When you like something, you expect more of the same. What you don’t want, upon ordering your favourite Meat Feast pizza, is to be told that to appeal to the Vegetarian market, they’ve taken the meat off. Now it’s just a Feast pizza.
The same thing seems to be happening in the world of gaming. Successful RPG franchises are dropping their role-playing elements in later volumes, streamlining gameplay in order to focus more on the action. This might seem like a good idea, but what about those who bought the games because they like RPGs?
Fable was a ground-breaking concept, taking four years to develop, and went on to sell well over two million copies. Fable II built upon that, giving even more customisation and improving the mechanics of what had been a clunky game.
Then Fable III came along, and reduced the choice of dozens of different weapons two; either Longsword or hammer for close combat, and pistol or rifle for ranged. They scrapped the easily customisable clothing for sets that were as easy to mix and match as dynamite and lit cigarettes, and made switching between weapons in combat (something Fable II was praised for) so slow that the only sensible option was hitting people.
It seemed that Fable III had a message to it. Stop customising. Get out there and hit things. Certainly the scale upon which enemies were found suggested that the combat had been taken more into focus.
‘Is this a bad thing?’ you might ask. Hacking through hordes of Hollowmen is great, there’s no denying that. But what about the people who wanted character customisation?
It’s not just Fable; Mass Effect has done it too. Mass Effect was an extremely tactical game, the combat style of hiding behind cover, lining up the perfect shot and then taking it, encouraged this kind of thoughtful gameplay.
Mass Effect 2 has introduced two things to the combat which don’t fit in; fast moving enemies (robotic dog things, and hordes of shambling husks, as oppose to the one or two you encountered in the first game) and tough enemies that take a lot of shooting. In fact, if one of the dogs reaches you, your character actually can’t aim far enough down to shoot it. And what happened to the ‘hide in cover, take the perfect shot’, when your only choice is to empty clip after clip into an enemy that takes minutes to kill?
The defence for this would be ‘it’s the game developers trying to keep the series fresh and interesting’, which is a noble thing. The problem is I don’t think it is that. I think it’s about sales.
When a game gets popular, the developers naturally want to replicate that popularity, and I think money takes over. What’s the best way to maximise sales and therefore generate extra profit? Make a mainstream game.
Now, I like basic, straight-forward action games too. But when I really enjoy an RPG, I want more from the next volume, not half as much. But it seems that in the quest for popularity and profit, game developers often ignore the audience that made the franchise so popular in the first place (i.e. those RPG fans), and strip their games down.
If you can’t see where I’m coming from, imagine if they made the next Call of Duty into a puzzle-platformer. ‘Sorry, no I can’t defeat terrorists right now, I’ve got to collect five ancient keys and solve a riddle to unlock my Apache from the hangar.’
At this rate, by the time we reach Fable V or Mass Effect 4 you’ll only need the control stick and the attack button. Actually, the walking will probably be done for you.
Rewan Tremethick is an English freelance writer, aspiring novelist, blogger and stand-up comedian. He blogs on all things writing, fantasy, science fiction, music, television and games on www.thehyperteller.com. His first novel, Politics in Blood, is currently being sent out to agents and publishers.