I don’t think I’ve met anybody who isn’t excited about Horizon: Zero Dawn , the amazing-looking robot dinosaur hunting title coming from Guerrilla Games. One of the most memorable announcements from E3, this game has really brought us the hype – and with hype comes requests to cram in everybody’s favorite kind of gameplay. Of course, one of the big questions that every major title faces these days is whether there will be multiplayer. In the case of Horizon , there won’t be, and for good reason . The developers want to launch this new franchise with an in-depth story that focuses on the adventures of your hunter, Aloy.
Conventional wisdom in the industry right now says that every triple-A title has to have a multiplayer mode, but I’m glad to see Guerrilla challenge that idea in the interest of the best possible single-player game. Really, almost everybody enjoys an in-depth single-player title from time to time (just ask Bethesda and its mounds of Elder Scrolls and Fallout money). Some of us even prefer them – I know I do. Still, lots of publishers seem to insist that “multiplayer” be a bullet point on game feature lists these days, even if it doesn’t really suit every game. I’m happy to see that we won’t be dealing with that issue in Horizon , so I can just settle in and immerse myself in Aloy’s tale.
Guerrilla Games isn’t the only company backing off from shoehorning multiplayer into every game. Rise of the Tomb Raider cut traditional multiplayer in favor of a far more simple challenge creation mode. Even Ubisoft decided to remove multiplayer options from Assassin’s Creed Syndicate altogether in the interest of polishing the single-player game, and that seems to have worked out well. Sure, the multiplayer mode in Assassin’s Creed is fun, but does it need to be a part of every title in the series? Would we perhaps be better off with a standalone multiplayer Assassin’s Creed game that could be fully polished and strongly supported after launch? I’d love to see that, allowing people to get stabbin’ online without putting the added strain of multiplayer development on every Creed team.
I’d love to see other development teams reconsider multiplayer additions, too. Would anybody cry if the next Dragon Age game went back to being single-player only – or even if Mass Effect: Andromeda dropped any multiplayer components in the interest of getting everything right for this new chapter of the Mass Effect saga? Would Xenoblade Chronicles X really be any worse without its cobbled-together multiplayer oddness? I suspect it would have been better if we could just have played the game as its real hero, Elma, instead of as a silent rookie who was created in the interest of promoting multiplayer options.
Multiplayer modes are at best unnecessary but fun additions to narrative-heavy games like traditional action-adventures and RPGs. At worst, they’re poorly-made additions that not only see little play online but detract from the single-player experience that should be the focus of these games. Game development is difficult, costly, and involves balancing a lot of priorities. It’s time to abandon the laundry list approach to game development and focus on the things that are best for a particular game. Maybe that means that not everybody gets exactly what they want out of every triple-A release, but it’s not reasonable to expect every game to be everything to every gamer, anyway.
Now, if you’re the kind of player who is only interested in multiplayer gaming, that’s all right – nothing wrong with that. It still might be in your own interest not to ask for multiplayer modes in every great-looking game that comes out. Do you really want to spend time on a multiplayer mode that exists mostly to tick off a marketing box – one that isn’t balanced well and that probably won’t receive proper post-release support? Do you want a co-op mode that was obviously tacked on and doesn’t give the second player enough to do? We’ve all experienced these poorly-thought-out multiplayer additions, and I think we’d all be better off if we encouraged more developers to do what they do best – either single-player or multiplayer-focused gaming.
Let’s stop asking developers to stick multiplayer modes into every game, and start believing that they have the best vision for their own creation. Let’s embrace games that want to focus on an immersive solo experience. Sometimes it’s ok to play with just yourself… and sometimes it’s even more fun that way.