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Games of the Year 2019: The Bad

2019 was actually a pretty good year for "bad" games. There are only three on my list with very different reasons for each. The first I didn't actually play because it was made by the leader of a cult. The second was one of my most anticipated games of 2019 that couldn't deliver. The third was one of my favourite games of the year except it went on for far too long.

Let's delve a bit deeper shall we?

1. Death Stranding

I don't want to spend too much time writing about Death Stranding because that gives Hideo Kojima more attention than he deserves. Instead I want to draw attention to the cult following some video game directors/designers receive and how it is detrimental to the industry. Video games are created by dozens if not hundreds of people and, in my opinion, unlike other creative mediums (such as film, TV or music) video games have a much higher percentage of employees who actually contribute creatively to a project.

I'm not trying to marginalize the work that special effect shops do on films. What they create nowadays is truly insane but for the most part they are trying to execute the vision of the director and a couple other producers. These shops are expected to churn out 1000s of frames and not necessarily think creatively about it. In video games, while designers do set a lot of the high level vision, it is the grunts on the ground who are actually implementing and iterating on it which is how it ends up being fun to play.

Hideo Kojima is a horrible director. He prefers to write stories that make absolutely no sense and design sexist characters he forces artists to render. It is the designers who work on the gameplay that make stuff like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain so enjoyable. When Kojima is finally untethered you see the garbage he generates. A 50 hour Uber Eats courier simulator that is visually stunning but frustrating to play and boring to watch. We need to stop deifying the game directors and realize games are the product of so many people. No one is worth more praise than the other.

I've already written too much about that Kojima hack. If you're looking for a video about Death Stranding might I recommend Dunkey's:

2. Anthem

Anthem was one of the most hyped games of this generation. It was supposed to be the savior of the "looter shooter" genre. It would bring the writing and graphical fidelity of Bioware to a genre that always seemed to focus on the grind. It would give purpose beyond "I need to find the thing that has larger numbers than my current thing". Hell, it was my second most anticipated game of 2019 behind only Devil May Cry V. Oh how naive I was.

It was honestly shocking to see how poor Anthem was. It wasn't just a bad game, like someone tried and missed but you still applaud the effort. It was staggering the decisions Bioware made. It was as if they ignored everything that every looter shooter (Destiny, The Division, Warframe, etc) before them had learned. Anthem did nothing better than any of their competitors. Finding loot was worse. Customizing your character was worse. Equipping gear was worse. Starting missions was worse. Exploring the world was worse. Even the gunplay and character abilities were sub-par.

It is hard to believe that for several years employees at Bioware played those other games and thought "yeah Anthem is better than this". Every member of the team should have been screaming at the top of their lungs "our dropped loot feels worthless", "equipping armor is tedious", "starting missions is frustrating" and pointed to multiple other games on how they could have done it better. Jason Schreier wrote a great article over on Kotaku (and I loathe linking to them but credit where credit is due) about how Bioware never really understood what Anthem was. If you are interested in the nitty details I suggest you give it a read.

Even the storytelling was atrocious. If you didn't know this was a Bioware game there would be absolutely no way you would guess it was them. The world building and characters that are the staple of Bioware games are completely absent, replaced with the shallow stuff you'd expect from a first-person shooter.

In the end, the only thing I can give props to Anthem for are the obscenely pretty graphics. The artists and programmers over there did a phenomenal job. But unfortunately, good graphics never hide bad gameplay. It is the reason games like Stardew Valley or Undertale are able to be such classics regardless of their simplified visuals. Gameplay is, and always will be, king.

3. Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a really fun game. It is just far too long. It took me 60+ hours to beat and those last 20 were boring at the best of times and frustrating at the worst. For some reason the developers made you focus on really tactical turn based combat for the first two thirds, and then threw that all away for the last. Every battle became a wave based grind that was simply not fun.

With such a poor taste in my mouth there was no way I could leave Fire Emblem: Three Houses in the good list. I don't believe most of the people who buy this game will finish it because that end grind will turn away so many.