In the week where multiplayer survival shooter PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS notched up 20 million copies sold, you’d be forgiven for thinking that single-player games have had their day.
A look at the Steam stats seems to back up this assumption. Of the top 10 games being played in early November (when this article was written), multiplayer titles dominated — PUBG led the way, followed by the likes of Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Warframe and Grand Theft Auto V. In fact, you need to look down to #12 to find the first single-player game in the list: Football Manager 2017.
That said, there are plenty of single-player/story-focused games in the Steam stats too. These include the likes of Sid Meier’s Civilization (V and VI), The Witcher 3, Fallout 4 and Euro Truck Simulator 2. It also includes Assassin’s Creed: Origins, one of a number of grand, single-player blockbusters to release in 2017.
In fact, the back-end of this year has seen a number of games that cater for lone wolf gamers. Some are predominantly solitary experiences, such as Middle Earth: Shadow of War, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Cuphead and XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. Others, like Call of Duty: WWII and Star Wars: Battlefront II offer single-player campaigns alongside their core multiplayer modes.
Telling a Star Wars story
On a high-end PC, single-player games (or game modes) can mix scripted storytelling and action to dazzling effect. Eurogamer, for example, described Call of Duty: WWII’s campaign as a “game of epic, thrilling shootouts and a surprisingly engaging story, with more than a little heart. It’s cliche after cliche, of course, but the performances are so strong and the game so stunning to behold that it’s easy to get wrapped up in its theatrics.”
The single-player mode in Battlefront II, meanwhile, not only delivers a new Star Wars story, but acts as a subtle tutorial. “I played the first three chapters of the campaign,” wrote Colin Campbell on Polygon, “which are (a) good fun, (b) lavishly produced and (c) designed to prepare players for the game’s extensive multiplayer maps and modes.”
Despite the rise of multiplayer-only games, it seems that there’s still a place for compelling, single-player experiences. Some of the most anticipated games for 2018 — Red Dead Redemption 2, Far Cry 5, Metro Exodus and A Way Out — will have meaty single-player components.
Adding extra depth
The key word to focus on here is ‘components’. Just as multiplayer extends the longevity of a single-player game, so a ‘story mode’ can add extra depth, detail and entertainment to any title that relies on so-called ‘emergent’ gameplay.
Not only do gamers want to spend more time playing their favourite games, publishers are keen for their games to have a deeper and wider appeal. When EA shut down Visceral Games recently and halted work on its story-based Star Wars title, it cited “fundamental shifts in the marketplace” as one of the reasons behind it.
“It has become clear that to deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come, we needed to pivot the design.” said EA’s Patrick Söderlund. “We are shifting the game to be a broader experience that allows for more variety and player agency.”
Whatever EA’s game ultimately becomes, you can bet that it will incorporate single- and multiplayer gaming experiences. It’s an approach that delivers the best of both worlds — traditional scripted storytelling alongside open-ended, open world multiplayer gaming, where player interaction can generate exciting and original adventures on the fly.
And do you know what? If this is the future of PC gaming, we can live with that.