If there has been one genre that has captivated gaming audiences more than any other in the last decade, it is the RPG genre. We have seen some of the most genuinely staggering adventures delivered to our screens by very talented western developers. Each presents unique quirks, art styles, mechanics and narratives that make them stand out within a very saturated field. That’s right, there are hundreds of AA and AAA RPG titles made every year, but only a handful get their time in the spotlight.
Not every game can be a Breath of the Wild, an Elder Scrolls or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. However, there is a particular formula that makes a successful RPG game. While that may not be too clear from the outside looking in, we aim to delve deep into the phenomenon and find out what makes these games so popular. So, without further delay, here is our guide as to what makes an excellent western RPG.
#1 – An Expansive, Detailed World
First and foremost, you need a setting that is conducive to the RPG title. This means you need a unique environment rich in lore, visually appealing, full of exciting characters, fauna, wildlife, different cultures, biomes, and groups that underline the world’s population’s most essential morals and beliefs. It’s about making the world feel like a complete escape from our own yet giving it enough similarities that we can still find relativity with our real-world ideas and opinions.
Take Fallout New Vegas as an example, a post-Apocalyptic world full of mutants and ghouls. Yet, at its core, this is a world that has left and right-wing political parties fighting for control of the state of Nevada, much like modern-day America. So, in short, make the fantasy detailed, unique, and relatable.
#2 – Emergent Gameplay
The second point relates to emergent gameplay, which for those unaware, means gameplay that will differ from player to player. If you are playing a role-playing game, you crave those moments that you can clip and share with your friends. An odd glitch, a moment that defies physics, an NPC mishap. Anything that makes the experience different from other players. Arguably, western RPGs do this better than any other genre. Their enormous scope allows for many different approaches, enables players to make different decisions and ultimately, has them live with the consequences of their decision. Without this, it’s a rather hollow experience, so a good western RPG needs alternative choices and consequences.
#3 – The Freedom to Role Play
Another aspect of a good western RPG is the ability to play your own way. You can play the main story, prioritize side quests, simply wander aimlessly, or you could sack off the whole potentially world-ending plot and become a chicken farmer. No matter what the player’s desire is, the game must allow for this eventuality.
Compare Fallout 4 and Red Dead Redemption II, for example. While it is hailed as one of the best RPGS of its time, this is a shortcoming. Almost every quest has one set method for completion and in terms of the time in-between. Aside from building your settlement, there are few grounds for role-playing. Whereas in RDR2, you can approach the quests in some ways, you get graded on your approach and in the lulls in between, you can hunt, fish, upgrade your camp, rob, steal and generally cause chaos. In short, RPGs need to allow for roleplay, plain and simple.
#4 – A Strong Progression System
One of the critical components to a western RPG that keeps players engaged long-term is a cohesive leveling and progression system. This system needs to help you build the character you want, give you new skills that allow you to manipulate the in-game world with ease, open up new areas and mechanical possibilities to the player. Plus, all this info needs to weave together seamlessly and inform the player very clearly. So, the UI needs to be on point.
One of the best examples of excellent progression systems would be Disco Elysium. It allows you to gradually build your character’s personality and uncover a mystery as you progress. Or on the flip side, games like Horizon Zero Dawn and the Middle Earth series do a great job of offering more mechanical options to the player, giving them a heightened sense of power.
#5 – Varied Gameplay Mechanics
Then to ride on the coattails of the last point, the mechanics and gameplay within these titles need to be varied, ever progressing and most importantly, fun. This means that players should be constantly given new quests, game modes, combat skills, weapons, loot, vehicles, be continuously challenged with new enemies and bosses. Plus, the game should be balanced so that one play style isn’t inherently better than another. We are looking at you, Skyrim, with your indulgence for stealth archers.
One of the best examples of constantly progressing game mechanics that keep the game feeling fresh is Stardew Valley. This relaxing and straightforward RPG (though neither a western RPG nor a JRPG) utilizes simple farming game mechanics. However, as the game progresses, even up to three or four years into your campaign, new mechanics and content are hurled your way. Showcasing that even with limited scope, you can still provide gameplay that evolves as you play.
So that is our breakdown of what makes a western RPG successful. What do you make of our list? Do you think that we left out any key components? What is your favorite western RPG of all time? Let us know in the comments section below and as always, thank you for reading.