The high price of modern games has, in many cases, shifted their value from the overall quality to the quantifiable number of hours we can get out of them. A game that is relatively lackluster can excel with an addictive enough multiplayer that provides endless hours of play, while many top-tier single-player experiences may not have enough staying power to be considered worth the money. This consumer perspective is not the healthiest foundation for game development, but there is an easy solution by which these single-player experiences can buff up their playtime, and it’s something God of War recently knocked out of the park.
Single-player action games with RPG-like progression build much of their satisfaction upon the new equipment and abilities that are unlocked for one’s character over the course of the game. By the end of these games, players feel gratifyingly more badass than they did at the beginning, and this stems from more than just a sense of accomplishment. The weapons and abilities players unlock toward the end of games like God of War, Dishonored, and Far Cry 3 are always viscerally more enjoyable than the limited array of options available at the start—and this is exactly how it should work. Games such as these incentivize players to progress, not just for the sake of progression, but to get hands on their most enticing features. While this applies to nearly any progression-based game, it’s particularly relevant in series like the ones mentioned above, where unlockable skills and weapons are designed to synchronize with each other to create exponentially exciting gameplay opportunities. Unfortunately, there is an inherent downside with this design framework.
When a game’s progression system operates like this, it coincides with a feeling of being robbed. As these games get progressively more enjoyable, so too does the player get closer and closer to the end, culminating in the game’s most enjoyable point arriving shortly before its conclusion. Even in open-world games, where the player is free to cause directionless chaos with the game’s full spread of tools, the player will still miss out on opportunities to use these late-game features in any of the main campaign’s stellar moments. With this in mind, the solution is simple: New Game Plus should be mandatory for games of this genre.
A New Game Plus feature—the restart of a game’s story with all of one’s upgrades and gear intact—is a necessity in these types of games for two reasons. Firstly, it has the potential to at least double the playtime of single-player games. If you like a game enough, a second playthrough is fun one way or another, but games that only caught your passing interest will quickly fall by the wayside. Alternatively, the new experiences and gameplay possibilities introduced through New Game Plus can make the second run of a game even more memorable than the first, incentivizing additional attempts at games you may have otherwise allowed to gather dust.
The second argument in favor of New Game Plus is that there is simply no good reason to not have it. The feature’s correlation between ease of implementation and potential for replayability is unlike any other mechanic, system, or feature in the development of single-player, narrative-driven games. Introducing New Game Plus can be as easy as leaving the campaign completely unchanged and letting the player restart the game’s story with their progression retained. Certain games may have some balancing or progression hurdles that need attention to make New Game Plus work, but in most cases, it is the easiest thing a developer could do to increase player engagement. Even if it doesn’t “work” with the rest of the game, no one’s forcing the players to partake, but the option being there is always better than it not, particularly when it takes so much less development effort than survival modes, cooperative challenges, or other common additions for padding out single-player games.
God of War is an example of a game that recently realized the value of New Game Plus, and additionally took the feature above and beyond. A simple reset of the game while keeping our gear and abilities would have sufficed in Kratos’ case, but there is so much more that the game’s second runthrough offers. New customization options, adjusted enemy behaviors, and difficulty tweaks are just some of the features developer Santa Monica Studio brought to God of War in its free New Game Plus update, continuing the studio’s trend of serving the community to the best of its ability. Not every game needs New Game Plus on the level of God of War, but they should strive for it.
It’s always easy to judge development decisions from the other side of the fence, but New Game Plus is one of the few cases for which there is no reasonable excuse. If your game is designed to have progression and entertainment value increase at a commensurate rate, it isn’t wise to make the peak so short-lived. New Game Plus is a relatively easy way to lengthen the legs of single-player games, which is crucial when going up against so many of these multiplayer powerhouses.