Why RPGs Aren't Really RPGs Anymore

Popular games like Fallout, Mass Effect, and The Witcher are hardly role-playing games anymore. RPGs as a genre have become more mainstream and no...
  1. Feyfolken

    It's often been debated that morality has no place in video games; that video games should serve as an outlet for stress or a medium between friends. In recent years, though, it seems that adding morality into games has become more of a trend with series such as Fallout, Mass Effect, and Fable popularizing the concepts of morality and alignment in video games. Whether this becomes a distraction for players or enhances their immersion in the game, one thing is for sure: morality still has a ways to go in terms of how it's explored and executed in video games.

    Although the games that have incorporated a sense of "right and wrong" within their gameplay have usually done it fairly well, there are still some doubts over whether or not there is enough weight behind the decisions that players make in-game. What is the point of committing to being an evil character in Fallout or in Mass Effect when the player hardly has to go to any effort to turn things around and make the game recognize them as a hero? To take it one step further, why should any decisions in any role-playing game matter when there is no permanence to the choices that players make?

    These are some of the questions I've wondered to myself in my long history in gaming, especially when it comes to RPGs. There's no doubt that RPGs are becoming hugely sensational, with titles like Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3 dominating in sales and reviews since they were released earlier in the year. But regardless of whether gamers are creating a customized character in Fallout 4 or stepping into the boots of famous Witcher Geralt of Rivia, it can be difficult to be truly immersed when games try to involve the character more than they engage with the player themselves. In my opinion, it seems as though game developers have stepped away from trying to engage with those who play their games and have opted to create these epic arcs for characters that are disconnected from the player.


    Granted, I didn't pick up on any of this until I had played Undertale. Undertale was developed with a singular vision, seeing as it was developed largely by one person. The narrative in Undertale suggests, on the surface, that the player is playing as a human lost in a world full of monsters with only one way to return to the world of humans. Underneath this narrative, however, is a conglomerate of ideas that serve to not only reshape how I felt about Undertale, but how I felt about gaming as a whole. True immersion comes from engaging the player directly and making sure that they know they're involved. True morality comes from the player actually stopping to think about their decisions and how it might affect things in-game, even if none of it is real.

    The option is there in to be evil and in some rare cases, to become the villain of the story in a game. Despite this, only a handful of games have ever successfully tackled the issue of morality and captured it in such a way that players are forced to think about what they did while reflecting on the choices they made. Undertale threw players into a vibrant world with places filled to the brim with interesting and likable characters. Through interactions with those characters, the player genuinely feels like they should befriend them and make this fictional world a better place. The player can even take the difficult path and choose to never resort to violence, even though it would be easier to do so. This is not the case in every playthrough, however, and some players decide to go down the path of genocide: the annihilation of every character in the game.

    Unlike other games that allowed players to control some pseudo-villain, Undertale branded immoral players as "monsters" and stressed that they only did what they did because they could. A world that was once teeming with life and hopeful characters became barren and completely devoid of life, should the player decide to kill everyone in their way. The player can do this and as a result, stops encountering monsters at all. Dialogue and music shifts to reflect the evil being that the player turns into. Towns become desolate and the player finds out how lonely the world is when everyone in it dies. On top of all of that, the game doesn't put any blame on the character you control; it goes to drastic lengths to emphasize that it was you, the person, that was the villain of the story. Through your actions, you either befriended the protagonists and saved everyone, or the protagonists rose up to stop you, only to be killed by your hand.


    Toby Fox designed a game that capitalized on the idea that, just like outside of video games, our decisions have consequences and more importantly, permanence. As much as people might wish against this, no one has the ability to "save" and "load" at certain points in their life and manipulate time. Saving and loading in Undertale no longer acts as a safety net for players, since characters will always remember the decisions that are made, even if the save file is completely erased. A quick save and reload to "see what happens," will end with characters remembering what the player did and they won't ever let the player forget that they know.

    Conventionally, characters in video games have no knowledge of the player or the things that the player does and breaking the fourth wall is generally not something that is done in video games. However, both the main antagonist and protagonist have the ability to save and load just as the player does, which changes the dynamics of the game entirely and makes it different from 99% of all of the video games ever released.

    But what does any of this have to do with other RPGs? It's obvious that most RPGs can't include those ideas as part of the game and surely, games like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls wouldn't do as well if they were this complicated. While that is true, if we see more games in the future that are similar to Undertale with elements of video games like morality, immersion, and our attachment to the game itself, we could potentially see a new wave of video games that change the meta of video games as a whole. Rather than seeing the shallow integration of morality to a game that could do well without one (Fallout 3's Karma system compared to Fallout 4's lack of a morality system), the game could draw from the player's morals and values to create their own unique experience. Characters could be just as "powerful" as the player controlling the game, with the ability to use saving and loading or other things that players have exclusively been able to do in games. Any number of things are possible and games like Undertale have opened the minds of game developers, as well as having opened the door to many new possibilities to expand on narratives and storytelling in games.

    Game developers, especially independent ones, are always looking for the next big thing to turn gaming as a whole on its head. At the very least, games like Undertale, which create a narrative masterpiece, cement the notion that games should be used as a creative outlet and that they can talk about heavy issues like morality and justice. Just as movies and canvases are used to help people interpret major ideas like good versus evil, religion, human nature, and a whole heap of other concepts, video games should be on the same, if not higher, level of creative expression. It's been proven time and time again, most recently with Undertale, that games can not only talk about things like morality, but show players how it works and introduce them to ways of thinking that they didn't know about before. In the future, I can only hope that game developers learn from this and how they can bring thought and feeling back into their games because as of now, RPG developers have certainly lost that connection with their fans.

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  1. ImDuhOnlyTragik
    Fallout 4 is just cod
    1. BitTorrent
      What? LOL
    2. ImDuhOnlyTragik
      What i mean is fallout4 is not really fallout anymore they changed so much to the game that it just doesn't feel the same anymore. Don't get me wrong, it is a good game it's just different than what I'm used to. It's barely an rpg
  2. 3xTiNcT
    In my opinion, it mostly depends on the persons morals that's playing the game. Some people have morals and some don't. But developers could do a better job with it.
  3. richardcarter1789
    A heartbreaking article, but keep the hope alive eh? Games evolve, and it's neither really bad nor good. My hate still doesn't go to the game makers but the companies that force them to do things the way the company wants the game to be.
      Feyfolken likes this.
  4. Dazee
    I disagree when it comes to The Witcher 3.

    It's one of, if not the most immersive games I've ever played, and there's an endless amount of paths you can take.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Dazee
      If you still have The Witcher you should try doing a sign build if you haven't already or another build you have yet to try out and focus on gwent 'cause it's a great game once you know what to do.

      The first time I played through The Witcher 3, I didn't play gwent once 'cause I thought it was hard to get into but after playing it on the second playthrough it's actually pretty easy to pick up and it's a great game. I've got almost every Northern Realms card except for the likes of Geralt and Avallac'h.
    3. Dazee
      The interactive Witcher 3 map online allows you to see the gwent players and since I focused on beating everyone in Novigrad/Velen I've only got Skellige Isles left (which has tons of gwent players too).
    4. Feyfolken
      I've only heard great things about it, so I will give it a shot if I do another playthrough. I will hold off on that until I can play it in Ultra. :smile:
  5. Jeeper
    The Witcher 3 is the greatest RPG of all time. Great read, Feyfolken is becoming one of my favorite writers.
      Dazee and Feyfolken like this.
  6. denz
    I agree with you, I feel that players character is made into a hero/commander/general way too quickly regardless of their actions. I wished for more games that worked with morality aspects and adapted story from that.

    One example for me is Metro series which rewards players for doing positive things with 'good' ending.

    I'll add undertale to my wishlist and play it one day.
      Feyfolken and Night like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. denz
      Maybe I don't want to be Minutemen General and want to slaughter the entire wasteland >:smile:)).

      Most I'll probably get is a slap on the wrist *Piper disliked that*.
    3. Feyfolken
      Lol yeah. Kill an innocent trader and your companion will dislike it, but don't worry, because you can make them forget about you murdering someone by picking a lock or hacking a computer. Or, in Danse's case, just suiting up in some Power Armor over and over.
    4. denz
      Ineed, it's ok though I'm still the wasteland 'god'.
  7. Red58
    I disagree:

    "A role-playing video game (commonly referred to as role-playing game orRPG, and in the past was also known as computer role-playing game or CRPG) is a video game genre where the player controls the actions of a main character (or several adventuring party members) immersed in some well-defined world."
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Night
      Nostalgia is really a non-factor here, Fey heavily referenced Undertale in regards to his view on how morality should be handled. As far as "feeling bad" in games when you do something immoral, what Fey is getting at is that even though you, the player, may feel bad about your choices, they don't really affect the game because in most games with a morality mechanic you can be evil until you own a majority share of the entire universe (Yahtzee ftw) and then start doing good things until everyone likes you again and it's as if you were never evil to begin with.
    3. Feyfolken
      To be fair, I've replayed the games I listed above a startling amount of times (Final Fantasy X and XII in particular) and they still hold true to what an RPG SHOULD do. Prominent issues in the world were tackled and it truly felt like I was thrown into a world where what I did was important. All games should strive to do that, regardless of genre, and despite how many resources that games like Fallout 4 and Mass Effect 3 had, it still feels like they came up short. It has less to do with nostalgia and more to do with the contrast of how games used to make players feel compared to how new games make players feel today. That's not to say that all games released now are bad; I think The Witcher 3 is a fantastic game and I didn't intend to throw jabs at it in this article.
    4. Red58
      You definitely have fair points, some I can agree on. However I still consider them RPG's in all due respect, Fallout has become more of a mashup really.
  8. TheDonofCOD
    fallout 4 and the witcher 3 are the best rpgs of all-time.
    1. Feyfolken
      Fallout 4 is riddled with bugs and has empty character development. The Witcher 3 is a great game deserving of GotY, but falls short of the things I mentioned in this article. My decisions didn't feel too important and I really felt like it was trying to involve Geralt more than me as the player.

      Still an incredible game, nonetheless.
    2. Salus
    3. Dazee
      Thankfully I didn't experience any bugs when I played it for a few days worth of playtime but at the same time it got stale really quick.

      I'm just sad about that 'father' part since that part of the main quest ended so quickly. And there's no point in building a great base since raiders will not attack if it has turrets and the likes. I think Fallout 3 is still better and I plan to play it soon since I got a free Fallout 3 code with F4.

      The Witcher 3 has became my favourite game of all time. But I'd also say Skyrim is better than Fallout 4.
  9. Night
    Such a great read, this really reflects the same feelings I've had over the last few years when it comes to morality in gaming. Undertale is an excellent example of how to properly incorporate morality into a game, I hope bigger developers take a look at it and learn from Toby Fox.
      Feyfolken likes this.