Quality Over Quantity in Video Games

When The Order: 1886 was released earlier this year, rather than focusing on any of the game’s many positive points, most discussion of the game was invariably stuck on its short length and it’s perceived lack of ‘value for money’. Whatever happened to the idea of quality over quantity?

I’m a consumer; I buy video games on a regular basis. I understand the notion of getting enough bang for my buck, as they say. However, I can’t help but despair at the games industry’s preference for offering gamers a huge, stodgy stew rather than tasty little vol-au-vents.

Food metaphors aside, it would take only a quick glance at this year’s AAA game releases to take note of the amount of vast, unmanageable games compared to short, well-crafted single player experiences.

The previous generation was resplendent in tight, single player games that offered around eight hours of entertainment. What about the big releases of 2015?

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – 40 hours +

Fallout 4 – 30 hours +

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – 40 hours +

Bloodborne – 30 hours +

I’m not saying for a second that there isn’t a place for these behemoths. There’s nothing quite like getting lost in a vast world for countless hours. I spent an ungodly amount of hours eking out every bit of content I could from the Mass Effect series.

Order 3

However, these games present a problem. Now that single player games of this length have become the norm, when a AAA game comes along with a humble single figure run-time, it is slammed by people yelling “Why buy this when you can buy The Witcher 3? It’s like, ten times as long”.

I haven’t yet played The Witcher 3, so I’m not about to say it isn’t good only to get dogpiled by internet warriors, but a game being ten times as long does not necessarily mean it’s ten times as good, or worth your money ten times more than shorter games. Would anybody argue that Two Worlds was a better game than Half Life 2?

The few huge games I have played recently are normally akin to having a single piece of chicken in a huge vat full of noodles (apologies for the amount of food references this week. Maybe I’m just hungry?). Dragon Age: Inquisitionfor example, has an excellent story with some truly memorable moments but is crammed with pointless busy-work and fetch-quests. Would it not have been better if it were more focused?

So we return to The Order: 1886, which is ironic because not many people ever returned to the game after finishing it. Its lack of a branching narrative or hugely affecting difficulty settings resulted in the game having little replay value.

It’s also fair to say that if you cut out the QTE-riddled cut scenes, there’s probably less than four hours of gameplay to be enjoyed. It’s a criticism, there’s no denying that. But is it enough to completely write off the game?

Asides from being possibly the most gorgeous game I have ever played, The Order: 1886 introduces players to an alternate Victorian London; dank and miserable, and perpetually smothered in fog. In introduces us to a strong cast of characters and an exciting conspiracy involving werewolves and vampires.

Order 4

The gameplay, as little as there is, is expertly crafted. I defy anyone to name a game with as satisfying combat or weaponry as The Order: 1886. Each gun feels completely unique and invites the player to constantly shift their tactical approach to battles. It’s a little over-reliant on cover-based shooting, but it works so well that it’s hard to begrudge it.

The question of whether The Order: 1886 is worth your money is a difficult one to field. As good as it is, I concede that if you’re on a limited budget and this game is the one game you buy that month, you’ll be disappointed when it ends after two or three sittings.

But value for money is entirely subjective. I bought the game almost a year after its release in February when it was half the price it was at launch, and I feel like I got my money’s worth.

What I resent, which has probably already become clear, is that so many people simply dismiss games like The Order: 1886 because it doesn’t take thirty hours to complete them. There’s enough space in the world for short, linear experiences in between these sprawling worlds. Think of them like a snack break, if you will. An appetiser to keep you satisfied between vast main courses.

The AAA industry has taken this approach to single-player games because during the last generation it became clear that multiplayer was beginning to rule the roost. You could buy BioShock and get an excellent twelve hours, or you could buy the latest Call of Duty game and spend literally hundreds of hours racking up a kill-count that could rival the Spanish Influenza.

To match the prevalence and success of multiplayer games, single player games have to be ridiculously long to justify their price-tag, and it’s sad. It’s sad that an industry that is supposed to be based around artistic merit has become dominated by shallow consumerism.

The film industry doesn’t suffer from this, the lucky bastards. Nobody pours bile all over the latest ‘one hour and thirty-five minute’ superhero movie. Nobody complains on forums that ‘The Cure for Insomnia was over three days long, whereas Casablanca is only 102 minutes long; its way more value for money’.

If you feel as if a game wasn’t worth your money, then that’s OK. Complain about it, if you must. But is it helpful to let the discussion around a game become dominated by that one topic? Does it not detract from the idea that games are an art-form?

Order 2

All I’m asking is that if you own a PS4 and you dismissed The Order: 1886 because of its length, give it a chance. It’s half price now anyway. And the main character has a very nice mustache. What more could you want? Now I’m going to go and have the sandwich I’m so obviously craving.

Game lengths taken from ‘www.howlongtobeat.com’. 

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About Joseph Butler-Hartley
A jaded horror enthusiast, I get my kicks hiding in cupboards from whatever hideous creatures happen to be around. However, I'm more than happy playing a wide range of genres on both consoles and PC. Apart from writing for Z1G, I'm also a History student.

  • TheOneandOnlyGamer

    Great article and I agree. The Order 1886 is one of my favorite games from this gen and the most beautiful looking I have ever played. It took me about 11-12 hours to finish it the first go round and then replay it to find the extras…but the quality of what you get is astounding.

    I only wish they would have included some co-op or additional missions to track down the half-breeds or quell uprisings in other parts of the city. (I loved the section where you sprint after the half breed and have to kill him before he slaughters an innocent). Even just walking around became a treat for me and showed me just how much time I spend in other games just running all over the place and shooting things mindlessly instead of breathing in the gaming world…not to mention that soundtrack!

    I hope we get a sequel someday.

    • JBH

      Thanks! The Order: 1886 was great, and I agree, my main problem with the game was that it showed off this amazing world but didn’t give us enough time to explore it. Maybe in the sequel (fingers crossed) they’ll include some of the things you mentioned.

      Maybe it’s short length allowed the devs to make the world so amazingly detailed, because you’re right, the cutscenes and the bits where you were strolling through areas before combat sections were almost as exciting as the combat itself just because of how beautiful and real everything felt. Few games can boast that.

      • TheOneandOnlyGamer

        You’re welcome and thanks for the response! I remember reading that Ready at Dawn spent a lot of time perfecting the engine and design; as well as the lighting, the whole world and blending the gameplay with the cinematics. I’m sure that this took up a lot of their focus. They have done a bunch of conferences and videos on the subject which I found really interesting. I was actually happy that they didn’t just throw in a generic “tacked-in” multiplayer, but I agree, that more exploration and missions would have been great – maybe not completely open-world – but enough to really dive into the beautiful world they created as well as some better battles with the half-breeds.

        It is true though, strolling around through the alleys and going into rooms at the docks with the sun streaming through and watching the ships in the distance – I just found myself just admiring it…before seamlessly getting into a firefight with those awesome weapons. We’ll see what happens in the future with this series; especially with Ready at Dawn working on a third party game now.

        Great write up again.

        • JBH

          You can certainly see where the effort went. I suppose not arbitrarily sticking on an ill-thought out a multiplayer mode meant more resources could go on the single player campaign, so it was probably for the best.

          I didn’t know they were working on a new game. I’ll look forward to seeing what they do next!