I began 2022 by suggesting that we query the prominence of incomes as a “play” exercise and of financial transactions usually in videogame worlds. A method of going about that’s to consider the various completely different currencies we have all deserted in numerous save information through the years. Rupees in Zelda. Glimmer, legendary shards and shiny mud in Future. Bottlecaps in Fallout.
A few of these currencies have vibrant world-building hooked up; others plug into pleasingly risky market simulations. However they really feel fairly interchangeable to me in hindsight, as a result of the method of incomes dosh in most video games is so bland and inconsequential, making little general impression on the world even in video games that provide you with a selection of financial backgrounds. Many single-player RPGs, particularly, are simply consolatory fantasies of regular, even passive self-enrichment, the place the participant’s wealth floats alongside every part else, pacing progress in an summary manner. You possibly can argue that that is worrying as a result of it teaches us to not assume critically concerning the economic system usually, however the less complicated statement is that it is a missed alternative for drama: so many nice tales are about following the cash.
One purpose Roadwarden is my recreation of the 12 months is that it truly bought me fascinated with shopping for and buying and selling once more. Slightly than a technique of generic acquisition, it treats cash and transactions as residing components of human relationships – instruments for each surviving and understanding its gloriously mucky and disgruntled mediaeval society. True, that is to some extent one other RPG constructed round piling up cash to spend on well being refills and attractive tools, however every part is extremely particular.
Take the cash. They’re discs of shaved dragon bone, which places this fantasy’s core theme within the palm of your hand: civilisation’s existence on the expense of legendary forest creatures who might overrun the settlements except you, the roadwarden, hold either side in examine. Bones are scarce to start with, and as such, they really feel like belongings with particular person histories, reasonably than a generic HUD merchandise. Even in the event you amass a fats stack, you would possibly bear in mind the way you got here throughout sure cash – in a bag underneath a bridge, or within the pocket of a corpse with a reputation, family members and money owed ready to be found.
When you can alternate many gadgets for bones, the cash do not actually dictate the worth of your possessions, as a result of Roadwarden’s economic system is predicated on barter. This creates intimacy with different characters: to commerce with them you have to get to know them. Some would reasonably be paid in fish and forest fruits. Others deal in data – names to feed in parser-style whereas roaming a village, for instance. There isn’t any exhausting divide between commodities and quest gadgets: one particular person’s irreplaceable magic artefact is one other particular person’s supply of scrap for the furnace. The fascination of the world is as a lot about grappling with this on-going query of what’s value what to whom as, say, mapping the deep wilderness. Briefly, the sport treats mundane transactions as a way of characterisation and exploration.
Roadwarden’s success right here stems from the truth that it’s each an RPG and a traditional point-and-click journey – it is the descendant of a style by which you mix objects particularly, imaginative methods to resolve puzzles, reasonably than changing them to money. The sport has many different fantastic qualities: fights are precise narrative occasions, reasonably than filler; magic is extra like a screwdriver than a gun; after which there’s the cautious manner it thinks about empire. However what I discover most admirable is that it makes haggling in taverns as gripping and portentous as slaying a griffon.