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Game On: Role-playing games are a great time sink

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 12, 2020

“Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden” is a tactical RPG set in the aftermath of a nuclear war. It is available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.  (The Bearded Ladies Consulting)
“Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden” is a tactical RPG set in the aftermath of a nuclear war. It is available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. (The Bearded Ladies Consulting)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

Out of all the genres of video games I enjoy, perhaps the most difficult to discuss is role-playing games. It’s not for lack of fans of the genre or anything – quite the opposite. Rather, the RPG label is applied to so many different games that it comes to mean something different for everyone.

To some, a game qualifies as a role-playing experience because the player creates a custom character to represent them in the game’s world. For others, any game with a fantasy or science-fiction setting fits the bill. It also can come down to mechanics – despite being a shooter at its core, some consider “BioShock” to be an RPG because players can make moral decisions to determine the final outcome of the story.

I’ve often been an elitist on this subject, but I’ve since realized I need to drop the ego. My frustration is born from the fact that I’ve often felt like I’m talking through people when attempting to discuss RPGs, not because “The Elder Scrolls” is somehow an inferior title to a “real” RPG like “Baldur’s Gate.”

Despite their ubiquity, RPGs can be difficult to get into – they almost always feature expansive worlds and long campaigns. Whereas you can easily pick up an old classic like “Pacman,” play for five minutes and leave it for another time, RPGs can take dozens, sometimes even hundreds of hours to play from start to finish. They are feature-rich and often have meaningful narratives, so if you shelve the game for months before coming back, chances are when you return, you won’t remember the story or the strategies.

Because of this, many gamers get caught in the loop of putting several hours into an RPG before outside circumstances cause them to abstain for weeks, essentially forcing them to restart upon returning to it. Many have adopted a term to describe the all-too-common phenomenon: restart-itis.

I have a full-time job, I write freelance articles, and, in a couple of months I’ll be a father for the first time. I’m sure others can relate – soon it will be more difficult than ever to find time to play video games, especially titles that demand one’s full attention for hours at a time. Life happens – and out of all the genres out there, RPGs tend to overlook that fact the most.

Of course, many people are stuck in the opposite position. With a worldwide pandemic causing unemployment to skyrocket, lengthy, narrative-driven video games can be a good distraction. I’m not suggesting the market changes to suit my needs; I’m just shocked at how few games are pick-up-and-play these days.

My point is, despite tons of worthwhile entries, I find it difficult to recommend recent RPGs because I simply haven’t had opportunities to play them. The newest one I’ve sunk my teeth into is “Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden,” which was released in late 2018. With gameplay akin to the “XCOM” series, it features tactical, turn-based combat, a fresh take on a post-nuclear world and a memorable cast of characters. Despite his foul mouth and penchant for murder, I’d argue the roguish Dux is a more endearing anthropomorphic duck than even the likes of Donald Duck.

I bought “Darkest Dungeon” years before actually playing it, and when I finally did, I thought myself a fool for keeping it on the backburner for so long. There’s something incredibly compelling about managing your party’s physical and mental well-being while navigating sprawling dungeons filled with Lovecraftian monstrosities. It dropped in 2016 but still holds up. Its sequel is slated to enter early access in early 2021.

Although it can be difficult to find time to play them today, RPGs remain important to me because they had a significant impact on my childhood. As early as age 6, I preferred the fantasy worlds and lengthy expositions of games like “The Legend of Dragoon” and “Icewind Dale” to the straightforward action games my peers were playing. Video games – especially RPGs – imprinted upon me a love for storytelling and writing that I carry with me today.

In recent years, the tables have turned – I find myself craving simple, arcade-like experiences more than in-depth adventures. RPGs can be difficult to get into, but immersing yourself in a good story can be incredibly rewarding – not unlike a good novel. If you find yourself with extra time on your hands, I’d recommend playing through a good, lengthy RPG.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at

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