Christmas is just around the corner and so I recently decided to prowl the aisles of my trusted electronics store to see which games to add to my wishlist. I found two, actually, The Ezio Collection and The Last Guardian, but what really caught my eye was the fact that prices for WATCH_DOGS 2 and Dishonored 2 had been reduced immensely since they were released in November. Of course, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided‘s price had also dropped a mere few weeks after release, which made me feel very sad, actually, because it’s really a great game, just like Dishonored 2, and I think both games are worth the bucks.
Is it the money?
Speaking of, games have always been expensive. I remember that, as a kid, I could afford maybe two games a year if I pooled resources with my sister or my friends. Or I begged my parents to buy it as a gift, which they usually didn’t. Nowadays, I am fortunate enough to be able to buy whatever games I like, the very day they hit shelves.
Yet not everyone can do that, especially not young target audiences. Therefore, when faced with this dismal sight, my first (naive) thought was that, maybe, publishers wanted a better chance of selling the games come Christmas, but then, wasn’t that the whole point of releasing Dishonored 2 and WATCH_DOGS 2 in November? Also, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was released in late August, and I also bought it the very day it was released. So, what’s with the money? Well, if I had a tighter budget I’d probably buy the one game I really, really wanted to play and pick up the others once they were on sale. I also think that, in contrast to last year’s rather meager offer (concerning PS4-titles), this year there were a lot of (hyped) titles to choose from.
See, I got my PS4 in November 2014 and by the end of the year I had played The Last of Us, Thief (I wanted Deus Ex:Human Revolution, but didn’t have a PS3 then) and Assassin’s Creed Unity, which was a Christmas present. Since I failed to find any other games I wanted to play on the PS4, I finally bought myself a PS3 and dove into Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Splinter Cell-The Black List and Castlevania-Lords of Shadow 2. Finally, in May 2015, the long-awaited The Witcher III-The Wild Hunt was published and I think I can safely claim that it was a (huge) success. Not to mention that everyone loved the studio for their awesome price policy. Suffice to say I spent most of the rest of the year playing that game on PS4 and catching up on PS3-gems I had missed, like Dishonored.
By the end of 2015 I had bought Dragon Age Inquisition, which I played excessively over the next few months. Then, in Februrary 2016, there were suddenly a lot of titles I really wanted to play: Far Cry Primal, The Division, Hitman, The Technomancer, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Dishonored 2 and, later, after I had played WATCH_DOGS (which I love, by the way), WATCH_DOGS 2. I also bought some games I was simply curious about, namely Dark Souls II, Evolve and InFamous: Second Son. In short, that’s a lot of bucks. So, maybe, Dishonored 2 and WATCH_DOGS 2 just were unlucky regarding their date of release. And maybe it’s something else.
Is it the marketing?
Curious me did a little research and, apparently, sales for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Dishonored 2 and WATCH_DOGS 2 have indeed lagged behind expectations and their predecessors. I read a few of the comments on the eurogamer-article concerning launch sales for WATCH_DOGS 2 and one comment mentioned that WATCH_DOGS had been hyped over the course of two years before it was released and that that had spurred the number of pre-orders.
I admit, at the beginning of my gaming days, which was twenty+ years ago, marketing didn’t really factor into the decision of what games I bought. We didn’t have YouTube back then. There were no TV ads either. I never saw a trailer. I played Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis because I thought Indiana Jones funny and badass. I played Day of the Tentacle because the story seemed so absurd and I like riddles. Someone recommended Monkey Island to me.
Today, how do you decide which game to buy? Personally, I prefer stealth and puzzles to shooting, so I tend to buy RPGs rather than Shooters. Also, I love strong characters and stories. So, under the premise of leaving franchises I know and love out of the picture, I buy games whose characters and stories appeal to me. And, yes, my first impulse when scouring the net for possible candidates is to hit YouTube and, therefore, trailers. (I don’t watch TV). And WATCH_DOGS really had some awesome and intriguing trailers, while WATCH_DOGS 2, to me, was a little too hip and a little too young. I bought it because I loved the first game.
Deus Ex:Mankind Divided had awesome marketing (augware.com!) and an awesome reveal trailer, just like its predecessor. Apart from that I simply loved the first game, so, to my mind, there was never a doubt about buying this title. The same goes for Dishonored 2, although I was not impressed with the trailer, which is basically the Dishonored trailer featuring Emily instead of Corvo.
Still, Emily’s badass.
Is it the publisher?
In recent years, Ubisoft in particular has been under fire for launching unfinished games like Assassin’s Creed Unity (I almost wrote Ubity, LOL!). The fact that WATCH_DOGS 2 released with the online options inactivated (Excuse me?) certainly strengthened the sentiment that the game was another perceived rip-off. On the other hand, The Division has been a huge success this year. But then, The Division is an original, not a sequel. And it is a Shooter, which is, maybe, of greater appeal to video game target audiences.
On the other hand Square Enix, the publisher behind Deus Ex:Mankind Divided and its predecessor, has had a veritable success with Rise of the Tomb Raider, though, since the PS4-version was just recently released, that is mostly due to PC sales. They also published Hitman, which I love, but which has been available only digitally so far and will release on hard copy in 2017.
Bethesda/Arkane Studios, of Dishonored and Skyrim-fame, have had some hits like Fallout 4, which was released last year. Although a fellow gamer (on Steam), my age and a fan of the Fallout-series, was unimpressed by the latest title, claiming that supporting characters, which had been interesting in previous installments, were awfully chliché in this latest game. Which was why he found himself unable to finish it.
Which brings me to that one aspect which I think should be paramount in deciding a game’s worth.
Is it the game itself?
Disregarding the price, marketing or studio/publisher, what is it that truly makes a game worthwhile? To me, it is a mix of story, characters, gameplay, setting and music.
The reason why, to my mind, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided fell short of its predecessor is that there is no real character development. The gameplay, settings and music are great, yet main protagonist Adam Jensen himself remains in limbo. Neither does he know what he is fighting for, nor where he belongs. Which is why players like me feel unanchored in a world gone mad.
Still, with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the writers decided to explore a new angle introduced by Deus Ex: Human Revolution‘s story DLC The Missing Link, namely the mysterious Juggernaut Collective’s recruiting Adam Jensen into their ranks. Personally, I found that possibility very intriguing when playing the DLC and I was happy to see that Deus Ex:Mankind Divided used it to give the sequel’s story more depth.
Yet at the same time I thought the off-hand introduction of that alliance a little abrupt. I would have loved to see more of how Adam was recruited in the first place, his struggles finding his place in the Collective as well as within the TF29 unit. To me, not exploring that inherent struggle further, inside the game, mind you, perhaps by forcing Adam to choose a side rather than play on both teams, felt somewhat unfinished. In fact, I think the perfect chance for turning this great game into something truly awesome was missed here.
Which brings me straight to WATCH_DOGS 2.
I love WATCH_DOGS. I love Chicago, I love the gameplay, I love the soundtrack (I am listening to Champion Tech’s “Raydar” right now) and I love Aiden Pearce for being the perfect antihero. Despite his personal tragedy I think he deserved everything that was coming at him. You see, WATCH_DOGS was all about a family man and criminal becoming caught up in an ever-expanding spiral of violence without recognising that it is, in truth, all his own fault. For my part, I always though that the best way of protecting his family would have been to turn himself in, instead of continuing his vigilante crusade.
Be that as it may, WATCH_DOGS 2‘s cocksure Marcus Holloway and his gang of hipster nerds are as cliché and superficial as they get. Actually, although I paid a lot for this game, having played it once I do not really feel the urge of playing it again. Maybe I’m too old for this sh*t. The soundtrack’s great, though.
The lack of success of Dishonored 2 I really do not understand. Yes, the story is, in essence, a repetition of the previous game. But players who haven’t played the predecessor will find that game’s magic magnified by a tenfold. Karnaca is such a sight! The music is just awesome! Stealth is absolutely cruel and combat mean! This game is a true challenge!
And, wow, the personal involvement of the characters is just perfectly done! Emily’s emotional issues are just so different from that of her father! Although I recognise that to newcomers that will not be that apparent. But I just flipped when Corvo blamed his dead lover for not having told him of Delilah before. As if that would have changed anything! Without the Outsider’s Mark, would Corvo even have been a match for that witch? Me thinks not! But then, that is typical of Corvo, at least when played on High Chaos. Loved it! Emily is much more curious and cautious. Which is very much in character, which is why I love this game!
So, what’s the answer?
The answer, I think, is not an easy one.
Yes, there are a lot more games than before. But that is just growing pains concerning this platform.
Yes, games cost money. But then, I ask you to consider that developing games costs money too. People who work for any major (or minor) studio should be able to live off their work, right?
Yes, story is important to some gamers, but not to all. I recognise that.
And yes, studios that hype half-finished products deserve all the losses they get.
Remember that, despite everything marketing may throw your way, eventually it is up to you to decide where to leave your bucks. And you do not have to own any hyped game the very moment it is released. Actually, I think you’ll be the envy of your fellow gamers if you actually manage to make a bargain.
“What? You really bought AwesomeGame Number One at 60 bucks? I only paid 45….”
Happy Christmas, everyone!