Why I usually don't buy brand new video games — and the ones I did

While video game releases might disappoint for many reasons, many improve the gaming experience over time — and become much more affordable.
2020 is actually shaping up to be a good year for games already. But technology writer Whitson Gordon normally avoids buying brand new video games (with a few exceptions). Here's why.
2020 is actually shaping up to be a good year for games already. But technology writer Whitson Gordon normally avoids buying brand new video games (with a few exceptions). Here's why.Rawpixel / Getty Images
By Whitson Gordon

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As we continue to face the challenge of staying at home, by now a state leading many to exhaustion and monotony, video games continue to be a way for many to cope — for one thing, they allow you to do something alone even if you're in a home with other people. And, unsurprisingly, video games continue to be released. It’s certainly easy to buy into the hype of a new video game everyone is talking about, and pre-order it or buy it on day one for $60 (or more). But that doesn’t always work out — sometimes, a game just can’t live up to inflated expectations. In those cases, it could pay off to check in a few years later: Take No Man’s Sky, for example, a game famous for under-delivering at launch. After years of updates—including one this week enabling cross-play between Xbox, PlayStation and PC — it’s won over some of its initial detractors. As a lifelong gamer, I’ve started buying games a year or more after they come out, and it’s made the experience that much more enjoyable for me.

IN THIS ARTICLE Video games mature over time | Video games prices drop significantly | When buying at launch makes sense for you

2020 is actually shaping up to be a good year for games already. But I still have a backlog of older titles to get through, some of which may not have gotten their due at launch. Maybe a game didn’t match the developer’s overzealous marketing. Others might be shackled by lingering bugs and performance issues and a few are even sullied by relying too heavily on microtransactions that milk you for extra money to make the game more playable and more enjoyable.

Video games mature over time

Even if a video game’s brand is irreparably damaged, some of these games can be quite fun if you let them mature before you play them.

No Man’s Sky

Ask 100 gamers about disappointing launches and a majority will likely bring up No Man’s Sky. The game was pitched as an “insanely ambitious” space exploration game in which you fly to new planets, discover alien species and upgrade your ship in a procedurally-generated universe — meaning each place you explore wasn’t designed by any human but rather generated through a string of algorithms. Sadly, it launched without a number of promised features and gameplay that largely failed to live up to its sky-high expectations. Since then, the developers have released a number of major updates that endeared the game to many on-the-fence players. It may not be for everyone, but it’s redeemed quite a few of its original failings.

Dishonored 2

Arkane’s Dishonored series is fantastic, beautifully balancing stealth and action gameplay set in a fantastical, steampunk-esque world. Unfortunately, the PC version of Dishonored 2 was a shoddy conversion from the console game and plagued with problems at launch. Since then, patches have improved its performance on a variety of systems. It isn’t perfect, but I had no trouble at all on my system when I played it in 2018, and it’s easily one of my favorite games of the past few years.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War

If you’re a “Lord of the Rings” fan, the Middle-Earth series of games is an absolute blast. You play Talion, a ranger bound to a mysterious wraith slashing his way through a never ending horde of orcs. WB made some controversial decisions in the second game, Shadow of War, that soured the experience for some: The story’s true ending(s) were hidden behind a difficult slog that you could buy your way through with real-life money, with even more of the ending requiring DLC packages that — you guessed it — cost more money. Three years later, though, these microtransactions have been completely removed, and the DLC is included in the very affordable Definitive Edition of the game, making it a much more enticing experience.

Video games prices drop significantly

Playing games a few years after launch is also much more affordable — and not just because the video games are cheaper. I’m primarily a PC gamer, so buying older games means my computer doesn’t need to be cutting edge — I can have a great experience on old or midrange hardware. If you play games on a console, it means you don’t have to upgrade to the latest console the day it comes out. You can wait until the price drops or grab a mid-generation refresh like the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X as they come along.

Best of all, though, the games themselves can get really cheap. Every game drops in price a few years after it comes out — standout titles might cost half of what they did at launch, while games with less staying power might get even cheaper (especially if you buy them used or renewed).

Titanfall 2

The Titanfall series produced a lot of excitement when it first launched. But despite positive reviews, its name hasn’t stood the test of time. It may not have as crowded a multiplayer scene as it once did, but you can grab Titanfall 2 for a paltry $6 on PC, and even less for PS4 and Xbox One. The wall-running, mech-wielding single-player campaign is loads of fun, and easily worth more than its price tag.

When buying at launch makes sense for you

There are, of course, exceptions to this “play after delay” philosophy. Some games, for instance, I just can’t wait to play: I’ll buy them on day one no matter the cost. Other games rely heavily on a bustling multiplayer scene, which will diminish over time. If your favorite series is finally getting its next sequel, it may be worth spending the extra cash.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher is an engrossing, story-heavy sword-slashing game set in an elaborate fantasy world where monsters have invaded our dimension. It’s one of my favorite game series of all time. And after the first two installments, I wasted no time pre-ordering the finale. It ended up exceeding all my expectations —even if it hadn’t, I’d regret nothing. Some games you just have to experience right away, without the risk of spoilers (even if they don’t live up to your original hopes). That decision — as many others in the world of videos and gaming — is best left to you.

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