Where are all the nonlinear RPGs?on August 31, 2011 at 2:17 pm
Earlier today, I found my self being unrealistically frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t get a copy of The Elder Scrolls III (Morrowind) on my Xbox 360. A brownie and an episode of Futurama later, it turned out that I would live through the disappointment, but it got me thinking. Why am I driven to play a RPG released almost a decade ago? Beyond that, why is this a common occurrence in my life? Since the problem can’t possibly be my fault, I decided that there must be something wrong with the state of RPG development in general.
Here’s the issue, as I see it: RPGs are being dumbed down. I see new RPGs trending toward linear play, and fewer real player options. Take the third installment of Fable for example –gone is any real sense of player-directed development. Fable III barely even bothers to hide the fact that both the story and the growth of the protagonist are completely linear. Furthermore, this isn’t an isolated incident. The new Gothic is another example (though I’m not sure if anyone but me ever played the series to begin with). Previous incarnations of Gothic involved real choices about political allegiances and character development. Yet, the latest version is little more than a hack and slash.
Listen RPG developers, the last thing I want to do is tell you that you can only make one kind of game, but let’s just think for a moment about the niche you occupy. I love first person shooters. They are linear and you don’t really need/want to bother with altering your character very much (beyond equipment). When I play a RPG, however, I want more than just a first person shooter with a choice of fanciful hats. I want real choices and real customization –customization that doesn’t attempt to save me from my own poor decisions. If I want to put all my experience points into stealth and bartering, let me!
For me, the fun of RPGs is rooted in two things: the sense of ownership I get from the full freedom of character customization (down to the tiniest detail) and the sense of accomplishment that comes from developing that character and overcoming obstacles –obstacles that sometimes arise out of my poor character development choices. The key there is choice, and choice relies on non-linear everything.
Obviously, there are exceptions to my complaints here. I can’t tell you how excited I am for Skyrim. But, I don’t understand why a genre that seems to sell, feels so stagnant. KOTOR sold. Morrowind sold. Fallout 3 sold. New Vegas sold. Oblivion sold. So, RPG developers, take a page from their playbooks and get on the ball. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to survive on one or two solid RPGs a year. Sigh. If you need me, I’ll be in the corner playing Planescape Torment and dreaming of a better tomorrow.