I’ve been having a difficult time playing video game RPGs lately. Sure, many of them are great. Some of them have interesting stories to tell, but what takes me out of the experience every time are the non-player characters. Yep, those mindless characters with 5-6 lines of dialog that either wander around endlessly or stand in one place.
Take Skyrim, which is considered the best video game RPG by many. I was in one of the villages when a dragon attacked. The dragon killed some NPCs before I was able to slay it. As I inspected the bodies I noticed that the mother/wife of one of the families had been killed. I went to talk to each of the characters in the woman’s family; I even took her body home for them to lay it to rest.
You know what those NPCs did? The same things they always did. Telling me about the best places to buy weapons, and how scary things had gotten in the world lately. No mention of the death of their mother/wife. No sorrow. Just aimless wandering. Same dialog.
And it completely pulled me out of the game. Because there are no stakes. If the NPCs don’t seem like they care about each other when they die, why should I care about them? Why even save the world? Why redeem something so devoid of life and emotion?
John was playing Destiny‘s beta the other day. He told me that he was totally into the gameplay, but as soon as he had to talk to an NPC, he was over it.
MMO NPCs are really the worst. I remember playing World of Warcraft and watching these random computer people walking around spouting their one line of dialog. Meanwhile, hundreds of decked out warriors flooded into their city. They didn’t care. It seemed really out of place. (WoW is weird. There’s a lot of war, but very little NPC industry. I’m not sure how that economy even moves. Who is making everything? Growing the food?)
I’ve outlined what I want from an MMO RPG before. I want a game where the PCs basically run everything because video game RPGs just don’t have the AI yet to run realistic NPCs yet.
Maybe I’ve been ruined by tabletop roleplaying games. Probably. But, I feel like video game RPGs have been doing the same thing for nearly 30 years. NPCs are basically the same as they were back in Final Fantasy. It’s time for NPCs to be improved.