Biggest gaming disappointments of 2017

Nintendo's tablet-like Switch exploded onto the scene and continues to defy expectations. Dozens upon dozens of great games hit the shelves. Microsoft launched its own line of VR headsets with its OEM partners, complete with SteamVR integration. And of course, Microsoft launched its 4K beast, the Xbox One X.

As usual, though, it hasn't all been fun and roundabouts.

As 2017 draws to a close, it's time to look back on the year's biggest misses. The most disappointing games, most disappointing companies, and the most disappointing happenings.

Visceral Games shut down

Here's a more recent one that stung particularly badly. Citing a lack of faith in Visceral Games' Star Wars project, EA shuttered the studio, putting a few hundred of the industry's most talented developers out of work.

Visceral Games built many games, but the Dead Space series was by far the most famous, arriving at a time when "AAA" survival horror seemed to be on the ropes. Dead Space 1, and 2 launched to critical acclaim, while the third died in a fiery mess after EA forcibly attempted to broaden the game's appeal, injecting needless co-op, Gears of War-like cover-based combat, and an early incarnation of micropayment accelerators.

Since Dead Space 3's failure, Visceral went on to make the generally fun, but lacking Battlefield Hardline, and later, a linear action game set in the Star Wars universe.

Deciding the potential for epic $$$ cash money $$$ was weak, EA didn't just kill Visceral's Star Wars project, but the entire studio. Announcing just a few days later that it would be acquiring Titanfall dev Respawn Entertainment for several hundred million dollars. Watch your back, Respawn!

Star Wars Lootcratefront II

Speaking of EA, the unpopular publisher managed to piss off the entire internet to the point even mainstream news outlets begun taking notice.

Star Wars Battlefront II should have been game of the year material. EA outlined plans to address all grievances from the previous game, including a canonized campaign for Star Wars fans, improvements to gunplay and, crucially, space combat. There would be boatloads of extra maps, new content arriving for free, instead of using a playerbase-dividing season pass, and more. Battlefront II would also be getting a marketing boost from the launch of Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi. What could possibly go wrong?

Despite being relentlessly fun, artistically stunning, and authentic, EA's chronic greed got the better of it once again. The publisher had DICE design every aspect of the game's progression systems with the capability to bypass time investment with real money, creating an uneven playing field between rich and poorer players. The backlash continues even now, with EA practically silent on what it intends to do to fix things.

It's not just Battlefront II, though, to be fair. Battlefront II just became the focal point. 2017 was the year that gambling loot boxes seemed to become the norm across most "AAA" premium games, including Assassin's Creed Origins, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Need for Speed, Forza 7, and many more. They've been creeping in for years, of course, but this year, it felt like publishers stopped worrying (or caring) about any potential backlash. It looks like this is the way things will be, from now on.

Death of Mass Effect

I figured since we're bashing EA, we might as well bring up Mass Effect Andromeda.

As a huge fan of the franchise, it pained me to review this game, which launched in a horrific state earlier in 2017. Game-breaking bugs, notoriously (and uncharacteristically) hideous animation work, and general blandness led EA to slam Mass Effect Andromeda on hiatus, which is a depressing end for what was easily the publisher's flagship RPG product.

The studio charged with building Andromeda was also dissolved and absorbed by other EA studios, and planned resolutions to the game's plot hole-filled story via post-launch DLC were killed off. Andromeda could have been salvaged had it been delayed to provide extra polish, but EA prioritized short-term gains and shareholder targets over gamers and long-term success, as per usual.

Halo Wars 2 "Ultimate Edition" isn't Ultimate

A slightly less egregious issue, but I received quite a few messages about this, and Microsoft's insistence on using the "ultimate" monicker for games that aren't, well, ultimate.

Marriam-Webster dictionaries describe "Ultimate" thusly: _"last in a progression or series: final // their ultimate destination was Paris." So if "ultimate" means "final," why didn't the Halo Wars 2 Ultimate Edition include the most recent DLC, Awakening the Nightmare?

It's not a question of value, really. The Ultimate Edition included tons of great content, and I think it's fair for Microsoft to have sold Awakening the Nightmare separately, as an expansion, given the abundance of quality content that comes with it. The issue is one of false advertising.

It goes for the whole industry, really. Stop advertising your games as ultimate edition if they're not ultimate.

Death of Kinect

As far as the mainstream goes, I doubt many people will say a prayer for Kinect, but fans of the Microsoft ecosystem know better.

Kinect wasn't the best solution out there for gaming inputs, but it spawned dozens of quality and fun titles, particularly for non-gaming families to enjoy together. There's something natural and intuitive about motion controls if you've never handled a gamepad, and Kinect was easily at the forefront of this sort of technology.


Kinect (Image credit: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

Kinect lives on in HoloLens and Windows Mixed Reality headsets, using similar spatial mapping technology to remove the need for external sensors in VR environments, but for many, it wasn't always about the games.

Kinect represents one of Microsoft's biggest missed opportunities, whether they know it or not.

Kinect gave Xbox owners an Amazon Echo-like experience years before Alexa arrived on the scene. "Xbox, record that." "Xbox, watch TV." "Xbox, go to BBC iPlayer." And so on. There was something futuristic about getting home from work, turning on your Xbox via voice, and consequently, your TV via the integrated IR blaster. Kinect also recognized faces for instant sign-on, something now available in Windows PCs via Windows Hello.

Microsoft announced this year that Kinect production had ceased, and that the peripheral was basically dead. As a result, it looks as though any development for Xbox's Cortana-powered voice commands is effectively dead too, as Microsoft basically concedes the entire personal assistant and home automation market to Amazon's Alexa.

Kinect represents one of Microsoft's biggest missed opportunities, whether they know it or not.

Xbox One X, where's VR?

I'm frankly surprised I'm including this disappointing morsel, considering how much I've been hating on VR for the past year.

Having only used Oculus Rift and PSVR, I failed to imagine a world where VR might be fun, intuitive, and above all else, accessible, for someone as lazy and set in their ways as me (and for the many others like me). Enter Windows Mixed Reality (WMR), which does away with annoying sensors and external cameras, putting all the tech you need directly on the headset. The inclusion of joysticks on the WMR controllers also gave me the opportunity to play VR without motion sickness, eliminating the need to turn physically. I love it, and now believe in the tech.

That's why it's a bit of a disappointment that the Xbox One X doesn't support VR out of the box.

It's not a question of power, the X is more than powerful enough to provide VR experiences via WMR, but there's a question of software support. The vast, vast majority of quality VR games right now rely on a Windows PC. Microsoft is building up its own Store offering, but the library is slim pickings as of writing, with probably less than ten games worth your time.

Hopefully Microsoft will double down on this exciting new paradigm sooner rather than later, lest they concede yet another platform shift as they did with Cortana, mobile, and much, much more.

Xbox first-party line-up (or lack thereof)

Despite the successful launch of the Xbox One X, Microsoft has been dogged with criticisms of its first party exclusive support for the box. Sea of Thieves has been delayed a few times into 2018, and Crackdown 3, previously intended to launch with the Xbox One X, also slipped to next year.

The only new exclusives to ship with the Xbox One X to showcase its power was Super Lucky's Tale and Forza 7. Super Lucky's Tale is a quirky and vibrant platformer aimed at kids, but it's not exactly the photorealistic showcase the X deserved. Forza 7 picked up the tab to some degree, but the Xbox One X relied on third-party titles like Assassin's Creed Origins to do the heavy lifting.

PlayStation dominates the narrative when it comes to exclusive core games, with major hits from the likes of Persona 5, Nioh, Horizon Zero Dawn, Nier Automata, and many more. Most of Xbox's exclusive titles this year were either smaller games, such as Cuphead, or niche efforts, like Halo Wars 2. Microsoft has sorely lacked an acclaimed heavy hitting "AAA" action-oriented exclusive for what feels like an eternity at this point, and gamers have noticed.

Microsoft is also less willing to share details on games further out in the roadmap too, when compared to Sony. PlayStation gamers know what's coming soon, but they also know what's further away on the horizon. Xbox gamers don't have much information, and that's a bit of a problem.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and gaming lead Phil Spencer have both expressed the desire to rectify this situation, with more funding and efforts, but it could be a long time before we see these initiatives bear fruit.

Still no Half-Life 3

Damnit Gaben. Earlier this year, Valve veteran and Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw, left Valve.

Half-Life is a landmark sci-fi shooter series that ended in an excruciatingly unresolved state, never giving fans any sort of plot closure. Over the years, the idea of any sort of "Half-Life 3" coming out has dwindled, as Valve moved away from building its own games, and into digital distribution with its Steam platform. Most of Valve's current games are service driven, supported by microtransactions. Half-Life doesn't really fit this model.

Given Laidlaw's departure, the likelihood of more Half-Life seems bleaker than ever.

That's a wrap!

There were tons of disappointing moments this year, but these ones stood out in particular, at least for me. What were your biggest gaming gripes of 2017? What were the worst games? What companies pissed you off the most? Sound off in the comments, let's all vent together.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!