Pause to Reload

The gaming community (both roleplaying and otherwise) are divided on what makes a good or bad game. Having started playing Wolfenstein: The New Order a couple of days ago, I was reminded that perhaps the most important criteria for me is a subjective rather than objective one: context.

Wolfenstein is first-person-shooter franchise set in a universe where the conspiracies about Nazi hyperscience and occult divisions are true. So, obviously, as someone who likes occult weirdness and science fiction, the setting intrigues me more than, for example, a historically authentic or modern day FPS setting; which in turn makes me more likely to forgive an aspect of the mechanics that isn’t to my taste. However, my enjoyment of context goes deeper.

Two soldiers in grimy futuristic armour inspired by 1940's Germany military equipment engaged in a running firefight.
©Bethesda Softworks LLC

The New Order is currently available for free from the Epic Store. As I loved the previous Wolfenstein games, I yoinked it as soon as I found out last Friday morning and put aside my current Conan Exiles playthrough so I could install it. Between spending time with my wife, doing adulty things for adulty reasons, and spending the relaxation time I had on my new game, I didn’t really look at social media until I’d played some distance into The New Order. Unsurprisingly, my feed was not without mentions of the game being free on Epic and opinions—both positive and negative—of the game; however, one post that stood out was one suggesting the game was terrible because it was only actually half shooter and the rest was just glorified fetch quests.

And—in a way—they are correct: the run-and-gun/sneak-and-gun/snipe-and-gun/&c. action that is at the core of FPS games is interspersed with segments where one has to find a number of items in an area that isn’t swarming with enemies and then bring them to an NPC so the NPC can discover a little more of the Nazis’ secrets. However, these don’t—to me—feel like the “Bring me 6 Ice Rose petals” mission that I think of when I think fetch quest; in fact, jolted into conscious consideration by reading such dislike of them, I realised they were part of the reason I was enjoying The New Order more than I enjoy many FPS.

Had they been the majority of the game, they would have irked me. However, as segments between archetypal FPS action, the brief explanation of why the NPC needed these things followed by puzzling out where to find them, then getting a little explanation of what had been discovered after (while it might have mechanically been the same sort of process as “find a plant; gather a petal; repeat; return for reward”) provided a contrasting slow personality to contrast with the fast-paced focus of the shooty bits. In context and as context, the times of not being an apex soldier enhanced the apex soldiering above just optimising speed of button press and mouse twitch.

Which is potentially the unspoken bit of anyone’s judgement: if context wasn’t the core, then why is the mechanism behind FPS games used so often to shoot Nazis/terrorists/&c. and so little to have bunnies distribute presents and shower petals over children? Why would anyone pay extra for a football game that features real world players?

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