Gaming’s Culture of Outrage has Rendered Word of Mouth Worthless

I’ve been keeping one eye on the vampire-hunting shooter Redfall for a while. The colourful art style and vague whiff of The Secret World-style surrealism are intriguing.

A promotional image for the co-op shooter game Redfall.Of course, if you’ve been paying any attention, you know that Redfall has had an overwhelmingly negative reception. The problem is that in the current climate that doesn’t really tell me much.

Clearly the game has flaws. I don’t think the complaints came from nowhere. But there’s no way for me to tell if those flaws are minor hiccups, or if the game is genuinely a dumpster fire. These days, the gaming community seems to see both those things as one and the same.

Nowadays any time a game stumbles even a little, the brigades charge in to rage and foam at the mouth. Anything less than flawless execution is dubbed an unforgivable disaster.

Some of my favourite games from the last few years were considered to be disasters. Anthem and Mass Effect: Andromeda both come to mind. Both had issues, but those issues were relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, yet word of mouth would have you believe they were utterly irredeemable. The Secret World is perhaps the best game I’ve ever played, despite its rough edges, but mainstream opinion is that it was an unplayable mess.

Nothing’s perfect, and as I’ve often said, the mark of true greatness isn’t a lack of flaws, but excelling in a way that allows you to forgive the flaws. But according to the modern gaming community, no flaw can ever be forgiven.

Cora Harper and Scott Ryder in Mass Effect: Andromeda.Maybe Redfall really is completely terrible. There are definitely still games out there that just plain suck. But we now find ourselves in a living parody of the boy who cried wolf. When everything is called a dumpster fire, there’s no way of knowing which games are actually dumpster fires.

We’ve all seen the supercuts of bugs and bad AI behaviour from Redfall, but are those representative of an average session, or just cherry-picked to harvest clicks? When this all first blew up, one of the top posts on the subject I saw on reddit was a screenshot of someone who’d crawled up onto a roof, looked down a chimney, and found that the chimney had the roof texture at the bottom.

What an incredibly petty, trivial thing to complain about. Maybe the game really is bad, but throwing hissy fits over over meaningless things like this make it really difficult to take any of the other criticisms seriously.

(As some wiser minds on reddit point out, purely decorative chimneys like this are a real thing that some houses have, which makes the whole furor even more absurd.)

Social media and the toxicity of the gaming community itself are huge drivers of this culture of outrage, but the media isn’t helping, either. Outrage sells, and flamboyant headlines about disastrous launches and dead games bring in the clicks.

My second character's ranger javelin in Anthem.As a minor member of the gaming media myself, I’m not immune to this. I genuinely do make an effort to not be overly negative in my writing on Massively Overpowered, but honestly I’d forgive you if you never noticed. It’s human nature to focus on the negative, and it’s just much easier to write about what’s going wrong than what’s going right.

But that doesn’t mean all this is inevitable. It’s always going to be easier to talk about the bad than the good, and we should call out games when they stumble, but the culture we have now is beyond counter-productive. It’s all noise and no signal. Word of mouth, unless perhaps from a trusted friend, is less than worthless.

For my part, I’m probably going to hold off on getting Redfall at least for now, but not because of the bad reviews. I’m just hesitant to spend triple-A prices on any new game unless there’s a demo or it’s a franchise I’m familiar with.

Now, developers neglecting to offer demos, that’s something worth getting angry over…

Gaming Round-Up: Torchlight II, Star Trek Online, Anthem, and More

Time for another quick round-up of some of the gaming I’ve done in recent weeks. This month I got a free month of Origin Access (somehow…), which allowed me to check out a bunch of games for free.

The Icetide season in Anthem.Torchlight II

The main coup of the free month of Access is that it let me play through Torchlight II, which means I’m now caught up and ready for Frontiers.

TL2 is an upgrade over the original in virtually every way. It’s still kind of a by the numbers ARPG, and not a lot about it is terribly original, but there’s a lot more variety of enemies and environments than the original, and it’s fun.

I can’t put my finger on why, but something about this game reminded me of the original Dungeon Siege. Strange to feel so nostalgic playing a game that’s new (at least to me).

The highlight of the game for me was my class, the Outlander. It may as well have been built for me. Bows, dark magic, support abilities, pets… it’s everything I ever wanted all rolled into one.

TL2 is still a little repetitive, and the last few areas in particular turned into a bit of a slog. There was never a lot of story in the game, but in the latter half it feels like the writers gave up altogether. The Alchemist started out as a relatively nuanced villain with a sympathetic motivation, but that just flew out the window after a while with no explanation as to why.

My Outlander in Torchlight II.My other major complaint is that the skill system is pretty awful. I’m not a big fan of traditional skill trees at the best of times, and this one embodies all of the worst sins of the concepts. You don’t just spend points to unlock skills but have to constantly dump more into them to keep leveling them up. Everything is massively level-gated.

And worst of all the respec only lets you change the last three points you spent. I wound up with a bunch of points sunk into skills that I only took because I had no better option at the time (thanks, level-gating) and no way to reclaim them and put them into abilities I was actually using.

Frostpunk, They Are Billions, and Diluvion

These are some other games I tried via Access, but I didn’t stick with any of them long.

They Are Billions sounded really fun in theory — zombie horde mode RTS is something I’m all for — but there’s little to no story, and it’s just not that fun. It takes so long to build up your base and get your economy going. It’s tedious.

Frostpunk is another one that sounded cool (hurr hurr) but didn’t deliver. It’s brutally punishing, to the point it feels impossible to ever get ahead. It’s just one crisis after another.

My city in Frostpunk.Beyond that, it’s just not that fun. You spend the vast majority of the game just watching your town run itself. You can speed up the game speed to hasten things along, but it constantly resets itself to the default speed, which is painfully sluggish. Bafflingly, this is intended behaviour and not a bug.

Diluvion is something I tried on a whim when I was scrolling through vault games. A post-apocalyptic steampunk submarine RPG sounded interesting, but there’s no voice acting, and the controls are terrible. I don’t think I lasted fifteen minutes.

Anthem

I haven’t been playing a lot of Anthem lately, but I have dabbled a bit to check out the new Icetide season. While it is a bit disappointing to not see more new gameplay (just a new Freeplay event and the time trials), I am nonetheless surprised there isn’t more buzz around the fact Anthem literally reskinned the entire game world to reflect a real world season. Has any other game ever done that before? I’ve never heard of it.

It’s gorgeous, too. I always like winter zones, but even for me this is a cut above. The light dusting of snow paired with the vivid red leaves is so striking.

It seems a lot of art design work for what is otherwise a fairly small update, and that has conspiracy theories spawning in my head. Given the rumours of a reboot, I wonder if the snow environment is something they were working on for the reboot that they realized they could port into the base game…

The Icetide season in Anthem.Time will tell, I guess.

Star Trek Online

The real surprise lately is that I’ve suddenly started playing Star Trek Online again. I didn’t really see that coming, but between getting caught up on Discovery and the hype for the upcoming Picard series, I guess I’ve had Trek on the brain, and I wanted a fix.

It’s been a long time since I played last, and I didn’t get that far before, so I started over with a new character, though still a Romulan. Only real difference is this one’s an engineer rather than a tactical officer.

The one big change from when I played last — at least in my view — is the addition of scaling tier 6 ships, which allow you to just stick with one ship throughout instead of changing every ten levels or so. If you ask me that’s how the game should always have worked. Changing ships constantly never felt right to me.

The scaling ships are mainly a microtransaction thing of course, which isn’t ideal, but I can live with it. I bought myself a D’deridex warbird (or more accurately bought the T6 equivalent and reskinned it as a D’deridex) and named it the Tomalak, which is all I ever wanted.

My D'deridex warbird in Star Trek Online.I’m choosing ships purely based on aesthetics and nostalgia, so I had no idea what the stats of a D’deridex were like until I started playing it. Turns out it has all the cornering ability of a brick lodged in half-frozen mud.

On the plus side, though, it seems very tanky. I can just shrug off most threats like they’re nothing. That plus a powerful but very short range AoE DoT make this ship very much a bruiser, but I’m enjoying it. Using my cloak to get in close and then popping my DoT can get pretty hilarious.

Otherwise my view of the game remains much the same as it always has. It’s super janky and full of bugs and clunky, over-complicated systems.

But it does capture the look and feel of Star Trek very well, and for now, that’s enough for me. I just wanted a decent Trek fix, and STO is giving it to me.

Also, I was jonesing for a new MMO to play. I’ve mostly played single-player and “not-so-massively” games this year, and I’ve had a great time with that, but it did feel time to sink my teeth into a meaty new (or new to me) MMO.

I will say this game is a bit like crack to a fashionista like me. So many options for both my character and my bridge officers. It feels like I’ve spent half my time in-game so far just tinkering with outfits. It’s a shame you can’t save multiple outfits for your officers the way you can for your own toon…

My Romulan engineer and her bridge crew in Star Trek Online.I did pick a good time to pick up the game, what with all the holiday sales on. When I got my D’deridex, I got a package with tickets for three T6 ships for barely more than the cost of a single ship. I still haven’t decided what to spend the remaining two tickets on. I’m considering Akira class, Galaxy class, and Valdore class (or again their T6 equivalents, which I would then reskin), but I’m also tempted to try something that launches fighters. Carrier has arrived and all.

There’s also alts to consider, as well. I’m not sure if I want to stick with my Romulan or branch out. If any STO players are reading this, do you think alts are worth it as a story fan? Would I get a lot of different content playing Federation or Klingon, or would it just be the same stuff as my Romulan past the tutorial?