WoW Classic has people clearing Molten Core in 30 minutes. I remember taking 30 minutes just for damn roll call, let along the actual content. Nearly every bit of content (except raids) has been a tank & spank in WoW. Compare that to something like FF14 where if you don’t avoid the bad, you simply die.
As games have progressed, so have the mechanics within the games. Playing something like Ice Hockey on the NES, it seems like space magic to get NHL20 to actually do what you want it to do. Things are without question more complicated, but are they really more interesting?
Today, most games are built upon others. Either they are sequels, or they take bits and pieces from other games to make something “new”. Now, I like baking. I like chocolate and peanut butter. I like cookies. I know that just putting PB & chocolate in a bowl is not going to give me chocolate. Games are similar in that you can’t just put systems together in a pile and hope your Frankenstein monster works. The complexity of these mechanics makes them very dependent on their underlying systems. A very casual look at Anthem shows what happens when you have a limited idea of what you’re doing and throw stuff at a wall.
The point, let’s get to it.
There’s a rather vocal part of the population that wants “interesting mechanics” to help evolve gaming. When people use a word but don’t know what it tangibly means, that’s a buzzword. I can look at plenty of games and think oh, that’s interesting. Shadow of Mordor’s nemesis system is super interesting. It can only exist in a procedurally generated world, where enemies are randomized and there’s a value in having named enemies. Sure, Assassin’s Creed fits some of this criteria, but the story itself doesn’t make it a good fit. Warframe recently launched the Lich mechanic which is similar to this, but it also comes with a crazy randomized grind prior. The idea is interesting, the implementation is complex.
I’d position that the last few years of WoW’s development has been full of interesting ideas. Artifact weapons, garrisons, heart of azeroth, island expeditions. All of them are interesting. All of them brought more headaches than benefits, each for various reasons that boil down to complexity. Their basic premises are simple, but at some point in the dev cycle someone thought wouldn’t it be cool if? and people rolled with it.
I get it, these games need to keep bums in seats and wallets open. After a while of eating the best lemon pie, eventually it’s just lemon pie (I really like lemon pie, ok?). In order to innovate, it has to be interesting. Yet in 2019, there are very few great new ideas. The absolute best games don’t do new ideas. The take existing ones and perfect the mechanics so that they are not insanely complex. God of War is a simple action game. Celeste is a platformer. Outer Worlds is a stripped down RPG. Fallen Order is metroidvania. Return of the Obra Dinn is monochrome!
It’s not that risks aren’t needed. It was a big risk to think that Kratos could possibly be considered a decent protagonist (that game would not have been half as good without him as the lead.) It’s rather that the risks taken are intelligent risks that are supported by the crazy awesome work elsewhere. There are dozens of games like this, and we gamers recognize it near instantly when we see it. And we are twice as fast to recognize systems that simply do not work. And with such a large volume of games available, it’s an easy swap out of game that is no longer interesting to one that is.
It’s simply more interesting to have an idea well executed.
I feel this a lot when I’m playing more modern games. Even games that do include more complex game mechanics often introduce them poorly. I end up not playing a lot of modern games because of overly long tutorial sections or just plain bad pacing. I end up retreating to SNES-era games because I can get into the action much quicker.