For the past few nights, most of my time has been spent exploring the fantastical sci-fi realm of Anthem, fighting off countless alien bad guys and putting far too much energy into making sure my armor is just the right color. During that same period, I’ve been getting in regular matches of Apex Legends, Respawn’s new team-based battle royale that’s perfect for people who don’t like to talk while they shoot. Meanwhile, I’ve also been preparing myself for the impending eighth season of Fornite, wrapping up a final few quests and tracking the earthquake-induced cracks in the landscape.
I’ve also realized that I don’t have time for all of this.
Once upon a time, it was relatively simple to plot out your video game playing. Much like a book, you played a game, finished it, and moved on to the next. But as games have become increasingly service-based, this no longer holds true. Experiences like Anthem, Fortnite, and Apex Legends never really end in the traditional sense. Instead, they’re constantly updated with new features and content, tweaks and twists designed to keep you coming back.
Often, this is part of what makes them great — Fortnite’s ever-evolving island is a huge part of its charm. But this also means that they demand more of your time than traditional games and, consequently, I can only fit a few of them into my life. With the release of Anthem, I appear to have reached my limit.
All three of these games offer different experiences, and I play them for different reasons. While Anthem is far from perfect — I’ll have more on that later — I’m really enjoying the core loop of going out on missions, fighting through some frantic battles, and then returning back to base to wander around and chat with people. It helps that the game looks incredible, and flying around its harsh alien world is exhilarating. The missions are also generally short enough that I can easily fit one or two into an evening after the kids go to bed.
Apex Legends, on the other hand, is the rare team shooter that I actually enjoy. The most obvious reason is that the action is simply incredible — no surprise, coming from the team behind Titanfall 2 — with guns that have just the right weight and force, and a sense of movement that turns even clumsy players into superheroes. Much like in Nintendo’s Splatoon, I don’t have to be the best player to actually contribute to my team’s success, and its fostered a real sense of competitive spirit in me.
Fortnite, meanwhile, is less a game and more a place I feel the need to check in on a regular basis. It’s always changing in unexpected and interesting ways; one day I’m attending a virtual concert with 10 million other people, the next I’m learning how to ride a hoverboard. It changes so much and so fast that it can be overwhelming. Take just one week off and it can feel like you’re playing a completely different game.
I started experiencing this tension, this battle for my time, soon after Apex Legends came out. While they offer wildly different experiences, Apex and Fortnite fit into my life in the same way; I don’t play them for long sessions, but instead get in a few quick matches every day or so, usually in the evening. Do I focus on the new Apex Legends to try and really understand the nuances of its combat? Or do I continue to immerse myself in Fortnite’s strange world? I could play both, but given how little time I have to dedicate to them, I wouldn’t be getting the most out of either. Eventually I found myself drifting back towards the more familiar, more pleasant island of Fortnite.
Throw Anthem in, and it gets even worse. Again, it’s a different style of game, but structurally it fits into my life in the same way; I don’t sit down and binge Anthem for hours, but rather knock out a few quests each night and slowly progress through it. I’ve actually found BioWare’s online shooter is best enjoyed in short doses, before the repetitive nature of the missions has a chance to become overly tedious.
But as I’ve played, there’s been a nagging feeling in the back of my mind. Every time I make a new friend in Fort Tarsis, or earn a slick new machine gun, or find an interesting bit of lore, I realize this experience probably isn’t going to last much longer. Soon I’m going to have to make a choice. It’s happened before: in the past I moved from Overwatch to Splatoon 2 to Fortnite.
Each of the games I’m playing now is interesting in some way, offering me something I truly enjoy. But if I’m being honest, I only have room in my life for one — the question is which gets left behind.