Every so often, someone somewhere does a write-up on “Have RPGs Progressed?” Agamemnon, over at Hellforge, appears to be the latest in this long line of commentators.

He begins by taking “old-time gamers” to task for thinking that “older games were better”. His first example is Baldur’s Gate, which he admits to dumping after a half hour, since he was getting lost and getting killed.

He contrasts that with Oblivion, which had an opening more to his liking, since it was completely linear. Obviously, he’s a fan of the “hold your hands mainline” type of game. Which most of them seem to be these days.

But that isn’t enough, really. He goes on a bit later with: “You see, in Oblivion, there IS a sense of adventure. Want to know why? Because the environment is immersible. It’s beautiful. In fact, if Oblivion didn’t have that environment, then I would’ve chucked it to the side with Baldur’s Gate as well.”

Which is all I’m going to point out here; you get the idea. After a long and wordy road, he comes to the conclusion that RPGs today are better, if only marginally.

The core matter is something we’ve discussed before: player agency. Despite various technical advances, most games still offer “side jobs” that exist in a vacuum, main lines that must be rigidly followed to the Foozle Fight, and “ethical choices” that are so much fluff.

Of course, there are exceptions. Multiple endings, for instance, which were popularized by Fallout. Epilogues detailing “what happened to…”, that depend on what you did or didn’t do, at least give some sense that your actions have meaning in the game world.

However, that certainly isn’t enough. Designers can blather about “immersion” and “story” and “making a realistic world” ad infinitum. They still aren’t giving us games where change is ongoing, dependent on player actions. Until they do, we’re still stuck with MOTSOS in ever-prettier packages.

RPGs: How far have we come?”