I love to explore the relationship between the fictional worlds we create for movies, books, games, etc. and the real world.
This question has been asked so many times in game forums across the Internet since Skyrim's release in November of 2011 that surely most people are sick of it by now. I know I am. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to write this article because I think there is something interesting to be learned from the controversy over whether or not Skyrim deserves the label of RPG (and certainly "greatest RPG of all time").
There is a good chance that you've already made up your mind about this question. I'm not here to change your mind. What I am here to do is indicate why some people think it is, and why some people think it is not an RPG, and why it might just be possible that both opinions are right. If you feel strongly about the matter, you may not think there is much to talk about, but I think there is something to talk about, and that it's actually pretty interesting.
Let's start by taking a look at the different types of gameplay elements that exist in games in general, and then in RPGs in particular.
Player agency is the defining characteristic of video games. It's what sets them apart from other mediums, like television and music. When you play a video game, you have some impact on your own experience; you have the ability to change what happens.
This is often reduced to the concept of interactivity, but interactivity doesn't really capture the feeling of control you have when playing a game. You can interact with a book by turning the pages, or a movie by pausing and fast-forwarding, but you don't have any control over the content. Agency does a better job capturing the fact that you are actually an agent in the video game, helping to shape the final experience that you have.
While all video games are about agency, role-playing games, in particular, take the concept of agency to extreme levels: Not only do you have some impact on your experience of the game, but you also have an impact on the narrative (the way the story unfolds), the character's abilities (the way your character develops over time), and what your character does when (where you go and how you interact with the world). For the sake of this discussion, I'll call these narrative agency, instrumental agency, and investigative agency. Those terms might seem a little arcane right now, so the first thing I'm going to do is explain what I mean by them in a little more detail.
Narrative agency refers to the player's ability to interact with and, to some degree, control the way that the game's narrative (story) unfolds. In a linear game, the player has no narrative agency; they are simply herded from level to level, sitting passively through cut-scenes, and sooner or later end up at the climax of the narrative. The player has no freedom over how the protagonist chooses to live their life, no option to pick a side in a conflict between two factions (or avoid conflict entirely), and no ability to develop meaningful relationships with non-player characters (NPCs) that isn't already scripted. Games with no narrative agency are a lot like movies and novels.
Role-playing games, by contrast, typically offer the player some degree of control over the shape of the narrative. This control is provided by allowing the player to choose from different options in dialogue trees when interacting with NPCs, the ability to decline and abandon quests or to choose from different possible quest resolutions, and the ability to perform actions which clearly change the course of events (such as killing someone important to the main plot). These actions frequently (though not always) lead to different narrative endings, the ultimate validation for players exercising their narrative agency.
Narrative agency is not restricted to RPGs, of course, and can be found in many different types of games. Silent Hill 2, for example, has six possible endings. Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books are the clearest example of a "game" that gives you narrative agency but no other kind of agency.
Instrumental agency refers to the player's ability to mold his or her character into a useful tool for completing gameplay objectives. Players are given instrumental agency over their characters when they are allowed to customize them, choosing from different abilities, skills, spells, weapons, armor, and other gear. They are given instrumental agency again when they improve these characteristics later in the game by leveling up, equipping better gear, or otherwise manipulating various character statistics according to the particular game rules to gain an "edge" on enemies and obstacles in the game.
The cornerstones of traditional fantasy RPGs are game mechanics like classes, races, attributes, and inventory management through the particular mechanics a game uses are irrelevant as long as some set of mechanics is in place to provide players with this form of agency.
Typically, in an RPG, as players play the game and engage in various activities, they accumulate experience points (XP) or improve their attributes and abilities directly through use and find unique weapon and armor upgrades that can be equipped in various ways to create strategic advantages. By giving the player the freedom to choose which characteristics to improve (either indirectly, through point allocation, or directly, through use) and what weapons, armor and other gear to use, they are given instrumental control over their character and directly impact the character's ability to survive and thrive in the game world.
Like narrative agency, instrumental agency is not restricted to RPGs. Most games give players instrumental control over their character or avatar to one degree or another. Most action games, for example, allow the player to choose from a variety of weapons and other gear for completing objectives, making instrumental agency an important strategic consideration. Even choosing which power-up to grab in an arcade-style side-scroller is a simple, if limited, form of instrumental agency.
Investigative agency refers to the player's freedom to explore the game environment. A game with a lot of investigative agency will allow the player to explore freely, running, jumping, climbing, and swimming their way across the landscape without imposing any insurmountable (real or invisible) walls. They will also allow the player to interact with a large number of objects in the game world, turning appliances on and off, picking up bottles, opening doors, throwing chairs, and otherwise making a nuisance of themselves.
The amount of visual and auditory detail a game world presents to the player is an important factor in games that provide the player with a lot of investigative agency, which is why many open-world games are also visually stunning.
Investigative agency is especially pronounced in sandbox and open-world games, though it exists to a lesser extent in many types of games. There are also many types of games that do not provide the player with investigative agency. Many side-scrolling games and racing games, for example, do not provide the player with much of this kind of agency. Fighting games, where the player must proceed through set matches, sports games, puzzle games, adaptations of card and board games, and even many strategy games do not provide any significant amount of investigative agency.
An action game that funnels the player down a set path through the use of real and invisible walls is a good example of a game with little investigative agency. (These kinds of games are typically described as being "linear" or "on rails.")
Investigative agency and narrative agency are often closely connected, though they don't have to be. A game may provide the player with a lot of investigative agency and no narrative agency and vice versa.
Each of these three forms of agency is considered an "element" of role-playing games. Consequently, any game that includes some combination of these elements (though not, typically, a game that provides only one of these elements) is often said to have "RPG elements." BioShock, for example, provides players with instrumental and investigative agency, and, to a smaller extent, narrative agency, which is why it is described as having "RPG elements."
Most RPGs provide the player with some degree of narrative, instrumental, and investigative agency. These affordances on their own, however, are not sufficient for defining a role-playing experience.
In Rage, for example, the player has access to all of these in the form of voluntary missions, weapon and vehicle upgrades, and freedom to explore the map at leisure. Not many people would consider Rage a role-playing game, however, because it is missing a fundamental ingredient: in order for a game to be considered a role-playing game, the player's avatar (character) must be an individual in his or her own right, distinct from the player, with his or her own strengths and weaknesses. In other words: the player's ability to complete gameplay objectives must be limited by (and possibly extended by) the character's ability to complete them.
In twitch-based games, like Rage and BioShock, the player's ability to succeed at game objectives depends primarily on his or her reaction speed and hand-eye coordination and his or her ability to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles. When players are given instrumental affordances (e.g., weapon upgrades, plasmids), they serve primarily to enhance a particular aspect of the player's ability. They make it easier for the player, through his avatar, to do more damage or sustain more damage in combat. In role-playing games, instrumental affordances serve to enhance the character's ability, not the player's, and this is a subtle but very important distinction which is at the heart of all discussions about what is and is not a role-playing game.
It is easiest to understand the distinction between the player's skill and the character's skill by referring to turn-based RPGs.
In a pure turn-based RPG, the player has no control over how well his character performs an action. Everything is controlled by the game logic and 'die rolls' (chance). Reaction speed and hand-eye coordination are irrelevant. The player's avatar and every other character in the game will stay exactly where they are, replaying the same animation over and over again, waiting for the player to make a move. Whether or not the player's character hits an enemy and how much damage he does is controlled not by the player's ability to align a retical with a target, but by the character's statistics (or, more commonly, by a comparison between the character's statistics and the target's statistics). There is an (almost) absolute separation of player and character, and, for many players, this is the only important criteria for determining whether or not a game qualifies as an RPG.
This concept is so important and fundamental to discussions about RPGs that it is frequently expressed in the form of an equation:
character > player
As this formula clearly indicates, it is the character's abilities that are ultimately more important in determining the outcome of an RPG than the player's. The peculiar pleasure and challenge of a good RPG does not come from 'beating the game' but from designing a character that is both interesting and capable.
In real-time RPGs, this separation of player and character is inevitably muddied to some extent.
In real-time RPGs, the player's reaction speed and hand-eye coordination do matter to a greater or lesser degree. The player can compensate, in other words, for the limitations that the character possesses. If the player is able to circumvent the limitations of his character entirely through superior gamesmanship, many players will decide that the game no longer qualifies as an RPG.
This happened in the lockpicking mini-game in Skyrim, where the player's ability to pick a lock largely determines the outcome of the mini-game as opposed to the character's skill. In this instance, the player has subverted the limitations imposed by his character's statistics, and the mechanic is no longer seen as being in the service of RP, but in the service of action. It is easy to see why if too many gameplay elements become amenable to player subversion that many players are more likely to classify the game as an action game, or, at best, an action game with "RPG elements."
Is Skyrim an RPG?
If RPGs are built on three kinds of player agency and the principle of character > player, can we call Skyrim an RPG? Let's start our analysis with the last form of agency, investigative agency.
When it comes to exploration and world interactivity, I don't think there are many people who would argue that Skryim does not deliver. The world is huge and extremely well-crafted, both the exterior and interior environments. Aside from loading screens between interior levels, the entire world is delivered seamlessly with a noticeable absence of invisible walls. Most of the game world is also highly interactive: You can pick up and move around most objects, pick flowers, collect mushrooms, chop wood, forge ingots into weapons and armor, and even pluck the wings off butterflies. On this point, I'll give Skyrim a 5 out of 5.
The second kind of agency, instrumental agency, is a little more complicated. Skyrim does do a very good job of delivering instrumental agency to the player through skill use and perk allocation, but the absence of attributes, classes, and meaningful racial differences makes it feel somewhat narrow in scope compared to many RPGs. There are fewer mechanics in place to differentiate one character from another character.
All characters in Skyrim start out essentially as clones (the racial modifiers are relatively insignificant) though it is possible to create character builds over time that are meaningfully different from a gameplay perspective (i.e., Skyrim does provide the player with instrumental agency). The "learn by doing" and perk allocation mechanic, in principal, are quite good and solid mechanics. The player is given both direct and indirect agency over his character's build. Unfortunately, the perk trees are not terribly inspired or well-balanced; while some of the perks are interesting and useful, too many of them are trivial or too expensive (from a requirements perspective) for the mechanic to be considered robust. On this point, I'll give Skyrim a 3 out of 5, though many would give it a 2 or a 4.
The third kind of agency, narrative agency, is the area where Skyrim suffers the most. Players do have narrative agency in Skyrim: They are free to ignore or decline quests, abandon them, and, in a couple of cases, choose alternate outcomes. But the vast majority of quests are short, linear, and lacking in meaningful consequence. Players are rarely given branching dialogue trees that affect the outcome of a conversation; they rarely have any ability to influence an NPC's opinion toward the player's character (disposition having been reduced to very simplistic friend/foe categories, fame/infamy mechanics are essentially absent, etc.); they rarely have any choices within quests; many NPCs are flagged as being essential, and therefore unkillable; etc.
The net result of these lost opportunities and narrative restrictions is that the player rarely feels that he or she has any narrative agency. The player can choose to experience or not experience content (by choosing not to pursue quests) but can't choose to experience the content that is available in any meaningful way but the way in which it has already been presented. On narrative agency, then, Skyrim scores very poorly; I'll give it a 1 out of 5.
The final criteria, character > player, is another stumbling block for Skyrim. In Skyrim, your character's skills, perks, and attributes do have an impact on how well you perform in combat, spell-casting, stealing, and other activities. If you've used your instrumental agency to build a skilled warrior, your warrior will be better in combat than a character with a different build. If you don't invest points in Magicka, you will not be able to cast higher-level spells. If you don't take perks in sneaking and pickpocketing, you are more likely to get caught in the act.
The character's skills and perks, therefore, do have an impact on how well the player can succeed at any given task, but the design does not prevent you from attempting any task at any time, resulting in an almost overwhelming temptation for players to play jack-of-all-trade characters. This isn't necessarily a design flaw—after all, players should be free to develop their character in the way that seems most fitting—but it does weaken the barrier between the player's skill and the character's skill. If you can succeed at any game objective at any time, there is little real limitation being imposed on the player by the instrumental choices they make building their character.
Combat is another area where this relationship is threatened. Because Skyrim is a fairly responsive real-time action game, you cannot ignore the impact that the player's own reaction speed and hand-eye coordination have on the outcome of combat. Like freeform class design, this isn't a bad thing, per se (after all, it makes Skyrim a better game from an action perspective), but it does further erode the separation of player and character. A character controlled by a good action gamer is going to perform better in combat than the same character with the same stats controlled by a poor player. (The same criticism, of course, could be leveled at any real-time RPG, so it is not a failing exclusive to Skyrim.)
What is more damaging to Skyrim's reputation as an RPG is the perceived movement away from a strict player/character separation in lockpicking. Lockpicking has become a bit of a sore point for the game for precisely this reason: because it allows the player to subvert the character's ability, lockpicking in Skyrim is no longer considered an RP element by many players. (Your skill and perks do have an impact on your chance of success, but that impact is negligible for many players.)
This degradation of the "pure" RPG experience, in combination with the removal of traditional instrumental mechanics (class, racial modifiers, attributes), has resulted in a more free-form, flowing style of play, but at the expense of instrumental agency and increased opportunities for character subversion. On this last point, I'll assign Skyrim a score of 3 out of 5, though many would rank it much lower.
Adding all of these points together, Skyrim scores a 12 out of 20 for me in pure RPG mechanics. A "passing" grade, in my opinion, but not a strong one, and I don't think it's hard to see why many people would grade it lower, giving it a failing grade, thus disqualifying it from the genre. (I encourage you to rate it yourself to see where you stand on the issue.)
Bear in mind that this rating only refers to how well Skyrim meets the criteria for being a "classic" or "traditional" RPG; it is not a rating that reflects the game's overall quality. There is no law saying that Skyrim has to conform to any RPG standard, or that it would be a better game if it did; but it does indicate, in my mind, that as far as the implementation of RPG mechanics goes, Skyrim is not really a strong contender.
Hitting the High Notes
In spite of my fairly serious criticisms of the game as an RPG, I think Skyrim is an excellent game overall, and it does certain things (exploration in particular) better than any other game that I can think of. My rating for Skyrim, regardless of whether or not it hits the RPG high notes, is around 8.5 or 9 out of 10. I've put hundreds of hours into it already, and I'll probably invest a few hundred more.
At the end of the day, though, I can't help but wish that at least a few of those golden opportunities, the ones that would have taken Skyrim from being a great game to a timeless classic, had made an appearance. I wish that the NPCs had had a bit more life and reacted a bit more realistically, that the quests had a few more twists and a little more impact, and that the mechanics defining my character were a little more comprehensive, rather than a little less so.
In Skyrim, I'm always left wanting a little bit more. That's not a bad thing if the thing you want more of is adventure, but the thing I want more of is substance. And I have an unpleasant feeling gnawing away in the back of my mind that in the next title in the series we're not going to get more RPG, but less. If that's the case, then let's hope that the action is really, really good, because Bethesda will find out the hard way that the action genre can put up some stiff competition.
Then again, maybe a little competition is exactly what Bethesda needs.
What's Your Opinion?
ega on November 06, 2017:
I don't believe it's much of an RPG. It's more of an action game than role-playing. It's clear that they have set their ways in which direction they are shifting towards. It was obvious with Skyrim. If it wasn't, then Fallout 4 is is a dead give away.
When you join a guild such as the Companions and later decide to join the Dark Brotherhood without any repercussion, that's not role-playing. And people who believe being able to do everything you want is what defies RPG is completely wrong. In a real RPG, there must be restrictions. Those restrictions are due to consequences. You can't be good and evil at the same time because it takes away the purpose of role-playing one or the other. You can't walk down two paths. You must choose one or the other.
When games remove these restrictions, they become shallow. A mediocre game. A game trying to appeal to a wider audience. Role-playing games were never meant for everyone, but it seems today that RPG is set out to lure in every gamer by stripping down the elements of an RPG but still calling it an RPG. This is why a lot of new gamers of argue that Skyrim and Fallout 4 ARE RPGs.
Skyrim and Fallout 4 are an insult to RPGs. Bethesda lost sight of what RPGs are. They (along with other game developers of AAA games) want to fabricate what RPGs are and lead new gamers to believe otherwise.
MasterPsycho from Earth on September 14, 2016:
To me a REAL rpg combines everything u described. a strong and deep story where i can make meaningful decisions and those decisions will affect the world around me . Then the freedom to shape my character anyway i want to without being restricted by classes. And finally to be able to explore the world and make new discoveries, if and when that is possible.
good article, very informative and analitical. well done
DoomBlackDragon on September 11, 2012:
I can not call Skyrim an rpg as I feel the one things that seprates an rpg over other non rpg games is the Narrative Agency. We can even look at JRPG and we call them JRPG as they often times lack the Narrative Agency. A lot of actions games are coming out with Instrumental Agency. Shooters are using this as one of their big selling points now. So it very common with a lot of non rpg. As well as many adventure games have had a lot of Investigative Agency. In fact that really what makes an adventure game different from an action game. So for an rpg to stand over an adventure game/action game. It need to have Narrative Agency. RPG have been the number 1 spot for Narrative Agency. Which is why we play RPG. If you want those other agency then you can get them from a many other type of game but very few games out side of RPG use Narrative Agency.
So sense Skyrim does not have Narrative Agency. Then it is not an RPG. After all you placed that on the very first thing on the list. Making it stand out that you must feel it also the most important. I feel Skyrim is a very good sandbox action adventure game but sense I do not feel like I am really a character in the world. I feel like I am more playing an interactive fantasy movie.
It is shame Elderscrolls died after Morrowind Bloodmoon expation was released. Now we get action adventure games that have some names in common with elderscroll. Yes I do not count Oblivion and skyrim an Elder Scroll game.
j-u-i-c-e (author) from Waterloo, On on July 04, 2012:
@Obsidian: I'm glad the auto-skill-leveling is (mostly; exception: Speech, skill books) gone, too. It seems crazy but I spent way too much time worrying about overusing skills in Oblivion (a little OCD, maybe). And complaining goes both ways: some complaints are for more RP features, some are for fewer, so any time they change the game to make some of the players happy, the other players get upset. Tbh, I'm glad I'm not on the receiving end of those complaints. Thanks for reading and replying.
@Chrisvader774: I have to agree with you: even though Skyrim has stronger action elements than many other RPGs, I still feel like I'm doing more actual RPing when I play Skyrim. I think that has to do with the 'up close and personal' feel of the game (as opposed to a 'top down tactical view') and the amount of freedom the game gives you to deviate from quests. Even in games like Dragon Age or Neverwinter Nights, which have strong RP elements, I feel like I'm doing less RP because I can't really deviate from the main quest and just go out and do my own thing. I don't think many people really appreciate just how important that freedom is to a lot of players. Sure, my character's actions may be more strongly influenced by my personal reflexes, but my investigative agency is just so much greater in Skyrim than it is in most games so it seems like a fair trade off. That agency allows me to play a character who wouldn't undertake particular quests. In a linearly scripted game, even one with many branching paths, I still have to adapt my character to fit the story instead of the other way around. (Of course, how much is there to do if you ignore the main quests? That's an area I'd love to see a greater focus on.)
I like the idea of your character's intelligence exposing more 'detail' in the world around him or her. This could be implemented in a number of ways, using different textures, thoughts, dialogue options, etc. I think there's a lot of room for interesting experimentation here.
I would definitely *not* like to watch my character battle a dragon on auto-pilot. That mechanic works fine in strategy games, even in games where you have to control a party of characters, but in a single-player game it would really suck. Character deficiencies could, instead, be controlled by a number of stats. For example: if my character isn't strong enough to wield a sword effectively, it should be slower, have a lower penetration value, become damaged more quickly, or even knocked from my character's hands. If you tweak all of these other stats, you don't need to have situations where you clearly hit but do no damage (a la Morrowind). If using a big, heavy weapon you're not trained to use means you're slow, do less damage, and are more likely to be disarmed, you're probably going to be better off using a weapon you can handle. In this case, if you know how to use a dagger, your speed, penetration, ability to parry, etc., will all be higher and you will actually be more effective with a dagger than a broad sword even though a trained swordsman would obviously be better off with the sword.
As far as cutting them slack goes, I would but many of the features they added have been around for years in other games. It wouldn't have been hard to model the best aspects of existing mechanics. As it is, it's almost as if they tried to create these elements in a vacuum. I think it's just an area where they didn't really invest much effort. Other parts of the game are fantastic, so it's okay if everything isn't up to the same level of quality, but I think it's still a legitimate criticism.
Chrisvader774 on June 16, 2012:
Very good article! Having read your other articles on Skyrim, I would venture to offer this opinion:
I think Skyrim has the greatest POTENTIAL to be a RPG than any other game out there. It does fall flat on a number of issues, but overall, it is still the greatest AAA game that does a great job of rolling those things into one.
I think Bethesda is trying to pull in people from all walks of the gaming community. In other words, they are catering to the "metagamer," who wants to create the best build, do the most damage with it, and do *everything* with one character and obtain ALL the gold in the world. You can do that in Skyrim...in spades. You can go through all the quest lines, max out every single one of your stats (if not the perk trees, but realistically, to overcome any obstacle in the game, you don't need to) without ever having to "roll up" an new character. That appeals to some gamers who want to play other games...but even with this one-size-fits-all approach in Skyrim, to do all the meaningful quests takes hundreds of hours! If you were to truly RP the game, you may never play another game again for the next 10 years due to the number of times you would have to keep replaying it if you stuck to traditional RPG elements (i.e. play through as a thief, only play the thieves guild quest line, second time through, play as a warrior and the companions quest line, etc.).
So in this regard, yes, Bethesda has released a game that allows for metagaming with the system they have in place. However, they have ALSO allowed within the rules the OPTION of self-gimping, which you masterfully wrote two articles in how to do that. Since this is a single player game, if you "cheat" and go outside your own self-imposed limitations to make the game more challenging, then the only person you cheat is yourself and your immersion experience. This is, of course, just Bethesda's released version, this doesn't count the number of mods out there by gamers who want a better RP experience, so they create mods that further gimp the system, or add obstacles that convey a more difficult and realistic element that is otherwise missing from the game (i.e. rest/meals, more realistic environmental interactions like hypothermic possibilities from being out in the cold too long, etc.). That Bethesda allows the modding tool to be released tells me that they WANT people to make things that a) they either didn't think of to include in the game or b) customize their gaming experience to make it more to their liking. As a business, Bethesda's interest in creating a game that takes a "middle of the road" approach to drawing in action gamers, RPG gamers, FPS gamers, and puzzle gamers makes sense...they want to maximize their profits with one game, so you can't do that unless you provide elements of all without breaking the game. Under the circumstances, I think they did a phenomenal job of balancing all those gaming elements without spreading themselves too thin. Usually when you try to create a game with too many different gaming styles in it, it is usually a craptastic experience. Not so with Skyrim.
As to some of the specific complaints about crafting, I will say this: I think Bethesda should be cut a little slack about the armor crafting, as it's the first foray into the territory. Same with cooking. These mechanics do feel a bit unfinished and may have had some unintended side effects, which they will undoubtedly learn from for their next installment. But the simple fact that you CAN do those thing in game I think adds a level to the RP element that you really can't get anywhere else. Not that I think it's much fun, but where else COULD you create an entire character who does nothing but go around the game world chopping wood, cooking, collecting reagents, craft armor, make gold and NOT set foot in a dungeon or engage in combat?
As to the argument for player (greater than sign) character or vise versa, I agree with you 100%. I think as far as combat goes, Bethesda balanced it out as best as they could, but I'm not sure what the best solution would be to this problem. If you want real time action in a game, you are almost relegated to using your skill as a player to defeat your foe. I must admit...watching a battle between your avatar and a dragon is MUCH more impressive than if it went to a turn based combat mode...the experience would be lacking. The only way I think it could work is to have combat go to a cut scene and play out according to your character's abilities and maybe preset equipment/spells. Allow for pausing to change tactics/equipment/spells. Even with this system, you still feel more like a spectator rather than having control over the battle. This would lead to feelings akin to monday-morning-quarterbacking, which would be frustrating. Watch your avatar swing their sword and clumsily miss their foe by a country mile, you'll be cursing yourself saying, "Well, I wouldn't have done THAT had I been in charge! I would have waited for the right opportunity to swing my sword...let me in there, I'll do it right!" Even if your character is a mage...who never picked up a sword in their life and the stats dictate that they WOULD have done that in combat, doesn't matter...we know we would have done better. Non-combat skills, I think, could have a better effect on this phenomenon, though. For instance, if you have a character with high intelligence, they should do better than you on puzzle problem quests rather than maybe YOUR intelligence level and ability to solve puzzles. This may come in the form of highlighting the solutions on par with your character's intelligence level. Hidden passages or traps would only be visible to characters trained to find them or has a spell that would reveal it only after casting. I think "mini games" can have their place in a RPG, but it should be limited to games of chance in a gambling house, or other such function to which your ability and skill as a player is on equal footing with the skill set of your character.
Anyway, sorry this was so long winded. Keep up the great work...I find your articles to be very thought provoking and well written. Looking at the direction they go, perhaps one entitled "My Dream RPG if I Had the Opportunity to Create One" isn't far off?
Obsidian on June 04, 2012:
What I find interesting is that a lot of what make Skyrim less of an RPG are mechanics people complained about (or modded) in Oblivion. Lockpicking definitely falls into this category. Stats are another, although I'm glad simply using a skill won't count against me this time around the way it did in Oblivion. I feel like Bethesda overcompensated in a lot of areas.
j-u-i-c-e (author) from Waterloo, On on May 20, 2012:
Thanks, Eileen. I have more in the works. :)
Eileen Goodall from Buckinghamshire, England on May 20, 2012:
Great Hub keep them coming we'll be reading them.
j-u-i-c-e (author) from Waterloo, On on April 17, 2012:
@Alex31w: Those all sound like good things to me. There's no reason they can't have default settings like the ones they currently use but then give you the option to customize them. A lot of players will just use defaults, but even something simple like this would go a long way toward making more serious RP'ers happy. Thanks for reading and replying.
Alex31w on April 17, 2012:
I agree with what ur saying about it being a weak contender in the RPG genre and hope that in the next elder scrolls game they allow you to interact more with NPC's and what you say will have a outcome on what they say to u, in star wars the old republic the dialogue system is very good because it is virtually what I have described above and leads to interesting conversations. I would like a bit more freedom in character creation maybe the ability to chose what Low level spells u start of with and if you want your character to be better in one skill you can customise it so that they start the game with a unique set if skills which would help the RPG experience immensely. Oh and they need to bring back auto pick!
arhoup on April 11, 2012:
I feel that once you get in to the game it will hook you it has me and i agree with William157 it is a masterpiece
j-u-i-c-e (author) from Waterloo, On on April 09, 2012:
Originally, I didn't understand why Skyrim was receiving so many negative reviews from players on the forums. I thought it was a great game, hands down. But I lean more towards exploration than narrative, and Skyrim does exploration very well (if you ignore/turn off the compass).
It was only after talking to a lot of other players that I started to piece it all together. There are really three general types of players and they more or less fall into categories according to the type of agency they consider to be most important. Without exception, people who want a strong story and narrative agency dislike Skyrim more than any other group; players who like RPG gameplay mechanics, building characters, min/maxing, etc., tend to have a very average view of the game; and players who like exploring the environments have a very positive view of the game.
Skyrim succeeds at some RP tasks better than others, and because exploration is the first thing you do, really, it accounts for a lot of the initially positive reviews. It takes longer to get the hang of the game mechanics, so those criticisms didn't show up until players had put at least a couple dozen hours into the game. The hardest thing to gauge is narrative agency, which is why those complaints showed up last (after a 100 or so hours), but now they are probably the strongest complaints against the game: too short quests, lack of choices and consequences, etc.
Thanks for reading and replying.
Giandalf on April 09, 2012:
I'm glad SOMEONE finally wrote an article about this. To me narrative agency is extremely important so I never really enjoyed skyrim that much. Now at least i have a bit more insight into that and hopefully a lot of other people will too.
j-u-i-c-e (author) from Waterloo, On on April 03, 2012:
Semantics certainly shouldn't affect one's opinion of the game. But understanding why games are classified as being in one genre or another can teach you a lot about game design because the genres are generally broken along gameplay experiences, not thematic content.
Dead Space is another good game to argue semantics over. Is it a survival horror, as many people claimed, or an action horror? Knowing why some people want to put it in one category or the other will teach you about the kinds of experiences that players are looking for. That's something that developers can learn from as well.
I tend to prefer RT RPGs over TB ones myself, so I definitely understand where you're coming from, but I learned a lot from my arguments with gamers who prefer other styles of play.
Thanks for reading and replying!
William157 from Southern California on April 02, 2012:
People can argue semantics all day -- Skyrim is a masterwork of a game, even if it has some features that people feel "break" the magic. Besides, I prefer to use my skills as a twitch shooter as opposed to dice rolling as much as possible.