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Destiny Sales Prove Review Scores Wrong

By Christopher Coke on October 24, 2014 | Columns | Comments

Destiny Sales Prove Review Scores Wrong

Too often, there exists a disparity between the feelings of game reviewers and game players. Time after time, we’re told a game is amazing only to find it out it doesn’t work (Sim City comes to mind). Or, we’re told a game is bad, just to find out that it’s a consumer hit. Such is the case with Destiny, the disappointing mega-hit we were told could only break our hearts with the letdown. What’s the deal, games industry? We answer that question, and break down the week’s biggest news, in this week’s RPG files.

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I first began thinking about this topic shortly after getting my hands on Destiny. One thing is undeniable: this is not the game we were promised. What happened to the lofty customization promises? The virtuoso exploration of untamed planets? A rich world where you could, as the box itself proclaims, “become legend”? Those are all, all undelivered promises, and anyone who followed the game’s much-hyped march to release, was sure to feel let down. And indeed, if this Reddit thread is to be believed (which should always come with a healthy dose of skepticism), the Destiny we received may not even be the game Bungie planned to deliver in the first place.

That’s pretty startling; a bitter pill to swallow for fans who eagerly awaited an answer to Bungie’s lofty claims. After all, they had the pedigree to deliver, so why wouldn’t they? In a way, it’s not surprising that Destiny fell into a middling Metacritic score. That disappointment is reflected in the amassed scores.  The PS4 version currently sits at 76 out of 100.

But does that make Destiny a bad game? Even a middling one? I don’t think so. But thankfully, I don’t have to make that case; the facts do. Last week, we found out that Bungie boasts 3.2 million players logging in every single day for an average of three hours a day, a month after launch. That. Is. Profound. If you disagree, look at other games falling into the mid-70s for reviews. Very few, ever achieve a tail like that.

This week, not unexpectedly, we discovered that Destiny wiped the floor with its competition, easily becoming the top-selling game of September. What’s more, digital sales of the game broke records for the PlayStation Network, nearly doubling September 2013’s sales.

Reviewers from other major sites have chalked the sales disparity up to the heavy marketing campaign preceding the game’s launch. I buy that. What I don’t buy is that if Destiny is such a mediocre game, why are people still playing it – for hours every single day – more than a month after launch?

The obvious answer is that it isn’t a mediocre game. The obvious answer is that review scores – not reviews themselves – have under-served this game.

Destiny proves the point that so many games writers have been making for ages: numbers don’t represent much of anything. They are a one-point, without nuance (which is why we rate individual areas before rendering a final score).  A review score cannot possibly capture the weight of a critic’s words when they say, “the story is lacking but the gameplay is incredible.” Instead, they sum it up in an easy to digest figure that encourages every time-cramped reader to skip critical thought – theirs or the reviewers – and “get right to the point.”

Is the game a 76? Perhaps, but it is certainly not the same 76 as Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition or CastleStorm, or even the higher rated Samurai Warriors 4 or Metro Redux. It is a 76 titled heavily toward incredibly fun gameplay and addictive progression loops. It is chipped away by its shortcomings but we the gamers testify that this is a 76 worth our time.

The point is, reviews are not a bad thing. But you have to read them. A score is only one piece, a necessary evil because there is demand for that evil. Here, we have a crystal clear example of why you shouldn’t just trust a number. Savvy marketing isn’t keeping us playing Destiny. We’re still playing because, guess what? The 76 points that are there are worth revisiting again and again while other games gather dust on our shelves.

Quick Hits:

The Banner Saga has finally hit mobile devices, at least if you’re an Apple owner. We gave the game a 7.8/10 – but, hey, like we talked about, go read the review. This is a mobile review. Nuance is important.

Undead Labs pet battler, Moonrise, is rattling some cages. This week we have an exclusive developer diary on why Undead is spending extra time creating an in-depth world. “A cohesive, compelling world seeps into your unconscious mind,” explains Lead Writer, Andy Collins, “making the game more immersive, more intriguing, and ultimately more fun to hang out in for hours and hours.” Also, he compares a pet battler without story to virtual dogfighting. Worth a read!

Is Mass Effect getting virtual reality? That may be the case if this tweet from the game’s director is to be believed. Along with a picture of an Oculus Rift headset, he writes “it begins.”  Then again, Casey may just be as excited as the rest of us would be to play with an Oculus. Mass Effect with VR would be reason enough for me to buy a unit. Would you?

14 years after the original release, Icewind Dale is making its way to cell phones and tablets. Beamdog, the studio who brought us the enhanced edition of Baldur’s Gate, has revealed that the game will be available to iOS users on October 30th. Will Icewind Dale stand the test of time or just prove that some things are better left in the past? I’m betting on the former.

Finally, Shroud of the Avatar seems to be making some serious progress. Our own Red Thomas stopped by the studio to check out the latest build of the game, Release 11. It’s all about advancement this time ‘round, with character advancement finally being added. Some new scenes have also been added, including the choke-point heavy Vertas Pass. I’m loving how dynamic this world is shaping up to be. That sounds like an easy key to replayability for a long time to come.

That’s it for this week. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.
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