Saturday, 22 August 2015

On Games and Fun 1: An Informal Review of Doctor Who Legacy Version 3

Let me begin by disclaiming. No one is paying me to write any of this. I wish they were; wouldn't it be nice to have someone promise you a monthly paycheck with the only rules being "write on this topic and stick to these deadlines"? It would at least give my blog a topic, instead of being as it currently is about anything that pops into my head and seems suitable for writing about. But maybe that's what you're here for. Do let me know what you like or dislike about this blog, its topics, my writing style. Anyway. What follows are my thoughts and no one else's, though I'm sure it has been influenced by opinions from other parts of the Internet.

(Note: all prices listed in this post are in US dollars.)

For about two years, I've been a big fan of Tiny Rebel Games' Doctor Who: Legacy. It's a free-to-play puzzle game based on the last five seasons or so of Doctor Who, with bits of the earlier show thrown in where it fits the storyline about various aliens messing with time and the Doctor running around and collecting his Companions and other regenerations to fix it.

To me, the collecting part is the important part. I enjoy feeling like I've completed a game, and it seems the way to complete Doctor Who: Legacy is, to paraphrase from a much older game, to catch 'em all. There are around a hundred and fifty characters, plus costumes for many of them, that drop randomly upon completion of certain levels. Different characters have different in-game abilities and can be used to play with different strategies. Other random drops can be used to level up characters. There's also an in-game currency that can be obtained either by spending money or simply by loading the game a certain number of days in a row. It can be used to unlock characters and costumes that don't drop in-game. There is a $5 charge to unlock a bonus set of levels. I felt no obligation to do so when I did, except my own drive to collect and complete.

This is all good. And this was the state of the game until a couple of months ago, when the developers announced they were cutting back on new content in preparation for a big release with no fixed date. I kept playing the one or two new levels a week, practicing with new mechanics, collecting upgrade drops and in-game currency so I could be ready for whatever Version 3 threw at me.

And now it's here. Behind an unexpected pair of paywalls, in a game I'd come to think of as "free-to-play done right." I now cannot catch 'em all without paying another fifteen dollars.

It makes business sense: excitement over the game has faded, especially now that Doctor Who is between seasons. And I did notice they were advertising the bonus levels more heavily, and that they'd added in-game advertising for people who hadn't bought the bonus levels. It shouldn't have been unexpected that they would start charging for content. They need the money, and I'm okay with that because they've created a great game that has entertained me for much more than five dollars' worth of time.

But as a player who'd come to expect good free content, I was, for a little while, annoyed by the locking away of this new content. Who were they to prevent me from having fun? And then I began to wonder about a couple things. The first was whether my generation's financial disempowerment contributed to our general feeling that we were entitled to free digital content. That's not what this post is about. This post is about the other thing I wondered: was I having fun? After waiting and waiting for this new content, was I still interested enough in the game to give its creators the money they need and probably deserve?

So I played the free trials of the new "premium" content. There are two paywalled areas: Sonic Adventures, which may or may not be a continuation of the main storyline (and is not to be confused with a series of Sega games about a hedgehog), and a Kids' Area with easy levels for younger children who have seen Doctor Who and now want to be part of the adventure. Both contain random character and costume drops.

The free Sonic Adventures levels were a slog. Not only did they pile on new mechanics, but they required you to use a team of entirely new characters with unknown abilities that you had to figure out while the enemies were planting bombs in the play field and reflecting your damage back at you. I missed the thrill of earning these characters and leveling them up, a thing which I would have the chance to do if I paid $10 to unlock the whole area. In the middle of the second or third level I suddenly realized I wasn't enjoying the game anymore, but I continued to see if I could get the two random drops in the free levels. (I did get one of them.) Beating the final free level produced an advertisement for the premium content. It felt like I was being asked to "please insert all your remaining quarters to continue having fun," when I hadn't been having fun in the first place.

The Kids Area free levels, being kids' levels, were much easier than the level I'm used to playing at. They had fewer playable characters and simplified mechanics. But each level had a silly little cutscene at the beginning to introduce the characters for that level. And those cutscenes were, for the most part, fun. I even laughed out loud at one: the Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors find themselves in the TARDIS control room together. The conversation goes something like this: "What are you doing here?" "Who, me? What are you doing here?" "What the heck--we're all here, let's go have an adventure!" This conversation sums up all the things I like about Doctor Who: when it's a group of adventurers, thrown together by chance, seeing the universe because they can and saving the day in the process. The current run of the show has moved away from that, and I think I've lost interest in it as a result; but again, that's a post for another day. Again, beating all the levels in this section earned me an ad for the premium content. Sigh.

To sum it all up: my interest in this game has waned, and the release of a new version containing paywalled premium content has made me aware of it. I still recommend the free parts of the game as a good Doctor Who experience and a good free-to-play experience. Completionists beware, though: this is a twenty-dollar game, and I no longer feel the need to complete it.

PS: My latest post on my collaborative blog project, the I Like Homestuck Project, has just gone up. Find out Why I Like the Courtyard Droll, and check out other excellent posts by a couple of my friends. (Warning: Homestuck spoilers ahead.)

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