Content of the article: "My experiences with pacing and mixing it up in video games feat. Dishonored, Doom 16, and Destiny 2"
Yeah 3 D-named games in the title, sorry.
This kinda came up in a post I made a while ago and after thinking about it more, I wanted to make a whole post. It got real long real fast so maybe bear with me? If you feel like it? I've been playing Dishonored and D2 again lately so I wanted to share my thoughts about this specific issue I've noticed.
The TL;DR is: if a game wants to do more than one thing well, there should be overlap in the skills required to do those things.
I'm gonna start with what I consider a good example of this, if one of the more common ones: Dishonored (specifically the first one). For those of you who haven't played it, Dishonored's core gameplay loop revolves around choosing between stealth and open combat in linear-but-open levels given a variety of tools and powers. To oversimplify, the game has three mechanical categories: combat, stealth, and movement. At most points in the game, you generally have the option to use any combination of these three things. You can sneak, fight, run through, fight while running, sneak while running, or sneakily kill everyone while running. The game reacts differently depending on which you choose, but that's not super important here. What's important is that all these systems comingle no matter how you play. You HAVE to use the game's semi-unique movement in order to be effective in stealth or combat, so the movement is a glue that holds them together.
I understand that Dishonored is in a somewhat unique position here, being a pretty short game that's famous for being tightly designed. Not every studio has the budget or time to pull that off and it's a lot to ask publishers to invest so much into such a short, one-time purchase these days, but there are some lessons they could learn. Dishonored really does two things: stealth and combat. It's up to you to break up the pace of the game between those two, but when you do, there's the movement holding them together thematically. You can't be good at either without a handle on movement.
To me, at least, this keeps Dishonored from getting stale. I've played the game like 10 or 11 times and I still like it, but that's kinda my problem. It means that at any point in the game, you're able to take your skills in one aspect and switch to another aspect with a decent head start. If I'm halfway through and decide "fuck combat, I'mma be stealthy", I'm already warmed up for that. I'm doing something else, but playing the same game.
In Doom 16, I'd argue there are two components: combat and collectibles. The issue here arises because it's like 95% combat, 5% collectibles. The game kinda wants to be good at both, but it really dumped all its mojo into combat (to pretty great effect, I should add). What this means is that the game is just a series of combat arenas–again, something it does well. However, it also asks you to search out secrets and collectibles, meaning you have 5% of the game that has very little overlap with the rest. In Doom 16, collectibles don't necessarily require you to exercise your mastery of the game's other aspects (combat); they just need you to walk around and jump a bit.
I refuse to be misunderstood here as I so often am: this does not cripple the game. It's nothing more than a minor nit to pick. But it does create what I consider a bad change of pace. Yes, the game's movement is critical in combat, but the actual movement skills you use in combat aren't really relevant in exploration. I understand Eternal fixes this, which sounds nice. In Doom 16, though, when you finish a combat arena and want to explore, your heart rate drops to resting and you start playing a different game. The skills you use in combat just aren't necessary. This means that Doom 16 doesn't really HAVE changes of pace. If you play the game in what I consider the most fun way, you nearly never stop shooting and are almost constantly either in a fight or ten seconds away from one. I personally get burnt out from this, but that's a me problem; the game handles it well.
The problem is that there's always that tug to explore–the game sorta always dangles this fruit of secrets and little collectibles around the map in front of you, saying "psst if you backtrack to this section there's a figurine". You can absolutely ignore that tug, but its existence makes the game feel just a tiny bit weird. It means you have to self-impose your pacing.
Which brings me to Destiny 2, a very different example but one that still applies. I have this conversation about live-service games about twice a month, so why not bump that number up here? A game that has constant updates with new content is a very different beast from a contained single-player experience. However, I think Destiny 2 is a good example when compared to these two games. It's such a huge game that it can't even afford to only do one thing like Doom, so it has no choice but to mix in all these other systems.
If you're unfamiliar with Destiny, you should know that one of its biggest claims to fame is in its secrets, puzzles, and secret puzzles. There's a particular location in Destiny 2, the Dreaming City, that is famously full of secrets, with tiny and massive secrets hidden all across the map with no guidance toward unlocking or accessing them. Another thing you should know is that one of its most praised systems is its gunplay.
So Destiny's approach to changes of pace is to put its gunplay in everything. Nearly every encounter or secret involves shooting stuff. You shoot stuff in different orders, you kill enemies in certain ways, you use a particular gun on a particular target… the list goes on. I don't think this works as well as Dishonored, just by nature of the games' scopes, but Destiny 2 has the same mentality. Everything you do is centered around shooting, much like how everything in Dishonored is centered around the movement. Again, it's not the same thing or on the same scale, but in my opinion, what gives Destiny 2 its appeal after several hundred hours is that no matter what you do, you're using the same skill: gunplay. To be honest I only included D2 because of these 3 games, I know the most about it, but now that I've written my thoughts down I think it helps.
I don't know if this post still makes sense to be honest but I hope it fits here. I also want to address one point that's come up when I talked about this before, which is that first person shooters almost always break pace with platforming. I'm gonna be honest, I kinda get sick of that. I love platforming FPSs in nearly all their forms, but I also feel like most games that break up their pace well do something besides platforming for it. I'm not very good at game ideas, so I don't have any suggestions for other ways to change pace, but I hope there are developers out there who have it down already.
Sorry this got so long but I feel like I had a lot of nonsense to slap on the screen. What games have you played that manage to do multiple things well and how did they pull it off?
- I was playing Vanquish and Doom 16 a bit ago and had an epiphany about “octane shooters”
- What games should I buy and why?
- Seven: The Days Long Gone. An isometric open world Dishonored, of sorts
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