Since the dawn of RPGs, two things have remained constant: heroes require armour, and players will always want to find out what happens if they strip it all off and run around. Some would call it a secret test of a game's devotion to world simulation - that if characters react, it says good things about the developers' devotion to detail. Others just think it's really funny. (To be clear, it's very rarely even close to sexy.)
This week then, a random sample will answer the question the world has been waiting to realise it should have asked - objectively speaking, which RPG is the best? Specifically, if they all forgot their PE kits and had to go quest in their pants.
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
How does the subjective best RPG of the year fare in this objective test? A reasonable, yet limited success, it must be said. Geralt's choice of boxers instead of briefs seems fitting for a Witcher on the go, being kept scrupulously clean for the many ladies who get to see them as part of a normal week, as well as airy and made of what looks to be a fine cotton weave to prevent the boys just becoming festering sweat-balls capable of repelling monsters better than the Quen sign. Neither guards nor civilians seem particularly put out by Geralt's ventures into half-naked Witchering. This seems fair enough though, given that his mutant heritage tends to be enough to earn their scorn anyway, and it could be argued that seeing all the scars offers a fairly good reason not to push things any further. At least, not while he's still in earshot.
Pants Rating: 7/10
Knights of the Old Republic
Right from the start, we have a problem - a certain... underwear discrepancy... you might say. Look at the player character. Look at Bastila. Back to him. Back to her. You see the scandal here? Right. As George Lucas once infamously told Carrie Fisher, there are no bras in space! Blatant canon violation! For shame, Bioware!
Knights of the Old Republic II fixes this, though at the cost of an entire level spent running around in brown underwear so unflattering that even Atton Rand seems to be forcing himself to comment if rescued by a female character, as if grateful not to be staring at what Kreia's packing under her robe. Bonus points however do go to the first game, with Bastila swapping out her initial bra and pants for a little black number according to whether she's most recently been wearing a Dark or Light Robe and thus has been feeling naughty recently. This is a fine sliver of extra pervy detail, even if it cannot quite compensate for no passers-by ever pausing to wryly comment "I find your lack of trousers disturbing." You'd think one of them would, between praising Revan.
Pants Rating: 3/10
Dragon Age: Origins
Tsk. As if that wasn't a poor enough showing, the first Dragon Age really begs questions of how BioWare ever developed its reputation as one of the best RPG developers in the world. These fashion disasters pour hommes et pour femmes present poor choices of nigh legendary status, particularly in the case of Morrigan, for somehow ending up more covered up when she takes her top off.
Particularly shameful are the sex scenes, where the "This Is A Beautiful And Tender Moment" music goes hand in hand with the aesthetic choice to produce something truly laughable, and the scene in the temple of Andraste, where a trial of faith specifically demand everyone strips naked to approach, only to decide "No, no, you're alright. We've seen enough quite enough beige monstrosities for today, thank you."
Still, at least nobody tries to take a shower in their knickers. Shepard.
Pants Rating: 1/10
Age of Decadence
Further proving that indie games can indeed go toe to toe with multi-million dollar budgets, Age of Decadence is quick to establish its pants-related credentials. Not only do guards notice, they won't let you run around the city in just your tighty-whiteys - either asking if you plan to sleep your way around town or simply commenting that they don't see anything to be proud of in your exhibitionist ways. A splendid choice, harking back to classics like Arcanum's pointed questions of whether or not you accidentally cast an invisibility spell that only affected your clothes. For bonus points, the guards are aware that wearing junk-covering pants means that you are not in fact running around naked, but merely practically naked. Sadly, they do have to be removed in light of a truly terrible topless lady model that suggests the artist was too embarrassed to keep their eyes open while dragging out the extra polygons here and here.
Pants Rating: 5/10
Hard To Be A God
Tsk, tsk, tsk. Part of the big sell of Hard To Be A God, if you can use that term for an RPG that nobody's heard of, is that your clothing choices are crucial parts of questing. For instance, if you dress as a bandit, people will generally think "Oh look, a bandit!" That might mean being able to extort money from someone, or just walk into the bandit camp with nothing but relief that they don't like each other enough to remember their faces. But does it give a fig, or indeed a fig-leaf, for walking around in your pants? Apparently not! To the point that approaching a little old lady in them is often deemed less threatening than if you'd covered up your modesty. Perhaps they're just fascinated by trying to work out if they're actually underpants or just extremely severe tan-lines. Never mind the part about whether or not 'it' really is hard, being a god.
Pants Rating: 4/10
Eeeew. Call it a commitment to realism if you want, but Skyrim has some of the straight-up nastiest underwear around - for the guys, grimy loincloths, for the ladies, a mix of gold and mud. No wonder the community has devoted so much time to fixing the problem with mods. But then, I suppose that's what you get if you live in a world where your underwear is perpetually welded onto your naughty bits for fear of getting an adult rating. The Nords being a hardy people, few of them particularly seem to care if you're literally freezing your ass off. A couple will comment, but it appears in Skyrim that the only law against public nudity is Darwin's - if that's how you want to end your adventuring career, hey, you go for it. At least it's not an arrow in the knee.
Pants Rating: 5/10
What a difference a change of genre can make. Characters may not care about you running around in your pants, but given that they don't particularly care that you're a pre-war survivor who emerged as the baddest thing to hit the Wasteland since Fallout: Brotherhood Of Steel, that's probably not too surprising.
Like the best costume choices, it also tells us something about our protagonist - specifically, that they took to heart the old advice about always wearing clean underwear because you never know what's going to happen, even if in retrospect getting it a size too small to entirely cover up the bum-cleavage might have been regrettable. That probably means it nips a bit, and while the Wasteland has some oddly advanced clothes given that it's mostly populated by people too lazy to clean up after 200 years, shopping can still be a nightmare. Nobody celebrates Black Friday quite like a rapacious Deathclaw that really, really wants a few quid off a new TV.
Pants Rating: 7/10
Ah, finally a game that doesn't merely dabble in pants-related matters, but fully embraces them. While ordinarily it might be notable that bragging about plans to complete a quest naked for bonus points rather precludes wearing boxer shorts either, the sentiment is at least there and it is noble to see it rewarded so directly.
After this. factor in the sheer PATRIOTISM of said pants coming emblazoned with the Union Jack, and we have a game that's proud to get chilly in the snowy wastes. It becomes particularly effective with high popularity, where the sight of your character proudly half-streaking through town gets not the sighs and finger-wagging of lesser games, but great cheers of joy from the populace. Which is a very different thing from getting them from the Populous, since traditionally people don't tend to mind what gods wear as long as they don't smite them with lightning for smirking about it.
Pants Rating: 8/10
Age of Conan: Unbound
It's probably a good thing that Age of Conan's designers spent some time focusing on underwear, since that's literally all you start the game with. If you're a guy, it looks like a loin-cloth made out of alumnium. If you're a girl, oddly, there's a little more design to it, including kobbly bits and jewel bits and tattoos carefully painted to go from skin over bra cups for some reason. But does anyone care? Only the player base, for whom being able to take it all off immediately was the main, if not only selling point.
Sadly, while it makes sense that the characters of a Conan inspired world are uninterested due to generally seeing more flesh in their daily lives than the guy who cleans out the mincers in an abattoir, massive points have to be deducted for the fact that while both genders can go topless if they want, beneath the underpants lies a second blurry 'thong layer' painted on the model. Tsk. Commitment, people!
Pants Rating: 7/10
Surely there's nothing to complain about in the greatest RPG of all time? You'd think, but here we are. You can bake bread, you can steal everything that's not laid down, but will the Avatar deign to save the world in anything except their usual red-cape and armour combo? They will not, the suddenly prudish instrument of Lord British's regime, whatever you do with the inventory screen. It's everything, or nothing.
Literally, actually. During the second game, there is a point where the Avatar ends up having an out-of-clothes-experience courtesy of a horny mage, and as such if you're playing with Exult, it's just a matter of hitting Alt-N to begin an entirely naked quest. But that's a cheat. It's not the same. Ultima, you have let the world down, you have let your fans down, but mostly, you have let yourself down, and should feel bad about that.
Pants Rating: 1/10
Now, here's a game that 'gets' it. Not only is every character basically in underwear throughout the entire game, it's possible to go one step further and invest in a - this is genuinely what it's called - 'lingerie unsealer' to free them of their confining quasi-dignity. That's a huge innovation for an industry that already brought us Vindictus' dedicated underwear shop, even if it did dub it 'inner armour' for some reason. You know what that means? Objectively speaking, at least according to the criteria laid down in this here round-up, Scarlet Blade... is the best RPG ever made.
Yes. I know. I'm surprised too... but you just can't argue with Science.
Pants Rating: 10/10
Next Time: If Guild Wars 2's Sylvari are plants using their own plant bits as underwear, are they still naked? Or perhaps something else. (Definitely something else -Ed)