Watching Game of Thrones a year late is a weird feeling. I’ve never been the biggest fan of how the show structures its storytelling into slow conversations about diplomacy with enough walking and talking to make the Star Wars prequels blush.
But about once per episode, usually at the end, Thrones will pepper in a moment of genuine surprise. It’s usually an act of gratuitous violence, but it’s not limited to some huge revelation about a character’s backstory or a tease of things to come. As someone who barely remembers the differences among a Tyrion, a Tywin and a Tyrell, these are little windows into what keeps appointment television clinging to life in the year of our lord 2017.
What happens when those moments don’t surprise you? I’ll say from personal experience that it takes the wind out of the show’s sails when you already know what’s coming. [Spoiler] Jon Snow biting the dust carries much different weight when it happens just before the show breaks for a year, as opposed to a binger knowing he’ll wake back up in about two hours.
If the biggest series on TV loses its edge after a while out in the wild, there’s not much hope for games, either. In a year packed with monumental releases, two of the biggest have shown me that a couple weeks is all it takes to lose out on an ideal experience.
Just last month, Destiny 2 grabbed gamers’ attention in a vice. For the entirety of September, you couldn’t escape talks about bright engrams, shaders, raids – heck, not even Pop Tarts were immune. But as excited as most people were, this was one of those games I had to be convinced to dive into.
Two weeks after launch, I was convinced. But two weeks in Destiny 2 is like an eternity. Most of my friends already beat the campaign and hit the level cap. A few already completed the raid and moved on to other games until the next expansion drops.
I’ve done enough to stay off spoilers to keep the game feeling fresh. But Destiny is one of those games with mechanics that you feel the need to research. Maybe that’s a byproduct of the zeitgeist; for instance, so much of the conversation is on legendary gear that the game doesn’t feel the need to outright tell you what they do or why you should care. In that research, you see guns, gear, ships – stuff that’s locked behind the endgame. That little peek at the Christmas presents in the closet is all you need for your reaction to a legendary drop to change from, “What’s this? Can’t wait to test it out,” to, “Oh, hey. That’s the gun I saw on that stream.”
I’m doing my best to play when I can to see as much of Destiny for myself as I can. But after a month of the game in the public’s hands, it feels like, at least in my personal circle, a ghost town with secondhand surprises. And surprises can be the bread and butter of a great game, as we saw earlier this year in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Like just about everything else in BotW, the game’s spoilers aren’t what you’d think. No one’s rearing back because you mentioned who Revali is or what the Yiga Clan is up to. What actually spoils the game is seeing it in action. When I finally got ahold of a Switch a month after launch, it felt like no stone was left unturned. Between the anything-goes design and the lack of tutorials, BotW has plenty of mechanics that aren’t spelled out for you, and stumbling across them is half the fun. So, going into the game knowing what shield surfing is or that you can chop down trees lessens the impact of those mechanics. The experience isn’t ruined, but that sense of discovery in a game fueled by it does feel diminished.
Both Destiny 2 and Breath of the Wild are already changing games in big ways. “Games as a service,” regardless of whether that makes you cringe, is now in the industry vernacular. And I’ll be surprised if Ubisoft’s upcoming open-world games don’t take a page out of Zelda’s playbook. But I’m also curious to see if these games change our thinking around what spoilers are for games. They’ve made me more cognizant of what mechanics mean for an experience and how they’re uncovered.
Games don’t exist in a vacuum, and neither should the way we talk about them. But in the spoiler-phobic popular culture, the more innovative the games, the bigger the minefield.
Anyway, Mario Odyssey just came out, and I’m loving the way they let you – you know what…never mind.