Classic action genre video games have always been about two things; the first being mowing down enough grunts in as efficient a manner as possible and the second being priming up to ace the boss that follows them. This is a tried-and-tested formula that has been rinsed and repeated endlessly across levels, games and franchises. However, with the times changing and most flagship games now offering RPG-based skill trees for their protagonists, this bankable system suddenly seems both outdated and extraneous.
Games like Assassins Creed, Batman, Shadow of Mordor and games in a similar mould were just difficult to navigate during combat prior to 2011. However, with the launch of Arkham City and its unique fighting mechanism; one that allowed you to chain up hits, build momentum and counter incoming blows, things changed considerably. Consequently, fight sequences in games just began to flow organically and for the first-time players could feel the power of being Batman or a supremely trained Assassin.
Since then the combat system has been refined as elements of crowd control (one guy beating up 50 people), ways to combine finishers and unique bonuses for long hit-streaks have been added to the mix. While this seems like a positive step, it has translated into an endless mashing of buttons for players, as their fingers mimic the frenzy unleashed on screen.
To make matters more complicated when a player chooses a higher difficulty, the gameplay doesn’t change much, but for the addition of a few more baddies to the mix. Skill in such games is then measured in not your ability to adapt and improvise, but rather the abilities of your fingers to endlessly persevere.
Spiderman is one of the best games of 2018, and also one of the most popular at the moment. The developers of the game chose a combat system similar to Batman’s and everything in the game was tied into combat. There were five kinds of tokens you need to accumulate to upgrade (suit and gadgets) and three out of them needed you to overcome endless baddies. The earned tokens lead you to upgrades which you used to overcome even more rogues. In other words, beating up the average thug was an endless cycle. In fact, towards the end; the only parts of the game that were thoroughly enjoyable were ones with no Spidey in them as my poor hands could take some rest.
While the flowing combat will only get refined and improved every year, the endless repetition really needs to go. Developers need to find other ways to drive players’ interests. Horizon Zero Dawn seemed to have got that part right maybe others could take a leaf out of that playbook?