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Side Quest: Time Out or Burn Out?

by Magerette, 2008-03-04

Have you ever had this experience? A game comes out you’ve been looking forward to for quite awhile. It may be a game from one of your preferred developers, or the latest in a series you’ve been playing and loving for years. You follow all the news, can’t wait to purchase it, read and talk about it on the appropriate forums and may even pre-order it.

When it finally arrives, you eagerly unwrap it, install it, search the Internet for updates or patches perhaps, and sit down for a session of undiluted pleasure. An hour or so later, you’re fidgety, bored, and saving and exiting to check your email or walk the dog. And all too often you just never go back.

I’ve recently had this happen with a game that deserves better, the Mask of the Betrayer, Neverwinter Nights 2. In fact, this article was intended to be a review. Unfortunately, I had to abandon that idea, as I can’t make myself play and finish the game. I’ve had this game since day one of its release, and I can’t say how many times I’ve started it up only to shut it down again and set it aside for ‘some other time’.

I’d like to think someday things will be just right and I’ll be ready to plunge right into it, but realistically I’m starting to think that may never happen. Am I taking a time out, or am I burned out on this game for some reason? That’s the question I’m asking in this sidequest.

It’s not a case of not having the time to play, as it used to be when I had a work schedule loaded with overtime hours and a family to tend to as well. It’s not that there is anything intrinsically “bad” about the game. In the few hours I’ve played, I noticed considerable camera control improvement (one of my pet peeves in NWN2) well-written dialogue, and interesting plot elements. It’s a game that should appeal to me, that I expected to like. It’s gotten excellent reviews, and I’m sure deservedly so. So what’s the barrier to my enjoyment?

I’ve had this happen before with several other games (Gothic 2 and Morrowind add-ons come to mind.) and while obviously there could be many factors at play, I think it fundamentally comes down to the ability of a game to provide not a great experience per se, but the experience you were expecting, or failing that, one equally engaging that you weren’t.

For example, I’ll take a simpler game that though I ultimately burned out on I found different from my expectations in a good way: Dungeon Siege II. I found the Dungeon Siege original boring, but in the sequel I got a slightly different and better experience with features that interested me. While they weren’t enough to totally redeem the game, they did pull me in, and worked on some personal level that the original did not.

For want of any better explanation, with MotB I’ve come to the conclusion that it may be the whole upper level D&D experience that’s numbing my interest, that I’m burned out on +4 swords and Robes of the Arch Magi and overly intricate orchestrated combat sequences. The other qualities of the game that are important to me--writing, story, NPCs-- aren’t prominent enough in the opening to pull me in.

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Part of it certainly is a lack of patience and willingness to invest in the game on my part. And part of it may also be that this game just isn’t doing the right hat-trick to appeal to me personally.

The problem is similar to those reviewers who play two hours of a game without finding anything they like and then pan the game. I hesitate to do that, for the principal reason that I’ve recently come up with a tentative hypothesis that all gaming experience is far more subjective than we realize. I think this is at the root of a lot of acrimony amongst gamers. Game quality and game ‘feel’ can vary fairly dramatically from one gamer to another.

Sometimes a group of people interested in similar games do indeed all universally like and rave about a particular game, but more often, the group will split. It’s the same game in the same box, but what fifteen people experience as the ultimate example of the perfect rpg or shooter is a game that seven others think is okay, four can’t get into and three condemn as a blasphemous parody of what such a game should be.

For Mask of the Betrayer, I am afraid I’m in the group that can’t get into it and that what I thought was a time out is actually a burn out. I can only hope that the next time I load up a save, something will click.

Box Art