The Battle of Immersion and Multiple Play Throughs

With so many different games being delayed recently, I decided to go back and pick up some games that had DLC that I hadn’t checked out yet or started but hadn’t finished for one reason or another. My first choice was to pick up The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt DLC: Blood and Wine. I purchased the pack, installed the content, booted up the game, and clicked continue. It wasn’t a second play through but it was close. For the first time in almost 5 years, I saw him again. There was Geralt of Rivea, looking over the immaculate terrain of Velen, right where I left him. A sense of absolute joy filled me, knowing that there was another adventure to be had in this incredible world with new and exciting characters. 

All I had to do was make my way to the nearest sign post and fast travel to Mulbrydale and pick up a quest. It was only a few steps away. Yet I couldn’t move. No matter the excitement of a new adventure in my favorite game of all time, I simply couldn’t bring myself to play. Why was this? Why, rather than jump headlong into the world I had fallen in love with, did I decide to turn off the game and watch Netflix? The answer came to me shortly after.  I was intimidated. 

When I opened up Witcher 3 I was immediately beset by potions and oils and magical signs and armor types, and glyphs and different attacks and dodges and rolls and parrying and hunts and Gwent and mutations and characters I didn’t remember.  In an odd form of irony, the vast array of things that infatuated me with the world of Witcher 3, was what was preventing me from picking it back up again. The game was so incredibly vast with so many carefully designed small intricacies to it that I wasn’t sure what to do. 

I felt that I was left with two choices: attempt to get back into the late game world and spend a lot of time dying and getting frustrated in order to relearn everything or start from the beginning and burn a couple of hours in the early game relearning everything. Neither one of those sounded very appealing so I left the game alone.

It wasn’t just Witcher 3 though. I felt the same thing happen when I tried picking up Sekiro after putting it down for a few months. I had gotten to the mid-game Genichiro fight and was preparing to fight him but I knew that I wasn’t going to be ready. I had left the game alone for too long and so the minor mechanics that the game required the player to master or get destroyed, were incredibly rusty. However, I had played through Dark Souls and Bloodborne multiple times so how bad could it be? 

It was bad. The easiest of enemies gave me problems and any enemy that required even a hint of parrying, such as the blue suited samurai in Ashina Tower, were immensely difficult. Genichiro himself killed me almost instantly several times. See, Sekiro does the same thing that Witcher 3 does with the player only in a different way. With all of the shinobi techniques and the different prosthetic to choose from as well as needing to master the base aspects of the game, Sekiro makes the player feel like a killer shinobi. It immerses the player in the life style and brutal challenge that Sekiro himself faces through the use of its various, specific mechanics and it is an incredible experience because of it.

However, after leaving it alone for so long, I came to see that immersion wasn’t the only thing Sekiro and Witcher 3 had in common. Also like with Witcher, I became disheartened by trying to relearn Sekiro and so faced the same questions: continue the grind and learn through trial by fire or start over and redo everything I had already done to learn at a slower pace.

I set both of these games down for several more weeks before I had a friend take me through the mechanics of the Witcher again and even then it took me a few hours of running around and frustration before I was simply comfortable. I still continued to die and lose, being subjected to long loading screens and repetition, before I got a handle back on the game.  Sekiro took me longer still, setting it down several more times, before I finally made any progress and got back in the swing of things.

Both of these games faced an odd problem. I haven’t found an official name for it so I will simply dub it as mechanic overload. One of the things that make games like Witcher 3 feel so alive and vast is all of the different things that can be done within them. You, the player, get to essentially become a Witcher by getting a contract for a monster then looking through the bestiary, finding weaknesses, preparing the oils, stocking up on potions, and learning the proper uses of the magical signs. In Sekiro there is precise parrying, Mikiri Counters, Jumping Counters, Shinobi Tools, and buffing items that all have their uses. While the fights don’t necessarily require the player to utilize everything at their disposal, they are absolutely designed with them in mind making combat monumentally harder if you don’t use them. 

With this, the “replayability”, the odds a player will run through the game more than once, of these games is significantly stunted due to players picking up something else. Rather than feel like they can just pick the game up, play for a couple hours, then move on, these games require time to be put into them and learning their various specialized mechanics. They are ordeals or adventures, not quick stints. These are entire experiences that require attention and so setting them down actually hurts the experience.

While replayability is not necessary to the success of the game, especially for games like Witcher 3 that are averaged at 70 hrs long on a single run through with a possible 200+ hours, it does strike me as odd that both of these titles have “New Game Plus” options yet have such demanding attention specifications. 

For games like Witcher 3 and Sekiro, the multitudes of different mechanics and the mastery of them that makes these titles so incredible and fun is also what hurts them. If something happens in someone’s life that makes them put the game down or there is a significant time between DLC releases, the likelihood of a player picking these games back up is significantly decreased due to the steep learning curve that these games require. 

Again, this does not make these titles bad. Witcher 3 is my favorite game of all time and Sekiro was an absolute blast to play. However, the reason I love them so much is also a massive downfall to their replayability. They make the player feel the experience of living in their character’s shoes and inhabiting the world, which means there is a lot of mechanics that need to be utilized making really hard to get back into and as such I almost didn’t complete them. Any player planning on playing a game that fully and truly takes them into the world they are playing should anticipate blocking off time to play them, or else run the risk of never finishing them. 

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