If at first a game doesn’t succeed, it can always try again. With content updates and patches now standard across all platforms, the game released on launch day is no longer its final form.
This means studios can eventually turn a flawed game into something worthwhile. It’s already happened several times over the last decade, with BioWare’s coming Anthem overhaul being the latest example. It’s turned good games into great games and, at times, managed to save complete disasters. These are the biggest second-chance successes.
No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky was supposed to be the most groundbreaking science-fiction game anyone had ever seen, and the fact that a tiny team at Hello Games developed it made it even more impressive. Its procedurally generated world and creatures were certainly neat, but the game that launched in 2016 was unfocused. There was little reason to keep playing other than the thrill of solitary exploration.
But Hello Games did not give up. Through a series of major overhauls including “No Man’s Sky NEXT,” the game added base-building mechanics, multiplayer, a third-person mode, character customization, better crafting and resources, VR, and additional story and mission types. It became the game players wanted from the beginning, even if it took a bit of time to get there.
Read our No Man’s Sky review
Who could have predicted what Epic Games’ Fortnite would mean for video games when it was first announced? The game Cliff Bleszinski revealed at the Video Game Awards in 2011 only included its “Save the World” component, which launched in 2017. The initial reception was lukewarm, as the game’s construction elements worked well with its survival gameplay but did little to make it stand out.
Then it added battle royale — a mode Fortnite worked in after the success of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds that would ultimately save it from obscurity and make it the most popular game on the planet. The construction systems happened to fit right in with the 100-person battle structure, and consistent updates have kept it feeling fresh ever since.
Read our full Fortnite: Battle Royale review
Rainbow Six Siege
Rainbow Six Siege is a case that is less about one massive overhaul and more a tortoise-and-the-hare approach. Ubisoft released its multiplayer-focused shooter in late 2015, and while it received a fairly positive reception, it was also light on content. The small number of maps and operators weren’t that impressive when compared to other competitive games.
Ubisoft took a different approach than many of its competitors with downloadable content, however, and made post-launch maps available for free. Its seasonal release structure regularly adds new content that players can enjoy without spending a dime, along with extra operators that can be unlocked more quickly with cash. Coupled with a focus on anti-cheat and e-sports potential, Siege is a much more respected game now than it was at launch.
Read our full Rainbow Six Siege review
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
The Final Fantasy series has a flops in its back catalog, but none were as universally hated as Final Fantasy XIV. The MMO was active for just two years, and reviews were not kind, drawing criticism for its interface and unfinished state. The bugs and poor optimization were too much for simple updates and patches to solve.
Square Enix needed to make a more drastic change. Rather than updating the game, it replaced Final Fantasy XIV with a new version called Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn that featured new gameplay and a different engine. A Realm Reborn still gets expansion releases and extremely creative events that draw on other Square Enix games like Nier: Automata.
Read our full Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbrings review
The Destiny series remains a contentious topic, particularly whether Destiny 2’s expansions live up to players’ expectations. Bungie knows a thing or two about not living up to expectations. The original Destiny launched in 2014 to confusion rather than the studio’s usual acclaim. Affected by a rough development that saw much of its writing thrown out or reworked, the game players received had little story and almost no ending. Without a villain worth hating, Destiny felt empty.
With its first expansion, The Taken King, Bungie delivered a much better game. The campaign — set on a Dreadnaught ship — and new enemy types were much more interesting, and the story was worth seeing to completion. Its cooperative and competitive content also made it better for multiplayer fans, with several new Strikes to complete and Crucible modes to try out. To this day, the post-Taken King period is arguably the Destiny franchise at its best.
Read our full Destiny review
Star Wars Battlefront II
Electronic Arts has had plenty of botched launches over the years, but perhaps none were as eye-opening as Star Wars Battlefront II. The third-person shooter was supposed to be a deeper version of the formula established in the 2015 version. Though it did add a full campaign and plenty of multiplayer maps, it was all overshadowed by the game’s progression system. Built around loot boxes and microtransactions, it didn’t require spending real money, but those who did could become competitive more quickly. Players took notice, and it sold below expectations.
Rather than cut its losses, EA and developer DICE reworked the progression system to reward performance instead of spending and kept free content updates such as characters and maps coming years after its initial release, including The Rise of Skywalker-related contented. With player feedback taken into account, the franchise appears to have won back some goodwill should a third game ever be produced.
Read our full Star Wars Battlefront II review
A game that likely would have crashed and burned if not for name recognition, Pokémon Go improved significantly since its 2016 launch. The game was plagued with instability issues out of the gate, crashing on players’ phones as they attempted to catch Pokémon in their neighborhoods. It was also missing several features key to any Pokémon game, including trainer battles and trading.
To its credit, developer Niantic eventually implemented these features, albeit long after the honeymoon period. Regular events with special Pokémon, improved app stability, and the promised trading and trainer battles make Pokémon Go a much more complete game in 2020. It even has integration with Pokémon: Let’s Go on Nintendo Switch so players can put their Go roster into the console game.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
One of the most ambitious projects in Xbox history, Halo: The Master Chief Collection bundled Halo, Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo 4 together on Xbox One, with the full remake treatment for the second game and unified multiplayer across all four entries. But with that ambition came a price: The game’s competitive mode was notoriously unstable and occasionally unplayable at launch. 343 Industries could have improved this and called it a day, but the studio had bigger plans.
In 2015, Halo 3: ODST’s campaign was added to The Master Chief Collection, and Halo Reach followed in late 2019. This made the entire series playable on Xbox One for the first time since Halo Wars, Halo Wars 2, and Halo 5: Guardians were already available. Halo: The Master Chief Collection is now the definitive way to play Spartan 117’s journey, and it’s even being released in chunks on PC.
Read our full Halo: The Master Chief Collection review
Middle-earth: Shadow of War
Middle-earth: Shadow of War was a great game overshadowed by a very silly design decision when it released in 2017. Digital Trends gave it a 4.5/5 in its review, praising the game’s improvements to customization, fortress assaults, and world. Like Battlefront II, however, it included microtransactions, and they seemed even more egregious in a single-player game. This was made worse by an endgame section that dragged on for hours with required grinding before the most difficult battles.
Several months after launch, all microtransactions were removed from the game, resulting in an experience that felt entirely driven by players’ skill and determination rather than cash. The endgame was also made easier, with fewer missions required to see the final cutscene. A new armor set was even added for those who completed the journey.
Read our full Middle-earth: Shadow of War review
Blizzard isn’t exactly popular with players at the moment, but in 2012, the company was a fan darling. When Diablo III came out on PC, players who pre-ordered the game weren’t able to play, and when they could, the constant online requirements meant a worse performance than if it had been offline. This was evident when the game received offline console versions. A real money option in the auction house added another layer of uncomfortable corporate meddling on top of what should have been Blizzard’s best game yet.
It isn’t perfect now, but Diablo III is a much better game than it was at launch. The auction house was removed, regular seasonal updates keep players enjoying new content for years, and additional classes and the Reaper of Souls expansion made the original campaign more worthwhile. Diablo IV will also be online-only, but Blizzard would be wise to take the right lessons from Diablo III’s troubled history.
Read our full Diablo III: Reaper of Souls review