In most games there is are a lot of focus to preserve the world and making every quest as accessible as possible. This normally means that you can do every quest in the game whatever choice you make. I miss the feeling of being a part of the world in many game. Most of the time you get the illusion of choices but the outcome is always the set. If you have a more sandbox view of the world where it is set when you start but then as soon as you saga begins your decisions will dramatically change where it will end and what is available. Things that I always wanted but missed are as follows:
- Dramatic choice and true crossroads
Starting wars and be able to choose sides or backstab your allies.
Burning/pillaging cities/countries that will change the appearance and the mood of the city/country.
Choosing to support different kings/queens and factions and then see them evolve over time.
The replay value would be enormous even if some player styles might half the available content just because of the choices they make. You should still be able to choose the middle way and the get the most content for it. But not all…
If you are talking just about games in general, or about your imaginary dream game, then I am with you. But in the case of PE, I have to disagree.
Firstly, obsidian seem to really like the idea of a strong narrative, and such sandboxy freedom is somewhat at odds with that. The more freedom you afford to affect the world, the weaker your narrative must become. At the extreme pure sandbox end of the scale, the entire narrative is created by the player's actions, while at the other extreme you're basically just watching a movie. An example of the sandbox extreme would be a game like civilization - there is no narrative whatsoever but at the end you look back and there is a story there of what happened.
My second point is that it is just really impractical to create these things in computer games, and a lot of the time when people try, it doesn't come out all that well. Let's say you have three decisions in the game where the player choice has a big impact on the world, and each of these presents three options. Now after the first decision, you have 3 outcomes to account for. After the second decision, 9 different possible outcomes, and 27 after the third.
For these decisions to have any significant weight or value you will have to weave consequences of them into the rest of the game, which creates a massive amount of work, and the payoff isn't that great. All you got for all that work was only three decisions for the player, and a slightly weaker narrative. The decisions probably aren't even all that interesting, maybe a good/bad/neutral/quirky choice, or a choice to side with the red team or the blue team. They can't really be enormously interesting because the rest of the game is still mostly the same, there is no time to make 27 different games where each eventuality is covered with different content.
Tabletop has none of these problems, since you only ever have to deal with one possible world state, which is whatever state the game is currently in. You'll generally have a fair idea in advance what the players are going to decide to do, and if something unexpected happens you can adjust on the fly. Things also tend to happen at a slower pace, so you end up with a lot more time to put into a much smaller set of possibilities.
It might seem counter-intuitive but I believe that the "many choices, only one outcome" is actually much better at enabling role play in cRPGs. This is because you can afford to put many dialog options covering all sorts of attitudes, and even many different paths into short term plot points when you know the outcome will be the same.
Let's say it's chapter 2 and the king needs the macguffin to drive back the invading horde. If the outcome is always that the king gets the macguffin somehow, you can put all sorts of different ways that he gets it into the game, without changing the eventual world state and multiplying the size of your game. Maybe you go and get the thing and hand it over for the good of the realm. Maybe you sell it for profit instead, but the guy who bought it hands it over. Maybe you just don't really care and don't even go looking for it, because you're busy doing other things and someone else gets it. Maybe you plant it on some poor guy and accuse him of withholding it to get him into trouble and better your position in some unrelated deal. Maybe you do everything you can to stop him from getting it but he gets it anyway, and so on. Since these are all short term things that do not affect the overall world state, you can have a lot of them and hopefully make the player feel like they were able to choose the path they wanted to.
Now lets say you add in one more route, one where the king doesn't get what he needs and the city is destroyed. You've only really added +1 options to the many you already had, but you've potentially made a ton of work for yourself to account for such a significant event in the remainder of the game.