Thanks to the gaming zeitgeist and being part of an industry where the latest, newest thing is the only thing that matters, I often play a game at launch (or sometimes before launch) and once I am done I move onto the next item in an ever-growing backlog. But sometimes you get that itch to go back to something, to get a bit more out of a title and it is like a soothing balm to get that itch scratched and removed. To be quite honest, developers (in this case the various teams at Ubisoft) don’t get enough credit for the work done after a game launches, when the reviews are done and the majority of initial purchasers have moved on. This is a small tribute to those unsung heroes.
The reasons for going back later are pretty varied. Sometimes there is new DLC that sounds too good to pass up, a new patch or update that reworks various elements, showing the game to a friend or finding a new co-op buddy. Or there is just that itch for a certain genre like I was feeling recently with city-building. I think Frostpunk has reminded me that I love the genre, but I like it when things aren’t as do or die with time constraints. So I went hunting for a while (with detours via Tropico 5 and Surviving Mars) and reinstalled Anno 2205 and wow, it is good to be back.
I started a fresh game, unsure if the save file in the cloud was my old corporation or my wife having played the DLC last year. Looking at my achievements I last played the game in late 2015 and the changes are great. Load times are shorter, there is less stutter when you do the initial fly-over of a new zone and everything looks gorgeous like it used to. The big changes are in the way the game guides you towards bigger colonies. A video plays that looks like a terrorist manifesto for the baddies of the game, something I don’t remember from my first playthrough. Short sequences tell you why you are in a new area, delineating your mission so that you don’t have to read every quest description. The game knows you want to get to the good stuff and it makes it easier by explaining why you are in a new place. Then the DLC offerings start fleshing things out with new big buildings to fund and special research that improves buildings in really cool ways. Luxury meals with rice instead of beef, anyone? Or water desalinisation plants that simultaneously do algae collection? Check!
There are a host of smaller niggles that are gone too, things that seem silly by themselves but all add up, weighing the experience down. Like having the server drop frequently on launch day: it didn’t make the game disconnect but it disabled the council voting bonuses and disabled a few other quality of life items for a while. It also is a message that pulls you out of the sheer bliss of building a utopia for your residents, managing building efficiency and turning a tidy profit to drive development in more expensive regions, like the lunar colony. I was planning a short jaunt into city-building but I have given up more than a weekend to it and a few late nights too.
Many years ago I used to replay games again and again and for years I didn’t touch a game after finishing it, moving on in a quest to whittle down a backlog that fought back like a hydra. Replaying a game was me using finite time resources that could be used on new experiences, at least I think that was my thinking. Except when a game gets improved, it is a new experience. Just watch the opening moments of Assassin’s Creed Origins and tell me you don’t want to go down that road once more. I know a trip in the game’s DLC had me go straight back to the main world to find more quests to do and tombs to
rob explore. Now I want to know what other games have improved since launch. I know Ubisoft has a strong record lately of post-launch game support, but I feel like suddenly my entire library, especially the good to great titles, needs to be relooked at. And here I thought my backlog was getting beaten back for a short while…