The Case for New Game Plus: A Fun Feature or a Modern Necessity?
Back in the dark ages, when all it took was blowing on a game cartridge (or disc) to fix anything and everything that was wrong with it, replayability meant starting the game over with nothing but the personal skill you’d acquired over the course of your last playthrough. It was a time of blocky polygons and twenty-meter draw distances, when ideas were simple and well executed.
Then something happened: RPGs took center stage, gameplay mechanics became more advanced, and character progression and personalization became the most important things a game could have. With games like the Elder Scrolls and KotOR (Knights of the Old Republic, the best Star Wars game of all time – go play it), you made the character to suit your playstyle in a way that had never really happened before.
Players grew attached; spending hours in the character creator, tweaking nostril flares and chin shapes. They’d spend weeks collecting gear and becoming the gods of whatever world they were tromping around in. But, as it always does, the story would eventually come to an end, leaving these gods with nothing to do.
Game developers looked at this problem and developed two branching schools of thought. First is the Ubisoft model: Cramming every nook and cranny with pointless fetch quests, ridiculous gathering quotas, and repetitive tower climbs; and second is new game plus: letting the player start the game over with all the gear and in-game skills they’d developed over hundreds of hours of play.
If you haven’t figured it out by this point, new game plus is my personal preference.
My first experience with the feature (at least the first one I can remember) was with Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando (still love that name). I’d just beaten the game, and was like, “Okay, cool. Now what?” Then a little text box popped up saying that I could start the story over from the beginning with all the guns and armor that I’d acquired over the twenty hours I’d already sunk into playing it.
Mind. Fucking. Blown.
I instantly dove back in and had an even better time than I’d had on my first playthrough. Sure, it was the same story, the same levels, and the same dialogue, but that didn’t matter. It was a fun ride, wrapped around a solid gameplay experience, and I spent the next several weeks playing it over and over again.
Fast forward to the release of Mass Effect in 2007. It was a sprawling space opera of a video game with an entire galaxy to explore. The writing was brilliant, the characters enthralling, and it had in-depth gear system that bordered on overkill.
My first playthrough took me about a week, as I explored every planet, every side quest, and every dialogue option (yeah, I’m a save-scummer, get at me). When it was all over, I was completely blown away by the wild ride I’d been on, and I had no intention of every playing it again. I’d simply invested too much time in my Shepard to want to start over from square one on a new playthrough.
But… It had new game plus. I instantly dove back in and did it all again. I’ve actually lost track of how many times I’ve played the series as a whole.
New game plus has convinced me to even replay games I wasn’t that hot on to begin with (anyone remember Too Human? No? Just me? Alright.).
As games, specifically RPGs, have gotten exponentially bigger, the time required to beat them (even just the main storylines) has risen at a commensurate rate. In my opinion, they’ve reached a point where they’re starting to get too big. They’re trying to do so many things at once, that they’re not really doing anything well anymore (side-eye to Assassin's Creed).
A player can sink a hundred hours into a game, and still attain the godhood that they always have, but then the question becomes: Do I really want to do it again? Start it all over with nothing?
My answer is almost always no.
New game plus has always – and will always – solve this problem.
The reason I’m writing this is specifically because of Cyberpunk 2077. CDPR has successfully patched the game into a playable state, announced a massive expansion, and released a companion show on Netflix (Cyberpunk: Edgerunners; definitely go check it out if you can). They’ve defibrillated the IP back to life, and I want nothing more than to drive around the streets of Night City again.
But… I don’t want to start over from the bottom of the pile.
I’ve done literally everything there is to do in that game; the main story, the side quests, the crafting, I even did the stupid tarot cards. My save file has me at around 200 hours in game. I love Cyberpunk 2077. But not enough to boot it up and be forced to wait fifteen hours just to strap some Mantis Blades to my arms again.
This leads me to my main point: Has new game plus become a required feature in video games now?
For something with a linear story without progression (CoD, Battlefield, etc.)? No, NG+ serves no purpose. But if there is ever a game where character progression is a core aspect of the experience, (RPGs, immersive sims, even a game like Doom (2016)), then abso-fucking-lutely yes. NG+ should be a goddamned launch feature. Period.
Games aren’t cheap these days, and players want longevity more than anything else. Unfortunately, the industry, in general, just keeps slapping more busy work on top of the core experience. This is not a way to convince players to come back.
Let us roar back through the world you’ve made, the experience you’ve curated, once again, but with a BFG in one hand and an invulnerable shield in the other. Let us max out every skill, every perk, while moving through the story once again.
It’s okay, we know what we’re in for. You don’t need to worry about balancing; the whole point is that we can break the game from minute one. In NG+, we’re there because we want to be, because we love what you’ve made and don’t want it to end.
I suppose this is an open letter to CDPR (though I doubt they’ll ever read it), imploring them to add the one feature I (and a lot of other players) have been fucking waiting for. Sure, I’ll play the DLC, and I’ll most likely love every second of it; but unless NG+ gets added, I’ll probably never be starting a new playthrough again.