Death of the Critic

How Much Do You Need To Play?

Written by: Tom Blaich

I’ve been playing games for a very long time. I’ve been reviewing them for years. And over this time, I’ve noticed a trend towards longer and longer games. As a player, this is a really exciting trend. I love the push towards a more intense, story-focused experience for a player. But at the same time, it is beginning to get a little out of hand. I’ve written about this before in regards to every games desire to have an expansive open world. It seems like every game wants to be an epic, 40 plus hour-long experience, following the chosen character as they save the world/galaxy/universe.

This raises an interesting question for reviewers. How much do we need to play?

This sounds like a really dumb question to a reader. I should of course play all of the game, no matter what. Every single bit of content that comes on the disc. Generally, I agree with this sentiment. Unfortunately, with the constraints of time, I cannot always devote 40+ hours to fully playing a game before the review needs to be written and published. I would contend that, as consumers of games, we generally know whether a game is good or bad long before the conclusion to the story.

It was a huge deal when Jim Sterling reviewed
Final Fantasy 13 back in 2010. Readers found out that he did not finish the entire game before he wrote his review. Fans of the game saw his negative (4/10) review of the game as being unfair to the franchise, claiming that he was biased, and that he was simply attempting to grab attention to his review by being “controversial”. Many of their arguments boiled down to the fact that if he had played the game longer, he would have found that it got better.

If you have to put more than ten or twenty hours into a game that you dislike, while you wait for it to get good, then it is a bad game. This really is evident in modern RPGs, especially Japanese RPGs, which frequently hold your hand for the first dozen or more hours before the world fully opens up to you. These games seek to pad out their run time as if to make the game more palatable to consumers by being longer. Just another quote that they can put on the back of the box.

I would not mind this as much if they used this extra time to focus more on the main story of the game, but it seems like, even as the games get longer, the focus on their main stories is getting lesser and lesser. Early missions are nothing more than a tutorial on how to pick things up or kill a basic enemy, instead of actually using that time to build your character up. You can tear through the main quest line of many of these games rather quickly, and the side content seeks to fill up the gaps.

So as a reviewer, what is my requirement? Just complete the game, which would be ignoring a vast majority of the content? Do everything I can in the play through? Play through multiple times with different characters and classes and choices to see what changes? At this point, the way that I play a game for review is simple. I try to play it organically, the way any player would want to, whether they were writing something or not. For me, this usually means doing as much as possible. But I don’t try to check off boxes on a list. After a week with the game, I write and post my review.

This gives me a good balance of time to play the game and formulate my opinions on. I usually do try to finish a game if I’m going to review it. I feel a certain obligation to do so, to see everything that the developer has offered. However, there are some rare cases where I do not want to finish a game for some reason. It could be that I’ve simply played my fill, wrung out every last drop of enjoyment before the game’s story was over, and felt that I was sated.
This happens with open world games more and more often these days, as I have a tendency to do every side mission available in the world before I ever touch the main story. It makes the latter half of a game quite boring.

And unfortunately, there are some instances when the game is simply bad. When I do not want to be forced to play it any longer. It does not happen often, and when it does, it is extraordinarily disappointing. This is something that I mention in my reviews if it had occurred, but it does not stop me from reviewing the game. If the game was not enjoyable enough that it makes me want to stop playing, then it is not a good game, and I should warn people about my experience.

I can understand if some portions of my audience do not reflect this sentiment, but it is the editorial decision that we have made as an organization. If you have any questions, concerns, comments, or suggestions, please let us know so that we can address them. Thank you.


Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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