Sometimes games don’t launch like they’re supposed to. It happens all the time, and with games like Street Fighter V and XCOM 2, 2016 isn’t looking like the year when every game suddenly launches with everything working properly. From content-sparse releases to bad servers to loading times circumvented by the Caps Lock key, the AAA game that launches without issue might start being the exception.
A bad launch doesn’t have to be a death knell, though. Plenty of games have started out in bad (ok, even terrible) states and come back, getting much better and actually turning themselves around, going from outright awful or unplayable to a good time you don’t have to qualify. I hope to one day play Street Fighter V without getting a rage-quitter or disconnected from the server, and here are ten examples I can use to tell myself everything is going to be okay.
After the terrible PC port of the original Dark Souls that created one of the most essential mods of all time (DSfix), everyone was kind of hoping From Software would create a better PC version of Dark Souls II. For a short while, those dreams were dashed: The PC version of Dark Souls II launched with server issues, random disconnects, the inability to launch for some players, and a lack of basic keyboard and mouse support, in some cases. The issues were prevalent enough for From to make an official statement on the matter, promising they’d resolve the issues. And they did, eventually! And now the game is good. You’d think that’d happen more often.
Destiny had your typical server and connection issues, but that’s not the biggest reason people were bummed out by it. After a terrific beta period that everyone thought encompassed less of the entire game than it actually did, Destiny had a huge content problem at launch. There simply wasn’t enough to do, and what there was didn’t seem all that captivating. Many also felt betrayed by Bungie making a game modeled more after an MMO than a first-person shooter. In the long run, though, Destiny’s been able to do right by its longtime fans with some regular content updates. It took a little while (the initial DLC offerings weren’t great) but the game’s first expansion, The Taken King, made the game a lot better overall. It still may not be the game everyone wanted it to be, but by now, it’s one I can see myself going back to.
World of WarCraft’s twelve-year history has made its shaky launch a minor blip on the timeline, but it’s still there. When the game first hit, it was almost impossible to get into a server without hitting a queue. The game lagged at almost every town, and random disconnects would throw you back into looking for a server. The game even had issues later on, as servers would clog up every time a new expansion hit. World of Warcraft’s initial mishaps would have sunk any other online game, but in this case, it was indicative of just how massive that game was, and how much ground it broke back in 2004. At the time, you simply couldn’t get what it offered anywhere else.
Half-Life 2’s problems were more related to the simultaneous launch of Steam as a service, but that didn’t make the service’s first game any more playable. Steam was down or not working properly for days after it launched, which, like Diablo III’s launch, made people skeptical about having to tie their games to an online service. Thankfully, the reward for putting up with these issues was one of the greatest shooters ever made, so everyone looks back on the whole thing and laughs. Oh, those crazy kids at Valve. Servers, am I right?
I’ll be honest: I’ve never played Grand Theft Auto V’s online portion. But GTA’s the kind of game you hear about whether you like it or not, and for a long time after Online launched, all I heard was how awful the servers were, and how bad the whole experience was. You couldn’t even do online heists, which were my favorite part of the single-player (which I did play). It seemed, from afar, like a huge missed opportunity. Luckily, Rockstar seems to have fixed the server issues and added those online heists everyone wanted, and I’ll still occasionally read about people having fun robbing things from digital people.
CounterStrike: Global Offensive is most likely the e-sport of tomorrow. It’s enormously popular, and if it continues to grow the way it has been, it might be the first game to give League of Legends some real competition when it comes to raw viewership (but that’s just speculation on my part). As popular as it is now, though, it’s all the more interesting to know that Global Offensive didn’t start out as the grand suite of five-on-five headshotting it is today. Its initial release didn’t have the feature set it has now, and it didn’t have the right “feel,” prompting many longtime players to stick to the original Counter-Strike for a long time. Now, though, Global Offensive dominates Steam and my friends list, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that.
Battlefield has a classic “this shit was just broke for weeks” story. Servers were messed up, the single-player’s blandness made it hard to forgive how bad the servers were, and the servers were messed up. My favorite bug was the one where one of the game’s “levolutions” (where parts of the map changed throughout a match) would make a server crash completely. It was a complete trainwreck that went on for weeks, but the game eventually settled into something you could up into without having to look through server browsers for too long.
This might not entirely qualify as a terrible launch, but it wasn’t exactly a great one. The Wii U iteration of Super Smash Bros. had the regular server overload problems, but it also seemed to have another issue: bricking people’s consoles. In reality, it was just an issue the Wii U had had all along, and the popularity of Super Smash Bros. exposed the issue to larger number of people. Still, that didn’t stop people from blaming it on the game (Nintendo reps telling people to do things that would actually end up bricking their consoles didn’t help either). Everything was (mostly) fine all along, but this particular debacle showed how little most people actually used their Wii U’s until this game came out.
Diablo III is probably the most-used example of recovering from a terrible launch. When the game first hit, “Error 37” plagued its userbase and vindicated everyone’s fears about single-player games with online hooks. You couldn’t do much else in the original Diablo III after beating it on higher difficulties, either, and the real-money auction house made cheating your way to better gear as tempting as it was exploitative. But over the course of the next year, Blizzard wised up and created one of the most replayable action-RPGs on the planet by adding in infinite dungeons, creating an intricate loot system that didn’t require you to spend money, and finding new ways to make players grind for new gear that did more than buff stats. Diablo III may be one of the most disastrous launches of all time, but it’s also the gold standard for how to bounce back from one.
MMOs don’t usually come back. They either disappear into the ether, go free-to-play, or both. And by most measures, Final Fantasy XIV had the worst launch of any MMO I can recall. It launched to reviewers saying it was an “incomplete, broken mess.” On top of that, nearly every facet of the game was subpar and obtuse; the interface was ridiculous, the quests were boring, and the game’s performance teetered between bad and unplayable. It just didn’t seem salvageable, which makes it strange to think about how many people I know who still regularly hop on to the game’s massive overhaul and re-release, A Realm Reborn. And from what I’ve heard, it’s actually a pretty good MMO. That a game this bad managed to right its ship so thoroughly is nothing short of astounding, and whenever a game botches a launch, this is the game I can point to and say, “well, at least it’s not this bad.”
Suriel Vazquez is a freelance writer who’s read more than his fair share of books during server downtime. He’s written for Paste, ZAM, Playboy, and several others. You can follow him @SurielVazquez