With technology, artistry, and industry trends changing on a nearly monthly basis, each new year in video games proves that it's nothing if not a fluid medium. Overblown controversies, divisive marketing strategies, worthwhile conversations, and extreme highs and lows are par for the course. 2014 was no different, but there's no denying that several things failed to turn out the way we here at Game Rant hoped they would.
It's important to note that our choices for the most underwhelming, distressing, or simply off-the-mark are far from the only candidates. Every consumer will have their most and least favorite moments or properties of the year, and could name several trends or debates that they either defended passionately or avoided altogether. But for us, this list of broken (or simply misunderstood) promises remain with us.
Without further ado, here are our choices for The Biggest Gaming Disappointments of 2014:
Grand Theft Auto Online
There's no question that Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto V was one of the best games on the market when it first released in 2013. But for players hoping to see the series take a step forward into the new multiplayer-focused world we now occupy, it was Grand Theft Auto Online that held the real promise; the promise of succeeding where prior Rockstar multiplayer had struggled. Unfortunately, a troubled launch was just an appetizer for the lengthy wait ahead.
And wait we did. For no part of GTAV was a more refreshing surprise than the in-game Heists, which made the addition of online Heists - complex jobs to be carried out with friends - the top multiplayer selling point for many. And after Online Heists were promised on a nearly monthly basis, we sit a year later unable to play the one mode with friends we always dreamed of. And the release still isn't even close. But hey, there's next-gen versions, right?
Delays for highly-touted AAA games are nothing new, but 2014 was a year downright filled with them. At present 5 of our 12 Most Anticipated Games of 2014 have been delayed out of the calendar year entirely, with even more coveted games joining them in February - the "new October". Given the number of flawed or troubled launches 2014 also saw, it's likely that fans would be willing to wait a bit longer - but they've likely had enough of absurdly ambitious launch dates in the first place.
If 2014 had gone the way that developers and publishers initially pitched to consumers that it would, we would be lost in not just the top-selling games of the year that was, but games like Evolve, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, The Division, Batman: Arkham Knight, Battlefield Hardline, Mad Max, Quantum Break, The Order: 1886 and more. Getting publicity early may have its uses, but this year proved fans would rather be pleasantly surprised than disappointed.
Assassin's Creed Unity
We don't like to kick a franchise when it's down, but even Ubisoft has conceded that they dropped the ball with the release of Assassin's Creed Unity, the series' first foray onto a new consoles generation. Our issues with the game had more to do with its narrative and design shortcomings than technical glitches or connection issues, but there's no denying that the game felt the wrath invited by claiming it to be the biggest, boldest, and most ambitious game in the series to date. What consumers got instead was one of the most broken.
The shockingly refreshing and inspired Black Flag released the year previous may have as much to do with Unity's disappointment as anything else, but whatever the case, releasing Unity in the form Ubisoft has damaged the brand in ways that only time will truly reveal. The high hopes dashed won't be enough to kill this franchise - but it's proven enough to stop all momentum in its tracks.
So... This is Next-Gen?
After console manufacturers Sony and Microsoft kept gamers waiting longer than many felt was best, the end of 2013 brought with it enough promises and lofty goals and features to make it almost seem worth the wait. Using vague language and imaginative wording, the Xbox One and PS4 were touted as much for what they made possible as what hardware they contained within. Better visuals, better story, better online integration - and best of all, developers who had been hard at work on making the most of each system for years.
Now with the first year of the newest consoles in the books, it's becoming clear how much consumers were sold on potential, not products. Promised features are still under contruction, disastrous launches for games intended to show the power of the system's online architecture, shuttered studios charged with creating original content, and no-brainer features still absent altogether.
Unfortunately, those problems seem to have spread to the games themselves; more integrated single player/online experiences led to even more flawed features, while games like NHL 15 ended up slashing entire modes and standard content just to make its next-gen release. Other games simply shipped with issues intact. In other words: not what anyone had in mind when discussing "next-gen" gaming.
There are sure to be plenty of Destiny fans who scoff or spit at the idea of Bungie's online shooter disappointing in any way; the stunning dedication of the lasting player community confirms as much. But the masterminds of Halo did their job marketing the game: the most pre-ordered new IP in history became the best-selling new IP in history, and Activision made their investment back (and then some) immediately while PS4's flew off store shelves.
But then people got to playing the game and realized that it was no Halo successor in ways that deeply mattered to many of Bungie's fans. With a bare-bones story, and empowerment replaced with the endless questing and grind of just about any other MMO players had experienced before, the true nature of Destiny became clear. It makes sense from a business standpoint, but the reviews alone showed that it was far from the "genre-reinvention" promised.
In hindsight, advertising the game as a well-built, addictive FPS MMO maintaining most of the genre's trappings and strengths would have been more accurate - but that also wouldn't have attracted the audience Activision was after. Plenty of new players were brought into the fold, and Destiny is successful at what it does. But the impression was given that it would do much, much more. And when all is said and done, the loftiest expectations - though justified - can lead to the most tragic disappointments.
A disappointment doesn't have to be a failure to let some people down, but what were your biggest personal disappointments from the last year in video games? Was it your most coveted releases being delayed into 2015, or an ambitious game that stumbled despite the developers' enthusiasm? Let us know in the comments below.
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.