I just got done running the most heavily railroaded session in probably my last 15 years of gaming, including heavily forced scene transitions and huge dollops of illusionism.
(Context: It was a dream sequence being experienced by a comatose PC. They were taken through a highlight reel of their memories — both the ones they’ve experienced and the ones their amnesiac character has forgotten — with the other players jumping in to play current and former versions of themselves in a kaleidoscopic dreamscape.)
I bring this up because I think it’s given me a fresh appreciation for why combat encounters — particularly those in “delve format” adventures — have become so overwrought in the past 10 years: It’s because, in a culture of “storytelling” GMs with railroaded plots, the combat encounters are the only place where players can actually experience freedom; where their choices actually matter.
So you get a large class of players who are primarily focused on the combat encounters because that’s where they’re actually allowed to experience the true joy of roleplaying games (and, therefore, that’s where they have fun). And to cater to those desires, adventure design (and then game design) focuses more and more on making those encounters really exciting.
But then, as that cycle degrades into itself, we end up with a situation where the tail is wagging the dog: Where the railroaded plot that strings together the combat encounters becomes thinner and thinner as more and more effort is put into propping up the combat encounter tent poles.