Right. Sit tight, this one will be long, hard and boring as hell.
The title of this post is some kind of double entendre. Lemme explain. One of the other big flaws of current CRPGs, though far from the only one, is the levelling system (which is only part of my rant here given I'm going to combine two concepts here, so as to confused your poor little minds, tired from a hard day's work).
"WHAT? If there's no levelling, we'll all get pissed real soon! Not only do you want us to forget the characters, now you want us to remain complete noobs, with dubious grammar and spelling and a questionable personality?" - Yeah, I know what you're thinking.
But er... no. Some come to this result without much effort, and that's not what interests me either. And godmoders don't interest me in the least. Forget that for a second, will ya? The point, as I said, is twofold. First: Level up! Just... look at those two words. You gotta draw a line sooner or later. It's not that I don't like pretty numbers. It's just that we have reached a point of complete imbalance and it would be best to throw it all down the drain. Beer included. And start again from scratch.
I mean, seriously. Think about the CRPGs you know and play(ed). Think. Just how many, among them, offer you to level up "Smooth Talk" while remaining hopeless in combat? Easy: none.
Don't tell me "no fight is no fun". That's just... wrong. One could easily imagine a CRPG based on the Discworld. Based entirely on the characteristics of Stupidity, Cynicism, Humor and Manipulation. For example. Would it be boring? Certainly not. Would it be VERY different from what we're used to? That's a polite euphemism.
And yes, indeed, it could be closer to a point&click thingy. Think further.
Now for the second half. "Press Start". Wait... WHAT? So you're telling me that, all of a sudden, my character becomes so much more dangerous and treacherous with battle axes. Like... "*pop* there ya go?"
Just because I pressed Start and his XP bar is full. Wow. Just... Would you like fries with that?
Think about it, for the gods' sake: you swim ten lengths and BANG! You're soooooo much better at swimming? Congrats. Tell me how you do that, and I'll tell you the phone number of a psychologist in return. You may just need it before you harm yourself after jumping from the first floor for the 500th time to train your "Feather Fall" characteristic.
Had enough? I'm not holding you back. But I do have some more.
Let's resume. The levelling system is hollow. Inadequate. Obsolete. It's immediate, it takes no time. No money. No... No TRAINING! The trend is even more severe in JRPG's, where levelling is just about as exciting as an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful when you're sober and tired. Your stats increase erraticaly. Now, honestly, an Esper system that can influence the curve of your stats evolution is nice and fun, it's a neat little trick. But when the party's tank is just as able to wear boiled leather and dodge like a dancer... You have to admit something's really, REALLY wrong.
And... yes, I'm bashing JRPGs... I could bash western CRPGs as well. Yeah, sure, you get to distribute your shiny skill point. In any fucking way you want. Here's our exhibidodgist tank again (just in case: an exhibidodgist is a guy who drops his armor so he can waggle his stuff around). And don't get me started on the perks. Or... actually. Do it. Just... do it. The perks are a cool move. They give you specific traits. It's nice. It has depth.
BUT. Either they ain't linked to ANYTHING, much less anything that makes sense, or they are mere hurdles in your way. Examples? Sure. First option: Fallout. Second one: Skyrim. Wanna see how it's done PROPERLY? Sure, I got that. Forget RPGs. Play Crusader Kings II for a while. Take the blow in the balls of a lifetime. THAT is what perks are about. THAT is what roleplaying is about. THAT is how it should be done. The perks in CKII depend on your CHOICES and have a deep and lasting influence. I doubt anyone from Paradox will ever read this, but I'll say it anyway: you guys kick ass. Have some bubble gum.
Let's push this logic yet another little bit further. Thinking back to The Dark Eye (1st Edition. Ouch, I'm OLD.), I think we went seriously wrong somewhere down the path. Learn something without a trainer/master, and it will improve indeed. But much less efficiently than by being properly trained and helped by someone who thoroughly knows the ins and outs of whatever characteristic you wish to train. I'll come back to this, keep it in mind.
Anyway. We're talking about ROLE. PLAYING. GAMES. Which implies that you're playing a (or several) role(s). I'll draw a line in the sand between those two now, and explain why a bit later, by the way.
Role. Playing. So why, by the gods, do we make combat the be-all and end-all of the genre, while it is by far the most boring, uninteresting part, in this experience that is roleplay?
CRPGs have gone too far towards the dark side. From roleplay, they went all the way down to roll play. It's certainly no breaking news. But what are we waiting for to solve this problem?
(To be continued. Soon. Hopefully.)