Some critique on Computer RPGs

Purely from a technical/historical point of view, some critique on a few computer roleplaying games (CRPGs) I recently played.

I realize that most of those aren’t exactly about “role”-playing, but more about tactical small unit combat, with plot and puzzles thrown in, or more like action-games with stats (and plot and puzzles). Whatever, I enjoy them nevertheless, even tough they’re in fact a big waste of time.


What I like

  • Armour. A system where you can selectively wear armour on different body parts. And your avatars reflect that. Certain kinds can be worn over each other.
  • Towns. They really look like 17th century towns (yes, I suppose they had meant them to be medieval, but they are not). Beautiful.

What I don’t like

  • Partitioned world. Go to another part of the town, you go to another level. Enter a building, you enter another level.
  • Artificial limits. You can’t just climb a mountain, cross a stream or jump onto a rooftop
  • Props. Things that just stand there and are of no use. You can’t grab the spoon on the table.


What I like

  • No artificial limits. There are no boundaries in the world where you cannot go logically. You can jump on roofs or climb mountains
  • Armour. A system where you can selectively wear armour on different body parts. And your avatars reflect that. And the standard steel plate-armour looks right
  • Horizon and View. You can climb a mountain and look down on towns kilometres away.
  • No Props. You can grab just about everything, from spoons on the table to vases. They’re mostly not of great value, and you’ll soon stop doing it. But you can.
  • Climbing skill. The better you get, the steeper the mountains you can climb.
  • Horses. You can ride them
  • Map. You can explore everything and it appears on the small-scale map.

What I don’t like

  • Partitioned world. Go to another part of the town, you go to another level. Enter a building, you enter another level.
  • Armour. Your body parts are just replaced by the armour-part, and not overlaid with it. Furthermore, all the special armour is made from extremly unlikely materials and looks completely unuseable.
  • Lockpicking. It’s a modern lock, and picking locks with barbed keys is far easier than that.
  • Rain. It rains below cover.
  • Some towns. They look like everything was razed to the ground and built up from scratch
  • Mountains. They lack horizontal and overhanging sections. And are not rocky enough.
  • Horses. You can’t fight from horseback, and you can’t equip different saddles and horse armour
  • Map. the small scale-map of some level can’t be accessed when in another level.

Gothic 3

What I like

  • The seamless world. The world is just one big piece of world, with no artificial borders when entering some building or dungeon.
  • No artificial limits. There are no boundaries in the world where you cannot go logically. You can jump on roofs or climb mountains
  • Lockpicking. It’s not perfect, especially with that 1-3 level-system, but at least its fast and not some stupid game around modern locks
  • Rain. It doesn’t rain indoors.
  • Solve quests at any time. It doesn’t matter if someone told you to kill some orc-raiders, if you killed them, you solved the quest. You might get a bounty if you ever met the NPC who would have handed out the quest.

What I don’t like

  • Armour. They only come in one piece for the whole body. Plus Helmets, which are much too rare and look crappy.
  • Weapons. Would anyone care to explain why some Conan-esque monstrosity is more efficient than a sleek long sword? And why all those smaller weapons should be more deadly than a halberd (which is just about the most effective weapon in single combat, even more than a two-handed sword)
  • Doors. Well, there are nearly none. Indoors staircases are mostly missing too.
  • Horizon and View. You can’t see mountains which are some kilometres off, instead they tend to pop up or are shrouded in mist.
  • Props. Things that just stand there and are of no use. You can’t grab the spoon on the table.
  • Map. There is only a big one. A small-scale map on which you could see everything where you’ve already been would be nice.

Dragon Age: Origins

What I like

  • The story and the characters. Both are very strong. It’s even possible to enter romantic relations. With both sexes.
  • Magic and Faith: The monotheistic faith in the “Maker” with its “chant” gives it a much more medieval flair than those pantheons in most other RPGs. Also, the relationship of the church (Chantry) with its templars and the mages is an inherently believable one.
  • Lockpicking. It’s not some tedious and unrealistic minigame.
  • Armour: The stamina-deduction is exactly what armour does. It tires you faster.

What I don’t like

  • Partitioned world. Heavy partitioned. Every house is a new level. And it’s slow to load too.
  • Limits. Tons of them. There are lots of maps where it’s totally unclear why you can’t go somewhere, there’s nothing that would block you in-game, no wall, no crevasse, but only an artificial limit
  • No weather, no time. Every map has it’s own specific daytime, and that’s it.
  • Props. A lot of things are just there for show, and not useable. Including doors.
  • Way too little things, and enemies don’t even drop weapons they wielded or armour they’re obviously wearing.
  • Armour. Too big pieces to choose from, and some is very weird looking. And wearing armour does NOT need some huge strength, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to wear my gothic plate armour.
  • Levels and level-caps. It’s entirely possible to have some skill-based system not reliant on levels, and if you’re using levels, don’t cap them arbitrarily.
  • Sex vs Violence. The game is very bloody (I don’t care), but the sex-scenes are, umm, US-american. With clothes on; and I can’t stand sex with clothes on. Fucking puritan hypocrites.

Closing Comments

Armour. Everyone gets this wrong. It’s not like all armour will protect you generally from part of the damage, but some will protect you totally. You just can’t pierce a good late medieval breastplate with an arrow or a sword. no way. This “subtract armour-value from damage-value” comes of course from the not too realistic pen&paper-RPGs. The second thing most games get wrong, is how armour works, how its fastened to the body, and what can be worn above what. Plus, instead of offering different qualities of armour (plus magically enhanced) made from a very fixed assortment of raw materials, some games tend to offer armour made from absurd materials. In fact, apart from modern composite materials there is no better material to make armour than steel (and I would add the legendary “Mithril” too, but for chainmail only. Cannot be worked into big plates or something – Titan has the same problems btw.). Steel comes in many qualities and can be hardened (or not).

Lockpicking I pride myself to be able to pick most old locks requiring a barbed key within seconds. And the system should reflect that possibility. Also, lockpicks usually don’t break. Most crucial for lockpicking will be the tools. So why not offer different qualities of picks in the game? Thus you would gladly accept quests in order to get better picks. Just as you would to get better arms or armour. And while you probably could open any lock with a tiny bit of talent and good tools, a lot of Skill would be required to make your own very good lockpicks.

Arms. Arms are made against a specifically armed and equipped opponent. A flail for instance works wonders against people with shields (because you can reach your opponent behind the shield), but is otherwise quite ineffective. And the damage they do and their armour-piercing capabilities differ greatly. A warhammer (think icepick, not sledgehammer – those sledgehammer-things are not weapons that were ever used in war) can pierce chainmail easily, and some not-so-good plate-armour as well, but the damage won’t be as devastating as if hit with a sword somewhere un-armoured.

Transport is mostly lacking. Sometimes horses are available, but carriages and boats are not. And in fact, carriages and boats could work either very much alike horses, or be driven by dialogue to the boatsman or coachman, thus providing a platform to look at the scenery and do drive-by-shooting ;)

Continuity of equipment Most fantasy-worlds feature a mish-mash of equipment, weapons and armour not used in any historical period at the same time. This leads to some very illogical set-ups of some arms used against armour against which they are no use at all (flails or bows against late-medieval plate armour) or where they would be so effective (Rapier against Chainmail) that everyone would use them, thus reducing that mish-mash in every culture in that world in a few years time to that what is most effective (actually, with black-powder weapons in most fantasy-worlds not existent, to plate armour, heavy crossbows and halberds.). So, more care should be taken to not mix too much; 100-200 years difference is already a lot, even in the middle ages. Rather vary quality of available swords than add the huge two-handed swords (the small ones appear in the late middle ages, sometimes known as one-and-a-half-handed swords or “bastard-swords”; but they’re actually two-handed swords, not to be used with a shield) from the renaissance.

Money Everything is much too expensive, and the money consists mostly of gold. Why not adapt a more medieval system like 12 silver pennies (one penny equals a beer or a loaf of bread on the market; 4-6 pennies a chicken) equal one shilling, 20 silver shillings would make one pound silver, but since nobody wants to carry around a pound silver, this is substituted by the guilder, a golden coin of the same value. A sword should cost 1-2 pound, a horse 1-4 pound. A cow is cheaper, costs only about 5 shilling. Most of all, if you really get a gold coin, you’d be quite wealthy, and you wouldn’t have to carry around ludicrous amounts of gold..

Black Powder Just to have this noted, the first black-powder weapons, cannons and handguns, appear before ANY plate armour in the late middle ages. Thus plate armour is probably a reaction against it. There is also no reason to not have early Firearms in your setting, as they are slow (45-60 seconds to reload), inaccurate (20 metres to be able hit a head) and don’t work when it rains. The shooter also carries a smoldering lint along, which game will smell, no hunting with these. I’d incorporate them if I would incorporate plate armour, along with 4-5 metre long pikes, and let the players find out themselves that both these are only useful in disciplined units in mass combat.

World A seamless world with no artificial limits (except the boundaries of the world itself — which can be worked around in making the world “round”, meaning if you leave the world-map to the east, you’ll enter it again from the west) is incredibly cool to play in. However, house interiors should still be elaborate, and above all, there still should be doors, which one should be able to close as well as open. Maybe even able to lock them again (could also be used by guards to get alarmed if a door isn’t locked again).

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