This generation of gaming has, in my mind started to stagnate. To clarify, this generation started with the release of the Wii U in 2012 and the PS4 and Xbox One the next year. Innovation and creativity have traditionally been a huge factor in game development. Considering gaming’s roots as a nearly dead industry in the 80s, developers had no choice but to innovate in order to draw a crowd. Now that gaming has gotten to the point that it rivals even the film industry, it feels like it’s started to let some of that success go to its head. Now, there’s entirely too much focus on gaming’s past, leading to a regression in new content in favor of older games. There’s also a safety net of successful franchises that developers don’t want to stray too far from.
As for older content, each console this gen is guilty of this. Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony, and even multi-platform companies have decided to repackage old games on the new systems rather than expand them or come up with something new. There have been a plethora of remakes this generation. This includes titles such as Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, The Last of Us Remastered, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Rare Replay, The Wind Waker HD, Twilight Princess HD, etc.
The games included in these aforementioned titles are all great, but their success can be credited to the generation in which they came out. For games like Skyrim especially, there hasn’t really ever felt like a need to keep re-releasing it. There was a remaster for current gen systems, but it only brought a limited amount of mods to the table. This amount is even more limited on PS4 and there was absolutely no need for a PC version since modding the original can make better visual changes. It’s also getting a VR version soon and a Switch version with Amiibo support. Bethesda is so focused on the success of this game that they’re seemingly not expanding their horizons here. This doesn’t even begin to get at backward compatibility, which is such a resource drain for Microsoft that they struggle to put out anything new.
That isn’t to say we haven’t gotten new games. We have, but a lot of what we’ve gotten doesn’t push boundaries at all. As a result, the games we get end up feeling like overpriced DLC rather than a new installment in a franchise. These games aren’t bad, in fact, they’re far from it, but they don’t wow us like their older installments do.
A good example of this is Gears of War 4. Agreed by many on the internet to be The Force Awakens of gaming, Gears 4 plays it really safe and doesn’t change all that much. The story is good, but when you pick up the controller, it just feels like a slightly more refined Gears game rather than a new thing or a big expansion on previous conventions. It’s probably the best Gears experience out there, but it’s such a small upgrade from previous games that it hardly qualifies as something new. I get the same feeling when I play games like Uncharted 4 and Halo 5. I also got the same feeling watching the Assassin’s Creed: Origins trailer at E3 and I didn’t even pick up a controller for that one.
Even new IPs like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Bloodborne, which are both great games, struggle to innovate. Yes, the amazing aesthetic, music, and graphics in both games are innovative. However, even those games are hampered down by gameplay borrowed from other series. Bloodborne’s gameplay is just a faster, more intense version of Souls gameplay and the something similar can be said about Horizon and the new Tomb Raider games. They’re both very unique takes on pre-existing formulas, but it still feels more like a gameplay sequel rather than something new.
There are two titles that stand out for truly innovating this generation. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is probably the best game I’ve played in years. Although it’s a franchise game, it, like most Zelda’s before it, stands apart as its own thing. This game especially played with the conventions we’re used to in Zelda titles (and gaming general) and made a truly open world where most anything is possible. It combined Souls-esque combat with action RPGs in a way that makes it a unique gaming experience. Another title that looks to be doing something similar with its formula is the upcoming Super Mario Odyssey.
The second title is Overwatch. While Breath of the Wild is probably the best game I’ve played in years, Overwatch is probably the most addictive. It makes a unique hybrid between two popular genres, first-person shooters and MOBAs. Rather than changing the conventions of both genres, it combines them together to create its own genre. In doing so, it doesn’t need to challenge conventions, it forges its own. It, like Breath of the Wild, is a truly distinct gameplay experience as a result.