If you’re anything like me, you’ll have noticed that there’s no fantasy game releases particularly grabbing your attention this year. Well, don’t worry, it’s not that you’re getting too old to get giddy over the idea of slaughtering fantasy monsters. It’s just that a number of circumstances have come together in a perfect storm of apathy, scuttling the good ship “giving a shit” and ensuring absolutely nothing is going to exite you in the realm of fantasy videogaming this year.
All the big releases come out half-cocked.
Total war: Attila and Assassin’s Creed: Noun are both in the unfortunate position where they’re follow ups for games that were clearly pushed out of the door before they were ready. It’s hard to ignore, especially since neither games’ developers have seen fit to increase their development time. In some ways feels insulting to put Rome 2 in the same boat as Assassin’s Creed, considering I couldn’t get Creed to work until long after I stopped giving a shit, but if that boat were present in Rome 2’s engine it’d be sailing through a mountain. There’s a serious lack of quality control lately, and when the first question reviews have to answer isn’t “Is the game good?” but rather “Is it finished?” it’s hard to justify any excitement. Lords of the Fallen suffered from this too, and while Bioware are always a little buggy, Inquisition was probably the most finished of the year’s big releases. And Bioware being held as an example of bug-free game development is the first part of a prophecy which ends with the sky opening up and shitting out demons.
Of course, I’ve no actual proof that the big names are going to come out unfinished, but in my defence it was a couple of thousand years before anyone could find proof that the sun would come up tomorrow. Back then we just had to go on the assumption that things would keep happening pretty much as they already were, and if this year’s been anything to go by, expect a lot of past-last-minute patches pushing their way through your Internet connection while the devs rush to finish the game they just sold you.
(I know the preferred term is “polish” but polish is something you do after you’re finished making everything work, it’s not what you do to keep the gears from eating each-other)
Nothing actually “new” announced yet this year.
There’s a general creative dearth in the industry at the moment. I’m not sure what it is about that fifth zero on a games budget that insists all creativity goes out the window, but fantasy games, especially the big budgeted ones, are becoming increasingly generic. When a new medieval fantasy game is announced, there’s only one more question you need to ask. “Orcs or zombies?”
Let’s take a quick look at the biggest games of the last year.
Dark Souls 2 had zombies and was a sequel. Lords of the Fallen had zombies and was a rip-off. Dragon Age’s darkspawn are zomborcs. Shadow of Mordor was orcs, (obviously) and a tie-in to a tie-in to a 70 year old book. Last year there were no new, big budget IP’s that weren’t sequels or re-hashes and, frankly, even the separate franchises are starting to look the same. Everyone likes Tolkien, I get that, but devs are starting to treat fantasy with the same imaginationless tedium that FPS’s suffer from, and there’s no reason for it. Admittedly, I can’t think of a pre-existing enemy that’s as satisfying to slaughter than orcs and zombies, but I don’t fucking need to. Fantasy means making shit up, and I’m struggling to think of one big game that came out last year or one that comes out this year that actually had an original element to it. Give me Rabbits riding wolves, or a roman empire of pan-dimensional squid. Give me fucking owlbears! Anything but orcs, zombies, or dickheads in amour.
Instead we get sequels upon sequels (Might and Magic Heroes VII, Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires, Total War: Attila), nostalgic cash-ins (Kings quest, Pillars of Eternity) and rip-offs (Shadow Realms is a clear rip-off of Fable: Legends system, and Hellraid started unlife as a reskin of the Dead Island’s clumsy combat system). Against all common sense, this is becoming an industry as keen on recycling ideas as movies are, and it’s to their detriment. There’s no good reason to get excited about a game which you already played, especially when the mark of a good remake is that it works and feels exactly as you remember.
Every mid-budget game is already available (unfinished)
I wasn’t always a cynical husk. Before I decided to ruin my own day and write this article, I tried my hardest to think of upcoming games that actually interest me, and to my surprise, there were a few. Massive Chalice, for example, just hit 0.86 and only needs a bunch more endgame content and some balancing to the randomly generated bloodlines before It gets pushed out the door. Mordheim: City of the Damned’s battle system seems competent, if a little meaningless without the warbands implemented and Armello’s in a interesting state, though it needs its multiplayer code fixing and more characters before it’s fit to be called finished.
The problem with these, of course, is that I played them before they’re done. Admittedly, this is a different kind of unfinished than I was complaining about earlier, because they’re advertised as such, but unfinished is unfinished, and nothing quashes my excitement faster than realising I’m playing a work in progress. I’ll hold my hands up here and say that yeah, I could just wait for these to come out, but in my defence I’ve the self-control of a bonobo monkey and, more importantly, excitement isn’t about making sane decisions. Now they just sit in my steam inventory, hovering about .5 hours while I wait for them to get finished, which was the exact fate that befell Lords of the Fallen.
I understand that this is my own fault, in some ways. I even get that some games are going to benefit from this process, and that this kind of play-testing would simply be unavailable to small studios without Early access (and the cash injection can’t hurt). Some of the games on early access are the reason I didn’t title this article “4 reasons there’s nothing good coming out this year”. Some of these games are going to be good, yeah. One or two of them might even be great. But there’s none that I just can’t wait to play, because if that were the case, I’d be playing them right now.
I’m not, because right now they’re not games, they’re parts of games. I’m sure some people find it interesting to watch them slowly coming together, just as there’s some people who like buying kit-cars, but for me the best time’s you have with a game is when all the pieces come together seamlessly and it stops being a collection of bits and becomes an experience. There’s nothing more likely to ruin that than having watched it assembled, however masterfully. Seeing something as a collection of bits basically ensures you can’t get properly excited about it, no matter how pleased you are with how it got put together.
Which is also the reason Frankenstein’s monster is yet to have a sexy reboot.
Indies have all the good ideas (you’ve never heard about)
There is, of course, another reason I couldn’t argue that nothing good is going to come out this year, and that’s because I have no way of knowing about the vast majority of things that will. While even fucking Wikipedia keeps a vague list of anticipated releases, roughly 80% of games are tiny indie projects whose biggest marketing opportunity is the few days they spend buried deep within the Steam Upcoming releases section before being cast into the increasing landslide of brand new titles nobody’s heard of. Admittedly, if a game’s both great and lucky (or notably-terrible and really lucky) the right people will hear about it and it’ll make its way onto the hallowed ground of “popular new releases”. If it doesn’t make that, it’s gone forever, forgotten by all by its creator and their disappointed significant others whenever the question of a “real job” emerges.
And that’s fucking ludicrous.
I mean, for naught but the sight of Heimdallr goes Ziggurat, Abyss Odyssey, Shovel Knight and Heroine’s Quest. Keeping track of new releases is basically a hobby of mine, and while I’m the first to admit I’m not very good at it, that’s partially because it’s impossible. Some unquestionably deserve their place on the pile, but at the same time a few are among the most interesting, exiting experiences of that year, and until you take the chance there’s no way of knowing. It’s a risk, and one you can’t weigh in advance because these things aren’t announced in advance, they just turn up one day, shiny with womb juice and asking for money. The funny thing is, these are the things you should probably get excited about, the little sparks of brilliance, but their absolute lack of exposure ensures you can’t until you’re already playing them, by which point it’s too late.
So, don’t worry. Good games are coming out this year. It’s just that nobody short of their creator knows when, or what they’ll look like when they do.