Bored gamers are no fun to be around, and I speak as one. The games that I keep diving back into are games I’ve beaten, or ones that might still have some surprises hidden around the corner that I missed on the first few walkthroughs. I’ve put quite a few hours into my second playthrough of Binary Domain, discovering some surprising branches in the storyline; The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’s ‘Dawnguard’ expansion has been a welcome return to that world of snow and ice dragons, especially in this real-world heatwave that has consumed most of the summer.
Still, I need something more.
The latest game I’m revisiting is Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. This overlooked fantasy RPG is a rich, detailed fantasy world, with a dynamic, ever-shifting class system that encourages experimenting with point dispersal and play style. Want to play a bruising warrior? Have at it. A warrior-mage? How about a stealthy rogue with stylish shadow magic abilities? This game will let you do that. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is the kind of game I love because I can dig my heels into it, and get lost for hours in the varied environments and storylines, playing with the varied class combinations and exploring to my heart’s content. There are enough side elements that keep me interested, excited for more time with the game, and eager to see what lies beyond the end, when some of the more interesting side quests emerge.
Even though I love getting lost in this game, a cynical little voice at the back of my head keeps reminding me that I know how this story ends, I know where this path will lead, and I’ve spent countless hours in Amalur already.
That voice keeps telling me something: I’m bored.
The predicament I find myself in lately is this: Where is the guarantee that I’ll still want to play games in two years? I’d wager there’s another year and a half to two years in this console cycle, or at least that much time where games might still grace the current generation, but after that?
It comes time for that dreaded question: What will keep me playing?
It’s not uncommon to think I’ve played this game before when I pop in that new, high profile third-person shooter. It’s not unusual to think I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this story before whenever I boot up the new hotly anticipated RPG. I’ve definitely caught myself thinking, Yep, heard that song before when I hear a cut from the newest music party game. Games have almost become indistinguishable from one another; they bleed together to the point where I start wondering why I’m bothering to play.
It’s not that I’m not looking forward to some of the games hitting shelves in the fall and winter, but familiarity, if it doesn’t breed contempt, threatens to breed boredom instead. I look at the upcoming titles, and though a few will end up on my shelf, my general attitude toward the fall and winter offering is a simple shrug. I’m not as excited as I feel I should be. Even the titles that are guaranteed purchases for me are ones that I am approaching with mild skepticism, if not outright fear that this game might be the one that finally makes me throw my hands up and proclaim, “I give up!”
Of the upcoming releases, Assassin’s Creed III is one I’m considering with cautious optimism. The Assassin’s Creed franchise has suffered for two games now – Brotherhood and Revelations – from familiarity. Recycling the successful game play of Assassin’s Creed II throughout three games, the ‘Ezio Trilogy’, grew boring and tedious. While I enjoyed following Ezio on his journey from brash young man to weary old warrior, I won’t say that I liked the game play so much as the story. The story kept me going, not the game play; climbing buildings – even if they are architectural drool fests like the Hagia Sofia or the Coliseum – can get boring when the mechanics don’t change, even if the landscape does.
But the reveal that the historical backdrop of the American Revolution in Assassin’s Creed III was a great hook, even if I approached it with the skeptical thought that this game would be as familiar as its predecessors. To my pleasant surprise, Assassin’s Creed III appears to have dramatically reinvented itself, with everything from weather effects, to wilderness areas that heavily contrast with the civilian populace, and an upgrade of the previous games’ combat and climbing systems that look fresh. If Ubisoft’s intention is to see their series go out with a mighty bang, then I think they might succeed.
If Assassin’s Creed III is the result of a developer rebuilding from the ground up to create the best experience possible, then that could be just what I need to get me excited about at least one of the major fall releases. The spring promises some reinventions and new IPS, and that might be when interest and fascination return to this gamer’s mind. Until then, I’ll keep entertaining some old friends, and hope to meet a few new ones along the way.
I’ve always gone back to certain games, regardless of my game-playing mood. I continuously go back to Jade Empire when I need a classic-RPG fix, because the story slowly unfolds over time, the music is phenomenal, and I can take in the journey as my character does. My action-adventure itch can be satisfied with a few levels of Psychonauts, and it’s always got a few great laughs to offer. Okami is a game that satisfies my love of art, mythology, and epic stories, and playing it is a guaranteed good time. These previous generation games cement in my head the elements that my ideal game contains.
I game for stories, character interaction, music, presentation, and exploration. I enjoy the aesthetics of game design, the detail that goes into the production and spectacle of a title. I like titles that make me think, that encourage me to explore the worlds being built, while also emphasizing the importance of immersion, taking full advantage of the primary gamer senses, vision and hearing. When a game feels like a true experience, when it is challenging me on levels other than my reaction times, that is when I’m still excited about games.
That visceral, cerebral experience of gaming is why Spec Ops: The Line continues to be at the forefront of my mind when it comes to newer games. While the game is a third person shooter using familiar over the shoulder camera angles, battlefield cover mechanics, and linear point-a-to-point-b levels, its story sets it apart from others in its genre, and makes it feel fresh. The narrative emphasis on cause and effect, the impact of bad decisions made in the heat of the moment, and how the consequences of those actions weigh on characters and push them onward in their journeys were all elements that have made it one of my favorite games of the year. Gears of War might have set the standard for how a third-person shooter should be played, but Spec Ops: The Line shows how a great story can elevate a game above its familiar design.
Aside from the ones I mentioned, games appear to be in something of a funk right now with the end of the current console cycle sometime in the near future, and the newest technology right around the corner, not to mention the surge of interest in indie and mobile titles over the big blockbuster games. If the future is in the indie market then by all means, let it shift that way. Perhaps it will allow developers the time they need to create new and interesting IPs, or to improve so much upon their previous offerings that a sequel can feel like a brand new game. Assassin’s Creed III, anyone?
About the Author:
Alexandra Geraets is an fan of story-driven video games. She's an even more avid fan of exploring how and why they resonate with all of us. Her essays have been found on Village Voice Media.
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