Review

Inside Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Inside: All Hail the Blob.

Playdead’s Limbo inspired an entire sub-genre of atmospheric puzzler platformers. It’s one of the few games that many will finish in a single sitting; its succinct and engaging game play cementing you to your seat until it’s finished. It’s been quite a while since Limbo was released however and many have been eager for Playdead’s sophomore release. Inside was teased 2 years ago and, like all good hotly anticipated releases, was met with numerous delays before being released this year. Of course the release brings with it the question of whether or not Playdead can live up to their previous accomplishments and, perhaps, even exceed them.

Inside Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

On first blush it would seem that Playdead was hoping to ride out much of the nostalgia and hype that they generated with their seminal title. Once again you find yourself in control of a lone, young boy making his way through a dark and dangerous wilderness. However where Limbo’s world was allegorical Inside’s is more literal, everything seeming fare more real than its predecessors did. You’re given just about as much instruction as you were in Limbo, leaving you to figure out what the controls are and how to interact with your environment. Once you’ve got that down you’re then left to explore this dark world and all the dangers that it contains.

Inside utilises a muted colour palette with a highly stylized aesthetic reminiscent of games like Team Fortress 2. Where Limbo used their own custom engine to produce the trademark monochromatic visuals Inside instead uses Unity with a specially developed temporal anti-aliasing filter. This is what gives Inside it’s smoothed, cinematic quality that eliminates most of the jaggies that would otherwise be present. It also, as the developers point out, has a nice side-effect of giving everything a stochastic effect which adds that slight dreamlike quality. The resulting experience is quite honestly exceptional, bringing that Limbo-like effect to the modern day.

Inside Review Screenshot Wallpaper CORN MAZE

Like its predecessor Inside is a puzzle platformer, pitting the young boy against a myriad of challenges which will require you to figure out how best to tackle them. None of the mechanics it uses are new or inventive however they’re all tied into the theme of Inside in some way. There will be much dying, retrying and going down dead ends to try and find the various secrets scattered throughout the game. Inside is very much of the ethos of “Show, don’t tell” with the game giving you clues and hints about what it wants you to do next. It’s also a linear experience with there being one and only way to progress to the next section. It’s simple and unoriginal but Playdead made their name in defining this sub-genre and the quality of craftsmanship in all aspects of the game belies its mechanical simplicity.

What Limbo and Inside both do exceptionally well is inspire feelings in the player. There are numerous moments in Inside that inspire sheer terror or that horrible sense of foreboding should you step one foot out of place. As someone who’s typically not a fan of horror or its sub-genres it was genuinely refreshing to see this done right. This, coupled with the drip feed of information about the world that’s given to you, gives you a driving sense that this is all building to something but you can’t be sure what it is. Then comes what I think is the game’s pinnacle moment and what cements it as another brilliant title from Playdead.

Inside Review Screenshot Wallpaper Behold The Blob

PLOT SPOILERS BELOW

The moment is, of course, when you transition from the scared boy to the blob. The entire premise of the game up until that point is you existing in a world that is hunting you, one that you should be afraid of. That all changes when you become the blob, the world now fears you, and what you might do to it. Instead of the world and its people fighting you they assist you (for the most part), trying to ensure their own survival just like you were before. The fear and tension is gone, replaced by a kind of excitement. You are now in control, even if that means you’re a strange amalgam of body parts that moan in the most horrendous way whenever you move.

Which leads us to the story. I’m firmly in the camp of the boy being controlled directly by the blob, sent on a direct mission to free it from its prison. Of course how you interpret either ending is up to you, that’s the beauty of how the story is told, but that’s the only explanation I’ve seen thus far that fits well with the events as they unfolded. Regardless of what explanation you take as true it’s hard not to appreciate the final ironic climax, the purpose of Inside being only to get outside. Inside’s story is definitely an intellectual rather than an emotional one.

PLOT SPOILERS OVER

Inside Review Screenshot Wallpaper Outside

Inside has done what many would think would be impossible: improve on the formula set by a classic and bring it into the modern age. The aesthetic retains that same Limbo-esque feeling whilst modernising it significantly, likely setting the precedent that many games will follow for years to come. The gameplay, whilst standard affair for the genre, is well polished and all done in aid of telling the story. The overall narrative, shown to you rather than told, is certain to keep people talking about it for years to come, the ultimate meaning hidden behind many clues, red herrings and good old fashioned speculation. Inside is a game that is thoroughly worth the time to play and, if you can manage it, in a single session on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Rating: 9.25/10

Inside is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $19.99 on all platforms. Game was played on the PC with 2.9 hours of total play time with 29% of the achievements unlocked.

ABZU Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

ABZU: Undersea Journey

Journey was one of my favourite games of its release year, blending together many well-crafted elements into an enthralling experience. Long time fans of Thatgamecompany weren’t surprised at this though as the developer had a history of delivering atmospheric titles with brilliant sound tracks. For me though it was the multiplayer aspect that made Journey shine; the co-operation through minimal communication a truly inspired mechanic. However Thatgamecompany’s usual release cycle of every 3 years has come and gone without another release, leaving us wanting for the kind of experiences that they were known to deliver. In the mean time however former art director for Thatgamecompany Matt Nava has formed a new games development house called Giant Squid Studios and their first game, ABZU, has just been released.

ABZU Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

It’s easy to see Matt Nava’s influence in ABZU, the main character sharing similar stylings to the main protagonist of Journey. Indeed the setting, whilst being the polar opposite of Journey’s desert, shares a lot of the same elements. After a short cut scene, which obviously holds some significance to ABZU’s plot, you’re dumped in a massive underwater world and set forth to explore. The how and why of everything are left up to you to figure out as there’s no dialogue nor walls of texts to explain anything. The only helping hand you’ll get is a few screens that fade in to let you know what the controls are, after that you’re on your own.

Borrowing yet again from it’s spiritual predecessor ABZU has the same highly-stylised, almost cel-shaded like aesthetic. Unlike the barren wastes of Journey ABZU is a world that teams with life, schools of fish and other sea creatures dancing about as you explore. These visuals are then accompanied by an incredible sound track done by Austin Wintory, the same composer behind Journey. I’ll endeavour to stop making comparisons between the two but calling it “Journey but in the sea” seems like the most apt description of what ABZU is on first glance.

ABZU Review Screenshot Wallpaper Into the Deep

ABZU is an exploration game, one that makes full use of the underwater environment to provide you with much more freedom than traditional platformers do. You’ll be dropped into a gated off area, one that you must explore in order to find your way out. Along the way you’ll find various collectibles, unlocks and various items that are used to unblock/unlock your way through to the next section. There’s no combat to speak of however, the game preferring to gently remind you that there’s a better way than throwing yourself head on at every problem. Overall it’s a very simple game but as we’ve seen before simplicity in game mechanics doesn’t mean it isn’t a sophisticated experience.

The exploration is done mostly well, the environments being full of detail that’s worthy of exploration just by itself. Unlocking additional creatures from their underwater prisons adds them directly to the local ecosystem, sometimes changing it radically. You move at a good speed, especially with boost, making it easy to get across a map in no time at all. What’s lacking however is an indication of how complete each section is, leaving you to wonder if you really did get everything or there was something left behind. I may have just missed the signal that showed you that but I remember Journey’s version of that being very obvious and if ABZU has a similar mechanic it was far too subtle for me to pick up on.

ABZU Review Screenshot Wallpaper Whale Buddies

I did as instructed when the game asked me to use a controller however even then the controls felt a little janky. I do understand that there’s a certain amount of inertia when you’re in water however the way the character moves sometimes doesn’t quite line up with what your inputs are. It’s not unusable by any stretch of the imagination but it does make some moments far more frustrating than they need to be. I didn’t swap it out for the mouse and keyboard however, so I’m not sure if that might have resolved my issues.

The story is told through your interactions in the world, various hieroglyphics that adorn parts of the world and lots of cut scenes that paint a high level picture of what your character is trying to accomplish. Consequently there’s not a lot of meaning you can derive from ABZU directly, it’s all inferred from what you see on screen. This doesn’t prevent the game from having some truly impressive emotional moments however, many of which are reminiscent of Journey, but it does mean that the higher meaning of the game is somewhat elusive.

ABZU Review Screenshot Wallpaper The Evil Below

ABZU is a true spiritual successor to Journey, taking all of what made its predecessor great and applying it to a whole new setting. The visual and sound design both come from direct from those who worked on Journey and their influence can be seen throughout ABZU. Mechanically it plays largely the same with the added freedom granted by being underwater used to great effect. The controls are probably the one black mark against the otherwise solid experience, making some aspects of the game just a bit tedious and awkward. Overall though ABZU is a standout debut title for Giant Squid Studios and I very much look forward to what they do next.

That is if Thatgamecompany don’t release something before them, of course!

Rating: 9.0/10

ABZU is available on PC and PlayStation 4 right now for $19.99 on both platforms. Game was played on the PC with 2 hours of total play time and 58% of the achievements unlocked.

Mirror's Edge™ Catalyst_20160611150348

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst: To See Through Glass.

Mirror’s Edge came at a pivotal time in gaming history. The industry was leaping forward in ever greater strides with game budgets soaring and consumers ever more willing to shell out for the latest and greatest titles. However it was the time when the yearly game cycles began to take hold, the same titles regurgitated year after year and original IPs were few and far between. The Indie Renaissance was still some years away and so gamers were hungry for titles that were a break away from the norm. It wasn’t a breakout success however, generating good but not great reviews. Still the success it had led many to believe a sequel was inevitable but DICE was tight lipped on the franchise for a long time.

It wasn’t until 5 years later that we’d find out that Mirror’s Edge would be returning and it would still be another 3 after that before we’d be able to play it. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst was initially envisioned as a prequel title however it’s current incarnation sees it as a reboot of the franchise. It’s a much broader scope game, expanding on the free running concept by dramatically increasing the area you’re able to move about in and adding in some additional mechanics to keep it interesting along the way. Whilst rebooting the franchise at this point makes some sense, not many will go back to play an 8 year old game, it does lay waste to the narrative that many fell in love with.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst retains that same stark white base and vivid colour scheme that was popularised by the original title. This is then amplified by the significant improvements in lighting and environmental effects that the current generation of consoles allows, highlighting the contrast even further. The environments are quite lacking in detail however with flat textures covering nearly every surface. It’s an aesthetic that does its best to get out of the way however it can be visually confusing at times (more on that a little later). Still there are many great screenshot worthy moments, some of which I’ve included here.

Catalyst retains the base characteristics that drew many of us to its predecessor: the free running through large, open environments with numerous obstacles in your way. Layered on top of this is the usual open-world smattering of side quests, collectables and hidden areas that can be unlocked for various bonuses and whatnot. There’s also a levelling system now, meaning some abilities are locked behind level gates and talent trees requiring you to do some additional work to unlock them. Gone for good though is the ability to use weapons something that was awkwardly implemented previously (some would say for good reason). At a structural level Mirror’s Edge Catalyst feels like a bolder, more ambitious version of what the original was but it’s difficult to say that a lot of these things are outright improvements.

The core mechanics are still solid so getting from point A to B, especially if you do it flawlessly, gives you that same exhilaration that its predecessor did. There were numerous times when I found myself gliding elegantly past all obstacles, enjoying the continuous momentum and slight wind noise in my ears. The additional mechanics open up the world a bit more, however since they’re gated to specific campaign missions it can be a bit of a let down to find out that you need them to get to a certain area. The much more open world does make it a bit more interesting, especially when you’re trying to run and hide, however the actual area you can explore is far smaller than the game would have you think. You can test this by simply trying to run in one direction and you’ll often find yourself hitting a wall in under a minute or two.

I don’t remember combat being particularly enjoyable in the original and Catalyst doesn’t do much to improve on the system. The addition of the focus meter, filled when you run and depleted as you get shot, encourage you to move around more than straight up fighting. However when it comes time to fight you’ll often find yourself with basically no where to go. So then you have to engage in the unfortunately awkward and repetitive combat, using specific moves to take down each of the different types of enemies. Until you unlock some of the higher finishing moves and extra damage bonuses this can take quite some time. In the original this tedium could be broken up a bit by snagging a weapon or two but without that option you’re unfortunately locked into the monotony of grapples, kicks and punches.

I’m sure open world fanatics will find a lot to love in the ample side missions and collectables that are strewn around Glass (the city in Catalyst) but for me they became an exercise in frustration. The time trails and courier missions can almost never be done in the first half dozen tries as any mistake costs you the valuable seconds you need to make it to the end. This means a 1 minute running mission will probably take you at least 10, especially if you don’t have all the upgrades that unlock the game’s various short cut routes. I’ll admit that some of this stems from my dislike of being shown things that I can’t get and having to go back to them later on, but I do feel like there’d be a better way to craft these kinds of missions to make them more attractive.

The stark colour scheme of the original Mirror’s Edge enabled the developers to use red as an indicator of where you should go. That’s still used in Catalyst, however the objects aren’t permanently red, they’re highlighted so by your “Runner’s Vision”. This works fine about 80% of the time however sometimes if you take a wrong turn, change your mind halfway climbing up something or even just randomly you’ll lose that highlighting completely. When you’re in the middle of escaping from something this usually means your death or it can mean many seconds of frustration as you rapidly click R3 to try and get it to come back. This is definitely one case where its predecessor did a far better job with visual cues and is my biggest gripe with Catalyst.

The story is very middle of the road, not terribly bad but so forgettable that 6 weeks on from playing it I’m struggling to come up with any memorable moments. Sure it provides the backdrop for some awesome things to happen (like the below screenshot) but it doesn’t do much more than that. I’m not pining for the previous story to make a return, there wasn’t much to write about home there either, however a stronger narrative could have made some of the more glaring issues fade into the background.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a moderately successful reboot of the classic title, broadening the scope of the game significantly whilst keeping much of the core in tact. The same stark colour scheme which has since been used in numerous other titles returns successfully, draped in current generation flair. The open world vision might not be entirely to my liking but the extra space to free roam is a welcome addition. The parkour mechanics remain solid, however the progression and combat systems are questionable additions. The story does little to tie everything together but at least does nothing to break it apart. Overall Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a good-but-not-great title, one that can be enjoyed and then lent out to other curious friends.

Rating: 7.5/10

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $89.99, $99.99 and $99.99 respectively. Game was played on the PlayStation 4 with 12 hours of total game time and 46% of the achievements unlocked.

Stellaris Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Stellaris: All Paths Lead to Conflict.

4X style games aren’t the kinds of games you start to kill an hour or two, they’re the ones you start when you want to kill days. I can remember whole LANs that were lost to games like Alpha Centauri, whoever was “dragging the chain” on their turn ridiculed endlessly until they were done. Indeed when I first spun up Stellaris, the latest game from Paradox Interactive, I recieved a message from one of my friends saying I wouldn’t have time to finish it. As the unfolding hours showed he was 100% correct as even 9 hours with this game feel like you’re barely even scratching the surface. Still I can see the appeal but unfortunately Stellaris tends towards repetition very rapidly, making longer sessions more of a chore than anything else.

Stellaris Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

You’re the leader of a young civilisation that’s just discovered the miracle of space flight. Like all good civilisations your first task is to set about exploring the universe in the hopes of finding other planets and solar systems ripe for exploitation. Along the way you’ll likely encounter other lifeforms (some more or less advanced than you), relics of civilisations of the past and all sorts of celestial phenomena. The tools you’ll have at your disposal will vary widely each time you attempt this and will greatly impact the way in which you expand into the universe. Whether your civilisation thrives or perishes is up to you and the decisions you make in your journey across the great black.

Like most games in the 4X genre Stellaris errs on the side of simple graphics without too much flair. Since you’ll be spending most of your time zoomed all the way out this doesn’t come up too often, although the lack of detail becomes glaringly obvious for things like the ship designer. Of course these low-fi graphics are a deliberate choice as most of your rig’s horsepower will be focused on churning through the simulations required. For the most part this works well however there are some rather glaring issues with the simulation system which can make your experience far more frustrating than it needs to be (more on that later).

Stellaris Review Screenshot Wallpaper Humble Beginnings

The core game of Stellaris is your typical 4X affair, centred around finding new planets, colonising them if you can and repeating that process ad infinitum. Stellaris shakes things up a little bit by taking a different approach to the upgrade/technology tree system, dividing all upgrades into 3 categories. Each of these categories can be researched by a scientist but what they can research is random. This means that you could, potentially, go the entire game without getting the technology required to build colony ships. Armies, rather than being pre-defined types, are all fully customisable. This means that there’s another element of randomness when it comes to combat as you can never be quite sure how well your army composition stacks up against another. Finally since your aim in Stellaris is to be a true galactic empire there’s a system to add planets to “sectors” which are then controlled by an AI for you. There’s still more to Stellaris however even summarising them all would take longer than I have to write and you to read, I’d wager.

Starting off Stellaris is a daunting prospect as there’s just so much thrown at you that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The tutorial system does a pretty good job of walking you through everything however it’ll probably take a couple retries before you get the hang of the basics. Once you get past that point however the early game can be quite interesting as you try to pick out the best upgrades, figure out where to best place your outposts/colonies and how you deal with the hostiles getting in your way. Indeed I think my favourite part of Stellaris is the early to mid game as it feels quite varied, progress is consistent and there are no major issues getting in your way. It’s once the game starts to creep past the 2 to 3 hour mark that things start to turn south, usually for a variety of different reasons.

Stellaris Review Screenshot Wallpaper Ship Designer

Typically you’ll spend the first part of your game defining your borders and trying to cordon off sectors that you can exploit later. Past a certain point though all your territory will be exploited and your borders brushing up against numerous potential foes. It’s at this point you have a tough decision to make: either start preparing for total war with someone (although you should probably do that anyway as it’ll likely come for your eventually) or start attempting diplomatic relations. The latter is, honestly, a total crap shoot as it seems most alien races aren’t willing to do anything unless you lavish them with resources. The former is the option you will be forced into at one point or another as there’s simply no way to expand your territory otherwise. Worse still if you do want to play pacifist there’s every chance that another race will simply not take a liking to you and completely decimate you, something that happened to me on several occasions.

The sector system, whilst a good idea, does little to reduce the burden of ensuring that your system is running as well as it can be. Sure you can set goals and whatnot but issues like a mixed species population, developing factions, etc. will all keep drawing your attention. As your empire grows these problems become more and more frequent making it incredibly draining to run an empire that spans more than a few sectors. Indeed I abandoned a couple games simply because they became too tiresome to continue with, instead wanting to try my hand at starting again to see if there was a better way to set myself up. In the end I didn’t find anything which is probably why I didn’t play as much as your average Paradox Interactive fan does (around 30+ hours, according to the data I have available).

Stellaris Review Screenshot Wallpaper Territory

There are also some niggling issues which need to be addressed. The fact that achievements can only be acquired in Ironman Mode is something the game doesn’t make obvious to you and is honestly a pain to get working. It took me more than 5 hours of game play to realise I hadn’t gotten a signle achievement and then another 30 minutes of getting the cloud save feature working so I could actually start a game with achievements on. Worse still the Ironman Mode saves every month, something that freezes your game session every minute or so if you’re playing on fastest. Honestly it’s more frustrating than its worth which is why I think most simply don’t bother. This isn’t to mention some quality of life improvements that are required, like being able to filter planets you’ve scanned by say habitable status, or your colonies by the type of shipyard you have and so on. Essentially a lot of it relies on your memory or simple brute forcing, something which takes much of the joy out of the experience. Indeed I’m not alone in thinking this either as many of the threads I read whilst trying to find these things led me to other players looking for the same features.

The emergent stories of Stellaris can be quite engaging though, both from the perspective of how you grew your empire to the various little pre-generated story titbits that are strewn throughout the universe. One of my empires tried, with varying levels of success, to infiltrate a less developed race to prep them for our arrival. Another alien race found out about this though and accused me of enslaving them. Whilst that was partially the point on my end (it was a strategic planet) the fact that they reacted in such a way was a surprise to me. This did mean the end of my civilisation however as the other alien race was far better equipped for war than I was.

Stellaris Review Screenshot Wallpaper Battle

Stellaris is an adequately competent 4X game with a bevy of unique features that keep the experience fresh and interesting, at least in the early to mid game. The random technology trees, procedurally generated galaxies and random alien races means every play through will be unique. However the game rapidly becomes a burden the longer you play it, even with the AI systems that are designed to make your life a little easier. The niggling issues that are still present even a month after release only exacerbate this problem, especially if you’re someone who wants to hunt down all the achievements. Overall I think Stellaris is worth the price of admission, especially for fans of Paradox or the 4X genre, but falls short of my “must play” list.

Rating: 7.5/10

Stellaris is available on PC right now for $39.99. Total game time was approximately 9 hours with 26% of the achievements unlocked.

Overwatch Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Overwatch: We Are All Heroes.

I came so close to breaking one of my rules for Overwatch, I really did.

If you’re one of my esteemed long time readers you’ll know that I steer clear of betas and greenlight games. My reasons for this are twofold; firstly reviewing unfinished products feels like I’m doing a disservice to the game and to you, dear reader. Secondly I’ve ruined final releases of games for myself numerous times by playing betas but there is one exception to that rule: Blizzard games. I’ve been in numerous Blizzard betas and every time they’ve made me hungry for the full game. Overwatch was no exception to this and I very nearly did a full review based on the beta alone. It really is that good.

Overwatch Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Overwatch takes place in the near future, some time after the resolution of the Omnic Crisis. This event took place after the Omnic artificial intelligence roused all robots around the world to rebel against humanity, causing war on a global scale. To combat this the Overwatch task force was formed, an elite group of soldiers who put an end to the uprising. For some time afterwards they stayed on as a peacekeeping force, ensuring that human and omnic alike could exist together in harmony. However rumours of corruption and foul play began to spread around Overwatch’s activities and they were eventually disbanded. However the time has come for them to band together again as the world needs them now more than ever.

Overwatch isn’t your typical low-poly aesthetic that Blizzard is known for, but you can definitely see and feel it’s influence on everything. The heavily stylised aesthetic is reminiscent of other team based shooters like Team Fortress 2 but retains Blizzard’s flair for colourful and vibrant environments. All of this comes to us via a new engine developed specifically for Overwatch, likely born out of the remnants of Blizzard’s cancelled next generation MMORPG: Titan. Indeed Overwatch carries with it the essence of what that game might have been with many of the levels and characters drawn directly from said game. It should be unsurprising then just how polished everything is; that Blizzard trademark of “only releasing when it’s done” aptly demonstrated here.

Overwatch Review Screenshot Wallpaper Typical Engagement

As I alluded to earlier Overwatch is a team based shooter, pitting you in a 6v6 fight against another team. Your team, if it’s well balanced, will be made up of 4 different kinds of characters (attack, defence, tank and support) chosen from 21 heroes that are available at launch. There’s only 2 types of game modes available currently: king of the hill, where you have to capture and hold a single point, and payload escort. You’ll gain profile levels as you play and each time you level up you’ll get a loot box filled with random cosmetics, voice lines and sprays that you can paint the level with. At its core Overwatch is astonishingly simple however the various combinations of heroes and maps means that game play stays fresh and challenging no matter how long you play for.

Combat is extremely slick, something which is likely unexpected given the fact that this is Blizzard’s first foray into the FPS genre. Each of the characters has a very unique personality with each of them handling very differently given their wide discrepancies in abilities. For the most though it sticks to the more traditional FPS tropes: main/alternate fire on weapons, non-regenerating health and a tendency towards more run and gun style play. This doesn’t mean it plays out the same way though as the various abilities each of the classes have make Overwatch feel anything but traditional.

Overwatch Review Screenshot Wallpaper Play of the Game

There’s two key things to take into consideration whenever you start an Overwatch match: the map and the enemy team’s composition. Some maps play better to some characters than others: the big open ones favouring characters with better mobility whilst the tight, cramped ones favouring those who can surprise you with a lethal dose of damage. There’s also some maps that will favour heroes with, let’s call them “cheap”, ways of instantly killing you by knocking you off the edge or down a bottomless well. I honestly didn’t pay it much mind during the closed beta however playing with an organised group more in the final release has shown me just how impactful the map is on which heroes will work and which ones don’t.

Overwatch encourages you to swap heroes to meet the situation at hand and you should if things aren’t working out for you. Blizzard has been open about the fact that the heroes aren’t balanced with 1v1 encounters in mind and each hero has a rival that will completely counter them. So an Overwatch match is all about adaptability, meaning that if you want to win games you’ll have to be comfortable switching things up on a regular basis. For someone like me who enjoys playing all different kinds of heroes (although I do main support) this is a great thing and is what has kept me coming back time and time again. However I can see how that might irk some players who might be coming from other competitive FPS games as there’s no one class to rule them all. Still I think Blizzards approach is far more welcoming to all kinds of players, something that is reflected in the sheer volume of people that have flocked to play Overwatch.

Overwatch Review Screenshot Wallpaper Lucio Top of the Charts

My only gripe that I have with Overwatch is the relatively basic matchmaking system which could do with a few tweaks to make it a little better. Once you join match that’s going to be the team you’re stuck with until people leave. This is great if you’re with a bunch of great players who help you win, however if you’re on a losing team that’s not working together it’s not so enjoyable. This is where Blizzard could take a leaf out of other FPS’ books as shaking up the team composition every match would make for much fairer and streamlined game play. Of course you don’t have to stay with the same team but having to leave and rejoin after every match can be a little tiresome. Strangely Blizzard isn’t the only one to make this mistake with other big name titles like Star Wars Battlefront making similar errors in judgement. It’s a small gripe but one I hope to see fixed in the not too distant future.

When I first heard that Blizzard was making a team based shooter I wasn’t holding my breath for any sort of depth to the story however in true Blizzard fashion the backstory to Overwatch’s world is deep, engrossing and just begging to be explored. The character biographies, the incredibly well done short films and the comics all build up a world that’s so much bigger than what’s explored in game. It really does make me ache for what Titan could have been as the story, and the characters Blizzard has built out of it, are some of the most interesting and deep that I’ve ever come across in this kind of game. I’m hopeful that Blizzard will keep exploring this world as the game progresses and, should the Warcraft movie commercial success be anything to go by, we could hopefully see it bridge out into other media as well.

Overwatch Review Screenshot Wallpaper Soldier 76

Overwatch is everything I’ve come to expect from a Blizzard game and so much more. Whilst I may pine for what may have been with Titan what was born out of its ashes is nothing short of incredible, demonstrating Blizzard’s dedication to quality games that are, above all, fun. The unique and varied classes, combined with the handful of maps, might not seem like much on the surface but in combination they provide near infinite amounts of replayability. The game is polished to the high standards Blizzard has set with all its previous titles, something which was clear even early on in the closed beta. However what clinches it all for me is the story that is woven in the background, something which I dearly hope Blizzard continues to explore. Overwatch has, for me, set the bar for what a competitive shooter should look like and I’m excited to see how it evolves.

Rating: 9.5/10

Overwatch is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $99.95 on all platforms. Game was played on the PC with approximately 10 hours played in the closed beta and 10 hours in the final release.

Doom Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

DOOM: Go to Hell.

When it comes to the FPS genre they simply don’t make them like they used to. Now I’m not saying this because I lust for the past as many of the characteristics of old school FPS games were born out of limitations more than anything else. Indeed many of the changes that your bog standard FPS has today were done specifically to address the deficiencies in the genre. However, as with all change, sometimes things are lost in the transition. The 2016 reboot of Doom looks to recapture the essence of the original, now 2 decades old, game play whilst amping it up with a modern embellishments.

Doom Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

You awake on top of a stone table, surrounded by candles and gore. Before you have time to think you’re set upon by other worldly demons, hell bent on your destruction. Beside you is a gun, your only means of making it out of here alive. Seconds later the room is strewn with the corpses of your enemies, devastated by your rage. It’s a scene that will play out time and time again as you battle your way through the facility you find yourself in. All of this because humanity needed to solve its energy needs by tapping directly into hell, indifferent to the risks that doing so might pose. You must stop them but as to why? Well, there’s only one way to find out.

Doom is the first game to be released on the id Tech 6 engine which, whilst designed by the venerable John Carmack, was principally developed by Tiago Sousa previously of CryTek fame. The main improvement comes via the reintroduction of dynamic lighting, something which helps alleviate the bland, lifeless feeling that id Tech 5 games had. Visually it’s quite impressive, even if the vast majority of it takes place in corridors or boxed in areas. What is most impressive however is how id Tech 6 is able to deliver consistent, smooth as glass performance even when there’s all sorts of mayhem going on. Hopefully id chooses to license the engine more widely this time around as I’m sure there’s a lot of developers out there who’d be keen to make use of this engine’s performance.

Doom Review Screenshot Wallpaper Resurrection

Unsurprisingly Doom takes its inspiration from its predecessors, bringing back the core FPS game play of yesteryear. Weapons don’t need to be reloaded, have alternate fire modes and you can carry each weapon with you, changing them as you see fit. There’s no regenerating health, instead you’ll be scouring the environment for health, armour and picking up slivers of health from downed enemies. There’s an upgrade system for both yourself and the weapons you carry with the required points coming to you via completing challenges, killing stuff and exploring the map to find collectibles. Other than that Doom plays out pretty much exactly how you’d expect it to, being the definition of a corridor shooter.

The combat is fast paced, intense and unforgiving. Most encounters occur in rooms (both large and small) and you’ll be fighting wave after wave of enemies before you’re allowed to progress to the next section. As you progress through the game the number and variety of enemies increases linearly, meaning you’ll need to be quick to adapt in order to make it through each challenge. You’ll never be a one weapon wonder as most enemies have their way of making a good chunk of your arsenal useless against them. For instance the Hell Knights love to get up close and personal, making any of the longer ranged weapons largely ineffective. Thankfully nearly all of the guns have a good amount of utility in them save for possibly the super shotgun which just seemed horrendously useless.

Doom Review Screenshot Wallpaper Argent Resonator

It bears mention that when I say “intense” I really mean it. Playing Doom for extended stretches is quite the exhausting mental experience, enough so that I’m sure the “Save and Exit” button shown to you at the end of each chapter was put there deliberately. Whilst throwing wave after wave of enemies at a player isn’t exactly a novel concept Doom makes it anything but boring. Indeed even in repeating the same encounter it’s not likely going to play out in much the same way, even if you know when and where everything is going to spawn. So unlike many other FPS games, which I tend to play for hours at a time, I couldn’t really do much more than a single chapter in Doom without needing a break. You’d think that would be a negative however, in this modern age of FPS games, it’s actually quite refreshing as few games (even ones like Dark Souls) have tired me out that quickly mentally.

The upgrade system is a nice touch, allowing you to mould the experience a little more to your liking. The map makes it easy to get all the tokens, trials and collectibles and most of the challenges are relatively easy to accomplish. Indeed I didn’t do every level to perfection and had pretty much everything at max about 2 hours before the end of the game, meaning you won’t be wanting for progression for long. Min/maxing the various stats that matter to you won’t make the game that much easier however it will give you more leeway in how encounters play out. The only upgrade that made a noticeable difference to my game play were the early upgrades to the amount of ammo I could carry as they meant I could use my weapon du’jour for that much longer.

Doom Review Screenshot Wallpaper Welcome To Hell

Doom is a mostly polished experience however there were a few rough edges that caught me out every so often. One particular section of the game seemed to randomly crash to desktop on me every 5 minutes or so. There was no error message or anything and it was gone after half an hour so I didn’t bother investigating further. Additionally some of the enemies with physics based abilities (like punting you across the map) can sometimes cause the inevitable stuck in the wall or falling through the level glitches. I did notice a patch that came out just after I finished my play through however so it’s likely that some of these issues have been smoothed out. For a first release on a new engine though it’s commendable that there were so few issues.

Now FPS games aren’t exactly renown for their deep stories and Doom isn’t much of an exception to this. Sure there’s a treasure trove of background locked away in the data files you can pick up but, for the most part, it’s just your stereotypical action movie-esque tropes. Realistically you’re not playing Doom for the plot, you’re doing it for the action, so the amount of effort put into the story is above what I’ve typically come to expect. They do lose a few points for screaming sequel right at the end however, a sin from which no game can ever be forgiven. Overall it’s above average but not something I’d recommend playing Doom for.

Doom Review Screenshot Wallpaper Samuel Hayden

Doom is an homage to the FPS games of old, dragging them kicking and screaming into the present day. The id Tech 6 engine shines with its debut title, showing that id can still produce exemplary technology even in John Carmack’s absence. The game is a fast paced, ultra-intense slugfest that’s sure to delight FPS gamers both young and old. It might not be a perfect experience but those slight foibles are easily forgotten. The story is above average for its class but not a feature that I think many will come to care about. Overall Doom does exactly what it set out to do: to bring FPS gaming back to its roots whilst paying tribute to the two decades of time that have passed since.

Rating: 9.0/10

DOOM is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99, $80 and $80 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 10 hours of total play time and 58% of the achievements unlocked.

Uncharted 4 A Theif's End Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End: Obsession’s Curse.

If there’s one game that you should buy a PlayStation for it’s Uncharted. Naughty Dog made a name for themselves by being a premier developer on Sony’s flagship console and each subsequent release of Uncharted was simply another demonstration of how they were a cut above the rest. Of course that would be nothing if the actual game itself wasn’t any good but the Uncharted series has been consistently good over it’s almost 10 year life span. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the final instalment in Nathan Drake’s story and the last title in the series that will be developed by Naughty Dog. True to their pedigree this last hurrah is a fitting end for the series and another testament to Naughty Dog’s exceptional craftsmanship when it comes to PlayStation titles.

Uncharted 4 A Theif's End Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Uncharted 4 explores the somewhat blurry past of the main protagonist, taking you back and forth between the present and the past. It’s set some time after the events of Uncharted 3 where Nate has settled down with Elena. He’s taken a job doing salvage and recovery work, a far cry from his adventuring days of years gone by. However adventure still calls to him with tantalizing prospects always nipping at his feet. It’s not until his past comes back to haunt him that he heeds the call once again. This last adventure could be the end of him or at least all the things he cares about but Nate’s obsession is a hard thing to ignore.

Uncharted 4 is an absolutely stunning game, one that clearly demonstrates just how powerful the PlayStation4 can be when it’s fully utilized. Everything from the wide open vistas of the gorgeous tropical islands to the dark, cramped caves that you explore is brimming with detail. The extensive use of modern lighting effects, particle systems and an incredibly detailed physics system makes for some of the most realistic and immersive environments that I’ve seen to date. This is shown best by the screenshots I captured below, all of which are done in-game, not during a cinematic. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise honestly as this is what Naughty Dog is known for doing but, once again, Uncharted 4 sets the bar for all future PlayStation4 titles to beat.

For long time fans of the series Uncharted 4’s game play will feel very familiar, retaining all the core mechanics of the previous games. You’ll be running, jumping and climbing your way through all sorts of environments, most of which will be falling down around you while you do it. Combat comes in the tried and true 3rd person shooter format with the same 2 weapon limitation and infinite health regeneration. The stealth system has been improved somewhat, allowing you to tag enemies before making your way around the level to take them out. There’s also extensive vehicle sections which allow you to 4WD yourself around various places giving you a nice change of pace from the usual running and jumping. Lastly you’ll be solving various weird and wonderful puzzles, some of which do require a good deal of lateral thinking to solve. All in all Uncharted 4 is, at a game play level, a final evolution of the series more than it is a revolutionary one.

Combat largely feels the same as its predecessors as you’ll be going from cover to cover, seeking out enemies and taking them out as you see fit. Weapons in the same category as each other feel largely the same, with the only differences being in special weapons like a grenade launch or a sniper rifle. Variation in the enemies you’ll fight is also relatively low with their toughness directly related to how much armour they’re wearing. This isn’t to say that the combat isn’t exciting or satisfying, it most certainly can be when you make it through in one go, it’s just nothing we haven’t seen before. However it is one of the most polished versions of this kind of game play that I’ve seen.

Stealth feels a little better than it did in previous titles however it’s still missing a few additional mechanics that would polish some of the rougher edges. For instance whilst you can run away to regain “stealth” status there’s no other way in which to regain it. It also seems like there are no silenced weapons in this game (I couldn’t find any at least) which means that there are some situations where doing it all by stealth is either incredibly difficult or just flat out impossible. Lastly since there’s literally no benefit to doing everything quietly you might as well just run and gun your way through it all since that’s so much quicker and less prone to mistakes. Indeed if you asked me what I think Uncharted 4’s weakest point was it would be this one mechanic as it’s just not up to the same standard as the rest of the game is.

Exploration has been augmented in Uncharted 4 by the addition of a grappling hook, something which strangely didn’t make an appearance in previous titles despite the story showing Drake using one often in his earlier days. This opens up a lot of the environments, allowing the developers to make them far more expansive but still enabling the player to explore them. The grappling hook also allows for some ludicrous action movie-esque scenes to take place, something which I’m definitely not adverse to. The climbing is the same as it always was which is not to say it’s bad, just that climbing in these games is a pretty passive affair. Again it’s like many elements of Uncharted 4’s game play: unoriginal but refined and polished.

The addition of vehicle sections is one of the nicer touches that Naughty Dog added to Uncharted 4 as it further opens up the environments that you’re able to explore. As a result Uncharted 4 feels so much more expansive than its predecessors did. Of course this also makes looking for the various bits of hidden treasure just that little bit more frustrating as there’s so much more area to explore. I mostly gave up on doing that unless I saw what looked like an obvious hiding spot as you could lose dozens of hours trying to find everything. I’m sure there’s a non-zero percentage of players that will love that however.

Uncharted 4’s story is everything it should be, from the writing to the voice acting to the motion capture. All of the performances in Uncharted 4 are top notch which helps to bring the on-screen visuals to life. Each of the elements I’ve discussed so far are great on their own however Naughty Dog has managed to combine them all together seamlessly into a great experience. The only gripe I have is that the story starts to drag around the last quarter or so but the finale is worth it. I really don’t want to say much more as you really should just play it, especially if you’ve been following the series since inception.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End yet again demonstrates Naughty Dog’s domination of the PlayStation 4, showcasing their expertise in creating experiences on this platform. It is by far the best looking game on PlayStation 4 to date and will be for a while to come. The core game, whilst evolutionary and familiar, is extremely well done. The improvements might be formulaic but the entire experience is tied together so well that it’s easy to overlook those aspects. As always the story is well done with the writers, voice and motion capture actors all coming together to produce a great performance. Uncharted 4, in my opinion, is the flagship title for the PlayStation 4 and a must play for anyone who owns this console.

Rating: 9.25/10

Uncharted 4 is available on PlayStation 4 right now for $77. Total play time was approximately 12 hours with 11% of the trophies unlocked.

Battleborn Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Battleborn: We Shall Not Go Quietly Into The Night.

Having been playing games for as long as I have it’s interesting to see certain ideas come and go. I remember about 5 years ago a quirky little offshoot of the Spore franchise was released, called Darkspore. In it you played a creature that you could modify with different pieces of…other creatures, much like you could in the original Spore game. You acquired these by defeating enemies, usually co-operatively with other players. Whilst it was never really mainstream it did manage to stick around until March this year before closing. Battleborn is a similar idea brought to us care of Gearbox, renowned for their prowess in developing loot-focused FPS RPGs. However its release coincided with the open beta weekend of Overwatch. Whilst they are decidedly different games it’s going to be a challenge for Battleborn to shine in Overwatch’s shadow, even with Gearbox’s pedigree behind it.

Battleborn Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

The universe is dying. A cataclysmic event has seen all the planets and stars die out, leaving behind nothing but darkness. There is but one star left, Solus, and all the remaining life forms have gathered around it in hopes of protecting it. However many evil forces would see Solus meet its end long before its due. That is where you come in, dear Battleborn, being part of an elite group charged with defending Solus from all the threats it faces. Of course we understand that your services aren’t free and you’ll have your share of phat lewts and credits to make it worth your while. So, are you ready to save the universe?

Battleborn brings with it Gearbox’s trademark cell shaded aesthetic that was made popular with the Borderlands series. Graphically there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of improvements since The Pre-Sequel, likely because they’re both powered by the same Unreal 3 engine under the hood. However there’s usually quite a lot more going on in Battleborn so keeping the graphics at a similar level is likely to ensure it remains playable under load. In that respect it does well being able to maintain constant framerates even when there’s a cacophony of destruction happening on screen. I would have liked a few more in-game options to tweak the visuals up a little more like AA or something similar (I can’t remember seeing an option for that in-game).

Battleborn Review Screenshot Wallpaper Bagranth the Gunhulk

Mechanically Battleborn feels very similar to Borderlands in some respects, what with it being a FPS RPG. However the progression system is vastly different with in-game levels and talent tree choices being for that particular mission or PVP match only. You’ll still get oodles of loot though, most of which is not character specific and thus can be used to customize any of the Battleborns you have unlocked. There are character and player levels however and each of those will reward you with new perks, characters and various cosmetics. The core game mechanic can either be a kind of single-instance PVE mission or a straight up PVP match. Either of them will last about 30 minutes in total and can be played solo or in groups. If it’s sounding like there’s a lot going on in Battleborn then you’re right and it’s really quite hard to summarize it in a single paragraph. If you ever played Darkspore though a lot of this will seem familiar to you as it largely similar, just with Gearbox’s usual flair for the comic and ludicrous layered on top.

Matches or missions start out the same: you and your team pick out which characters you want to use. Whilst you could say that all characters fit into the tank/dps/support paradigm most of them broach more than one of those categories. Group composition still matters however as lack of sustain, damage or the ability to soak up damage will make your life a lot harder than it should be. Once you’ve chosen your characters you’re stuck with them until the mission is over, something which can be a little annoying if you come up against another group that counters you well. Still, just like with other MOBAs, even heroes that counter each other can be overcome with skill and good teamwork, something which you’ll need a lot of to succeed in Battleborn.

Battleborn Review Screenshot Wallpaper Huntsman

The in-game progression system, whereby you can get up to 10 levels per game and choose talents to suit, is an interesting twist. It encourages you to experiment with different combinations of talents between games and helps ensure that playing the same character over and over doesn’t get boring. Similarly the loot you get through playing, which has to be activated with the in-match currency of shards, allows you to further refine your character to the situation at hand. One gripe I will make here is that the levelling system can seem to vary wildly. Sometimes I’d get level after level whilst other times, seemingly doing the same thing I was doing before, would result in a trickle of XP. This isn’t too much of an issue in the PVE scenarios however for PVP it can make quite a huge difference. I’m sure there’s an explanation for this somewhere but it’s not explained clearly in game.

Of course the hook that Gearbox built into Battleborn is the loot which comes to you via random drops or purchasing loot packs using in-game currency. The attributes are random, as is the loot quality, meaning that you’ll be working for some time to get that perfect piece of kit for your load out. I lucked out with a few good drops early on which made my healer classes quite powerful and hence tended to play them more often than not. If you’re the kind of person who spent many hours farming pearlescents then I’m sure this kind of loot system will appeal to you. However it does mean there’s a drastic gap between new and old players, something which can become readily apparent in the PVP matches. A few decent drops can close that gap a little bit, but a person with all greens is going to be far less effective than someone who’s got legendaries across the board.

Battleborn Review Screenshot Wallpaper Loot

Initially Battleborn is quite overwhelming as there’s just so much going on at once it’s hard to get a handle on it all. After a few hours though things start to make sense at it becomes one of those oh-so-fun min/maxing problems that RPG fans like me love. If gear is what you’re after you are best placed to do the PVE missions although getting a good group (who will mean you get more loot) can be a little hard. You can, of course, run this with friends which would make the whole thing a lot easier. Unlocking all the Battleborns will take some time however as even with my 13 hours of play time I was barely halfway through unlocking them all. I’m sure this is by design however as Gearbox is hoping that Battleborn will be the game to hook its fans for the next few years.

One small gripe I want to level at Battleborn was some of the limits of the matchmaking system. You can’t, for instance, queue for specific missions. If you’re trying to complete the main quest line this can be rather frustrating, especially when people don’t vote for the map you want to do. Additionally should the matchmaking system not find someone for you to group with it’ll put you in solo, something which I think most players would not want. Indeed there’s an option to do it privately so, by definition, choosing matchmaking means you want to play with others. This could be easily fixed by including an option to find a full group before proceeding, something which I would’ve gladly used instead of trying to struggle through a mission myself or with just one other player.

The story of Battleborn comes with Gearbox’s usual flair for the comedic and absurd. It definitely helps to lighten up what can otherwise be a bit of a dull grind, especially on some of the longer missions, although it does mean that the story doesn’t go terribly deep. Of course you’re not playing Battleborn for the story, you’re doing it for the loot, so the fact that most characters are fleshed out well is just a bonus. It looks like Gearbox are planning additional PVE story missions as part of their DLC too which will only further expand the story. Overall it’s a solid story experience that keeps it light and fun, as we’ve come to expect.

Battleborn Review Screenshot Wallpaper Lothar Rendain

Battleborn brings a lot to the table, so much so that its hard to describe the game in a few sentences. At its heart it shares the same FPS RPG mechanics that Gearbox developed so well with the Borderlands series but the differences between the two games could not be more stark. The inclusion of both PVE and PVP game modes, both of which offer solid avenues of progression, means that Battleborn is targeted to a much wider audience than the gun grinders of Borderlands. Suffice to say if like shooting things, characters that bring with them a truckload of levity and love a good loot chase then Battleborn is right up your alley.

Rating: 8.75/10

Battleborn is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $59.99, $77 and $77 respectively. Game was played on the PC with approximately 13 hours of total play time and 24% of the achievements unlocked.

SquareCells Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

SquareCells: Mine Sweeper’s Evil Twin.

I have a love/hate relationship with pure logic puzzle games. On the one hand I do enjoy the challenge they provide, especially when they encourage you to think in new ways in order to solve a problem. On the other hand however they tend to have strict solutions, something which irritates me when I find what I think is a viable solution. SquareCells is the latest game I decided to frustrate myself with and, whilst I’m sure it’s logically sound, I can’t help but feel that the puzzle design is sometimes lacking the required information in order to solve it correctly.

SquareCells Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

The rules of SquareCells are relatively simple, you have to remove a certain number of blocks based on a series of numbers provided. These numbers can indicate how many cells are in a particular row or column, how they’re grouped together or even the order in which they appear. The rules are introduced slowly so you have a chance to get a feel for them before another layer of complexity gets added in. The boards also get substantially larger over time making simply guessing the correct squares that much harder. You can, of course, click your way through everything to find the solution and then go back and redo the puzzle but that feels like cheating yourself more than anything else.

For the first two “worlds” I felt like there was a pretty logical way to approach most of the puzzles. You had to find the single row which was immutable, I.E. one that was fully described by it’s row numbers. Then from there you could continue to extrapolate the composition of the other rows. However past row 3 I couldn’t seem to locate the first row which often meant I had to take a few wild guesses in order to get started. Whilst I’m sure I was missing something it certainly seemed like some puzzles didn’t have enough information to get you past that initial hump. This, of course, only really matters if you’re wanting to do the puzzle right on the first go but going back and redoing puzzles feels counter to the SquareCell’s purpose.

There were a couple of the smaller puzzles which I felt like I found a perfectly valid solution to which, sadly, weren’t correct. I get that this isn’t a game that allows for emergent behaviour but it did annoy me that a solution I thought should work didn’t. Upon closer inspection I did see that there was some information I wasn’t incorporating (number of blocks left to remove) but that didn’t make me feel any better.

SquareCells Review Screenshot Wallpaper Insufficient Information

Overall I felt SquareCells was a very well designed logic puzzle game even if I felt that I was operating on less information than what was required to complete it. Indeed given enough time I’m sure I could’ve figured out the requisite tricks to pass every level perfectly however the reward just wasn’t there to keep me coming back. Still I’m also the kind of person who gets inappropriately mad when trying to complete a sudoku puzzle so maybe I’m not the best judge for a game like SquareCells.

Rating: 7/10

SquareCells is available on PC right now for $2.99. Total play time was 2 hours with 43% of the achievements unlocked.

Dark Souls 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Dark Souls III: Praise the Sun!

The Souls series of games require a certain kind of mindset if you are to enjoy them. It’s simply not about being a good gamer as many of my highly skilled gamer friends find little joy in this series. No it’s more about overcoming the numerous, overly punishing barriers that the game throws at you. That moment when you take down the boss that’s been blocking you for hours, where you can scream obscenities and flip off your TV, is a feeling few games are able to evoke. Dark Souls III doesn’t differ much from its proven formula and, as my first true Souls game, managed to evoke that same “fuck you” attitude that drew me deep into its predecessor Bloodborne.

Dark Souls 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

The age of fire is coming to an end, a time where all are able to rise from death within the flames of a bonfire. It is time for the 5 lords of cinder to come back to their thrones and link the first flame, which will prolong the age once again. However many of the lords have abandoned their posts, seeing the endless cycle of rebirth in the flames as a curse. Ashen One, you have arisen once again and have been chosen to bring the lords back to their thrones and prevent the age of dark.

Details of Dark Souls III’s graphical engine are scarce but it’s clear that there’s been a significant overhaul of the underlying engine from previous series. Whilst the graphics are no where near the cutting edge (completely maxed out settings still ran at 100+ fps on my machine) the environments are more expansive, the number of enemies on screen increased and they’ve been far more generous with the lighting effects. The greater graphical horsepower at their disposal then has been used to amplify, rather than refine, the Dark Souls experience. The aesthetic remains largely the same as it has, with the exception being the ash and ember effects that have been lavished across everything. All this being said Dark Souls III does have many screenshot worthy moments, some of which I’ll show off here.

Dark Souls 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Boreal Valley

The Souls formula hasn’t changed much in Dark Souls III with the majority of the mechanics being familiar to fans of the series. Whilst the changes are no where near as drastic as they were in Bloodborne many of the ideas have made their way across. The combat retains the Souls series essence, bringing back the shield but also making it more action oriented than previous instalments. The estus flask makes a return with a twist, it’s charges are split between HP restoration and FP (mana) restoration. Armour however has been played down somewhat with the focus now on your sword and shields as the main upgradeable items. The humanity mechanic remains however now it’s being “embered”, giving the same benefits and nice fiery glow to your character. So overall Dark Souls III is likely to feel like much of the same with a few small tweaks that were most certainly Bloodborne inspired.

Combat is, as it always in the Souls games, incredibly challenging and unabashedly unforgiving. To me Dark Souls III felt a lot easier than Bloodborne did however I’m not sure if that’s because I’m now used to the Souls’ series quirks. This is not to say I breezed through the game, far from it, indeed Dark Souls III quickly evoked the same levels of rage that Bloodborne did before. The shield mechanic certainly took some getting used to however I found it much easier to understand than Bloodborne’s gun/riposte mechanic. What was interesting to me was the sheer amount of variety, both in terms of the weapons and potential ways to build out your character. As someone who likes to min/max everything this was initially quite frustrating but after a while it became a fun little quest in developing the best character for me.

Dark Souls 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Stats

In the end I settled on a very similar build to what I used in Bloodborne: straight STR whilst focusing on the other attributes which had low soft caps. For the first quarter of the game this was pretty great however it quickly became apparent I’d have to seek out some very specific gear to make it work long term. Thankfully, after hours of farming darkwraiths, I had the required Dark Sword and a heavy gem that gave me a great scaling sword that lasted me for the rest of the game. I still had various weapons and armour to cheese some fights but I never invested much into them. Indeed I was a little annoyed that armour didn’t have as much of an impact as it did in Bloodborne however that did make it easier to switch up and adapt to fights as I needed to. If it’s not clear already the depth and breadth of Dark Souls III’s combat and gearing system is streets ahead of many similar action RPGs and should provide countless hours of replayability.

Progression comes in much the same format as it always has: you farm souls, take them back to the shrine and then spend them on attribute points. What each point will get you has been tweaked a little bit so it’s worthwhile looking up the stat curves and figuring out what you’ll need. The secondary upgrade system is your armour and shields which will use a varying array of upgrade materials found throughout the game. I rarely found myself wanting for either, especially after long item farming runs that netted me a truckload of souls. There’s also a couple tertiary upgrade items in the form of estus shards (gives you more charges) and undead bone shards (make your flasks more effective). If you do a modicum of exploring you’re not likely to miss any of these but, even if you do, they’re usually not more than a few minutes of running to find anyway. Suffice to say you won’t find yourself wanting for progression in Dark Souls III, something which helps when you’re stuck on a boss for a long period of time.

Dark Souls 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Irithyll of the Boreal Valley

The boss fights are as challenging as they always are and for the most part are linearly scaled up in difficulty. There are, of course, a few gear/level check bosses that will likely hand your ass to you if you’re not sufficiently progressed. However you’re likely to run up against a few that are strongest where you’re weakest and vice versa, something which can provide challenge and frustration in equal amounts. These bosses will likely require you to adapt your playstyle to suit them, something which can take quite some time. Pontiff Sulyvahn and the Dancer of the Boreal Valley for instance are both bosses that can be relatively easily defeated with proper use of shield. As someone who’s used to rolling when he’s in trouble shifting my playstyle to these bosses was probably one of the most challenging things I had to do.

I chose to play my game online and I have to say that the multiplayer experience, at least at launch, was a little lacklustre. I spent hours in embered form and only got invaded once and I’m guessing they simply timed out as I never saw them. When I attempted to recruit others to help with a boss I’d often get the dreaded “Unable to summon phantom” message until I logged out and back in again. Even then I often had phantoms unable to join me in the fight, instead having them running up against the fog wall helplessly. I’m all for the lack of hand holding in the core game however when it comes to issues like this I’d like a bit more info than what was provided.

Dark Souls 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Praise the...Eclipse

From a core game perspective Dark Souls III is well polished although like its predecessors there are some rough edges. Hit detection is fine about 95% of the time however there are a bunch of edge cases where things get really squirrelly. Enemies have retained the ability to hit through walls, even when they should be unable to see you. Walls have varying ability to stop your swing, sometimes allowing you to swing right through them and other times stopping you on a wispy branch. There’s also the whole debacle about poise working or not working something which could be easily clarified by FROM if they’d just take the time. None of these issues will stop you from completing the game however they can end an otherwise productive session, especially if these raise their ugly heads at the end of a boss fight.

Dark Souls III does a good job of setting the scene early on however, like all Souls games, it rapidly descends into vague allusions and tiny nuggets of lore hidden in all manner of places. This does make for good discussion and speculation but it does little to help drive the game forward. Dark Souls III thankfully is so strong mechanically that this doesn’t matter but I can’t help but feel it would be that much better with a little more meat in the story elements. This is probably my biggest issue with the Souls series games overall as someone who tends to favour a good story over mechanics, if given the choice. Still at the very least Dark Souls III doesn’t extol itself as a deep, story first game so it’s hard to lay criticism on it for that.

Dark Souls 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Lords of Ember

Dark Souls III brings with it much of the same with a twist of the new, much to the delight of long time fans of the series. It is as unforgiving as its predecessors were, punishing you heavily even before you begin to overextend yourself. The combat, upgrade and progression systems are all deep, complex and rewarding, gifting those who spend time to unlock their secrets with power will beyond their station. The graphics might not win any awards but they are definite steps up for the series, both in terms of quality and scale. It’s not without faults, many of which have been present in previous incarnations, and the vague story isn’t likely to be the one feature that wins you over. Despite those flaws however Dark Souls III is a challenging and rewarding title that does not care if you play it, but you should.

Rating: 9.25/10

Dark Souls III is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 for $59.99, $89 and $89 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 32 hours of total play time and 49% of the achievements unlocked.