On Reviewing Games And How Much Play Time Is Enough
Let’s revisit an old topic on the internet for a short while, since it has finally become relevant to us here at eGamer. Game reviews are the lifeblood of any gaming-related website that purports to be based on journalistic reporting of some sort. Getting onto Metacritic is a particularly effective means of promoting a site’s image and a good — or sometimes just sensational enough — review will pull site hits like you cannot believe. But what happens when those reviews are half-assed, or, perhaps more pertinently, what happens if they’re actually not but because of some reason or the other, people seem to think they are?
That’s where this topic comes in. I had originally intended it as a question of the day idea, but I felt that it could do with further elaboration and was worthy enough in its own right, as a topic for discussion.
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There are two game reviews that we’ve recently done, where this has become an issue for some readers. Now we’re not going to attack those readers nor question their judgement but rather, I’d like to simply discuss some of the talking points surrounding the qualms initially presented. The games in question are Dark Souls II and inFamous: Second Son. Note also that this isn’t necessarily a defense of these reviews; those are open to criticism just like anything else on the internet. Rather, this is an open forum for discussion where I want to present my thoughts and then ask you guys how you feel about it. Okay? Cool. Let’s roll.
Dark Souls II
Dark Souls II is an RPG in the old school of taking forever and a day to complete. You could invest upwards of a hundred hours and then some, into playing it. So the question then, as far as reviewing the game goes, becomes how much of Dark Souls II can be considered enough?
In his Zero Punctuation review of the game, Yahtzee explained that he had played thirty hours, something he said Dark Souls players would call a sample of the game. I myself played twenty-five hours across two different characters before deciding I knew enough to write about it, and then I consulted with a friend of the site who had finished the game by then — This isn’t because I’m that slow at playing games but rather, I received the review copy almost two weeks after the game’s release date.
Is that enough? By all means let us know in the comments section, however some people seemed to think not. The thing is, I know of people who, when Fallout 3 released, did their best to get in thirty hours before writing the review for it. Thirty hours of Fallout 3, when that game takes well over two hundred hours to get through? When I reviewed Skyrim a few years ago, I released the review after just under a hundred hours of playing it. That didn’t stop me from putting in a further fifty hours of game time.
So the question with regards to RPGs especially is, if we’re on a strict time schedule and must hurry our games along to get a review out, and the game in its entirety might take a hundred hours to get through — consider, Dark Souls fans, that this is the first playthrough with a character of low level — how many hours should we get in before it’s okay to write about the game?
InFamous: Second Son
Here is a game that falls onto the other side of the discussion, in that it was a game people considered to be quite long but was actually quite short. Here, our reviewer for the game (AG) had the review out within the day, receiving the review copy and playing through the night in order to meet the embargo time. Criticisms in this case involved him perhaps not playing the game enough to do it justice. And one person decided it was because we obviously got the game earlier than everyone else… right.
The question here is, is a single playthrough enough? Should he have then, upon completing the initial playthrough of the game, gone back and played through it a second time, making the other choices the game allowed? Or would that have been superfluous to his ability to talk about the game? Should he perhaps have engaged in more side activities in order to get a full feel for the game, and who is to say that what side activities he did engage him didn’t already give him enough of a feel?
What do you do when you’ve played through the campaign and there isn’t much else left for you? It’s not like a Call of Duty title where once you’re done, you can then jump onto multiplayer or try out other modes. So should he then have gone back into the campaign and played from the other perspective, or was his opinion worth its weight upon initially completing the game?
I leave these questions to you guys to discuss with us in the comments. How much play time is enough, and at what point can a review be considered worth its weight in words?