Lots of new games pride themselves on their playtime – but why do they seem to be putting us to work?
If you were to ask me a few years ago what my absolute favorite style of gameplay would be, my answer would have been “open-world games.” Plain and simple. I enjoy getting into the immersion of the world, inventing myslf and my character’s personality, interacting with the NPCs, robbing people blind if not just flat out murdering them in their house, and spending 100-200+ hours within that environment until I finished everything I could find, or was drawn away by the allure of something else.
In the past years, I’ve noticed a change in that particular taste, and I think the catalyst to this discovery was the release of Fallout 4. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my 46 hours in post-apocalyptic Boston, but the last time I played this game was December 10th of last year, and I have not had any desire to go back to it. One day out of the blue, I just stopped playing it, and didn’t even realize it until a few days went by.
One of my favorite experiences in a video game ever was The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I played the shit out of that game, burned through every last dungeon I could find, The Shivering Isles, etc. Final game time on Oblivion? 80 hours. Absolutely reasonable for the amount of content, but the important thing isn’t the time. The whole game felt fresh from start to finish. I never felt like I had to grind out quests, and aside from collecting those fucking Nirnroots it never felt like a waste of time. When I finally beat it, I was emotionally crushed because I didn’t want the good times to end.
In comparison, my final game time on Skyrim was 221 hours. There was a weird pressure in that game to join every guild, and I blame that on the leveling system, which basically guaranteed you would become a stealth archer. But the sheer volume of content and the random dungeons basically guaranteed you were playing that game for a long, long time. When I finished Skyrim, I was done, and have not had any desire to play it ever again.
Oblivion’s in my top 5, no doubt, but I don’t think I can say the same, in retrospect, about Skyrim.
Skyrim was eons ago in gaming terms, and it’s been a few years since 2011. But what I think we have here with Fallout 4 is the same issue that Skyrim had. I would spent hours wandering around, beat up a few guys, raid a tunnel base, kill some raiders, and come out with almost nothing to show for it.
That whole base-building mechanic? Very cool on paper. However, spend a few hours building bases and collecting scrap metal, and it’s hard not to notice that it doesn’t serve any purpose except to influence plot devices. In this case, those cheap plot devices are raids on your bases. In all honesty, that entire feature could have been removed from the game, and all that would have changed is you’d finish the game in about 30 hours shorter. And you could take that 30 hours and go beat Chrono Trigger again. Or hang out with your friends that you haven’t talked to in 6 months.
Maybe it took more of my gaming time being taken to the chopping block over the past few years, but what I’ve seen in games is this weird trend of adding so much content, as to pitch the game as a “good value.” However, in doing this, game makers are effectively turning games into massive to-do lists, which is disturbingly familiar to what I face at work each day.
I still consider Skyrim the original offender that made gaming feel like work. The fact that both Fallout and Skyrim are Bethesda productions is no surprise, because the formula still sells like hot cakes. And Bethesda takes that formula and makes some solid games. And hell, I enjoyed this sort of repetition for a time, but as I’ve gotten older and time has gotten more valuable, I’ve moved on to simply liking other types of games. Of course, the easy choice for me is to avoid these games, which is what I intend on doing. The next Elder Scrolls installment will probably not see much action from me, at least until I retire.
I still liked Fallout 4, or maybe I should say, I didn’t dislike it. I enjoyed the time, but I felt ~50 hours for the $32 I paid for it gave me my money’s worth. One of these days I might go back to it and try to just finish the main quest lines, but I certainly won’t be spending 2-3 hours a night running around aimlessly collecting more bullet points on my to-do list.