Time for me to expound on what I consider a "good game" and why I often ignore the big, AAA publishers.
I tend to have a little ranking system in my head that I try and use when determining whether or not I think a game might be good enough to purchase. I have noticed over the years that it may not coincide with what the "cool kids" think is a great game. For me, the actual game play is of the utmost importance which include the game mechanics, information on how to play, the possibilities offered, bugginess, price, and finally graphics. I am often ridiculed because I don't consider how pretty a game is to be a major feature.
These days it seems, at least to me, that a lot of games rely on their graphics to sell it and often the beautiful games get played for a bit, but not for long. The last time I bought a game based on graphics it was a wake-up call. That game was Modern Warfare.
It was beautiful for it's time. Pretty realistic and I really go into it, all 4 hours of it. I think I paid like $50 for it when it came out and really felt like I didn't get my money's worth at $12.50/hour. After that there wasn't any reason to replay it and to be frank I don't like replaying the same scenarios over and over. I think that replaying just so you can feel that you have gotten some value out of it is really lying to yourself and a cheesy way to validate the purchase. Needless to say that was the last time I got excited over graphics. IMHO if a game meets the other criteria AND has nice graphics, I consider the graphics a bonus. So then, what do I mean by the criteria above?
Mechanics are the most important thing for me by far. The systems in a game must entertain, be clear and give you some sense of accomplishment. I get really tired of overly complex games that fill the experience with minutia that doesn't server any purpose other than to extend play time because it takes you 50 steps to do something that should be done in 3. The mechanics should be clear, make sense and be accessible to players. I feel that this is where a lot of games these days fall down and leave it up to the player to "discover" how the game works. I also think that's why the recent rash of Battle Royale games are so popular with their simple and accessible mechanics. Mechanics that are somewhat obvious tie directly in to the requirement of information on play.
Many games are either not including, or only partially including tutorials and other information on how to actually play the game. I remember the olden days circa Commodore 64 and earlier, yes I am that old. My first computer was a BCD Heathkit system you had to assemble and could do hexadecimal math with a 2 digit, 7-segment display I got in grade school. Anyway, In the olden days of yore you not only bought the game, but you would get a really nice manual, maps and other stuff that you would go over building anticipation and actually giving you all the information you needed to play. These days you are lucky to get an in-game tutorial, a slap on the ass and thrown to the wolves. A game doesn't need to lead you by the nose, however it should give you enough information about the game world and it's systems so you don't have to scour the web or search forums to discover how things work. Good documentation, either in-game or in print, can get you going well enough so you can enjoy the experience and see the possibilities.
The possibilities a game offers is a major reason why I play the games I do, so I tend to gravitate toward survival and open world types. I want to experience the game, not just beat an endless string of bosses. A good game should tantalize me with things I can do or be. When I say I want to experience a game that may not have been the right term, rather I want to immerse myself in the experience and cannot really do that without seeing the possibilities. As an example I will use Eve Online.
While it's true that Eve misses the point of being overly complex, it certainly does tantalize with possibility and that part is done right. It's pretty easy to get involved in the game world and immerse yourself for a couple of hours each play session. They so this with character/racial backgrounds, their consistent appearances and since the game relies heavily on player interaction you are immediately immersed in conversation with actual people. Over the years they have revamped their new player experience to teach ALL the basics, so kudos to the folks at CCP for listening to the veterans. These are the reasons that I played Eve for so many years. Eve is just one example. I could go on about the games I despise, but will prevent this from becoming a rant.
So what about how buggy the game it eh? Well I have a fairly high tolerance for bugs unless they really prevent some good game play. Take the Fallout series. I love Fallout from version 3 to New Vegas and *gasp* even Fallout 76. There I said it. Why though? It's well known that these games have some pretty obvious bugs, and heck some are even pretty hilarious. I love the games because of they hit all the previous points and in spite of the bugs you can get some really serious game play in. It's even become a running joke about Fallout bugs from the early days that are still present. The fact remains though that they are just darned fun, engaging and the graphics are not bad at all.
Now we turn our attention to graphics, the elephant in the room. Graphics are cool, but not a big requirement for me. The graphics only need to depict the game world enough to let the player get into the game, mentally. I see a lot of reviewers go on about the rendering engines, pixel/polygon counts, lighting, colours, (yes that's the correct spelling), etc. and pay lip-service to the other aspects of a game. I could play a game made entirely of stick figures if it met the rest of the requirements and be completely happy with it. Unfortunately I see too many people comment and get excited about the graphics without considering how the game plays, what it offers otherwise and I believe that this contributes to the enormous costs of AAA titles,
Finally there's my beef with AAA publishers. Sure they are out to make a buck and I don't begrudge them that. You don't get into business to become poor. My beef is that they generally are offering "pretty" instead of good games and for enormous prices. The games on offer these days seem to focus almost entirely of pretty graphics rushed out the door having very shallow game play. This is why I'd need a very compelling reason to shell out 80 bucks for any AAA title ever again. It is my sincerest wish that some day, before I die, that a AAA game publisher will say enough is enough and start showing some integrity demanding that the developers of their games actually address the above. At the same time I wish that consumers would speak with their wallets and voices and demand that these publishers start pushing games that will last longer than a few hours and that teh games actually have some depth to foster that immersed feeling.