From bad to bad-ass
I come from an era of gaming where updates didn’t exist. If a game was bad or broken when the cartridge hit store shelves, there was no fixing it. Sorry kiddo, but you’re stuck with Pit Fighter until your next birthday or holiday. Today, updates are expected, whether it’s a day-one patch that developers have to crunch to get out or that thing where Nintendo withholds completed content from its sports games to add them in as updates later. While we old-timers may lament the era of gaming where everything worked at launch, the truth is I have no idea where this industry would be without them.
I mean, if you think delays are bad now, imagine a world where a post-launch update still didn’t exist. Sorry kiddo, but you’re stuck with your vanilla copy of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on PlayStation 3.
Thankfully, we do have updates. Updates that not only squash bugs developers couldn’t nab during production but can literally save a game from a terrible launch and turn it into something millions of people will want to play. That’s what this list is all about.
Here are the top 10 games that got better with updates.
10. Cyberpunk 2077
Of all the games on this list, Cyberpunk 2077 easily had the most high-profile disastrous launch since the Diablo III release debacle. After numerous delays, the game landed with big sales and even bigger outrage. On PC, it played just fine. If you were one of the millions who picked it up on console, well, your mileage would vary. The game was riddled with bugs that rendered it virtually unplayable on the PS4 and Xbox One. Current-gen consoles didn’t fare all that much better.
Thankfully, with updates, the game is now in a state most people would call “What it should have been what I bought it.” The game is playable on all the hardware it’s available for. Yes, I know that’s tepid praise given the time and money CD Projekt Red sunk into this game, but given how poor this game was when it was released, getting it to the state it’s in now was no small hurdle for the developers.
9. Fallout 76
Fallout 76 should have been a complete disaster. Its launch was riddled with game-breaking bugs and a massive controversy over a canvas bag. People complained about the lack of NPCs in the world as they tried their best to break the game with nuclear weapons. Any other developer might have moved on from the project given its reception, but Bethesda stuck with it, dispatching droves of patches. These updates added new modes and content—including NPCs—and fixed as many bugs as you can with the janky-ass Creation Engine. In 2020, it received four massive updates, including the version 2.0 update that many saw as the turning point for the game. By 2022, Fallout 76 had more than 13 million players worldwide.
Given what the game is today, it can be difficult to remember what Fortnite was actually like when it first launched. While most people now know it as the game where Ryu from Street Fighter can shoot Spider-Man in the face with a shotgun, the first Fortnite was a cooperative PvE survival game. That was before Epic Games caught wind of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and decided to make its own 1v100 shooter. That move proved to be one of the most financially sound decisions in gaming history as Fortnite is now a billion-dollar IP with millions of players around the world. It’s also a damn good shooter that has been updated throughout its life, forever tweaking the formula and adding new skins to keep people playing (and paying).
7. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Seige
One issue with game updates is that they can often distort just how bad a game was at launch. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Seige is a perfect example of this. Today, it’s one of the top esports titles in the industry, and reviews at launch were mostly positive. But the people who were there from the beginning remember just how shakey those first couple of months were for the multiplayer shooter. In fact, things got so bad Ubisoft almost took the game offline. But consistent updates from the team at Ubisoft Montreal — including gameplay overhauls, reworked maps, and a roster of uniquely designed operators — saved Seige and made it one of the most important and successful titles in Ubisoft history.
6. Star Wars Battlefront 2
When it launched, Star Wars Battlefront 2 actually wasn’t that bad of a game. It controlled well, had an enjoyable if insipid single-player mode, and was a generally fun shooter. Unfortunately, EA knew the title would be huge given its predecessor, 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront, sold like hotcakes despite its lack of content. Knowing this, the publisher and its developer DICE decided to load Battlefront 2 with an annoying assortment of microtransactions that made consumers mad. And not mad in the, “I’m going to complain about this online” way, but made in the “Let’s all work together to get this changed” way.
Fans united against EA’s handling of the game, and by 2018, the publisher relented and unlocked all the heroes in the game, which was one of the key sticking points for players. The entire situation was an embarrassment for EA. I mean, how many other game companies have made the Guinness World Record Book for the most downvoted comment on Reddit?
5. Street Fighter V
Street Fighter V had plenty of bugs and connection issues at launch, but its biggest problem was its disappointing dearth of content. While 16 fighters is a decent enough number for launch, the vanilla release lacked a story mode and an arcade mode, the latter of which has been standard in the industry since Street Fighter II first took the world by storm. Post-release updates corrected these mistakes, adding a cinematic story mode just a few months after launch and an arcade mode with the debut of Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition. Future updates would add more content and characters to the game, eventually making it one of the most well-rounded fighters Capcom has ever produced.
4. Ark: Survival Evolved (Switch Release)
The original Switch release of Ark: Survival Evolved had the distinction of being one of the worst games available for the best-selling console. Developer Abstraction made a pretty big deal out of getting the game to run on the hardware, but when people actually got to see it in action, it wasn’t exactly something people should be proud of. The game was a complete mess with awful graphics and terrible framerates.
Fixing this game would require more than mere updates. It would require an entirely new build. And that’s exactly what Studio Wildcard did. Working with the team at Grove Street Games, the Switch version of the game was completely rebuilt, becoming one of the best examples of Unreal Engine 4 on the hardware. And that was something of a surprise given that GSG was also responsible for the poorly received Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition.
3. Aliens: Colonial Marines
Including Aliens: Colonial Marines is a bit of a cheat here as it was never fully fixed with an official update. The game was released in 2013 to poor reviews and tepid sales, becoming yet another forgetting experience in the Aliens universe. A big part of the issue was the poor AI of enemies, which in comparison to the excellent Alien: Isolation released one year later, was embarrassing for such a high-profile game.
While developer Gearbox Software couldn’t amend the issue, a modder in 2017 found a way to significantly improve the game’s AI by correcting a spelling mistake in the code. “Teather” became “tether,” and the aliens in the game started behaving as they should have all along. So hats off to modder jamesdickinson963, who decided to go line-by-line through the Aliens Colonial Marines code to find that little error.
2. Final Fantasy XIV
When it launched in 2010, Final Fantasy XIV was a wildly underwhelming shell of a game with bad gameplay, a terrible interface, and a lack of polish throughout. Sure, the game looked outstanding, but looks can only get you so far. It was an absolute mess, and to save the game, Square Enix brought in Naoki Yoshida, aka Yoshi-P, to right the ship. Having just come off the successful launch of Dragon Quest X, Yoshida would have the monumental task of creating content for the original version of FFXIV while also building an entirely new version that would replace it.
In 2013, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn launched to great reviews from press and players alike, cementing the Square Enix title as the new king of MMOs. As of 2023, the game is still going strong with no signs of slowing down.
1. No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky is what I consider to be the poster child for the power of post-launch updates. The game was one of the most highly anticipated titles in the run-up to its 2016 launch promising players an entire universe of uncharted planets to explore. Those pre-release trailers sold it as something you’d never forget, and, well, if you bought the game at launch, chances are you won’t soon forget how lousy it was. Its initial release just couldn’t match what players were expecting.
But the developers at Hello Games stuck with it, releasing a bevy of updates over the next few years that improved nearly every aspect of the game while adding features that have made it arguably the best space sim ever created. Version 4.0 launched in 2022, bringing the game to Nintendo Switch and overhauling the experience for the benefit of all players. The original version of No Man’s Sky now only exists in old memes and YouTube videos that in no way represent what an amazing game it has become.