Novelty isn't art, and doing it first doesn't mean you did it better.
One of the biggest issues in media at the moment is that of oversaturation. There's way too much for anyone to play every game, watch every TV show or film, experience every franchise. It's just not doable even for someone with oodles of free time. There's huge sections of the games media and geek culture that I'm NOT familiar with and I'm as close to an expert of both as you can get. For example:
I'm largely unfamiliar with 'Assassin's Creed' (despite the regular references to it later in this post), I just haven't really played them with the exception of the very first one, which I didn't like. I've never watched an episode of 'Supernatural' or any of the 'Stargate' shows; not one episode of either, both of which have been going for so long now they've got well over 200 hours of episodes each now. There's are countless films I've not seen, or saw far later than most people, I've never seen the 'Die Hard' or 'Fast & Furious' films for example. These are just a few examples of my gaps in the media experience; there's loads more, and I'm someone who actively seeks out such media so I've experienced way more than the average person could ever hope to.
This is important to realise because while I would like to think I won't do what I'm about to criticise people for doing, I'm only human and need to consider my own biases. One key bias that is especially commonplace, particularly among critics, is novelty bias. A lot of critics do this, they play a game, they see a new mechanic and they praise it, 18 months later and they see the same mechanic somewhere else but consider it trite, boring, and generic now. This isn't fair.
I've gone on record in the past as saying modern games are simply superior to older games, because the build on what we know works. This isn't always the case, but it usually is.
Recently a few games have had a fair amount of backlash. Games like 'Assassin's Creed Odyssey' and 'Days Gone' a perfect examples of this. Now, in the interests of transparancy I want to make it clear. I have played NEITHER of these games. I'm also going to compare these games to 'The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt' and 'Red Dead Redemption 2' both of which I've also not played. (this isn't strictly true, I've played about 1 houe of 'The Witcher 3', but that's hardly enough to judge). Remember when I said I have huge gaps in my gaming experiences, yeah; here are some of them. The thing is, you're probably looking at that and thinking, "those are 4 of the biggest games of the last generation, what the hell have you played if you've not played them?". I've played a lot actually. I've played a significant amount of almost 3 dozen games this year alone, including; the entire 'Uncharted' series, online games like 'The Division 2', 'Path Of Exile', and 'EVE Online'. Racing games like 'GRIP', 'Redout', and 'Dangerous Driving'. Platformers like 'Sonic Mania', 'The Messenger' and 'Shovel Knight'. On PC I've played many hours of 'Cities: Skylines', 'Civilization VI', 'The Sims 4' and 'Europa Universalis IV'. And I've also gone back and played some games I missed like 'Jak & Daxter', 'Shadow Of The Colossus', 'Spec Ops: The Line' and the first 'Red Dead Redemption'. The end of last year I was heavily focused on 'Marvel's Spiderman', 'Horizon: Zero Dawn', 'Alice: Madness Returns' and the first 'Tom Clancy's The Division' all of which I got platinum trophies in. I played a hell of a lot of 'Monster Hunter World', the 'Sly Cooper' series, about a dozen or so 2D Platformers, racing games like 'Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit' and 'Onrush', and tried some interactive drama style games like 'Life Is Strange' and 'Beyond: Two Souls'. I play a lot of video games, but I still miss out on some of the biggest because no-one could possibly play them all.
...except for games critics.
When you're job is to be a games critic, you play way more games than the average person. Hell, I'm not the average person, not even close. I play way more video games than any average person and a traditional critic will beat my game time twice over easily... and I play every day. These people are playing 5-8 hours of video games every day minimum. I'm maybe playing 1-2 hours a day. When you play that many games they start to bleed together and you get bored of the same old thing over and over and over and over again. Any normal person would be.
One of my personal favourite games is 'The Last Of Us: Remastered'. I know loads of people love this game. It's a brilliant game. It's single player has a phenomenally well written and well acted story, the gameplay is tense and well paced, and the whole package comes together like perfectly curated experience. Even the team based competitive multi-player was something I found engaging and enjoyable. It rightly gets rave reviews, and I can see why. It's one of my favourites for all those same reasons. But it's far from unique. Now look at 'Days Gone'. Sure, I've not played it, but I have seen a lot of gameplay footage and watched a friend play it. It's basically the same style of game as 'The Last Of Us', it's a post apocolyptic game with zombies but 'Days Gone' has way more gameplay options, more customisation, more exploration, it's got a full open world. Surely by any objective metric it's the better game; aaah, but it's the story that gets people going, that's what makes 'The Last Of Us' so great.
The same thing is said about 'Assassin's Creed Odyssey'. It can easily be compared to 'The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt'. It has similar world designs, similar combat, similar traversal mechanics, similar customisation; it's remarkable how much similarity there is between these games. So why is it that 'The Witcher 3' gets all the praise and 'Assassin's Creed Odyssey' doesn't. It's all down to the story. 'The Witcher 3' has the better story. But does it? Does it really? Perhaps it does; I actually don't know here. But what I'm shocked at is how much emphasis people are putting on story because in many cases it doesn't seem to matter to people. 'Monster Hunter World' has a piss-poor story, and this one I know because I've played it extensively. It's story is barely more than a framing device; but the gameplay is fantastic and it's challenge is deep and fulfilling. That's an example of gameplay beating out story.
To go back to 'Days Gone', sure it's more complex than 'The Last Of Us', but it lacks the polish a naughty dog game has. It has graphical glitches, audio glitches, the story has pacing issues, the fast travel is annoying as you have to keep looking for petrol for your bike, the framerate isn't stable, the shooting mechanics aren't great especially on console, meaning they've needed to resort to a slow motion mechanic to bridge the gap for players and make the gunplay fun. The thing is, you can say all those things about 'Red Dead Redemption 2' and it won game of the year in many places. Hell, 'Red Dead Redemption 2' is specifically worse in some of these areas. The gunplay is even less responsive needing to rely heavily on aim assist, there is no fast travel at all and animations are obtusively long at time, input lag in 'Red Dead Redemption 2' is some of the worst of this generation and there's times when the framerate will actually drop to around 20 frames per second on the base Xbox One or PS4. By all accounts it's a worse game based on the gameplay at least. So is this another case of story elevating a game? I don't think so.
'Red Dead Redemption 2' is well known for railroading the player. You have to do the missions the way the game designers expect or you'll get a big "mission failed" notice and have to start again. It's HEAVILY scripted in a way the first 'Red Dead Redemption' wasn't, and to a much larger degree than 'Days Gone'. Additionally pacing and character motivations have issues, with some narrative dissodence with how crime is handled.
So what am I saying? Is 'Days Gone' better than 'Red Dead Redemption 2' and 'The Last Of Us'. That can't be right? It's not as high on metacritic, and as we know metacritic is the authority on everything. What I'm saying is that trends, critics, fandoms; they all play far too much of a part in the rating and success of these games. Another good example of this was the open world game 'Mad Max'. It was also completely destroyed in the reviews by the critics. They hated it, it was boring and generic; but it's only boring and generic because they've played those mechanics in a dozen other games, and when they first saw them they liked them. The same mechanics in 'Mad Max' are present in 'Shadow Of Mordor', 'The Witcher 3', the 'Assassin's Creed' series, 'Red Dead Redemption', 'Marvel's Spiderman', the 'Batman Arkham' series, and so many more. Yes it has a variation on "bandit camps", yes it has towers that clear the map, yes it has a teired upgrade system, yes it has a parry based unarmed combat system; literally everything I'm describing is in 'Marvel's Spiderman' on PS4 and everyone loved that.
User reviews for 'Mad Max' where pretty high. People liked the game. People who weren't burnt out on all these mechanics. They liked the game because it's a good game. If you eat a pizza, and enjoy it, you'll say it's a good pizza. If you eat pizza every day for 3 weeks, it doesn't matter if the first pizza is as good as the last; you won't want it, you'll be fucking sick of pizza.
The fact is reviews are largely bullshit and the consensus opinion is usually wrong, because it's predicated on the idea of novelty and brand loyalty. The game that does the mechanics slightly differently get praised for having a "fresh take" on the "tired formulae" such as 'Horizon: Zero Dawn', while games by Rockstar, Naughty Dog, and CDProjektRed have such dedicated fanbases around them they get a free pass. Similarly big corporations, especially ones with bad reputations like Warner Bros. Interactive, Ubisoft, and most of all EA; have a huge backlash against them regardless of what they kick out. Certain franchises can basically do no wrong, look at Nintendo for the best examples of that. 'Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild' is just as flawed as the likes of 'Mad Max' or 'Days Gone', and it's nowhere near the scope or scale of 'Assassin's Creed Odyssey' and yet it was praised as the best game ever by so many people. It was so hyped people went out and bought a new system just to play it, and a substantial percentage of the people who did that OWNED THE PREVIOUS SYSTEM! This game was cross-gen. Fanboys went out of their way to buy a new console for NOTHING! That's what this irrationality can do to you.
I'm going to end with a contentious statement here, one that most people reading will find disturbing and it's not because you disagree but because it violates the narrative. I know you don't disagree because there's no way you've played all of these games. There's no way you have enough information to know if these differences are actually as significant as the reviews make them out to be. I believe the majority of these open world third person shooter RPGs and open world action RPGs are equivalent to each other. It doesn't matter what you're playing, 'Shadow Of Mordor', 'Mad Max', 'Assassin's Creed Origins', 'Batman Arkham City', 'The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt', 'Red Dead Redemption 2', 'Marvel's Spiderman', 'Days Gone', 'Breath Of The Wild', 'InFamous Second Son', 'Horizon: Zero Dawn', and so so so many more... they're all largely the same. What sets them apart isn't anywhere near as massive as people think; and the vast majority of them are bloody great games in their own right. Maybe they have a problem, a few glitches etc. maybe there's a balance issue that ruins the game, or a terrible camera that makes it nigh on unplayable, those things happen... but they're not the standard.
What makes some of these games worth 93 on Metacritic and others worth 68 on Metacritic. (And remember the mainstream critics only use ratings above 60, so 68 is basically a 2/10 on a rational persons scale). What could possibly make these games so different. Hype, novelty, burn out, and personal bias. If you have a personal attachment to the character of 'Spiderman', which game will you prefer? If you didn't really like the 'Mad Max' films, which game are you going to be least excited for, and when it's your job and you're forced to play it, which game is now going to feel like a fucking chore. People are sheep, they don't have the strength to go against the grain when the critics all say "this is mediocre", people get self conscious. "I can't say I like mediocre X as much or even more than Game Of The Year candidate Y, people will think I have no taste". That's how people think.
Frankly I'm sick of the elitism. I'm sick of the hype, the haters, the touting of metacritic. I've played very few of these games, I can't say which is better... yet. I plan to review many of these games on this site and I want to do it justice. If I start complaining in a review about things I praised a game for 6 months earlier, I expect to be held to task. We need objectivity in criticism. Novelty isn't art, and doing it first doesn't mean you did it better. We should look at a game on it's own merits and judge it accordingly; but for much of the internet, that's too much like hard work.
Since writing this article I see others have made similar observations, including a video by the YouTube Channel 'Skill Up', to the point where we even use the same examples. His video is well made and articulates many of the same thoughts expressed in this article only with way higher production value. You can see it here -
Skill Up - Days Gone Review - It's a more than half-hour long video, and it's well worth your time.