Forgive Me, Geralt
Managing a video game backlog can be a daunting task. Between work, sleep, spin class, and any other time sink under the sun, it can be hard to make serious progress with that pile of games you’ve hoarded over God knows how many years. Treading water with the newest releases often becomes the best you can do, and even then, you’re still probably steadily sinking—2018 has been especially harrowing, with such a plethora of fantastic releases that nobody could possibly all complete.
As evidenced by the name of this site, many of us at The Punished Backlog are struggling to keep up with the games of both yesterday and today. A lot of the time, the games in our backlogs consist of games we pick up on digital storefronts—Steam sales, Humble Bundles, Deals with Gold, and PlayStation Flash Sales are all common culprits. Other times, our backlogs are filled to the brim with games we simply lost interest in, for one reason or another.
Much rarer, however, are the games that one would consider to be blockbuster games—“AAA,” to use a common industry term. I’m talking about your Uncharteds, your Final Fantasys, your Call of Dutys. These are the games that people head to GameStops and Best Buys en masse to pre-order, eagerly counting down the days until they can pop a fresh Blu-ray into their console of choice (or, for digital-only players, unlock a pre-downloaded copy) and play for hours till the credits roll. Or the sun comes up. Or both.
You wouldn’t expect to see many AAA blockbusters in a backlog. However, when I took a look at my own growing piles (plural) of backlog titles, I came to a startling realization: I have a ridiculous number of AAA games I haven’t finished.
I’m not talking about “bargain-bin AAAs,” as I like to call them, mind you. Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate for instance is, by all indications, a AAA title. However, like many others, I skipped it on release due to franchise fatigue, opting to pick it up months later at the tempting tune of 20 bucks. Let me be clear: this doesn’t mean I think Syndicate is a bad game (I wouldn’t have purchased it if I thought so). Rather, this just means that I wasn’t as pumped for it at the time as I was for, say, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Why do I make this distinction? Because many of the AAA games in my backlog aren’t bargain-bin AAAs—they’re some of the biggest games I was looking forward to at the time. The games I counted down the days to play… and then didn’t finish.
I was intrigued: why have I failed to finish so many games that I was incredibly excited for? So I did a deep dive, and came up with a detailed list of my AAA purchase history dating back to 2013. Working backwards by release year, I’ve counted 19 AAA titles that, after purchasing at full price, I have either struggled to complete or not made serious progress in at all. The results may surprise you.
Note: I am only counting games that retailed at $60. I am not, therefore, counting AAA games that released at a budget price, such as Yakuza Kiwami, or handheld games, such as Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS and Vita games typically have MSRPs of $40 and $50, respectively). For the record, though… I haven’t completed either of those two games, either.
Let’s take a look…
2018: God of War, Spider-Man
Okay, right off the bat, I’d like to mention that Spider-Man is only on here as a formality. The game came out just over a week ago, and is well within the normal time period of me working through a newly released AAA title. Plus, the game is incredible; I’m already over half of the way to 100%-ing it, and I don’t see myself stopping to play anything else anytime soon. Spider-Man is safe.
God of War, on the other hand? Not so safe. While the game is still relatively fresh, releasing back in April, I found myself setting it down after starting it in May. Why? Well, Fortnite for one, and limited PS4 hard-drive space for another.
However, there’s a larger story here, and that’s that I honestly didn’t really enjoy the game as much as I’d expected I would. I go into some added detail in our 2018 Mid-Year Review, but to give you the long and short… it just lacks some of the magic I expect out of the series. Santa Monica Studio is a phenomenal development team—a qualifier it earned over the years through sheer dominance and creativity in the hack n’ slash space—and yet I can’t help but feel as if there’s something off with this new God of War. It feels as if it’s trying to mimic the success of Naughty Dog’s visceral The Last of Us, complete with slow story beats and methodical pacing, without actually nailing it. It’s also riddled with unnecessary stats, numbers, and upgrades—a concession I am pained to admit, being an ardent fan of RPGs.
So yeah. This year, I stopped playing a $60 game because I was disappointed by it. Nothing too egregious here… But things gets worse as we move along.
2017: Horizon: Zero Dawn, Persona 5, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Splatoon 2, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Yikes. Well, let’s start with the biggest games here and move down the list.
I actually really like Horizon: Zero Dawn. It is a game that I have meticulously picked at over the past year and a half, taking a giant hiatus to play through Breath of the Wild, move to France, and otherwise just stop playing my PS4 in favor of the—at the time—glossy new Switch. Admittedly, the game suffers from some repetitive enemy fights, weak side quests, and generally just an overly bloated open world. However, its phenomenal narrative and gorgeous visuals are sure to keep me playing until completion… it’s just going to take a while.
I’m currently 40 hours in, with no signs of getting close to the end, which I blame on the sheer excess of side activities in the game. I don’t normally 100% games, but I feel compelled to do so with open-world games (see: Spider-Man). Which can be a blessing (I’ll address that later), or an absolute curse, as it is here. Pray for me, and hope I make it to the end of Horizon before something better pulls me away from it.
Persona 5, unfortunately, got punished by the fact that I never found the time to play it. I am a massive Persona fan; I firmly believe that Persona 3 has the greatest characters and tells the greatest narrative of any JRPG ever made.
However, I’m still wading through the lengthy Persona 4 Golden on Vita, which initially diverted my attention away from P5 when it launched in April 2017. And even when I found the time to invest 10 hours in Persona 5’s stylish game world… I went on that trip to France I mentioned before, leaving my PlayStation back at home in the States. I’m confident that I will make it back to P5 someday… once I finish up Golden, whenever that day comes.
I might have a valid excuse for Persona 5, but I really don’t for Xenoblade Chronicles 2. I haven’t finished Xenoblade Chronicles or its pseudo-sequel, Xenoblade Chronicles X, but XC2 was designed to be independent of either game, both in terms of storyline and characters. Plus, it was on the freaking Switch—and despite running at a crappy resolution, you could play it in handheld mode too! None of these things helped, however, and I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve barely put a dent into the game’s 100-plus-hour adventure. No excuses: I have to do better.
Splatoon 2, meanwhile… Well, not to be mean to Splatoon 2, but let’s be honest: did the people who bought the game buy it because they thought its single player would be a Zelda-quality AAA experience, or because the game offered fun multiplayer? People will argue that it’s the former, but you can place me firmly in the latter camp.
Frankly, I won’t feel bad if I never complete the single-player mode, as I purchased Splatoon 2 simply because it was one of a few good titles available during the Switch’s infancy. I’ve had my fun with Salmon Run and the occasional Turf War, but I’m ready to move on, frankly. We’ll see if I ever go back.
I actually reviewed Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, calling it a pleasant surprise and a surprisingly deep strategy game. Those statements are both still absolutely true, but that doesn’t negate the fact that I still haven’t finished some of the worlds and extra content in the game yet. I’ll chalk this up to wanting to savor a great experience while it lasts, rather than there being any kind of problem with the game itself.
The Switch received some excellent games at the tail-end of 2017—Super Mario Odyssey, Battle Chef Brigade, and SteamWorld Heist, to name a few—so I can forgive myself for taking a breather from Kingdom Battle to go on some new adventures. But seriously, I should go finish this one up.
2016: Forza Horizon 3, Watch Dogs 2, Final Fantasy XV, The Last Guardian
I made so many mistakes in 2016. For one: why the hell did I buy Forza Horizon 3, when I knew I wasn’t a huge sim racer guy? And why did I buy Watch Dogs 2 after getting burned by the first game, purely on the whim of a couple of positive reviews? I don’t know, but you can write those two off right this second. I’m calling it now: I’ll never go back to those games—they’re sunk costs at this point. A simple explanation for a simple faux pas that I should have avoided back then.
But the mistakes didn’t end there. After being hyped up for years on a pair of seemingly vaporware titles, Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian, I was blessed with the release of both within a few short weeks of one another.
While I dug into XV for a respectable 30ish hours—doing every possible side mission, no matter how monotonous—I stopped playing once I realized how pointless my anticipation of this game really had been. Talks of the second half of the game being rushed out the door started to surface, and I came to the conclusion that I had waited over ten years for a game that couldn’t have possibly met my lofty expectations. So I benched the game, vowed not to pick it up until my hype had died down a bit—and for its ridiculous DLC plans for 2018 and 2019 to be wrapped up—and haven’t looked back since. It’s a sad story, but it’s one that’s ultimately my fault.
And The Last Guardian? Well, I got more or less what I expected. The game didn’t really ever seem like a shadow of what was promised, but I still never completed it. Maybe it was because I’d waited for so long. Or because it just never seemed to measure up to 2016’s impressive lineup of games—it’s hard for any game to compete with Uncharted 4, let alone a troubled game announced in 2009 with a choppy frame rate and some rough bugs. Whatever the reason, The Last Guardian is still sitting on my shelf, begging to be played. Eventually, I’ll grant it its wish.
2015: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Metal Gear Solid V, Fallout 4, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Rise of the Tomb Raider
This one really stings. All five of these games are the absolute definition of AAA blockbuster mega-hit, and yet I never completed a single one of ’em.
The Witcher 3 has the easiest explanation, so I’ll start with that one. The game is looooong. Like, really long. Like, 80 hours in and I still haven’t made it to Skellige yet long. Like, Gwent is addictive and I can’t put it down long.
I said earlier that my desire to 100% every open-world game is both a blessing and a curse. Well, here, it really is a blessing. The Witcher 3 is perhaps the greatest game of this generation, and I’m glad I have the patience and persistence to explore all of its nooks and crannies, no matter how long it takes. This is one game that I really have no qualms whatsoever about not finishing, if simply because I’ve already got my money’s worth out of it four times over.
I just need to make sure I wrap things up with it before Cyberpunk 2077 launches, because CD Projekt Red is home to a bunch of absolute freaking maniacs and I have a feeling 2077 will be even bigger and more time-consuming than Geralt’s latest… Can’t wait!
Metal Gear Solid V is a sadder tale. It’s a phenomenal game, in spite of all the trials and tribulations that Hideo Kojima went through to bring it to us. Its promotional tagline of Snake being “Punished” ended up being the inspiration for our site’s name, and I’ve sunk countless hours in the sands of Afghanistan and a smaller portion in the plains of Africa—seriously, Kojima, it’s a continent, not a country. However, I just never finished it.
This has far less to do about the game’s supposed lack of funding for the second half of the game (or, more specifically, the absence of a third and final act), and more to do with the sheer size of the game itself. Much like The Witcher 3, I found myself engrossed in the game’s first act, so much so that I never really ended up worrying about the quality of the rest of the game.
However, unlike The Witcher 3, I haven’t had the opportunity to go back recently and play MGSV, and it’s just sort of drifted away from me as a result. I still intend to go back, someday, but it’s sad that I’ve left Hideo Kojima’s magnum opus unfinished up until now… even if the game itself is equally unfinished.
Fallout 4 is the third open-world game from 2015 to make this list… and I’m starting to notice a bit of a trend here. Now, I didn’t love Fallout 4 as much as I did Fallout 3. Combat may have been smoother, and the visuals certainly received a nice touch-up, but the game lacked that “wow” factor that made the 2008 entry such a beloved classic.
That said, I also didn’t exactly give Fallout 4 the opportunity to wow me, either; if I recall correctly, I played it for a whole whopping 10 to 20 hours. That may seem like a lot of time to dedicate to a single-player game, but when the game in question is a sprawling open-world RPG made by Bethesda of all studios, 20 hours is just a sliver of that full experience.
Frankly, though, I doubt I’ll ever go back and play Fallout 4, unless it gets ported to the Switch. For as much as I enjoyed Fallout 3, I actually never finished that one either. And that’s not even mentioning the apparently fantastic New Vegas, which I purchased on the cheap and haven’t touched at all. Lesson to be learned here? Never expect to buy a Bethesda game and actually complete it.
Surprise! Another open-world RPG. Xenoblade Chronicles X fared far better than Xenoblade Chronicles 2; I’ve sunk over 40 hours into this bad boy, and I’ve loved nearly every second. Much like The Witcher 3, there isn’t much guilt to be had here, as it’s only a matter of time before I finish XCX for good. But I want to finish the game right, and that means pouring as much time and effort into its world as humanly possible.
That might seem insincere, given how I essentially left XCX’s two cousin games to rot in a fiery backlog pit, but I swear I’m coming back for this one.
Rise of the Tomb Raider rounds out the list, and honestly, it’s in the best shape out of the five of these 2015 games. It’s the only one that isn’t an open world (well technically, it is, as it has zones and fast travel, but it’s still far closer to Uncharted than The Witcher), and I’m already a good chunk of the way through its fast-paced campaign. Shadow of the Tomb Raider also just dropped, which should light a bit of a fire under me to finish whatever’s left of Lara’s Siberian adventure.
2014: Bayonetta 2, Far Cry 4
2014 looks a lot better on paper, but that’s mainly because it was a pretty terrible year for games in general. If anything, the bigger concern from this year should be that I spent hundreds of introductory dollars on Hearthstone within its first 10 months. But I digress.
I purchased Bayonetta 2 for Wii U at full price, back when it was bundled with the original Bayonetta, thinking that it’d be a wonderful opportunity to catch up on the series. Unfortunately, I never even made it to Bayo number two.
While I made it close, I never quite completed Bayo one, meaning that I’d never get to see Bayonetta fly around the battlefield with her dazzling pixie cut. I’ve since learned my lesson—there is no way in hell that I am double-dipping on Switch—and promised myself that I’d play both Bayonetta and its sequel before Bayonetta 3 launches on Switch in the near future.
I’m pretty sure I received Far Cry 4 as a Christmas present from my parents (they paid the $60), but that doesn’t mean that my utter lack of competence trying to complete it can be any less ignored. To my credit, I played through Far Cry 3 pretty thoroughly, and while I didn’t 100% it, I came damn close.
Far Cry 4 is an even more beautiful game, and I have every honest intention of going back and seeing its campaign to the end. Unfortunately, open-world games just seem to be in high supply these days. Between upcoming ones like Red Dead Redemption 2 and the ones I’ve already listed here, it’s looking less and less likely that I’ll be able to come back and play an open-world game from as long ago as 2014… Now that’s a scary thought.
2013: Grand Theft Auto V
Jesus, take the wheel. Originally, I had planned on documenting my findings as far back as 2014 and only focusing on current-gen titles. However, 2013’s entry is just too damn deplorable to leave off the list.
I never completed Grand Theft Auto V for a number of reasons. I considered GTA IV to be the pinnacle of the series, and refused to accept the changes Rockstar had made to the new game (where the hell is JNR?). Los Santos seemed less exciting than Liberty City, and I never seemed to grow to like the trio of Michael, Trevor, and Franklin. And while the technology behind the game was impressive, especially on PS3 where I was playing it, I just couldn’t come to enjoy GTA V in the wake of 2013’s incredible The Last of Us.
To this day, however, I look back at Grand Theft Auto V and wonder: how did it come to this? The biggest game release to date, and the most profitable entertainment product ever, and yet I never finished it. How can that be?
And perhaps an even bigger question: if I won’t even bother to finish GTA V, then how do any of the other games on this list stand a chance?
Rather than dwell on the question, I’ll continue to play.
If fall 2018 and Q1 2019 are any indication, there’s no chance of the situation with my backlog slowing down anytime soon. Red Dead Redemption 2, Kingdom Hearts III, and Resident Evil 2 Remake are all squarely in my sights over the next few months… and yet I’m horrified of what their releases will mean for my existing backlog of AAA titles. What are the odds that this list just continues to grow?
Regardless of how I’ve treated my battered game collection in the past, I’m thankful that I’m more aware of the issue than I ever was before. With a proper game plan in place—not to mention a bit more discretion when deciding which $60 games to purchase in the future—I may finally be able to push through and clear out that backlog, once and for all.
Today’s battle might be lost, but the war has just begun.
Upset at how dramatic I made an article about inanimate objects? Too bad: I did theater in college.
How is your AAA backlog list looking? We’d love to hear from you. Got any tips for your fellow viewers on managing a growing backlog? We’d love to hear those, too.
Fire away in the comments below, and stay tuned. This may not be the end of this feature…
Thanks for reading!