Revenge Of The (Western) RPG
Let’s play a game real quick. No, not that kind of game.
The year is 2010, the South African hosted FIFA World Cup is the spectacle of the year, and really great RPGs are… nowhere to be found. Okay they’re few and far between at the least.
Seriously, try and name RPGs that were released in 2010.
Done? Okay, here’s what I have: Divinity 2: Ego Draconis, Fallout: New Vegas and Mass Effect 2. Great games, no doubt. But not as many RPGs as you might have thought, yes? I admit, I might have missed a few, in which case I apologise.
Let’s go back another year to 2009. Repeat.
Dragon Age: Origins, The Last Remnant, Risen. That’s it.
So basically some BioWare game and a few other randoms. I’m joking!
Bring it back to more recent times and starting in 2011 with, you guessed it, Dragon Age 2, suddenly it’s become an RPG extravaganza.
I’ll go ahead and list the RPGs that have released since March 2011.
For 2012: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Mass Effect 3, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings: Enhanced Edition — it counts, okay!
That basically means in one month, more RPGs are releasing than the entire 2009, or 2010. For the year, we’ve got more games than those two years combined.
It seems as if the role-playing game as we know it has been rediscovered as a suitable form of gaming pleasure and many studios are embracing this fact, and in the process churning out some really noteworthy experiences. Whether it’s CD Projekt RED with their excellent — more so considering they’re a Polish developer (Techland, anyone?) — The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, or Big Huge Games with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, a game that takes typical RPG elements and adds on a sexy-as-all-hell combat system that makes you want to grind experience in a forest for hours.
We’re even getting a South Park RPG, some time soon.
RPGs seem to finally have hit their stride. Gone is the time when the only really good RPG is the only RPG to have released all year — speaking specifically of Dragon Age: Origins here, but I guess Mass Effect 2 could also count if you aren’t a fan of New Vegas. In fact even Dragon Age 2 released in a time when the RPG releases were a bit on the dry side and we eagerly awaited the next big one. And then they started releasing in droves, each one significantly better than the average RPG of yester-year.
I should also make mention of indie RPGs such as Torchlight and the excellent Bastion, as well as games that have some sort of RPG element such as Terraria and Minecraft. Then there’s the hack and slash titles with RPG elements, such as Dungeon Siege III and even Darksiders.
It feels like a great time to be an RPG gamer, especially when you’ve grown up craving RPG games in your life.
I remember playing Dark Messiah: Might & Magic and Dungeon Siege II and thinking: “It can’t get any better than this.”
And indeed for a while it didn’t. On that note, Dungeon Siege III was an atrocity that broke my heart. Then suddenly Dragon Age: Origins released, not an excellent title mind you but one in a genre starved of anything decent. And it was swallowed up wholeheartedly, as was Mass Effect 2 the following year. Suddenly the appeal was back and the RPG genre grew in popularity.
Now most games employ some sort of RPG mechanic, whether it’s accrued experience, hub towns, open-world exploration, deep character interaction, calculated conflict scenarios, inventory management or anything in between.
The RPG is back with a vengeance. The question then, is do you care? Are you a fan of RPGs or do you prefer other genres?
The next question then is whether you mind that the RPG genre is permeating other genres of gaming, such as action adventure and even shooters. I distinctly remember “levelling up” my suit in Crysis 2. Is this something of a “do not want” or would you happily have such elements in every game you play? Is there a limit to all of it? I for one quite enjoy having experience points and levelling up in some games, whereas in others I feel that the developer’s inexperience with RPG mechanics shows and what happens is a warped difficulty curve where you start off unable to kill a thing and through levelling up, end up a powerhouse that destroys anything in your path with little as a sneeze.
I quite liked the RPG elements of Bulletstorm where you used skill points acquired by performing skill-shots, in order to refill your weapons’ ammunition and purchase upgrades. I did not like the fact that Supersoldier difficulty in Crysis 2 turns into an almost game-breaking walk in the park as your suit’s stealth ability becomes vastly superior to anything the game can throw at you.
Another facet of RPGs is the JRPG market, which has always been pretty saturated with games and so never really suffered the same dry spells as western RPGs. Is this then a sign that perhaps the western world is becoming a bit more eastern in their game tastes? Sure we’re not at the level of half-hour cutscenes and impossible boss fights, but do you think it’s going there some day?
These are my thoughts on RPGs currently. It’s a good time to be an RPG gamer and I look forward to playing as many of them as I possibly can. On that note: Mass Effect 3 for Game Of The Year. There, I said it!