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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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Review (PS3)

I will start this review by making a disclaimer: I have not ‘finished’ Skyrim in the tradtional sense. Normally I will only review a game once I have finished it, in the interests of fairness.

However, as you’ll see when you read the below – I’m not sure if I’ll *ever* finish playing Skyrim.

Not because the game is bad – quite the opposite – but because, well… to be honest… I’ve never played anything like it.

That’s a fairly big claim to make as someone who has been playing games for over 25 years.

The content itself isn’t unique. It’s a first person, middle earth type Elves and Orcs affair in which you pick from a selection of races and build your character to take into the World.

There are swords, axes, maces, spells and potions.

While the gameplay is enjoyable and the mechanics are well designed (the combat is clunky for sure but it works) this isn’t anything surprising or revolutionary.

What Bethesda have done an amazing job on is making Skyrim feel like a blank canvas for your character.

It’s this aspect of the game that is like nothing else I’ve ever played. You could have a thrilling, intense gaming experience for tens of, possibly hundreds of, hours without even doing much in the way of the ‘main storyline.’

This is a game where exploring and doing side quests *feels* like the main game. The sense of freedom is intoxicating. Want to become skilled in magic and learn to raise the dead to fight for you? Then ignore the main quest marker and head north for The College Of Winterhold.

That’s what I did and in the (real-time) hours it took me to trek all the way up there on foot I encountered more and had a better gaming experience than some other titles provide in a main playthrough.

Graphically the game looks really nice, considering the sheer size of Skyrim. In particular the effects on the spells look great. Some of the character models do look a bit strange but for me it just adds to the feeling of being in an alien world.

I can’t speak much with regard to the main story, I have done a handful of those quests but the majority of my 20+ hours has been a self-created adventure with some truly memorable events.

A word of warning though – Skyrim has been plagued with issues. Bugs, game crashes etc. I personally have experienced no issues whatsoever but a lot of people have so it would be remiss of me not to mention them. The game has been patched several times so hopefully these problems have now gone.

If you’re looking for a game to sink hours and hours into then Skyrim is perfect for you. The sense that you can go anywhere and do anything is unlike anything else out there. This isn’t a game to play for a quick blast but if you can invest the time you won’t regret it.

Rating: 10/10

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E3 2011: Wrap Up

So E3 has been and gone for another year.

While there wasn’t much in the way of big surprises we got to see plenty of great stuff.

Here are my thoughts on this year’s games:

EA had a great press conference, showing off the expected big guns of Mass Effect 3, Battlefield 3 and FIFA 12. Mass Effect 3 looked great and having just wrapped up the second game I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Same goes for Battlefield 3 – the game looks stunning on PC and it will be interesting to see how close they can get the console versions.

FIFA 12 looks set to be improved greatly by a new physics engine, which essentially means the end of set animations for players. From here on out players will react naturally to where they are hit. If implemented corrected it could be a game changer.

I wasn’t that sure about Need For Speed: The Run which brings QTE’s to the franchise for moments your driver leaves the car. Could be cool if they feature it well – overuse it and it could be the kiss of death for the game. One of the few ‘unknowns’ of the show, Overstrike is the new game from Insomiac Games (makers of the Resistance series) and it looks like lots of fun. Certainly it doesn’t take itself too seriously – check out the trailer below.

Speaking of Insomiac Games, I thought Resistance 3 looked cool. Maybe not as polished as some of the other games but certainly a story I’m interested in seeing continue. DUST514 was another unknown property to me but seems like something different in the shooter market.

Of course Uncharted 3 looked superb and it’s getting to the stage now where I’m considering not watching any more footage for fear of ruining the game for myself! Twisted Metal impressed – while it’ll be a hard sell to the masses, in my opinion, I am definitely on board having loved the original back on the PSOne.

Ubisoft were showing off Assassin’s Creed: Relevations, the final chapter in the Ezio trilogy and while it looks like refinements rather than innovation, I’m cool with that. They also showed a trailer for a new Brothers In Arms title called Furious Four. I thought it looked great, as many others have said it has a touch of the Ingloroius Bastards about it. The only issue I had was the fact that Brothers In Arms games usually take the moral high ground and base themselves on real soldiers experience, so the branding here jars somewhat.

The new Driver title looked like it could be fun but the last few have been fairly poor so I’ll withhold judgement for now. Certainly it was a cool trailer. I also liked the look of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. It reminded me of SOCOM 4, which I enjoyed a lot, so that bodes well. Far Cry 3 returned with a bang, showing off an impressive trailer that really set the scene. Far Cry 2 didn’t grab me as much as I’d hoped so I have my fingers crossed for the third one.

Batman Arkham City had a reveal at the show, that Catwoman would be a playable character. A nice addition and we got to see some more footage of the game in action. It’s shaping up nicely and the open world setting looks amazing. Finally looks like XBox owners will get a slice of the Uncharted action with Tomb Raider, a reboot of the series that shows a more gritty version of Lara Croft finding her feet on a quest for adventure. From what they showed it looks great so I’m interested to check it out.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Bioshock Infinite were both known properties but the new footage shown has raised expectation even higher than before. Deus Ex hits later this year with Bioshock Infinite coming in 2012.

Modern Warfare 3 was also shown and, well, it’s Modern Warfare. No-one is likely to be disappointed with more of the same and it’s understandable with the walk outs the game studio had. I’ll enjoy the campaign and play some multiplayer as I do with each Call Of Duty. Surely this has to be the last outing for this game engine though?

Bethesda’s Skyrim looked stunning and if you like your games based in the olde worlde fantasy setting this will be one you’ll need to pick up. I was also glad to see X-COM make the jump from XBox exclusive to multi-format as I liked the look of that previously. With a 1950’s ‘Twilight Zone’ style setting it’s one to keep an eye on.

It’s been too long since we slipped on the gloves of Agent 47 and IO Interactive are looking to remedy that with Hitman: Absolution. A brief trailer was all that was shown but I can’t wait for this game. On the downloadable game front I thought Payday: The Heist looked like it could be absolutely superb. The idea of running through heists with friends online and it being different each time sounds like a lot of fun.

So there we go – one of the other big parts of E3 was the confirmation of the PS Vita handheld from Sony but I think that deserves it’s own entry so keep your eyes peeled for that sometime this week.

What were your thoughts on E3? Which games surprised you or increased your interest?

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