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

    
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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 because 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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Christopher Angeles

Oh man just trying to get this game to run is a horror show…and I thought getting FFXI installed was bad.

I had no idea why I had to install it 3 times, but now I know its because the files are just getting deleted.

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Gunstar_Green

I’m done with this game until I can play it without the MS Store and its bizarre agency over by PC. Literally the only thing I can compare the experience I had dealing with this game’s issues is having to deal with computer viruses. The game is a lot of fun, but it’s just not worth dealing with the issues caused by the MS Store which I’ll never trust again.

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Vitor Braz

Installed the game three times. Got through antivirus warnings, the game not launching, and tons of useless files cluttering my system. When I finally got the game to launch, I stopped at the tutorial and I’m yet to return because I wondered “was this really worth bothering with?”

I blame Microsoft and the Windows Store for giving the game a bad rep. I’m pretty sure it’s a good game, but I’m also worried that it may have hijacked my computer. Funny story, for the first time in months, my computer didn’t boot up the first time after getting this game installed. Just shows how messy Microsoft’s launcher is.

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engineeeeer7

I got it installed with only one deletion this week. The game itself also has some issues.

Settings menus are extremely obtuse. Some functions (like send to storage in the field) stop working if you change controls at all.

There’s terrible support for 4k displays (have to edit a settings file) and no support for higher UI scaling to make that display functional. Also no support for Vsync it appears so hello screen-tears.

Something is tanking lobby performance though this one may be on xbox.

I get it’s an older game but some of this stuff is pretty basic for 2020. It’s just too frustrating to play right now.

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Chosenxeno .

Kinda Wish Eliott would have made it clear that this is a Microsoft Store issue. People are going to think the Game itself is bad.

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Yuen

I got hit with the undeletable system file bug this morning…tried to reinstall 2 times the entire day and now decided to resort to that third party tweaker that’s been going around the net to manage my files.

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Chosenxeno .

Been using Tweaker past 2 days. Unfortunately it doesn’t fix Vanishing Files issues. Currently reinstalling. It’s that damn Microsoft Store!

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Yuen

That sucks. I thought the Tweaker would save me from that dumpster fire. That was my main problem with the game.

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Chosenxeno .

I’m still at it but it’s finally back. You wanna hear something crazy? The Tweaker actually disappeared lol.

If that’s happening the issue might be bigger than the MS store.

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Rodrigo Dias Costa

I’ve tried to install the game exactly 3 times. Once on launch day, twice the day after. Never passed the launcher. Now I’m back to the other games that work.

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

Well there’s one good thing about this game, Eliot finally has a game he hates more than WoW.

All joking aside, I’m glad it never occurred to me even try this game.

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Chosenxeno .

The Game is Great. The issue is the Microsoft Store.

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Yaner

I preloaded, was all excited, logged in and played.

Decided to buy the Sonic pack. It wouldn’t show up in my claims so I figured I needed restart to get it to refresh. When I restarted the game it uninstalled itself and I had wait 3 hours for it to redownload lol… Of course it downloaded to a different hard drive than I asked. I wanted it on my G: drive since it is my big ssd for games, and instead it put it on my little drive for my OS and now it’s full.

Now, today, the servers are just taking a crap. This whole launch has been messy. I’m really trying to wait this mess out because I love the game, but it is trying my patience. Windows Store launch was a disaster and so many people are having problems.

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Yuen

My problems also happened after buying that pack my theory was because the pack also had the base game included as well so it would install the sonic pack unless I uninstalled PSO2…so I uninstalled PSO2 and lo and behold, the Sonic pack worked…but after I closed the game, my PSO2 icon wouldn’t open PSO2 anymore, so I got screwed over again and tried to uninstall and delete all that undeletable bloat that’s been mentioned on the internet like pso2bin and what’s inside the WindowsApps folder

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Castagere Shaikura

So after all the crap, I decided it’s just not worth it to me anymore. So uninstalled it and my PC froze. I got the boot loader failed message and had to cold reset my PC to get windows to load and it took twice to finally get windows back. I never had a game do this when I uninstalled it before. This tells me to stay far away from this.