For the most part I tend to avoid RPGs. I don’t just mean fantasy RPGs like Elder Scrolls. Nearly any game that involves a great deal of character customization just frightens me away. Before even starting Mass Effect, I read several character-creation guides and tried to make sense of what I was about to embark upon.
It’s not the open world that scares me off. It’s all that character-building stat stuff that involves staring at menus and figuring out what different abilities do, which ones I want and which ones sound too complicated to bother with. In most RPGs my playstyle quickly turns into something akin to a warrior or soldier class that carries a big weapon and takes lots of damage. This has created some annoying issues for me in the past since I really love non-linear open-world games and those are the games that frequently saddle me with some stupid menu system that constantly wants me to spend some skill points on something or check out some piece of equipment that might add 2 points to the cushiness of my boots.
What I really need is someone to take some of the choices away from me. I’ve expressed this sentiment in the past and other gamers have suggested that I turn on auto-level or something, but most gamers have a certain distrust with such options and will quickly admit that whatever random hodgepodge I come up with on my own will be as useful as what the game gives me. I know this sounds a little silly, but I have got myself into trouble in the past by picking skills or leveling up when I shouldn’t have.
A few years ago while playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic I found that I had made several fatal errors that caused my game to be incredibly difficult. My first mistake was leveling up my character to a fairly high level while still on the first planet of Yaris. This caused some issues since I wasn’t a Jedi yet and it prevented me from leveling up as a Jedi. Secondly, I began my game as a soldier class, but when they asked what kind of Jedi I wanted to be, I picked whatever random kind that didn’t do anything remotely like a soldier. So my character sucked as a soldier and he sucked as a Jedi and while I did complete the game after learning how to abuse the grenades and heal my much more competent allies, I figured out that sometimes I need to have a little knowledge about what all those stat points and levels and abilities actually do. When I fired up my second Knights playthrough, I knew all about how to create a lightsaber wielding badass. My character’s fighting style most closely resembled Darth Maul and I enjoyed the game way more than I did the first time.
Since then, I’ve managed to mess up Diablo by being some kind of archer/Amazon that wears heavy armor, Fallout 3 by killing everyone and attacking merchants and Lost Odyssey by getting incredibly bored and giving up. I’m hoping to get back to Fallout 3 soon, after someone gives me some ideas on what abilities will make my character capable of surviving through a few major encounters.
I’m not saying that all character building is bad. I love my Batman games, but in those you eventually get all the abilities, you just have to play long enough. I also really loved Bioshock because if I didn’t like a setup, I just changed it. My second playthough was almost entirely done with a wrench and I thought that was one of the strangest ways to play through a FPS ever. I tried Alpha Protocol, but that game is terrible and this has nothing to do with me making a character that sucked. I actually built a dual-wielding super-soldier. My goal in Alpha Protocol quickly turned into nailing all three women who could be nailed throughout the game, and I didn’t even play long enough to mess the sheets up once. But I digress. I just need something to make things a little more simple or make things a little less set in stone. Why is that so hard?
I know some of you might disagree, but I think we could change our classes around sometimes. Imagine if, while on the Normandy in Mass Effect, you could change your skills. Then I could make bonehead mistakes and fix them once I understand the game a little more or maybe I could decide to completely change my fighting style and try something new. I see why this isn’t more common. It would cut down on replayability, but I think it would be much easier to start a game and might make it more enjoyable. What if there were certain places in the Wasteland that let me switch up what abilities and weapons I could use? This would also make some boss fights easier since you could change your stats to make your character much more useful to the style that is required in that encounter. I’ve heard plenty of people bitching about how in Deus Ex: Human Revolution they were some kind of stealthy character and were then forced into gunfights with bosses that made them play in an extremely non-stealthy manner.
Recently Irrational Games announced that Bioshock Infinite would include a mode that would prevent players from changing their attributes or abilities. At first I was disappointed, but from what it looks like this will be a difficulty setting that I wouldn’t normally turn on for my first playthrough so I’m OK with it.
I also understand that there has been a major discussion going on with the new Guild Wars 2 game. The guys over at ArenaNet have been toying around with the idea that you could “re-spec” or change your characters attributes in one of the towns by paying some amount of gold. I love this idea since it would give a player the freedom to experiment around with different attributes and skills but still add a sense of value and permanency to your characters abilities. I know some players like the permanency of many of these things and I understand that MMORPGs can be a completely different beast than a single-player experience, but this is something that could easily be implemented into any single-player game.
When I get down to thinking about what really bothers me about this entire situation, it’s the loss of my time. I spend a great deal of time playing video games and I would prefer to not be forced to replay entire swaths of games because I didn’t understand the difference between electronics, damping and decryption in relation to what my character was meant to do. I also dislike how many of these games make little sense the first time you play them and really require a decent amount of knowledge to create characters that excel at their abilities. This is why I enjoy games that don’t expect me to have some of this knowledge going in. Why would I spend time staring at a menu and considering skills when I could be punching thugs in the face as Batman or assassinating Templars?
I only have so much time to spend on my games and frequently I feel like it would be much simpler to only have to worry about the difference between a red-dot sight and a holographic sight. I love the freedom and open worlds that I can explore in many of the games I’m talking about, but feel like I just want to get on with exploring them when I pick up some random piece of equipment. I want to play the game, not look at menus. I want to explore the worlds within them, not explore the character stat screen.