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Monday, February 22, 2016

"Why Aren't Modern RPGs as Good as Yesteryear?"

This is going to be a loaded question and one I'm going to knock down immediately. Modern RPGs are fantastic and amazing and I love just about every one of them... but not everyone does. This article is going to be sort of a love letter as well as my past experiences with RPGs as well as saying "Shut up guys, it isn't all that bad."
A bit of history about me first. The first RPG I ever played in my life was Morrowind. As soon as I saw the game in EB Games (yes, it was that long ago) I begged my mom for it. Coming from a hyper Christian family I did not get it. "What is this?" my mom said. "It looks like a demon," she pointed at the dark elf I would later come to know was a Dunmer. However, after saving up the money for it and buying it myself, I was finally introduced to the world of RPGs on my original Xbox. Up until that point, all the other games had trained me that "When you press a button, a thing happens". I went to be a magic character and, if you know anything about Morrowind and older RPGs you'll know where I'm going. I wasn't yet introduced to the subtle nuances of how they perceived contact. Some spells outright failed to hit or did so little damage at all. I remember my first time seeing that a spell didn't hit it's target. I remember the frustration of clearly seeing the spell fire and make contact all to find out it apparently did nothing. The same happened with melee weapons.
Despite all of this my love for the genre never faded. Even to this day, if I see a game where you can gain experience and have a vast array of weapons in an open world environment I will almost immediately buy it. No surprise that I latched onto Oblivion some years later. The only reason I stopped playing the game was because my Xbox 360 had scratched the disk to high hell and made it unplayable. I remember fighting with magic and melee in my arsenal, acquiring almost all of the Daedric artifacts, getting pissed when I continued to encounter a bug that made the Knights of the Nine quest unfinishable no matter how many characters I remade and rising to fame as the most prestigious member of the Fighter's Guild. And, while Skyrim didn't have all of the content it's predecessors had, it still remains one of my favorite games of all time.
Why did I tell you this? I feel like everyone needs to hear this. Evolution is the means by which a thing changes drastically from it's previous iteration. RPGs are evolving as well. Part of what draws me to the genre is both the sense of grandness as well as being able to literally put myself in the game. I was the Hero of Kvatch. I helped Martin and The Blades beat back a god hell bent on destroying the entire world. I defeated The World Eater at the gates beyond death, where the Halls of Heroes lay filled with long dead warriors who had proven themselves in battle. You just can't get that type of immense story telling and fantastic stories really anywhere. Not only that, but my character grows stronger with each encounter. Bandits test my strength and skills before the truly tough fights as I use whatever arsenal I have at my disposal. They've really left their mark on me.
A lot of people have been disappointed with Fallout 4, for various reasons I'm not entirely sure of. No one can really say what it is they're so disappointed about without an addendum or asterisk behind it. Is the map too small? Is the gameplay dumbed down? Not enough quests? While these may be... problems, they're minor at best. The map is smaller only in your brain. Fallout 3's map was A LOT smaller, but you think its bigger because of what you see on the map. What you didn't see was all of the places that were inaccessible to the player such as buildings that towered above and invisible walls that kept you from breaking the game. The gameplay was, if anything, made smarter by the extra uses of the buttons for controllers now giving us a dedicated button for grenades while making the button also double for a power attack and now guns can be melee-ed with. Not enough quests? Debatable. The reason I bring up Fallout 4 is because it really shows how far we've come as gamers. I'm going to say it, a lot of stuff in Fallout 3 was downright stupid. Absolutely no vendor in the game could completely repair your weapons, There was so much useless junk that took up space for things I actually wanted to carry and a lot of items (like the aforementioned junk) had absolutely no purpose other than to be sold or shot out of your Junk Jet. Granted, Fallout 4 isn't perfect but its a far cry from being a bad or mediocre game.
One of the beautiful things about living right now in the age of the internet is the fact we can have a say in the games we play and actually have it mean something. And I'm not just talking about having a 24/7 ear to developers to voice our opinions, displeasures and general joy in what they've made rather the ability to actually alter the games ourselves. Mods are great. I know people had made jokes that Bethesda releases an unfinished game and tells us to finish it but that's entirely not what's happening. Literally, there is no game on the planet that doesn't have a bug in it let alone massive RPGs. The greater in scale something is the greater the likelihood of there being problems. Bethesda spent X amount of years working and polishing Fallout 4, same for Skyrim. Yet when they launched they still had to patch it. Unfortunately not all developers are as understanding or sensible as Bethesda. Some companies simply leave their broken games out to die. What could have been a masterpiece is now just a broken mess. People now have the ability to modify games to their specification, not just to make Thomas the Tank Engine replace all of the dragons in Skyrim or the ability to add more anime stuff where it wasn't already present but to be able to fix the games. I've been starting up a new Oblivion campaign at this very moment. It was a great game. Flawed, yes, but still great. I'm going to say it, despite all of my PC reviews I'm not a PC player. I really like controllers and Oblivion doesn't have controller support built into the game. While the patch may be a bit annoying to deal with, I can play Oblivion the way I played it before. I can also add in a patch that may fix that Knights of the Nine glitch I experienced all those years ago and never got to finish the entire game because of it.
I'm going to answer my previously asked question: "Why aren't modern RPGs as good as yesteryear?" We've become spoiled. Even now that we understand that a massive game takes a massive amount of time to make, and we can even look to see how much time it exactly took within a few button presses, we still whine and moan how things have gotten less better. Debatable at best. Games evolve. We're constantly changing and shifting our notions of good and great games. I'm not saying you're entitled to your opinion, I'm just saying you have to understand what you mean when you're actually saying that. We've been spoiled. We get these great games that have graphics no one could have ever imagined would be possible, have these stories that push the boundaries of normal conventions that society has placed on us. We get to experience how great something can be with a few clicks of a button. In Morrowind, you had to work to get all the way up to the top and it wasn't for everyone. A lot of concepts wouldn't make sense to a lot of people just picking up the game for the first time. Oblivion got a lot closer to being more user friendly but ultimately time has shown how well or poorly it has aged, not just in the sense of how the graphics look but how combat and other aspects feel and work. Skyrim was really the apex of how we're moving forward. Could the game be considered dumbed down? Possibly. But I argue that it really boiled down what an RPG really is. Was Fallout 3 a masterpiece? Absolutely. I would consider it one of the greatest games of all time. Could it's direct sequel in the series be considered a bit of a disappointment? I guess...? Perfection is unattainable. Let's get that out of the way. The idea that one thing can sate EVERYONE'S tastes is a bit far fetched to say the least. Fallout 4 is a great game. I just really want to say that. I think it's kind of weird so many people have so much negative things to say about it. You don't look at the Holy Grail and think, "I mean... ya, its cool and all. But like what if it looked... better?" Then again if you DO feel that way, there's always the mod community. Doing their best to polish an already shiny thing.

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