A Player’s Fatigue

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God of War should have been a great game.  It had everything going for it.  The mechanics, the design, the care.  And you know, it was a pretty revolutionary game.  It deserved to be, with everything the developers put into it.

But it had one big flaw that turned the whole experience way down, left it short of being truly ‘great’.  In fact, that’s something I’ve noticed a lot of games fall into.  One bit of wisdom that my quest to beat everything has given me.  So many games have it all going on, have got their groove pretty straight in pretty much all aspects, except it’s just one aspect that doesn’t get the attention they deserve or one single mistake that brings the whole experience down.

Anyways, God of War does that.  It has that one big thing that ruins it.  And you know, that one big thing is a big thing that it shares with a lot of other games.  God of War just happens to be a bit of a better example than most.  And that is the problem of the player’s fatigue.

You hear it all the time.  Games bragging about how long they last.  Those good old “100+ hours of gameplay!!!!!111oneone” that are supposed to show you’re getting your money’s worth.  Plenty of players, I’ve seen, have been justifying their purchasing decisions based on how much time a game takes to complete, too.  People don’t seem to realize that all that time doesn’t count if it sucks.

But it’s one thing to just throw in lots of padding or unpolished gameplay.  To waste your time in the interest of getting that number up.  That’s a horrible, horrible thing, and there’s been plenty of dialogue about that in the gamosphere already.  You don’t need a sexy genius blogger to tell you about that.  Rather, God of War’s problem, and those of its ilk, is a bit different.  A bit more subtle.  Although it hasn’t aged the best, God of War is definitely a quality experience, mostly throughout.  It rarely just wastes your time the way so many of those punchclock games do.  It’s got a lot going for it, it just stretches these things a little bit farther than they should.

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Things just take too long, in God of War.  There’s content for it, it’s not padding, it just takes too long.  Levels start stretching on and on, fights keep going as enemies pour in to replace those you’ve slain, and the gods’ whiny “omg got 2 kull areeeeees!” gets hammered into your skull over and over again.  Every little thing makes its point and then some.

It’s far from unique to God of War, too.  Remember how Persona 3 was super great, then you got to the Nyx Avatar fight and it’s a 14 stage final boss that takes half damage from everything and will charm you into fully healing her over and over again unless you’ve already beaten her and know to prepare?  You remember how every single level in Alan Wake was the same bloody forest?  You remember the final level in whatever the last game was that you beat and how the designers hit crunch time and just decided to start with the CTRL+C, CTRL+V model of game design?

So yeah.  It’s not a good thing.  For a very good reason.  Video games are very kinetic, much more than most other mediums.  Players should be feeling something.  Excitement.  Accomplishment.  Empathy.  Awe at how great that Aether guy is at video games.  Emotions naturally run high in games, as their active nature draws out whoever’s playing.  But emotions also take mental energy than a passive observer would be giving off.  And when you draw too much mental energy without cycling it with something, that’s where you run into fatigue.

Usually, this comes up when the player stops feeling like they’re being productive.  When the level goes on and on without changing, it becomes less “oh, what a huge level” and more “oh, I’m just not getting anywhere”.  Likewise, when God of War’s respawning new enemies in the middle of the fight that are exactly the same as the ones you just killed, kind of makes you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels in the mud.  It feels like grinding.  If you make a player go through the same thing over and over again, no matter how good the fluff or the mechanics, eventually it stops being fun and just starts getting to be work.

In most any progressive story, it takes a bit of a break or change to keep that mental energy up.  It’s an odd thing.  Although mental energy doesn’t really take any actual energy, it’s still important to manage.  That’s why books are always swapping chapters of POVs right when it hits the climax.  Just that small bit of change and variation keeps things feeling fresh.  When you go so long without that, that’s when things start to wear thin.  Then you get people on the internet complaining.  Who wants that?

So, in summation, if you ever find yourself playing God of War, remember to be appropriately grumpy about it.  It’s a good game, sure, but grumpiness is the order of the day all the same.

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12 responses to “A Player’s Fatigue

  1. Back when I had more free time lengthier games came across as good value for money. These days I am okay with shorter experiences (my backlog of unfinished games is huge.) Ten hours of quality is better than ten hours of quality mixed with ten hours of grinding/back tracking.

    • I do love a long experience, as long as it’s also a full one. Wasting your time is one of the worst things a game can do. A shorter experience where everything is worthwhile is so much more valuable than a longer experience where only half of it delivers anything, much like you said.

  2. You’ve hit the nail on the head with this. There have been many games that I begin to love, only to put down halfway and have it enter backlog limbo for eternity because of this. Just recently I played Bravely Default and LOVED the first half of the game. Then, the developers make the dumbest decision ever and makes you repeat a phase of the game SEVERAL times! I had to force myself to complete it just so I could move onto Bravely Second (which thankfully doesn’t repeat this tiresome mechanic). Great post! 😀

    • I never made it that far in Bravely Default, but just the tales of what they did was enough to put me off the game. Most games wait until they’re past the halfway mark to pull it off, but sadly, it is a relatively common thing for games to hit a certain point and just give up on making anything new. Some games will get better once they hit the end. Some games don’t. I sincerely hope Bravely Default is the former, because I know I’m going to be forcing myself through it eventually.

      • Towards the end it does get a little better, but honestly, if Bravely Second wasn’t so connected to the first game I’d say it wasn’t worth pushing through. At least it seems they listened to fan feedback when making the 2nd.

        That said, do you share your posts on any other websites? Not sure if any of my colleagues have contacted you as yet, but I work over at Creators .Co (we’re part of Movie Pilot and Now Loading) and this is the sort of content that makes for an interesting read. If you were open to the idea of posting your work on our sites in addition to also having your blog/site, I’d be more than happy to help you get started. My e-mail and more info can be found on my page. (o^.^)b

      • Well, glad to hear I won’t be suffering all the way through when I do push myself through it.

        I’m glad you liked it! I don’t currently share my posts with other websites, but I appreciate the offer. I’ll be in touch if I decide to take you up on it.

  3. Awesome post! Yes, it seems like an unfortunate idea bouncing around some games is that length is better than/comparable to depth. I’ve never been a fan of unexpected unfair respawning of enemies at the end of a fight (sometimes the shock is a nice change, but like you said, if it happens a lot it’s no longer fun), and I *hate* when bosses are just a time sink of hitting the boss a lot with your sword/bullets/magic/attacks/whatever, with no real strategy involved.

    Our brains want to feel productive and want to be used, so I agree that a good game should approach play from that angle in order to keep it from being “back to the grind.”

    Also, it seems fitting to be grumpy when playing this game, since Kratos is a pretty grumpy guy, too.

    • You know, I could see games respawning enemies if they mixed it up. Left 4 Dead does that well; when you hit a climax, enemies will come in from all over the place, but they’ll change it up on you, get it progressing somewhere, and use it to keep you from getting comfortable. And argh, those shield depletion bosses. So many good games lose me there, where the mook-fighting mechanics are great, but the bosses just turn into an exercise in keeping your gun pointed in the right direction for five minutes. Like you said, there’s not really any gameplay there, no back and forth.

  4. I can’t vouch for Persona 3, but Persona 4 is one of the few games I can think of that was nearly one-hundred hours long, yet felt like it earned its length – very little of it came across as filler. All of the boss fights and even random encounters require strategies to defeat reliably, and the non-combat portions provided a treasure trove of character development for the protagonists and their friends. The reason it works so well is because they provide a nice break from the other so you’re not bored at any point. Tired of dungeon crawling? Here’s a nice slice-of-life scene. Feeling as though the scene in question is dragging on for too long? Don’t worry – you’ll be fighting shadows again in no time.

    It’s as you say – the biggest problem with most games of this length is that you’re just going through the motions again and again until it decides to end. That’s one of the problems I had with Metal Gear Solid V. It was nice that it was so gameplay focused, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re doing almost the exact same thing every time. By contrast, even if they’re hit-or-miss when it comes to storytelling, one thing I have to give Naughty Dog credit for is that they don’t pad the length of their games like their peers.

    • Well, Persona 3 is very similar to Persona 4, although it does fall afoul of this problem here a lot more than 4 did. There is the issue with the final boss that I mentioned above, but there’s also the fact that the game just has a single massive dungeon. There is some visual variation every so often, but it doesn’t really change its feel the way 4’s dungeons do. That does wear a bit, although otherwise, it does hit the same good mix of life stuff/dungeon stuff as 4 does.

      That is true, Naughty Dog is always filling their games. Uncharted wasn’t quite as great at mixing things up as the Last of Us, and the gameplay may be a little mixed at times, but they do always fill things up with content.

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