Change is good, isn’t it? Like, exhibiting personal growth and being able to look back and recognize that maybe you were a little too harsh on something just because you didn’t know any better and changing your opinion because of it is something to celebrate, right? That’s where I’m at with Divinity: Original Sin II, and I honestly couldn’t be happier to be wrong.
I don’t think I ever really hated Divinity: Original Sin II, rather, I would just write it off as a game that people other than me could actually enjoy. Hearing the rave reviews from critics and friends alike made it painfully obvious to me that the game was excellent, but it just always seemed like an experience that just wouldn’t resonate with me. Then Baldur’s Gate III entered early access, and everything changed.
I’m not going to reexplain everything I’ve mentioned in my previousarticles about Baldur’s Gate III, so you can read those on your own if you’re so inclined. Instead, I’m just going to say that because Baldur’s Gate III managed to sink its claws into me, I was able to easily make the transition to Divinity: Original Sin II. Let’s be clear though, I want to play more of Baldur’s Gate III far more than any other game I own at the moment, but it’s so early and janky that I’d rather wait and play a similar, yet structurally sound game for now.
Divinity: Original Sin II isn’t a perfect game, nor is it scratching the exact itch that Baldur’s Gate III was, but it’s still a good time. I’ve been told numerous times that Divinity: Original Sin II has something of a difficulty spike towards the end of the campaign, but that’s why easy mode was invented.
Not only did I make the decision to not only play on the easiest difficulty, but I also opted to load the game up with mods to make it a more “interesting” experience. I’ve got custom classes and unique weapons falling out of my ass at this point with all the shit I’ve injected into the game, and I’m enjoying this play-through much more than my initial, mod-less one. And I can already hear the cries of, “aren’t you going to play the game normally?” to which I say, “no.”
I’m playing Divinity: Original Sin II in a way that’s enjoyable for me, and I have no interest in looking up optimal builds or guides that will basically tell me how to play the game step by step. I’d rather just wade into the game on my own terms along with the ability to summon any item in the game whenever I damn well please. Sure it isn’t the “intended experience” or whatever, but I’m happy with the version of the game that I’ve created called, “Divinity: Original Sin II: Ari’s Bastardized Edition.
Before I dive into the bulk of this article, it should be mentioned that no video game could ever truly capture the Dungeons & Dragons experience solely because there are static limitations to any video game. You can account for a lot of things as a game designer and try to cater to dozens of styles of play, but no game could adapt to the wild and imaginative things that players regularly ask of their DM’s quite like a living, breathing person present. Yet in spite of all of that Baldur’s Gate III already shows incredible promise when it comes to representing D&D and is a game I’m genuinely enjoying.
Don’t get me wrong, Baldur’s Gate III is a technical mess at the moment but I know what I signed up for when I decided to buy a game that’s in early access. I’m not going to harp on the performance of the game too much, but if you’re curious about what I mean by a “technical mess,” I can summarize that really quickly.
In its current, fresh into early access condition, Baldur’s Gate III runs inconsistently, usually fluctuating anywhere between running at 20 fps to 144 fps on my machine. Lip syncing for the new “cinematic” conversations is basically non-existent, and graphical glitches from T-posing, duplicating NPC’s you’re actively talking to, and ragdolls going wild are common occurrences. That kind of stuff is all bound to be smoothed over during the course of their early access period, so I’m not worried about that.
With that said, there are some things I would very much like to see fixed, changed and improved that pertain more to how the Dungeons & Dragons rules are translated into a video game. While this article isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, it does represent the things that I have personally noticed. I really love D&D, but I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in its mechanics or lore, so this is truly just representative of how I enjoy playing Dungeons & Dragons.
SHOW ME THE NUMBERS
In D&D you have a core set of skills like strength or wisdom, that as you pour stat points into them you’re granted a higher modifier. A modifier is the number you add to your roll or in some cases subtract from it, representing…well your skill at a particular ability. For instance, a rogue is going to be pretty good at sneaking around, picking pockets and doing cool flips, so their dexterity score and thus, modifier are going to be higher. Without just explaining the rules of D&D anymore than I already have, the rogue would have a couple of numbers they can add to a D20 roll in order to clear the difficulty class (DC) that represents how hard what they’re attempting is.
Baldur’s Gate III does this as well, but oddly enough reverses it. Instead of you adding numbers to a roll to clear a DC, all of your stats and bonuses subtract from the DC. It may not sound like a big deal, but after years of playing D&D it’s an incredibly jarring change. I suspect that the reason for this change is to make it simpler for new players with little to no experience with D&D to comprehend what’s going on. It’s obfuscating the math as not to confuse people and just have them focus on the dice roll itself, but that should definitely be something I can toggle on and off. As a player and a DM, I want to see those numbers.
Also, it just feels better to roll higher numbers than it is to roll low ones.
Considering that there isn’t really a DM in Baldur’s Gate III outside of a narrator who pops in regularly to make you feel like everything you’re doing is wrong, there isn’t much of a way to just perform random skill checks as far as I can tell. In D&D, if I find myself in an ancient library as a barbarian, I’m going to just sit back and contemplate how flammable these “books” as you call them, actually are. Yet if I’m a big brainy wizard, I’m going to be rolling arcana and history checks like they’re going out of style.
Half of the fun of playing D&D is being able to uncover clues or lore about the world through performing well timed checks. Being able to do a perception check when I enter a room or run a nature check on a potentially poisonous berry are just a sliver of ways that players get to feel powerful and useful as their characters.
There isn’t really any of that going on in Baldur’s Gate III however. The way that certain skill checks are handled is kind of bizarre and a little too passive for my liking. The only active checks I can perform are in dialogue situations, where I pick the line of dialogue that allows me to roll an insight or deception check. I understand this limitation in conversations because the alternative would be an colossal feat of programming. Allowing me to just roll whatever check I want in any and all conversations seems akin to asking Larian Studios to work on Baldur’s Gate III till the end of time.
But outside of conversations and combat, it’s just weird to me how pushed into the background a lot of these checks are. Almost every skill check that occurs while exploring is transformed into a passive check. I assume the game is rolling a dice in the background, but it’s still incredibly weird that I have no say over what check I’m rolling and when. I wouldn’t mind if there was some sort of “active DM” situation that would prompt me to roll a stealth check when I wander into a bad situation unwittingly. And if I do succeed on a passive perception check it would be nice to know what it is I noticed, because virtual Ari might see it, but flesh Ari does not.
While I’m bellyaching about the checks in Baldur’s Gate III, I wouldn’t mind if the game slowed itself down entirely to act like a DM. If there’s a trap I’ve wandered into, stop the game and bring up a menu that says, “hey, you fucked up and didn’t check for traps cause we don’t let you just do that, and now you’ve gotta roll dexterity saving throws for these party members. Good luck!” That’s the kind of D&D stuff I’m looking for from Baldur’s Gate III.
I think I just want Baldur’s Gate III to capture the feeling of sitting down to play D&D more than I want it to capture the world and lore. Sure those things are important to me, but when I ask for more transparency in dice rolls and checks, it’s because I’m trying to get that rush of playing D&D out of Baldur’s Gate III first and foremost.
This one is genuinely confusing to me, because it’s such an important part of the communal experience of D&D that its absence from the game is beyond odd. In D&D, your character cannot and should not be a skeleton key that can just do everything. Your characters are supposed to be flawed and fallible, which is why adventures travel in parties. The wizard may be a really smart magic-man, but he needs the fighter and her strength to defend him cause he’ll just get squished like a bug.
In its very early access state, Baldur’s Gate III seems to miss that mark by a wide margin. At the moment, my party has a cleric, fighter, rogue and a warlock, all with different skills and proficiencies that should work fairly well together. In combat, different skills and abilities work wonderfully together. Having the rogue shoot an oil barrel causing its contents to create a puddle under my enemies, followed by my warlock igniting said oil was a satisfying example of synergy, but outside of combat that isn’t really the case.
What isn’t in Baldur’s Gate III is an easy way to compare the skills and proficiencies of your characters without having to dig through a menu. So when I’m trying to break down a door or disarm a trap, I have to make an assumption on the fly of who to send to tackle said obstacle. Giving me a prompt or tool tip that just says like, “lock picking check” and then an ordered list of who in my party has the highest relevant skill for it would be nice.
But the most infuriating example of this is in situations where you have to talk to people. Baldur’s Gate III doesn’t do a great job of incorporating the rest of your party into your conversations. Sure, their lifeless husks will loom in the background unblinking while a man tells you the sad story about his brother or whatever, but they won’t help you in any way. For instance, if my character had a super low charisma score, I’d have to live with that every single time I entered into a conversation with someone. I wouldn’t be able to let the smooth talking bard (who isn’t in the game yet) do their thing and schmooze people over, no, instead Gronk the dwarf with a brain injury is going to ruminate on the income disparities that run rampant throughout the city of Waterdeep. That’ll fucking go well.
All I’m saying is, the adventuring party relies on one another for their talents and abilities, and I feel like Baldur’s Gate III doesn’t deliver on that in certain aspects of their game to varying degrees.
WAIT, I WANT TO GO BACK
There are times in D&D where a player might have a plan in their mind that they try to enact, only to find out that mechanically it wouldn’t be possible. That’s the good thing about having a cool DM, they’ll let you know that your harebrained scheme isn’t going to work or they might even work with you to make that nonsense happen. What’s even cooler is when a DM let’s you rewrite your turn upon finding out that said nonsense isn’t going to work.
Baldur’s Gate III is not a cool DM and is a bit of an asshole when it comes to you being able to fix your mistakes. Now I’m not asking for Baldur’s Gate III to allow me to just try out spells on enemies till I get the result I like or anything, but I don’t think it would be a big deal if it let me undo my movement if I haven’t taken an action yet. With the camera and path-finding in Baldur’s Gate III being what it is, which is to say it’s bad, being able to undo your movement in your turn would be extremely helpful.
Too often I’ll find that I’ve wasted my movement, taken an opportunity attack, and ended up in prime position to be blasted by 3 wizards and an archer. All of this could be fixed with a simple “undo” button. To be entirely fair though, that button may exist somewhere, but lord knows I haven’t found it yet.
STOP, NO, WAIT, GO THERE
I never thought an isometrically oriented game could have so many camera and movement control issues, but here we are. It’s borderline maddening how many times I’ll try clicking on something that I can clearly see, only for my character to interpret “go there” as, “climb that mountain behind you.”
Part of this frustration has to do with the camera, which might function exactly like it did in Larian’s previous titles, but I couldn’t say for sure. But in Baldur’s Gate III, the camera does this cut away trick to reveal the area in front of and around you while dissolving any trees or natural coverings that would normally obscure you to account for whatever angle you’re viewing the action from. Think of how The Sims does it, where those things are still there, but you need to rotate the camera to see them again.
What Baldur’s Gate III does which has resulted in my great frustration, is allowing me to click on things that I can’t see. There was an instance where there was a natural stone archway that formed out of the side of mountain that had a road running underneath it. I made the mistake of stopping too close to the archway I suppose, which resulted in me trying to click further up the road to progress forward, but the cursor actually clicked the top of the archway that was dissolved away by the camera. I couldn’t see the thing I just clicked on, but my party tried to climb that archway with gusto.
Luckily for me though, there wasn’t an actively burning fire on the way up the mountain or else my party would have just charged right in there without any sort of self-preservation in mind. For instance, during the tutorial you find yourself in an area where fire is happening all around you and you need to kind of just walk past it. There’s a pretty large path to follow, but your characters only know of the most efficient route to get to where you clicked, which is barreling straight through regardless of what’s in their way.
The amount of accidental fire damage I’ve take in Baldur’s Gate III already is alarming, and I really hope the path-finding gets better cause I’ve already wiped my entire party because instead of running around the combat encounter, they walked right into and stopped in a puddle of grease putting them in prime roasting position. It was a nice present for my enemies I suppose.
WHERE IS IT?
Look, I don’t have a ton of experience with games like Baldur’s Gate III so I’m sure that a cluttered inventory and unorganized hotbar are just expected at this point, but the way in which Baldur’s Gate III “organizes” your spells is truly abysmal. For those who don’t know, casting spells in D&D is a bit of a process that involves making sure you have the spell slots available, picking a level, and then casting the spell and rolling its damage. If that didn’t make any sense to you, that’s fine, just know that Baldur’s Gate III makes finding your spells a chore.
Instead of giving me a list of spells I could cast and then asking me what level spell slot I want to burn on it, they just give you an icon for each spell at each level. Wanna cast magic missile at level 2? Well you gotta scroll through the hotbar to find the magic missile icon with a little roman numeral 2 on it. It’s painfully unintuitive at the moment, but I suspect it’s a remnant of trying to shove the D&D mechanics into Divinity: Original Sin II‘s engine.
Your spells are also just kind shoved into the hotbar all willy-nilly, something I think you can reorganize, but it crams everything your character can do into it with no organization. For instance, I have a fighter in my party who can perform strikes that can cause the fear condition in an enemy. I recently leveled her up in a way where she’s received some spells she can use as well. Instead of separating those skills into folders that are marked as “fighter abilities” or “cantrips,” it’s just all kind tossed in there for you to click through along with the myriad of spell scrolls you pick up, making combat kind of a slog when it’s the turn of a magic user.
In the same vein, the initiative tracker is absolute garbage and needs to be changed entirely. There are times where it’s supposed to be my turn, but then someone else just gets to cut in front of me for some reason. I’ve even had instances where a character I’m controlling will get two turns in one round. It’s bizarre.
AM I THE ONLY ONE PLAYING BY THE RULES?
I don’t want to be that guy or anything, but it sure does feel a bit like the enemies in Baldur’s Gate III are just kind of freestyling it when it comes to their abilities. I noticed this very early on when there’s a goblin attack you find yourself in the middle of. I’ve played enough Dungeons & Dragons to know the goblin stats pretty damn well, so I took notice when the goblin took more than 7 HP worth of damage and still lived.
It’s a really weird an unwelcome choice to tinker around with the stats of enemies when you’ve got literal books worth of reference material to pull from. I understand the need to alter things to make them work in a video game, but this one seemed completely unnecessary. Now I can’t use the Monster Manual as my own personal strategy guide.
I’VE PLAYED THIS GAME BEFORE
If there is one thing to me that is more damming about Baldur’s Gate III than anything else I’ve already mentioned, it’s that this game feels awfully similar to another Larian Studios game, Divinity: Original Sin II. I didn’t play very much Divinity: Original Sin II, but I sure as hell played enough to recognize it when juxtaposed with what’s supposed to be a game recreating the D&D mechanics. Aside from both games having a ton of visual similarity, there are two mechanics that I’ve personally seen that made me feel like I was playing a version of Divinity that was cosplaying as D&D.
First and foremost has to be the movement and map structure. I know it’s way more dynamic and interesting if you can have free access to just about anywhere on the map during a combat encounter, but for a game trying to present the rules of D&D accurately, there should be some sort of grid-based movement. In D&D, each grid block is supposed to represent 5 feet, which is important to know and be aware of considering how many things are tied to your precise position.
For example, I tried to set up this choke-point in a hallway that would effectively be a gauntlet of blades for the enemies trying to escape and alert their buddies. I managed to get 3 of my party members in what I assumed was stabbing range, but these enemies just found this sliver of daylight and plowed throw untouched like they were Barry Sanders or something. It’s things like this that make me yearn for some grid that confined movement or even an arrow I can point that’ll alert me about what I’m getting myself into if I move somewhere.
The other Divinity-esque thing I’ve seen is how much Baldur’s Gate III incorporates environmental effects and hazards into its gameplay. At first, the ability to knock over a bucket of water onto an enemy and light them up with a lighting bolt for extra damage seems awesome, but then you might find a pathway obscured by some fire and have to make the choice of burning a spell slot on it or not. These choices certainly come up in standard D&D play, but the frequency at which these hazards present themselves are a little too much for my tastes.
Like I said, I haven’t played a lot of Divinity: Original Sin II, but from my understanding you have less resource intensive ways of dealing with things like that than you do in D&D.
ROLL THEM BONES
Okay this one is really just me being ridiculous, but I stand by the fact that it should be more fun to roll the dice than it actually is. Clicking a big die and watching the numbers change is fine and all, but what if there was like a physics driven dice I could roll? That would be a lot of fun for me, a simpleton who is easily amused by physics in video games. It would also make it feel more like I was playing D&D proper.
Despite all of my bellyaching about some of the mechanics in Baldur’s Gate III, I’m really enjoying it for what it is. It’s very early and I’m sure I’m not saying anything the developers haven’t already heard, but as someone who plays Dungeons & Dragons regularly these were just some of the things that stood out to me. I haven’t dipped into the multiplayer just yet due to reports of it being busted, but I look forward to giving that a shot once a few patches hit.
I know worrying about certain mechanics that are present in this current version of Baldur’s Gate III is premature at best, and I’m sure Larian Studios will make great strides over the course of their period of early access. It’s going to be a long time before Baldur’s Gate III fully releases, and by then I’m sure I’ll barely be able to recognize it as the same thing I’m playing now.
Ultimately, I might be looking for something that Baldur’s Gate III cannot or isn’t attempting to deliver on. I want that feeling of playing Dungeons & Dragons more than anything else. It’s a big ask for sure, but I feel like this is the closest I’ve come to getting to play a single player D&D game in the rule set that I know. I might take a break from Baldur’s Gate III until some more patches and fixes get implemented, but I can assure I’ll be reading the patch notes that come with every update just to see if it’s the right time to dive back in.
Have you ever seen a trailer for a game and immediately knew it wasn’t for you? This happens to me consistently, and all it usually takes is a trailer or screenshot for me to see the mechanics at play to know a game isn’t for me. While I try to keep an open mind about every game, it’s a challenge for me to look at certain mechanics or genres and still feel compelled to play it despite what the critical reception is.
There’s been a lot of great games that have already come out this year, but I honestly haven’t played most of them because of this inherent bias I have against certain mechanics. It isn’t a qualitative judgement about the game or the mechanic in question, it’s just something I know won’t jive with me.
I guess you could just chalk it up to personal taste and knowing that every game isn’t made with me in mind, but sometimes I feel like I’m doing myself a great disservice from not giving these games a fair shake. That’s why I wanted to do a deeper dive into the elements and genres that immediately rebuff me, and try to get to the bottom of why that might be the case.
STRATEGY & TACTICS
It’s weird to start this list off with something so broad and nebulous as “tactics,” but allow me to make my case. There are phenomenal tactics games out there that people have raved about for years that I’ll never play. Games like the X-Com series, Starcraft, and even the Divinity series all seem so interesting from a distance, but rebuff me the second I get a little too close. It’s hard to nail down exactly what it is about these games that’s kept me away, but honestly it’s less about an inner conflict with the mechanics themselves and more about me being incapable of properly strategizing a coherent plan of attack in these kinds of games.
Quite frankly, I’m miserable at these games to the point where they just feel overwhelming. Usually I end up walking away from these games feeling like an idiot because I’m just so bad at applying foresight to these combat encounters. There’s also the issue of learning the internal mechanics that make things work in these games. For instance, when I played Divinity: Original Sin II, not only was I having trouble figuring out a good plan of attack, but I was also trying to learn what spells and attacks were effective against the enemies and the environment. It felt like I was learning two games at the same time and failing at both.
I’m not great at strategizing in general, which is why real-time strategy games like Starcraft and Warcraft never appealed to me. My only tactic is to build my army as fast as I can and click on enemy troops and buildings in the hopes something happens that I like. There’s also a lot of plate spinning in these games, where I’ll have to contend with a multi-pronged attack plan, while managing the defenses at my base, while making sure troop and supply production lines are working and so on and so forth. It’s a lot for me to focus on at once, and I inevitably fail miserably at each of them whenever I try to play one of these games.
There is one glaring potential exception to this however. At some point in the next few weeks, Baldur’s Gate III is supposed to enter early access. Now, I’m incredibly excited for the game for numerous reasons, but the main one at this point is because I know the inner working mechanics it’s going to be using. It’s running off of the Dungeons & Dragons 5e rule set, something I’ve become very familiar with over the years. It’s led to me looking at Baldur’s Gate III as less of a strategy or tactics game, and more of a way to play D&D by myself. There’s a lot of mental gymnastics going on in my head to make me feel at peace with Baldur’s Gate III, and I completely acknowledge that.
Like most kids in the 90’s, I was a big fan of Pokemon and would consume everything it touched, from the show, the games, the toys, and of course the cards. The thing is, despite owning a ton of the cards and organizing them into a nice binder, I never actually did anything with them. I’ve never once actually played Pokemon as a card game before. I just wanted cool little pictures of them to collect.
That mentality has shifted as I’ve gotten older, but not in the direction of actually playing card collecting games (CCG) whatsoever. I’ve moved in the other direction, away from collecting cards and even further away from playing CCGs. There is something incredibly boring to me about building a deck of cards filled with spells, monsters and other stuff, and playing against other people with it. I’ve had people try to get me into Hearthstone and other games before, but I just don’t have the patience for any of them.
The CCG genre is incredibly popular and beloved by so many people, and I’m not trying to take anyone’s enjoyment of these games away from them. Focusing on games like this are extremely difficult for me because of just how slow and methodical they inherently are. You’re supposed to take your time and strategize, but as we’ve discovered earlier, I’m bad at that.
You might ask, “why not learn to play them so you can get better?” A good question to be sure, but I’ve only got so much time on this planet, that I’d rather not try to force a square block in a round hole for more of it than I already have to. CCGs are great fun for the people who can focus and really wrap their minds around them. Hell, my Discord channel is currently filled with Magic: The Gathering Arena optimal deck links and people constantly playing it. While I’d love to be able to engage my friends on this topic, I know it just won’t happen and I’ll end up just grousing about how much I dislike everything about CCGs to them.
To be completely honest, I don’t know why people enjoy the horror genre in any aspect, whether it be games, movies, TV shows, or even going to haunted houses on Halloween. I don’t like any of it, and it’s because I don’t enjoy being scared. Nothing about the emotion of fear seems fun to me at all, and I don’t get how some people are so eager to get frightened.
I get that some people get a great adrenaline rush out of a scare, or can appreciate a nice haunted tone in a movie or game or whatever, but I’m not one of those people. To me, fear was something I wanted to avoid and steer clear of as best I could. I don’t enjoy feeling on edge, I don’t admire the artistic talent it took to evoke that spooky tone, I just don’t like any of it.
Call me a coward or whatever, but fear was just never something I actually wanted to experience. That’s why when people clamor about the latest Resident Evil game or talk about the masterpiece that P.T. was, I can’t even begin to have that conversation with them. They might be stellar games through and through, appealing to everything a horror fan wants, but to me they’re just an expensive way to feel uncomfortable and have nightmares.
Once again, you can enjoy and praise the horror genre all you want, but none of it is going to make me willingly pay money to be scared. We haven’t even talked about games that like to throw in a jump scare in it just to shake things up. Bioshock Infinite had one of those and I’m still angry at it for including it.
If I’m being honest here, JRPGs combine two things I’m really not that crazy about into one package that I don’t have any reverence for. As far as anime goes, I think I’ve enjoyed maybe one or two of them in my life, and they’re pretty mainstream if I’m being honest. I know that people really enjoy anime, and I’m not here to take that away from you because I truly believe that certain anime media can be really cool, particularly in the badass fight scenes that I’ve seen posted online. Anime can be cool is what I’m saying.
But the other half of that equation, the turn-based RPG part of it? That’s the part that I can’t handle as much. In my life, I’ve played part of one Final Fantasy game, and watched a childhood friend blast through large sections of Final Fantasy VII when it came out. Both of those experiences were pretty agonizing for me. And I know it’s unfair to target the Final Fantasy series here, but they’re one of the few touchstones I have in this genre of games. I never had the urge to play anything in this genre, so I’m well aware that there might be something that I might find interesting somewhere out there.
Similar to my issues with tactics and strategy games, I’m just a poor planner when it comes to gaming… and probably everything else in my life. So making sure I’ve got the right party members, items and buffs never really appealed to me in video games. I used to point to the fact that taking turns in combat made no sense to me, but that’s a pretty juvenile argument that I no longer use especially considering my recent reverence for D&D.
The reasons I won’t play those games today has changed significantly since I was younger, but they basically boil down to the fact that a lot of JRPGs are way too long and dense for me. Those games usually have so much going on in them that I can’t keep up. It’s the same way I feel about intense classic RPGs like the old Fallout games or last year’s Disco Elysium. They’re highly regarded games that I just don’t have the patience for.
There’s the concept of “plate spinning,” or the idea that you need to manage and keep tabs on a lot of moving parts at once. I notice this mostly in survival games where you need to worry about your food, thirst, stamina, temperature and so on. Both this and time limits feel like two sides of the same coin that I want to just throw into a storm drain.
Sometimes these mechanics are intrusive and steal the focus away from anything else in the game. When that happens, a switch flips in my head that instructs me to stop any forward progression and just hoard everything I can find for the next few hours. Maybe that’s how you’re supposed to play the game, but it just feels like paranoia-fueled busy work to me.
There are some exceptions to this rule however, and it only occurs when a game isn’t too intrusive about it. For instance, Minecraft has a hunger and stamina meter, but it’s such an afterthought that you really don’t need to do much aside from carry a few steaks on you at all times. The ‘survival’ portion of the survival mode in Minecraft mostly applies to you not dying in whatever monster-filled chasm you inevitably arrive at.
Even Red Dead Redemption II had some light survival mechanics that were easy to fulfill. If you find yourself in town, you might as well snag a hot meal and a bath and refill your dwindling meters. Both of those last for days as well, and you’re never really in danger of starving to death or passing out from exhaustion. It’s that kind of light touch approach that I can deal with when it comes to plate spinning, but games that are designed around your ability to multitask efficiently just stress me out.
Remember back in 2017 when we could go places and do stuff but ultimately decided to stay inside and play PLAYER UNKNOWN’S Battlegrounds instead? I do. In fact, I played a whole lot of PUBG, to the point where it started to get tiring which ultimately led to me falling off of it about a year later. It was a marginally better time.
But now if you asked me to play a battle royale game with you, I’d probably find any excuse I could to avoid doing so. I don’t necessarily have anything against the genre itself, but I have played enough of one of the most popular ones out there to have had my fill with the genre entirely.
This feeling was cemented when I tried to play Fortnite a few times, and bounced off of it almost immediately. From PUBG, to Fortnite, to Apex Legends, Ring of Elysium, Radical Heights and The Culling, I’ve played a lot of these games, and I think I’ve had my fill of the entire concept itself.
These games can still offer up a lot of entertainment and satisfaction, but they can also be sources of immense anxiety and stress. I’ll never forget the tension that would fill the air when you’d hear a gunshot ring out in the distance during a round of PUBG. Hell, everything in PUBG was incredibly tense when I think about it. The sound of a car, the sight of already opened doors, the literal ring of death that’s slowly closing in on you, it was all designed to be stress inducing.
Stress inducing as it was though, it was a lot of fun. But I just don’t think I need that in my life at this point. I like having stakes in games, I like tense moments, but battle royales seem to luxuriate and bask in these moments to the point of sensory overload for me.
A lot of what I’ve talked about here are just some personal examples of things that turn me off when looking into new games. They’re not value judgements or statements about the product itself or the people who actually enjoy them, they’re just my personal proclivities and nothing more.
Something also interesting to note is that just about everything I’ve listed here plays into my personal issues with anxiety and attention span. It’s weird how you can know all these various facts about yourself, but not be able to see how they’re all intertwined until you actually write them out and try to find a connective thread.
Ultimately I’d like to impress upon you that liking these things is totally valid and I want you to keep enjoying whatever it is you’re playing. If everyone felt the same way as I did, then these games wouldn’t be made anymore because people would stop buying them. The world is filled with different people with different tastes, and while some of these mechanics and genres aren’t for me, I celebrate the people who garner enjoyment from them in my place.
For those of your who aren’t aware, for the past year or two, I’ve been running various Dungeons & Dragons campaigns for my friends. I’ve more or less chronicled this in our Master of Disaster feature on this site which for obvious reasons, I recommend you check out. Yet despite my love of playing Dungeons & Dragons, I’ve never been able to garner any modicum of enthusiasm for video games that try to capture the tabletop feeling.
This disconnect and lack of enthusiasm on my part has been perplexing to my friends to say the very least. How could someone who is literally the DM (Dungeon Master) of our campaigns not enjoy these mechanics in a video game? It’s been difficult for me to articulate over the years, but I think I finally understand it. But for me to explain it properly, you need a little context about me and how I absorb information.
At a young age, it became very evident, very quickly, that I wasn’t a traditional learner, often needing to read something several times over, or do some hands on learning if applicable. To this day I have a difficult time reading something and comprehending it on the first go, often needing to reread it 4 or 5 times before I can fully internalize the actual meaning of the text. As silly as it sounds, I’ve just never been great with reading comprehension making every online course I’ve ever taken in my life a tremendous chore.
I think it’s because of that mental hurdle that I tend to zone out in text-filled, management-heavy, and turn-based games. My experience with these kinds of games usually goes the same way every time, with me eager to hop into the action, only to be buried in menus and skill trees that I can’t comprehend on my first encounter with them. Even though I know that I’m only seeing a fraction of what’s to come, it still feels like I’m being thrown in the deep end.
What I like about playing D&D as opposed to something like Divinity: Original Sin II is the fact that someone is shepherding me through it. There’s a DM who isn’t only painting a word picture for me, but is there to answer any mechanical questions I might have. It’s that hands-on approach that works for me from an educational standpoint that’s also present here.
I’ve even run into this while running my own D&D campaign. When I started out, I bought a D&D module that I would run for my players. Yet after being asked enough lore questions that I had no answer to, I decided to blow up the world and start fresh with a campaign and lore of my own. It was a lot more work, but so much more personally engaging and rewarding.
There’s also the matter of my own level of patience and tolerance for a game, but I’ve covered that before.
All of these things are factors in why I bounce off of and usually avoid these types of games. But we haven’t even talked about the gameplay portion of them yet. Even if I manage to find a suitable on ramp for me to get somewhat into the game, I still have to contend with the game itself.
It usually isn’t the turn-based part that turns me off as much as it is the “tactics” portion that bounces me off of a game. I’m just terrible at setting up plans and executing on them, whether it’s positioning, item and spell management, or whatever, I suck at it. Usually I’ll formulate a plan I think is great, try to execute it, and watch it fail miserably. Instead of doing what normal people might do and say, “oh, I should try a different approach,” my stupid-ass jumps over any rational thought and straight into a pit of self-loathing and dejection. It’s the same way I feel about the Dark Souls games, where I don’t feel emboldened to do better, I just feel like I could be playing a game I have a better time with.
And if I really wanted to split hairs (which is about to happen), I’d say that I think the tutorial levels of these games are usually the most excruciating parts. Take Divinity: Original Sin II for example. You start on a boat that promptly gets attacked by bugs and a tentacle monster, which sounds way cooler than it actually is. Then you wash up on an island where you eventually find your first village where I assume more of the game takes place. Despite trying to power through it on three separate occasions, I have yet to be able to get through what I found to be an incredibly dull part of the game.
When asked why I don’t like these kinds of games, I usually answer with something dismissive like, “cause they’re boring” or something, but what that really means is everything I’ve written thus far. But I agree with my friends when they say that I should enjoy these kinds of games. I want to enjoy these games.
But I’m not ready to write off the genre just yet. A little game called Baldur’s Gate III was recently shown off, and after reading about it more, I think this one might be the last one of these I try. After everything I’ve written up until now, you might be wondering why I would attempt this, ostensibly throwing $60 dollars into a virtual garbage can, but there are a couple of factors that are intriguing me with Baldur’s Gate III already.
First and foremost, it a Dungeons & Dragons based games, meaning I know a lot of these mechanics and have varying degrees of familiarity with them. That alleviates a lot of the mechanical obtuseness that I might have trouble with in other games. Like, I know what plenty of D&D spells, items and attacks are, so that won’t be such a steep learning curve. Having to learn both the mechanics of a game as well as their made up lore makes me feel like I have to learn two games simultaneously, which usually goes about as well as you might imagine.
On top of that, I’m really digging the presentation when it comes to dialogue options, opting for more of a Dragon Age or Mass Effect styled approach instead of a text box that pops up on the screen. It’s a small thing, but it adds a slight cinematic flair that I think goes a long way.
Despite my better judgement and spotty history with these kinds of games, I’m cautiously optimistic and dare I say, excited for Baldur’s Gate III. At the very least, I’m going to keep my eye on it and certainly give it a shot when it enters early access later this year.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s a real pain trying to find a game to play with my friends. It’s difficult for a multitude of reasons, chief among them being our tastes, but platform differences and scheduling conflicts make it even harder. I’m not surprised though, as we’ve all gotten older, gaming has kind of faded to the background for a lot of people, as it probably should.
This isn’t me renouncing my love of games or anything, but as we get older, our priorities change. We all have such limited time to actually play anything together, and that’s probably the sign of a healthier lifestyle on all our parts. For me, it’s been tough to even write the blog some weeks because I’m just not playing new games as frequently as I used to. Once again, not an indication of me cancelling the only feature on this site that regularly updates.
But more to the point, the few friends I still do have that I talk to online all have vastly different tastes in games. We tried all sorts of things on both extremes of our preferences. I tried Divinity: Original Sin II, a game in which my friends love, but one that bores me to tears. We all tried Battlefield together, but that game did nothing but frustrate everyone involved. Hell, I even bought The Division 2 thinking that it would be a good middle ground for us, but alas, it wasn’t.
But that’s alright. The more I think about it, the more insular I’ve become in my gaming habits. I can’t recall the last time I’ve hopped into a multiplayer match of any game by myself. People talk about playing a couple of rounds of Apex or Overwatch or whatever, and I just don’t know how they bring themselves to do it. It just seems exhausting to compete with others after a day of work. What my friends and I seem to crave these days is more of a cooperative experience over a competitive one.
I don’t know, the more I type this, the more I think I’ve written this same exact blog before. But it’s one of those things that remains constant in my life and stands to become a bigger part of it as time goes on. Maybe Borderlands 3 will be that game, maybe that World War Z game will do it, or maybe we’ll spend the rest of our lives trying to find the perfect game for us.