Obsidian’s problems   Leave a comment

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.

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