The Witcher 3: Wrapping Up

By Bob Case Posted Saturday Dec 15, 2018

Filed under: Video Games 84 comments

(Apologies for being late with this one, I didn’t get in until very late Friday night)

Twenty-four entries is a lot to write about one game, even if it’s a very long one with two big expansions. So I’ve struggled to come up with something to say that can tie it all up. It’s not enough just to say “yeah, it was good,” because everyone already knows that.

So the thing I want to focus on is what this game means for the genre, because the AAA RPG space is shrinking. If we look at the major developers operating in it, we have:

  • Bioware: They are apparently releasing another Dragon Age game, but very little has been shown to the public and it’s probably a long way off. I get the overall sense that Dragon Age is a franchise they want to wrap up so they can focus on Anthem. For me (a guy who’s not big on looter shooters), this is disappointing, but I’m not sure Bioware will really be considered an RPG developer at all a few years from now.
  • Bethesda: They’re very much set in their ways at this point. I expect Starfield to be the Elder Scrolls in space, more or less, and whatever the next Elder Scrolls game is will probably be Starfield with swords. Some are speculating whether the crashing and burning of Fallout 76 will jolt Bethesda out of their rut. I personally doubt it. I expect Bethesda will be making Bethesda games for the forseeable future.
  • Obsidian: The second Pillars of Eternity game, Deadfire, did not sell well. Which was curious for me, because I thought it was very good, though I have a weakness for pirate stuff. In any case, it appears that the market niche Obsidian targets is smaller than they thought. Their upcoming release, The Outer Worlds, looks promising (something like Firefly meets Fallout 2, maybe), but is reportedly scaled-down in terms of ambition. I’ve heard the scale of the game described as double-A rather than triple-A.
  • Larian: I sort of feel left out of the whole Larian thing. They have an art and storytelling style that I’ve just never been a fan of – like they’re trying to split the difference been dark fantasy and a Disney movie. However, I’m an outlier in this case. The second Original Sin game got rave reviews, and they’re one of the few developers pushing the envelope in gameplay. However, like Obsidian, they’re something of a niche player.

So if you leave off the people that don’t do real AAA numbers (Obsidian and Larian), the ones trying to get that Destiny money (Bioware), and the ones that are Bethesda (Bethesda), that leaves CD Projekt alone carrying the AAA RPG torch. For the time being, at least, this is the template – and there’s a few things about it worth noticing.

Link (YouTube)

They’re single-character games: Meaning you don’t have party members. In the Witcher games, Geralt would occasionally have someone like Zoltan or Keira Metz tag along for a quest here and there, but only occasionally. Most of the time you’re alone. Cypberpunk 2077, from what we’ve seen so far (above), looks similar: you complete a quest alongside a friend named Jackie, but he doesn’t appear to be a party member in the usual sense.

Personally, I think developers are missing a trick here. Single-character RPGs can get lonely. Players end up starved for some kind of companionship as they’re tramping through empty wilderness. Look how attached people got to Lydia in Skyrim even though she only had 5-6 lines of dialogue. It was just good to have someone else around.

Or another example: when I played Dragon Age: Inquisition, I was one of many players who periodically experienced a bug that made party banter shut off almost entirely – it would only happen maybe once an hour, or even less. It was startling how empty it made the game seem when it happened, and if the small army of people trying to find fixes for it online during that time were any indication, I wasn’t the only one whose experience was affected. Tromping around the Storm Coast for hours with a team of mutes just didn’t feel right.

Cyberpunk might not have this problem so much – it’s set in a bustling city, with plenty of people around. But I still believe that the presence of party members is part of the secret sauce that makes a good RPG work.

Novigrad was done well enough that I look forward to Night City.
Novigrad was done well enough that I look forward to Night City.

They’re ginormous: The Witcher 3 was a certifiably ginormous game, with areas designed around the assumption that you had both fast travel and a horse that can sustain a full gallop indefinitely without ever getting tired. To fully complete the base game was easily an 80+ hour endeavor, and the expansions take it up into the 100-150 range.

This was mitigated by the remarkably high level of polish, but much of it was still busy work. Reveal all the various treasures and monster nests and you’ll have a map that wouldn’t look out of place in a standard-issue Ubisoft grinder. And while the Witcher contracts were never just fetch quests, play enough of them and you start to see the formula emerge: villagers are frightened of a local ghost or somesuch, Geralt investigates and discovers that it’s linked with some kind of tragedy in the past, uses his knowhow to draw the monster out, defeat monster, collect payment. They’re not all like that, but many of them are.

You know the drill, buddy. This curse ain't gonna break itself.
You know the drill, buddy. This curse ain't gonna break itself.

It’s inevitable that games this long and sprawling are going to get repetitive at some point. I understand the appeal of a long RPG. It’s a genre that asks the player to make a long-term investment in a character and a story, and we want to be able to reap the endgame dividends of that investment. And it only stands to reason that if we like something, we want more of it. But to me the insistence that RPGs be a minimum of hella long is handicapping the genre.

They’re actiony: Geralt spends much of his time hitting, dodging, and then hitting again, and based on the gameplay demo for Cyberpunk, it appears that it’s going to play much like a shooter in the combat bits. The days of a major AAA RPG being turn-based or even real-time with pause are long behind us. (When was the last one? The first Dragon Age?) I’m not sure who decided this would be the case. Changing industry habits are usually presumed to the effect of changing consumer tastes, but I suspect they’re partly the cause of them too.

Whatever the reason, number-crunchy mechanics are generally now subordinate to the conventions of whatever genre RPGs are trying to emulate. This is one area that CD Projekt has never been expert in. I’m a guy who loves to tinker with builds – I spend as much time reading character optimization and build forums as I do playing the game itself. But in the Witcher games I rarely tinkered at all. Leveling up sometimes felt like a chore.

One of the reasons I played a naked punchmage early on in the game was in an attempt to wrangle some interest out of the combat system. It didn't quite work. Mostly you just cast Igni over and over again.
One of the reasons I played a naked punchmage early on in the game was in an attempt to wrangle some interest out of the combat system. It didn't quite work. Mostly you just cast Igni over and over again.

This isn’t necessarily the case with real-time RPGs. Andromeda was a disappointing game in many ways, but I did enjoy the combat and build variety. I could play an engineer pet-type build, a mage-type adept, a stealthy sniper, or an ABC Always-Be-Charging vanguard, and they all felt distinct. Whereas the difference between a Geralt who specialized in light attacks and one who specialized in heavy ones often just came down to which one had the cooler-looking armor.

I’m hoping that Cyberpunk takes some inspiration from the rebooted Deus Ex franchise in terms of its build mechanics – in fact, it appears they have. But a part of me is also bracing itself for the thing that makes you shoot 5% better, which can be upgraded all the way to the thing that makes you shoot 15% better… you know the type.

So single-character, ginormous, and actiony – is this the only way forward? I hope not, but it may that the RPG market that once made Dragon Age: Origins a hit has been gobbled up by other genres, most notably open-world games (it’s no coincidence that “single-character, ginormous, and actiony” is a decent description of a typical Rockstar game).

I can think of worse fates than playing RPGs from the likes of Obsidian in between big-ticket games to CDPR’s standard of quality. And while I share everyone else’s gripes about Bethesda, I still play their games in the end. CDPR and Rockstar have made fortunes off of single-player games – a category that was supposedly dying as recently as five or so years ago. I think and hope that the party-based, table-toppier RPG has another few rounds left in it.

And so conclude my thoughts on The Witcher 3. Thanks to everyone who read and commented, and to Shamus, and to CD Projekt Red for putting out a top-notch game. Here’s hoping they’ll put out another.


From The Archives:

84 thoughts on “The Witcher 3: Wrapping Up

  1. Christopher says:

    It’s been fun, I really enjoed your series.

    For me, the holes in my RPGs have usually been filled by each other, often between the J and W variety. Actiony combat a bit weak in wrpgs? We’ve got Nioh, Dark Souls, Tales of and Dragon’s Dogma over here. Dark Souls and Dragon’s Dogma weak on dialogue? No problem, here’s 9 novels worth of text. Tired of realism-attempting graphics? Here are a plethora of various cel-shaded anime RPGs. You want less of that lonely pc open world jank with only one party member? Here’s Persona 5, polished to a tee. You think that’s a bit linear and need total freedom to trek wherever? Lemme show you a Bethesda game. And so on, and so on. As long as what you want isn’t a perfect translation of the freedom of tabletop gaming, I think there’s always something out there to address the weaknesses of what you just played.

    Still, in just the AAA wrpg space, it does seem like the established players are all we’re getting for the foreseeable future. And really, cd project are the only ones still doing it.

    1. It’s not a direct reply to your message, but you really made me think the problem is that if you multiply the cost of a AAA game by the extra expense of an RPG with all the multiple paths and optional content and the world meaningfully responding… and it’s just too much to ask for, even from a major studio. Maybe if we were willing to pay $150 and still make the same amount of sales, but otherwise, it’s just… so much.

      As it is, in general the games get prettier and prettier, but also smaller and smaller, when you look from the perspective of what you can actually do. The way dialog wheels keep simplifying and even those often merely have three different ways of grunting the exact same response (looking at you, Fallout 4)… it’s just a visible manifestation of what’s happening at every level in the game other than graphics.

      The need for competitive graphics is just slowly strangling this genre.

      1. Scourge says:

        Not just competetive Graphics, but also voice acting and animations.

        Back in Fallout/Baldurs gate, when you wanted to intimidate someone the dialogue would write how he was shivering in fear and what not. How he was s-s-s-tuttering in fear and almost pissing himself as he nervously did look everywhere but at your face and started to smell of urine.

        Nowadays you need the animations for that. And the voice acting of course. And then you need to continue the voice acting in the intimidated way because he is still scared and him jumping back to his normal dialogue before would be just jarring. So you need re-record all the lines he could potentually say and give them a scared tone. Then you need to the same in case you try to suave and charm him. Or if you are their lover or if you have any other rleation to them.

        And if your character is supposed to react to that then that is even more voicework, depending on the type of character. Do they make fun of him? Do they scold him, do they intimidate him more, etc, etc.

        Meanwhile in ‘The old times (TM)’ all you needed to do was to write some more dialogue. It was easier and less costly.

  2. Gunther says:

    I think a lot of people skipped Deadfire because they were disappointed with the first one.

    I’m exactly the sort of Western RPG nerd PoE should have appealed to, but it never grabbed me. Steam says I have 24 hours in PoE, but all I can clearly remember about it is that combat was a chore.

    We had some discussion about it in the comments for the most recent Diecast podcast, which I can’t link without tripping the spam filter.

    1. camycamera says:

      No, the first Pillars was great, and had a great reception too. The second one is supposedly even better, but it didn’t sell well because of a lack of marketing, and specifically, going onto Fig over Kickstarter to fund the game.

      1. Thomas says:

        The way the second act court case doesn’t let you change the outcome at all based on your actions felt like a massive step down compared to previous Obsidian (and Bioware) titles

        Tyranny did the same thing 100X better

        1. Joshua says:

          My one experience with an Obsidian game was NWN 2. That’s a mixed bag as far as letting your actions determine the outcome of a trial.

        2. Darren says:

          But Tyranny’s actual gameplay mechanics were terrible, and the game ultimately ended on a cliffhanger that will never be resolved because it, too, sold very poorly.

          1. Water Rabbit says:

            This is an interesting take. Most comments I have read is that a sequel isn’t needed because the game did have a definite completion to it.

            1. Darren says:

              It ends with you in charge of your own tower and the Big Bad sending a heretofore unmentioned servant to go and correct you. Or at least, that’s how it ended with me. None of the mysteries that were set up by the premise and backstory were addressed or anything.

              I tried to replay it, but I just don’t care for the gameplay mechanics. That leveling system is heinous.

              1. Water Rabbit says:

                It has multiple different endings, but generally your character becomes a peer to Kyros. A possible sequel to the game could be trying to conquer the rest of the world, but otherwise the endings were all self contained and the only mystery left would be the true identity of Kyros.

                A sequel to that would have to be more of a strategy game than an RPG since you are equal to the most powerful being in the world.

        3. FluffySquirrel says:

          Agreed, a lot of the time pillars felt on rails, compared to Tyranny, Tyranny was a pretty solid title, which sadly didn’t seem to get as much credit

        4. RoboticWater says:

          I don’t think your ultimate futility was really the problem in that instance. Sure, it’s lame when there appears to be a big choice and it amounts to nothing, but I think that can serve a reasonable thematic purpose.

          The problem with the second act is that you don’t really get immersed in the proceedings at all. Yes, you go around and talk with some people and see the sanitarium, but there aren’t any debates with an Animancer or one from the Dozens. I just don’t think the game just never dives deep into the emotional and moral conflict, particularly by providing well-rounded named characters to associate the sides with. To top it off, the villain, who you know next to nothing about, shows up out of nowhere and kills several people you have no real emotional attachment to, and then you just kinda move on and forget about all that Animancy stuff.

          You can make the whole “your choice is irrelevant” theme work, it’s just that the rest of your story has to be satisfying enough that it comes across as deliberate, not a cost-cutting measure.

      2. Gunther says:

        I think a lot of people over-praised it at launch out of nostalgia. The fact that so few of them picked up the sequel speaks volumes about how fond of it people were after a couple years had passed and it was being judged on its merits.

        The first few hours you can almost convince yourself you’re playing a classic IE game, before you notice the combat kinda sucks, the lore is both omnipresent and dull, the characters (villain and party members) are forgettable, the story pacing is molasses slow…

        It’s not a terrible game, I wanna be clear. It’s just kinda mediocre.

      3. Gethsemani says:

        I found the first Pillars of Eternity great when I played it, but not great enough that I got the expansions and when I attempted a replay, I found it pretty janky mechanically. Part of that was that Tyranny used the same system but with much needed improvements. Tyranny was also much better at getting the player into the actual plot.

        The great failing of PoE, I believe, is that it is too hardcore. The mechanics are pretty opaque and it is often hard to understand fully what is going on unless you’ve already put 30 hours into the game or loooooove reading long help sections to figure out why this encounter is a cakewalk while the previous was a grueling nightmare (turns out that your tank was wearing chainmail and the previous encounter was using blunt damage so their armor was pitiful, but this encounter was all sword wielding thugs), and that’s even before we get into the conceptually cool but mechanically complex chanters and ciphers (both of who also are the absolute best classes in the game, so figure them out or gimp yourself).

        The narrative suffers from the same opaque complexity. The game throws you in and starts barraging you with these Celtic sounding names from the get go and just tosses you in the deep end of its’ (really deep) world building. Unless you are committed to learning everything directly and grinding actual gameplay to a halt to read codex entries, you will probably end up confusing the old empire dudes with the current farmer guys or the hairy gnomes for the first two dozen hours. And while it is really cool that the main story is deeply interwoven with the spiritual world building of the game, it is also really confusing for a really long time.

        So while PoE got rave reviews and sold well, I believe that PoE2 carried a lot less goodwill. A lot of people bounced of PoE because of how opaque and insistent it was that the player sink or swim in learning all the systems and lore, and I doubt those people eagerly returned for the same treatment just because it was pirate themed. Maybe it is just me getting older and more impatient, but I find this a recurring problem with the IE-inspired games: The developers, having been kickstarted, fail to make their games actually accessible to the majority of its potential audience. Instead they write these really lore and system heavy games without any care about how new or casual players might approach them. PoE, Torment and Wasteland 2 (the latter less so after its’ remaster) would all have greatly profited from more insistent editors to make the games more accessible for a wider audience.

        1. Narkis says:

          I would argue that PoE wasn’t hardcore enough, in a sense. It had the worst of both worlds, hard to learn but easy to master once you did. I do agree that PoE2 lost a lot of goodwill as a response. Just like Star Wars: TLJ led to Solo bombing.

        2. Coming Second says:

          You really nailed a lot of the reasons I didn’t get on with PoE here. It felt like a game made by some very self-serious people for themselves, rather than a wider audience. I found it an unwelcoming and drear experience, and for all that it was obviously an incredibly deep game I wasn’t inspired to play it to completion.

          A deep-dive on it by Shamus or Btongue would be good, and timely given the Microsoft buy-out and the wider implications for RPGs of this sort.

        3. Gwydden says:

          Eh, that excuse always sounds like a backhanded insult to me, if you get my drift. My problem with Pillars was not that it was too complex, mechanically or narratively. I am no tactical genius and hate min-maxing, but I still found PoE to become too easy a short way from the beginning. Combat outside of the optional megadungeon beneath your stronghold was mostly trash mobs, which in turn meant you became overleveled in no time at all.

          And the story? Worldbuilding is a plague on fantasy and sci fi literature and PoE is a case study in why. I could write whole essays on how PoE’s writing fails in pretty much every conceivable level, but the one that annoys me the most is the constant barrage of pointless, boring exposition typical of someone more interested in worldbuilding than in storytelling. $%@! that. And again, is not that I didn’t understand it. It’s that I didn’t care in the slightest.

          I think that’s why some people were disillusioned with PoE. Obsidian’s usual selling point, the writing, was awful. The breadth of customization is impressive until you realize none of it matters other than your class. And the combat, well, I thought it was fine, but not great, and made worse by having so much of it.

          1. Gethsemani says:

            All good points and as Narkis said, the problem is probably not that PoE is too hardcore, but rather that it is way too complex in all the wrong ways. The combat system is a lot to get in to, but isn’t very deep once you figure out all the needless complexity (do we really need 3 armor classes and 5 saving throws for magic?). And you’ve already covered why the writing was bad.

            As my closing paragraph said: I believe both PoE and PoE2 suffered from not having a more pedantic editor. The combat is not good enough to carry the game, yet you get a ton of trash mobs to fight through (and the problem with combat becoming too easy is compounded in PoE2), the writing is just so full of itself and you can almost feel the overbearing GM that just wants to push more of his meticulously crafted world down your throat, while you just want to get on with the quest. Hopefully Obsidian will be forced to be a little less self-indulgent now that Microsoft pays their bills, because they’ve always delivered their best work (and their most broken work, incidentally) when a publisher has been supervising their work to cut out all the extraneous fluff.

            1. Water Rabbit says:

              So, PoE can be hardcore. If you play the game on medium difficulty with a full party, the game can be fairly easy barring two combats. However, if you go for “The Ultimate” achievement, then the game become much more hardcore. It requires planning and preparation to finish the game — especially the various dragon fights.

              The game was made for old school gamers, so “needless complexity” is really in the eye of the beholder. The combat is very granular.

              A “ton of trash mobs” to fight through? Really? If you tried for the “Relative Pacifism” achievement you would realize that statement isn’t close to accurate. It think I finished it with under 125 kills on Hard difficulty.

              The real issue with PoE is that it does require some mastery of the system. One isn’t going to be an expert on their first playing. Few gamers today seem to be interested in mastering a game and if it isn’t easy out of the gate they move on – especially if it isn’t a twitch game like souls.

              The combat system was far less intuitive than the Baldur’s Gate series (or maybe I was just more familiar with D&D combat) for me.

              1. Droid says:

                One isn’t going to be an expert on their first playing. Few gamers today seem to be interested in mastering a game and if it isn’t easy out of the gate they move on – especially if it isn’t a twitch game like souls.

                I took away a far different idea from the current situation: That people are willing to put up with being crap at something if the game is good (or good enough) at telling you what you’re doing wrong. Basically, Dark Souls might not be great at giving you accurate feedback, but it’s good enough at it that if you’re interested in figuring stuff out and persistent enough, the game gives you the tools to figure out a way to beat each boss and, ultimately, the game.
                Its appeal is as much the learning process as the exploration/level design or the combat/movement controls (and I say that as someone who could do with far less of the first and last if it meant I could get more exploration out of it).

                The way you’re saying it, it really comes off more like an excuse for games that do not offer any kind of introduction into their game mechanics* and/or do not give you proper feedback as to what it is you’re doing wrong. You know the idiom “obscurity is not security”, right? I would add that “obscurity is not popular as a gameplay mechanic, either”.
                I find those games are best enjoyed on their easiest difficulty until you get a hang of what’s going on, at which point it suddenly becomes orders of magnitude less frustrating to replay them on higher difficulties.

                *) or, worse yet, ones that give you a patronizing tutorial that explain all the “use your mouse and keyboard in the most obvious ways possible for 15 minutes … okay, that was all, please enjoy our extremely complex game! (but don’t forget that UP pans the camera!)”

        4. Water Rabbit says:

          So, didn’t have the same experience with PoE as you have described. I did find it difficult to get into the story through the 1st Act, but after I got to Defiance Bay it drew me in. The White March expansions were much better at setting the hooks much sooner than the base story. The base story was a drawn out mystery trying to figure out the world setting.

          It is clear that you really only scratched the surface of the game if you think that chanters and ciphers are the best classes in the game. It is possible to get “The Ultimate” achievement with a chanter (though not my first choice), however a cipher would be my last choice. I did the Triple Crown with a Paladin and The Ultimate with a monk.

          I think the hype was less for PoE2. Also I think there was a bit of timing competition when it was released. I am on my second playthrough since the new DLC just dropped and I find the game enjoyable, but much easier than PoE was even with a smaller party. Mostly the naval combat being told through dialog is a bit unsatisfying. It is too bad they couldn’t have integrated it into the normal combat systems.

    2. Gargamel Le Noir says:

      POE was actually very good if you stuck with it, especially its extensions, but it took way too long to get started.

      1. Water Rabbit says:

        I am in agreement with this as the The White March expansions were really good. What marred the game play for me was all of the useless backer characters in the game. None of them had interesting stories that fit with the game. It would have been better without them.

    3. Water Rabbit says:

      Just to point out that PC Gamer named it the Best RPG for 2018.

  3. Khizan says:

    Deadfire’s issues mostly stem from Pillars of Eternity 1 having several issues, IMO.

    First, it’s very much in the style of classic Real Time with Pause games like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale, with all the issues that go along with it. This got it a lot of funding because of nostalgia on the part of games, but this is a style of game that has aged rather badly in many aspects. The combat is slow and grindy and repetitive, and the Vancian casting and resting mechanics feel clunky and outdated. Definitely made me realize that I’m not the gamer I was 20 years ago.

    Second, the storyline in PoE isn’t very gripping. It’s not bad, but it’s definitely slower and way more thinky. There’s nothing like Jon Irenicus stealing the show right from the start. Just hard to get into on a narrative level.

    Third, the game had a looooot of balance issues right after release. Most of these were fixed via patches and DLC, but anybody who played it right at release were basically playing a beta, and people who stopped because of this may not have picked it back up.

    I don’t feel like Deadfire’s performance is a case of “Obsidian doesn’t have a lot of people interested in them”. IMO, it’s more of a case of Real-Time-with-Pause isometric RPGs being a niche type of game, combined with Deadfire being the sequel to a game that got an overwhelming “meh” from a lot of players.

    1. DeadlyDark says:

      I haven’t start with Deadfire , since I decided to wait a little to all patches, plus I want play Tyranny and Tides of Numenera first (I have a long queue, I know).

      But PoE 1 feels very soulless to me. Very generic looks, and setting despite interesting souls idea, still feels like a watered down Faerun. Compare it to Wasteland 2, it has more character just on screenshots alone.

      Also, I’d argue, that PoE combat is worse than in BG and NWN*. I haven’t tried to sort my problems in objective ways, but I have a couple of observations. First is that movement speed makes positioning almost worthless (except cases when you can place a warrior at the door to block enemies). Second, is that… Well, I know its a very subjective feel and kinda stupid, but hits and strikes feels very weak to me, compared to the old games. It’s like I can’t really feel the power behind the weapons. That’s very unsatisfactory, to say the least.

      But I add, that some backgrounds are really gorgeous (top of the tower in the “zombie” infested district, for example). Wish it has more of that

      *But on par with Planescape Torment. But Torment tops PoE in other areas, like writing and setting

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Over the last two or three years I’ve replayed both Baldur’s Gate games, the first Neverwinter, Planescape:Torment and played through a large chunk of the first PoE (I keep bouncing off), I’ve also played Divinity:Original Sin, Cosmic Star Heroine and Citizens of Earth… and I came to realize I really don’t like the “real time with pause” party based combat when compared to turn based. It might be age setting in but most of the time it just feels chaotic, without extensive pausing and parsing logs it’s hard to follow which abilities landed, what effect they had, what came off cooldown, how long is something going to stick. Especially as many of those games actually mask a turn based combat system under their real time overlay, if it’s real time I want the reaction to me ordering an action to be immediate, not for the character to stand there like a moron taking hits because he’ll only initiate that ability in what is, under the hood, next turn.

        1. Thomas says:

          I really don’t like the mix. It feels like it brings the chaos of an RTS to the number crunching of an RPG.

          Turn based Wasteland combat takes forever, but it feels much more satisfying because you have total control.

          Overall Wasteland feels like the better game.

        2. Redrock says:

          Real time with pause sucks. Plain amd simple. The problem is, it doesn’t flow. Counterintuitively, turn-based combat does have a flow and a rhythm. I think most would agree that Original Sin’s combat is that much more engaging than that of Pillars for example.

          1. Scampi says:

            I absolutely disagree, though I might (?) be in a minority here.
            I found the combat in Original Sin to be so off putting, I actually quit playing it very early on. It was not the combat alone, as I realized I really detest Larian’s entire art and world building style as much. I played several of their games and they never managed to intrigue me in the least. Something in their games just seems really off to me and I can’t get into them.

            About the combat: you say TBC has a flow and a rhythm to it. I think it has a rhythm, but no flow. In many cases, it’s the rhythm of someone beating a drum very rarely, like once a minute. If you were expecting music, a single drum hit a minute won’t be really satisfying.
            Opposed to that, I feel (yes, of course, it’s all my opinion) paused RTC has more flow, as it keeps moving all in sync once I unpause it, sparing me precious time: Character A continues his way to a designated spot, B keeps casting the spells I ordered, C tanks attacks and occasionally hits a heavy enemy. I need not reissue every single command. At the same time, my enemies get positioned and attack/cast/flee at the same time I can act. There is no reissue of commands for every single round, I only step in if something needs to be done and the system doesn’t waste my time moving its array of villains for 15 seconds during which I don’t even have any opportunity to do anything at all. The enemy turns in RTCs are already integrated in my own “turns” so to speak, keeping me engaged at all times. So to speak: the music keeps playing noticeably.

            If you lack time as much as I often do nowadays, you’re really glad if games don’t waste it by being all about it, and in many, though not all cases, that’s what TBCs appear to do due to small things as movement speeds being way to slow, enemies using stalling tactics and such (single enemies running away, staying JUST out of your range of all your abilities and such, which is way easier to pull off in TBCs than RTC) turning the enemy’s turn and the entire combat into a real bore.

            1. Redrock says:

              I get a lot of what you say, but I feel that TBC doesn’t really waste my time as much as RTwP. With TBC, I’m either always doing something or thinking about my next move. With RTwP I either just sit and watch my party destroy everything, or, if I get in trouble, I have to pause, assess the situation, check available skills, etc, etc, and all the while the combat is paused. Then there’s the fact that RTwP actually uses turns, only it’s those weird little turns that have your character stand around like an idiot while they “reload” their sword arm for another swing. And then there’s the fact that with RTwP each individual attack and action is that much less effective than in properly done TBC. Sure, you can have bad TBC, no doubt about that. But when it’s properly done it feels that every little movement matters, while RTwP is often a lot of empty fuss.

              1. Scampi says:

                With RTwP I either just sit and watch my party destroy everything, or, if I get in trouble, I have to pause, assess the situation, check available skills, etc, etc, and all the while the combat is paused.

                Exactly what I like about it: if the combat is trivial, I don’t have to waste as much time as on way harder situations. On the other hand, if I get into trouble, I have seen how and why it occured, as I kept my eyes on the scene, already assessed the situation and know what to do/which skills to use. The pause is only needed to issue the order(s) needed to amend the situation and the combat can continue.
                I don’t waste time on cakewalks, as I would in a pure TBC and I get to see results easier AND may at times have it easier troubleshooting as I can, for example, get my pieces to move around the board more flexible, as usually only major actions are bound to the turns, while movement is more free.

                In TBC every move an enemy does (and there may be quite a lot before my next turn) will considerably shift the battlefield to a point where there may be no chance to remedy a lost situation if you’re unlucky. In RTwP I have at times moved multiple characters around the battlefield to kite enemies or position my characters for quick consecutive maneuvers in other ways that wouldn’t have been possible exactly due to enemies reacting very different in those environments and the systems often being to unflexible to allow you to change the move order in a meaningful way.

              2. Scampi says:

                On a related note, THIS is how I sometimes feel about trivial TBC fights.
                In my case: RTwP allows me to have 6 chars (e.g. Baldur’s Gate) kill 6 kobolds at once. In TBC they would take 6 times as much of MY real time.
                Funny thing is: You might quote exactly the same strip to me as how you feel about RTwP, of course.

                1. Gwydden says:

                  Here’s the thing: there shouldn’t be any pointless fights you’re guaranteed to win to begin with. In my experience, turn-based RPGs are a lot less self-indulgent when it comes to sprinkling battles around the map, and the ones I’ve played made it a point to even let you skip a lot of them. Meanwhile, it seems like RTwP developers take their game’s ability to let people take a potty break while their characters fight as an excuse to go “alright, let’s put six kobolds here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here…” I like turn-based not least because when designed properly each fight feels like a set piece rather than copy-pasted from somewhere else for the thousandth time.

                  1. Scampi says:

                    And once more I disagree as I have often had the impression that I can avoid combat in RTwP way easier than in TBCs. Sometimes it even seemed like I could barely move a screen in TBC without running into the next fight.
                    Btw: I have, specifically in TBC games, actually taken the time to pay the restroom a visit on the enemy turn, only to return and still having to wait for my own turn.
                    I have also tried to avoid combat on many an occasion in TBC, and they seem to be placed in a way to make them unavoidable: just SO close to the evasion route that the player will activate each and every single one of them…after all, they are all set pieces the designers made an effort to work out, right?
                    I believe this to be at least as big a fault on the designers’ part as filler combat, if not bigger, as it appears to disrespect my time worse than a trivial fight too much. The useless trivial fight? Over in a minute.
                    The 15 Minute fight that MIGHT be over in no time, if only movement was handled in RT? I don’t get THAT time back, you know?
                    Also: I don’t like each and EVERY last fight to look like a set piece. To me, it makes a game appear railroady and the world less organic.

                    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                      So first of all, as a person who sort of started all this, I’d like to specify that I was expressing my own preference, not making a general judgement call, and I stand by it, most real time party based combat just feels to hectic and chaotic to me. Could be my reflexes, could be age setting in.

                      Also, I feel like we’re talking a bit past each other here because we’re generalizing, for TBC we have games that have discrete scripted encounters, like Shadowruns, and we have those that spam literal random encounters at you, like many JRPGs. In RTwP we have parties that do mostly fine with little oversight (for me the first Dragon Age felt that way) and we have those that require constant oversight and micromanagement (for me PoE). Similarly, on both sides we have games that let you slip past encounters, and games that force you to fight every enemy along the way,

                    2. Scampi says:

                      I’m not sure whether we’re talking past each other.
                      It’s not that I despise TBC in all instances, and even the things I make out as faults can sometimes be remedied. I enjoyed shadowrun despite being kind of dull and a bit too easy for my taste.
                      My main issue is the time spent on a single combat encounter, whether successful or failing attempt. TBC takes way more time in general, and if a fight was easy, there is no reason for it to take lots of it. If it is a hard fight, it can be a real pain to repeat the entire fight after failure.
                      For me, with age setting in, I enjoy RTwP even more, as it doesn’t waste my time in both success or failure.
                      I barely ever find long stretches of time to play (my preferred way of gaming) anyways, and it’s a real buzzkill, if you can’t go forward due to combat taking way more time than your schedule can allow you.
                      For me, barely getting through, say, 2 encounters before being interrupted by someone barging in on my leisure, even if they go according to plan, is no fun at all.
                      It’s not helped by the fact that being stolen my time by people in disrespectful ways is also something happening to me in real life an awful lot and is reason for no small amounts of anger and frustration.

                    3. Gwydden says:

                      Of course, the TB vs RTwP debate will rage on forever because in the end it comes down to personal preference, like so much else. I don’t hate RTwP, to be clear, I just prefer TB. I enjoy board games and puzzles, and turn-based combat appeals to the part of me that likes to just sit, consider my options, and ponder my next move in a way that RTwP doesn’t quite achieve. Each individual action feels more satisfying and like it has more weight. I also like things neat and organized and the relative chaos of RTwP puts me off.

                      I got off the RTS train because of APM, and I’ve been turning towards turn-based RPGs because I hate keeping time for the game and the inconsistent pacing. I believe Shamus wrote an article about it once, and I agree that with any RTwP system, whether in an RPG or in a strategy game, there are long stretches where nothing much is happening and you just don’t pay attention and sudden moments where everything is happening at once and you have to pause every second. Honestly, though, I’d rather have a game with good RTwP than one with bad TB (COUGH COUGH Shadowrun: Hong Kong COUGH COUGH).

        3. DeadlyDark says:

          I dunno. I admit, though, that my warm reception of RTwP stems mostly from Brigade E5 / 7.62 games, where they made it a very painstakingly simulation, and there are no other games that came close with this level of details

  4. DeadlyDark says:

    Bob mentions Obsidian and Larian, but forgets about InXile. I, personally, can’t wait for Wasteland 3 to release. They blundered with Bard’s Tale IV, though…

    Also, from what I gathered, you can now add Assassin’s Creed Odyssey as a AAA rpg. For what its worth. Plus, this year we got AAA-ish Vampyre and Kingdome Come Deliverance. So, who knows.

    I’m not really sad about AAA space, since last few years AA felt more interesting to me*. And I think the market would be healthier if it rely on AA more

    *Well, how should I put it. When I play AAA game, usually, I just check the boxes and play semi-authomatic, since it’s polished, controls are great, and I just turn my brains off. I feel the need to snap off that

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      How much is AC:Od an RPG? I’ve seen a bunch of reviewers and players assign it that tag but I’m not sure to what extent it’s a matter of blurry definitions and if it doesn’t just mean “AC with a skill tree” in this case.

      1. DeadlyDark says:

        Haven’t play myself, since with AC I prefer to wait for a significant discount first. I think there are dialog choices now

      2. Baron Tanks says:

        It looks and feels like an RPG in the sense that content is gated by numbers. Your collection of numbers (level + gear) competes with the numbers of the content and decides whether you can tackle it or not. Meaningful choices and differentiation in playstyles seem to be a lot less prevalent in the Origins and Odyssey system. You can’t play level 50 content at level 5, but by the time you have reached level 50, it doesn’t feel meaningfully different from a gameplay perspective to what you did at level 5.

        Now for the role-playing aspects on top, such as dialogue and choice, it all feels very bare bones. Some smoke and mirrors to make it look like there’s agency and choice, but beyond first impressions there’s not much to be found in depth. A more flattering way to look at it would be that these are their first steps onto the role playing path and what you can do now is the scaffold or skeleton for future further advances into the water. Ubisoft could be seen as trying the water. But for now it’s really still the same Ubi open world collectathon with a slight sprinkling of ‘RPGish’ on top.

      3. Gethsemani says:

        I’ll be vulgar and provocative: Odyssey is as much an RPG as The Witcher 3, in some cases more. Odyssey has actual, meaningful leveling choices (every third or so perk point will give you a new skill or ability and these will greatly influence or change your playstyle) and the equipment system is pretty much a direct lift from TW3. Odyssey has a semi-branching main story where choices made in the story will influence the ending you get. Odyssey has several side quests that can have different outcomes and even the risk of locking yourself out of side quests if you make the wrong choices (ie. don’t gloat to the business partner of your enemy that you were the one who killed him). You also get the option to be consistent in your characterization of Kassandra/Alexios, in that you can play them as cool and rational, kind or uncaring, violent and thuggish and decide on whether they are altruistic or selfish.

        All in all Odyssey is pretty good if you like action RPGs in the vein of the Witcher 3. The writing doesn’t reach the same heights as TW3, but it often maintains a surprisingly high level, especially in the main quest.

    2. Tuck says:

      Assassins Creed: Origins is definitely an AAA RPG. If Odyssey follows in the same style then yeah, that makes sense.

    3. Joshua says:

      I too am really looking forward to Wasteland 3, but hope they spend more time and money polishing things this time around. The Director’s Cut fixed and polished a lot, but also broke things that worked better in the regular game.

  5. Sleeping Dragon says:

    This will echo what Jeremy Bowers said above but here’s something that’s been increasingly on my mind.

    Large scale RPGs the way you, and to a large extent I, think about them are not really suited for AAA development, they are too large and primarily too costly to make. If we want an expansive world than that world needs to be filled with assets, if quests are meant to be branching and NPCs are meant to react to the branches than those reactions need to be voiceacted, animated and scripted, if the state of the world is meant to change than that is more development costs again.

    Witcher 3 is, frankly, some kind of aberration (do we even have any numbers on development costs of that title?) and even it took some shortcuts, like most of the quests not really having lasting or wider effects and being self-contained mini stories where choices exist for the sake of roleplaying alone. To be clear, I do not begrudge the game that, I think it was a very good idea and allowed the player to get a much better feel for “their” Geralt, but it remains a fact.

    With rare exception we’ll be getting RPGs as mid-range and indie titles: PoE 1&2, Tides of Numenera, Shadowruns, Spiderweb games (is Vampyr AAA or AA)? Heck, I’ve seen people argue that Bethesda titles are already falling somewhere between AAA and AA (not that those divisions are defined in any way) due to their lack of polish, or that their games would be better if they did scale the production values down and focused more on hand crafting content, fixing bugs, ensuring all the systems work well together and making the world both more dynamic and reactive to player actions.

  6. -Bioware
    I think they are just “wrapping up” the stuff from DA3 in the upcoming DA4 to end the Morrigan and Flemeth and Dread Wolf etc stuff… After that they’ll probably do a soft reboot of Dragon Age, jumping many years before DA1 or many years after DA4. There will be a Mass Effect “4” or “5” depending on how you count, I’m guessing a soft reboot here too.

    -Bethesda (Game Studios)
    Yeah, pretty much agree with this. I just hope the single player games are better than their first multiplayer effort.

    I think part of the reason Deadfire didn’t so so well was #1 you are racing after this giant god that will destroy the world, #2 Let’s sails the seas and do RPG stuff. There is a disconnect there. Bioware had a similar issue with their sequel (how to start it and have the player character gimped), only difference is that in Deadfire the cause remains part of the main plot. They may have fared better if they had started with the player making a new character (whom could have been sent on a errand by the first or something?). Another issue is the isometric, myself despite having grown up on this, still want to be able to turn the camera around and zoom in and out etc. Dragon Age Origin style. The restrictive camera isn’t fun. Good news is that Obsidian is now backed by the juggernaut Microsoft, so future stuff should not lack funding or manpower or technical resources. The Outer Worlds is a good sign in my opinion as that is something that is not tied to the Microsoft stuff, we won’t see the effects of the Microsoft buy-up until 2-3 years from now.

    It’s so easy to forget them. Their Divinity franchise is kinda odd. The “Divinity” games are kinda like Dragon Age in some ways, while Original Sin is more like Pillars. I have no clue what they are planning next. Technically they could continue on from Original Sin and do a soft reboot (it takes place before the Divine Divinity games I think). But I’d like to see them create something new.

    -CD Projekt RED
    These poor guys have so much pressure on them right now. Witcher 3 was awesome (gotta get all the DLCs, which makes it doubly awesome). Pondsmith and CD Projekt RED could end up shifting the entire market if the release of Cyberpunk 2077 is really good, OTHER COMPANIES may change their direction or future projects based on how well this game does, it might affect future movies and TV series as well (a netflix or amazon cyberpunk themed TV show maybe? By that I mean thematically not based on the Cyberpunk game/RPG world). BTW! CD Projekt RED is also working on another RPG, this as mentioned at a investor meeting, obviously nothing willl be known or happen with this until after Cyberpunk 2077 releases.

    -Warhorse Studios
    Kingdom Come Deliverance is a rather heavy sim’ish RPG. If they went for a non-historical tied world I think these guys could do Witcher 2/possibly Witcher 3 “level” fantasy games. The guy that founded the studio Mr. Daniel Vávra is a game designer and writer that used to work at the 2k Czech and lead the creation of the games Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, and Mafia II. It’s possible his new studio might end up making another “set in reality” game, but in more modern times. I can imagine these guys making a game in the area of Mafia II/GTA IV/Driver 3. “Daniel answered that the game engine is complete, and he cannot promise that the next game would be again KCD”

    -Owlcat Games
    They made “Pathfinder: Kingmaker” (their first game), a buggy mess sure (is it better now?), but a nice RPG. If this company stays afloat I’m excited to see what they can do next. The game’s been released for a while now, which means they must be at least in early prep for their next one (if the sales on this was good enough).

    -You (we) are forgetting…
    That’s the issue with forgetting, you forget. I did a quick Google search, apparently Playground Games is making a open world RPG (yeah the Forza racing game studio), also Microsoft bought the studio, make of that what you will.
    While I would not call Rockstar a RPG studio, RDR2 and GTA V does have RPG elements. But I’m guessing that GTA VI will be similar to GTA V. AFAIK Rockstart ain’t working on “another” game. In that way they are similar to CD Projekt RED in that they do one project more or less at a time. Also, Asian RPGs and companies are being completely ignored here. There might be a few surprises coming from there in the next few years (I’m thinking Cyberpunk 2077 might have some influence on the industry there).

    1. Simon says:

      I will say, with a well-supplied dispenser of grains of salt, that I love Kingmaker it was very buggy but I haven’t come across any (at least game-breaking) bugs in my latest playthrough.

      And the branching of the story, the interactivity and consequences are great! I however also still love real-time with pause games which seem to be fairly disliked by many other readers here.

      I have played the Baldurs Gate Trilogy, Witcher 3 and Pathfinder since May this year and I must say while I still like certain story beats from BG more then Pathfinder the game overall seems much more interactive and world driven rather then tell-taley (if that is a word)
      And that is something that is very important to me and I LOVE.

    2. Narkis says:

      Pathfinder: Kingmaker is my favorite game of the year, and the closest anyone has ever come to recreating the old Baldur’s Gate magic. It’s everything I wanted from Pillars and didn’t get. Owlcat has released more than 20 patches for itsince release, and massively improved everything. It’s still buggy, but now they appear to have fixed most of the “main quest broken, please await patch” bugs and it’s really more of the regural “wonky sidequest” or “mechanic not working entirely as intended” that most other games have nowadays.

      And I really don’t blame them. The game was originally slated for a Christmas release but the publisher moved it forward so that it’d come out right before the end of the financial quarter.

    3. Lars says:

      Look East: Grand Scale RPGs (not the rocket launcher) can be found in Japan. Square Enix has Final Fantasy (Even though XV was bullshit and VII Remake gets the same broken fighting mechanics as XV) and Dragon Quest and Star Ocean.
      From Software has Bloodbourne and Dark Souls. Persona 5 has been reviewed as the best RPG on PS4. (Own it, didn’t play it till now)
      Germany has Piranha Bites with the Risen and Elex. Deck 13 develops Soul-likes The Surge and Lords of the Fallen.
      Oh. And UbiSoft turned Assassins Creed into an RPG kind-of thing, with character levels, randomized stat-loot, fantasy creatures and bullet sponge enemies – bleh. They still own the Wizardry and Might & Magic licence. They might want to use those.

  7. Joe says:

    In my Skyrim games, Lydia always has a terrible accident one night. It’s one game where I’m as purely solo as I can manage. But I liked the companions in Witcher 3. Even the abrasive ones like Philippa Eilhart are fun.

    OTOH, I’m not feeling Jackie. I’ve worked with people who speak other languages, and they stick to English. They don’t make every third word their native language. Also, I find that a lot of cyberpunk characters are trying too hard to be cool, and don’t succeed. I want to tell them to ease up a bit.

  8. Synapse says:

    Great series Bob i quite appreciated the brevity of the posts (I know some people prefer much more long form posts) really look forward to what you do next!. Heres to CDPR hope they continue on other great games as well :).

  9. Dev Null says:

    And while the Witcher contracts were never just fetch quests, play enough of them and you start to see the formula emerge

    I strongly suspect I am roughly the 2.5 billionth person to make this observation, but since I don’t read a lot of game reviews I get to pretend that it’s an original thought: Geralt is Scooby Doo with more swords and slightly fewer janitors in masks. Everything else is just window dressing.

    1. Mattias42 says:

      I never really got that ‘contracts = fetch-quests’ complaint myself. I mean, the mutations, potions and sword aside, a Witcher is basically a fantasy take on playing somebody in the pest-control business.

      Of COURSE your going to fulfill a lot of on-off contracts for cleaning out monsters to make ends-meet for the more important stuff. If that idea doesn’t appeal to you, why play a game whose whole plot is at least partially focused on that?

      You might as well be shocked and appealed when the next Call of Duty has you playing a soldier dude firing guns. Or that the next Monster Hunter has you hunting monsters.

      1. Vinsomer says:

        While the Witcher 3 has repetitive quests, they’re at least given some level of importance through the presentation. You don’t know if the next monster contract will be a simple ‘find x with witcher senses and kill’, or a longer story involving more character and even choices. Well, actually you can tell a little if you pay attention. Witcher contracts where the monster is vaguely described, or whose victims actions or disappearances seem strange. You do get a sense that somethings not quite right sometimes, like a ‘real’ witcher would. And that’s a good thing: the game kind of, in subtle ways, encourages you to think like a witcher.

        To me, what matters isn’t just the nature of the quest but the context. After all, if we didn’t care about the context of our actions in the world, why play a role playing game? People enjoy playing CoD multiplayer which is specifically combat without any context beyond being a contest between players.

      2. Dev Null says:

        Agreed. (I never said it was a _bad_ thing that the Witcher was Scooby Doo – you don’t invite Daphne and the Miscellaneous Expendables round if you don’t want your faux ghosts debunked either…)

    2. BlueHorus says:

      It’s better than Scooby Doo. While there are a few repetitive quests, occasionally there was a good self-contained story about something more….a contract regarding an ancient Leshen, that was a metaphor for an inter-generational conflict comes to mind.
      Also one of the few times you really felt like a mercenary monster hunter that common people didn’t respect, rather than a superhero who saves the world.

      I also actually quite liked the way I got used to the contracts: ‘Oh, a wraith? I know what to do about this!’
      After a bit I felt kind of like a Witcher, rather than just an invisible presence following one around.

  10. Mattias42 says:

    There’s also The Bearded Ladies, with their new Mutant Year Zero: The Road To Eden.

    Haven’t finished it myself quite yet, but found its XCOM inspired take on stealthy turn-based combat very refreshing. As well the world itself that has a lot of strange stuff in it, but also a lot of pretty locals and a story that plays the tragedy of the whole place fairly straight without actually wallowing in it.

    No sales numbers or stuff like that yet, but the reception from fans and critics alike seems pretty gushing for an AA title from a new studio, so I think they could be a name worth keeping an eye on going forward.

  11. John says:

    I dig Larian games, or at least I dig Divinity: Original Sin. That said, I completely understand why some people might find them odd or off-putting. Original Sin, is in many ways a goofy fantasy theme park. It’s got a candy-coated visual aesthetic. It’s got a nonsense plot, world-building that aspires to half-assed, and a sense of humor rooted firmly in the dopey. It’s also got some frustrating old-school–I’m talking 1980s old-school here–puzzle design of the spot the tiny dark objects that you don’t know you need to find in the shadowy corners of a poorly lit room variety.

    But, oh, the systems. The turn-based combat system is just beautiful, the best in any RPG I’ve ever played and, frankly, more complex and interesting than that of many combat-centric strategy-RPGs I’ve played. There’s also a great deal of scope for build-tinkering. While there’s a little less in the way of mix-and-match find-the-unexpected-synergy than I’d like, I can think of at least three perfectly viable ways to spec a basic fighter. I just started my fourth playthrough. I have already statted out characters for my fifth. (I may have a problem.)

    It’s a darn good game, and I hear that Original Sin 2 is even better. (I also hear that Original Sin 2 changed the combat mechanics a little, specifically the way that armor works. I’m not sure I like the sound of that.) I was often frustrated in my first playthrough, but now that I know what to expect and how the systems work I’ve had a blast re-playing it.

    1. Joshua says:

      Only played the first one a bit, but completed the second. There’s not as much dopey humor (I hear it was really reduced anyway), but the setting is so dark that you appreciate some occasional silly humor. D:OS2 is also one of those few games I feel where it makes perfect sense for your character to be good or evil.

  12. Redrock says:

    I think it’s okay that old-school cRPGs exist in a AA segment. They don’t need to be AAA to be great. I have little problem with the supposedly smaller scale of The Outer Worlds. Heaven knows, Obsidian games could benefit from tighter scale and, hopefully, better QA it alows for. Similarly, my favorite games from the cRPG revival wave of the last several years are actually Shadowrun Returns and its two sequels, which are small, tight, well-written and very much focused on role-playing, choice, implementation of skills and builds into the narrative, etc.

    1. djw says:

      +1 to this. Niche markets are probably better served by lower tier companies. I also really enjoyed the Shadowrun games, and I continue to find myself amused by Pirhana Bytes offerings (Gothic, Risen, and now Elex). Not sure where they fall on the tier list, but its definitely not AAA.

  13. Narkis says:

    Larian: I sort of feel left out of the whole Larian thing. They have an art and storytelling style that I’ve just never been a fan of – like they’re trying to split the difference been dark fantasy and a Disney movie.

    Oh, god, I thought I was the only one. I can’t stand the humor in Original Sin. It reads like a bad parody of the genre, like someone really wanted to imitate Pratchett but fell, far, far short. The mechanics do look interesting, but sadly I’ll never know.

    1. John says:

      I don’t think that they were aiming at Terry Pratchett. I think they just like rhyming, bad puns, and the world’s silliest, most obvious jokes. In terms of doing what it set out to do, the game’s writing is a definite success. In terms of entertaining me, not so much.

      But it’s not really a humor game or a story-driven game, and if you don’t like the writing or the voice work you can click through conversations just as quickly as you please. All cutscenes, of which there are only a handful, are also completely skippable. The thing that I most appreciated about the game’s story is that it never got in the way of the parts of the game that I liked.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      I feel you.
      I actually quit Divinity: OS in disgust on my first playthrough: 50% of it was that the humor REALLY grated on me (and actively undermined the story), and 50% was bafflingly bad decisions that were made in storytelling/roleplay terms*.
      You definitely aren’t alone.

      But I persevered, and it’s sad – there really is a fun combat system in there. But you have to either endure or get used to the tone, because it doesn’t change throughout. And is bad.

      If it helps…the sequel is better. A lot better. Smarter, deeper, more serious, with a competent metaphor underpinning it and a complete lack of the tonal dissonance in the first game – it kinda feels like it wasn’t made by the same people, until one of the (far less frequent) jokes crop up, or you remember the game’s name, etc.

      *That would take, like, several lengthy articles to articulate. Might make for interesting reading, thou-
      ..Hey, Shamus, I’ve got another game you could cover!

      1. Gwydden says:

        The first Original Sin game is one of the few RPGs I’ve had a blast with because of the combat and exploration. The story, as in all Divinity games up to it, was serviceable at best. Historically, Larian has had the opposite problem from Obsidian’s: the latter’s writing takes itself too seriously; the former not seriously at all. I was willing to run with it, for a while at least, because the rest was just so good, but I get that a lot of people checked out early. Most mystifying of all, while D:OS1 has what amounts to an Excuse Plot, it is so verbose. Bland characters go on and on about inane stuff and even if their lame puns start out charming they wear thin in no time at all.

        I’m playing D:OS2 right now, and it’s kind of astounding how dramatic the improvement is on the narrative front. I don’t think its writing has anything to envy, say, Bioware’s better games. It’s not that it’s the greatest ever, but that it’s such a solid, competent delivery from Larian of all people. I’m still trying to figure out how the studio who never cared about story and always used it just as a delivery method for jokes of varying quality looked at the biggest criticism of D:OS1, said that fine, they’d fix the story, and managed it on their first try.

        1. Sartharina says:

          The thing about Larian Studios, at least to me, is that it’s NOT a big AAA gaming company – they tried to go big with Divinity 2 (Not D:OS2. The one that lets you turn into a dragon) – they’re a bunch of developers that have their own heartbreaker D&D setting that they try to make games they think will be fun and sell well (And chase trends, though with their own mediocre twist). It’s also part of the charm, though, if you can buy into it. Rutskarn mentioned the phenomenon in his Battlespire Magnum Opus – It comes off like the developers don’t have confidence in their game/setting, so whenever they feel like they might be trying to present something too significant, they back off and go for a joke instead of delving into pretentious nonsense that turns people off – or what they feel can be seen as pretentious bullshit. (See – countless pages that make a joke of the DM taking his world and characters way too seriously in DM of the Rings)

          So, we get ‘quirky’ things cat-mage Arhu, Rhyming Wizard Bellegar, Dragons with Jetpacks, and… well, all sorts of silliness!

        2. djw says:

          Chris Avellone quit Obsidian, and one of the side projects he took on was writing for D:OS2. So there is likely some overlap between “good” Obsidian writing and “good” D:OS2 writing, provided you like Chris Avellone’s style.

          1. Gwydden says:

            Eh, I think Avellone’s overrated. His character turned out the least interesting of the bunch, if you ask me. Here’s something one of the Divinity devs said in the Steam forums:

            Chris was really helpful, but there’s a lot more to it:

            – DOS1 started with one writer, added a second during production. Both great writers, of course, but that’s 1.5 writers for the game.
            – DOS2 has a writing team of seven, with Chris as a consultant.

            – DOS2 has had a longer development cycle than DOS1 had, so we’ve been able to do a lot more. We developed the story for a year before starting to write, and kept developing it as we wrote the game.

            – We updated the dialogue editor so it was much more flexible and wieldy. This allowed us to build dialogues as conversations. We also learned from DOS1 to be more concise and to-the-point.

            As a dev I know I’m biased, but much as I loved DOS1 and enjoyed the writing immensely, when it comes to story and dialogue, DOS2 is ten times the game DOS1 was.

            We hope you love it as much as we do.


      2. Joshua says:

        Curious, since it’s been awhile, what metaphor are you talking about?

        1. BlueHorus says:

          (Massive spoilers for Divinity OS 2, obviously)

          It’s about using other people as means to an end; turning them into raw power for yourself.
          While magic is powerful, Source is a magnitude above that: with enough Source, someone can do anything they want. And while its possible for Sourcerers to collaborate or give Source to each other…a faster method to get power is by taking it forcefully from others, killing them (or worse, depending on your viewpoint).
          And the more you have, the easier it is to just take even more…
          The Voidwoken that are plaguing the world are a direct consequence of the first time someone (the Seven) did this – they took so much Source that they literally became Gods and reshaped the world, for the ‘mere’ price of consigning the rest of their race to the Void.
          The problem with power, though, is that the more you get, the more you need – either because you’re paranoid, or because it’s addictive, both, or whatever. And because someone can destroy villages or countries, create unending curses, just do whatever they want, really: they might do just that, as demonstrated by Braccus Rex. (And one of the reasons the Gods created the races they did…was as a supply of Source. Mortals live, generate Source, die and end up being consumed by the Gods that made them.)

          Almost all the conflict in the game stems from the fact that it’s possible to (metaphorically) render other people into power for yourself – either someone else has done it in the past, someone wants to do it now, someone wants to eliminate any means of dong this ever again, someone wants revenge for when it was done to them, someone wants to do it before it’s done to them…these are all conflicts that have mirrors on the real world.

          The player is tempted cleverly within gameplay to do the same: look, here are some really powerful Source spells! Oh, and look, now I’ll give you an ability to consume spirits so you can take as much Source as you could want. You don’t HAVE to go nuts with super-powerful Source magic, player…but you could…
          It’s not like anyone can really stop you, nor does the enemy have qualms about doing it to you.

          1. Joshua says:

            Ah, thanks. I must admit I tend to play in very Goody-Two Shoes mode, and rarely used Source powers, especially not by recharging them from the soul power of spirits (unless those spirits really irritated me). Beyond the RP reasons, I’m also one of those players that tends to be affected by the Too Awesome to Use trope when it comes to things like Source.

            Playing this over some length of time, I must admit I never really quite understood some of the religious aspects of the game (I understood that the “Gods” were ascended mortals, but didn’t really understand how the Gods differed from the Divine, for example). I found the denouement of a game like Planescape:Torment to be much easier to follow in comparison.

  14. Daimbert says:

    Personally, I think developers are missing a trick here. Single-character RPGs can get lonely.

    I think that might be the case for OPEN-WORLD single character RPGs, because since they aren’t constantly driving you forward there are significant times when you’re wandering around looking for or heading towards various sidequests. Those that aren’t open world and/or have smaller worlds keep you occupied with combat or conversations or quests or plot and so don’t really give you time to get lonely. The freedom of open world RPGs also means more time when the only thing keeping you entertained is what you yourself is doing.

    DAI had the open world concept but also had limited areas where you needed to complete a lot of quests to get the points to get to the next area, and sporadic combat. All of that combined made it more grindy and so gave you less to distract yourself with than most other games.

  15. BlueHorus says:

    One of the reasons I played a naked punchmage early on in the game was in an attempt to wrangle some interest out of the combat system. It didn’t quite work. Mostly you just cast Igni over and over again.

    …So you deliberately hobbled your character and made the combat frustratingly hard…in order to make the combat more interesting?

    Don’t get me wrong, I understand the impulse. I did a similar thing, deliberately avoiding skills that were more powerful because they would make the combat trivial. I ended up investing as much as I could in sword abilities that boosted my counter-attacks and parries etc, hoping to make winning the fights more about timing & skill rather than bigger numbers.
    It…kinda worked.

    It’s just how you went about things. I have trouble getting how a Naked Punchmage build would in any way be fun or NOT end up in just spamming Signs all the time.

    1. djw says:

      Well, the other advantage of the naked punch build is that you can brag that you beat the game on a naked punch build.

  16. Paul Spooner says:

    Typo note:
    Seems “but it may that” should be “but it may be that”
    On the up-side, you properly terminated all your parentheses, so I didn’t throw a parsing exception.

    Thanks again for doing this series. As a person who has nowhere near enough time to play a 10 hour game, let alone another order of magnitude, reading these have helped me to feel that I’m back in touch with the RPG genre.

  17. Telxvi says:

    I didn’t realise how much I missed new stuff from Mr. B until I caught myself reading the piece in his voice, with my inner voice.

  18. Viktor says:

    Bob, you missed 2 games in the “Open World RPG” space. Assassin’s Creed has been trending that way a lot recently, to the point where most of my pro-Bioware friends have swapped over to AC:Odyssey and really enjoyed it. Meanwhile, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is light on the roleplaying and branching paths, but you have weapons, gear, and stats that increase in power significantly over the game, the ability to go anywhere as soon as the tutorial is over, and even a crafting minigame. It’s not clear yet whether this is a trend that will continue for LoZ, but it’s at least plausible they could be THE name in RPGs after another couple installments.

    1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

      I’ve been a big Bioware fan, but I have to admit that I have one foot out the door. Mass Effect: Andromeda didn’t blow me away, but I expect even the best companies to fumble from time to time. However, Anthem feels very much like a new Bioware manifesto with the theme being “If you like classic Bioware RPGs, we don’t want you as a fan anymore.” Add to that the fact that they scrapped some previous work that they had done for the next Dragon Age game so they could start from scratch with a version that had the online components built into the foundation, I can only conclude that they want me to scram so that the new blood can start flowing in.

      I just finished a playthrough of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which took many good hours, and I really enjoyed the whole experience. I wouldn’t call it a pure RPG (Is there such a thing anymore?), but it had some a lot of good RPG elements to it. I don’t know how big of a role that the branching decisions made, but the game did a solid job of making them feel important and varied. It’s odd to consider the idea that Ubisoft might be heading in the direction of making good RPGs, especially during a time when Bioware seems to be washing off the RPG like it’s some kind of stain.

  19. Stuart Worthington says:

    A few people already mentioned this, but I’ll throw my hat in the ring saying your list is very west-centric. There are a few AAA RPGs coming from Japan and the rest of the east. The Souls games, Persona, Final Fantasy, and even the latest Zelda to an extent, and those are all definitely AAA.

    However, I get the point. The marketplace feels like it’s really starting to dwindle. I’m super excited for Cyberpunk and The Outer Worlds, though.

    1. Gwydden says:

      WRPGs and JRPGs are very different and fans of one subgenre do not necessarily care for the other.

      And I’d say it’s not so much that the marketplace is dwindling, but that two out of the three AAA developers of WRPGs (Bioware and Bethesda) are not doing so hot right now. Though, unlike our gracious host, I never liked Bethesda to begin with and I jumped off the Bioware ship around the same time I started following CPDR, so for me the big budget RPG scene hasn’t been shrinking. More like remained tiny.

      As for the big three indie developers, Obsidan and inXile are also having trouble. Whether their acquisition by Microsoft is a sign of better or worse times to come remains to be seen. Only Larian’s doing well, and hopefully they can keep it up.

  20. Ruddie says:

    Where will we be able to find more content by Bob Case after this series has ended?

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