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Are developers of AAA games choosing style over substance?

With the amount of valuable time developers spend crafting unique expansive worlds, it’s surprising that at some point down the line of a game’s development cycle, someone wouldn’t pipe up and say: "Hey, I know we are spending a lot of our time and resources on graphics, but is the game fun to play?"

Afterall, what does it matter how good a game looks if it’s boring to play, right? Personally, I would rather play a game that incorporates fun gameplay mechanics and has replay value rather than having to play a gorgeous looking game with clunky controls that feels like a chore to complete.

The most recent example of this style over substance approach is Ready at Dawn’s ambitious title, The Order: 1886; a game that had everything going for it. A big budget, a strong story, cool setting and long development cycle. Yet, with all these things in its favour, the developer still chose to focus their attention mostly on the graphics. There is no doubt that The Order is a looker. It is undeniably the best looking title on the PS4 thus far, but with numerous negative aspects plaguing the game, the graphics don’t mean much. The title suffered from pacing issues, long drawn out cutscenes, too many quick time events, long dull moments and stiff, rigid gameplay.

The Order 1886

There are many games that have gotten this formula right though, with a couple of examples being Monolith’s wonderfully immersive experience Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and Techland’s Dying Light. Both games are not considered the best graphically in their genre but what they do well, they do extremely well, making for a solid, well rounded experience.

Video games have come a long way since the 8-bit cartridge generation. What we expect from our gaming experiences are far greater than what we used to expect, but the main premise is still valid…games have to be fun. Nowadays, if a title chooses to forego having multiplayer within the game, it better have a damn good single player campaign in order to compensate for a loss of replay value.

What developers need to realize is that gamers are much more educated this day and age and they are able to check online for a game review before purchasing a product. If the game scores negatively amongst critics and gamers alike, more often than not an educated gamer will not purchase the product. It is a lot harder for a title to sustain its value and pretty graphics, which are not enough to justify a purchase…at least not for me.

Maybe it’s the pressure game developers are under to release a title within a certain time frame that may cause certain essential factors to be overlooked. Many key ideas that are meant to be implemented within a game could very well see the cutting room floor due to not having adequate time to see them to their full potential, thus choosing to focus on certain areas that can be enhanced such as lighting, frame rates and quality control.

There is no doubt that there is an immense amount of work involved in getting a game from an initial concept to a finished polished product, but it’s all about how developers choose to spend their time. When things like graphics or a game’s particular style takes precedence, you can likely bet that other key components will suffer.

So in a battle between style and substance, I truly believe that it should be substance that should claim victory every time.

What AAA game were you most disappointed with? Let us know in the comments below.