The Dogma of Multiplayer Action RPGs

Advertised to many as a “Western Monster Hunter”, Dragon’s Dogma intrigued me. While I personally hate Monster Hunter, I absolutely love multiplayer dungeon crawls or “Monster Hunter Clones”. In fact I would even go so far as to call them one of my all-time favorite game genres.

So imagine my surprise when a friend of mine informs me that Dragon’s Dogma has no real multiplayer…then begs me not to complain about it because it’s a great game and everyone is complaining about the lack of multiplayer.

Now, I can’t vouch for Dragon’s Dogma’s gameplay one way or the other as I have not bought the game (and, admittedly, will now wait for it to drop to $20 before I do) and spent little time with the demo. However this is a truly baffling issue. Dragon’s Dogma looked like a multiplayer game and was pretty much advertised as such, so disappointment is expected.

It’s at this point that some people then jump to the game’s defense. Especially because it’s a Capcom game and for some baffling reason Capcom has the most widespread subconciously dedicated fanbase I have ever seen, though that is a story for another time.

The general argument though is that “Not Every Game Needs Multiplayer”. This is very very true. Some arguing that it would break the immersion, that there’s no way you could have the A.I. party members in multiplayer, or that tweaking things to make the game work in multiplayer would result in a more generic game. A game just like every other multiplayer dungeon crawl this generation.

…and that is where we find the real problem: WHAT MULTIPLAYER DUNGEON CRAWLS?!

No, seriously. While there are a handful of good ones on the portable systems, it’s slim pickings on console. A fact I find incredibly strange considering how much more social and online-centric consoles are getting. You’d think you would see more of them somewhere.

The best one on 360 is 2007’s Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom, a game which received (unfairly) poor reviews at the time. It’s not bad but it’s far from great or untoppable and seemed like it would merely be a holdover until a better game came out…and 5 years later we still don’t have one.

Phantasy Star Universe is there but it requires a monthly subscription and has strangely lacking netcode. There is also Castlevania HD, though that game has it’s own issues as players have to grind to get good enough to beat enemies only to never reach a point where they actually have to beat said enemies in any sort of normal way. One could make arguments towards Marvel Ultimate Alliance, though the DLC debacle with it put the kibosh on me ever playing it as the DLC has been discontinued and players that have the DLC cannot play with players that do not. There’s a Lord of the Rings game as well but limited character selection has prevented me from playing it. You could kind of count Castle Crashers as well and/or Guardian Heroes. Borderlands also counts in a way but due to being an FPS it’s sort of another issue entirely. Dungeon Siege 3 also happened with it’s limited characters and awkward way of handling levelling for guest players as did the clunky Sacred 2. Then there was that XBLA D&D game, which had a massive game breaking bug that set all of us running far far away from it. There was also Crimson Alliance, but it’s crummy pricing structure caused everyone to lose interest in the game very very quickly.

The PS3 has Dungeon Hunter: Alliance but again there is lacking player choice. It also has Castlevania HD, Lord of the Rings: War in the North, and Dungeon Siege 3 but…that’s about it.

…and if you count Demon’s/Dark Souls, then you’ve clearly never tried to play them multiplayer.

As mentioned, portables fare better. The DS has Phantasy Star 0 (which has much better netcode than PSU) and the often overlooked Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow. There’s also Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echos of Time but it’s netcode is so jawdroppingly awful it’s litterally unplayable. The PSP has Phantasy Star Portable 2 and, of course, the Monster Hunter series (as does the Wii).

Now it might seem like my ratings are a bit uneven. The 360 sure does sound like it has a lot and I admit that when I first started this post I didn’t even remember 2/3rds of these. However that should give you an idea of the issue here. I had to stretch pretty hard with most of those. Most are only sorta-kinda a dungeon crawl or are sorely lacking in more than one area (usually character selection and customization). This generation’s best are Phantasy Star 0 and Portable 2, Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow, and Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom. All of these came out a good while ago, the most recent being PSP2 in 2010 and again the best ones are on portables.

My point being that the problem here isn’t that all games need multiplayer, but rather that the 360 and PS3 don’t have any worthwhile multiplayer dungeon crawls. They have a handful of passable ones, but nothing on-par with the portable Phantasy Stars and Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow.

In retrospect the issue here isn’t that there aren’t games in the genre, it’s that somehow every single attempt at the genre this generation has missed the entire point! I’d make a bulleted list of everything these games need, but many of the things these games are missing aside from character customization and class variety is so utterly baffling I can’t even really list it! Have a sane levelling system, let players carry their characters over between games, make sure your combat doesn’t suck, make sure your save games don’t shit themselves, oh and make sure it has multiplayer! You know, little things. Little obvious things that somehow the entire industry has screwed up on the 360 and PS3.

Thankfully, Torchlight 2 is coming soon-ish and should fill this bafflingly not-quite filled niche. Thank goodness!

(Author’s Note: I had the Crystal Chronicles boss music stuck in my head the entire time I was writing this! GAH! Rub it in why don’t you!)

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2 Comments on “The Dogma of Multiplayer Action RPGs”

  1. Baines Says:

    I don’t think it is right to say that people lost interest in Crimson Alliance due to its pricing structure. People lost interest in Crimson Alliance because the game itself was less interesting than Gauntlet. I figured the game would be in trouble when the game’s forum had the devs clarifying that they were trying to make a Gauntlet-style game, not a Diablo-like action game. It was pretty obvious then that people weren’t happy.

    My personal bugbear though is the lack of 3D action dungeon crawls, particularly one that tries for plenty of replayability. What I’ve long wanted is an action Roguelike with good 3D combat, and more so one with good multiplayer. But no devs want to put together all the different pieces to create such a game. They can make a straight action game instead (which tends to sacrifice replayability for graphics, simplify any developing character, and may or may not sacrifice multiplayer as well), or go for the world replayability but skimp on the action (like Phantasy Star Online, or various MMOs), or they can just make a Diablo knock-off (overhead view, action likely gutted to deal with the limitations of a keyboard/mouse interface, etc).

    • GEL Says:

      XD Well *I* at least lost interest due to the pricing structure. If they had made it $5 per character I would have been sold. But at the $10 per character price? I said “I’ll wait and see how much they support the game” as I actually DID want a DLC heavy game like that. The concept of getting more and more new character classes and dungeons on a regular basis intrigued me.

      Then it got…what…one new dungeon and that’s it? Maybe there was another character I didn’t notice? Nowhere near the support it needed to justify the pricing structure.


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