A lone woman finds herself in the middle of the forest. She wears nothing but a helmet and uses only her fists to pummel unsuspecting wolves to death. Where is her armor? She accidentally sold it. Where is her sword? Sold that, too. All that remains is her indomitable will and her self-imposed task to collect all the forest’s foliage. Her quest? To discover an alchemical recipe that is actually useful. Should she be looking for her Stormcloak brethren? Probably, but now is not the time for distractions.
A blood elf warlock stands in the midst of a fiery field. The dried, cracked ground is scattered with her wounded companions. All around her hellish fire-creatures battle against an army of druids she has worked so hard to bring together. She heals her fallen comrades. She takes part in a charge on an enemy tower. The raid on the Firelands has begun.
Lightning leaps from platform to platform, heedless of the seemingly endless flow of PSICOM soldiers. She slashes. She leaps. She’s a scantily clad heroine with only one thought on her mind: to save her sister.
There is a single thread that ties these three games together. Skyrim, World of Warcraft, and Final Fantasy XII can trace their roots back to the grandfather of modern gaming: Dungeons & Dragons. When it was released in 1974, Dungeons & Dragons offered table-top gamers a unique opportunity to create their own epic tales, to develop characters as reflections of themselves, and explore a variety of new fantasy worlds. It hinged on the imagination. It was fueled by the collective creativity of a group of players.
But the past thirty-plus years have seen a shift away from the realm of the table-top RPG and towards electronic media. Games like Skyrim give players the same opportunity – the ability to travel through vast, open-ended worlds and develop their own personal hero along the way. MMOs such as World of Warcraft give players the same opportunity to interact with a group of people, to collaborate on quests and goals.
In 2008, Wizards of the Coast released D&D 4th edition. This latest edition’s greatest accomplishment was a streamlinging and simplification of the game. To a girl who had grown up slinging dice to 3.0 & 3.5 this transition came as a jarring shock. As I flipped through the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook, I could not help but shake my head in dismay. Was this how Wizards of the Coast planned on striking back against the rise of the MMO? I felt as though I were looking at World of Warcraft: Table-Top Edition. I could no longer play a sorcerer, but I could re-role my WoW blood elf warlock as a D&D elf warlock if I wanted. But, I did not want that, and neither did a great many fans of the D&D franchise.
The roles had been reversed. Mindflayers no longer wandered their way into Final Fantasy encounter lists. Instead, blood elf warlocks appeared on the table making pacts with devils and flinging fire. I half-expected my mini to start shrieking “I need more mana!” up towards my bewildered face.
But there is yet hope at the end of the tunnel. Wizard’s has heard the collective cries for the “old school” game players loved. Last week, they announced that a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons is in the works and this time around they are reaching out to the fans for advice. How far this will go and if it will be little more than a nod towards hardcore fans, is impossible to tell. My only hope is that the developers over at Wizards of the Coast will take the time to re-evaluate their strategies. Instead of emulating the games that emulated them, maybe it’s time to bring things full-circle and offer up something that will redefine a generation.
Then again, I might just be sentimental.