Ring Fit Adventure and Godfall: The ‘endgame’ is the beginning?

Ring Fit Adventure, released on Nintendo Switch in 2019, published by Nintendo & Godfall, released on PS4 in 2020, developed by Counterplay Games

In the modern era of gaming, ending the main campaign or scripted narrative of a videogame is not always its end.

Even after a game’s end credit’s roll, this can sometimes just be the beginning of a developer’s quest to retain players for a long-term experience they will keep coming back to and, perhaps more crucially, spend their cash on.  

On a more creative level however, just what exactly is the point for a gamer in endlessly living out the same play mechanics for months or even years, as opposed to reaching a definitive end and moving on to something else?

‘The end is the beginning is the end’……

Some players can love a game so much, they will return endlessly to it over a period of years and even decades in order to rekindle a fond nostalgic experience or perhaps to master and even exploit its mechanics.  On a more charitable level, the concept of an endgame is arguably to give a player a more structured, satisfying reason to return to a game.  There is also increasingly an economic case to do this as well.

Some people have even built entire careers on broadcasting this ongoing relationship with a beloved or even loathed game to the outside world. For better or worse, the experience of replaying games is now a serious business.

Here comes a new Challenger Edition

Subscribers to the Playstation Plus service in December were able to get their hands for free on a sometimes satisfying hack and slash adventure game called Godfall.  The game promises players the chance to venture and smash their way through a fantasy world of Dark-Souls-esque combat that is built on a satisfying gameplay loop of parrys, blocks, dodges and elaborate weapons. They can experience the game either by themselves or with up to two mates.  

Unusually, for the Playstation Plus service, the version of the game available for players was not the full Godfall experience. It was a modified Challenger Edition of the game that allowed players to jump in at the end of Godfall’s main campaign and take control of a max-level hero.

Writing for Eurogamer in December 2021, Tom Phillips explained that the new edition effectively started at the end of main portion of the game. The idea is to let players sample the different endgame modes intended to bring players back to play even after they have triumphed through Godfall’s main story.

He said, “Challenger Edition is a version of the game which lets players try three endgame modes, and provides a sampling of high-end loot and skill points so you can test the game at max level.”

“Many subscribers suggested the inclusion of this version of Godfall was against the spirit of PlayStation Plus, which typically offers ‘full’ games. Indeed, the Challenger Edition was advertised with word of an $45 (£32) upgrade offer – to pay and get the main version of Godfall if you liked what you had tried so far.”

Crucially, although the new edition doesn’t allow the player to make their way through the story quest to do some fantasy hero shenanigans and put down the dark forces of someone or other, it does allow for players to realise that Godfall is fun to play at its core.

Time will tell if it’s a game that can sustain a sufficient sense of reward for players to keep them coming back months and years later to find shiny new weapons with which to smash apart healers, Abyssian Lancers and Fire Howlers.

The model of supporting an end game for an extended period of time, even running so-called ‘seasons’ of changing and evolving challenges like an ongoing soap opera, is nothing new. For the best part of a decade, games such as Diablo 3 have sought to keep shaking up its existing worlds and dungeons with time-limited challenges, difficulty spikes and exclusive bonuses to keep players coming back and experimenting with a game they would have otherwise finished.

Unlike a soap opera, this end game relies a lot less on structured narrative and requires a large number of players to create their own sense of purpose and motivation by working together on a range of modes with an escalating difficulty curve.

The main aim of the Godfall Challenger Mode is arguably to team up or battle through a range of similar quests to upgrade, trade and unlock more powerful abilities, weapons and armours. This in turn allows the player to get gradually better and better at battling enemies to unlock further more powerful weapons – a kind of endless digital self improvement with the aim of “mastering” a game.

Drive and Destiny 

Those who will have played through the original Destiny, or its 2017 sequel, will likely realise some structural familiarities with Godfall – even if the two titles are very different in their core gameplay.  Rather than Destiny’s tight first person shooting and sometimes esoteric levels and quests, Godfall has satisfying weapons-based combat that relies on well timed dodging, combos, weapon switching and creating powerful augments to improve your abilities in a statistically significant way.

For Destiny 2, this approach to satisfying but repetitive gameplay and quests has rewarded the developer with a more constant stream of revenue from an engaged fanbase that have broadly backed new paid expansions and upgrades.

Godfall’s endgame offers several different quest types that can be played individually or with friends or online strangers. These modes include battling through floors of increasingly challenging enemies while building up a series of temporary skills and boons to get in-game rewards. The further the player/s can go without being overwhelmed, the more useful weapons, armours or components they will be rewarded with in the hope to make themselves stronger for the next run.  

Even when playing through the same game modes, the idea is that a player is constantly improving, even if the change can seem miniscule.

Other modes essentially have you play the role of a kind of blade wielding Victorian-era lamplighter – albeit one who battles through hordes of bad guys to purge a nefarious darkness before time runs out and ‘the light’ fades.  

Trip a little light fantastic’

On a surface level, if nothing else, Godfall’s endgame missions are samey but look and play great. The player is also given everything they need in Challenger Mode to learn the mechanics and skills normally built up through the original narrative. This time however, the player can just cut straight to trying to build an ever stronger and more capable character. 

Whether the main story is important to the overall Godfall experience is subjective.  Certainly there is an argument that building the player‘s levels and abilities up through trial and error in a narrative quest is an exciting component of RPG-style games such as Diablo 3 or Minecraft Dungeons.

But Godfall’s Challenger Edition does also let players immediately adventure together as equals without any great sacrifice or time sink.  There’s no shame in a bit of co-op fun stripped free of fantasy lore about good and evil.

The beginning is the end is the…..

The concept of creating a satisfying form of long-term purpose in games remains something of an inexact science that relies on factors that go beyond the purview and powers of even the most talented developers.  

Often a game might just serve as a platform for a group of friends to engage and talk nonsense without having to engage too intently for hours at a time.

A good session of Overwatch can offer an exciting platform for team building among friends and strangers. At their best, games can be an exciting form of online social club that you don’t need to put trousers on for or leave the house to engage in.

Tellingly, Overwatch is designed as a team-based game that is less directly narrative-based and more about collaboration and competition – a 3D dimensional chess game about using the right sort of characters in the right place at the right time.

Perhaps the secret to a great end game is to invoke a sense of camaraderie or self improvement in the player, even if it’s just a digital illusion.

One title very much focused on appealing to this sense of self improvement is Nintendo’s 2019 fitness simulation and RPG hybrid Ring Fit adventure. On the surface, the game is a fairly standard RPG where the player’s abilities and attacks relate to performing a number of different exercise in the real world that are measured by the Switch console’s Joy Con controllers. These exercise sets can overtime be upgraded or powered up.

As Squareblind previously found, success in the game is less about unlocking magic spells or abilities as it is about the player’s capacity to perform a specific number of sets of favoured and less favoured exercises.  There is real strategy in deciding whether a powerful overhead squat ability is worth the constant thigh ache for the player.

At the end of the not insignificant main story portion of the game, the player can continue on in a seemingly endless number of worlds with fresh courses to jog and battle through.

Something to hold on to

By the endgame of Ring Fit Adventure, the seemingly villainous Dragaux’s soul is saved. He is no longer battling the player, but turning his attention instead to trying to tackle and live with a more manageable level of toxic masculinity.

The player, if they have the time and motivation, is meanwhile left to play with the option to master or increase the challenge level from their exercises.

By this point, it is up to them to decide if they wish to return to the game as a means of regular and entertaining exercise, or perhaps to meet other arbitrary targets such as unlocking all the game’s dozens of exercise abilities.

In essence, they can return as much as they want to try and burn a few calories while trying to contract a rubber ring between their thighs. If nothing else, it offers a form exercise that can be done usually comfortably while sitting on a living room floor.

In Ring Fit’s case of using exercise as a real-world form of self improvement, there is a strong argument for creating a set, ordered gameplay regime on a regular basis.  Yet like any good challenge, there is still mischief in the title’s procedurally generated endgame. This is particularly the case where a light comfortable weekend session can be turned on its head by the need to overcome a boss almost solely using variations of overhead, wide or regular squats.

Interestingly, while videogames are a commercial product, they are also an interactive medium that players can often end up forming some kind of relationship with.  These can be positive, negative or even fairly casual throwaway experiences, but they are usually something very personal and subjective to the person playing them.  

Some players may be happy never to return to Godfall, Ring Fit Adventure or Destiny ever again after playing through their main campaigns. But if nothing else, a good endgame might just be an experience that an individual player simply finds some value in hanging on to.  

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