The Order: 1866 is the latest game to experience a controversy surrounding its length. Such criticisms of big-budget games are quite common, given their high price tag; consumers expect a certain level of value from forty pounds or more, and when rumours spread that a singleplayer-only game like The Order might barely last five hours, there’s some understandable grumbling.
On the other hand, there are plenty of games that actually outstay their welcome; Red Faction: Armageddon ran out of tricks halfway through but kept dragging on until finally fizzling out with a disappointing finale. Compare that to the much-adored Portal, which can be finished in a few hours but is paced so as to keep the player engaged and then end before fatigue sets in. The Order’s developers suggest their game fits into the latter category, offering quality over quantity, and potentially a better product as a result. This is certainly possible, but the mere fact that such expensive games often don’t last very long does appear to be a symptom of a bigger problem in the industry.
Quite simply, what are you paying for when you buy a big-budget game?
Certainly not innovation, given how over-saturated with interchangeable first-person shooters the mainstream market has become. Compare that to the PC indie scene, where almost every niche imaginable is catered for and new ones are born from the occasional experimental project, such as the explosion of demand for survival games after Minecraft’s success.
What about polish, though? It’s true that blockbuster games tend to push the technical limits of gaming, like the painfully gorgeous Crysis franchise. Having said that, though, the obsession with offering cutting-edge graphics has led to a neglectful attitude towards aesthetics. Graphical potential is always improving and so unless a game has some particular visual aesthetic that stands up regardless of the technology behind it, that game will usually start to look terrible within a few years. For instance, XIII came out in 2003 and still looks good because of its distinctive comic-esque art style, whereas the Call of Duty instalments from just a few years ago already look dated.
Furthermore, paying full price for a game no longer even guarantees you to all the content currently available for it. Day-one DLC is omnipresent among big releases, and the season passes that get offered sometimes don’t actually entitle you to all future additions. It makes something like Terraria, which cost a fraction of the AAA standard at launch and received multiple free expansions for years afterwards, look like a ridiculous bargain.
The budgets for high-profile games have been out of control since at least the last console generation. The result of this has been fewer risks taken when greenlighting projects, and a continual push by companies like EA to groom consumers into accepting outlandish practices like paying in advance for a game which is still of undetermined quality. Furthermore, the mere fact that so many people are involved in these projects makes it harder for a creative vision to survive development. For every Skyrim, which offers a huge world that only a large team could reasonably craft, there’s a Call of Duty sequel that barely qualifies as an unimaginative expansion pack and will be followed by another overpriced instalment within a year.
If you value your money and want to play the best that gaming has to offer, check out the games that offer more for less.
Image Rights; Infinity Ward.