One question that gets lobbed across our desk frequently: "When is the review coming?" We don't have control over when we receive review copies of a game. Sometimes, we get them months or weeks in advance and have the chance to spend a long time with a game. More common is getting a game a week or a few days before release. In the case of Civilization VI for example, we got the review code a day before release. That's why my review didn't go up until yesterday.
"With the upcoming launches of Skyrim Special Edition and Dishonored 2, we will continue our policy of sending media review copies one day before release. While we will continue to work with media, streamers, and YouTubers to support their coverage – both before and after release – we want everyone, including those in the media, to experience our games at the same time," wrote Bethesda global content lead Gary Steinman.
"We also understand that some of you want to read reviews before you make your decision, and if that's the case we encourage you to wait for your favorite reviewers to share their thoughts."
In the case of Skyrim: Special Edition, this is less of a problem, being that it's a technical review. For Dishonored 2 though, this means a sprint to get through the game and get a review up. Preventing this sprint is why embargoes exist, so reviewers have time to play a game and formulate their thoughts. Everyone's on equal footing and all aimed at a single deadline. In this case, you're looking at staggered reviews or reviews-in-progress covering an early part of the game. Whoever can finish first will be the first to drop a full review.
You will likely see a number of journalists who are unhappy with the situation, especially freelance reviewers who have to coordinate releases with multiple sites. I'm not thrilled myself, but I'm also not angry. Bethesda has crunched the numbers and decided that people will probably buy the games without waiting for reviews, so there's little reason to worry about early review copies. Bethesda cites Doom as a case of this system working, since that game also had review copies one day before launch and sold just fine.
Our situation is changing and likewise so should your expectations. The day-one review will become more rare in the future. That movement is already starting at major publishers. Given that, you should always remember the hard rule when it comes to buying games: Don't buy them sight unseen.
I caution pre-orders, as enough games have released with big bugs and other issues. Batman: Arkham Knight had significant issues on PC. Mafia III launched with a 30 fps cap on the platform. Halo: The Master Chief Collection was broken for six months on Xbox One.
Most games don't have low stock; it's hard to justify pre-orders for games without a limited or collector's edition. If you're willing to eat the cost and feel confident in your purchase, by all means, but always remember the previews we're given are only a slice of the final product. They factor into the final game, but they're not necessarily indicative of it. Protect yourself, because you won't be able to rely on early reviews to do so. We can't save you from yourself.
Skyrim Special Edition is coming on October 28 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. Dishonored 2 is releasing on November 11 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.