No I’m not talking about dancing provocatively with someone in a club I’m talking about video games and the alarming way they now seem to rely on, well not much game at all and simply require repetition.
Something has happened to me since the launch of the original Destiny. Destiny was the first game I had played where I had to grind, work hard for my loot and even harder to level up. This generally involved playing the same missions, strikes or crucible matches over and over and over and over again. Even then I still hadn’t levelled up sufficiently enough. For what exactly I’m still unsure.
At the time I didn’t mind so much, Destiny was a great game and offered lots of space-faring adventuring which struck a chord with the inner Sci-Fi nerd in me. The worlds that had been created were wonderful, the creatures imaginative but most of all the shooting was oh so satisfying. Playing the same Strike over and over with a band of people you didn’t know was OK because you knew you were getting some precious XP and hopefully more powerful weapons or armour and you knew that eventually, you’ll be a powerful bad ass and will be able to defeat Phogoth a little easier. But that can’t be the overall goal, can it?
Since then I have noticed that more and more games are using this mechanic. Just get gamers to do the same thing over and over again like monotonous robots knowing they will be happy do so in the desperate hope that they will unlock the next tier of weaponry or characters or whatever it is the game is offering. It’s awful.
Take Destiny 2. When it was announced I was happy, I enjoyed the first game and was ready to pre-order. Then I had a thought – I would have to grind my way through this game again. Take away some of the spit and polish, it’s exactly the same game as the original Destiny. The thought of playing the same Strike over and over bought me out in a cold sweat. Wasting more precious hours in my day doing the same thing, just to get a piece of armour or a weapon. I was right. It turned out, that, once the short story had finished, the rest my time in Destiny 2 along with many others was spent just hanging around a flag waiting for a public event to start just to get XP. I found myself doing the same public event again and again. And then fast travelling to the next Public Event, and then the next and so on. That’s not gaming. That’s monotony disguised as a game. Levelling up took so long, in the end, I just gave up and haven’t touched it since, and I don’t think I will.
And now Bungie are being a bit sneaky. Recently gamers had discovered some hidden code that constrained progress towards your next free loot box-style Bright Engram. Bungie kindly removed the code after some uproar but in the process, they had quietly doubled the amount of XP needed to level up. Doubled it!! It took me long enough time just to get to a half decent level. I dread to think how much grinding I would have to do to get any further.
It’s not just Destiny either, look at the uproar with Battlefront II. Either you pay the mighty rich EA a heck of a lot of money (after the initial cost of the game of course) to unlock all the characters or you have to grind your way through the game and unlock them. Right up to launch if you wanted everything, it would mean you would have to do the same thing for 4528 hours. That’s 188 days of none stop gaming, repeating the same task or battle or whatever it is for 188 days. It’s bullshit.
This is not why I got into gaming. I get that levelling up is necessary for certain games. But why can’t it be part of the adventure? Elder Scrolls and Fallout all needed your character to level up, to get better so you can get further, and fighter tougher creatures but it was all hidden within the game, which made it more exciting, interesting and less mundane. Hell, even Zelda required levelling up to progress. But to level up you had to solve a puzzle filled dungeon and when you finally defeated the boss, you got a chest and the anticipation (and music) that played as you opened the chest was palpable. Always excited as to what you’ll get next, A bow? a boomerang? A glove that allowed you to pick up rocks? It was exciting and opened up previously inaccessible areas and I didn’t have to sit there for hours grinding out fight after fight.
Final Fantasy games have always been stat happy XP fests, but all nicely hidden and blended within the game itself so you don’t notice it so much. There was also an end-game to work towards, a goal to strive for, and ending to the story. Plus when you obtained the awesome Summons, you’ll smile and be thankful you levelled up when you unleash the mighty Ifrit for the first time. It was a joy. There were no loot crates or hours of grinding, no in-app purchases. It was just a video game. And that’s what I miss.
It’s not just big console or PC games either. Mobile games, which you could argue started this whole in-app purchase thing are terrible. Transformers: Earth Wars is the worst example of grinding I have seen. The game makes you grind and grind for a crystal, once you get this gem, you hope to get a new Transformer to add to your collection but more often than not you get a duplicate! All that grinding for nothing. All those hours spent fighting the same battle to get no reward. If, like me, you’re stupid enough to fork out £4.99 for a specific character (Cliff Jumper in this case) you expect to get Cliff Jumper when you open the crystal, but nope. That’s not even guaranteed even though you purchased that character specific crystal. So if I want a certain character I would have to grind for what seems like an eternity in the hope that the games algorithm randomly coughs it up.
Grinding and levelling up can be seen as either a con (if you’re paying), or a lazy way for developers to advertise that the game is longer than it actually is. I mean if you take Destiny how long does it actually take to finish the story? Not long at all. The crux of the game is after the game has finished, The grind so you can level up your character. But for what? Why am I spending hours levelling up my character when there is no real reason to do so, There is no almighty boss fight at the end, Having the ultimate weapon has no real value. You don’t get a “you’re the best gamer ever in the world” medal. It just goes on and on. The Crucible takes away any advantages you have built up so it’s literally pointless. All it does is seem to make the grinding easier as you can now battle the same re-spawning enemies over again but with a better gun.
I love Star Wars and the single player campaign is something I’ve wanted for so long. But I won’t be buying it. The story won’t take long to finish and I can’t be paying for something only to have to pay on top of my initial purchase just to get to play Luke or Darth Vader. I certainly don’t have over 4,000 spare hours to unlock them all. I learned my lesson in the first game. Spawn, die, spawn, die ad infinitum. It was an awful gaming experience and I paid money for that bullshit. Not anymore. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.
Maybe I was insane then.