Escapism Ruined

Altaholicism, not to be confused with alcoholism, comes down to wanting to sample everything an RPG gives you by playing all the various classes the developers have split the game up into.   I think that this is a natural state for a hardcore gamer - there's a desire not only to see the game to the end destination, but also to see the journey from all perspectives.

If I still played World of Warcraft, I probably still wouldn't have a
level 80, but I would have about 80 characters.

It can't be done.  If you play a single class (or a single build in a classless system) then you'll not be able to see the perspective of the other classes (or builds).  If you play multiple characters, you're going to encounter the same introductory content several times, to the point where you're likely going to be good and bored of it.  You cannot start a plethora of new characters in order to have your cake and eat it, too.  But you want to, because there's a lot more instant gratification in getting access to new skills and abilities when you start a new character as opposed to grinding new skills and abilities with the same old character.

Yet, the problem isn't altaholicism: it's boredom.

Basically, to really enjoy most RPGs, you have to love progression  You have to want to get to the higher levels and all the cool abilities and loot that come with that.   You have to be excited enough about virtual acquisition for the grind not to feel like a grind.

I'm almost completely immune to this.  I say "almost" because a really good RPG will briefly captivate me.  However, it does not take long until my armchair-game-designer mind completely groks how it will be when I reach the maximum level of that particular game, and at that point I simply stop caring about progressing.  I don't care how big the numbers on my character's stats and equipment get the longer I play, when I bore of the core game mechanic, the actual activities I'm given to do, then my satisfaction of the game is over and done with.

However, there is a "right way" to do an RPG that does not involve simply getting the players to grind.  RPGs were initially conceived as story-telling engines, and this is where they can still entertain me: if the RPG has a good story, then that's capable of fishing me in and getting me to forget all about the fact I'm grinding.

Many JRPGs in the vein of the Final Fantasy series are pretty much are all about this.   When I get bored of a Final Fantasy game before finishing it, it's not because of the game mechanic, it's because the story - the primary thing this type of game is about - rambled on incoherently until I fell off its hook (a fairly common occurrence when they're being deliberately vague).

There are even RPGs I've played from start to finish multiple times because I enjoyed the story and the story was focused enough to keep me hooked at all times.  Dark Sun:Shattered Lands, the Shadows of Undrentide expansion to Neverwinter Nights (the non-expanded original story definitely had too much filler), and Chrono Trigger are a few good examples.

Unfortunately, RPGs with a great story are relatively rare.  Most of them leave the story thin and trust the player's drive for achievement (e.g. gaining levels and loot) to be the hook.  Computers are rather large calculators: programming them to do addition to easy.  A pity I learned to stop caring about that.

Which brings me to the current problem I'm having.

I'm bored.  X-Com: Enemy Unknown isn't out for another 3 days.  What do?
  • I'd like to play Skyrim but, through playing a ton of different type of characters, I've exhausted over half the content in its rather huge world.  I can't settle on a specific character build, because they all get boring sooner or later.  I can't play a generalist that does all the skills - at least, not prior to maxing out some combat skills first - because of the way the difficulty curve works.  I've yet to finish the main campaign, the fighter's guild quest line, the thieves' guild quest line, or the civil war quest line, and that's a shame.
  • I had a little fun running another character on Dungeons of Dredmor, but then tried to run a second character and was bored again.  The first character managed to hook me with the new crafting system mechanics, but the second character was looking to just retread the same.  With no real story (other than "dude tries to kill Dredmor") there's nothing really holding me here.
  • Geneforge 2 is turning out to be overly plodding.  I got another three Geneforges bought and paid for, but I hate to do that without finishing them in sequence.
  • Guild Wars 2 did a fairly good job with its story at first, but the longer I played it the more distant the story became, until eventually it faded away.  I then rolled some alts, and that disrupted what flow I had utterly.  Basically, the game started off novel but then became a standard MMORPG grind that expected me to be excited about gaining levels and loot, and I'm utterly not.  A game this well crafted does not deserve to be snubbed, but I can see now why I am: there's no reason for me to care to play it.
  • I've been dabbling with Sims 3 here - not an RPG, but certainly character-centric - and I'm finding I've mastered maxing out my sims' needs too well for it to be anything resembling a challenge.  There is the potential for emergent storytelling, but nothing all that interesting really happens in The Sims, the status quo of my sims' daily lives is maintained to a fault, and so the only progressing story the game has would be ones I'd have to invent for myself.  The Supernatural and Seasons expansions might liven things up a bit, but that's a rather pricy gamble.
  • Civilization V and FTL: Faster Than Light are also not RPGs, but I can lump them together with Dungeons of Dredmor and Sims 3 because they're all games of nearly limitless replayability due to procedurally generated content, and this one feature is the root of the problem I'm having with them  While I often tout procedural generation game design because it's just more interesting to not know what will happen next, I'm afraid I've played these games enough that I've a pretty good idea exactly what will happen next.
Basically, I've gamed too much, and learned a number of things that prevent me from enjoying games as much as I'd like to.  In all the games I have to play, there's no spark of novelty to them: 1001 channels to watch, and there's nothing good on.

Unfortunately, gaming is so heavily engrained in my being that I'm really not interested in doing anything else.  So I'm basically having a miserable time right now... at least until X-COM comes out in another three days.  Squad-based tactical combat is one game mechanic I have not bored of, and this upcoming game has a very fresh and balanced take to it that makes the previous ones I have look positively archaic.

For now, I think I'll go to bed early.   Maybe one of the above mentioned games will look good in the morning.

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