As I’m procrastinating writing this article, I’m listening and bobbing my head to Nightwish’s Century Child (CC), an album that hasn’t aged a day since 2002. I have vague childhood memories of listening to this for the first time and thinking: “this sounds cool!”. Now I’m sitting here almost 20 years later and still thinking: “this sounds cool!”. It’s safe to say we’re talking about my favourite album of all time. In 20 years, my appreciation for this piece of music has not changed one bit, and I can enjoy it every time like it was the first. Very few games have the same status as CC in my books. I will always enjoy slashing Stormtroopers in Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy’s movement-focused combat. Counter-Strike never fails to provide a competitive thrill with friends. Clone Hero keeps my inner musician engaged with new high-scores to beat, and brutally slaying orcs in Shadow of Mordor never gets old.
But unfortunately, in the past few years I’ve struggled to find exciting new games to play and enjoy. This has been especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic since I’ve spent more time than ever at home. What I want is a hook. I want a mechanic that feels as good the first time, as the 100th. A good story would do as well, but engaging stories and relatable characters are too rare in games to this day, and a story is difficult to enjoy a second time since you already know what’s going to happen. Funnily enough, music does not suffer the same fate, not in my ears anyway. But why do I struggle to find these hooks? I remember enjoying so many games as a kid, but nowadays it’s all the same slog from one game to the next. Have I been spoiled? Have all the good games already been made, and now studios just copy and paste whatever made the old ones great to make a quick dollar? That last sentence is a matter of fact, no doubt. But it still bothers me that even outside of the AAA industry, infamous for recycling game ideas, I can’t find a good bait to nibble on and get hooked.
The social aspect of gaming seems unchanged. I’ll gladly join a game when asked, even if I don’t particularly feel like playing it. I always value spending time with friends, and if they want to play with me then I’m happy. But this only goes for multiplayer games. It seems it’s the singleplayer games that are the issue. It used to be that I could enjoy most games thrown my way, but now it feels like I’ve developed a niche for myself, and only a handful of games fulfill that desire. On the other hand, it is nice to at least know myself a little better now. Over the years I’ve learned to narrow potential games down to the few that I might like, and if nothing else, it helps to save some money when you’re not compelled to buy every new game that has an awesome trailer. And there are some fantastic trailers out there. Trailers so great you could say they are giving players a false positive impression of the game, but that’s a subject for a different text.
As I alluded to before, the AAA industry doesn’t provide for me nowadays. Too many studios have found their bread and butter that sells, and why fix something that isn’t broken. There has also been a lot of copying game mechanics. See what works for others and just do the same thing. One of the unfortunate victims of this has been Assassin’s Creed, which was one of my favorite franchises. At least at the time, it fulfilled my gameplay niche. Fun, mostly unique gameplay mechanics with interesting stories and lore. The stories are still there I think, but the gameplay of the most recent ones has moved towards an RPG approach, most likely after the success of the Witcher 3 or so the internet would have you believe. This was something that unfortunately pushed the franchise out of my little niche space, and I haven’t been able to enjoy them since Assassin’s Creed: Origins.
To conclude, I think it’s fair to say that all things move forward one way or another. I’ve certainly grown not only as a person but as a player. And the Gaming industry has also moved forward and evolved in many ways, both good and bad. Never have there been so many games to choose from, but at the same time it feels as if even fewer of those games fulfill my needs and wants.
Title image/screenshot taken by the author, from Steam library user interface.