Gameplay of the Year

So, Polygon released the list of Game of Year 2015 contenders last month:

  • Bloodborne
  • Fallout 4
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
  • Super Mario Maker
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

While I might be alone in railing against inexorable fate and media narratives, I will be very disappointed if Witcher 3 wins Game of the Year (again). But in examining the feelings that give rise to this disappointment, a question surfaces: what deserves to be a Game of the Year anyway?

When it comes to mechanics, systems, and everything that makes games games, it seems clear to me that Metal Gear Solid 5 deserves to be Game of the Year. Everything in MGS 5 simply works. The controls are tight, the stealth gameplay compelling, and the Fulton system synergizes brilliantly with every other game mechanic. You can kill people from afar, but you want to steal them for your base more, which leads to close-quarters sneaking and higher tension gameplay. The way all the pieces of MGS 5 harmonize with one another is simply a thing of beauty and elegance.

…which is a real shame, considering how much of a disaster the story ends up being. “Disaster” is a bit uncharitable, but the abbreviated ending leaves one with a sour taste in one’s mouth, making it easier to forget how ~60 hours of incandescent joy preceded it.

Then you have Witcher 3. Mechanically, the game is just bad; none of the various systems fit together, and often actively clash. You are encouraged to collect hundreds of different crafting components, including junk you can break down for parts, but the vast majority are completely pointless. Random loot will give you high-level blueprints for items you will never be able to use, while recipes for staple items are conspicuously absent. Everything about the first two games that established Witchers – and Geralt in particular – as a fantasy noir detective that needs to plan encounters ahead of time to survive, flies out of the window mechanically, as Geralt gets to pop infinite potions and bombs like they were MMO abilities with per-encounter cooldowns.

…but Witcher 3 will still likely win Game of the Year. Because of things like the Bloody Baron quest. Or when Geralt (spoiler alert) finds Ciri. Nobody will remember mindlessly pressing Alt and Left-Clicking a million times to snore through the combat even on the harder difficulties. Hell, nobody will even remember that, for however good the Bloody Baron quest was, how ridiculous it was in a narrative ostensibly about a race against time. Or how Novigrad was one giant slog through completely unrelated nonsense. Or how little sense it made, pacing-wise, for there to be an open world at all.

It seems to me that what is really being voted on here is “Game Experience of the Year.”

Which is… okay, I guess? Hell, I’m usually the guy defending story over mechanics from the people who believe plot has no place in gaming. In this specific scenario though, I hate the idea that MGS 5 is going to lose because it lacked 1-2 missions to seal the deal, whereas Witcher 3 is going to win because it had a few bright spots in an ocean of bad design.

Ironically, Fallout 4 has thus far hit the sweet spot inbetween the two extremes for me, but I don’t believe it will win because it didn’t hit the sweet spot hard enough. Plus, ugh, that useless ass UI. How could they have they spent so much time coding in Settlements and approximately zero minutes giving us an interface worthy of that descriptor to interact with it?

Bah.

I will say though, I’m happy to see Ori and the Blind Forest show up under four different categories. While there were some difficulty spikes in there, Ori is one of the best-looking, best-sounding, and more entertaining indie-esque titles I have played this year.

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Posted on December 2, 2015, in Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Game awards are so predictable. Anyone could have guessed that these games would be nominated before they even came out. Hell, some of them even boasted how many awards they had won – pre-release.

    It would be very difficult for me to consider an open world game my game of the year. I had fun (mostly) with Witcher 3, but also agree with all your complaints. I enjoyed exploring the Wasteland in Fallout 4, until I hit around 50 hours and now I just want the damn game to be over. A nice, contained game has the opportunity to make a finely crafted experience that doesn’t run into things like the terrible pacing that most open worlds can have. And it has less room for mistakes, less systems it needs to perfect to make the game enjoyable all the way through.

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    • YES. Pacing is a huge concern for me. In fact, I was already in the process of writing a post about pacing and the difficulties thereof. In short: I’m terrible at self-pacing, and don’t particularly believe that it’s my responsibility (in a game) anyway. I look to designers to craft an experience for me, not to just give me a bunch of set pieces and say “go to town.” Sometimes I can have a lot of fun with open-world games, but my favorite games? Almost always tight, directed experiences.

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  2. X of the year is always kind of BS anyway due to being just one. Pretty much anything that is nominated could reasonably claim the title, so the actual crowning is rather artificial. It is good that the Witcher is seriously under consideration despite being released a while ago, we’re not yet at the point of games having an “oscar season”. Though I do wonder if Fallout 4 released in January would even be up for the title. I enjoy it, but it really isn’t much beyond Fallout 3. The Bethesda formula could use some changes at this point. Start with the game save system–it’s been the same since Morrowind. Sometimes we like to play multiple characters simultaneously, Bethesda.

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  3. I’m playing Witcher 3 and really enjoying the characters, settings and story but kind of hate the combat, crafting and alchemy. I had the same thoughts about the of urgency, and have to do some mental jumping jacks to just enjoy each quest as a separate vignette. I’m playing it more as a visual novel than an action game because after Bloodborne the combat feels clunky and awkward.

    I love Bloodborne and wish more people could play it. There is so much of it that is well done that I feel like a large portion of people are turned away at the gates because its level of difficulty makes it fairly inaccessible.

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