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The RPG Files: Sorry Game Critics, MGS:V is Nowhere Close to an RPG

Columns By Christopher Coke on October 09, 2015

Sorry Game Critics, MGS:V is Nowhere Close to an RPG

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is easily the biggest game of September. With its meaty campaign, it’s no wonder the conversation is still going full steam. It’s a great game but one talking point has begun to wear thin, the constant comparisons and outright labeling of the game as an RPG. It isn’t and is nowhere close but people keep saying it. Here’s why they’re wrong.

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That and the week’s news in the comments below!

Metal Gear Solid V puts you in the shoes of Snake, a.k.a. Big Boss, a.k.a. the bearded guy on all the promotionals. As you can probably glean from the screenshots, the game takes place in an open world. Despite this, it is a typical stealth action game. You gather and build different tools and weapons, sneak around bases, free prisoners,  and gleefully rack up headshots when your “stealth playthrough” goes to bits. So far, so good.

Where MGS:V kicks things to the next level is with your base of operations (“motherbase”). Throughout the game, you complete missions to build new platforms on your sea-base, kidnap enemies to become new crew, and steal anything not attached to send back home on a floating balloon. The scope here is truly impressive. Building up your base constantly opens up new gameplay options, and it’s not as simple as abducting any old enemy to send back either. Every NPC has stats that make them a better fit for different areas of your base. Their combined skills work some behind the scenes magic to “level up” areas of your base, giving you new crafting recipes and toys to take back into the field. It’s a lot of fun.

It’s also nowhere close to an RPG. I have to admit, it drives me a little crazy that people keep making these comparisons because unless you’re roleplaying as a bigass hunk of metal in the middle of the ocean, you’re not roleplaying much of anything. Snake doesn’t level up. He doesn’t gain experience. He doesn’t have stats or skills that are visible to the player. He barely talks, so dialogue options go out the window. Literally, every roleplay aspect these game critics throw out there as so RPG-like has nothing to do with actually roleplaying a character!

Where they get confused is with the inundation of roleplay systems. As commenters in this very column have told me, and the understanding I continue to grow into myself, is that systems alone don’t make something a roleplay game. They can make it close, turn a game into a hybrid, but Metal Gear Solid isn’t even that. It’s just an action game with base management.

I’m reminded of the article I wrote about Batman: Arkham Knight back in July. There, I talked about how easy it would be for that game to make the jump; how, after playing The Witcher 3 it seemed so close - just a dialogue system away. On the surface, Arkham Knight and MGS:V have a lot in common. But where Batman pulled you into the cape and cowl with its excellent story and amazingly realized world, The Phantom Pain hands you a gun, Afghanistan, and plane ride’s worth of audio logs and says good luck.

Frankly, Snake doesn’t feel like much of a character at all. He’s a vehicle for the player’s penetrative urge to overpower and overcome. Maybe I’m just not far enough the dozen or so hours in I am, but I’m betting his entire spoken dialogue is less two minutes (sans audio logs).

So no, game critics. Metal Gear Solid: V is a great game, but it’s certainly not “pretty much an RPG.”

Quick Hits

Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition has finally received a launch date and will arrive on October 27th. The game will come as a free update for current owners on PC or, if you’re scouting the game out for couch co-op, $60 on both PS4 and Xbox One. Stay tuned for articles on this because I’m going to hit it hard.

Cyberpunk 2077 is going to be big. Really, really, big. Speaking to MCV, visual effects artist Jose Teixeira said that the game will be “far, far bigger” than anything the studio has done before. “We’re really stepping into the unknown in terms of complexity and size and the problems we encounter,” he said. This is interesting because, speaking with Kotaku, the studio revealed that they allow gameplay to dictate the size of their games and worlds, not the other way around. With 200 hours proving to be a true playtime in The Witcher 3, the possibilities for Cyberpunk give me the chills.

The controversial “Augment Your Pre-Order” plan for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is no more. Following severe backlash, the studio has decided to scrap the idea and make every piece of content available to all players in a Day One edition of the game. Thank goodness. Remember friends, don’t pre-order games.

n-Space is picking up steam on the road to Sword Coast Legends launch. MMORPG has two exclusive developer diaries for your reading pleasure focusing on both the Druegar and the Drow and the Beholder and the Troll.

Fallout 4 is back with another S.P.E.C.I.A.L. video, this time focusing on Intelligence. Give it a watch and join me in longing for more actual gameplay footage.

Finally, Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut is well on its way to its October 13th release. If you’re like me and missed the game on its first go ‘round, this is exciting news as the Director’s edition comes packed with lots of extra content. Check out many of those improvements right here in a new 5-minute trailer.

There’s too much news this week for one column! Stay tuned to our news feed for more. In the meantime, let us know what we missed and what you’re excited for 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.