Open-World Games That Bombed At Launch But Became Cult Classics

Open-world video games are a dime a dozen these days. It’s practically a requirement for anything Ubisoft publishes, and even games like control, which don’t have as huge of a world to explore, will take a “go anywhere at any time” approach. What originated as little more than an idea for a playable menu screen to fill the void between missions has been taken to massive new heights filled with side activities, responsive AI, and layered physics systems to make the openness of the world feel as realistic as possible .

Sometimes, these games are designed beautifully, with everything in the world feeling authentic and valuable. Other times, the vastness can feel painfully empty, or just plain unnecessary. Then there are these games, which struggled to gain an audience at launch but have gradually built up a following over the years, eventually earning a reputation as cult classics.

10 Fallout: New Vegas

While it never suffered the critical panning that some entries on this list did, Fallout: New Vegas struggled at launch purely because it released so quickly after Fallout 3. It hadn’t even been two years, and already Bethesda was pumping out another fallout game.

However, new vegas shone in ways that Fallout 3 didn’t. It was a true-to-form RPG, with massive amounts of player choice and an extremely responsive world. While it took the same action-heavy approach as all modern fallout games, the level of detail in how players could interact with the elevated world Fallout: New Vegas above other entries in the franchise.

9 Days Gone

Days Gone was released about three years too late to cash in on the living dead craze. Between that and the occasionally groan-worthy machismo that drips from the game’s protagonist Deacon St. John, critics didn’t respond particularly well to Bend Studio’s first console title since the PS2.

It’s a shame, because Days Gone has a ton going for it. Despite the tone, the game’s story is surprisingly engaging. The open world is fun to explore, particularly with the motorcycle that players can customize and upgrade. Then there are the hordes, massive groups of zombies that lurk in the corners of the map. Taking these on is incredibly intense and extremely satisfying to pull off, requiring every tool in a player’s inventory and some environmental explosions to boot. Fans of Days Gone are adamant the game deserves a sequel, and after playing it, it’s easy to see why.

8 Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning

It’s hard to say why Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning didn’t connect with audiences. Maybe it was the poor timing of its release, just four months after The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Maybe it was the first few hours of the game being painfully slow-going.

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Whatever pushed fans away, it wasn’t enough to keep them away forever. Kingdoms Of Amalur contained lots of quality content, from the surprisingly good combat system and interesting array of weapon types to the excellent lore. Eventually, the game found its audience and garnered enough praise to warrant a remaster, which was released in 2020.

7 No Man’s Sky

Forget an open world, what about an open universe? That was the pitch from Sean Murray of Hello Games when No Man’s Sky was announced in 2013. The game would contain a fully procedural universe, with millions of fully-explorable planets and unique lifeforms to encounter. It seemed too good to be true. Turns out, it was.

When it finally launched in August 2016, No Man’s Sky was a shadow of the game it was marketed as. Yes, all the planets were explorable and all the lifeforms were randomly generated, but there was nothing to do. Players could go around mining for resources to upgrade their ship to go mine for more resources. That was it. Fast-forward six years, and Hello Games has added every feature that was originally promised to be in the game, as well as dozens more. Slowly but surely, they revived their title with hard work and attention to fan feedback, earning themselves a loyal following.

6 Pathology 2

It’s hard for a game to “bomb” when there was next to no hype for it in the first place. Yet Pathology 2essentially just a remake of the original game, took years to find its community.

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Today, that community is extensive. The amount of fan art and conversation surrounding this game is astounding. Considering Pathology 2 tasks players with being a small town’s doctor and then throws a deadly plague at their feet, its storyline and characters are surprisingly uplifting. It’s a horror game, it’s a survival game, and it’s an exercise in artistic expression. It’s one of the most stressful games ever made, but at times, beautiful.

5 Driver: San Francisco

Driver: San Francisco is a fantastic game; it just didn’t sell itself well. The idea of ‚Äč‚Äčtaking a well-known racing franchise and making it a single-player narrative was unusual, and it turned the racing game audience off, while never doing enough to appeal to gamers outside that crowd.

Those who played know that everyone else is missing out. The unique mechanic that gave players the ability to possess any car in the game’s world was a breath of fresh air in the racing sim genre, and it allowed for boundless creativity. Couple that with a quality storyline and some awesome action sequences, and Driver: San Francisco deserved a better fate. There isn’t a game on this list more serving of a remake.

4 Saint’s Row

It’s hard to remember a time when Saint’s Row wasn’t the satirical send-up of Grand Theft Auto that it is now. Upon its release, it was more of a clone of GTA than anything else. The humor was a bit goofier than what Rockstar developed, but the original Saint’s Row wanted to tell a serious story about gangs and blood money.

It’s a good thing the franchise switched gears, because the games that followed are glorious in their ridiculousness. While the first Saint’s Row may not have stood out, everything the series has done since is impossible to ignore. Here’s hoping the upcoming release in the franchise can maintain its signature humor and absurdist action.

3 Dragon’s Dogma

Likely another casualty of Skyrim fever, Dragon’s Dogma came out just seven months after Bethesda’s monolith release, and couldn’t find traction in the gaming community. Slowly but surely, gamers picked it up, tried it out, and came away impressed.

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Where games like Skyrim opted for massive worlds filled with activities, Dragon’s Dogma toned down that ambition in favor of an exciting, varied combat system that RPGs to this day haven’t been able to replicate. Series fans have been extremely vocal about their desire for a sequel, and they finally got their long-awaited announcement in June 2022.

2 Kingdom Come: Deliverance

A few things caused Kingdom Come: Deliverance to stumble out of the gate. It’s a hyper-realistic medieval RPG with lots of survival elements that make the game more difficult, not to mention an extremely complex combat system. Then there are the game’s offensive representations of minority characters. The developers argue that it’s an accurate representation of the era, while players argue that it went further than necessary.

Regardless, Kingdom Come: Deliverance has gained a cult following due to its detailed and brutal gameplay and player choice mechanics. For history buffs and those looking for RPGs that include fewer dragons, it hit all the right notes. The divide between those who’ve played the game and those who aren’t interested is large, but players who’ve enjoyed it rank Kingdom Come: Deliverance as one of the best games of the last decade.

1 The Saboteur

Created by Pandemic Studios, known for Mercenaries, Destroy All Humans!, and Star Wars: Battlefront series, The Saboteur was a response to Ubisoft’s open-world action games. Players take on the role of an Irish spy during WWII as they attempt to liberate Paris from Nazi control.

The response to the game was mixed. The artwork, sound design, and game world that responded directly to the player’s actions all received praise; meanwhile, the storytelling, animation, and unpolished gameplay were criticized. The Saboteur quickly became a bargain-bin game, but over the years, it gained a second wind. While it doesn’t have the following for a full-blown sequel, fans continue to single it out as one of the better releases of the mid-PS3 and Xbox 360 era.

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