It is a euphoric moment when you finish a game that you had been looking forward to playing for months together. The one that you had pre-ordered and downloaded the moment it went live and then sank in hours upon hours enjoying every little detail and nuance of the game in the process. Seeing the titles roll on such a game is a bitter-sweet experience but a special moment, nonetheless. There is no shortage of big titles, especially during the tail end of the year and millions of gamers go through this moment of utmost satisfaction when they experience their favourite games in full. Names like God of war (2018), Ghost of Tsushima and Horizon: Forbidden West come to my mind when we think of such games. But there are also, many big games that fumbled at launch. These games made big promises, like new gameplay evolutions, next generation graphics, and seamless social experiences, and yet failed to deliver on core experiences making them near unplayable. Here are five big games, in no particular order, that had a less than stellar launch.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity
Assassin’s Creed: Unity was the first game in the series to be launched exclusively for the then next gen consoles and PC. Early teasers and developer updates promised stellar graphics, advanced AI with massive crowds of NPCs, a seamless co-op experience, in a world featuring a 1 to 1 representation of Paris during a key moment in history. All of this sounds too ambitious on paper, but Ubisoft had done great things with the franchise in the past, so pulling all this together was certainly within the realms of possibility. But, in hindsight it is safe to say that Unity fell victim to its own ambitions. To start with, Ubisoft realized that an ambitious title like Unity can only be possible on next gen hardware, but the company did not want to lose sales on the hundreds of millions of PS3s and Xbox 360s at the time. And hence, for the first time in the history of the franchise two Assassin’s Creed games were being developed targeting the same year. Assassin’s Creed: Rogue was the other title released in 2014 for the then last gen consoles. Even with a larger resource pool it wasn’t enough to bring both games to completion in time for the holiday launch in 2014. Upon release Assassin’s Creed: Rogue performed better technically and was in-line with the previous games in the series. Unity, however, had launched in a state that was less than ideal for any game to release, to put it mildly. Characters’ faces were missing, the in-game crowds were glitchy and the game was not able to detect collision during parkour sections.
These were just few of the many issues with the game at launch. Considering this was one of the most anticipated games of the year, these issues quickly magnified the game’s reputation as an unplayable mess at the time, turning it into a meme of sorts. Today, eight years later, Unity has somewhat seen a resurrection from players now that all the issues have been fixed and it remains one of the most beloved games by its community.
Bethesda is a company that has had very few missteps considering the large library of games it develops and publishes. The company, especially the development studio, has enjoyed massive acclaim for being pioneers in storytelling, thanks to games like Elder Scrolls Morrowind, Skyrim, Fallout 3 and 4 to name a few. But its games were not without its issues. Like many games of such scale and premise, Bethesda’s games had bugs and issues that often occur during a typical playthrough of the game. However, these were largely insignificant and were overlooked by fans, going as far as stating that these issues were “charming in a Bethesda sort of way” and were “part of the experience in a Bethesda game”. Such was the goodwill earned by the company thanks to the amazing experiences they had produced over the decades in the industry. But all that good will was nearly lost with the release of Fallout 76. The first proper multiplayer experience from a studio that most made large single player experience, made in an already aging in-house engine, that was tailor made for single player experiences. The huge promises made by creator Todd Howard, during the E3 prior to release did not help matters. His quote “It simply works” from that E3 presentation turned into a meme shortly after the release of Fallout 76.
It was very evident that the game and the engine on which it was built were not ready to handle the intricacies of a multiplayer experience. Videos of bugs from the game flooded the internet, but the company was not ready to fully acknowledge these issues at the time. Even today, Fallout 76 remains a unique case study in the industry. The game is in a better state now, but many are still surprised that it still has a player base. Not to mention subscribers to its 100$ a year premium experience. This is a shame considering what the Fallout name meant prior to the release of Fallout 76. The future of the franchise looks bright though, as the company is now under the quality centric hands of Microsoft.
Probably one of the worst offenders in the list, there are many reasons how WWE 2K20 ended up releasing in a state that it did. This game had a unique set of issues during its development. Thanks to disagreements between longtime developer of the franchise Yukes and its publisher at the time 2K, the development for 2K20 was handed over to a different team. Visual concepts, who had assisted Yukes on various WWE projects, were now handed the full responsibility of releasing the game with just a few months of development time. It is important to understand that any videogame, sports or otherwise, take well over a year or two once it begins full production. Even, out of the pre-production phase and into full development, the time offered to the new team was nowhere close to sufficient while the company pushed for the release of the game, the same year. What is even worse is that although the new team had assisted Yukes in the past, they lacked the knowledge of developing the game in many key areas.
After a short delay from the originally announced date, the game finally released and to no one’s surprise the game was, simply put, unfinished. Videos of bugs in this game soon flooded the internet, making the character monstrosities in found in Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Fallout 76 look tame in the process. As a consequence of these events, WWE did not push for a follow up to 2K20, and for the first time in about two decades there was no annual WWE game in 2020. WWE 2K22 had since launched in March 2021, and while it had its own quirks, it fared much better than the company’s previous iteration.
GTA trilogy – Definitive edition
A typical conversation about a Rockstar game is usually a mix of high praises, with a lot of passion for the game in discussion. Over the course of the last couple of decades, Rockstar have made some of the best games in the industry ranging from cult classics like The Warriors, racers like Midnight club, with the occasional detour like Rockstar presents Table Tennis, while also creating pop culture phenomenon like the Grand Theft Auto series. Through all these games, Rockstar has had one key aspect as a consistent theme. Quality! Whether in the form of writing, mission designs, game mechanics or its open worlds, the company has ensured that their games, however big or small, met a certain quality standard. Fans rejoiced when the company announced the definitive edition of classic GTA games in one package. While GTA 3, Vice City and San Andreas had been remastered before, the idea of a definitive versions for these storied games seemed like something that everybody would appreciate. But concerns began to rise when there was little to no footage shown, and the one trailer released featured no gameplay. Not to mention, the character looked like weird. But, owing to Rockstar’s pedigree and the inherent expectation of high-quality, fans such as myself still waited in anticipation. When the game released though, what we got was nothing close to the original’s quality.
Many of the game’s mechanics were broken, the open world lacked any kind of visual fidelity expected out of a definitive edition, all the characters had soft round edges and looked cartoony, the rain effect were downright ghastly and greatly affected visibility in game, and the list goes on. To, Rockstar’s credit they did add various quality of life improvements to each of the three games in the series, but the game’s issues were so prominent that some publications even questioned if Rockstar themselves revere their games as much as the fans do, owing to how poorly three of the most influential and groundbreaking games, not only in the GTA series but the industry in general, have been treated. Today, after various patches and bug fixes since, the game is still not without issues and people find it hard to recommend.
When you go through a list like this, you know that Cyberpunk 2077 would show up at some point. This is still hard to fathom as Cyberpunk had all the signs pointing towards a world class product. One that provides an immersive dystopian world to play with, filled with compelling characters, innovative gameplay, and a gripping story. Afterall, this game was made by CD Project Red, the makers of the much-revered Witcher series. Their last major release The Witcher 3 and its expansions stand tall as one of the most beloved and best reviewed games to date. So, it stands to reason that Cyberpunk 2077 was expected to be one of the most talked about games in its time. Despite its extremely long development time, which is typically a red flag, the high expectations towards the game were further solidified, thanks to an amazing E3 demo and an impressive trailer when the game was closer to an originally set launch date. Anticipation only grew higher thanks to numerous delays citing more “polish” to the game. It looked like there was nothing in the way of Cyberpunk 2077 to become the Game of the Year for everyone around the world. And then, the game released!
There is no easy way to chronicle the fallout following the release. The game was buggy to the point that it was sometimes unplayable. And this is on a decent spec PC hardware. On lower end PCs and last gen consoles like PS4 and Xbox One however, the game was just unfinished. Some notable gameplay features seen in the E3 gameplay footage had been removed from the game. And the game rarely resembled the details seen in the trailer. Angry tweets, YouTube rants, memes, all dominated the conversations on the game. PlayStation was forced to remove the game from its store front, a move that Sony had never done due to a situation like this. And many users from other platforms claimed refunds. Over a year and a half after its release, the game is in a much better position today. But this came at a cost. The next-gen versions of The Witcher 3 had to be delayed. So were the planned DLCs for Cyberpunk and its own next gen versions as well. CD Project Red also took a hit financially with the company now only worth ¼ of what was prior to the release of the game, all attributing towards the fallout of Cyberpunk’s release. But perhaps the biggest loss for the company is its reputation and the good will it had with its player base. Something that takes years to garner, and just one botched release to lose.
And that was the list. What all these games have in common is their lack of acknowledgement to QA feedback. And for that the entities making these games have suffered both financially and through bad reputation. The worst part is that these issues could have been avoided with a little extra muscle in the QA department, and some extra time. Cyberpunk 2077’s trailer famously touted the phrase “Coming: When it’s Ready”. And this should be the mantra followed by all developers. But, today most developers, even the ones who added that quote in the trailer have fallen prey to misjudging the game’s state. As a QA myself, I can vouch that no game is perfect during development. And no game is truly finished, as one can keep improving it in perpetuity. There is a thin line between when a game is considered ready to launch, and when the game still needs work. Companies need to figure out when they reach that line, without keeping fiscal revenue goals in mind. If some companies can do it and deliver excellent quality games consistently. All can.
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