Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Re-Emergence of PC Single Player RPGs

A few years from now, the story of 2009 and 2010 may not be 'The Death and Rebirth of Duke Nukem (again)', or the 'Collapse of Midway', or even 'World of Warcraft Breaks Still More Records'. Even 'The Rise of the Wii' and 'Sony Strikes Back' will probably be foot-noted as mere market shifts. And unless Microsoft can show some use for Natal that isn't rigged or riddled with lag, EyeToy-style “controllerless gaming” will find its place in the graveyard beside Virtual Boy, barely missed.

No, the real story in 2009 is that the PC single player RPG began to re-emerge from being long dominated by the MMO variety. For years, good RPGs required internet connections and a willingness to go multiplayer; the single player RPG was a dying breed. Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against MMORPGs. But I am also a major fan of the single player, stand alone style game. And, finally, it appears to be making a strong come back.

No matter how amazing or successful online RPGs get, it is important for developers to keep in mind that there some things a MMO simply will never do as well as a title designed for the single player experience. And at the top of the list is storytelling. With a single player game, there is no question (from the developers point of view) of how to present important moments and progress the story further. MMOs have to deal conundrums of single- vs multi-player content, changing the world for some and not for all, and how to add difficulty with locking key story elements away from the many. Solo focused games can do just about anything they want. The player can safely be allowed to face the baddest of bad guys, save the world, destroy the world, be made king, marry the king, or just about anything else necessary to the telling of the story. None of the MMO issues appear. A single player RPG can stick the story exactly where it should be for any great RPG, secondly only to gameplay experience on the list of developer priorities.

This past weekend I visited a good PC gaming aisle and counted about half a dozen single player RPGs that had been released or had updates released within the past year. Granted, not all the titles featured in this solo resurgence are high quality acquisitions. Some of them may just suck. That's ok. They exist, and existence is the important thing. The PC needs its single player RPGs just as much as it needs its MMOs, strategy titles, or mice.

Hopefully, one of these days, some smart developer destined to make a mint will find a way to seamlessly meld the offline solo experience with the online social experience in The One RPG To Rule Them All. Until that day comes, I'm content to celebrate the return of the single player RPG to the PC game aisle. With any luck, it will never become so scarce again.

- GameGavel.com Writer - L.T. Blaize

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