Waiter, Waiter! There's an RPG in My FPS!

For his WRPG-focused column on Joystiq, Rowan Kaiser muses about the contamination between the first-person shooter genre and role-playing titles, using plenty of recent titles as examples, such as Dead Island, Far Cry 3 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Here's a snip:
The crucial issue is this: first-person shooters reward player skill. The faster you are at aiming, the better you are at moving, the more likely you will succeed in an FPS. Role-playing games can involve that (especially action-RPGs), but they always rely on character skill. Your character statistics, items, and skills will help you succeed, or cause you to fail, regardless of how speedy you are with a mouse or a controller. Deus Ex managed to find just the right balance where both player and character skill were important for success.

Generally, the balance leans toward the shooter side. For example, Far Cry 3 is at its best as a pure shooter, freed from the constraints of its plot or the necessity of its skill system. Spy, plan, aim, reload, run, hide, and do it again. Sure, the skills can help a bit, but it's easy to imagine Far Cry 3 without them, as previous games in that series were. This is a consistent issue in most FPS/RPG hybrids. Looking back back a decade to No One Lives Forever 2, there's another sequel to a cult hit first-person shooter with a skill system that, while not necessarily bad, didn't enhance the core setting and mechanics that made its prequel so astonishing.

Even in games with more robust role-playing systems, balance is still critical. 2011's Deus Ex: Human Revolution had a skill tree that was more critical than Far Cry 3's, but it wasn't entirely balanced with the rest of the game. By the time I was halfway through the game, I had every skill that I thought I wanted or needed, so I just spent the game's Praxis points on anything that might have seemed at all useful at some point, even if it didn't fit my play-style and I never used it. Even a classic like BioShock succeeded in large part by suppressing the importance of its skills and treating them more as another weapon to be managed, shooter-style, than as a full hybrid. You could shoot an enemy with a shotgun or you could shoot him with bees, in other words.