Video game development is no easy task — just ask anybody who’s worked on one before. Even with the best tools and the biggest budget, it’s not uncommon to need a day one patch to fix any bugs or add in last-minute features that didn’t make it onto the disc when it “went gold”. Once launch day comes around, however, that’s it. The game is out in the wild and in the hands of the players who will ultimately be the ones who determine its fate. Some games don’t fare so well at launch, though – but that doesn’t stop developers from working tirelessly to turn a struggling project around.
The process can take weeks or months, while some teams take years to find solid ground for their game. We’ve gathered up the biggest games that persevered through their hardships and emerged victorious on the other side. That’s right. Here are 9 of the biggest video game comebacks.
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Check out the gallery above or scroll down for the full list!
Star Wars Battlefront II
It’s safe to say that EA has had a rough time with the Star Wars license since taking control of it in 2013. After canceling a number of projects, the company faced extreme community backlash for the loot box controversy surrounding 2017’s Star Wars Battlefront II. Forcing players to spend real money just for the chance to unlock and play as iconic characters such as Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader was not only a disastrous PR mess for the publisher, it also drew EA directly into the spotlight of a global political debate. Many countries, like Belgium, outright banned the sale of games containing microtransactions, and even U.S. lawmakers attempted to limit their sale.
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In a post on Reddit, EA’s community team famously responded that “the intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes” which quickly became the most downvoted comment in Reddit history. Realizing that they had “hit rock bottom,” EA and DICE promised to address player concerns and remove the microtransaction element from Battlefront II.
EA went back to the drawing board and reworked Battlefront II’s progression system, removing the pay-to-win mechanics from the game just four months after launch. Subsequent updates added new characters and maps from The Last Jedi and Solo, as well as limited modes like Ewok Hunt (which was popular enough that it eventually became permanent). Prior to the release of The Rise of Skywalker, EA announced Battlefront II’s Celebration Edition, which included the base game and all cosmetic unlockables, as well as a free update that included characters and tie-ins to Episode IX.
With this soft relaunch on top of nearly two years of free updates, players began making their way back to the blaster-scorched battlefields in droves, singing its praises all the way. So much had changed, in fact, that we re-reviewed Battlefront II, giving it an 8.8 and saying “it’s a great package now that serves as one of the best and most thrilling ways to have an authentic Star Wars gaming experience.” It may have spent some time on the Dark side, but after it’s many trials, Battlefront II has finally returned to the Light.
No Man’s Sky
No game has seen quite the redemption story as No Man’s Sky. First revealed in 2013, the ambitious project from four-man studio Hello Games quickly garnered the attention of the gaming community with its promise of a procedurally generated, massive multiplayer experience. After multiple delays, it was finally released in August 2016 and players quickly realized it was not the game they were promised. Many fans took to Twitter and Reddit to voice their concerns, demanding refunds, even going so far as to send death threats to Hello Games’ founder Sean Murray.
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Demand and hype for No Man’s Sky quickly died down with the PC player base dropping more than 90% in two weeks after launch. It was also plagued with many issues post-launch, including game-breaking bugs. Murray and his team went silent for weeks and many players felt that they had been scammed, even going so far as to have the studio investigated for fraud. Three months after launch, Hello Games began patching the game and introducing new features and even story beats to the experience.
After more than a year of incremental updates, Hello Games announced No Man’s Sky NEXT, its first major update, as well as an Xbox One version. This “relaunch”, which also (finally) introduced multiplayer, brought many lapsed players back into the universe. The next update, No Man’s Sky Beyond, added additional online functionality that Murray described as “a radical new social and multiplayer experience,” which expanded the multiplayer to allow for up to 32 players to group up and cooperate in large-scale community events that Murray has likened to Destiny. Additionally, Beyond added new alien races, new recipes to craft, and even the ability to tame and ride the diverse wildlife you encounter. Players began returning to No Man’s Sky once more, with many jumping in for the first time, and over the past nine months has seen more players consistently than ever before.
A VR component was released for free, as well, with support for PS VR, Oculus, Vive, and Valve’s Index. The team at Hello Games has promised to continue updating No Man’s Sky at a regular cadence with Murray stating that their “long-term vision is to add to [it] until it becomes bigger and bigger.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
The second MMO set in the Final Fantasy universe, FFXIV originally released to a near-universally negative critical and fan reception. It struggled during its first two years, with former Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada apologizing to fans and admitting that the “Final Fantasy brand has been greatly damaged” by its poor state. He vowed that they would continue updates in hopes “to revive the FFXIV that should have been released.”
In 2012, Square Enix began work on a “Version 2.0” that would bring sweeping changes to the MMO. Fittingly titled “A Realm Reborn”, it would include updated visuals, better performance, and an overhauled story – but there was a catch: FFXIV would become subscription-based in an attempt to offset the increased development costs.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn officially launched August 27, 2013, alongside an all-new PS3 version and full cross-platform support. Over the next few years, numerous updates were made to FFXIV including 2015’s Heavensward update that expanded the world, added new jobs, and introduced a campaign almost equal in size to A Realm Reborn’s main story. In 2017, the second major update, Stormblood, brought players back to FFXII’s Ivalice and received great critical reception. FFXIV’s most recent update, Shadowbringers, is heralded by players and critics as its best update yet, earning a 9.5 from IGN in which we said it “has only further solidified XIV’s status as one of the greatest Final Fantasy games ever made.”
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Now, with almost 16 million registered players Final Fantasy XIV is one of the most popular and most successful MMORPGs of all-time, and considering its origins, that’s no small feat.
When Ubisoft revealed For Honor during E3 2015, it promised epic (if not historically accurate) battles between knights, vikings, and samurai. While the initial reveal and subsequent betas were seemingly well received, something changed once it was released in full.
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Plagued by server issues and bearing a heavy focus on microtransactions, For Honor quickly came under fire. One player calculated that it would take 2.5 years of casual play to earn all of its content, all of which could be unlocked immediately for more than $700. During a developer livestream, For Honor’s game director Damien Kieken said that “we never had an intention for you to unlock everything in the game.”
After launching dedicated servers to address the networking issues, a $15 “Starter Edition” of For Honor was released in early 2018 that allowed players to jump in and play at a reduced price, while also giving them the opportunity to unlock more characters in-game. Later that year, For Honor’s largest update, Marching Fire, was released which added the Wu Lin faction and included four new playable characters.
Ubisoft continued providing a steady stream of free updates and focused on balancing and refining characters. Once you get past the somewhat steep learning curve it offers very rewarding and competitive gameplay that is surrounded by a passionate community willing to guide newer players. Now, three years after launch, For Honor is going strong with weekly content updates and a steady player base.
After Bungie left Microsoft and Halo behind to sign an exclusive ten-year deal with Activision for its new franchise, fans were eager to see what the talented developers would cook up next. The result was Destiny, a shared-world first-person shooter—practically the first of its kind. It quickly garnered the attention of many, becoming the most-preordered game in Activision’s history.
After both alpha and beta tests, players started to become skeptical. While the gunplay was great (these are the Halo developers, after all), the actual story missions and gameplay loop felt limited.
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When Destiny finally did launch in 2014, the reception was…lukewarm at best.
Not much had changed from the beta period. The story was extremely shallow – something that was extremely uncharacteristic of Bungie. Besides the satisfying combat, there wasn’t much to do once you finished the relatively short story. Two expansions were released over the course of a year that added bits of story, new weapons, and raids, but Destiny never felt complete.
Thankfully, Destiny’s second year kicked off its redemption story with the release of The Taken King expansion. This major update overhauled many core aspects, including how progression and loot drops worked, quest management, and introduced bounties. But the biggest and most meaningful update was to Destiny’s story. The Taken King featured a much more cohesive campaign, along with better cutscenes and voice acting – even going so far as to entirely replace Peter Dinklage’s performance – and really began to make players care about the characters.
Many Destiny players – myself included – never gave up hope that Bungie would one day become the game they promised. Bungie’s community team paid close attention to player feedback, offering weekly developer updates and insight into progress being made. Destiny’s rebirth paved the way for Destiny 2 which, despite having its own fair share of struggles, fleshed out its characters, stories, and world even more, securing its fanbase and place as one of the most popular shared-worlded experiences out there.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Counter-Strike: Source was one of the most popular PC games of all-time, so when Valve announced Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in 2011, the community was surprised (and more than a bit skeptical).
Originally developed by Hidden Path Entertainment, CS:GO was built on the original Source engine, which was eight years old at the time. CS:GO launched into beta in early 2012 and players noted that while it felt similar to CS: Source, something was…off. Strong weapon recoil made wielding guns difficult and lighting issues made it difficult to tell who was friend or foe. Valve eventually stepped in to polish it up, but when it eventually launched in August 2012 it was effectively just a better-looking version of the original.
Matchmaking was difficult at launch – it was almost three months before Valve added a queue feature, which caused it to lose many competitive players in the process. Many players opted to go back to CS: Source instead, adopting the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.
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In early 2013, Global Offensive got an overhaul. Weapons were rebalanced, menus were retooled for easier navigation, and Valve added the community Maps Workshop to CS:GO that allowed players to create their own maps to play with others. Eventually, it launched Operations as paid updates that showcased the best player-created maps. Players began returning in droves, and CS:GO quickly began to take off as one of the most popular games on Steam. Seven years later, it’s consistently near or at the top of Steam’s concurrent player count list, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more competitive shooter. With eSports tournaments all over the world, CS:GO has become one of the most impactful games of the generation—far more than just a pretty CS: Source.
On October 1, 2013 – just two short weeks after the launch of Grand Theft Auto V – Rockstar released a free multiplayer component called Grand Theft Auto Online. However, thanks to countless server issues and crashes, it was near-impossible to login and play.
Rockstar quickly announced that it was aware of the issues and that its team was “working around the clock” to fix the issues that players were experiencing. Over the next few weeks, numerous patches were released to fix the most prominent issues but many players reported that entire characters were being lost, along with hours of playtime and progress. By 2014, GTA Online was almost close to failing completely.
But GTA Online eventually stabilized. Rockstar addressed the majority of game-breaking issues and began a steady stream of free content updates to add new missions, vehicles, and player customization options. Eventually, they released the long-awaited Online Heists, and have been consistently providing large content updates every few months, adding options to run nightclubs, purchase abandoned missile silos, even start gangs and smuggling rings, and in July 2019, Rockstar added a casino into GTA Online for players to become VIPs at (and then, of course, eventually rob). Now, players have more to do than ever before, and they’re diving in in record numbers. Many use GTA Online as a means to team up with friends and undergo intricate bank heists, while others prefer to drive around and wreak havoc on Los Santos.
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Much of GTA V’s success can be attributed to the ongoing support for GTA Online. GTA V has become the most profitable media source of all-time, as well as the third best-selling video game of all-time at over 110 million units sold.
Diablo III was in development at Blizzard for almost a decade before it finally launched on May 15, 2012 to overwhelming demand. So overwhelming, in fact, that almost nobody could log in. An incredible 3.5 million players launched Diablo III within the first 24 hours, and most were greeted with the cryptic message “The servers are busy at this time. Please try again later. (Error 37)”. This message quickly turned into a joke, with Error 37 memes popping up all over the internet.
Login issues aside, Diablo III’s core gameplay loop of killing monsters and earning loot was overshadowed by the in-game auction house, which allowed players to sell gear for real money, creating an undesirable (and potentially predatory) pay-to-win economy. There were also a number of balancing issues throughout the game, such as extreme difficulty spikes and minimal legendary loot drops.
After almost two years of fan backlash, not to mention a gold exploit that crippled the in-game economy, Blizzard made the decision to shutter the auction house for good when it launched the Reaper of Souls expansion. The company also introduced the “Loot 2.0” system, which rebalanced drops, made it less grind-ey, and ultimately saved Diablo III from an eternal hell. Players finally got the Diablo game they wanted, and returned to Tristram to live out their demon-slaying fantasies.
After two major expansions, multiple seasons of content, and a competent Nintendo Switch port, it has shaped up to be not only a great success story, but one of the best modern PC games to play.
While its building system was unique, Fortnite’s single-player tower defense gameplay was criticized for being lackluster and repetitive. Missions were far too long and the progression system was a confusing mess, leaving many wondering if Epic Games would ever fix any of it.
However, after seeing the success of early battle royale games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Epic decided to split the Fortnite development team and pivot to a battle royale component to compete. Fortnite’s PVE mode was renamed Save the World and Fortnite: Battle Royale was born, launching in September 2017 as its own free-to-play game.
And, the rest, as they say, is history. Fortnite: Battle Royale has become a worldwide phenomenon, amassing over 250 million players and one of the largest active communities and is consistently one of the most viewed games on Twitch. It helped pave the way for true cross-play between consoles, PC, and mobile devices, and has cemented its legacy as one of the most popular games of all-time.
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Nowadays, if a game releases in a broken or buggy state, fans are quick to let the developers know the issues with so many avenues to interact like Twitter or Reddit. Many cite these games as examples of how to properly mend a broken game, but ultimately it’s up to the developers to deliver. There are plenty of games that are still working on their own redemption story – Fallout 76 is set to release its much-anticipated Wastelanders update in April, and Anthem has abandoned its post-release plans to instead completely rebuild it from the ground-up. Whether or not these updates will pay off remains to be seen, but here’s to hoping that one day Bethesda and BioWare will have similar redemption stories to share.
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What are some other games that make for great stories of redemption? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check out our list of great games to play while you’re stuck at home.