There’s almost an art to replayability, “game design companies must walk a very fine line between making a game that is too replayable, and one that is not replayable enough”. Lean too much either way and gamers won’t buy new games. They want something that will give a good number of hours for your investment whilst also encouraging you to buy later games in the series or by the same developers. It’s a tightrope, but there are ways to make it work.
Replaying games, whether new or old is a lot of fun, but some offer more entertainment than others. This list will cover just 9 tactics, although there are many more. Multiple are often used at the same time as well. It will also be looking mostly at single player, as multiplayer can largely keep you coming back for the social aspect and the unlocking of new gear.
Procedural Generation of Content
This is the semi-randomnisation of levels. It’s very common in rougelikes, for example in the Diablo series. The dungeon levels will be different each time you play, although remaining within certain criteria. It’s been a staple of replayability since tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons. Repetition can get boring fast, so ensuring that gamers stay engaged and focused by navigating new environments and situations is a strong fix. Combining this with other mechanics, such as multiple classes means you will get numerous playthroughs done, with each one feeling relatively unique. It doesnt just have to be levels as well. Borderlands has procedurally generated weapons, leading to billions of different guns being available.
Procedural generation of content is a solid way to prevent a game becoming too stale, too quick, and make it replayable. However alone it wont be too long before the game starts to feel a bit to monotonous. Even if its technically new, you begin to see the same elements appearing again and again. Who know’s though? As technology improves games will only get better at increasing the variation you see. I’m excited to see what the future holds.
Different Classes and Faction
Having classes that offer substantially different gameplay experiences can make the game feel like new. Dark Souls stands out to me, with magic, ranged and melee classes being completely different. Even different melee classes feel distinctive. A Strength build typically has you slow and vunerable to attack, but dealing massive damage. Tanking hits with heavy armor to compensate for a long wind up animation. Dexterity builds are usually agile and quick thanks to lighter armour and weapons, but requires quicker reflexes to evade attacks and dart in. From there you can personalise and min-max to your hearts content.
Of course there a million more examples of this. My personal favourite implementation is in RTS games such as Total War. Anyone into the Total War series has probably put hundreds of hours into it, cycling through different factions. You can be an armoured juggernaut or a swift horse archer army. The different unit types you have access to drastically changes your play style in battles, and the different diplomatic ties can impact your alliances and strategy on the campaign map.
Warhammer 2 implemented this amazingly. Each race has different abilities and goals on the world map. There are horde armies that keep moving, Great cities to fortify with other species, and factions that use undercities to attack from within. The battles are outstanding as well in regards to variety. For example the Skaven and Vampire Coast have phenomenal ranged capabilities but are weak in hand to hand fighting, whereas Greenskins rely on brute force in melee. There can be a lot of adjustment needed between armies that favour defensive and passive playstyles, and those that require movement and micromanagement. But this means by the time you finish one campaign, you’re ready to start again with a different army and the replay cycle starts again.
New Weapons and Gear
One way a game can be revamped is the introduction of new weapons and gear on subsequent playthroughs. This method is at home, but not limited to, the survival horror genre. No longer being reliant on limited resources or weak equipment means you can have a more fearless playthrough and explore the finer details. It works especially well in this genre as scares have limited longevity and so a shift in play and focus is a welcome change to returning players.
The Resident Evil Series does this perfectly. Points are awarded for certain actions in game that can be spent to get new guns, more storage slots, coins that increase your stats and even infinite ammo guns (The Infinite Rocket Launcher is a little bit overkill). Pair this with the challenges and you can have blast replaying and blowing away enemies you struggled with before, whilst being rewarded for doing it. Currently I am plowing through zombies with an infinite ammo assault rifle in the Resident Evil 3 Remake.
Challenge runs are great for those who love to test themselves. These runs are up to your own discretion and get very niche. That being said, it is one of the best ways for you personalise your replay experience, as well as having great communities to boot. These runs can be developer designed, community created or even self imposed. There’s immense fun to be had in mastering a games mechanics by limiting yourself. Challenge runs keep you immersed in the gameplay thats so crucial to our satisfaction with a game. Not to mention the personal gratification that comes with a triumph. Speedrunning especially is hugely popular. There are some truly insane runs, including a Dark Souls 3 run by SuperLouis64 using a Guitar Hero controller.
There is also the wacky Twitch plays Pokemon, in which Red’s actions were decided by the twitch chat. I’d recommend watching a bit if you havent seen it, its hilarious but gets painful quick. Challenge runs work well with games that have strong emergent gameplay, speaking of which…
This is just a fancy way of referring to how a game creates complex situations and solutions depending on your actions. This is fairly broad, from dynamic pacing that changes events as you go, to multiple ways get around a guard. For example, when playing Dead by Daylight, if the Killer enters the room do you run, dive through a window or hide in a closet. At a more involved level, The ‘the Director’ A.I. in Left 4 Dead analyses how the players are doing to construct encounters and a sense of narrative further down the line.
Loads of games do this, from Mass Effect to Lego Starwars. Dishonoured is a masterclass. Choosing between Stealth/Combat and Lethal/Non-Lethal changes the world and story through the Chaos system, as well as being different gameplay wise. It works so well here because the developers and writers made the gameplay intertwine with the story harmoniously. Having a plethora of ways to complete a level gives you a reason to go back. Plus its always fun to go aggressive after a slow and patient stealth playthrough.
Upping the difficulty can add immense replay value. The 1.05 update of Ghosts of Tsushima added the new ‘Lethal Difficulty’. Whereas the standard difficulty allows you to pick between the stealth orientated ‘Ghost’ style, and the epic Samurai power fantasy, the new difficulty makes both you and your opponents substantially more deadly, pushing you to engage more with Jin and his journey into the evolving nature of war by transitioning to the ‘Ghost’ style. This adds to the realism and helps the ludonarrative. This doesn’t mean you cant embrace the challenge and be the ultimate swordsman, adding to that sense of pride in your achievements.
It helps to love the game before hand. Tackling the harder settings is an underated feature though and can often be overlooked. A good difficulty spike can be entertaining, a great test of skill, and an engaging way to get some replay value out of a game.
If you haven’t been playing with mods then you are missing out. Modding games involves going into the games files to alter how a game looks, plays and/or sounds. This stretches from minute changes to total overhauls. Pretty much every game will have a dedicated community creating new gear, new monsters, new missions and even entirely new games. It’s hard to cover all the possibilities when it comes to mods. Have a look at mods for what you are playing now and explore away. If you have some talent at coding you can always jump in and get creative.
My favourite is hands down the Lord of the Rings:Third Age mod for Total War: Medieval 2. It completely reinvents the game into Middle Earth and all the epic battles that come with it. Not only are mods great at getting new experiences out of a game, but it comes with the best of the video game community. Gamer creativity is on full display and you are bound to find a mod that suits your tastes.
It depends if you count seeing all alternate paths as part of seeing the full game or as part of replaying it. This varies as well depending on how similar the results are. Cyberpunk 2077 offers different start points, solutions to missions and choices to makes, but by and large you wont be seeing too much difference from your first playthrough (excluding choosing different endings). In contrast TellTale have done a great job at creating branching narratives that feel like your actions have consequences. The Deus Ex series has also executed this very well.
This links in a lot with emergent gameplay as it allows you to see things from a new angle. Telltale’s The Walking Dead was a standout in this regard. Your approach to each chapter results in different events and choices, which impact story elements and relationships later on. Befriending Kenny and being adversarial shows you two very different sides of the character. Choosing between Doug and Carley feels meaningful as it effects your groups dynamics. It hardly feels like a replay if its partially a different game.
Perhaps this is a bit flippant, but there is no alternative to quality. A good movie or book can be rewatched or reread if it is able to connect with the audience. This is without the benefits of interactivity and branching narratives you can get with video games (unless you count choose-your-own-adventure-books and shows like Black Mirrors Bandersnatch). Of course subjectivity by and large rules this. Still, games that are well made, with an interesting and unique story, fun gameplay and beautiful design hook us in and leave us wanting more. It doesn’t have to be completely revolutionary though. Many games have a formula that works well and just needs to be supplemented by a different approach. Rushed development, gameplay flaws, bugs and a lack of orginality will quickly make a game frustrating or boring. If the quality is bad gamers are likely to put the game down and not pick it up again.
There will always be an element of nostalgia, but if you love a game enough you will come back to it. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have beaten Shadow of the Colussus. Not because my playthroughs are substantially different, but because I love the game to its core. Regardless of the novelty of a first run it is replayable. In the study linked at the start, the experience was found to be “the highest ranking among gamers” in regards to what influenced replayability (“experience” is of course vague, but I think you get the point). In the end nothing makes a game replayable like a stellar experience.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, just some ways that standout as being particularly effective and common in the gaming industry. These aspects and mechanics of a game work best when used in tandem to create as many unique experiences as possible when replaying a game. Under this needs to be a well built and well written core game. Combine all this and you have games that offer almost limitless replayability.
Let me know in the comments what makes you want to replay a game!