The Order: 1886, Ready At Dawn’s Playstation 4 exclusive due out at the end of this week, has received quite the run-through in the last few days, fallout that mostly pertains to a full game play-through video posted on Youtube which showed the game’s length to be around the 5 hour mark (That video has now been taken down as it’s channel has been terminated). Being that the game is a full priced $60 game ($70 in Canada), the idea of paying $12 dollars/hour of content has forced many gamers to ask themselves how important game length is to the overall value associated with the end product.
Now whether or not the mean time to completion of the Order is a few hours longer than that play-through is yet to be determined. The review embargo finishes tomorrow, so we will no doubt be buried in a host of different play-through lengths at that point. For their part, Ready at Dawn has suggested that the game can take up to as long as 12 hours to play. But what this game has started is this theoretical conversation around the value of game length vis-à-vis price.
The Order represents a once dying breed of games, a AAA single player experience, that is having somewhat of a renaissance in this new generation. That is to say that it has no multiplayer options to encourage keeping the game in the system post-completion of the single-player campaign. The impetus of such strategies relies heavily on creating a strong enough narrative experience that players wish to re-engage with the story for future playthroughs, not unlike watching a movie that you love over and over again. One of last year’s greatest games also took this approach, Wolfenstein: New Order, also eschewing the all too common PvP multiplayer that accompanies most first person shooters.
On the flip side, we have also begun receiving more and more multiplayer games that have chosen to forego a single player experience, thus ensuring that their multiplayer systems are as balanced and enjoyable as possible. Many a gamer has argued that the Call of Duty series should have done this several iterations ago (though for my part, I have enjoyed plenty of Call of Duty campaigns, the latest, Advanced Warfare, being one of their strongest in years). Moving this model forward are games like Titanfall and Evolve. In the case of both games, many argued that the content was too sparse to be a full priced game, especially when considering the lack of a single player campaign, a feature thought to be of primary importance to some.
So here we have two different approaches to game content, and both have been divisive when considering the level of value each brings. While I have delved into Evolve only so briefly thus far, I can account for countless hours devoted to Titanfall’s “sparse” amount of content, and never felt hindered by its lack of campaign. In such a case, I found I had reached a satisfactory amount of value for the 70 dollars that I payed. On the opposite side, Wolfenstein was such a compelling game that I felt no need for a tacked-on multiplayer. Though it must be stated that Wolfenstein’s average completion time was approximately 14 ½ hours, a far deal more than The Order.
I thought it would be useful then to look at other single player focussed, narrative-driven games that have made a splash in the last few years and how they compare in game length. By narrative-driven, I mean games that have chosen a rather linear approach to game design, and though environments may have hidden explorable areas, the focus of the game is on generating a tightly knit narrative experience – a focussed story if you will – rather than single player open world games which encourage tens of hours of side quests, meandering, and exploration at the sacrifice of leading players on a more concrete journey. For all of these average play times, I have gotten my data from the website Game Lengths.
One of the chief storytellers in gaming is Irrational’s Ken Levine, creator of the Bioshock series. With Levine’s games dating back from System Shock 2, the focus has been on a shared narrative experience for all players. Countless amounts of effort are poured into creating tight gameplay environment’s and situations that push forward the game’s narrative. Sure there is some openness there, but for the most part you have a singular path that you are following, the purpose being that the audience never forgets what is happening in their game, story-wise. That allows for the twists and turns to be so much more impactful as you are lacking distractions and have no choice but to stay invested in the narrative aspects of the game. Now Bioshock games are not short either. Like Wolfenstein, they tended to fit around the 15 hour mark.
Then there is The Last of Us, a masterpiece in interactive story-telling. Like Bioshock, The Last of Us had a tight story and rather linear game design. Also like Bioshock, The Last of Us averages at around 15 to 16 hours of gameplay, not including its multiplayer modes.
So what about a shorter example. One of the most heralded single player experiences from last generation was Spec Ops: The Line. This game was incredibly linear in its story-telling, and with great purpose. A meditation on the effects of killing, Spec Ops needed to hold your hand, guiding you from set piece to set piece as its narrative was of primary importance to its creators. The game was only around 8 hours long on average, but what it produced has been singled out for its interactive story-telling. (Seriously, if you haven’t played this game than you are missing out on something incredibly special!!!) Now Spec Ops, like The Last of Us, did have a multiplayer option, but I highly doubt many played it. I certainly didn’t, and it didn’t matter. Its story was deep and its character development was rich. It created situations that I still hold on to today, several years since I played it last. Did it warrant its full price? Well that is inherently subjective, but to me it did. The game was not overly short, but it certainly wasn’t drawn out either. Dealing with such human material, I fear that had it actually been any longer, it could have suffered from a loss of impact as you went from one depressing scenario to the next. If anything it was the length it needed to be to tell the story it wanted to tell and my memories of it last to this very day.
So coming back to the Order then, as well as it’s potential five hour campaign, without having fully experienced it’s narrative it is hard to equate any actual value to the game as of yet. But here is the simple truth of the matter. Ready At Dawn has designed The Order with a very specific purpose, to tell a story. To tell that story, they have chosen video games, an interactive medium that, while expensive, allows its audience to completely and wholly invest themselves into a narrative experience unlike any other, escape if you will. If – and that is an important IF – Ready At Dawn has designed a narrative experience that truly grabs its audience, and pulls it into its world, then who is to say that that five hours can’t be as, if not more important to some players than all 100 hours of a Persona game to others.
I have grappled with price and game length before. I questioned Gone Home and it’s $20 price tag pretty much around this time last year. I looked at Ryse, another game that chose story as its primary focus, and found myself lost in its beautifully detailed environments, enough so to urge any lover of ancient history to jump on board despite its linear design. What I have seen in The Order has me cautiously optimistic. I love the game’s aesthetic. I think that the neo-historic period that Ready At Dawn has chosen is perfectly suited to interactive story-telling. As long as the actual gameplay is solid enough that it does not detract from the game’s more artfully designed aspects, in particular its story-telling, then it very much indeed could be worth the price of admission. For it must be noted that sometimes replayability does not have to come from multiple endings, hundreds of sidequests, or multiplayer. Sometimes replayability simply comes from an epic story that you want to experience over and over again. And to me, that is value through and through.
While this is an opinion piece that used The Order as a stepping stone to discuss value, game content, and game length, I do urge people to simply wait for reviewers to give their impressions before jumping on this or any other game. Games as a commodity are expensive and thus people should always be guarded when investing so much money on one specific thing. Listen to those you trust, do your due diligence, and once you have weighed the pros vs the cons, make the choice that best suits you.
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