No Man's Sky comes out soon. Like, very soon. And normally this soon to a release, you would start seeing No Man's Sky reviews pop up on various gaming websites. These reviews usually are only able to happen because gaming outlets typically are given pre-release copies of games which they can play but cannot talk about until an embargo on discussing the game has lifted.
The No Man's Sky embargo situation has been an absolute clusterfudge. Here's why:
- A few weeks ago, one person managed to get a copy of the game before anyone else. People lost their ship over this.
- More recently, news hit that the No Man's Sky review embargo lasted until the morning of the game's PS4 release. People also lost their ship over this.
- The news kept coming. Several outlets reported that they had not (and would not) receive their pre-release copies until only a few hours before the embargo ended because Hello Games had a day-one patch in the works.
- And finally, some retailers decided to say, "Screw it" and sell the game this past weekend anyway, which some gaming outlets (such as Polygon and Kotaku) took advantage of to stream the game ahead of the review embargo's end.
So, yeah, the whole situation has been a mess and it's led to some interesting discussions regarding review embargoes. Do they actually help? Should reviewers have to wait so close to a release to even get a game? Is it always ethical to have an embargo to begin with?
None of these questions are easy to answer, because each game is a unique case. But in general, it's worth going over a few important points before jumping to a conclusion.
Why do review embargoes exist in the first place?
Theoretically — and in most cases, truthfully — review embargoes exist because game developers want reviewers to take their time with a game and put out as accurate a review as possible. Without a review embargo, the first website to publish even a shoddy review would not only hog the page views, it would also set the tone for everyone's impressions — whether the review happened to be accurate or not.
In the case of No Man's Sky, the review embargo and last-minute shipment of review copies happened for another reason: Hello Games had been working on a day-one patch (of which we now have the full details) that would drastically change the game. The developers did not want to ship out a different version of the game than the one players would be playing because this would lead to wildly inaccurate reviews.
Now, the need for a day-one patch is another topic in itself (which we have discussed here), but the point is still the same. No Man's Sky's release and review ordeal has likely all been in good faith. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
Some review embargoes really are that bad, and hurt the players
Maybe you already knew Assassin's Creed: Unity would make it into this post before even reaching this point. Why is that? Because Assassin's Creed: Unity had one of the worst cases of an intentionally gamer-unfriendly review embargo ever.
Unlike most games, which have review embargoes until shortly before release, Ubisoft put the Assassin's Creed: Unity embargo in place until 12 hours after the game had already been out. No professional reviews, no impressions, no general sense of good-or-bad gaming experience for anyone looking to buy the game until after it was already out.
Had the game been good, this would have been annoying but not a huge deal. But it was not good. In fact, it was met with near-universal criticism of its many bugs and seemingly rushed production. The game was not ready for launch, and Ubisoft knew that.
The company used the review embargo to hide this fact as long as possible. This was admittedly one of the worst cases of bad embargoes, but it taught many that late review embargoes are usually a bad thing — even if that lesson is not always true.
Other review embargoes are meaningless and happen to universally praised games
For example, both Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls and the recent DOOM had questionable pre-release embargoes. Reaper of Souls had a review embargo that didn't lift until its launch date, while DOOM didn't even offer pre-release copies for review whatsoever.
Both of these were huge red flags in the gaming community, and both of them were unwarranted. In fact, Reaper of Souls and DOOM both are not considered to be decent games, they're both very highly regarded across the board. It's likely they could have sent out review copies three weeks ahead of time and generated even more hype.
Or, like No Man's Sky, it could have been that their developers were working until the last minute to make sure the game released to the public was the absolute best it could be. In both cases, though, it's clear that the date a review embargo ends does not have a direct correlation with a game's quality.
So what does this all mean for 'No Man's Sky'?
Everything players have seen so far — especially the parts that they have reacted negatively to — has been content that will be different when the game is officially released. All the trade-goods exploits, the supposed time to "beat" the game, the way planets exist — all of it will be different.
Again, the day-one patch is huge. But it's also a bi-product of a system that rewards checking boxes rather than creating a perfect experience. It's likely that Hello Games always intended to release the game it will be released and that's precisely why Sean Murray didn't want anyone to see the leaked copy and spoil themselves.
Not only would it ruin the experience, it would also falsely set expectations (which it did).
Will No Man's Sky be perfect? Maybe. Will it be a huge letdown? Also maybe. The point is that what happens during a game's pre-release timeline shouldn't paint your opinion of the game. Sure, review embargoes have a mixed history and it never hurts to be cautious. But if you're going to judge a game, judge the final product — not the leaked copy a redditor bought on eBay or the copy from the store down the street who will never receive games early again.