Over the past few years, I have played a lot of large open world games. Some of which I pumped a huge amount of hours into. I really enjoy games that have detailed character options, but sometimes it goes wrong. When I play any games that give you control over multiple characters for the duration of the game, 1 character always becomes the golden boy and the others get neglected to the point where they are completely useless in combat in the absence of the primary character.
Multiple main characters are nothing new for video games. Looking back through the history of gaming, having multiple characters was a lot of fun. Games were more primitive as little as 10 years ago. Back in those days, there weren’t as many options for the construction of character traits and skills. If you had 4 characters, it gave you more to do, but this doesn’t work so much anymore. Dragon Age is a particular killer for this. Having played Dragon Age Origins to the end, I obviously played it completely wrong. I had one character who got all the best gear and all of my focus when it came to building a powerful character. The remaining characters got the hand me downs, quite literally. I find a new helmet, this goes to my number 1 character and whoever is next in line gets the old helmet. There is nothing directly wrong with this sort of behavior, but it is a signal of some major problems with the group. When my main character (aka the number 1 in the group) dies in combat, the rest don’t stand a chance of surviving unless they can muster the strength to revive the main character.
In the real world, groups have leaders, but the group should be functional in the absence of this leader. This is never the case when I have to deal with a group of characters in a video game. The reason this happens is down to character talent trees, loot and other character progression mechanics. These mechanics have gotten so in-depth, that it takes a lot of work to efficiently level up a single character while memorizing what this character is currently capable of doing. Having to juggle all of this for 4 characters results in you having to spend more time in the character settings screen than actually playing the game, this is not my idea of fun! I might unlock a cool ability at some stage for a character, but end up forgetting about it or forgetting how to use it when the time comes for me to use it.
Grand Theft Auto V is another game that has multiple characters, but it was implemented differently. As far as implementing multiple characters go, GTA 5 did a pretty good job at it, but I still think it takes away from the fun rather than adding to it. You can play through a few missions, start to get invested in the character and interested in where things are going and then you run out of missions to do. In order to get more missions, you must go play as a different character and progress with them before coming back. Once you do come back, you have sort of forgotten where things left off. In the event where 1 character has a more interesting story, it is annoying having to go and play as someone else before you can progress with the more interesting missions. It just felt like this was slowing the pace down. Extend the length of the story by making you do multiple boring missions before the fun ones come along. GTA V is actually the only GTA game I have never completed. Considering I have gotten 100% completion in most of the games in the series, this was a big let down for me.
Fortunately, multiple playable characters at once are uncommon enough in modern games. Maybe its hardware limitations or maybe they too feel that it is better to focus on building one awesome character instead of trying to build 4 at once and messing it all up. As the character skills and talent management sections get more and more complicated for large RPGs, it will become more of a chore to have several characters to manage. Games like Final Fantasy XV should be revered for the ability to add a group of 4 characters without you ever needing to deal with the headaches of group management in a large scale RPG. I guess for a franchise that was part of the origins of the RPG, it is fitting that this series would be the one that does things correctly.