The Softening of CRPGs

This last years, computer RPGs are becoming more and more "soft", probably because of the mainstreaming of the genre, but probably too because of the desire to sell as much as possible. And as we know, geeks have a market share, but is not as big as normal videogame players one.

Let's analyze some videogames...

Mass Effect was much like Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic: arcade combats, semi-lineal main quest plus secondary optional quests, and dialog choices to affect your alignment.

But the second part has become a Mass-Effect themed Gears of War clone, with conversations between battles. Is not that the story is bad (although it destroys the first part story) but is much much more an action-rpg than a RPG with action.

Or let's take Fable II, a game that promised almost a virtual life, and delivered an action game with a beautiful setting but less roleplaying than the Diablo series. It was also so easy you could finish it without a single death.

Dragon Age Origins too was recent, and is maybe the only case of not so much softening. In some ways it is less RPG than old titles, but in other aspects (multiple starting places, different outcomes based on your choices, alignments, hidden quests and places...) even improves from the past.

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Fallout 3, The Witcher or The Last Remnant are other titles that appeared more or less recently. And that in general, have RPG elements and are considered as such, but none has for example tried to create a multiplayer experience so close to pen&paper games like Vampire: The Masquerade Redemption did, empowering the figure of the dungeon master.

And with MMORPGs the state is similar. Ultima Online had isometric 2D graphics, but allowed to farm food, forge weapons, have your own house and even build it wall by wall. In World of Warcraft you have to pay to change your hairlook and the concept of housing is just a dream. Crafting exists and is much more user-friendly, but even counting thousands of quests most of them are repetitive and so similar that Ultima Online's "pure freedom" mode gave you much more "roleplaying power".

One thing is true: The graphics are improving a lot in general. Fable II has incredible daytime changes, bloom effects and in general playing it is like watching a faery tale. Mass Effect 2 is one of the best looking videogames out right now (in PC at 2560x1600 is gorgeous). Even Dragon Age with it's not so impressive close-up graphics, has improved way far since Neverwinter Nights 2 (specially the faces of the humanoid creatures).

But graphics are not all, at least for me. You can deceive the eye but not the brain. Let's see how the RPG trend progresses this year...


Categories: Videogames Game Design

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Posted by Kartones on 2010-02-25