Monday, September 18, 2023
When to play?
No Man’s Sky is reporting their “most successful month in the past few years”. Apart from their Echoes update, this is probably also boosted by the release of Starfield. Watching some Starfield gameplay videos on base building and planetary exploration followed by some No Man’s Sky videos of similar gameplay, it is hard not to come away with the impression that No Man’s Sky is both prettier and a lot deeper in these areas. Now No Man’s Sky obviously was in a horrible state when it came out in 2016, and I was able to get it for 60% off on Steam in 2017. Played it a bit then, liked it, haven’t touched it since then and have forgotten all about it. I barely recognize the 2023 gameplay, as the game continued to evolve and change. So for people for who Starfield was a disappointment, No Man’s Sky might be a reasonable alternative, especially if you still got a copy in your Steam library which you got at a steep discount. But thats poses the question when a game is best to play.
Video game technology advances. Maybe not as fast anymore as it used to, but playing a game that is over 10 years old and didn’t get some major engine overhaul since then is likely to feel outdated. I’m not saying that Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 weren’t great games, but you can’t play them followed by 3 without noticing the technological gap. And that is if the old game is still available: With live service games and MMOs there is a significant risk that instead of getting better over time, they get worse due to lack of other players, or downright get the servers shut down for not being profitable anymore. Another aspect is social media: Some 10-year old games still have a strong following, e.g. Rimworld. But others have completely disappeared from the public conscience, and you can’t find a Twitch streamer still covering them, and if you talk about the game on your social media there is no echo. My Steam library has 70% unplayed games, and that is actually not an unusual number; lots of people buy Steam games, decide for various reasons to wait before playing, and then never get around to it. And not every game actually gets good developer support over the years, some games get released half-finished and never get more than a few hotfixes.
The cult of the now has advantages when it comes to playing new games that are relevant to others, and thus it is easier to find some conversation about them on social media. But even highly praised games like Baldur’s Gate 3 have bugs and missing content in Act III, and will probably be a better experience once the definitive edition is released. I played Pathfinder: Kingmaker for 180 hours, then bought Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous and stopped playing after 37 hours. A combination of too much of the same sort of gameplay in series, and the newly released game being buggy, killed it for me. Wrath of the Righteous is now at patch 2.1.5, and presumably a lot better. But of course I wasted money by buying it on release. And 2023 is a year filled with great RPGs, which doesn’t help dealing with a backlog. A game like Starfield I want to play soon, when I come back from my holidays, because with subscription services like Gamepass I never know how long a game will be included in the subscription, games are leaving Gamepass every month. But I would also be interested in finally trying out Cyberpunk 2077, with the new 2.0 update.
Lacking a crystal ball, I don’t have a good answer for any given new game whether it would be better to play now, or wait at least a year or two until the game is actually in a finished state, and can probably be bought a lot cheaper. Usually I decide based on emotions, my current interest, but that isn’t always a good guide.