What Makes a Good RPG?

I love RPGs. I love how you can take somebody else’s product and carve out your own little piece of it. Perhaps creating your own story in your head or going on an adventurous journey a character you can relate to. Either way, it’s an escape that lets you live in someone else’s shoes, in another world or another place.

Over the years video gamers have been lucky to have a whole heap of brilliant RPGs to play. Some are brilliant for completely different reasons than others. Maybe it’s the expansive and massive open world that draws you in. Maybe it’s the characters and the story, or maybe it is your escape from reality.

I’ve started thinking about what makes a good RPG. What’s in that perfect cocktail that makes these kinds of games so special. You hear about RPG elements creeping into all kinds of games these days. Even FIFA now has an RPG style mode it. With the rise of roleplaying, I think it’s time we dissect what key ingredients are needed for the perfect RPG.

Character Customisation

Without a doubt, this is one of my top features I love in RPGs. Sure, I’m happy to play as Geralt of Rivia any day of the week, but in all honesty, I’d rather make my own story. Maybe that’s just my nature as a writer, the need to make my own story up.

Character Customisation doesn’t just mean creating your own character, however; it extends to far more than that. The ability to change hairstyles and clothes to existing characters in games like GTA V is a great example of other types of character customisation.

There’s nothing quite like putting your own stamp on an avatar and RPGs do this the best. Even some MMOs can’t compete with the custom options RPGs can offer. A strong customisation system goes a really long way to creating the best RPG possible.

Story

The story or journey you take characters on in any Role Playing Game is arguably the most important element. RPGs can be long affairs with game spans going in the hundreds of hours. To keep people engaged and interested during all of that time you have to have the story to do that.

Side quests are a huge part of RPGs too and a good narrative driven side quest can make all the difference. Take Witcher 3 as an example. I’m yet to play a game, let alone an RPG that has better side quests. They’re meaningful, each with their own mini story that immerses you in the world created.

Then you have the endgame, the overarching quest of the game. This is arguably more important than anything. What’s the goal here? What conflicts are standing in your way and how will the protagonist overcome them? A typical fashion is for our hero to save the world, but even with that cliché, the story is so important to the player.

The Gear

From Master Swords to a Staff of Fire Blots, gear and loot can be like secondary characters in an RPG. In the Legend of Zelda Link often turns to the Master Sword to defeat his enemies. That sword has become synonymous with the series and is revered amongst video game fans.

Weapons and armor can make or break a game and a game with plentiful loot can often improve the experience. Think about how great Diablo 3 is a providing the player with loot. The feeling you get when you return to camp from a mission to spend 5 or 10 minutes going through your gear, assessing if this sword is better than that one.

Whether it’s a nameless sword or a legendary known weapon like the Master Sword, we have a sense of ownership with these items, a real feeling of safety. Yes, that Dragon might be a lot bigger, but can he cast a lightning bolt from his staff? I think not.

The World

Nothing quite makes an RPG like a beautiful vista to explore. For so many of us playing an RPG is a chance to escape what we perceive as our mundane reality. It’s our chance to be someone else, someone who slays Trolls and Goblins for a living; or shoots aliens with a laser sniper rifle.

Worlds like Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls series or the Universe in Mass Effect are just as important as anything in the game. We want to feel immersed in another place, a reality different to our own. It seems almost too obvious to say, but the game world you play is just as important to making a great RPG as anything else.

Levelling and Skills

In RPGs players want to progress, they want something to aim for and they want to grow as a person throughout their journey. The RPG genre is known for having character levels. Starting off as a nobody in some, rising to the top to become the ultimate warrior.

There’s no feeling like slaying a bunch of enemies and then hearing and seeing the level up animation play out. “Yes, a regen of health and some points to spend,” you say to yourself as you crush the boss in front of you. We’ve all craved that max level crown from time to time and when we get there we leave enemies in our wake with one hit kills.

Dialogue Options

Role Playing is all about being someone else, interacting with certain situations as a character and deciding what they, or you, would do in those situations. One of the best ways to portray that is through dialogue options. Some games do this far better than others, and some get this integral part so wrong – yes; I’m looking at your Fallout 4.

Whether dialogue options mean branching paths or there simply options to gather information, they can change a game entirely. Associating dialogue with skills or stats is a great idea in Role Playing games. Perhaps you’ve got a high strength stat, for example, then you’re probably more intimidating to people – so we have a dialogue option that allows you to threaten people to gain information.

The Dragon Age series does something similar to this and it works. Dialogue options can be so immersive and allow players to role-play in the truest sense. It’s one of the best ways to portray a character in a video game and is a must in the genre in my opinion.

Constantly threatening to write a book, but always with a story to tell. Tom has a typical northern English soul. He may sound as mundane as Jon Snow, but at least he tries to articulate. Lover of video games, comics, geek pop culture and wishing he could play Dungeons & Dragons.
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