At the start of 2014, gamers across the world were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the crunch-periods of the year, anticipating the release of hot titles like Dark Souls 2, The Evil Within, Batman: Arkham Knight, and various others.
It’s a start to a fresh year, and on hindsight one can only term 2014 as a disappointment for console and PC owners alike. The year of delays, the year of disappointments – call 2k14 whatever you like, but the opinion amongst experienced gamers is unanimous: the year was simply not up to the expectations set prior to the gaming season.
A part of the blame obviously goes to the gamers themselves of over-anticipation, but the major boo-boos have come from the gaming industries.
Excessive marketing and over-hyping plagued several titles this season, as did the release of unfinished projects and half-hearted sequels.
This does give us a comparison standard for 2015 though – whatever developers and publishers throw towards the shelves, it can’t be more disappointing than 2014. Or can it?
Let’s have a look at some of the dos and don’ts the gaming industry will have to keep in the back of their minds, lest they want to face underwhelmed fans like last year.
The Hype Train
If there was one majorly error that was observed throughout 2014, it was excessive marketing. This led to anticipation beyond controllable measures, and when the games were released, they did not match the hype.
Perhaps the biggest example of this is Destiny. In theory, what Destiny had to offer was of revolutionary potential, but the hype created for a more than a year and half seemed out of proportions when compared to the half-finished retail version.
With initially only one raid, average AI, and an enticing concept that was simply not executed correctly, Destiny was a title that could not meet its self-conjured expectations.
Another example of this marketing error was Elder Scrolls Online. Though it wasn’t advertised as heavily as Destiny, the appellation was adequate enough to attract an appreciably large fan-following, but the deliverance was rather underwhelming.
The game arrived with countless bugs and technical problems that crossed beyond the normally expected borders of server and connectivity issues. Even till now Elder Scrolls has struggled to make a mark on the MMO world.
Of course, if these two games aren’t enough, then you could sway your attention towards Watch Dogs, whose inclusion in this category of Don’ts needs no explanation.
Bull-shots are a common marketing strategy in the gaming industry to attract gamers who crave for eye-candy. One fanbase that was victimized in this regard was that of Dark Souls. Mind you, Dark Souls 2 was arguably the best game of 2014 after Dragon Age: Inquisition, but the shining Farhaam set in the trailers, or the glorious Drakekeepers with their shimmering black armor was merely a façade, a false-promise to the dedicated followers of the Souls series of better visuals.
However, Dark Souls 2 can be forgiven for this last-minute nerf of graphics – the game’s demanding gameplay mechanics are merciless – even a hint of stutter can result in death. Games like Watch Dogs though, are inexcusable.
Ubisoft in general had a disastrous year, which was surprising considering they had delivered to near perfection in 2013. Watch Dogs was allegedly going to overshadow GTA V, revolutionize environmental graphics and visual surpemacy, and offer a plot that would go beyond expectations.
Yet, despite its numerous delays, the game was nowhere near GTA V in-terms of sheer gameplay offerings, had a sub-standard and hastened plot, and most importantly seemed to have faced a massive nerf in graphics. For PC, the title was badly optimized, giving headaches to owners of modern rigs through its unaccounted stutters and random framerate drops.
The Year of Delays
Batman: Arkham Knight, The Witcher 3, Tom Clancy’s The Division, and many others were victims of delays. Most gamers are tolerant towards delayed games, as long as they make use of the extra time by presenting a finished, unique product.
However, from last year’s mishaps like Watch Dogs (a great game that failed to fulfill its marketed promises), there is added pressure on CD Projekt Red, Ubisoft, and Rocksteady to deliver true master-pieces. For the sake of all gamers, we hope they deliver well, especially Ubisoft, who has a lot of catching up to do.
There’s a common misconception that when the stage is set after a booming and critically acclaimed breakthrough, the follow-up is not too hard. In reality, when a developer/publisher has to follow up a globally loved title, the pressure is two-folds, and there are higher chances of messing up in the attempt of presenting something new.
Many reboots and sequels failed to deliver the same impact as their predecessors in 2014, such as Thief, Far Cry 4, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, Civilization Beyond Earth, Assassin’s Creed Unity, and Borderlands The Pre-Sequel.
The return of Thief was a god-sent blessing for PC gamers, but it quickly turned into a disappointment when the game hit the shelves. As a stand-alone it may have been an okay game, but it had to live up to the standards set by the legendary Thief series of early 21st century, which it missed by a mile.
Similar statements could be made for Civilization: Beyond Earth, an addition to the loved Civilization series that tried to jump a few centuries ahead of itself.
Far Cry 4 seemed like an exact copy-paste of the wonderful survival adventure of Jason Brody back near the end of 2013, except with a different setting and marginally improved graphics. Borderlands The Pre-Sequel was strangely mundane, as indicated by its not-too-clever title.
The worst of the lot was obviously Assassin’s Creed Unity. The game was simply awful right from the go, plagued with technical issues, and presented in the poorest of manners. It was the killing blow to Ubisoft’s reputation as a dependable developer/publisher, and a massive disappointment for all AC fans, who were generally accustomed to receiving complete games. Unity was an unfinished product that was hastily presented to the public, and will go down as one of the worst AAA titles in recent history.
Taken By Surprise
There are some games that rely on the anticipation by fans, mostly generated by marketing and advertising strategies. This is however a dangerous tactic to employ, as one can easily get carried away in the marketing process.
Then there are games like Shadow of Mordor. No one expected Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor to make the impact it did. Yes, it adopted ideas from many other infamous franchises, but SoM added content that felt refreshing and new, while still being somewhat familiar. The enemy ranking system is one of the cleverest ideas in recent times, giving the game playability depth.
Another game that pleasantly surprised everyone was Child of Light. This was perhaps the only high-point for Ubisoft in 2014, presenting itself in a mystical and enchanting way that grasped the attention of every gamer, casual or competitive.
Perhaps the biggest and best surprise was Bayonetta 2. There was barely any hype created for the long-awaited sequel to the well-acclaimed, Devil-May-Cry-esque action game, but Bayonetta 2 blew our minds away. No game was as polished, as finished, and as complete as Bayonetta 2 in 2014.
Though Bayonetta 2 was obviously the hallmark for the Wii U, Nintendo comparatively had a more successful year as a whole. Games like Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. delivered as expected receiving the well-deserved admiration from critics.
It would be a world of good for gamers if other quality surprise titles are on the way in 2015; the AAA games will always make the headlines, but we folks adore the emergence of mesmerizing art out of nowhere.
Learning from the Best
Two games of 2014 worth mentioning (in a positive way) are Dark Souls 2 and Dragon Age: Inquisition – the gaming industry needs to learn from these titles. Dark Souls 2 adapted and tweaked the core aspects of its predecessor: the excruciating difficulty and reward system.
The tweaks to the PvP and general gameplay mechanics allowed for a more enjoyable experience, despite the plot – though pretty amazing – was not as grand in scale as that of the original Dark Souls.
Dragon Age: Inquisition was a chance for redemption for BioWare, a highly respected developer of modern RPGs. The embarrassment that was Dragon Age II added pressure on the team, but they handled with the best kind of professionalism, listening to feedback (something Ubisoft should learn about) and developing a title that would cater for the needs of the fans, yet still encompass the necessary elements to make it a breakthrough title on its own.
What was most impressive about Dragon Age: Inquisition was the incredible marketing. All the essential core elements were advertised in an honest manner for months before the final retail release. This allowed BioWare to gather constructive criticism from followers, and make necessary adjustments. The result was a game that possessed one of the best gameplay mechanics seen in modern RPG games.
While its plot was not as grandeur as the first one, it was engaging enough to keep a gamer engaged heavily, and the amazing post-credit cutscene was a killer plot-twist (no spoilers for you) that can only be matched in intensity by the Usual Suspects. It’s no secret that Dragon Age: Inquisition was the best game of 2014, and has set a standard for everyone to follow.