Playing Games Like You Watch TV Or: Why It Took Me Over Two Years To Finish Dragon Age: Inquisition

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I’ve spoken about my gaming habits plenty in the past but I’ve noticed another shift in the last year or so. If I have an hour spare now in the evening I’m much more likely to play an online game, not something single player based.

While it sounds contrary to the above, I feel like I want to invest more time in single player game sessions than ever and really lose myself in that world, which conflicts with my gaming schedule – essentially the odd hour here and there in the evening. I’m finding that I don’t want to play something story based for 45 minutes or an hour. Or at least that’s how I feel about open world games, I’m certainly still happy to play an hour long session to complete a chapter of Uncharted or a main mission in Tomb Raider. More linear games still lend themselves to that style of play. I’ve always played those kind of games like TV shows anyway, a chapter or two at a time over the course of weeks rather than days. I’ve never been a gamer who will rush through a 15-20 hour game in a weekend.

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Horizon: Zero Dawn is a good example of this new play style, a game I likely would’ve rushed through before is now a title I’m planning to play over the course of months rather than weeks. Crucially, I also feel like I’m getting more enjoyment out of the game by taking the time to explore and discover smaller content along the way.

I think there is an accompanying parallel change in multiplayer games, which are doing a much better job of getting you to come back and play more often. There has been a positive change in a huge amount of games whereby new content (new levels/maps or characters) is being added free of charge for all players. This is important because, firstly, it means the player base isn’t split (some that paid have the new content but others don’t and they can’t all play together) and secondly it gives people a strong reason to come back to games they might not have ever returned to before this trend. In addition a lot of games are rewarding players for logging in and playing, which keeps people interested for longer.  I also feel like there are a ton of pick up and play online experiences that last 5-10 minutes per game, which align perfectly with the time I have available.

If I only have 30-45 mins spare why waste my time on an open world title and have to turn it off just as I’m getting into the rhythm of the game? I’d rather play a few rounds Overwatch and a game of Rocket League. It’s also occasionally quite nice to play something that has a set beginning, middle and end. I guess it’s similar to watching a really good eight episode TV show knowing it only has one season and tells a complete story within that.

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Big, sprawling open world titles are definitely still attractive to me, Horizon is one of the best games I’ve played in the last 4 or 5 years, but I just need more time to play and invest in them. Dragon Age: Inquisition took me over two years to finish. Why? I suspect the TV season-like structure helped, along with the change in my own gaming habits. What I loved about the structure of Dragon Age in particular was that your main hub in the game was your ‘War Table’, where you and your colleagues/advisors would plan your next tactical move and which mission to take on. On this table you had a selection of smaller missions, including favours for your colleagues that would reveal more about them and strengthen your relationship with them, but also one bigger mission that moved the main story on considerably. So for me, the game became like a TV show in so far as I would spend a few weeks playing side missions, levelling up and getting some character development for my team before doing the big, climatic ‘end of season’ mission and then putting the game down for a month or two.

Another huge title in terms of scale is Fallout 4, which I’m still playing 18 months after I started. Why? Well for similar reasons to Dragon Age but with the added decision from the outset not to follow the direct path for ‘character reasons’. I decided to make my character more selfish than my usual created characters, for example my elf Inquisitor from Dragon Age or Commander Shepherd from Mass Effect. In Fallout, Bella would be a character that was, for the most part, more interested in her own current affairs than any grander goal – which has been great fun and I’d recommend everyone to try playing a character like it at some stage!

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Another issue with mainlining games is burnout, doing the same thing over and over again is certainly not fun and can severely lessen your enjoyment of a game. However, I think there is a huge difference between repetitive gameplay over a longer period of time in hour sized chunks and repetitive gameplay experienced in bigger 3 or 4 hour time slots.  I genuinely believe that the reason I still enjoy long running game series like Assassin’s Creed, where you are essentially doing the same thing in every iteration of the game in a different setting, is because I’ve never really sat down and played them for 4 or 5 hours at a time.

Episodic gaming kind of solves this play style problem, although it doesn’t always necessarily do the best job. Titles like The Walking Dead and Life Is Strange are great games, although each episode usually runs the length of a film which runs into the same problem for me time-wise. Hitman, which is perfectly suited to the episodic format, is another title with lengthy levels (a positive when I have the time to invest) although the inclusion of smaller one off assassinations does mean that is a game you can also dip into here and there.

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Some people are quick to mainline these huge games and I just don’t get it. Why would you want to rush through these big titles? Where Uncharted is like a film, games like Skyrim, Mass Effect or Dragon Age are like having 10 seasons of a TV show in front of you. Finishing these open world games as quickly as possible by doing just main quests would be like having a cut down version of the TV show that just focuses on the main character and no-one else. Sure you’d get to experience the story at the centre of the show but without any focus on other characters. Imagine a Buffy The Vampire Slayer without any development of Willow or Xander? Or an Orphan Black with no focus on Donny or anyone except Sarah? Indeed, imagine a Mass Effect that didn’t bother to flesh out your crew but just double downed on the main story.

I’m as guilty as the next person of binge-watching TV shows but I do feel that for games it is a little different – as I mentioned above my confusion isn’t really based on people playing games quickly, it’s what you might be missing along the way. Even if I binge something like Jessica Jones I am still seeing all the story the creators put in there and want us to see. If you mainline a game you could be missing a wealth of interesting content and potentially things that might be integral to the wider plot of the game.

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Even in this age of on demand binge watching it can be nice to watch a TV show week by week – one of the biggest luxuries of the ‘old’ approach to watching TV or playing games is that you have time to think about and appreciate the content you’re consuming. I’ve found that in games but also in TV. Recently, Legion was a delight to watch week by week and I actually think I needed that time between episodes to process what I’d seen. Sure, there is a rush from getting through something you’re enjoying – it can exhilarating knowing that you are just a click away from another episode or main mission but I’d recommend giving slower paced gaming a shot. It’s definitely a different experience and one, for me personally, that means I’ve gotten more enjoyment out of open world games.

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Rocket League – Review (PS4)

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I think Rocket League might be the dumbest game I have ever played, the insanity of using cars to play football in a giant arena with a huge ball is like nothing else out there. It’s also the best multiplayer experience I’ve had in the last few years and a great game to boot.

So as I said above, Rocket League is essentially football (soccer) with cars. The beauty of the game is how well balanced the play mechanics are and how well the physics of the ball work. The ball has a great heft to it that makes clean contact (if you can get it!) a wonderfully visceral experience. The cars handle well and while there are a variety of vehicle styles, none of these change the handling, they are purely cosmetic.

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As well as vehicle styles there are flags, paint patterns, wheel types, hats and different boost effects so you can really go to town on making your vehicle feel like your own. These items are unlocked randomly at the end of each match, regardless of performance (and result) which is a great way to keep people playing. Another reason to keep playing is that the developers have completely nailed the ‘just one more game’ feeling and with matches only taking five minutes, it’s very easy to still be sitting there forty minutes after you were going to stop!

Matches take the form of 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 or 4v4. I found 1v1 and 2v2 to be fun but a bit too challenging and the 4v4 mode is actually called ‘Chaos’, which gives you an idea of how that plays. For me 3v3 is the perfect amount of players, taking into account the size of the pitch and the movement of the cars/ball.

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These games can be played online or offline with computer controlled bots and there is also a cool little Season mode, which puts you in a league and ends with a post season playoff for the championship. It’s a cool addition and adds another layer of depth of proceedings. The same goes for the tutorials which, although short, do give you a great sense of how to play the game with a bit more finesse.

And that’s the real genius of Rocket League, anyone can pick this up and play. The basic driving isn’t difficult and the idea of the game is simple. Hit the ball into the goal. No offsides. No fouls. No stoppages. The developers have stripped out everything football related that might be a barrier to entry. However there is still an elation when you score a goal or win a match that replicates the buzz of football.

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That buzz is only half of Rocket League, the rest of it is made up of joy and laughter. While I’ve scored some memorable goals, the moments I often describe to others are the times I backflipped into one of my own team and caused them to miss a shot or when I had a shot and it ricocheted off the post and crossbar and trickled along the goal line until a desperate opponent put it in his own goal.

This is a game that should be in everyone’s library. Play it with strangers, play it with friends but definitely play it, Rocket League is one of the best online experiences available.

Rating: 10/10