Content of the article: "Why don’t more games focus on their core concepts and mechanics?"
I play a lot of video games, mostly AA and AAA, and I continually find myself feeling let down by a games 'core' gameplay. In shorter games (<20 hours) this isn't so bad but as games get longer these problems just start to exacerbate themselves. It's almost as if games feel the need to clutter up their mechanics to add variety or otherwise simply give up on polishing them at about the 90% mark. Most often when I say 'core' gameplay I'm referring to combat but that is not the only thing I'm talking about here.
Uncharted (and many open world games) – Climbing
When did we give up on climbing in open world games? When was it decided that every open world game is going to require you to spend 20+ hours of a 40+ hour adventure dangling from a cliff and that the best way to spend that time revolves entirely (100% entirely with almost zero variation) of looking for a rock that's a different color than most other rocks to signify that you can climb over to it?
I swear to god the first AC came out and everyone just decided that that was peak climbing. Why hasn't this improved in the last 13 years? I've been playing through Uncharted 4 recently and I definitely feel like I'm spending the majority of my time dangling from cliffs looking for white ledges. I imagine that if anyone ever asked Drake how he found so many ancient treasures he would answer by saying that he simply followed the white shit. They added a grappling hook, which is great, but as part of the climbing/exploration it essentially equates to a QTE every 5 minutes. Getting Over It is a more engaging climbing game because it actually has you doing things to climb rather than just holding a stick in a random direction and watching what amounts to a cutscene of your character leaping around like a jackass.
Death Stranding – Exploration
I fucking love the core mechanics of Death Stranding. Balancing yourself and exploring the world is great. Building stuff to make your journey better is great. If that was the game I would probably have played it for 100+ hours with a smile on my face. It was a core mechanic that was damn well near perfected.
Then they added a shitty stealth mechanic to it and topped it off with one of the most unrewarding combat systems I've ever experienced in a game. These things don't need to be in the game at all and certainly not nearly as much as they actually are. They don't fit and they are not the main draw of the game – they are in the way of the main draw of the game. They actively block you from enjoying what is good about the game. Combat is so incongruent with the game that when a fight starts it has random ass phantoms appear and throw you weapons because they know you don't care enough to have any with you.
Pizza delivery is more of a competent final boss in that game because it at least fits in with the concept of the game that you're playing than fighting a big tentacle faced monster with infinite rockets.
Mass Effect/KOTOR/Telltale games/etc. – Choice and Morality
While I personally enjoy the gameplay of KOTOR I think most people would agree that it's not the main draw of those games – you play it for the story and the ability to impact that story. Mass Effect, if not for the characters and your ability to interact with them, would be remembered as the most generic third person shooter of all time. Then you get into the narrative adventures in telltale games and so many other games that try to do similar things.
And these almost always wind up so shallow. Choices almost always wind up having the same results or otherwise never really have any major impact. You can play through all of KOTOR as space hitler and decide to be a good guy at the end and the game just gives you a thumbs up. In Mass Effect you play through three games making all these choices and when you get to the end they can't decide what it means so they just translate those choices into a point system and then says, "Wow, look at how many points you got!!!"
These games almost never wind up satisfying and, when they do, it's usually undone by a second play-through where the cracks start to show and you realize that you never actually made a choice – you were just tricked into thinking you did. Why aren't the formulas for these types of games evolving? If decision making is a core draw of your game – narrative impact derived from player agency – why isn't it improving?
NOTE: I do plan on playing through Disco Elysium at some point because it sounds amazing but it also sounds… involved and I want to be able to properly focus on it when I get around to it.
Assassins Creed – Stealth
This mechanic is so fucking tired that the makers of the Assassins Creed series seem to have just given up on it. They mastered hiding in grass and stabbing people without their friends 6 feet away noticing, it spread to every other fucking game with a stealth element in the world, and they said, "Cool, that's done. Now what else can we add to our games?"
Don't get me wrong – there's other types of Stealth besides 'tall grass makes man invisible' but it all comes down to the same boring, tired principles. Nobody can see you when you're poking your entire fucking head around a corner. Nobody cares when their friend fucking dies (it was just the wind).
Stealth as a gameplay concept, has never been perfected, but there's just no real improvements being done any more. Everyone has just given up. Sometimes a game will come out and it'll do something 'fun' like give you a firecracker to lure people into specific locations but these don't ever really do much of anything.
Ghost of Tsushima – Combat
This game has a lot of stuff in it but I'm going to focus, broadly, on combat for a moment. The game has three types of combat. Duels, standoffs, and main. What is crazy to me is that duels feel like the 'main' combat system in the game. They're solid with tight controls, the camera focuses where it needs to focus, you can't cheese them with tools, you don't have to worry about changing your stance or swapping tools, or anhything else. It's tight, solid, consistent gameplay. And it's barely a fraction of the combat the game offers.
Standoffs are consistent but fairly boring. You couldn't make an entire game revolve entirely around this mechanic but I think it pairs somewhat nicely as a small addition. It doesn't detract from anything and it's also completely optional. The only problems I've had with these is that sometimes the camera will go to an angle where you literally can't see what's happening. I've had my character on the opposite side of a wall from me and there's nothing I can do about it.
And then there's the combat you use for most of the game. I feel like they took the solid concepts they had from the duels and just started shoving random shit in. I'm about 20 hours into the game and I have 4 stances, ranged weapons, 'quick' weapons, explosives, and more. The camera is nearly the worst enemy, second only to the games targeting system. The targeting is painful – Jin is trying to duel one person at a time because that's what the actual mechanic is so his attacks will completely ignore people the game doesn't think you're targeting. In concept it's not bad because you'll simply point the stick in the direction of the enemy you want but you constantly will be attacking 'past' people or getting thrown off because an enemy will move near where your desired target is and the game will switch your target for you. I would call the combat bad if not for the fact that I have so many options for how to completely cheese it that I don't have to bother worrying about it.
The reason that this game comes to mind for me in regards to this conversation is because it actually baffles me that they wrote such a consistent combat engine and then just cluttered it up with a bunch of stuff that isn't refined. In a lot of games combat mechanics are cluttered or messy and lack refinement but in this it actually feels like they refined it and then added a bunch of stuff on top.
Soulsborne through Sekiro – Refinement
As is the tradition of modern gameplay discussion I'm going to suck the dick of FROM software for a moment. I honestly love the Soulsborne games and have always felt like the consistency of the combat in the Souls games is a large part of what appeals about them. It's not a complex system – but it is a refined system. It gets messy when you allow people to choose things like what weapons to use or how they distribute their stats but it all stays mostly the same. Up until the point where casters become an option of course – that completely breaks the game. Honestly – I played through DS3 recently and played as a mage for the first time (well over 500, possibly 1000+, hours in this series and I'd never tried a high INT caster before) and suddenly I realized how busted the combat can be. And then there's the multiplayer aspects – the combat system is designed for 1 player but it allows you to summon other players and completely bust the world apart.
Bloodborne refined this by removing a lot of the different options, limiting the player to fewer weapons and fewer 'spell' type options while keeping the focus on tight controls and solid gameplay.
And then you have Sekiro – a game which strips away almost all the choices and options that cluttered up the combat mechanics. It locks you down to a specific weapon and a small selection of tools that is handled in an almost sterile way. There's no multiplayer to break things up, there's no player variety allowing some people to use shields while others use iframes to avoid damage. It allows the entirety of the game to be revolve entirely around a solid gameplay mechanic that ensure an engaging and consistent experience. Sekiro plays like a truly 'refined' evolution of the series. I personally wish it hadn't focused so much on refining the parry mechanics because I'm terrible at them but that's not really the point.
Game mechanics often lack refinement or clutter themselves up by adding conflicting mechanics that aren't properly fleshed out. If a game is going to be a stealth game why can't it focus on stealth instead of making 90% of a stealth engine then giving up on making a half assed combat engine. If a game has a solid gameplay loop – why hide it behind mechanics that aren't fun, engaging, or well designed?
- What are overused gaming elements/mechanics that you wish are majorly refined, or completely removed in future games?
- Played Breath of the Wild for 40 hours. It’s not amazing.
- A genuine question regarding TLOU Part II NOT related to the story
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