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Why Games Are Getting Oversimplified

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

About Deborah Crocker

Deborah is a 22 year old semi-hermit currently plodding through her senior year of college and getting her feet wet in game journalism. She has a somewhat unhealthy obsession with high fantasy, video games, novels, and Elder Scrolls. When she’s not in front of a screen, she enjoys singing and a bit of beading. She’s also currently on the hunt for the restaurant with the best cheeseburger.

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  • Richard Ranft

    Yup – games are becoming interactive movies.

  • Frank S

    The game’s difficulty often closes the gap nicely. I also blew through DAI on normal, but working my way through on Insanity is definitely giving me a run for my money. I haven’t grinded this hard for above-average equipment since Monster Hunter on PS2.

  • Joseph badham

    Being a 15-year old gamer, i agree that many troubles were removed for us. But being brought up by my father on horror has given me a love for hard, classic games …. Like Resident Evil 2, or Bioshock, and rarely touch normal or easy.

  • Keith Sirak

    I grew up with the original Nintendo games and most games now are easier in so many ways. I remember how hard it was getting through some of the first Mario games and don’t get me started on Metroid. I actually enjoy some of that you only get so many tries to beat the game before you have to start all over. I mean that was the Fun of Super Ghouls and Ghost knowing you could meet the challenge and succeed, something that is too easy to finish gets boring.

  • Fox

    Only SINLE-PLAYER games are getting dumbed-down.
    You should play DOTA or some DOTA clone like League of Legends. I played it for 2 years and barely scratched the surface. I quit because I got so sick of how complicated that game was.

    • J Kurayami

      That’s because it’s not AI, it’s players. If dragon age divinity had online PVP, it would be more difficult than the AI battles.

    • Lazer Bot

      league of legends isn’t really hard. what makes the game hard at times is mostly bullshit really and again not very complicated actually. neither dota or league.

  • Lazer Bot

    agreed, i haven’t struggled on a game for a legit reason in a long time and i don’t call a badguy that can hit you in one shot a legit reason, those are bullshit odds. when a game is crazy difficult for a real reason then its good stuff. they think the human race can’t finger out complicated things and make easy ways to figure everything out or just tell you themselves and baby the player through to the very end. just look at the oot zelda remake with the mask thing they added to tell you how to do everything. they did it on majora’s mask to. which was freaking retarded. and of course the countless games out there that doesn’t even make me break a sweat in beating. or a game that can be beat in one day like my brother did with halo 2. yeah, a good game should feel satisfying when beat it, challenging and a struggle to progress. he’s right and at this point its obvious the gaming industry is getting lazy and being like Disney just drying to milk all the money they can off of people and aren’t really into making games like that use to. great another thing greed is slowly ruining. yeah.

  • R.Tyler

    I really don’t mind games being easy or hard. I could give a **** about difficulty I just want a game to be fun. They’re are times where that satisfaction of beating a really difficult boss is an amazing feeling. Other times you just want messing around with friends on a casual game like Mario Party. I was playing GTA online at a friends house and had hours of fun. It wasn’t difficult all we did was screw around and blow each other up. It had nothing to do with difficulty. I mean besides, if every game is easy to you then just start every game on the hardest difficulty.

  • Ruku Kirkmusprime

    A successful video game needs 3 very important things. Great story, great controls/ camera angles, and lastly high replay value. Take the Uncharted series as an example. The controls are amazing and the replay value is as high as it gets but most of all is the story; it’s a movie onto it’s self that you get to play. Gears of War watch any action movie and have this game at home and you will want to pick it up and play. If you watch a movie, anime, cartoon, TV show and afterwards you need to play a certain game then that games is…..

  • Logan Tyler Lindon

    and this is why dark souls is by farm my favorite game, i have literally beaten certain bosses a hundred times or more because the difficulty of the game, knowing that any wrong move could leave you at 0 health is just so much fun. and dark souls and their other games, is the only game that gives me that feeling of “holy shit how did i do that?”.

  • GWalcott

    The greatest moment in video game history is the day Super Mario 2 came out

  • Robert J Gilbert

    I agree completely I love challenging games or games where you have to grind to be good not pay your way to the top. Dark souls is one of my favorite game franchises and I would say we need more games like dark souls 1 & 2.