Tobold's Blog
Thursday, December 28, 2023
The mediocre games of 2023

2023 was a fantastic year for video gaming, with a record number of games scoring over 90 on Metacritic. Nevertheless, various gaming and social media are full of lists of "the worst games of 2023". To which I must say, I didn't play any of them. Most were in genres I don't really play all that often; others were so quickly covered as being "bad games", that I never wanted to try them. While I did buy more games than usual on release in 2023, instead of waiting a year for a lower price, that had a lot to do with these games having been marketed via Twitch streamers; which means I only bought games on release that I already knew a lot of, which makes falling for a really bad game less likely. But of course, not all games that I played in 2023 were great. I would, however, call the less good ones mediocre, or disappointing, rather than bad.

Of course the term "disappointing" is highly subjective, because it depends a lot on how much hope you had put into that game in the first place. I call Starfield "disappointing" compared to the high expectations many people had, including the people who made the game. I wasn't disappointed myself by Starfield, because my expectations were low. To be honest, I didn't like Skyrim or the Fallout games all that much. Starfield met my expectations for an okay-ish role-playing game. Plus, I got to play it "for free" on Game Pass. I played for some hours, was happy that I was able to see what everybody was talking about, nodded, and moved on. With all that subjectiveness, I would still say that Starfield isn't a good game, more a mediocre one. And while that was in part an accident of bad timing, one just has to play through 5 minutes each of dialogue interaction with a companion in Baldur's Gate 3 and Starfield to see that these games aren't bowling in the same league.

Another mediocre game I played, I was very much more disappointed in: The Lamplighters League. This is my genre, I liked the art style, I loved the setting, and I really, really wanted to love the game. And then in the long run, I couldn't, because something is off with the flow of the game on the strategic level, which ends up making it feel somewhat tedious to me, even if I liked the individual missions and tactical combat. I had a very different experience with Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria. That also is a mediocre game, but somehow I liked it enough to play 55 hours of it, even if I had to cheat at the end to get through the last chapters faster and see the end. Even while I was playing it, I had enough experience in game design to see that this wasn't a very good game, but I enjoyed it nevertheless, and that is probably what matters most.

A mediocre game that managed to perfectly match my expectations *and* where the game length perfectly matched the amount of fun time for me was Fae Farm, which I played on the Switch. I knew what it was, a prettified but simplified version of Stardew Valley. And that was exactly what I was looking for at that point in time, and it delivered exactly the experience I expected it would. That doesn't make it a great game, and I was very well aware of its flaws at all times, but it is another good example on how one can have a perfectly pleasant experience with a mediocre game.

While it didn't make my list of the top 3 games on Steam this year, I think that Jagged Alliance 3 is a notch above this list of mediocre games. I'm not saying that the game is perfect or doesn't have problems. But even if I wouldn't called JA3 "great", I would call it a good game. Also in the category of "better than mediocre but not great" games was Hogwarts Legacy, a game that ultimately bored me after 65 hours, but was competent and pleasant enough.

My last two mediocre games of 2023 have one significant difference: The outlook for them to get better. I played about 100 hours of Phantom Brigade in March of this year, had some fun, but found other aspects of the game not appealing at all. Especially the repetitive strategic level with an extreme enemy scaling based on the average level of your mechs, where I ended up in a situation where I was just under the limit, and so any tiny upgrade of my mechs would have made all enemies a full level harder, which pretty much takes the fun out of finding better gear. While I played it, nothing much happened in the way of patches, except for a hotfix. Since then, in August, Phantom Brigade got a single real update, patch 1.1.0, and a few more hotfixes. But it is very clear that there is little hope of the game still improving a lot. The other extreme on that scale is Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader. Which already got two bigger patches and several hotfixes since it released three weeks ago. And based on my experience with the two Pathfinder games of the same company, there will be many more patches. So I am a bit unhappy with myself that I knew that and still bought the game on release. Because it isn't a very good game to start with, and I would have gotten *both* a better price and a better game if I had waited.

Overall, I am happy with my gaming year 2023. Not all the games I played were good or great, but some were. And on the other side I didn't really fall for any really bad games. The game I played and liked the least was Diablo IV, but I don't think this is really a "bad" game, and I got to try it for free, so no harm, no foul.

Good post. It is interesting to hear your take on a number of games you played during the last year.

It also reminds me of how lately I'm trying to spend more time playing games that I'd give a great or excellent rating to, instead of playing only mediocre or good games just because I bought them.
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