Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

A Tale of Two RPG Reviews

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 27, 2015

PoA_1I am still not far enough to really comment, *BUT* I find the difference between two reviews by hardcore, old-school sites pretty intriguing for Pillars of Eternity:

RPGWatch gives it a 4/5. Two other reviewers chime in and offer commentary at the end, apparently holding a more positive review of the game. But while David “Corwin” Yarwood gushes over much of the game… the same things I’ve gushed over (so far), he brings up some pretty fair problems that can drag the game down, especially later in the adventure.

RPG Codex holds a much less positive view of the game. Again, I’m not far enough along to really offer any kind of judgment here. The real-time-with-pause and inspiration from D&D 4th edition (with deliberate attempts to avoid imitation) didn’t seem to win many points with reviewer Darth Roxor, but he does offer concrete reasons (in pretty exhaustive detail) why the game seems to merit little more than a “Meh!”

While there’s no numerical rating for the RPG Codex review,  he states, “I don’t know if I could call Pillars of Eternity an outright ‘bad’ game. It’s just painfully generic, with nothing that ever stands out, but I would also say that any sufficiently mediocre game is indistinguishable from a bad one.”

And then there have been some pretty stellar reviews of the game, although I tend to weight the ones from these two sites devoted to classic and modern PC role-playing games a bit heavier than everything else. Although in part, this could tell me that Obsidian has managed to “open up” the game to larger audiences – although possibly at the expense of the hardest-of-the-hardcore.

And this is why I will not mourn the death-of-relevance of aggregate reviews.

Sure, it’s nice being able to find links to all the various reviews in one place. But an aggregate review score is meaningless. And while I do prefer the “Rotten Tomatoes” method of aggregation, the more useful ratio of positive vs. negative reviews, I still find that it’s accuracy is only so-so. Sometimes I find that a certain group of critics panning a movie (or game) is a good indicator that I’ll enjoy it.

On top of that – and I’m not sure how much of this is still true – but in the past there was a pressure on a reviewer to avoid being an “outlier.” You didn’t want your review to be too much higher or lower than the “average” or you’ll lose credibility. That seems bass-akwards to me. You want to establish greater credibility by modifying your true opinion until it blends in with the herd?

It’s not that the RPG Codex is an outlier, so much as that this reviewer looks for different things that constitute a great game… and finds it wanting. And he explains this in detail. Maybe too much detail. And maybe he gives short shrift to some aspects that I, as a consumer, value. Maybe for me, the crafting system in an RPG is the be-all, end-all of the gaming experience (hint: it’s not), and so I’d weight that far heavier than everything else. It’s be weird, but legitimate. And as a consumer, I’d gravitate towards a reviewer who does likewise.

The problem here is in actually getting to know a single reviewer that well, and truly “feeling out” their preferences. Back in the old days, if you read the same magazine month after month, with a review by one reviewer appearing regularly for a review or two each month, you’d get a pretty good idea of where they stand by the time… well, sometimes by the time they quit reviewing games. These days, on websites, it seems less consistent, although at least in the case of the two sites I mentioned above, the reviewers have been around a while and probably aren’t going anywhere soon.

So the point is… do I have a point? Yes. Point. Pay attention to individual reviews. Be wary of sites that hide the reviewer’s identity. And as always, have fun!

Filed Under: General - Comments: 7 Comments to Read

  • David said,

    I find it amusing how once you develop that relationship with a reviewer, you can sometimes use their negative reviews as a positive recommendation for yourself.

    To take a prominent example… I follow Yahtzee’s Zero Punctuation series, and over the years have gotten a good sense of his taste and pet peeves as a result. So a few weeks ago he spent the entire review ripping Ori and the Blind Forest to shreds, and I left the experience thinking that I’d probably enjoy the game and more inclined to purchase it.

  • Corwin said,

    Thanks for the mention Jay. I have heard several people complain that the game is ‘too generic’; that it doesn’t ‘break new ground’, etc, etc. What did they expect? Firstly, it was sold as a return to the old IE games which produced BG, IWD and PS:T. It did this quite well, for the most part. Secondly, let’s get real here. What has been the success rate for games which ‘boldly go’ where none has gone before? Obsidian has been struggling to stay afloat, so the last thing they could afford to do was take a huge risk. Instead they chose to cater to both the old school market and the new. That means while they couldn’t please everyone, they certainly could please most, which is what I believe they have done. With this success, there should hopefully be a Pillar 2 and maybe even 3. The alternative was the demise of a talented company with the reputation of producing flawed gems, which after being debugged and sometimes modded were thought of as being some of the better games produced in the last few years.

  • mogwins said,

    David: I too love Zero Punctuation. Though strictly for entertainment, never for information!

    Great comment (and review), Corwin. I’m excited to give Pillars a go.

    And on the main point: Giant Bomb has very much been pushing the angle that their reviews aren’t “standardised” in any way. Each review is a personal opinion that you may disagree with and that you should find the reviewer whose tastes most closely match your own. I think it’s a sound editorial choice. The slight problem there is that any given reviewer only covers a small fraction of released games.

  • Mark Erikson said,

    I’m in the middle of PoE right now (partway through Act III). Been generally enjoying myself so far.

    I usually try to avoid rant-y stuff on the internet, but went ahead and read both reviews. And you know what? I really couldn’t disagree with most of the points that Darth Roxor made. Now, I’m certainly not one of the obsessive min-maxers who’s played every IE game thirty times and knows exactly how to break the system, so I’m probably going to be a lot more lenient about some of these things. That said, he really did bring up a lot of issues that, once I saw them mentioned, made sense. It’s actually a bit disappointing, because now I feel like I’m going to enjoy the rest of the game less as his complaints keep coming to mind.

    It’s still a pretty good game overall, but yeah, it does seem like it could have been a lot more than it turned out to be.

  • Bryan Brown said,

    I played it straight through over the course of a week or so (Yay unemployment?!)

    The feeling of recapturing BG2 was very well done. I liked the party interactions and the pace and feel of the game. My only real complaints are that 1) The ending felt rushed and 2) I wish it was longer.

    The final act, once all the side quests and companion quests have been wrapped up was a noticeably different feeling because you were now locked onto the story to completion (Trust me you’ll know when you start the ending) and there was no way to pull back or return to your stronghold or finish some forgotten quest at this point.

    But with that being my major quibble with the game I’d have to agree with those that give it 4/5. I would buy an expansion or a sequel.

  • Daniel "Darklord" King said,

    I’m part way through and enjoying it a lot, it does bring back happy memories while being a completely different game! 😀

  • Xian said,

    Getting to know a particular reviewer’s tastes and styles is a big part of how much I weigh their review. Back in the day, I knew I could rely on Scorpia’s reviews for not pulling any punches and giving a thorough, accurate review. I knew that turn based games were what she preferred so I could judge the merits of her review accordingly.

    I have been reading Corwin’s reviews for at least a half dozen years, and have learned I can rely on him for an honest opinion, presenting the good along with the bad. Many of them at RPGWatch fit into that category, for instance Fluent has really been prolific lately, stepping up with some interesting reviews and youtube videos.