To Preorder, or Not to Preorder

No Man SkyFor any readers unfamiliar with the term “preorder,” it refers to buying and/or reserving a video game prior to its release. Most people who consider themselves “gamers” have probably preordered a video game before, and many do so regularly. When a consumer preorders a game, they’re typically taking a risk: reviews of the game have yet to be released, and most of the information on the game was provided by the game’s developer and/or publisher (who are clearly not disinterested parties). Often one will preorder a game, expecting great things, and receive a title that disappoints, be it slightly or severely. So, one might wonder, why do people preorder at all, if it would be safer to purchase a game after release? Mainly because video game publisher’s and retailers love preorders (they’re guaranteed full-price purchases) and incentivize them.

These incentives can take many forms. Under Bethesda, for example, an Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim preorder came with a physical map of the game’s world. Such an incentive is not coercive, just a small bonus for those who are certain they want the game. With Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, CD Project: Red actually offered a discount for preorders; this is generally considered to be among the most ethical of incentives. One of the more controversial (and more frequent) methods of incentivizing preorders is the usage of downloadable digital content (DLC) giving players something in-game for preordering said game (this could be cosmetic items, weapons, playable characters, story content, or much more depending on the game).

Sometimes (fairly often, actually), this digital content is exclusive, which means that only those who preorder the game will be able to access it. Digital exclusive pre-order bonuses serve not only to reward those who preorder a game, but also to punish those who wait until release. This coercive function makes such bonuses extremely controversial in the eyes of many gamers. Despite this, many prominent publishers rely on exclusive digital content to guarantee preorders. Publishers such as Electronic Arts (who publish popular titles such as Mass Effect and The Sims), Ubisoft (known for Assassin’s Creed and Watchdogs), and Square Enix (Deus Ex, Final Fantasy, and Tomb Raider) all use digitally exclusive content. When weighing whether or not to preorder a game, preorder bonuses are definitely something to consider. I personally get a little suspicious when the preorder incentives seem over-the-top, like the developer wants you to buy the game before reviews come out badly. However, if I’m dead certain that I’m going to play a game at release (maybe because I plan to review it, for example) and it comes with some sort of bonus, then I always try to preorder, as there’s no real reason not to. With that not-so-brief summary on pre-orders out of the way, this article will turn to some prominent upcoming video game releases, and whether or not they are worthy of/safe for preorder.

No Man’s Sky in an indie title, published by Hello Games. It’s received more hype than any indie game I’ve ever seen, including Minecraft, having been featured in numerous gaming outlets, and even on The Late Show with Steven Colbert. Generally I tend to shy away from preordering indies (you often aren’t sure what you’re getting), but this one stands out from the crowd.

No Man’s Sky is an open-world sci-fi video game inspired by classical science fiction such as the Dune novels. Perhaps the most interesting feature is that the world of No Man’s Sky is procedurally generated (generated by a program based off of a code, rather than designed by a human) making it virtually infinite. Most aspects of the game are generated procedurally (such as plants, animals, planets, stars, spaceships, and weapons). No Man’s Sky looks fascinating, and if I had to bet, I’d say it’s going to be pretty awesome, and probably one of the safest preorders.

That said, there is such a thing as a healthy dose of skepticism. Holding out on a preorder, at least until more information is available, may be the smart thing to do. I personally will remain cautiously optimistic (though I think I’ll be preordering this one). No Man’s Sky is expected to release in June of 2016.

Fallout 4, an open-world sandbox-style action-shooter/RPG), will be releasing in early November, and although comparisons between it and previous titles are bound to be drawn, perhaps the most apt comparison would be between it and Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (given that the technology behind the game will be closer to Skyrim than the somewhat-outdated Fallout titles). It’s a first-person perspective, with lots of shooting and some melee weapons; expect to be dumped into a post-apocalyptic world (in some ways similar to Mad Max) and to run around the wasteland (set in Boston this time), searching for equipment, shelter, and allies. By the end of the story, you will likely have assembled a roster of virtual companions to join you in your adventures (including at least one dog), numerous places of residence (which you will have an abundance of freedom to customize/fortify), reputation/status among various communities (some in-game factions will hate your guts, others will consider you an ally), and enough weapons to arm a small—scratch that, large—army. User created mods will be supported for PC and consoles eventually, which will add infinite replayability to the game (players can create content that other players can then put into their game). I highly recommend giving mods a try, but if you do, be careful what you download (some mods might contain questionable content, or crash your game).

In a game of this scale, there will be bugs at launch, so if you choose to preorder, be prepared for that. That said, as far as preorders go, Fallout 4 seems to be the surest bet, and gets my highest recommendation (and my preorder). Fallout 4 is being released on Nov. 10.

Last on my list of potential preorders is Star Wars: Battlefront, which releases on Nov. 17. I suspect that many will preorder it, and I’d like to advise caution. It is sure to be a fun game, and when I review it I will probably give it a positive rating, but it’s being published by EA, and given their history, there are a few things you should prepare for.

If you’re a fan of the Star Wars: Battlefront series, and are considering a preorder for that reason, wait for reviews and maybe even try to sample the game first. I’ve played the game early-access, and it doesn’t feel like previous Battlefront titles to me (which I played extensively). It doesn’t even feel like a normal Battlefield game; its closer to Battlefield Hardline/Call of Duty’s style gameplay, but with less polish. There is also potential for serious bugs on and after launch (given the shaky launch history of past EA titles, like Battlefield 4). Expect an abundance of digital expansions; this is generally a good thing as it will offer you more to do in-game, but given EA’s history with series like Battlefield and The Sims they will likely be expensive (I would say overpriced).

If you buy Star Wars: Battlefront (or as EA calls it, $tar War$: Battlefront) at launch, and buy each piece of DLC as it comes out, you’ll have basically bought the game twice (which is $120). For hardcore fans of Star Wars and/or shooters in general, Star Wars: Battlefront might be worth that price. However, for those who don’t fit into those categories, I recommend waiting six months to a year and buying it when the base game and DLC is on sale. I’m not certain that I fall into this camp (not yet, anyway), but some might say that what the Star Wars prequels were to the original trilogy, the new Star Wars: Battlefront is to its predecessors.

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