So welcome to something I've been thinking of doing as a possible series of blogs going forward and maybe in the future videos too. A series where I look at things and try to take a nuanced approach to the subjects rather than just a narrow view.
Ok Venturebeat managed to open a kettle of fish that's been opened a bit before but it's apparently started a larger debate over if games reviewers need to be skilled at the games they review. The answer is very much a nuanced thing with no easy answer.
It would be very easy to say "Well no shit the Reviewer needs to be good at the game otherwise they might end up blaming the game for issues that are related to their own incompetence, or without enough experience of the genre might not understand the mechanics or changes a game has made." As an example of this there's the infamously incompetent Worldwide Soccer Manager 2009 review , a review so bad IGN themselves pulled it. Except that's not the whole reality of reviews.
Part of reviews is about pitching to your audience. Or at least I believe being honest and upfront with your potential audience to not only inform them about the game but about you as a gamer writing the review and making it clear who the review is for. Not every-one is after the same things from games, for me as some-one reading about fighting games there's little point telling me how good the footsie and tech throws are or how balanced the corner lock and air juggle combo stringing is, the simple reality is I don't give a damn. What I look for in fighting games are cool looking special moves, a game that runs well and a good story mode. I'm not into the ins and outs of competitive fighting games and as Street Fighter 5 sales show I'm not the only one who likes the story and single player stuff. On the flip side I'm very much into MOBA games and as such knowing in depth stuff like the balance of characters and perk systems would be something I'd look for in a review.
For me as a reviewer I try to present my content where I can with any possible information that may help the reader determine if a review is relevant to them. As an example I pointed out my lack of familiarity / lack of enjoyment of the tower defence genre when I reviewed Straco Episode 1. The simple reason being I wanted it to be clear to any reader that if they were into the tower defence genre I'm likely not going to provide the information they want or need. However people who aren't normally fans of the genre (E.G. Me) could look at it as see if the reasons they are not a fan of the genre line up with why I'm not a fan and what Straco Episode 1 did differently in my view to make me enjoy it when I didn't enjoy other titles in the genre.
In my opinion, part of the issue is that there has been an approach in the industry for a while to try and present reviews as objective pieces. Often not acknowledging the subjectivity of a number of the stances presented by the writers. On some far larger sites there's even an effort to seemingly minimise or hideaway information about the reviewer in question rather than having reviewers wear their biases on their sleeve fairly openly.
I'd also argue it depends where your reviews are being seen as to who your audience likely is and what they'll care for. If you're on a more general entertainment publication like some of the newspapers that still get put out then it's more likely your audience will be more general and care less for specifics and intricate details or even be new to videogaming entirely. Their interest in gaming is passive mostly as they're getting their information from a general newspaper likely along with film reviews and the most recent football scores. So they'll want to know if the game is worth playing and will keep them entertained and the basics about it. However in more specialised gaming publication or websites then you'll generally expect your audience to want more information or to be bigger fans to an extent. In the case of some publication it's now become almost part of their hall mark and the audience they're after to put politics in because apparently their audience , or they believe their audience, to be the kind of people who care about the politics in the Philippines. So with certain publications they throw in politics because their audience are the kind of people who literally will refuse to play games if they don't support and reinforce their political views.
In the end the only true answer is reviewers only need to be good at a game if they're claiming to be an expert on it or trying to present themselves as an expert on said genre. Otherwise it's better to be honest with your audience and in all cases frontload the review in such a way to inform the potential audience what to expect. Or if you're Torchman have your avatar be a literal Gundam so it very strongly hints that you'll be talking about how they got a vectoral fin out of place on the mark B5xM Gundam or something (and yes that was me talking bollocks, I know very little about Gundam). You know rather than if the shooting and explosion look super cool.
It can be good for a non genre fan to review a game in said genre if they find it enjoyable as other people who aren't fans of the genre could also enjoy it.
It can be good for a fan of the genre to talk about the details and how it's different in subtle ways from other games in the genre and the in depth mechanics.
It can be good for some-one to point out to a general / casual audience that the new Dark Souls game is a hard game. It's probably fairly useless telling hardcore Dark Souls fans that though.
Short of a reviewer being idiotic and missing the simple point themselves (e.g. that the point of a management game is to manage things) then most reviews can have a purpose of some kind if the reviewer is honest and upfront with the audience thus making sure the review does reach the right audience.