This is an odd one to write, because I’m essentially telling you my job doesn’t matter. But then, in the way that most jobs don’t really matter, I suppose it doesn’t. I write about video games for a living. If you enjoy reading about them, great! If you find something insightful, or amusing, or authentic in it, even better. But, as with all review cycles for huge games, too many of you are looking for reasons to be mad. God of War Ragnarok currently sits at 94 on Metacritic, making it one of the most acclaimed games of all time, and yet people are still looking for reasons to be upset. Believe me, you don’t need to care that much.
Right now, Ragnarok is sitting exclusively on positive scores. 80-100 is the range, with 90s, 95s, and 100s making up the bulk of those scores. Everyone who has played the game loved it, even those who found things to criticise. And yet I’m already seeing reviewers, both TheGamer’s own and others across the internet, be hounded for even the slightest bad word they say about it. ‘It’s a little long’, or ‘the pacing is poor’, or ‘you don’t get a certain weapon until too late and that feels like a mistake’ – these are tiny critiques and it’s a reviewer’s job to look for them and expand on them. If a game you’re looking forward to scores 94/100 across the board and you’re hunting down the guy who said ‘I think the pacing wobbles in the middle’, you’re the problem.
Hi, it’s you. You’re the problem, it’s you. I wrote about this fan phenomenon recently when Taylor Swift fans descended on a middling review, even as Midnights broke pretty much every record available to break, writing that they were copying the worst habits of gamers. A week later, the Ragnarok reviews have proved me right. It shouldn’t matter to you at all what scores video games are getting. If God of War had come in wildly below expectations at 60-something, then sure, that’s cause for concern. Once it’s at 94 though, you’ve got your confirmation that it’s great. You don’t need to sniff out the smallest criticism to get mad at.
It makes it seem as though getting mad is part of the fun. It feels like for some people, the most joy they derive from reviews is picking fights with any criticism. It’s not enough that everyone loves their favourite game they haven’t even played yet. They won’t feel like they’re part of the team until they find another team to ‘beat’. It’s not enough to win. Others must lose.
What do these people, who have not played the game yet remember, gain from challenging reviewers to defend points like ‘I wish there were more weapon variety earlier’? The argument is always ‘no one else said that’, because these people can’t use their own opinions, since having not played the game they don’t have any. Do you suspect reviewers are lying? Do you think there might actually be 17 weapons from the start, and reviewers critical of a gameplay element (that was also a major flaw in 2018) are smirking at their Master Chief poster while they turn in their reviews?
Part of the blame falls on our profession itself, however. For a lot of people, triple-A games start at 9/10 and we go from there. God of War Ragnarok might be a perfect 10/10 masterpiece. 60 million Americans can’t be wrong. But when we give out eight 10/10s a year, where do we go from here? There’s a growing trend in the critical space which I can only accurately describe as ‘no downers’. It’s basically ‘let people enjoy things’, but twisted to its natural conclusion where it becomes ‘everyone must enjoy things’.
Bad games come along, where we all agree they’re bad and dunking on them is cool – in those cases, enjoying them is then out of the question. You have to be on the winning team, always. God of War Ragnarok reviews, both in the copy themselves and in the conversation around them, have fetishised spoilers to the point where anything not shown in the marketing is off-limits. If it’s not in the adverts, I won’t tell you about it. That’s not critique. It’s promotion.
We’ve seen indulgently long reviews, all claiming to offer zero spoilers. Then to what end are they three times as long as a regular review? What is there to say at this stage when you’re giving it a 10, claiming it’s perfect and without flaw, and refusing to talk about anything of substance? We’ve seen critics and streamers bragging (there really is no other word for it) about being moved to tears by the game. It’s all a contest where you must prove you are a true fan, a true gamer, One Of Us. I play for the winning team and my jersey is stained with tears to prove it.
Why are we making Ragnarok reviews the tent pole criticism of the year? For thousands of words with zero spoilers, and therefore nothing beneath the surface, all just competing to find the best synonym for ‘good’. God of War Ragnarok might be great. At 94/100, it almost certainly is. But the most important work our industry produces this year will not be 3,000 words saying it’s good while tiptoeing around spoilsies.
As for readers, soak up as many reviews as you want. There’s some excellent writing out there, even if there’s slightly too little critique in all the hype for my liking. Enjoy it if you enjoy it. Just don’t care so much. Don’t pick fights with people who liked it but tried to review and criticise it fairly just because you wanted universal praise. If all you want is a chunk of words about how great it is, you won’t need to look very hard anyway.
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