Games That Were Worth the Wait

Games Horror
Games Horror

Late last month, our own Brett Bates took a look at The Witness and three other games with extremely long development cycles that will hopefully be worth the wait. Thankfully, The Witness has so far managed to live up to its lofty expectations, receiving overwhelmingly positive reviews, and the occasional perfect score from sites such as IGN. In his review of the game, Giant Bomb’s Brad Shoemaker remarks that “while I don’t think I’d say any game is worth waiting eight years for, there’s also not a whole lot I’d change about The Witness or the time I spent with it.”

While it is rare for games such as The Witness to live up to the hype and make it out of a long development cycle with glowing reviews, there are a few notable exceptions. Here are five games with long development cycles that are now considered must-plays.

Diablo III


Development time: 11 Years (2001 – 2012)
Metacritic: 90 (Ultimate Evil Edition)

Why the delay?

Blizzard is notorious for waiting for games to be perfect before they see the light of day. If a game doesn’t look like it will live up to their extremely high standards, they have been known to cancel projects outright (StarCraft: Ghost, Warcraft Adventures) or scrap the project and recycle elements into a new game, as is the case with this year’s Overwatch, which arose from the ashes of Titan.

While not much is publically known about the cause of Diablo III‘s delays, it appears more than the usual Blizzard quality control process may be at play here. The game’s development changed hands when Blizzard North was shut down in 2005. Blizzard may also have had their hands full with a little game that launched in 2004 called World of Warcraft. In fact, Blizzard didn’t release another game other than WoW expansions until StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty in 2010 (more on that game later).

What’s the big deal?

Diablo III is a masterpiece of the action-RPG, dungeon-crawler genre. The game delivers a steady drip of loot and just enough challenge to keep players coming back and replaying the campaign again and again. The six different character classes all feel unique, yet balanced, so there is sure to be a class that fits your playstyle.

Blizzard has also done an excellent job of listening to fan feedback and updating the game over the years. They completely rebooted the in-game auction house, changed the levelling system. and introduced a ton of new content and features in the Reaper of Souls expansion and console releases. If you add that post-launch development time, Diablo III actually took 14 years to develop the version that is generally regarded as the definitive version of the game.

Dragon Age: Origins


Development time: 7 Years (2002 – 2009)
Metacritic: 91 (PC version)

Why the delay?

Dragon Age: Origins was developed by Bioware as a spiritual successor to their previous RPG classics Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate. The game’s long development period may most easily be explained by the sheer amount of content it contains. Like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate before it, Dragon Age: Origins takes place in an expansive universe that allows players a great deal of freedom to explore, and a vast array of choices of how they want to play the game.

Origins gets its name from the fact that your character can come from six different origins, and characters throughout the campaign will respond to you depending on your background and the choices you make. These systems that respond to nonlinear player choice are extremely complex, and take years to map out and then program. This also results in a ton of additional content having to be created. For example, according to Game Informer, over 68,000 lines of dialogue were recorded to account for the various branching conversation paths. The average movie only has around 3,000.

What’s the big deal?

All of Bioware’s hard work paid off, as fans and critics alike immersed themselves in the new universe they had created. The lore and the setting harkened back to familiar fantasy fare such as Dungeons & Dragons and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, but provided a unique spin on some of these familiar tropes, such as the fact that magic users were viewed as dangerous, and were closely monitored — some might say imprisoned — by the Templar Order.

The game used this original universe as a backdrop for a compelling main storyline, filled with interesting characters to accompany the player on their journey. The player can even choose to romance some of these party members, a staple of Bioware RPGs.

Of course, story and characters can only go so far in an RPG, since a majority of your actual play time will be spent fighting bandits and darkspawn (the DA:O version of orcs). Fortunately, Dragon Age: Origins doesn’t disappoint with its unique combat system that allows you to customize how your party members will behave during combat. You can either issue orders in real-time, or take a more tactical approach and pause the action to queue up commands. This flexibility allows you to play more like an action-RPG against lesser enemies, and then take a more traditional, well-thought out approach with bosses.

Resident Evil 4


Development time: 6 Years (1999 – 2005)
Metacritic: 96

Why the delay?

Up to four different versions of Resident Evil 4 may have been scrapped before arriving at the classic we all know and love today. One of these first iterations that featured stylish action and a lead character with a variety of superhuman abilities actually ended up morphing into what would eventually become Devil May Cry. Other versions faced a variety of developmental challenges, or were deemed too similar to previous Resident Evil games.

After switching directors, the team would eventually revisit the more action-oriented gameplay of that initial version. This version also introduced a new type of enemy called the “Ganado” and for the first time in a Resident Evil game the main enemies were not zombies. These changes to gameplay, setting, and enemies meant the team had to completely rework gameplay mechanics such as the camera, and create an all-new story.

What’s the big deal?

The new approach taken with Resident Evil 4 was just the breath of fresh air fans were looking for from the series. RE4 redefined the survival horror genre that its predecessors had established, while remaining firmly grounded in the Resident Evil universe with its inclusion of familiar characters such as Leon Kennedy and Ada Wong. Resident Evil 4 won several game of the year awards when it was released, and is considered one of the best — if not the best — game in the series.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty


Development time: 7 Years (2003 – 2010)
Metacritic: 93

Why the delay?

See Diablo III above. Blizzard prefers to wait until a game is truly ready, rather than rushing it out the door to meet an arbitrary release date. In the case of StarCraft II, they were faced with the addition pressure of living up to the legacy of the original StarCraft, which at the time was considered best-in-class in the real-time strategy genre alongside Blizzard’s other RTS series, WarCraft.

Another legacy of the original StarCraft may have also extended the development time: competitive multiplayer. The original StarCraft had become a huge multiplayer phenomenon throughout the world, and may even be considered one of the original esports games. For StarCraft II, Blizzard wanted to expand this focus on multiplayer even further, to ensure the new game would be adopted by the competitive community.

They implemented new features such as a ranked ladder system, and refined others including matchmaking and game replays. They also revamped their competitive platform to coincide with the game’s launch. The new platform would make it easier for players to find friends and opponents to play against.  Multiplayer is also notoriously more difficult to balance for than single player campaigns, which may explain why the initial betas were delayed, and then lasted five months.

This focus on multiplayer may also have had one enormous side-effect: in June 2008 Blizzard announced that the single-player campaign would be split across three separate releases. The initial game, Wings of Liberty, focuses on the Terran faction, and its follow-ups, Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void would focus on the Zerg and Protoss, respectively. The complete single-player campaign for StarCraft II did not wrap up until Legacy of the Void‘s release in 2015, meaning the actual development time for StarCraft II was 12 years!

What’s the big deal?

Fortunately, Blizzard accomplished exactly what it set out to do with StarCraft II. The game became the new standard in the RTS genre, and in many ways it simply perfected the original formula from StarCraft. While the game may not have outright replaced StarCraft on the competitive scene, it did manage to build up a huge esports following of its own that thrives to this day. And while some may criticize the fact that the single-player campaign was stretched over several parts, and may favor one campaign or faction over another, overall it was a robust, satisfying experience that wrapped up many story elements from the StarCraft universe (but not all, as detailed in our article here).

Team Fortress 2


Development time: 9 Years (1998 – 2007)
Metacritic: 92 (PC version)

Why the delay?

The original Team Fortress started as a free mod for Quake. It quickly became so popular that its creators were contracted and then hired by Valve, where they built the stand-alone game Team Fortress Classic using the Half-Life Software Development Kit.

Work began on Team Fortress 2, and its original design was much different than the game we know today. It had a realistic graphical style, and allowed players to take on the role of commander and monitor their troops using a birds-eye view of the battlefield. These original plans were scrapped, and the game underwent several design iterations and a complete game engine switch to the new proprietary Valve Source Engine.

During this time, the public didn’t hear much about the game, and many considered it vaporware. When it was finally unveiled at the July 2006 EA Summer Showcase event, Team Fortress 2 showcased a new, cartoon-like visual design, and many new tricks made capable by the Source Engine, including dynamic lighting, shadowing, particle effects, and a facial animation system that brought personality and charm to its many character archetypes.

What’s the big deal?

Upon its release, Team Fortress 2 quickly established itself as a premiere team-based first-person shooter. The character classes and their powers and weapons are extremely well balanced, and the maps and many modes are fun to play. This is all complemented by the striking art style, and an unparalleled sense of humor and character development for all of the classes.

Many games since have borrowed from one or more of these elements, to varying levels of success. In fact, the recent inundation of team-based multiplayer shooters hitting the market all owe a great deal to Team Fortress 2. It is easy to see its influence on games like Evolve, Battleborn, Paragon, and Overwatch  with their roster of unique characters with diverse powers, or even games like Rainbow Six Siege where players are meant to fill a specific role on a team.

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