Life, The Universe, And Gaming: 2012: Year Of The RPG
I’ve always been fascinated with words. Ever since I was old enough to hold a book in an upright position and read things off the pages held out before me, I’ve been in love with the English language and everything it brought to my life. To that extent, I enjoy particular words as well. Don’t ask why because I really don’t know, but there are some words in the English language which both sound and look beautiful to me.
Like that, I’ve always been fascinated with RPG mechanics in games. The role-playing-game is a very alluring genre that allows for unparalleled levels of escapism and immersion and ever since I was old enough to interact with a keyboard and mouse, I’ve been in love with the RPG.
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It need not even be a strictly RPG experience, either. I think it’s the side of me that just enjoys management of any kind, but such games as FIFA held great appeal to me where I would spend hours each day, configuring and perfect each team’s squad, formations, players and more. And then I would jump into the career mode and do the same for a team that I had chosen.
Being able to have such control over one’s experience is an amazing thing and no other genre offers such levels of influence as the RPG. I think that was why Freelancer took me so hard after I tried out the demo. Not only did I have an entire galaxy as my playground, but I got to decide where I went, what I did, what ship I had and exactly what accessories it could boast. It was a mix of open-world exploration and ship management. And I loved it.
However even with that, it wasn’t until I had played Dungeon Siege II that I realised and understood my love for the RPG. While there might have been a lot of hacking and slashing, I enjoyed getting lost in the lore, managing inventories, skills, specialities, spells, weapons and more in a game which some might have found boring but I couldn’t get enough of, playing and playing until I had finally reached level 100 with my main character. A feat that requires at least three playthroughs of the game, I might add.
This is my last column for 2012 and as the curtain closes on the year that held the greatest anti-climax since Hitler’s failed attempt at map control (inb4 we’re all still alive) I thought I would use this opportunity to have a look back at the year that was, by mixing in the two favourite loves that I have described above.
Those two being the RPG and my love of the English language.
Since RPG starts with the letter “R” let us see how many words we can find to describe the ascent of the RPG mechanic in 2012.
While the role-playing-game in its purest form hasn’t had as much representation this year as previous years — Skyrim and The Witcher 2 are brightly shining lights from last year — what is certain is that we’ve come a long way from something like 2009 where the only really big RPG release was a certain Origins game about Dragons and Ages. Still, with the dearth of pure RPG, we had tonnes of complimenting experiences in games that were heavily based on RPG influences. There is no Death of RPG as we know it, but rather an evolution to something greater, brought on by the unwavering support of the community.
Such things as levelling up, persistent character development, skill trees, inventories, side quests and alternative quest lines, all formed part of the overall RPG influence that was present in so many games this year. Whether they were crafted by huge teams that numbered in the hundreds, or by a single man sitting at home and coding away for hours on end, there is enough RPG in most of the games this year that it really makes no matter.
It might have seemed a bland year for the pure RPG but really it was the games that featured RPG mechanics that rose up to conquer the world. Nowadays it’s almost impossible to go around without finding a game with some sort of persistent levelling or character customisation, both RPG mechanics which are implemented in non-RPG games. It’s almost as if the typical gaming experience has been crafted in a different light, one that now contains trace elements of RPG which aid in immersion, escapism and the overall ability to get lost in a world that doesn’t truly exist, except that it does while you’re playing it.
What is quite amazing is that it’s working. Amazingly well, at that. Just look at the Game of the Year nominations and awards for various websites (ours coming up) and you will see that even with the apparent dearth of pure RPG games, we’re still seeing games which can be classified as RPG experiences popping up all over the show. Some of these games are actually highly underrated for what they do to RPG gaming as we remember it. Others have gone from strength to strength, taking massive strides forward from previous outings to really step into their own light.
Sometimes you get an action game that has RPG elements, sometimes you get a strategy game that has RPG elements, the lines are slowly but surely blurring until eventually there will be no such thing as a pure RPG because it will just be some sort of action adventure with RPG elements, difficult to distinguish from an actual action adventure with RPG elements. Take for example, Uncharted or Assassin’s Creed. Imagine there were skill trees, side quests and inventory management. Sounds kind of fucking amazing, doesn’t it? But then, that’s basically Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning with a different coat of paint and slightly less story.
Speaking of stories, even when we were dabbling in pure RPG experiences, while not all of them were top-notch overall, there were some amazing experiences around this year where it counted. One of these areas was that of story. I don’t think I’ve played many games that could have boasted as amazing stories as those from this year. Truly amazing stories that blow the mind, and remain in the memory long afterwards. So even when we do deal with the otherwise forgettable pure RPG experiences of this year, we’ve got something to look at and be happy about.
After the dry spell that was a few years ago when only one developer was really putting out anything substantial in the genre of RPG, you almost get the feel that the entire genre was biding its time, awaiting the perfect time to strike with a vengeance and return to former glories. Sure there were some games that failed entirely, missing the mark and ending up being a disappointment more than anything (Diablo III, anyone?) but for every failure there were two successes at least. In one particular case, those two successes were the same game, just released in different stages for different platforms. And as enjoyable as ever, on either.
Variety formed the spice of the RPG life this year, with locations spanning pretty much everything in existence, be it outer space, snowy mountains, a lush forest, canyons, and pretty much anything else. Of places to go and people to see, we were spoiled for choice this year with some of the memorable locations that we got to acquire levels in. And of course, do side quests. Lots and lots of side quests, even ones that seemed entirely unnecessary, such as learning how to kick. But we did it anyway, because it was what was expected of us.
Struck down and cast aside for a while, though it may have been, 2012 has seen the re-emergence of the RPG but not just as a genre of its own. No, this time around it has permeated almost every other game to the point that calling a game an RPG seems almost superfluous, unnecessary. You could just call it a game and say that it has heavy RPG influence or mechanics. And you would be correct in saying so, for most games. Whether it’s a CRPG, Action RPG or Hack & Slash matters not, either. What matters is that you get to level up your character and invest in some sweet new skills to use on foes. And how sweet were some of the abilities available to us this year? I possessed a motherfucking fish.
Concluding on what is undoubtedly the strangest column I’ve done this year, above all else the RPG genre proved that it not only has a massive following but a passionate following at that. No other genre has caused such a stir in the gaming world, and left so many people to perilously divided with opinions regarding certain aspects of a certain game (of the year, in my opinion) with the RPG tag affixed. No other genre provided as much emotion to the player, as much finality and as much closure. No other genre allowed the character’s choices to matter.
In the end, while 2012 may not have been the best year for a pure RPG experience the likes of Skyrim, what it ended up being was a lesson in how much of gaming the RPG mechanics have permeated. I could use more “R” words to describe these, including risk, ratification, reduction and remembrance, but I think I’ve done enough for one year.