There is no more harmful thing to an objective account than emotion. It will creep behind your eyes while its fingers grasp the crown of your head, making sure you do not and cannot look in the directions you need to. In short, screw Total War: Rome II, but curse me for a fool for not seeing its impending shittiness before time.
See, I got to interview the guys that came out for Rome II, because after putting over 300 hours into Shogun 2 (and probably around 800 hours into the TW franchise), I was going to be completely damned if I didn’t pick the brains behind the sinkhole of my time. BUT …
There was a point during the interview where I’d asked a question about the multiplayer aspect of the game, some off-handed comment about support or balancing or whether the avatar system from Total War: Shogun 2 would be making a comeback. There was an immediate change to the atmosphere, cursory glances made between PR and dev, and had my stupid fanboy naivety not clouded my judgement, I would have hammered this point until I got something out of it. But I sat there, like a chump, and let their assurances that it was just as much of a focus as it was last time (read: nowhere near a high-priority) and that the people who liked multiplayer were more likely to enjoy playing Total War: Arena (good luck against LoL and Dota, guys, brilliant move there) wash over me.
I’d loved the multiplayer element of Shogun 2 so much that somehow, despite how clearly ominous these answers were, been satisfied instead of dismayed.
As stupid as it is, every time I hopped into a match of Rome II’s multiplayer and watched as my pike formations continually fell in on themselves for no reason, or had to endure the ‘Draw’ screen because quitting doesn’t result in an automatic concession, I somehow feel like I’m responsible. Not just the imaginary responsibility that I’m holding myself to, in that I didn’t really warn people that this was probably coming, but that I was there and could have avoided disappointment by being objective.
I went on to review Rome II for a different website, and as I only got to play the single-player campaign, I was incredibly happy with it. The AI seemed derpy as all hell, but I assumed that it was a bug that had arisen recently and would be fixed with a patch – after all, they’d shown a video versing he AI where it was insanely clever. They wouldn’t so blatantly lie would they? I mean, it was in-game footage, right?
See, the thing about games is that they’re a mechanical artform – there’s a combination of how a game feels and how a game runs and works. Now, back before the internet was a thing, a game that didn’t run was bunk, whereas now, you get a game with some obvious bugs and you think ‘well they’ll patch that, it’ll run fine later’. I think people of my gen and definitely of next-gen will start to see this as the norm, which is completely fucked and may lead to another gaming crash for the exact same reasons the first one happened – shit quality products flooded the market and there was no longer any consumer trust.
So I viewed this game firstly as a fan, then as a modern-age consumer. It’ll get better – they’ll offer some free stuff to apologise, and then it will get better. We are nine patches in, and there are still problems.
However, all of this is just the tip of the iceberg. Loosely speaking, I am a ‘voice’ within the gaming community, however small, and judging by our analytics there are a few people reading my work as opposed to reading the title and skipping the content. When you’re a fan of a work, when you’re excited for something, you want other people to get excited. You use brighter, more hopeful language, you bring that attitude onto podcasts and in conversation. Gaming journalists have been accused of being the fingertips of the long arm of PR, and in some cases that’s 100% true. Some people are fans and will die to prove their loyalty.
Luckily, I hold my life above such things, about two slots higher than games and about five steps lower than puppies. But that didn’t stop me from screwing up.
I think my best examples of getting previews completely wrong were with Beyond: Two Souls (Preview & Review) and PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (Preview & Review). Games I previewed and talked about, in the former coming out and saying that it would almost definitely be a tour de force in video game writing and with the latter saying that that the brawler would definitely tide me over till the new Smash Bros. came out.
Wrong doesn’t even come close to the reality of the situation.
For most of my writing, I joke about how great and infallible I am, but just like your average gamer, sometimes I get caught up in the excitement. I love games, I love great games, and despite how I’m let down over and over again, some part of me truly believes that the hype is going to be true. Maybe I’m just a sucker for punishment?