What I'm about to say isn't going to surprise you: 2017 has been filled with incredible games, and while, strangely, I think the first few months of the year were a little stronger than the normally dominant fall, one thing that's been consistent throughout the year is that many of these games aren't just great, they're long.
In Dragon Age Inquisition, I was stuck on a boss that I had not enough items to use to heal myself every time he hit me, nor did I have any way to return to the big open world to level up more. I just gave up and never returned and completed it. However, in this opposite scenario, I was able to return to the Witcher 3 a year after I gave up in 2015, and complete the main game. Then in January of this year, I completed both expansions entirely and have more love for that game than I ever imagined. Something about seeing the story to the end made me want to continue the witcher 3. Same for Inquisition, but the combat was cumbersome, and that boss was horrible. But yeah. Theres my story.
I definitely sympathise with this feeling, especially in the busier times of my life. I like seeing something to its conclusion and so when I’m faced with the decision of marching towards the finish line in a single, long game versus experiencing a handful of smaller games I’d rather go for the latter. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t finish MGSV (which launched the day I returned to university) because I got about ~50hrs into it and had to make the call between spending the rest of my free time that year completing it or getting to experience Undertale, Until Dawn, and SOMA.
Given what I have heard of the conclusion to The Phantom Pain I think I made the right call?
Sometimes I feel like I have to play a certain game because everyone else is (i.g.: friends, podcasters I follow etc…). This was really hard when Mario, Origins, and Wolfenstein came out on the same day. There was no way I was going to be able to give all three the time they deserved. I chose to “save” Wolfenstein for another time, and dug into Mario and Origins. I was really surprised to find myself enjoying Origins not only more than I thought I would, but even more than Mario. Luckily, I was able to put time into both, mostly because Mario is portable.
To answer the question of “what makes you drop a game?” That’s definitely a case of “I’m satisfied with what I’ve played.” Or as Austin put it, “they actually satisfy my curiosity sometimes dozens of hours before they reach their conclusions.” I’ve never felt obligated to finish a game, to see credits roll, or whatever constitutes the game’s conclusion. I simply play it as long as I enjoy playing it and then move on. Sometimes I’ll go back and finish something I’ve left incomplete, but that’s on a case-by-case basis. This is easy for me because I rarely find myself interested in a game’s story, it’s always been gameplay and art that’s driven me forward. Once I have seen everything and tried all of the game’s mechanics, my interest slowly starts to wane.
I’m glad Austin wrote this piece as there is a lot of discourse around your opinion not counting if you haven’t 100%ed a game or played on the hardest difficulty, etc… Of course, the bar is different for everyone and for every game, so expecting to satisfy these rudimentary stipulations is foolish, but it does make me feel a little less guilty for not finishing games I’ve spent my money on.
I really hope longer games start offering an optional “fast cut”. Something that hits the major story beats but with any progression curves accelerated and maybe the director picking exactly what they consider the core experience with the rest all made optional. It’s not that the rest of the game has to be removed, only made so it’s something you pick to dive into if you want to while the main progression promises that in 4-10 hours you’ll be done if you don’t get engrossed in optional side-stories.
I know a lot of these big games discussed already have lots of optional content, but the straight line still either road-blocks (with levelling requirements/progression curves) or is still over 50% of the game (so still looking at 30+ hours). That’s too much for a narrative progression (several seasons of a TV show, a whole series of books from the most prolific authors, too many movies to even consider in a single continuity to be enjoyed in a single block).
We’re building interactive experiences, we should lean on the possibilities that offers to provide different experiences on the same theme for different players.
I agonized for hours about whether to play Mario or Assassins Creed because I know I don’t have the time for both, so I guess my problem is mostly the opposite. Once I make the choice and start investing time into a game I feel like I need to finish it because my gaming time is at such a premium these days.
God I did something sort of similar, in that I finished a big boss fight then put it aside for a year. Eventually, after hearing my best friend extol the virtues of Trespasser, I finally broke down and pushed through. That final DLC is soooo good. Totally worth the time.
Austin suggested that he “gets” what games are about long before they formally finish. That’s often the big problem for me when it comes to solo experiences and a large part of why I often feel let down by the completion thereof.
I think it comes from the gating concept that the Metroidvania genre exemplifies. New mechanical elements allow a player to reflect and expand on old scenarios as well as explore new literal and narrative ground. The Metroid’s Gravity Suit doesn’t just free you of water’s effects; it completely alters the way that you interact with that subset of enemies. It makes old things new again. A lot of games don’t do this elegantly, even worse over the course of a franchise. Assassin’s Creed comes to mind: the mechanical changes from game to game stopped being able to expand on the narrative and formal gameplay in a satisfying (whatever that means) way until Black Flag upended the entire thing with ship combat. On the flip side of handling it well, you can see Arkham Knight add a car to everyone’s disinterest.
It seems to me that ACO didn’t exactly shift anything from a mechanical perspective, but instead gave us clear and “peak” AC mechanics, but successfully transplants it into a new and progressive narrative space. And that could be to blame for why it was easier to bounce off of it.
There’s an unease that I feel when I see people talk about Mario Odyssey and openly admit they have not completed it. Not that they aren’t “true gamers”, but are they reflecting on the totality of the experience? Austin’s right that there are amazing games out there right now as a pure mechanical evaluation, but if you did have to take them to their conclusion? I wonder how much of these experiences would sour at the end. I for one am eagerly awaiting that moment when we can take it all in and look at it. I seriously wonder if Nintendo has solved the problem of collectathon length that plagues the Ubi Open World Forumula.
I struggle with saying these reviews are incomplete. It is a problem unique to games where a game is mechanically complete (the I get it moment), but not narratively or formally complete. But a book or a movie is unfinished because there is simply only one way to finish it. Rarely are the multiple sides of completion finished all at once. Then there’s the entire competition side of games where they are narratively and formally complete almost instantly (in minutes for Street Fighter, in a half hour for MOBAs), but the mechanical side is built on the idea of never being complete.
Oh god, i wish i could play that DLC. Maybe I’ll restart it one day, but that boss fight in the hellish dimension (or whatever it was called) tired me out. I should of grinded in the hinterlands, despite everyone saying “no don’t do that”.
I always want to love systemic games like Hitman and Breath of the Wild, but the sheer number Ways to Do Things inevitably overwhelms me. No matter how I’m playing them, I never feel like I’m playing them “correctly.”
I know there’s no correct way to play games like that, and that it’s kind of the point to be able to do whatever you want. The games even do a good job of showing you all the possibilities. I just never feel like I have enough time or dexterity to get the in-game resources to make those possibilities happen.
I also feel the urge to play games my friends are playing (Battlefield 1) and end up disliking them quite a bit.
Had the exact same experience with both of these games, actually. Hit a point where I was basically trapped between an ill-timed save and an impassable boss on DA:I, so I dropped it and never looked back. I sadly had to drop Witcher 3 after making a considerable amount of progress in my first game when it originally came out, but then restarted it this year feeling completely refreshed and ready to take on the whole story. (Can’t believe I’ve avoided spoilers this long.) It’s daunting, of course, but the sheer quality of the world and the narrative keep me hooked. I guess that’s a glaring example of how personal investment in a powerful story can make all the difference in finishing a game.
As someone who plays a lot of continually updating and social games, it’s really difficult for me to play more than two or three major single-player releases a year. I put easily 500+ hours playing League of Legends and WoW with friends this year and probably another 30 hrs into Hearthstone. I’ve only completed Persona 5 and Horizon in 2017 and I’m currently playing Destiny 2 with my core group of friends. I’d love to play Divinity or Torment or grab a Switch to play Breath of the Wild but…LoL preseason is starting today and I’m feeling the pull again…
This has been a weird year for me completion wise. I’ve spent way more time playing online games with no story or no story worth engaging in than I have single player experiences and that has almost never been the case.
I try my best not to bounce off games and I rarely do, but my decision to drop a game is pretty simple when it happens. Am I enjoying the mechanics by themselves? If yes, keep playing regardless. If no, is the story worth putting up with the mechanics? If yes, keep playing. If no, drop it like a hot rock and move on.
It’s why I’ve spent so much time earlier this year playing Overwatch with friends, and why we’ve ultimately moved on to PUBG. Overwatch has a story I don’t care about and PUBG has none, but the act of playing and hanging out with friends was so compelling. It’s also why I’ve stuck with my play through of Danganronpa 1 & 2, games which have so many needless and frustrating mechanics I despise but really want to see the end of.
This is a problem I experienced with games for the past few years in full effect and I’m not sure exactly why, but the now almost standard practice or “market necessity” of adding things to do to make a game longer or just keep you occupied coupled with the spineless approach to storytelling of a lot of “AAA” games is probably a big factor. The concept of gameplay loop as seen in current design trends sends shivers down my spine.
I started playing Black Flag for the first time a few months ago and even when I was enjoying myself the moment the game block a main story mission because of the level of my ship I just uninstall it without regrets. Now I’m playing Unity and the joy I get from listening to a podcast about the French revolution and moving around the city, inside the buildings and reading the little historical comments is something that I know for sure the game as intended is incapable of giving me and I’m going to drop it soon. All the assassins, templars, abstergo, DNA thingy makes me cringe. Even Pray that in paper is my jam I quit halfway through because the prospect of 15 more hours of corridors, recycling for ammo and respawning monsters for some very light story at the ends of a fetch quest was increasingly unattractive the more a played.
Lately I look for story and gameplay in different games and some times skip games for story altogether. Maybe Ian Bogost was right …
To Austin’s question at the end of the article, I think I wind up dropping games when I start to feel like I’m simply going through the motions of the gameplay loops. When that feeling of progress and discovery starts to dissipate, or when the challenge and excitement starts to feel diluted, I have to ask myself why I’m still playing. There’s so much else in the world (games and otherwise) to experience, I don’t want to grind out a handful of hours of a video game just to say I completed it. I have to feel driven to move on, or otherwise feel compelled to stay in the world that’s been created.
Two of my go-to examples for this are INSIDE and Hyper Light Drifter. Both games are incredibly immersive and never seem to waste your time or make you feel like you’re spinning your wheels. They suck you in with atmosphere, story, gameplay, and that ineffable something extra that all great, intriguing games have. Not only do you care about the world and what’s happening in it, but you feel like you are constantly doing something or seeing something new as you uncover the story elements. Which is actually saying a lot for those two games given how generally vague their narratives are. Anyway, if I can’t get that feeling from a story-based game, I’ll most likely drop it without regrets.
I hate not finishing games. .But I play long games primarily and at some point you just want to move on, with some half-assed promise to yourself that you’ll come back and at least see the credits. I’m playing the original Divinity on PS4 and loving it, but it’s so damned long story-wise, and that doesn’t include crafting, inventory management, and all the other time sinks inherent with these types of RPGs. I’m probably 85-90 hours in and just got to yet another big map - I’ll keep playing but the siren song of Wolfenstein 2 is calling me - but I WILL NOT buy Wolf2 until Divinity is completed!
i’ve definitely had issues with this myself, and not just with 2017’s releases, but overall.
i noticed that for me the shift was gradual. i had fallen into a pattern of a need for quick grab 'n go gameplay. sitting down for a quick round of TF2 (and now Overwatch) was far easier than settling down to invest time in a JRPG, or anything else that demanded a save.
as my free time grew shorter as time went on i found myself playing less and less console stuff. i’ve been trying to get back to it lately with mixed results. i’ve been playing more but i feel like i have to carefully pick what i want to put time into. maybe it’s anxiety, idk, but it’s tough.
as for satisfaction and story like austin addresses, it’s definitely a mix of both that’s important. i need the game to be fun and have the story draw me in. sometimes it’s not 100% important (with mario odyssey i’d argue the “story” is discovering what each new world had to offer, so that did it for me.) i really wanted to like dragon age inquisition after hearing how much my friends love that game, especially the story element, but i could not get into the gameplay for the life of me and it ened up back in the unfinished pile.
one of the few games to scratch the itch all around was NieR: Automata. That game just flatout did it for me. The story, the gameplay, everything felt just right. Final Fantasy 15, too. Hopefully I can find more that do as I work my way through my massive backlog of stuff… great piece, Austin!
But but… then people will skip funbucks and lootboxes completely in singleplayer games.
Games need something similar to editing to trim the fat. Intent behind pacing and progression is something criminally underused that could go a long way to solve this, it’s always there to keep your lizard brain engaged and little else. Maybe is too difficult or funbucks.
I’m glad I read this, because I’ve been having the same situation with most of my games. Normally I finish them all, however for some reason since I have the PS4, it’s been a tendency with not finishing my games even though I am that type of gamer that always looks to get to end of any game.
I’m big fan of MGS series and the Phantom Pain was the first game I just stopped playing, same as Uncharted 4, even with Horizon. Game that I felt in love just because of the gameplay and story. FFXV also a follower of the series but I just left them half way.
Never happened this to me before, I’m kinda waiting to have some time where I can retake those unfinished business. Nonetheless it is intriguing why we are having this reaction with games we care about.