Return of the RPG
I love RPGs. There is something special about RPGs, be it digital or with pen and paper DnD. Sometimes you start with random attributes, skills, and feats. Sometimes you get to pick and choose and fine tune your character to be anything you want them to be. Fueled by imagination and creativity alone, RPGs are a playground, meant to be played over and over again, with different options and methods of play.
Now I could go on and on about the importance of play and the philosophy behind it. The short and sweet: Playing allows you to flex your brain muscles; you can start thinking outside the box and inspire creativity. Maybe this is from my own personal bias as a writer, but god damn does it beat writer’s block like none other.
It started with Fallout. And then Fallout 2. I was in college, long after the franchise began and shortly before Fallout 4 came out. My buddy Jacob, a Fallout fan since childhood, started to explain the series to me and even bought me the first few games for PC (for a whopping total of like, $3). I fell in love. The games were so deceptively simple, and yet they were bursting with personality and choices. It was immediately nostalgic, even though I had never played the games before in my life. It still brought back memories of going to a family friend’s house and playing classic computer games and watching reruns of Star Trek. All that old-school nerdiness of the late nighties rushing back.
Then Jacob let me borrow Fallow 3 and New Vegas. Games I still go back and play today. They were exactly the time of game I had been looking for. Uninterested in online games and only hooked on a specific few first-person games (which I would learn later had some RPG elements), playing the Fallout series was so interesting. Like a choose-your-own-adventure book. When Fallout 4 released, we bought the game as soon as we could, playing and chatting about what we were doing. It had changed quite a bit from New Vegas and the previous games, but it was still the Fallout we loved. It had its faults, but it was still a great game.
When the now infamous Fallout 76 was announced, I pre-ordered it. I was so stoked to have another chapter in the Fallout series come out. And then I played it. I tried, I reaaaaally tried to give that game some love. I could even buy into the storyline. Cool, no humans! Sure, why not! But the game was too unbalanced, and left a lot of wanting without giving. It was grindy and gimmicky and Fortnite-y and it lost the RPG-ness I loved.
But by some stroke of cosmic luck, the same masterminds behind the original, pre-Bethesda Fallout, along with the development team of New Vegas, gave us The Outer Worlds.
Gang. If you haven’t played this game, play this game. If you had any inkling of liking for Fallout or The Elder Scrolls or Dungeons and Dragons or Knights of the Old Republic or any RPG, please play this game.
From the first cutscene, it becomes immediately reminiscent of the RPGs enjoyed two decades ago. It’s an old game, but it’s not an OLD game. It takes on the simplicity of early, text-heavy games with snark and humor, and evolves it into a goregeous, modern story. I’ve never been happier to return to the classic text selection UI that I haven’t seen since Fallout 3. It even improves on certain things, like using basic skill checks for certain tasks, rather than relying on mini-games to test your skill. Improving your skills and abilities at leveling don’t seem like a pointless chore. You can increase the skills of entire sections of attributes. Skill trees have disappeared, replaced by more simplified tiers of different feats.
This is something I want to see return in future games. The world has been taken by storm by PvP, deathmatches, and battle royales. Only a couple of years ago, EA claimed single-player story games are dying and are unpopular. And at the time, I think they were right. But this year has seen a surge of games with amazing stories, and even EA has a story-based, single-player game that has my attention (Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order).
However, unlike the single-player games that are more cinematic and railroad-y, having a true RPG back in our gaming lives is like having a really good book in your lap. It’s inviting; but more importantly, it’s immersive (insert bad “muh ‘mersion” joke here). Nothing can scratch that itch of curiousity and exploration in the way a good RPG can, and that is something I thought was lost when Fallout 4 debuted. Now granted, I could be totally wrong on that front. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that can point out true RPGs released since Fallout 4 and to those people I welcome your suggestions with open arms. But for the water-chip-hunting, ghoul-bashing, crude-humored-NPC-loving wastelander that I am, I have found a new sanctuary in The Outer Worlds.
I’m still early into the game, so you can rest assured that this critique is spoiler-free. But in the early hours of this morning, Jacob sent me a message on Xbox Live. We both agreed: the return of RPGs is finally here, and it’s warmly welcomed.
Joe Staples is a copywriter and tech reporter based in Brooklyn, NY. When he’s not glued to the screen and finding as much Adrena-Time as possible, he’s participating in the 30-Day Writer’s Challenge. Strap in, because he’s a day late and has a lot of nonsense to say. You can follow his nonsense on Twitter or you can email him. @joeisastaple | firstname.lastname@example.org