'I would rather have questions that can't be answered than answers which can't be questioned.' -Richard Feynman

Modern Game Reviews Suck

by Ethan Glover, Wed, Feb 14, 2018 - (Edited) Wed, Feb 14, 2018

When I first bought Divinity: Original Sin 2, I gave up on it very early. I started the first few quests on the starting prison island and decided it wasn't for me. But I got back into it. And I'm enjoying every minute of it. What's the difference between then and now?

I got burned on too many 2017 games. I became embittered. Ghost Recon: Wildlands was fun but repetitive. The missions seemed to repeat themselves and my strategies for each became standard. The story seemed to repeat itself with bad guy after bad guy as well.

I enjoyed Mass Effect: Andromeda. But after I played it, I started hearing bad reviews. Everyone complaining about the clunkiness, bad voice acting, bad animations, etc. Ad nauseam. It got to me, and I started focusing on those negatives. My opinion of the game retroactively turned sour.

Middle Earth: Shadow of War is Assassin's Creed with orcs. A lot of unimpressive parkour with a boring storyline. Elves and trees whispering at me from the shadows about things I couldn't care less about. Turning on the subtitles to hear what they were saying provided me with no value.

Wolfenstein 2 was a $60 game that amounted to a high-end arcade shooter. I only needed 25c to know I wasn't going to enjoy that one enough to keep playing.

Where the hell were the epic single player experiences I know and love? Sure, I probably would've been better off with Persona 5, Nier: Automata, and Nioh. But I come from the age of being able to trust big publishers. Back when all you needed was the word 'EA' or 'Activision' along with a decent rating from Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb. Those two factors guaranteed you would get your money's worth. Today, it feels like I'm gambling every time I buy a title.

It was the Writing on Games podcast that brought me back from video game depression. An episode gushing over the best parts of DOS2 got me to give it a second try. Sure, the hosts Hamish Black and Nico Bleackley exaggerated a few game features a bit. But they're right to call it a fantastic game.

I'll admit that I'm exhausted with some of the traditional RPG features. Balancing complex ability upgrades across a four character party. Managing a huge inventory of things you don't know the function of. And a messy crafting system that requires A) way too much guesswork or B) way too much googling. (Nobody reads in game recipe books.)

I think games should get rid of inventory systems altogether. Along with the item crafting and alchemy and herbalism and whatever the hell else. To me, macromanagement is always more fun and interesting than micromanagement.

To have a home base, where picked up items go to. Where you can hire people, manage resources, and direct focus on certain elements. Like making money, researching new weapons, or finding specific material. From there, you can go out into the world with a simple loadout. Choose your weapons and party, play the game.

Take the micromanaging of four characters out of the field. Instead of getting used to having to pause and click and drag and read and strategize in between every other battle; enjoy the combat and the story. Without the 10 minute interruptions of having the figure out how you can use that flower or seashell you picked up because you just KNOW it has an important purpose.

Despite all that, I'm really liking DOS2. Not because Writing on Games gushed over it. They got me to give it a second look. But I don't agree with their perfect view of it. Rather, I took a moment to find what I like about it.

The ability to keep moving forward in the game without having to do something in a very specific way. The in-depth dialogue and character exploration that these kinds of games provide.

Long ago, I could depend on reviews from X-Play on G4TV to make all my video game buying decisions. Today, the more reviews I read from IGN and Polygon, the more critical I become.

I've learned that I'm not interested in hearing some asshole on the internet nitpick over irrelevant faults. I'm playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance too. If I had read any reviews for it or watched some gameplay, there's no way I'd go anywhere near it. But I'm really liking it.

The graphics are bad, the combat is clunky, the save system is awful, the load times on PS4 are annoying, and I'm not sure how well the RPG elements are playing out. But who gives a shit? The game has heart. I knew that the first time I watched a trailer for it.

Kingdom Come isn't some bullshit Minecraft or PUBG clone that 13-year-olds watch 19-year-olds play on Twitch for money.

I haven't read the IGN or Polygon reviews but I can make a guess that they're long essays about the first few hours of gameplay. The writers of said essays use some sort of formula/checklist that their boss gave them the day they started. They go through each pro and con and tally it all up with equal weight. Then give some pointless score like 7.8/10 because their little checklist told them how to score the game like an Olympic judge handbook. A technical, point-by-point view that in the end, gives no consideration to the quality of the game itself.

Compare modern reviews to the simple X-Play system. Note that mechanics come first. And 4-5 star ratings go to games that achieve their goals and ambitions. A simple, but smart system that doesn't try to come up with an objective answer for fun. Rather, it tells you that if you like these types of games, how likely you are to like this one.

So I'll play DOS2 and Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and enjoy the fuck out of them. Without depending on the opinions of children and journalists who are trying to quantify art. For my early reviews: DOS2 - 4/5, Kingdom Come: Deliverance - 3/5.