Written by Jack Timson.
You Either Die A Hero…
The PC crowd has long had to suffer shovelware, badly-ported games, pretentious indie publications and the tyranny of free-to-play, pay-to-win online monoliths. Considering all the software balancing, hardware tinkering and budget management just to keep up with (or stay ahead of) this generation’s consoles, you have to wonder why us keyboard warriors keep going without succumbing to the simplistic joy of the console.
I like to think it’s because every now and then, we get gems. Stellar little games that become classics in their own right. So that’s why, when these classics return in new and improved formats and sequels, it pains us to see how far their creators have fallen – be it to appeasing simplicity for the console ports, the wallet-draining greed of the DLC machine, or even to pure and simple laziness. So let’s sit together and lament the comebacks that ruined our favourites forever.
5) Killing Floor 2
Tripwire, we hardly knew ye. You who were responsible for Red Orchestra, the most authentic WW2 shooter ever seen, and its commendable sequel. You who stuck to PC gaming, even if it meant relative ignominy. You who brought us one of the coolest zombie wave shooters of all time, the hilariously British, Killing Floor, elevated from obscure Unreal Tournament to the annals of Steam best-seller fame forever, and for which millions thank you.
Then you made the second one.
I was excited for Killing Floor 2, that much was certain. I couldn’t wait to revisit post-zombie-apocalypse Europe and blow away genetic monstrosities with high-fidelity blood and guts. Despite releasing on Steam Early Access (a delivery method that’s garnered some infamy), I happily bought my digital deluxe edition and, with my summer break from university about to begin, got started on my Zed-killing career.
It wasn’t long, however, before things started to get murky. Granted, it was expected of an unfinished beta, but the game dropped with only three maps, four classes and fifteen very similar weapons. Numbers the fans hoped would balloon in the coming months. But Tripwire, consistently missed update deadlines, and people would wait months only to be greeted by one additional map and a single (often unbalanced and somewhat redundant) new class. But the actual offence was yet to come.
In November 2015, around the time the original full release goal had been set, Tripwire announced and implemented the oddly-named ‘ZEDconomy’ – a system whereby one could, for a small microtransaction, purchase skins for their characters and weapons. While systems like this can often safely be ignored, the community was baffled and frustrated that, while the game was still in Early Access and still failing to meet projected deadlines, the development team had wasted time to develop this utterly superfluous and penny-pinching feature. Time that could’ve been spent far more productively. Furthermore, a randomised drop system that could only be benefitted from with the use of purchasable keys was implemented (more on that later).
Needless to say, the fans raged, and Tripwire had the flimsy excuse of “it was a test run” up their sleeve. The system is still in place, but no amount of fine-tuning can remove the stain it’s left on Tripwire’s reputation.
4) Team Fortress 2
Anyone who’s even been near a computer will know Team Fortress 2. Since Half Life 3 became more myth than prediction, Team Fortress 2 has been the new flagship title of Valve Software. It was, and still is, a quirky, cartoon shooter featuring teams of dysfunctional, colour-coded mercenaries endlessly murdering one another. Originally packaged with The Orange Box, in what may well have been Valve’s last disc-based release, it soon became a free-to-play title populated predominantly by prepubescent children, with all the original buyers given a free hat for their hard-earned money.
Remember this: It began with the hats.
See, there’s one reason and one reason only we have free-to-play games – they’ll hang the temptation to spend money over your head the whole time. Team Fortress 2 was perhaps the first real instance of this, and a testament to Valve Software’s cold, calculating genius. Originally, new and unique weapons and cosmetic features like hats were only available through a randomised drop system, a rare and unpredictable thing that often got you the same hideous fedora for the class you never played seven times in a row. Valve saw this, and hatched the scheme that would change the F2P landscape forever.
It began with an in-game store where players could purchase specific items and bundles for a fixed price. This opened up an avenue for a player trading system, where hats with meaningless prefixes like ‘rare’ and ‘legendary’ could be traded for piles of less-flashy items, often forcing potential traders to raid the store for cheap chaff to exchange. But perhaps the most egregious example was the crate-and-key system – crates would be dropped at random throughout gameplay, and depending on its arbitrary type, you could go to the in-game store and purchase the requisite key to unlock its contents. Of course, you could ignore it, but the temptation will always get you in the end.
In truth, Valve not only codified the formula for every free-to-play game that followed, but essentially created its own source of endlessly-multiplying money. People endlessly buy the items, keys and bundles. While whatever makes the buyers happy isn’t for us to judge, they’re the reason we aren’t getting a new Half Life game, as Valve no longer have any need to make one [The Steam Store makes the odd buck or two also – Ed].
3) Company of Heroes 2
Relic had some big shoes to fill with the sequel of 2006 strategy hit Company of Heroes. Hailed as one of the best RTS games of recent years, the franchise was improved time and time again by that age-old relic of the expansion pack, kept fresh by an active community of mod-makers and competitive players, and successfully capturing the brutality and scale of the most deadly conflict in history.
This sequel was fun. It lived up to its promises and delivered an engaging experience, both for casual and – loathe as I am to say it – professional players. What the game surrounded itself with was another matter entirely.
Seemingly inspired, laughable as it sounds, by The Sims, Relic released countless, cheap, pieces of DLC from launch day. These ranged from vehicle camouflage schemes separated by weight class to innumerable ‘commander decks.’ These decks essentially being dressed-up abilities that often came with a combination of somewhat-new powers to ones shamelessly taken from the base game. Even more ridiculous were ‘faceplates’, cosmetic features that were only visible in the main menu.
While the developers have doubled back and recently released this absolute heap of shovelware for free, it stands as a stark reminder to just how far this developer was willing to sink.
2) Total War: Rome 2
Oh, Rome 2. You never even had a chance, did you? Here, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the most infamous examples of laziness and greed in games development, where a tidal wave of negligence, penny-pinching and outright lies threatened to destroy one of PC gaming’s most venerable development teams outright. Are you ready? Let’s begin.
Our story begins in the year MMXII… I mean 2012. A slew of trailers, told us that Rome 2 was going to be the biggest, most intense Total War game ever conceived. When Creative Assembly announced the game on Steam, with a pre-order bonus of playable Greeks – what should have been the first warning of things to come – people, including myself, lapped it up and waited tentatively for the distant September 2013 release date. And then there was a great disturbance in the Steam forums; a million voices crying out in disbelief, never to be silenced.
Players who had eagerly awaited the midnight release flocked anywhere they could to properly, or as close as they could manage, dictate their fury. Countless players with top-of-the-line machines could barely run the game, if at all. Those who managed to run it smoothly faced yet more horrors – a slew of graphical nightmares, game-breaking bugs, vastly underdeveloped (but highly-advertised) features and mechanics, an AI that could barely function even on harder difficulties and ever-mounting causes to rue the invention of pre-order bonuses. Creative Assembly stayed as silent as they could throughout, scrambling to create patch after patch and bring the game up to the playable state it should have been in on release.
DLCs were another thing entirely. The pre-order bonus and the successive faction packs were almost fraudulent when players realised that, regardless of the version you played, all these factions were already in the game. The extent of CA’s ‘work’ on this DLC essentially amounted to adding one or two units to the respective factions’ roster and then tweaking some code that made these groups appear in the start menu – an undertaking so frivolous that the modding community already had all factions playable by day one.
Over a year later, the Emperor Edition was released for free to owners of Rome 2, including several key fixes and most notably restructuring what was once some horribly-broken political mechanics. But by then the damage was already done. CA had proven themselves untrustworthy in the eyes of many veteran gamers and came to be regarded with almost pathological scepticism whenever they announced a new game. Their latest non-Total War game, Alien: Isolation, seems to have mitigated some of that damage, but the negligence and lies of the Total War team will not soon be forgotten.
1) Payday 2
It is said that the slowest poison is the most effective; the kind that creeps up on you and strikes when you least expect it. As much can be said for Payday 2, brainchild of Overkill Software and successor to cult hit Payday: The Heist.
It all started out so well, too. With over thirty hours on record around the time of release, I was a big fan of the game, playing every time I got the chance to rob a bank or two in a team of four. There was DLC, sure, but these were usually optional weapons packs that included a fair amount of content and didn’t unbalance the game. Yes, there was an item drop system, but at the time it was fair, free and an incentive to keep playing rather than spend money.
The whole bank-robber theme? A clever warning.
I took perhaps a year off from the game, and came back to find the landscape had completely changed. Weapon packs started introducing more and more outlandish, balance-breaking pieces of gear – rocket launchers, katanas, sniper rifles and heavy machine guns were the new order of the day, and despite the game’s co-operative mechanics it upset the delicate balance of stealing the bank’s money. Last time I checked there were a staggering thirty-eight separate DLC packs, including characters, guns, missions, and even a bloody Christmas soundtrack!
But while I could see there was, at the very least, effort and craft put into these packs, the worst was yet to come. Yes, my friends, our old friend the crate-and-key system was back.
Though DLC and other add-ons were par for the course at this point, Overkill famously stated that their game would never, ever include microtransactions. In November 2015, they doubled back on this decision – suddenly, players could randomly acquire special safes (crates) which could be unlocked with bought drills (keys), which in turn rewarded the not-so-thrifty consumer with gaudy weapon skins that bumped up their stats considerably.
Understandably, the fans went wild, outraged that their favourite game had been tainted by the pay-to-win scourge. Overkill hilariously bungled their response, burying their heads in the sand as their volunteer forum moderators were drowned in a tide of righteous indignance. When they broke their silence, in a Reddit AMA predictably swarmed by their detractors, producer Almir Listo skilfully managed to dodge and weasel out of the numerous difficult questions thrown his way.
Since then, Overkill have quietly introduced the keys as random drops alongside purchasable variants, but given the random and arbitrary nature of Payday 2’s drop system, it’s hardly a fair compromise. The fact remains that Overkill lied through their teeth – and for what? After thirty-eight DLC packs selling around the clock, and millions of players willing to pay for new content, Overkill didn’t think it was enough. They sold their integrity for a shot at a few dollars more and tainted their legacy forever. One thing is for sure, I won’t be coming back to Payday 2; it got stale a long time ago anyway.
Written by Jack Timson.