There’s been few IPs that have managed to achieve the same level of success that Wolfenstein series has. Each new instalment went from strength to strength, refining their formula for old-school inspired corridor shooter action whilst simultaneously working to improve their storytelling by leaps and bounds. So, as you’d expect, my expectations for Wolfenstein: Youngblood were high as I felt Machine Games had really locked their sights on what mattered. However that’s not the case with this instalment in the Wolfenstein franchise as it’s instead this kind of semi-open world co-op hybrid that’s light on the story and, frankly, pretty much everything else I’ve come to expect from this new breed of Wolfenstein games. I don’t appear to be the only one thinking this either and I think there’s a lot of us questioning the idea behind releasing 2 spin off games (the other being Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot) rather than a single, fully fledged one.
It’s 20 years since the events of The New Colossus and most of the world is now free of Nazi control. BJ and Anya have returned to America and have spent their time raising their twin girls, Jessica and Sophia, out on their ranch, teaching them the skills they’ll need to survive in this still hostile world. However one day BJ mysteriously disappears. Fearing the worst Jessica, and Sophia search for clues about where he might have gone and discover a hidden room in the attic with a map indicating Blazkowicz traveled to Nazi-occupied Neu-Paris to meet the French Resistance. Believing that American authorities will not follow Blazkowicz to Nazi France, the girls steal an FBI helicopter and a pair of powered armor suits and head for France. So begins your Nazi killing adventure as one of the twins.
Youngblood is still on id Tech 6 (the debut id Tech 7 game will be DOOM Eternal) and looks as good as it ever did. Much like my previous experiences with new Wolfenstein games though there was a lot of tweaking needed to get it looking good and performing well initially, only for me to discover that I hadn’t yet updated to the newest drivers again which made everything work perfectly. It just goes to show just how much optimisation the respective driver teams must do as it was a complete mess before I updated, chugging constantly no matter what settings I changed. Afterwards it much like I remembered although there was a noticeable decrease in environment detail, I assume due to the fact that it’s supposed to be more open-worldy. In any case it has me excited for what DOOM Eternal will look like though as it’s been a little while between drinks for id Tech engine upgrades.
Deviating significantly from the series’ formula so far Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a co-op, open-world-ish FPS game. After a few short initial missions you’re then left to run around Nazi occupied Paris to your heart’s content: exploring the world, picking up side missions, following the main story lines and all of the usual stuff you’d expect in an open world game. You can play co-op or solo, with the latter granting you an AI partner who’s not completely useless but not for the reasons you’d first assume. There’s a much heavier focus on levelling with the more powerful skill and gun upgrades locked behind levels which don’t come easy as you start to creep up in power. All being said the changes really don’t feel like they’re for the better, even in a spin-off game that might’ve just been some overwrought experiment meant to buy time between Wolfenstein 2 and 3.
Combat has also taken a more RPG bent, trading off the rapid pace of its predecessors for a more bullet-spongy kind of affair. The AI of all enemies, and I really do mean all of them, is complete pants as all they really do is shoot whilst they walk towards you. Nearly all of them can be cheesed in some way most often by positioning in such a way you can hit them but they can’t hit back. This even works for the brother tower protectors who go from being these scary mecha-nightmares to simple bullet soaks with just the right angle through a doorway. Probably the worst thing though is the lack of ammo, even with the upgraded ammo talents, as you’ll constantly run out of it for your weapon of choice. This is made all the more painful by the armour matching mechanic, requiring you to flip between guns when you come up against enemies with certain armour types. So if you, like me, try to min/max you’ll only have a handful of weapons properly upgraded and once those two are out of ammo you’ll be fighting long, slow battles until you can find some more.
Progression comes in a relatively steady stream at first and then seems to slow down considerably past level 30. That doesn’t matter a whole lot since it seems that most enemies will be matches to your level type with only a handful having strict higher levels set. Even those are still defeatable, they’ll just take that many more bullets to take down. None of the upgrades, both skill and weapon, feel particularly impactful however as most of them are just incremental upgrades to things you already have. To be sure there’s definitely a vast difference between a level 1 player and a level 30 one but with auto-scaling enemies and only minor upgrades between levels it certainly doesn’t feel like you’re really that much more powerful.
I didn’t get a chance to try it co-op (even though one of my mates has it) but in all honesty I don’t think it would’ve changed much of the experience. There’s nothing really in the game that would make it better with a friend as all the co-op mechanics amount to are your usual “you need 2 players to do this” kind of thing. I mean sure, there’s always a bit of fun banter when you’re playing with mates, but given the rather mediocre state the game is in you’re likely going to spend most of your time laughing at the game rather than with it.
The game appears to have been built with grander aspirations in mind as it comes bundled with things I really didn’t expect from the franchise. For starters there’s microtransactions which admittedly are limited to just cosmetic items but as far as I can tell there’s no other way to acquire them through playing in game. Further there’s daily and weekly missions which would indicate that the devs think this is the kind of game that you’ll keep coming back to often to progress your character. I really don’t know what kind of person would either spend money on a co-op only game or come back to level after multiple weeks as there’s really no reason to.
I was level 30-something by the end and whilst it wasn’t exactly a breeze to get through most sections (mostly due to the aforementioned issues) I certainly didn’t feel like I needed to go back and grind out a bunch of missions in order to move forward. Indeed the last boss could be cheesed in much the same way as the other bosses so it wasn’t like there was a lot to challenge me there. So who the heck are these mechanics, copied directly from the looter-shooter playbook, built into this co-op game? I really have no clue.
Co-op and open world games invite jankiness and Wolfenstein: Youngblood is absolutely no exception. Throughout the game I had all sorts of weird and wonderful things happen, most notably: enemies clipping through walls (and sometimes getting stuck there), my AI partner teleporting randomly around the room whilst refusing to press a switch to move forward, interacting with objects causing me to get stuck there and so on. It certainly feels like the id Tech 6 engine wasn’t built with this kind of purpose in mind as from playing previous games built on it I know it’s not exactly prone to having issues like this.
Whilst Machine Games and Arkane Studios would have you believe that Youngblood is a spin-off it’s really anything but as the events that happen in it are part of the core story. The narrative functions mostly as a time warp to move everything forward 20 years for the upcoming Wolfenstein 3 whilst also adding in a few more characters which I’m sure will make an appearance. Indeed for all the time you’ll spend in the game nothing much of consequence really happens. Sure, Jessica and Sophia get fleshed out, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that they won’t be the main characters in Wolfenstein’s final instalment. For a series that had been actively improving its storytelling I had hoped we’d get something from Youngblood but it seems that wasn’t to be.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is an unfortunate misstep for the franchise; an experiment that I hope the developers see really didn’t pay off. All of the changes made don’t do anything to make the game better than its predecessors and, in many cases, actively makes it worse. I don’t think any of my gripes really bear repeating in my closing statement so I’ll just leave you with this: if you were looking for another juicy instalment in the Wolfenstein series than this isn’t it for you. You’re going to (hopefully) be far better served by Wolfenstein 3 when it comes out.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch right now for $49.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 7 hours playtime and 40% of the achievements unlocked.
It’s been 8 years since id released Rage and I think I speak for most gamers when I say we didn’t expect to see a sequel to it. At the time it was an amazing demonstration of what the new id Tech 5 but the game itself was sorely lacking. What was particularly odd was that, had the game just been a grand marketing exercise, the game would’ve done its job exceptionally well as it demonstrated graphics beyond its time that was accessible to a very large crowd. However it was only ever slated to be used internally and powered a meagre 7 (well, 5 technically) over the course of its lifetime. So when along came Rage 2, co-developed by Avalanche studios and id, I was interested to see where they’d take this IP but didn’t have high hopes for what it might deliver. Much like its predecessor there’s some great things about Rage 2 but the whole package is somewhat lacking, disappointing considering there’s 2 veteran developer houses behind this title.
Rage 2 takes place 30 years after the events of the original and shows a world that’s beginning to rebuild after the Authority was pushed back. It seems that the Authority wasn’t lying fallow and they unleash a devastating attack on your home base. Your settlement is all but wiped out in the resulting clash, saved only at the last second when you don a fallen Ranger’s suit of armour and proceed to wreak havoc with the new powers it grants you. It’s then you learn of a secret plan to destroy the Authority once and for all: Project Dagger. To complete it you’ll need the help of 3 key people in the wasteland and they’re not going to help you for free. So begins your journey into the wild wasteland left behind after the apocalypse brought by 99942 Apophis but how it unfolds is (somewhat) up to you.
Now whilst my rig is old-ish it’s by no means a slouch and so when I booted up Rage 2 to find it blurry I wondered what the heck was going on. Was it finally getting to that time when my system just wasn’t up to snuff? Did the auto-configure take a look at my computer, scoff silently, and set everything to low just to make sure I wasn’t playing a slideshow? Nope, it seems that by default dynamic rendering size is set quite aggressively and even for those rocking the latest cards you could end up with a blurry mess as the game tries to maintain 60fps. Funny thing is once I disabled everything the game ran perfectly well and looked far better to boot. Now this game isn’t running id tech unfortunately, it comes to us via the Apex engine developed by Avalanche studios which has powered other games like Just Cause 4. Comparatively Rage 2 looks a hell of a lot better but it’s far from the graphic marvel that its predecessor was. I must say as someone who’s been a big fan of the id Tech games for a long time I think it was a bit of a misstep not to use it here but I guess Avalanche must’ve been doing most of the heavy lifting on this project.
Whilst Rage 2 retains the spirit of the original’s mechanical stylings it’s a very different game to its predecessor. It’s still an open world/FPS hybrid but they’ve thrown in all the usual open world trappings we’ve come to expect and numerous RPG inspired upgrade systems just for good measure. Cars are once again a central theme with their own upgrade paths, missions and special mechanics but it’s largely a part of the game you can ignore if you so wish. There’s a heavier focus on crafting although it’s mostly rudimentary, just enabling you to craft some of consumables you’ll be blowing through routinely. It definitely feels like a more well rounded game than its predecessor does but many of these systems are quite shallow in their implementation. Indeed in the almost 9 hours I spent with it I maxed pretty much everything out, leaving little more for me to do. Given that the original, which I swore I originally gave up on finishing but apparently stuck through to the end, clocked in at 12 with much less going on you can get a sense of what I’m alluding to.
Combat is one of the standout features of Rage 2, feeling very DOOM like in its implementation. The main mechanic is overcharge which fills up as you kill enemies. The more you chain together the higher the multiplier ticks up which, when it’s maxed out at 10x, can fully charge your meter in 2-ish kills. This encourages aggressive gun play which I thoroughly enjoy although early on you won’t have the upgrades required to sustain that indefinitely. I didn’t go hunting around for the arks so I didn’t get all the weapons but I was perfectly fine standardising on the assault rifle and shotgun to get things done. The added abilities, whilst incredibly awkward to use, do help to break up the monotony of killing wave after wave of dudes, especially when you get some of the more interesting upgrades. Unfortunately the game gets pretty stagnant quickly as the enemy variety is quite low, especially with the boss fights which are all just carbon copies of each other (save for the final one). Indeed most of the game suffers from heavy asset reuse with many of the places in the open world being effectively identical to each other with just a few things changed.
The cars also feel like this thing that should mean a lot more than they do given the amount of driving you’ll have to do. I’m not sure if I’m not getting this or something but as far as I can tell there’s only one car you can upgrade, the first one you get, with all the others being set at whatever they come with. Your car is also the only one that comes with limited ammunition which is rare as hen’s teeth in the open world, necessitating regular trips back to base to make sure that you’re fully stocked up. That being said the default car, even without upgrades, is perfectly sufficient for everything you need to do in the game. Sure the upgrades make some things easier (like taking on sentry turrets) but there are usually even easier ways of doing those things than using your car. The one exception to this is doing the convoy raids which were honestly pretty damn fun, mostly because there was a lot of variety between them. Again this seems to follow the thread for the entire game: one standout thing mashed in with a whole bunch of other mediocre nonsense.
The numerous upgrade systems (there 4 total) are a bit overwhelming to start off with but thankfully most of them can be progressed by simply playing the game how you wish. Of course figuring out how to spend your various resources on things is a bit of a balancing act to start off with as there’s a smattering of things that will accelerate your progress but they’ll come at the cost of quality of life features. Now you might be thinking that’s a smart game design choice but I don’t think it’s deliberate. More I think it’s that they wanted to cram as much stuff in there so that there was a motivation to drive you to do all the things in the open world. If you’re 100%ing this game then sure, you’re going to have to do a lot of things, but for most of us mere mortals I think we’re going to get away with doing the bare minimum amount of grinding required. Towards the end of my playthrough I was just dumping points in randomly whenever I felt like it so I don’t think anyone will be wanting for upgrades.
Beyond the graphical issues there’s still a few rough edges on Rage 2, some which I didn’t really expect in this day and age. There’s a lot of interactions that require you to hold down a key in order for it to complete, pretty standard way of avoiding accidental interactions, however for some reason Rage 2’s key press detection is super janky. It’s not just one screen or a certain kind of interaction either, all things that require you to hold down a key just don’t register smoothly, if at all. Vehicles also feel a little mushy and, given that there’s no way to upgrade the handling on them, that makes driving a bit more of a chore than it needs to be. There’s also numerous issues with event triggers which most often manifests as characters simply not talking to you for 5 minutes, delaying quest completion. These sorts of things are a symptom of the larger issue of just trying to stuff to many things into the game, leaving precious little time to polish up the little greviances that are sure to dog every player’s experience.
The game seems to think that you’ll remember most of the story elements from the previous game, even though it’s been 8 long years since it was released. That’s the only reason I can come up with for the drastic pace of the first hour of the game where a bunch of stuff happens and dozens of plot threads get setup without the requisite time needed to develop them fully. From there it’s pretty light on from a story perspective with most of the characters really not given much time to develop. Maybe if I did more of the side missions there was more in there but given that the main story line didn’t even flesh out the main bad guy’s story much makes me think that I didn’t miss much of anything. I mean, I wasn’t expecting miracles here, but I would’ve thought that the writers would’ve known that most people wouldn’t really remember much about the previous game and would’ve spent some time building everything up a little more.
Rage 2 has some great stand out features but all of them are lost in the wash of the numerous mediocre pieces that come along with it. The combat feels great, giving you that same kind of visceral enjoyment that DOOM managed to bring back. The convoy events are great fun, doing a better job of car combat than even the Mad Max game did. But alongside all of this is a repetitive set of enemies, massive asset reuse, too many pointless upgrade systems and a story that’s mediocre and far from engaging. Compared to its predecessor it’s a better game but only just and that’s saying something when it’s been 8 years between drinks for this IP.
Rage 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $99.95. Game was played on the PC for approximately 9 hours.
The Wolfenstein series’ soft reboot with The New Order back in 2014 was a gamble for then nascent developer MachineGames. The previous instalment in the franchise hadn’t performed well and many were left wondering if it would have a future at all. However they managed to release a game that was good in its own right, keeping the core old-school FPS feel and integrating it with modern-day improvements. The Old Blood was seen as a small stumble by most, the stand-alone prequel story not bringing enough to the table and being released barely a year after its predecessor. Suffice to say feelings were mixed around the announcement of The New Colossus as history showed that this game could potentially be a return to form or a continuation of its slow downwards trajectory.
For this writer, I’m glad to say, The New Colossus signals a big step forward for the franchise.
SPOILERS FOR PREVIOUS WOLFENSTEIN GAMES BELOW
You return again as B.J Blazkowicz, lying broken and bloody atop Deathshead’s fortress after defeating him. As your world darkens you give the order to fire on your position, hoping to rid the world of the foul technology that helped the Nazis conquer the world. However before you black out you see that your friends of the Kreisau Circle have come to rescue you, taking you away before they lay waste to the Nazi stronghold. Your recovery is long and just as you awake your location comes under attack by Frau Engel. With your broken body you haul yourself into a nearby wheelchair and return to what you do best: killing Nazis by the truckload. From here you continue your journey to free the world from Nazi rule.
The New Colossus is the second game to come to us via the id Tech 6 engine, the first being the DOOM reboot of last year. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was developed on a completely new engine as the graphics are a massive leap forward in almost all respects. However the release day version of the game was plagued with performance issues, something I noted early on after attempting to tweak my settings. After reading some forum posts I found that my drivers were 1 version out of date and, upon updating them, everything improved dramatically. The game still suffers greatly in outdoor areas, an ailment that seems to plague all id Tech games. Still this is one of the few games where I’ve been unable to max all the settings lest I turn the game into a slideshow. Kuods to MachineGames for continuing the trend of high quality visuals.
The core game play mechanics of The New Colossus remain largely the same as its predecessors being your typical mix of FPS and light-RPG elements. You’ll spend the majority of your time gunning down all sorts of different Nazis and their contraptions but how you go about that will be shaped by how you play and what upgrades you choose. The perk upgrade system is mostly the same, requiring you to perform certain actions in order to unlock them. Weapon upgrades are streamlined significantly, allowing you to unlock up to 3 upgrades for all of the normal weapons. Later on in the game you get access to contraptions which are another set of upgrades that unlock various areas of the game that are otherwise inaccessible. This then dovetails into the Ubercommander missions, which are essentially replays of missions you’ve already completed, allowing you to tackle them again with your newfound powers. All in all it feels like a tighter, more concise game overall which is saying something given that my campaign-only playthrough clocks in at just under an hour shorter than my The New Order playthrough.
Combat is mostly mid-paced, often starting with a stealth section followed by your typical corridor shooter affair once you are inevitably detected. There are some high action scenes where you’ll just be sending endless streams of lead down range but for the most part you can take your time when it comes to engaging The New Colosuss’ enemies. The shooting does feel a little on the rough side, the generosity of previous game’s hit boxes reduced somewhat requiring a greater level of skill on the player. Some of the guns feel completely ineffectual until you get one or two of their upgrades which, thankfully, won’t take too long if you take some time to explore a little bit. The game isn’t stingy with ammo drops either so no matter what gun you prefer you’ll most likely be able to use it as often as you want. Despite the slightly slower pace and less polished feel overall I’d rate the combat as equal to its predecessors.
Progression is broadly broken up into 2 main systems, perks and weapon mods, but you’ll also change the mix of your base stats as you progress through the game. Initially you’ll have a max of 50 health and 200 armour which, after a certain mission, will change to 100/100. This might not sound like much but it does change the flow of the game significantly, especially considering the game’s focus on over-charging your health rather than allowing you to increase it permanently. Thus the start of the game actually feels a lot easier than it does towards the end since you won’t be able to overcharge your health to 200 and also run around with 200 armour. If this is your first foray into Wolfenstein it might actually be a great way to ease you into the flow of the game.
The perks level up as you perform various feats and, curiously, don’t reset their counter upon death. This does mean that, if you’re so inclined, you could grind them out by save scumming but honestly most of them will come easily as long as you know which one to go for. They don’t provide massive benefits, usually just small benefits that will make your life a little easier, but all of them together do make a noticeable impact. The weapon mods are much, much more impactful often turning lacklustre guns into absolute beasts. The Sturmgewehr for instance when upgraded fully is by far the fastest way to take out armoured enemies and the Pistole is really the only gun that can be used in stealth when you get its suppressor. Progression stalls a bit towards the end since you’ll have upgraded your weapons of choice and unlocked most of the perks that aligned to your playstyle. The contraptions do add a little bit more flavour there but I didn’t bother unlocking the other 2 as I didn’t want to grind out the ubercommander missions. I’m sure if I did though I’d feel a little different about the progression stalling at 2/3rds through the game.
Whilst there are still some performance issues, predominately in outdoor environments, The New Colossus also seems to suffer from some weird bugs either due to running in borderless window mode (something which it natively supports), the Steam overlay or being alt-tabbed. Essentially whenever focus was taken away from the game and then returned to it there was a 50/50 chance of a crash happening. Often this wasn’t too much of an issue, the checkpoint system working well, however a few times it got me stuck in unskippable moments which I’d have to repeat a few times over to get past. Unfortunately I couldn’t figure out the cause of these errors as the crash reporter always alerted me that it couldn’t write the crash dump. I’m sure there’s a simple explanation to this and it will likely be patched in the future. Still if you’re wanting to avoid this it’s probably worth running it in exclusive fullscreen for now.
The New Colossus’ story telling feels head and shoulders above its predecessors, giving many of the characters and their relationships ample time to develop. To be sure the plot follows your typical action movie trope with few, if any, real surprises to be had. However there’s some great moments of levity and self-awareness showing that the writers knew that they were making yet-another Nazi story that needed something to liven it up. There is a bit of an obsession with long, drawn out scenes where you’re basically locked in place, some of which could have been trimmed down a bit and still had the same amount of impact. Still for a series where I used to rate the story as “interesting but forgettable” The New Colossus is one that I think I’ll remember fondly for some time.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a big step forward both for the franchise and MachineGames as a developer. The core of what made the original great is still there, retaining much of that old-world FPS charm whilst including modern mechanics to amplify that experience further. The game still suffers from some of the issues that seem to plague all id Tech based games but these are things that will hopefully be fixed in future patches. Over the top of all this, and likely the reason why I feel this particular game is a step ahead of its predecessors, is the story which does a great job of giving all the characters time to shine whilst steering clear of all too popular LOOK OUT FOR A SEQUEL cliffhanger. If Call of Duty: WWII left me wanting Wolfenstein: The New Colossus has me wanting for more.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with 9 hours of total play time and 38% of the achievements unlocked.
The original Prey was a stand out title for many reasons, if not for it’s good but not great critical success. Mechanically it debuted a couple novel new concepts which quickly went onto to become standard affair in many comparable titles. Additionally its story, with it’s respectful treatment of the Native American mythology, was one of the more interesting and memorable experiences of its time. The sequel set the gaming hivemind on fire with the idea of making you an alien bounty hunter but, much to the disappointment of many, it was cancelled unceremoniously 3 years ago. So when Bethesda decided to reboot the IP many were cautious, especially given the circumstances surrounding the cancellation of the previous title. Now that I’ve had the chance to play through the new Prey in its entirity I can say that, whilst it might not let you indulge in your alien bounty hunter fantasies, it is a solid title in its own right.
You are Morgan Yu, a scientist working for the TranStar corporation. In this alternate timeline president John F. Kennedy survives the assassination attempt and this pushes him to funnel more funding into the space program. As a result humanity has pushed far further into space than it has in our world and has even established lavish space based like Talos I. Today will be your first day with TranStar and before you take the rocket up to Talos I you’ll meet your brother and run through a few tests. However things don’t go exactly as planned and you begin to discover the dark secret that this space station has been hiding from everyone.
Prey uses Crytek’s CryEngine 5 and, as you’d expect, looks fantastic. Aesthetically it feels very similar to the recent Deus Ex titles, albeit without the distinctive yellow tone. Instead Prey takes on a darker theme befitting it’s survival horror aesthetic. The environments are richly detailed, something which forms a core part of the game’s mechanics. It’s hard to do the game justice in a few screenshots, especially with the low-light that’s present in nearly every area, but suffice to say it’s one of this year’s better looking games. To top it off performance is good save for a few areas which are obviously suffering from some poor optimisation. This is likely to be fixed in upcoming patches as it’s not just me having these issues.
Prey plays very similarly to the BioShock games of old, equipping you with an array of weapons, powers and choices with how to approach the game’s various challenges. The environments are littered with numerous different pathways to your objective, each of them rewarding investment in a certain set of skills. You can be the stereotypical stealthy hacker, the modern day necromancer who has an army of others at his disposal or your standard run and gunner. Some of the skills are quality of life improvements (I.E. just saving you from having to do something the long way) but there are, of course, certain sections that will be unavailable to you without the appropriate talents. The stealth system is done well, allowing you to ghost through many encounters without having to waste a single bullet. The crafting system is also well done, feeding into the RPG packrat mentality well whilst also ensuring that making items isn’t a total chore. Altogether whilst this Prey doesn’t bring with it original ideas like its predecessor it does execute its concept, ideas and mechanics well.
Depending on your build combat will either be a rare event or just another fact of life. For me, whilst I took a stealth-first approach, there were many times where my patience would start to wear thin and I’d just want to blast through a particular section. The combination of a few choice powers (bullet time plus enhanced wrench damage) ensured that I could usually pick off a few enemies without having to expend much in the way of consumables. Some of the other powers didn’t work as well as I’d hoped however like the mind control power that got other enemies to fight for you. Sometimes it’d work well, allowing me to clear a room without much effort, other times the enemy would just stand there, dumbfounded and not doing anything at all. Like other, similar action RPGs constant quick saving/loading is a necessity whenever you’re engaging in combat as it’s little quirks like that which can be the difference between breezing through a section and getting stuck on it for quite some time.
Progression comes in a couple forms, most notably through Neuromods (which are akin to skill points) and weapon upgrades. Neuromods can be found throughout the game in all the usual places: tucked away in hidden areas, after critical points in the story or given to you by NPCs. You can also craft them using in-game materials although that caps out at one point and necessitates a quest to unlock an infinite crafting recipe. These are then spent on the various talent trees which are broadly split into 2 categories: human and alien abilities. Whilst it’s entirely possible to finish the game without installing any mods, or only mods from one branch (there are achievements for doing all of those), you’ll definitely be best placed by choosing those that best match your desired play style. For me I went a long time before installing any alien ones, due to some in-game commentary about what that would entail, but at one point I felt like I didn’t have a choice if I wanted to continue playing the way I was. That, to me, was a great way to make non-story based choices mean something in the greater narrative of the game.
Crafting is a big part of the game and is a two stage process. Like any RPG you’ll gather a lot of cruft along the way but instead of having to find the exact right material to make something you’ll instead put it into the recycler. It then turns everything into component materials which only take up a single inventory slot. Those materials can then be used in crafting basically anything you’d ever need. This also makes inventory space a meaningful commodity as you have to decide if 10 banana peels (not joking) are worth as much as another item. One little niggle I have with the crafting system is that you can only craft one item at a time and you’ll wait for the crafting to finish before making another. When you’re say, chugging out 10 neuromods after unlocking the unlimited recipe, it can be a bit laborious. That’s nothing that’s above a simple patch to fix, however.
I wasn’t afflicted by the save corruption issues that plagued many however there are still a few rough edges on Prey that could do with sorting out. The aforementioned areas that absolutely torpedo your performance are a big issue as any fights in there quickly turn into a slideshow. From memory I only had a single crash although others have reported numerous repeat crashes throughout their playthroughs. To be sure these are the kinds of teething issues would could have been solved prior to the official launch day if review copies were provided to the usual suspects so Bethesda’s “no review copies” policy does seem to be somewhat detrimental here. The game’s UI could also do with a little bit of tweaking to be more PC friendly but that’s a minor issue comparatively.
Prey’s narrative is one of the more interesting ones of late, even if some of its elements do seem to draw heavily on BioShock’s ideas. The choices you make in the game do heavily affect how the game progresses and it does a great job of clouding which ones are more important than others. If it wasn’t for some of the achievements popping up as I was playing through I wouldn’t have had any idea that was I trucking down the “good” path, especially considering some of the less-than-stellar things I did. The culmination of everything was very satisfying as well and, whilst I’ll always bemoan games that scream SEQUEL at the end, I am encouraged that the IP is being set up for future instalments. Overall whilst Prey isn’t a game you’d play just for the story I’m glad to say it isn’t one of the detracting elements.
Prey’s rebirth was one that was met with trepidation from its fans but I think it’s managed the reboot well. It may not be fuelling the inspiration of current game designers with new mechanics and ideas but what it does do it does well. The subtle emphasis on choice is a welcome departure from the current overt approach, allowing you to make a meaningful impact on how the story and your character progress. Wrapping this all up in an engaging narrative makes for a great experience that had me wanting to come back over multiple sessions. The execution was still a little rough around the edges in a few spots which, whilst not detracting heavily from the overall game, did leave a few black marks. Overall Prey is a successful reboot of the now decade old IP and one I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of in the future.
Prey is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 17 hours play time with 48% of the achievements unlocked.
Dishonored was a breath of fresh air for many. Stealth games of the time were anything but; their stealth mechanics nothing but tacked on features that weren’t given the love they so desperately needed. Whilst it had its faults Dishonored was a pivotal release for Arkane Studios, catapaulting them into the limelight. It’s been 4 years since the release of the original Dishonored and expectations were high that Arkane would be able to deliver yet another solid stealth based title. Dishonored 2 brings with it all of the things that made the original great but also many of the shortcommings. Indeed whilst some of the design choices are commendable it begs the question of whether or not the effort would have been better spent elsewhere, possibly addressing some of the mistakes of the past.
Dishonored 2 takes place 15 years after the events of the original with Emily Kaldwin taking her place on the throne, succeeding her late mother. The city of Dunwall is no longer the rotten town it once was, prospering greatly under Emily’s rule. However a serial murderer, dubbed The Crown Killer, has been dispatching Emily’s opposition, leading many to conclude that Corvo is responsible for it. During a ceremony in remembrance of her mother’s assassination, Delilah Copperspoon, who claims to be Jessamine’s older half-sister and the true heir to the throne, assaults Emily in her throne room. The story from here is determined by who you choose to play as: either Emily or Corvo.
Under the hood Dishonored 2 is powered the new Void engine, developed in-house by Arkane. The engine is based on id’s Tech 6 platform and brings with it many improvements. However like its predecessor Dishonored 2 is probably about half a step behind current generation titles in terms of graphics, something that is painfully obvious when you’re up close to NPCs or bits of the environment. The world does feel a lot more full than it used to though, with more characters on screen and much more detailed environments. The initial release was unfortunately plagued by horrendous performance issues on PC, indicating that the engine hadn’t gotten enough optimization love. This was fixed rather quickly and by the time I got around to play it I didn’t see any issues at all. This couldn’t come soon enough though and is likely responsible for the game’s mixed review status on Steam.
Dishonored 2 stays true to the original’s ethos, providing you with mutliple avenues to complete a mission that can make use of any number of powers, abilities or gadgets. What’s available to you depends on whether you choose Corvo or Emily although there’s a core set of non-power abilities availble to both. If you choose Corvo the abilities will be instantly familiar to you with Emilies being completely different in all aspects. The upgrade systems are largely the same, you’ll still hunt down runes and charms to upgrade your powers, however there’s also the opportunity to improve your character further through crafting runes of your own. There’s still a multitude of things to discover in any one level with numerous side missions and hidden items for you to seek out. If you were a fan of the original there’ll be a lot for you to love in Dishonored 2, perhaps even more so if you’re an achievement hunter.
Combat is largely the same as it’s predecessor however the choices you make in building your character have a much bigger impact in Dishonored 2. Unlike previously where I could stealth or shoot my way through a level Dishonored 2, where I primarily built my character as stealth, I couldn’t take on more than one enemy at a time. Personally I liked this aspect as it meant that my choices had a real impact, no longer could I be both the stealth master and combat warrior. This did mean that the mechanical upgrade system went largely unused through my play through but it did make the rune and bone charms that much more valuable. Indeed I spent much, much more time exploring to make sure I got every power upgrade I could, lest I find myself wanting.
The stealth system works as you’d expect it to although I have to admit I think the detection rate of NPCs is a little too fast for my liking. Indeed if you don’t notice the meter immediately, like if it’s at the bottom of your screen, you will likely be detected. Some of the power upgrades help you get around this, like the stop time part of blink, but it still leaves you very little time to react. It does feel a bit more realistic in that sense, you can’t hover around in front of enemies and have them not detect you, but it does detract from the enjoyment a bit at times.
The crafting system, whilst basic, was probably one of the more rewarding aspects of Dishonored 2. With the right combination of talents and a lot of farming for the right runes you can craft yourself a set of incredibly powerful boosts. In the end I was rocking around 8 quad bone charms (the other 2 taken by specific power upgrades) that amplified my power abilities significantly, like being able to essentially sprint in stealth mode if I was crouched and my weapons sheathed. Of course I save-scummed my way to perfect bone charms without any negative traits on them but hey, even if I didn’t do that I think a grand total of 2 of them would’ve been cursed. One point of note, which I wished I had known earlier, is that not all runes are simply somewhere in the world. For some missions a certain NPC will hold 2 of them, something which can make your life a little difficult if you want to get them all. Thankfully those ones aren’t usually ones you can break down for crafting anyway, but they’re still worth seeking out.
Overall Dishonored 2 is well polished (bar the initial teething issues) however it makes one horrendous design misstep that I’ll never forgive any game for doing. There’s one level that, if you’ve chosent to take powers, you’ll have them stripped away from you. For those, like me, who’ve invested heavily, in their powers this strips you of all the tools you had available. The resulting mission is a tedious mess, the time-switching mechanic that it was designed around becoming a nusiance more than anything else. The hour or so I spent on that level was the most frustrating section of the game by far and completing it was a relief more than a reward. I can understand the rationale behind it, wanting to challenge the player in a new and inventive way (like many of the other levels do) but taking away their investments is a cheap trick that does nothing to endear the player to the game.
The story, and its delivery, suffer the same issues as its predecessor. Whilst you have control over how the narrative develops, both through direct choices and how you actually play the game, it’s still predictable and not particularly rewarding. The voice acting again falls flat, a complaint that was levelled at its predecessor which I had hoped would be addressed in the sequel. Again there are a few standouts like The Outsider and the manick mechanical creator Jindosh, but they aren’t enough to carry everything forward by themselves. Honestly I was hoping that I’d feel differently this time around, I really was.
Dishonored 2 is a solid follow up to the original, retaining everything that made it great (and some things that didn’t). The stealth and combat is well done, the choices of how you build your character now more impactful (for better and for worse) than they were before. Crafting is a welcome addition, one that helps you craft your character further down your desired path. Unfortunately some poor level design choices and the continued flat delivery of Dishonored 2’s script means that the game doesn’t reach beyond its predecessor in terms of overall quality. Still I did enjoy my time with Dishonored 2, the stealth game play unparalleled in today’s market. Hopefully future instalments in this IP will address these core issues which would elevate Dishonored 2 to the same level as the games that inspired it.
Dishonored 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99, $77 and $77 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 16 hours of total play time with 36% of the achievements unlocked.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
The following that Bethesda games have is anything but unwarranted. Their games are some of the greatest examples of giant, open world RPGs that are packed to the rafters with detail. Their continuing support of the modding community has meant that many of their titles have had life well beyond any other similar games. They do, however, have a tendency to be released with a number of quirks, glitches and issues that dramatically affect playability. Fallout 4 continues the Bethesda tradition (and the Fallout franchise) in earnest, giving players an exceptionally large world to explore whilst suffering from some incredibly rough edges that severely tarnish this otherwise brilliant game.
Fallout 4 throws you into a post-apocalyptic wasteland based in the pre-war state of Massachusetts, now called The Commonwealth. You were one of the lucky few to be granted into one of the numerous Vaultec bunkers, protecting you from the war that raged on outside. However your bunker was not like the others, instead of living out your days underground you were instead frozen in stasis, left to dream away the years. You awoke only once to bear witness to a terrible event before you were quickly frozen again. When you awake again and find the world in ruin you have only one goal in mind: to right the wrong that was done to you on that tragic day.
With 7 years between titles you’d be expecting a large upgrade in graphics and Fallout 4 certainly delivers that. All of the expected current generation trimmings are there like advanced lighting effects, dynamic weather and scenes that are chock full of detail. When compared to its current peers though it’s a little below average, with lower poly count models and less detailed textures, however that’s likely a function of the large draw distance that Fallout 4 favours. Indeed there are many other areas that likely received a lot more focus than the graphics and, considering the mod-centric approach Bethesda takes towards their games, it’s likely something they felt would be remedied without a lot of additional effort on their part.
Fallout 4 has a breadth of detail that’s hard to do justice in a single summarizing paragraph and I’m sure there’s things in the game I simply didn’t see even with the large amount of time I spent in it. At its core Fallout 4 is an open world FPS RPG with city building thrown in as an extra distraction and progression mechanic. There’s a main quest line you can pursue if you so wish or you’re free to wander off into the wasteland, searching for hidden places or doing battle with the various inhabitants. You can barter for gear or craft your own, something which takes a rather large amount of investment but is most certainly worth the pay off. You can join factions and help them in their crusade to better The Commonwealth and bring companions along with you who provide interesting dialogue and can do certain things for you. In all seriousness there’s something for pretty much everyone in Fallout 4 as it can be pretty much whatever kind of game you want it to be.
Combat feels very much the same as its predecessor, retaining the VATS percentage based attack system alongside the more traditional FPS style play. I had chosen to not invest points in VATS skills in order to put them elsewhere, hoping that my FPS skill could make up for the difference. Whilst that’s true to some degree Fallout 4’s combat is most certainly based around the use of VATS and I found myself relying on it more and more as I continued to play. That could be partially due to the fact that the FPS experience isn’t as polished as say Call of Duty‘s as the reticle didn’t always seem to be in complete alignment with where my bullets were going. Your mileage may vary depending on your build though as I’ve heard aiming isn’t much of an issue if you’ve built yourself a melee slugger.
Levelling up in Fallout 4 seems to come often enough so long as you’re engaging in some form of activity. Pretty much everything you do, from exploring to building cities to doing quests, will grant you some amount of XP. If you’re looking to power level (like I was) then investing heavily in INT early on is a must as I was rocketing past my friends who had a similar amount of play time. If you’ve focused your build elsewhere there are other ways to increase your XP gain, like the Idiot Savant perk. Whilst the inclusion of a respec ability or service would’ve been great the relatively easy levelling means that you were never too far off unlocking a perk you wanted. Again if you’re reading this some time after Fallout 4’s initial release I’m sure there’s already a mod that can help you in that regard.
The city building part of Fallout 4 is anything but shoe horned in and provides a very effective way to progress other aspects of your character that might be lacking. The picture below is my purified water farm out at Sanctuary, something which provided me both with a reliable supply of caps as well as a relatively effective and free healing item. Getting your settlements up to a good size, with all the right trimmings, does take some effort to get done (especially if you need to go hunting down certain materials) but the rewards are most certainly worth it. It would be nice to have a bit more clarity around what influences certain things, like what attracts more settlers or what influences raids, but after a while you start to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.
The crafting system feels like a double edged sword. On the one hand it’s hard to deny that the crafting system is deep and rewarding as some of the things you can craft (or mod) are really quite overpowered. On the other hand however it’s marred by the age old inventory problem, where you can never be sure what you’ll need and so you feel compelled to grab everything in sight. Whilst the tag for search system is a great addition it would’ve been nice to have something akin to a recipes book that I could consult whilst in the field. Sometimes I know I wanted to make a certain mod but hadn’t flagged the items for search before I had left my workshop. Jumping out of the quest, going to a workbench, and then trucking back in isn’t something that I’d call fun which is why I often left it. Once your settlement gets to a certain level you can get around this a bit with stores, but it’s still a bit of a pain.
It wouldn’t be a Bethesda game if it wasn’t extremely janky and Fallout 4 is no exception. In my first hour I encountered no less than 3 bugs which completely broke the game for me, leaving my character unable to progress. The most irritating one of these was when I’d go to use a console and then get stuck when I quit out of it. As it turns out this was an issue with systems that would render higher than 60fps, as the physics simulation is tied to the render rate. This meant my character would jerk out too fast and get stuck in his own body with every control proving to be unresponsive. To fix this I had to set an FPS limit on my graphics driver in order for the game to work properly. I have not once had to do that before and honestly it’s astonishing that you could have a PC that’s too good to play a game. It’s telling that my in game save says I’ve played for about 27 hours but Steam says 31 as that’s how much time I’ve lost to bugs that could only be solved by reloading the game.
It’s not just game breaking bugs either, there are some design decisions made in Fallout 4 that just don’t make sense on the PC platform. The 4 choice dialogue system, with its summaries that often don’t match up with what your character actually says, feels like a backwards step. I can understand the pip boy interface is part of Fallout’s aesthetic but actually using it on PC is an exercise in frustration. The city building, whilst brilliant in almost all other regards, lacks an overarching interface to manage many of the banal tasks like assigning resources to task or identifying new settlers. These are all things that aren’t above being fixed but it’s obvious that Bethesda’s priorities were elsewhere and a lot of the clean up is going to have to be done by the modding community.
The main storyline is pretty average with the clichéd opening cinematic giving you a pretty good indication of what to expect. When I was discussing it with some of my Smoothskins we came to the conclusion that if you’re looking for a solid, directed narrative in a Bethesda game you’re likely to be disappointed. Instead the real story comes from your experiences in the game, how you influenced events and what decisions you decided to make. Indeed after finishing the main questline I felt like nothing had really happened apart from being made to eradicate the opposing factions with extreme prejudice, no choice of saving them or bringing them under my wing. With that in mind I think Fallout 4’s story is best left alone and the tales of your wasteland journey take over instead.
Fallout 4 is exactly the kind of game we’ve come to expect from Bethesda: a grand sweeping world upon which you can build your own story (whilst enduring the trademark jankiness). The incredible girth of the game cannot be understated as it can be easily described as a FPS, an RPG and even a fully fledged city builder and simulator. The numerous ancillary mechanics are all well done, allowing you to really craft a character the way you want. However it’s irreversibly tainted by the numerous issues that are guaranteed to plague anyone who wants to brave the wastelands of The Commonwealth, something which can only be solved by mad quicksaving. Overall Fallout 4 is one of this years must play games but it might be best served after a patch or two with maybe a mod on the side.
Fallout 4 is available on PC, PlayStation4 and XboxOne right now for $59.99, $59 and $59 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 31 hours of total play time with 52% of the achievements unlocked.
For some games mods are the lifeblood that keep them going for many years after their initial release. These mods add in things that the developers either didn’t think to create or simply wouldn’t, elevating the game well past its intended station. Some of these mods even take on a life all of their own with many of the most successful titles of all time being born out of mods, some of them even creating entire new genres as they rose to stardom. These mods were often born out of the free time and relentless dedication of their creators and provided free to gamers worldwide. Last week Valve announced a paid mod program for Skyrim, a natural extension of their other paid content programs, which has not been well received and, honestly, I think the community needs to stop drinking the haterade.
The system is pretty simple: mods that are on the Steam Workshop can now set a price for their mods which users can pay for if they’re so inclined. It’s not a mandatory system, Steam still supports modders who want to peddle their wares through the system for free, however if you want to you can set a price you can. Looking over the mods that have decided to do that most of the prices are what you’d expect to be typical prices for apps or cosmetics in other games (and indeed the most popular items are cosmetics) with a few content mods here or there. Of course this may be due to the program still being early days and the backlash that’s resulted from the announcement but it’s largely inline with what I expected a program like this to generate.
Generally I think this program is a great idea as it gives modders an easy way to monetize their content without resorting to begging for donations or trying to do something inane like streaming them creating mods over Twitch. Indeed it works much the same way as the app ecosystem does on mobile platforms today, with people who want to release a labor of love to the wild world for free doing so using the platform. On the flip side there are those who’d really like to put in a lot of effort but couldn’t justify doing so without some kind of compensation and it’s these people that I think this system was designed to attract. Sure you’ll get the scammers, plagiarizers and other unwanted people attempting to game the system but you get that with anything that relies predominantly on user submitted content so I don’t think that’s an issue worth discussing.
One thing I do disagree with is the rather unfair revenue distribution that the system current has with a whopping 75% of the total revenue going to Valve (30%) and Bethesda (45%). This means that for every dollar that the mod makes the vast majority of that doesn’t end up in the hands of the developer with them taking home a measly 25 cents. I think much of the criticism of this system would be much less severe if the revenue that the creators received was much higher, say in the 70% region that’s typical of most app store purchases, although I’m unsure as to whether Valve and Bethesda would be keen to take such a hit. Realistically for both of them it’s free money (well, for Bethesda anyway, Valve has to provide the infrastructure) so the hit they take would be small compared the goodwill they could win from the community.
The problem I see with most of the outrage is that it assumes that a system like this will inevitably lead to a split among the mod community, one of haves and have nots which is contrary to the ethos that the modding community holds. Sure, it may attract some unscrupulous individuals, but by and large modders are aware of the communities that they’ve helped develop and the last thing they’d want to do is alienate those who’ve made them so popular. Indeed if they did then free alternatives are far more likely to rise out of their ashes, providing the same service that those mods once did without the paywall. On the flip side if a mod is really worth it then I’m sure the community would be more than happy to support a modder in the quest to deliver something of value to the community, rather than them giving up all semblance of decency and going for a cash grab.
Suffice to say I think the program is a good idea from Valve, it just needs a little more tweaking to make it more fair to the modders and more palatable for the community. I know calling for rationality on the Internet is likely to be met with a blazing wall of silence but paid mods aren’t the devils that many would make them out to be and, if they are, then people will simply not pay for them. Those kinds of modders will quickly realise that this is a community that’s not ripe for exploitation and those who’ve served that community for years, for free in most cases, will continue to reap the benefits of the relationships they’ve created. To think that the opportunity to make money on a platform would somehow ruin that relationship is honestly hurtful to those who’ve put their hearts and souls into these mods and the community should be their advocates rather than their critics.
There are few games where I feel confident in saying that the stealth aspect was done well. For recent titles it has often felt like something tacked on at the end after everything else had been done; a mini-game that serves to break up the monotony. It’s a real shame as many of the games that I played during my formative gaming years like Deus Ex, Thief and the like, had stealth sections that were superbly done. It seemed as if the game developers who were behind those titles just simply up and vanished, leaving behind those with only a modicum of understand of how to make stealth games enjoyable. Dishonored isn’t one of these titles and it makes me incredibly happy to put it in the same category as those seminal stealth titles.
Dishonored takes place in the Neo-Victorian steampunk world of Dunwall, a city that’s been ravaged by a plague of unknown origins turning many of the city’s districts into wastelands infest with rats and those on the brink of a gruesome death. You, as Korvo Attano, serve as the high empress’ body guard who was sent on a mission to get aid for the suffering town. However upon return the empress is murdered in front of you and her daughter taken away, leaving just you to take the fall for that horrendous deed. Dishonored then follows your story after your fall from grace as you fight to recover the empress’ daughter and clear your name.
To be completely honest I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed with the graphics of Dishonored. Whilst I had abstained from watching any gameplay videos so as to not taint my first impressions of it from the announcement videos I remember watching my expectations were built up around the idea that it would be a pretty modern looking title. This is not to say that they’re terrible graphics, far from it as you’ll see in many of the screenshots that follows, there were a few things that were so jarring that my immersion was broken completely. Talking to the NPCs comes to mind, although that could be from the camera locking to their face Oblivion style and having them death stare you down whilst you talk to them.
As I alluded to in the opening paragraph Dishonored is one of the games that does stealth right. Realistically there’s actually 2 completely different games to be played here (maybe 3, even): the first is your typical hide in the shadows and make your way to the objective and the second is a RPG/FPS hybrid where you can run and gun your way through it (the third type would be a varying mix between the two). Both of these play styles are completely viable too and in fact it would seem that you’d actually have a much easier time playing as the run and gun style rather than taking the stealthier route. That being said I found the stealth to be far more rewarding than hacking my way through everyone, but at no time did I feel forced into taking one option over the other.
Stealthing around is quite fun as whilst you’re not given a completely open world to explore like in Thief the sections you’re let loose in are quite detailed with multiple pathways to goals and endless places to explore for additional treasure. The magical abilities you can unlock as well (by searching out runes scattered across the levels) can enable you to do some really amazing things like taking possession of rats and then using them to get into places that would be otherwise inaccessible. It’s also quite thrilling to be hiding just inches away from enemies, watching their movements, moving in to strike and then later hear their allies remarking about where they might have gone.
Going toe-to-toe with every enemy you meet is surprisingly viable, something I didn’t really expect from a game that marketed itself primarily as a stealth based action game. The primary means of dealing out damage is a good old fashioned sword that comes hand in hand with the awkwardness that always plagues FPS games that try to include them. However you’re also given a great selection of other weapons to use such as a gun, crossbow, grenades and things that are essentially proximity mines that fling shrapnel everywhere. Considering the ridiculously plentiful ammunition that’s available everywhere you could very well play this entire game without having to bother with stealth at all and one of the achievements, Mostly Flesh and Steel (complete the game without any additional supernatural powers), seems to encourage this. There is the fact though that the more people you kill the more devastated the city becomes (and the darker the ending will be) so playing run and gun will have some consequences, but it does give Dishonored a decent amount of replayability.
There’s a 2 sided upgrade system that functions as Dishonored’s levelling system and up until a point it works quite well. The primarily upgrade system are runes which allow you to unlock and upgrade supernatural powers. Most of them are incredibly useful and primarily geared towards the players who prefer stealth over brawn. The second upgrade system is the mechanical one enabling you to improve all your non-magical powers as well as doing things like reducing the amount of noise your steps make. In the early game these upgrades can be the difference between finishing a mission and struggling with it endlessly but past a point there’s not much return on investment in tracking more runes or gold down.
For instance since I was playing as a stealth character nearly all the mechanical upgrades were pointless to me and since they use gold instead of runes I ended up having a pretty big surplus for most of the game. This is not because I tracked down all the gold I could find, far from it, its just that once you know what play style you’re going you can min/max your upgrades to make you perfectly fit for such objectives. For me this happened about half way through but a determined player could craft the ideal character after the first 3 missions or so. Sure I still invested in upgrades after that but they didn’t make a huge difference in how the game played for me and I could have just as easily left the runes and gold unspent.
Which brings me to another point. When I was first doing research on Dishonored (mostly looking for average play times) I found an article that said a direct run through would clock in at about 12~14 hours but also that players looking to explore would probably double that as there’d be a lot to find. Whilst the play time is incredibly inaccurate there is some truth to the exploration aspect as you can find many unique encounters if you’re willing to run, blink and jump all over the place. However most of the time the reward isn’t particularly worth it, usually being potions or ammo, and after a while I just stopped seeking them out as I was always maxed out on nearly everything and the only thing I couldn’t find I could buy in unlimited supply anyway. I’m sure there are many people who will get heaps of enjoyment out of seeking all these things out but for me it just didn’t feel worth it after about halfway through Dishonored.
The story of Dishonored is better than most games of similar calibre even if it’s something of a rehash of the typical falsely accused man who’s out to clear his name and make everything right. You at least have some form of agency in that your choice of actions influences both the world around you and how certain characters react to you which is what puts it above other games in the same genre. That being said I didn’t really feel anything for the characters or have a deep emotional involvement in the plot and I think that’s because of one simple thing: the terrible voice acting.
Nearly all of the lines delivered are flat, read in an almost emotionless monotone. It’s rather confusing as the written passages and notes scattered everywhere are quite good, so the writing itself isn’t bad, just the delivery. This is made worse by the canned questions and responses that are obviously heuristically lined up (“Shall we meet for whiskey and cigars tonight?” “Indeed, I believe it is so.”) but never seem to work quite right. There are some stand outs like Lady Boyle’s playful banter and the final soliloquy by the captain but apart from that everyone else could just as easily be a text to speech generator given their delivery. I’m not asking for L.A. Noire levels of emotional craziness but a little more emotion in the lines might’ve made me a bit more involved in the story than I was.
I was asked my opinion of the game several times over the course of playing it and it was interesting to see how it changed over the course of my play through. Initially I was disappointed, I had gotten swept up in the hype again and the initial impressions didn’t match up to my expectations. However as the game went on I found myself enjoying it more and really got into the stealth aspect of Dishonored. It’s probably not game of the year material as many of the major review sites would have you believe but it is an incredibly strong title and in a world where new IP is the hardest thing to market it’s really refreshing to see something like this come to market. For those of us who yearned for the return of the Thief era stealth games Dishonored pays excellent homage to them and is well worth the price of admission.
Dishonored is available on PC, Xbox360 and PS3 right now for $79.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on the second hardest difficulty with around 8 hours played and 40% of the achievements unlocked giving the Low Chaos ending.
This might come as a surprise to some but I never really got into The Elder Scrolls series. Despite their games being around for as long as I’ve been a gamer my first introduction into the series was back in 2006 when Oblivion was released. Even then I didn’t much care for the game, feeling overwhelmed at the amount of choice I had in almost every respect. That and the world was filled with people who seemed to be suffering severe birth defects and the camera zooming up to their faces whenever you interacted with them didn’t do much to alleviate that issue. However upon seeing the trailers for Skyrim I knew I couldn’t write off the series based on my one bad experience, especially if the reactions of my friends were anything to go by.
Skyrim takes place in, funnily enough, Skyrim a section of the larger Tamriel world that has encompassed the entire Elder Scrolls series. You find yourself, much as you did at the start of Oblivion, prisoner on the way to your execution. You’re not alone on this trip however and those accompanying you include Ulfric Stormcloak, one of Skyrim’s jarls, who’s responsible for assassinating the High King of Skyrim as he wants Skyrim to secede from the ruling Empire. Just as you’re about to lose your head however a dragon appears and lays waste to the surrounding town, giving you an opportunity to escape. You are then thrust into the huge world that is Skyrim with but a single quest in your log and the entire world as your playground.
As the screen shots can attest to the world of Skyrim really is something to adore. I’ll admit at first I wasn’t impressed, mostly due to the constant close ups of the opening scenes which never do any favours, but once you’re left to your own devices the amount of detail in the worlds is just staggering. The screen shot above was the first time I found myself stopping mid-quest and just staring for a good minute or two, loving the view as much as I would a similar vista in the real world. It wasn’t the big picture that did it for me, it was all the little things (like my character standing on the slope properly, rather than standing dead straight up) that culminated in a moment that just encompassed me completely.
It’s that attention to detail that really sets Skyrim apart from any other RPG that I’ve played. If they’d just gone and made a beautiful environment that would be one thing, but they’ve also included things like weather simulation, day/night cycles (with a moving sun and proper shadows) and environmental events like the aurora borealis (or australis? Anyone know which hemisphere Skyrim is in?) shown above. What this creates is a world that’s thoroughly immersive as it feels so much more alive than anything else I’ve ever played. Skyrim really does set the bar for all other RPGs that follow it, especially any of them that dare to describe themselves as open world.
The game mechanics contained within Skyrim are so wide and varied that I’ll need an entire paragraph just to introduce them all. Like all games there’s a combat system but depending on how you choose to play your character you’ll either be an in your face warrior (like myself), an archer able to pick of foes with a single shot or a mage adept at slinging spells indefinitely. The levelling system is also quite unique in the fact that it’s not advanced in the traditional way, relying instead on your progression through certain skill traits. The crafting system is also quite in depth with you being able to craft the most powerful items in the game, as long as you know where to look. Then there’s also the unique idea of “shouts”, basically magical powers that are innate to you and can be unlocked through finding hidden words of power and using the souls of dragons to master them.
Combat in Skyrim is a pretty straightforward affair, at least from the perspective of a 2 hander warrior like myself. Unlike other RPGs there is no skill bar (replaced with a favourites quick menu) and the skills you perform are either straight up equipped, like spells and weapons, or are used through a combination of mouse clicks and keyboard presses, like weapon attacks. At first I struggled with this system as the lack of skill bar meant that every time I wanted to change between say, my 2 handed weapon and healing spells, I had to trudge through 3 levels of menus before I could do so. This was alleviated somewhat when I was told of the favourites menu but it still takes you out of action whilst you make your selection. Perhaps this is just a style preference as I’m much more inclined towards the Dragon Age style of doing things that favours flowing combat, although I will admit that Skyrim’s UI is much less busy which counteracts this somewhat.
This is not to say that the combat isn’t enthralling however, far from it. Much like the first Ogre in Dragon Age was a battle that burns vividly as a memory for anyone who played it your first Dragon in Skyrim is sure to be another experience that everyone who plays Skyrim is sure to remember. Some of the encounters are quite enthralling too, especially when you’ve spent the better part of an hour getting engrossed in the lore that’s been leading up to said fight. My only gripe would be that the combat is somewhat simplistic in its implementation, especially if you shy away from the path of magic.
The levelling system is unique in that it’s far more simplified than its predecessors were. Instead of having the usual spread of Dungeons and Dragons based attributes and skill trees Skyrim instead has you choose one of three attributes to increase on each level (health, magicka and stamina) as well as giving you a point to spend on a particular skill tree branch. Those branches are directly related to skills in the game such as armour proficiency, crafting skills and combat skills. Levelling up those particular skills is how you progress your character throughout the game so your level is actually kind of arbitrary as you can quickly master certain skill trees but you’ll need to do that more than once in order to progress any further.
This kind of levelling system then makes progression rather uneven especially when you’re power levelling a certain skill. For instance I had had my eyes on the Daedric armour set for quite a while and for crafting skills it doesn’t matter what kind of item you create it will always level you the same amount. Figuring this out I set about making as many leather bracers and iron daggers as I had material for and was able to jump a solid 2 levels in just under 10 minutes. The same can be done with alchemy, enchanting and even with combat skills if you do it correctly. It’s really neither here nor there in terms of affecting game play (I.E. if you need to get a skill point you’re never far off getting it) and is probably more a testament to Skyrim’s open ended play style more than anything else.
The Shouts, whilst realistically being nothing more than another spell in your spell book, are an interesting little aside to the regular magic system in Skyrim. You don’t unlock them by simply reading a spell book (like you can do with every spell in Skyrim, regardless of level) instead you unlock them in a two stage process. First you have to find the words which are scattered throughout the land of Skyrim. Secondly you will need to defeat a dragon in order to unlock the word of power and make it available for use. All shouts have 3 words total and each additional word you unlock in a shout increases its power. There are some unique shouts that will really help you out in certain encounters, especially early on when fighting tougher enemies like dragons and giants.
Crafting in Skyrim is a process that’s sometimes laborious, bordering on MMORPG levels, but the payoffs for doing so are quite significant. As I mentioned earlier the Daedric armour had my eye for quite some time but the investment to get there is quite steep. Not only do you need to get 90 smithing (something I achieved by crafting hundreds of other items) you also need to get some of the rarest ingredients of the game: ebony bars and daedra hearts. This quest which I set myself took me no less than 2 hours to complete even when I knew exactly where I needed to go in order to get everything in order. The same can be said for enchanting an alchemy as the process of levelling them can take quite a while but the end result are items that can break the game completely.
For instance there’s a skill that increases the effectiveness of new enchants by 100%. Combine this with the enchant that reduces the cost of say destruction spells you can actually enchant your armour enough so those spells are free. Couple that with the enchanting perk of being able to enchant any item twice and you can craft a character that is literally indestructible. Whilst I didn’t go down this particular path myself I did end up creating a character that was able to 2 shot dragons with his sword rendering even the toughest encounters almost trivial. I can’t fault Skyrim for this as for almost any RPG you’ll reach a point where your character becomes nigh unstoppable and realistically that’s part of the fun. Still it leaves you wondering whether this was intentional or not, especially considering the ludicrous number of exploits that are present in Skyrim.
Like any Bethesda game Skyrim is littered with bugs, exploits and quirks that can either make or break the game for you. Bethesda has a rule about not fixing the “fun” bugs as they believe they’re part of the game and realistically with a game this expansive it’s hard to judge them with the amount of emergent behaviour that’s possible. Indeed many of the moments I’ve found myself discussing with my friends have been around those times when something hasn’t gone the way you’d expect it. I didn’t encounter too many game breaking bugs though which shows that Bethesda was committed to making the core game stable, even if it was at the cost of dragon skeletons occasionally raining from the sky.
What will get to you after a while however is the repetition. It’s pretty much the same as every RPG gets to be after a while as there’s only so many ways you can dress up a fetch quests before people start to catch on and start avoiding them completely. Indeed many of my friends began suffering Skyrim fatigue just recently, saying that they’d love to play more but were just couldn’t bear themselves to play any more at least for a little while. I felt the same thing too especially with the near endless stream of quests and distractions on the way to said quests. Truth be told there’s probably well over 100 hours of total game play within Skyrim and with the theoretical level cap somewhere at the dizzying heights of 81 I’m sure there’s enough content to get the most intrepid explorer’s there.
What kept me going through those last bits of drudgery was the story. Whilst there’s enough stories in Skyrim to fill several novels the main plot line was by far the most captivating. It’s you’re typical hero out to save the world kind of stuff but the multiple reveals and little details you can glean from being in the right places at the right time make it quite enthralling. Additionally, true to Skyrim’s openness, your decisions about what to do at certain points will shape the story in certain ways. The ending, whilst intensely satisfying in itself, felt a little hollow when you were dropped straight back into the world. Granted I didn’t play for too long afterwards to notice if there were any major changes but after a journey like that I felt like the game either should have ended or changed in some significant way. I won’t put the game down for that though since it’s a personal thing (and I’m not quite sure I’m explaining my feelings well enough here) and games don’t deserve to be punish for that.
I don’t think I’m entirely done with Skyrim either. Just like other games that get their longevity from multi-player I get the feeling that I’ll come back to Skyrim every so often just because there’s so much there left to do. It’s a testament to Bethesda’s skill in creating a single player world that will have play times to rival that of long running multi-player games. Skyrim’s model doesn’t generalize to all kinds of games easily though (would you play a FPS for 40 hours?) but it does show that a game can have some serious longevity based of its single player experience alone.
If a new comer to The Elder Scrolls series like myself can find so much to like about the world of Skyrim then I imagine that long time fans are just as impressed with it as I am. The graphics are amazing, the world is filled with unimaginable detail and the game itself has enough nuances to keep you interested for quite a long time. In typical Bethesda fashion it’s anything but a bug free experience but they’re usually not game breaking and are more a symptom of a system than can have incredible amounts of emergent behaviour rather than lazy developers. If you enjoy savouring your game experience over a long period of time then Skyrim is definitely for you as its one I can see myself playing for months after this review is done.
The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim is available on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $59.99, $88 and $88 respectively. Game was played entirely on normal difficulty (I only just found out you could change it) with around 36 hours total played and 48% of the achievements unlocked. Got any questions about the review? Read the guide to reviews here on The Refined Geek or leave me a comment here!