Pre-ordering games has never really been my scene. While there has been a few exceptions, I typically tend to wait until a game has been released and most review scores have come out before I purchase it. This system has worked out well for me so far, avoiding games which sparked massive controversy on launch, such as No Man’s Sky.
I am sure some of you shuddered whilst reading that title, because No Man’s Sky is probably the most infamous game released this decade. From the trailer revealed at E3 2014 right up until its release in mid-2016, hype for the game reached levels not seen since Grand Theft Auto V. Every piece of information that was leaked to the media about its development was heralded as revolutionary and groundbreaking, even if it was insignificant.
And then on the fateful day of its launch, the reviews came in and judged the game as mediocre, garnering a six out of ten by most publications. But No Man’s Sky could not just be mediocre, not to the public. Outrage immediately sparked on Twitter, with many requests for refunds coming within just minutes of release. Less savoury forms of protest followed as they started to ‘review bomb’ the steam page for the game and catapult death threats towards Sean Murray and the rest of the development team at Hello Games. By all accounts, No Man’s Sky was a critical and commercial failure, serving as a warning to game developers everywhere about not releasing a game that is incomplete.
This is not the first time the gaming community has been let down by the launch of a game; far from it in fact. Titles such as Mass Effect 3, The Order: 1886, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Watchdogs and Star Wars Battlefront II have all been victims to the hype train, failing to deliver on many crucial aspects of their respective games. And yet, even after games like these, we still let ourselves to succumb to the mob mentality of over-hyping the release of a new game.
Why? Why do we let this happen?
The first thing to note are the kind of games that are being overhyped. They are not small indie projects that have generated buzz on Reddit or small forum boards which surprisingly still exist, they are typically sequels or continuations of previous beloved series. Making sequels are quite possibly the hardest thing to do in any sort of media, due to added expectations from love of the original, expand the universe of the series and the need to keep the ‘feel’ of the original while innovating. These difficulties do not just exist in gaming either, just look to the number of failed film sequels that have been pumped out in recent years (that is right Dumb and Dumber To, everyone else may have forgotten about you but I cannot. I can never forget).
And that is the developers themselves, we as a community multiply these pressures tenfold, setting ourselves up for disappointment. Nowadays, a Triple A game must be perfection from the moment it is released for fear of internet beratement.
E3 just amplifies these fears to a stupid extent. For those who do not know, E3 is an event dedicated to fueling interest in future titles or consoles which I would be very happy to go to if some generous person was to buy a ticket for me. Every year companies gather in California to show off their new shiny toys to the world and we lap it up without reservation. There is so much speculation leading up to the convention it might as well be its own sport. A once the games are shown off the world collectively loses it; the Final Fantasy VII remake alone managed to break my notifications. This year I have personally become attached to the announcement of Watchdogs: Legion and before I continue I must acknowledge my own hypocrisy.
Yes, I am admitting that I overhype games while criticizing people who do this and yes, I know I am wrong to do it. I should not get my expectations up when looking at game trailers, but I cannot help it. I am human, I am flawed, and I will be angry when I eventually see what Watchdogs: Legion turns out to be. But I still feel this is less damaging than what happens during a game’s release.
This system of judging games at launch is a very close-minded way of looking at how the medium has evolved over the years. Games such as Rainbow Six Siege and Final Fantasy 14 have enjoyed copious amount of success years after launch and let us not forget that Fortnite did not even have its signature “Battle Royale” mode until way after the game was released. With the standardization of post-launch content and updates, it has become irresponsible to judge a game on its release.
And again, I too am guilty of judging a game by its initial launch. I do not give games time to update and adapt, because even though I am not someone who is ‘review bombing’ these games, I am swayed by these actions. It is the reason I cancelled my preorder of The Division, why Assassin’s Creed Unity has made me skeptical to buy any future game in the series and why the appeal of any sports game has dimmed, even though my love of basketball can be described as “fanatic” or “unhealthy”. Bad launches and deceptive actions by developers leave a stain in my mouth that cannot be washed off.
But they can be washed off and they often are. Case in point, No Man’s Sky. Yes, the same No Man’s Sky I just called a “critical and commercial failure” has redeemed itself in my eyes. I recently found a copy on sale and decided to give it a spin and I was not disappointed. The game controls and feels wonderful, the sheer sense of scale on offer is astounding and every planet is new and exciting to explore with plenty to do when you are there. It is a lot more relaxing than I first imagined, akin to something like Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley. And to think I would have missed this experience if I had not stumbled across it again.
It is not just me who feels this way about the game, it is the consensus of those playing this game. If you look at all the Steam reviews for the newest update, No Man’s Sky holds a rare “Very Positive” rating, a far departure from the brutal reviews at launch.
So, is it fair to weigh the launch of a game so heavily? No, but it is the best system we have. We cannot expect professional games journalists to update their previous reviews whenever a patch is released, that would an impossible task. But we also cannot rely on positive word of mouth to give these games more exposure. We still hold onto our negative opinions of these titles and new information that goes against that is met with a lot of skepticism.
All I can hope for is that one day we start putting our expectations in check and giving games a second chance at life. Is that too much to ask?
Words by Bayley Horne