It only takes one look at the most popular games in recent years to see that story has become very important to us. Sure, some of 2015’s biggest surprise hits have been multiplayer games, such as Rocket League and Splatoon. That being said, almost all of the biggest 2015 games had one thing in common: a story-driven single player experience.
The Growth of Story
Games like Batman: Arkham Knight, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain have so far blown us away with captivating characters, stories, and worlds wrapped around excellent gameplay. Even highly anticipated titles like Uncharted 4, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Halo 5: Guardians will be purchased by fans anxious to experience the next chapter of each game’s iconic protagonists.
In short, there’s no better time to be a gamer than today for those who love games with a strong narrative (not to mention those who love to write those video game narratives). There’s no shortage of titles with excellent gameplay matched with a worthwhile story for just about any genre; role-playing, real-time strategy, action-adventure, first-person shooter—you name it.
Then there’s the meteoric rise to popularity of episodic games. Telltale Games were among the first to strike gold with their The Walking Dead games that asked little gameplay input from players but fascinated them with rich characters and story. Even if it leaned more toward being a TV show with interactive elements than a game, it would be the first of many episodic games where story progression was everything.
Not For Everyone
But for every player all about story, there is also one out there who just wants to enjoy the gameplay. Whether they’re the good or bad guy, fighting aliens or an evil government organization, these players just want to slay beasts, shoot enemies, solve puzzles, and more. They may still prefer a decent story over something terrible, but to them great level design and challenging obstacles are far more important than a likable protagonist and unique plot.
Perhaps that is why the newest Call of Duty will do something not very many games have done before: let you skip ahead to a level you haven’t played. This means that players can choose to hop from the first level to the very last one, which can be seen as the equivalent of reading the last pages of a good book before starting from the beginning.
An Archaic Mentality
Jason Blundell, the campaign director of Call of Duty: Black Ops III, explained to Eurogamer why this feature was important to include. “The unlocking level system is an archaic mentality,” he said. “Consumers and game players in general are far more mature these days. There are so many things vying for our interests today. It’s about, how do they want to consume it? Maybe they put it down on level two, and then they’re in work the next day, and some guy says, ‘dude, you’ve got to check out level four!’ And he’s like, ‘okay, I’ll have a quick look.’ That’s totally fine. I think it’s their choice.”
In other words, players shouldn’t have to play level 3 before getting to enjoy level 4 in much the same way that Netflix doesn’t force you to watch the episodes of a show in order. This is even if it gives players an irresistible way of spoiling the ending for them, and that’s fine.
Enjoying Games Your Way
As mentioned before, some gamers see skipping to the end as a sure-fire way of ruining the entire narrative experience. Perhaps they have a point when it comes to games with major plot twists that are the most impactful when you don’t see them coming. Even so, Blundell is confident that this feature will please plenty of gamers who like going about a game’s story their own way.
“If you see the end you’ll say, I need to understand this more,” Blundell added. “But it’s about the journey, though, right? Sure, people will jump on and play the last level. Okay. Cool. That’s up to them….I don’t think playing the last level will give you everything. You’ll just look at it and go, okay, there’s the last level.”
A Possible New Trend
It’s likely that the ability to skip through a story campaign’s levels or stages becomes the norm one day. After all, games are at their best when they give the player options, whether it be to skip cutscenes, tutorials, etc. If this feature ends up being very well-received by fans, you can count on many of the top developers considering it to give their own players the same level of choice many have been waiting for years.