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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Playing Old Favorites on a Handheld Is an Entirely New Experience

If you’ve felt like there are just no new video games to play, you’re not alone. Covid-19 hit the video game industry hard, and the delays continue to mount. The only new game I finished in 2022 was Horizon Forbidden West (which was amazing), and while I’m looking forward to Disney Dreamlight Valley and Gotham Knights, the rest of the year looks pretty quiet.

That’s why I’ve been relying on replays to get me through. I’ve discussed before how gaming is an important part of my relaxation routine. If I don’t escape into the vivid world of a video game for a few days, the change in my mental health is noticeable. And without a steady supply of new releases, my old favorites have been showing up for me again and again.

What I’ve really taken pleasure in, though, is the art of a replay. I play games differently every single time. If I’m hooked on a story, often I’ll hurry through a game the first time to get to the end and understand what happens. On the second playthrough, I go much more slowly and become a bit of a completionist, paying a lot more attention to my gear and exploring all the dark corners of the map.

Playing on a new platform adds even more dimension to a replay. Sure, it’s the same game—but it’s an entirely different way to experience it.

I haven’t been shy about my love for Mass Effect, and I’m actually on my third replay since the Legendary Edition remaster came out last year. The first and second times, I played it on my PS5, but this latest time? I’m experiencing it on a handheld—the Steam Deck.

I honestly don’t know what is so appealing about replaying a favorite game on a portable system, but I want to replay every game I’ve ever loved on this little device. I feel the same way about replaying games I love on the Nintendo Switch—I picked up the Final Fantasy X/X-2 remaster for the device and thoroughly enjoyed working my way through Tidus and Yuna’s story all over again.

Part of it is surely that I know the beats of the story so I don’t need a large screen to find the world truly immersive (I’ve also never been a person who has to play a game on the best screen or highest graphics settings possible. I just need it to be playable). Plus, being able to boot it up and shut it down at a moment’s notice is incredibly convenient. Because I already know what’s coming, missing a little dialog here and there isn’t a huge deal.

And being able to carry a handheld around, and play on a plane or in a hotel (I’ve been traveling a lot for work) is such a comfort. Playing on a handheld also makes it easy to dip in and out of a favorite game, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m a gaming monogamist for the most part—it’s the easiest way to get truly immersed in a video game—but there is certainly an appeal to switching between multiple games if you’re the type who gets bored with one title. (If you have strategic saves, something I’m trying to do on this Mass Effect playthrough, you can even just replay your favorite scenes.)

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It’s not just the portable form factor, though. Playing a PC-based game allows for a lot more customization than you get on a console. On future playthroughs, I can even mod the game (something I refrained from doing this go-around because I wanted to see how the Steam Deck handled the game without any customization.) 

Even without that, it’s interesting to see how playing a game on a different platform presents something fresh. It might be like revisiting an old friend in a new house or after not seeing them for ages: The same (or similar) controls take me back in time, but it’s more about the feeling

Plus there’s always the opportunity to do things differently, or in a way you didn’t the first time around. On this playthrough of Mass Effect, for example, I’m making the same choices I always do (is there even another femShep romance option besides Garrus Vakarian? I don’t think it exists.) But I’m playing on (gasp) Normal mode, versus my usual Story difficulty. I am just familiar enough with the game that I enjoy the extra challenge. And this time, I’m perfecting my sniper skills, versus my usual heavy pistol/shotgun combo.

I’m almost fully through Mass Effect 3 and am already planning my next playthrough. This time, I’m going to use mods—Legion is one of my favorite characters, and there’s a mod that will let you pick him up early!

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