When should a massively multiplayer game be reviewed? I’ve found myself having this discussion recently with a few friends with several of those friends in the camp of “not until you’ve done everything”. The recent First Impressions of Elder Scrolls Online over on Rock, Paper, Shotgun sparked the debate because these friends, whom happen to love Elder Scrolls Online, disagreed with the process of being so critical of a product when only 20 or so hours had been played.
I’m a little bit torn when it comes to reviewing a massively multiplayer game because I can fully understand the annoyance from a games player base if they know. from the offset. that an individual praising or slating the product hasn’t seen it to its conclusion. Unlike an offline single player game, there isn’t necessarily an end to an MMOG unless we choose to set down our own personal marker. Whether it’s reaching the level cap, or completing every dungeon or playing a minimum of X hours across each of the areas the game offers, there’s no right or wrong here.
When it comes to single player games, during the times I’ve reviewed them, I’ve never reviewed one without finishing it first (unless it’s an outright disaster). That isn’t to say though that I couldn’t have. Whether it’s offline or online and as an individual who’s been playing videogames since I was four years old, I tend to get a feel for a games quality several hours into a product. There have been some I instantly couldn’t continue to play due to one reason or another (Bioshock Infinite being the latest and that's a story for another time) and some I’ve continued to pursue, despite many flaws, because something has caught my attention (such as Elder Scrolls Online).
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I wouldn’t suggest that my opinion during these early moments is always right and I’ve been somewhat wrong about Elder Scrolls Online. While I still think its a poor product and has a list of problems as long as my arm, the Alliance versus Alliance battles have been enough for me to overlook the issues (admittedly my patience is wearing thin). The way I’ve always approached an MMOG is to establish whether or not the core components of the game I’m playing are likely to change, be improved or altered entirely in favour of something better.
In the case of Elder Scrolls Online, flaws such as poor animations, stiff combat, a lack of an auction house, phasing nightmares, a myriad of bugs and disappearing items or quest givers isn’t a good start for any game and if these problems persist after 20 hours (they have for me) I feel well within my rights to complain about them. No I might not have reached level 50 and I might not have played all that the game has to offer, but in this instance, I wouldn’t need to. These issues are affecting my enjoyment of the game now and are fundamental flaws in a AAA product. While some of the problems will be fixed with time, no amount of extra hours played is going to rectify these deep rooted design decisions. At that point I feel well within my rights to utilise that information whether or not the readership agrees: I am afterall only attempting to point out facts or provide an opinion on the structure or inner workings of a product.
What I think is important in massively multiplayer games is a willingness to be open, to state what you have and haven’t done in the game, while being willing to fully detail as to why you do or don’t like something (as any competent reviewer should do) but also be willing to go back to a product after a period of time. There’s little value as the reader simply stating “Well that’s bullshit!” when you are, inevitably, arguing over an opinion and unless you’re an entirely neutral party, it’s often a case of preaching to the converted. As one example, I would have reviewed the likes of Guild Wars 2 well into the 90’s at launch (where colleagues would have reviewed it lower) but would place it somewhere around the mid to low 80’s now that the game has bedded in and the end games content and focus is now more apparent.
Although the Elder Scrolls Online review likely won’t fall into my lap, I have to say that I agree entirely with the First Impressions provided by Rock, Paper, Shotgun and although it’s clear that Brendan Caldwell hasn’t sunk a huge amount of hours into the product, that doesn’t mean his opinions of the game can be dismissed when those opinions can’t be affected by further hands on time.
When do you think an MMOG should be reviewed? Do you agree with early first impressions? Do you think they're fair? Let us know!