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Power Member - Level 9
This may come off as a shocking and somewhat embarrassing fact, but a long time ago, before I knew any better, I used to play RuneScape. Okay, so that's not particularly shocking or embarrassing, and I will fight anyone who says that RuneScape is a bad MMORPG, but it still has flaws. In fact, it has many flaws. And it was a particular thread on the RuneScape forums where one member had decided to discuss the many flaws in RuneScape. His points were mostly valid, although I'd be hard-pressed to actually remember what any of them were (probably something about Karil's armor set having the worst passive ability or something), but the reaction to his thread was... shall we say, mixed. Of all the spectacularly vitriolic comments, however, one of them has stayed with me to this day.
“If you don't like RuneScape, you should make your own game!”
This isn't just a comment found on RuneScape forums, of course. In fact, they can be found pretty much anywhere. For some reason, people have it in their heads that you can't complain about something if you couldn't do better yourself. Which would ordinarily be true, IF that person wasn't paying for the service. It's like saying I can't complain about the soup I ordered being prepared wrong because I couldn't make it better. All right, no, I couldn't make better soup – but that's why I payed someone else to do it, and if I felt that the service I've been given does not equal the price I paid for it, I have every right to complain.
I bring this up because I've seen a couple blogs on here as of late saying about how we live in a wonderful age of gaming, and we should stop complaining and just be happy with what we have. And it's true, gaming today is quite possibly better than gaming has ever been, and we should never forget that. But don't let that make you think you can't criticize games anymore. In fact, that's all the more reason to criticize them harder.
You see, the moment you, your grandmother, or anyone else says something is “good enough,” then they become “complacent.” Now, I don't know what the voice in your head sounds like as you read this (though I like to imagine it sounds like the narrator from Bastion), but just imagine that your reading-voice spoke the word “complacent” like it just broke wind at the dinner table and then killed its pet dog. If there was one thing I want to use my blogging skills to fight against, it would be complacency. If I were Nikola Tesla, complacency would be my Thomas Edison, if you get my drift.
Why all the hate against complacency then? Because, my friends, complacency kills creativity. After all, why would anyone want to work harder when what they've made already is “good enough?” Why did Bungie make Halo: Reach so it was just Halo 3 again, but shinier and with more irrelevant bull***? Because Halo 3 was “good enough.” Why was Assassin's Creed: Revelations just a point-for-point remake of Assassin's Creed II and Brotherhood, with a few completely non-substantive features lazily tacked on? Because those games were “good enough.” Why has the videogame industry resigned itself to either making rip-offs of Gears of War or rip-offs of Call of Duty 4? Because they're “good enough.” Don't get me wrong: Halo 3, Assassin's Creed II, Call of Duty 4 and, to a much lesser extent, Gears of War were all great games. In fact, with the exception of Gears of War, you could probably say they're fantastic games. But they're not “good enough.”
Of course, no game will ever be perfect, but you can acknowledge that fact and still criticize everything you didn't like about a game. Even if you absolutely adored a game, you should still look deep in it's darkest crevices and point out anything about it you honestly didn't like. Never fear being called out for “nit-picking.” If you truly believe that a game would have been better had some small detail never existed, or if some extra feature had, make your voice heard. We can all love games and simultaneously demand better from videogame developers, because it's only under those circumstances can the games' industry continue to grow and evolve. If we fail to do that, then the industry as a whole will stagnate.
To show you what I mean, I am going to discuss, and thoroughly criticize, my favorite game from 2011, Dark Souls. Keep in mind that I loved Dark Souls: I logged in over 600 hours easily, and it's one of the best videogame purchases I've ever made in my entire life, but it has flaws, and I want From Software to know about them so that they can make their next game even better.
So to start, Dark Souls never really tries to make you like it. It only offers an extremely brief tutorial, which only goes through the most basic of mechanics and fails to even go so far as explaining what the various numbers on the equipment menu mean, and then just dumps you right off into the big bad world with three possible routes for you to take; two of which will almost certainly lead to death, as they are meant for more experienced, higher level players, and only one of which is the intended direction for you to take. Dark Souls does nothing to make itself accessible to the player, and I know some people are going to say “Well of course not! Dark Souls is trying to challenge you, not hold your hand the entire time!”, but being accessible does not automatically make the game easy. In fact, it makes all the various challenges Dark Souls throws at you all the more rewarding when you know that the game is giving you a fighting chance, and the only thing standing between you and victory is your own personal skill, and not whether or not you've figured out that your precious Drake Sword doesn't scale to your current Strength level.
The metagame had serious issues as well. Developers around the globe tend to share this nasty habit of improperly balancing games; that is, they take something imbalanced and, in their attempt to fix it, imbalance it 180° in the opposite direction. Back in Demon's Souls, it was often agreed on by the community that heavy armor was worthless; yes, you took less damage, but this was Demon's Souls, so you still took a lot of damage regardless, so it was better to wear light armor in order to maintain your mobility. Dark Souls sought to correct this issue by introducing a new armor parameter called “poise,” a number which determined how many blows and of how much power you could take before being staggered and left vulnerable. Light armor has low poise, while heavy armor has high poise. Unfortunately, the effect this had on the metagame was a complete reversal from Demon's Souls; now, light armor is completely and utterly worthless and heavy armor is the only armor you should use. The one factor normally limiting the usage of heavy armor, it's weight, was also completely offset by two new rings introduced in Dark Souls; Havel's Ring, which increases your maximum equipment load by 50%, and the Dark Wood Grain Ring, which ensures you maintain maximum mobility so long as you're equipment load is under 50%. This two rings combined with the new poise system to severely imbalance the metagame.
If you weren't dressed like this, you weren't playing the game right.
These are just two of my biggest issues with Dark Souls. Rest assured, I have many more, but I only presented these two to try and make a point. We can criticize our videogames and still love them. Criticizing doesn't make you mean, and it doesn't make you too hard to please. On the contrary, criticizing is good. Criticizing videogames forces developers to learn from their mistakes, to make bigger and better games, and most importantly, to never accept anything as “good enough.” Because do you know what happens when someone realizes that they no longer need to try, and that something is good enough?
Yeah, that happens. Let's not let it continue.
So, for your homework tonight, I want you to leave a comment discussing one game you think is fantastic. Discuss why you love it, then discuss what could've been done to make you love it more. And remember, you're not being cruel. It's just tough love.