Why Too Much Combat Hurts Great RPGs

Using Pillars of Eternity and The Banner Saga as examples of too much combat and confused game design, PC Gamer's Jody Macgregor argues in an opinion piece that RPGs and titles that put a focus on narrative should de-emphasize their combat mechanics because they are not part of their appeal and risk actually hurting the pacing and experience by virtue of making it more repetitive and hurting the game world's logic. 

In an arcade brawler or shoot-em-up all you need is a solid set of combat mechanics repeated at smoothly escalating levels of difficulty, but narrative games, the ambitious kind that expend effort making us interested in their locations and the people in them, do themselves no favors by awkwardly marrying the two with the promise of experience points as a dowry. This era of gaming when we're so easily swayed by a game promising us 50 hours that we'll repeat the same actions for half that run-time because somewhere a number is going up is going to look a lot like the musical glut of the late 1920s someday. Of course musicals didn't go away entirely and fights will always be a part of the kind of narrative games based on adventure fiction, but hard-wiring combat into a game's mechanics in ways that force it to be a regular necessity is something we'll look back on as an inexplicable artifact of the time.

There was a review of Doom in the April 1994 issue of Edge that infamously declared, '˜If only you could talk to these creatures, then perhaps you could try and make friends with them, form alliances... Now, that would be interesting.' Obviously, that's ludicrous. What's fun about Doom is that you can round a corner and open fire on a bunch of imps without thinking, sliding from shootout to shootout without slowing down to talk to anyone. (Except maybe to say, '˜That's your spinal cord, baby' or '˜Now I'm radioactive. That can't be good!')3 Shoehorning in dialogue options wouldn't have improved Doom, but by the same token a hundred killing sprees don't improve games where the appeal is in agonising over the right conversation choice.