Early last week, Bethesda announced it would no longer provide reviewers with copies of its games until 24 hours before the title’s respective launch. Though it’s entirely within its right to do as it pleases with its games, the implications for players are paramount and raises question over why the need for change not just from the publisher, but others in the industry.
In the blog post, Bethesda references smash hit Doom from earlier this year, which took everyone by surprise considering review copies were only sent out the day before launch. Though there’s never been a proven correlation between a game’s quality and how long critics get to spend with a game for review, it’s always been believed that the later a developer leaves it, they’ve got something to hide. This is certainly not the case, as Doom so graciously proved. In that sense, Bethesda has proven that when they hand titles over to critics, is no indication of the quality. Skyrim: Special Edition last week only went on to further prove this point. However, the change in stance should be cause for concern.
After all, giving critics a day to play the upcoming Dishonored 2 before release, or any title for that matter, and them being able to have completed it, gathered their thoughts, and penned a critical review before consumers are able to purchase the game is nigh-impossible. As a result, the biggest fans of these titles are essentially asked to go in blind if they want to play the game on day one. It’s not an issue that’s going to affect everyone, but considering the significant role reviews play as an indicator of quality, be it one site or personality you relate to, or the general Metacritic consensus, it will leave a portion of players in the dark.
In defense of this change, Bethesda notes that “we want everyone, including those in the media, to experience our games at the same time,” before noting at the end of the post that Dishonored 2 is due to release globally on Nov. 11. Yet, for those dedicated fans who put a preorder down, Dishonored 2 is available one day early. Early access is nothing new as a preorder incentive, with many titles this year already using it in one form or another. However, it is the first in which early access will get you the game the same day as critics in the industry.
For the likes of Battlefield 1, FIFA 17, and Gears of War 4, all of these titles touted early access for those who preordered limited editions, yet these early access periods still came after reviews were let out into the wild of the internet, albeit a very short while after. This still gave players the opportunity to read reviews, take the opinion into account, and then preorder to get early access if they chose to. Dishonored 2, however, offers dedicated fans the opportunity to get a head start on the average player because they put their cash down without having heard a single opinion from a critic. In our eyes, that’s not having everyone experience something at the same time, but enticing the most dedicated fans into jumping into an anticipated title blind.
It’s important to note, however, that Bethesda acknowledges the importance of reviews both for themselves and for their players in the blog post. The post mentions that those who want to wait for reviews absolutely should. This is something we’d implore you to do, also. Though it’s incredibly tempting to grab a game as soon as it comes out, it can also be disappointing and frustrating to find a game isn’t as you expected after you’ve put your money down. As developers and publishers are well within their rights to do as they wish with their titles, consumers are in a likewise position to pick up a game when it’s right for them.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t go ahead and preorder titles you personally can’t wait for, or if you’re a fan of the series, but more of a reminder of what happened earlier this year with No Man’s Sky. Possibly the most ambitious and one of the most hyped games in recent years, review copies were sent to reviewers the day before its US release date. Considering the sheer scale and the overwhelming hype behind it, a majority of players bought the title, aware that a majority of reviews wouldn’t be live by release date. What resulted was one of the biggest disappointments and backlashes against a developer in recent years. We’re not saying that this will happen, but just as Doom proved the theory wrong, No Man’s Sky reinforced it and Hello Games’ reputation among fans suffered dearly as a result.
Those reviews that did surface shortly after the release did not accurately reflect the entirety of the experience in No Man’s Sky, but impressions of their opening hours. Unfortunately, one of No Man’s Sky’s biggest issues was its highly repetitive gameplay cycle that was only really exposed after a significant chunk of time was poured into the game. Mafia III sought a similar fate just last month with 2K refusing requests for pre-release copies. With a lack of reviews and opinions anywhere, the game left many players underwhelmed following the hype. In that regard, despite how promising a game looks in promotional materials, it can never be deemed a success until it’s been played.
The press, regardless of who your preferred site or personality is, will always have the best interests of both developers and readers at heart. Providing an honest, and constructive critique of a title not only benefits buyers – allowing them to make the purchase or not based on a fair review – but it also praises and/or highlights gameplay elements or mechanics that were great or could be improved upon as feedback to the development team. In doing so, a review is a tool to not only help advise the consumer but help steer developers and the industry as a whole into a consistent high quality that everyone benefits from. And the more time and support developers provide reviewers, the more useful they can be to all parties involved.