Which games start bad, but get good later?

best outriders pyromancer build
(Image credit: People Can Fly)

Sometimes games we don't like at first end up becoming our favorites. There are die-hard believers that Final Fantasy 13 is worth sticking with past its infamously boring first 20 hours, and plenty of people who will tell you not to give up on Metal Gear Solid 5. Every single MMO seems to have a core of players who insist it gets good if you make it to the endgame and actually thought it was worthwhile. There are people who insist it's never worth sticking with something you don't enjoy right away, but some games really are slow-burners.

Which games start bad, but get good later?

Here are our answers, plus a few from our forum.

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Natalie Clayton: Everyone who plays Final Fantasy 14 will tell you A Realm Reborn is a slog. Having gone through the MMO's opening act earlier this year, I can safely say they weren't kidding. The first 50 levels of FF14 are a bit uninspired, but the momentum of questing gets you through the bulk of it well enough. It's the 2.X content that really tests your resolve—a series of patches originally intended to fill time before the game's first expansion, offering pitiful rewards for retreading content and watching a story progress at a snail's pace. It sucks.

Things do pick up by the end of 2.5. The plot kicks into overdrive at a frightening pace, betrayals and twists laying the groundwork for Heavensward—an expansion that finally explains why folks sing FF14's praises from the rafters. But even after Square Enix supposedly condensed the run-up to Heavensward, I'm still in no rush to revisit A Realm Reborn anytime soon.

Steven Messner: The first few hours of Outriders are a disaster. The story has an interesting premise but the way it's told—especially in the beginning—gave me whiplash. You awake from cryosleep on an alien planet after spending nearly a hundred years flying through space, shit goes bad so quickly you barely get a chance to get your bearings, and you're right back into cryo. When you awaken a second time, everything is much, much worse. During these few hours, the story moves way too quickly. Characters are introduced and die minutes later, and it all just feels extremely messy and frustrating. Outriders also commits the mortal RPG sin of being so very boring at first. Instead of immediately setting you lose with some fun abilities or cool guns, all of that is locked away until much later in the story. What little combat you actually get to do in Outriders' intro is bland and not at all indicative of the theorycrafting fun that comes later. It really sucks.

Push through that, though, and Outriders starts to come together. Once the story is done time-skipping all over the damn place, characters finally have room to breathe and everything settles into a pretty fun groove. You get magical powers, loot starts dropping that's actually interesting, and Outriders just continues to get better and better from there on out.


(Image credit: CD Projekt Red)

Jacob Ridley: Full disclosure: I bounced off the first 10 hours of The Witcher 3. It just wasn't working for me at all. 

Perhaps it's not super surprising to anyone that I would later sink 200 hours into that game. Clearly I don't make good snap judgements on a game's worthiness—I have since learned to invest way more time into a game before making a call on whether I'll play the rest.

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

Jorge Jimenez: I'm going to say it, the first few hours of this open-world epic fantasy RPG are a total drag. The Hinterlands is the first significant area you can explore in Dragon Age Inquisition. It's a large farmland area whose underwhelming quest and monster design almost made me bounce off a game I ended up loving. 

At the time, I was going through a completionist phase when it came to open-world RPGs. I would complete all the side quests and scoop up all the collectibles in any given area before moving on, and, oh boy, does that game have a ton of side quests. 

Thankfully, my colleagues who were ahead of me told me to leave the Hinterlands as and unlock a new area as soon as possible. Once I did that, I was entirely engrossed by the game and give anyone who plays Dragon Age Inquisition that simple bit of advice. Leave the Hinterlands and never look back.

Norman Reedus wears Gordon Freeman's glasses while being menaced in a cutscene

(Image credit: 505 Games)

Morgan Park: Death Stranding eventually became one of my favorite games ever, but oh boy does the beginning suck. Long cutscenes with confusing dialogue, small spurts of gameplay interrupted by, yep, another cutscene, and tutorial sections that take things too slowly really soured my first hours with it. The entire first map of that game (everything before you cross the water) is basically one big tutorial. It's not until the second area that the game shuts up for a while and lets Sam bask in the solitude of package delivery. 

Then you discover road building, start unlocking dozens of optional gadgets, and get to apply your hiking skills to a map with multiple biomes, not just grasslands. It's a classic example of an opening act that's too cautious in introducing complexity, but power through it and you're golden.

Quirrel staring off into the distance.

(Image credit: Team Cherry)

James Davenport: PC Gamer reviewed Hollow Knight quite some time after it came out. The only one that tried it at launch was me, and I gave up about an hour in. Didn't think it was worth it. We just let Hollow Knight sit there because its opening, while gorgeous, is definitely not our fave bug adventure at its best. 

You don't have the double jump or dash, which makes platforming and basic navigation a slower, more tedious affair. And it's pretty easy to get lost in the early areas. There aren't clear signs about where to go next, and you're not really nudged by the design in any particular direction. It left me spinning my wheels as a slow, clumsy bug for too long. 

But good lord, I'm glad I went back. Metroid games are done. Over. We're good, Nintendo. Team Cherry has it from here.

(Image credit: Beamdog)

Jody Macgregor: I love exploring the interdimensional city of Sigil in Planescape: Torment. It's connected by magic doors to other planes across the cosmos, but any door (or window, or gate) could turn into a portal that leads to Sigil under the right circumstances. Which is why Sigil's population includes a bunch of lost wanderers from more generic fantasy locations who stumble across one of the wonders of the universe, and then get fleeced by the know-it-all grifters of its streets.

Much as I love Sigil, I didn't love being stuck in a mortuary, which is how Planescape: Torment opens. Even after you escape the mortuary, you're limited to a corner of the city for a while. When it first came out I gave up on Planescape before it opened up, only going back years later and realizing that I'd missed one of the best RPGs around. 

And I liked the Hinterlands.

(Image credit: Eidos)

Andy Chalk: Thief: The Dark Project. It's maybe not fair to say that Thief starts badly, but it took a lot of effort before it clicked. It was such a completely counter-intuitive game compared to conventional FPSes: Move slowly—be quiet—don't try to kill anyone! Tried it once, didn't like it, tried it again, liked it even less and quit. But a friend pressured me into giving it another shot, so several days later, with a fresh, focused mindset, I did—and it was like somebody flipped a switch, and suddenly I was playing one of the greatest games ever made.

It was definitely more of a "me" problem than a Thief problem, but the memory's always stuck with me. I sometimes wonder how many other people had similar experiences but lacked someone to bully them into going back to it—and how much that ultimately kept Thief from being the hit it deserved to be.

From our forum

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Pifanjr: As much as I love the game, Black & White's tutorial is soooooo slow. Just learning the mouse controls takes forever, then when you finally get your pet creature, you have to go through about a dozen or more mini tutorials, but for some reason the game makes you wait 5-10 minutes in between each tutorial until the next part becomes available. When you finally move on to the next island, you get even more tutorials! 

At least once you've done all the tutorials you can just chill out with your creature in skirmish mode.

The Witcher

(Image credit: CD Projekt Red)

mainer: The game that had a slow start for me was the first Witcher. In the introduction when you're in Kaer Morhen, and learning the game mechanics and the combat tactics, it was just difficult for me to really get into it. Most of that was because it was an entirely new world with combat & alchemy that I'd never experienced (plus at that point I hadn't read Andrzej Sapkowski's books).

But I stuck with it, and the lore, the characters, the world, and the combat just blossomed into such a great RPG experience. It really pays to stick with a game even if it seems slow or confusing at first.

Frindis: World of Warcraft vanilla. While some of the starter zones were beautiful and the dungeons you did were OK, man, it sure was a struggle at times to get to that lvl 40 mount. Walking kind of sucked, to be honest. After lvl 40, the game opened up both in the sense that you could actually move around quicker, and of course, you got closer to the real juice; the higher lvl dungeons and them sweet, sweet raid drops.

Sarafan: Driver from the late 90s. It has an awful and very painful tutorial which can't be skipped. It's a model example of how a game shouldn't start.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and Playboy.com, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.