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Why can’t RPGs and other genres be more like AGs???

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OK, long post, more focused on RPGs than intended, and probably not as coherent as it was inside my head, but here goes:


I just passed another one of my RPG-spells, and it made me realize something: my taste and patience in games has changed so much over the last years that - despite absolutely loving RPGs like Planescape: Torment, the Baldur’s Gate ‘Trilogy’, both Knights of the Old Republic games and the Mass Effect trilogy - RPGs are failing to keep my interest now. It’s basically what I thought to be “the Bethesda effect” (where the worlds are made so big AND dangerous that simply exploring them starts feeling like a chore after a while), but across the entire genre.

What happened? Well, after the constant praise here for the first two Witcher games (now that a third one is well underway), I started playing the first game in the series. It’s a great game, and I love how nothing is ever black-or-white but always various shades of gray, but I gave up on it halfway during Chapter II. Why? Because I entered a sewer and my exploration of it kept getting hampered by continuous attacks by low-level undead creatures, and I grew tired of that grind. I play these things for their story and for my choices (and their consequences), not for the non-stop fighting. In fact, I play them on ‘easy’, and I use a savegame editor to give me a 10-level head start and lots of cash under the motto “let’s just assume that I spent the last 30 hours grinding for that”. Whatever it takes to make the combat as easy and fast as possible…
The Witcher had the additional problem that I also started feeling a certain “dark fantasy fatigue”. Why are 90% of all RPGs fantasy games? What’s wrong with other settings?
AGs have the most diverse settings of all the genres. Why don’t the others follow suit???

So I started playing another RPG in a different genre - Alpha Protocol. Again: good game, and every decision you make, even every dialogue option you pick, changes both the story and responses you get. It’s like the most branching thing ever. But I gave up on it after a bunch of missions because the missions themselves were a drag. I don’t like stealth games, and I gave up on FPS games over a decade ago (because nothing ever changes, only the types of weapons you fire and the types of opponents you face). There were simply too few places where you could just run around and talk to people without needing to fight. In comparison, my favourite place in the Mass Effect Universe is the Citadel, precisely because there’s a lot of quests and little combat.

Why can’t RPGs be less combat-oriented? Why do we have to fight everything all the time?
And I’m not talking about pacifist runs either, because those are often a LOT harder to achieve and are far too reliant on stealth. No, I’m talking about severely limiting the amount of combat, or making it a lot more optional through dialogue and diplomacy. That way, I can spend my time talking and exploring and solving quests instead of fighting.

Why don’t RPGs do this? It doesn’t even have to be mandatory - I’m not saying “eliminate combat altogether” - just give us the option!

A good start would probably be to make all XP gained quest-relative instead of body count-relative. That way, ‘grinding’ is also out of the question. Or at least give similar XP for killing a group and for using diplomacy/intimidation/bribery to get them to leave without a fight.
I’m also in favour of an in-game option to turn enemy respawns on or off. The mod for the Baldur’s Gate ‘Trilogy’ that I played had this. When turned off, once you cleared a map of enemies, you could walk safely through it for the rest of the game - no more sudden respawns. And I say “in-game option” because there are a lot of RPG fans that LIKE the respawns, so they shouldn’t disappear, but just give us a choice in the matter…

I’d also like to see some smarter AI in the random encounters. That three level-3 thugs try to attack a level-3 Nameless One in the early stages of Planescape: Torment is understandable. That those same three level-3 thugs try to attack a level-20 Nameless One who has 5 level-16 companions is suicide. They shouldn’t do that. It’s only a 5-second fight, but it’s annoying as it happens all the time in RPGs.
Mass Effect had a couple of instances where you could intimidate a group of guards into surrendering. Something along the lines of “We just went through 50 of you guys to get here. What are the four of you going to do?” and getting a reply in the vein of “Screw this, I’m out of here. They’re not paying me enough for this.” Why can’t we have this more often? Once your character is a high-level badass, you should really be able to get out of most fights simply by saying “You know who I am, right? You really want to pick a fight with me, boy?”.

I mean, Planescape: Torment is one of the few games that’s close to this, and where you can avoid a lot of fights by talking, but even that still has plenty of combat.

RPGs really should become more balanced for non-aggressive players. Maybe making a smooth talker not only get out of fights, but amass more money more easily (through great bartering skills), and then use that money to hire bodyguards or mercenaries to clear a path when travelling. The combat would still be there, but it would no longer be of a real concern for those players.

Also, what’s wrong with a run-and-hide tactic? Or using puzzles to avoid a confrontation? Little to no RPGs really incorporate this. Often in a fight, you have nowhere to run (and are often even enclosed in a circle with your foe), and there’s hardly ever anything in the environment that you can use to your advantage to win a fight (like pushing a boulder off a cliff onto the group below it). Yet, these methods of avoiding a fight have long been a staple of adventure games.


...continuing below…

     

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Continuing…


Also, where have all the turn-based RPGs gone? At least when everything was turn-based, you didn’t have to be very dexterous and could even approach a fight like a puzzle. Much more suiting for AG fans, no?
Especially since a lot of AG players are also RPG fans. So why don’t RPGs incorporate more AG ideas into their genre???

Are they too focused on how their own genre definition has evolved (where everything has to serve the action - even stuff like alchemy and herbalism)? Since the late 90s, all game genres have started to take more and more AG elements into their gameplay. It appeared to be the start of a great genre boundary ascension for the entire video game industry, where plenty of games aren’t “just” a shooter, or “just” an RPG, or “just” a strategy game. Yet that never happened. RPGs stagnated into 90% fantasy. Shooters stagnated. All genres seemed to stagnate.

AGs on the other hand, have the widest spread of games as well as content genres (it’s not 90% fantasy, nor 50% militaristic, nor 50% horror). AGs run the gamut. Why can’t other genres do the same?

The video game industry is still in its infancy, but getting rid of genre boundaries and setting ‘fatigue’, and instead transcending the definitions of a genre could make the industry as a whole more mature.

At the moment, it seems like only indies are trying to think outside of the box like this during their game development. And most of those are even within the AG genre, pushing the boundaries…

Does that mean that we are becoming / need to become the trend setter for the entire industry again, like in the late 80s and early 90s???

     

Now playing: Blade Runner (post-CPT) | The Witcher: Enhance Edition (on hold) | Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (on hold) | Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy (3DS)
Recently finished: Whispers of a Machine (CPT) - 4/5 | Beneath a Steel Sky (CPT) - 3/5 | 3 in Three - 3.5/5 | Puzzle Gallery: At the Carnival - 2.5/5 | The Fool’s Errand (replay) - 3.5/5 | The Dig (replay) - 4.5/5 | Return of the Obra Dinn (CPT) - 4/5 | Beavis and Butt-Head in Virtual Stupidity - 3.5/5 | League of Light: The Game (CCPT) - 3/5 | realMyst: Masterpiece Edition - 2.5/5 | Contradiction - 3/5 | Tex Murphy: Mean Streets - 2/5 | The Last Express - 3.5/5 | South Park: The Fractured But Whole - 4/5 | Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (replay, CPT) - 5/5

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I agree with you that most RPGs tend to be restricted in combat options and have mostly fantasy settings, specially on AAA games. Specially agree with the part that they need to be more balanced for a non-agressive build.

But you look at indie games RPGs are much more varied in settings and combat options. Games like Shadowrun, Wasteland 2, Transistor, Banner Saga, Divinity: Original Sin. Some of them are even turn-based.

     
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Very interesting post. This is a topic I’ve been thinking about recently, and I’ll try to write something more structured about it at a later point, but just a few thoughts to start with:

1) I’ll preface this by saying that I don’t mind combat as much as you clearly do. I generally play on Hard, and enjoy it—even when I recognise how mindless it can get. (One exception: shooting; I gave up on Mass Effect after 15 hours because I can’t stand shooters, even on Easy.) Also, I don’t really require a strong story, as long as the world I’m exploring is interesting. (I’ve played 320 hours of Skyrim, and that was just one playthrough with one character.) So even though I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, we’re clearly not coming from the exact same place.

2) Yes, RPGs rely on combat too much. And the worst thing is that I don’t think it does the game any service. I was actually thinking about that a few days ago (while watching the end of a great Witcher 1 LP): why do so many RPGs think it’s a good idea for the final bits of gameplay to be a tedious dungeon filled with three zillion monsters, followed by a long boss fight?

I’ll forever remember getting into the Emir’s palace in Raseir and the tense sequence of puzzles to defeat Ad Avis; I’ll forever remember performing the rituals of the Dark One; I’ll forever remember making a big speech about what can change the nature of a man (not to mention making amends to Deionarra and realizing just how tragic the Paranoid Incarnation’s entire existence had been). On the other hand, when I was thinking about this topic the other day, it took me three solid minutes to remember who the boss fight at the end of Dragon Age 2 was against.

So… yeah. Many RPGs seem to think that lots of combat will make them more “epic” and “memorable”, but I don’t think it’s true.

3) Have you tried Pillars of Eternity? It has no XP for combat, no respawn, and non-violent solutions to many quests. However, it does have a lot of enemies wherever you go (I guess you can try to run away is some cases?), and after 50 hours in the game I’m still not sure why I’m supposed to care about the main story (although it’s starting to show some promise). I’d be interested to know what your thoughts are on it.

That’s it for now. I’ll try to think about this some more and write a more structured post at some point, but thanks for starting the conversation.

     

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Also:

4) Sorcery! Sorcery! Sorcery! (On iOS and Android) The 3rd one, which was released a few days ago, is getting really, really close to an adventure game, featuring some pretty interesting time-travel puzzles.

     

Currently playing:
Recently finished: Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse (R) (4/5) | Detective Di (3.5/5) | Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations (R) (4.5/5) | Heaven’s Vault (3/5) | Ace Attorney: Justice For All (R) (3.5/5) | Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (R) (4.5/5) | Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space (R) (4.5/5) | The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker (abandoned) (2/5) | Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (3.5/5) | The Sexy Brutale (R) (4/5)

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have you played vampire bloodlines? To me, it is the best rpg in a modern setting and presently the best example of a game that blends adventure and roleplaying. (fan fix patches are a must).

It does fall into that old trap though, the last 20% or so of the game the devs started running out of money.. coming up against deadlines and the last portion is a combat dungeon crawl. But before then i think it accomplishes overcoming the monotony of most rpgs. It is an amazing game.

     

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Kurufinwe - 28 April 2015 07:18 AM

Also:

4) Sorcery! Sorcery! Sorcery! (On iOS and Android) The 3rd one, which was released a few days ago, is getting really, really close to an adventure game, featuring some pretty interesting time-travel puzzles.

Ok heres where im at with sorcery: i *loved* the first one. And i was enjoying the 2nd one too.. and then i got into a time travel loop where i kept repeating the same sequence again and again… and i lost interest. At this point i’d probably have to start over with the first one to remember what was going on. A lot of interesting concepts though. I also highly recommend joe dever’s lone wolf for a similar experience.

     
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Totally agree with you about the combat, although I think you do yourself a disservice always playing on Easy mode. Sometimes combat is like a puzzle, where the harder it is the more satisfaction you can get out of it.

I do get bored with too much combat though, and very quickly. Most recently I went from loving Icewind Dale in the first few hours to being utterly fed up with it, when I realised it was just one battle after another for no real reason other than to stretch out the game. I switched to Easy mode and still couldn’t bring myself to finish the game.

It’s hard to think of the RPG having optional combat because it is now as central to it as puzzles are to AGs. There’s really no reason I need to fight my way out of every situation. If I need to do that, I’m not really given much choice on which role I can play, am I?

I still think Quest for Glory is far more advanced than these modern combat-oriented games. From what I recall you can complete QfG with barely any fighting at all. You can run, you can defeat opponents in multiple ways, or run away. Get around obstacles by force, magic or cunning. Very few RPGs have implemented the variety of non-combat solutions that the QfG series did.

     
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Simply put, combat is the RPG element that is easiest one to turn into a game, both in combat design as well as character progressions. It’s always clear where the experience is coming and how to make certain character stats to effect the combat as such.

When you go into more sophisticated areas like dialogue and plot lines, it all starts going more difficult, as well as more expensive as you might not only need a load of good writers but potentialy, but not necessarily, actors as well. Also combat is easier to use as a world filler than actual plot elements. Think of Skyrim for an example, which is pretty slim on actual plot all things considered. It’s a well built world, but the story itself is something you can pretty much dumb after you leave the first town.

     

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Oscar - 28 April 2015 08:53 AM

I still think Quest for Glory is far more advanced than these modern combat-oriented games. From what I recall you can complete QfG with barely any fighting at all. You can run, you can defeat opponents in multiple ways, or run away. Get around obstacles by force, magic or cunning. Very few RPGs have implemented the variety of non-combat solutions that the QfG series did.

lets be fair here though: the combat in QFG is…. not good. The fact that its avoidable was necessary.. i wince to imagine qfg4 with more mandatory battles. The best combat was in qfg5…. which was one of the worst games.. and combat in that game was not very avoidable.

     
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wilco - 28 April 2015 07:04 AM

I agree with you that most RPGs tend to be restricted in combat options and have mostly fantasy settings, specially on AAA games. Specially agree with the part that they need to be more balanced for a non-agressive build.

But you look at indie games RPGs are much more varied in settings and combat options. Games like Shadowrun, Wasteland 2, Transistor, Banner Saga, Divinity: Original Sin. Some of them are even turn-based.

Actually they are all turn based. Pillars of Eternity is introducing turn based combat.
http://www.rpgcodex.net/forums/index.php?threads/pillars-of-eternity-patch-1-10-introduces-turn-based-combat-mode-overhauls-attribute-system.98179/

The Darkest Dungeon is turn based. I would actually argue that there is a resurgence of turn based RPG’s in the last few years. The rise of indies and crowd funding has made a resurgence of niche genres, like adventure games and turn based strategy/RPG games. 

Edit: Also if you want a non fantasy RPG, try Freedom Force (Metacritic score 90). It is a little old now (from the early 2000’s) but it is a super hero RPG developed by Irrational games (of Bioshock and System Shock 2 fame). One of my favorite games of all time.

     

Ignorance + Poverty = Crime, Ignorance + Wealth = Corruption, Ignorance + Freedom = Chaos, Ignorance + Authority = Tyranny, Ignorance + Religion = Terrorism
Replace Ignorance with Knowledge:
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That Pillars of Eternity thing was RPGcodex aprils fools joke.

     
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tomimt - 28 April 2015 12:22 PM

That Pillars of Eternity thing was RPGcodex aprils fools joke.

Oh seriously? That’s why I hate Aprils fools Neutral

     

Ignorance + Poverty = Crime, Ignorance + Wealth = Corruption, Ignorance + Freedom = Chaos, Ignorance + Authority = Tyranny, Ignorance + Religion = Terrorism
Replace Ignorance with Knowledge:
Knowledge + Poverty = Satisfaction, Knowledge + Wealth = Civilization, Knowledge + Freedom = Creativity, Knowledge + Authority = Justice, Knowledge + Religion = Integrity

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Well, unlike you I actually enjoy the combat!

When I play RPG’s I do it both for the story and the combat, and if I don’t find both interesting in a game, then I will quickly dump it. I am actually quite selective when it comes to none AG, and I only finish about half of the games I buy, for example I quickly lost interest in Skyrim because of the lack of story, and I really tried to give Witcher 2 a chance, but the combat (and lack of freedom) never appealed to me.

You do have some points though. Fighting through hordes of trash mobs with no real challenge, is not the most fun thing in the world, and RPG’s should give us a lot of freedom in how we want to handle a situation, and when they are best they also do, even in ways that the developers didn’t imagine or design. I however don’t agree that all combat should be optional, because it is an important part of RPG’s, basically combat is to an RPG what puzzles are to an AG.

Oscar - 28 April 2015 08:53 AM

I think you do yourself a disservice always playing on Easy mode. Sometimes combat is like a puzzle, where the harder it is the more satisfaction you can get out of it.

I agree.
Running into a group of mobs and totally getting your ass kicked, having a good think about what went wrong, work out a new strategy, perhaps change your build, gear or companions, finally give it a second try and kick their ass instead, can be just as satisfying as solving a difficult puzzle in an AG.

Kurufinwe - 28 April 2015 07:13 AM

3) Have you tried Pillars of Eternity? It has no XP for combat, no respawn, and non-violent solutions to many quests. However, it does have a lot of enemies wherever you go

Yeah PoE does address some of the problems mentioned, it is however still not a game I would recommend if you are only interested in the story. There is a lot of combat, and most of the non-violent quest solutions still requires that you fight your way to the boss first.

     

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Why can’t RPGs and other genres be more like AGs???

Because they sell better and get better ratings too, by and large.

They must be doing something right and detest change.

On other hand other action/adventure genres are getting more like RPGs, by adding skillpoints,Xp, loots and skilltrees in open world setup.

Here is list of diversity(last and current gen),

DeusEx, Cyberpunk = Well cyberpunk
Masseffect ,KOTOR series = Space sicifi
Fallout 3/4, Wasteland2 = Post apocalyptic
DragonAge, Elderscrolls,Witcher, Souls = Medieval Fantasy
Turnbased = Recent KS indies.
AphaProtocol= Espionage, Political
Folklore, Plansescape/Tides = Existential/Philosophical
Bloodborne = Horror
Then there are plenty of JRPGs like LostOdyssey, Resonance of Fate, Persona,Ninokuni, Zelda, FF series etc which have unique settings.

And you are bound to find problems if , games played across all platforms are low.
If you will play old games, at later period in time because many games across all genres don’t always age well, mechanically or otherwise.


Edit:

wilco - 28 April 2015 07:04 AM

I agree with you that most RPGs tend to be restricted in combat options and have mostly fantasy settings, specially on AAA games. Specially agree with the part that they need to be more balanced for a non-agressive build.

But you look at indie games RPGs are much more varied in settings and combat options. Games like Shadowrun, Wasteland 2, Transistor, Banner Saga, Divinity: Original Sin. Some of them are even turn-based.

This happens because,

Folklore, Resonanceoffate, Whitknight etc or whatever AAA RPG tries different in combat, fails to attract customers.
Thats why experimental stuff works in Indie.
Customers have pre-conceive notions and Devs tapping those notions.
Souls became hit by word of mouth luckily, thats why Lords of fallen copied it, Witcher2 tried to copy its combat etc, otherwise Souls would have been dud in popularity like Folklore.

     

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Have you tried Fallout 1 and 2? They both have quite many non-combat options. Combat is turn based but a bit boring and repetitive after a while. Arcanum is supposed to be is a pretty strong game as well. All pretty old though… I wouldn’t recommend Wasteland 2 since it is more combat heavy (I did like it though).

     

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