I know the definition of RPG is a mess. Diablo is an RPG. Borderlands is an RPG. Planescape is an RPG. Mass Effect is an RPG. To some people it means a game with leveling and looting. To some people it means a game where you think up a personality for your character and then respond to challenges as that person. To some people it’s about messing around with branching stories. To some people it’s just a game where you can drive the dialog and discover the details of the setting at your own pace.
It’s obviously a matter of degrees. The more of these attributes you have, the more roleplay-ish the game is. But genres are more of a Yes / No deal and not a measure of how high a game scores on the roleplay-o-meter. And so we have a lot of arguments about where we draw the line.
But Fallout 4 is an interesting case. If we made the attributes of an RPG into a checklist, Fallout 4 would score really high. It has a lot of roleplayish things, but they’re all really shallow, and often disconnected from each other.
- You can level up and spend skill points. (But this is neutered by the “all builds must be equally valid in the face of endless mandatory combat”.)
- You have a dialog wheel. (Which is useless since conversations are linear, your choices rarely matter, and you can’t tell what you’re doing to say.)
- You can loot things. (Which feeds into an amusing but shallow base-building mechanic where you build houses for inert nameless people who have no relationship with you, the world, or each other.)
- There’s a story. (Which is dumb nonsense and appalling melodrama as depicted in cringe-worthy cutscenes.)
- You’re given a character to play. (But then they’re never really given any personality, nor are you given the freedom to form one yourself.)
- You get to make “choices”. (Most of which are shallow, meaningless, or offered without really giving you enough information to make an informed decision. Sure, choosing between Institute, Railroad, Brotherhood, or Minutemen is a BIG choice. But like the red / green / blue choice at the end of Mass Effect, it feels contrived and arbitrary. It’s like choosing to blow up Megaton in Fallout 3. It’s a choice for its own sake and not a natural, emergent part of the world. )
Fallout 4 has all the ingredients of a roleplaying game, yet it doesn’t feel like one because every element is so diluted that there’s almost nothing left. Fallout 4 is a homeopathic roleplaying game.
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