Games with Manufactured “Replay Value” are Starting to Wear Out Their Welcome

This summer and fall, most of my gaming time has been split between two major titles, Diablo 3 and Borderlands 2. Both I’d been looking forward to for years, as each had amazing predecessors, but in the end, both left me feeling just a bit…empty.

Why? Well quite simply, I’m growing tired of games that require constant replay in order to achieve maximum results for my character. Some may call that “replay value,” but that’s not a fair use of the word.

Super Smash Bros has replay value. Halo 3 has replay value. League of Legends has replay value. These are all games you play over and over again because even if they use the same maps and characters, they’re dynamic, constantly changing. Multiplayer ensures you never run into enemies behaving exactly the same way again, and no two matches are the same.

I could play this map a million times and never experience the same thing twice.

But in too many games now, “replay value” is simply playing the single player game you’ve just beaten over again. Why? Well, to unlock all the skills, get the best weapons and be the best character you can be, of course!

Perhaps it’s because I’m growing up, but I no longer have the patience for games employing this format. It’s a shortcut to increased playtime that simply doesn’t need to be there, and I’m getting tired of it.

Borderlands 2 is probably the most annoying example of this because it could be so easily fixed. The first game was relatively short, 8-11 hours if I remember. Back then,  beating it once to get to level 25 and beating it again to get to level 50 didn’t seem like THAT big of a deal, even if it wasn’t the most fun exercise.

But for Borderlands 2? Including sidemissions (which you have to do in order to be the proper level to not get your ass handed to you during the main story) the game rang in at about 20 hours for me. By the end, I was level 33, and realized I’d have to play nearly the entire game over again to reach the cap of fifty as leveling becomes much slower as you progress.

The question is…why? Why does it have to be like this?

What would be wrong with allowing players to go from level one to fifty in a single playthrough, adjusting the leveling and difficulty accordingly? I had a great time with the twenty hour game, but by the end, in no way was a prepared to start the entire thing over again from scratch. With a new character maybe, but with my old one? No way.

In a SINGLE PLAYER game (at least one that doesn’t have a trading auction house like Diablo 3), why should it matter that I hit the level cap by the end of the game, or find the best guns on my first playthrough? What exactly is the point of forcing us to run the entire 20 hour gauntlet again? There’s no faster way to kill a game full of hilarious and epic moments than to make you experience them all verbatim again.

It’s such a daunting task that most players will NEVER see their character at the highest skill levels or find the coolest weapons in the game. Again, in a game that’s largely single player, or at least not an MMO, what’s the disadvantage in allowing them to do that? What does Gearbox get when we play their game for 40 hours instead of 20, once they already have our money? Instead, it leaves many players feeling like even though they finished a rather great story campaign, their character will forever be a wimp until they can grind out the entire thing again to reach max level.

When you can quote every line of every character by heart, something has gone wrong.

Obviously Borderlands 2 isn’t alone in this, it’s just the example I chose. Diablo 3 is even worse where it forces players to run through not one, but nearly FOUR difficulty levels before reaching max level. The first two modes are so easy a child could stomp on a keyboard and beat them. The next two can have you banging your head against the wall until you manage to find (but mainly buy) items that allow you any chance of progressing. Diablo can be forgiven a LITTLE bit more for this because it’s borderline an MMO  in many ways, which rely on constant replay value and constant play, but still, I’ve gotten so sick of the same story pieces at this point, running them through each four times with five different characters, I never even want to see the game again.

I first noticed this trend a while back with Dead Space, and didn’t realize the kind of game it was playing. In that game you found “nodes” that would upgrade your character and weapons. By the end, I found I only had half the nodes for both my suit’s capabilities and my guns. If I wanted to max out anything, I’d have to play the entire game over again. I said “screw that,” and never looked back, but now the practice is not only commonplace, it’s the entire basis for games like Diablo and Borderlands who force mass repeats of story mode to get to the coolest aspects of your characters.

This trend is unnecessary and annoying. Perhaps I don’t know the development logic behind the idea that my character should only be half as powerful as he could be by the end of a lengthy story campaign, and why the extra gameplay time matters so much to developers who aren’t operating on a monthly subscription model, but it doesn’t make any sense to me. MMOs where time spent equals how good your gear and stats are, I understand, but here? In these single player games? What’s the point in making me do everything twice to get the most out of a title? I don’t have time for this shit, and as I leave my level 36 Assassin 8% of the way through my second Borderlands playthrough, now the game feels unfinished, when it could have just rested in peace after a worthwhile finale.

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  1. While I totally agree with the bulk of the article, I’d disagree about Dead Space. I think it’s more an intentional design choice to leave you feeling just underpowered enough for the game to keep it’s tension. The option is there to go back and play as a more powerful character, and play around a bit more, but I don’t think that it was meant as an artificial replay enhancer.

  2. On the other side of the coin, you have games where the level cap can be hit long before you have run out of things to do. Personally, I didn’t even finish Fallout: New Vegas because I had spent so much time playing and exploring that by the time I even wandered over to the strip, I didn’t even see the point of going on any more.

  3. I agree, especially with RPGs. I can’t replay an RPG for the sole reason of side missions and puzzles, I don’t want to go get you 100 green herbs all over again!!!!!

  4. I agree and have played all these games. I hated it when I played MGS4 on the PS3. So many cool items in that Metal Gear game but it was all about replaying to get everything. Something I felt they did better in the MGS for PS1 which worked out better because it was simple.

    My two cents, if you want to add replay value, make it an expansion or really simple, don’t force the player to do sweat for hours or be a particular nympho gamer to figure it out.

  5. who says you need to hit the level cap to get full enjoyment out of the game…you seemed to love borderlands 2 on one play through… why do you need to max out your character? and there are still too many action skills points and not enough levels so they will never be completely filled. maybe one play through is enough. whenever i played pokemon i never had 6 100 level guys they were all at like 65… i felt no need to keep playing (besides get mewtwo) to level out my guys even all the way. one play through is enough for some but not enough for others…just because you didnt want to max out your character should not leave you feeling like you missed something…you played the game and loved it that should be enough

  6. A lot of good points, I think you make sense and developers might be wise to heed what you say. The only justification I can think of is that if you’re playing for longer, they’re hoping you’ll like the game more and be willing to get the sequel? Kind of weak, I know. The other one I can think of is DLC. If you’re still playing the game you’re probably more likely to get DLC while if you’ve put the game down for a month or two, you’re a lot less likely to get it. I don’t know about you, but once I leave a game for more then like a week, it becomes really hard to pick it back up and get into it. I know I’m feeling that way with Xenoblade Chronicles. I stopped playing for a month or two and while I want to finish it, I also feel like, enough already, when will I beat this game? XD

  7. I don’t know, man, I seldom like to max my characters anyways. I like being forced to choose one ability over another and I don’t like feeling overpowered for very long. In one playthrough of BL2, you can max at least one skill tree and have discovered most weapon types with the better ones I assume just meaning bigger numbers. No biggie. I play games for fun so I typically will replay a game only if I feel like it, and if I don’t, I don’t. Why there should be pressure to max out your character I don’t really get. If it happens over the course of playing for enjoyment, cool. If it doesn’t happen, so what? And if you did max out your character of choice in one playthrough, what would there be the incentive to play it ever again?

  8. Well fuck you for wanting to ruin my fun. >:(

    I’ve gotten Zero to level 50 and am working Gaige through her mid-teen levels at the moment and I’m nowhere even close to bored yet.

    Most games are the type of experience ya kinda have to be in the right mood to enjoy. But Borderlands was one of only a handful of games in existance that I could pick up and play at any time. Over and over, time and again, it never stops being fun. The first Mercenaries and Timesplitters 2/3 are some of the others. Borderlands 2 exceeds the original by miles and I’ll be playing it for years.

    For you to come along and say that it should have been made to be like all the other games out there that get played once and then left on a shelf to collect dust seems remarkably narrow-minded!

    You mention multiplayer like it’s the only reason a game should be replayed and that kind of talk pisses me off to no end when douchebag executives from the big publishers use it, because I usually take it to mean they don’t give a fuck about long-time gamers like me.

    If I’m looking to enjoy a game for few hours multiplayer might be a good way to go, or it could wind up being an incredibly frustrating throw-my-controller at the screen experience! Or I could pop in Borderlands and have some guaranteed fun.

    At any rate, I’m AWARE of, and GLAD for the fact that I still have a choice. So do you, in case you didn’t realise. If Borderlands isn’t the game you want it be, maybe that’s YOUR issue and you should just go back to Smash Bros or whatever game you feel DOES have replay value! 😛

  9. @Postal

    Sorry, it was meant as conversational rather than aggressive swearing if that makes it any better! 😀

    And yeah Paul’s entitled to his opinion of course, I get that, it just that his kinda tramples all over mine. The Halo’s and Smash Bros’ and such ain’t goin anywhere. But the games I love and can replay endlessly, well they’re getting harder and harder to come by. *Single manly tear*

    Imagine you loved Nicholas Winding Refn’s DRIVE but read an article decrying it because it wasn’t nearly FAST and FURIOUS enough! Wouldn’t you want voice your disagreement?

  10. I agree with most of this. games that make you repeat levels just to get a higher level so you can progress break the flow of the story. Bastion and Okami are games that solve this by giving you abilities that allow you to progress at a smooth pace, and having optional unlockables if you want to get even more powerful.

  11. I agree, but at the same time: Chronocross.

    I used to be a massive square-enix guy, smashing out every FF up til X (playing international version and smashing some dark summons!). I remember the joy of finishing Chronocross, being a little disappointed in all the characters I missed, and being given this beautiful, wonderful, fantastical second chance: NewGame+. I was a bit hesitant, a bit nervous, but playing everything through to try new characters? With good stats, and correspondingly over-levelled enemies? Yeah, I’ll do that.

    But playing through Borderlands 1 on playthrough 2? No thanks. Real boring, real fast. I was overlevelled, and even playing only story missions I never even came close to being hurt. It actually made me a worse player, because I’d stand in the middle of a gunfight and laugh at the puny bullets as they bounced off of me.

    So maybe the moral of the story is NewGame+ needs to offer something new, and better. Please note: new does not mean “better chance of good gear!” New means: extra quests; different game modes; new characters.

    Sidenote; I find it interesting that the games you mention liking for their ‘replayability’ also make awesome local multiplayer games, a particular favorite of mine (and an increasingly rare commodity)

    TL;DR: Chronocross is awesome. And replaying a game shouldn’t feel like work.

  12. I think the whole new game plus is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s great to continue with a character you have built up and improve them further, but on the other it’s playing the same story twice. It would be like watching a film, then watching the extended edition immediately after. You may get some new benefit out of it, but generally it is the same again.

    It would be great if playthrough 2 of borderlands was a bit more like diablo, with random level generation. Even better if there was random quest generation too.

    And I totally agree with this article about Diablo 3. Mainly because the story is so disappointing (and boring in my opinon). Having to sit through the same cutscenes 4 times is very very boring. They should have the option of skipping cutscenes when you begin a new playthrough on the harder levels (I am still on playthrough 2, so forgive me if they already have this option).

  13. The single player games I’ve re-played the most are the first 2/3 of Crysis (1), the first two Halo games, and the first Bad Company. Since they had more open single player campaigns they afforded a lot of experimentation and improvisation. Bad Company 2 and Cryses 2 turned the franchises into little more than rail shooters (COD4) and thus were pointless to replay.

  14. it really takes a deep understanding of video games to understand why in some regards boarderlands 2 sucks. No one like to do things over again, but i get the make us stick around for dlc thing. but there are smarter ways to go about it.

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