"Remember when games just worked?" is the pithy response to the issues of modern gaming. The industry has undeniably changed thanks to the rise of microtransactions, free-to-play, online connectivity, and the live service business model. It's to the point that a game like last year's God of War can be widely lauded for releasing as a complete package with no downloadable content.
Games these days are more connected than ever, have cinematic presentation, and can potentially last for much longer than past experiences. If you love Ghost Recon: Wildlands for example, that game is still being updated with new operations. Dead or Alive is the poster child for everything that's wrong with fighting game costume DLC, but if you were a fan of 2015's Dead or Alive 5: Last Round, you were still getting new costumes two years later. If a bug or issue does sneak into the final release, it can be patched out.
Contrary to the existing narrative, games have always been a little broken. The original Donkey Kong arcade cabinets retain a kill screen bug, where the 22nd stage stop all contenders dead because the timer is too short to play the level. Players for Soul Calibur 3 for PlayStation 2 might remember a bug that would cause save file corruption if you altered the save files of other games on the memory card. Pokemon Red and Blue were full of bugs and issues, notably the infamous Missingno.When someone asks me if I remember when games just worked, I offer those caveats.
Recently though, I've found myself muttering that old phrase to myself: Remember when games just worked? First was Fallout 76, the latest release of one of the most egregious developers in terms of sustained bugs in their games, Bethesda Softworks. Fallout 76 is rife with missing animations, floating enemies, and broken AI. For some players, the game offers consistent crashes.
These past two weeks, Fallout 76 has been joined by BioWare's Anthem. Anthem is likewise full of smaller issues; I've personally had a number of broken missions that never end, especially when jumping into Anthem's Quickplay system. A number of other players have reported disappearing enemies, broken missions, and crashes to their desktop. A significant number are now reporting that playing Anthem on PlayStation 4 is actually leading to severe system crashes, with the entire PS4 system shutting down. Some have to power down the system manually. Others report the system restarting in safe mode, or needing to do a storage repair before rebooting. A scant few have reported their systems bricking completely.
A game should work. It's odd that I need to say this, but it's worth repeating: a game should work. It's the result of a transaction between you and the publisher: you give up your hard-earned $30-60 and they give you a working game. Whether you enjoy it is a bit nebulous, but it should work and it certainly shouldn't cause damage your console or PC.
Perhaps it's because we've lived with the sliding scale, but I'm generally willing to overlook a bug or issue. If something crashes once, I don't make note of it, assuming it's a one time thing. If an animation or texture glitch happens and doesn't repeat multiple times, I generally just move on. It's a mix of "Oh, that's just a small bug," from the olden days and "That'll probably be patched out later," from the modern era. Society adapts and perhaps we've just all adapted to our games being a little broken.
But sometimes, games just don't work. For $60, you receive a collection of bugs, balance problems, and outright crashes, with the slight promise of a bright future weeks, months, or years from when you bought it. When that happens, , the intent doesn't really matter. Yes, game development is hard and no one sets out to make a bad game. But sometimes you've just fucked up, and the player shouldn't have to bear that cross. It's disingenuous, especially when developers will, long after the fact, tend to note, "Yeah, we knew it was broken too."
Worse, when the community tears off its own arm to defend the problems. Maybe it's a particularly long-term version of Stockholm syndrome that endears some to fight for games that were clearly not ready for prime time. By all means, you can enjoy a game despite the bugs or other problems. Maybe the issues never even affected you; I've certainly been in that situation, where the worse of a game's glitches and errors passed me by. The problem is when other players are coming with their real issues, and you seek to minimize them. Or worse, attack the players who are trying to bring their problems to the developer's attention.
Burying your head in the sand about potential problems with a game doesn't make that game better in the long-term. We can argue and discuss whether a design decision is the right idea—I frequently do so on a subreddit or forum—but if a game is unplayable because of frequent crashes or it's bricking systems, fixing that is something we should all be behind. If you're enjoying Anthem and have been crash free, that's great. I'm glad for you. But that doesn't make someone else's experience with hard system crashes go away.
And publishers, you're only giving models a bad name by releasing your games in such a state. I've seen some blame QA for the significant issues in games like Fallout 76 and Anthem, but I guarantee that some of these issues were flagged and the game shipped regardless. Patches aren't a bad thing, but shipping games in states where players are crashing to desktop consistently and are patiently waiting for a future patch to enjoy the game they've paid for is a good way to make them a bad thing. "Patch culture" is a thing said with disgust because these games aren't shipping in working order. " "Service games" are seen as dodgy nonsense because major games are shipping incomplete and having basic modes grafted on months later.
The community is tired of it. We're tired of it. Fallout 76's highest Metascore is 52, with a user score of 2.5. Anthem's highest Metascore is 65 with a user score of 4.1. Review bombing is a thing, sure, but in both cases, these games received their scores for providing poor experiences to players.
I don't entirely "remember when games just worked." Games have always been a little broken, but at least they weren't these utter missteps like these.
Major Game Releases This Week: March 4 to March 8
Here are the major releases for the week of March 4 to March 8. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.
- Left Alive [March 4, PS4, PC]: Yeah, this is actually out tomorrow. Following last year's The Quiet Man, Square Enix is offering this spinoff of the Front Mission series, but without the strategy gameplay or huge mechs we've come to expect from the property. Instead, you're left with a stealth action game... with character designs from Metal Gear Solid artist Yoji Shinkawa? Interesting.
- Devil May Cry 5 [March 8, PS4, Xbox One, PC]: In terms of delivering exactly what fans what, it looks like Devil May Cry 5 is ready. Director Hideaki Itsuno and team has returned to bring Nero, Dante, and crew back to where they belong. Three characters, beautiful graphics, and tight gameplay add up to a sequel fans have been waiting for. Can Capcom go for the threepeat?
- Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn [March 8, 3DS]: Kirby's Epic Yarn is back, this time on 3DS. It's the same game, with a few new abilities and new minigames. It'll keep you satisfied until Yoshi's Crafted World comes to Switch later this month though.
This Week's News and Notes
- Last week's biggest story was, without a doubt, THQ Nordic deciding to have an AMA on 8chan. If you don't know, 8chan is the melting pot for the worst of 4chan, including neo-Nazis. It's been literally delisted from Google searches due to child pornography. 4chan would be a bad place to have your AMA, 8chan is much, much worse. The publisher has apologized again this week, but it doesn't look like anyone has been fired for one of the worst moves in PR history. And someone really needs to be fired to save face here.
- Our own Caty McCarthy went to DICE Summit 2019 and had a chance to sit down with many of your favorite developers! She's already spoken to 343 Industries boss Bonnie Ross about the upcoming Halo Infinite, chatted with God of War director Cory Barlog and Atreus voice actor Sunny Suljic about that game's emotional moments, and heard all about Hades and the Epic Games Store from Supergiant's Greg Kasavin. And there's still more to come!
- The next generation of Pokemon has been revealed! The Pokemon Company, Game Freak, and Nintendo announced Pokemon Sword and Shield last week, taking the series to the UK-themed Galar Region. We took a look at the new starters, and Nadia made the case that random battles shouldn't have returned after being cut down in Pokemon Let's Go.
- Dead or Alive 6 is out, offering the latest in Team Ninja's long-running fighting game series. What's available is a solid fighter that needs a little more visual polish and a much better system for unlocking its costumes. That said, you have to be somewhat impressed by Koei Tecmo's bold offering of a $93 season pass.
- Are you heading to PAX East 2019? Well so are we! It won't be the entire USG team, but Kat, Nadia, and Mike will be walking around the expo, taking in all that gaming goodness. We're also going to be hosting three panels at the show, including one about classic Dreamcast games, one about Assassin's Creed's timeline, or a whole talk about how Fallout 76 can improve! Come join us for some fun!
- Axe of the Blood God: The Top 25 RPGs of All-Time countdown continues. This week, we discuss our next pick, Suikoden 2. Back when Konami not only made video games, they made RPGs! Kat is joined by Kotaku reporter and major Suikoden fan Jason Schreier to talk all about collecting all 108 characters. Subscribe here for the full podcast!
- You may have noticed that we have two newsletters now! One is devoted to Axe of the Blood God, while the other focuses on rounding up the previous week's news and articles. You can see what it looks like and subscribe here.
- And speaking of the Top 25 RPG countdown, Kat adds a brand-new entry: #6 in the countdown is oddly enough, Ultima 7!