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The RPG Files: Faceoff: Open World RPGs vs. CRPGs

Columns By Christopher Coke on October 23, 2015

Faceoff: Open World RPGs vs. CRPGs

October is the most mainstream month isometric RPGs have seen in years. Wasteland 2 hit consoles last week, Sword Coast Legends released Tuesday, and Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition is just around the corner, ready to show console gamers what they’ve been missing all this time. Not to be outdone, November will push back with its own juggernaut from the world of open world space with Fallout 4. So, we’re going to do what any self-respecting gamer would do: compare the hell out of them.

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Plus, a Witcher expansion, Sword Coast Legends releases, Darkest Dungeons gets a launch date, Rebel Galaxy, and more!

A note before we begin. Even though we take our RPGs super seriously, there are always going to be exceptions with individual games. I’m also one guy looking at games in the modern day, not 15 years ago, and I’m also ignoring action-RPGs for this list. Enjoy!

World Size - Open World RPGs

The open world genre wins this one hands down. Isometric RPGs tend to work in individual maps that are often hand drawn. Open world games like Fallout or Skyrim are sprawling and often feature underground areas as well. That said, CRPGs earn points here for making the most out of limited space. I’ve played more than one CRPG with the character of ten generic open worlds.

Storytelling - CRPGs

This one goes to CRPGs and here’s why. Since they’re not open world and usually feature a pulled back camera, the games have to work hard to evoke your imagination. As we all know, no cutscene could ever compare to mind’s own eye. Take Pillars of Eternity for example. The action freezes, voice over (usually) disappears, and you’re left to imagine, just like a good book. Open world games lose something in that sprawl that CRPGs just hold dear.

Roleplaying - CRPGs

This was a close one. Both genres do a great job of letting you play your character. In the end, CRPGs win out for a similar reason to Storytelling: when the focus is off of the 3D spectacle, that focus shifts even more onto roleplay. And let’s face it, when developers don’t have to worry about populating such big worlds, it’s that much easier to write engrossing, branching dialogue and decision sequences. Where the two genres tie, though, is...

Character Building - Draw

Between the two, there’s little difference. Sure, a case could be made that a title like Wasteland 2 gives you more beginning options than Fallout, but does that stay true in the larger game? When I look to other RPGs on both sides, I see a huge amount of customization. It varies so much from game to game, it’s got to be a draw.

Graphics - Open World RPGs

Easy and unfair. But hey, the pixels need a pat on the back too. Open world games easily win out through sheer detail; however, in artistry, CRPGs give them a run for their money. There are parts of Divinity: Original Sin and Shadowrun Returns that are almost painterly and just stunning.

Production Quality/Bugs - CRPGs

All games have their issues, but as a rule, open world games have more. There is just so much more to account for! So yes, a section about bugs is also a little unfair but probably still necessary. That said, big budget open worlders often make that up with sweeping soundtracks, sterling UIs, and a multitude of little touches that raise the bar overall. Still, when it comes to what’s likely to cause the least grief, even in the little things, CRPGs have the edge.

Multiplayer - Open World RPGs

A section in development if ever there was one. Games like Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Sword Coast Legends seem out to prove that CRPGs are made for multiplayer. On the other hand, the current landscape is pretty bleak. In the open world space, things aren’t much better, but there are some offerings. Mass Effect has a popular multiplayer mode, and Dragon Age: Inquisition is still holding multiplayer events, even after the DLC is done. Stay tuned for a revisit in its own article.

The Winner: If each section were worth a single point, it would be a tie, which is perhaps most fitting. But this is all in fun, so let’s get it out there: In 2015, the defining RPG experience remains with open world RPGs.

Even though CRPGs have won a special place in my heart in recent years, open worlders have them beat by sheer noise ratio. Titles like The Witcher 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition commanded the attention of millions, and sure, they had big marketing budgets, but they also had big development budgets. The result is easily greater depth, more complexity, better visuals, and greater potential for what’s to come in future DLC, multiplayer, and, of course, from the modding community.

But this is one man’s opinion and there’s surely a few apples in with the oranges. What’s yours?

Quick Hits

The team behind Scribblenauts and Drawn to Life offered us a surprise this week in the form of Anchors in the Drift. The RPG, currently up for funding on Fig, sees players sailing the seas of time, liberating civilizations from an evil inter-dimensional empire. The free to play RPG features action combat but what really makes it stand out is the freedom to make custom abilities using a trading card system. Neat!

Rebel Galaxy launched this week and we’ve got you covered with a review. Our managing editor, Bill Murphy, called the game “something for every fan of games like Privateer, and a perfect entry point for fans of ARPGs wanting to give the space sim a solid try.” We gave it an 8 out of 10.

If you missed it, I had the chance to chat with Dan Tudge, game director on Sword Coast Legends. I had some questions going into launch and he was kind enough to field them. It’s pretty broad spanning, so give it read! Check out the site for Rob Lashley’s Review In Progress!

Apparently that mobile market is doing well for Square Enix. Speaking to Polygon, the firm confirmed that they have plans to continue cranking out the ports because, presumably, those young’uns don’t know what good games really are. Ayup.

The Witcher 3’s Hearts of Stone expansion has released to near universal praise. Rob got his hands on it and was smitten. The rest of the internet seems to agree with the game sitting at an 88 on Metacritic. Reports of its length are, like the main game, quite varied, but even on the low end of 11 hours, it’s still a much better value than the bulk of DLC this year.

Finally, Darkest Dungeon has been given an official release date of January 19th, 2016. The studio said it pushed back the release window to avoid rushing their endgame; however, its ultimate success is yet to be seen following a series of particularly unwelcome changes earlier this year.

That’s all from us. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.