Some games are like the ugly duckling--they float when placed on water. No wait, that's not what I meant.
Some games are like the ugly duckling because they start off as the underdog, the one that everyone mocks, the one that nobody likes. And then they emerge into a beautiful winged bird, capable of flight faster than the speed of sound and able to dazzle anyone who walks by. Okay, maybe this metaphor got a little stretched…
Point is, many games might not get off on the strongest footing, but some of them eventually recover from their shaky starts to become decent or even excellent experiences. In this gallery we're going to run down some of those games that started poorly, as well as some solid games that have only gotten better with time.
To the duckmobile!
Final Fantasy 14
Upon its original launch seven years ago, Final Fantasy XIV was ... not great. Players complained of incomplete quests, UI issues, repeated assets, poor performance, and plenty more problems. Our Final Fantasy XIV Online review said the game lacked character, cohesion, and joy, and we gave it a 4/10. Square Enix's CEO even said the game "greatly damaged" the Final Fantasy brand. Not a great start, I'm sure you'll agree.
After the game's servers were shut down in 2012 and a PS3 version was canceled, Square Enix eventually decided to replace the MMO with a completely reworked version of the game called Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which launched for PC in 2013. Thankfully, A Realm Reborn improved on pretty much every area of the original Final Fantasy XIV, from crafting to traversal, from its combat to its open world. That PS3 version finally made it out and was joined by a PS4 edition, which we thought was even better than the PC version. In addition, a bunch of free content updates and more extensive DLC packs have continually improved the game: Heavensward added 40 hours of excellent new story content, while Stormblood--released in June--introduced a whole new undersea world along with another 50 hours of campaign content. In short, Final Fantasy XIV is a completely different beast to the one that disappointed fans the world over in 2010--it's never been so good, and it's definitely worth another look if you were put off all the way back in 2010.
No Man's Sky
No Man's Sky was possibly a victim of its own hype machine--it was a cool concept executed fairly well, but it left some disappointed. Its world may have been vast, but much of it was empty or repetitive, and few solid threads to follow meant that players often felt lost or dismayed to carry on exploring.
Since launch, developer Hello Games has responded to the criticism in the best way possible: by making loads of cool, free stuff. In November, it added a Creative Mode and a Survival Mode--allowing you to explore or die to your heart's content--along with a base-building feature. A few months later, another update let you share that base across the internet and also introduced a permadeath option and land vehicles. And just recently, another big new update added multiplayer support, another 30 hours of story content, and much more.
In addition, there's a whole storyline that many players might have missed. A mysterious force known as Atlas offers a purpose, a sprinkling of story that helps direct you in an otherwise directionless world. If you didn't pursue Atlas first time round, it might be worth going back just to see how it pans out.
No Man's Sky is coming to Xbox One this year alongside a new update that, according to Hello, will be "an important next step in a journey for No Man's Sky," so it may be worth revisiting.
Rainbow Six Siege
Rainbow Six Siege actually launched with a positive critical reception in December 2015--it was soon after launch that the criticism began to rain down. Players complained of broken matchmaking, connectivity issues and lag, and multiple imbalances in the meta, to name just a few problems.
For months many of these issues remained, and despite player numbers staying consistently high (a testament to the excellent game underneath), matchmaking times and other issues did not improve.
Now, however, Siege is almost a different game. Following months of patches, hotfixes, balance changes, and more, Siege is finally in the state it should have been when it launched, and it's passed 20 million players with more than 2.3 million playing every day. Matchmaking is seamless, balance is much improved, and bugs are much, much rarer. The shooter has also received an extensive program of free DLC, helping the operator dynamics stay fresh and keeping players on their toes. Free maps and skins, plus new, unlockable characters, have continually offered reasons to return to Siege.
Siege has now started holding huge, free, limited-time events in addition to its standard quarterly DLC drops, and Ubisoft says it wants to continue supporting the game until it reaches 100 Operators, a feat that at the current rate would take some seven years. Rainbow Six Siege is here to stay, and the gaming landscape is better for it.
Friday The 13th
Let's not beat around the bush: Friday the 13th was a hot mess when it launched in May. Even excusing the multitude of bugs and an all-around less-than-beautiful appearance, the horror game was pretty much unplayable. Assuming you could even find a match, doing so would take upwards of 10 minutes, leading our critic to award the game a 4/10 in our Friday the 13th review.
While many of its problems remain, it is now just about possible to find a match. And when you do, Friday the 13th is a lot of fun: playing a match with a bunch of friends, when you're invested in you and your buddies escaping from the hell you find themselves in, the game can be a simultaneously terrifying and hilarious experience. There's nothing funnier than your friends screaming, after all.
Rocket League launched with… no problems at all. Or at least, no one really had any problems with it. It was a solid, fun multiplayer game with a great hook (football with cars is one hell of an elevator pitch). These days, however, it's a completely different beast.
Like many, I played Rocket League a decent amount after it launched as a PS Plus freebie in July 2015. After deciding it was indeed a solid, fun multiplayer game, I put it down and probably went back to my backwards one-dimensional games like FIFA or Cars 3: Driven to Win. (One of these is a joke; I bet you can't guess which.)
Two years on and Rocket League has evolved. A multitude of new modes have freshened the game up hugely: Rocket League is now basketball with cars, superheroes with cars, and hexagonal volleyball with cars, and more than 33 million have played the game since launch. And with another new free map launching just last month and a Switch version (featuring cross-play with Xbox One and PC) coming soon, Rocket League continues to provide new reasons to come back.
Mass Effect: Andromeda
After the hugely successful original Mass Effect trilogy, expectations were high for the fourth game in the series. Andromeda took Mass Effect's story to a new galaxy, with new characters, new locations to explore... and a whole new bunch of bugs. Despite many positive reviews, Andromeda was met with huge criticism for the janky state it launched in. Animations and character models looked strange to say the least, and some accused the sci-fi game of launching unfinished. The fallout from Andromeda's troubled launch caused publisher EA to reportedly put the franchise on hiatus, and now developer BioWare Montreal has been absorbed into EA Motive.
However, the developer continued to support and fix Mass Effect: Andromeda since launch, meaning it is now--finally--in an acceptable state. Underneath the aesthetic issues, of course, was a decent game, and with many of those problems now sorted, the experience is much improved. I's by no means perfect, of course, but it also has some of the best worlds and combat seen in the entire Mass Effect series, and it's certainly worthy of another look.
Grand Theft Auto Online
When Grand Theft Auto V first launched in 2013, it wasn't exactly lacking in stuff to do. Its huge, dense open-world and ensemble cast of characters meant it was packed with places to go, people to see, and activities to engage in. Because of that and some unfortunate server problems at launch, not everyone properly dug into GTA Online. You may, like me, have booted it up once, failed to connect, and then got distracted by the single-player mode's diverse offering and never bothered to go back. But GTA Online today is a very different entity to the one GTA V launched with five years ago.
The Heists update, released in 2015, gave the multiplayer mode more structure and set piece missions for players to work towards. Like their single-player equivalents, they are complex, multi-part missions that involve intense planning and teamwork to pull off, and they contain some of the most satisfying co-op gameplay you can have online. In addition, the GTA community continues to give fellow players more and more things to do in the form of races, deathmatches, and more via the Content Creator--and that's on top of the new stuff Rockstar itself is continually adding in.
To this day, the developer continues to support GTA Online with new missions, discounts, items to buy, and more. The company has even released a new version of GTA V specifically designed around encouraging people to play the ever-evolving Online mode.
Warframe came out in 2013 and was largely dismissed by players and critics alike. They deemed it a competent but ultimately bland experience. However, developer Digital Extremes has continued to work on the free-to-play game in order to address the issues it had five years ago. Now, the shooter-RPG has changed significantly.
Digital Extremes updates the game frequently, adding new content and expansions and reworking what was already there. An open-world DLC pack was added for free in 2017, bringing a day-night cycle, new mini-games, additional enemies, and more. Before that, the company redesigned Warframe's movement system and even small details like UI elements. In April, the game received a new game mode and plenty of new items to equip your character with.
Warframe is a game that's progressed beyond what was there at launch into a deep and varied experience, and it's worth trying again.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands
Ghost Recon: Wildlands' initial reception might have been modest, but that hasn't stopped Ubisoft from supporting its game heavily in the months since its launch. Like with Rainbow Six Siege, Ubisoft committed to continuing to work on its game once it was out the door with both paid and free DLC. To start with, that added content included minor updates and improvements as well as new story missions and characters, such as the ones seen in the Narco Road and Fallen Ghosts expansions.
Since then, however, Wildlands has added an entirely new PvP portion, named Ghost War. That included eight maps and 12 classes at launch, but more of each have been added since the free mode was introduced in 2017. There have also been free add-ons centered around the Predator and Splinter Cell.
Ubisoft has already also announced it will continue to support Wildlands for at least another year. The coming months will bring "major" content drops, including modes, weapons, and more. Wildlands, like Siege, is always changing and improving, and there's never been a better time to dive in.
Hearthstone: Heroes Of Warcraft
Like many of Blizzard's games, Hearthstone has incredible staying power. Of course that's partly because it--like many of Blizzard's games--is excellent. It blends accessible card game mechanics with the developer's trademark ability to cram personality into every sinew of its titles. Crucially, Hearthstone contains enough depth to keep players interested to this day, around five years since it first launched in beta and over four years since its public release. Oh, and it's free-to-play.
Not only all that, but Blizzard is still releasing new content for the TCG. The company recently released a new expansion, named The Witchwood, which introduced another 135 cards to the game. A new mode launched shortly after that, and another two expansions are coming this year, which combined with some rotations of active cards will shake up the game's meta in a big way. Single-player modes such as Dungeon Run have helped keep the attention of some players who aren't huge fans of PvP, and it's that breadth of appeal that has helped Blizzard's card game remain relevant for so long. Hearthstone, like many of Blizzard's games, will be around for a while, and we can't wait to see what's next.
Final Fantasy 15
Final Fantasy XV was another game that launched to a positive reception, but a lot has changed since it came out in 2016. To start with, the game is now available on PC, and it even has a Pocket Edition on mobile. To coincide with the PC launch, Square Enix released a new, up-to-date version of the game called the Royal Edition. Why did it do this, you ask? Because like with Final Fantasy XIV, the company poured resources into support for XV long after its launch.
A total of four expansions came out in the months following launch, each adding content in their own way. Episode Gladiolus added a spin-off portion in which you control the character's quest to become a stronger guardian for Noctis, and Episode Ignis follows a similar thread for that character. Episode Prompto, meanwhile, turns the game into a third-person shooter, while Comrades introduced an entirely new multiplayer portion (which also allowed you to play with AI if you prefer).
Square Enix recently said four more Episodes will arrive in 2019, but there will likely be more to enjoy before then. Like the Assassin's Creed crossover, or the upcoming Shadow of the Tomb Raider event. To be honest, all I want is more cup noodle DLC...
Dota 2 was arguably one of the first titles to get the games-as-a-service model right, while simultaneously acting as a prime example of a great free-to-play game. It's also one of the best MOBAs ever made. It's pretty good, then.
With this sequel Valve went far beyond what was achieved with the original Defense of the Ancients--a mod for Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos--and that's partly down to how well the developer has supported Dota 2 since its launch in 2013.
Frequent patches have brought new maps, an updated UI, a new engine, and even Rick and Morty crossover content. Of course, additional characters have continued to arrive, suitably shaking up the meta each time, as have additional modes. A co-op campaign was added in May 2017, for example, while the game's Battle Pass subscription service has even introduced a Battle Royale mode just recently. In short, this is a game that is still growing and improving after five years. It's showing no signs of slowing down, and if you have the spare time required to learn its ins and outs, Dota 2 is definitely worth trying.