First Impressions: Phantasy Star Online 2’s technical clownshow mangled its PC launch

Yeah, it's never happening.

Phantasy Star Online 2 is, bar none, the absolute worst experience I have ever had with trying to get a game working on my computer.

Understand that as a confluence of my profession (both working here and working as a game reviewer elsewhere) and the simple fact that I love video games, I have a long history of getting things to work and wrestling with files. I am not unfamiliar with how to make games work, or buggy launchers, or early download issues. These are things that suck, sure, I hate having to dive into directories and rename a file or two to make stuff work, but… you know, it happens. It’s a problem that can arise.

So when I say that PSO2 is in a class by itself, I want it to be entirely clear that this is something next-level. This is probably the worst sort of launch installation experience I’ve ever had. And it has a pretty clear culprit.

Let’s just walk through the installation procedure. Sure, many people have noted you need to have Windows 10 upgraded to its latest version to install the game. That’s mildly annoying, but that’s whatever. It works, it’s one of those things you probably should have done anyhow, no big deal. Nothing to get hung about.

Then you decide on where you want to install the game, and not so fast, sparky.

Either die or don't.

My computer has two hard drives, a smaller SSD for MMOs I play a lot and system files and a much larger HDD for games, storage, and so forth. Despite allowing me to choose where I wanted to install the game, the game’s choice of directory was a damn dirty lie┬ábecause it routinely deleted itself when trying to load the game up from the second drive. No, apparently we install on the C:\ drive because we are ride or die for alphabetical order.

“Wait, what do you mean it deleted itself?” I mean it deleted itself. I mean you reboot your computer, and poof! The game isn’t there any more. And then you have to delete and reinstall. Yes, manually delete files that aren’t removed by the uninstall. People have horror stories of multiple “dead” directories of 70 gigabytes that seem to contain all of the data, but you can’t actually use them.

You can’t even access them, in fact! That’s because these directories are stashed away under file ownership that requires you to learn about how to go in and manually take control of directories from system processes, an education that I’m sure is in no way terrifyingly easy to mess up in serious and consequential way. (Just kidding, I know the exact opposite, ha ha, what an amazing experience.)

And this doesn’t happen in response to anything. This isn’t a case wherein you accidentally stop a download and have to start all over. Nor is it universal. I managed to get the install working once on my larger drive, logged in, backed out, then rebooted my computer. Poof! Game gone, no moral.

This starts another process of re-downloading the entire game after a borked uninstall process that sometimes doesn’t appear to be doing anything when you do what the operating system tells you to do. On two separate occasions, after deleting and uninstalling, an attempt to reinstall just didn’t offer me a choice of what drive I wanted to install the game on again. I think I’ve now reinstalled PSO2 more than any other piece of software I’ve attempted to use.

Also, I want to restate that this is 70 gigabytes. That’s a lot. It’s really a lot if you have spare 70 GB folders sitting around on your computer you can’t access with all of the data right there, stuffing up your machine for no reason.

You might think that it’s unfair to put all of the blame here on Microsoft, and under normal circumstances I would tend to agree with that. But if these were all well-known issues, the sizable community that has been running a translated version of the game on the Japanese servers for nearly eight years now would probably have a whole mess of solutions for it right now. Indeed, huge chunks of the community just sighed and said “well, back to the JP servers” where the game just… runs. And has been running.

When your official English launch after eight years has people just shrugging and saying, “Sure, I don’t speak the language of most of these other players and I have to use fan-made translations to get the game to be playable, but it’s better than this?” Something has gone seriously awry.

I hate.

The game uses nProtect as an anticheat program. This is true in both versions of the game. I mention this because it also had the charming aspect of deleting the game at one point. I had to whitelist the entire folder in my antivirus to get it to work, but it didn’t matter because the game already decided it was going to delete itself. It didn’t announce anything, though. No helpful error messages, it just left a completely non-functional button in my start menu.

You know, again, reviewing games? I install a lot of new stuff via Steam, stuff that isn’t necessarily flagged as safe via an antivirus. When I tell it “this program is safe,” it just listens. I do not have to whitelist entire folders and then delete and reinstall the program multiple times before it’s going to actually keep things running.

PSO2 is like a way to check your computer’s connection speed one half-hour patch download at a time. It’s also a very effective way to fill up all the space on your hard drive with files that don’t do anything. At one point I think I stumbled into a bizarre recursive loop of file structures that I’m not actually sure I ever got out of.

I feel as if my computer has somehow been infected by this entire ordeal. Not with a virus or something, but with some bizarre form of gremlin. Like I’ll try to start up one of the many games I otherwise play and suddenly have a small man in a red cap pop up to inform me that you cannot play Final Fantasy XIV without retrieving the Wind Crystal from the valley two towns over. Or like I’ll be using my calculator and it’ll uninstall my ability to play media files. Random garbage like that.

It seems almost ludicrously clear that this is the result of the game being haphazardly patched into work via the Windows Store in a way that, well… doesn’t work, not even a little bit. It’s been one of the most intense disappointments I have suffered this year. After eight years of waiting, I am sorry to say that you will still be waiting because chances are that this mess of a service does not work, does not load, and will probably make you absurdly angry to even try.

The couple of hours I actually got to play before the game uninstalled itself again and when it actually ran were pretty fun. They sure as hell were not worth losing an entire day to this mess, though.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?
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