By Undeadpool 14 Comments
I've been putting a lot of thought into what my next blog would be because I don't really like to talk about what's going on in my day-to-day life. I'm kind of a private person and I don't really think my life is all that exciting. But every now and then I have insights I think I can lend to something and I feel the need to. Again, as I often do, a little background on me: I didn't meet and befriend other people who played videogames until I was in high school, as a result I grew up loving RPGs because they could be played alone (that sounds so depressing when I type it...), so RPGs are a genre that I have a lot of fondness for. I've been excited to see the rather significant metamorphosis they've undergone in the last ten or so years (I'm talking mostly in this about Western RPGs. JRPGs are a whole other animal that I may someday tackle.) I've given a lot of thought to what is the most important RPG of the last ten years. Not necessarily the best, mind you, because my choice certainly isn't the best. But it's the one that I feel has set the tone for what RPGs will be over the next ten years, maybe more. My choice is The Witcher.
Bioware (and by extension Black Isle and Obsidian) are some of my favorite game developers. The Baldur's Gate, Fallout and KOTOR games, while not perfect, were all revelations of freedom. In Fallouts 1 and 2 you can literally do anything to anyone whenever you feel like it. You might break the plot and kill a character whose important, but that's called consequence. The problem with those games, and it's a problem that continues today both in and out of the genre, is that they gave you two choices: be an angel or a demon. There was no middle ground, no grey area, you were either the kindest, gentlest, nicest, noblest person to ever exist, or you were the most despicable, sociopathic, monstrous, most disgusting person to ever exist. The Witcher might not have been the first game to change that, but it was the first one to receive any kind of wide release and be extremely playable (after the Expanded Edition was released anyway...)
The tagline of the game sums it up perfectly: "No good, no evil, only choice...and consequence." The choices you make in that game aren't good, they're the lesser evil, or at least you have to decide if they are. The first time you make a truly difficult choice, (whether to support the fantasy equivalent of terrorists or a hate group) I agonized over it. It was the first time I felt like there was no "good" choice. I played through it again and chose the other way, things weren't much better. At first I actually felt betrayed! I felt like the game had tricked me into something until I realized that it was simply forcing me to examine my own moral code. Who would I support in this case? Who do I feel is right? Who is the lesser evil. Without this game coming out, we have no Mass Effect 2 (the first ME came out around the same time as The Witcher, but I actually maintain that 2 had a much more grey area approach, as I still felt Renegade was kinda evil in the first) and we certainly have no Dragon Age: Origins (the developers specifically said they were influenced by The Witcher's morality system, or completely lack thereof, when they made the more complex choices of Dragon Age).
I feel like these games will go on to define what Western RPGs are, they've certainly been the highest selling of the new decade, and I think they're going in a great direction. But we need to thank the little game out of Poland by a small development company that finally had the quads to say "You know what? What if there was NO good decision? What if we made the player choose between who was less wrong?" I truly cannot wait to see what they do in the sequel, and hey, maybe we'll have our most important game of this decade nice and early.