RPGs Are Better When You Have A Home Base That Changes With The Story

Home is an anchor. It’s the place where our story begins, and a sanctuary where we’re safe from the wider world. It feels good to leave home – that flutter of excitement as you wake up for an early morning flight – but it feels just as good to come back. I’ve always found it fascinating how there’s no bed better than your own bed, even if you just spent a weekend in a luxury hotel with an objectively better mattress than the one at home, which has a you-shaped indent in it.

I don’t like it when people judge a video game on what they wanted it to be, rather than what it is. There’s been a bit of that with Cyberpunk 2077. But there is one area where I do wish more thought had been put in – V’s apartment.

V’s apartment is a window into Night City. You draw back the blinds and there it is, in all its splendour. But functionally, the apartment is useless. Sure, you can look in the mirror, take showers in your underwear, and fill out your collection of weapons, but it doesn’t feel like a home. Very little changes there, and that’s the special thing about home: no matter how much we decorate, it’s always still home. And that’s part of what makes a home – it morphs and grows in tandem with us.

The absolute gold standard for RPG home bases is the Suikoden series. In Suikoden 2, it’s a castle, and every single person you recruit into your party changes it or adds functionality – mi casa es tu casa, after all. There are over 100 recruitable characters in Suikoden and its sequel – each one of them adds something. My personal favourite is a chef who you can challenge to cook-off competitions.

Mass Effect takes a similar approach, except the castle is a spaceship called the Normandy, and rather than unlocking minigames, you recruit more characters to potentially bone (or talk to, but mostly bone). The Normandy doesn’t grow, but it fills up with conversations, and these conversations, over time, lead to optional missions where you can bond with your companions even more.

Another BioWare game, Dragon Age: Inquisition, takes us back to a castle. Skyhold is a space you build up via both companions and payable upgrades, but it adds a wrinkle to the concept of home by placing you in the shoes of a ruler who must enact judgement on your subjects. It marries the Suikoden style of base management – albeit on a smaller scale – with the base building sometimes seen in the Assassin’s Creed series and the choices of Fable 3, which for all its faults, is another game that understands that it takes more than a house to make a home.

CD Projekt Red even managed to do something interesting with the concept of home previously in The Witcher 3’s Blood and Wine DLC. In that, Geralt settles in a vineyard. The monster hunter has always been a ronin, travelling the world and taking on jobs for the coin. Even the place he grew up, the witcher school of Kaer Morhen, doesn’t always feel like home to him – it depends on who is there. Blood and Wine is where he finally understands the benefits of having an anchor – somewhere to lay up your muddy, bloody boots after a long day’s battle. It’s where he finally settles down and reflects on a life well-lived.

Other games ask us to build our own home and shape it as we wish. While not technically an RPG, The Sims is a series all about building the perfect home and attaching stories to that place – the deaths, the promotions, the births. Games like Fallout 4 and Dragon Quest Builders offer similar experiences, allowing us to create something from nothing. Because of that sense of ownership, these save files can feel precious and wholly unique to us. It can even make the act of starting again feel daunting, much like uprooting your real life to settle somewhere new.

I think Deus Ex was the first game I ever played that took me back to a home that had completely changed. I found out my former colleagues were traitors and had to infiltrate it and battle my old allies. This kind of thing is done in other games, too, but usually, you’re not the person attacking – Oblivion’s Dark Brotherhood questline being another outlier. Instead, you’re the one holding down the fort.

The reason so many games go down the Home Alone route during the late-game is to capitalise on that sense of ownership. Developers know you care about every brick when you have a hand in laying them. And even if you don’t physically build the space, having a hub that’s a constant – a place you associate with characters and conversations – can be just as powerful. BioWare knew it would tear your heart out of your chest by opening Mass Effect 2 with the destruction of the Normandy. After all, if you’ll forgive the megaton block of cheese I’m about to end on, home is where the heart is.

Next: Dragon’s Dogma Is A Much Better Dragon Game Than Skyrim Will Ever Be

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Kirk is the Editor-in-Chief at The Gamer. He likes Arkane games a little too much.

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