So I’ve had a bit more time to think about the whole Replayability thing, and as some commenters in the previous article have pointed out, replayability ideally comes out more when one looks not only at story and characterization as underlying motivations to replay a game, but also at other aspects of the game, such as the gameplay.
While I can’t really wrap my head around all the angles just yet to make a definitive stand on my own, I can at least illustrate the point of replayability by talking about two games that have been mentioned here a fair number of times already: Borderlands and Dragon Age. Bear in mind that they are two different beasts altogether, but they are both games that I play, which is perhaps the most important common denominator in my mind (they both are enjoyable games worth playing).
Borderlands has the gameplay mechanics down pat. It is a first-person shooter with role-playing elements (such as randomized loot) which is very satisfying to pick up and play. For a solo gamer though, there’s not as much incentive to play through the game a second time because the story in itself is flimsy, and to some extent predictable, and nothing changes from playthrough 1 to playthrough 2 (as far as I know). Furthermore, you don’t really get to connect with any of the quirky characters of Pandora. You can’t even really connect with your own self, because you’re led through the story, forced to do most of the quests to get stronger to tackle on stronger baddies, and eventually make your way to the endgame with little deviation from that path.
Dragon Age: Origins, on the other hand, carries a story that allows characters to take subtle meanderings to learn more about yourself, other people, and the world you live in, even whilst being slowly pushed along a specific path. Unlike Borderlands, Dragon Age isn’t a casual game in the sense that you need more than thirty minutes to get any sort of real tangible progression through the story. The story itself probably has a happy enough ending in the sense that you’ll either defeat the darkspawn or learn what brought it about, though I’m not entirely sure as I haven’t finished it yet.
Of the two, you can probably already guess which one I’m more partial to replaying. Dragon Age lends itself to my sensibilities more because of its solid story. Borderlands tries to appeal to the lootwhore in me. Between the loot lover and the story seeker, I’m definitely more of a story seeker to begin with.
Perhaps that’s the point of all this reflection. It goes back to what I said a few months ago about game mechanics and preferences: a game has to appeal to one’s personal set of preferences for enjoyment. Hack-and-slash (or shoot-and-loot) games are definitely things I enjoyed replaying a long time ago back when Diablo II was still the awesomest thing on Earth, but it seems my preferences have changed. Other people will obviously have their own ideas of what is worth replaying based on what they value most in a game, whether it be min-maxing, looting, story-seeking, or team play.
One thing I will say though about both games: just having decapitation attacks makes both games oddly satisfying, and worth coming back to after finishing them, at least for a little while.