Over the course of my caffeine-fueled homework avoidathon of a weekend, I managed to complete two games; more specifically, I brought one game to its mercilessly drawn out conclusion, and played another game in its entirety in the span of an hour. There's nothing like sitting there, satisfied and groggy at 3am before the ever-encroaching Monday dawn to cause you to reflect on price point, and what your sense of enjoyment of a game can mean.
Part of my reason for writing this blog is reactionary (or pre-reactionary, as the case may be), because I can see one of the major complaints leveled against Journey being its short playtime, especially after it releases to non-subscribers this week. It took somewhere between and hour and an hour-and-a-half to beat, whereas KoA:R had me trudging through pop-in textures for just over 40 hours. At four times the price of Journey, this is a bargain, no? After all, it held my attention (so to speak) for nearly three weekends of loot lust and troll smashing.
As far as time spent goes, Journey may be a small fraction of the game that Amalur is, but I felt like I got so much more out of it. There was a multiplayer experience that, while not integral, was delightful and memorable enough that it stands out along with Dark Souls in terms of somewhat cooperative experiences had online with people I don't know. There were several points where I audibly murmured "Jesus Christ" at the sheer, light-drenched beauty that was materializing on my screen, as Journey opens its gorgeous worlds to you using only a limited color pallet, whereas Amalur's day-glo meets WOW brand of technicolor art design failed to impress due to its seemingly random juxtaposition of too-bright hues. Journey managed to elicit actual emotions--awe mostly--through the use of limited storytelling, with music and visuals telling more than the reams of bland voice acting and new-but-not-really fantasy backstory that drudges through Amalur far after you stop caring.
It might seem like I'm being overly harsh on Amalur, and I want to stress that it's a perfectly adequate game; I wouldn't even say I feel buyer's remorse. From the start I figured out that it was much more a modernized version of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance than an alternative to Skyrim, and it is completely serviceable in that role. There were just too many niggling design decisions that made it feel unfulfilling by the end. It is a game that is ultimately fueled by loot lust, but unlike games that pull this singular aim off far longer than they have any right to (I'm looking at you), the equipment you get is so samey that it's no fun to find new weapons, especially after you've seen all the elemental attributes or have increased your Blacksmith and Sagecraft skills to the point where anything you create is marginally better than all found equipment. As an English major, I have never shied away from a block of text, and I can appreciate dialogue, but never before have I found myself skipping through so much in one game. By fifteen hours in, I wasn't invested in the main quest at all, and the number of named characters I can recall could easily be counted on one hand. The combat, which makes a decent attempt to not fall into the rut of button-mashing, is too simplistic. Most weapons have somewhere around five moves, and some of those are locked until you invest around twenty level-ups worth of points into their associated group of skills. By the time I finished the game, I was level 38, so I continued playing long enouh to reach the level 40 cap, and it was patently unsatisfying. One post-game dungeon that is a quarter of the size of most dungeons? No thanks.
Scope versus payoff: it sums up both my problems with Amalur, and why I am comparing it to Journey. Amalur is a game that gives you a large world, rife with sidequests, and so much content that you will reach the level cap long before you explore all of it. You will also have stopped caring long before then. Journey is a game that you want to latch onto and suck the marrow out of; every facet of the game, from graphics to music to storytelling is superb. If a game offers itself to be more memorable in an hour than other big budget titles can be over the span of forty, is it worth a seemingly disproportionate $15? Absolutely.
What do you think? Is the price right?