Character choice in games:

When we play a game we expect to have a certain degree of autonomy with which to decide how our interactions with that game take form. Now this isn’t going to be a blog in which I continue to tenderize the flesh of the dead horse that is the whole “IlUsIoN oF cHoIcE iN cHoIcE bAsEd GaMeS” mess. Rather I want to take a look at the choices we are given in terms of how we make our characters specifically in the role-playing game genre. From TTRPGs to videogames like the fallout series, there is a common theme that you should be allowed to choose how your character can interact based on allocation of stats, skills, and perks/feats/features regardless of how they go about this whether it be a class or a jack of all trades based system. We’ll be harping on Bethesda and praising Obsidian in this, as they make for the clearest points of contrast given the shared series they took vastly different approaches to. 

See this chart above me? This chart is a branching path as you can notice. What makes having a choice in this path actually matter? As you can notice when you take one path, a variety of other paths open to you, and simultaneously a similar amount closes themselves to you. This is a concept I think some games struggle with, that part of making a meaningful choice is in choosing to not only gain one thing, but also have an opportunity cost elsewhere. This means you have to look at your options and really think about what you’re doing with a character as well as what you want them to do rather than just slapping stuff in places. One good example of this done right in a video game is Fallout: New Vegas. Your skill point allocation determines which perks that you can attain through later levels into the game. Then on top of this your perk choice quantity is the most limited in the modern era of the series, at maximum level giving you only 15(or 25 with the DLC you honestly should have) which means you have to be selective in which you choose. When building a FNV character, you have this agency with which you can truly make a *character* who behaves quite differently than others. Of course there are optimal paths which inhibit this quite a bit, and it’s still a videogame so you are somewhat more hamstrung than a TTRPG, but there is considerable choice here.

Take a look at the chart above for a moment. The bastard child of the series having taken from there, and we won’t talk about that one so don’t mention it. Fallout 4, was a game. In fact it was a game with a lot of very interesting ideas. There were obviously a lot of devs there that had a lot of passion for what they were making and made some very interesting things. The game itself though was addled with an incredible identity crisis which hampered a lot of ability it had to succeed as well as alienating a lot of the series longest followers. This is a key portion of what I am about to say: Fallout 4 is not a bad game by any means, it is actually a stellar and very impressive game by most metrics. It is however a horrendous fallout game in the same ways it is not a good RPG. As you can see they changed the old perk system to a rank based perk system which gave you a perk each level(with infinite levels attainable) and as many special points as you would like as you can gain a point with a perk point. The issue this causes is that to do a lot of basic things, like crafting certain valuable items or interacting with certain base building elements, you *have* to have some of these perks. Additionally due to the way that enemy scaling works, there are certain perks that aren’t obligatory, but if you don’t take them your combat performance is going to be rather pitiful for your level making you feel rather forced into taking certain damage boosting skills rather than actually interesting perks. This way in which they gave you infinite leveling options and did not exclude anything based on your other perks, ends up making all of your characters feel the same(something not helped by the voice acting, which  is a topic for another post). There are many other ways in which the game fails at emulating an RPG experience despite coming from a line of RPGs. However this is the most blatant one, and the stark difference between the two games outlines what I mean when I say that exclusion is a part of choice.

One thought on “Character choice in games:

  1. I think one thing that Japanese role-playing games do a lot better than Western role-playing games in this respect is character diversity and role-fitting. In a lot of Western games, characters begin as a blank slate that is equal in everything, and it’s hard to really nail down your role in that case. Japanese games tend to have a party of characters where every character has very clearly defined assets, flaws, and team roles from the get-go, and I think that really assists in the “how should I progress them” aspect of role-playing game design.

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