A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the role of the reviewer but since writing that piece I’ve been wondering about game reviews themselves, particularly given the current state of the industry where games make it onto the market without proper quality assurance and so bug-riddled that it takes multiple iterations of re-development to clear them and even fix inherent design flaws.
“Are Day One reviews still valuable?” I wondered about that because most games released nowadays are in poor state on the first day and only achieve their potential months down the line. Diablo 3 is one of the major examples, with a working first version with many design flaws, including a terrible real money auction house. It was only with the release of their Loot 2.0 system that the game became the beast it is today. Skyrim and every other Bethesda game out there take months to fix a titanic list of bugs and glitches. The number of Day One patches in 2015 was shocking and they ranged from fixes to killer bugs to connection and authentication glitches. Assassin’s Creed Unity, released in November 2014, had all of the above and much more in its tremendously bad launch.
So, if games nowadays don’t even have the most basic of quality assurance processes and publishers and marketing departments push developers to release unfinished products: should we, as reviewers, still try to get that Launch Day review out? The past few months have shown me that the PR companies representing developers will go to great lengths to delay reviews as much as possible, such as giving out the review codes a mere day or hours before the game’s release. I received a code for one of the games I reviewed last year the night before launch day. This game, which I will not mention by name, is rather long and so even with my best effort the review only came out a few weeks later. By this time, the developers had fixed a number of issues on the release that they had mentioned on the email to give me the code.
If that practice sounds even a bit sleazy to you, then welcome to the club.
On the one hand, as a reviewer I want to have the version that the readers will want to buy or stay away from based on my review. Unlike other reviewers out there, I almost never review a game I haven’t finished—unless I’m close to the end, I’ve seen every major mechanic and know where the plot is going—so it’s not unusual for me to release a review later than the release date, particularly considering that The Mental Attic is a small fish in this pond so I don’t get the first picks in review codes but tend to get them later, much closer to the release date. It’s not always the case but it happens. My getting a code is not a priority, because I’m not a recognised name out there.
But on the other, reviewing games only after they’ve been fixed is accepting that the current practice in the industry is acceptable and that we should just suck it up. No, just no. I have an ideal of what the gaming industry should be, I know what it should strive for and the current paradigm doesn’t fit. I will not submit to that practice and I will butcher an unfinished game if it merits it, no matter if ten months from now it is the shining jewel of gaming, because the release of a title is the delivery of a promise made between the developer and the gamers. If you can’t deliver what you promised when you’re supposed to, I won’t care what you do later because the trust is broken.
Another point of course, is that waiting for fixes means that you might never review it, though as is the case with Batman: Arkham Knight, reviewing the game now on PC would’ve given me an outstanding level of pleasure, because I would have butchered it even more. Months go by and it’s still the same mess it once was.
But now I wonder, should our Day One reviews be set in stone? If the game, let’s say Diablo 3 again, improves considerably months down the line, should we update our original review to match that? Again, I think that on one side you can acknowledge the work that’s been put into the title despite the broken promises, but with the constant fixes these games go through, you’d potentially end up in a constant catch-up process.
Speaking for myself, I won’t re-review a game. If it receives an expansion or major DLC that prompts a review, then I’ll cover that and most likely mention the fixes as they’re something new to analyse, but I won’t change the score for the original release, because that’s how the game was when they first put it on the market.
If you read a review on The Mental Attic, that’s my opinion on the game as it was when I got my hands on it, be it from a review code or purchased from a store, as it tends to be with major AAA releases since as I mentioned, I’m only a small fish.
But how about you? How do you feel about reviews in the current state of the industry? Is it still important to have them when the game launches or should they wait for the best possible version? And finally, what are your thoughts on this current—and sleazy in my opinion—practice of withholding review codes until the last possible moment if not altogether for games the publisher isn’t confident in?
Let me know in the comments!