This year, some things were unexpectedly good. But a lot of things sucked, too. Let’s put all those sucky things into a big list.
As we do every year at Kotaku, it’s time to take a look back on the highs and lows of the last 12 months. Today, we’ll focus on the lows. (See: the biggest disappointments of 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.) We posted the best surprises or 2017 yesterday, so now it’s time for sadness! Unexpected dismay! Busted, buggy games!
With input from the rest of Kotaku’s staff, here are the biggest video game disappointments of 2017.
In retrospect, it probably should’ve been a warning sign that, in the months leading up to Mass Effect Andromeda, so many of us kept forgetting there was a new Mass Effect game coming out. When it finally did come out, Andromeda was a let-down. A well intentioned game with an interesting narrative setup, it appeared to have been rushed through development because, as it turned out, it was indeed rushed through development. Bugs and weird animations can be smoothed out in a patch. Half-baked storytelling and dull, filler missions are harder to fix, particularly when the studio responsible for the game is all but closed, there’s no single-player DLC coming, and the Mass Effect series itself has been put on ice for the time being.
The Switch is a nifty console, and it had a hell of a first year overall. It also launched with a stripped-down operating system not just lacking Nintendo’s trademark charm; it’s also lacking crucial features. Most egregious of those is the fact that nine months later you still can’t backup your saves, and breaking your Switch still means you might lose all your progress. But there’s also the lack of any sort of Virtual Console, or the fact that online chat runs through a phone app. Nintendo’s new console is easy to like, but it’d be even easier to like if it wasn’t still missing such basic stuff.
You know what people don’t like? Being constantly tempted to pay extra in a game they just paid full price for. You know what they really don’t like? Being tempted to pay extra for a randomized loot box in a game they just paid full price for. You know what they really, really don’t like? Being tempted to pay extra for a randomized loot box that gives competitive advantages in a multiplayer game they just paid for. You know what they really, really, really… okay, you get it. Fall of 2017 was when loot box madness took over the world of video games. Each month there was a new controversy, be it over NBA2K18, Shadow of War, Destiny 2 or of course, Star Wars: Battlefront II. Here’s a wild idea: If video game publishers need to find new ways to make extra money off of their customers, they should probably figure out a way to do it that doesn’t use psychological casino tricks to exploit the people most excited about their games.
Last year, the PS4 Pro failed to set our eyeballs on fire with its promise of higher-resolution HDR gaming. This year, Microsoft’s overhyped Xbox One X showed up with four stables of additional horsepower and, yet again, failed to blow us away. Sure, a 4K HDR TV looks better than a 1080p TV. But it’s nothing like the leap from standard definition to HD screens 10 years ago. Meanwhile the Nintendo Switch had one of the best years a console’s ever had, all while running games at 720p in handheld mode and occasionally sub-1080p docked. For all the noisy hype leading up to their release, both the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X already feel much like 4K TVs themselves: just something to get when the good-enough thing you already have breaks and/or it’s on sale. Whee.
When Nintendo first announced that it was going to be releasing phone games, we were optimistic. Mario Run was pretty fun, and it was easy to get excited at the idea of playing Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem on our phones. Then Fire Emblem Heroes came out, and it was a slot-machine gacha game that was casually fun (and certainly addictive), but it wasn’t quite Fire Emblem. After that came Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, and we found ourselves mildly flummoxed yet again. It looked like Animal Crossing, at times it played like Animal Crossing, but it just wasn’t Animal Crossing. Maybe it’s the microtransactions, maybe it’s the touch controls, probably it’s some combination of those things and a bunch of other stuff. Whatever the reason, Nintendo games still just don’t feel right on mobile.
Microsoft really biffed it this year when it came to major Xbox/Windows-only releases. We got Halo Wars 2 and Forza 7 while the beleaguered Crackdown 3 left a void in the standard fall Gears/Halo/big-exclusive slot. And they canceled Scalebound outright. It’s just hard to get excited about a Microsoft gaming system like the new Xbox One X when, a couple exceptions aside, Microsoft seems incapable of supporting it with platform-exclusive games.
It’s easy to blame Bad Guy EA for shutting Dead Space studio Visceral Games and cancelling their in-development single-player Star Wars game. But once you’ve read the full story, a more nuanced tale unfolds. If “Ragtag” wasn’t exactly doomed from the start, it was certainly doomed from pretty early on. That was for a variety of reasons, which makes it hard to say how things could have worked out differently. But none of that makes it any less disappointing that we’ll never get to play an Amy Hennig-directed “Star Wars Uncharted” game about a space heist gone wrong. Speaking of the Star Wars video game curse...
...yeah, Battlefront II. EA, DICE, and EA’s new Motive studio had a clear mandate after 2015’s popular but flawed return to the massive multiplayer battles of Battlefront. EA announced the sequel would have a single-player story, and that there would be no season pass: instead players would get new maps and other stuff for free throughout the game’s lifespan. There was a catch, of course, and that catch wound up tarnishing the game’s legacy for all time. Battlefront II’s onerous loot box system infuriated gamers across the internet, to the point that aggrieved fan feedback prompted EA to temporarily remove all microtransactions from their game. It’s still not clear what that’ll look like when it returns, and until it does, it’ll hang over Battlefront II like a lightsaber of Damocles. The game may be fun enough in the short term, but the sour taste of its initial design lingers.
When Kotaku’s Jason Schreier announced that there would be an audiobook version of his hit game-dev-behind-the-scenes paperback Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, it seemed only natural that Mike Fahey, Kotaku’s resident honey-voiced baritone, would be the one to read it. Unfortunately, Jason decided to give the gig to Ray “Prince Noctis” Chase, robbing Fahey of some moonlighting VO work and robbing the world of the chance to hear stories of game development read in Mike’s sweet, soothing voice.
Remember when YouTube megastar PewDiePie made a messed up joke about killing Jews, got dropped by both Disney and from YouTube’s premium service as a result, apologized for it while also starting a blood feud with the Wall Street Journal, swore off making nazi jokes, went ahead and called someone a “nigger” on a stream, then apologized for that? Or when fellow megastar JonTron said some extremely whack stuff about race and immigration, then tried to do damage control, got dropped from a game he’d been cast in and lost a bunch of fans? And how the “adpocalypse” continued throughout all that, with skittish advertisers and confusing demonetization leading less famous YouTubers to run around yelling about how the money was drying up? Yeah, all of that happened this year. Remember 2016? We were so young then. We were so beautiful.
Marvel Heroes never really reached the potential that the “Marvel Diablo” elevator pitch promised, but that doesn’t mean it deserved to go out like it did. Plenty of people still really liked the game, and after its port to consoles earlier this year, some had even recently made substantial in-game purchases. But one day in November, Disney ended their relationship with Marvel Heroes studio Gazillion Entertainment, effectively killing the game. It was also the end for Gazillion itself, as the studio laid off its entire staff on Thanksgiving Eve. Since then we learned that Gazillion had been having trouble for a while, which which is why employees received no PTO or unpaid vacation time after they lost their jobs. Just a mess from top to bottom.
Nintendo has never had the easiest relationship with YouTubers and streamers who like to play their games, and it didn’t get any easier in 2017. In September, it announced that YouTubers who signed up for the ad-revenue sharing Nintendo Creators program would no longer be allowed to stream Nintendo games through YouTube Live. It’s yet another in a string of Nintendo’s moves against streamers and Let’s Players, and a bummer for those of us who like watching people play Nintendo games.
The #MeToo movement didn’t just implicate people like Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Louis C.K., like a billion other dudes, and all the people who’ve enabled them over the years; it spilled over into the world of video games more than once, as well. Given how long a lot of this stuff has remained tucked out of sight, it’s doubtful we’ve seen the last high-profile video game personality outed as a secret serial creeper, predator, boundary-pusher, assaulter, harasser, or “pull my dick out in front of women to see if I can get away with it”-er. It nevertheless remains difficult, for myriad understandable reasons, for victims to come forward, leaving some instances undiscussed, unreported or just left left inconclusively vague.
From its September debut until now, Destiny 2 has managed some sort of quantum trick: it’s simultaneously superior to its predecessor in a hundred obvious and subtle ways, while also repeating almost every one of the first game’s launch-year failings, sometimes to the letter. It’s understandable that Bungie would want to cut away the many bandage-like auxiliary systems they added to Destiny over three years. They’d want to do that in order to launch a game with a sturdier foundation, something they can build on in new and exciting ways over the years to come. It’s less understandable why they would still fail to communicate with their players to the degree they have, or why the game would still hide crucial systems and calculations, forcing players to figure out for themselves that the XP system is invisibly throttling them, or a new exotic buff item isn’t working as intended.
Personally speaking, I like Destiny 2. I appreciate the numerous ways Bungie has managed to improve the game over the last few weeks. Despite a rough end of fall, I’m still optimistic that it’ll become a better and better game over the months and years to come. But it’s remarkable how closely the sequel’s meta-narrative has matched the narrative of the first game, up to and including the disappointing winter expansion and Bungie’s continual unforced communication errors. It was exhausting the first time around, and it’s incalculably more so to do it all over again.
The video in this tweet says it all:
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could play PS4 games with your friends on Xbox One and PC? Sure would be! Too bad it’d be really hard and technical to get that working, and it’s probably impossible because of… uh… like, the different processors those consoles use, or whatever. Wait, you say that the makers of Fortnite flipped a switch that temporarily allowed PS4 owners to play with Xbox owners and then turned it off, saying it was an accident? Well, shit. There goes any reason I had not to be super bummed that all games don’t have cross-play all the time.
Another year, another chance for me to not finish Suikoden II. Each year I put this game off, it will make it all the sweeter when I finally do finish it and therefore can’t include it on our yearly disappointments list. Hey, at least I played some of the game’s first act when Jason and I streamed back in August. It’s a start.
After Shadow of Mordor, everyone was so high on the Nemesis system. Enemies with personalities! Colorful rivalries that persisted throughout the game! We all kept wondering what other games might borrow the idea for their own ends. Very few did, but it still seemed likely that Monolith, the studio that built the system in the first place, would do something spectacular with their sequel. Unfortunately, while Shadow of War was enjoyable at times, it was also exceedingly messy. It was an ugly game overflowing with confusing systems, noisy peripheral junk, and an endless endgame grind that mostly just distracted from the adversarial core that made the Nemesis system so cool to begin with.
Some might argue that the quality of the Super Mario Cereal is beside the point. It is enough that it is Super Mario Cereal, particularly given that it functions as an Amiibo and unlocks stuff in the game. Nuts to that, I say. Cereal is supposed to be delicious, and Super Mario Cereal was decidedly not delicious. It was basically just knock-off Lucky Charms. Mario deserved better.
And that’s it for the biggest, worst disappointments of the year. Share your own disappointments in the comments, and together we can let the healing begin. And if you’re feeling bummed out, go read our Best Surprises list to remind yourself that despite all the bad stuff that went down, 2017 was honestly a pretty incredible year for video games.