Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Have RPGs Become Too Big?

At long, long, ever so long last I have finished the main storyline of Dragon Age: Inquisition. At my final save I was just over 110 hours into playing. I played this game over many months taking a week off here and there, and played some other games to change it up a little. I should also point out that I really didn't even do most of my companions personal quests, and didn't do several small side quests. Nor did I buy any DLC. So that's 110 hours on one game that isn't even 100% complete. I realized I was in trouble when I was still unlocking new areas at 70 hours. And eventually I just thought "oh no, not again" when I stumbled in to somewhere new. More rifts to close, more shards to find, and much more running around in a place that looks a lot like the place I just left after spending 20 hours trying to get the hell out of there. It got me thinking about RPGs (or role playing games) in general, and how much they've changed over the years. I've been playing them for a long time, and they just seem to keep getting bigger and longer, and I'm not certain that's a good thing.

I think the first RPG I played was Final Fantasy VII back on the original Playstation. I don't have any real idea how long I played, but I know for damn sure it wasn't even half as long as it took me to get through Dragon Age: Inquisition. It was probably close to about 40 hours which used to be normal for an RPG. Final Fantasy XIII-2 took just a little longer (even though it came out a lot later) at around 50 hours. That's about the same time I spent on Fable 2 and 3, and Mass Effect 2 and 3. Dragon Age: Origins took even longer at 60 hours, but then came the bar to which all other RPGs will forever be held. Fallout 3. I loved it so much that I got all of the DLC, and spent over 100 hours playing it. I know I may not have completed every single tiny little side quest, but I did a whole lot of it for sure. Fallout New Vegas didn't grip me quite as much so I polished that one off in about 70 hours. Elder Scrolls games have become a huge time suck too. While I finished Oblivion in about 50 hours I was 70 hours into Skyrim before I decided I wanted to be done, and just completed the main quest.

What is troubling about these numbers isn't the fact that I've spent well over 700 hours of my life playing RPGs (once the shooters, action/adventure, and other kinds of games are added in I shudder to think what percentage of my life I've spent playing games). What truly troubles me is that not all of it felt fulfilling. Here's the thing: while I want to have my time sucked away by an RPG I want to feel like I've really done something at the end of it. Not really physically done something because that takes too much effort, but a sense of accomplishment would be nice. Not just "I want to play a different game so I'm going to end this." I should be really excited when I kill a dragon or unlock a new area. Not annoyed that I'm still not done. Don't get me wrong, games are freakin expensive and I want my money's worth. I just don't think that making a game longer always equals making it better.
The skulls make this much cooler
I am not going to go on every stupid little fetch quest or spend hours combing an area for a treasure chest that probably doesn't contain anything that good anyway. Most RPGs now are so open that I just wander around, and if a side quest runs into me I do it. There are plenty of times though that I'll stumble into a side quest while I'm busy doing something else so that I don't do it too though. I'm not leaving the mission I'm on to run a letter three towns over for you. If I happen to see your mom in my travels I'll give her your note. If I don't...well if you wanted to talk to her so badly you'd have gone yourself, ass. When games are as long as Fallout 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition it's as hard to keep the side quests feeling fresh as it is to make every area unique. There's only so much you can do to the design of a forest, desert, or swamp when it's the third one of each I've seen in the game.
Trust me, he looks better naked
I'm also probably not going to spend hours completing personal story quests for companion characters. Especially if I never include them in my party. If they're in my regular party rotation then yes, I want them loyal and leveled. If they're going to stay at home then I don't much care what they do or think. Of course, games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins know this, and make sure that even your unused characters have something to do with the endgame so you're forced to pay at least a little attention to them. I still don't bother unless I actually care about the character. Speaking of caring: there's also how long and tricky romance has become. It was really easy in Fable 2 and 3 since you couldn't romance anyone important. All the relationships were with regular NPC townsfolk. It wasn't too tough in the first two Mass Effect games. It takes a lot more work in the Dragon Age games. First it takes hours to get them to like you. Then another several hours getting them to open up to you. Sometimes you have to give them presents, and even if you don't you have to tread carefully around your dialogue options to keep them interested. Depending on the game you might not even get a shot at love unless you do their personal quest. It's a main quest length mission to get some action most of the time. If people put that much work into their own real life relationships the divorce rate would plummet. And after all of that time and effort what do you really get? A brief and awkwardly animated love scene where you don't really get to see anything good anyway. Just one though. Nobody gets nookie twice, in Bioware games anyway. I do have to say that I liked the end of my sex scene in Dragon Age: Inquisition. I was fully clothed and lacing my boots while my boyfriend was still asleep and tastefully nude. It looked like I was about to sneak out when he wakes up from a bad dream. "No, I'm not leaving baby. I was just going to get you breakfast." That's some nice gender reversal Bioware. I kind of regretted my choice in men when he started whining in his sleep, but Bioware tries so hard to cater to every sexual option that they end up limiting you as a result. As a female character I three choices for dudes to romance, and just two if I wanted to get down with a girl despite the fact that there are at eight overall romance options in the game. Oh, and some of those dicks are racist and won't do it with a specific race or class. I had so much trouble getting a specific character to fall in love with me as an elf-mage in Dragon Age: Origins that I felt compelled to play as a human in Inquisition to broaden my options. Having three easy options when none of them are that great doesn't really make me feel much better about my race or class choice.
Do you know what I'm supposed to be doing right now? Cause I don't.
And then there's how bogged down and lost your story gets when you're trying to make the largest gaming world ever. I would go a few days or a week without playing Skyrim, and by the time I came back I was lost. I had no idea where I was, what I did last, and what the hell I should be doing next. I was usually on one of a million quests for people I cared nothing about. I honestly don't really even remember what the point of the story was right now. And all I can remember about Oblivion's story is Patrick Stewart died, and left me something to do that was super overcomplicated. After about 50 hours most games will start to lose their impact. I think the only reason I made it past 80 hours in Fallout 3 was because it was so new and different at the time, and it had some great DLC. In Dragon Age: Inquisition I really only kept going on the new side quests because the last boss in Origins was such a bitch that I wanted to level up as much as possible before I got to the endgame. But still, Fallout 3 was great because it kept you interested in what was happening the entire game. Shorter games like Mass Effect and Fable do it really well too. Most of the 100+ hour games that are out now don't have a strong enough story or compelling enough characters to keep you fully involved for as long as they seem to expect. They're all so long and convoluted now that they've even gotten hard to keep separate in my own head. Dragon Age: Inquisition borrows heavily from Mass Effect 3, but okay, they're by the same developer. Of course, it also borrows it's repetitive Rift closing from Oblivion which is by a completely different developer. Although not really all that different in the non-MMORPG world. Bioware and Bethesda are pretty much it. They both make great games, but I like them for different reasons. To me Bioware is story, and Bethesda is gameplay. I'm more than alright with both of them branching out, but only if they do it without borrowing from each others games.
I'll always love a good RPG, but I just don't see how much longer they can keep going on length alone. 150 hours of gameplay isn't enough to ride on if you can't keep people interested for even 80 hours. And don't tell me that I can get some DLC or pick up some new side quests after finishing the main story to try and keep me engaged. Continuing to play a game after completing the main story mission is like hanging around after a one night stand. You've finished what you came to do, and are expected to move on, but you don't want it to end so now you're just being weird and creepy by not leaving. A really good game doesn't need DLC to keep you interested. Nor does it need to release DLC to make you like the ending (for all of you angry at the ending of Mass Effect 3 out there). And now I'm off to play Shadows of Mordor. I should probably kiss my husband good-bye before I leave for another six months or more.

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