The big thing hindering RPG video games becoming great art, in my barely informed opinion, is their obsession with characters levelling up. That and all the pissing around collecting the best armour and finding herbs and all that palaver (which is a symptom of the levelling up of course).
Remove those things and what are you left with? An excellent story full of moral choices that links together many great set-piece fights. I’d be all over that.
(Yes, there’s games like Life Is Strange and I’m thankful for that. But they are almost entirely about narrative choice with little game play and no combat. There’s this weird unconscious apartheid between the two. What I’d love is a game like LIS with fighting like HALO, now I think of it)
Levelling up is neither realistic within most story time frames nor does it achieve anything: the enemy gets tougher. You may as well just have the bad guys difficulty level remain the same and your character remain the same and then put all the emphasis on individual combat encounters that differ from the ones before, thus challenging you. There’s many games these days I’d love to play, but the idea of having to rifle through a peasant’s cupboard to find a leather jockstrap which I can then sell to someone on the other side of a kingdom so I can buy a missing herb in order to make me 1% tougher against certain attacks (and that I’ll have to keep doing this again and again for the next 39 gaming hours) is way too much like having a job.
It’s a crutch. A crutch for lazy game writing. Not even that, for pure filler.
Or maybe not. Maybe makers of games and players of games have become rigid, calcifying into a comfortable recycling of old game structures. I imagine inventories of stuff and acquired ability points were genuinely fresh back in the nineties (I honestly don’t know, I took little interest in them until the last generation of consoles) but in an era of voice acting, motion capture and serious writing all that fiddly nerdy hours-consuming tedium feels as fusty and musty as a pair of old socks under a teenager’s bed. The clutter of pissy detail gets in the way of the overall experience and is a considerable barrier to anyone like me who hasn’t grown up with it and wants to dip their toe in. When I’ve mentioned my grievances to people who’ve been playing for more than a decade I get laughed off, even told off on one occasion, which only highlights to me how used to levelling-up fetishism a great many gamers are. They can’t see how a game could be structured and lengthened out in any other way, won’t even countenance it, despite all the modern advances in tech. I believe the term’s hidebound. Except the hide is covered in circuit boards.
I want story, I want character and plot twists and worldbuilding and theme. I don’t want +1 level leather jockstraps.