RPG games are widespread and contain such an array of stories that gamers could never experience all of them in one lifetime. Between the long-ranging JRPGs and more Western franchises such as The Elder Scrolls, there are a wide array of different styles and stories within the RPG genre.
However, one particularly common idea that comes up again and again in most RPGs is that of saving the world. Whether players are exploring Hyrule, Tamriel, or some alternate version of Earth itself, most RPGs focus on players attempting to stop some world-ending force or tragedy from coming about. There are some that take a different direction, though it isn’t terribly common.7 Fallout: New Vegas
One of the more well-known modern RPG franchises is Fallout. Despite recent troubles with newer entries in the series, Fallout: New Vegas remains a nearly universally beloved entry that didn’t feel the need to pit the player against a world-ending tragedy. Instead, the ending of the story surrounds the fate of the Mojave Wasteland itself.
Not needing to set a world-ending tragedy as the premise, partly because the world had already ended by this time in the Fallout Universe,New Vegas was praised for keeping to the more reasonable side of storytelling. Many RPGs start small and end with ridiculously large-scale events. New Vegas simply ended with the Battle for Hoover Dam as the unknown courier led one side to victory.6 Knights Of The Old Republic 2
Star Wars movies so often deal with potential galactic tyranny that must be stopped that it was a refreshing idea to set a franchise of games in the same Universe, long before the rise of Palpatine or Darth Vader. Despite having a somewhat smaller scale conflict, the events of Knights of the Old Republic 2 still feel massive in nature.
Players take control of an Exile Jedi who is being hunted and is later betrayed by their companion, Kreia. Though the events taking place do involve huge battles and stopping the newly crowned Darth Traya from ripping open a tear in the force, none of the events were ever likely to end the Universe as the characters knew it.5 Dragon Age 2
Dragon Age 2 took a shift for the franchise in choosing to focus on a smaller scale, much more politically-based conflict than what players might have expected to see in such a large-scale RPG. Taking place over a number of years, players take control of Hawke, who is mostly attempting to stay away from the burgeoning conflict between Mages and Templars.
However, after constantly being dragged back into the fight, Hawke is forced to choose a side and manages to either end the game by leading the city or being a hero to its people as he moves onward for further adventures. Though it focuses on this smaller scale, with the fate of a single city only at stake, Dragon Age 2 did an amazing job at making this feel enormous.
With the tagline “What kind of cop are you?” it is no surprise that Disco Elysium does not focus on a world-ending threat, instead choosing to focus on a detective with memory loss attempting to solve a murder mystery. Though this might seem like a strangely small-scale idea for one of the greatest RPGs ever made, Disco Elysium’s success comes from the way it handles morality and player choices.
The dialogue-heavy style of Disco Elysium helped turn a simple story that could be seen often in crime movies into something much more. From a hanged man outside a hostel to a group of vigilante dockworkers, the plot continues to thicken throughout and does plenty to keep players interested every step of the way, without being even vaguely about saving the world.3 The Witcher
Although the conflicts in The Witcher seem to be filled with high stakes, and though The Witcher 3 does involve saving the world of the Continent, the first game in the franchise didn’t involve such a thing whatsoever. Instead, the powerful Geralt of Rivia spent his first foray into the world of video games investigating a group called the Salamandra that had stolen Witcher mutagens in their attempt to prevent a potential future apocalypse.
The Witcher is more of a winding mystery detective RPG than a story about a potential apocalypse. While the story is sweeping and involves many important players on the Continent, the real threats to the whole world would come further down the road.2 Nier: Automata
Nier: Automata is a strange game, being an RPG that requires multiple playthroughs before players can fully understand the whole story. While robotic invasions and fascinating stories envelop the different times that players run through the game, the real story isn’t about the launching of the machine minds to find a new world, it’s about the interpersonal relationships between the various playable characters.
Players start with 2B and 9S as the main playable characters, but after A2 is forced to mercy kill 2B, 9S becomes unhinged and this leads to a final confrontation between A2 and 9S. This heartbreaking tale was situated in the middle of a massive war, but the world still wasn’t at stake.1 Planescape: Torment
Planescape: Torment isn’t about saving the world, it’s simply about attempting to save the Nameless One from the cursed immortal fate placed upon him. When he dies, somebody else in the multiverse randomly dies instead, and he reawakens with no memories to help him figure out what is going on or who he is, proving the CRPG genre is still alive today.
Planescape is an ingenious RPG that deals with the theme of mortality in a fascinating way, and despite being all about the protagonist and his past self as opposed to saving anyone else, it feels huge in the scale which it tackles across the various planes of existence.