Variety is the Spice of Life

I’ve been playing a lot of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor lately.  Good game.  One of my favorites of the very slim amount of PS4 games I’ve played thus far.  I’m enjoying this game quite a bit.  Of course, that’s to be expected.  I love Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham games, and Shadow of Mordor is exactly that with a new coat of paint.

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People have called Shadows of Mordor ‘similar’ to the Arkham games.  That is being very, very generous.  Shadows of Mordor is an Arkham game, in the same way Bloodborne is still considered a Souls game.  The combat is very much the same, down to the individual moves and the controls.  The open world nature and drastically different setting have changed the way the stealth works, but the engine operating it is still carried over.  This game may have a new property, a new setting, and some new systems to work through, but the core of it all comes right from the Arkham series.  Not ‘inspired by’, not ‘with elements of the previous game’, Shadow of Mordor is basically a sequel to the Arkham games with the license plates swapped out.  Shadow of Mordor is the child Arkham never knew about, its seed from a one-night stand and the mother lost Arkham’s number.

I’m not bothered by this.  I don’t consider it a rip-off or anything like that.  Even going beyond the rumors that Shadow of Mordor started out as an Nolanverse Batman game, the developers of both the Arkham Series and Shadow of Mordor are owned by the same company, working on properties owned and published by that company, and I really don’t have a problem with sister businesses sharing resources when they’re working out.  It doesn’t hurt that the Arkham games are some of the best of last generation, and Shadow of Mordor is one of the few games to carry that engine and really ‘get’ what made it so great.

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It does pose some difficulty for me, however.  See, there’s another PS4 game I’ve been interested in that I just haven’t picked up on yet.  Batman: Arkham Knight.  One of the games I had my eye on when I was picking up the system.  Now that I’ve already scratched that itch with Shadow of Mordor, however, I’m finding it hard to look at that game the same way, at least in the short term.  It’ll be just as good as it always was, but it just doesn’t feel as fresh to me, and the thought of moving from Shadow of Mordor directly to that game already has me worried about burning out on the engine. I still want the game, but I feel like I need a break.

With videogames, we see something similar, where games just jump on whatever genre is du jour at the time, flooding it with whatever titles they can tie to it like an angry god to a sinful earth.  Back when I was growing up, that was platformers.  Then, briefly, a wave of JRPGs hit.  After that, the industry seems to have settled in on shooters.  Doesn’t matter the specifics of it.  Other industries do that as well, one company taking a risk and finding something that works only for everyone to pile on and squeeze it for what it’s worth.  Leads to a lot of repetition.  Leads to a lot of experiences that are largely the same.

And, you know, it probably affects tastes the same way.  Just like my immediate interest in Batman: Arkham Knight has waned because Shadows of Mordor tastes the same, I imagine the endless sea of shooters, superhero movies, quirky fantasy cartoons, or what have you would start to feel a bit less enticing, too.  Once you get one filling your needs, the next, unless it does at least something to mix things up, will start to feel just a little blander.  The one after that even moreso.  The stories are still just as good as if they were taken in a vacunm, but the experience itself doesn’t have the same impact.  Starts to get like eating when you’re already full.

Milking a genre is not good business, for exactly this reason.  That’s why we start to complain when a genre gets too tropey, even if objectively the titles are better than what they used to be.  It’s dangerous for businesses in the long term, as consumers will start to look for the new flavors themselves.  Things are most fun when they’re fresh, when they’re new, when the experience feels bright.  And that’s something that a style we’ve just been seing too much of is going to have a hard time with right out of the gate.

Variety is the spice of life, after all.