Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Most Disappointing Game

               The year 2016 was in itself one hell of a fight to reach the pinnacle of disappointment. Many of the titles that were supposed to rock the gaming foundations of this year turned out to be mediocre or riddled with problems that took away their best features. The most controversial game of the year was no doubt No Man’s Sky which promised a huge universe and delivered, but turned out to be a generic grinding game with many of its cool features being falsely advertised. This was the peak point of excitement and unrest when the internet drama went as far as death threats and DDOS attacks. But what I feel to the subject matter isn’t disappointment but rather disgust towards another attempt of taking advantage of a consumer’s society and of gamers’ dreams for interesting gaming concepts. The games that truly disappointed are those that, realistically speaking, had a much easier time to deliver on promises, following on a strong background and coming from studios that prompt higher expectations.
Foreshadowing the year’s problems, Rise of the Tomb Raider finally came to PC in February as a poorly optimized game with a weak narrative which doesn’t serve well its new and far more cinematic style.
Total War Warhammer lost much of the mechanics that define a Total War game in favor of more engaging battles, which was in tone with the universe. Instead it offered a bunch of streamlined campaigns that lacked the narrative elements of the universe and at the same time it was designed as another cow to milk by SEGA being fragmented in a bunch of unjustifiably expensive DLCs.
Dishonored 2 told a better story through world design rather than conventional narrative and failed its PC fanbase with a poorly optimized port that has issues even after several updates.
Yet, the state of these games wasn’t so upsetting, maybe because their overall package is an enjoyable if not a great gameplay experience. But there are two games that go to such great lengths to disappoint that they don’t have enough redeemable qualities despite not being terrible.
I’ve never been a Mafia fan, mostly because I don’t enjoy the mob setting, but over the years the series has raised some pretty high standards creating a legacy of well-paced narrative games with great gameplay undiminished in quality by an open world environment. So Mafia’s decline this year didn’t make me happy as it went to destroy this great legacy without challenging the other open world titles in a constructive way seeing that the industry desperately needs this right now to regulate an overrated trend. In all fairness, Mafia III is really good at the things it does right. The game has an impressive soundtrack composed of the 60s hits, an excellent voice work and great sound design. Everything is topped by a captivating narrative that gets diluted in a sea of repetitive mandatory missions that have the mindless grind feeling of an MMO. It didn’t help the game that it was released in a poor technical state, locked at 30fps, with irreparable bugs and severe performance problems despite being visually dated. In Mafia III the bad features severely outbalance the good ones leading to a disappointment feeling that’s hard to digest knowing it’s the continuation of an of excellent series.
Mafia III is flawed, but I had to leave it behind when thinking about the great potential that the latest game from Ubisoft Massive has shown. A little bit of survival combined with a marvelous looking post-apocalyptic setting and a cover shooter, The Division felt nothing like a Tom Clancy’s game, but it sure did look impressive. After two years of postpones the release unveiled a game in a severe crisis of identity. Playing it felt like the developers weren’t sure if they wanted to make a singleplayer game with coop, a survival game or a fully-fledged MMO, ending up as an unholy mix of all. It’s hard to defend a game that wants to be an MMO but doesn’t provide the proper support for its self-advertised genre. Launching without proper chat, trading or clan systems to bring people together while having a restrictive instancing and an ineffective anti-cheat system, the game fell behind at its own design. But even if these aspects are ignored, The Division doesn’t come off as a better game. The setting is a work of twisted art and the story is surprisingly good, but the gameplay is so shallow and uninspired that not even the pretty graphics can make up for its flaws. There isn’t a sense of character progression throughout the game, crippling the so called RPG elements, as the base restoration is nothing more than a poorly designed system to unlock abilities in the most uninspired way, leaving everything else to the grinding.
The Division’s primary focus is to cover shoot your way through bullet spongy enemies that ask for a great suspension of disbelief from the players as they grind gear with randomly generated stats for little to no purpose. In all fairness, in the months after release, The Division has seen the addition of new free content in the form of Incursions, daily missions and weapons, but there is still no end game to work for. The repeatable story missions with increased difficulty get old fast and the Incursions are not interesting enough to keep the PvE players entertained. So either if you like PvE or PvP what’s left to do is going to the Dark Zone. The zone that was described as a social experiment in gaming, doesn’t come to the toes of what DayZ had to offer before being stuck in the endless development loop. The meat of activities is still coming from the Season Pass with Undergound’s randomized dungeons and Survival’s combination of Battle Royale with PvP and survival elements.
               The Division is a bag of mixed features. Entertainment is a subjective matter, but for a game that’s supposed to offer dozens of hours of online gaming, The Division has little to offer when compared with most MMOs on the market. And while suffering from such crippling content problems it didn’t shy away from having a Season Pass with additional content. It’s not like I haven’t enjoyed the story, the world design and atmosphere a great deal. But looking at the big picture, The Division turned out to be a disappointment filling me with regret for the great gameplay opportunities that were partially if at all exploited.

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