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Editorial

OnlySP Chats: Grinding and Gating

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In case you missed it, OnlySP’s Mitchell Akhurst recently wrote an article decrying the grind and level-gating in Destiny 2. His opinion was not reflected by certain members of the community or, indeed, our staff, resulting in a lively internal debate about the value, culture, and necessity of those particular elements of game design.

In an attempt to let everyone have their say, we held a forum to discuss and debate the topic. Dylan Warman (who also acted as moderator) and Jennifer Anderson sympathised with the presence of grinding in single-player games, while Richard Flint and Robin Brinkworth stood opposed. An edited version of that debate is below.

Dylan:
We’ll start with a question: Do you think MMO elements (open-worlds with side quests, grinding for gear and currency and other things, etc.) detract from or add to single-player experiences? Why or why not?

Robin:
Yes and no. It really depends on execution. For example, The Witcher and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim both deliver hours more content for taking advantage of them.

Jennifer:
I think calling them “MMO elements” is a misnomer, if we’re going to really get into it. The only reason we use that term is that millions of people have played MMOs. What they are, are RPG elements.

Richard:
I think we need to establish the major difference between MMO mechanics and exaggerated RPG ones: The Witcher 3 has you grind for better weapons and armour but would never be classed as an MMO.

Robin:
Also, I wouldn’t actually call the The Witcher 3 a grind. Destiny is a grind. I think grinds demand multiple steps to attain another weapon or power-up.

Richard:
Robin, to some people it could. For example, hunting down all the witcher gear upgrades, like the cat school set.

Robin:
Is that not a quest? For me at least, grinds are, ‘find 500 of this super rare item, and then 50 of this other item you can only get in this one quest,’ which was what Destiny was.

Dylan:
How do we feel about grinding in single-player games, specifically RPGs?

Jennifer:
First of all I think it has a lot to do with the game. Most grinds are toward a higher level, a better piece of equipment, to unlock a special area, so on and so forth. Most of the time, those grinds aren’t connected toward finishing the actual story. They are bonuses. You don’t need that better piece of gear. But if you want it, then work for it.

Robin:
I feel like the grind in an MMO vs offline single-player is vastly different, because in MMOs you have cross-player balancing issues to address. I don’t think it’s a great comparison, because I can’t think of that many offline single-player games that really demand a grind.

Jennifer:
For example, there is no good reason for me to have a level 130 assassin in Skyrim. None at all. There is no reason to do all the side quests. There’s no reason for me to collect 2,000 diamonds and dump them all over the floor of my house. I do it because having goals is good. It’s productive. You feel like you’re accomplishing something. You want something, you work for it, you get it.

Dylan:
(Dumping 2,000 diamonds on the floor of her house accomplished the goal of making her game crash, for all those who are wondering.)

Jennifer:
When I was younger, I played a lot of Tetris. Tetris doesn’t even have a story. But I always wanted to get to the next level, because that level was higher than the level I was before. It was better.

Robin:
But in Tetris the grind alters the fundamental gameplay—that’s a different question entirely, no?

Dylan:
I think this touches on what games demand vs. what they simply allow. Which was also going to be my response to Robin’s earlier comment. This will ultimately come down to how each of us defines a single-player game. What we consider to be truly single-player.

Jennifer:
Well, for a lot of games when you grind up for something… Final Fantasy X international edition has these super hard bosses that will utterly destroy you unless you have spent hundreds of hours grinding in the monster arena, creating multiple sets of perfect armor, collecting every character’s ultimate weapons…

Robin:
Call of Duty allows grinding but doesn’t demand it beyond a certain point (Prestiging). That’s an out-and-out MP experience. MMOs demand grinding to be vaguely competitive. You are required to grind. The Witcher 3 and Assassin’s Creed: Origins require limited leveling, and Skyrim doesn’t.

Jennifer:
Final Fantasy X-2, as I mentioned to Damien the other day, unless you again spend hundreds of hours in-game getting a perfect 100% complete game, you won’t even know the whole story. If you want to know the entire story of that game, you have to grind. And, by the way, it was amazing, but ONLY IF YOU DID IT ALL. If you didn’t, you’d think it was a silly lighthearted girly game, but it was so dark and twisted… if you did everything.

FFX

Robin:
So there’s a clear reward for your grind, but it’s not a prerequisite for enjoying the game enough to justify your purchase, right?

Jennifer:
It is a prerequisite for me. I won’t buy a game if it’s not worth the money. Look at how much games cost these days. If I’m going to drop $60 on a game, it damn well better entertain me for months.

Robin:
There’s completionists, like yourself, and there’s people like me, who are happy playing 80-95% of the game’s content.

Jennifer:
That’s fine. I don’t see why we can’t have both.

Dylan:
Right, but we’ve been talking about how we feel about gameplay mechanics. What is it about them that makes them single-player versus multiplayer, and can you utilize elements of multiplayer games in single-player games without changing what makes them fundamentally single-player? Destiny 2 is the most recent example of controversy regarding this, and grinding was one of the issues that cause said controversy.

Robin:
The mechanics themselves are fine, as long as they’re limited in implementation. AC:O and The Witcher 3: fine. Destiny’s 5,000,000,000 hour grind: not fine. If I can’t access any of the best guns/armour/loot in the game by putting in a shift for 40+ more hours, I think it’s too much.

Jennifer:
But what do you need it for? If you’re not going to complete all of the content anyway, why do you need the best stuff? This is like people in World of Warcraft arguing they should have raid level gear when they never intend to raid.

Robin:
I don’t need all of the best stuff, but I want to be able to access some of it. Most of the meal is fine for me—I don’t need to pick every grain of rice off my plate. This particularly applies to games where the core gameplay itself is lacking.

Dylan:
The only weapons you absolutely cannot get in Destiny 2 without a group are the raid weapons, though. You can get everything else by grinding content by yourself, including the story and public events. Destiny 2 is not a single-player game. The story was advertised as single-player, but the game as a whole is not single-player. It’s not necessarily an MMO, but it’s definitely multiplayer-focused.

Richard:
The difference, I think, between Destiny’s grind and the grind that ‘should’ be in a single-player game is an end goal of some kind. In Destiny, you grind for better gear in order for you to grind harder and get slightly better gear next time. Something like collecting all the flags in AC2 to get a special cape for Ezio is an accomplishment. You can’t suddenly go find two hundred more flags to get a slightly better cape.

Jennifer:
But that’s precisely how you play Diablo 3 as well. You grind for gear, to get better gear, to get better gear. You can’t tell me Diablo isn’t a successful franchise and it’s entirely based on grinding.

Richard:
Technically, Destiny is a successful franchise too. Doesn’t mean it’s not a grind.

Jennifer:
That brings us back to my original point, which is, if you want something, then work for it. You don’t get to be the best because you want to be. You get to be the best because you work to get there.

Robin:
So how does that go into game design, and where is the line? Where’s the balance? What is too far in a single-player RPG experience?

Dylan:
I think that’s what everyone’s trying to decide. It sounds like everyone thinks grinding is fine, but the motivations for it are where people differ.

Jennifer:
The only objection I can see as valid is when story content is locked behind an unreasonable grind. However, in most RPGs, the story content is not the hardest content, which means you are almost never required to have the best of anything or be the highest level of anything in order to finish it.

Robin:
That’s true, but that is an intentional result of game design. Not everyone has hundreds of hours free.

Jennifer:
Right, but that’s my entire point. If you are able to see the whole story in an RPG without grinding, then that’s fine. However, if you want all the best stuff, then you better work for it. I mean it is kind of unsatisfying when you’re level 100 and one-shot the last boss in the story…

Robin:
So in retrospect, how do we feel about your FFX-2 example earlier? Arguably, key story content was withheld behind an unreasonable grind.

Jennifer:
If I’m being honest I loved that about FFX-2. Everyone got the basic story, but if you did everything, then you knew more.

Richard:
I’d like to argue you should be able to work hard for bonus content without grinding

Robin:
Do you want to elaborate on that, Richard? Where’s the line between working hard and grinding? For you at least.

Dylan:
That’s a good distinction to have. Please, explain, Richard. Because many would argue that anything over an hour or two is grinding, and others, like Jennifer, would probably disagree.

Jennifer:
Grinds are measured in days or weeks, not hours.

Richard:
As Jennifer has mentioned, to get extra content you should work that bit extra for it, however, I don’t agree grinding should be the acceptable way to do it. For me some of the best bonus content was locked away in Dark Souls, such as hidden behind secret walls that required you to understand the world more, not necessarily because you defeated X number of monsters to get there. It can be said there’s a grind element to it (you might need to upgrade your stats to stand a better chance of winning) but to actually find that content you just need to explore more of the existing world.

Jennifer:
Exploration can be a grind as well, particularly if you’re not using a walkthrough. And if you are, shame shame.

Dark Souls

Dylan:
I’d like to know what, exactly, constitutes a grind. Richard gave us an example of what he believes is a reasonable content gate, but what is a grind? Jennifer said it’s not measured in hours, but in days or weeks. How so?

Robin:
For a core RPG experience, with no online play? Repeating the same task multiple times to achieve a meta-objective.

Jennifer:
But how many times makes it a grind? Not just the action, but the time taken.

Robin:
I don’t think it matters.

Jennifer:
It does matter because that’s part of what makes a grind a grind: that it takes time.

Robin:
Wood-chopping in Skyrim is a grind, as is collecting all the Stones of Barenziah. Vastly different time commitments there.

Jennifer:
You consider that a grind? You just find those when you’re questing!

Richard:
Dylan, to me, a grind is having the player complete X number of tasks like killing a large number of enemies or finding a number of materials that is designed to take the player a lengthy amount of time. The tasks are typically menial as well and require little effort. It’s their sheer quantity that makes them a grind. A grind is a repetitive task designed to force a lengthy amount of time out of the player but does not require much skill.

Jennifer:
To me, it’s not a true grind unless you are spending days or even weeks doing the same thing. When I say “I’m going to grind in Diablo,” that means I’m going to spend the next eight hours sitting here doing nephalem rifts over and over again trying to find one specific ring. And I may not even find it that day. I might find it the next day, or the next day, or in the case of this season, not for three whole months.

Dylan:
So, would you say that the more skill it requires, the less “grindy” it is?

Richard:
Yes, because if the task is increasingly difficult then it also challenges the player’s skill and not just how much spare time they have.

Jennifer:
When I played FFX, I would grind AP for my materia. For hours and days. Weeks. That’s a grind. Spending two hours doing something is nothing.

Robin:
So, those are examples, but what is your definition?

Jennifer:
That is my definition. Spending days or weeks in the attempt to accomplish a task, get a piece of gear, or reach a certain level, with the goal of not stopping until it’s done. Gathering grinds go along with that because you’re gathering for something specifically. Basically if I can complete a task in one gaming session it wasn’t really a grind.

Richard:
Jennifer, that’s a very specific example though. What could take one person ‘one gaming session’ could take someone else a longer amount of time and be considered a grind.

Jennifer:
I’m talking about five-to-eight hour sessions. But that’s why I say grinds are measured in days.

Robin:
Okay, so to summarise the three: Jennifer has a distinct time delineation on hers. Richard has a distinct level of meniality on his. And mine is a that a grind is a sub-objective (something I think we all agree on), and that as long as it is repetitive, then it’s a grind.

Dylan:
Alright, moving forward. At what point does a game make the transition from single-player to multiplayer? Is it when you have to rely on other players to experience content, when you can rely on other players to experience content, or can other players be involved and it still be considered single-player (I point out that we are OnlySP and we still cover co-op elements).

Robin:
I think it’s when they are required to be involved. Destiny can be fully enjoyed as a single-player game, barring The Crucible (PvP area) and the raids, where participation with other players becomes mandatory.

Jennifer:
It’s when you cannot complete story content without other players. Note I am very specific since we’re talking about RPGs: when you cannot complete story content.

Robin:
Sure. That was actually my ongoing issue with Destiny: raids had story content in them.

Dylan:
Okay, since Robin used Destiny as an example, does the fact that certain parts of Destiny’s story interact with the shared-world aspect of the game affect the campaign’s classification as single-player?

Jennifer:
I’d just like to say that multiplayer games have actually been somewhat affected by people not being able to complete story content solo, hence how Star Wars: The Old Republic is now basically a single-player game and story raids have single-player versions.

Dylan:
I’ll specify then. You do not need other players to complete any part of Destiny’s central story. However, there are parts where you’ll see other players around while navigating through parts of the story even though you won’t actually be interacting/playing with them. Does that still make the campaign safe as a single-player experience in your minds?

Richard:
I’ve always classed multiplayer as the competitive side to gaming. There has to be a point where you’re challenging other players to make it multiplayer, if you’re all working towards the same goal then I’d class it as co-op.

Jennifer:
Challenging other players as in PVP? Or like Diablo’s leaderboards?

Richard:
As in PVP, yeah.

Dylan:
I think that’s important, Jennifer. The same can be asked of raid scenarios in games like WoW and Destiny 2 because people compete for quicker completions with their teams than other groups.

Jennifer:
That doesn’t really work though because most people don’t play online games for the PVP. That’s why Dark Age of Camelot didn’t have as big a player base as WoW, because it was entirely focused on PVP.

Robin:
This is where “shared world” makes things complicated. Because of balancing, hard level requirements come into play, as mentioned in Mitch’s piece. You can still be playing things solo, but now you are required to be a certain level, because other players exist, but not because you are directly interacting with them. Multiple players are there, but it is not multiplayer.

Jennifer:
I think forced shared world is kind of crappy, if I’m being honest.

Dylan:
See, that’s the portion of Mitch’s piece that threw me off, because at no point did I run into any issues with my level when playing through the game’s story. Therefore, I never experienced any gating issues.

Jennifer:
That could be, no offense to Mitch, a skill issue. Some people can do stuff at a lower level just because they play differently.

Dylan:
No, I think he couldn’t physically get access to certain content because of his level, not because he simply couldn’t complete it despite trying. And I’m saying I never experienced that in Destiny 2.

Robin:
The Witcher 3 has gating. It is there to guide the story, and there is more than enough hand-designed side content to get there without grinding. It’s when the gating forces the player out of a single-player environment, or forces them into (my definition of) grinding, that it becomes a problem.

Witcher3

Dylan:
I guess the real question is: Does a shared world automatically make a game multiplayer, whether you interact with those other players or not?

Jennifer:
If it’s forced, I guess it would at least make it co-op. I mean Diablo has multiplayer but you have to choose to share your world.

Robin:
Mitch’s piece really nails this I think. Grinding in a single-player experience is a lack of dev-time/effort: “grinding is by no means unfashionable, but it comes from a time when file sizes and development teams were so small that forcing replay of content was a means of padding out a story to make it seem bigger and more developed. Some of the truly great RPGs that stand the test of time are those that have limited grinding to a minimum, such as Chrono Trigger or much of Bioware’s pre-Dragon Age 2 output.” And when that is tied to shared worlds, it is not a surprise that single-player gamers get irritated.
As long as the designers provide enough SP side experiences to allow you to enjoy that shared world without awkward hard gating, but that requirement is key. Developers have to provide for that player if they’re going to market it as a ‘single-player game’.

Jennifer:
Was that precisely how it was worded or did they say “Single-player game with co-op elements” or some other wordy words?

Dylan:
I really don’t remember. They honestly focused so heavily on advertising the game’s campaign (because the first game didn’t really have one) that most people interpreted it as a single-player game. However, if you were familiar with its predecessor, you knew it was much more than that.

Robin:
As someone who played the first game as an SP gamer, I saw the marketing and decided not to buy it. Sounded very much like the marketing for the first game, just professionalised.

Dylan:
Right, but I think part of my issue is expecting Destiny’s sequel to be a bastion of single-player content when the first game absolutely was not. Expect them to improve upon single-player elements, sure, but don’t expect it to stand out as a single-player experience, because that’s not the point of the franchise. So, I think it boils down to unreasonable expectations on the side of consumers and also lack of clarification by developers/publishers.

Robin:
My opinion is this: Gating is fine in a single-player RPG experience, if it is there for good reason (e.g. The Witcher 3, to guide the story). That said, it comes with the requirement that there should be equally well-designed, thought-out, and interesting side content that most players would expect to enjoy in its own right. I don’t think it’s acceptable to lock story content behind grinding or gating that requires more than a couple of hours of play (excepting the actual questlines themselves obviously).
I think a game that handled this balance really well was Oblivion. In the main quest, you had to get ‘Friends for Bruma’, to help defend the city. You could go to every other city in the game and get help from all of them, or you could approach one or two allies and be ready to go. Long, somewhat grindy quest, but totally optional.

Jennifer:

Gating is when story content is locked behind level or gear quality. There’s a lot of different types of gating. Linear stories are gated by default. You can’t complete one part of the story without the one that comes before. Then there’s gear gating, level gating, and skill gating.

Richard:
Would you agree there’s another type of gating, side-quests gating, where in games like Middle-Earth: Shadow of War you need to complete several of the side missions before the next main mission reveals itself?

Jennifer:
I think I would call that content-gating, where some content is locked behind other content. That’s part of linear storytelling.

Robin:

In SoW they’re all main quests, no? There’s four or five separate but entwined story lines. Should linear stories incorporate gear, level, or skill gating, and should said gating force grinding?

Jennifer:
Gear no, level yes, skill somewhat. In extra content though all of those should be considered, with more emphasis on skill. As for level gating forcing a grind, I think here is where we can get nitpicky and say that it’s fine as long as it’s not too much. Like say the maximum level in a game is 100, so you would say that 50 is the minimum required level to finish the last part. But level gating is usually even more generous than that and would say like, level 30.

Robin:
Because they want to give players the option of getting great gear and over-leveling for that one boss, or taking it on early and having a real challenge. I think that’s a good example of level gating

Richard:
I’d like to say gear gating and level gating can be too closely related and that both shouldn’t be necessary.

Robin:
Gear gating, for me at least, is an absolute no-no in SP RPG games—I can’t think of a good example. I am however, willing to be corrected if anyone can!

Jennifer:
For storyline, there usually isn’t one. Unless the story is based around some legendary sword or something, but in most cases when it comes to that, getting said sword is part of the story. I can argue the FFX-2 thing again where you do miss out on story if you don’t get the best of everything, but you still get the base story without it so I don’t have an issue with the way that game was done. You just don’t get the real ending.

Robin:
Besides, most gear appreciates in quality in tandem with the player’s level, so it is usually a non-issue

Dylan:
That’s not true in SoW. Your gear does not get better as you level. You have to acquire better gear or manually upgrade the gear you have by fulfilling certain challenges. The same is true in AC:O. Your gear is not automatically upgraded as you level.

Robin:
True, Dylan, but as you level the quality of drops you get improves automatically. Anyway, how do you all feel about limiting grinds to end-game content in SP games? Or if you are going to offer it, tie it to a separate game mode (e.g. New Game + Extra or something)?

Jennifer:
Again I think it depends on the game. Some games, like ARPGs and specifically ARPG dungeon crawlers are expected to have a little grind in the leveling/story process.

Richard:
I’d say it’s acceptable as long as the ending of the actual game isn’t locked behind it. Post-credit scenes, etc. are a nice bonus for putting in the extra time but the main story’s end-game experience should not be hindered by grinding.

Dylan:
Personally, when it comes to SP games, it depends. If it’s an open-world RPG, I honestly prefer there to be some grinding throughout, even if I have to reach a certain level before I complete a certain story mission (AC:O), because it’s open-world and I can do it at my own pace. Thinking logically about it (at least to me), it also forces players to actually experience content that developers took the time to put into the game rather than blowing through the story and giving the finger to everything else.

Jennifer:
For the most part it’s probably healthier for the game to have a huge section of end-game content. The way Final Fantasy had always done it long ago, where you complete almost the entire story then it turns from linear to open world was the best way, I think.

Robin:
Dylan, would you include the game encouraging you to experience well-designed side content as grinding then? I’d argue that’s gating, not grinding.

Dylan:
I think that’s also situational, because some side content includes hunting animals to acquire materials to upgrade your equipment in order to stand a better chance against stronger foes. Using AC:O as the example again, achieving the appropriate level doesn’t always mean you’re up to the task, because you need to upgrade your equipment to actually do much damage to enemies. So, I guess my answer is, “everything in moderation.” There’s a threshold.

Robin:
Where is that threshold?

Dylan:
Well, based on the different definitions presented by the three of you, I would say that varies from gamer to gamer.

AC-Origins

Robin:
In AC:O specifically: how long does it take you (typically) to gather the materials needed to upgrade your weapon and equipment? (Excluding passive pickups, so only things you have to go out of your way to get).

Dylan:
To upgrade my weapon? Not long at all. Less than 20  minutes since it only costs 3,000 of whatever the in-game currency is called at a blacksmith. Now, to upgrade my hidden blade, chest plate, or quiver or something, that can take longer at higher tiers because of the rare materials you have to find. Acquiring five of those can take longer, because you have to find chests, or purchase them from that nomadic trader who provides a different quest every day. I’d say, if I commit, I could probably get five of those in an hour.

Robin:
So that’s not unreasonable right? Five is a small numerical limit for repetitive tasks, and an hour is not too long.

Jennifer:
An example from me is that to grind levels in Skyrim I would do enchanting and alchemy by gathering ingredients and soulstones then making hundreds of potions and enchanting hundreds of pieces of gear that I crafted while leveling blacksmithing with all the ore I rode around mining. And to go from 1-100 enchanting would probably take about 12 hours.

Robin:
Sure, but the game didn’t require you to do that right? While in AC:O’s case, Dylan struggles to progress further without the right gear.

Jennifer:
Well I play on Legendary so, yeah, it kind of did require it. If I wanted to play on a lower difficulty then no.

Robin:
Dylan, how long would be too long for AC:O? At what point would you get annoyed?

Dylan:
The harder the content, the more time you’re going to have to commit to accomplishing it (at least in the beginning). That’s usually how it works. To answer your question, Robin, I’m an anomaly, like Jennifer. I can spend days or weeks doing repetitive nonsense until I get the thing I want, even in single-player games. She and I have spent hours upon hours, days upon days, weeks upon weeks of grinding the same content just trying to accomplish one or two things. So, in AC:O terms, I could probably farm 100 of those rare items in a night and not drive myself insane. I don’t do that, because I actually have to write, but my availability does not affect my threshold.

Robin:
Oh goodness, you were the wrong person to ask… So basically, the real question is this: How do game designers in SP games balance for the MMO-style grinders/people who play on Death March vs people like me, who mostly just want to chill out and occasionally have something a little more challenging to work towards?

I think we’ve already answered it to an extent:
1. Limit gating to level gating, as long as there is adequate, well-designed side content available
2. Limit grinding within the main quest unless playing on a higher difficulty level
3. Offer grinding experiences beyond the main quest/story modes
4. Offer difficulty sliders that not only require higher skill levels, but greater time commitments (and make said additional time commitment clear).
Does anyone take issue with my numbered summary?

Jennifer:
I suppose I agree. I really don’t like how this is somehow insinuating that grinds are a bad bad thing. It makes me want to say things that would make me feel old.

Robin:
Jennifer, it’s not that they’re a bad thing, it’s just that they’re an exclusionary thing by their very nature.

Jennifer:
Well I don’t know, maybe that’s one reason I like them. When I look at my achievements in Skyrim and I see that I have done something only .2% of those who own the game on Steam have done, I am like “Oh hell yeah.” When I see my name in the top 200 on the leaderboard in Diablo, I am ecstatic.

Robin:
Going back to that  summary, I’d like to talk about games that get it wrong, and fail to hit those points/missell themselves… Good news: I am actually struggling to think of SP games that do fail those four tests.

Dylan:
The only one I could think of that even really comes close is The Surge, but even that one doesn’t fail those tests. It’s actually a really good game, but there is some grinding to upgrade your gear to actually be able to defeat the bosses.

Robin:
Ahhhh, I think this is why shared world becomes an issue; a lot of SP-only games have addressed this issue already right? Except now in shared world there are balancing issues: MMO-type players come into the equation, and a lot of SP gamers aren’t used to the grind and find it annoying. The Division comes to mind.
So to re-focus this again: Developers are increasingly turning to shared-world experiences because they see them as an unmitigated good, a new standard. What they’re not necessarily accounting for is the SP RPG gamer who now suddenly feels alienated by an unaccustomed grind,  and that’s where we see a lot of emotion/debate occurring

Dylan:
The Division was pretty bad about that, but a lot of that grind was from a competitive standpoint, and if we look at that from Richard’s opinion of what is single-player, The Division would not fit that mold. It’d be considered multiplayer.

Robin:
My point about those games wasn’t that they are single-player, but that they market themselves as available to single-player gamers, and then introduce unfamiliar mechanics with poor/little warning

Jennifer:
I think gaming evolves, and gamers have to evolve with it. I’ve been gaming since 1983. We’ve come a long, long way. The idea of a game like Skyrim would have been ludicrous to me when I was a teenager.

Dylan:
I agree. If gaming didn’t evolve, we’d still be playing 1958’s iteration of Pong.

Although the chat ended at this point, the dialogue can continue in the comments section below. Chime in with your thoughts on the debate and let us know where you stand on the subject of grinding and gating in single-player games. Also, if you enjoyed reading this discussion, we have plans to make it a regular occurrence, so keep an eye out for more.

Editorial

Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in July 2019

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Three Single Player Games (July 2019) - Sea of Solitude, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Wolfenstein Youngblood

July, the middle of winter down here in Australia. Even in the bizarre New South Wales climate, the biting cold makes for a great excuse to stay inside and play games. 

Weirdly for single players, quite a few prestige games this month include additional co-op modes. With acclaimed designers behind them, such games will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of accommodating multiple players, as too many games have done in the past.

Sea of Solitude

Release Date: July 5, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

At first blush, Sea of Solitude looks like yet another story of a young adult struggling with questions of identity and mental health while exploring a beautiful but harsh fantasy world.

Actually, that’s what it is. ‘Quirky, life affirming indie adventure’ is a whole cottage industry these days, but the fact that such games are now more prevalent should never dismay.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a masterpiece of refined design and storytelling, and Sea of Solitude appears be something similar—this time dealing with a fantastical vision of depression that turns ordinary people into literal monsters.

Players take charge of Kay, who has sought out the eponymous Sea—or rather, a flooded city based on Berlin—in the hope that there is a cure for monstrosity. However, despite its name, she is not the only person in the Sea. Avoiding the other monsters of the Sea seems to be a major part of the gameplay. These tense encounters are likely to provide rhythm and variety to the adventure and keep it from being a just walking simulator. (Not that being a walking simulator is inherently a problem.)

Although published by EA Originals, one would do well to remember that EA the company does not actually profit off the Originals that they publish. With a focused story and themes that still are not often explored in bigger games, Sea of Solitude should be of great interest to single player fans in a month otherwise dominated by multiplayer titles.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Almost certainly the biggest single player release of the month, and tied with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as another massive Switch exclusive, Fire Emblem: Three Houses might be exactly what single players need right now.

Lately the Fire Emblem franchise has exploded in both its popular profile and sales success, buoyed by a hunger for both deep anime RPGs and polished tactics games. Three Houses seems to have doubled down on exciting trends and features in both genres: particularly a Persona/Harry Potter inspired magic school setting and an even deeper tactical battle system that ditches the rock-paper-scissors for more nuanced character progression options. As with many Japanese RPGs, the story is also a major focus and hinges upon a time-jump.

The early part casts the player as a teacher at the Officer’s Academy, situated in the center of the game world and attended by students from the three most powerful nations. Five years later, the second and likely larger part concerns the drama between the player’s teacher and their former students, whose nations are now locked in a massive three-way conflict.

As is to be expected for a series finally coming back to consoles after a long time on the 3DS, Three Houses is a massive technical leap over its predecessors. The game boasts better realised battlefields, more detailed armies, and a slick animated style that appears much more consistent compared with the three or four different art styles on the 3DS.

With such improvements, as well as the overall pedigree of the Fire Emblem brand, Three Houses should have no trouble satisfying single player fans looking for a meaty middle-of-the-year RPG.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

The recent Wolfenstein revival series is such a remarkable achievement in traditional shooter design and great, if goofy, sci-fi worldbuilding that the co-op focus of this latest instalment is somewhat disappointing.

Yes, as with F.E.A.R. 3 and Dead Space 3, following a well-received second chapter the Wolfenstein series now pivots to a co-operative focused chapter. Though the game is not a mandatory multiplayer experience, combat encounters and puzzles have been redesigned to accommodate the two player mode, giving single players an AI-controlled partner and bullet sponge enemies.

However, all hope is not lost for Wolfenstein: why else would it be the third game on the list? The narrative has been pushed forward in time, as B.J.’s twin daughters are now in their adolescence, now giving players a glimpse at the 1980s of Wolfenstein‘s skewed universe. Additionally, the level design itself is more freeform thanks to development assistance from Arkane, the developers of the Dishonored series.

Will Wolfenstein: Youngblood successfully deliver more of the series’s goofy charm and crazy alternate reality? Almost certainly. On the other hand, will the game be as fun to play alone as in multiplayer? That remains to be seen. Last month’s E3 demo that raised such concerns was naturally only a snapshot of a game in development, so MachineGames and Arkane have had plenty of time to resolve these potential downsides to a co-op focused game.

Those are our three big single player games to look out for this month. Other interesting titles coming soon include Stranger Things 3 on July 4 and Attack on Titan 2 on July 5, both games hitting Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

On July 12 we will see the sequel to an almost-fantastic Minecraft-like RPG spinoff, Dragon Quest Builders 2 on Switch and PlayStation 4, as well as the Switch port of “anime Monster Hunter”, God Eater 3

The week after, July 19 brings us Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, and at an undetermined time during the month Klei Entertainment’s anticipated survival-sim Oxygen Not Included will finally leave early access on PC.

Have we missed anything that you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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