Disappointment is part of life, but in the gaming industry, it can hurt even more when a beloved franchise makes a long-awaited return only to fail to live up to expectations. Or that AAA game that has been hyped for the better part of a decade releases, and the reality of its delivery sets in. These happen from time to time (though with seemingly more regularity in recent years), but it’s important that we look at each as a learning experience.
Whether it’s a developer that is over-promising what the final game will look like or a group of fans that are taking the anticipation to another level, there are times when both sides can be at fault. However, that doesn’t excuse the games that release half-baked or broken. These games are some of the biggest disappointments in gaming history, and I think their inclusion on this list should be the one time people aren’t disappointed to see them.
Banjo and Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
Ah, the ugly step-sibling of the console Banjo and Kazooie games. For a brief time in the universe, there was hope that Mircosoft’s acquisition of Rare would result in continued success for the company, but that has largely not been the case for most of their stay at Microsoft, and I think many of us gave up after 2008’s Banjo and Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts.
The series was known for its quirky worlds, creative platforming mechanics, and loveable cast of characters. Nuts and Bolts retains some of the charm of the characters but throws everything else out of the window. Mircosoft probably saw 3D platformers as a dying breed and decided to use the big-name property to pivot in a different direction. That direction was an action-adventure game that focused on car mechanics. It was a big departure for the series and one that still leaves a bad taste in many Banjo and Kazooie fans’ mouths.
No Man’s Sky
The enthusiasm that No Man’s Sky created when it was announced in 2013 could be felt around the world. The game seemed truly next-gen with its randomly generated planets filled with beasts, flora, and insects. It was going to be online, so there was speculation that you would run into friends or bandits that might try to tear your customized ship from the skies by force. It all seemed like the sci-fi adventure that so many of us had hoped for years would come, and it was being made by a small indie studio? It truly felt too good to be true, and that’s because it was.
The news began to trickle out about the game leading up to launch. It would be impossible to be with your friends at launch; for instance, there was little to do in the game except the grind for materials to make bases that weren’t much good for anything except looking good. You could customize your ship to a degree, but with no one being around and no reason to do anything with it, it all felt a bit flat. The game would improve over time but, at launch, No Man’s Sky was a terrible letdown.
Dead Space 3
Dead Space was on top of the horror world for a time. Even the more action-packed Dead Space 2 had enough horror elements that allowed it to retain its crown in a world that was too scared to develop horror games. However, that mentality would begin to infect EA, who would require that Visceral Games make a Dead Space that practically threw all of its scary elements out of the airlock and instead incorporated a lot of trendy mechanics that were popular at the time, such as a forced coop campaign, crafting weapons mechanic, and quick-time events.
It felt so far and away, not Dead Space, that anyone who came to it hoping for another heart-racing experience only found an okay action game that was more frustrating than not. It also would spell the end of the series for the foreseeable future as it failed to sell very well. It took me over seven years until I could even attempt to play it. Luckily, the mainstream success of horror games like The Evil Within and EA’s recent single-player darling Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order might be the secret sauce that allows the series to return to form one day.
Pokemon Sword and Shield
Disappointment in POkemon games is going to happen more and more as the original Pokemon fans get older and the games refuse to grow with them. But I’m not talking about the limited Pokedex or the lack of legacy Pokemon; I’m talking about what the game did offer.
It was the first mainline console Pokemon game, but it had the least explorable map of any Pokemon game before it, including Red and Blue on the GameBoy. It felt like you were running down a single hallway for most of the game rather than having a Pokemon adventure. What makes it worse is that the Wild Area exists as a tease for what the game could have been.
Pokemon Sword and Shield were probably a cross between an experiment and a time crunch. The Pokemon Company probably wanted to innovate and at the same time stay true to form, but while working with new Pokemon and technology, they ended given us a half-baked experience of both of those ideas. I hope it was a good learning experience for the developers, at least.
The Fable series was at its high point going into Fable 3, and that might have worked against it. The game’s lead developer Peter Molyneux led the other two games to great success and was making many promises about how Fable 3 was going to turn out in the final product. Of course, this isn’t new since Molyneux does this with all his games, but Fable 2, for instance, still delivered an enjoyable experience, while Fable 3 felt like it took several steps backward.
Fable 3 was supposed to be the most open of the series and allow you to rule the kingdom as you saw fit but what fans got instead was a game that was about as open as Fable 2 with a rudimentary choice system that was supposed to simulate being a king. Fable 3 isn’t necessarily the worst game to ever come out, but in terms of the promises and the hype that preceded the game, its fans and developers set it up for failure right away.
Watch Dogs was announced at E3 2012, and I remember sitting in my dad’s living room with my mouth agape as the footage played. My memory isn’t great, but that should go to show you just how impactful the announcement for Watch Dogs was at the time.
It looked so next-gen with its weather effects, dynamic gameplay, and hacking mechanic that made the city feel connected to the character. It looked like something none of us had ever seen before (or since in many cases), and there was a very good reason for that: the game would never play or look like it did in the announcement.
I kind of expected that Watch Dogs wouldn’t look as good as it did in the trailer, but I was hoping that the gameplay would be just as dynamic as the trailer showed, with us having dozens of hacking options so we could be creative with completing missions but that wouldn’t be the case.
The hacking mechanic was fairly prescriptive and offered the same handful of options to get things done. There was also a large emphasis on driving vehicles even though the driving was not great. It just felt like they tried too much, had to backtrack, and then didn’t have time to make the game playable with the hardware that was available.
Duke Nukem Forever
I’m not even sure most people were even that excited for this game. It was in development for 12 years and had gameplay shown at so many conferences; I think most people just expected it to be good by that point.
However, Duke Nukem Forever would be the first lesson for many for what a turbulent development cycle could mean for the final product. Duke Nukem Forever launched with big promises and didn’t meet a single one besides having the same ‘90s Duke Nukem humor which hasn’t aged well.
The gameplay falls short in just about every category, which isn’t helped by the fact that the developers tried to cram a bunch of gimmicks into the game, the worst of which is the terrible driving segments that pepper the game. Like many on this list, Duke Nuke Forever was the last we heard from the series and might be the last we hear from them for many more years to come.
I shouldn’t have to waste too much time on this one as it’s still plenty fresh in many of our hearts and minds. Cyberpunk 2077 was being developed by CD Projekt Red, who are best known for their work on the Witcher series. That pedigree, combined with some favorable testimonials of journalists seeing the game behind closed doors, helped to raise the public’s anticipation for this game to a fever pitch.
Unfortunately, when it was finally released, it was nearly unplayable on many of the platforms that it was promised for. It would crash, freeze, or just have ridiculous visual bugs that left you wondering how the game hadn’t been delayed longer. It can be understandable to not hit all of the huge promises that they were making, but Cyberpunk managed to be released acting like a game that was still in early development.
Oh, another EA game. Anthem’s initial reveal made it look like a true next-gen title with a focus on verticality and the scope of its worlds. Watching the iron man-like suit fly through the wild jungles of an alien world looked impressive, and the developers made everyone excited by saying that there were not going to be any microtransactions in the game. It seemed like just the game that would be a flagship next-gen title.
Alas, the game would release feeling like it lacked content despite looking beautiful. It has some tedious story beats, and progression and most of the core missions feel repetitive. The gameplay can feel pretty good and look visually impressive, but again it’s more shallow than that. Anthem was consistently all show and no substance, which was its greatest fault.
I think the biggest wave of disappointment for Fallout 76 hit after the massive lead up Bethesda held that year where they had a livestream with no one there, and then eventually it led to this trailer. There was no other news, and it wouldn’t be until E3 a couple weeks later that we would understand that this wasn’t going to be a normal Bethesda Fallout game.
Tom Howard came out on stage at that E3 and announced that it was going to be a multiplayer-focused experience with no NPCs because the players were going to supplement that experience. Let me tell you, that is not how that went at all. Howard would then say a lot of phrases that I’m sure he (or at least his team) would live to regret as they were memed and have haunted the game since launch. It just works that way.
Fallout 76 came out with very little memorable content, bugs aplenty, and broken promise after broken promise. Much like No Man’s Sky, though, Fallout 76 is reportedly getting better, but as an industry, we need to do better. At least games like 7 Days to Die are upfront and say they are early access, but too many AAA studios are releasing unfinished games for full price nowadays.