So now that Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is out, there is a very funny meme that is going around, but it is not funny for the reason that the people who are spreading it think that it’s funny. There is a group of people – and you can figure out what their motivation for this might be within about five seconds of thought – who point out that when Redfall releases and does only 30 FPS at 4k resolution, it gets horrible reviews. But when Tears of the Kingdom comes out dropping below 30 FPS at 720p, nobody cares. What hypocrisy, right?
Half of you (all right, probably more than half) just laughed at that. The remainder are probably blinking and saying, “Hey, wait, why isn’t that hypocritical?” And the reason should be obvious with five seconds of thought, but we’re going to talk about that – and we’re going to talk about how I spent a decade being mad at Final Fantasy XI for a promise it never made to me, and then we’re going to talk about your fictional version of a game you say changed. It’ll be fun for everyone!
Now, as those of you who were already laughing before no doubt get, the thing is that Redfall’s problems have nothing to do with 30 FPS at 4k resolution. That’s not what’s getting it terrible reviews. Sure, it will definitely knock points off of a game if it has not-great graphics while it is setting your graphics card on fire, but at the end of the day better graphics would not fix the game’s problems. Tears of the Kingdom having higher frame rate and better graphics might be theoretically nice, but the game is good without them.
And I know, this is not the first time. There are people who consider it insane that anyone would play a game at less than 60 FPS at the highest resolution possible. I have seen people flipping out at the idea that a GPU cannot run games at 120 FPS with full ray-tracing on their monitor that takes up an entire wall, the sort of thing that prompts them to declare that video games are garbage and throw down their fedoras in disgust! (You know those dudes have fedoras.)
This is, yes, deeply funny because it isn’t just missing the forest for the trees; it’s missing the forest for leaves on the trees. It speaks to a bewildering lack of understanding about the very nature of video games and astonishingly misplaced priorities. And it is fixating on details that are irrelevant because… well, they’re easy to measure. Which is, let’s face it, something we all do.
When I finally stopped playing FFXI for the last time, I promise now, for real in 2005 or so, I then spent something like a decade being mad at that game for never having let me have the experience that I wanted. The only job that could level solo was Beastmaster, and that was awful. It was such a betrayal of everything the game could have been! Why was the game so slow and unpleasant to play when I wanted it to be otherwise?
The answer, though, was pretty simple. No, not just because the game was strongly based off of EverQuest and its leveling model, although that’s also true. It’s because I was still basically approaching the game expecting a promise that it had never made, and that promise was that I could get everything done with a very limited amount of online time on a daily basis and on my chosen job. The game had never promised that to me. As many friendships as I made there – and I did get quite a lot done – I was ultimately so fixated on what I couldn’t have and what I didn’t get that I spent most of my time resenting that.
Should the game have had that? Yeah, pretty much. But I would have gotten a lot more done if I hadn’t kept trying to play the game in a way that was ultimately counter to its design. And the fact that with the modern enhancements the game is approachable in the way I always wanted definitely ameliorates a lot of that. But at the end of the day I was fixating on details. Instead of trying to find the things I enjoyed in leveling, I was fighting against it.
And if I disliked it that much, really, the smart thing to do was to not play. I’m glad I didn’t give up on it or MMOs, obviously, but there was a whole lot of time spent being pointlessly angry. It’s not exactly the same as losing my mind at the idea that a game might only run at 30 FPS as if that’s a meaningful critique of quality, but it is of a kind. It’s fixating on the details and losing sight of the whole.
We all tend to do that at times, and I think sometimes it’s to our own detriment. More accurately, we fixate on the wrong details.
For example, I’ve talked a lot about missing Auras in World of Warcraft for Retribution Paladin. So I must be happy that they’re back now, right? Well… no. Because I also recognize (and have discussed prior) that Auras themselves were just a trait. Their removal and absence was part of a design shift away from Retribution Paladin as a specific DPS with a more support-oriented playstyle to being functionally more akin to a Rogue in plate armor. And the reason for that shift was, chiefly, the difficulty of balancing things around classes and specs with that approach.
However, it’s just as important to note that while the removal of Seals and Blessings and Auras does mark a mechanical change, none of those individual elements is what did it. Indeed, there’s also a good reason to single out these features as being, well… fiddly and complex and sometimes annoying to work with. The goals themselves are not without merit. You could write entire articles about the changes, but if I just left it at “this used to be good but now it’s not bad,” it would be a lie.
Analysis of complex things requires understanding that both the inputs and outputs are complex. You have to look at changes holistically, and you have to be able to do things that are sometimes challenging, like considering the differences in your own life and what you had then but don’t have now. It’s easy to get hung up on details. It’d be easy to play Retribution now, with Auras, and still not find it as fun as my memories of Retribution, and conclude that they did it wrong instead of being able to see “it’s part of a complex network of things, and the real change is not the removal of Auras themselves but the larger philosophy at work.”
Or you could go on Twitter and complain that clearly the designers are idiots because they took away one button you liked to hit and what, did the B-team design this expansion? That has a much lower chance of being right, but it’s probably more gratifying without asking you to learn anything, so… whatever makes you happy-ish? I’m not your dad.