Games of 2020: Dropped the Ball?

If you can dodge a car, you can dodge a ball…

Dodgeball was a fucking weird movie.

I was intending to release my Top 10 games article this week, at least the first half, but I wanted to get the more negative side of things away first. Hopefully this will still be a illuminating read.

Now we’re onto more critical topics. While there have been a lot of great games released in 2020, there have been the games that could have done better. A lot better.

Unlike previous gaming rants I’ve done in the past where I’ve really torn into games, I’ll try not to do that this time. I also wouldn’t call these games bad by any means. In fact, some are pretty good, enjoyable and ambitious. However, all of the games I will be discussing today have had major problems, either in development, gameplay itself, their launch, or other factors. I’m going to try and be as honest and respectful as possible as well. With my new insight in the industry, and factoring in 2020’s pandemic for affecting a lot of development cycles, some slack should be given.

Still, this should be an entertaining article for many. These are games I’ve played this year which just missed the mark for me. Now, I’ll always say this is subjective (because every fucking opinion is!) and what may not work for me, may work for you. Hell, I enjoyed some of these games, and still do. They all deserve second chances, which is not like other games I’ve reviewed in the past. Looking at you, Anthem.

Before I start, I’ll say I have not played abominations such as the Outer Worlds Switch port or WarCraft III Reforged. So they are not on this list.

Mount and Blade II: Bannerlord

Oh, boy. Why don’t we kick off with one of the most notorious games of all time, let alone 2020.

Do you guys remember Mount and Blade: Warband? It was one of the best sandbox games ever made, with an addictive gameplay loop, incredible mod support and a structure that is hard to beat. Taleworlds took their time with this, but Warband is one hell of a success story. Years ago (I’m talking like 2011 time), Taleworlds Entertainment announced the development of the sequel, Bannerlord.

And we waited. And waited.

Years passed. Elections, economic crashes and war passed with a blink in the eye. Still nothing. Development videos came and went, with development moving like a sloth on crack. You can imagine what the player scene and fanbase were thinking. When is the game going to come out? Will it come out? Will this become the Winds of Winter of games, or Star Citizen?

Then we finally got the game…in Early Access in March 2020. And a £39.99 price tag. That is quite the price jump from Warband’s very fair price point, and for a small studio in alpha state? That’s a big balls play that was controversial from the beginning. I’ve always been fascinated by pricing in games, and what people view as acceptable. In a year of financial instability and worldwide chaos, money is even more important, so a £40 title by a developer with a reputation for slow development and barren launches was always going to be difficult to sell.

I do love the shield wall.

I’m not criticizing them too much on this, as I like the developer and I enjoy Mount and Blade. Warband is one of my favourite games of all time. There’s no other game like it on the market. With the first giant worldwide lockdown. Taleworlds did a good thing and released Bannerlord a week early, something people rarely do. Furthermore, it got a chunky 20% discount at launch. So I picked it up and began playing.

Let’s start off with the good. It’s Mount and Blade just like I remember it. The combat is fun and meaty, and roaming around building an army from scratch is great. The gameplay loop, so important in an endless sandbox RPG like this, or any game for that matter, is still solid, and I had fun for the first 20-25 hours. Warband was never a looker as graphics went (It makes Morrowind and Oblivion look pretty), so Bannerlord’s graphical improvements were a delight. It does look rather gorgeous at times, and the cities look good, even in their placeholder, rudimentary state.

And this is where the bad begins. It’s just like Warband, and that’s where the problems begin. I expected more progress in the game after so many years, you know? Even in 2020, I feel they released it in a half-baked state. Sure, it’s playable and fun, but half the systems barely worked, the kingdom management and economy is broken, and everything just feels a bit off. It’s also quite the demanding title with it’s fair share of bugs and glitches. While things are improved over Warband (and thank christ for that) such as inventory management, a family dynasty with birth/death, more flexible companions and an enhanced sense of progression, the story is barely worth mentioning, the AI is a complete mess and very few battle maps. The towns and villages are very repetitive, though they have been open about all this; many things are in placeholder, and will be updated…

I have my concerns about Bannerlord. After so many years in development for it to be like this, I have to admit I’m a little worried, and as we step into the end of 2020, it doesn’t feel like there’s been much progress. Sure, bug fixes and perks have been added, with improved systems, but it makes me wonder if they have the ability to pull things off.

Despite this, there are some lights at the end of the dark tunnel. Full mod support finally got released not long ago, which will go a long way to helping, and while I’ll be a little mocking of the games slow development, I can’t fault their communication and desire. I began Bannerlord full of praise back in April, but like a messy kebab from a questionable takeaway, the shits began hours later. Still, I can’t deny the game is fun and satisfying, if you’re prepared to handle a perfect example of controversial early access development. Let’s see how it goes before we pass judgment.

Iron Harvest

Oh, Iron Harvest, what you could have been.

A kind word of advice to anyone who wants to develop a game. If you’re going to charge close to AAA price of £45 odd, at least make sure:

1) Your launch goes as smooth as possible and

2) Make sure you keep your promises?

Iron Harvest failed both of these, so no wonder the backlash was so strong.

People get very testy over video game prices, and if people think it’s too high for what it is, they will complain about it. Iron Harvest at its core has a stunning art piece with really strong writing, especially for a strategy game. There should be more strategy games with writing as solid as this. However, the launch was a real mess. Not only was the game buggy, but it launched with only a portion of the multiplayer maps available. That, combined with iffy AI interactions make for a difficult first impression. Yes, I know they have a roadmap and plan on changing this, and yes, it has improved significantly since its launch, but this should not be okay.

I try, as my new experience in the gaming industry, to be more sympathetic towards devs. And I really am for these guys. Clearly, something was happening behind the scenes to rush its launch, which must be frustrating. I can’t help but wonder had they charged a more reasonable price for a game like this, reception would have been a bit more positive.

Unlike every other game on this list, I got stopped playing Iron Harvest by technical issues. I was going into the campaign, and I’ll say it’s a pretty nice experience. The mechs are cool and the worldbuilding is excellent, just probably needed a few more months in the cooker. It’s quite a good campaign, and I really feel like it could have been something I would have liked. Imagine my horror when my system revved up like a rocket, and BOOM! Blue Screen of Death. No other game or application gave me it, it was just something in this game.

I tried again, same thing. Nothing I did could get past the issue, so I unfortunately had to give up on the game around a third into the campaign. It’s a real shame, because the campaign and the game itself was starting to grow on me. I enjoyed the characters and the story, and I was beginning to get to grips with it all. There’s still deep problems with Iron Harvest, such as shallow core gameplay, a buggy and at times broken AI, more bugs which make it easy to exploit, and a multiplayer that is shallow at best, and nearly unplayable at worst.

Still, there’s hope. The developers are working hard to repair the mistakes, and the game might have a bright future with their solid communication and motivation. I’m just sad I got stopped by technical problems. It really could have been something. Still, even if I didn’t get the computer screwups, I would still stick Iron Harvest in this list. It’s just got too many issues for me, from a game which needed everything to be perfect at launch. Shame, because the campaign was shaping up to be something good.

The Waylanders

Out of all the games on this list, I feel the most regret putting this game here, because in some regards it doesn’t deserve it. However, things about the Waylander’s launch state irked me enough to put it on here.

I’ll start by saying I think it has a bright future. Waylanders is an Early Access title that’s a spiritual successor to the popular Dragon Age franchise, even developed by a bunch of talent’s who worked on Dragon Age, Mass Effect and Pillars of Eternity. Launching in June 2020, it presented an important dilemma in game development: when is it too soon to launch a title?

Because Waylanders was not a game at launch. Pre-alpha is calling it generous. It was a few hours content if that, buggy and broken at times, built on the back of something that promised far more. This is not how a game should have launched. There’s the makings of an excellent title in here. The characters are interesting, the dialogue is well written and there’s the embryo of a really good story inside.

Some of the characters are really fucking cool.

The problem is you barely get any chance to see it. There’s missing content and cutscenes everywhere in the beginning of the game, and when you’re trying to see if it’s worth continuing, it makes for an awful first impression. I streamed my first thoughts live on Twitch, and I was laughing throughout at the experience, but it made for an uncomfortable opening – not the kind of game that made you want to keep trying. There’s also all the bugs and glitches, but eh. This I’m more forgiving of. The game is pre-alpha and they were very open in discussing that. I knew what I was getting into. For the Kickstarters, it must have been frustrating to see it launch it the state it was.

They’re also asking a rather steep £29.99 for this. Now, I’m of the belief that if you’re selling an alpha state, your price point should reflect that and launch at least a bit cheaper. There’s been several big early access releases that launched too expensive for me, like Waylanders, Bannerlord and Baldurs Gate III (the latter is a special case, but it suffers from the same issues, if not more so for its AAA price tag). Right now, Waylanders is not worth its current price point, not even close. And it makes me sad to say that, because I think of all the games I’m talking about today, it has the highest potential. There’s some great worldbuilding in here with mythology rarely seen in games, and the characters were pretty good.

World is a bit…barren.

I just feel they released it too soon. It’s seen significant patches and a lot more content, so it’s in a better state than it was. I’d just wished it was like this at launch.

Windbound

Another game that launched too soon in my eyes. I had high hopes for this one, I really did. An open world style Zelda survival game with riding boats? I liked the look of it, at least in the beginning.

And then I played it. And oof. It’s really a ‘jack of all trades, master of nothing’ kind of game. By that, I mean it’s trying to be several different games, and doesn’t do a great job at any of them. There’s survival, crafting, open world, seafaring…it does do a lot.

Now, I’ll start by saying it has some nice qualities. It’s fairly relaxing, the graphics are cute and quaint, and the music is nice to listen to. While the story isn’t anything very exciting, its serviceable and does its job. The problem for me was how the mechanics played out. The survival mechanics had little place in a game like this, and I found myself having to constantly watch my hunger levels. The combat was also simplistic and not interesting, with basic enemies that weren’t dynamic. I never found myself challenged by the combat, and fighting just felt like a slog.

The biggest problem for me was the game’s perceived length. It was advertised at 40 hours, but no way in fuck is that the case. Sure, if it lasts longer because of the crafting, exploration and side quests than fair enough, but they barely felt worth doing for me. The main quest is more like 10-12 hours max if you take your time. A lot of people felt it was badly advertised, which I agree with in a way. It doesn’t know what game it wants to be, and in such spreads itself too thin across too many genres, most in an over saturated market, and the quality suffers. It’s still a chill game and has potential, and the developer has been making progress in fixing these issues, including an endless mode that should add to the content.

Overall, not bad, but it was a disappointing release for me. I think there’s enough to make it worthwhile, as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition

A real shame, because Age of Empires II’s remaster was pretty good.

Sure, its a bit buggy, but it does a lot of things well, and it’s a joy to play. So when they announced the AOE3 remaster, I was intrigued. Would it live up to expectations? AOE3 is probably the ugly duckling of the Age of Empires scene, overshadowed by the likes of its predecessor and the excellent Age of Mythology. (We do not talk about Tales of the Dragon.) Despite the tough competition, it was still a good game with some fascinating mechanics, and decent campaigns, though I think they were outclassed by its rivals.

This remaster…had some big launch issues, and it was a real disappointment how botched it was. I’m talking about the usual broken AI, graphical glitches and bugs, muddy graphics despite the advertised graphical upgrade, a general lack of improvement over the original game (a big comedown as opposed to Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition), memory leaks and much more.

There were also some concerns by people over historical revisionism with the game. Some stuff, like changing the Sionx and Iroqois to their preferred names, feels perfectly fine, but I did find some concern over them trying to get rid of colonialism in a game exactly about that. It’s a dark time in world history, and I understand what they wanted to do in such political times. In this case however, it felt more like trying to gloss over that period of history completely…and that in my mind is a bit of an error. I completely understand why they felt they had to do it, but it has a sour taste on the mouth.

This, alongside broken multiplayer and unbalanced new factions to play, makes this remaster another example of something that was a bit rushed out the gate. Even so, there’s still time to fix things, and unlike other games (Cough, XIII Remastered) there’s a place for this game. Disappointing to see it being a bit broken though.

Conclusion

There were a few other games I could have placed here, but five was a nice number. Join me soon, as I reveal the first half of my Top 10 games of 2020!

2 thoughts on “Games of 2020: Dropped the Ball?

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