About this time last year I wrote a column about the fact that sometimes you can go back and revisit old games and still be impressed by how forward thinking, clever or good they are — despite any technological failings they may have.
In that particular case I was talking about Gothic 3, an ingenious but stunningly ugly game. This month I’ve had the somewhat dubious privilege of reviewing a game that has long been on my radar. Unfortunately the long wait for this “old-school” RPG has done it no favours, and unlike the case with Gothic 3, it has shown me that sometimes you definitely can’t go back.
The game in question is the long in-gestation Inquisitor, a Czech-developed isometric RPG with hundreds of hours of play, a massive story and interesting world. On paper it sounds like something that is right up my alley. I like rooting for the underdog, so a game that has spent 10 years in development and three years translating the 5000 odd pages of text should instantly fall into my good graces, but unfortunately nearly everything about Inquisitor simply seems to rub me the wrong way, triggering nausea rather than nostalgia.
Many of the classic isometric RPGs were, and still remain, rewarding — packing their maps with secret locations, encounters and stashes to reward the player for slowly lumbering around, but many others simply used large maps and slow movement speeds to extend the length of the game.
The first mission of Inquisitor –- the very first mission — takes forever. You can’t go into a town until all of the giant bats in the area have been dispatched. Completing the quest entails slowly walking around the entire map searching for bats, then heading back to the quest giver to check if you’ve killed them all because there is no indicator of numbers or locations.
Character creation is a hit and miss affair that all but entails multiple restarts until you finally work out how to properly min-max a character — and you’ll want to min-max, because the difficulty level is such that anything other than Easy inevitably results in death when you meet your first bat.
Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have minded the slog. I would have happily hunted down all of the bats and not batted an eyelid at a single opening quest taking half an hour of aimless wandering and click-to-kill combat but now — when the pace and interactivity of even the least ambitious RPG has increased exponentially — it’s hard not to look at old mechanics with a mix of melancholy and disdain.
Even the reams of well written, interesting text have begun to grate because I have become so used to voice acting and short, punchy paragraphs and brief snippets of incidental text.
I hate when someone uses the term “dumbed down” when referring to a game, as it usually has something to do with a platform bias or someone simply being a troll, but hate it as I do, I still feel it’s appropriate to use here — albeit in a slightly different context.
I don’t feel that games have been dumbed down, so much as I have.
Tasks I wouldn’t have shirked a decade ago now seem daunting and pointless thanks to the instant gratification of modern gaming, and the pace at which the story and action are delivered. Mechanics for the most part have been simplified, to the point of easy accessibility and malleability. Difficulty levels have been calibrated to entertain rather than challenge.
I’m not sure whether this indicates a failing on my part, on or the part of modern gaming. As an ever-evolving form, gaming is always going to redefine the way in which story and action are delivered. But have we lost simple pleasures under a slick veneer and instant gratification, or have I simply become too used to having content fed to me rather than hunting it down? Enquiring minds want to know.