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?
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.
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.
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.