Choice is the name of the game when it comes to Action-RPGs. Old RPGs (especially Japanese-style RPGs) didn’t have much choice, and they play a lot more like interactive movies than games. Your ‘choice’ came down basically to your character (and not ever his crucial character elements, but simply how you geared him. I say this not to impugn that style (the Final Fantasy series is one of my favorites), but only to point out how the Western RPG market diverged. If you look at earlier RPGs like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate, not only do they flesh out character creation (instead of having a set character you can outfit, you build your character from scratch), but you get increasingly more options, via sidequests and choices of which factions to ally with. But I argue that these choices are hardly real. Why? Because they do not meaningfully impact the game. Sure, you can ally with the thieves’ guild against the mage’s guild or vice versa, but honestly:
- what difference does it make?
- Isn’t it basically determined by the class you play?
This can be most exemplified by more sandbox RPGs, where the extra ‘freedom’ you have is to explor ethe continent doing sidequests. But ultimately, the gameplay doesn’t change all that much.