How do bad video games get made?
That feels like a simple question but it has a lot of complicated answers. No one sets out to make a bad game, at least outside of the quick-hit troll games that litter digital stores. The rare unanimously derided video game is usually a result of shortened timelines, insufficient budget, or expanded scope without the resources to reach it. Babylon’s Fall, the newest collaboration between Square Enix and PlatinumGames, feels like it ticks all three boxes while offering very little to compensate for any of it.
The previous joint effort between these two companies, Nier: Automata, has been a critical and financial success for both. Lauded as one of the best games of the last generation, it has been credited with saving PlatinumGames after major cancellations. It stood to reason — at least once upon a time — that any follow-up between the two would be treated similarly regardless of whether it had the Nier branding on the tin. When Babylon’s Fall was first revealed, we had all the reason in the world to assume this was the case. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way.
It’s difficult to know where to start with this game. While graphical showpieces have never been PlatinumGames’ forte, neither the technology nor the art style in Babylon’s Fall bears out to anything visually appealing. The levels mostly look like different shades of brown on yellow on other browns, either set against rainstorms or burning-orange sunsets or some other environmental effect that doesn’t quite make it over the finish line. It’s never easy to look at Babylon’s Fall and tell exactly what is happening, which feels like a fundamental flaw for an action title that emphasizes perfect dodging, a PlatinumGames staple.
The action itself feels mushy, which I’m guessing is a concession made for the game’s online co-op nature, and nothing feels as fast or furious as PlatinumGames’ previous titles. The actual loop consists mainly of running down hallways until a battle begins and occasionally taking a slight diversion to grab a chest. It’s not anything new to the genre, and it’s not an inherently bad design on paper, but the execution is boring in a way they certainly did not shoot for.
When you load the game up after its initial tutorial, the existential threat of the Battle Pass is shoved right in your face. In fonts and colors that would look at home on the PSP, it warns you that the expected way to have fun is to make Babylon’s Fall your second job. The Battle Pass makes itself known as largely premium from the getgo, begging the question of what exactly you already paid for and what there’s still left to buy. I have a difficult time understanding why someone playing this game on PlayStation or PC would not just download Genshin Impact, Destiny 2, or Warframe instead for much more polished experiences that also want to take up all your time and money to different degrees.
As I played more missions, the few reoccurring names I was frequently matched with in random parties started ebbing away. Though they once stuck with me through the grim reality of what we were all facing together, they must have soon realized they had the option to stop playing. I did not. These erstwhile silent companions were replaced by very few takers the deeper into the game I got, meaning that people either quit earlier or that there weren’t enough of them to matchmake with in the first place.
I hesitate to lay Babylon’s Fall‘s flaws at any individual entity’s feet. Surely, yes, the developers must bear some responsibility for how bad this game has turned out. I also suspect the game’s publisher, Square Enix, tasked them the impossible: Make a game-as-a-service within a limited, and presumably vanishing, budget. The end result pleases no one — least of all the player — and leaves a game with perhaps some inkling of ambition or potential deep within its development timeline as comparing unfavorably to Marvel’s Avengers, Square Enix’s previous game-as-a-service disaster.
We get so few actually bad video games that we’ve moved the Overton window to portray games with limited-to-moderate flaws as genuinely bad. There’s probably more good in most things than we’re willing to admit. I think, given the right mindset, maybe Babylon’s Fall could fit that category for a certain kind of person. But for the vast majority of people, and for myself in the context of this review, it’s an actually bad video game for which we reserve those quiet whispers at the bottom of review scales.
This brings me back to the original question: how do games like this get made? In the case of Babylon’s Fall, I’m not sure. I don’t understand what audience Square Enix was trying to hit here, or where they thought Babylon’s Fall would fit in the GaaS market. Between games like The Quiet Man, Balan Wonderworld, Left Alive, and now Babylon’s Fall, I find myself increasingly suspicious of Square Enix’s motivations for their infamous now-yearly bombs made by outside studios.
Is it possible Square Enix, one of the world’s biggest publishers, just keeps accidentally finding themselves publishing games that rank among the worst of a generation among major game releases, but only when made externally? Sure, it’s possible, but I’m finding it hard to swallow.
There will be a period of time in the future where Babylon’s Fall will be on a deep discount and you can pick it up for $10. You might be looking at this review now, wondering if the game is worth that price for a few hours of messing around. Fortunately, there is actually a simple answer for this one: It’s worth that price, but it’s not worth the time you would spend trying to get that value out of it.