We have seen a growing trend in the triple A industry- the concept of putting Role Playing Game elements into action and adventure games. To me this comes across that developers are seeking to introduce more depth and complexity to the stale slog of the First/Third Person shooters released every year. Of course, I am not complaining because I love the idea of melding genres together. and since sales of many of these games are in the millions it’s safe to say that most people are liking the changes as well. However, I find it strange that so many people seem to like the complexity of RPGs but refuse to actually purchase RPGs themselves.
Then it dawned on me- perhaps most people simply don’t have the patience to play a 40+ hour Role Playing Game. The Tomb Raider Reboot, The Far Cry series, Saints Row and even the Call of Duty franchise all borrow several Role Play elements but none are billed as RPGs, I would even go so far as to say they shun the idea of being one. Let’s have a look at some of the concepts that are essential to Role Play Games and the ideas that have been borrowed from one of my favourite genres- the concept of Science as something so complex it is basically “magic” in order to explain a key plot point in a game.
Two very obvious ones are the weather manipulation plot in Tomb Raider and the entire idea of the Animus from Assassin’s Creed. Where would RPGs be without Experience Points? You couldn’t rightly level up your character or see a modicum of improvement if you never got EXP from those littler critters you’re killing. The best examples of this sort of EXP implementation are Games like: Call of Duty, Battle Field and Borderlands. All three of the mentioned franchises start you off as a nobody and the more you play the more skills you unlock to the point of being nearly super human [the infinite sprint from CoD and the resistance to explosions from Battle Field come to mind]. As an aside one of the strangest ideas to appear in the last seven years is the concept of everyone in shooters having the ability to heal from a gunshot like Wolverine [though I wouldn’t attribute this to RPG elements but it certainly falls into the “magic” category].
Customization is one of the most interesting ideas found in Western RPGs, allowing you to more fully immerse yourself into the game by creating a more personalized avatar. Something I can appreciate is this sort of idea bleeding into games like Halo, Grand Theft Auto and Saint’s Row. Having to unlock cosmetic looks for your character is also a great incentive to extend the life of your multiplayer experience; be it customized skins, new looks or even new skins/paint for your weapons, it allows someone to feel truly unique.
The plot of an RPG is sometimes considered so important it can often overshadow and even ruin other aspects of the game. Many RPGs feature a complex plot with twist and turns to keep the player going in the scores of hours it takes to complete a single campaign. This can also be found in shorter games like CoD [where at least three “twists” are found in every game] or long running open world Games like Assassin’s Creed [where the change of protagonists in the Assassin’s Creed 3 really helped solidify the villain for me]. All of these concepts are great things stemming from a once strong genre of Turn Based and Strategy games. However these very games seem to have fallen out of favor in recent years due to their slower game mechanics and more complex gameplay dynamics. This slower pace means a loss of engagement for many, since they don’t wish to wade through the game’s mechanics in order to experience the parts of the game they truly enjoy, and I can’t fault people for that. Faster Games also offer a few advantages. You can have the story be much tighter and have more ideals be touched on, albeit briefly, than an RPG could. A shorter story overall also means that your game can require less diversity in locations and enemy types simply because the player isn’t interacting with them as long. The final thing that has affected the success of Role Play Games is how they’re structured. Many players are playing games differently now than they used to- consuming games in smaller easy-to-digest pieces, with a couple of hours here and there, rather than consecutive hours of nonstop play.
Skyrim capitalized on this particular conundrum, offering dozens of shorter and more story/character driven quests for the player to get a small but immersive vertical slice in the world of Elder Scrolls. In retrospect the fact that gamers seem less patient may tie-in to the fact that most are no longer children or even teenagers. Players may no longer have entire weeks to dedicate to a single game and they consider their leisure time to be more precious.
This was a guest submission, thank you to Donovan John Michaels for submitting this piece. If you would like to submit your work, please click the submit link in the top header!