Breaking games into genres is a fool's errand; the delineations are unclear and they're constantly shifting. Video games swap and invent new mechanics with each release. Look at the latest versions of Call of Duty, they have strong narratives, they have XP systems, you can loot things, you can make some choices; these are the hallmarks of role-playing games! The best we can do when talking about genre is to stake out a few areas that CRPGs generally share.Here are the main ingredients that make up a CRPG:
Most RPGs include all these elements with specific games differing in how thoroughly they implement each item. Different players appreciate different elements more than others.
Secret rooms, cob-webbed tunnels, air-vents good RPGs present a rich environment for the player to explore - who knows what they might find? A good RPG has multiple pathways to let the player move through the world. More areas to explore makes a game less linear and adds a richness to its environments.
RPGs contain combat and varied enemies to be defeated using a wide arsenal of items, spells and weapons. Most combat encounters are relatively easy mobs (that allow the player to demonstrate their prowess) punctuated by more challenging fights such as bosses.
A good RPG needs loot, loot that helps tell the story of the world, loot that can used in unusual ways, loot for the player to lust after. From magic swords to alien blasters. Loot should be varied - no one wants the same stuff with a minor stat difference. It should look cool, it should come in variety of rarities (think about the regen materia in Final Fantasy 7 or a ribbon, rare but great loot) and it should come fairly often. Loot should also be varied in the ways it's obtained, hidden in ancient dungeons, loot from the corpse of a vanquished foe, bartered for with a cunning merchant, won from a competition and so on.
RPGs give the player more agency than many other games and so really feel like the player is driving the story forward. Players expect a compelling main story and often many sub-story threads they can follow as desired. The RPGs have trope fantasy in the blood with a dominant Tolkien gene. That's not a bad thing. People who play fantasy RPGs like killing orcs but tropes can get old. Play with the formula and add your own spin. Use the tropes to lead the players thinking in one direction only to turn their expectations on their head. The most compelling stories aren't about armies and dragons clashing they're about characters.
RPGs have layered systems for the player to explore. These can be separated into game world systems and gameplay systems.
The gameplay systems include the stat and skill systems. When does the player get a level? Are there skill points to spend? Choices to make? etc. These gameplay systems tell the player about the power they'll gain to influence the world and then invite the player to make an interesting decision:
"What do I pick?" The skill that gives my character a chance to passively disarm traps or the skill that gives triple damage on a successful sneak attack?".
There's a chance to reinforce the game themes by presenting skills appropriate for the setting. If you have a skill called Rune Reader the player knows:
- a. There are runes in the world
- b. Not everyone can read them - perhaps a forgotten or magic language?
This kind of evocative skill makes the world feel more alive and the player more engaged.
World systems give the world life; dragons might hunt deer, villagers might go to sleep and wake at set times. Players enjoy interacting with these systems (and exploiting where possible).
The word escapism has a negative connotation but who doesn't read books or watch movies? We get to spend disbelief and sample an alternate reality for a short time.
As C.S Lewis said the only people who hate escapism are jailers.
In real life, it's highly unlikely you'll be a space pirate captain but in games you can! And that's awesome! Isn't it better that people live out their Conan-fantasy through video games rather then in the city streets?
Computer games let you explore being a hero, dungeon crawler, genetically altered super solider, little girl with psychic powers and so on. It's an awesome thing to be able to make and give people; it's what makes games compelling. This is the "role-playing" part of role-playing games; offering the player to experience someone else's life.
Don't have an idea for a game yet? Use this list as a tool to evaluate your ideas. Think back to games you've played and enjoyed and consider how they cater to these elements.
Already making your game? Take a look at these elements and ask how much your game caters to them. If your game is lacking in one area then have a think and decide if you want to improve it. Be careful to weigh the following factors; your vision for the game, how long it would take, how much it would improve the game and how important it is, to you, to appeal to a wider audience.