When DLC seriously screws up your gaming experience.
Now this reviewer has had Steam (a PC-based games platform - a piece of software on your PC that mimics the look and feel of a video-games console. You buy and download games through it and play them on it, but it's all digital - no DVD's or Blu-rays to scratch, you've got to know this already) in his life to the exclusion of actual, hardware, consoles for a few years now (the 360 occasionally gets dragged out so he can play Black). On Steam you can easily see exactly how much time you've spent playing specific titles.
Previous to this I'd just have to guess. Fallout 3 got played, exhaustively, twice on PC and once on the 360 with all the DLC, so... 300+ hours? In total over a couple of years.
I am, for some weird reason, kind of proud of my 216 hours playing MGS5 - a number I got to without getting into all that "enemy-player base infiltration nonsense" (because it bored the shit out of me). No, those hours were ground-out learning how to kill that fucking Mech in my sleep on Insane Difficulty, and from just attacking the same desert fortresses and clusters of tanks over and over with minimal weapons just for fucking fun.
So, give me weapons, a beautiful open world and shit to kill and I'll spend fucking hours doing it. Happily. I've played the first two Mass Effect's three times each.
There's a weird blot on my copy-book though - and it's this. Skyrim - total played 97 hours.
There's a fuck-ton to do in Skyrim (though if it doesn't involve attacking ancient dwarfish cities I'm likely to be markedly less interested) easily enough, I would imagine, to go 100+ hours. I'd never played an Elder Scrolls game before, so when I fired the thing up to find it was Fallout but with swords and dragons I was pretty happy.
So, there's basically the Roman Empire who want their empire back, the underground crook community and guys who want to just live in their areas of land and not be pushed around by other people. The Roman Empire were fun and I completed plenty of tasks for them, but joining the army full-time doesn't gel with my general outlook on life and I got to the point where I just found myself siding with the common-man. And killing people without a really decent, and justifiable, narrative reason has never really sat well with me so The Murder Guild (or whatever they called themselves), were out. So I largely, eventually, concentrated on murdering dragons and that evil dick ghost-sorcerer.
So, I'm questing - looking for spellbooks, being a good-guy and having carved-out a sense of who I was in the world and where my moral compass was.
By the time the Dawnguard rolled around I was levelled up like a motherfucker. I had swords and staffs for every occasion and only really had to keep an eye on keeping health supplies up. The level-grinding wasn't necessary anymore and I felt like I'd paid my dues. Everything about the narrative and the way it had opened up to me in my particular experience said that it was time to spend my time on killing that prick sorcerer.
Then I run into a comely lass by the name of Serana whose father is lord of the Vampires. If I help her out of some trouble I'll be rewarded.
Awesome, except the reward is being turned into a vampire; so I GTFO. This is supposed to lead to you seeking out the Dawnguard, the outfit given themselves the task of wiping out vampires. Except, I'm in the middle of all this other shit. I've been concentrating on getting my hands on those spellbooks, seeing as that's the whole fucking point of the game, and Vampires are not something I'm interested in right now, thanks.
A decent open-world game with an over-arching narrative is a difficult one to construct because you need to keep the player busy doing other shit while still letting them get nearer the end-game. Otherwise frustration is going to settle in.
Dawnguard is DLC. It had been rolled into the game automatically for me as I was late to the party and playing a year or so later than many.
I preceded to ignore it. There are dragons everywhere being annoying and some evil dude eating their souls. I assume Dawnguard is still waiting for me. Turning the offer down of being made vampiric might mean I could technically only join and fight with the Dawnguard themselves, but...
...What's the fucking point? I played a game. For hours. Leveled-up like a boss and everything in the game is pushing me towards this big, climatic, ending. And it happened. But I was just left with this sense of -
For gamers who played the game originally, the Dawnguard DLC wasn't there. They came back to the game later in order to play it They'd finished the original story and although the world continued and there were things still to do in it there wasn't a sense that there was something really quite large left undone. Instead, after a break it was probably a very welcome way of finding something new and meaty to do in this world they loved; but for players making their way through the game for the first time it could just as easily have come across as an annoyance.
The problem is that it's not an important chapter in the over-riding story of Skyrim - it's another (surprisingly late in the game, if you're playing for the first time) shoe-horned in, distraction. It's another way of making me tread water while I've actually put the time and effort in for the big ending - and that's where I want to go.
So, something that might seem quite welcome after you finished the initial game, is actually annoying as fuck if you're playing it for the first time. Have I finished this game or not? Is it worth going back? No, probably not.
When Skyrim does blow it's wad with it's dragon spirits and banished wizards and whatnot I was left with this strong feeling of disappointment. I know it's a persistent world and there are things left to do in it - but I've seen the big ending, which wasn't even particularly thrilling. Things aren't going to get more interesting from here.
Dawnguard shouldn't have been made optional (or appeared so late in the game for me) - if it was installed, you should have had to play it - and the stakes should have been narratively, directly, connected to the main story and end-game (even if it's just by way of some MacGuffin). That way I feel like I'm still making progress in the general story and I can't/won't finish the game with this large part of narrative left completely unresolved.
It's a fuckup. Punching some vampires in the face is small-potatoes when compared to having just seen the climax to the whole game. I spent 100 hours getting to a particular point, THE CLIMAX, and it was only "meh". I'm not backtracking just to do some side-mission shit.
The problem was pacing. In Skyrim I'd visited most places of interest, gotten to the point where I could kill just about anything by looking at it - it was time for the ending. Then the ending happened and I feel like someone should be putting a crown on my head and telling me how fucking awesome I was and it never came.
It's not a problem I ever had with Fallout DLC (because they integrate into the game better - mention Mothership Zeta and I'll punch you in the mouth). They're seperate experiences that you have to go looking for. In Skyrim you hit a point where all anyone is talking about is vampires and the Dawnguard themselves. It got annoying - a nagging feeling of other things I should be doing, but not a story-thread that was pertinent to what I was actually supposed to be doing right then. The Mass Effect games dealt with this problem more intelligently.
You know what the end-game in a Mass Effect game is going to be - for instance; you're eventually going to crash through a previously dormant Mass Relay or something, find yourself in enemy territory, and then try and beat the crap out of whatever you find there. The push to complete any DLC or side-missions isn't a narrative one - it's a drive to try to make sure that you have the resources to deal with the unknown.
You do that extra bit of mining, or help your crew out with some personal side-mission, not just because you just like doing stuff - but because you don't know what you'll be facing at the end of the game and you want as much money and therefore firepower as you can get your freaking hands on.
Playing Mass Effect 2 and realising there were upgrades to the ships' shields and weapons but your attention was, purposely, rarely being drawn to them was a thrill, because they were obviously going to be a big factor in what went down later. I did every little side-mission I could for the extra cash.
At the end of the game my ship was an impenetrable death-machine. I was reading people in the forums complaining about how the end of the game had led to half their crew being massacred and ship getting fucked up. I got in and out without a scratch.
Fallout 3 ends after the "proper" ending, but Fallout 4 keeps going (I got my DLC pass cheap - I may well report back on how I get on with that). It'll be interesting to see if any of this new content brings anything new to the table or if it's just more of the same. Because what the ending of Fallout 4 has is endless possibility. Those synths, those factions - it could go anywhere. And for once I'm on the right end of the DLC release pattern.
Come on Bethesda, you could do something special here. But integrate that shit properly.
Written by Michael Coates
Pictures property of Bethesda.