The Diversity We’ve Lost (Darksiders and the Gaming Industry)

Yesterday, my friend brought Darksiders 2 over for me to try out, thinking I’d like it. And he has good taste! It’s now on my to-buy list, after I play the first game. For me, the game hearkens back to the PS2 era, where games held more of a unique flare to them.

I only played the first few hours of Darksiders 2, but it was brilliant. That game is an intertextual haven for other genres, and it pulls it off flawlessly, without falling into the trap of trying to be too many things at once. It has the combat of Devil May Cry, the dungeons and lock-on combat of Legend of Zelda, the loot system of games like Dark Souls and Diablo; galloping through open fields and finding gigantic bosses is reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus. It even has a portal gun, if my friend is to be believed. And it does this all without feeling like it’s stealing from other games, or being unoriginal; it’s taking the best of other genres and blending them into the most delicious smoothie you’ve ever tasted. Unless you don’t like smoothies, in which case you’re like me, and we should head for the milkshakes immediately. And if you don’t like milkshake? Well, you’re beyond saving.

This game is more than just a love letter to the gaming universe, however. It has its own unique plot involving the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, multiple realms of existence connected through one world tree, that kind of thing. Similarly to its gameplay, its story takes influences from all kinds of places, whilst still making it unique. They have dwarves who are huge and built like tanks! Like I said, I only played around in the game for a few hours so I can’t exactly do a review on it as such, but even within the first few hours I was able to identify the game’s shining features.

And the art design! That is how you do art design. Not just the weapons you wield, but the very world around you is just delicious. From the vibrant green fields to the luminescent lava pools, this game will make your eyes pop out with happiness. And I was playing this on a PS3!

When I mentioned the PS2 era of gaming earlier, I was talking about how diverse the game library was for that system. Sure, you had your Need for Speeds and FIFAs, and Call of Duty was still making its baby steps towards competitive multiplayer… on console, anyway. But then you had Motor Mayhem. And Ratchet and Clank. You had Jak and Daxter transition into Jak 2 of all things, you had RC Revenge and Fur Fighters and Shadow of the Colossus, you had Wipeout and Smash Cars and you had god damn Road Trip Adventure, a game which I will surely cover in the future; it didn’t know whether to be Penny Racer or an RPG. And, hell, does anyone remember Herdy Gerdy?!

I’m not discounting the games we have today. Borderlands was a brilliant mesh of gaming genres. But it was an FPS. And in my eyes at least, Destiny is a different flavour of Borderlands, with a little bit of Halo mixed in there, asking me to buy ridiculous emotes as opposed to unnecessary character skins. And these games are all first person shooters. When I was a child, I used to read gaming magazines – my favourite was Games Master – and I used to enjoy reading through the many varieties of upcoming games that looked interesting and fun, and new. And I remember buying one of those gaming magazines for the first time since the 360 and PS3 came out, a few years after, and being disappointed that everything had descended into gritty shooters. Although the grittiness, to be fair, is something we seem to finally be leaving behind, as can be seen from the transition between Fallout 3 to Fallout 4, between CoD: World at War to CoD: Advanced Warfare.

Indie titles have been a step back towards this era of gameplay, and it’s something that’s really taken off in the last four or five years. We’ve had Bastion, for example. We’ve had Super Meat Boy, we’ve had The Binding of Isaac, we’ve had Trine. But these games are noticeably smaller in size, which is understandable given the limitations of independent resources and the lack of funding. When are we going to see an influx of unique games on the scale of Okamiden?

Probably not any time soon. Much as I’m sure we all hate to admit it, the gaming industry is an absolute mess right now. We’ve got DLC and microtransactions being enforced by corporate greed, ruining the integrity of the gameplay; we’ve got an oversaturation of half-baked indie titles burying truly talented games, and early access allowing developers to lose motivation after recieving a released game’s worth of money for an unfinished product; we have publishers rushing out titles before they’re finished, leading to broken and buggy gameplay.  The free-to-play model has leaked off of phones and into our consoles and computers, providing the most expensive, paywall-ridden games to date. We’re in a new age of online discussion and vocal minorities, harassing developers to make changes to their upcoming games which show of overly ambitious, unique changes that we don’t like because we’re already invested in the series. Seriously, never has game development been so public to its consumers, and people now more than ever are falling prey to the trap of judging a game many many months before it has been polished and balanced into its final release. And the developers understand this, but the pure visceral nature of community backlash is what forces them to change things.

But as long as games like Darksiders 2 can exist, there’s hope. And it’s not all bad; there are new indie titles which are brilliant, and early access games which have been a huge success. Hell, once in a blue moon we may even see a triple-A title like Darksiders emerge. It’s just a vastly different gaming world to the one we’ve known before, and whilst modern games shouldn’t be discounted for their progress in furthering entertaining gameplay, I, personally, would certainly welcome some miraculous transformation back into the diversity of the PS2 and previous consoles.

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Business Poison

The state of the video game industry, as many of us are most likely aware, has become all too… well, messy, for lack of a better term. And this is because somewhere along the line (I’m going with around 2006/7), business heads took a look at the gaming industry and said, “Blimey, hasn’t this gotten rather popular. Let’s make some money out of this.”

From then came an influx of a new part of gaming called DLC, wherein gamers could pay for additional content within the game. And initially, I don’t believe this was a bad thing, because DLC was treated like a kind of alternative to expansion packs; we got more Fallout 3 content, for example, more Bioshock Infinite. The reason this was good is because it wasn’t simply businessmen saying “Make us more money out of your game”, but “Make more of your game so we can get more money”.

This became more and more exploitable, however. The real change I began noticing was when Halo and Call of Duty map packs came out; they seemed horrendously overpriced to me. And let’s be honest, they were, and still are. I don’t want to pay £30 for a couple of new Zombies maps which you could have just included with the base game (which sorely needed more Zombies maps in the first place). DLC went on to become more (or, technically, less) than expansions. Sometimes you could buy an extra car pack, or a skin pack, which was cool because it wasn’t necessary to own them. The problem was that DLC was becoming more and more like the “addon” content which it is today.

And then there’s in-game currency and pay-to-win. Remember the days when you could look up a cheat code to get more money in GTA: San Andreas? I’ll hand it to Rockstar, they did add cheats to GTA V. But paying real money for GTA money in Grand Theft Auto Online is where it begins to bother me. It’s not one of the more extreme examples I could use, but it’s definitely a sign of what’s happening:

Corporate heads are pressuring developers into changing the fundamental experience of the game in order to create more opportunities for microtransactional shortcuts, where once the player could simply have gone and looked up a cheat code.

Furthermore, the issue we’re seeing more and more in this generation of consoles is rushed games. I’m not going to lie, I’m looking specifically at Ubisoft for this. Assassin’s Creed Unity is the elephant in the room so let’s address that first. From what I’ve heard (as I’ve not played the game myself), once you get past the bugs and glitches and hideously giant “micro”transactions, there lies a decent Assassin’s Creed game. And that tells me that game’s actual developers put a lot of hard work into making this game as good as possible. It’s fairly easy to see that Ubisoft rushed this game out the door so they could make money quickly, as opposed to letting the developers fully polish the game.

It’s always good to be fair with an argument and not avoid the games you love, so let’s do that: World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, despite being a fantastic game, had an awful launch. Diablo 3 required at least a year of patching before it was enjoyable. And as much as I hate to say it, the Ratchet and Clank HD Collection feels like it hasn’t been through QA at all, which adds to the argument that these HD re-releases of games are just more moneyheads mining for gold.

So, how do we fix this? I’ll repeat popular Youtuber TotalBiscuit’s advice: Stop pre-ordering games. The moment you pay for a game before it’s finished being developed, the corporate moneybags have no reason not to rush the game out without fully polishing it into the best experience it can be. Why? Because you’ve already given them your money. Wait until the game releases, and if it’s a buggy mess, don’t buy it. If these business-heads can only understand feedback in money, we’ll give them feedback in money. And perhaps then they’ll stop smothering the game developers and give them the space to make the games we love. Same goes for microtransactions; stop buying them, and they’ll stop being seen as effective.

Anyway, apologies for my first post on here being a negative one. I thought I’d better get that this-gaming-industry-has-gone-to-shit post out of the way so we can discuss more cheerful matters. Watch this space!