By Rich "Beaker" Wyckoff
The point is that BG is just not a great game. The engine really isn't that special - it doesn't actually look better than a tile-based game could look nowadays, and simultaneously it has a totally non-interactive world because of its vaunted lack of tiles. The spell effects are remarkably lame and undistinguished and in the awful old style it has hundreds of NPCs who look exactly the same and say exactly the same trite sentence over and over again adding nothing but yawns and reducing the overall realism rather than adding to it. Its interface is awkward and its battle system, all that's left to an RPG when there aren't complex story or item-manipulation puzzles like in Ultima, varies between requiring no user intervention or too much to make the player really feel in control.
So it is all the more frustrating to read certain high-flown gaming sites crowing about how BG has "raised the bar for RPGs." Raised it from what? 0 to 1? On a scale of 100? I look ahead at the forthcoming RPGs and I don't see it getting a lot better - a couple weak-looking Diablo clones, the Planescape game based on the BG engine, which despite seeming to concentrate on being a better adventure than BG will be unlikely to overcome the basic engine shortcomings, and Pool of Radiance II which despite its Gold Box heritage currently looks an awful lot likea Baldur's Gate clone.
Diablo II is the only game resembling a traditional RPG that I'm currently looking forward to, but only because I enjoyed the simplistic action-oriented hack and slash of the first one and not because I'm expecting much more in the way of actual RPG-like depth to the adventure than the first Diablo - just a lot more levels and monsters and weapons and skills. Perhaps I'll be surprised, but after BG, it's better not to expect too much from anything.
I guess there's a reason why I said near the start of this article that I used to call myself an RPG fan. There are other games that I'm really looking forward to, like Deus Ex and of course Final Fantasy VIII, but I wouldn't really call either of these an RPG, not like I used to know them. I'll always hold out hope that I might be wrong about this, but I'm beginning to think the traditional RPG is dead. It sure isn't growing and evolving, like a living thing would, and it seems to me that the occasional signs of life we've seen for the last few years have been little more than reflexive twitches after death.
- Rich Wyckoff is a professional game designer.
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