Video games and films have had a good year. Baldur’s Gate 3, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, and Alan Wake 2 all entertained us at home while Oppenheimer, Barbie, and John Wick: Chapter 4 drew us into cinemas. And though this gives us plenty to celebrate, there were also a few disappointments this year that we’re still not over.
Some of the biggest and most respected companies in both industries had some unfortunate moments this year, particularly Bethesda in video games and Marvel in film and TV. From the former we saw Starfield, which wasn’t quite the open worlds space epic we all dreamed of, while Redfall was a huge disappointment by any standards. Marvel premieres like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Secret Invasion also left us underwhelmed, but it’s perhaps the overall lack of direction in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 5 that has us most upset.
Not everything on this list is necessarily bad, of course, as we’re looking at releases which simply didn’t live up to their potential. Whether it was caused by unfulfilled promises, an oversaturation of similar content, or something else entirely, these are the eight biggest disappointments of 2023.
Besides Tears of the Kingdom and Grand Theft Auto 6, it’s hard to think of a more highly anticipated game than Starfield in the last decade. The studio behind The Elder Scrolls and Fallout set out to create a space epic with deep customisation options, a rich story, immersive role-playing mechanics, and an entire universe to explore. Anticipation was high, built further by several delays, and as the game that’s kept The Elder Scrolls 6 half a decade away still, it almost had to be brilliant.
But Starfield isn’t quite that. It’s definitely good, and could probably provide hours of entertainment to most players, but it pales in comparison to Bethesda’s other games. Players found it bland, complaining it was too vast instead of deep. And especially when compared to some of 2023’s other heavy hitters, Starfield felt a tad uninspired.
Baldur’s Gate 3’s unprecedented level of player customisation and choice set a new standard for RPGs, for example, while the thrilling cinematic storytelling of Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty is among the best ever seen in a video game. Starfield almost seems a product of the past in comparison, as if Bethesda kept its head down since Fallout 4’s launch in 2015, only to look up and realise the genre had evolved beyond it.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe
Fans cut Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe some slack since it followed Avengers: Endgame, the grand finale of an 11-year saga. A lack of direction across the likes of Black Widow, Eternals, Moon Knight, and so on was forgiven as Disney was rebuilding and setting up another epic Avengers moment down the road. This through-line would arrive in Phase 5, which kicked off in 2023 with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania – or so we thought.
A year into Phase 5 and Disney has released Quantumania, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Secret Invasion, Loki Season 2, The Marvels, and soon, What If..? Season 2. There’s no real consistency to these in the same way every film in the first three phases set up their subsequent Avengers finales, though a vague connection exists in some with Kang the Conqueror. While this perhaps gave Marvel a little traction as it built up to the next Avengers, Kang actor Jonathan Majors was found guilty of assault and harassment and dropped by Marvel, putting Disney’s plan into a tailspin.
The onslaught of otherwise middling MCU entries that began with Phase 4 has continued in 2023, causing many fans to lose hope Marvel can once again achieve the heights of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. And although the MCU has always had ups and downs, the amount of intertwined content being released by Disney is demanding more and more attention and commitment. Phase 1, for example, lasted 12 hours and 24 minutes in total; Phase 4 lasted 54 hours and 40 minutes. Even Disney CEO Bob Iger has admitted the volume of shows has “diluted focus and attention,” but any changes to address this might come too little and too late.
PlayStation VR2’s Launch Line-Up
The PlayStation VR2 headset offered a huge upgrade to Sony’s first attempt at virtual reality, albeit sacrificing some of the price accessibility the original offered. Regardless, with a 4K HDR OLED screen, specially designed controllers with haptic feedback, and a lightweight design, IGN said the PSVR2 set a new standard for console VR gaming in our 9/10 review.
That said, only a couple of its exclusive games have hit the same standard so far. The headset launched with more than 40 titles but only four were exclusive: Horizon Call of the Mountain, Fantavision 202X VR, Gran Turismo 7 VR, and Resident Evil Village VR. While the latter two are definitely up there, Horizon and subsequent exclusives like The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR were good but not great.
In fact, PSVR2 only has 10 exclusives in total, and that’s including the end of year surprise of Resident Evil 4 Remake VR. This was a bit disappointing in itself, however, as Capcom’s usually expert adaptations, combined with the masterpiece that is Resident Evil 4 Remake, could have immediately propelled it to the best game on the platform and seriously bolstered PSVR2’s launch year. The game is still great, but the transition from third-person to VR leaves it feeling a little half-baked in parts.
Faith in the DC Extended Universe had admittedly already dwindled by the time The Flash premiered, but this one really did have the potential to be different. The mash-up of DC properties brought Ezra Miller’s Flash together with Michael Shannon’s General Zod, Michael Keaton’s Batman, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, and many more in what could have been DC’s take on Marvel’s Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Instead it was a CGI-flooded cameo-fest that, while not necessarily bad, left many fans disappointed. The Flash could have been an incredible tribute to DC movie history and a perfect send-off to the troubled shared universe, but instead became a flashing highlight reel of shallow fan service. Ben Affleck and Adam West’s Batmen appeared, albeit briefly, alongside George Reeves’ Superman and even a deep-cut Nicolas Cage reference (which Cage himself criticised for its over-use of CGI).
The Flash was also expected to provide a clean transition to the new DC film universe (the DCU) in a clear and thematically consistent manner. It didn’t. An event called Flashpoint reset the DC comic universe back in 2011, and while a version of this sort of happened in The Flash, it also sullied itself somewhat by featuring another cameo teaser at the end which is all but confirmed to go nowhere. The film therefore missed its chance to send the DCEU off with some dignity, and only made the upcoming revamp more confusing. Aquaman 2, it’s up to you now…
With the MCU’s TV offerings in a rocky spot, with most shows barely shifting the needle beyond the occasional highlight like WandaVision and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, Disney was desperate for a hit to kick off 2023. Secret Invasion was the perfect opportunity to accomplish that, as a no-nonsense, six-episode series based on one of Marvel Comics’ most beloved stories. Its cast was stacked too, with Samuel L. Jackson, Emilia Clarke, Olivia Colman, and Don Cheadle all starring.
Somehow that potential ended up becoming an utterly mundane and monotonous MCU entry, and a far cry from its source material. The Secret Invasion comic did have a similar premise, of course, where the Skrulls infiltrated Earth by impersonating various Marvel heroes and world figures. But the comics imposed true mystery, with seemingly any Marvel superhero possibly emerging as a Skrull (and Spider-Woman, Captain Marvel, Hank Pym, Elektra, and more all did). Comparatively, Skrulls in the Disney+ show peaked at James Rhodes and otherwise included Shirley Sagar, Chris Stearns, Sergio Caspani, and a handful of other characters you’ve likely never heard of.
Secret Invasion therefore emerged as a thriller with little thrill, an espionage show with little mystery, and an MCU entry with little Marvel colour or charm.
Redfall found itself in a similar camp to Starfield as one of the first couple of Xbox exclusive games from Bethesda. While Starfield was developed by the studio behind The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, Redfall came from Arkane, the studio behind Dishonored, Prey, and Deathloop. That’s a strong pedigree, and when Redfall was announced as a stylish, cooperative game about killing over-the-top vampires, many were understandably excited.
While Starfield was a disappointment because it was just good and not great, Redfall was just bad – so much so that even Xbox boss Phil Spencer personally apologised for it. It seems everything that could have gone wrong did, as Redfall was criticised for having bland missions, unengaging combat, poor AI enemies, abysmal performance, endless bugs, a weak story, an always online requirement, and so on.
Post-launch support didn’t come quickly either. It took over a month for Arkane to release its first big patch for Redfall, and not even the Xbox Series X version had 60 frames per second support until October, five months after its release. Furthermore, Arkane upset fans again the following month when it released another patch that was headlined by a new sniper rifle instead of highly requested features like an offline mode. Its dependence on online also doesn’t bode well for Redfall’s future, with its player count sitting at around 1% of its launch numbers, at least on Steam.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Call of Duty is often the target of abuse as one of the biggest video game franchises around, but the faux criticism of Activision recycling the same game year after year came true with Modern Warfare 3. It reportedly began as a Modern Warfare 2 expansion that was spun into a full release in just 18 months, evidenced further by a rebranded version of last year’s game needing to be installed before Modern Warfare 3 could be played. The PlayStation 5 version lacked a Platinum Trophy too.
Alongside these logistical frustrations came uninspired gameplay, with Activision essentially forcing its usually well put together game modes like Campaign and Zombies into the maps of battle royale Call of Duty: Warzone. Modern Warfare 3 was bad, and as we said in our 4/10 review, the single player is “underbaked, rehashed, and cobbled together from multiplayer parts”.
Even its premiere multiplayer mode was a let down, with Activision seemingly hoping the nostalgia of including classic Modern Warfare maps like Highrise and Rust would be enough to keep fans happy. The game was lacking in any actual steps forward though, with its biggest changes such as a slowed down progression system only causing more disappointment.
Metal Gear Solid Master Collection Vol. 1
Almost a decade after the last mainline release, Konami finally gave Metal Gear fans something to look forward to when it announced a collection of the first five games. The Metal Gear Solid Master Collection Vol. 1 would be the best way for players to get their hands on these classic entries short of dusting off a PlayStation 3, and would come bundled with some fun fan service extras like comics and soundtracks.
Fans assumed this to be a simple task as Konami essentially released the same collection on PS3 but cracks began to show even before launch. The publisher was criticised when it revealed the first Metal Gear Solid would be locked to 30 frames per second, then again when it emerged cutscenes could finally be paused… but only after ten seconds. The cherry on top arrived as Konami itself announced the Master Collection Vol. 1 would launch with several issues such as mistimed subtitles, significant slowdown during cutscenes of the two-decade-old games, and more.
But the Metal Gear Solid Master Collection Vol. 1 somehow still failed to meet the very low expectations that had been set. Fans grew frustrated at the Nintendo Switch version only including the two original Metal Gear games on the cartridge (meaning Metal Gear Solid 1, 2, and 3 had to be downloaded), but it was perhaps PC players who faced the most problems. Issues included Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 being displayed at 720p resolution despite being advertised as 1080p, none of the games having audio options, and the entire collection being locked in full screen.
Ryan Dinsdale is an IGN freelance reporter. He’ll talk about The Witcher all day.