One of the most popular buzz terms in gaming right now is “live services,” which is Ubisoft’s new term for its big-budget games. Essentially, live services are games that will continue to be supported long after launch with all sorts of DLC and microtransactions in order to keep revenue coming in for the publisher long after the initial point of purchase. Essentially, the era of games being “finished” when it launches are a thing of the past, as developers can continue to produce updates and new content for their games based on fan feedback and trends in the marketplace.
While this has allowed publishers to cut corners in certain cases and release games much earlier than they should have been, it also means that even a bad game can eventually become something special if the right updates are applied. These are the games I want to celebrate today, the ones that may have disappointed us in their original forms at launch, but have since improved significantly thanks to developers taking the time to recognize where they went wrong and make the necessary fixes.
13. Elder Scrolls Online
Exploring the incredible fantasy world of Tamriel has always been at the heart of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series, but the games had always been solo affairs prior to the launch of Elder Scrolls Online in 2014. While the MMO technically delivered on the promise of finally introducing a multiplayer component to the franchise, it did so in a less than ideal fashion, as the MMO design largely got in the way of the traditional Elder Scrolls experience and the game as a whole just felt too disorganized in its original form. Plus, launching a subscription-based MMORPG in 2014 was a foolish decision, especially in the wake of Bioware’s failure with Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Fortunately, Bethesda has made substantial improvements to Elder Scrolls Online in the years since launch – stripping away subscription fees, refocusing on fun, lore-based missions, and releasing two substantive expansions with Morrowind and Summerset. It’s still not an ideal experience if you’re simply looking for a proper Skyrim sequel, but the noticeable jump in quality makes Elder Scrolls Online a worthwhile investment while you wait for Elder Scrolls VI.
Believe it or not, when Fortnite was first released as a paid early access title in July 2017, “Battle Royale” was nowhere to be seen. On the contrary, Fortnite was conceived as a co-op sandbox survival game featuring base building and waves of A.I. enemies and while this mode was fun, it was hardly something that was destined to become a cultural phenomenon. Even when Epic Games released the standalone free-to-play Fortnite: Battle Royale a few months later, the game was seen as a ripoff of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and not an experience that would eventually surpass that game’s player count and concurrent online player numbers.
But even when Fortnite hit the big time and became the biggest game in the world, Epic wasn’t content to rest on its laurels and has continued to release frequent updates that not only fix technical issues, but add fun new things to the game, such as guided missile surfing. If you’d told me a year ago that Fortnite would become one of the most successful games of this generation, I would have thought you were nuts but as things stand, I have to hand it to the folks at Epic Games for turning a rather unspectacular wave shooter into something special in only a short period of time.
11. Halo 5: Guardians
The Halo franchise doesn’t hold the same sway in multiplayer gaming as it once did and no game in the series is more emblematic of this fact than Halo 5: Guardians. The first new Halo title developed for the Xbox One, Halo 5 was released in late 2015 amid a wave of negativity stemming from the developer’s controversial decision to remove any and all forms of split-screen multiplayer, a staple of the series since Combat Evolved revolutionized console first-person shooters back on the original Xbox. While multiplayer was still Halo 5’s strongest attribute at launch thanks to the repetitive and short-lived campaign on offer, it was still a bit of a mess. 343 Industries nailed the fundamentals, as the expanded moveset (boost-dodge, ground pounds, and the ability to clamber over ledges) made Halo 5 the best-playing entry in the series by a wide margin.
Unfortunately, the game modes weren’t up to snuff, with the much-touted 24-player Warzone battles being a chaotic, unbalanced mess. But amid the player dropoff and overall negativity, 343 got to work on making improvements to Halo 5’s multiplayer and have since added a staggering number of new weapons, maps, and modes. The biggest (and best) addition is Warzone Firefight, which pits eight players against waves of increasingly difficult enemies and lets players call in all sorts of overpowered weapons and vehicles as the match progresses. It’s large-scale pandemonium and a total blast, so much so that it’s honestly worth popping Halo 5 back in and downloading more than 50GB of updates just to experience.
10. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Alright, so it’s not fair or even accurate in any way to say that The Witcher 3 launched in a disappointing state, as the game was pretty much a masterpiece from day one. However, one could say that The Witcher 3 was very much a diamond in the rough when it was released, as the game’s ambitious scope brought a number of technical issues, such as frame rate slowdowns, a poor inventory system, and a dumb, dumb horse named Roach. Fortunately, CD Projekt Red’s commitment to its craft and its fans is nothing short of staggering, and the developer not only rolled out fixes to many of the aforementioned issues in the months following the game’s launch, but gave players a steady stream of free DLC that ranged from new outfits to entire new quest lines.
Additionally, the game’s two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood of Wine, had more content than the most full-priced games and only solidified The Witcher 3 as one of the deepest and most value-conscious games of its generation. So sure, The Witcher 3 was still amazing in its original state but it took some time for it to reach its full potential.
9. The Division
Tom Clancy’s The Division is the blueprint for how to iterate on a disappointing game, as the changes Ubisoft Massive has made to its third-person shooter/RPG hybrid in the two years since its launch are nothing short of staggering and indicative of a developer in tune with its community. When The Division was released in March 2016, it had the foundation of a great game: a loot-based shooter grounded in a beautiful recreation of New York City and intuitive shooting mechanics. Unfortunately, once you cleared the story and hit the level cap, the end-game content just wasn’t engaging or rewarding enough to keep most players interested. Over the next year or so, The Division would receive a few bits of paid DLC of varying quality, but it wasn’t until the game transitioned to substantial free updates that the game went from merely good to truly great.
The reason for this is that Massive spent a ton of time communicating with The Division’s most hardcore players to pinpoint what was working and what wasn’t so that when patch 1.8 was released in early 2018, it felt like The Division had taken a quantum leap forward compared to its original release state. There’s not only an absurd amount of things to do in The Division now, but the entire loot structure has changed for the better with a feedback loop of grinding that nails that perfect balance of constantly rewarding you for the activities you’re doing, but always feeling like you’re still working towards something better. Hopefully, Ubisoft carries over what they learned with the first iteration when it comes time for The Division 2, as the model they have right now is definitely working.
Bungie’s first-person shooter/RPG hybrid was one of the big early hits of this generation and had a lot of expectation riding on it given Bungie’s previous work on the Halo franchise. When Destiny launched in fall 2014, players found a shooter that was tuned to perfection mechanically, but one that was wrapped up in a bare bones game lacking in content and and a whole bunch of convoluted systems. It would later be revealed that Bungie had scrapped much of the game about a year before launch and had to cobble it all back together into something shippable, but the fact that Destiny was an unfinished game was evident to all anyway.
It would take Bungie the better part of a year to start making valuable changes for the better and it wasn’t until the release of the massive expansion The Taken King in 2015 that Destiny could truly be called a great game. Unfortunately, Bungie seemed to forget the process they used to fix Destiny when it came time for the sequel, as Destiny 2 launched in 2017 in a much more polished state than its predecessor, but with a whole heap of new problems that turned off many players who had stuck it out with the original through its most difficult period.
7. Rainbow Six Siege
When Rainbow Six Siege launched in 2015, it was received as a well put together tactical shooter, but its overall lack of content seemed to suggest that it would peter out quickly and be forgotten about. However, at the time of this writing, Siege has a thriving community and is doing better than ever, so much so that it’s now regarded as one of the best tactical competitive shooters on the market. The key to this turnaround can be attributed to Ubisoft’s commitment to continuing to add content and make fixes to Siege long after release, and the way they’ve done this is by listening to the very people who play their game. In fact, Ubisoft had a dedicated team of about 80 people in place from day one to monitor player feedback and game data in order to keep iterating on Siege. The game also has a reliable revenue stream in the form of microtransactions, but players can choose to ignore them and the there have been an array of free maps and characters added to the mix.
6. Diablo 3
It’s easy to forget now, but Diablo 3 had possibly one of the most disappointing launches in video game history. Blizzard’s long-anticipated sequel got off to a bad start immediately thanks to its always-online DRM, which required players to be connected to the game’s servers even when they were just playing the story mode. This wouldn’t have been such a massive problem if the game’s servers had been up to snuff, but the influx of new players at launch resulted in numerous people not being able to log in to play the game at all, a problem which persisted for weeks. The other point of contention was the Auction House, which allowed players to purchase high-level loot for real-world money and fundamentally broke the game’s economy system.
Fortunately, after a year of headaches, Blizzard finally started to right the ship around the time the first major expansion, Reaper of Souls, was released. Alongside new story content and a new character class, Reaper of Souls introduced Adventure mode and Seasons, which helped significantly with Diablo 3’s replay value, as players no longer had to grind out story chapters. Toss in the scrapping of the auction house, a total reworking of the loot system and a number of other additions both small and substantial, and it’s no surprise that Diablo 3 continues to be a go-to role-playing experience for many. Not bad for a game that many wrote off as dead mere months after release.
5. Street Fighter V
Street Fighter V was released in an insultingly barebones state — you can read all about the issues it had in its earliest form here in 2016 — with half the modes unavailable and a much smaller roster of fighters than fans of the series were used to seeing. Capcom essentially rushed the game out to have it ready for the tournament scene but to the publisher’s credit, they did quickly try to make amends. This started with fixing the netcode so that the game was actually playable online, but new characters, an actual fully-featured story mode, and additional levels and modes were all added in subsequent months to bring Street Fighter V up to the premier fighting game it should have been from the beginning. While this still shouldn’t excuse Capcom’s decision to release the game in an unfinished state and charge full price for it, at anyone who picks up Street Fighter V will struggle to find any real problems with it.
4. Grand Theft Auto V
It’s hard to believe now, but when Grand Theft Auto V was first released in 2013, the game’s main draw was its single player story. Players had to wait a few weeks for GTA Online to get up and running, and when it did, the service was an unstable mess. Fortunately, there was the foundation of a compelling multiplayer game in there and Rockstar has built on that foundation to such a degree in the five years since launch that GTA V is now one of the best-selling games ever made.
A lot of this success can be attributed to the staggering amount of content that Rockstar has added to the game over the years, but another key to GTA Online’s popularity is just how well it runs now compared to its original state (being made available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC helped a lot in this regard). While some may scoff at the idea that million of people are still logging into GTA Online on a weekly basis nearly five years later, Rockstar deserves credit for turning what could have been a failed online service into a money-printing video game phenomenon.
3. No Man’s Sky
It’s difficult to think of a more disappointing game this generation than No Man’s Sky. Indie developer Hello Games and Sony over-hyped this ambitious space exploration game so much that it’s hard to imagine how it could have ever lived up to the enormous expectations people had for it. Even still, it’s surprising just how big of a crash-landing No Man’s Sky suffered when it was released on PS4 and PC in August 2016. Numerous promised features, such as large fleets, complex creature behaviors, and interaction with other players were nowhere to be found. Instead, what players got was a tedious resource management survival game that, while still impressive from a technical standpoint, was lacking in rewarding exploration gameplay, which is what the entire game was supposed to be based around.
While Hello Games only made the situation worse by seemingly burying its head in the sand and going radio silent for the first couple months following release, the studio was actually busy trying to fix the game and have released a few substantive (and free) updates that have significantly improved No Man’s Sky and brought it closer to the game that was initially promised. Features like base building, fleets, and land vehicles have given players more things to do, while changes to how planets and animals are auto-generated have made the game’s universe feel more mysterious and exciting to explore. Most recently, Hello Games released their biggest update yet with No Man’s Sky Next, which has enough content to almost be considered a sequel (including proper multiplayer!) If you jumped off No Man’s Sky early on, the game is now in such an improved state that it may just be worth returning to.
To say that Minecraft arrived in a disappointing state would be misleading, as there really wasn’t much expectation placed on this small, barely playable indie game when it was first released in 2009. Since that time, Minecraft has evolved from a barebones building sim to one of the deepest and most popular video games in existence. While its detractors may write it off as just a kids’ game, Minecraft is feature-rich and has had an enormous amount of content added to it over the years.
In addition to the regular survival and building modes, there’s now Adventure Mode, Battle Mode, Hardcore Mode, even an Education Edition … and that’s not counting the near-unlimited number of user-generated mods you can employ. Toss in virtual reality support and the fact that Minecraft is available on pretty much every gaming device known to man and you get a game that has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a glorified pixelated Lego clone.
1. Final Fantasy 14
Has there ever been a game that’s received as substantial a post-release overhaul as Final Fantasy 14? When the Square Enix MMO was first released in 2010, it was borderline unplayable, plagued with all sorts of bugs and glitches that got in the way of the repetitive gameplay and unsatisfying RPG mechanics. The problems were so bad that, in a shocking move, Square Enix took the game offline entirely and rebuilt the entire thing from the ground-up. Three years later, the game was released as the aptly-named Final Fantasy: A Realm Reborn and the final product was a revelation in that it was not only a massive improvement over the previous version, but arguably one of the best MMOs ever made. The engaging storytelling and much improved gameplay was satisfying for old and new Final Fantasy players alike and to this day, Square Enix continues to make improvements to Final Fantasy 14 – a game that very well could have been left dead in the water had the studio not decided to give it another shot at life.