From bad to bad
I come from an era of games where updates didn’t exist. If a game was bad or broken when the cartridge hit store shelves, there was no way to fix it. Sorry kid, but you’re stuck Pit Fighter for the next birthday or holiday. Today, updates are expected, whether it’s a day-a-day update that developers have to grind out to get out or that thing where Nintendo holds back finished content from its sports games to add as updates later. While us old timers can lament the era of games where everything worked at launch, the truth is I have no idea where this industry would be without them.
I mean, if you think delays are bad now, imagine a world where a post-launch update still didn’t exist. Sorry kid, but you’re stuck with vanilla copy of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on PlayStation 3.
Fortunately, we do has updates. Updates that not only squash bugs developers couldn’t catch during production, but can literally save a game from a terrible launch and turn it into something millions of people will want to play. That’s what this list is all about.
Here are the top 10 games that got better with updates.
10. Cyberpunk 2077
Of all the games on this list, Cyberpunk 2077 had easily the most high-profile disastrous launch since Diablo III release debacle. After many delays, the game landed with great sales and even greater outrage. On PC it played just fine. If you were one of the millions who found it on console, your mileage would vary. The game was riddled with bugs that made it virtually unplayable on PS4 and Xbox One. Current generation consoles didn’t fare much better.
Fortunately, with updates, the game is now in a state most people would call “What it should have been I bought it.” The game can be played on all the hardware it is available for. Yes, I know that’s lukewarm praise given the time and money CD Projekt Red sunk into this game, but given how bad this game was when it was released, it was no small obstacle for the developers to get it to the state it is in now.
9. Fallout 76
Fallout 76 should have been a complete disaster. The launch was full of game-breaking bugs and a massive controversy over a canvas bag. People complained about the lack of NPCs in the world as they tried their best to break the game with nukes. Any other developer might have moved on from the project given the reception, but Bethesda stuck with it and released a ton of updates. These updates added new modes and content – including NPCs – and fixed as many bugs as you can with the janky-ass Creation Engine. In 2020, it received four massive updates, including the version 2.0 update that many saw as the game’s turning point. By 2022, Fallout 76 had more than 13 million players worldwide.
Given what the game is today, it can be hard to remember what Fortnite was actually like when it was first launched. While most people now know it as the game where Ryu comes from Street Fighter can shoot Spider-Man in the face with a shotgun, the first Fortnite was a cooperative PvE survival game. That was before Epic Games got new PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and decided to make his own 1v100 shooter. That move turned out to be one of the most financially sound decisions in gaming history Fortnite is now a billion-dollar IP with millions of players worldwide. It’s also a damn good shooter that’s been updated throughout its life, always tweaking the formula and adding new skins to keep people playing (and paying).
7. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege
One problem with game updates is that they can often distort how bad a game was at launch. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege is a perfect example of this. Today, it is one of the best esports titles in the industry, and reviews at launch were mostly positive. But the people who were there from the beginning remember just how shaky the first couple of months were for the multiplayer shooter. In fact, things got so bad Ubisoft almost took the game offline. But consistent updates from the team at Ubisoft Montreal—including gameplay overhauls, reworked maps, and a roster of uniquely designed operators—saved Tough and made it one of the most important and successful titles in Ubisoft’s history.
6. Star Wars Battlefront 2
When it was launched, Star Wars Battlefront 2 Wasn’t such a bad game actually. It controlled well, had an enjoyable if awkward single player mode, and was an overall fun shooter. Unfortunately, EA knew the title would be huge given its predecessor, 2015 Star Wars Battlefront, sold like hotcakes despite the lack of content. Knowing this, publisher and developer DICE decided to load Battlefront 2 with an annoying array of microtransactions that angered consumers. And not angry in the “I’m going to complain about this online” way, but made in the “Let’s all work together to get this changed” way.
Fans united against EA’s handling of the game, and by 2018, the publisher relented and unlocked all of the heroes in the game, which was one of the main sticking points for players. The whole situation was an embarrassment for EA. I mean, how many other gaming companies have made the Guinness Book of World Records for the most downvoted comment on Reddit?
5. Street Fighter V
Street Fighter V had many bugs and connectivity issues at launch, but the biggest issue was the disappointing lack of content. While 16 fighters is a decent enough number for launch, the vanilla release lacked a story mode and an arcade mode, the latter of which has been the industry standard ever since Street Fighter II first took the world by storm. Post-release updates fixed these bugs, adding a cinematic story mode just months after launch and an arcade mode with the debut of Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition. Future updates will add more content and characters to the game, ultimately making it one of the most well-rounded fighters Capcom has ever produced.
4. Sheet: Survival Evolved (Change release)
The original Switch release of the Sheet: Survival Evolved had the distinction of being one of the worst games available for the best-selling console. Developer Abstraction made quite a big deal out of getting the game to run on the hardware, but when people actually got to see it in action, it wasn’t exactly something people should be proud of. The game was a complete mess with terrible graphics and terrible framerates.
Fixing this game would require more than just updates. It will require a completely new building. And that’s exactly what Studio Wildcard did. Working with the team at Grove Street Games, the Switch version of the game was completely rebuilt, becoming one of the best examples of Unreal Engine 4 on the hardware. And it was somewhat of a surprise given that GSG was also responsible for the poor reception Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition.
3. Aliens: Colonial Marines
Including Aliens: Colonial Marines is a bit of a cheat here as it was never fully fixed with an official update. Released in 2013 to poor reviews and lukewarm sales, the game was another forgettable experience in the Aliens universe. A big part of the problem was the poor AI of enemies, which compared to the excellent Alien: Isolation released one year later, was embarrassing for such a high-profile game.
While developer Gearbox Software was unable to change the problem, in 2017 a modder found a way to significantly improve the game’s AI by correcting a typo in the code. “Tether” became “tether” and the aliens in the game started behaving like they should have all along. So hats off to modder jamesdickinson963, who decided to go line by line through Aliens Colonial Marines code to find the small error.
2. Final Fantasy XIV
When it was launched in 2010, Final Fantasy XIV was a wildly underwhelming shell of a game with poor gameplay, a terrible interface, and a lack of polish throughout. Sure, the game looked outstanding, but looks can only take you so far. It was an absolute mess, and to save the game, Square Enix brought in Naoki Yoshida, aka Yoshi-P, to right the ship. Just came off the successful launch of Dragon Quest Xwould Yoshida have the monumental task of creating content for the original version of FFXIV while also building an entirely new version that would replace it.
In 2013, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn launched to rave reviews from press and gamers alike, cementing the Square Enix title as the new king of MMOs. As of 2023, the game is still going strong with no signs of slowing down.
1. No man’s heaven
No man’s heaven is what I consider to be the poster child for the power of post-launch updates. The game was one of the most anticipated titles in the run-up to its 2016 launch, promising players an entire universe of unknown planets to explore. Those pre-release trailers sold it as something you’d never forget, and well, if you bought the game at launch, chances are you won’t soon forget how bad it was. The first release just couldn’t match what players expected.
But the developers at Hello Games stuck with it, releasing a flurry of updates over the next few years that improved almost every aspect of the game while adding features that have made it arguably the best space sim ever made . Released in 2022, version 4.0 brings the game to Nintendo Switch and overhauls the experience for the benefit of all players. The original version of No man’s heaven now only exists in old memes and YouTube videos that in no way represent what an amazing game it has become.