I appreciate companies like Nintendo, Bethesda, From Software, and 2k Studios. Not every game has to be as ruthless and unforgiving as Dark Souls, but it’s still nice to be able to struggle towards a goal and feel a genuine sense of accomplishment and relief once you’ve made it to that goal. There’s a certain lack of that feeling when you complete an objective that wasn’t particularly challenging, especially if the game’s been building it up to be the most button-mashing, strategy-testing experience you’ll ever have. It’s like approaching a difficult-looking math problem, only to find that the solution to the problem is ridiculously simple. If you like math, the loss of a challenge is going to feel pretty underwhelming.
As much as I loved Dragon Age: Inquisition, I finally had to admit to myself a few months ago that there was something completely missing from the game. A lot of somethings, to be completely honest. In Dragon Age: Origins, it was up to the player to make sure everyone was properly dressed in the right armor, had the right weapon, and had learned the right skills to make them as effective as possible. If you could figure out how to build a medium-armor wearing mage, there was nothing stopping you except the effectiveness of your skills and how you chose to build that character. People had to be positioned appropriately, and the boss fights were the right balance of difficulty depending on who you were fighting. You sure as hell weren’t going to be succeeding in the final boss fight if you weren’t prepared.
I was three levels lower than what was recommended for the final boss of Inquisition, and still managed to blow straight through it without too much trouble at all. Characters are locked into class-based armors, and since they took out the character stat system, all you have to worry about is what kind of armor they’re wearing. Even in combat, you’re pretty much safe to leave them to do whatever they want with a couple of behavioral tweaks – a huge change from Origins’ mandatory micromanagement in some fights. At a certain level, nuking everything down becomes commonplace, leaving you stranded without that familiar ‘epic battle’ feeling at the end of it all. They even took healing spells out, so as long as you’ve got a bag full of health potions, you’re pretty well equipped to handle anything.
Unfortunately, World of Warcraft is also starting to suffer the same “easy mode” fate. I’m not about to crow “Vanilla WoW was better!” at the top of my lungs (which, seeing as I never played it, would be somewhat embarrassing), but Warlords of Draenor drastically simplified the game, removing and reworking what kept a lot of people coming back. Instead of going out and hunting down your crafting materials, you put in work orders for them at your garrison, which sounds cool on paper, but gets boring much faster than you’d think. Garrisons didn’t kill the satisfaction of crafting and gear acquisition, but it did simplify the process enough that people were logging in, doing a circle around their garrisons, and logging off. You could make the argument that there’s nothing stopping people from doing these things the usual way, but ultimately, garrison dailies and chores were far more efficient. The novelty of leveling a new character to 100 kind of wears off quickly when you realize there’s not much to look forward to beyond maintaining an extra garrison.
What’s interesting is that while the AAA companies seem to be gravitating more toward simpler designs, the mechanics of most indie games such as Risk of Rain and Five Nights at Freddy’s imitate the difficulty level of older games, requiring more strategy and thought than your average RPG or shooter.
So why the dumbed down mechanics, removal of game-changing features, and the aversion towards complexity?
One answer is that people are becoming far less tolerant of “hard” games, preferring to just blow through content quickly and move on to the next title without a great number of stumbling blocks along the way. Even EA’s chief creative officer thinks games these days are too difficult, claiming that the average player spends about two hours trying to learn the game they’re playing. I’ll go ahead and call bullshit on that claim – there’s no game out there, save for Dark Souls, that has such a huge learning curve. With mandatory tutorials coming back into style, it really isn’t that hard to pick up the mechanics and controls of a new game.
Another answer is the fact that this is a new generation of gamers – because if you talk to any gamer between 14-17 years old, they probably came in during a point where most of the annoyances we grew up with were getting removed or had been eliminated entirely. Back in our day, we had to earn our right to go to bed by fighting our way to a save point! We spent as much time as was needed to find the Triforce of Power and every single one of those stupid fairy caves. We didn’t have any newfangled cheat codes – we caught and trained our Pokemon, uphill in the snow both ways! And we were grateful!
There really isn’t a ‘right’ answer to the question of why games are getting oversimplified with each passing year. It’s a result of a number of factors, some of which have roots in the gaming companies themselves. The game devs don’t always get to follow their vision to the letter – if the big guys with the money decide something can’t happen, it won’t. Unfortunately, as players, we won’t know exactly what happens during the decision-making process. All we have is our money and our reviews, which do say a lot in the gaming industry.
What do you think?