Having Too Much To Do

It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Artificially extending the existing content of video games to lengthen the overall experience is nothing new, and seems to be increasingly prevalent in some modern releases. But it doesn’t really add anything to the player experience. It’s not satisfying having to sit through repeated content over and over again, nor does it feel particularly engaging to continually grind to no discernible end. Having numerous mechanics to understand can be enjoyable, though. It just depends on how these are presented to players, and how natural it feels to interact with them on a regular basis.

It should never feel particularly forced.

Which it usually does. Whether it’s a tedious repeatable (or daily) quest that offers a paltry reward, or a dungeon that presents no inherent challenge but is integral to your eventual success. There are so many awful ways to do it. But there are some video games that have done it really well.

I’ve recently been playing Assassin’s Creed Origins and I’ve been continually surprised by how wonderful the overall experience is. Hundreds of question marks litter the world map signifying new cities to discover, tombs to explore, war elephants to challenge, and much more. You could also partake in gladiatorial combat in two different arenas, or race for glory in the Hippodrome. Not to mention there’s a compelling main campaign to follow. Something I need to remind myself of when I’m working through the absurd amount of content that there is. Yet I’ve not once abandoned an optional objective because I’ve grown tired of it. It’s slightly ludicrous how enthralling I find exploring the vast sands of Egypt to be. I also can’t wait to sail to Thebes and experience the majesty of the otherworldly The Curse of the Pharaohs DLC.

Found a bowling alley. Never leaving.

Yakuza 0 is another outstanding example of this. There were so many things you could do as either protagonist besides the two substantial minor campaigns, all of which would contribute in some meaningful way to their character development. There were also far too many mini-games to learn. I didn’t even attempt the majority of the optional challenges, as I likely would’ve spent hundreds of hours doing so. I know that I spent far longer in the bowling alleys than I should have done. I even acquired a chicken that helped me conquer the Kamurocho Real Estate Royale.

They certainly didn’t cluck up their job.

There are many other excellent examples of this. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, Disco Elysium, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order to name but a few. It’s so refreshing to have single player experiences which aren’t mindlessly lacklustre, featuring compelling main campaigns and optional objectives.

Most of the aforementioned video games have interesting and ever-expanding open worlds to explore, too. Which seems to be something that I’m drawn to nowadays. I’m not sure if that’s a conscious decision as I’ve had many good experiences with them recently, or whether it’s a mere coincidence and doesn’t influence me in any way before purchase. But whichever it is I don’t mind. I’m just glad that single player experiences haven’t entirely disappeared in modern releases. Not that I’m entirely opposed to co-operative experiences, as I’ve got quite a history with MMORPGs which are inherently co-operative. But single player experiences shouldn’t need to suffer (or disappear) because of those. Both can exist independently of one and other, and each provides their own benefits and drawbacks to their respective genres.

Have a nice week, all!


You’ve Failed Elysium

You don’t want to be this kind of animal any more.

Which is understandable, considering that you wake up half-naked on the floor of your room at the Whirling-in-Rags with no understanding of the basic concepts of reality. It’s hardly a prestigious position for an officer of the Revachol Citizens Militia to be in. But that’s why this protagonist is so endearing, and why exploring the ever-evolving city district of Martinaise is such a pleasure. Disco Elysium is an incredibly satisfying narrative-driven RPG in which you attempt to learn the truth behind a brutal murder. How you solve that murder and who you become in the process is up to you.

I’ve written before of this ambitious protagonist.

It’s such a bizarre approach to character development, but it’s perfectly executed alongside the dialogue system which affords the opportunity to create a truly unique detective. Who isn’t perfect and doesn’t naturally succeed at everything. Whose failures are just as important as their successes.

You’re encouraged to be unorthodox and explore everything while talking to everyone. Make decisions when it seems right to do so. Return to characters (and conversations) later when you’ve gathered more evidence. The dialogue system is expertly designed and responds (as you would expect it to) to the acquisition of new evidence, new information, or new items. Thoughts can also be useful when solving various tasks. These can be internalised in the Thought Cabinet as you learn of them, and they can provide very specific (but potentially useful) responses to certain dialogue options or checks. It’s one of the best dialogue systems I’ve ever seen. It’s so flexible (but logical) and promotes diversification in all things. Not every character will solve every problem or approach every task in the same way. Nor can they.

I sincerely wish he was making this up.

You’ll also be exploring the rather colourful history of our beloved amnesiac protagonist along the way. These memories won’t always be pleasant, with most manifesting as nightmarish visions which haunt the detective and fuel his alcoholic tendencies. Not that you need to be an alcoholic any more. That’s entirely up to you. As you explore Martinaise you’ll have many opportunities to develop new personality traits, express existing ones, or become the herald of impending doom. Revachol will then respond accordingly to your decisions, and new opportunities may arise as a result.

Which is why you should make the most of each passing day.

Interacting with as many characters as possible, exploring as much as you can, and steadily progressing the investigation to a satisfactory conclusion. While Revachol will respond to (and is influenced by) your decisions it’s not governed by them, and the world will keep moving even if you don’t.

Of all the experiences I’ve had this year, Disco Elysium is one of the best. I’m not really sure how to explain it. There’s such a rich, compelling, vibrant narrative at the heart of the investigation and learning about each of the characters is an absolute pleasure. Learning more about the detective kept me engaged, as did the exploration and the myriad tasks requiring my attention. It never felt particularly drawn out. Never sluggish or slow. Key events during the investigation were superbly represented by unique scenes, which not only highlighted their significance but illustrated the progression of the main campaign. It’s an absolutely gorgeous world to explore and a testament to the developers’ desire to create a one-of-a-kind experience. I’d highly recommend Disco Elysium to those fond of narrative-driven RPGs!

Have a nice weekend, all!


Dumpster Divin’ Hobocop

There are worse things that you could become.

You could be a horridly broken human being who (rather successfully) drank themselves to existential oblivion. That’d be a delightfully ludicrous concept for a protagonist. A woefully inept detective who barely understands the fundamentals of reality itself, but can still perform exceptional (and otherworldly) feats befitting one of his reputation. Disco Elysium has executed this concept well. Not only does it provide the perfect foundation to build a unique character on, but it explains why your character has no recollection of where they are or what they’re supposed to be doing.

That’s always been a funny inconsistency in many RPGs.

You’ve allegedly lived somewhere for your entire life, but you need to ask someone else (who may not even live there) where various things are in order to undertake basic quests. I realise that this is designed to introduce the player to particular mechanics. But it’s always been humorous to me.

Disco Elysium also allows you to explore the self-aggrandising tendencies and selfish nature of the protagonist. Or you could nurture their apologetic and selfless inclinations instead. Or you could be a maelstrom of human emotion that doesn’t adhere to any stereotype. It’s a rather fascinating approach that presents a very malleable protagonist, one that has a (particularly colourful) identity before you meet but could easily be shaped into something else if you’d prefer. There’s a rich narrative at the heart of the experience, and the world offers many different opportunities to uncover unique facets of your personality that you didn’t know (or didn’t want to know) you had. You’re encouraged to explore your surroundings, to speak to people, to undertake myriad tasks, and to roll dice by attempting numerous dialogue checks.

It’s true. He usually doesn’t.

It’s certainly an unorthodox approach to a narrative-driven RPG. It’s also brilliant. It’s exactly what you’d like to be able to do when building a character, as having both strengths and weaknesses affords the opportunity to experience something unusual with every attempt. You can’t be perfect. You can barely function as a human being. But the fractured reality in which you live is beautiful. You can be outlandishly brilliant and devastatingly moronic in the same conversation. It’s a ridiculously ambitious idea, and it’s superbly represented through each and every interaction.

I’ve really been enjoying the experience so far.

Which is the best way I can describe it. It’s an experience. The deeper I’ve dug into the investigation, the more I’ve begun to consider how many other things may be happening. Or how many other people might be involved. I doubt I’ll ever have the answer to every question I’ve asked, though.

I definitely don’t trust certain characters, and I can’t shake the feeling that certain interactions are too coincidental to not have repercussions. I’m trying my best to remain impartial. But being unable to do everything with the same character makes that somewhat impossible. There are certain situations that you won’t be equipped to deal with, and it may become necessary to work with others. I’ve tried to avoid working with others by prioritising exploration. Hoping that by earning more skill points, encountering new characters, and acquiring different clothing that I might be able to solve most things by myself. I doubt that I’ll be able to get very far on my own, but it serves to illustrate the unconventional way that you can approach situations as they present themselves. I’m sure to be a truly rich tapestry of human experiences when this is all over.

Have a nice week, all!