Replayability is a quality that many of us look for in games that we are considering spending our money on. For a lot of people it's hard to justify spending money on a game if they're only going to play it once. Thinking about it though, just what constitutes good replayability in a game? I'm sure many of us have different ideas on that, as I myself seem to take a different stance on it than many others I've seen online, so let's talk about it!
By definition replayability is the ability of a game to be replayed, but it's obviously more than that because any game CAN be replayed, so what you're really looking at is the incentive a game gives you to play it more than once. For me personally it's more important that a game give a reasonably entertaining amount of content the first time through and if the game has added replayability then that's just a bonus. When it comes to actual replayability though there are a few different ways it is typically achieved.
The first (and probably most sought after) form of replayability is when a game offers choices that change the way you experience the game on each playthrough. The first example that springs to mind of this type is The Witcher 2, in which the entire second act of the game changes (including the area it's set it) depending on a choice made in the first act. This scenario assures you that you will get to experience new things on subsequent playthroughs. The excitement that comes with the knowledge that you have shaped your playthrough with the choices you've made is part of what makes Bioware's games so popular.
People want to try extra playthroughs of games like Mass Effect and see what it's like to be a renegade female instead of a noble male or vice versa. This kind of expectation is also part of why people like myself were disappointed in Telltale's The Walking Dead series, because the game hammers home that your choices are important and then betrays your trust if you ever attempt to play through the game differently. Don't get me wrong; it's perfectly okay for a game to have choices that don't largely impact the game, but it's not okay to have choices like that while you're shoving it into the player's face at the beginning of every episode that their choices are a big deal.
Another form of replayability is when a game just has so much content that you can hardly get through it all on one playthrough. This type is one where in a way you're creating your own replayability, because you COULD try to get through everything on one playthrough, but a part of you wants to save it to enjoy later. For instance, you're not likely to have done everything on one playthrough of Skyrim, you probably saved cities or regions for another time. I myself intentionally didn't do everything available to me in Dragon Age: Inquisition because there are far more areas than necessary to reach the final mission, so I left like three entire zones untouched so that I could explore them as different characters.
The “loads of content” style tends to work best when in conjunction with another kind of replayability: having more than one way to play. This is one of the biggest ways to get me to play a game again, if not THE biggest. Having different styles of play that reasonably change your experience is always welcome in a game for me. This is the main reason that I've played DA:I three times. I've played as a dual wielding human rogue, a qunari mage, and an elf archer; and each playthrough has felt unique in such a way that I didn't mind that there were times I was doing the same content. The playstyles of each of those classes are sufficiently different and the game already has such an enjoyable combat system that I've thoroughly enjoyed each of those playthroughs.
The final major form of replayability that I want to talk about is probably my least favorite but it's one that many others seem very fond of: the “try to do better than you did last time” kind of replayability. This is essentially where a game grades you or times you or gives you score based on how well you did and expects you to play the game more to one up yourself. There are ways of implementing this that I find enjoyable, but they're relatively rare. For instance, in Devil May Cry I enjoy it because the game is constantly rating you while you're playing. You can see how you're doing as you're doing it. If you do a really good combo you will immediately see the ranking on the top of your screen and you can watch it climb or decline based on your performance in the moment. However if you look at a game like Bayonetta, which has a very similar style of play, the scoring is handled just differently enough to take away my interest.
In Bayonetta you fight off enemies and are shown the out of context score numbers but aren't shown a ranking for how well you did to match that score until after the battle is over, when you may see a gold medal for your combos and think “Well damn, what part of the fight was I slacking on? Where should I have improved?” You're also ranked again at the end of the level based on your rankings received and then you lose points for the battles you missed out on, which is a bummer considering that many encounters are hidden or require you to do backtracking halfway through a chapter to find them.
In general score based games make me want to perform really well when I play them initially, but they don't really convince me to play them again. Leaderboards aren't generally something I personally strive for. In fact the only time I can think of that I really strove to do really well on a leaderboard was a bit after the launch of DmC when I noticed that I had happened to rank like 15 or something in the world on the final mission on one difficulty and so I thought “Hell, I can do better than that” and replayed it a couple of times until I was number 1.
The most interesting thing about the idea of replayability to me is that it is so incredibly subjective that I enjoy seeing what others feel is reasonable. Rogue-like games (or rogue-lites) for example are games that I always find very interesting but are rarely able to hold my interest for longer than a day or two. The ones that have systems built in that make your subsequent playthroughs more interesting such as Binding of Isaac, Rogue Legacy, or DungeonMans certainly help me stick around longer, but in general the content feels incredibly repetitive in these types of games for me. However I have seen a lot of people who have racked up MANY hours on these kinds of games, so it's all just different strokes for different folks I suppose.
So how about you my lovely readers? What does a game need to do to convince you to come back to it? Does it need to appeal to your need to be the best? Does it need branching paths or loads of content? Or are you like me in that it just needs to be a really solid, enjoyable experience? Let me know, and thanks for reading!