The Witcher – RPG or Not


Those of you who are looking forward to the North American release of The Witcher tomorrow may be interested in a recent editorial on Rock, Paper, Shotgun that endeavors to answer the question “Which sort of RPG is the Witcher?” The key here is defining the prime elements of an RPG. For example, is a game considered an RPG if you can’t create your own character?

Weighing in personally, this was something that came up on last week’s podcast. Ron and I debated the impact of MMORPG’s and the question of what makes an RPG was high on our list of debates. With most games containing elements of traditional RPG mentality – like statistic leveling, skill advancement, etc. it’s becoming harder and harder to draw a straight line in any genre. Oblivion is in many ways a fantasy FPS, but we classify it as an RPG. Consider that the latest Tiger Woods could in many ways be considered an RPG in its career mode – you develop and train up your golfer by playing, choose appearance, etc. Aspects of games that traditionally would be considered an RPG. The question becomes more how the “story” is told and what the aim of the gameplay is that keeps anyone from calling that game or Madden an RPG.

The debate is one that is a hot topic in the video game industry. Check out many of the definitions of RPG on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. For another take on RPGs download the latest File-n-Forget podcast, “Multiple Roles, Singular Worlds”.

I’ve only spent a few hours with The Witcher at this point and I’d call it a great example of an RPG. It has a strong central plot, a character whose skills and abilities develop at my whim and through my actions, and character advancement that is integral to telling the story of the game and directly tied to gameplay.

What defines an RPG for you?

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1 Comment on The Witcher – RPG or Not


On October 29, 2007 at 8:25 pm

I agree with Shawn. While I have not played The Witcher yet (comes out tomorrow in the US), I have been reading a lot about it over the last few days to see what the rest of the world thinks. This question of what makes an RPG an RPG keeps coming up, and I don’t understand it.

Some of the best rated RPGs of all time were like The Witcher in the sense that you had a set character, and you controlled their actions and leveling up. Final Fantasy 1, 2, 3, and VII [Those were the only ones of the series I played]; Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic (I and II); Fable: The Lost Chapters [which was an RPG of the year, I believe] all had this. I challenge ANYONE to say that these are not RPGs based on the facts that you can’t create your own character, can’t jump or swim, and have to follow a set path and story. Those are the biggest complaints about this game from what I have seen. [Final Fantasy games had limited free roam, but only after several hours of game play, when you got a chocobo or airship]

What defines an RPG is that you control a character who’s abilities grow with the game in a manner that you choose (vs. Doom, Transformers, Quake, etc). Some RPGs may have alternate endings, some may have character creation, some may have jumping and swimming, some may have free roam, but these things are elements of each individual game, not a definition of the Genre. Diablo I and II, also named some of the best RPGs, had limited character creation, but no free roam, no jump and no swim. Has Oblivion and World of Warcraft warped our idea of what an RPG is to the extent that we forget the games that got us there?

You “play a role”, whether it is one that you create or one that is designed by the game. As you play, you gain experience which allows you to tap new abilities, which in turn allows you to fight stronger enemies up to some climatic conclusion, which if you have made sound decisions in your skill allocation should be attainable. This is central in ALL RPGs. The rest is just mechanics.