In May 2009 I started playing Mass Effect, I absolutely hated it, this was mainly due to the broken checkpoint and save system that means you could easily lose an hour of gametime when you die. The mechanics were all duff and the overall experience wasn’t great. In May of 2014 I went back to it. Deciding to clear my pile of shame was a cleansing experience, tackling those games that either got dropped for something more exciting or just went a bit pants, this was something I had to do to justify my purchase and early opinions on them. On returning to Mass Effect it was confirmed that the game was junk, a great galaxy of beautiful sights and conversations tied together by a system that seemed to overly punish mistakes. I ended up skipping all side missions where possible and just getting the main plot done. I ended up completing Mass Effect 1 in 5 years, but the play time was only 15 hours. Many people had told me that Mass Effect 2 fixes all of the mistakes of the first and is generally an experience that should be had.
When I went into the second Mass Effect game I was hooked within the first hour, the combat was fun, the interface was more accessible and the plot was enough to grab me by the goolies and lead me on a merry adventure. I played the game consistently and ended up completing it in 3 weeks, in that time I sunk 38 hours into it. The difference between my experience with the first and second game was vast. But for me this was a rarity, a chance to sink my life into a large game but also get drawn into an RPG. Seeing a game is an RPG often makes me walk away just because they have become far too long.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was recently in the line of fire with the nerds around the world for apparently being only a couple of hours long, and yes, whilst this is technically true, that’s not what the game is about. Everyone seems to have forgotten that the Dead Rising series exists. A series of games where you are only treated to about 4 hours of gameplay before it ends, but when you restart the game your character is the same level as where you left off and you have all the weapons and experience you need. The point is that the game could be perceived as being short but if you wanted it could be huge. And that’s where we get to the crux of my issue with long games, it’s no longer ‘If you wanted or want to make it long’ it’s now ‘the main game is huge and it’s even huger with all these side missions’.
With the use of side missions to bulk out a game, I’m looking at you open world games, you can’t help but feel that these are tacked on to extend the life of the game, but rarely is it because the player wants to do more in that world. More often than not the reason I will do every side mission in a game is because some sort of OCD phase I’m going through or I’ve been through a particularly bad break up with someone. GTA V had elements like Golf and Tennis, neither were even remotely required for the game, but they were fun asides if you wanted them there, and that’s the perfect way of doing it, don’t fill your game to extend it, accessorize your game to make people want to extend their time with it.
The biggest abuser of this is MMO’s and RPG’s in general, they come at you with their whole “oooh look at me I’ll ruin your life, but it’s cool because look, your avatar nearly kinda looks like you!…” The concept of a game being ‘grindy’ has been around since games first rolled out of arcades and into the home market. the problem is MMO’s and RPG’s don’t even bother to hide it anymore. I used to play World of Warcraft, it’s safe to say I was a little addicted at one point, but sitting back one day after finishing my 100th ‘go find this animal and collect its claws’ quest I realised that I had been here many times before, I had been told that the drop rate was 20% for this item I needed but instead of saying ‘Screw This’ I lapped it up like a cat at a bowl of milk.
I guess what it comes down to is the age-old question of “How much do you value your time?”. In my life I have a 9-5 job with a couple of hours commuting each side, a girlfriend and general ‘Stuff to do’. I game more than the average person but I have to fit it in where I can, an hour here, an hour there, never really having the opportunity for a proper long session. Since I moved in to my current role at my day job I’ve become more and more inclined to play and enjoy the more simple and ‘pick up and play’ experiences I can; Deadpool, Vanquish, Street Fighter, all games that I’ve recently blasted through just because I know I can put it down and maybe not come back to it for a week without issue.
When a game boasts to me that there is 40+ hours of game play it just makes me look at it as a second job. Recently we’ve penalised games like Call of Duty, Metal Gear Solid and Vanquish for being 6 hours or less. What this doesn’t take into account is the idea that some games should be like a shot of tequila; something to be knocked back, enjoyed, cause a wince and then have you move on keeping the effects of the experience still lingering and finally maybe making you vomit on people.