The num­bers games

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World Of War­craft has been at it for don­key’s years, of course, and is an RPG. As such, it’s no sur­prise that its lat­est ex­pan­sion, Le­gion (p120), con­tin­ues along a road laid down over a decade ago when the sem­i­nal MMOG con­quered the world. Nor are we sur­prised to find Bl­iz­zard’s sta­ble­mate, Bungie, plough­ing the same fur­row with the fourth ex­pan­sion to Des­tiny, Rise Of Iron (p114). Th­ese are games with power curves de­fined by loot, and with that comes a nat­u­ral re­quire­ment for num­bers to be ev­ery­where.

Yet it needn’t al­ways be like this. Forza Hori­zon 3 (p106) is the most ac­ces­si­ble rac­ing game in an age, a flex­i­ble, friendly en­try in a genre that typ­i­cally ap­peals to the savvy petrol­head above all else. Yet it, too, is ob­sessed with num­bers – and not just in terms of lap times. Cross the fin­ish line in a race and you watch as three sep­a­rate coun­ters tick up­wards, while out on the road a skill sys­tem doles out a tor­rent of stats. Is the shot of dopamine you get from per­fectly guid­ing a Fer­rari round a sweep­ing coastal bend no longer enough?

Ul­ti­mately it feels like a mat­ter of en­gage­ment. Tan­gi­bly mea­sur­able progress means we are more likely to come back for more. WOW de­pends on subscriptions; Des­tiny on a healthy player­base. Forza’s case is harder to un­der­stand. Per­haps it’s just de­signed to be an­other way to re­ward the player in a game that goes above and be­yond in its de­sire to make you happy. So long as games keep get­ting that part right, they can make us do all the maths they like.

Re­mem­ber when we used to play games be­cause we liked them? When stat sheets and num­ber-crunch­ing were the do­main of CRPGs and com­plex sim­u­la­tors? There is an in­nate plea­sure in watching num­bers rack up, ad­mit­tedly, but we’re be­gin­ning to won­der whether videogames’ ob­ses­sion with the nu­mer­i­cal is be­gin­ning to get out of hand.

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