Opinion: You Don’t Need to Finish Games to Review Them

Look, I don’t have anything better to talk about this week. I just came off a weekend of playing Civilization VI, which unfortunately ate all my time. Thus I got very little writing done, and now we’re here. That said – here’s an opinion piece you didn’t ask for on one of the most contentious topics in video game discourse: do you need to finish a game before reviewing it?

No.

Alright. Pack it up, folks. We’re done here.

Real talk though, this has always been one of the most confusing debates I’ve read online. Not for a good reason either. You’ll quite commonly see some degen state that a reviewer’s negative critique of a game is invalid because they didn’t finish said game. My question in return would be: why do you think the person’s opinion would change if they finished the game? Really think about that – if someone isn’t enjoying a game, do you truly believe their opinion will be improved by being forced to continue playing it?

To illustrate how flawed this notion of completion as a prerequisite is, we can look to the most recent title I didn’t enjoy playing: God of War 4. I found the camera to be distractingly awful. It’s stuck steadfast behind Kratos’ shoulder, which puts several limitations on the game. In combat, the UI is flooded with red makers pointing to off-screen threats because the camera’s limited perspective doesn’t provide enough meaningful visual information to the player. Juggling enemies also looks super wonky as they’re unable to leave the camera’s view, so they’ll bounce repeatedly against thin air while airborne. In both cases, these concessions could have been avoided by utilizing the dynamic nature of video game cameras to pan out to a wider shot during combat.

Kratos from God of War 4 fighting a Troll

An obnoxious UI, and wonky animations aren’t what really got me to stop playing though – migraines were. The field of view is so narrow that it gave me the same motion sickness migraines I get from first person games. However, most first person games allow players to tweak options about the camera, including the field of view, which allows me to actually enjoy playing them. No such luxuries were provided in God of War 4. You’re stuck on Kratos’ burly shoulder for the whole game, and you’re going to like it damn it.

Now, I’ll ask it again: do you really believe that I’d change my mind if I finished the game? Do you think suffering through 20 hours of migraines would have allowed me to appreciate all that God of War had to offer? No. Obviously. A game isn’t likely to win anyone over when the act of playing it causes their head to feel as though someone is hammering a nail into it repeatedly.

Once we settle on our opinions it tends to be difficult to change them. That’s why I’m of the mind that someone doesn’t necessarily need to finish a piece of media to have an opinion about it. Said opinion might not be useful to everyone, but it doesn’t change the validity of the opinion. Knowing that I didn’t enjoy God of War because of the incompetently designed camera that gave me migraines isn’t going to be particularly useful to most, but it will allow you to understand why I didn’t care for the title. That’s the key – expressing your opinion in a way that anyone can understand it even if they don’t agree with you on it.

Having said that, I do have one exception to my line of thinking. I do think that in the event that you’re going to recommend a game to someone that you should finish it. Why the contradiction? Well, let me ask you another question: how often do you finish games that you enjoy? I’m going to step out on a limb here and assume that in most cases if you really enjoyed something you probably played the heck out of it. Endorsements don’t get much better then when they come from someone who was enamoured with a title right up until it concluded.

May from Guilty Gear Strive fighting Ramlethal Valentine

Before I close things out, I wanted to make one final acknowledgement in-case a smartass like Quietschisto reads this: what about a game with no ending? When will you know if you’ve played it enough? In the case of something like Guilty Gear: Strive my solution was to never actually review it. However, when it comes to reviewing these never ending games – I feel like most people will know when their opinion has solidified. That’s when you write the review. There’s no science to it – when you know, you know. This feels like an unsatisfyingly murky answer to end on, but that’s life.

Well that’s my opinion, but what’s yours? Do you think reviewers should be held to finish games before sharing their opinions? Let me know in the comments. I’d appreciate hearing from others, especially with how one sided this has been.

17 thoughts on “Opinion: You Don’t Need to Finish Games to Review Them

  1. Pretty strong agreement here. Much as I enjoyed God of War, you clearly weren’t having fun with it and you figured that out pretty quickly. No need for you to complete it to know you weren’t enjoying it.

    This is a topic I’ve been pretty interested in myself. I’ve seen a lot of the same debates and been pretty equally frustrated…and I don’t even review games for a living or as a hobby!

    As a sort of Devil’s Advocate, I imagine some portion of the idea you have to finish a game to assess it comes from the fact that every now and then a game will change radically to “throw you for a loop.” Maybe it will toss in a major mechanical change at the 50% mark, and it’s like playing a new game. Such games are pretty rare, but it might be interesting to think about where those games fall in this argument.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m kind of undecided on those games that take time to get good. Like on one hand I feel like they should be dragged over the coals for wasting the players time. Everyone is busy, and it’s not always great when your leisure time is spent grinding through a rather tedious game because it only gets good later on. However, there are some games that really do get incredible after their terrible intros. Disco Elysium comes to mind as one that I had to play for about 10 hours before it really got its hooks in deep. And I loved that game…just not the first bit of it haha.

      Somewhat related: as I was writing this I remembered a video by Adam Millard on terrible openings in games. Worth a watch if you’ve got a spare 20 minutes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If it were a narrative driven experience there’s an argument to be had for the necessity of completion to fully appreciate the experience. Using film as an example, missing the big reveal or twist at the end in something like Signs then reviewing it as a period piece would be counterproductive. That said, interesting to see the mention of Civilization 6, have sunk a lot of hours into that game and wouldn’t review it with a bargepole, could talk in detail about the different dynamics, changes to 5, the broad improvements but then they release an expansion like Gathering Storm that fundamentally changes the game and suddenly you’re back to square one.

    So….thoughts. Yes, sometimes for the narrative, no sometimes for changes and improvements.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fair all around.

      Though I do feel like there could be an argument, as it relates to games, if a narrative focused title fails to draw the player in during the opening hours. Some narrative games are as long as a movie, and others are…significantly longer. Highlighting the lack of a real hook might hold value to some who wouldn’t want to push through to get to the good bits.

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  3. I feel like its a fine balance. No, you do not need to finish a game to review it but you do need to spend enough time in the game to get a good representative chunk out of it. An example would be Civ. 1 game is enough to know if you like what the game is giving you even if you haven’t experienced all it has to give you.

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    1. That definitely gets into those “when you know you know” scenarios. Having just come off Civilization, I most assuredly couldn’t write about it in any detail after my first game. I think I could at a surface level now, but I wouldn’t have as much to drill down into for some aspects of the game. For example, when it came to culture related stats I went pretty light, while I’ve got a pretty good feel for technology, military, and religious systems within the game. After the first game though? I barely understood how half the game’s systems worked.

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  4. As people should already know, if people do not complete the game their review is almost more important than the ones that completed the game.

    Because those people are the ones were to can gain some valued information, is this the type of game for me, is there something that only a certain subset of players will enjoy and etc…

    So yes, you should not complete a game to be able to review, as you not completing it is already a review of the game.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good insight here. I pretty much agree. I don’t generally review stuff I haven’t finished, but I’m not against doing so as long as you make it clear that you haven’t finished the game. It can be useful to know why someone dropped a game, what they didn’t like about it. The same goes for TV or other media that take more than a small time investment. And yeah, a recommendation requires a full playthrough as well, at least one.

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  6. I agree finishing a game isn’t necessary to review a game — but where we differ is, that I think that holds true regardless of whether your recommendation is a positive or a negative one.

    The caveat I add to that is that said review should itself include the caveat that you didn’t complete it and then perhaps even provide some context on how far / how much time you DID spend with the game.

    Provided that’s the case, I’m happy. Although I am reminded of the old classic example of this, Ed Zitron Darkfall Online review. He claimed 100+ hours ingame, went on a multipage rant about how bad the game is, with many details outright wrong, then got called out by the Devs when they investigated the played time on his account and it was less than 4 hours. xD

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Reminds me of when Angry Joe talked about the first raid in destiny 2, like he had done it…. Without having actually done the raid.

        Good times

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  7. While I do agree that you don’t need to complete games to be able to review them, I feel like you should be able to recommend a game even without having sunk hours upon hours into that. I mean, what does “playing through” even entail? In Hollow Knight, people say that you didn’t properly play through the game unless you played 112% of it. I did previously do 100% but apparently that’s not enough. I didn’t review the game, mind you, but while I’d recommend it after 100% and even 108%, I wouldn’t recommend it if I had to grind dream essence for hours upon hours and if I had to go out there and fight Grimm… let alone Nightmare King Grimm…

    I saw an argument once that someone started in the comment section of a book review on Facebook. The reviewer didn’t finish the book and after reading to the halfway mark dropped it completely because it wasn’t good at all. According to some angry joe in the replies, she should have read through it all and then made the judgement, calling her a fraud or whatever. But like, if you don’t like someone’s style in the first eight hours of reading a book (which is A LOT of time spent doing something you dislike), that won’t change in the next eight hours.

    I think my exception to the rule is when I notice that specific elements of a game that I previously enjoyed could turn out grindy. In that case, I need to play a lot of it to see if it really is that grindy after all. In Hades, I initially found the sword horrible to use and I hated how much Darkness you needed to grind. Eventually, though, as I unlocked other weapons and made it further into the runs, the grind lessened actually, as you’d collect so much darkness and stuff.
    Meanwhile, other games become grinder in the later stages and that’s honestly tricky. I like to mention that as a caveat at the end but if I still personally like it despite that, I’d recommend it still.

    I believe listing how much time you spent with a specific game devalues your opinion as most people will look at the hours spent and then complain. If you don’t give them the option, they won’t complain at all.

    …but maybe I should just write my own post on that since I have way more to say about this, haha. Lovely post, Frosti! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When it comes to your Hollow Knight example I think just “rolling credits” would suffice. That’s also what I had in mind when I said finishing a game before recommending it. I 108%’d my savefile (112% didn’t exist when I played) before reviewing it, but I don’t view that as any more or less valid then someone who missed almost all of the optional bosses and then beat the Hollow Knight to roll credits. I couple people I recommended the game to only did minimum completion playthroughs, and loved the game. The exact level of completion doesn’t make my opinion more valid then their opinions. In all cases we saw a piece of media we really enjoyed through to the end, and subsequently went on to tell other people to play it.

      The inverse of your Hades example is part of why I’m so anal about finishing games before recommending them. There have been a couple games I’ve played over the years that got absolutely stellar reviews, despite having terrible third acts. Darkest Dungeon is my favourite example. Reviewers loved it, but in very few cases actually finished the title. When I played it I found the opening, and middle fairly fun, but the final act was a god awful grind. With almost no reviewer bothering to play to that point, I wasn’t made aware of how god awful the game becomes when you try to actually finish it, and thus walked away having had a terrible time with the title.

      Admittedly, my issue with Darkest Dungeon could have been fixed if any of the reviewers bothered to mention that they’d never made it past the midgame. Though, I’m not entirely sure if they knew that because they stopped playing, and moved onto the next titles.

      There’s no real “right” answer to this though – the comments section here, and on twitter is proof of that. I look forward to your extended thoughts on the subject if/when you post them. 🙂

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  8. Oh, wow. I haven’t really taken part in the whole blogging thing for almost a year ow, and you’re just like “in case that moron will appear ever again, I’m going to be extra prepared”. I’m sorry I have hurt you that badly. But here I am. Prepare thyself for some smart-assery! 😉

    Before I get into the whole “game with no end” thing, I’m going to comment on the general gist of the article. As you and pretty much everyone here already said – broadly speaking, no, you don’t have to finish a game to be able (qualified, even) to review it. With a few exceptions. And exceptions to those exceptions. And exceptions to…yeah, you know where this is going.

    I’d say it strongly depends on what you’re going for with your review. The term “review” is pretty broad. You have just completed the tutorial of a game and feel the need to say how awesome/awful it was? That’s a review. Or have you dedicated the last 6 years of your life playing that game every day, until you’ve seen everything the devs intended you to see (and probably even a lot the devs didn’t intend you to see…), and now you want to deeply analyze the living shit out of every single nuance of it? Technically, it’s still just a review of that same game.
    Is a professional E-Sports player better qualified to review League of Legends than a casual player who doesn’t even play Ranked? Is either of those two more or less qualified than a YouTuber, who spends his time coming up with silly builds and making them work? Are they even playing the same game, at this point?

    What I am winding up to say is: the question is not “do I need to complete the game to be qualified to review it?”. The question is “what information do I want to convey to which target audience?”. Take your discussion with Magi about Hollow Knight as an example. Is a general gameplay analysis type of review valid, even if that person has not completed the game? Probably yes. Is that same person qualified to talk about the endgame content, like the boss rush arena? Probably less so.

    Also, reviews tend to not exist in a vacuum. Both reviewer and reader probably have played similar games before, and maybe the reader has read some other reviews from that reviewer, too. Like, when you say “Man, this text-based point-and-click-Adventure is pretty neat”, then I know it’s basically a 9/10. If you say the same thing about a systems-driven, fast-paced fighting game, it’s probably more like a 5/10. Because Adventures are not really your genre, but fighting games are. In this case, *not* having expertise is what makes your Adventure-review so helpful to someone who knows your habits a bit.
    The opposite thing would be true for me. If I say “Well, the game wasn’t so bad, but I did not quite finish it”, then you better believe you should start charging money for playing the game, because if Mr “you-haven’t-truly-played-a-game-until-you’ve-played-it-twice-and-then-a-year-later-played-it-again” can’t bother to finish a 6-hour-game, then that’s not a good sign.

    That all being said, while I would not entirely disregard a review purely on the reviewer’s completion level, I do prefer it when the reviewer has completed the game as much as possible, for many of the reasons you already mentioned. And if he hasn’t finished the game, I’d like to know why he didn’t, and how far he got. As you said, if someone recommends me a game he hasn’t even finished, I have to wonder why he didn’t finish it. Also (again, as you mentioned already), it could happen that a positive review would have turned into a negative one with more playtime, as mechanics and/or narrative can grow stale, or the game might just turn into a giant clusterfuck. An already negative review, on the other hand, will probably not get turned around. Because why would it? If it sucks for 60 % of the time, then why would that change in the last 40 %? Especially for objective reasons, like camera angles or unresponsive controls.

    So, what about games without an ending? Well, pretty much the same holds true for those. What kind of information do you want to provide and do you feel capable of doing so? If yes, then go for it. If not, play it a bit longer. For games without an end, I have a rule of thumb: If I could randomise the settings (like difficulty, faction, mode of play, challenges, whatever) and still feel like I can play effectively to some extent and explain my thought process, then I have “completed” it.

    Phew. Man, I’ve missed this…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so glad you didn’t leave any room for me to respond so I can instead state that it was nice to see a return to your 12 mile long comments on one of my posts lmao

      I fucking knew if there was anything I wrote about recently THIS would be the one that you read and commented on, so I had to prepare a statement ahead of time :p

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