The excellent F2P titles Fortnite and Paladins have both launched on the Nintendo Switch recently, bringing two different flavours of online shootery to the platform, minus any price tag. This would all be excellent news if it wasn't for the fact that I haven't touched Splatoon 2 since. Before you reach for your pitchfork, I'm not saying that they're better games than Splatoon 2. While all three have their merits, if I had to choose a favourite, I'd almost certainly choose Nintendo's own. It's slicker, prettier, and entirely its own beast – which is more than can be said for the other two 'copycats'.
But the area in which Splatoon 2 falters just so happens to be right where Fortnite and Paladins hit their stride, and that's in giving you a reason to return each day. Both have smart levelling systems that drip-feed rewards, alongside an optional Battle Pass that gives you a ton more for a small fee.
These are games that rely on IAPs (in-app purchases) to survive, so it only makes sense that they'd find clever ways to encourage you to return. Then, they have to try and entice you to spend money, so they dangle the cosmetics on a stick just like a carrot. It's a system that works without harming the balance of the game.
Splatoon 2 doesn't have to resort to this psychological warfare. You buy it and, aside from a purely optional expansion pack, you're set to go. Nintendo even regularly releases new maps, weapons, and clothing items too, and for free. So why do I still feel so unsatisfied with Splatoon 2? Well, I still think it's down to simple psychology.
Don't get me wrong; I don't want Splatoon 2 to go freemium and resort to underhand tactics to get you to part with your cash. Instead, I think Splatoon 2 could just learn from Fortnite and Paladins and incorporate some of the ideas to give you a more solid reason to return.
Right now, the only real reason to play is purely for fun (although you could argue that's the best reason to return to a game). Levelling takes an insane amount of time and doesn't really offer much besides new gun unlocks, and most of those are just the same guns again with different abilities attached to them.
The same goes for Salmon Run. It almost had a Battle Pass-like system but, again, progression is just so damned slow that you wonder what the point in even bothering is.
Then there's the clothing, which is where Splatoon 2 gets it mostly right. The items change periodically, which does a great job of tempting you to come back, just in case you miss a cool pair of sneakers or an amazing shirt. The problem is, aside from the first perk slot, the other two slots are selected randomly. You can change them, but only if you grind arbitrarily for an insane amount of time and then spend an equally insane amount of gold to do it. It's just all so ludicrous in 2018, and you really do get the feeling that Nintendo hasn't played a shooter in the last 20 years.
So the first lesson Splatoon 2 should learn from Fortnite and Paragons: faster levelling and gold drops. Let us feel like we're making meaningful progression, even in smaller playing sessions. Provide us with regular challenges to complete that encourage us to use different weapons or perform actions we wouldn't normally do. The same goes for the different modes, like Salmon Run. Encourage us to see more of the game – that rewards both of us and Nintendo, ultimately.
Next up is to sort out the perk system which, let's face it, has sucked since the original Splatoon. Let clothing be purely cosmetic, and let us just pick the perks in each slot. Better still, let us literally see the effects of stacking perks so we can decide if it's worth it. This in itself can provide us with a reason to return.
Take Paladins for example. I've already spent hours testing out new loadouts with various different characters to perfect my own play style, and I find it super addictive. It's nice to put your own spin on your character so it feels more your own, and picking an outfit based on cosmetics, not perks, then selecting the perks ourselves would just be a much better system.
Finally, tie it all together with a ranking or tier system that both Fortnite and Splatoon 2 have. Let our character level, rewards from challenges, and various other features all combine together to provide us with unique rewards that you can only get through playing often. These could include unique weapon skins, items of clothing, and XP and gold boosters.
Keep it free, and keep it fair. Don't let freemium pay to win mechanics come into it. Just do it the Splatoon 2 way, and keep the drip-feed of new cosmetic rewards coming, so we keep coming back for more.
Oh, and one last thing – let us skip that intro. If I have to hear Pearl and Marina say "Don't get cooked, stay off the hook" one last time I might just trade in my copy of Splatoon 2 and never touch it again. Nintendo, you've been warned.
Conversely, I think Splatoon 2 can teach Paladins and Fortnite a bunch of neat tricks, too. For example, an area in which Splatoon 2 absolutely nails it is in its variety of game modes. There are so many, and they're all super fun. It's nice to boot up the game and question what you'd like to play next – perhaps the single player or expansion? A bit of Salmon Run? Or just the bread-and-butter Turf War?
Fortnite and Paladins do have a couple of different modes, but they're a far cry away from Splatoon 2's offerings, and don't actually vary up the gameplay very much. They could learn a thing or two and introduce a few new modes to bring them up to par with Nintendo's shooter.
Secondly, they could both do with improving their gyro controls. Fortnite has tried and failed, providing gyro controls that most of us have turned off already, and are waiting for a patch to bring them up to speed with Splatoon's. Paladins doesn't even have this feature yet, though it's apparently coming. Let's hope both of them can get it right, like Splatoon 2 does.
Finally, both games could really learn a lot from Splatoon 2's world design – they feel kind of lifeless when compared to Nintendo's ink splatter. Fortnite has a nice meta-plot full of rifts, meteors, and rockets, but what does it really mean? What world does it take place in? Where are the characters we should care about? It could do with just a bit more.
Paladins, on the other hand, has a rich selection of heroes complete with backstories, cosmetics, and different play styles. But who are they really? Why are they fighting? What brings them all together? It could do with a single player or PvE component that could shed some light on this and bring a bit of background to proceedings. Splatoon 2 takes place during the war between the Squidlings and Octolings, and the world is vibrant and full of life. Fortnite and Paladins could really learn from that.
Ultimately, the online shooter scene is absolutely bustling on Nintendo Switch right now, and it's only going to get better with the likes of Warframe arriving hopefully soon. I'm sure we all agree that variety is the spice of life, and this holy trinity provides that with aplomb. But I don't want to ignore Nintendo's exclusive shooter over Paladins and Fortnite because it doesn't have such simple features that we take for a given right now.
I want these three games to push each other to be even better, and then for Warframe to come along and teach them all a thing or two. The Switch is a unique ecosystem in that we can play multiple different games at the same time, because we can play no matter where we are. Our time isn't quite as limited as it is with other consoles - but every game still has to give us a reason to play.
Your move, Splatoon 2.