Torchlight III and Magic Legends shows how early access can bite you in the butt

If you didn’t catch the news last week, Cryptic announced that Magic Legends — which hasn’t even officially launched yet — is shutting down on Halloween, of all days. For the unfamiliar, this was the studio’s newest title which drew upon the popular Magic the Gathering franchise and adapted it into a Diablo-style online RPG.

It’s the second blow to parent company Perfect World, which is still wiping copious amounts of egg off its face from Torchlight III, another online ARPG that debuted to a lackluster response, meandered about, and eventually jettisoned its entire developer.

It’s also shocking for Cryptic, which has been riding high on Neverwinter and Star Trek Online for years. We’ve never seen Cryptic fail this quickly this badly. The thing was, having played Magic Legends and speaking to many who also did, it wasn’t a terrible game. There was a lot of potential here and even the groundwork for a cult following. But it was messy, buggy, and devoid of meaningful content when it came out in early access, and not even the Magic IP could rope in the crowds it needed for long-term success.

Magic Legends (and Torchlight III) are the latest examples of how badly early access can go for a game. Sure, it gets a whole lot of excitement and press on Day One, but by Day Two, the playerbase realizes that they’re engaging with a half-baked game that needs a whole lot more work — and they’re not going to stick around to see it get finished. There’s too many other options, both current and upcoming, that is beckoning for attention.

The only early access games that I see really making it are the ones that come out already pretty much ready to go. They have the essentials down and they’re fun and not frustrating from the get-go. Games like RimWorld, Stardew Valley, and Valheim all land in this far more rare category.

“Early access” is not a magical talisman that guarantees a second chance down the road. As always, you only get one first impression, and now more than ever, it’s vital that it’s a great one — or you might as well pack it in. It feels like such a waste that Magic Legends and Torchlight III and other “had potential but failed to deliver” early access games are tossed out too soon to be chewed up and abandoned.

2 thoughts on “Torchlight III and Magic Legends shows how early access can bite you in the butt

  1. If the idea behind early access is to bring in enough funds to finish out everything that is currently broken, that is very rarely going to work. Has that ever actually worked? If you need more money, it’s generally likely more effective to show players nothing and let them pay for promises than show them a deeply flawed product.

  2. ” […] it wasn’t a terrible game.”

    I would argue that what has occurred demonstrates the exact opposite. When you look at the average Early Access game, the ones that make it do so in spite of the messiness, bugginess, and lack of content. You can fix framerate issues and push out optimization patches. You can add new zones and features.

    What you can’t do is fix an ARPG predicated on your 1-4 buttons doing random things. Or having an ARPG where loot from monsters is practically nonexistent by design. Change those, and you have a completely different (and better!) game.

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