AS GAMES GET DEEPER, THERE’S ONE CATCH-ALL TO ADD SPICE TO ANY LIFE: A LITTLE BIT OF ROLEPLAY NEVER HURT ANYONE.
For better or worse, these days everything’s an RPG
But isn’t any game where you play as a character an RPG?” That’s my dad. He knows damn well that’s not what I mean, as I explain to him yet again what RPG is short for, and why I’m playing so many of them. In a sense, he is right. When we inhabit the sneaky, footprint-leaving boots of Solid Snake we are inhabiting his character, but Metal Gear Solid still isn’t a role-playing game.
As time’s gone on, though, my dad’s become more and more right. As technology’s moved forwards and things you can do in games have grown deeper, the way you play around with characters in these digital realms has had to get deeper too. Narratives and characters can have much more fidelity these days, but how do you fit this seamlessly into a game and improve a player’s connection with that world? What better way to improve your relationship than with a bit of harmless role-play?
Assassin’s Creed is a series that’s been experiencing some changes lately. What was once a tower-climbing, hay-jumping action adventure has morphed into a more level-driven, RPG-lite experience, especially with all the changes brought to last year’s Assassin’s Creed Origins. This year, follow-up Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is taking the Origins template and doubling down on the RPG elements. On top of the changes playing Rayman Junior back on the original PlayStation for all my RPG needs (Level 3, obviously).
While the numbers help, the heart of a good RPG is more of a feeling than whether it ticks off a checklist definition. A great RPG pulls you into its world, and allows you to inhabit it. That’s why exploring Ancient Greece holds so much appeal in Odyssey, or the streets of Night City in Cyberpunk 2077. Not just because we level up or choose a spicy or mild response to something our friend says, but because they use the language of games to hook us and draw us in, to make us really feel like it’s us down there doing the exploring ourselves.
With advancements in hardware, some tricks won’t work on us in the way they used to. Switching up to 4K is nice, but it lacked the mind-bending punch of that first move away from the blocky polygons of old to smoother visuals, or the brain-Mentos buzz of getting a high-definition telly for your PlayStation 3 and gaining a new level of appreciation for Nathan Drake’s not-so-hidden rear treasure. Big worlds just aren’t going to cut it any more. We’re already well-travelled enough. What’s truly impressive now is how detailed you can make a world. While Red Dead Redemption 2 might not be a traditional RPG, Rockstar’s commitment to adding depth to the setting adds a new layer to it as an open-world game, one you explore as Arthur Morgan. It’s not what you’d think of as an RPG at all, but if I can feel like I’m Morgan, pottering around exploring cupboards and forging relationships, what’s the difference? The future is RPG.