playing game.

As I mentioned at the top of the article, defining RPGs (or games in general) isn't really about specific mechanics -- it's more about why we play them, or the types of experiences we're looking to get out them. For me, a role-playing game is a simulation that allows me to play a character however I want, where the game reacts to my decisions, which are based primarily on my character's stats and skills, all in a world with complex rules systems governing how everything works. And that's pretty much where I'm coming from. I probably haven't done a good enough job with this article to be the definitive answer to "how do you define an RPG" (there's probably something important I've forgotten or overlooked) and I think a lot of this ultimately comes down to personal preference, but it should at least give you more of an insight into how I think about things.


17 comments:

  1. Very insightful analysis, thanks.
    And long live Gothic 2 ;)

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  2. Kai Rosenkranz and Mike Hoge talking about Gothic.
    https://www.twitch.tv/videos/253338528

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  3. ThePreciseClimberMay 13, 2018 at 10:18 AM

    The problem with video game genres in general is the fact most of modern games are hybrids. Hell, we already have this "action-adventure" genre which is the most generic thing under the sun.

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  4. Great article. I agree almost completely on all of your points.

    RPGs became really, really popular during the 95-2012 era, and thus many development studios decided to use the label RPG for marketing purposes, without their games actually being RPGs, in order to get more sales and exposure. It is sad because younger gamers who didn't live the golden era of RPGs don't really understand what is an RPG and they think that the modern Action games with light RPG elements are what an RPG is. They think that as long as it has an inventory and stat/ability progression it is an RPG.... That makes games like Assassin's Creed, Zelda or Far Cry RPGs according to this definition...

    The reality is that RPGs are essentialy strategy games at their core. Only instead of managing a country, or a city, or a sport club, or perhaps XCOM, you are managing a person or a small party and you make choices for them that affect their progression in their world. It may seem funny at first, but even a game like the Sims is far more of an RPG than a game like Dark Souls is. At least at the Sims you create avatars and those avatars are independent of your own abilities (dexterity, hand eye coordination etc), and they react and evolve in their little worlds according to your choices. Dark Souls on the other hand is just an evolved Castlevania 64 + Sympony of the night combo. Seriously that is all that it is. A 3rd person action game with RPG elements. Not an RPG. And in my personal opinion it is also highly overrated for what it is, it is a poorly developed game that somehow got tons of exposure for being "hard"(any game can be hard if you make enemies hit sponges that can one hit you, even Skyrim, try playing it at highest difficulty). Dark Souls was essentially a fad sold solely on hype and "hardcore gamer street cred" among teenagers. It is always telling when a supposedly "masterpiece" series don't have many clones and of those it has most are considered trash, even though they shouldn't be. For example why Lords of the Fallen was destroyed in reviews for being essentially a more polished Dark Souls? I mean, i didn't expect it to get 90+ metascore since it really is not a good game, but neither is Dark Souls. What gives? The things most people criticized for this game apply for Dark Souls as well, but Dark souls is falsely considered a "masterpiece" by review critics that haven't even finished it (look at their steam accounts, most haven't).

    Anyway, enough about Dark Souls. The point is that an RPG is about making strategic/tactical decisions about a character and having him apply them in his world. Not about your character relying on your reflexes at playing an action game. So in reality, many games that are considered today RPGs aren't, or are really just hybrids, Action-RPGs. Games like Skyrim or Witcher 3, are Action-RPGs, not pure RPGs. This does not make them poor games, they are stellar games, but still not pure RPGs.

    As for JRPGs, reality is that some of them are indeed RPGs, and most of them are just manga visual novels with random battle minigame to extend the playtime. The more you go back in time, the more RPGs are JRPGs in general. The visual novel trend started happening en masse during the PS2-3 era.For example, games like Suikoden I and II are stellar examples of good JRPGs that are indeed RPGs. They are not "hard core", like WRPGs of the period, but are still proper RPGs by any defition. Compare that to trash like Final Fantasy XIII, which is not an RPG: You don't make any meaningful choice whatsoever, none. Nothing. The game plays itself. For modern games, a good RPG-lite is Persona 5, for example. I loathe the Persona series with a fiery passion because i hate grinding, anime, hentai, and stupid jrpg stories and tropes, plus i find jrpg combat boring, but they ARE still RPGs(lite). You do make meaningful choices, you are playing characters and not yourself, and there is a story, even though designed mostly for kids, it is still there.

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  5. One thing i believe you are wrong, is that you consider Skyrim's story bad in terms of RPG design. I beg to differ. Skyrim does story better than most RPGs, exactly because it is optional. It gives you the ultimate freedom, to not even bother saving the world. It is your choice. Skyrim's story is still good. I don't understand why people criticize it, it is better than most video game stories anyway. A game's story doesn't have to be in your face in order to be good. It can even be in the "background". I find it hillarious that i find plenty of people praising Dark Souls "story" (Dark Souls doesn't really have story, but lore, but nevermind), because it is in the background and you just have to read item descriptions and such, yet they criticize Skyrim which has 100X times the amount of lore you can read in books and scrolls and in the world... Not to mention that it has a realy world full of individual NPCs and factions with their own sub-stories, unlike Dark Souls which is mostly an empty Castlevania-fest.

    Skyrim gets criticized wrongly for 2 reasons:

    a) For combat. Many people wrongly assume Dark Souls has better combat, because most people only attempted to play a pure melee character in Skyrim. Yes pure melee combat in Skyrim is boring and shallow. But Skyrim combat is far more than melee. Skyrim's freedom to create character archetypes is immense. I spent hundrends of hours just creating unique heroes with absurd concepts, and it was hell of a fun. I have spent like 500-600 hours playing Skyrim, and i have only completed the game ONCE. And i had tremendous FUN! Every single time i played a role i liked and shaped according to my whims. That is what an RPG is about... Melee combat is just an afterthought in Skyrim, try playing a summoner, or an illusionist, a stealthy assassin (Skyrim has the best stealth in any game i played, including Thief). Create absurd concepts like a Punching Khajit, a Dwarven Crossbow Machine, a Trader that attempts to influence the mind of his opponents to make them fight themselves, or just avoids them using stealth and cunning... Dark Souls is just a boring roll-roll-backstab simulator, good combat my a$$. Even a mage in Dark Souls plays mostly the same.

    2) Skyrim gets criticized for its story and narrative. This is done by people who really wanted to watch a movie, but for whatever reason they decided to download a video game. People like this are better served playing stuff like Uncharted, Mass Effect, and Last of Us. Or the Telltale games... The point of an RPG is not to tell a story. Point and Click adventures tell a story... The point of an RPG is to INTERACT with a world (which contains a story) and make your own character and playstyle. Skyrim is the ultimate freedom to do what the hell you want, the story is there but it is not the focus, YOU are the focus. In any good RPG, YOU are the focus, not the story. It is YOUR story, not a cutscene-fest you get to watch.

    Skyrim is in my opinion, one of the best Action-RPGs ever made.

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    1. Having read some more of your blog, i came to realize that indeed, the reason you hate games like Skyrim is because you don't really want to play games, but to be told a story.

      People who tend to find Bethesda games "shallow" are typically people with no imagination that want to have the content served in front of them, they want a strong corridor narrative to follow in order to "complete a game". People who only want to play games this way don't understand sandbox games at all and they keep making posts online that "Skyrim is overrated" or "Openworld sucks"

      You have to realise, it is not the game, it is YOU. You don't like this style, and it is perfectly fine. What is NOT fine, is claiming the style sucks just because it is not for you.

      Skyrim is a sandbox RPG. You create an avatar for yourself, and you get thrown in a world with a civil war backstory and a dragon threat. There are various factions and people in the world, and you can join plenty of them, you can do tons of stuff to earn money and gear and improve yourself, and you can do whatever you like. You can rush the main story, resolve the civil war, or just live your life making ends meet by helping with lumber at the mill or cutting logs and selling them... It is all in your imagination, Skyrim is just the vehicle to escape in another world. The point is not to earn steam achievements, reach the end credits, or gain street cred from your teenager friends because you beat a poor game like Dark Souls and you are so "hard core". The point is just to enjoy yourself and get immersed, and try things. Try even stupid things. You don't "win" Bethesda games. You just experience them.

      That is what a sandbox is. It does not deliver a strong narrative because it would conflict with the open world design. And that is FINE. It is not meant to be a playable movie, it is meant to be a video game sandbox!

      But you need imagination. With Bethesda games, you need to make your own fun. Their games are just a vehicle. Try creating heroes for fun. I created a hero that i specifically tailored to be a werewolf. I took a ring that allowed infinite transformations, took magic resistance passives, and only used combat as a werewolf. Because i didn't have other martial equipment on me. I didn't want it. The game didn't force me to do it, i did it because this certain character was a freaking werewolf and it was the only thing he could do. This is called ROLEPLAYING. It takes imagination, like the tabletop game...

      Another time i created a Merchant who had dabbled in illusion magic and could do some alchemy. He was a poor fighter and weak and thus didn't wear any armor or used weapons outside of a dagger. I made my way through skyrim making money selling potion i made, and managed to complete most battles using illusion magics to make foes do my bidding. This is not "optimal", this will not break any records, but it is ROLEPLAYING.

      Do you get it now? Skyrim is about using your imagination and doing stuff just because. It is not a game you just "complete".

      If you don't like this type of sandbox, it is fine, but claiming it sucks is wrong. Millions of people still play Skyrim to this very day, and create mods for it. Do you take them for fools? Or you think they are so poor they can't afford to buy other games? Skyrim has stood the test of time pal, and has sold 10+ more than Dark Souls which many people overrate and overhype...

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  6. I am a huge Skyrim fan but I have to disagree. He doesn't hate skyrim, he just doesn't like it as much as others. As you claim, Skyrim has great mechanical flexibility in terms of character creation and gameplay systems (poisioning food to kill people, illusionist builds, etc) but the reason Skyrim fails to rise above mediocrity is because its quests (the most important part of an RPG) are pretty much trash. Every single quest goes exactly the same way no matter how you develop your character. Whereas in a true RPG (ala Pillars) the quests have a multitude of paths and outcomes depending upon how you build your character. The character customization aspect of Skyrim is strictly limited to combat only. Even if you build a pacifist character in Skyrim, you would still have to kill a large number of enemies because that's where the majority of the quests are focused. You can't reason with the enemies, you can't choose an alternate path to complete the quests. Compare this with something like New Vegas where each and every single one of you stats affects the quests and dialogue that you undertake. Stats in Skyrim are pretty much inconsequential outside of combat.

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    1. Skyrim has GREAT quests. Some of the best in the industry. Especially the Dark Broutherhoord and Thieves guild quest lines. I don't understand what you expect. Baldur's gate, was mostly about fights. Witcher 3 was mostly about fights. Fallout 3/NV were mostly about fights. The original fallouts were about fights. Pillars is about fights, as is Divinity original Sin, or Gothic.

      Look at your character table in any RPG game: 90-100% of the character stats are combat oriented. Some RPGs allow for some non-combat solution here and there but it is mostly just fluff, especially in New Vegas. In Pillars, all the classes are about combat. You just pick what type of combatant you are...

      Seriously, your rationale for criticizing Skyrim could be applied on any other RPG. It is very unfair and just nitpicking.

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    2. Under how convoluted criteria Skyrim quests are great?
      You keep talking about imagination but for that you wouldn't need a "vehicle", just your own head. You can pretend a lot of things in Skyrim, the problem is, most of them will only be in your head. So Skyrim is not bad because of its "unfocused narrative". It is bad as a sandbox. And even its predecessor, Oblivion, had better quest design.
      There's only one thing in which excels; walking simulation.

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    3. Cesskar CV you are wrong and you just jump on the "edgy Skyrim hate bandwagon" just because you think it is cool.

      Setting aside the obvious falsehood that Skyrim is a "walking simulator", which is blatantly false to anyone that has actually played it:

      1) I am not the one who attacks Skyrim's quests. YOU people are the ones who attack Skyrim quests. Yet you never provide an objective metric as to why those quests are "bad". The only thing you mentioned was that it over-relies on combat, and i trashed that argument already. ALL RPGs are heavily-combat reliant, and have been since forever. RPGs are combat games. Now tell me, in what other ways Skyrim's quests are bad? Give a proper reason. To me, Skyrim's handmade quests follow the storyline of each questgiver properly and are quite fine. You don't need a shakespearean scene everytime you get a quest to bash some heads.

      Not to mention that other games which are hypocritically praised for their quests, are similarly bland and mediocre in reality: In Witcher 3 you just play "keep pressing right click and follow the red stuff" until you reach the bad guy and fight, or collect stuff and go back to quest giver. That is what Witcher 3 quests are most of the time. Yet people cry "Best quests ever" for that game. New Vegas? New Vegas is 99% about shooting and item fetching and 1% about some skillchecks in dialogue to avoid shooting. Yes super quests dude...

      Or perhaps you want to talk classics? What cool quests BGs had? Go there slay that dude, go there slay that dragon, go there slay that kobold... Those were the quests. In Fallout? Go Vault 15 slay mutated rats, go to the Glow slay mutated whatever it had and robots(it has been years since i played it i don't remember), go mutatant base slay mutants, oh the last fight you have a skillcheck to win the boss without fighting-instant hypocricy best game evah so many choices, we got to fight 99% of the game but we got a skillcheck somewhere and somehow it is a "deep gaem".

      Reality pal, is Skyrim's quests are as good as it gets most of the time, because computer RPGs in general over-rely on combat. In fact, Skyrim's quests are better, since the game is designed to be replayable, and gets exposition and stupid timewasters out of the way (if you ignore the lengthy begining scene)

      You people hate on Skyrim because it was popular, and you are the "cool kids" that you are obviously wise sages because you know what the "plebs" don't. I have been hardcore RPG-ing for 3 decades and i can easily tell Skyrim is a gaming achievement and most people who criticize it either didn't try to actually get it or are just bandwagoners on hating everything that is popular.

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    4. While it's generally true that Skyrim quests usually play out every time the same and Witcher quests often give you two or more choices, for example who to side with, it's not even the most important reason to praise or criticize. Even if we accept the convention of single-quest-resolution, "story being told" or whatever you want to call it, there's still the matter of quality of the individual story. Skyrim stories have plot holes in its major side questlines, it is known. Skyrim main quest is largely devoid of plot holes, given Bethesda track record it's likely an stroke of luck. But stroke of luck it is or not, it elevates Skyrim above other Bethesda games, yet at the same time it gets exposed as it does not satisfy the cravings for a full 60 hours RPG main plot campaign.

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  7. All the games that you mentioned above are miles better than Skyrim in terms of quest design and/or storytelling.



    Witcher 3 has terrible quests design where every quest boils down to a monster hunt but it is redeemed by the fact that every single quest has a tangible story attached to it and a majority of quests have multiple consequences on the world.



    The literal first quest in New Vegas has over 3 different possible routes and 8 different outcomes depending upon what stat you specialise in. Pillars of eternity is a thousand miles ahead of Skyrim in terms of story telling, just check its dialogue choices comoared to Skyrim.



    The first quest in Gothic 2 is getting into a city and it can be solved in 5 different ways (bribing the guards, impersonating a merchant, climbing the walls, etc).



    Witcher 2 and Skyrim both have a murder mystery quest. In Skyrim, all you do is follow the quest markers from point A to B and catch the criminal with no input of your own. In Witcher 2 you actually act as a detective, questioning the 6 posiible suspects, finding leads, inspecting the crime scene and ultimately accusing 1 of the 6 posiible suspects.



    Skyrim has many things going for it. But quest design is not one of them. You can read The Nocturnal Rambler's Skyrim review for better insight. Combat is a major part of any RPG. However in each of the above games, your stats decide much more than just combat.

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    1. RPGs are not about storytelling. Storytelling is only part of what makes an RPG game. In fact, in tabletop RPGs, you don't get any story telling at all, you make your own stories in your head...

      What i find hillarious about faux-RPG fans is that they heavily criticize companies like modern Bioware or SquareEnix yet THEY are the reason said companies produce the trash "romance simulators" and interactive-movies they now produce.

      You keep thinking that RPGs are about stories, so you get interactive movies and trashy in-party dialogue, instead of proper combat and skill systems. Then you criticize them for it... LOL.

      Witcher 3 had terrible quests "keep pressing right and follow the red stuff". Yes it had minor lore behind every side-quest that was mostly irrelevant and didn't affect the world in any way. Oh you saved my daughter? Nice get your reward and i will never thank you again in-game because we ran out of budget. LOL. Don't get me wrong, i LOVED Witcher 3 and i consider it one of the best games ever made, but its quests are hardly its strength. The real reason people fell in love with Witcher 3 was that great open world that felt like real place and the characters that felt like real people. We love Witcher 3 for emotional reasons, not because it is a well designed RPG. Take away Witcher lore, characters, and world building, and you get a 3/10 game.

      New Vegas is the same. New Vegas is mostly about shooting, you just get to change what faction you shoot for. Are you going to tame boomers for the genius mummy, for cancer ceasar, for neo-cowboys, or for yourself? It makes no difference other than a different slide at the end, but hey, you got so much choice dude... Yes, in some quests, not all, you get multiple resolutions, but the game is still mostly about combat. Can you run a pacifict New Vegas playthrough? No? Thought so... A few skillchecks here and there don't make a great difference other than fool you psychologically into thinking you have freedom of choice. In the end, Fallout NV is just a shooting game.

      Witcher 2? Come one dude, don't talk to me about Witcher 2... Witcher 2 was an abomination. For as much as i loved Witcher 1 and 3, 2 was trash. It is not really a game. It is a corridor-based hack and slash or more accurately put roll-roll-quen-slash. Nothing matters in this game other than the cutscenes and the graphics.

      You make the mistake of isolating certain quests and you generalize it to the whole game. Most of the quests in all RPGs are about combat and combat only. If you calculate the "combat only to combat+noncombat" ratio for most of your beloved "masterpieces", you are going to get depressed. Try it. You just remember fondly stuff that made an impression on you, but most of the game is combat anyway. Skyrim just doesn't make such pretenses because unlike interactive movies like Witcher 2, it is meant to be an infinitely-replayable sandbox. Witcher 2 you just play 1, if 2 times if you want a different act 2, and you never really touch it again. If CDPR thought people would like to play Witcher2 50x times like they do with Skyrim, they would remove detective quests because after you know the resolution they get boring and just a waste of time.

      The Litmus test for if an RPG is good, is this : Can you make the most out of the game if you just watch a let's play/movie version on youtube? If the answer is yes, that you don't miss much by not playing it yourself, then it is a bad RPG, but with a good story.RPGs are meant to be played and experienced, not watched. When i play Skyrim, the experience is my own, the character is 100% my own. When i play Witcher 2, the experience is CDPR's, and i just follow the ride. This is not an RPG, this is an Adventure game with some combat. And don't speak about some choices in W2, in adventure games you make choices that branch the story too, you know... That is not what makes an RPG.

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    2. Last but not least, you need to remember that many games you mentioned are front-loaded, meaning they offer the best content at the start of the game, in order to make a good first impression (after all, most gamers never finish games), and the mid-end game is not of the same quality. New Vegas? Yes the first quest has some minor deviations depending on your stats, but the end result is :did you side with the good guys or the bad guys? That was it. The skillchecks just change the weapon you used... So you are good with explosives, get a couple freebies. That is not impressive, and is not indicative of what 99% of New Vegas is like. In most of New Vegas, you just clear dungeons of buddies, kill bosses, and fetch items. Like all RPGs.


      What you want is the illusion of choice, not real choice. Do you want to know what a good RPG would be? If you have a good speech skill, you could convince the gang to cooperate with the villagers, exchange protection for produce and trade. No need to fight at all. Can you do that in New Vegas? NO. Because that would require huge programming budget for what is essentially a glorified shooting game, and obsidian didn't have that. So they gave you minor "choices" that don't really change the gameplay other than if you shot the blue-costume guys or the farmer-costume guys, and how many freebies you got. That is not choice and consequence pal...

      In real, proper RPGs, you should get the capability to not fight at all if you want. Your speech/influence skills should be able to convince people to change their ways in more significant ways that just "you can kill me to take the fetch-item or i can just give it to you". For example someone gives you a quest to kill someone else. In a proper RPG, you should be able to convince him it is not worth it to cross the law and harm his concience with blood, if your speech is high enough. In faux-rpgs, you get to just kill the guy or just get an item from him to "prove you killed him" instead. And that is the best you can hope for, for example in BGII in underdark you can choose not to kill the sniverblin captain and just take his helmet. That is good, but that is the most you can hope for. But in a game which has a "speech" skill, like New Vegas, it is not enough. Why can't i convince the boomers without fetch quests? After all, it is for their own good to not isolate themselves... If i am such a great speaker, why not have the choice? Why can't i convince most people to trust me and not send me to fetch quests before they help me?

      You want a better RPG with real non-combat mechanics? Try Age of Decadence. I asure you that you won't like it at all because you don't really like RPGs. You just like power-fantasies that make you feel you are special, with some good story and the illusion of having meaningful choices, even though they are not meaningful choices.

      Fallout New Vegas is a glorified shooter man. It is more of a loot-and-shoot like Borderlands, than a proper RPG. Sad i know, but it is the reality. It is just a rehash of Fallout 3 with a few additions to fool RPG fans they are playing an RPG. It is a good game, i liked it too and completed it, but it is not a masterpiece and it is not a proper RPG.

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    3. In New Vegas, most raiders don't even bother speaking to you. You don't get the chance to negotiate encounters. They treat raiders in-game like animals, even though they are humans. And while it is true that some criminals are rather set in their ways and would prefer to get the jump on you instead of wasting time talking, it is not realistic to expect most people to just shoot anything they see and is not their pals. Especially in a post-apocalyptic world where life is precious because humans are so few and the wasteland is full of angry beasties... Contrary to popular belief, in the ancient times, for the same reasons, people were friendly to strangers and even gave them room to stay if they were travelers... Because everyone understood that humans are preferable to lions ruling the land... Yet in Fallout3-NV-4, almost every human is a murderous psychopath, and you have to wonder why DeathClaws haven't inherited the land already after 200 years, if humans kill each other instead of the beasts...

      So why not being able to barter check and skill check with raider encounters? Why so much shooting?

      Want other RPG mechanics? In a game with science and repair skills, why can't you create robots to fight for you? In "bad" fallout 4 ironically you can do this, but not in "superior arrpeegee" New Vegas.

      Why can't i use my science skill to tame wild life? Or even have an outdoors/wildlife skill for that?

      Why can't i use my barter skill for aggressive take-overs of shops and establishing a trade corporation? Ironically in Fallout 4 i can setup shops, but not in "superior aarrpeeegeeee" New Vegas i can't.

      At least in New Vegas i can get more stimpacks from Doc Mitchel if i have a slightly higher medical skill. That will show them!

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    4. "Most quests don't give you any choices or role-playing options, either. You're almost always rail-roaded into a single option that you have to do to continue the quest. Want to complete the Companions guild questline, but have objections to becoming a werewolf and committing your soul to Hircine for all eternity? Well that's too bad, because you have to become a werewolf to finish their quest. Want to finish the Thieve's Guild questline, but have objections to becoming a Nightingale and committing yourself to a lifetime of servitude to Nocturnal? Well that's too bad, because you have to become a Nightingale to finish that questline. Your only option is to follow the quest's single, pre-determined path, or just stop doing it.

      The lesser quests are even more straightforward. The mage Calcemo has a crush on the Jarl's housecarl Faleen, and you have to help them unite. How do we accomplish this? You talk to Calcemo and click the one dialogue option, then he sends you to talk to a bard and you click the one dialogue option, so he gives you a poem to take to Faleen, then you click the one dialogue option, she gives you a letter to take to Calcemo, and you click the one dialogue option, and the quest completes itself. It's like we're monkies pulling levers and pushing buttons to make stuff happen, instead of actually doing the quest ourselves. It's a completely brainless operation that's not satisfying to pursue or finish." - quoting Nick.

      You can now write another para to repeat your arguement that Witcher 3 and New Vegas have inconsequential and shallow quests but then you would be lying. Again I have over 200 hours in Skyrim and would choose it over NV and W2 any time of the day but it has terrible quests period.

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  8. Not sure what's your argument here. In the above mentioned games, the quests have multiple outcomes and are affected by your choices and your stats. In Skyrim, the quests are rigid and your character has no bearing on their outcomes. It is pretty simple quite frankly.

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