By ArbitraryWater 22 Comments
I'm sure you were all waiting with bated breath, but here comes the second installment of my observations/subjective opinions about what makes a bad Role Playing Game of the western, possibly computer sense. After going through such exciting topics as "Balance that makes the game either stupid hard or unwinnable", "Making everything the same" and "Being obscure enough to encourage the player to send $19.95 (that's in 1992 dollars mind you) to some PO box in Ontario in order to purchase the hint book". Now we move onto combat. Combat is an essential aspect of pretty much every RPG, in some cases The essential aspect ( Icewind Dale, Temple of Elemental Evil) and even the most verbose dialog-fests like Planescape have their fair share of murdering dudes. But what happens when this combat is bad? If the story or atmosphere is good enough, then most people don't seem to care. If it isn't, then we may have a problem. Before we begin, remember once again that these are my opinions (especially since we're getting into more concrete and thus subjective territory) and I don't necessarily consider the games presented to be bad, although I personally dislike that particular aspect of that game.
Blatant Dice Rolls in something that looks like it shouldn't have dice rolls (Or: If it looks like a duck syndrome.)
This is a problem that really, really irks me. I know RPGs are about progression, but nothing kills my suspension of disbelief like aiming straight for a dude's head with a pistol and missing. While I'm not going to say that every "Action" RPG deserves this derision (The problems with Fallout 3 and New Vegas' combat has very little to do with the occasional missed shot at long range) I am going to complain about the ones that make it blatant for all to see that your skill as a human being has very little to do with it and it's all about how many points you put into whatever, especially if you have to put a lot of points into it. This is very much a sin of degrees, especially regarding the context in which the combat scenarios occur. How accurate are the guns themselves? Do I have to stand still or something in order to get a “Critical Hit”? How many people do I have to murder during the course of the game? All these are questions one must ask in this regard. Example: Deus Ex
A sterling example if ever I saw one. While I'm not deriding Deus Ex at all (in fact, I think it's pretty good so far, this obvious flaw notwithstanding) I do have issue with the way it handles the shooting. Alpha Protocol had a similar problem, and I'm sure I've made my opinion on that game clear. Clearly, Deus Ex is trying to be an RPG first and all that, but does that mean that I can't hit the broadside of a barn unless I stand totally still for 5 seconds or put all my points in weapon skills? As a super nano-agent with the most hilariously monotone voice ever, shouldn't J.C. Denton be able to hold his sniper rifle still for just a second? It's good that the game offers other avenues for the player to go through, but the second I'm forced into combat I'm less than cool with whatever is going on. It doesn't help that the game is so stingy with it's experience points, handing them out 50 to 100 at a time while the next rank in rifles is about 1600 more than you have at the moment. Nonetheless, as long as the game continues going the way it is, and doesn't do anything really stupid you can expect to hear more from me about it in the future.
Unstrategic Strategic Combat
On a similar note, while obvious dice rolls are the bane of action RPGs, these are the bane of traditional ones. It's fairly simple: If the game gives the illusion of requiring thought from the player, but instead just leads to a Diablo style clickfest (but without the viscerial appeal or quick thinking required of Diablo. Don't believe me? Try going back to Diablo 1. Now try not to die. Hard, right?) This is usually more of a problem when there is only one player created character, and while I still think there's some strategy to be had in regards to stuff like fallout (but really, let's be fair: Fallout's combat isn't that strategic, but at least you can shoot people in the balls. Fallout Tactics probably is strategic.) these games are clearly just an issue of being a high enough level or being lucky enough to have the dice rolls go your way.
Well, Duh. You weren't expecting me to not use this game at some point, right? I mean, it's only that one RPG that I talk about all the time whenever I mention bad RPGs. Sooo, yeah. Arcanum has two settings for combat: Real Time and Turn Based. Neither is especially good. The real time option is far too fast for its own good, leading to a lot of unintentional player death, whereas the turn based option isn't really all that strategic. In either case, you're going to click on a dude, hope that your attacks hit and maybe cast the occasional spell if you're into that sort of thing. There's no Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale style thought of "If you change your tactics, you may be able to survive". Generally speaking, if you can't survive it's probably because you're not a high enough level. Now go solve some boring sidequests! Lionheart is also a pretty good example of this, relying on spiking the difficulty through throwing a bunch of guys at you and hoping for the best. Man is that game the most milquetoast thing I've encountered in a while.
Boss Battles that are exponentially harder than anything else in the game
Like any genre that isn't point and click adventure or train simulator, RPGs occasionally have boss fights. And like any genre, occasionally these boss fights may suck. Who could forget fighting the likes of Sarevok for the first time and totally getting worked over? Well, I had to cheat to beat Sarevok, because I really didn't want to play the game for another 10+ hours at that point just so I could be a decent enough level to even have a chance. It's not so much the difficulty that bugs me as the rise in difficulty, which combined with any or all of the things I've listed in this blog and the previous one may cause a negative user experience. But whatever. You already know this.
Example: Alpha Protocol
Basically, this section was just an excuse for me to rag on how much I hate Alpha Protocol's boss battles. Certainly, other games (games I like included. Temple of Elemental Evil has your party fight a Balor, a creature far more powerful than your level 10 group should have to deal with) have this issue, but the boss battles were probably the one singular thing about that game that sucked more than any other. They have an unrealistic amount of health and armor and then randomly rush you with damaging melee attacks. If your character is more stealth inclined or just hasn't bothered to put points in hand to hand, these battles can be agonizing. Even if so... they probably still suck. Bullet sponges man.
And with that, I think I'll conclude the second part of this blog series. I'll probably take a little longer (or shorter, depending on where I go) on the story aspect blog, as that will no doubt be a fairly contemptuous and subjective issue, and I don't want to throw myself to the wolves. Maybe I'll talk about the different aspects or cliches that really annoy me rather than talking about overarching stories as if they mean anything.
EDIT: Part 1 (Mechanics and Structure)