DISCUSSION: What Constitutes RPG Elements?

Posted: August 9, 2010 by NebsiNsaNe in Discussion

Here at Replay Project, we decided to stir things up instead of bringing you another post discussing our latest game. Instead, we are going to start a discussion post that we may decide to feature again if all goes well! Today’s topic is due in part to publishers telling Joe Consumer that Borderlands is a “shooter with RPG elements.”  What EXACTLY does that mean?

ICptJackSparrow: I guess a bit of history first, I am not normally (if at all) an RPG player, MMO or otherwise.  I am actually pretty new to this genre as a whole.  People think I must be an RPG player because of my affinity to Shadowrun on the PC, not true.  In fact Shadowrun is what introduced me to the entire concept of RPG, because before it, I had no interest whatsoever in the entire RPG genre, I am at my core a FPS player.  This being said, I personally always believed at it’s core, RPG meant any game that you become a character and “live” that characters life in some fashion.  Ironically I’ve learned this is an incorrect perspective on the concept.

I had thought that, while fragging Elites, I was living the life of Master Chief, therefore playing a form of RPG.  Nope.  It’s just a FPS, plain and simple. I have since learned that my beloved Shadowrun has what is called RPG Elements. This has lead to me ask what does this actually mean.  And since on the subject; what makes a game an RPG?

NebsiNsaNe: The question begging to be asked here is, what isn’t an RPG. My wife would smack me over the head about this, but to me, all games I’ve ever played have had some kind of “RPG element” to it. If we look at old western RPGs, we see things like inventory, stats and attribute points that could be changed, character selection (or nowadays, creation), a measure of progress and growth, and a party system. If a game had all of this, then it is considered an RPG, otherwise, a game that grabbed features a la carte would be considered a game “with RPG elements.” By this logic, even your simulators are RPGs. You have to progress in levels before you can do the more advanced things in simulations, racing games today now have a leveling system, most action games have an inventory system to store the things you find on the way to your goal, and others allowed you to gain in skill the further you progressed into a game. That last one may not be a true experience system, but it is a sort of leveling mechanic.

So what game doesn’t borrow from its RPG cousins? Arcade games? Why? Because we don’t identify with the small ship shooting at a giant alien centipede as it descends? Or is it because when we progress to the next stage, we don’t feel like we grew, as a hero. Granted, it is easier to immerse yourself in an MMO or a game like Dragon Age: Origins, but that’s all dependent on the player. Watch a child play his video games and then ask him if he doesn’t believe he’s the hero!

ICptJackSparrow: Sure I can agree with that, but I’ll throw another monkey into the works; wouldn’t what you are saying imply that, oh, let’s say Madden 2010, is an RPG game?  For that matter, how about any sports game that has stat tracking and skill sets? By default I’d have to say that they are indeed RPG games, or at the very least, by your own definition, games with RPG elements?

I think perhaps we can both agree that most games have “borrowed” from the concept of RPG’s in general, not because they’re copying to make up content, but because gamers demand more depth in their games today.  Look at any war-based first person shooter out today.  You have your classes, skills available, leveling system as you’ve mentioned, and a reward system as well.  Not to mention the stat tracking and other things that I am sure I’m missing. After all, we know that I really am quite the n00b when it comes to the concept of RPG’s to begin with.

I have, however, decided to take this a step further.  I’ve had Fallout 3, Borderlands, The Witcher and Mass Effect (the first one) for a little while now.  All of these I suppose are what is classified as Action RPG style games.  I’ve had The Witcher and Fallout 3 the longest, and am positive I’ve yet to even finish half of either game; all of these sound like excellent candidates for review on this site, don’t they?  Well, with exception to Borderlands, which NebsiNsaNe has kindly started reviewing already.

Although to be fair, I did play one free MMORPG for a short while, something called Silkroad Online.  At first I sort of liked it, but quickly grew bored of it.  I was a Beta tester for Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, for which I was treading dangerous waters due to my almost complete lack of RPG gaming experience  prior to that.  Honestly, I had quite a bit of fun with it.  Albeit, not enough to buy it (I’m not much of a subscription type of a person, if I can’t play it for free, I’m probably not going to be playing it for long).  After that, I tried the free version of Pirates of the Caribbean (who didn’t see that one coming), which I also had quite a bit of fun with.

Truthfully, the RPG style of game in it’s “purest” of forms, the MMO experience (at least this is my belief and not taking into account the truest pure form of RPG, the pen and paper experience, which has been around longer than I have been), doesn’t draw me in; for me it’s slower than I’d like a game to be, and it is “too” technical for me.  For example, the combat system is to me, quite lackluster to behold, I’m also not a fan of the elevated area view, sure you can zoom in, but it still “feels” off to me.  As for the technical end, the variables are to me, quite overwhelming.  I can’t make heads nor tales of it, sure if I sit there and examine how many hit points a specific weapon allows me, but at a speed and dexterity cost, is it worth it?  Or how about a shield, what energy cost is there, again mobility is taking hits, and wait, is that -3 to my hit points per move? WTF?!

Sorry, I get it. And I understand it, but I don’t need that level of detail, just give me the action! Which is why I lean towards FPS games as a whole, and games like the ones I mentioned earlier (Fallout 3, Borderlands and the rest).  If you ask me, these are still too “technically oriented” at points, but playable and bearable. In fact I find that I’ll play them, and then leave them for long periods of time before I decide I wish to play them again.  So the anti-RPG in me is still there.

Now don’t get me wrong, I also Beta-tested Star Trek Online; and I have to tell you, I had  a blast with this.  The ground combat to me was like any other RPG I suppose (again, I don’t have a lot of experience with them to compare fairly, so forgive me), but the ship combat, while to me had a similar feel as the ground combat, was damned exciting at times.  as a package, I enjoyed the time I put into that Beta.  But in the end, I struggled very, very hard with whether or not I’d be purchasing the game and in turn a subscription to it.  In the end, I almost bought the lifetime subscription.  I was so close in fact that I was online with my credit card filling out the subscription.  But my “better judgment, got the better of me, and told me, seriously, how much will you actually play this?  Not much probably.  Heck, one of the reasons we a re here is because we don’t finish many of our games, what about those that are persistent ones?  Sadly for now I’m holding back.

I will however tell you all this, I am determined to give this RPG genre another go.  I really do see the draw it has, and though I said I don’t need all that technical stuff, I do get it. So here it is: I just bought Guild Wars, and I fully intend to give it the old college try.  I will let you know how that goes, perhaps even in a review.

Though for now, I think I am still an action gamer at heart who enjoys the “elements” of RPG style within.  Let’s put it this way, if I was in it solely for the action, I’d be still playing Quake Live or Unreal Tournament online, but instead I prefer Quake Wars, which is far more enhanced of a game due to it’s alleged RPG elements that we are speaking of.  So thank goodness for them, the add depth at least to a game.  Of course that is providing RPG elements are indeed what these attributes should be called in these games…

NebsiNsaNe: Looks like we see pretty much eye-to-eye on RPG and “RPG elements.” I understand everyone borrows from everyone else and there are no real original ideas anymore, but saying a game has “RPG elements” is like saying the sky is blue. Its just in the game’s DNA to borrow from RPGs.

Tell us what you think. Is the term “RPG elements” just a buzz word to attract attention from a different market? Do ALL games have “RPG elements” in their core? Or are Jack and I COMPLETELY off our rockers? We want to know! Seriously.

  1. CeleOOKIE says:

    Since you guys decided to push publish before I got my $.02 in, I’ve decided to just comment here. It’s very much true that all games encourage you to immerse yourself in the role of the main hero. Thus roleplaying can be considered a part of every single game ever made. Aside from maybe tetris. But the fact is, you’re not roleplaying, you’re just using your imagination. Any child will tell you that they ARE the hero!

    I think it breaks down to what RPG elements really are as being 1) Customizable statistics/weaponry/characters – depending on the specific game, maybe all of those 2) Leveling progression – skill level up’s, etc along those particular lines 3) Storyline – As in, an actual story with it’s own history and sometimes, belief system. I.E. a full world.

    So really, just about any game that’s ever been made has ‘RPG Elements.’ Except for Tetris 😛

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