Valve recently overhauled Steam's review system, putting a larger focus on recent perspectives. The move made sense. Games are no longer static works. They constantly evolve thanks to updates and programs like Early Access. The system is, by and large, very useful, providing percentages that give narrow and wide snapshots of games. But numbers only tell part of the story.

The other part of the story is what people are saying, the broader trends running through reviews inside and outside each game's review "summary" section. Does this new system reflect them accurately? Is it actually useful, especially in cases where recent (posted within the past 30 days) and overall review scores are wildly different? I've been going over Steam with a fine-toothed comb, looking for games with big disparities between their recent and overall review percentages. Here are the most telling ones I've found.


Overall positivity percentage: 71 percent
Recent positivity percentage: 38 percent

Example review:

DayZ, once a survival gaming darling and arguably patient zero of the genre, has taken a savage critical beating in recent times. Tellingly, most of the top negative reviewers are from people who have spent tens or hundreds of hours with the game, evading zombies and concocting ruses to steal pants from their fellow man. Their main complaints? After years in development as an Early Access game, DayZ is still buggy, updates are infrequent, and a handful of core systems are still placeholders or non-existent. A year ago, a lot of this stuff was more excusable, thus the more positive overall reviews. Now, it seems that players are running out of patience.

On the upside, a recent update to the game's experimental branch apparently improved server and engine performance pretty nicely. There is some hope for the future, but current player sentiment is pretty bleak. It's an instance of the new review system showing clear change over time, especially as it pertains to expectations. Where once DayZ was beloved despite its quirks, people are starting to wonder what's taking so long.

Batman: Arkham Knight

Overall positivity percentage: 53 percent
Recent positivity percentage: 89 percent

Example review:

This one is an example of the new review system working in the opposite direction. As many of you know, Batman: Arkham Knight's PC launch was an unmitigated bat-tastrophe. It was buggy, and it performed like a batmobile with a thousand bats nesting in its engine. It got so bad that Warner removed it from sale on Steam, only to put it back on sale months later in less-than-ideal form. Ultimately, they took to offering refunds through all of 2015. However, time (and a slow but steady dripfeed of patches) heals all wounds.

Steam reviewers now report that the technical issues are mostly a thing of the past, and they've come around to sharing console players' opinion of the game: it's pretty good! (I still think it would be better with a Nemesis System, but oh well.) This is a perfect example of the new review system working as intended. A game came out. It was shit. The reviews said as much at the time. It's been a little while. The game is no longer shit. The reviews are like, "Fear not, gentle populace. It is no longer shit."

Killing Floor 2

Overall positivity percentage: 82 percent
Recent positivity percentage: 64 percent

Example review:

Killing Floor 2 has a lot going for it. You can bash zombies with a shovel. You can bash zombies with a katana. You can bash zombies with a chainsaw that fires buzzsaws. And that's just one of the game's multiple classes.

When it launched in Early Access, people dug it despite a relative lack of Stuff To Do. More than a year later, though, some feel like developer Tripwire's taken the co-op zombie pulverizer in an unfortunate direction. Pretty much every review cites the crate-based microtransaction system as annoying and paid DLC as premature, and many take issue with balance and difficulty, as well as the slow pace of development. It is, at first glance, an instance of reviews reflecting change over time and players' feelings about it.

However, this is an Early Access game. Balance and difficulty issues are to be expected as the mechanics evolve. I can sympathize with players who've poured money and time into the game, but this is also just how alpha/beta testing works. But then, Tripwire is charging money for DLC and microtransactions, so they're not exactly treating this like a test themselves. It's a muddled situation that a flood of recent negative reviews doesn't do a great job of getting to the bottom of.

Additionally, there's another chorus of voices complaining that they're being "censored" (read: moderated, something every developer has the right to do---how are we still talking about this) on Killing Floor 2's Steam forums. Finally, there are other players saying everybody's blowing this out of proportion and that the game's not bad at all. Rather, it's just not what they expected out of a sequel to the original Killing Floor, but they still think it's fun. There's a lot to untangle, and in this case the new review section looks more like a forum: just a lot of people arguing.

Mortal Kombat X

Overall positivity percentage: 53 percent
Recent positivity percentage: 40 percent

Example review:

Mortal Kombat X's PC version is not fundamentally broken, but it's been getting flooded with increasingly negative reviews ever since January of this year. The reason? Warner Bros and NetherRealm essentially abandoned it. They stopped porting DLC that was coming to consoles, and they stopped updating things like netcode and balance. Players are understandably pissed.

In this case, recent reviews serve as a useful warning: unless you're OK with playing the least up-to-date version of the game, stay away. In the past, people might've encountered a game like this, only to base their purchase on outdated reviews. This is an instance where the new system shines. Warner performed a fatality on the game's future prospects, and potential players deserve to know.

Grand Theft Auto IV

Overall positivity percentage: 67 percent
Recent positivity percentage: 51 percent

Example review:

This one's been accruing a fat stack of negative reviews for years thanks to issues with Microsoft's now-discontinued (but still built into GTA IV) Games for Windows Live system. According to a stickied thread on the game's Steam forums, manually installing Games for Windows Live often helps. Rockstar's Social Club apparently also poses serious start-up issues, again requiring a manual update. Usually doing those things solves the problem, but Rockstar has not provided that information in any obvious place. The sentiment across the board is pretty similar: GTA IV is a great game, but the Steam version is a hassle to get up and running, if you can get it up and running at all. Even then, it suffers from performance issues on Windows 10.

Somewhere beneath all the side effects, which include rampant neck and ass pain, is a playable port of a great game. But accessing it is so difficult that many people believe it's broken. That's clear from the reviews, with the percentage of positive takes rapidly dwindling. It sucks that developers like Rockstar aren't stepping in to solve the problem, but this happens more and more with older games. Recent reviews, sadly, don't reflect the full scope of what's going on here, nor do they reflect what can be done.

Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition

Overall positivity percentage: 83 percent
Recent positivity percentage: 55 percent

Example review:

I've already written about the controversies surrounding Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition's new Siege of Dragonspear expansion in depth, but you'll be unhappy to know that they still persist. Despite the fact that Siege of Dragonspear has its own page with its own review section, some recent reviews of Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition cite the expansion's writing and trans character as issues. Others are more focused on technical issues that arose from update 2.0, which changed the game's interface and, for some, introduced a host of technical issues, especially in regards to multiplayer. Beamdog is working to fix those issues, but the last major update dropped a month ago. On the upside, it seems to have cleared up some of the technical problems, as BG:EE's most recent reviews are largely positive.

When Siege of Dragonspear first came out, both BG:EE and Siege of Dragonspear had a review bomb detonated on their doorsteps. It's pretty clear that it's still having an effect, with only a fraction of reviews referencing the most recent major update (version 2.1) and many expressing outrage about "culture wars" and all that. As time passes (it's only been about a month) and Beamdog hopefully takes care of the remaining technical issues, it will be interesting to see how BG:EE's Steam score shakes out.

Reign of Kings

Overall positivity percentage: 63 percent
Recent positivity percentage: 43 percent

Example review:

This one's puzzling. The "recent" portion of the review section is dotted with more red than a person wearing an ironic "bite me" shirt at a vampire convention. Many of the negative reviews allege that the game's been abandoned by its developer... despite the fact that they continue to update it. The most recent major update to the medieval survival game, which landed on April 5, took aim at a number of bugs and exploits, and, most crucially, continued efforts to catch and ban hackers---an issue many angry players claim developer Code}{atch isn't addressing. The developers continue to respond on the game's forums, as well---albeit infrequently. Reign of Kings is clearly far from finished, and it's not updating quickly, but it's also not "abandoned."

The game's developer also has one of the most reviled games on Steam, a sci-fi survival sandbox called Starforge whose recent positive review percentage is at 0 percent. Code}{atch took Starforge out of Early Access in a less-than-ideal state after spending years trying to overcome technical hurdles and implement promised features. According to Code}{atch, some of those plans turned out to not be feasible or fun. Unfortunately, the result was an uneven game that didn't entirely deliver. It's an unfortunate truth of Early Access: you can't always see what's coming in game development, even with the best of intentions. Despite Code}{atch's explanation, people say they unceremoniously left the game to rot, and they have decided that obviously Code}{atch intends to pull a bait and switch with Reign of Kings---or that they already have, even though they clearly haven't.

This line of thinking persists in part due to its Steam reviews. It's always good to be skeptical of games in Early Access, but perpetuating information that's demonstrably untrue? That can't be good for the health of a game, especially when said game's player count is already flagging.

Steam's new review system tells the stories of games' progression more accurately than the old one, but not all of those stories are 100 percent on the mark. It still falters when things get exceedingly complicated or contentious. And of course, while Steam might seem monolithic, it is still only one community, or one collection of similarly minded communities. Steam reviews do not necessarily represent all or even most viewpoints surrounding some games.

I still recommend doing more than a little research outside it before busting open that piggy bank you somehow lodged a bunch of Steam gift cards inside. Better safe than sorry. Better happy with a hidden gem than missing out because a vocal minority got pissed about something (again).