When it comes to something like video games, movies, or books, there’s no such thing as the best. Preference is subjective and will always depend on the individual, but that doesn’t mean there’s no point in reviews. Even if you hold an opinion that differs from the reviewer, that difference can actually tell you a lot about whether you’ll like a game or not.
I’m going to walk you through some of what I tend to look for in my games. With PAX South coming up, this’ll help give you some added context to the games that catch my eye. What I write about, and sometimes what I don’t write about, can give you a good idea of whether you might like a game or not.
My preferred games are often ones I don’t even write about. Games like Civilizations, Stellaris, Total War, and other strategy games are always installed on my personal PC and laptop. I like a lot of the grand strategy games like Hearts of Iron and Europa Universalis as well, but don’t play them as often because of my limited time. Frankly, I rarely finish a game in the others due to work often taking me away for significant periods of time, and usually just start a new game each time I get a break.
I’m a strategy guy, so I like games that give me some form of long-term goal that I can work towards. Because of my time constraints, I also like to also have a lot of benchmarks along the way to target as mini-goals. The sort of thing that I can get done in a play-session or two keeps the game interesting and gives a sense of progression that just working on the larger goals usually do not.
If you look past my enjoyment of strategic gameplay, there’s something here that I think should get the attention of most adult gamers, which is the desire for periodic micro-objectives. For those of us who work (some of us probably way too much), having those smaller and more achievable objectives really can make a game much more enjoyable. It’s sad in a way because I can’t enjoy a lot of the same games that I loved when I was younger, but it’s also opened up new games and types of gameplay to me that I might have missed otherwise.
The advantage to you readers that have time demands similar to what I experience is that I’m also looking for games that fit that lifestyle. That’s a feature of games that we both enjoy, so you might watch for that when I write about a new game.
In part, that desire for strategic gameplay combined with the need for more periodic goals screams carebear. The truth is that I’ve always been a fan of playing the industrial role in games, but it happens to be something that’s gotten even more central to my play-style over the last few years.
Playing an industrial role in games often lets me participate, but also frees me up to take a call or fire off the occasional email. I’ve also found that setting periodic and appropriately scoped goals is super easy when targeting the economic portions of a lot of games. More importantly, if I’m playing with nieces and nephews, it lets me support them in getting the maximum enjoyment out of their game time, which is a pretty cool benchmark all its own.
There are a whole lot of games that don’t do this well, but there are a lot that do. EVE Online is the obvious mention on that front, but I’ve also found that I enjoyed the economic play in a number of other games, too. I really liked ArcheAge for instance. Yeah, there were a lot of problems with it and it was monetized in a way I didn’t really care for, but the system of trade routes and how it all worked with crafting in the game was really cool.
You would think that Black Desert Online would be on that list because the industrial portion of that game is fairly complex and lends itself really well to setting smaller and more attainable goals. I occasionally catch an article or video and get excited to try again, but BDO never really clears the hurdle for me. It’s probably because I’ve never joined a guild in the game to get that social connection, but whatever the reason, I’ve just never really gotten into it as much as I’d expect I would.
Massively Multiplayer… Antisocial?
I do have one really weird quirk when it comes to games. I really like games that have other people in them…. I just don’t really like playing with those people.
I know, that sounds really dumb, but it’s something odd that I’ve realized about myself over the years. I often find that I enjoy being part of a modest sized guild, and even chatting with folks in whatever VoIP platform happens to be in favor at the time. I enjoy occasionally grouping to go rough up random mobs in communal glee, but sometimes I just don’t.
What I really like is to have a job or some function that supports the larger group, but that doesn’t require the group’s support of me much, if at all. Again, this is often something that ends up being economic or crafting in nature, but not always. In Star Wars Galaxies I would often scout potential targets for PvP and throw together reports for my friends to plan an attack around. In part, it was fun because I stole the general format from similar intel reports and imagery I dealt with on a daily basis in the Army. It made it fun for everyone else and gave them a little touch of realism that made it all more exciting, I think.
I also just enjoy the chance to accomplish goals quietly and on my own. Those goals matter more if they support the larger group, though. I think that’s an often-missed key ingredient for games. Crafting, trading, and such all must to have a purpose. Crafting and then trading widgets is a lot more fun if it supports the guild’s objectives in some way or allows me to impact the global economy.
I’ve actually found that a lot of the games in the survival genre scratch this itch well. Games like Conan Exiles, ATLAS, Outpost Zero, and others allow you to play in a world made dynamic through the interactions of other players. Though, those interactions can be pushed mostly to the background for the most part and you’re allowed to decide how much interaction you have with those same players.
I make decisions and give orders all day long, and sometimes I just want to be another nameless dude. For other alphas who need the occasional break, you may find you like some of the same combination of selectable social interaction and contribution that I do. You get that sense of leaning forward into a project, but you don’t have to be in charge of anything for a while. That’s pretty relaxing.
Lastly, and one of the things I’ll be looking for at PAX, I really like neat indie projects. On one hand, I just find that young studios who are publishing their own games tend to have a lot more creativity and swing for the fences. Even when they’re not in my preferred genres, and maybe even not a game I actually like that much, I still really enjoy seeing some of the cool ideas these studios come up with and implement.
I try to write about these sorts of projects more often so that they get a little exposure. Not only do I want to support the small guys, but some readers may find a game they really dig that they wouldn’t have heard about otherwise. Sometimes these games can herald a mechanic or idea that’s starting to push into the mainstream.
It’s not exactly indie on the same scale, but Crowfall is a game that I got really excited about when it first popped onto my screen. Their dying worlds concept that allowed for timed campaigns with various rulesets was super new and really exciting to me.
Games like Domina have really set a new standard for how streamers interact with their audience by integrating with the streaming platform in interesting ways. Another, and PAX-specific, example would be Rebel Galaxy. It was developed by a tiny team, but it had such a cool wild west in space feel and an incredible score. I was really impressed the year I bumped into the team in San Antonio and got to try a pre-release version of the game.
Games like that are one of the reasons I enjoy heading to PAX every year. I never fail to find some small game that might have flown under the radar, but some aspect of it really felt new and innovative to me. Even better is when that new and innovative idea happens to scratch one of my favorite itches.
I hope that gives you some idea of what sorts of games will often get my attention on any given day or at an event like PAX. If you like some of the same things as I do, you may find those are good keys to watch for when I check out something new. Conversely, those may be things you don’t like and would be clues that you’d want to give the game a pass.
This is by no means a definitive collection of what I look for in a game. I’m pretty eclectic in what I like, but these are definitely some of the key things that’ll make games stand out to me. If you know of a game you think scratches one of those itches, let me know and I may check it out. If you’re at PAX next week, wave and say hello if you see me there!