Elements that need some refocusing
This maybe only related to action-RPG style games, but it seems to me that there are certain elements of current action-RPG games that not only break immersion, but ultimately lead to a diminished gaming experience during the later hours of the game. There are three distinct areas in which a major overhaul could perhaps not only make these style games more challenging, but allow the gamer to further immerse themselves in the game and its universe. These areas are Leveling-Up, Perks, and Equipment.
The general idea is that as you level up, you character becomes stronger, more agile and gains additional skill sets aimed at dispatching foes with greater ease. To keep an even keel in regards to game play, enemies gain more health, increase their combat and evasion A.I. or possibly increase in number. Whether the scaling is done in intervals or at a constant rate, most games don't necessarily get harder as the game goes along, rather the fights just become longer. The concept of leveling-up is a tried and true element in RPG games and I think what Skyrim attempted to accomplish with its leveling system is a step in the right direction. Naturally, as one uses something, or engages in an activity, it makes sense that one would get better. If you were to hand me a sword, I would be pretty awful with it. But as I practice, I would be in a better position to deal damage to an enemy. Where it fails though is first, in combining all weapons into single or two-handed weapons, and then how the leveling occurs.
Combining skills: If you were to hand me a epee, I would only gain skills with that type of sword. If I became proficient with it and I was then giving a scimitar, my skill set learned with the epee is rendered almost useless due to the different fighting style required to wield the weapon. Also, the epee is really only useful as a single handed weapon, whereas the scimitar can be used with either one or two-hand wielding. So it is up to the gamer to decide what weapon they want to wield and in what manner to use it, and only that combination which levels. As soon as the weapon is switched, then the character must develop those skills accordingly.
Leveling: Returning to the epee example, using that sword for an extended period of time would make me proficient with it. Not only would I be able to deliver more damage, but also learn to parry, deflect incoming blows, and find gaps in defence. I would most likely learn quickly to get the basics of these abilities, and slowly become competent in each. At this point, it would take years of careful practice to master these abilities. But while I'm learning these skills with the epee, the skills I might have gained using a scimitar will slowly start to diminish as I have neglected this weapon. So while I am adventuring as an avid dueler with an epee, I come across a well crafted scimitar that I want to use. But it's been a long time since I used a scimitar and I've forgotten a lot of the nuances of wielding such a weapon. This type of system would prevent a single character being overpowered in every single stat. Skyrim again attempts this with their system, but I think all skills should continually diminish if they are not used.
Perks in my opinion are game breaking and are tied closely to Leveling-Up. You gain appreciable knowledge of your abilities as you use them, but then on top of this, you are given perks that very rarely do your enemies acquire. This tends to make your character so over-powered that consistently challenging game-play is impossible. It is true that enemies can be scaled either at finite intervals or consistently, but simply giving them more health, improved A.I. or stronger damage tends to still be underwhelming as related to your perks. For instance, I am a magic user and I can cast a fireball spell, which over time become more powerful due to me practicing this spell. But with perks that improve my fireball spells on top of my normal leveling quickly turns my once humble fireball into a blazing inferno that could incinerate enemies on contact. Personally, I think perks like these should be stripped or at least modified in someway to prevent something like a lightning spell from becoming Zeus hurling a lighting bolt from the heavens that chars everything instantly.
The equipment system used in most action-RPG, or most RPG games in general, is broken. Since when can a person be able to carry 15 plates of armor while being able to scale mountains while simultaneously swinging a sword? What horse has legs strong enough for a 250 lbs plus warrior, wearing 80 lbs of equipment, carrying 10 different war hammers and 58 potions, to mount? The ability to collect everything in these games has not only turn gaming into an endless adventure suitable for kleptomaniacs, but has given developers reason to allow characters to carry enough equipment to fill the wing of a museum.
Encumbrance is currently not implemented correctly, rather pouches, satchels (insert The Hangover/Indiana Jones reference here), bags and pockets should be sensibly implemented. Resident Evil almost has this right with the briefcase system, however how many secret agents are able to wield a gun while carrying around a beautiful Samsonite briefcase? Not too many I take it. If your character wants to invest in a satchel, then they have a finite volume of space, with particular dimensions. I cannot fit a sword in a satchel, so I better only carry one or two in their sheaths attached to my belt. I could however fit some potions in there. I could also fit some lighter ingredients, like rings, maybe some herbs. Or I could fit a solid piece of iron ore in there, possibly to forge some new armor later on.
Whatever I put in my satchel would then have a direct impact the way my character moves. I could fill it with 200 grams of herbs and I might not even notice it there. On the other hand, I could fill it with 25 lbs of iron ore, which will definitely affect my ability to swing my weapon, run long distances, dodge attacks, and mount a steed. I would also alleviate my desire to pick up hundreds of items to sell for cash later, as I wont have the room to do that, and maybe vendors wont want to buy 15 pairs of boots off of me because they just wont be able to sell them. That and, since coins tend to be the de-facto standard currency, 1,000,000 coins would probably weigh quite a bit, thus completing the circle.
Yes loot is important to RPG games, but an intelligent equipment system allows players to explore for loot and make consequential decisions on what is worth carrying around because it will have a direct impact on my character's abilities.
Summary for the tl;dr crowd
Some other suggestions
With a little retooling, action-RPG games can be made so that you are not a walking-god among mortals, but rather a skilled mortal among other mortals with a variety of skills. Here are some other ideas:
- Finite Health: When in our evolution do we ever gain more health? Your armor might protect you, but the last time I went jogging I didn't feel that I could take 2 bullets instead of 1 before I go down. Heath should be a fixed number that must be preserved at all costs.
- Ability trade-offs: Kind of ties in with equipment, but if I want to carry more, I would expect some diminished agility based attributes. Yes I can work at them to be able to carry more and be agile, but I should be able to carry a caravan-worth of items while running around the country fighting dragons.
- Sensible economy: Coins have weight, and vendors understand supply and demand. Crafting 100 daggers and selling them is fiscally responsible to the vendor who buys them.
I could go on, but I would be lucky enough if you have read through until here. It's been something I've been thinking about recently and I want to know how you all feel. Maybe we can write a letter or bitch about things on the internet... oh wait.