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Should All RPGs Be Sandbox Adventures?

It's the obvious trend these days: Open-world sandbox structure.

Every time you turn around, you see another new game or established franchise leaning more in the direction of open-world formats. The question is, for which genre does this work best? At first glance, one might assume role-playing games.

They were always supposed to be the deepest, most involving virtual experiences on the planet. These have always been the cerebral video games. Those who played them often had little interest in games that required fast reflexes and endless, repetitive practice. They wanted to use their brains more than their fingers and thankfully for the industry, this allowed a lot more individuals (such as myself) to become gamers. I think I would've played games but I never would've gotten into them to the same extent had RPGs not existed.

Given the kind of complexity that could arise from immensely detailed and populated worlds, it would stand to reason that RPGs could benefit most from the sandbox style. Look at The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, for instance. It could break down all sorts of barriers in the genre, provided CD Projekt Red doesn't hold back (and delivers on their lofty promises). The opportunities are obvious and perhaps endless. It's the kind of world I suppose all RPG fans loved to envision over the years.

However, there's still an old-school RPG contingent that believes story is critical in the genre but the thing is, story always takes a backseat in the sandbox structure. Because we spend the overwhelming majority of our time playing and not following a script, and because the more freedom we have the more it means a cohesive storyline melts away, story can't continue to be a primary staple of the genre. I'm sorry, but I just don't see how it's possible. I guess it just depends on what you value most in the world of role-playing games.

What do you think?

Tags: rpgs, role playing games, sandbox games

1/18/2015 10:07:05 PM Ben Dutka

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Legacy Comment System (33 posts)


XmnMetal
Sunday, January 18, 2015 @ 11:51:19 PM
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With rpgs I think the idea is that you are going on this grand adventure so scale factors into the game world. I'm playing Dragon Age Inquisition right now and I love the exploration and since of place that larger levels give. Even without being open world; the levels are interconnected and still give that larger world feel. But even with games like Lords of the Fallen which levels are not as big as DI but level design gave a sense of place and exploration. I don't think rpgs have to be open world and I would put Dragon Age Inquisition as an example of why(a recent example). Story is important but I don't think it would be diminished just because a rpg happens to be open world. In the end of the day I don't think there is a quick solution to game design its about what kind of game the developer wants to make and that has to happen organically.

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Vivi_Gamer
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 1:49:00 AM
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There is a difference between having a sandbox game and an RPG. With a sandbox game you have most of the environment open to you already like inFamous or L.A Noire, but with RPG's I prefer a different structure. In RPG's I like the notion of starting off in a small area and then having the world expand as you progress with the story. Take FF7 Midgar, you had plenty of places to explore but you couldn't get to the market before doing tasks with Avalanche and the story takes you there. This is what gives JRPG's the spirit of adventure, the more you progress with the games narrative, the more you explore.

Problem with RPG's that just give you the the entire map is I just lose focus and get bored. Which is why I cannot get into Elder Scrolls games. The game quests and sidequests become a blur and I just lose track of what I'm actually doing.

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Rachet_JC_FTW
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 2:25:36 AM
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yeah i think thats a fair comment and the article, and the games that come to mind are the skyrims(elder scrolls), the witchers and the dragon ages of the world with open world type games, so the biggest names in RPG are open world setting so yeah i guess they are the best example but the best overall genre idk we'd need a bit more digging and debating that can't really be done in a comments section to decide that

happy gaming

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Ather
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 2:47:12 AM
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RPG's is supposed to be about assuming a role. Sandbox games give you two much leeway. So, what role are you playing? Sandbox RPG's should be a subste of RPG's. Some of us prefer rotational battles, story first games.

This is also a result of a culture of copy cats. Ooh, we've got to do what that person did to gain success. Lookie, this game was a major hit because it was a sandboxed game. Let's only do sandbox games. It's what the people want.

Not true, Some games should be sandboxed, others not. This copy cat view never works. failed for TV, failed for movies. Why should video games be any different?

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Beamboom
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 5:15:17 AM

Sandbox RPGs *are* a subset of RPG today. By far most RPGs released are not sandbox.

If we talk about AAA releases from the major distributors only, then open worlds are starting to dominate. But when you take into account the indie RPGs, hardly any of those are sandbox (I can't think of a single one from the top of my head).

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Beamboom
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 3:03:53 AM
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The short answer is an easy "no", as no genre should be just one thing.

But ever since the first PONG game scrolled across a monitor we as gamers have always been dreaming, "oh man, if only I could ENTER that game world... What I'd do if only I could!".

Well, now we begin to be able to do that. So it's no wonder this opportunity is embraced by all the old gamer geeks who now work in the gaming industry.
No wonder at all.

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Temjin001
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 11:17:58 AM

Yep. Nothing should be all one way. Like one of our former U.S. presidents said about maturity:

"A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes ... " Eleanor Roosevelt.

We need a good balance of offerings.

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Beamboom
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 1:57:49 PM

I'll always defend diversity, even when it means I won't like all releases. Diversity is king.

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FAREEZ
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 4:36:57 AM
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I don't mind if the game is good. But sometimes sandbox game feel so empty and get repetitive really fast...

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DemonNeno
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 5:48:11 AM
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I agree with some others. Starting small and opening up through the story is ideal. Having no direction off the bat sets the tone of the game. It makes the story seem so much less significant when you can avoid it for too long.

Being that most of the RPGs that I enjoy are an end of the world scenario, it makes sense to keep it linear and slowly turn into something similar to sandbox. It's best when the areas are more meaningful than they are vast; filling empty space with mundane environments.

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Feryx
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 6:24:54 AM
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As much as I love DA:I, I feel that the story suffered a bit because of the semi-sandbox nature of the game. It only has around 7-8 real story driven missions, and most of the companion quests can be finished in under 10 mins.

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bldudas1
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 7:19:02 AM
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No, not all. RPGs let you play a role and tell a story. They can't do that if they let you do whatever you want. Only a few western RPGs can get away with that.

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MRSUCCESS
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 8:47:31 AM
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The answer is definitely no.

As someone has already said. RPGs are about a great adventure. A great adventure doesn't need to be about large worlds or sandboxes. I'm sure a lot of you can agree that FFX was somewhat short but if you wanted it to be huge, there were more places to explore.

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bigrailer19
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 9:18:18 AM
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I don't know if all RPG ' should be open world or sand box but that is what I prefer.

I like the idea of settling into a role, advancing that character through exploration and experiences, and expanding on the story through adventure.

It's hard to put in to words what I mean, but the main thing I take away from most is sandbox games allow for things to happen that in any story could happen along the way.

Last edited by bigrailer19 on 1/19/2015 9:18:40 AM

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Underdog15
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 10:45:08 AM
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No, I don't think so. Although, it's the closest thing we have now to the fabled "world map". The only problem is that in order to gain an awesome open world game, you have to give up some things a closed world gives you.

At least so far. I'm hoping tech advances enough that open world is all that ever makes sense. But for now, it's not always the best option.

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Harerazer
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 11:00:49 AM
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I wouldn't want RPGs to all become Skyrim. As much as I love Skyrim (and it was clearly one of the best games I had played in over a decade when it hit), I want to play an SSI AD&D turn-based game. I want to play a step-by-step Wizardry game, I want an RPG to test my mental mettle, not just be twitch based shooting with dragons. You can never have a sandbox game with a highly narrative driven engine because, like others have mentioned, there's too much to do outside of whatever it is the writer may want you to do. I feel a real RPG NEEDS to be restrictive (for lack of a better word) in it's direction. But then again, I'm an old fart who played Pong before there were home consoles.
As a side note I don't even really consider a game to be a true RPG without a full party. Again, that's just me.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 11:04:09 AM
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no, Dragon Age dies while trying to answer this.

Last edited by WorldEndsWithMe on 1/19/2015 11:18:57 AM

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xenris
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 2:31:44 PM

Dragon age isn't open world though :=

I get your point though, it is easy to get sidetracked in Dragon Age with all the stuff to do.

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Temjin001
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 1:36:12 PM
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We do need more linear RPG's. Yea, we have our full on Bethseda open world RPGs. Yea, we have our pseudo games that try to please both like Mass Effect. And no I can't get excited for Wild Hunt. Some game that tries to claim it's the best of both worlds is likely going to be neither here nor there, leaving ardent fans at each end of the spectrum less than satisfied.

the main guy also seems boring and uninteresting to me. And is this game ever more than a 'one man army" rpg? Do you even have a party? It also doesn't help that the game started as some obscure series on PC, then eventually ports to 360, and now PS users are finally getting a chance at it.

EDIT: I tell ya' what we need. We need FF to stop fooling around pretending it's something it's not and bring balance back to the AAA RPG spectrum.


Last edited by Temjin001 on 1/19/2015 1:37:57 PM

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Temjin001
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 1:53:23 PM

Xenogears for me, btw, has been a massive reminder why stories have gotten so soft in today's RPG's, and why we should stop acting complacent by games that try to be something for everyone.

Last edited by Temjin001 on 1/19/2015 1:54:14 PM

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Beamboom
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 1:56:50 PM

"We do need more linear RPG's"

Shadowrun Returns?
Shadowrun Dragonfall?
Transistor?
Wasteland 2?
Expeditions: Conquistador?

... And now I'm only picking titles from my own library. I think non-open RPGs totally dominate RPG release lists. Many of them collect good metascores too!

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Temjin001
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 2:01:40 PM

yea, but see Beam, I need my production values. I want EPIC and grandious'ness. The smaller games are nice but I feel like they're garnishes to the meat and potatoes we should be having. If I'm playing games that feel like they could be experienced on last gen consoles than I don't feel as much interest.

EDIT: We have AAA representation for many RPG's, just not the more linear, story focused ones. A big emphasis has been on openness to go anywhere and do anything and experience the world and loot and make yourself powerful.
I like that a lot of course. But we're in an imbalance at this AAA level.

Last edited by Temjin001 on 1/19/2015 2:08:15 PM

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Temjin001
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 2:23:49 PM

Unfortunately I feel we're in this state because this was a sub genre the Japanese dominated in and as gaming grew out of a niche hobby to a mainstream one disparities in culture became too apparant. I think the cultural divide between the Japanese and us became too contrasting. If it was a linear RPG it was likely presented through an anime world, with anime style trappings (like mecha and big eyes and bizaare cartoonish acting), and subject matters and philosophies that were rooted in eastern culture. That's interesting and all but there's a reason most of the books or shows or movies sold and read in the states aren't from Japan. Large popular acceptance of stories (or AAA games) almost needs cultural orientation, because the ideals and interests of someone living and thinking in the west will be more identifiable with their own than with others.
It doesn't take long to realize that the characters in something like Mass Effect feel more recognizable and normal to us than a game from Japan with something like Final Fantasy XIII or Lost Odyssey, where weird behavior and emotions don't always translate well.

Someone out there needs to pick up this AAA genre and run with it here on the west. It's an untapped trove imo.

Last edited by Temjin001 on 1/19/2015 2:26:59 PM

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Beamboom
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 2:24:17 PM

Gotcha.
I agree the biggest releases are like that. So yeah, one might say there is an imbalance. But personally I think the games I mention above both look good and feature pretty good writing and acting.
The weakest one is probably Expeditions. But still. They are not bad games!

Edit: Interesting theory in your last post. But I don't know... My impression is that the western devs don't really care much about what the Japanese do, so I'm not so sure if their releases has influenced the western releases that much... In other words, would western devs want to create more linear AAA rpg releases, they'd do that regardless of what the Japanese did or do. But interesting theory nonetheless.


Last edited by Beamboom on 1/19/2015 2:31:16 PM

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xenris
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 2:38:57 PM

There is a reason Garelt in the Witcher is a solo man. However it appears her might get a partner this time around, they said something about another playable character.

But Garelt is a Witcher, he is a monster killing machine. He doesn't need a party and is known as the white wolf, wolf being that he tends to like to work alone as a matter of principle. Its just how he is so it fits the game.

I personally think The Wild Hunt will succeed in what they set out to do, they have had over 5 years to work on it so I think they will at least get close enough to their ambitions for it to be recognized as a success.

Geralt in my opinion is a very interesting character, he is a badass, but has his own moral issues. However he is still an avatar for the player so you can be a dick as him, or a good guy and both suit his personality. I find it rather brilliant that they managed to make it work so well. It is kind of like how Shepard from ME works as a good guy and a bad guy although I think Geralt does it better to be honest.

I do appreciate linear RPGs though and would like some good big budget ones to come out.

You have to remember though FF7-9 while they blocked some parts of the world off to you and eased you into exploration a little bit, it was still easy once you accessed the world map to get lost, especially if you didn't have a guide or you side tracked to do side quests.

I think FFs goal was also to reach for being an open huge world, although they did do a great job of slowly opening up the world to you. Kind of like how the old GTA games you had 3 islands but you had to open up the other 2 through the story missions.

Last edited by xenris on 1/19/2015 2:40:34 PM

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Temjin001
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 2:41:34 PM

The AAA open world space for RPG's is mostly defined by Bethesda and Bioware. They started with their formulas from over a decade ago and have carried on with them. There's an untapped space that westerners could pick up. That would be a more linear story driven RPG. But what's the probability of a western dev getting 50-100 million dollars from a backer to make that kind of game for us? Seems highly improbable to me. We just have a void now. The japanese can't compete at that level anymore. They basically don't compete in any genre at the AAA level aside from a few obscure things, like Metal Gear or Gran Tursimo, both of which either have the appearance of western appeal or are culturally accepted by everyone, like army gear and guns or cars.

EDIT: Sorry. There's Nintendo. Many of their studios are Japanese. But hey, their games have nearly nothing to do with story. They can exist just fine on "fun" alone. Fun seems universally identified by any culture.

Last edited by Temjin001 on 1/19/2015 2:47:11 PM

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Underdog15
Wednesday, January 21, 2015 @ 9:09:06 AM

Xenogears is an excellent game to use an illustration to your point. I can't think of a single game last gen that came close to the depth that game tried to accomplish. Even Mass Effect doesn't match up to it's story's scope.

Beam, as much as I would love for you to experience Xenogears, it's definitely outdated now. Back then, though (1997) I totally fell in love with it.

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xenris
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 2:48:17 PM
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Here is my biggest problem with Open world Sandbox games, RPGs or otherwise.

All of them fall victim to having filler content added to them, fetch quests being the main content.

If you can make an open world huge and put in a TON of variety in there then sure do it, but I haven't seen that so far. I'm talking about all the content having a purpose, not just being there to pad out the gameplay and make the game seem longer than it is.

Dragon Age even though it is not technically open world falls victim to this. I'm about 70 hours in and well even 30 hours in I noticed a lot of things repeating themselves>

What Dragon Age does right however is they have fun side quests that involve puzzle solving and combat, and the puzzles aren't always the same. I think there could be more puzzle variety but what is there is good enough.

But I think what we find in MOST open world games is a lot of recycled content just to make the world appear bigger and I think this needs to be fixed.

On the flip side I don't think the story is inherently doomed in open world games. If you stick to the story usually there is something good there. The problem is most people are tempted to do the other stuff and then they forget the story and it ends up not feeling quite as memorable.

I think all games not just sand box games need to step it up, by increasing the variety of things to do in them.

I will take a smaller 5 hour game that is tightly designed where everything in the game has a purpose and the gameplay expands and grows over the whole course of the game, over a game with 80 hours where the gameplay is repetitive and recycled and the story loses focus.

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Temjin001
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 2:54:57 PM

yes. Dragon Age is bloated and requires you to be picky about the quests you choose. It's loaded with fetch quests.

Last edited by Temjin001 on 1/19/2015 2:55:12 PM

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Beamboom
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 3:29:08 PM

I very much agree with you that if you stick to the story, sandbox/open world games are not totally doomed in regards to story. It just requires some focus on your part.

I was totally, fully and completely into the story in Fallout 3. So much so that I'd say that to me, that was a story driven game. I had an option to could step off the story path if I *wanted* to. And I did, if it was natural at that point in the story. For example, I often went to the next destination by foot instead of fast travelling. And boy did I often discover weird stuff along the way.
But the main story was always there in my head, even when I didn't do a campaign mission.


Last edited by Beamboom on 1/19/2015 3:29:43 PM

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xenris
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 10:33:56 PM

I played Fallout 3 the exact same way Beam. That games story kept me interested the whole way through. When I beat the game I loaded my last save and completed all the quests afterwards.

Temjin, yeah what I ended up doing was setting up the Inquisitor warboard table stuff up before I went to bed, when I woke up, and before I went to work lol.

Also a lot of the quests end up being just collect this. I appreciate that the stuff is there to do, but this is one case where I wouldn't mind a little less quantity and more quality.

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Draguss
Monday, January 19, 2015 @ 9:00:51 PM
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The answer to "should all games of X genre be Y" is almost universally no. Some people like open world better, some people like linear stories better. Variety is always better in this case. I get really annoyed when I see 'linear' being used as almost an insult to RPGs, as if it were some outdated form of game design that we should just discard because we have the technology to do things differently now.

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broox9
Tuesday, January 20, 2015 @ 3:23:14 PM
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Should they all be "sandbox"? No, but I also don't prefer FF13 style super linear maps. Traditional RPG's like FF7/Star Ocean/ Suikoden work for me as do "Big Map" RPG's like Dragon Age Inquisition and FF12.

I loved Skyrim, but at certain points of the story I didn't know where to go. That kind of happens which most RPG' though.

I also really do like the idea of unlocking areas with progress. I love GTA5 (and no i don't consider it an RPG) but I missed area locks from the GTA3,Vice City, and 4 days.

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