Story! I want story, plot, intrigue and bucket loads of the stuff.
How come so many RPGs seem to forget this and think it's all about leveling up and load outs and battle systems.
Well ok yes they're important but the driving force of a role playing game is the narrative, it's what pulls you in and spits you out (not literally) at the end feeling exhausted but completely fulfilled. As if you've made a difference in the world and haven't just been pressing buttons on a keyboard for the last 100+ hours.
While Alistair has laid out a lot of technical points to what makes a good game, all of which I agree with, but I'm instead going to talk about what would make a good story, in whatever genre.
Now, where have all the interesting characters gone?
Even in fantasy based rpg games do we somehow have fallen into the pretty-boy hero's only club. Final Fantasy I'm looking at you. Also they don't have to be broody or angsty, how about a hero that's actually got his/her shit together for once? Lets have all the getting over people's deaths and stuff in the past so they can get on and actually have an adventure rather than an interactive episode of the OC or Dawsons Creek or whatever show angsty kids are watching these days.
Also, I cry from my pit of rightousness, how about more non-human main characters? Or more ethnic main characters? Encourage us to see life from a different angle for a change? Or at least a paralell set in the future?
I know I'm asking lots of questions, but I've got loads more - can you tell this is frustrating for me yet?
Next of my own angsty issues is the narrow scope of locations. Some games get this spot on but many, many others fall into the trap of "(Restricted) City Area", "Ancient Ruins" and "Underground Base" and so forth.
I'd love to see some more unusual locations that surprise me and make me question if such a place really is possible. Then to get to explore such amazing locations is part of the joy of playing RPGs, exploration is usually encouraged but I'm not always enthusiastic to explore another peasant house, shoving my hand down their sofa to try and find any loose change they don't need and bashing their furniture in for health drinks.
Want some suggestions? Why not go crazy, an enemy's base in the shape of a giant fish that rises out of the sea. Or perhaps a floating island but made of transparent plastic and glass rather than it being an actual real island. Obviously these are rubbish ideas but they're different and, well out there. They've also probably been thought of before but I've not seen many games with a floating island (apart from Cave Story, Minecraft, Sonic The Hedgehog...oh)
Finally, oh so finally is my want, my wish for a story that makes some bloomin sense. All threads should come together and make sense naturally for the player. Not what has happened in some RPGs I've played in the last year where you get to the half way point thinking "I hope this all gets explained" and by the end the game's only answer to your story or background related questions is "because".
I couldn't be less worried about an RPG's linear nature, because an RPG that is totally non-linear can't, by definition, have a specially written story. While I can understand the appeal of being able to choose specific tasks first over others (ala Fallout 3, Mass Effect1/2) I believe for a truly captivating experience a decent story featuring all of the above is more of a necessity than ever.
Have you read Alistairs views yet?