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Game reviews are strange.

By all logic; a game that earns a 5 rating should be seen as average. Worth playing if you like that genre, but nothing too special.

A game that earns a 1 should be avoided at all costs, treated like a bomb made of knives and forgotten forever five minutes after it was reviewed.

A game that earns a 10 should be played by everyone. It is an unquestionable masterpiece analogous to The Godfather or Casablanca.

That is how logic dictates a 10 point rating scale should work. But that is not even close to how game reviews work in practice. A 5 out of 10 is seen as bad, nobody recommends playing games that have been rated a 5 out of 10. Games are never rated 1 out of 10, not unless they are extraordinarily broken to the point of unplayability or are in such poor taste to rate them anything higher would be offensive. Meanwhile 10 out of 10 is not nearly as rare as one would expect. You would think they are rare, seminal experiences but we see several a year. If the games industry was routinely producing such quality that would be incredible, but very few journalists or gamers even agree on what a “perfect” game is. Does Gone Home deserve a 10 for its novelty? Did Metal Gear Solid 4 deserve a 10 despite the fact that a significant portion of it was un-interactive?

Not the scores you'd like...

Not the scores you’d like…

These are the quirks of the game-reviewing game. A typical AAA game will seldom see its rating dip below 8 on any major site and 7’s are seen as a disappointment. 7 is the new average, anything less is bad. There are several reasons for why this is; sometimes its inflated PR budgets from AAA publishers or advertiser pressure on the journalistic outlet. GerstmannGate anyone? In other cases, reviewers fail to evaluate games independently, employing phrases like “If you liked the last one, you’ll like this one cause its more of the same”. We’ve even seen reviewers say that because developers’ bonuses are tied to their Metacritic score they’ll increase the review score to help them out, even if the game didn’t deserve it.

“So review scores are messed up” you say “What does any of this have to do with Destiny?” Well, Destiny seems to have broken this trend.

Destiny was a big deal. It was coming from Bungie, the closest to a sure thing in terms of developers. During development, rumours were that Activision had pumped half a billion dollars into development and marketing and while Bungie downplayed that number, it was easy to believe. It came in with a massive amount of hype, Sony even dropping money for exclusive advertising rights. Expectations were high to say the least.

But Destiny didn’t come in with a roar, it came in with a whimper. It got sixes and sevens, the excessive grind was criticized, the story was abysmal, the voice acting was wooden. The headlines were “Destiny a disappointment” or more bluntly “Destiny is boring”. Essentially the reaction to Destiny was appropriate; it is a pretty game with tight shooting that falls flat in some key areas. Good, but not great. Definitely not perfect.

It sure was pretty though...

It sure was pretty though…

A game not being a masterpiece shouldn’t be headline news, but in this climate of inflated review scores and cozy relationships between publishers and journalists, a game as big as Destiny, as hyped as Destiny should have been can’t miss. But it did miss. if you look at the review scores, you’ll see Destiny trending lower than Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4. The former is derided as a lazy cash-in and the latter shipped in a borderline unplayable state; not the company Bungie would like to be in I’m sure.

What I wonder is what led to these scores for Destiny? Was it just such a letdown compared to the hype that reviewers had to reflect that? Did Activision wrong these outlets somehow? Or did reviewers just wake up and decide to give this game the scores it deserved?

Activision likely doesn’t care. Destiny was a massive success at launch, they more than made their money back. But if Destiny is indicative the direction games reviews are going, Activision, Ubisoft and EA should be concerned. Inflated game reviews primarily benefit publishers. consumers don’t benefit from buying a game that was sold as better than it is. Developers might hit their bonuses easier, but false praise means no drive to innovate or improve. If a 10, a 9, even an 8 are that much tougher to achieve those games they release every November might not be the license to print money that they once were.

We’ve heard for years that the big publishers exert a massive amount of pressure on games media for coverage, for marketing and for reviews. Destiny is among the biggest game properties in history and it seems to have broken the trend, all the marketing money in the world couldn’t force games journalists to lie about how good it was. If this is the new normal in the games industry, Activision should be worried about more than a bad performance from Peter Dinklage.

More About This Game

Wyatt Hnatiw

Staff Writer

Wyatt Hnatiw is a lifelong gamer with a borderline inappropriate love of BioWare RPGs and Bioshock. Maybe he just loves the prefix Bio...

  • SlimTheSkinny

    I guess I should go ahead and invoke Betteridge’s Law.

  • Yosharian

    I’m more surprised that Destiny got any 7s at all, 6 is generous IMO

  • coboney

    7 sadly wasn’t ‘average’ for many years – 7 was “Bad game avoid” 8 was average I found. But hopefully Destiny will break the 4 point scale to some degree

  • BeholdMyPower

    I would love for game reviews to drop scores entirely; all it does is fuel drama because very few people actually use the scale correctly. Give me a list of pro/cons with a recommendation and we’re good to go.

  • wcg

    Much of the problem is Metacritic itself. If you provide a star system or just a review with no score, you are left out of the meta score or they interpret it incorrectly. The bigger outlets can’t afford to be left out so they play along with Metacritic. The drive to get 80’s for the bonuses feeds into the corruption of the scoring system. In fact, be highly suspicious of games at the 80 score exactly.

    What I do now, is look at scores to weed out the low lyers and watch some gameplay video. Thanks to that I discovered Styx Master of Shadows. for example, which I might have passed up due to scores.

  • Zepid

    Destiny is a solid 5/10 game. It is average at best. Gameplay is generic, level design is mediocre, music is superb and story is non existent.

  • Invin

    Another interesting article to read, well done.

  • Tanooki

    honestly, it came out when people were starting to complain about ethics in the game journalism sector. I think with that in mind, reviewers gave it an honest score to avoid more scrutiny.

  • Yosharian

    Sounds pretty much correct

  • Nick Harris

    I may well have been the first person in the world to rate Destiny. After playing the First Look Alpha I gave it a 6 / 10 in a popular forum and people raged, complaining how it wasn’t fair to rate something whilst it was in Alpha. I then played both next-gen Betas and said that it was still a 6. Nothing of significance had changed since the Alpha and I having played up to Level 8 with multiple Classes in both PvE and PvP modes I could give it a rating based upon a representative cross-section of its gameplay. People claimed that this was still unfair as it was only a test of the server infrastructure and that we would likely see extra expository cut scenes in the final build which would improve the rather sketchy seeming narrative, it wasn’t as if they would intentionally reveal important plot points in the Beta with spoilers so how is it possible to judge Destiny based upon what I had played. However, I had taken that into account and my 6 ignored the weak story, indeed storylines and characterisation matter very little to me compared to varied PvE, balanced PvP and the promised ‘Character Continuity’ between these modes. I also didn’t need to experience Raids to have my opinion changed. Destiny ought to be fun from the outset and not become interesting at Level 20.

    Finally, two months after my first review I was able to watch the marathon twitch livestreams from New Zealand and report that nothing had changed. There were no new cutscenes, the flashing green poles stuck in the ground had not been replaced by the bodies of deceased Guardians who had failed to complete a mission you could then use your Ghost to scan their body for and choose whether to complete. You still had Peter Dinklage’s exposition being drowned out by the sound of yet another rampaging horde. You still played a character with no backstory, or name or sympathetic deuteragonist (like Alyx Vance, or Cortana), no strong motivation to save the last City when most of the people there either wanted you to buy the weapons you needed to prevent the extinction of the human race (when it is clear that any weapon or vehicle can be reconstructed from a pattern an infinite number of times using the Ghost’s transmat ability with no resource cost, so the Gunsmith’s wares ought to be free), or would deny them to you because your Level was insufficient (why is that even relevant?), or you had failed to collect sufficient materials from (repeatedly killing the same boss!) in Strikes and, later, (hard to schedule, overlong) Raids.

    No. Destiny, on the 8th September was still a 6 and people were starting to comment on the fact in the twitch sidebar, saying that it was no different from the Beta, being despondent at the lack of expected additional content and announcing that they were using the opportunity to cancel their digital pre-orders.

    Now, all this time I have made it clear that 5 is average and 6 is above average and therefore 7 is competent. I don’t skew my ratings upwards so that 7 is a 5 in disguise. So, it irritates me to read this article trying to explain away Destiny’s review scores as some kind of “sea change” when the sites concerned have made no statements confirming a change in their reviews policy. A game that gets a 6 is still worth getting if you especially like the genre and are prepared to ignore the parts of it that are weak. I bought Destiny on PS4 and ONE as I was still interested in how Bungie had finessed FPS and RPG together so that you could use weapons and abilities in the PvP mode that had been discovered and unlocked in the PvE mode. This was their much hyped concept of ‘Character Continuity’ and I was keen to see how something I thought would be impossible to balance had been achieved. It hadn’t.

    PvP was either ‘normalised’ (so all your hard work in PvE was a waste of time and effort), or left you open to being ganked by far higher ranked players with superior gear in Iron Banner.

    There was no Character Continuity, indeed… there was no character. You had no interactions with NPCs, no dialogue trees, no non-linear narrative. It was erroneous to think of it as some kind of MMOFPSRPG. Sure, Bungie had tried to get everyone to be amazed at the world’s first “Shared World Shooter”, but then even GTA Online qualifies under that description and came before it. PlanetSide 2 is probably a better MMOFPSRPG and Shared World Shooter that Bungie were also prepared to conveniently ignore, but given the awkwardness of social interaction in Destiny (and the fact that you can’t simply return someone’s Wave to join their Fireteam and then choose whether to subsequently opt-out of their proximity chat) leaving it as merely a Loot Shooter (and increasingly a Cave Shooter – to circumvent the demoralising repetitious grind of Strikes). Yet, if you did as I did and avoided the narrative completely you could reach Level 20 through completing bounties in the PvP mode, which… whilst terribly imbalanced… was at least strategically varied compared to the dull AI found in the Strikes.

    I also didn’t mark it down for the frequent server outages which even terminate singleplayer gameplay, or the much complained about apparent inclusion of future DLC level designs on the launch disc (sans enemies), or the lack of proper Optimatch, or Custom Games, or even a Forge (with which a player community could author their own Strikes), or the way that they chose to nerf and buff some of the weapons invalidating the stat tables in my Limited Edition Strategy Guide. Really, Destiny should consider itself lucky to get that 6 from me and from Gamespot and from Polygon.

  • BeakieHelmet

    Could I just add that I think that a lot of gamers see the 10 scale as a game’s “grade?”

    Rather than a 1-10 scale I think a lot of gamers see the score like what you’d get on a math test. 6/10 is unacceptable, a failing grade, where 10/10 or 100% is good, but not unheard of.

    This isn’t how it SHOULD be seen, but given most gamers start buying games sometime in their K-12 years, I don’t think it’s unreasonable that a lot of gamers seem to see the score as the game’s “grade” rather than the game’s worth on a true 1-10 scale.

  • Fenrir007

    I always found review scores a trap for the reviewer. If you write a long, well thought review, you are then left with the ungrateful task of condensing EVERYTHING in a binary numerical score (binary because, let’s face it, the 1 to 10 scale has only 2 echelons: 6 – 7 or 8 – 10). It also creates a problem – readers will invariably compare scoring of the same author between different games (and can you blame them?), which will show inconsistencies due to different standards (or even a varying degree of knowledge on each genre) applied to different games. The same reader will also compare this review score to other review scores from different authors in the same publication, muddling the ground even further.

    This is a showcase, to me, that review scores serve only to undermine the points made in the review proper. Instead of helping the consumer decide, this grading system ends up being, more often than not, completely arbitrary to the point of irrelevance (or worse). I won’t deny some reviewers manage to maintain score consistency through a meticulous set of standards applied, but they are very few and far between, and even even those are liable to messing up due to human error at some point.

    That is not even getting into the metacritic cancer and the whole “bought reviews” aspect of it, which is always a concern.

    The sooner the industry abandons scores as a whole, the better for everyone. Sadly, scores are a great asset to clickbait-driven publications, so I guess we are with them for the long run – at least until youtubers finish substituting the current press.

    No comment on Destiny as I only own a WiiU as far as next gen is concerned.