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The Biggest Video Game Disappointments Of 2019

Illustration for article titled The Biggest Video Game Disappointments Of 2019
Year In ReviewYear In ReviewWe look back at the highs, lows, surprises, and standouts in and around video games this year.

We had such high hopes for 2019, and then it happened. Sure, there was good stuff, but there were some downers, and that’s what we’re talking about today.

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Oh, the disappointments the year brought! There was that glitchy Red Dead Redemption 2 launch on PC, Ubisoft’s release of a new take on Ghost Recon that just about nobody wanted, and Square Enix’s nearly year-long inability to level with Tomb Raider fans that “coming soon” actually meant “coming never.”

Nintendo’s lawyers dismayed us yet again, as they stomped on more fan projects and archives of music that is otherwise hard to access.

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Sometimes disappointment is good. Game delays are a bummer, but these days there’s more of a shared sense in the gaming community that delayed games wind up being better games and just might allow developers better work-life balance, though there’s also the risk that a delay will just mean an even longer period of crunch. Sometimes a game you might be excited about is delayed until who-knows-when, but, hey, at least it means Retro Studios is now working on it.

Sexism, racism, harassment and abuse are still widespread in gaming communities and still a severe problem in the industry, though more and more of it is getting called out. That must continue. Fewer publisher AMAs on hateful forums would be good, too. Also, better data security from E3’s organizers, please.

As wonderful as gaming can be, there are still problems and plenty of dashed hopes. It isn’t all bad, but, we are indeed here to lament things, and what follows are 2019’s signature gaming disappointments, some more grave than others and one that for some reason doesn’t involve video games.

Anthem Is A Wreck

Anthem seemed promising when it was announced in 2017. BioWare, a studio known for great storytelling, would bring its talents to bear on a genre where that sort of thing is rarely prioritized. The trailers and gameplay demos were impressive, showing players piloting around a lush, detailed world in dazzling mech suits. The actual game was something else entirely: broken, incomplete, and forgettable. It felt like Mass Effect: Andromeda all over again. Anthem launched early for players who paid a premium, but in reality it felt more like playing a game in Early Access. A report by Kotaku revealed that Anthem’s development was marred by unwieldy tools, creative indecision, and long crunch hours. While working to fix bugs and add features that should have been in the game from the beginning, BioWare ended up missing dates for releasing additional content. In September, the studio announced it was abandoning its previous roadmap for updates altogether, and has since gotten to work on a much more thorough overhaul of the entire game. In a letter to players apologizing for the game’s state at launch, studio head Casey Hudson said, “We’re excited to prove that with Anthem, the best is yet to come.” Nearly a year later, fans are still waiting for that to become true. — Ethan Gach

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The Mario & Luigi Team Goes Bankrupt

Since 2003, Tokyo game studio Alphadream had been turning out fun, funny role-playing games starring Mario, Luigi and sometimes baby versions of them. These games became part of the rhythm of Nintendo releases, and you could expect one or two new Mario & Luigi games on Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS. They even started putting out remasters. Then, suddenly, August brought the news that Alphadream had gone bankrupt and was shutting down. It’s always disheartening to see studios close. We’ll miss Alphadream, Hand of Fate’s Defiant Studios and all the others that shut their doors.

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Stadia Stumbles From The Start

The premise of high-end, hardware-free gaming anywhere we’ve got a strong internet signal is enticing. The delivery of that tech from Google in the form of Stadia is really cool when it works, allowing multiple Kotaku staffers to log into Destiny 2 and Grid from places they’d otherwise never have played those games. But, from the start, Stadia’s focus on selling games already released on other platforms at full price was baffling. Game system launches are often lacking in exciting new games, but Stadia’s absence of a signature exclusive was coupled with a failure to deliver many of the most interesting features teased for the platform: Stream Connect, State Share and Crowd Play wouldn’t make launch. Stream Connect, which basically generates a split-screen co-op effect by adding picture-in-picture boxes of other online co-op players’ feeds, went live this week. The other two features are scheduled for next year. We love redemption stories, and we expect game platforms to get better, but Stadia isn’t the industry’s first attempt at a streaming service, and Google isn’t the only mega-corp to try to make a big step into gaming this year. Apple finally nailed it. What happened, Google?

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Activision Brags And Cuts

In the same call with investors in which he said his company “once again achieved record results,” Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick announced that 8% of the company’s workforce would be laid off. That’s what most people would classify as “some bullshit.” Layoffs were as abundant as ever in gaming in 2019, with hundreds cut from EA and scores more at ArenaNet, GoG and elsewhere, but none of the others were coupled with record-breaking boasts from their company’s chief executive. Said Kotick: “While our financial results for 2018 were the best in our history, we didn’t realize our full potential.” And so nearly 800 people lost their jobs.

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Activision Blizzard Politically Tries To Keep It Apolitical

Did you hear about how Blizzard punished a Hearthstone pro for speaking up on behalf of Hong Kong protesters during a livestream of a match? Surely there’s got to be a good Bobby Kotick CEO quote about this. Oh! Here: “We’re not the operator of the world’s town halls. We’re the operator of the communities that allow you to have fun through the lens of a video game. And you know, I—my responsibility is to make sure that our communities feel safe, secure, comfortable and satisfied and entertained. And so I don’t—I don’t—that doesn’t convey to me the right to have a platform for a lot of political views, I don’t think. I think my responsibility is to satisfy our audiences and our stakeholders, our employees, our shareholders.”

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A Firestorm Swirls Around The Epic Games Store

Look, we’re not a fan of missing features and sure think it’s weird that all that Fortnite money that’s paid for so many Epic Games Store PC exclusives hasn’t led to a store that has wishlists, user reviews and other standard PC gaming store features. We’ve seen the arguments against PC launcher exclusivity. And we’ve had some bad experiences with cloud saves—or the lack thereof—when playing games on the EGS. But the flip-out about this store, the review bombing of games that go to the Epic Games Store, the harassment of developers who take the money to bring their games to the EGS was out of hand. Is it at last calming down? Or is that just wishful thinking?

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And There Was Pokémon Drama, Too

In the middle of E3, when Pokémon hype should have been at its highest, its developers at Game Freak released a tiny detail about the then-upcoming Sword and Shield that sent the fandom into an incurable rage spiral. There would not be a National PokéDex for the new Switch games, meaning that you would not be able to catch or transfer all 807 of the Pokémon in the series. Players who had bonded with Pokémon from as far back as Red and Blue and used them in every game were devastated. The game, once it was out, was quite fun, but the lack of a National Dex meant that in the eyes of some fans, it was forever tarnished. Because the internet allows small hurts to fester until they’ve become open sores, the lack of a National Dex in Pokémon Sword and Shield turned into a movement of fans who encouraged a boycott of the game. Though hyped fans got caught in the crossfire, the real target of their ire was Game Freak. These fans scrutinized interviews, videos, screenshots, and eventually leaked footage for any trace of untruths to add to extremely long infographics that they spammed at anyone willing to listen. On the night before Sword and Shield’s release, these fans got “Game Freak Lied” trending on Twitter. Some fans were won over by this crusade. Others just wanted them to shut the hell up. — Gita Jackson

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Video Game Website Deadspin Goes Dark

During the week of October 28, 2019, Deadspin was torn apart for reasons that remain infuriating and confounding. For those who may not be familiar, Deadspin was a video game website best known for its sharp takes on games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Spider-Man. Sometimes, the staff of Deadspin would get together to remember games; other times they would suggest that games have more dad-friendly modes. Every morning, gamers from across the world would go to Deadspin (and its wildly popular subsite, patrickredford.kinja.com) for their daily video game fix. Deadspin reviewed the Nintendo Switch, took shots at the new Zelda, and even dug into iPhone games. We’ll miss them a great deal and, in their honor, hope to one day cover video games here at Kotaku. — Jason Schreier

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Game of Thrones Can’t Stick The (King’s) Landing

The only thing more disappointing than seeing a book series you love get overtaken by the TV adaptation is when that TV adaptation is fumbled at the one-yard line. We’re used to watching video games trip and fall as they reach their finales, but season eight of Game of Thrones was up there with the worst of the worst. It was compressed, full of inane plot holes (“Dany kind of forgot about the Iron Fleet”), and left many fans feeling like their favorite characters had been betrayed. (They did Jaime particularly dirty.) One of the best explanations for the show’s final stumbles can be found in a 2013 Grantland article, in which showrunner David Benioff declares that “Themes are for eighth-grade book reports.” Love it or hate it, one thing isn’t up for debate: like most AAA video games, the ending of Game of Thrones needed more time. — Jason Schreier

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Did anything in video games disappoint you in 2019? Yes, yes, besides Kotaku. Let us know.

Editor-in-Chief. Playing: AC Odyssey (need to get back to Ashen, Spider-Man, RDR2, Iconoclasts, Arkham Origins, Sushi Striker, Samus Returns, and Ghost Recon Breakpoint)

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DISCUSSION

jim-spanfeller-ceo
Jim Spanfeller, CEO

Hi Stephen,

I believe some parts of this article, despite the good intentions I’m sure, go against our company philosophy here. I am currently very busy re-orienting our business model so if I’m unable to give your content the once over it needs I’m sure one of my assistants would be able to help you.

Please try and remember this in the future.

Kind Regards and Happy Holidays,

Jim.