Saturday, March 02, 2013

Revisiting RPGs

As part of a forum thread, a bunch of Society memebers are playing, or replaying, Obsidian's brilliant espionage RPG Alpha Protocol. I completed it for the first time over two years ago1, and have tried restarting it a couple of times on both PC and 360 without ever managing to get into it properly. This Society effort has given me a push to give it yet another go; I'll hopefully stick with it.

The problem is, my memory of playing the game is very different from where you start. By the time I finished the story I was a high-level operative with maxed-out stealth and pistol skills. I could turn invisible, line up one-hit critical shots without leaving cover, and was an expert hacker. At the start of the game? Not so much.

I've had this issue with other RPGs in the past; my earliest experience was with Golden Sun on the GameBoy Advance - my skills list was huge by the end, with some ridiculous spells at my disposal. Being limited to just a few basic attacks made the opening scenes quite tedious to replay.

But it's not entirely fair to blame the game for my frustrations; I think the root of the problem with Alpha Protocol is that my tactical approach to the situations is based on a much more advanced skillset. I need to scale back my ambitions and admit that, from time to time, I'm going to set off an alarm and have to deal with guards in a way that doesn't involve creeping around in the shadows all the time.

The only RPG I've ever been able to consistently replay is Skies of Arcadia. Right from the first battle (which you're dumped into, unceremoniously, right at the start without a tutorial) you have access to more or less the entire array of options; as you upgrade their weapons and armour or learn more spells, your party gets stronger, but with one minor exception2 your abilities never really change - just the numbers.

That might make it seem a bit simplistic, but it means that you can go from the end of the game back to the start without feeling like you're missing out on important tactical options or battle mechanics that you've come to rely on. I'm not sure the same idea could work with Alpha Protocol, but a New Game Plus that let me take my fully-tooled character back through the game again would help a lot with replayability3.

1 According to my Xbox 360 achievements list, I finished it on January 29th, 2011. I didn't think it had been that long...

2 You don't get Captain moves until Vyse becomes captain of his own ship, nearly halfway through.

3 Not that it would help me in this instance - my original save game was stolen along with the 360 when we were burgled last year.

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