Note: The below pertains mostly to RPG games featuring real time, "twitch" combat/shooting. Turn based RPG's are fine as they are, for the most part.
I believe video game RPG's are trapped in a bygone era. Levels, skill points and hidden number crunching still determine the damage we do with weapons and spells, and the mana we use to cast those spells. I'm the one choosing a weapon, swinging it and timing the strike. I'm the one breaking my opponent's block, throwing a spell at just the right moment or at just the right body part. Unlike in table-top gaming, I am in complete control of the sword, the shield, the lock pick or even the flame-throwing spells.
So is my damage not down to timing, body part struck, weapon chosen, the timing of my opponent's block/parry, etc. Why do I still need arbitrary levels and hidden number crunching to determine how much damage I do? I would posit that we don't need these things, not any longer. That the time has come to move beyond levels and skill points and hidden number crunching in our RPG.
We do this by making weapons matter. Lighter swords should be wonderful - against lighter armor. They should tear through leather and help bleed adversaries out. Warhammers should stagger people around, do extra stamina damage and possibly even break worn shields, sending chunks flying everywhere. Heavy axes should splinter and eventually cut through shields, and maces should dizzy and daze when they hit a helm.
Likewise...fire spells should cause panic. Ice should freeze and slow (Skyrim got this one right, anyway) and shock should do...well, that. Maybe knock someone from their feet, or daze them momentarily. Poisons and magical enchantments should only this those that do not block a strike. Different weapons should be preferably in different situations, and every weapon should have its role.
The time has come, in my opinion, for RPG's to move beyond the hidden numbers. Get rid of levels. Get rid of leveled loot. No more hidden number crunching. Rage is an action game, but what makes it an action game to Fallout's RPG is not the lack of skill trees or levels but the lack of choices and roles.
Perhaps if we rid ourselves of levels and perks and skill trees and allow the player to play the game - as opposed to playing the spreadsheet - we can spend time on choices, consequences, dialogue options and having some meaningful impact on the game world. If we then must also have unlocking skills, fine, make them skills I can see on the screen, like Amalur or the Witcher 2. Make them visible and thus tangible things I do - not addition or subtraction of hidden number crunching in the background. The time has come to fundamentally alter the fabric of the video game RPG, and I would welcome other thoughts on how best to go about this.