A decent portion of my reviews will be put towards technical analysis and explanation of facts about the game. For example, if I were reviewing chess, I’d be talking about the size of the board, the variety and balance of the game pieces, and the strategic depth available. The second part of my (or anybody’s) review is subjective – how I feel about the game design, difficulty, level design, artistic merit, etc. It’s important to me to describe the facts in addition to opinions, so I’ll never express an opinion without giving some sort of factual example to back it up.
Strategic depth is the number of options or legal game positions the player can make over the course of the game. For example, checkers has a relatively lower amount of strategic depth compared to chess. Strategic depth is only one side of the story, though – depth is meaningless without challenges that take advantage of it. Disgaea has a good amount of strategic depth, but the lack of challenges and emphasis on raw numbers and grinding means that its depth mostly useless and the game is more of a sandbox experience where you can do just about anything and still win. On the other hand a game like Advance Wars does not have a lot of strategic depth, but its challenges require you to learn all of that depth and apply it appropriately if you want the best scores.
Strategic difficulty is rated based on challenges that require the player to search through the strategic depth and choose an optimal solution. The more complex and puzzle-like the solution is, the higher the difficulty. Any kind of real time skills like timing or reaction time are also important. If a game has multiple difficulty levels, a scoring system, or if its difficulty varies significantly, I’ll describe the range of skill levels that the game is capable of catering to. There’s also game balance, artificial intelligence, variety of challenges, user interface quality, and scoring systems to consider when factoring in difficulty. A games difficulty can be heavily altered by one or two overpowering units or abilities, or if the challenges are simple and/or highly repetitive, or if the user interface is clunky and hard to deal with.
When dealing with a primarily multiplayer game like chess, the strategic depth is more apt to be referred to as the ‘skill cap’, that is the highest maximum level of complexity and strategy a player can employ against another player. For example, Chess has a higher skill cap than checkers. Similarly, the strategic difficulty is more about how much and what type of skill is required to reach that skill cap, including things like reading your opponent, reacting to random behavior, etc.
Whether a scoring system is useful for determining skill is based on whether the games challenges can be mitigated through mindless repetitive actions like optional grinding, save and reload abuse, or by pre-order bonuses/DLC that make comparisons between players impossible. If a game is legitimate then the difficulty is generally set in stone because it can’t be altered. If a game has no useful scoring system then I will describe how that impacts the games difficulty and what the experience is like if you choose not to grind or take advantage of overpowered units/abilities. Keep in mind that in a proper analysis of a game, a reviewer may not ignore or disregard parts of a game’s rules for any reason.
On to my subjective views and perceptions.
I respect a game most when it caters to a wide range of skill levels from the beginner to expert level. I like it most when increased difficulty involves new mechanics or different level design as opposed to only raising the enemy’s stats. I like it when a game includes a scoring system that is useful for determining skill. If a game has only one difficulty mode and no way to gauge score, that will reduce its appeal and longevity and thus its overall score. I will generally deduct points if a game is on either extreme of the difficulty curve. I dislike “unfair” or “cheap” difficulty such as excessive, uncontrollable randomness, or difficulty that arises through simple repetitive actions instead of a variety of strategies.
I like variety in game content and I dislike repetitive actions, grinding, or boring filler. In tactics games campaigns I tend to like varied terrain, multiple objectives, interesting scripting unique to each mission, and a series of well designed and strategic content. On the other hand, if a campaign is highly repetitive and generic where every mission is ‘kill everything’ or ‘kill the boss’ with no interesting scripting,bland terrain, repetitive combat, and lots of repetitive grinding, you can expect it to be poorly received by me. I believe this view reflects the majority of gamers standards on what makes a turn based tactics campaign good as opposed to boring and repetitive.
I like a fast, responsive UI with a modern amount of features. I really don’t like it if the UI is clunky, unresponsive, buggy, missing modern features, or hard to deal with. I like combat pacing and speed with skippable movement and animations. There is no excuse for a game that forces the player to sit through movement and other animation that they should be allowed to skip. While most slower and less experienced players won’t mind a slow paced tactics game, it’s important to me.
I don’t make logically incorrect assumptions like “you will get frustrated with this game” which ignores the fact that players of other skill levels may find it subjectively more or less frustrating. Instead I would say something like “players of X skill level may be frustrated with this game”.
I don’t make false statements like “you must partake in optional grinding to progress in this game” when it is actually possible to progress without grinding by using more strategy and skill. I will always do basic journalistic research on parts of a game that seem confusing or difficult to me, to confirm if players more skilled than I have accomplished what I could not, instead of arrogantly assuming that since I couldn’t do it, nobody could.
I don’t like giving out review numbers but if you want to be counted you need to pick one. So there you have it. I tend to use the scale where 5/10 is average, unlike the typical scale where 7/10 is a “C” or average based on American school grading. Look forward to more comprehensive, reviews, previews, analysis and opinions soon!