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Freelancer: An RPG?
Editorial - posted by Deathy on Tue 29 October 2002, 06:34:06Tags: Microsoft Game Studios
Freelancer, as some readers may know, is a space trading game, being developed by Microsoft, similar in basic design to the Elite and Privateer series of games. The official site has this to say about it:
Adventure, intrigue, and opportunity in an insanely epic and fascinating science-fiction universe. Freelancerâ„¢ combines a fully-immersive 3D space-flight system with real-time 3D character interaction to give you complete control over buying and selling commodities, accepting missions for hire, and customizing your spacecraft.
In truth, Freelancer is a game where you can do whatever you please, as long as it is based around commanding a spacecraft. Is it an RPG? Not by the traditional sense of the definition, by no means. However, depending on ones definition of an RPG, Freelancer may just slip in there. It is my personal opinion that there are three main ingredients for an RPG, and in order of importance, they are, playing a user defined role (hence "role playing"), non-linearity and character development. In order to determine if Freelancer is an RPG, one would need to compare it to their definition of an RPG.
A User Defined Role.
In a traditional RPG, the first thing you do is create a character. In a traditional RPG, this will include character statistics, choosing class, race, skills etc. However, the most important part of creating the character is making it a unique personality. Making that personality, and sticking to it is what makes RPG's fun. Character statistic systems are merely to reflect what you think your characters strengths and weaknesses are. Although Freelancer constricts you to playing a character with the name "Trent Edison", you are able to act a personality out as you see fit. In fact, this is a lot more freedom than most console RPG's give you, and about the only thing that is defined about your character is his name, as you can go on to do whatever you wish, be it becoming a space pirate, a mercenary, or merely a simple merchant.
Freelancer Is The Name Of The Game...
...so it can be assumed that it is intended to be totally open-ended, and it is. Aside from he ability to go where you wish and do what you like, Freelancer offers a random mission generator that can be likened to the one seen in the Elite series. This essentially means that there will always be some mission for you to do, and there will be infinite replay value, that is, provided the mission generator works well. In fact, the outcome of any mission has effects on the game world, and there are many ways to complete each mission. The random mission generator is based on your reputation, your ship, and what is actually happening locally, so the generated missions should make sense, For example, if you asked for a mission in a system which has been plauged by pirates recently, and were flying a fighter class vessel, you may get a mission that involves an assault on the pirates stronghold, whereas, if you were driving a freighter, you would get a job that would involve outrunning the pirates while carrying expensive cargo. In addition to this, there is a semi-linear main storyline that you can choose to follow. That's right. The main storyline is entirely optional. This is a far cry from Baldur's Gate, where one would have to do the main storyline whether they liked it or not. It looks to be a lot more like Daggerfall or Morrowind. In an RPG, the best way to enable the player to act out the actions of their character, is to cater for any kind of character possible. Lately, the RPG's influenced from the Infinity Engine games have not been doing this satisfactorily. In my mind, at least, this makes Freelancer even more of an RPG than those games.
Character Development (Or Why Don't I Level Up?).
In traditional RPG's, a leveling system is used to develop a character. The character gains experience, then levels, and the player is offered new or better skills for the character. Freelancer does not have a traditional form of character development. However, it can be argued that the characters ship is the only outward indication of the characters personality, so how that is configured, and how it can be upgraded, pretty much fits the definition of character development in this regard. Unlike most traditional RPG's, there is no experience point system, there is no leveling, and no skill systems. But there is the purchasing of upgrades for your ship, and even new ships, and this, I think, is a fine subsitute for a character system, given the nature of the game.
The Smaller Things In Life.
There are some other factors that also imply that Freelancer is a roleplaying game. Namely, the fact that it has NPC interaction, a dynamic reputation system that will have you vilified by one group and loved by another. All in all, there is little doubt in my mind that Freelancer is, indeed an RPG.