In just about every CRPG, the game is won when you defeat Foozle (usually masquerading as “Ancient Evil”), or, once in awhile, when you join the dark side (Might & Magic VII, Neverwinter Nights 2) and take over the world. Ta-Da. Game over.

What if there were more to it than that? What if your actions throughout the game had a real impact? We’ve seen a little in this direction in a few games, notably Fallout. The epilogue detailed the fate of various towns depending on what you did or didn’t do.

Let’s take that a step farther, using Neverwinter 2 as an example. In the second act, there’s that silly strategy business of building and maintaining a keep.

In actual game terms, that’s merely fluff. Now suppose instead it’s a key point. You don’t do a very good job at it, for whatever reason. Eventually, the KOS army arrives.

It’s finally beaten back, but the keep is mostly ruined, and the majority of defenders are dead. But hey, victory. So then you go on to the final showdown with Black Garius and the King Of Shadows. As expected, they’re defeated. You won!

Only, because you did such a poor job with your keep, there aren’t enough soldiers left back home (especially after Lord Nasher’s debacle at Highcliff) to defend against other threats.

And Luskan decides this is a good time to complete some unfinished business. They invade, and with little to stop them, they now have Neverwinter firmly in their grasp. Is the game won or not?

In one way, yes. The King of Shadows is gone. In another way, no, because Neverwinter is lost, making your success something of a Pyrrhic victory.

Suppose that had been in NWN2? How would you have felt about that happening?

This is something that tends to be overlooked in many games: that there are more threats than just Foozle. That there are degrees of winning, and some of them can be much less than satisfactory.

The real question is: would gamers accept that? Or would they feel cheated, because we are so trained to the “Beat Foozle and win the game” ending?