Recently it was announced that the long awaited continuation of the Halo franchise, Halo 5 Guardians, would not have local split-screen capabilities. Many are calling foul while others defend the decision as it should allow for improved graphics. With all previous titles offering this feature, is this a huge misstep? Are graphics the most important factor in making a new next-gen title? In general, I understand the intention and the need that is felt to move graphics forward. First I want to defend the decision just a little bit before showing why it’s such a bad one.
To a degree, I understand why an established franchise that is finally delivering a next-gen title would feel the need to push the graphics further than split-screen might allow. They have promised a stable 60 frames per second which may not work with the traditional couch co-op split-screen. Much of the motivation is probably linked to the fact that many have been waiting for the first next-gen Halo to finally arrive and they want to make a clear distinction and difference between past titles. This is also linked to something I’ve talked about recently which is a disproportionate focus on graphics. Thankfully there did not seem to be a big graphics push during Microsoft’s press conference which may have 343 slightly regretting their decision. The real question is, will the extra quality in graphics be noticeable enough to warrant the removal of a foundational and expected feature?
Features over graphics
I will start to sound like a broken record to anyone following my blog or YouTube, but this time I’m making a slightly different point. Typically you will hear me stressing content and experience over graphics, but now I’m specifically talking about features. Features can be far more impactful than something like a character, weapon, or enemy because they have far reaching implications on the entire game as well as the whole of a player’s experience. Entrenched features that are synonymous with a game’s identity are important even beyond that because they become tethered to a player’s expectations. So when you buy a Borderlands game you don’t even have to ask if it has co-op or split-screen co-op, you just assume that it will be there. This is why split-screen co-op being removed from Halo is such a bad and negatively impactful decision. It is causing consumer expectations to short-circuit a bit, as many who came into my stream were in disbelief when I first told them. And the honest truth is that many may not purchase the game now or have their perception of the game drastically altered by the absence of the wanted feature. In addition to this, I think it’s safe to assume that very few people would have said, “No, I’ve waited for the game all this time, but the graphics have been slightly hindered by the inclusion of split-screen co-op, so I’m not going to buy it.” I can’t imagine any fan of the franchise not buying the game simply because the graphics weren’t quite as good as they could possibly be in the effort of adding features. They could have just be honest with the community and said, “Look, spit-screen co-op is intrinsic to Halo’s identity, so we kept some of the graphics in check in order to offer a more full and robust Halo experience.” No longtime fan of the game is going to turn their nose up to that and refuse to buy the game, but now, with a major feature missing from the game there will probably be a small percentage of fans that feel the game isn’t in line with what they wanted. Furthermore, why not give players a choice?
Sure, this isn’t a PC game or platform, but couldn’t graphical quality control have been given to the player in order to play split-screen? Or at the very least warn the player that the frame rate will drop to a lower cap of 30 frames? Yes, I know, the coveted 60 frames per second bragging point wouldn’t have been as pure, but again, fans would understand. And the players prioritizing performance and graphics over a local co-op experience would never feel the effects. Again, players can be far more forgiving of a hindered graphical performance when they are getting extra features and extra experiences. When I played Borderlands split-screen I never threw my hands up and said, “Well these infrequent frame rate drops are so bad I can’t possibly be expected to play.” I doubt there are many gamers who would react in such an extreme way. Maybe there is enough time to add the feature with a graphical downgrade setting if enough people revolt or maybe a future patch and DLC. If not, it will be a shame, because not only will a great experience be withheld from lots of members of the Halo community, but a day one complaint will already be in place when the game launches.
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