Bungie / Activision
Destiny didn’t have early reviews. It didn’t even have release day reviews. The critics are playing it with everyone else. Nobody is quite sure what score to give Destiny yet, and that might be a good thing.
As humans, we like patterns. We like to make things work, make things sound good. Your friend tells you Guardians of the Galaxy is a great movie and you go see it because someone you trust likes it, so it has to be at least good. Right? So, you watch it with the preconceived notion that it’s going to be good, because that would complete your idea of it having to be great neatly.
This is how reviews manipulate us. If IGN publishes a big review of Destiny with a giant 10/10 on the bottom, and you read it, you’re going to probably want to buy the game. And while you’re playing it, you’re going to look for why IGN thought it was amazing. You’ve set a bar that Destiny has to reach.
The problem is that art shouldn’t have to hit a bar. You shouldn’t go through a list in your head and check off things that it does and doesn’t do. That’s unfair. Art should be evaluated by what it is, not what it was said to be, or what it isn’t.
For games, it makes sense that reviews exist. Sometimes we just want to know why a game is good and why we should spend our money. That’s fine. Reviews are for you. But Destiny gives us the rare opportunity to be our own critic, to dive into a game without any expectation that it should be mind-blowing or crap. It is what it is and it’s up to you to decide if that’s good or not.
After you’ve made that call, go read a review. The best criticism is the one that gives you insight and a different perspective on a work. Maybe one reviewer hated it for the aesthetics and he explains, in detail, why they don’t work with what the game tries to accomplish. Maybe one reviewer loved it, but she loves it because it does multiplayer really well.
Watch Dogs launched with reviews that didn’t exactly match the amount of hype and excitement that people had for it. A lot of people were bummed and the discussion of the game seemed to fall off pretty quickly. Imagine if no reviews came out, and everyone was discovering for themselves. Maybe we wouldn’t have been trying to see what was wrong with it or what didn’t quite make it Game of the Year. Maybe we’d look at it like a nuanced, nebulous, weird piece of art that we would have to question and poke and prod ourselves to find what we like and dislike.
As a critic, it’s weird to argue that you shouldn’t read early reviews, but I think there’s a purity to being critical about things before you know they’re good or not. I’ve reviewed games before most of the public has played them and it’s a rare experience. You have no powerful voices to bounce off of when something happens and you want to try to make a call on it. You have to dig into yourself, your own biases, and do the hard work on your own. It’s scary.
Being uncomfortable like that is a rare quality to interesting, thought-provoking art. And you should cherish that, exploit that. Keep playing Destiny and ask yourself why this or that works at every turn. Find what you value and tell someone about it. Be your own critic.