When it comes to video games, not all limited collector’s sets are created equal. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to stack up a humble CE that is small enough to fit on the same shelf as your other games, against one of those big extravagant ones that you’ll be paying hundreds of dollars for. That wouldn’t be fair. But some CEs fail at the things they’re intended to be to begin with.
Long ago, I mentioned how the North American God Of War 3 boxset had the game, the Pandora’s Box replica, and then the rest of the content – two albums and a documentary – were included via digital vouchers, which all expired a year after release. I feel like it got off too easy the last time I talked about it.
Because, think about it: these sets are intended to solicit collectors, and here’s one where the most exciting content was given over to vouchers that self-destructed in a year’s time so that they would be unavailable to the collector’s market. Lunacy. When you’re making something that you know – you know – is going to make the rounds on Ebay and elsewhere, and you impose a restriction like that, your “collector’s edition” becomes an insult to the people who will want it most. There’s an incredibly confused, mean-spirited ideology there that really shouldn’t be allowed to continue.
So with that said, I’m going to run through the various items that you’ll often find in these Collector’s Editions, and talk about each one in how it contributes to ‘the perfect collector’s edition’.
The game itself: I know, I know, it’s a no-brainer. A CE of a game needs to include said game, or else it’s just a box of game-related swag and not really a collector’s edition of that game, right? Well…
Take this however you will, because I’m pretty sure that this has to be a typo or a misunderstanding, but the EB Games website says of the upcoming Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst CE (A staggering $210 endeavor on its own), **Does not include Game.** **This product must be purchased with Mirror’s Edge Catalyst the game.**
Tell me that’s a misunderstanding, and not the biggest example of insultingly over-decadent horse hockey in the AAA gaming industry ever. It’s one or the other. A Collector’s Edition that doesn’t include the most important component, the game itself? Are you insane?
Obviously, most if not all CEs do include the game in question, but if this is going to be a thing…just do your research before placing your preorders.
Steelbooks: I like these a lot, but for some reason I find it difficult to articulate exactly why. Maybe it’s just that the feel of steel is more satisfying than the feel of your standard plastic amaray case. But there’s also the fact that a lot of the time, steelbooks have different, exclusive artwork. Much of the time it’s more minimalist than the standard artwork (The steelbook for the God Of War: Ascension CE simply has the series’ omega insignia against a stark black background), and in many cases it’s simply more artistic, more pleasing to the eye: subjective, I know, but just compare the steelbook in The Witcher III CE to the standard case: the steelbook gives us a gorgeous two-sided illustration, while the standard artwork is just a generic render of Geralt.
Soundtracks: Give ‘em here! Music is a core part of interactive entertainment, be it the chiptune sounds of yesteryear or the sweeping orchestral scores of today’s AAA crop, and it’s great to be able to listen to this stuff outside of the game itself. My caveat is that if you’re putting it into an expensive collector’s edition, make it a CD. Don’t give us a download card. That just looks trashy and lacks the prestige of ownership that should come with a collector’s edition. I’m not getting into a debate about downloads versus CDs, because we’re already talking about a format that is specifically designed to cater to people who value ownership, prestige, feelies, et cetera; I would almost say at that point that any CE confused enough to put in download cards instead of the physical media automatically takes itself out of the running for ‘the perfect collector’s edition’.
The Bioshock 2 CE actually came with LPs (vinyl records) of the soundtrack. While I don’t have that set to tell you how it is firsthand, I can tell you that it’s a very cool idea considering the era in which the game takes place.
Statues: This is a contentious one for many people. For some, they’re the ultimate part of a CE, a meticulously-sculpted statuette of something or someone from the game. For others, they’re useless trinkets that stand mainly to drive up the price of CEs, thereby making it harder to acquire the other, more practical components of the set at a reasonable price. (A couple years ago, Gamespot even ran a video about buyer’s remorse over statue-based CEs!)
My opinion falls somewhere in the middle: there’s no question that these are beautifully-sculpted pieces. I can at least respect that. But they’d better look great, because, well…that’s all they do. And there’s no question that a statue will drive up the price of a CE, to the extent that I’m very happy when manufacturers offer multiple versions of a CE to answer the statue question: Halo 5 had a Limited Edition, as well as a Limited Collector’s Edition (you might want to get a pen), the only difference being that the Limited Collector’s Edition came with an additional statue that beefed the price up to around $300 once taxes had their say. Think about that the next time you wonder if these statues are really driving up the price of CEs. (Incidentally, I bought the Limited Edition)
Eventually, I’ll find a place in which to actually display the CE statues I have, rather than just keeping them in the boxes. The thing with my house is, if there’s an open storage space, you can guarantee it will soon be eaten up by music. Or movies. Or games. Or books.
All that said, taking the statues on their own merits, they are obviously not created equal. A statue of Songbird? Cool! But that ill-advised UK-exclusive CE of Dead Island: Riptide, which had a bikini-clad torso of a woman’s gashed corpse that’s missing its limbs and head? Only cool if you want your houseguests to think you’ll be making them into a fucking lampshade.
DVDs: These can be really interesting, because they offer behind-the-scenes content like what you would more often see on the physical release of a movie. The frontrunner in this category has to be the CE (called the Premium Edition) of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. This edition has a DVD with a fatality documentary, where the creators discuss the history of Mortal Kombat’s most infamous feature, along with their favourite and least favourite fatalities throughout the series to that point. It’s a wonderful idea, and if you can get your hands on that CE, it’s worth watching for sure. It’s just a shame that the idea for a fatality documentary came about before the second golden age of MK – MK9 and X by Netherrealm Studios – because those games have a lot of truly exceptional and shocking fatalities.
I generally consider these features an automatic upside, even if it’s exactly what you expect – a bunch of programmers at their computers with a camera looking over their shoulder at unfinished renders, or the creative team sketching things out on a whiteboard while the director tells the camera about their determined vision. I do this because it provides additional insight into the creative process and serves as additional A/V content either way.
Artbooks: Yes! But there’s a caveat, and it involves doing your research. I opted out of the CE of Arkham Knight, which I would have bought for the artbook, because I saw that there was a full-size art book of Rocksteady’s entire Batman series coming out a few months afterwards. (Incidentally, that artbook ended up coming out two months sooner than Amazon had told me; perhaps they released it early as a way of saying sorry for the astonishingly botched launch of Arkham Knight?)
Like, the full-size hardback The Art Of The Mass Effect Universe pretty much invalidates the artbooks that came with the individual CEs: there’s more content to be had, and the artwork is blown-up gloriously as opposed to being in a book with about the dimensions of the average game case.
Just like with steelbooks, The Witcher 3 CE shows how it’s done: that one comes with a 200-page artbook that is big enough for the art to be blown up rather than squished down.
But art books, properly done, are much more than a “look at the pretty colours” affair: proper commentary can provide crucial insight on certain design decisions, as well as interesting and useful tutelage on fictional creation and world-building in general. Maybe as an author, I have a different view of it than the “regular fan”, but that’s part of why I view art books as so valuable.
Other kinds of books: A side character’s secret journal (Assassin’s Creed 3)? A bestiary (Halo 3)? These kinds of things aren’t quite artbooks, but they help to further deepen the game world and enrich your appreciation of it. Bon!
Non-statue feelies: Well, it depends on what it is, doesn’t it? These are the knick-knacks, the odds and ends that can’t really be classified any other way. It can be anything from playing cards, to a foldout flag, to a pendant, and so forth…and these can get really bizarre. But my personal favourite, by far, is the plague-doctor jack-in-the-box in the Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood CE. Eccentricity and morbidity combine to create the ultimate ‘hey, check this out, this is messed up and cool at the same time’ conversation piece.
A whole second game: Yeah…this is always nice. As I’ve previously mentioned, my pressing of Dead Space 2 on PS3 includes the Wii game Dead Space: Extraction on the disc, and that sort of thing is about as good as it gets when it comes to extra A/V content…if you don’t already own the other game in question.
Comics: I don’t know, but for a very specific reason: most of the comics I’ve seen included in CEs recently – Mass Effect, Mortal Kombat X – are just a smaller fragment of the trade paperbacks you can easily find at your nearest bookstore. So when you’re the loyal fan who’s keeping up on the worldbuilding by reading those trades, the smaller issues included in those CEs seem kind of redundant, no? Because invariably, these smaller comics are snippets of a larger story, which you’ll only see completed by…buying the trade paperbacks that include those issues anyway.
Early access: Can this please not be a thing? It just kind of rubs me the wrong way. Halo 5’s Limited Collector’s Edition gave fans who paid around three hundred dollars a chance to pick up the game a week early, and…I don’t know. I think we should all be able to agree that something seems decidedly unwholesome about a game with such a huge multiplayer community giving some players an extra week of practice on the new maps because they put up more cash. Other than that, it takes the prestige and universal anticipation out of a big ‘event launch’. I know that release dates are already staggered by region, but here’s the thing – nobody likes when companies do that, either.
In-game content: If it means getting exclusive gear in multiplayer that gives you a leg up on other players, then no, absolutely not, because at that point you’re bribing the game to let you win easier. But things like extra skins and the like are pretty benign.
But if someone is paying over a hundred dollars for a CE of your game, you should really take it upon yourself to automatically give them the equivalent of a season pass. Mortal Kombat X, despite having some unethical problems (Players who didn’t preorder being forced to pay an additional ransom to play as Goro, even though he was finished and on the disc from the start), got this right: anybody who bought any of the game’s Kollector’s Editions, physical or digital, automatically received a code to grant them free access to the four DLC fighters as they became available. This seems to me a perfectly balanced way to incorporate in-game content into these CEs.
Have we covered most of what you can expect from the average collector’s edition? Once again, let’s go through what I think are the top criteria that a ‘perfect collector’s edition’ must meet:
-It must be interesting: either by enriching the player’s appreciation of the game, or just by flat-out being unique and endearing (like said jack-in-the-box).
-It must not be so confused as to relegate content to digital vouchers in a set obviously designed to solicit those who value the physical.
-Some of its components must be functional rather than aesthetic. (IE, a statue is aesthetic, a soundtrack is functional)
And where have we landed?
And there it is: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt CE is the closest that I’ve seen any CE come to perfection as a collector’s edition. Let’s run it down:
-First of all, you get an awesome game with an exhaustive amount of effort put into it by a devoted team. (Seems self-explanatory, but hey – even if, for example, the CE of Aliens: Colonial Marines checked every box on the list, you’d still be left with Colonial Marines at the end of the day, and that’s not going to please anybody.)
-As mentioned, you get the best artbook I’ve ever seen in a CE, which is respectably large, in-depth, and with that sweet, sweet developer commentary.
-As mentioned, the steelbook is totally beautiful. But almost as though to make sure they didn’t leave anything out, they even pack in the standard amaray case as well, just in case you wanted that too.
-The CD soundtrack is superb. I realize it comes with the regular edition too, which means you’re getting your money’s worth no matter which version you spring for.
-The cloth map is gorgeous. It really feels like a period piece. The other non-statue feelies are kind of inconsequential, but also kind of interesting, like playing cards.
-The statue itself is a monumental piece of Geralt fighting a griffon, as one would. If you’re going to do a statue that drives up the price of a CE, they knew you really have to make it badass.
The box is autographed by the entire development team. Now, I don’t know precisely whether these autographs are legitimate, or reproduced, since there don’t seem to be any distinctive tells one way or the other (such as how the “autographs” in the Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood set are ludicrous in how obviously they’re a reproduction, given the “ink” actually clips behind a character’s head in the image…). And, yes, creators do spend hours on end just sitting there and signing hundreds upon hundreds of copies of their work if their autograph is a part of a promotion or they’re at a fan event, so I believe these could be legitimate. If they are, it’s one more reason this set is terrific; if they’re just reproductions, then it doesn’t take away from the rest of the set.
-All that is housed in a box that comes in two pieces: everything but the statue is housed in a lovely wolf-head box that opens like a sliding door, which goes on top of where the statue is kept. Now, this CE is HUGE: it’s the biggest anything in my entertainment media collection. But it earns the space it takes up.
If I had one quibble, it would be that a behind-the-scenes DVD would have been nice, but what we did get is truly above-and-beyond anyway. It checks all those requisite boxes with flying colours.
And that’s about it. If I’ve missed some component of game CEs that you’d like to see talked about, hit me up in the comments below! What about you? What are your favourite components of collector’s editions?