If you consider yourself a “gamer,” in any fashion of the word, and unless you have been living under a rock for the past year, you have heard all the buzz about Dragon Age: Origins. This recent release by Bioware is a multi-faceted, free-will RPG (Role Playing Game) that fulfills much of what keeps us coming back for more, without any of the typical throw-your-monitor-off-the-roof “grinding.”
What is “grinding,” you ask? Any RPG fan of the past thirty years (perhaps before that, even) will know this term all too well. In most RPG’s, building up your character involves honing and developing skills, and advancing to higher “levels.” Leveling is handled differently in each game, but nearly always follows the law of diminishing returns. Each subsequent level takes more work and more time to achieve than the previous.
Because of this frustrating, albeit necessary feature, at some point in the game, most RPG’s are reduced to the tedious and boring act of “Go to *area X,* fight and kill *creature Y* for two hours, level up” and repeat. This is the act known as “grinding.” Repeatedly doing the same act over and over again to achieve some goal, no matter how frivolous.
Many analysts feel that grinding is one thing that turns players away from new RPG’s, speculating that they realize the potential task before them and are unwilling to commit the time necessary to succeed. This is why one major strength of Dragon Age: Origins, and possibly one of its most attractive features, is the entire removal of grinding.
Not only did the developers remove the need for grinding by “scaling” experience earned across all battles, but they completely removed any possibility of it. A unique feature of Dragon Age: Origins is that there are a finite number of possible enemies to fight, and therefore a finite amount of total experience the player can receive. Not only does this remove the boring, time-consuming task of grinding for higher levels, but it also ensures that all players will eventually be able to complete the game.
I suspect that the removal of grinding from Dragon Age: Origins is something that will become much more common in RPG’s of the future. Developers will see the benefits of attracting players that are not necessarily willing to commit literally hundreds of hours to a game, while still providing enough content and replay value to keep the old fans amused.