Tired of Being Tough

I’ve been playing RPG’s for a long time. I started way back in the days of Legacy of the Ancients and Bards Tale on a Commodore 64. Role playing games are one of my favorite genres.

Through the years I’ve realized an annoying trend with late stage character development. As you progress through the game you inevitably end up a bad ass with no real threat or challenge left. You can kill whole towns and drop big baddies with single hits. Obviously, the whole point is to become a bad ass but I just find it boring after a while. Why should I buy an expansion or DLC if I can steamroll through everything the game throws at me?  So my only option left is to create a new character. I don’t have all the answers but I will complain about it.

Lets start at the beginning. All RPG’s start relatively the same in a honeymoon stage. You create or meet your character. You pick you skills, stats, abilities and whatnot and venture out into the world. The storyline is opened, you meet your antagonist(s), you beat up a lot of little experience-fodder weaklings aka rats, goblins and robots etc. Developers can screw this stage up by making early advancement too hard or just not having enough action to keep your interest.

By the mid-game you probably encounter some plot twists. You now have some of those nasty spells or abilities you’ve been looking forward to and if you’re like me, you go back to the earlier areas to thoroughly whip the hell out of the mobs that gave you some grief.

Sooner or later we then arrive at the late-game or end-game stage. Here you max out your abilities, hit level caps, run out of stuff to kill and sometimes you’re pretty much left with just one choice…to end the game.

World of Warcraft handles their end game quite well. Once you hit the higher levels, you may not find much of a fight wandering around the zones but you can go on massive raid instances and fight demi-gods and uber-mobs that require 20+ people to kill. WOW’s grind quests were a little underwhelming though…at level 5 I was collecting 15 boar pelts then I hit level 70 and what am I challenged with? Collecting 15 Hell-boar pelts, yep.

Games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect are more like interactive movies with brick-wall-nothing-left-to-do end-game stages. You’re given choices and some freedom to do what you want through the game, though you eventually end up on predefined paths. Some paths are literally predefined as you encounter invisible walls or conveniently placed piles of rubble and boxes. By the end of the game there is nothing left to kill except the antagonist. And with that done you may find yourself stuck a hair away from that ability you really wanted with no way of getting it. Don’t get me wrong, I love both those series and had a great time playing them. Their endings may be permanent but they are still fashioned to offer a challenge and give you that nice sense of accomplishment as the credits roll.

My main gripe is with games like Fallout and the Elder Scroll series that have a sandbox, do-what-you-want approach. I love this style of gaming the most as they offer endless possibilities. You can climb up a rooftop to see how many guards you can shoot before they get to you.  You can loot an entire store then try to get out of town alive.  And endless other tasks before you even decide to embark on the main quest line.

However, their endings don’t leave you with much to do. Because of this style, I tend to become a god-like wielder of death well before I find the final boss battle and Skyrim was exceptionally disappointing. I reached level 37 prior to meeting the game’s nemesis. The poor bastard barely got me to half of my life before I ripped him a new one. Suffice to say, I didn’t get that fuzzy, saved-the-world feeling.

Elder Scrolls: Oblivion actually handled this style a little better but had its own problems. The enemies would scale in difficulty based on your level. This is a great idea but it needed some refinement. While the game provided a challenge throughout, I lost that feeling of accomplishment as every single battle seemed close. First you fight goblins then in later levels your faced with elite goblin bodyguards with magical weapons. C’mon really? Where the hell did that goblin get magical plate armor from? I should point out that Oblivion’s ridiculous plethora of mods fixed these issues a bit. Skyrim, Fallout and the others should adopt a similar method to this, like generate more mobs or scale just the bosses.

Maybe I’m just a jaded gamer. I’ve played a ton of these games and overall they’re fun. I just don’t like feeling disappointed when the mid-game mark rolls by and the end can be seen in the distance. I guess that’s how its goes. And in a few years I’ll be creating a new character and going through it all again.

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