If there’s one thing I want anyone to take away from this, it’s that, regardless of how much we loved Black Isle and how good their games could be with proper QA, we should just stop buying Obsidian games until they either change or die off. The sad fact is they are not improving their QA after 8 years of buggy games.
Obsidian Entertainment recently released Dungeon Siege III and while Metacritic scores are veering towards the better side of mediocre, user scores are hitting the same lows as games like Dragon Age II. While it’s easy to treat this as a sign that you shouldn’t take professional reviewers at face value due to their unfortunate tendency of being less critical of games that they ought to be, there is a distinct problem at Obsidian that needs to be solved.
I am talking about their bug-ridden software. Defenders of Obsidian often point to their game’s large scope and depth as a reason for the bugs and we should expect these problems. This simply doesn’t work as a defence, Dungeon Siege III had a larger number than any comparably-sized release I’d seen for a long while and, more importantly, launch-time patches designed to fix problems introduced even more problems that seem so surreal and outlandish that it is hard to imagine how any programmer could derail a patch so.
It’s not even as if Dungeon Siege III is the only bad release, either. Look at the Wikipedia pages for Fallout: New Vegas, Neverwinter Nights 2 or Alpha Protocol. Of them, only Fallout: New Vegas got a positive Metacritic score across both professional and user ratings. While it’s the case that Fallout and Neverwinter Nights 2 both have fans of older, non-Obsidian games lowering their user ratings, the lion’s share of complaints from both games seem to be about bugs.
It’s interesting they don’t mention Neverwinter Nights 2 or Alpha Protocol in this.
What is worse, as demonstrated by the Dungeon Siege III launch-time patches, is that Obsidian’s patching policy makes the problems worse. Dungeon Siege III with its control reversal problem or its hour-long game lockout due to two separate patches is not the first to do this, both Fallout and Alpha Protocol fell short here with new problems introduced as old ones are being (often only partially) fixed.
Dungeon Siege III is also plagued by a horde of poor design choices: co-op mode puts the second player, in the words of Penny Arcade, in the role of a side-kick in the first player’s story with no long term gains; players cannot reconfigure any keys or controls for the keyboard, and many complaints on the forums have been met with a “use a gamepad” response. There is also the fact that many older fans of the series complain that the game doesn’t live up to the earlier games, but to what extent these sentiments are based on problems or just dogged gamer conservatism is hard to tell.
If I’m not holding punches for Mojang over this, I won’t for Obsidian. Various game magazines have spoken with people at Obsidian about this issue and they have received the same line: Fallout’s problems were unfortunate, but we’re working extra hard on the QA of Dungeon Siege III.
They evidently didn’t work hard enough, as evidenced by these new patches. They are like the trainwreck spouse who keeps coming back with a promise this time will be different and ends up wrecking it for you yet again if you let them in. In this situation, part of the blame lies on the person who keeps foolishly letting someone like that back into their home, likewise the consumer needs to be more demanding and more savy about what they are getting for their money. There aren’t really any major consumer rights groups for video games out there that have really made themselves known and it’s long overdue.
The short of all this is that Obsidian needs to change the way it views QA, but no promised internal effort on their part has enacted such a change. If a company fails like this, repeatedly over the course of at least four games, then it is time for the consumer to force the change. The simply answer is do not buy Obsidian’s games, do not buy Dungeon Siege III because you liked Black Isle and want to see Obsidian survive regardless of how talentless they are at QA or because you need that third instalment of a loved series. Stay away from Dungeon Siege III because it is buggy and mediocre, just like Neverwinter Nights 2 and Alpha Protocol.
A few people are getting concerned that, with all this emotion and seeming glints of a complex story, we’ll just get a hack and slash game. I’m cool with that, as long as it’s a good hack and slash game.
* Epic Games will host a two day set of tutorials on the Unreal Development Kit at the East Coast Game Conference.
* Dungeon Siege III has been delayed, now releasing in late June.
* Hi-Rez has switched Global Agenda to a F2P model with those of us already having paid getting “elite agent” status.
* Funcom’s Call of Cthulhu-esque MMO The Secret World, announced four years ago, is officially on the back burner.
* Myst Online is now released as open source, fulfilling promises made as far back as 2008.
* The Call of Duty versus Battlefield 3 marketing war is estimated to end up costing US$200m. This truly is the war to end all wars.
* GameStop are opening a Facebook store. The new system allows sales and pre-orders done via the Facebook interface.
* It’s been reported that Apple has rejected PopCap’s experimental label, Unpleasant Horse, from the App Store on grounds of “maturity” issues.
* Multiplayer has, sadly, been ruled out of Mass Effect 3, but the details are looking good.
* Wrestling star The Rock wants to star in a Black Ops film adaptation. Given his last foray into game-based films, I hold little hope for great artistry.
Minecraft is leaving beta this year, with plans to release the final version on 11th November. This coincides with the release of Skyrim by Bethesda. Many may be disappointed by the fact that the final release won’t look much different from the beta (which itself is not a whole deal different from the alpha), but assurances are that development will continue. Other reports are that beta 1.5 will add weather effects.
Busy week this week, see you after the weekend.
Quick cap news
* League of Legends developers, Riot Games, announced that 100% of sales on the Akali character would go towards relief in Japan. Also, a rare copy of Final Fantasy Tactics is being auctioned by Play for Japan.
* Value have upgraded Steam’s VoIP system by using the SILK codec most commonly found in Skype, increasing bandwidth but allowing much greater quality.
* Crytek are still pretending that they think DRM is at best “a minor inconvenience” and about trying to stop piracy, using simple arguments that have already been knocked out.
* Darkspore gets delayed for another month, but news of an open beta should keep the waiting bearable. New date is 26th April.
* Bioware have warned that SWTOR beta scams have been appearing on the net. Watch out any would-be beta testers that you aren’t getting a raw deal.
* Battlestar Galactica Online was BigPoint’s biggest game launch so far and success was attributed to strong community involvement.
* UKIE welcomed the new budget benefits being offered to UK developers. The benefits are designed to increase investment and encourage smaller developers to grow.
* EA are getting rid of physical copies of manuals in favour of electronic-only copies.
* Deep Shiver has given a very convincing reason why the child violence in the trailer of Dead Island is acceptable. However, there were assurances that there would be no children in the game.
* Finally, the Torchlight MMO will not be charging a monthly subscription, with developers Runic Games arguing that model is no longer viable.
In a twist of fate, Gearbox announced that Duke Nukem Forever will be delayed a little longer. This means everyone can stop the “it’s finally going to be released” and switch to the “it’s fated not to be released” jokes. Randy Pitchford later explained the delay as trying to bring the game more up to scratch. There was a reveal of a tongue-in-cheek game which lead to the usual sort of responses that most of us are tired of, and once again, Penny Arcade states the obvious and wins my heart.
Also, Peter Molyneux has once again followed his old tactic of slamming his last game to make his next look better. This after Molyneux had already apologised for leading game journalists on a merry chase half the time. Game journalists themselves were unsurprised by his interview. Molyneux also, strangely, claimed that Minecraft was the best game he played in the past ten years, giving rather unusual reasoning, which implies a distinct lack of gaming on his part (not that Minecraft is actually bad, I can just think of a lot better). This shows that Molyneux can occasionally ramble on semi-coherently about games that are not his.