Total War: Arena is shutting down in February. Maybe you don’t play it, but that’s OK. This article isn’t about Arena specifically, but about some thoughts I’ve had since the announcement, and how they might apply to how we think about other games.
I’ve seen a few people write about Arena’s shortcomings, and one that I see a fair bit is that it “just didn’t feel” like a Total War game. This comes on the heels of Fallout 76 also getting the label that it doesn’t “feel” like a Fallout game. In another corner of the gaming world, I’ve been playing the new mode put into the baseball sim I enjoy, Out of the Park Baseball 19, called Perfect Team, that (short version) puts you in random leagues against other players. I’ve heard some people say that doesn’t “feel right” either.
These are all anecdotal, perhaps, but what do Total War: Arena, Fallout 76, and OOTP19’s Perfect Team mode all have in common? They’re all based on (largely) single-player games but are multiplayer experiences. Yes, it is possible to do multiplayer Total War and OOTP19, but for the most part, those are considered single-player games.
And what do you do in single-player games? By and large, you win. Whether you’re leading the Roman Empire, the Chicago Cubs, or are just a lone wanderer in the wasteland, you expect to overcome the challenges the AI puts in front of you and succeed. And the game obliges, putting some obstacles in your path, but generally nothing so difficult that you can’t overcome them. If you can’t, just grind some more or turn down the difficulty level until you do.
On the other hand, in multiplayer/PvP, you tend to lose – less if you’re good, more if you’re bad, but on average, you’ll lose about half the time. When you’re used to winning all the time, being thrust into a scenario when you lose, and lose often, can be jarring. Toss in the fact that a human simply acts differently from an AI-controlled entity – jumping around to avoid being shot at, for instance – and it might, as they say, “not feel right.”
A lot of people stick with PvE experiences in MMORPGs and never set foot in the PvP side of things. Clearly, fighting against other actual people is different from taking on a raid boss that will just sit there while you smack it. Some people don’t like PvP, and that’s fine, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that PvP in an MMO doesn’t “feel right” when compared to PvE. Maybe it’s because, when you set foot in a PvP space, you know it’s going to be different from PvE, but when it’s a wholly different game with the same skin, you expect it to be a continuation of the more user-friendly experience you were used to?
This isn’t to say that Total War: Arena, Fallout 76, and OOTP19 Perfect Team don’t have their flaws, whether it be imbalances, bugs, or other concrete and easily identified issues. But I wonder if the nebulous notion that a game doesn’t “feel right” comes from expecting one thing from the name and getting another, unavoidable, thing from the game. In any case, the next time you want to get into a multiplayer game based on a single-player game you enjoy, you should probably set your expectations accordingly.
The other point I wanted to address relates to my personal feelings regarding Arena’s closing. I’ve played a good bit of it, around 250 battles. That’s not as many as others have played, and I took a long break over the summer, but I would classify it as something I really enjoyed. It’s probably not a stretch to say it’s one of my top five games of 2018. And now that it’s going away, I … don’t really care that much?
This is because, as I’ve said before, there are just too many games out there that I want to devote my time to. Right now, I’m heavy into the new stuff for Crusader Kings II, I still play Overwatch nearly every day, I hop into MapleStory 2 from time to time, I work in the occasional Hearthstone arena run, there’s that Out of the Park 19 thing, I have a couple of games left over from the Steam Summer Sale I still need to get through, I haven’t played Secret World Legends or World of Warships or Ring of Elysium for a while, there are PS4 games I’d like to try …
So as you can see, losing Arena from my “schedule” doesn’t really bother me. Maybe part of that is because I don’t have a “main” game these days, like when I’d play an MMORPG almost exclusively. Even if that were the case, even if Guild Wars 2 or The Lord of the Rings Online had up and vanished during my prime time with them, I think I would have survived. I actually did unsub from LotRO for a couple of months about a year after it came out, to take a break. The first few days were rough – “It’s 7:00, what the hell do I do with my evening?” – but it soon passed and I found other ways to distract myself.
On a related point, this is why I think people write off games sooner than ever before. If something about Fallout 76 pissed you off in your first hour of play, or even when you saw pre-release coverage, you can just “nope” out. It’s ridiculously easy and convenient to write games off if they annoy you to even the slightest degree, because there are so many other options. Similarly, I’ve stopped playing Path of Exile, not because I’m “angry” with it but because the difficulty ramped up and I wasn’t enjoying myself any more. No problem, I have lots of other ways to entertain myself.
So I’m faced with an odd contradiction: I’m sad to see Total War: Arena go but also relieved that I won’t have to fit it into my day. If anyone else has faced this kind of paradox, I’d love to hear about it.