Community Review: PC Ports

Community Review: PC Ports
Image: Microsoft

I really don’t want to work out how many hours I spent playing the Sea of Thieves final beta this weekend. It was many hours. Probably too many. There was a nagging thought in the back of my head the entire time: This feels like a console game. That in itself isn’t a problem but I was playing on PC and the effect was somewhat jarring.

There are different expectations when playing a game on PC compared to consoles. Sitting back with a controller feels very different than sitting at a desk with keyboard and mouse. If a game’s UI doesn’t reflect that, then it feels like the developers didn’t keep all of their audience in mind while making their game.

With Sea of Thieves the entire control scheme felt like Rare took the Xbox One controls for the game – radial menus and all – and remapped them one to one with keyboard and mouse. These controls could be remapped, which is a handy feature that I’m always a fan of, however there was still the overall feeling that I should be playing with a controller.

After a few hours I relented and plugged in an old Xbox 360 controller. It made a world of difference.

At least the entire situation was better than attempting to remap controls in Ori and the Blind Forest which has you digging into a hidden text file in your user folder to type in what button you want to do what. Be careful when doing that too, put a comma in the wrong place while trying to setup Mouse4 to jump and all the controls will revert to default.

Controls aren’t the only thing to worry about when it comes to PC ports. Having appropriate graphics settings so that all the dials can be turned appropriately to get a smooth experience on your rig is equally important. There’s far too much variation in PC configurations for developers to have a one size fits all approach to this.

Before you even get to dealing with various settings there is the occasional issue of trying to get the game to work. With DRM, driver issues and the occasional port rushed out on short notice without much budget, you end up with occasional train wrecks like Arkham Knight.

With all that being said, are you happy with the current state of PC ports? Are there games you think handled the jump particularly well or spectacularly poorly? Are there any companies you avoid because of a bad history of PC ports?


  • I think a big part of the issue is that its easier to port from console to PC than it is to port from PC to console.

    Build a game with controller in mind, then add K/M on top of that, rather than the other way around. Doesn’t mean it cant be done, just look at Diablo 3, but in development, they’re mostly going to be eyeing off the console market before the PC market.

    Consoles are designed specifically to play games, and all the conveniences around that mean controller is the prime method planned for. As you’ve seen, that means a potential disconnect between what works with controllers versus K/M, especially when the controller process is close enough to work.

    But we’ve put up with it for decades with games like Elder Scrolls. Its nothing new.

    I think most gamers accept that, and understand that unless something is specifically written with the PC in mind, its going to have those quirks. Its a shame that SoV doesn’t go that extra step for PC gamers, but its also understandable given its cross platform. The differences may mean something in PvP.

    • Great post. Agree with you 100%. I also think a big part of it is the laziness of the porters. If they’re not willing to (or don’t have the budget to) port it properly, then we’re going to get a shit port.

  • In Sea of Thieves’ case, the Xbox One is the lead SKU and always has been, so it’s not surprising they’d build it around a controller. Also nowadays, the bulk of PC gamers will have a controller available for these sorts of games anyway. And don’t forget that Rare is a Microsoft first-party studio, and Microsoft also makes basically the industry standard PC game controller nowadays.

    PC is my primary gaming platform, but unless it’s a FPS or RTS or some MMOs (FFXIV being the exception because in a lot of cases it plays equally well on a controller) I will almost always prefer to pull out one of my spare Xbox One controllers.

    As far as actual port quality goes, it can be a mixed bag. IMO lackluster KB/M controls are among the least important issues you can hit. Crap video performance, lack of options, lack of proper ultrawide or 4k support (UI scaling etc), shitty DRM that steals CPU cycles all the time (fuck you, Ubisoft) as well as general crashes and bugs are much more of a problem. Nowadays most stuff from the larger publishers at least isn’t crashy, and at least we don’t have to deal with crap like GFWL any more.

  • If people take care with their ports then it can be great. A good example of control schemes is the console version of FF14:ARR (yes I know this is the console ports point) but they took great care to make a controller friendly version of the action bar.

    A bad example would be borderlands 1 UI felt like nobody had ever used a keyboard and mouse in the design stage. Thankfully BL2 did it much better when it came out.

    Another example is destiny 2. Sure, it’s easier to control with the keyboard and mouse but rubbish like the parallax effect in menus is unnecessary with the rapid mouse movement. Not having a chat system in place for social areas or even groups was a fundamental failure in design.

    The nexus of the bad PC port comes from the following attitude:
    ‘What’s the least amount of effort we would require to make this load on a PC?’

    where what should be happening is ‘How do we make this a good PC game’

  • They need to play test the controls for mouse and keyboard. I remember when Dragon age inquisition was released and you couldn’t actually play a melee character using M + K because they apparently forgot to add an auto attack path finding for your character.

  • I think PC Ports are getting better. We still have some lazy ass ports, and some great ones. Sometimes from the same company (I’m looking at you Square Enix). But honestly having a controller with my PC has been the way I play for over a decade. I’ve got both a steam controller and a wireless adapter for my 360 controller. As much as I prefer when a game is ported right, I’m happy that most large games are hitting PC as well. For a couple of generations there, it seemed like PC ports weren’t even considered for most big console games

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