Game On: Why it’s time more games ditched multiplayer
The Order 1886

Sick of tagged-on deathmatch modes and miserly, uninspired single-player campaigns, Mark Butler applauds the announcement that The Order: 1886 will be multiplayer-free – and argues that more mainstream releases should follow its example.

The Order 1886

Last week, when it was revealed that compelling action-adventure The Order: 1886 would have no multiplayer whatsoever, I practically punched the air in delight.

For those of us who staunchly prefer to immerse ourselves in enthralling single-player experiences rather than uninspired, bolted-on deathmatch modes, the news is something of a boon. A cannon shot. A sign that the times may finally be a-changing – and with good reason.

Think about the finest single-player experiences we’ve feasted on in recent years and – The Last Of Us aside – chances are the games in question have been totally multiplayer-free.

‘The backlash against multiplayer is gaining ground’

Skyrim, Dishonored…hell, BioShock Infinite had the decency to unceremoniously jettison its multiplayer modes months before launch. Boy, we really missed those, right?

The truth is that lack of multiplayer is now becoming something of a hallmark of quality for major, Triple A releases. Where once it was considered practically mandatory to stick some half-baked gun-and-run in there, now the backlash against multiplayer is gaining ground. And I couldn’t be happier.

If you’re confused as to why I’m sounding off about an element of gaming that is, for the most part, entirely optional, then allow me to explain.

I’ve long been sick of developers plunging precious time, energy and resources into tacked-on multiplayer. It’s become the bane of my existence in recent years: when otherwise decent experiences have been devalued, cheapened and dragged down by these features.

Precious trophies and achievements only being available if you take the plunge is galling enough, but there are more pressing concerns at hand.

I genuinely believe that in many cases the energy that developers pour into multiplayer modes (which can, after all, be a mega money-spinner with the addition of extra download packs, optional extras and general buyable items), is resulting in much shorter, uninteresting and less satisfying single-player campaigns.

As you’ve probably gathered by now, I do not play well with others. Yes, I am a sad, lonely bitter old fart – who longs for a time when our beloved medium was not principally defined by gormless bile-spewing snot-buckets, yelling into their headsets over the expletive-exchanging service that is Xbox Live.

I’ve tried. Believe me, I have. But this very thing actually acts to kill my immersion in an otherwise absorbing, atmospheric experience, constantly reminding me that I am not in fact running around the ice lakes of the Elvish city of Billabong, nor saving the world from the evil aliens of planet Zoggoroth.

‘The industry is obsessed’

Instead, I’m trapped in an endless merry-go-round of virtual violence with a disparate bunch of similarly screen-goggling goons – all engaged in the very same gameworld as myself.

When it comes down to it, I’m a single-player enthusiast at heart. I love sinking myself into the captivating, expansive world of Skyrim or Fallout. I love playing horror games on my own in the dark. I love having my emotions mercilessly battered and turned upside down by Telltale’s captivating Walking Dead series.

That’s not to say I’ve got anything against those who love their multiplayer, of course. I just wish the industry hadn’t become so ludicrously obsessed with it in recent years.

Following the astronomical success of competitive online gaming with CoD, Gears and Starcraft to name but a few, major companies have been chomping at the bit to grab a piece of the pie. After all, in a world where DLC, buyable extras and micro-transactions have become frustratingly part and parcel of everyday enterprise, multiplayer provides an obvious opportunity for pushing this kind of business to the masses.

Hence, we’ve seen tagged-on multiplayer spring up all over the shop, rarely acting to enhance a campaign and – more often than not – actively denigrating it.

As the emphasis on multiplayer has increased, so too has the willingness of publishers and developers to short-change gamers on single-player content.

The campaign of Battlefield: Bad Company, released in 2008, was an expansive sandbox feast of vehicle-hijacking mayhem and open landscape warfare. Its sequel, following just two years later, served-up a meagre, miserly six-hour trudge of dumbed-down, streamlined action. One was a juicy, meaty steak – the other a rotting bowl of leftovers.

Many modern mainstream blockbusters have been defined by an emphasis on fully-loaded, feature-laden multiplayer and short, going-through-the-motions campaigns. I’m not much of a CoD fan, believe me, but I can sure as hell tell you that Modern Warfare’s single-player was infinitely more satisfying than Ghosts.

For those of us only interested in the campaigns, this trend has resulted in slimmer-pickings on the Triple A front, and has – in some cases – actively turned us away from series we previously loved.

It’s encouraging then, to see Ready At Dawn assuring us that The Order: 1886 will be multiplayer-free.

‘Soaking up the atmosphere’

Do you know what that decision says to me? It says: ‘We’re giving the single-player experience our full attention’. It says: ‘We want to put all of our efforts into creating a memorable campaign’. It says: ‘We’re more interested in producing kick-ass original content than spinning extra bucks out of map packs, costumes and micro-payments’.

When The Order: 1886 was first announced, my thoughts were all about the tantalising prospect of exploring and discovering an immersive new experience for myself – surviving and confronting monsters through the mist-covered city streets of a gothic Victorian city, and soaking up the atmosphere in the process.

They were not about teaming-up with others to scrap and brawl in group-based battles ad infinitum. They were not about capture-the-flag challenges, or a bolt-flying free-for-all.

I for one am delighted that more big releases are following this trend; re-affirming the need for strong, extensive single-player experiences that stand on their own merits – rather than whisker-thin, token efforts, hiding behind the skirts of their eagerly-advertised multiplayer modes.

Do you prefer single-player or multiplayer?

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Mark Butler

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