Non-Linear RPGs... Or Are They?

Zloth

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@Sarafan's post in another topic reminded me of an issue I mumble about a lot: RPGs that are supposed to be non-linear but actually are. I'm not talking about cheap dialog choices where the only difference the choice makes is that one or two lines of dialog will be different, I'm talking on the strategic level: what quests are you going to do next? There have been several games over the decades that will let you go wherever you want in the world. If you want to skip right to the end, you can walk right up to it and either exploit some bug you found or get completely slaughtered. In fact, while you're allowed to go anywhere, if you want to actually survive there's actually only one place you can go.

In my book, that's a linear RPG. Now I've got nothing against linear RPGs! It can really help the game weave a much more interesting story but it bothers me when companies and customers proclaim that a game is non-linear when it's actually quite linear.

One way this can get fixed is to flatten the difficulty curve. Say your game has 20 different areas and your character levels range from 1 to 20. If the power of the players increases so much at every level that, at level 8, going to the level 9 area would be nearly impossible while going to the level 7 area will be a complete cake walk then obviously people aren't going to be able to do your game in a non-linear way. If you flatten that out so that the player can have good fun even when a level or two off, then the player can do things a lot less linearly. Of course, there's a cost: the player also isn't going to see his/her characters' power increasing as much. If you want to player to get to really epic power levels, you're going to need to make a really long game.

Another way is to make redundant content. The level 8 characters still get beat up hard in level 9 areas and fall asleep in level 7s but there will be at least two level 8 areas to pick from. Witcher 2 pulled this off really well. Unfortunately, it means developing a lot of content that half the players won't even see. It can also be a bit rough on the player. If you don't expect to play a game 2+ times, you've got to decide which content you aren't ever likely to see!

Finally, there's level scaling which Bethesda is so famous for doing. Wherever you go, the game alters the challenges to match your level. Go into a cave at level 2 and you might see goblins. Go into the same cave at level 20 and it's a conclave of vampires. City of Heroes had this so detailed that other people could join in to your group and, when you turned the next corner, there's suddenly far more enemies to take down! This certainly makes the world very open but it can lead to some crazy situations like Oblivion's highwaymen with weapons an armor that kings would envy. It also denies the player the ability to seek out something extra easy or challenging - wherever you go, the enemies are going to be just the right level for you.

Of course, you can also mix these systems up. For instance, you could have level scaling that only works within a range of values. That goblin cave may give you bug bears at level 6 but, if you go in at level 16, it will still be bug bears.

What sorts of solutions do you folks like?
 

Frindis

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When it comes to mob level in zones vs your level, I find it a nice challenge to have zones that are extremely dangerous for a low lvl character, but at the same time gives a possibility for exploring and even fight if wanted. One example is using clever strategies to defeat a high lvl enemy by using the environment -like how you in Elex for example, can kite mobs to attack each other or how you in WoW with learning aggro range, can avoid mobs and find chests and ingredients that are valuable.

I am not that fond of downscaling because I want the option of challenging a high-level mob and be able to defeat it or die a horrible death = Risk/Reward. When I leave a low-level zone, I am fine with it still being a low-level zone and not thinking of going back if there is not some content there for future use.

I also think there should be high lvl mobs even in a low-level area that is hard to defeat solo. Take for example the famous Hogger or Princess pig that you can take on solo in WoW, but means you will have to bring some pots and kite the hell out of if you are to low of a lvl.

The game Outward manages to give you a lot of non-linear options. It is (just like any game with quests) linear in the form that you have quests, but at least you will have options as to how you solve the quests. You can even choose to not follow the quest at all with the consequences such action gives for you and the world around you. The mobs in Outward are also interesting as they are all VERY dangerous when you start the game and you have to quickly find out how to defeat them or you easily die over and over again.
 
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OsaX Nymloth

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I absolutely despise level scaling in games, so this is a no-go option for me.

Yes, Witcher 2 did it remarkably well - a whole second act is sooo different depending on player's choice and consequences are also seen for the rest of the game. Dark Souls while kinda linear, allows player to wander into really dangerous areas. It serves few purposes: dying in graveyard for example a few times may tell a new player that this area is too tough and he/she should visit it later. More skilled players, veterans or even hardcore challenge seekers may as well go deeper into dangerous zones, giving them in reward something useful like the rite of kindling. There's also a whole section of the game where many people won't even know it exist (Ash Lake) unless they spot a double hidden wall in big tree in the Blightown's swamp. Or read about it online.

Creating this kind of content is hard. Witcher 2 requires devs to put a lot of extra work - but if game is good, there's high chance player will replay the game and make different choices to see all there is to see. Not everyone would do that of course, and if the game isn't good enough it's literally wasting resources. But it's a risk I appreciate whenever devs decide to do. Dark Souls 2 and 3 are way more linear that first one, that's why so many people praise it for the level design and world building through it's design.

I appreciate games that allow players to try. I know some enemies may be too tough, but I can try beating them by my skill if I am willing to use my time doing it. I like being able to do a high risk high reward trip to danger zone. But it's hard to get right. Witcher 3 in theory allows to beat even enemies 10+ levels above Geralt - but the damage done to them is sooo laughably small it takes a long time. Trust me, I was dancing with golems for 10+ minutes just because I am a stubborn maniac and I knew it's possible.
 
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Sarafan

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Like OsaX I hate a full scale level scaling. It's even worse for me than high linearity for which I criticized D:OS1. That's why I always had a problem with Oblivion. The level scaling there was pushed to the maximum and the result was absurd. Not only we've seen bandits with high level gear, but it also made the character development process pointless. What's the reason of level up, when all mobs level up with you? I like when at some point you feel that your character is clearly more powerful than in the beginning. This was not the case in Oblivion unfortunately.

As for other options, we rarely see the situations where the plot is divided in two separate directions like in The Witcher 2. This kind of narration is very resource consuming for studios that develop the game. If someone doesn't have the time to replay the game for the second time, all of the work that was put into alternative path goes for a waste.

I prefer a more balanced approach. A good example is Fallout New Vegas. It divides the paths for the final parts of the main quest. The alternative paths are not as developed as in The Witcher 2, but they serve their purpose. And the player has the opportunity to load a save not so far from the end to try a different approach. It's worth noticing that the developers blocked access to New Vegas for new players by swarming the road to the city by Deathclaws. It limits the players, but the game is still enough open to call it an open world game. And it doesn't use level scaling in a major way. It's an example of a good balanced experience, when it comes to difficulty level and accessibility to different areas.

A more classic example would be BG2. When you reach Chapter 2, you're basically flooded with side quests and most of them are within range of your party! You can do them in any order, but of course the higher level of your characters the easier it'll be to finish them. From what I know BG2 doesn't use any form of level scaling. I like this kind of freedom. D:OS1 unfortunately doesn't offer it, because you're punished heavily when you try to do things in different order than intended.
 

Frindis

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@Sarafan With the exception of a few (I think the planar prison is one of them) the majority of the encounters are scaled to your level in BG2 by having added difficulty.

The only really hard time I had in Fallout: New Vegas was at the start of the game. I decided to kill the Ceasars Legion and boy oh boy was that a big mistake. I ended up getting spawn of them nasty people everywhere and it was just as annoying (if more deadly) than the assassins you get after you in Morrowind as a low level if you had the Tribunal expansion installed.
 
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I personally really disliked now linear Fallout: New Vegas felt relative to Fallout 3.

A good example of non-linear play for me is Minecraft with the Feed the Beast: Evolved mod pack. It adds so many systems, all with their own progress paths, that all interact with each other through the basic Minecraft mechanics. You can keep jumping from one system to the other, in any order you want.
 
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Of course, you can also mix these systems up. For instance, you could have level scaling that only works within a range of values. That goblin cave may give you bug bears at level 6 but, if you go in at level 16, it will still be bug bears.
This is what Skyrim does and it's a great system. It's called rubber banding. They also have the difficulty scale roughly with altitude (mobs are harder on mountains) and latitude (mobs are harder in the north).

Fallout 4 has a similar rubber banding system, and a similar map-based difficulty scaler (easy northwest to hard southeast).
 
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Frindis

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@Hveðrungr I liked that system. When I met my first snow elemental up in the mountain I quickly understood that I had to be a little more careful now. No more just bashing stuff. Skyrim also had the giant camps scattered around, so you could potentially meet high lvl monsters in a low-level zone and I think that is a smart way to implement some danger aspect and for you to explore/do combat in areas that got that risk-reward factor.
 
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Sarafan

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@Sarafan With the exception of a few (I think the planar prison is one of them) the majority of the encounters are scaled to your level in BG2 by having added difficulty.
I didn't know about that. The level scaling must be somewhere in the background. It's hard to notice it because you can clearly feel that the power of your characters is rising.

The only really hard time I had in Fallout: New Vegas was at the start of the game. I decided to kill the Ceasars Legion and boy oh boy was that a big mistake. I ended up getting spawn of them nasty people everywhere and it was just as annoying (if more deadly) than the assassins you get after you in Morrowind as a low level if you had the Tribunal expansion installed.
Yeah, it's not a good idea to make Legion your enemy in the beginning of the game. It makes it a lot harder. It reminds me of traveling in BG series with a low reputation. :)
 
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Zloth

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What's the reason of level up, when all mobs level up with you?
Oh! I know that one! Higher levels alter game play - or at least they should alter game play. If you're just going from "Fireball 1" to "Fireball 6" which does the exact same thing only with bigger damage, then there isn't a point. If your fireball changes from a tiny tennis ball of fire that hurts one enemy into one that does such a big area that it will burn the caster's nose hairs, though, you're going to be changing your tactics as you play. Or maybe you'll just have lots of new options available, or more allies to help you, or whatever.

@Hveðrungr, yeah, I liked that one the best myself. I couldn't go ANYWHERE that I wanted but I could go lots of places and still get a challenge. It was a nice balance of the two extremes... most of the time.
 
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Sarafan

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Oh! I know that one! Higher levels alter game play - or at least they should alter game play. If you're just going from "Fireball 1" to "Fireball 6" which does the exact same thing only with bigger damage, then there isn't a point. If your fireball changes from a tiny tennis ball of fire that hurts one enemy into one that does such a big area that it will burn the caster's nose hairs, though, you're going to be changing your tactics as you play. Or maybe you'll just have lots of new options available, or more allies to help you, or whatever.
But it still doesn't make your character feel more powerful in a significant way. I agree that gameplay in games with major level scaling often differs in mid and late game. The visual effect and its properties change, but it's simply still not enough for me. TBH it all depends on the exact changes. If the high level mobs are only a simple variant of the same mobs that you met on lower levels, the level scaling is done bad. And this was the case in Oblivion.

It's not frequent, but I like when the developers occasionally throw at you some low level creatures even if you're much powerful than at the beginning of the game. Thanks to this you can clearly see the character development process effects and it gives more satisfaction. This was done in the Dark Souls series, when a creature that once was a boss becomes a regular (or almost regular) enemy. The effect is even better if meet groups of enemies that you've once met on lower levels singly.
 
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OsaX Nymloth

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The "scaling" in BG hm.... there IS some form of it, but barebones. Like I don't remember certain enemies being higher level and even people more knowledeable than me on the topic don't mention it. What DOES happen tho is the enemies you encounter at random - ambushes when you try to rest or when you travel between locations. For example on my latest solo run at some point I was being "chases" by a caballa of liches and other undead nastyness - after I leveled up closer to the 30's demigod status the group changed to adamantine golems. Every failed rest = 1-2 adamantine golem + some lesser golems. FUN.
Unless there's something else at works, but I don't believe there is.

Also:
REEEEEEEEEeee the only true Fallouts are 1 and 2 reeeee! (yes, even New Vegas I hardly approve)
 
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Zloth

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But it still doesn't make your character feel more powerful in a significant way. I agree that gameplay in games with major level scaling often differs in mid and late game. The visual effect and its properties change, but it's simply still not enough for me. TBH it all depends on the exact changes. If the high level mobs are only a simple variant of the same mobs that you met on lower levels, the level scaling is done bad. And this was the case in Oblivion.
Eh, the power thing doesn't bother me so much. It definitely is nice to have your enemies at least look nastier as you grow, though, even if it still takes 5 fireballs to kill one.

P.S. Yeah yeah @OsaX Nymloth, 1 and 2 are the only true Fallouts. But the 3's were a lot more fun than the true Fallouts! ;)
 
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Inspireless Llama

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If it's about scaling, I don't mind that as much. Sure it can be annoying because there isn't really something easy (evne though wolves in Skyrim stay wolves). But at least it causes you to have a completely open world from level 1 on, which to me is the point of an open world game. Now I've gotta say, with a lvl 60 Skyrim character there are only about 1 out of 100 enemies that are still challenging. But still, I liked it that you were allowed to go pretty much everywhere, but even then, there were areas that I didn't want to go because the enemies were too strong. Can't kill a giant when you're a lvl 1 character, and I'd recommend against the Forsworn too. But yet you were allowed to go there and if you really felt like playing diehard you could survive there.

To me there's not really a point of having a "finally" completely open world when you're about finished because I don't tend to keep playing after I felt like I finished a game to actually explore. I want to explore early in the game when I"m still interested in it.

For the choices, the only game I've noticed where choices actually seemed to matter was "Life is Strange". Sure beginning and ending were the same, but watching someone stream it I saw scenes coming by I never saw before in my own game, meaning they took a different path through it. That's about the best I've seen. I do remember though that my dad told me once about Dragon Age, when he played it he roleplayed as a dwarf who really hated elves (or the other way arround), but it went this far that whenever his character saw one, he attacked on sight. That's something more games need to do in terms of choices, because that's a really good aspect of "open world" if you ask me.


I'd like a game where I feel like choices actually matter, so really open world too. Alot of games make you feel like choices matter but in most of them you don't really notice the concequences of your decisions.

I'm imaging a kind of a game here where you'd start as a kid or something and the decisions you make early decide how you're going to do later. For example, were you playing this kid and decide to steal rather than study, later on in the game you'll more likely be a criminal rather than a businessman. You'd have a harder time starting a legitimate business too. And I think there are so much more things you could do this way.

Preferably in a medieval / fantasy setting.
That's what I posted in "what would your dream game be". I'd really like a game like this, where the choices you make early in the game affect the rest of your gameplay. Actually affect it.
 
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That's what I posted in "what would your dream game be". I'd really like a game like this, where the choices you make early in the game affect the rest of your gameplay. Actually affect it.
I believe The Witcher series changes quite a lot depending on your choices as well. The first two games aren't open world though and I'm not sure how much the third one does with it.
 
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I may be a month late but I've still got strong opinions, which I'm willing to share with an empty thread just to spare my family having to listen to them being shouted at my TV.

Firstly, I have to disagree with @Zloth opinion on difficulty-gating as being antithetical to non-linearity. There are definitely cases where it can constitute an absolute barrier to progression, but in games that take their 'openness' seriously enough they're merely hurdles.

Lets take the original Fallout as an obvious example, if you know the way to go you can walk directly from the Vault exit to the bunker containing the final boss. To the point @Zloth made, you're almost certain to be massacred on arrival, however among the many restrictions that Fallout has no time for is gear requirements. With no classes, or level or attribute requirements your baby-faced vault dweller can go straight from stabbing rats with a Combat knife to stomping into battle with full power armour and a gauss rifle. They may miss a lot of shots with their low skill levels, but the shots that hit do almost as much damage as an appropriately leveled character. Now admittedly without existing knowledge of the game plot and mechanics, none of this is likely to happen, but the point is that it can, and the game is prepared for you to deviate from the prescribed path.

My own feeling is also that linearity shouldn't be measured by the breadth of options but by their depth. Skyrim is huge, truly packed with content, but every meaningful choice is binary and their effects seem to be either cosmetic or non-existent. Build choices are reflected in guard barks, and that's it. For me that typifies the feaux-freedom described above. The game puts you in a hallway with hundreds of doors to choose from, but they all lead to one of two rooms. This may make it sound like I dislike Skyrim, which isn't the case. I just don't think of it or Fallout 4 as RPGs any more than I would the new Far Cry games just because they have skill trees.
 

Zloth

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I may be a month late but I've still got strong opinions, which I'm willing to share with an empty thread just to spare my family having to listen to them being shouted at my TV.
That's what we're here for!

Firstly, I have to disagree with @Zloth opinion...
Wait, what!?!? ;)

I'm not arguing that you can't make a game that's still pretty open with difficulty gating. You could, for instance, put in a whole bunch of redundant content so you could follow different quest lines to get from level X to Y. Mature MMORPGs that want players to go through the game multiple times do that a lot but single player games aren't about to spend all those resources to keep the player playing the same game they already paid for. That's why there was so much attention given to Witcher 2 when it put in two completely different areas for the mid-game.

I'm not so sure Fallout 1 is really a good counter-example, though. The game has difficulty gating but what you are pointing out is that the developers put some holes in their gates. If you go straight to these (I presume) unguarded, high-power items then you have bumped up your character's power pretty massively! It's the equivalent of leaving an apple lying around that, when you eat it, you're immediately awarded enough xp to max out the levelling system - then maybe you could go take out that final boss with your combat knife and your 6.022x10^23 hit points. You're completely bypassing the need to gain power via the various game activities.

Skyrim is huge, truly packed with content, but every meaningful choice is binary and their effects seem to be either cosmetic or non-existent. [G]uild choices are reflected in guard barks, and that's it.
Excuse me?? Perhaps you missed the dozen quests for the thieves' guild?? A goddess called Nocturnal? A skeleton key? Fencing stolen goods? Expanding the guild into other towns? Access to some trainers? The special armor? Note also that you can join the guild, get access to a little of their stuff, and leave it at that - it's definitely not a binary thing.

But you played the game and know this. Am I not understanding what you're saying?? I can't think of a view where the guard barks would count but none of that other stuff would.
 
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My example in Fallout may have been poorly described, there isn't a set of endgame equipment waiting anywhere and no way of subverting the standard game systems, but if on your first playthrough you elected to explore the West coast first, and if you're good enough to win fights on the way which is entirely possible, you can organically complete the game that way. This is possible because all the pieces exist in the world from the start, whereas if you were to enter the Thalmor Embassy in Skyrim prior to being directed there by the main quest (which is only possible via glitches as the compound is permanently locked until the quest starts) you'll find empty buildings. To be clear, I'm not criticising Skyrim for this just highlighting what I see as disguised linearity.

I also meant Build choices, not guild choices, although the guild questlines have their issues as well. Say I start a new game, pick the warrior standing stone, put every point into stamina and exclusively use heavy armour and warhammers. That character can still become the archmage by casting, what, two spells in total? Neither of which you even need to actually know beforehand! That sort of thing is convenient for seeing most of the game in a single playthrough, but it also makes it feel like your decisions are meaningless, both in how you play your character and in your quest decisions. That's what i meant by build choice being meaningless.

To your examples of options given in terms of the thieves guild, I haven't actually played all of that questline so my knowledge is shaky, but I believe the rewards you described are given to you serially as you check off boxes for one character after another, and my 2H warrior archmage from above could jump through all the same hoops with a few well used potions and scrolls to pass pickpocket skill checks. And throughout that process, no one would question why the leader of one of Skyrims oldest institutions and one of its most powerful people is willing to steal 500 gold worth of crap in order to gain access to their enchanter.

Open world is one thing, non-linear is another. Linear literally describes a straight line, and Skyrims various storylines basically equate to eight parallel lines, and although one or two may branch once each the lines never intersect or influence each other. I feel like I'm ragging unfairly on Skyrim, but it really is a pretty perfect example of well disguised linearity.
 
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That character can still become the archmage by casting, what, two spells in total?
I have to interject here. This is a common criticism of Skyrim, and it makes no sense. The player character is not made Arch-mage because of her magical aptitude. Arch-mage is a political position, a figurehead for the institution. Similarly, the Chancellors of ancient universities are often not accomplished academics: they are successful individuals who will be a good representative of the institution. The Chancellor of Oxford is Chris Patten, the Conservative politician and former governor of Hong Kong. The Chancellor of Cambridge is David Sainsbury, a member of the House of Lords and former businessman.

The player character in Skyrim fits the bill, having proved her acumen and worth by repeatedly defending the College, as well as being the Dragonborn (and eventually the head of the Thieves' Guild, the Dark Brotherhood, and the Companions, and a whole lot besides). She is not there to deliver lectures on magical theory. She is there to look after the College's interests. That is the proper role of the head of a college.
 
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One of the best open world games I have played is Gothic 3. I know most Gothic fans don't think so though. There you could go anywhere from the start. It had it's flaws, but made up for it in so many ways. I think it's as close to my ideal open world system as one can get.

The first time I played this, my computer was way below minimum requirements, and it took about 2,5 minutes to load a save after I died. (That was the quick load as well) This led to me trying for 2 hours to kill a wild boar, thinking I must be doing something wrong, when the truth is I mostly did'nt stand a chance. After I found a town and did some minor chores, I leveled up a couple of times and trained my swordfighting skill. I could now kill that boar. It was still a tough fight, but I could do it.

I also went way to early up north. I was helpless in all of the fights, so I ran. Everywhere.
Then I started kiting a couple of the tough monsters which worked well, but took a seriously long time.
The AI was really bad for these monsters, but if it had been any better it would probably have restricted some of the freedom. For example you could lead a pack of wolves you were tasked to kill through an entire forrest to some orc guards and they would kill them for you.

After I gained a lot of levels and started going back, I found I could take them all down easily, and man was that satisfying.
All the choices you made with abilities also felt like they really had an impact. A new skill could mean a world of difference. Another thing I liked was that once you killed an orc, that orc was dead. Sucks for you if you needed him for a quest later on ...
(Elex was a bit of the same, but I felt it was scaled back a bit, and became to easy, to early. Once you found a high level weapon you could kill anything without much effort, as long as you did'nt get hit.)

You could do any quest at any time and at the start of the game you would get a lot of quests. Many of those was doable in one way or another even though they were meant for a high level character. This is really how I prefer it as well. Do any thing at any time, but don't expect it to be easy.

Generally if there is level scaling, I prefer it to only scale the low level mobs up closer to your level. Difficult battles should still be hard and preferably you should be able to swing above your weight, but that should be even harder or require time and/or tactics.

I also don't like respawning enemies. Fights should have an impact, and every time you go down one particular road, you should'nt have to fight the same enemy again and again at exactly the same place. Some respawns are acceptable and maybe even necessary. But killing the same mobs a thousand times over just gets boring.
Clear out a crypt, that crypt should be clear. Kill a random wolf in the woods, logic dictates there may be another one close by some days later.
 
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I feel like the Soulsborne franchise (particularly DS1) has already solved this problem. Looking at DS1, the game doesn't need to scale enemy difficulty with the player to stay challenging throughout. At the same time, the fact that some enemies and areas are meant to be too difficult for a beginning player or new player character don't actually prohibit you from taking them on. In fact, if you take the challenge head on you could actually be well rewarded for your efforts.



You can actually see this laid out very clearly in the flowchart above. After completing the tutorial, your player character is dropped in Firelink Shrine, from where you can immediately take off in three different directions. You are meant to go into the Upper Burg, which is the path of least resistance. From there you would go to the Undead Parish, beat the Gargoyles, and then you would probably proceed to the Depths and so on.

However, you might very well wander into the Catacombs by accident. This is a mid-game area, but it's available from the start. You're meant to go there when you've leveled up a bit, acquired some better gear and maybe built yourself a divine weapon for those pesky skeletons. If you soldier on, you can fight a mid-game boss early: Pinwheel. If you succeed, you will be rewarded with the Rite of Kindling, which provides you with a higher potion count between bonfires. This effectively makes the rest of the game a bit easier, but getting there wasn't easy.

Firelink Shrine also connects to New Londo Ruins, a late-game area where you encounter ghosts that can't be hit with normal weapons. Unless you figure out the way around that, also available from the start, allowing you to proceed. You could then conceivably kill an NPC that's in your way and gain access to an end-game boss fight. It's a DPS race, so it will be extremely hard to kill at low level, but you can do it and the rewards will be plenty.

That's not even factoring in the Master Key; at character creation your PC gets to pick one gift. If you pick the Master Key, you can open all kinds of doors that aren't normally accessible, allowing you to sequence break three quarters of the entire game. Not great for a new player, but if you're a veteran, it's the way to play. Set yourself up for success early by getting a late-game weapon in the first 10 minutes and then upgrade the hell out of it with all the materials you found that you're not really meant to have yet.

Eventually the game reaches a turning point where the difficulty curve flattens off a bit, so no matter how strong you were for the first half of the game, the second half is never going to be a complete cakewalk. You can only upgrade your character and weapons so far without a ridiculous amount of grinding.

Another element that contributes to Souls' great open-endedness without rendering any part of the game trivial is that a large part of your success is governed by how good you are as a player. Dark Souls doesn't limit what you can do as a player to what stats your player character has acquired. You can beat the entire game with only your bare hands at character level 1 if your knowledge of the game and your fighting skills are good enough. If you do decide to level and power up, most of your strength comes from your equipment rather than your character level, and the best gear naturally isn't available at the start. Unless you know where to look and how to get there, of course.

Honestly, DS1's world design and difficulty curve were so elegant I'm surprised they mostly did away with it for the sequels. The first half of DS2 had some open-endedness to it as well, but it got very linear towards the end. DS3 and Bloodborne feel almost on-rails compared to DS1. That's not to say they're not great in their own right, but to me the world they built for DS1 still stands head and shoulders above the other games in the series.

So yes.. I think Dark Souls 1 is just about the perfect example of how you can make an RPG non-linear without trivialising parts of the content or resorting to cheap level-scaling tactics.
 
Jan 22, 2020
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I have to interject here. This is a common criticism of Skyrim, and it makes no sense. The player character is not made Arch-mage because of her magical aptitude. Arch-mage is a political position, a figurehead for the institution. Similarly, the Chancellors of ancient universities are often not accomplished academics: they are successful individuals who will be a good representative of the institution. The Chancellor of Oxford is Chris Patten, the Conservative politician and former governor of Hong Kong. The Chancellor of Cambridge is David Sainsbury, a member of the House of Lords and former businessman.

The player character in Skyrim fits the bill, having proved her acumen and worth by repeatedly defending the College, as well as being the Dragonborn (and eventually the head of the Thieves' Guild, the Dark Brotherhood, and the Companions, and a whole lot besides). She is not there to deliver lectures on magical theory. She is there to look after the College's interests. That is the proper role of the head of a college.
That's a good head canon way of role playing around the issue, but is there actually anything in-game to support the theory? You get robes with bonuses to magic ability, not diplomacy. Arch-mage literally means powerful mage.

And if it is true, then it's actually even more nonsensical because actual mage players might feel it condescending, like a life saving surgeon being given an honorary doctorate.

The mages questline is subject to constant criticism because it's the among the worst examples in the game of the flattening of experience occuring over time in this franchise. In order to not exclude any players from basically any experience in any playthrough they make all playthroughs feel the same.
 

Inspireless Llama

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Dec 20, 2019
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@Mazer @Hveðrungr when talking about Skyrim though, the only choice where I always felt like it actually changes gameplay and / or the game was the werewolf / vampire thing. You had to choose 1, were you a werewolf becoming a vampire you couldn't stay werewolf.

The rest to me felt like pretty linear too (and rushed, but that's another story). Personally I never finished the thieves guild either, but I remember in Oblivion that stealing from another member would get you kicked off the guild, and do it too often and you couldn't return. Is that for Skyrim the case too?

Also, in "choices matter" I think it would be more likely that if you were archmage and becoming leader for the thievesguild you would lose the other leader position? What institution likes their head to be the leader of a bunch of criminials too? As far as I know in Skyrim you can be the highest ranked of all and it makes no impact on the rest of the guilds, with exceptation of vampires and werewolves.
 

Zloth

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Jan 13, 2020
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Open world is one thing, non-linear is another. Linear literally describes a straight line, and Skyrims various storylines basically equate to eight parallel lines, and although one or two may branch once each the lines never intersect or influence each other. I feel like I'm ragging unfairly on Skyrim, but it really is a pretty perfect example of well disguised linearity.
No, I don't think that means its linear at all. If there were eight SEQUENTIAL lines and the game made sure it was all but impossible to do them in any order but the prescribed one, then yeah. But you've got lots of long lines in this game (and some medium ones, and some short ones). Some branch, most don't.

What's key, though, is that the player is free to do them in whatever order. You could run to Riften as soon as you get out of the tutorial cave and do the entire Thief's Guild quest line. Or you could rotate your lines, refusing to do two steps in a row of any of them. Or you could do anything in between. Even if you just limit yourself to the guild quests and the main quest, I think you'll have a hard time finding two people that just so happened to do the steps of those quests in the same order! So how can that be linear?
 
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Jan 22, 2020
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No, I don't think that means its linear at all. If there were eight SEQUENTIAL lines and the game made sure it was all but impossible to do them in any order but the prescribed one, then yeah. But you've got lots of long lines in this game (and some medium ones, and some short ones). Some branch, most don't.
See, I still think of that as a series of linear experiences. When you drop the thieves guild questline to do some mage missions you come right back to where you left off, the only difference being your level and equipment, neither of which have any meaningful plot impact, so it's still the same experience every other player has. If I alternate chapters of Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings it doesn't put Gandalf in the teachers lounge of Hogwarts, to use a facetious example.

We're probably bumping up against the outlines of our various respective ideals of non-linearity, and there are definitely lots of shades of grey in this area. The Mega Man series let's you complete the levels in any order you like, but the levels are basically all straight runs left to right, is that non linear? The hitman series gives you an open ended sandbox for each level and interlocking systems and mechanics to allow for emergent solutions and improvisation, but every level ends with you killing someone and leaving, is this non linear?

Maybe things can be placed in an overlapping circle chart of 'Non-Linear' versus 'Open World'? The first two Mafia games were open world but almost entirely linear. And the 2006 game Facade is a non linear conversation at a dinner party with two friends, which uses a combination of chatbot AI, an exhaustive script of dialogue and some minor randomization of character moods to become basically a non-linear adventure game set in a single room.

What, for you guys, make a game linear or non-linear?
 
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