You’d have to be a pretty fanatical optimist to claim that the August 9th launch of No Man’s Sky was anything other than an unmitigated PR catastrophe. Hello Games’ universe sandbox was lambasted by fans, accused of misleading advertising, and slapped with a blistering 2.5/10 user score on Metacritic. Stunned by the negative response, the studio went silent for months. Then, at the end of November, creator Sean Murray announced The Foundation Update—an enormous free content patch that he promised to be the first of many to come.
In a development that astounded basically everyone, the Foundation Update rocked. Included were major new features like base-building and player-owned freighters, additional modes to explore (“Creative” and “Survival”), and a host of quality-of-life improvements. Even the most dedicated Hello Games haters were forced to admit that Foundation was a step in the right direction.
Of course, no video game's development truly ends at launch. Most publishers commit to patching and maintaining their games, though some make more substantial overhauls than others. In honor of #NoMansSky's resurrection, here are three huge games that improved dramatically in the years following their release.
1. 'Diablo III'
When Diablo III launched, there was only one way to play - completing levels from the campaign over and over again. Legendary items dropped rarely, and were often inferior to high-quality rares. Plus, the presence of an auction house (with real money) turned the endgame into equal parts grinding for gold and browsing a storefront packed with other players’ detritus. The result was more day-job drudgery than fun.
Rather than abandoning #Diablo3 and moving on to more profitable endeavors, Blizzard took significant steps to overhaul their flagship dungeon-crawler. They removed the auction house, hiked the drop rate and power level of legendary items, and added myriad new ways to play: Nephalem Rifts, Adventure Mode Bounties, Class Set Dungeons, and more. The result was a Diablo III with a much richer end-game and near-bottomless replay potential.
2. 'The Elder Scrolls Online'
Massively multiplayer online games have been attempting to unseat World of WarCraft for years; all attempts have more or less failed. The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) appeared to be cruising for similar obscurity until its creators unveiled the One Tamriel update in October 2016. This gigantic patch rendered TESO’s gigantic world truly open, allowing players of opposing factions to team up in any PvE event. For the first time, difficulty scaling made each mountain, plain, jungle and dungeon accessible to players of all levels. The update also introduced tons of new items, achievements and abilities to explore. Whether this will be enough to ensure TESO’s longevity remains to be seen—but what’s clear is that the game is a lot better now than it was before.
It’s easy to forget that Mojang’s sandbox juggernaut Minecraft began as a humble browser game. Much has changed since Notch posted his first screenshots, but even after #Minecraft grew into a product you could purchase, the pace of change remained rapid. By the time Notch sold his brainchild to Microsoft, countless materials, objects, enemies, and biomes had been added, and still the game continued to receive updates. Today’s Minecraft is a fully-fleshed world simulator with so many crafting options, missions, and quirks that it’s impossible to keep track of them all.
Minecraft’s “long tail” of free content is prototypical of the now-ubiquitous Early Access indie game. Many are the ambitious projects available on Steam that promise a never-ending cascade of improvements. Games like these take the concept of post-launch support to a new extreme—for an Early Access game, the initial release is just the beginning.
What were some of your favorite post-patch overhauls? Let us know in the comments!