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The RPG Alternative
Simulation games are the life-blood that courses through SimHQ’s veins. They are realistic and they can translate to real life activities. I enjoy driving sims such as Forza Motorsport 3 and tactical shooters like Operation Flashpoint, the original Ghost Recon, and the Rainbow Six series. They are great games of their genre. Although our games of choice, there can be one big problem with simulations — they can really piss you off sometimes. I can’t begin to illustrate the frustration I feel after dying time and time again in Ghost Recon: Island Thunder or totaling my car for the 10th time in Forza Motorsport 3. In my opinion, the extreme complexity and difficulty of sims make them appeal to the kind of person who enjoys a certain form of self-torturous activity, but at the same time sims offer a highly rewarding gaming experience when you get them “right”. But some days you’re off your sim-game and things just won’t go your way.
Maybe if I didn’t value my Xbox 360 so much the thought of throwing something at it would have crossed my mind. Thank goodness it hasn’t. Here is my point — when a serious and unforgiving sim title makes you feel like tearing your hair out, take three deep breaths and pick up a different style of game — like a Role Playing Game (RPG).
RPGs are great alternatives to the intense concentration and delicate physics of a simulation. In a way, RPGs are a branch of sims. Driving sims focus on realistic physics, shooters focus on realistic A.I. and bullet damage, but RPGs specialize in a unique form of decision-making. You can see how approaching different situations in different ways will affect an outcome. Usually, RPGs will give you at least two paths to follow. The events that occur are controlled by your decisions in-game. You can control the fate of yourself and other characters in the game depending on your values and what mood you are in. RPGs are great personality tests with memorable characters and cinematic storylines — if you get one of the good ones. Best of all, RPGs have something else that simulation fans covet: replayability. Because you are able to alter the moral stance you take in a game, the outcomes change, and this gives you the opportunity to re-play the game from a different perspective.
I have selected three representative titles from the RPG genre that I’ve played recently. Each has its merits and faults. Two I would recommend, and one I would not. By discussing all three titles, I hope to give you some insight into how an RPG should work.
The story opens with the main character escaping from the deteriorating perfection of an isolated underground vault, which up until recently protected its inhabitants from the radiation and insanity of post-nuclear apocalypse. He searches among the raider-infested arid wasteland, underground and in the war-ravaged Washington D.C. All of the areas are very well-detailed and you can sense Bethesda had fun with a lot of the scene settings. No one could explore the entire map that is available, especially with the large amount of Downloadable Content (DLC).
There is the main quest, which is good, but not as enjoyable as the multiple side-quests or mini-quests. The side-quests deal with insane people, and usually provide hilarious scenes along with the tension. I loved the imaginative characters and dialogue options and I heavily endorse the connection I felt with the game.
I have played through it more than three times and each time I find something new and notable. Fallout 3 is very replayable because there is so much to the game and you can choose whether your character is good, bad or neutral.
Fallout 3 does the first person shooter/RPG combination well. You can choose whether to use VATS, which is a turn-based combat system for those gamers who have trouble pulling off a headshot, or the normal FPS style. Both work well and there is a good number of weapons to choose from. The level-up system is great. First you choose a perk, and then you increase your skills. I was heavily encouraged to improve my character, otherwise the difficulty level becomes overwhelming. If you are arrogant and insulting to characters in dialogue, quests usually result in having to do extra work. Fallout 3 forces you to think about your choices and how you approach combat. It combines tactical thinking with running and gunning with stealth, and does so seamlessly.
Fallout 3 is a great example of what an RPG should be. It combines thought and strategy with gruesome action that is almost guaranteed to hook you on the RPG bandwagon.
The setting is a desert alien planet where the player is in search of “the vault”. The vault contains riches and technology beyond all imagination, and the player is aided by a mysterious guardian angel who directs where the player should go. The game’s graphics are unique in that they have a hard-edge, black-line comic book style of artwork.
The side quests usually result in money, experience, and sometimes a special weapon. They do not allow for moral choices (this is one of my main complaints). The characters in Borderlands usually do not talk; a message is just displayed representing their dialogue. The limited interaction makes the characters forgettable. The side quests feel pointless and unimaginative. If you play it for any length of time you will catch yourself following the point on your compass doing a quest that you know nothing about. The character that you play never interacts with anyone — the only thing your character does is point and shoot.
There are several DLC packs that expand the game if you want more. Ultimately, this has about the same style as a Steven Seagal film: it is all action, the characters are forgettable and the thin plot sucks.
This RPG follows the classic level progression system. The player gets experience, levels up and receives a point to increase one of his/her skills. As the player’s level increases, the enemies’ level increases as well to keep the game challenging — and the game is challenging enough. The progression system is RPG, but the game is more of a pure first person shooter.
You cannot walk for 2 minutes without fighting hordes of raiders or wildlife. Also, the enemies re-spawn far too frequently and will re-spawn an infinite number of times. The continuous onslaught becomes repetitive and tedious. However, there is a random gun generator and there are millions (literally) of guns to choose from. I felt like I was accomplishing nothing because I would clear an area on the way to an objective and have to fight my way out over-and-over again. It takes a while to kill normal enemies and a very long time to kill the bosses.
The one thing I absolutely love about this game is that it can be co-operative with up to three other players. I had never heard of a co-op RPG, but having tried it, it is awesome. I can’t begin to explain how cool it is to progress your character with some of your closest buddies.
If you’re new to RPGs and looking for some single player diversion from sim gaming, I can’t recommend this title. The story lacks choice and refinement and the gameplay is tedious unless you’re doing co-op with friends. It is worth renting only if you are already a fan of the genre.
Don’t buy it. Rent it if you’re already a fan of RPGs.
Mass Effect 2
The opening scene of Mass Effect 2 portrays the main character from the original Mass Effect dying in space from an ominous and mysterious threat. Right from the beginning, ME2 pulls you in and immerses you in its cinematic story. There is the main quest, secondary quests and side-quests and all of them feel important. The main quest deals with the abduction of human colonies by the mysterious collector race. Shepard (the main character) must work with the human-supremacist organization Cerberus to take out the collectors. In the original Mass Effect, Cerberus was the enemy, so you must decide whether you are loyal to Cerberus. The speech between characters is effectively a series of cut-scenes that you determine by choosing dialogue options.
I will use the word “you” frequently in this review because that is the nature of the game. You are in control of the game and where it takes you. There are three paths to choose in the game: Paragon (good), Neutral (only cares about the success of the mission), and Renegade (scumbag). Each situation carries a unique response for each one, and some situations favor one more than the other. The characters are unique and have depth. They also have a mysterious past that you can dabble in if you want to gain their loyalty.
The end of the game is an inevitable fight with the collectors or a “suicide mission.” You must do things to upgrade your ship, gain as many loyal allies as possible, and play smart and tactically to have all of your team and Shepard survive. If you make the wrong choices, there will be casualties.
The best part about the game in my opinion is the unique “carry-over” aspect. In ME I made decisions that were not the best ones, and as a result, I experienced some bad results in ME2. Actions that you take in the first game affect your character in the second. You can import a character and the decisions that were made with that character transfer over to ME2. This is one of the best ideas I have experienced in RPGs in a long time. It is guaranteed that this aspect will also be present in Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect 2 is like having control over a really great sci-fi movie.
ME2 is a third person shooter that combines elements such as cover and biotic powers. It runs very smoothly and is relatively fast-paced. The weapons are cool, team members have an IQ higher than 50 (for the most part) and at a high difficulty setting, it is quite challenging. I experienced gameplay glitches about as frequently as any other game, but when they happened it was noticeable. All in all, the ME2gameplay works. It is not the best third person shooter, but it is very good.
If you are interested in trying out just one RPG title, Mass Effect 2 is the one to get — unless you want to buy Mass Effect first to understand and appreciate Mass Effect 2. ME2 has one of the best game stories around and includes exciting sci-fi action to-boot.
It’s awesome. Buy it.
RPGs are a great diversion from what I think are the stressful, unforgiving nature of simulations. When done right, as you will find inFallout 3 and Mass Effect 2, they are a gratifying genre that never ceases to deliver. If you haven’t experienced them yet, I urge you to do so.
Reviewer’s System Specs
- Xbox 360 console
- 42″ Sony HD monitor
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