You never realise quite how much your world is interconnected when your home internet goes down. That's been the case for the last fortnight: after leaving one morning, all things well, I returned home to a connection running at one-tenth the capacity.
Without easy access to day-one patches, online authentication that takes aeons and consoles that refuse to budge because they require system-critical updates, I started scouring through older games in my library, playthroughs I hadn't finished. And that's where a failing of many games became much more apparent.
Take Divinity: Original Sin 2. It's a game I'd put off for most of 2017, understanding how much time it would take to get to even partially appreciate. But after breaking my wrist, particularly on my dominant typing hand—I'm right handed, but the majority of my typing is dominated by the left hand—I needed something to keep myself busy.
So, with the pre-holiday sales afoot, I grabbed Divinity: Original Sin 2 and some other games.
By the time the Christmas holidays were over, I'd spent about 80 hours on a particular playthrough. It was about as inefficient as possible: the undead Fane as the only thing approximating a melee tank: a rogue; the Red Prince as a fire-frenzied enchanter; my player character as Lizard enchanter, with a bunch of water and ice spells because they totally don't evaporate as soon as a fireball comes along; and Lohse, who started out as a healer/secondary air damage dealer, before I grew a couple of brain cells and re-specced her into a much more efficient Summoner.
Unsurprisingly, I've tried to complete just about every quest—because I've needed every scrap of loot and XP.
When you've been playing the game for weeks on end, picking up where you left off is much simpler. When you haven't touched a game for weeks or months, it's a different story.
That's one of the biggest hurdles for how a lot of people experience video games. It's not always possible to consistently put one, two or three hours into something every night until completion. Sometimes—most of the time—life gets in the way.
Games often don't take that into account enough. They're very good at introducing players to new mechanics, tracking systems, ways to parse information. But they don't factor in instances where players might be coming back to something months or even years down the road.
Sure, some games will always be much simpler than others—Spider-Man won't be on the same level as Bloodborne, obviously. And it's a difficult issue for games that thrive on drip-feeding the player, if they provide any information at all. What's Hollow Knight supposed to do if you weren't able to play for six months?
It's not the game's fault, and I'm not calling out or blaming any particular game. But the easier it is to get back on track, reassume the order of priorities and understand what your next steps were, the more the likelihood that you'll keep playing, maybe even finish one day.
I'm using shots of Divinity: Original Sin 2 because the improvement in the journal from the original to the sequel has been a large factor in me sticking with Fane and co. After buying the original Divinity, I put about 10 hours into the game before life intervened and ended up occupying me for a few months.
Upon coming back to the game, I was completely overwhelmed. I eventually started a new character: I figured if I experienced the murder-mystery from the beginning all over again, I'd have a better chance of keeping all the puzzle pieces together.
And for about 15 hours, that was the case—until life intervened once more. Still stuck in the first act, I put the original Divinity down, and never returned.
It's a problem I didn't have with the sequel, despite being 80 plus hours in. And it's an interesting time to bring it up, considering the Definitive edition of DOS 2, which launched at the end of last month, has given the quest journal a huge rework.
I'm still playing the Classic version—saves aren't compatible, unfortunately. But the general quality-of-life improvements from the first DOS to the second, which includes the journal but also the map, amount of fast travel points, easier healing between fights, make it a more accessible game. More importantly, it made it infinitely easier to get back into the game, which will probably be the biggest factor in me finishing my playthrough.
And it's a factor in why people's Piles of Shame grow to the sizes they do. For one, people buy more games than they have time to play. But some games are easier to pick up midway—and those that are, you're more likely to go on and finish.
I bring this up because whether players finish a game, or the amount of hours players put in, is a major factor for many game studios. What those targets and goals look like differ on a case by case basis, but no studio wants players to fall off the wagon.
The reality, though, is that players don't always want to stop playing. Sometimes the internet cuts out. Life gets in the way. So thinking about methods that make it easier for players to pick up where they left off is worthwhile. Maybe there's an technological solution—perhaps the game could detect when a save file or the game hasn't been loaded up for a long period, and offer extra tooltips or advice to get the player back on track.