There's Not Much Role-Playing in Role-Playing Games These Days

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There's Not Much Role-Playing in Role-Playing Games These Days

I want to talk about role playing. And why it seems to be such a very small part of what are termed "role-playing games" these days.

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I seem to recall in Dragon Age 2 that if you favoured a particular style of response then the non-chosen dialogue Hawke had would start to tilt that way as well.

But going back to Mass Effect, you could possibly go the route of having detriments rather than rewards for behaving a certain way. So rather than working towards a goal like missions, rewards or romance, you could have kind of a reverse reputation. For example, picking too many emotional response makes it harder for you to intimidate someone. If you're too casual then you invite the ire of the people in command who place restrictions on you. Too serious and people may not confide in you about personal matters.

Not to any significant degree, obviously, but it could lead to interesting vignettes with story or world building.

I think part of the problem with figuring out a way to untangle dialogue from major effects on the game (such as gating content, even if it doesn't affect stats directly) without making it seem hollow and unimportant is because in real life what you say and how you say it matters so much. Even the most honest person in the world will phrase things more favourably. The only way I could really seeing it work is if you had the option to somehow indicate to the game you're lying to get what you want, then maybe some npcs are smart enough to call your bs, or point out inconsistent behavior, and some other times it just works either cause you've got great reputation, the npc is gullible, or you are good at lying and manipulating.

Ultimately though I think this might be a crossroads that can't be bridged: either you punish a player for not roleplaying (which feels like you're being cheated out of part of the game, or like you're doing something wrong, or making the game harder than you want it to be; in any case it doesn't feel good as an entertainment experience), or you don't have the roleplaying have any effect, and it feels hollow.

Damn, Alpha Protocol is 7 years old, time flies. Still the best 4 dialogue tone options game out there, that came out before it became the norm (thanks Fallout 4).

It has almost everything; backstories which come up in dialogue options and give perks/skills, complex relations with NPCs to a mind-boggling degree, perks and skills to influence dialogues/choices.

But it has no custom character so I guess it's not a true RPG.

I see two trends that have trimmed true role playing from RPGs. One is the design philosophy that the entire game must be able to be accessed (the reason why so many modern games have an easy mode). It's a tug of war between the ability to repeat the game and 100% the game. It was declared ridiculous that there would be well crafted parts of the game the player would never see unless they were particularly skilled or repeated it for each variation (something along the lines that "no other art form does this"). It also makes it a lot easier to keep track of variables like what various NPCs are doing if the overall path of the game is a line with a small batch of paths inbetween major points.

The other is the reliance on voice acting and motion capture animations for dialog making any branching choices during talking (even without having attached side quests) take much more resources to produce. Take Guild Wars 2 as an example - vanilla dialog scenes let you choose between Ferocious, Charming, and Dignified responses and that would occasionally pop up as a bonus response option for some NPCs - especially if the response was in a text box. Some of the charr mouth animations were very well done on those close ups (particularly glaring when compared to the jaw flaps of the kodan) In the later Living Story releases that had less development time and resources, it has been dialed back and removed in favor of voice acted dialog with few if any choices and more generic jaw flaps, as they moved away from the face to face close ups to the more 'immersive' running the dialog as you continue to play (thus more likely to be zoomed out and less noticeable). I can also see that multilingual releases would complicate matters beyond simple translation issues.

Personally, after replaying Baulders Gate and Morrowind, there wasn't much role playing back in the olden days either.

If you've played Wasteland 2 or Pillars of Eternity (as they are more recent) you can see they same thing. There are many conversations where the NPC slightly changes the dialogue to acknowledge your response but the overall meaning of the dialogue stays the same.

Let's take the pivotal council meeting in Pillars. Your choices do make an impact at the end but your dialogue does not really impact the NPCs dialogue.
Playing these games make me realise they are all just like a telltale game.

I don't know if I have the answer, but removing the role playing elements completely is certainly not it. The main reason I refused to play Fallout 4 is because apparently the role playing aspect is non-existent.

SMH.

If you look over the top of your article, you'll see a bar with several categories, and a couple of steps over from Video Games, you'll see a tab with the word 'Tabletop.' There you'll find the role playing you're looking for.

I suggest Soth:
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/163649/Soth-a-game-of-cultists-vs-investigators?term=soth&test_epoch=0

I think the main problem are the rigid multiple choice dialogue systems themselves. You can't have a natural conversation with that. Also in all RPGs, NPCs do not have anything like emotions or relationships. They should have something, that reflects their attitude towards the player character(s), and maybe each other. They could love or hate the player, could be loyal or treacherous towards him, could fear him or not take him seriously. The right conversation options would then shift these values. A little bit like in the Sims or Stardew Valley. You could then unlock new dialogue options, but you would close up others.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
Maybe there could be some conversations where we aren't prompted for a choice and our character automatically voices the lines reflective of the kinds of options the player had been taking up to then.

Bioware games already employ dialogue systems where player characters say things only vaguely corresponding to what you actually choose them to say. Taking control out of the player's hands completely would be a logical next step for them. That would hurt the replayability though so maybe let the RNG decide what lines are chosen?

In a dream future of hover cars and quantum computers I'd like to get away from the whole idea of a conversation tree.

I'd like conversation to be something put through our modern techniques of syntax analysis and semantics and then sentences could be translated into weighted effects on NPCs such as an increase/decrease in whatever stats are considered necessary for determining their behaviour. A sentence would become the same thing as an action in the world such as hitting someone with a stick.

In effect a mapping of all English sentences to whatever range of effects is considered the consequence of talking.

AND

I'd like NPC's to all be attempting the Turing test and have no pre written lines, rather some kind of dynamic response.

AND

I'd like their to be machine learning so the NPC's pick up on your way of speaking so they might then emulate some aspects of it as well as there being a means so that the mapping function isn't constant so you can't just learn some magic phrases that always generate the effects you require and say them endlessly.

MY DREAM

A world where you could control people through your ability with words, have the voice of Saruman, basically.

That is role playing through language.

It might be impossible now but surely with all the technology we have we can come up with systems more advanced than what is basically the same thing as those role playing books I read as a child - turn to page 13 if you turn left, page 183 if you turn right.

HumanShale:
A sentence would become the same thing as an action in the world such as hitting someone with a stick.

Yeah....there's a reason text parsers stopped being a common game interface. It's not just player annoyance either. It may seem like a nice idea to just process everything dynamically, but the narrative effects are usually disastrous.

bkd69:
There you'll find the role playing you're looking for.

I don't know about that. In my experience, table-top games tend to be split between the players who want to role-play and the ones that would rather just win. They're also inherently multiplayer and tend not to have good match-making or efficient netcode.

Responding to the actual article, I think the reason RPGs don't seem to have much role-playing nowadays is because walking simulators and other types of adventure games have gotten good enough at actually immersive experiences that they now serve to highlight what other genres aren't doing as well. I'll admit that I never played the original DnD, but even the influential table-top RPGs such as DnD 3.x and Shadowrun have had the issue that the characters are primarily battle machines that need to survive whatever the game master comes up with before worrying about what they're character feels about the current situation. This isn't just due to the games themselves, either. It's very common for players to primarily want to murder things and do little else. When translated into video games, these elements have then become even more of a focus due to being the easiest parts to translate.

As for how do get around that issue, the best solution probably has to do with making smaller adventures that can be hand-crafted to include more involved elements -- the complete opposite of what Bioware does. Other than that, "do it your way" batches of mechanics help, if only to make the ways to murder things more varied (see, Dishonored), but that comes with the cost of every mechanic being less polished.

bkd69:
There you'll find the role playing you're looking for.

I don't know about that. In my experience, table-top games tend to be split between the players who want to role-play and the ones that would rather just win. They're also inherently multiplayer and tend not to have good match-making or efficient netcode.

Responding to the actual article, I think the reason RPGs don't seem to have much role-playing nowadays is because walking simulators and other types of adventure games have gotten good enough at actually immersive experiences that they now serve to highlight what other genres aren't doing as well. I'll admit that I never played the original DnD, but even the influential table-top RPGs such as DnD 3.x and Shadowrun have had the issue that the characters are primarily battle machines that need to survive whatever the game master comes up with before worrying about what they're character feels about the current situation. This isn't just due to the games themselves, either. It's very common for players to primarily want to murder things and do little else.

That's why I recommended Soth, where the game exists more as conversation between the GM and players. Fiasco is another good alternative, as there's GM, no actual combat, and the events are determined solely by dice roll, but narrated and expanded by the players. Inspectres takes a more traditional relationship between GM and players, but who drives narrative and storyline is determined by whether the players make their rolls, at which point they build on the story, or if they fail, at which point the GM drives the story.

Getting into tabletop RPGs made me realise this as well, even the classics suffer from it as someone else rightly says. Few games make an attempt to really open up like a traditional RPG does. At this point though I'm okay with that. I'll get my actual roleplaying experiences at the table.

kimiyoribaka:
It's very common for players to primarily want to murder things and do little else.

That's because of the players though, not the game. I run 4 groups in total, 3 D&D 5th and one Shadowrun 5th group, and none of them are of the murder-hobo variety. The groups I'm a player in aren't of that variety either, except perhaps the Warhammer 40K: Only War one but then again you're a military grunt in that one.

I'm gonna focus on Mass Effect's romance because I think it's the most vestigial system in the series.

1) Have the characters judge me on my character sheet. If someone doesn't want to be in a relationship because I poured all my points into, say, strength or because I'm male, I'd respect that, blue balls and all.

2) Have all eligible NPCs be aware of each other's relationship meters. Think "The Witcher 3"'s Yen/Triss sex scene but across the entire game.

3) Initiate the relationship at any point in the game. I get it's playing with the "if we don't come back alive" trope, but having the relationship be official at the end of the game means is we only experience the honeymoon phase.

4) HAVE THE RELATIONSHIP IMPACT THE GAMEPLAY AND VICE VERSA. Maybe protecting your squad mate will add relationship points or being in a relationship means that squad mate will provide more cover fire for you.

EC) Match-making. Seriously, the only reason I choose the Synthesis ending was because of the Joker/EDI conversations.

I think people tend to get too focused on dialogue. By far-and-away the greatest role-playing game I have ever played is Morrowind, and Morrowind has no character dialogue. It has NPC dialogue, which is crafted to be neutral enough so that the player can envisage their request/demand/question being delivered in whatever way makes sense for how they see their character. It has a disposition system, in which the faction affiliations, fame, and charisma of a character alter the hostility/friendliness of an NPC reply, and this meter can be further affected by bribery, threats or the like. But it has no actual character dialogue. If you want to build immersion into a role-playing game, have the game react to what the character actually does, not to what some writer thinks a character might say.

An aspect to old Bioware games I'm sorry they moved away from: You used to be able to lose characters if you pissed them off or just acted against their interests too many times.

fractal_butterfly:
I think the main problem are the rigid multiple choice dialogue systems themselves. You can't have a natural conversation with that. Also in all RPGs, NPCs do not have anything like emotions or relationships. They should have something, that reflects their attitude towards the player character(s), and maybe each other. They could love or hate the player, could be loyal or treacherous towards him, could fear him or not take him seriously. The right conversation options would then shift these values. A little bit like in the Sims or Stardew Valley. You could then unlock new dialogue options, but you would close up others.

This reminded me of one of the reasons I loved Dragon Age Origins. Each character had a like/dislike bar that showed you how they felt towards you. You could alter how they felt depending on the actions you took and the conversations you had with them. It gave the conversations a tangible feel; You felt closer to the characters because you had to figure out their interests and sense of humour in order to max out the bar. You would even make some decisions based on how it made some party members feel. There were a few in game buffs to the characters for winning their loyalty but frankly I didn't even notice the difference.

My main problem was with the attached gifting system; finding special 'gift' items that ended up just being a matching game since they were all basically created for specific characters. And by late game you could just buy all the gifts for everyone and effectively buy everyone's love if you wanted to.

I think they should bring back something like that though: Maybe remove the visible bar and instead just alter how the character greets you when you talk to them, especially since they can now (arguably) have facial cues to help express how they feel toward you.

Also I hope they get away from defining answers as specific things ie: 1) the lovey-dovey answer, 2) the hard-as-nails answer, 3) quirky-sarcastic answer. This just takes you out of the RP and reminds you that you're just ticking a box. It should be less about your 'personality' and more about how the characters react to your individual choices.

Also:

Do you want AI? Because this is how you get AI!

Synigma:
Also:

Do you want AI? Because this is how you get AI!

Exactly. Until CRPG's can be programed with AI to allow unscripted interactions with NPC's, there will always be limitations with the "Role" part role playing games on computers and consoles.

Didn't the Deus Ex games do this? In the first one, I heard JC Denton could talk his way out of what would otherwise be boss fights. I also remember from Human Revolution, which conversations choices Adam makes determines how side quests end and who lives or dies.

trunkage:
Personally, after replaying Baulders Gate and Morrowind, there wasn't much role playing back in the olden days either.

If you've played Wasteland 2 or Pillars of Eternity (as they are more recent) you can see they same thing. There are many conversations where the NPC slightly changes the dialogue to acknowledge your response but the overall meaning of the dialogue stays the same.

Let's take the pivotal council meeting in Pillars. Your choices do make an impact at the end but your dialogue does not really impact the NPCs dialogue.
Playing these games make me realise they are all just like a telltale game.

Yeah, I don't know that the idea of any depth of the role-playing segment has every really popped up in video games. You need an adaptive element overseeing the story (in your tabletop or whatever, this is the game master), and generally a more interactive element (other players, or GM run NPCs). Otherwise you just have an ultimately linear set of options with basic effect at best.

There's what I call the Bioware route, because they hammered it home constantly (although others, like inFamous do it too). Here's your 3 options (typically Good, Pragmatic, and Baby-Eater). Back in their D&D days, it occasionally hampered your class choices a bit if you did the Baby-Eater thing too much, but not much else. Never ends up affecting the narrative though. The newer variation is to have a set of tones, that have even less effect overall.

Morrowind's roleplaying was largely to force replayability. It was still just sets of linear questlines like its successors. Just gated off within a particular playthrough so you'd have to do 2 or 3 takes to hit them all. Certainly a more logical case for immersion, but not much more then padding mechanically, with little effect on the main narrative.

Ultima had a bit of an odd case. 7 had the oddball sandbox stuff. You could literally be a bakers apprentice or whatever, but it didn't make much sense if any with the story. 4-7 had morality measures (though mostly based around theft or murder), and most companions would leave your side, potentially permanently, if you crossed a certain threshold (and evil characters were rare or utterly nonexistent). 4 & 5 were the strongest contenders, but while they required role playing, you didn't have much actual choice in the role involved. You had to be the Avatar of the Eight Virtues to complete 4 (which required doing various things that might be counter-intuitive to usual RPG mechanics). In 5 its not a victory condition anymore, although you're unable to level up if you've fallen too far off the scale, which of course can impede you significantly.

Weresquirrel:
I seem to recall in Dragon Age 2 that if you favoured a particular style of response then the non-chosen dialogue Hawke had would start to tilt that way as well.

I wish I saw more of this, honestly. It mostly happened in random banter while you were running around and not engaging in actual conversation. I think it was fluid way to have your character fleshed out depending on where you mostly spent your "dialog" points. ME:A opens the way for it with a similar system and doesn't do anything with it. So far I've done an all logic/stern playthrough and nobody really called me out on the 'lack of emotion', and Director Tann complimented me on my pragmatism like, once. Currently doing a full empathy run but it may not mean much.

At least the original trilogy had something. You even had "evil scars" due to aggressive behavior akin to going Dark Side in their earlier Kotor games. Certain "really" bad decisions had far reaching implications that your teammates didn't really let you live down. In ME:A, no matter my choice the character will be angry for about one scene and not much after that. Drack and the Moshae come to mind.

I think ME1 was a surprise hit but now we all, including Bioware, fully expect and purposefully wrote this game to be designed around another trilogy so all this stuff feels like it means nothing, but might have implications in the next one or two games. I think that turns ME:A into an inherently flawed and weaker product until we get the "entire" story when everything comes out.

I like the game, but mistakes were made.

thenewguy512739:

3) Initiate the relationship at any point in the game. I get it's playing with the "if we don't come back alive" trope, but having the relationship be official at the end of the game means is we only experience the honeymoon phase.

I like this and ME:A is a very, very slow step in the right direction. Some romances in Andromeda are easier than others, and you can basically sleep with Peebee, strings attached or not, just a few missions in and she'll make coy remarks about it through a couple lines of dialog. Meanwhile Vetra is a slow burn that you get a cute dinner date with damn near the end of the game.

(I can't speak for other characters yet cos I'm still early on Playthrough 2)

Multiple characters go at a different speed and that is a step in the right direction, but they didn't go the whole way.

I would pull the rug off from their expectations. Dialogue choices that seem to be straightforward, but at the end it would work in reverse. For example, the better you treat your closest members of your team, the worse it gets for their hometown at the end. I would leave clues to the player about the outcome (or just reveal what's happening in a broad manner at mid-point) so the player doesn't feel betrayed at the end (unless the game itself is about betrayal).

"Over to you, comments. What are some fun things you could do with the results of dialogue choices that don't become something a player might mechanically strive for? What games do you think do manage something like that? Or maybe you think constant dialogue choices are stupid and games should just let you pick your personality once at the start of the game and change all subsequent dialogue accordingly."

I think it would be interesting to have the character's personality chosen at the start become the character's street rep and affect the types (not the numbers so as to not make it a mechanical decision) of side quests you are offered. For quest creation economy, the quest giver would be different, the end objective or the motivations for going might be different, but the map and the encounters could be the same.

I would have a sliding scale of alignment in the background (but visible so the player can get feedback as to why their baby-eater isn't getting any of the saintly quests they may have heard of on the internet) and so that changes are visible if a player wants to roleplay redemption or falling. Having certain actions tied to alignment (Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark where stealing stuff makes you more chaotic comes to mind, as well as tearing down posters against Queen Jennah making you more ferocious in Guild Wars 2 - though the system itself is largely gone in that game) would help reduce the reliance on dialog and allow shifting by actions, not just words.

What would be more fun, but more variables to track, would be having individualized reputation by NPC. You could be a scalawag in one neighborhood, but a fine upstanding citizen in the next. Or just allow better opportunities to showcase skulduggery than instant lawmen alerts or head bucket accessories - you get a negative rep with that person if they discover stuff missing after you left and will bad mouth you later on. For systems that track NPC interactions off-screen, allow a chance for exchange of news to include exchange of stories about your character that influences their opinion of you if/when you meet them later. Traveling merchants or press could give your character a reputation that precedes your progress.

Some fun things that could be programmed into a game is NPC reactions and PC walking animations. Do the masses smile and wave at your approach? or hide their kids and keep their pitchfork between you and them? Do quest givers openly run up to you, O Hero-of-the-Hour, and beg a moment of your time? Do they demand it in their position of authority to delegate tasks? Or do the shadows whisper "hey buddy, I got something that might interest you..." while the regular quest givers sneer, cower, or flee? Does your character strut confidently, hunch over in secret, or amicably amble easily? Is your character so straight laced they march instead of walking? or so carefree they practically dance?

Tried sorting the steam shop by RPG titles? It seems these days that the definition is applied to any game that has a system where one can level up and/or equip gear. But yes, tying in-game conversational decisions to functional character stats forces the player into choosing to optimise their character move than the actual outcome of the situation. Divinity was a serious offender. If this sort of mechanic is to be used (which ideally, I don't think it should but I know making games is hard and takes a long time so I'm not going to begrudge developers from doing it at every instance), I think the details of the effects need to be obscured from the player. At least this way, the false dichotomy of a worthy and considered response vs abstract mechanical bonus doesn't interfere with the actual story.

I personally hope the Witcher 3 serves as the role-model for more games than does biowares hackneyed good/evil axis mallarky.

OK, back now, more drunk than I was before, and Id say what is the new frountier?

So much computer power put into graphics. The new frountier is AI.

A conversation tree can be done on an IBM XT. How many numbers needed to be calculated to get a pixel on whoever this idiot Rhyder's face is?

Put that power into machine learning, then we're talking about a new form of game.

Synigma:
Also:

Do you want AI? Because this is how you get AI!

Yes. I am aiming for Westworld. Bernard's Westworld, not Ford's Westworld.

The best system is the Dragon Age: Origins system of approval; if you stick with companions who share your roleplayed morality, the drive to please them keeps you in character, and you just bring others next playthrough.

Alpha Protocol BUILT on the foundations of origins with its sophisticated relationships, opening and closing missions for you, causing and averting betrayals, and opening different ending options or letting you skip or have different bosses in the end mission.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
And be called Saints Row 2.

And get married to the player. ;)

On the opposite end of this problem scale, you have so much RPG, that the game essentially becomes an interactive novel. Or as I call them; Rapid clickers until the next nudie scene. But back on topic, I think that because most gamers like action games, that developers have "streamlined" the RPG element so they can make an action game.

When anyone says there's "not much roleplaying" in an RPG that is an example of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy, something RPGs have been very heavily subjected to particularly recently. In reality the RPG has grown into a much broader genre of game than most people give it credit for. We have had RPG games where your role is to run around killing things, talk to people, and if any NPC asks you a question, they'll ignore you and keep asking until you give the answer they want. However, that qualifies as much as an RPG as Morrowind or Dungeons and Dragons or anything. Then there's open world games like anything made by Bethesda and Breath of the Wild and such, which have nothing BUT choices but the player consequently can't effect anything outside their direct actions because it would limit the choices. Open world games are as far as to the Pen and Paper RPG games as a video game is capable of portraying without other players and a GM around, they rely upon the PLAYER, not the game, to develop a personality for their character and develop goals and motivations for what they do, and while the set pieces are there it's ultimately up to the player to craft the story. Then there's plenty of games where there is basically nothing except combat, the survival and advancement of one's character is the entirety of the game, such as most Roguelikes.

ALL of these approaches and more are valid RPGs in their own right. An RPG is about playing a role, it's in the name, and that comes just as much from the player character being this strictly defined person with no actual choices to make as it is from being a player crafted in every respect player character that can basically do just about anything they want, and everything in between. By the very nature of stories and dialog the more freedom the player is given, the less coherent and thus attractive that story and dialog can be. In fact, in my personal experience it's the RPGs that have NO actual choices in the dialog or otherwise that have been easily among the best RPGs I've ever played.

It's very difficult to make dialog choices meaningful to the player because in the end, those dialog choices can't really effect much of anything. Many games have tried to have morality systems, reputations systems, alignment and character based dialog choices (see Tyranny for a recent game that already does what has been suggested in the article as well as a few things in the comments here) but however the developers decide to portray things in the end the choices are never going to have anything more than a very marginal effect on the overall story or even player character. This is because having a clear beginning, middle, and end is how stories have always been structured since ancient times, it's very very difficult to break that mold since that's how every writer and viewer alive has been raised to expect stories to unfold, and writers will always write stories in such a format whether they are consciously aware of it or not, despite any desire to do otherwise.

For instance, I could potentially try to make a game where the first 1/3rd of the game determines whether the player character is good, evil, or neutral, the next 1/3rd determining what kind of good, evil, or neutral the player character would be, and the last 1/3rd being said character deciding and executing how they are going to save/conquer/destroy the world for a grand total of 27 possible outcomes to the story, but regardless there is still going to be this overarching story encompassing every path, with all the same characters acting in basically the same way in every path, and the outcomes would end up very much the same from each other in most respects out of practicality if nothing else and even if I did manage to avoid doing that it would just devolve into complete nonsense that the player would have a hard time identifying with and thus caring about. Writers can want to and try to put all the quirks in their dialog and general story that they want to, but it's always ultimately going to a very superficial thing to the game at large due to an inherent bias toward traditional storytelling on both sides of the fence, and dialog with even minor characters is going to be just as shackled by this.

For me personally, roleplaying in roleplaying games is part the game's ability to immerse you in the story and the world and part you yourself willing to roleplay.
Imagination goes a long way, and I feel as long as the game gives you even the illusion of choice and consequence, that coupled with your own willingness to immerse yourself in the world and enhance the scenarios with your own imagination, the game can be really engaging and multifaceted.
Even if from an objective standpoint everything might seem inconsequential and railroad-y.

I don't care what anyone wants to pretend, but none of the Mass Effect's have ever been role-players, so if ME:A contains 'less', then it ostensibly contains the same amount (Ren/Par was good for making your character look like a Sith when you went the 'My character's now going to be a complete asshat to everyone and everything' route, circa ME3, but not much else).

To me, role-playing ideally requires the player to create their own character, figure out their own behavioural responses, and then introduce that to a dynamic, open ended world where it can evolve its own arc, its own story. Skyrim was a bit of a shit game in many ways, but it's still a superior role-player than anything BioWare have ever or seemingly will ever craft.

Give a character a voice, heavily script their reactions and actions through one linear story, and you strangle the life out of purer role-playing. Hell, Elite Dangerous is a better, purer role-playing game than anything BioWare have done...

Varis:
Imagination goes a long way, and I feel as long as the game gives you even the illusion of choice and consequence, that coupled with your own willingness to immerse yourself in the world and enhance the scenarios with your own imagination, the game can be really engaging and multifaceted.

Yup, imagination is what should, I feel, define actual role-playing; it should be a personally creative act (though it can only compensate for linear/fixed narratives so much. RP'ing in a Dragon Age, for example, is generally a far easier, more enjoyable experience than trying to assert any RP in a Mass Effect).

A while ago I got involved in a back and forth with someone here (I'm fairly sure I remember who it was), and they asserted that 'let's pretend' isn't good enough (re Bethesda's open-world design) - whilst for me it is practically the essence of it all.

In Skyrim an example I always use is the time when a sweetroll - in its own, very modest way - helped to reshape an arc... I'd never intended on that arc when I started the character, and I certainly never consciously thought 'Hm, y'know a sweetroll would be a perfect pivot point for this character!'. It just emerged, organically, out of the assets and environments and factions Bethesda provided the player with.

I created a role, I played it, and it evolved. It was never something the devs intended, nor would it be identical to any other player's experience with the game. True role-playing allows for unique stories to be told.

Fallout 4's main story is more or less an anti role-playing game (beyond Nuka World and Far Harbour there's barely any agency with what 'your' character's supposed to be), but the build mode is a remarkable tool of self-expression and narrative. I'd argue there is much greater role-playing to a player creating an environment to reflect their character's personality/history than anything in a BioWare game (it becomes environmental narrative unique to the player).

(btw, worth noting I love BioWare - and me dismissing their RP credentials has no impact on how much I enjoy their characters and writing. I don't really consider The Witcher to be a role-playing game, either, for very similar reasons)

Imre Csete:
Damn, Alpha Protocol is 7 years old, time flies. Still the best 4 dialogue tone options game out there, that came out before it became the norm (thanks Fallout 4).

It has almost everything; backstories which come up in dialogue options and give perks/skills, complex relations with NPCs to a mind-boggling degree, perks and skills to influence dialogues/choices.

But it has no custom character so I guess it's not a true RPG.

Whatever it was, I agree it had a helluva lot going for it, and I'd love Obsidian to take on a Dragon Age or Mass Effect (or even a TES).

Counter-point: there is at least one recent cRPG that the role-playing part quite well: "Torment: Tides of Numenera".

For those who haven't played it: depending on your dialog options and actions, you strengthen or weaken certain "tides", which are related to specific character traits. When you consistently pick similar dialog options, one or two tides become predominant. And how the NPCs react to you, and their dialogs actually change (to some extent) depending on the predominant tides. The effects are not hugely game altering, but it can affect the outcome of a couple of quests.

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