Ahh, the RPG (Role-Playing Game). Be it turn-based, action, sandbox, tactical, or MMO, there is something to be said for the genre.

Let me say something before I truly begin my quest here. I love Role-Playing Games. I love the open worlds and adventures. The lengthy stories and character development keep me entertained and inthralled for hours on end. Leveling up my character and picking new attributes is my favorite thing about video games. That being said, there are elements from my first love here that are seeping into other games. The problem with this is, I don’t know if it is ruining those other games or making RPGs better.

That Really Grinds My Gears

If you have been paying attention to the way games are evolving you might have noticed that one specific element of the RPG is creeping its way in to all video games, ‘Grinding’. Grinding, while makes sense in RPGs, has no business being in any other type of game. Let me explain. Grinding is a practice where, I, as an adventurer go out into the world, kill monsters, run tasks for villagers, and collect gold (or whatever the monetary value of the game is) and experience to make my character stronger to continue on with said game, over, and over, and over again. As my character grows in power, it allows them to overcome more difficult challenges, and gain even more power from there, be it in my magic, healing, or strength skills.

In RPGs this is a very important element of the game. Grinding may seem tedious, (and it is, don’t get me wrong) but it’s a needed element in the RPG. It is not, however, a needed element in sports/racing, music, or action games. In games such as the Final Fantasy series it is important to find new and powerful gear, raise your power level, and max out stats so that the next big boss fight is manageable. This involves a bit of grinding in the monster filled fields for you to fight over and over again.  Running side quest after side quest before doing the main quest features so you have a bit of an easier time with it. It’s just a given that you will spend hours in the country side of Skyrim and Witcher 3 fighting monsters, sneaking, stealing, killing, and performing magic to level up and have phenomenal cosmic powers!

(without the itty bitty living space)

However as great as this playtime is for RPG fans, I can see it growing annoying, and almost silly, for other types of gamers. It’s a game mechanic that can ruin an Action Adventure or First Person Shooter game, however, more and more you see this happening. But, why?

There are plenty of games that let you prove your skill at playing while only giving you new tools as you progress. You don’t have to go and fight the same monsters over and over again just to get better gear. The game will proclaim “Player! You have advanced this far! Here is a new power or new item to help you get a leg up on what is to come”. Sure there are some chances to upgrade those powers as you go but it doesn’t require you to grind.

One series that continues to do this flawlessly is The Legend of Zelda. No matter what incarnation they put out next I’ve never seen an experience bar or skill tree. I don’t have to keep fighting the same enemies if I don’t want to (unless the door locks behind me). The game overall is simply told. You, young boy adventurer, set out on a quest to save a princess from an evil man threatening the kingdom with darkness. You roam somewhat freely from dungeon to dungeon and gain new tools and weapons to help you in the next area and hearts for your life meter as you go. That’s it! Never once have they failed to disappoint me. Even if gameplay is 5, 10, or 15 hours to play through I leave feeling like I saved the land of Hyrule and kept the Triforce safe.

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There is no Grinding with Link. I never have to ‘level up’ to get on with the next castle and boss. I use the tools I am given and attack things until they are dead. Or I don’t. The choice is mine and the game isn’t harder or easier for my lack of effort. The Legend of Zelda continues to ‘wow’ fans over and over again despite this easy formula. So why do other games make me grind when the Zelda games figured out that I don’t need to?

The Task At Hand

Grinding isn’t the only element from RPGs that has made it into most modern games. Secondary/Side Quests given by NPCs (Non-playable characters) in the middle of the the game have become a way AAA games can take their 10-12 hour game and stretch it to 200 hours without batting an eyelash. While this isn’t a bad thing for RPGs for most games it can become a chore and players may even ask what the point is.

In games like The Division I found it hard, and annoying, trying to finish the main story line quests (which there isn’t much of). I felt like I was being thrown this way and that just to find a missing piece of data or to help out in a scene recreating the O.K Corral. Why do First/Third person shooter games, like The Division and Destiny, want to get in on this action? Is it so wrong that FPSs stay Linear? If The Division gave me just one story to follow, going through points of the story and unlocking characteristics to better my play-though it could have been more enjoyable.

Call of Duty (regardless about how you feel about the storylines) has a very specific goal. Tell a story and have players go through said story. Halo has the same idea. With their linear story comes a separate multiplayer aspect that lets people play together without bringing in the RPG elements. Sure, players can ‘level up’ but it just unlocks new guns and perks for you to play with. It has no impact in the story. Having a 5/7 hour gameplay story would be fun for a few play-throughs once and alone or with friends in co-op. Then spending months playing the multiplayer with DLC that comes out once in a while is perfect as far as FPSs go. There is no need to ‘add to the story’ but making me complete worthless side quests that have no impact on me other than experience and in-game currency to buy terrible weapons and gear that I find laying in the street.

Side Quests, much like in The Witcher 3 or Skyrim serve for their own stories. Characters live or die, new loot and enemies are found, new challenges await you, and while yes it distracts from the main story line you feel like your time was well spent (usually) helping out that NPC. In Destiny or The Division I have no idea why I did what I did, who I killed, or why I should care. “DID IT DROP LOOT? No? Damn… Let’s do it again.”

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A Story to Tell

The reason games like Gears of War, Call of Duty, and Halo are so popular is because they don’t mix what they are known for with current game trends (well, other than microtransactions). This isn’t to say that Destiny and The Division aren’t good games, but what made them step into the RPG realm with their shooter game? Why do I need to grind and complete side quests to level up my shooter-game character?

The developers focus more on having fans grind for better gear that the stories end up suffering a great deal because of it. RPGs make this one seamless thing. Main Story, Side quests, and Grinding all work seamlessly together. Sometimes they can suffer but on the whole they do a great job. The stories in these games, of which there is little-to-none, and to some players that is frustrating. Thats like if you were to watch Harry Potter, and instead of Harry learning things in school and facing against the Dark Lord and his henchmen and ultimately defeating them, Harry, Ron, and Hermonie instead spent a hour and a half  in the basement of Hogwarts killing the same Troll over and over again. That is until they got better wands, robes, hats, owls, cauldrons, spell books, and potions and then just went right up to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and zapped him, just for his ultimate ultra rare 13 1/2″ Yew Wand with a Phoenix Feather core.

This is MY wand. There are many like it but this one is mine! NOW DIE POTTER!

My point is, is that when a story suffers in a game it becomes boring, and repetitive, and then no one wants to play anymore. Games like The Witcher 3 and Undertale take elements of both action and RPG games and mix them together with no issues, like PB&J. The Story holds up and is still well told even after I’ve done two or three side quests or have been grinding for 2 hours before coming back to it.

A lot of what I am asking in this just tends to open up for more questions. I think the gaming industry needs to pick a side and either create a game that works seamless in telling a story, developing characters, AND having a skill tree, or make a linear shooter/action game with a separate multiplayer (or not) for people to enjoy well after playing through the story. While I do love most modern games, like I said before, if you aren’t a fan of this style it might take you out of it. What do you think about it? Are RPG elements ruining your FPS/action/sports games or do you feel that the grinding and lack of story is enhancing them with longer hours of gameplay? Tell me in the comments below!

About The Author

John D
Chief Operating Officer

John Donadio a.k.a. SomeBeardy2Love is the COO here at GAW. He once had a show that he produced, wrote, and co-hosted called the Wide World of Games, you can probably find it on youtube. He is also a co-host on a podcast called Party Up! John is an Action-Adventurer, platformer, RPGer, and FPS kind of gamer. Quick to play any game that has magic, swordplay, and/or stealthy elements. If you can customize a character he is in it for the long haul or just give me your 2D platform and he's a happy camper. What else do you expect from a gamer with a beard and a bow tie tattoo? Seriously.