Right, first of all there’s still no review for Death Stranding, but in my defense, the reason is that another game has absorbed my attention like an absorbent thing found in all the oceans. I’m sure there’s a name for it, but that isn’t important right now. What is important is that I’m about to say something deeply controversial and divisive to the gaming community at large.


Computer role play games are rarely role play games. Oh sure, they all wear the label like Buffalo Bill would slip on a lady suit had he succeeded in his plan to flay a senator’s daughter. But most are rides on rails that offer illusional choices in the guise of actual role play. But getting four dialogue choices that all steer the story in the same direction does not equal role play.

Some of you may argue for your favorites, like good ol’ Skyrim. “Look here, asswipe, “ you say, “I can walk away from the story and do whatever I like.”

Yes, you can do that, and I have indulged in the same free-form frolicking within Skyrim’s frosty but lovely world. The problem is, no matter what role you take, the game will not deliver a narrative experience tailored to your choice. Skyrim doesn’t care if you chose to become the premier armorer with a special degree in dragon bone armor. It doesn’t care if you went to the bard’s college and want to sing to the masses at the most important wedding in the land. It doesn’t give two shits if you’ve opted to become a merchant of flowers and butterfly wings. No one in the game is going to ask you, “Hey Wing Vendor, how’s the butterfly herd this season?”

See, what you are doing is choosing not to engage with the plot, because if you did, you’d be forced to admit how little a role you have in the story. Should you engage with the plot, you reach a point where the lady who works for you tells you to kill the only good dragon in the world. If you refuse, Bethesda writers prove that they never understood what a chain of command looks like, as your sworn protector says (paraphrasing), “Fuck you, bitch, now go and kill that hero for me.”

Skyrim, and many other Bethesda games, are not RPGs. Pumping up the numbers on stats is not role play, it is simply leveling up. These kinds of games are fantasy sandboxes to choose what flavors of tasty death you want to inflict upon the local scum. This does not mean they aren’t loads of fun, so put down your replica Dawnbreaker and stick with me through another more recent example.

Divinity: Original Sin II. Boy howdy, has this game been lauded over and over as a quintessential RPG experience. With the release of Baldur’s Gate 3 causing many a head to explode, I thought I might finally look into this much loved RPG.


It is a tactical fantasy game with a huge pool of powers and spells available to solve its many combat-based puzzles. It has a delightful treasure trove of unique talents to let you experience the world in your own special way. But when it comes down to the actual meat and potatoes of the plot, your input is not needed.

“But no,” you scream, “you have multiple endings to choose from!”

Yeah, so does any bog standard FPS or third person adventure game. Collect enough Items of Great Import or do enough side quests, and you can access the Good Ending, as opposed to the Okay Ending or the Definitely Not Okay Ending.

A real deal RPG will let you change the story itself at any moment, to the point that the DM has to throw out their script and join the improv group who are cheerfully fucking up their carefully crafted world. Very few computer games will let you get away with that kind of fuckery.

And, that’s okay.

Before we continue down this rabbit’s hole, let me be clear: just because a game isn’t a True RPG does not mean it’s a bad game. I have happily spent hundreds to thousands of hours (not hyperbole) in several so-called RPGs that were not befitting of the label.

Diablo is not a role play game. Dark Souls and its kin are not role play games. World of Warcraft…can be an RPG if you hook up with a group who insist on staying in character for all interactions. But if you only go online to type “LFT,” and then go kill the latest raid boss to make your numbers go up, that’s still not an RPG. It is a shared fantasy gaming experience, and it’s awesome. But that’s beside the point.

All of these games should have been called something else, but the bigwigs who lack imagination latched onto some low hanging fruit. Plus, it’s easier to label something an RPG rather than “tactical fantasy game,” “fantasy action game,” or “online isometric dungeon crawler.” They just don’t roll off the tongue in the same way.

Let’s get back to Divinity: Original Sin II. The tutorial sets you up nicely, thinking, This is it! This is the True RPG! Except it isn’t. Yes, you can take certain paths that make you feel like you are in control of your destiny. But even before you’ve left Fort Joy (great name, BTW), there are situations where your abilities are hampered by a DM who is more intent on their plot than your actions.

Early on, there is a character who is grievously injured, someone who has a well-developed tree of dialogue for you to explore. And yet, no matter how you interact with this character, their injuries never heal, nor can they ever realize you aren’t as bad as they believed. Their dialogue never strays from the script. Your actions are inconsequential, unable to change the encounter even if you have high persuasion.

This sort of script-heavy gaming continues into the main game. Sure, you might be a healer with three flavors of Save Yo’ Ass. But if the game wants someone to suffer, then you can cast all your healing love and the narrator will still say, “Ooh, that bitch is on death’s door.” You can’t change the plot because your role is fixed. Any attempt at role play on your part is simply ignoring how little agency you have in this world.

In conclusion, I need to reemphasize that none of these games are bad. Many of them are incredible, amazing, and mind blowing. But adding extra customization mechanics does not make any game an RPG. To do that, I need control of the script at every step of the process. Because if the writer keeps stepping in like an angry DM to silence player choice, that’s not a True RPG. It can still be a great game. But it’s wearing the wrong label strictly for the sake of marketability.