The Replay Value of RPGs

Bitmob has penned another RPG-related editorial, and this time it's a six-pager that seeks to compare and contrast the replayability factor of both Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. Their conclusion is that the first title is more entertaining to play through a second or third time, thanks to the deeper character progression system, the unique shooting mechanics, and less streamlined inventory management:
What pausable real-time combat offers is an interesting, strategic experience. It allows you to pause game play and then change weapons, drink healing potions, give specific combat orders to other party members, and more. It lets you think about the situation, look over the various options, and then change your strategy on the fly. And you can do it without worrying about someone or something killing you while you're doing it.

Furthermore, combat in such games is not twitch driven. Roll dies take place in the game engine that decide how effective an attack is, for example, which means it's not about how well you as the player happen to center an aiming reticle over an enemy. The game looks at your character, his or her stats, the enemy, and other factors, and decides, somewhat randomly, how well you did.

So while you certainly have to have skill, it's not just in the amount of dexterity you can muster. It's also about how well you understand character development, the enemy, your inventory, and the sorts of strategic decisions you make while engaged in combat. And since this sort of knowledge takes time to learn, your mastery of it won't be instantaneous, which means that subsequent play throughs can add to that mastery and can offer interesting experiences.

For Mass Effect 2, Bioware didn't take away the ability to pause combat, but they changed the shooting mechanic from heavily relying on stats to relying more on how well players can shoot. It became important to aim successfully and the game changed from offering strategic combat to literally being a shooter. That was a major design goal and reviewers and gamers generally agree that Bioware succeeded.

The problem from a replayability standpoint with such a decision is that shooters are not unique. Some first person shooters, like Modern Warfare, are extremely successful, with online multiplayer being a large focus of the game, and many people play such games for months or even years. But most shooters don't succeed. Most shooters are throwaway affairs that may last for ten or more hours and then fall by the wayside.