Recently, I’ve found myself dipping back into some of my favourite RPG games. I was surprised to find myself going back to the genre so soon after logging a lot of hours into Dark Souls 2, but getting “immersed” into a world is something I constantly find myself doing. When you’re stressed out with life, work or whatever, breaking away from reality is something I support because you’re focusing your frustration and stress into playing a game. Games can serve to be almost therapeutic and the level of immersion they provide can certainly help you unwind or focus your energy. But most of all, immersion serves as an impactful addition that can deliver a thrilling experience like no other. Let’s discuss.
One of the best experiences I’ve ever had with immersion in games is playing Fallout New Vegas with a twist. The vanilla New Vegas is a damn good game and creates a coherent and believable world that gets its hooks into you from the get-go, but I decided to put my own spin on it after reading tips to “boost immersion”. Before reading, I never really thought about the world of the game. I simply played to collect, explore, level up etc. so my character was just a floating pair of hands to me. I never dabbled with third person because it felt clunky and if there was any type of relationship building it was with the other character and me, personally — not my character. So the main 3 tips I took away was to create a character that acts dramatically different to how you would, to turn off the HUD completely and to introduce permadeath. Sounds simple enough, right? It completely changed how I played RPGs from here on out.
The first change (to create a polar opposite character) was something I never really did. When I set up a game for an RPG and it asks for a first name, I always just typed in my own name because…well, that’s the easiest name I can think of. But from there, I’d usually deal with moral choices in a way that I would personally, or speak how I would have spoke in that given situation.
Was the fact that I gave my own name to a character in a game causing me to blindly manifest my opinions or conversation types into the world through him? I’d usually go for the middle ground with my morals or veer to the morally correct choice, but it felt odd to be regarded as good natured and I’d then go into houses to steal everything that wasn’t nailed down. It was odd because I constantly flipped my morality based on my mood. If I was feeling bored, I’d do things that would practically break the game before reloading the save, or if I was feeling good, I’d help out as many folks as possible.
So I decided to use the tip and create a quiet, yet, charismatic logical character that would never shoot first but would steal from those he disliked as a form of karma. He wouldn’t punch you in the face if you swore at him, but he would steal your wallet and then call it karma. I gave him a role as a doctor/merchant type; always wheeling and dealing but helping those in need — for a modest fee, of course.
It was fun and certainly felt like a call back to classic Dungeons and Dragons games where imagination helps improve the game ten-fold. I’d approach a situation with the mindset of my new character, carefully examining what I’m saying and why, and constantly ask myself “Is this what my character would say? Does my character like this guy, simply based on what he looks like?” Sure, it can feel like overkill and maybe unnecessary at times, but it certainly pays off.
Reading into dialogue in a game is a great habit to have because skipping it can cause you to lose out on some small details. The same goes for examining characters. Why is this character wearing a suit, while others wear jumpsuits? It might not always be on the nose like that, but examining everything helps you see things differently. It’s no longer a classic, “Hammer the x button to get to the quest,” but rather a delicate examination of who’s talking, what they’re saying and why should you listen.
Next up was the removal of a HUD setting. As a player that focused on stealing a lot of his equipment, this setting was pretty big. For any attempt at a “heist”, I’d have to make sure that I was completely stealthy by checking my surroundings. Often, I’d enter someone’s house and steal valuables without realising the occupants were still alive and now pointing a gun at my head. Without any real choice, I was forced to flee as a gang of farmers chased me with shotguns. It was an experience I’d never have with my usual gameplay. It wasn’t until I was out exploring that I realised that taking away a HUD didn’t just affect my vision and what I was staring at, but also how I approach a new area.
I was crossing the desert and came to what looked like a wrecked town and I could hear bullets whizzing past my head. Since I had the difficulty turned up all the way, a simple crackshot at my head could end my time in the Mojave. I used binoculars, night vision scopes and all sorts of tools to figure out what was happening. It was a group of Legion assassins out for my blood and had taken shelter in an abandoned building. I had lost their attention so I decided it was time to launch a full on assault to help deal with these legionnaires.
Equipped with a grenade, I launched it fast and took out 3 of the hitmen. I revelled in my victory but realised it was one that left me open to more attacks. Who heard the grenade explosion? Could it impact on nearby cars? Was there Raiders nearby? For all I knew, there could have been. Since there was no HUD, I couldn’t tell who or what could be nearby so my mind began to play tricks on me, causing me to think the worst was at the next turn. Again, the level of immersion I was experiencing was at an all time high. I was my character in this situation where I had to be logical or I’d wind up dead. The next setting turned the game into something I’ll never forget.
Perma-death. I’ve never really dabbled with it and have heard several horror stories about how it can leave you feeling mentally exhausted. However, I decided to dip my toe in the water and give it a go. First of all, I noticed how much slower I played now. I wouldn’t launch head first into a situation with the safety net of a quicksave, instead, I was calculating “What’s the safest route?” and “When is the safest time to travel?”. Progress for me wasn’t measured in how many levels I gained or how many quests I completed but how far I travelled and how long I survived. Everything became a challenge as even walking out the door could lead to you getting robbed.
You had to be sure not to piss off the wrong people and the reputation system actually mattered this time. I was in the Powder Gangers bad books after defeating them at Goodsprings and as a result, I was nearly blown to pieces by a group of the dynamite wielding madmen. As selfish as it may sound, it was a rookie mistake to help out the town take on these bandits when we were so underprepared. It was a decision that burdened me for hundreds of in-game days. I ended my perma-death playthrough after 5 hours playing when I entered a building and stepped on a mine. An easily preventable death, but one that had me in absolute shock.
Adding perma-death to the game gave weight to everything I did and the world around me. I actually had something to lose and everything I owned had more importance. Bullets were like gold and stimpaks were platinum. What I usually disregarded as something insignificant that I would sell if I was short on cash became a staple to survival. Simply put, perma-death in a Fallout game makes it turn from a standard RPG to an immersive hardcore survival experience. Everything you say and do has so much more importance and weight when the chance of dying steps away.
I’d thoroughly recommend these simple options for your next playthrough of Fallout 3 or New Vegas. They really do succeed at sucking you into the game, which is what immersion is all about. Best of all, you don’t need mods, you don’t need a computer, but just the willingness to rethink how you approach the game and set your own rules. Anyone can try this out and you can see for yourself if it works.
Now, I’d like to talk about how you add immersion to games like Skyrim, Fallout and so on. Do you add mods or do you create a specific character? Let me know your thoughts, comments or recommendations in the comments below!