Breaking a habit is no easy thing—even when a game designer does their best to give players options.
Take Call of Duty: Black Ops II, for instance. Few things are as seductive to a CoD player as perfecting their kill/death ratio, and little about the game is designed from the ground up to encourage anything other than lone-wolf, kill-focused play. Even if that wasn't true, could you blame the average player? For years, the franchise has primed them to play in a certain way.
Getting players to change the way they look at a game is a Herculean task. Treyarch made a noble attempt when they included "scorestreaks," which reward players for their overall score. That includes kills, captures, objectives, assists and so on. Conceptually, the hope is that players would have an incentive to focus on something other than kills. In my experience, that hasn't actually happened.
I can't help but muse on this now while playing Gears of War: Judgment online. If you've ever played a competitive Gears mode, you might have noticed that most players live and die by the Gnasher shotgun. Last time I checked, about 45% of all kills in quickmatch are via Gnasher—keep in mind that the game has like two dozen types of weapons! It doesn't matter. Some players are so blindly devoted to the Gnasher that they'll refuse to use anything else—even when, say, trying to kill someone at long-range.
Sometimes, if you use something other than a shotgun, players will get mad at you for it, if not try to downplay your prowess in trash talk. It's as if it's widely accepted that there is only one way to play Gears of War, and that's with your shotgun out. In a way, this habit makes sense—the shotgun is an excellent weapon, particularly if you're a fan of gibbing.
Gears of War has gone through great pains to try to alter the shotgun predilection. Assault rifles were modified so much so that one of them-the retro lancer-could effectively be used in close range in a one-on-one against a shotgun-wielding opponent. The lancer rifle was beefed up to seriously hurt at long range. On the opposite end, the shotgun's starting ammo was decreased. More fantastic power weapons were developed. A new type of shotgun introduced, too—the sawed off shotgun. (Solving a shotgun problem with a shotgun? Sort of—the gun is so powerful that players might stand back and shoot at long rage instead of trying to gib up close.)
Despite all of that, you would guess the majority of players still seemed to think the Gnasher was the only weapon available, in the same way that many people defaulted to Ken Masters when playing Street Fighter IV online. It seems like most communities develop something like this—a preferred mode of play that people follow closely. Almost too closely—you start to wonder if they know there are other ways of playing a game. The hardcore Smash Bros. community has that famous meme, for example: Fox only, no items, Final Destination. Here, too, it doesn't matter that there are literally hundreds of other ways of playing the game. Nope. Only one character and no items whatsoever, on a very specific stage!
Not everyone follows trends like that of course—in Gears of War's case, some of us took great joy in lancering other people down: it can be more effective at killing people than the shotgun is, under the right circumstances. Plus, it is particularly delicious to see the utter confusion some people had when they saw that their holy shotgun wasn't pulling miracles anymore.
You start to wonder if they know there are other ways of playing a game.
It still took a long time for me to stop automatically switching to a shotgun at the start of the match, though. Once I did, I was happy to find that a fantastic game only became better when you diversified what guns you used. I can't help but wonder how many games we play like this—where we assume one method of play or one specific trend is the only valuable or fun option. What if it's not?
Things are different in Gears of War: Judgment, though. You have to choose between either your assault rifle and a shotgun, coupled with a secondary pistol, instead of starting matches with both as in the older Gears games. So far, in the limited community I've encountered pre-release, almost everyone rolls with a shotgun. That includes me, though it feels like agony to have to choose in the first place. I wish I didn't have to choose—I wish I could use the appropriate tool for the job. Now it's like I've fallen back on a bad habit.
I'm afraid that this design choice will cement Gears as a shotgun-only game, even if players can pick up other weapons. Hell, I'm afraid that for most players, it won't even seem like a choice. But then again, looking at how difficult it is to get players to stop doing what they want to—well, maybe what choices People Can Fly offer us don't matter.
The Multiplayer is a weekly column that looks at how people crash into each other while playing games. It runs every Monday at 6PM ET.