I started out with Ultima Underworld, one of the first realtime 3D RPGs released in 1992. Despite the horrendous vga graphics there was something that hooked me immediately. Perhaps it was the vulnerable spot in which you start. No weapons or equipment and confined into a dungeon with no way of escaping. Or maybe it is the dark atmosphere or graphics that accompanied the game. Or the lack of todays handhelding with arrows pointing you to your objectives ? The feeling of owning nothing and having to aquire everything you need and learn what you need to do makes the game more accessible in the beginning. Compare it with a modern game like Drakensang that has these cartoonish-like colours for kids. Even the manual for Ultima Underworld helped build up the atmosphere required.
I have played a lot of roleplaying games released during the last decade. Many of them are great like Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim. Add to that Gothic 1-3, Witcher 1-2 and a few others coming behind. And yet, It is clear where the RPGs are going. The last couple of years have had me more and more irritated of the development of modern roleplaying games.
- Recent RPGs gets more and more easy on the "normal" difficulty level. Classical RPGs are much, much harder and unforgiving. Today you not only get easier fights. You are handheld all too often. You either have direction arrows for your objectives or the fights are easier, more cinematic with great graphics and a story that almost never let you get stuck anywhere. There are seldom any puzzles, hidden levers or anything that slows you down on your quest.
- All the numbercrunching and stats are hidden, if they exist at all. Look at the development between Morrwind - through Oblivion - to Skyrim. The stats are gone. You have fewer skills etc. Look at Neverwinter Nights vs Dragon Age or Dragon Age vs Dragon Age 2. Things gets more streamlined and cinematic. Every game should be immediately accessible and give instant satisfaction. If you are not able to fight a fire-breathing dragon within 5 minutes they fear you will drop the game (Witcher 2 is a perfect example of a breathtaking intro that is done to capture the player).
- When did you last find a secret door, lever or hidden spot in a modern RPG ? When did you miss out this magical and hidden item by exploring parts of the world in which no one had ventured before ? Most of the modern games are either very linear with few hidden things to discover in its enourmous worlds. Even though they might give your the feeling of going everywhere how often can you come across places which really hides useful items or treasures ?
- How often do you have to backtrack because you meet an opponent or obstacle so tough that you have to level up a bit before taking it on in modern RPGs ? Grinding is a concept totally unknown for todays players. I am not saying countless of grinding hours is fun but the fact that you need to do your homework before tackling the real challenges should be natural. Where are the patience and perseverance required and rewarded ?
- The lack of any useful manuals. There are not even ingame manuals in all games. Most rely on tutorials or ingame encyklopedias - that while good - lacks the developers written enthusiasm for their games which could be felt when reading the designers notes or introductions in the old manuals.
Today the competition is so fierce so you cannot afford to make a game too much of a challenge and risk the player getting tired of it and move on to another game. You have too keep up the interest at all times. So you lead the player in a very graphically beautiful, cinematic story with mostly quite easy obstacles and focus on a strong interactive story instead.
Compare that to the old CRPGs. They came with thick, atmospheric creating manuals. The boxes bragged about the features of the games like the number of monsters or spells, the amount of dungeons, classes or professions. How many modern RPGs is advertised in that way ?
The classical CRPGs are much harder and unforgiving. Some of them are even to the extreme and make bad examples but in the end of the day I will always choose to play an RPG which is a little bit too challenging than the other way around. The enjoyment of gaining a level, getting the final gold needed to upgrade your equipment or having enough gold to get the spell needed to defeat a tough opponent is irresistible.
There are of course a lot of old CRPGs better avoided, but take a modern game like Gothic 4 for example. The expectations where skyhigh. The game was so unchallenging and easy, so empty and with so bad NPC:s and dialogue that you wondered if it was meant to be played by children alone. This must be my worst example of modern RPGs. Then you have Risen, a perfectly balanced game, true to the ancestral lineage from the Gothic series. Very hard at times. Yes, there are examples of good modern RPGs but they are getting fewer and fewer inbetween.
Lastly I will admit that a great part of my fondness for classical CRPGS are of nostalgic reasons. When you are young you literally suck in all the emotions from these games and they stick with you for all these years. It is very seldom this feeling comes back in modern RPGs.
There are also three other reasons for me playing these old CRPGs. One is that many of them are abandonware today and while you are waiting for new mainstream games like Skyrim or Risen 2 you could always spend some time with these golden oldies. The other thing I was about to say was that since they are turnbased they don´t force you to be active in front of the computer all the time. You could pause whenever you want and get interrupted by the surroundings without spoiling anything. Besides, these games work splendid on small netbooks or other old laptops you might have lying around.
One game company that have seen this problem today is www.basiliskgames.com who have produced Eschalon book 1 and 2. Two excellent RPGs true to the charm of old roleplaying games. I can highly recommend these two games. They are worth every penny. Check them out.
So, readers out there, why do you play old CRPGs like me ?