By benspyda 4 Comments
Kingdoms of Amalur can get tough to push through once you get roughly 20-30 hours in. What starts off as interesting god of war esque combat becomes tedious and dull. I've re-speced my character countless times trying to make the combat more interesting but it's finally run out of steam. But I feel a large part of the tedium is less to do with the combat and more to do with the exploration. Exploration in the game is meaningless, you just pick up quests and follow markers, there is zero reason to explore the world. If you do explore all you find is gold (which is pretty useless) or loot that will 99% of the time be way worse than what you have equipped. I'm about 40-50 hours in and I'm trying to just brute force the main story content, but I often get sidetracked and accept a side quest along my path and end up wishing I hadn't. I also wish I didn't buy the first expansion because that adds to my laundry list, I just hope it has an interesting story at least. I want to see how the story turns out because the faction quests are pretty interesting and the main story is alright.
So then why am I so addicted to Skyrim even though I've completed just about every main quest in the game 2-3 times and spent 100s of hours in the world already? It can't be the combat right? I've heard people complain that the combat is pretty janky and they are not wrong but for me personally it is about 10x more engaging than Amalur's. Amalur takes away everything that makes real time combat engaging, such as aiming a bow or spell or sidestepping enemies to land a sword strike because its all completely automated. In Skyrim despite the awkwardness of the animation, you feel like you are actually in control. You can sneak up behind people and slit their throat, snipe them with well place arrows from a distance or use them as distractions, run in with a hammer and crush their skulls, raise the dead to fight for you while you set the others on fire, precisely block and attack with a sword and shield and so on. The combat just feels natural and intuitive like you are in that world. But more importantly every cave and area feels handcrafted and interesting making exploration rewarding. Maybe you'll find a diary that will start a quest, run into someone who needs your help, stumble across a battle between bandits and Falmer. Generally you'll always find something useful, like a necklace that improves archery or something you can sell so you can raise much needed funds for some training or smithing. While playing Skyrim I always feel like I am being rewarded. In Amalur I built the perfect warrior 20 hours ago and very little of what I've done since then has got me anything useful.
Then there is Dark Souls. The combat in Dark Souls is my personal favorite action RPG system of all time. Its fun, skill based and brutal. Every new weapon or upgrade is life or death. Everything you do is meaningful. Every combat scenario with a couple of the weakest enemies in the game will test new players abilities. And once you master the combat and can destroy those enemies that used to destroy you, you feel great. The dark atmosphere and complete bewilderment you feel while playing it is an experience everyone should try but I know is not for everyone. The lack of any cohesive story telling adds to the mystery, but can be off putting to those who come to RPGs for story.
And story is where Witcher 2 succeeds in leaps and bounds. It really feels like Game of Thrones in fantasy RPG form. The characters are deep, nasty and dark. The world's back-story is the same. Unfortunately I never got into the combat and I have never enjoyed alchemy in games which is a large part of this one. But that's more a personal taste thing rather than a gripe. Also the vagueness of the side quests and what your current goal is can be frustrating at times.
To me there are a few key concepts that need to be done well to make a great fantasy RPG. A great sense of exploration that rewards you for doing so, engaging combat that can vary greatly based on character builds, an interesting world or narrative and most importantly a motivation for everything your doing in the world. I've only focused on modern games but obviously there are hundreds of great examples from over the years. So what do you look for in a fantasy RPG and what game floats your RPG boat?