Does buying a game automatically give you the right to experience everything in the game? I’ve heard that argument in relation to MMOs like World of Warcraft. It normally follows a discussion of hardcore vs. casual. If you buy a book or go see a film you’re guaranteed to see all of it, provided you finish reading or watching. With games there is no such guarantee. I’ve still got a load of games I haven’t finished yet. Do the developers owe me the chance to see everything they coded into the game?
I don’t think so. If you want to experience all the content, you need to play through all the game. You need to spend the time, build the skills, or develop the experience needed to overcome the barriers of the game. What about when you’re playing a non-narrative genre, like first person shooters? What barriers are stopping you from experiencing the full game? What’s stopping you from having fun?
I reviewed Titanfall in one of my earlier videos. I mentioned how much I liked how accessible it was. In Titanfall you just pick up and play. You’re able to have fun no matter your skill level. This is by design, as developer Respawn have said “Titanfall is desgined to be inclusive.” I thought I’d expand on that idea and look at how inclusive modern shooters may or may not be. How easy is it for new players to actually have fun and what barriers are there stopping players from having fun?
Now let me say this up front: this discussion is from my own biased opinion. My idea of fun won’t necessarily be the same as yours. No game can ever be all things to all people and there are as many different opinions about games as there are players. That said, as I see it there are three main barriers to inclusion in shooters: investment, skill, and experience.
When I say investment, I mean either time or money. How much do you have to spend to gain access to everything in the game? Skill is self-explanatory: reaction time, aim, and instincts. Experience is your familiarity with the game and overall knowledge of expectations and conventions of the shooter genre.
Investment and experience you have some control over: you choose how much to spend and how familiar you are with the game or genre. Skill, however, is tougher to improve and takes both investment and experience.
I’ll be looking at four modern shooters: Titanfall, Battlefield 4, Insurgency, and Ghost Recon Phantoms. How welcoming are these games to new players and what are the barriers stopping you as a player from having an enjoyable experience?
I’ll link my Titanfall review in the comments below; check that out for a general overview of the game and specifics about how I feel Titanfall welcomes new players.
So how inclusive is Titanfall, according to the three barriers I mentioned?
Investment required is medium, as the game is a AAA title with a AAA pricetag (around £30 on PC), with new maps available shortly as DLC. There are Pilot and Titan weapon upgrades that will unlock as you level up but they all seem to be pretty well-balanced and don’t offer a significant advantage to veteran players. This means you don’t have to grind through a series of unlocks in order to hold your own.
The skill required is also medium, as pilot to pilot combat demands a higher skill level but this is balanced by the smart pistol and other pilot abilities like cloaking. I regularly get killed by enemy Pilots but I’m never discouraged as it’s only one aspect of gameplay. Titan combat is less skill-based and more methodical; it’s a nice change of pace to the frantic Pilot combat and a lot more forgiving. You can also focus primarily on killing NPCs and still have a lot of fun.
Finally, experience required is low. Titanfall is easy to pick up and play. You don’t need to know the maps particularly well or have to play tactically in order to have a good time (though it certainly doesn’t hurt). The gameplay is fast enough that I never feel frustrated when I die, as I can respawn right away.
How does EA’s other AAA shooter compare? What’s a new player’s experience when first playing Battlefield 4?
When compared to Titanfall, the investment required for Battlefield is fairly high. Although the core game is cheaper (around £20), there are a number of expansions available as DLC that offer new maps, weapons, and game modes. Add to that the time required to unlock all infantry and vehicle weapons and you’re looking at a sizable investment. If you don’t have the time to grind out unlocks you can pay for weapon and accessory packs. The weapons and accessories do make a difference to gameplay and can be fairly daunting to overcome.
The skill required for having fun in Battlefield is also quite high. This goes hand in hand with experience, as veteran players will constantly dominate those new to the series. You need to know the maps inside and out, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the weapons and vehicles. From personal experience getting killed over and over in Battlefield isn’t much fun. There are a thousand ways to die and I’ve experienced most of them. I did initially have fun playing Battlefield 4 but eventually the amount of investment required outweighed my enjoyment.
How about a smaller title, something more tactical like New World Interactive’s indie shooter Insurgency?
In contrast to the other two titles already discussed, Insurgency has a low investment requirement. The game is currently around £10 on Steam and if you keep an eye out you can usually take advantage of occasional sales. There are also no weapon unlocks or level progression. You’ve got access to every weapon and loadout when you first start the game. This puts you on a level playing field with everyone else, at least when it comes to weapon availability.
In considering the skill requirement, Insurgency is medium to high. Unlike Titanfall, which is more of a twitch shooter that favours reflexes, Insurgency is more deliberate and tactical. Skill definitely plays a big part and you’ll need to rely on aim and instinct to survive as everyone can die in one or two hits.
This ties in to experience as well, as you’ll need to learn the maps, get used to the tactics, and work as a squad. You definitely need to learn the game if you want to get the most out of it.
At the moment I’d put Insurgency between Titanfall and Battlefield 4 for how much fun I have while playing. I’ve largely stopped playing Battlefield but I’ve still got plenty of hours of fun ahead of me with Titanfall, especially when my friends start picking it up. Insurgency is a great game and I enjoy playing it but Titanfall has become my go-to game for relaxing while blowing shit up.
This takes me to the final game I’ll be looking at, Ubisoft’s free to play shooter Ghost Recon Phantoms.
At first glance, the investment required appears to be low, as there’s no initial cost to play the game. Anyone can download and install Phantoms for free. However, the free to play model means that new upgrades are only possible if you pay real money or spend a significant amount of time grinding unlocks. The weapons you start with are perfectly fine but if you don’t upgrade them you’ll likely be at a disadvantage to veteran players. I’d place the investment requirement as high for Phantoms due to its free to play model.
From a skill perspective, Phantoms has a medium requirement. The level of combat is similar to Battlefield, but with a greater emphasis on cover and position. Knowing when to push forward from cover and when to apply other tactics requires a certain level of instinct, though this is dependent on experience as well.
The experience requirement for Phantoms is low. I was largely able to pick up and play and since there are only a few maps I had no problems getting used to them. Squad tactics seem to happen organically, as everyone takes positions together behind cover. Experience is also influenced by investment, as players with more time or money invested will have better weapons and upgrades.
I don’t think I’ll be playing much more of Ghost Recon Phantoms. I don’t want to invest the time or money required for the unlocks and the gameplay is largely repetitive as there are so few maps. Phantoms was good to play in a group but I’d rather convince my friends to buy Titanfall instead.
There will always be barriers between players and the games they play. The nature of the games industry means there will always be a tension between exclusivity and inclusivity. Some publishers push for games that appeal to the widest market possible while some developers create narrow band games that apply to a small segment of the gaming population.
First person shooters, as with every other genre, exist on a spectrum. From the most mainstream to the most niche. Playing the game that brings you the most fun is all about overcoming the barriers of investment, skill, and experience. Once you clear those barriers you’re faced with your biggest challenge yet: the enemy.Colin Le Sueur