Action RPGs share a common denominator: they are interactive. It’s not only about fighting enemies and collecting items. It’s also about exploring worlds and making important decisions that will impact your character’s progress for the rest of your time playing.
In this sense, they’re a lot like adventure games. However, while adventure games primarily focus on the story, the choices you make, and the impact they have on it, action RPGs put more emphasis on the action and the choices of character customization that further empower that action.
The combat is typically between the player and a large number of enemies of different kinds, with the enemies having the advantage in terms of numbers.
While many RPGs are known for their customizable characters, it is in action RPGs that you have the most control over your character, and therefore have the greatest degree of choice and interactivity. This is why so many players of all experience levels enjoy playing these.
In your quest to understand the inner workings of the genre, you’re going to need to understand its constituent parts. This is one of those parts: the gameplay loop.
The gameplay loop is a term used to describe the core mechanism through which you progress as you play through a game. It’s that basic action/decision/reaction mechanism that underpins nearly every game you play, from games as simple as rock-paper-scissors to as complex as Chess.
In an action RPG, the gameplay loop consists of five key elements: exploration, combat, decision-making, item collection, and character growth.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements, one at a time.
In an action RPG, you explore the world in which the game takes place. There are many key parts of the world that you will find yourself visiting again and again. These include, but are not limited to, different towns, dungeons, caves, and ruins.
While you are exploring the world, you will commonly find yourself in a certain amount of danger. This is a part of the game, and it’s what will make this experience more “fun.”
There is a large amount of enemies that you will face during your time playing the game. These enemies come in various shapes, sizes, and levels of aggression.
It is not uncommon to find yourself fighting low-tier enemies while exploring the early portions of the game. As you progress further into the game, you will find yourself fighting more mid-tier enemies, and finally, the latter portions of the game will introduce high-tier enemies that will require a significant amount of strategy and combat prowess to face.
In an action RPG, you will need to make a large number of decisions. These will range from minor to major. The consequences of the decisions you make will either empower you or impede your efforts.
Some of these decisions include, but are not limited to, what weapons you equip, what abilities you learn, and how you approach combat.
A lot of action RPGs feature a hugely customizable skill set, item system, passive tree, and other mechanics that mesh together to create a fully unique build for your character.
In this way, the player is encouraged to experiment and try different things, as any mistake can be easily corrected. Indeed, in an action RPG, it is common to try out different combinations of items, see what works and what doesn’t, what stats are best, what skills are most useful, and so on and so forth.
The appeal of the game is therefore largely due to the player’s ability to experiment and the low barriers to entry, rather than any one, single gameplay mechanic or experience point.
In an action RPG, the items required to advance during the course of the game are obtained through the course of exploring the environments, defeating enemies, and completing quests.
While most games of this sort feature hundreds, if not thousands, of items to collect.
For every dozen or so items that you obtain, there may be only be one or two items that are truly unique or particularly useful.
Most action RPGs have similar tiering system for items that goes like this in order from least to most powerful: common, uncommon/magic, rare, legendary/unique. Sometimes there are more tiers, sometimes less.
Rare and legendary items are particularly useful in action RPGs as they provide the players with a distinct advantage in combat.
However, since the items collected during the course of the game are the main attraction, having a large number of powerful items will always be seen as a desirable feature.
In an action-RPG, character growth is a very important aspect of the experience. This is primarily due to the fact that as a player, you are generally given the option to “fully” customize your character. Unlike most games where the player character is largely set from the get go, giving him or her a few “blank slate” features, in an action RPG, the player has the opportunity to make numerous choices that will ultimately shape the character.
The most obvious example of this is the type of skills used by your character, and the increasingly more powerful items and passives you unlock as you progress.
Like any other feature of an action-RPG, there’s a balance to be struck between having too little options, and having too many. Too little often leads to a bland, boring, and lackluster protagonist, while too many can lead to an inexperienced adventurer clumsily stumbling their way through the game.
Indeed, it’s not uncommon to see players of all experience levels enjoy playing action RPGs, and it’s a common criticism that the games cater to a more experienced player.
But at the end of the day, there are several different action RPGs out there, all with their own levels of beginner-friendliness, from the super forgiving Diablo 3, to the insane information overload of Path of Exile.
The important thing is to find an action RPG that fits your preferred play style, and your preferred difficulty.