The Problem with Release Day and Early Reviews - Feat. Super Mario Odyssey and Octopath Traveler.
With the release of Octopath Traveler coming up this Friday, July 13th, there will be a flood of reviews coming out from most gaming sites and channels shortly before, on release day, or shortly after release. Even though I have a growing backlog of games, I recently began adopting more of a completionist mindset when reviewing games. In this article, I want to share my opinion on why early reviews are useless and misleading.
In my previous review, I described many of the negative reviews for Nier: Automata was due to the reviewer not finishing the game, or not playing on a harder difficulty to utilize all the game had to offer. Another example of when optional content adds to the game is the Valkyrie battles in the new God of War, that provides more lore and connections to future content. Most people would say you shouldn't be reviewing a game that you haven't finished, but do you need to get a 100% before you can give an opinion? Of course, there are always exceptions. Maybe a game will offer an additional ending after completing everything the game has to offer that might add something significant. While another might just have you find collectibles that don't add anything to the story or gameplay.
In this article, I wanted to look at Super Mario Odyssey as an example. I couldn't praise the game enough, and without a doubt would give it a 10/10 score like many other reviews. I loved everything about the worlds, the soundtrack, the unique ability to control enemies or objects, and the overall charm the series is known for. The only thing I wasn't excited about was the forgetful Broodal rabbit characters that you encounter as bosses. I did get all 999 moons, special coins, and collectibles. I decided to do this without looking at any guides or videos about the game, and it took me over 60 hours to complete the game. While most people could beat the main story in 10-15 hours, I feel if you only did this bare minimum, you wouldn't be able to write a good review because of the simple fact that you haven't seen all of what the game has to offer. After beating the main story, each world needs to be revisited to retrieve the additional moons in new areas that are unlocked via new pipes. There are three to five times as much content then just seeing the credits roll the first time.
I'm not saying that you have to get 999 moons or always unlock everything to write a review, and need to show your achievements before having any credibility as a reviewer. For example, I didn't purchase all the outfits you could collect that would have taken me an additional 5+ hours. There are many moons, such as the ones you have to purchase from the shop or ones you simply need to ground pound a glowing spot that you won't remember half a day later. However, these parts of the game don't add anything to the story or gameplay, which in my mind can be skipped if it's just an empty time sink.
The difficulty is a tricky point, as many games will have achievements for beating the game at different difficulties, generally easy, medium, or hard. As this does impact the gameplay, I would give more credibility to reviewers who complete the game on the hardest difficulty. Imagine if a reviewer only played a game on the easiest difficulty and wrote a review on the game, bashing how easy and tedious the game was. That would be pretty obvious, but many reviewers don't bother to play through anything past normal difficulties. The main reason why the Dark Souls games were so popular, is because they were difficult and extremely challenging. A harder difficulty level gives the players the ability to utilize the tools that the game developers include, as well as your ability to learn and improve at the game.
Going back to Super Mario Odyssey, it's developed in a great way that isn't hard to find all the moons by yourself. And you would actually be doing yourself a disservice if you looked up how to find moons just say you got all of them. For example, I spent more than a whole day looking for 3-5 moons, one related to an art piece, another looking for a warp painting, and the most embarrassing is the one I didn't know you just had to change to 1st person perspective, which I never used during the entire game. This is why I don't prefer to do guides or walkthroughs of games because it spoils the experience for the players. However, its different for those who have no intention of playing the game at all.
How does this relate to Octopath Traveler you might ask? With the reviews coming out soon, just knowing how much time someone puts into the game will determine the reliability and credibility of their review. Because this game has the 8 different playable characters and looking to be a long game, there are going to be a flood of reviews that are going to be posted that haven't gotten through all or even a majority of the content before giving a final review. Imagine listening to a movie reviewer who walks out a third into the movie, returns only to see the ending and decides to write a review on it. This goes both ways for positive or negative reviews. Many sites now do mention how long they spent on the game, but that doesn't tell you how much content they covered. As a matter of fact, this is always going to happen, with sites and channels trying to get the first or early reviews to get more traffic to their site or channel.
Ultimately this attitude is only hurting themselves. Finding good game journalists is like a needle in a haystack, but like with any journalism once your credibility is tarnished it's hard to get it back. Unfortunately, this cycle keeps repeating as people have short memories and don't keep bigger outlets accountable. Just like how you vote with your money, your clicks are essentially money, and simply not returning to dishonest sites and supporting the ones that do live up to higher standards can make drastic changes in this industry.
I mentioned that reviews are always subjective, but we as consumers want to know if the game is good enough for us to spend our hard earned money on. I'm starting to take an approach on video games that I have been doing for movies. Which is try not to watch as many trailers or spoilers that ruin your experience of the medium. I've experienced that reading reviews on a game change your perception of the game and give you a bias even before you start playing. If you're taking this approach, you will run into some duds that you wish you hadn't purchased, but you will also discover just as many hidden gems you wouldn't have picked up otherwise.
I hope you all enjoyed this post, thanks for checking this out and hope it was helpful. Let me know in the comments below on what your opinions are on early reviews or any games that far exceeded your expectations after reading a review.