Computer games reviews and ramblings on games and gaming, from a gamer, roleplayer and LARPer.

Friday, 20 May 2011

What is a CRPG? Part 2

Here's a biggie: A CRPG is what you make it.

Every time you are given a choice within a game, you are given another choice alongside it. You are not just given the choice to go to location A first, or location B, to blag your way out of a fight or get stuck in, to behead the traitor or forgive him. You are also given the choice of whether or not it is a roleplaying game.

That is to say: you are given the choice to do what will get you the most in-game benefit, or do what the character you are playing would do. The two are not always mutually exclusive, but there will often be times when they don't match up.

Here's a fairly hefty and generalisation filled chunk of example.

Most games presented as CRPGs (certainly in the non JRPG mold) have a slew of exciting things you can do away from the major storyline; running errands for lazy townsfolk, hunting, working for law enforcement or other organisations, etc. These will net rewards, in the shape of cash and kit, they may affect the way various factions in the game percieve your character, and in most cases they will also provide either XP in themselves, or extra opportunities to earn XP to advance your character's stats.

They are also, it should be remembered, a fair chunk of the content you paid for when you bought the game.

But are they what your character would do?

There are some games where there is genuine in character encouragement to get out and bimble about doing stuff. Morrowind, for example, opens with the PC being sent to meet a contact/handler in a foreign town, who informs you that he wants you to get out there,  blend in with the locals, make a bit of a name for yourself and get trained up and kitted out before he'll set you on the mission the powers that be have in mind for you. The main plot situation is simmering, but has been for years and there's no great rush to fix it, just a sense that it needs fixing at some point in the not too distant future. Obviously there are still IC decisions to be made about what quests to take, who to side with in certain situations, etc, but the decision to do sidequests and level up seems natural because you've been told, in character to do so.

One of the biggest problems I had with it's sequel, Oblivion (a game which I should point out that I adore none the less, more on why in another post...) is that the opposite is true. There's a crisis happening right now, lives are being lost, you have a job to do saving the world, so why would you involve yourself in tales of adultry, petty theft, and sexual harrassment in the mages guild?

Then, of course, there's Mass Effect 2. Oh what a beauty. There are plenty of sidequests that pop up in the game -many of them designed to have an emotional connection for the PC- in between the main missions to assemble and ensure the loyalty of a team of high-end misfits. You'd better prioritise them carefully though, too much faffing about at the wrong times can lead to pretty serious punishment, although that punishment only carries any weight if you're emotionally invested in the story and the characters.

So you only have to think like a roleplayer if you're roleplaying.


  1. Pretty much spot on, I think. And Morrowind does do it beautifully in comparison to Oblivion. (Though Shivering Isles I reckon does actually handle it pretty well again.)

    My only minor issue with ME2 in that respect was that you didn't have any hard choices (and genuinely complex choices) to make with your crew and the mission. There was a 'right' way of doing it that cut across the role-playing a little bit too much.

    You didn't get rewarded for doing things in a particular style. Not in the sense of 'goodies' and positives, but in the sense that it felt that there was only actually one viable and decidedly right choice.


    That is, upgrade the Normandy to the max, get everyone's loyalty. And it doesn't matter that you spend ages doing that, the Collectors will just patiently wait. So if your Shepard would be of the opinion that actually, damn your crew's personal feelings and unfinished business, the galaxy's about to burn and she and they are needed to fight the collectors RIGHT NOW.

    I don't think in the end it affected my personal enjoyment of the game when I played it much at all, but in retrospect I feel uneasy with Bioware's continued over-reliance on this trope.

  2. Fallout: New Vegas is great for being able to bimble around. There's a main plot, but it's not urgent. You get benefits for playing in a large number of mutually-exclusive ways. You can wander around taking everything with you, or set up base somewhere and radiate out from that - though eventually you'll want to move base again. There are whole areas which you never *have* to see, but can if you want to. For that aspect of it, I'd say it's the best recent game.

  3. @Kenti

    You have the choice though. By all means you can totally roleplay that Shepard, s/he'd just better be prepared for the consequences is all, you even get the dialogue options to tell them you don't care, rather than just ignoring the quest.

    Yeah, I'm currently enjoying that very aspect of it.

    Both these games deserve posts of their own and will get them in the fullness of time :)

  4. @mejoff

    Yeah, the issue for me is that the game is making the call that Shepard is absolutely and definitely wrong if she doesn't do the stuff. Sure, the other eventualities are catered for, but as obviously negative outcomes. That's what doesn't sit too well for me - it's too neat, and it's a definitive answer by the developers.

    It's not that I'm not getting a choice or not being rewarded, but that it feels like a valid choice, that is supported by what is going on, and is yet judged an invalid choice, because the game is actually operating on different standards.

    FNV did most of it brilliantly, but I felt that the endgame gets very much forced on you and most of everything that happens feels distinctly Out of Character. As if the GM is just sitting there saying, "No. You must now CHOOSE definitively and exclusively your side."

    Absolutely fantastic up until that point though.

  5. @Kenti
    We may have to agree to disagree on this one, because i don't see anything wrong with the narrative situation being bloody obvious, but the option to ignore it and face the consequences being available. Some stories, some situations, don't leave the people involved many options, and if you're telling one of those stories you shouldn't water it down to make either choice work just as well.