I started 2022 by proposing that we question the importance of earning as a “game” activity and of economic transactions in general in video game worlds. One way to do this is to think about the many different currencies we’ve all given up in various memory files over the years. Rupees in Zelda. Glimmer, Legendary Shards, and Light Dust in Destiny. Bottle Caps in Fallout.
Some of these currencies are associated with colorful world building; others are stuck in pleasingly volatile market simulations. But in hindsight they feel pretty interchangeable to me because the process of dosh earning is so boring and irrelevant in most games and has little impact on the world even in games that give you a choice of economic backgrounds. Above all, many single-player role-playing games are just comforting fantasies of steady, even passive, self-enrichment, where the player’s wealth hovers alongside everything else, driving progression in abstract ways. You can argue that this is worrying because it teaches us not to think critically about the economy in general, but the simpler observation is that it’s a missed opportunity for drama: so many great stories are about following the money .
Part of the reason Roadwarden is my Game of the Year is that it has reignited my interest in buying and trading. Rather than a process of generic acquisition, it treats money and transactions as living elements of human relationships – tools for surviving and understanding its gloriously filthy and disgruntled medieval society. True, this is in a way another coin-stacking RPG to spend on health refills and yummy gear, but everything is incredibly specific.
take the coins They are discs of shaved dragon bone, bringing the core theme of this fantasy into the palm of your hand: the existence of civilization at the expense of mythical forest creatures that could overrun the settlements if you, the road warden, don’t keep both sides at bay. Bones are initially rare, so they feel more like possessions with individual histories than a generic HUD element. Even if you amass a fat pile, you might remember coming across certain coins – in a bag under a bridge or in the pocket of a corpse with a name, loved ones, and debts waiting to be discovered .
While you can trade many items for bones, since Roadwarden’s economy is barter-based, the coins don’t really determine the value of your possessions. This creates intimacy with other characters: in order to trade with them, you need to get to know them. Some would rather be paid with fish and wild berries. Others deal in information – names that you can type in, for example, parser-style while roaming around a village. There is no clear distinction between goods and quest items: one person’s irreplaceable magic artifact is another person’s scrap source for the Blast Furnace. The fascination of the world is just as much grappling with this ongoing question of what is worth what to whom, such as mapping the deep wilderness. In short, the game treats mundane transactions as a vehicle for characterization and exploration.
Roadwarden’s success here stems from the fact that it’s both an RPG and a classic point-and-click adventure – it’s the descendant of a genre in which you notably combine objects, use imaginative ways to solve puzzles, instead of turning them into cash. The game has many other wonderful qualities: battles are narrative events rather than filler; Magic is more like a screwdriver than a gun; and then there’s the careful way it thinks about empire. But what I find most admirable is that it makes bartering in taverns as absorbing and sinister as slaying a griffon.
Download at: https://www.eurogamer.net/games-of-2022-roadwarden-made-money-interesting-again