Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 19, 2014
Sometimes when you say, “Old-school RPG,” I think of games like The Bard’s Tale I, where you would get clobbered by villagers as soon as you left the guild. Or more primitive games that really had simplistic rules and not much by way of gameplay or graphics. On the flip side, you get the endless tutorials, hand-holding, of way too many modern mainstream RPGs. Often it feels like the training wheels never really come off.
Fortunately, I haven’t played many games recently that put you on too much of a ‘bunny slope’ when you start out. That’s a good thing, although it may be simply my own selection as opposed to a change in trends. I just remember a few years ago – probably around the time I was playing Neverwinter Nights 2 and Final Fantasy XII and a couple of minor MMORPGs – that commercial RPGs had become a just another flavor of action-game that started out holding your hand and never quite let it go.
Playing Might & Magic X: Legacy over the last few days (in little morsels of time) has been pretty satisfying. It feels like they strike a good balance between old-school and modern. The earliest combats in MMXL (which is, what, 2040 in Roman numerals?) has you going up against poisonous spiders, forcing you to decide between taking a turn to attack or to consume the (fortunately plentiful) poison cure. My initial thought was, “Are you sure this is a good thing? Hitting the player with the complication of poison as they are first learning combat?” But for me, it was pretty fun.
While they have streamlined it a bit from the old days, it’s not bad. The first few levels gradually open things up, and there is a pop-up help message that warns you that its easy to wander off into places in the world that are out of your league. But it doesn’t stop you, and it doesn’t hold your hand (much) after the first couple of quests.
The tutorial is in the form of an optional guided tour of the starting city, and there’s no combat for the first little bit. I really appreciate this. To me, role-playing games are as much about exploring and interacting with the world as fighting, and it feels like too many AAA RPGs of the last fifteen years or so have been about interminable talky scenes followed by waves and waves of combat. Instead, you are dropped off in a city that’s nowhere near your original goal, with your party members probably as overwhelmed as you feel as a player at first. While there’s a suggestion from the tour guide that you’ll want to eventually visit the barracks, the first order of business is still to explore. See what the world has to offer.
Now, I admit that the backstory so far about betraying angels and dragons and the political background leaves me pretty cold. There’s a good chance I’ll eventually give a crap about it, when I personally become embroiled in the events, but for right now its background noise. I’m more interested in what kind of treasure might be hidden in the nearby dungeons.
I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of the grid-based movement, but I don’t dislike it, either. What it really does do is bring back the old habits and skills from the late 1980s and early 1990s – though with the kinds of games I’ve been playing lately, I can’t say those skills are all that old now, either.
I hope it does very well and that other games continue this trend. Like I keep saying – I think that the RPG genre abandoned some really promising ideas back in the 1990s to pursue some semi-homogenized paths, and it’s high time we went back and explored what could be done with a few of these old gaming concepts with new technology, new ideas, and new designers.
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