I can't stand Babylon's Fall. Why? It's a game that throws you through a clusterfuck of boring cutscenes and tutorials before letting you play the game. Many of my favorite series are guilty of this, like Monster Hunter, Pokemon and almost every MMORPG. If I wasn’t already invested in games like Monster Hunter, the intro would have sent me to sleep and I would have shelved the game immediately.
Babylon’s Fall hasn’t earned that goodwill, I have no investment outside of the developer being PlatinumGames (Bayonetta). I played through the opening and was bored to tears. The story and tutorial didn’t hook me, and by the time I got to a real mission, I wanted to quit and take a nap.
Video games need to cut the fat and stop hand-holding players throughout the narrative and gameplay. All I want is to be thrown into the game, and everything else can be explained while I’m destroying stuff. This fatal flaw exists in many games, so it’s hard to jump into new titles that exhibit this issue, which I’ll dub the “sleepy intro.”
Let’s talk about what makes a sleepy intro, and which games have that great opening hook for developers to follow as an example.
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The sleepy intro of Babylon’s Fall
Before the game even started, I was harassed by a barrage of menus forcing me to sign into my Square Enix account, create a username, ID, and other nonsense. Then I got to the character creation screen, which offered scant choices. I could not create a character that was darker than slightly tan-white (for those that don’t know, the remains of the real city of Babylon is located in Iraq), so that put a bad taste in my mouth.
A string of poorly animated cutscenes followed, painting the protagonist as a prisoner (an overused trope). Of course, after surviving whatever crappy experiment these people do to my character, I have to run through a tutorial.
Tutorials are fine when they’re done well, but there’s nothing I hate more than condescending instructional walkthroughs. Babylon’s Fall checks the condescending box by trying to teach me how to move the camera and jump as if I’ve never played a video game before. Even when it came down to the necessary moves (e.g. dodging and attacking), there was too much time spent on teaching me simple button assignments. Yes, it may have been less than a minute, but wasting a player’s time in the opening like this is a quick way to lose them.
Humans have short attention spans — that’s why people optimize websites in a way that doesn’t cause the reader to leave prematurely. Developers need to apply that same principle to video game intros.
Video games that trust the player
It would be too easy for me to start listing off Soulsborne titles, like Elden Ring, as examples of games with short and sweet intros, but those games are inherently designed to be punishing. However, excellent examples of games that aren’t necessarily difficult and don’t coddle you include The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Bioshock, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Marvel’s Spider-Man.
Each of the aforementioned titles throws you right into the gameplay with a very brief cutscene and doesn’t bog you down with five minutes’ worth of exposition. If you’re trying to launch a new IP, I won’t be invested in the world or the narrative happening around me unless it’s ridiculously interesting, which is difficult to do. Just throw me into the thick of it, and let me figure out if I even like the game first.
Developers need to trust their players to figure things out on their own. I don’t need to be spoon-fed the story or the gameplay. I can’t even bring myself to continue Babylon’s Fall because I get walls of dialogue before I get a moment of gameplay. This reminds me of another horrible intro in yet another Square Enix game: Final Fantasy XIV.
Final Fantasy XIV is a great game, but you must have iron will to get past the first several hours of dialogue and cutscenes before reaching the meat of the game. It’s such a rough start that I recommend people just buy their way up to the first expansion, Heavensward.
When there’s too much clutter in a game, you can easily overwhelm players. Even when I got to the hub in Babylon’s Fall — there was a wave of NPCs who wanted to talk to me and another slew of tutorials alongside the Battle Pass introduction. It felt like a gamer’s nightmare. This kind of introduction is the last thing I expected from PlatinumGames, especially with its work on Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Bayonetta 2, both of which have you kicking ass within the first five minutes.
Short and sweet
To further drive home my point, I’m going to end this rant before I end up in the thousand-word range. Video games are meant to be interactive, so if it takes 20 minutes for the player to start interacting with the game, that’s a problem.
Games like Babylon’s Fall can learn a thing or two from the aforementioned games, especially from Soulsborne titles — a series that prides itself on trusting the player to figure everything out on their own, even the jump button.