It’s Monday and time for Ask Kotaku, the weekly feature in which Kotaku-ites deliberate on a single burning question. Then, we ask your take.
This week we Ask Kotaku: What games do you keep replaying over and over?
As I sit here pondering this latest Ask Kotaku question, World of Warcraft is running in the background. I have a half-dozen characters at the game’s current level cap, but I’m still playing World of Warcraft. I posted a story recently about finding a good stopping point in the game’s latest expansion, Shadowlands, but I’m still playing World of Warcraft.
It’s my comfort game. It’s familiar territory. I enjoy the sounds Murlocs make when they die. I love rolling a rogue—like my latest, named Add—and tearing through the early levels, decimating everything in my path. I recently started playing a subtlety rogue for the first time (I’m generally outlaw specced), and I’m having so much fun using the Shadowstrike ability to teleport to enemies, decimating their health bars with a single hit. I love that I know the game so well but there’re still new things for me to discover and experience.
I own Burnout Paradise on more systems than I care to admit. I’ve bought it on PC at least three different times, and on at least two consoles. I come back to it more often than any game I’ve ever played. And I don’t even like driving games.
Burnout Paradise isn’t really a driving game. It’s a third-person action game where your character has wheels. It’s one of the earliest open worlds, a little island (that felt huge in 2008) in which you can meticulously work your way through the challenges and licenses to improve your car-library. Or, if you’re me about once every 12 months, you just load it up to smash through every yellow fence and red billboard on the island. Sure, it’s a tortuous chore to get through “DJ Atomika’s” unskippable drivel each time I start again, my hatred for voice actor Mark Hildreth growing stronger with each passing year—I will destroy you, Mark Hildreth—but when there are fences and billboards to smash, I’ll take anything.
Nothing since has come close to recreating Burnout Paradise’s joy. Not even the Needs for Speeds Criterion/Ghost Games went on to make could replicate the magic. And sure, it was monstrous that 2018’s remaster failed to remove all the unskippable opening crap, but hey, it was an excuse to play it once more! And oh dear, now that I’ve written this it’s all I want to play.
Duh. Hades. Get it? Because Hades is a roguelike, and you play it over and over (and over and over)? Next question.
That’s what I would’ve answered a week ago. But then I grew older, and wiser, and it occurred to me that you don’t play Hades over and over. No matter how many times you roll through Tartarus, Asphodel, and so on, you’re always moving forward. That’s the brilliance of Hades. You may escape Hades 1,000 times, but you only ever play Hades once. It’d be a disservice to say otherwise.
If we’re talking true, from-scratch, start-to-finish playthroughs, there’s really only one that fits the bill: Tales of Symphonia. The tale of Lloyd Irving and company saving the dual worlds of Sylvarant and Tethe’alla kept drawing me back. I must’ve played all the way through about half a dozen times on my GameCube. (Howlongtobeat.com puts a completionist playthrough for Tales of Symphonia at just under 180 hours.) Come to think of it, it’s been a while. Maybe Symphonia will receive the Vesperia treatment and re-release as some snazzy definitive edition. For this game, sure, I have another 180 hours of free time.
I have two games that are forever stuck in my brain, which I keep coming back to over and over and over again. Half-Life 2 and Resident Evil 4. I’ve written about how I can’t stop buying RE4 on this very site. And I also can’t stop playing it. I’ve not beaten it as many times as others, but I’ve played the first four hours or so more times than I care to admit.
Half-Life 2 is a game that I will just boot up randomly on my PC. It’s often the first game I play on a new computer. And nearly 20 years after it was first released I’m still playing it. I literally bought an original Xbox to play Half-Life 2 back in the day. I expect that in 20 years I’ll still be playing Half-Life 2, partly because Half-Life 3 still won’t be out and partly because it’s a game I can’t get over.
I cannot stop playing The Sims. I’ve logged over 1,300 hours in The Sims 4, and I truly could not explain how that happened. I love The Sims, but it’s not my favorite game in the world. In fact, I often find it infuriating when my sim will not do the thing I tell it to when I’m just trying to keep it alive. Yet the hours don’t lie, and I have so many abandoned sims families and towns, a folder full of mods, and literally days of my life I will never get back.
But what I love to replay is Portal 1 and 2. Every so often, I’ll remember it sitting in my library, think about the last time I betrayed my companion cube, and decide it’s time to dive in again. It helps that it’s a clever game I can never remember the solutions to and the first one is short enough to beat in a day.
Doom came to mind first. I wish I knew how many hours I’ve spent playing and thinking about id Software’s incredibly influential, seminal FPS over the last 27 years, because it’d be a lot! I consider Doom as near to perfection as a video game has ever come, an incredible achievement across multiple game design disciplines. Along with Wolfenstein 3D it was my intro to modding, and I’m still interested in creating stuff for it today.
But more often I’m just playing it, exploring the vast, ever-growing constellation of user-made Doom mods or sampling the hundreds (thousands) of copycat games it inspired. There’s a reason “Doom clone” was the de facto name of the genre for a while in the mid-’90s: Doom was everything. And given its never-ending evolution, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of exploring its dismal, continually expanding halls.
My other forever game is Street Fighter II, which was my first fighting game and is still my favorite. By “Street Fighter II” I mean Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting—my sentimental fave—and also Super Street Fighter II Turbo, the still-popular version that most folks tend to play. Only a couple times in my life have I had ready access to strong competition: growing up with my friend Ashley, at an early job that had both avid competitors and a Hyper Fighting cab (shout out to J. Park for teaching me not to jump), and most recently with my ex, who I’m still great friends/competitors with.
When I play Street Fighter II with someone similarly engrossed, it’s almost like we’re speaking a different language, one expressed in carefully placed virtual blows, feints and throws, meters and lifebars. Playing Street Fighter II’s one of the rare times I can reliably enter the “zone,” a feeling I’m always chasing elsewhere but seldom achieve. I’ll take it where I can.
10 years ago this would have been a much harder question to answer. I was always bouncing around between whatever games had just come out recently, with no time even to revisit my favorite classics. Now I have to work just to keep all-consuming live-service games from completely taking over my life: Destiny 2, Dota 2, Fallout 76, Warframe, Final Fantasy XIV, Phantasy Star Online 2, Sea of Thieves, a bunch of others I’m probably forgetting. Some of these (Destiny 2) I play much more regularly than others (Fallout 76), while others (Warframe) I’ve been slowly making my way through, dipping in a couple times a month, and still others (Sea of Thieves) I’m brand new to and only recently added into the rotation. Things actually got easier in the last few years after I cut out card games (Hearthstone, Gwent, Elder Scrolls: Legends) almost entirely, though the start of a new season or expansion still occasionally pulls me back in (Magic: The Gathering Arena). Oh, I just remembered another one: Rocket League. Since the pandemic began it’s basically replaced my rec league mornings and meetups at bars with friends.
This is the boring laundry-list obligation-based gaming. Two answers that mean a bit more to me personally are Age of Empires II and Earthbound. Both are like opening up an old toy chest and rummaging through forgotten memories, bringing past associations back to the surface as I meander back through their familiar loops. And even all these years later there’s still more for me to do in them. I still haven’t mastered the early knight rush in Age of Empires II and I’ve still never gotten Poo’s Sword of Kings in EarthBound. Maybe 2021 will finally be the year.
Kotaku’s weighed in, but what’s your take? What are the games you always find yourself coming back to, again and again? Have your say! We’ll be back next Monday to deliberate and debate on another nerdy issue. See you in the comments!