Do RPGs really need combat?

Some days ago I tweeted about RPGs without combat. What would be left if [insert random rpg here] would not have combat?

Combat in RPGs is fine if it serves a purpose. For many gamers, the purpose of combat is leveling up, beating bigger monsters over and over again. Many gamers enjoy those things and decisions the combat offers. To me, games need to provide interesting decisions. Combat can be interesting. Choosing whether to attack good guy is an interesting decisions. Choosing best weapons for the next fight and planning attack can be interesting. Many things can be interesting.

But hitting a giant scorpion, running away and then hitting again that scorpion over and over until it dies is not interesting. That’s boring hit’n’run tactic where (1) I know I win if I do this and (2) I know I die and game is over if I don’t do this.

In Fallout 1, combat for me was most often only a roadblock. Combat kept me away from enjoying the story and seeing new things. In Fallout 1, combat wasn’t often so interesting. Seeing new guys, using some drugs that made your guy “combat drug addicted” during combat was pretty cool… but overall I didn’t really need all that combat.

In some games, combat is the very essence of the game. Monster Hunter series for example is built around the combat and is the meat of the game. In MH, I liked the combat.

In Fallout 1, the story and decisions were much more interesting and combat (to me) felt unneccessary.

In Battlefield 1942, combat was definitely okay. The whole game is about combat, and training your own skills in the combat field.

But what about RPGs? When we check top selling RPGs, I can almost bet that there’s 7 out of 10 some sort of “Diablo” clones. Those hack’n’slash games to me aren’t rpgs…

Why RPGs require you to combat & grind so that you can then progress with the story?

Why not progress & enjoy the story and decisions without combat?


Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Awesome post. Combat is definitely non-essential, but often fun. There are many games that support “autobattle,” or games that have non-interactive combat (like Progress Quest”).

    I would personally love to see an RPG without combat. For me, autobattle is the first step.

  2. Combat is a easy way to increase the length of the game. Interesting decisions, exploring a world etc. is very nice, but also a incredibly amount of work as everything has to be hand crafted. In two years one might make a 40 hours diablo-like game, or alternatively a 4 hours decision driven game. While I would certainly enjoy the second one more there are many people who play RPGs for their longevity, or rather: get addicted to it because they are so long-living.

  3. I think it’s because battles can have variable results.

    If you have an RPG that has diverging story points, they are limitations to how many variations and the success is somewhat rigid: did you pick the right option? If so, you proceed this way. If not, you go that way. This way may continue the game. This way may be an instant game over. It may be possible to overcome this with a procedurally generated story system, but that can’t guarantee a meaningful story worth seeing through to the end.

    That’s why a lot of developers prefer finite (if not somewhat variable) story points coupled with combat. In combat, there’s more variability and, hopefully, deeper conflict. Did that orc kill you in the last battle? Maybe if you step a little more to the left when he swings his club, you can get him next time. Did the wizard cast a spell that depleted half your HP? Casting this particular spell may counter his spell.

    Such a preference stems from the intended narrative goals in most RPGs-saving the kingdom/world that your character(s) inhabit. However, it’s different in other RPGs like Harvest Moon; there isn’t combat because the goal isn’t saving the world, it’s running a successful farm. Combat doesn’t fit the intended narrative in Harvest Moon’s case and would not appeal to the target audience.

  4. Conflict is the essence of each story, is it physical, mental, spiritual, etc. It’s an imbalance which has to be solved throughout the play. (Counter opinions? I know it’s a bold statement but I’ve thought about it and could not falsify it myself.)

    IMHO RPGs still use combat that often because its granddaddy D&D did so and the paying gamer audience of the 80s/90s were mostly boys. Never change a winning team/formula.

    It’s a good question why RPGs can’t live without beating enemies’ daylights out. Maybe war and battle is the distinctive audio-visual manifestation of conflict?

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