Innovation is hard to come by in today’s gaming scene. At times, ‘something new’ can quickly become a tiresome features added to games’ bulleted list of uninspired ‘bigger and better’ offerings. Thankfully, giving games ‘the feels’ seems to be a growing trend in games that is, oddly enough, giving life to some cut and dry systems.
For years, I’ve applauded Middle Earth:Shadow of Mordor for their amazing Nemesis System. The randomly generated orc officer trait system allows for each playthru of the game to be very different and increasingly challenging regardless of what stage of the game you are. With varying voices, orc types, weapons (magical, ranged, and so forth), fears, and more, the system is basically like a Borderlands loot system for enemies. This (as well as the amazing voice acting) allows for the game to have quite the personality as you adventure thru countless missions to kill, dominate, sabotage, and otherwise wreak havoc through Sauron’s army. As expected, this system only looks to improve and get bigger as Shadow of War is on the cusp of release later this year.
Seeing how well this system added a new dimension to the otherwise repetitive gameplay, I rubbed my hands awaiting to see how many other developers would take a cue from the Nemesis System and add randomization to their gameplay in more ways than just loot or map generation. Here are just a few.
As a Kickstarter project released in 2016 officially after a successful Early Access run, Darkest Dungeon added a new spin to dungeon crawlers like Bard’s Tale and Wizardry. As your recruited heroes are exposed to the dangers of adventuring and combat, their stress levels increase. As their stress increases, different quirks such as necrophilia, becoming abusive, or even fear of mankind. Each of these quirks have actual effects on their stats and even their actions as the player can lose control of overstressed party members in certain situations. Let their stress levels peak and they can even have a heart attack which will drop their health to zero in an instant!
With each of your party members having both positive and negative quirks, the player must balance party chemistry as well as their personalities as some characters may even refuse to work with others! By varying the game in this manner with such personality traits, no two play-thru’s are the same and adventures are rarely ever bland. The result is an additional difficulty factor that keeps RPG and tactical fans coming back for more!
Inspired by the Bosnian War, this simulation game puts you in the shoes of civilians surviving a war in a fictional country. You basically manage a group of survivors by instructing them to scavenge for food, tools, weapons, medicine, and more as a war tears apart their surroundings. The problem is that you don’t directly control the different survivors. You basically dole out orders to each survivor, but if they are depressed or stressed or sick, they may chose not to carry out your orders. On top of that, if they get too depressed, they may even commit suicide! This truly emotional game was meant to display the stress and day to day dangers of civilians with no or little military training and what they have to do to survive. As you play the game you almost develop a kinship with them as you do all that you can to make sure they are taken care of. Of course, looters, snipers, and broken equipment will test their and your resolve as the game repeatedly tugs on your heart strings to keep the characters alive.
The developers at Firaxis were also inspired by Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis system by their own admission and have developed a new DLC for XCOM 2 that embodies giving their game more ‘feels’. Both the aliens you encounter and the soldiers that you command will have more personality in how they interact with friend or foe.
More specifically, the aliens will look to kidnap and taunt your soldiers. Not only that, they will react more to specific attacks ‘return-fire’ style. On the flip side, soldiers will build relationships with fellow teammates as well as suffer/gain psychological quirks that will help and harm them as time goes on. This ‘personality addition’ will definitely make you value and chose favorites amongst your team as they get better at fighting together. Of course, losing their battle buddy could prove difficult adding a new level of strategy that might cause you to lose control of a rampaging soldier who recently lost their long time teammate (queue the memories of Maverick and Goose).
As you can see, adding personality of this sort to games beyond the story itself adds a new level of replayability to the game whether long form open world style or on rails story driven with side quests. With Shadow of War expanding the original system this fall, let’s hope that more games and franchises look to incorporate ‘the feels’ as well!