Is It A Good Game, Or Is It Just An Open World Action Adventure RPG?

Is It A Good Game, Or Is It Just An Open World Action Adventure RPG?

Critics and (some fans) raved about Dragon’s Dogma 2, Capcom’s latest RPG, in the wake of its launch earlier this year. When Baldur’s Gate 3 launched, it also did so to critical acclaim. As did Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth, The Witcher 3, Dragon Age, Skyrim, Starfield, and so on, and so on. With all these major RPGs dropping and finding near-universal love time and time again, it got me wondering. In the same way people ask: “Is he hot, or is he just tall?” I now pose my own, more gaming-related question to ponder: is it a good game, or is it just an open-world action-adventure RPG?

As a disclaimer, I’m not saying any of the games listed above (or any other RPG, for that matter) are bad. I love RPGs to death, and clearly, games like Baldur’s Gate 3 didn’t win a million Game of the Year awards for nothing. These games, and many others like them, have a litany of reasons why players have loved them and continue to do so. But it does raise a question of perspective: could it be that the the reason people love these games isn’t the result of worldbuilding setting, or graphical fidelity found in each title, but rather the familiar, comfortable design scaffold of the modern RPG?

Do players and critics just enjoy having a lot to do? Pushing through main and side quests, engaging with various experience and levelling systems, and having open maps to explore? Dragon’s Dogma 2 has been praised for its expansive nature and reactive environments, though some reviewers found that it was held back by some clunkiness and strange design choices. 

Despite these setbacks, which some critics even called “frustrating,” it has reached nearly universal acclaim on Metacritic (not counting the mixed player reviews, which mostly seem due to strange microtransaction offerings). Some even called it a once-in-a-generation RPG – a title bestowed on quite a few of the aforementioned titles as well, despite arguably all spanning across one to two generations at best. 

Even Cyberpunk 2077 managed to remain culturally relevant for the three years it took CD Projekt to salvage its catastrophic launch, and it quickly clawed its way back to the top. People across the world reamed it for its failings at the time, but it still sold like hotcakes and secured itself a lofty spot in the RPG pantheon. Is it because of the genre? Its systems? Its setting? The notorious real world saga of its launch? It’s hard to say.

Broadly speaking, plenty of players are happy if a game runs well, looks good, and gives them plenty to do. Some of the RPGs from the last two decades run with these elements and not much else, but still find themselves placed amongst the best games of all time.

Others in the genre, of course, go above and beyond to create something truly special – whether that’s Baldur’s Gate 3’s truly massive branching story possibilities and hyper-customisable player experience or The Witcher 3’s gripping storyline and massive worldbuilding. But I do wonder if we are perhaps too lenient on such a popular genre when it feels increasingly like a crutch for publishers looking for their next safe bet?

It’s a tricky question to truly answer, given the answer is perhaps as simple as this: major RPGs are almost always viewed as good games because of how they stick to the design pillars of a classic RPG. Players enjoy those features, and therefore that’s enough. I’ll continue loving RPGs big and small (and asking myself this question) forever, most likely. But I’d also love to see more genre giants innovate the space in the ways Larian did last year, and the ways many other games of all production scales continue to do.

I’d love to know your thoughts on why RPGs seem to have such a lofty legacy and such dedicated player bases behind them, whether you think it’s because of those key genre features or in spite of them. Let me know in the comments.

Image: Capcom

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