Over the years, there have been more than a few games that have given the player choices. In my memory, BioWare has been at the forefront of these games, from Baldur’s Gate, to Neverwinter Nights, and then hitting their stride with Knights of the Old Republic, and, of course, Mass Effect.
Other games may not have given you as many dialogue choices, but allowed an impressive freedom of behavior. Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series is a great example, as are the Elder Scrolls games from Bethesda.
Sidenote: The express reason I purchased an XBOX 360 was to play Mass Effect. Totally worth it.
Do these games make you feel more like you’re in the role of your character? (I absolutely refuse to ask if they put the roleplay in RPG. No, this doesn’t count.)
I have enjoyed most games that involve dialogue choices, even though, for the most part, I haven’t noticed much of an effect on the plot. The sandbox type action games like GTA have never really taken hold of me, although I think that may have more to do with the setting and the target demographic of those games, seeing as I loved Morrowind and Oblivion.
It’s a fascinating concept to think of games where players really do have the freedom to make choices that alter the course of the game, both through scripted dialogue events and through sandbox behavior. Sadly, the thought of attempting to program that absolutely withers my soul.
Which leads me to comment that most of the games I mentioned only grant an illusion of freedom and consequence. That’s not really a criticism, though; that illusion may just be the best we can do – for now, at least.
I feel an urge to throw Chrono Trigger into this post. Chrono Trigger granted fewer choices to the player, but in the end you could discover a whole host of consequences. I only know of one person who personally played through all the endings. And I know that I never really felt like I was in Chrono’s shoes.
My ultimate gaming experience would involve playing a character from the ground up, making all of his decisions and with the freedom to act as I pleased… and to experience the consequences. But more importantly, the game would manage to disguise (or remove!) the disconnect between the character and the player.
I’m not sure that exists yet, or whether it even can. BioShock came close in many respects, with the rather glaring exception that BioShock was essentially a linear first person shooter – and one hell of a game.
Until then, I’ll wait patiently, lamenting the fact that AD&D may be the best alternative (because no, I don’t roleplay).