It’s pretty incredible how far video games have come. Thirty years ago, if you were to show someone the new Death Stranding trailer, they’d probably call you a nutjob and ask why you’re watching such weird movies. It would be inconceivable for someone at that time to imagine today’s video games, and yet here we are. Games are not only pushing new boundaries with their tech and realism, but they’re also more popular than they’ve ever been. The industry is truly a juggernaut that shows no signs of slowing down.
And yet, this kind of accelerated growth isn’t always a good thing. Posh men in business suits start noticing what works and what doesn’t work. Opportunists start seeing a once-niche hobby become a cash cow. Before you know it, patterns start to emerge, because clever people have found out what works. You start seeing the same thing, over and over, because it’s a proven formula. Stagnation becomes ever more present, and artistic integrity dies by the wayside.
The gaming industry is not immune to this. And, unfortunately, there are several trends in modern gaming that are taking hold in the industry, and it seems like games are starting to feel less unique because of it. While we could make this list much bigger than it already is, here are some things we’re tired of seeing in AAA games.
Repetitive Open Worlds
I love me a good open-world game. I really do. But it used to be that they were few and far between, and there’s a good reason for this: it’s hard to do it right. An open-world game, at its best, never loses its sense of mystery. It offers new surprises at every corner, constantly tantalizing and tempting you to explore. At its worst, open-world is just a codename for “do the same thing over and over on a big map.”
Unfortunately, there’s more of the latter than the former. Some games, like Red Dead Redemption 2, are crafted with such impeccable attention to detail that the open world is the very heart and soul of the game. In others, you’re playing a story-driven RPG with a fleshed-out world full of interesting lore. The Elder Scrolls games tend to get a pass because their worlds are filled adventure, characters, and little stories everywhere you go.
But please, Famous Franchise #17, don’t arbitrarily transform into an open world because it’s the popular thing to do right now. And know that it doesn’t have to be a linear corridor when it’s not a sprawling map; it’s possible to find a balance between the two. Ocarina of Time did it 20+ years ago, offering a linear story experience which unlocked areas as you went, allowing you to freely roam what you had uncovered. God of War did the same thing in 2018. It doesn’t have to be a choice between absolute linearity and unbridled exploration; more often than not, a compromise exists between the two.
Generic, Hyper-Realistic Graphics
This one’s going to strike a nerve with some people, because “why would anyone complain about good graphics?” For the record, that’s not what I’m taking issue with. Who doesn’t love good graphics? Rather, I’m getting tired of so many games committing so hard to hyper-realism that they lose their sense of uniqueness. Back before we were capable of such graphical feats, games had to invent their own art styles to stick out from the competition, and it resulted in a wide variety of beautiful aesthetics and memorable worlds.
It’s possible to have a game with beautiful graphics that doesn’t commit to hyper-realism. Overwatch is an example; sure, it looks like an animated movie, but that doesn’t stop people from taking it seriously. On the other side of the spectrum, it’s possible to have realism, while still feeling unique. Destiny comes to mind — although it has a realistic style, there is a very intentional sense of design around the armor, characters, and environments that makes it feel distinctly Destiny.
Again, don’t misunderstand me. I LOVE having mind-blowing graphics in my games, but I’d love to see a little more creativity in the AAA space.
Real Actors Being Video Game Characters
We’re starting to see more and more actors show up as characters in video games. Like, not as a voice, as an actual rendered character. Am I the only one who thinks this is, I don’t know, weird? It’s kind of like when Ed Sheeran randomly popped up as a cameo in Game of Thrones. Did it ruin my day? Nah. But did it take me out of the moment? Definitely.
One thing I’ve always loved about games is their ability to provide pure escapism. And yet, when I turn on my screen and see Norman Reedus staring back at me, it kind of puts me back into the real world. I realize that this is something that’s completely subjective, so there’s not a huge point in making a fuss out of it, but I don’t know, I hope we don’t reach the point where big-name celebrities are constantly used to push AAA titles. With video games, we have the power to create original characters like Nathan Drake and Kratos. So, why exactly is it necessary to render Kevin Spacey in Call of Duty, or Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk? Even if I like the actor, it makes the characters feel less original.
To be fair, there IS a reason why this is becoming more and more common — mo-cap is used for video game cutscenes these days, and using the actor’s likeness helps the animations to be as convincing as possible. But this doesn’t always have to be the case. Venom Snake from Metal Gear Solid V is a great example; Kiefer Sutherland did the mocap, but he’s not literally Kiefer Sutherland, he’s Snake. I’d rather see more games take that approach, instead of just using an exact copy of the actor.
Arbitrarily Long Games
Like the point above with graphics, this one is fairly controversial, so I’ll be careful with my phrasing. After all, why would anyone complain about having more content? So allow me to say this diplomatically: I don’t want to get rid of long games, but I want fewer games to be long for the sake of being long.
While I deeply appreciate games that are full of content, I’m getting sick of games that are becoming arbitrarily longer in order to add “value.” If you need 120 hours to properly tell your story, that’s totally fine! The Witcher III had an extremely long campaign, and it was all the better for it. But if your game is 120 hours because 80 of those hours are spent walking around an overworld doing basically nothing, you’re doing it wrong — especially if that big void of nothingness is a veiled attempt at getting the player to spend money to make things less tedious.
In a recent statement by Ubisoft, they recently said they wouldn’t go back to making “short” games. On paper, this is a lovely sentiment — it means they will put more time and care into their releases, right? But from another perspective, it seems like code speak for “we can make more money because microtransactions are easier to work into big games, so that’s what we’re going to do.” It’s a worrisome trend, and as a working, married adult, gaming time is already pretty rare; I don’t want to waste a bunch of it on games that are artificially padded with fluff content.
Grinding, Grinding, Grinding
This sort of goes with the above point, but the excessive grindiness of games really needs to go. I understand that some genres are built around this. Minecraft, for example, is a building/survival game, and literally the entire premise of the game is mining materials and harvesting them together to create cool stuff. A grind is expected, and if you don’t want to, there’s a nice creative mode where you can skip it altogether.
But it feels like I’m starting to see grinding and crafting in everything, even in games where it just feels completely unnecessary. Take Trials: Rising, for example. In this silly little dirt bike game, you have to gain experience and level up in order to unlock new courses. At a certain point, you pretty much hit a wall and you have to grind “contracts” to increase your level, which are challenge-runs of existing courses. This seems fine, until you realize a fair bit of these are pretty difficult, and suddenly you’re spending hours grinding away at levels you’ve already played just to unlock more courses. It’s like if Super Mario World arbitrarily locked new worlds behind an EXP wall just so you’d have to play it longer.
And I just have to ask, why? Why should a little arcadey game like Trials: Rising force a grind? What’s even the point? I’ve singled out Trials because it’s fresh on my mind, but there are countless other games where the same thing applies. Whether it’s an arbitrary crafting mechanic or slow-burn experience gain, can we not bring grinding into every single genre?
Believe it or not, I believe that there actually CAN be a time and a place for microtransactions. They’re here to stay no matter what we do about it, so we might as well seek out the ways that they can be implemented in customer-friendly ways. Unfortunately, microtransactions are predatory and sleazy more often than not, and I’m sure the overwhelming majority of our readership will agree with that statement.
Something really needs to be done about the microtransaction models that foster addictive and impulsive behavior. The gaming industry has taken a step in the right direction by relegating most microtransactions to cosmetic-only items, but that’s not enough. The trend of randomly distributing items via loot boxes or gacha mechanics means that many gamers are paying for probabilities rather than an actual item, and it’s no surprise that several countries have started pursuing a widespread ban.
If microtransactions are paying for randomly distributed goods, they suck and they need to go. If they’re paying to patch up an intentionally tedious gameplay experience (see: EXP/grinding boosts), they suck and they need to go. If microtransactions are charging you half the price of the full game for a crappy emote, they suck and they need to go. I believe that it’s possible for microtransactions to coexist with gamers in relative peace, but we haven’t quite reached that point yet, and it will no doubt be a major talking point in the industry for years to come.
What Are You Tired of Seeing?
We could list a lot more examples of things we’re sick of in modern AAA releases, but we don’t want to start our day off too cynical. Instead, let’s hear your thoughts? Do you agree with our list? Vehemently disagree? Make your thoughts known in the comments!