Sometimes the hardest questions are the ones that seem the simplest. No doubt many, perhaps even most, viewers read the question and immediately thought “after beating it.” It makes sense, as that would be the end point, but games are not as simple as other mediums.
Unlike books, television, movies and even music, they all have a definitive end point and a universal experience. You might not get all the subtext in Twin Peaks or understand the subtle points in Adventure Time, but run time, pictures shown, dialogue stated and so forth are always the same. What makes games different is a simple change, such as difficulty, can vastly change the experience.
Beating Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight on insane made me realize how imbalanced the game is. Certain abilities unlocked by beating a boss without getting hit were powerful enough to turn the hardest mode into the easiest. On the opposite end, finishing all the raid challenges in Destiny made me better appreciate the raids, as they added a lot, even if they sound simple on paper.
Despite difficulty, exploration and things offering a different experience can impact views, the real question is knowing where the end point is. Going back to the assumption most view it as completing the game, many games have end points well beyond the story, some of which are not even feasible to review.
A good example of this is Destiny. It’s no secret that I enjoy Destiny, as I’ve completed every task that transfers to Destiny 2 prior to them being announced, though I’ve also been highly critical of it. While all of my reviews were written upon completion of the raid, or in the case of House of Wolves Skolas and I believe going flawless in Trials (I went flawless the first weekend regardless), they would’ve been completely different if I wrote about my experience following the story.
This holds true for a lot of other games too. What made me fall in love with Vanquish wasn’t the story, but the extremely difficult tactical challenges, something that also holds true for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. The difficulty of those tasks forced me to learn the mechanics and in the process, made the games strong points stand out. While it likely wouldn’t have hurt Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, I don’t think I would’ve ever recommended Vanquish to anyone without playing those missions.
On the opposite end there are games like Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku!. Playing though the story and even the optional EX stages simply highlighted the flaws. Traps are annoying, certain enemies are really powerful, RNG is frustrating, but all these things can be overcame by grinding. By obtaining certain skills, locating specific items and changing your build, it can actually be a lot of fun. But, how many people are willing to invest 30+ hours just to get to the fun part? And, even if it gets better after a bunch of work, does that take away from the terrible first impression?
Sometimes, playing a game for too long causes it to overstay its welcome. This is a problem I and many other players experienced with LawBreakers. On our road to level 50, a task that takes about 300 matches to complete, issues like terrible teammates, bad matchmaking, long queue times and more turned a game many of us enjoyed, to a miserable race to get the platinum.
Needless to say, a lot of these are extreme examples. Many games don’t have elaborate post game modes or even change that much throughout the journey. Titles like Dynasty Warriors, Rabi-Ribi, Valkyria Revolution and more just add content to expand the basic experience. This isn’t a bad thing, just that many of these games don’t have a moment where it clicks or becomes something better.
In many cases the repetition can make for a negative bias. One of the biggest flaws with Valkyria Revolution is that it starts off okay, but quickly becomes one of the worst games of 2017, with one of the most disappointing conclusions I’ve seen.
Another interesting point I’ve seen some users raise is that it’s wrong to review games with online components prior to a real test. It’s certainly an interesting point, just because a title can run fine with a handful of players online, that doesn’t mean it will have a successful launch. There are many examples of games underestimating demand and having rampant crashes, frustrated users and other negative experiences.
What I find fascinating about this point is that it often times falls for the same problem they’re trying to prevent. Reviewing these titles prior to release is a snapshot of the game working at somewhat optimal conditions, where as reviewing the launch is a snapshot of it under the worst conditions. Often times the problems get corrected fairly quickly, making any impression of the server issues irrelevant by a couple of days, especially since places like Reddit and outlets will report issues, but still an interesting stance.
In the end, it can be difficult to gauge when the right time to call it is. Overstaying your welcome can result in otherwise good games getting a worse score and leaving too soon can make you oblivious to the problems, something that has been an ongoing issue for Fortnite. With so many variables, skill levels and even demographics, it can be hard to set a definitive end point, but any recommendation, be it good or bad, should be based off as much of the title as possible.