Games have rules. It’s sort of their “thing.” But just because a game suggests you’re supposed to play it one way doesn’t mean you can’t come up with some rules of your own.
Whether you do it consciously or not, you probably restrict the way you play games. Maybe you force yourself to live with questionable decisions in a story-based RPG, or maybe you don’t let yourself spam a first-person shooter’s most overpowered weapon. Maybe you raise or lower the difficulty depending on the area you’re exploring.
That kind of tweaking becomes all the more important when replaying a game you already know and love. PC mods are the most clear-cut way to make a game feel fresh again, but a lot of the time you don’t even need to go that far — instead of altering a game’s files, you can simply change how you approach it. We’ve seen players doing it with all sorts of games lately: Far Cry 4, Shadow of Mordor, Dying Light and most recently, Bloodborne.
You played it once the vanilla way, time for something different, right? There are many ways you can shake up your favourite games and make them feel new again. Here are 10.
1. No Minimap
This is an old one, and it’s a favourite of mine. Heck, one of my first stories for Kotaku was about the way I play GTA IV, with no minimap and no HUD. It’s also how I play most Ubisoft games, particularly Far Cry. Removing the minimap in an open-world game forces you to rely on the open world to orient yourself. Turns out, most well-made open-world games provide plenty of visual landmarks, and it’s actually not that hard to get around.
Furthermore, once you’re actually relying on your memory and eyes to navigate, you’ll find yourself much more “in” the world around you. We spend so much time with our eyes glued to the corner of the screen, staring at the minimap — it’s not unlike navigating a new city while staring down at Google maps on your phone. Get your eyes up, there’s a whole world out there!
Games to try it with: Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, pretty much any other open-world game, especially more recent ones.
You get one life. If you die, you erase your save and try again. No takebacks, no deciding that “the game bugged out” or that you got “robbed,” nothing. Death is the end. It can make your time with the game seem vital and terrifying in a way it never seemed before, and if applied correctly, can give you a whole new appreciation for how difficult video games can be.
Stealth Variant: If you’re playing a stealth game like Splinter Cell or Metal Gear (or even The Last of Us) make it so that if you’re spotted, you fail and have to reload. It’s usually best to take this approach with games you know really well.
Games to try it with: It’s great for any open-world survival game like Minecraft or Far Cry, and actually can be surprisingly cool with some of the early Call of Duty games, if you treat each level as permadeath. (Don’t restart the whole game, just the mission.)
3. Limited Weapons
Most big-budget action games have one or two game-breaking “ultra” weapons that they bust out for the final few missions. Blame it on Doom and that BFG9000 — at this point, we expect that a game’s final act will give us a powered-up gravity gun, or a railgun, or some other ungodly tool of destruction.
Once you’ve got that kind of firepower, many of the game’s battles become trivial, which can be an issue in an open-world game that continues once the story ends. To counter your over-poweredness, try playing with a more limited arsenal. Maybe you can only use handguns, or only use a bow and arrow, or only up-close weapons. Maybe you can’t use weapons at all! Get creative, and see how good you really are.
Games to try it with: Any action game with a customisable arsenal. Far Cry 3 and 4 are both great for this one, especially if you focus on playing only with the bow and arrow. Tomb Raider is also good — really, any game with a bow and arrow is great.
4. Limited Healing
Unless a game has regenerating health, it probably features some sort of in-game method of healing. Maybe you pick up medkits or stimpacks or you stuff your face with candy bars. Whatever it is, try to come up with a system for curtailing that. You could go nuts, like this guy, and try to play a Fallout game without healing at all. Or maybe you limit your healing spells in an RPG. I like to play Far Cry games with no health stims, using only manual healing to restore health.
Games to try it with: Bethesda open-world games, open-world survival games.
5. No Levelling Up
Lots of games are at their best at the very start, when your character is underpowered and every fight is a struggle. Then you start earning XP and levelling up, and before you know it, you’re effortlessly cutting through whole squads of the dudes who used to give you trouble. It’s empowering, sure, but it can also become boring.
So, try… not levelling up. Resist the urge to unlock all those abilities all over again, and instead play the game with only the most basic tools at your disposal. This can be great for second playthroughs, since you’ll have the advantage of knowing what to expect and how enemies work… and you’ll need every bit of that advantage.
Games to try it with: Any Souls game (if you’re crazy like this guy), Dying Light, Fallout and Elder Scrolls games, Far Cry… ok you know what, most of these apply to Far Cry.
6. A Single Save File
Most role-playing games these days allow you to keep multiple saves. About to make a big decision? Save your game, try it, and see what happens. With this approach, you can’t do that anymore — you can only keep one save, and you have to stick with every choice and action you make. No more undoing your mistakes, and no more quicksaving your way through challenging stealth levels, either — if you screw up picking that lock, you triggered the alarm and that’s all there is for it. No takebacks. Get your head in the game and make it work.
Games to try it with: Any RPG that involves lots of choice, any stealth game that involves lots of dangerous snap decisions.
7. Change The Language
Many games were made by developers who don’t speak English as their first language. If you’re going to replay a game, see what it’s like to play in the language native to the people who made it, or to the characters in the game. You might find a voice actor who really works for you, and by reading English subtitles, you may find that you gain a better understanding of the plot.
Games to try it with: The Metro games (Russian), some Assassin’s Creed games (Italian and French), any JRPG or other Japanese game.
8. Limit Your Travel Options
Most open-world games allow you to jump all over the map, saving yourself time and letting you hop from mission to mission. However, many games can feel significantly different if you don’t let yourself fast-travel. You can also limit your travel options — for example, in GTA, try only getting around on foot or on bicycles. The minute you’re not flying through the game, you’ll start to slow down and take in the sights.
Games to try it with: Any open-world game.
9. Really Role-Play
They may call them role-playing games, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of not really playing a role. Maybe you make decisions based on which ones you think will lead to the coolest battle or outcome. Maybe you choose whatever will get you the best treasure.
Instead of doing that, try coming up with a complicated backstory for your main character. Sit down beforehand and write down your character’s whole deal. What drives him? What was her childhood like? Does he have any phobias, or pet peeves? Does she hate cats, or maybe love cats? Get ridiculously detailed, and once you start playing, role-play the shit out of it. You are no longer making the decisions; your character is. It’s amazing how interesting this can make an RPG, even one you’ve already played.
Bonus mode: For a different, no-less-hardcore approach, you can get some dice and use them to make your big decisions for you.
Games to try it with: Any story-driven RPG.
10. Go Worldwide
This may seem like an odd final suggestion, but: Try streaming you game. Plug in a microphone, fire up your streaming service of choice, and start playing. It’s remarkable how it can freshen up games that you’ve been playing for years. Suddenly, you’ll be playing for an audience (even if it’s just a small one), sharing tips and tricks, learning secrets from your audience, and answering questions for anyone who hasn’t played.
Games to try it with: Anything, really.
Those are 10 suggestions, but I’m sure some of you have tricks that you use to re-experience old games and make them feel fresh again. If you’ve got any, I hope you’ll share them below. And remember, when all else fails, you can always just make a drinking game.
Illustration by Jim Cooke, Skyrim headshot via Faces of Skyrim.