At this day and age, and considering the recent controversy regarding Mass Effect: Andromeda’s graphics, and also because I said I would in my article of Far Cry 3 and 4, it is important to talk about graphics, animations, level design and how important it all is.
Among the stereotypes concerning younger gamers, exists the “obsessed with graphics” stereotype. From experience, it has proven relatively untrue to me as in – they are not so much obsessed with graphics in Call of Duty or Fifa (the two games that middle schoolers in France play the most, with perhaps GTA on the side) They do place quite the amount of importance to it. To them, a game should not look “bad” on their PS4s and Xbox Ones, but they could care less about the artistic flair of the maps in COD – which to be fair is quite low.
To these gamers, graphics are only a matter of polygons and texture resolution. More important than these trifling matters, though, is the Framerate (their 30 FPS on consoles). Most important of all, in these highly competitive games, is balance. Avoiding OP weapons, good mapping, and limit compensation lag which gives the host of the game on the peer to peer server (those plebs over at Activision never bothered with dedicated servers on consoles). The reason for it it that these gamers do not see a game as a form of art (a subject which deserves a longer article sometime in the future) but as a form of sport, a leveled playing field to measure their skill. They may enjoy eye-candy during the gameplay, but the sportsmanship comes first. Call of Duty has adapted to these demands and this is why it has this business model (a business model that I will have to expand upon in another article.)
Among older gamers, though, the artistic flair is primordial in appreciating a game’s aesthetics. Those who grew up playing games on the older machines like the Super Nintendo, or who enjoy old-school FPS and RPGs, or even JRPGs, do not really care about the polygon or pixel count, but rather appreciate the amount of work and artistic sense put in a game. Dark Souls is pretty primitive-looking all things considered, but the artists and designers put a lot of effort into their craft to make the game more unique. The Witcher 3 is intelligently using ressources from our own history (I’ll write an article on weapons and armours in medieval games later, but this will take a lot of research to complete) and even manages to be one of the most technically beautiful games around, while developping a unique aesthetic, and staying close to historical accuracy. (Until you play the Blood and Wine expansion^^). The best example would be Skyrim, or the main Elder Scrolls games in 3D. While not being historically accurate in the slightest when it comes to arms and armour, it creates a world that is alien to us and quite unique in the medieval-fantastic genre, with its own culture, aesthetics, details, alphabets and religions.
A lower polygon count in games is fine, a lower pixel resolution in textures is fine : these are not immersion-breaking problems. However, there are graphical problems that do: blatant discrepancies in texture resolution (the rock textures in Skyrim vanilla), jagged rocks, missing meshes or instances where they intersect too visible (again, Skyrim vanilla is a good example for all of these), floating objects, et caetera.
While I understand that game developpers are on a time constraint, and ironing all of these out is pretty hard (especially considering that it would be difficult to patch), I think they should try their hardest to make it. This is what you’d consider in a graphics score in a review: the design mostly, and the problems that you encounter that could break immersion. The latest Star Wars Battlefront’s textures are exceptional and litteraly photorealistic, but if there were unrealistic rock edges or holes all over the maps, it would not matter.