We’ve been here before
Games are no longer the static things they once were. The version of a game you play at launch might not be the same game you play if you return to it years later, and it’s not just the case with Games as a Service titles, but nearly any game you can get your hands on. Games shift and change into brand-new forms, and while it’s usually just a matter of the changes being things like tweaks to stop bugs or small improvements across the board, sometimes the changes are far more substantial.
In the last year, I’ve revisited a few games that I’ve not touched in a long time. It’s a strange experience picking up a game I’ve already sunk a lot of time into, only to discover that it’s barely even the same game anymore. The core mechanics are the same, they still look the same, but everything from the progression to the multitude of ways you can interact with them has changed. It’s a bit like seeing a friend you used to hang out with in your emo years, but now they’ve got a kid, and they seem much happier, much more confident, and just more themselves. It’s like they’ve finally reached their potential.
The two games that most represent that, at least to me, are Terraria and No Man’s Sky.
Dig dig dig
Terraria had a more subtle string of changes, but having not played it in around four years they all combined to make for a monumental shift. I don’t recollect there being set classes, or even some of the bosses available in the game, but I can’t be sure if I just never committed enough time to see it all. What I do know is that Re-Logic, the team behind the game, work tirelessly to improve it. I also know that they keep an eye on at least one speedrunner to make sure nothing is too exploitable, but I digress.
I remember it being a cute game where I built ramshackle houses out of fallen trees and then tried to dig all the way to hell before fighting the Wall of Flesh. I don’t remember being able to become a lord of spiders or the ability to fight off waves of Martians. It feels like a mini-RPG now, and I lost a month of my life to it just trying to beat Expert mode.
It is still cutesy, but the weird horror undertones present throughout are harder to ignore, and the class-based combat is a necessity, not a suggestion. It makes for a really incredible co-op game, and seeing the changes without realising they were going to be there was bewildering in the best way. Of course, that’s not the biggest surprise I faced when revisiting games I thought I knew.
Space man, I always wanted you to go
The biggest shock was when I decided to revisit No Man’s Sky. See, I played it originally when it released back in 2016. Not only did I play it, I even managed to complete it, or as close as you could get to doing so. Despite the somewhat bare-bones that it clung to, I really enjoyed what there was of No Man’s Sky. The experience of punching through the atmosphere of your first planet and getting to see the endless expanse of space before you is still unlike anything else in games. It was fun, and almost meditative at times thanks to the slow pace and simple gameplay loop.
Nevertheless, a few friends and I decided to jump in again as a distraction from the real-world.
Booting up the game, I decided to do the tutorial, and it felt the same, but the options had increased exponentially. Did you know that you can summon a mech suit from a freighter to help you survive in harsh conditions? Did you know that said mech suit drops from the sky and basically flexes on its own? It’s awesome, and that’s the least impressive thing that’s been changed. You can now build bases, go through magical portals, fast travel, play with friends, use mechs, summon massive freighters, hire staff for your base, and even accidentally awaken cosmic horrors.
The more things change
It’s kind of astounding, while Terraria has always been good, there are certainly some very valid reasons as to why you’d think the release version of No Man’s Sky was no good. Revisiting them allows for a new perspective from yourself as someone who has grown, but also the fact that they’re now vastly different to the games they released as. It’s not just these games, of course, lots of games change and improve now, these are just the ones that I’ve been putting time into.
We’re in the golden age of gaming, not because of the quality of the games, but because of their ability to become something new. Games are no longer the time capsules they once were; they aren’t stuck just because they’re out. This means that they can evolve into something new, whether that’s just a better execution of the core idea as in Terraria, or the ability to meet all of the hype around them initially, like No Man’s Sky.
We’re very lucky that games can grow as we do, and it’s incredibly strange, but also incredibly rewarding, to go back to a long-forgotten game. This is true without updates, but the modern era of gaming means it might have changed even more than you have, and that’s an intensely exciting prospect.
Jason is the Editor of The Indie Game Website. He’s a lover of roguelikes, soulslikes, and other kinds of likes. He basically spends a lot of time getting beaten up in games and seems to enjoy it.