Posts Tagged‘playstation 4’

Remnant: From the Ashes: The Root of All Suffering.

Souls games are very much an acquired taste, one that I would have never sought to try if I hadn’t been pushed by several of my close friends to try Bloodborne. Since then I’ve tried my hand at the numerous Souls-like experiences that have came out and for the most part I’ve enjoyed them. However none of them were the kind of game I’d recommend to people wanting to get into the Souls-like genre, all of them maintaining the same brutality that made recommending them to friends (especially those who’d shied away from things like MMORPGs for similar reasons) a fools errand. Remnant: From the Ashes though maintains a lot of core Souls traits whilst making it very approachable, especially when you’re teamed up with another friend or two. To be sure it’s still not going to be to everyone’s liking but I was honestly surprised at just how much fund I had in this not quite bargain basement souls clone.

The world has been overtaken by an alien presence known only as the root. For over 100 years its tendrils have spread out everywhere, wiping out most of life as we know it. The last few remnants of humanity have holed themselves up in wards, large fortified structures that have managed to keep the root out, giving the survivors a life that few would envy. You are a champion from outside those wards, risen with a single purpose: to defeat the root and restore the world to the glory that it once held.

Seemingly taking inspiration directly from the Souls-game for everything Remnant’s graphics aren’t exactly cutting edge, even though they come to us via the Unreal 4 engine. Part of this is due to the rather large and expansive procedurally generated areas that you’ll be trudging through, something which can be rather hard to optimise well. To be sure there is some great level and set design, like the screenshot below highlights, but for the most part it certainly feels like you’re playing a previous generation game. Performance for the most part is good, the only issue I encountered was in some of the earlier levels that generated some rather long sections which my nearly 5 year old rig struggled a bit with. Overall I’d rate the graphics as good but not great.

Remnant incorporates many of the usual tropes you’ll see in a Souls-like game including the punishing combat and a wildly opaque progression system with dozens of weapons, armour sets and skills to optimise. Remnant’s claim to fame is that co-op is an expected part of the experience right from the start, rather than being something you do if you need help with a boss or a particular section. The world is also mostly procedurally generated, even to the point of some parts of it not being accessible if you don’t get the right “roll”. Thankfully this is accompanied by the oh-so-welcome map which would have otherwise made the procedurally generated world an absolute nightmare to navigate. It’s certainly different enough from your garden variety Souls-like game that it stands on its own, so much so that it seems to be attracting quite a few players who wouldn’t typically give a game like this a second look.

At a basic level Remnant’s combat follows the Souls-like trope of having punishing combat that feels quite rewarding when you feel like you’ve mastered it. However instead of it being primarily melee focused with some ranged backup Remnant is completely the opposite, with most of the combat taking place at range. To be sure you can still build yourself up to be a melee powerhouse but anyone who’s played Souls games knows that if you can defeat an enemy without getting close to them it’s going to be far easier than if you try the same thing up close. This is, I feel, the reason why Remnant feels quite a bit easier than its other Souls-like compatriots as the amount of leeway you have when dealing with enemies at range compared to when you’re in melee is quite substantial. Of course the game is designed around this so many of the enemies have ways of quickly closing the gap on you but that matters a lot less when they’re just about to fall over when they do.

The weapon mods also provide for some rather game breaking mechanics that allow you to get away with things that trivialise many of the game’s harder encounters. One of the ones you get early on, the one that summons a tree that taunts all enemies in a radius, just so happens to work on bosses as well. This becomes incredibly valuable as launching one of those can easily net you a quarter of a boss’ health as they slap away at a random tree whilst you unload round after round into them. With 2 players the uptime is considerable but with 3 it can be nigh on permanent. Of course these things that make the game easier for souls veterans like myself are going to be the things that help new players immensely so I definitely don’t think they should be removed, and of course I could just not use them, but hey I’m not made of stone. Sometimes I do want a little fun with my challenge!

As I alluded to earlier the complex and quite often intentionally vague progression system that all Souls-like games are known for makes an appearance in Remnant. Whilst the basics are easy enough to grasp, like different armours being strong/weak against certain damage types, there’s so many different things to optimise that it can be quite a struggle to figure out how to best min/max your character. Traits, for instance, start off with simple augments that make sense but once you have 30+ of them it can be a real chore to think about whether or not having extra stamina is better than reducing stamina costs or whether you’re hitting diminishing returns with reload speed. I’m sure there’s calculators and guides galore out there, like there is always is for games like this, but it does feel like it’s more of a chore than it should be.

The progression system is auto-scaling meaning that all you need to do to unlock the next tier of upgrade materials is to upgrade an item all the way to the point of needing them. The old materials will still continue to drop which is a good thing since you’ll need them to upgrade any armour or weapons that you happen across or manage to craft. At the start you’ll be scrounging for every little bit but later on, as you move up the materials treadmill, you’ll find yourself quite flush with the older materials making any new pickup that you want to use viable. That being said I used the starter shotgun for most of the game and didn’t really struggle at all.

The boss fights are all pretty much standard DPS fights with a few interesting mechanics thrown in here and there. Unlike other Souls games where learning the move set is absolutely critical to beating the boss Remnant is usually pretty predictable, so much so that my friend and I one-shotted multiple bosses over the course of our play through. The only one that gave us significant grief was the final boss and that’s mostly because it’s the only one we did that had mechanical complexity on par with standard Souls bosses. Interesting fact too: nearly all the bosses have 2 ways of defeating them and doing the alternate kill will net you different loot. Some of them are pretty obvious whilst others are downright insane. That being said it’d be worth looking into what the alternate kill nets you as sometimes it’s really not worth the effort.

When I saw that Perfect World was the publisher for Remnant I jokingly told my mates that’d be full of jank and, unsurprisingly it is. Some of the more fun bugs we encountered along the way included me getting stuck right inside the door of a boss fight, meaning I couldn’t move from there and we had to just hope that the boss didn’t try and melee me. Bullets would simply not register on certain enemies sometimes, indicating that their hitbox wasn’t placed where you’d typically expect it to be. We had one boss bug out on us so bad that he just teleported around the room randomly, never stopping to attack us and would immediately teleport away again if we ever got close. The procedural generation also doesn’t have a ton of smarts built into it and you’ll often come across identical areas multiple times over in a single level. These are all fixable issues but it’s something to be aware of going in.

The story is nothing to write home about, being your generic hero’s adventure with you as the saviour of all humanity. Whilst it’s a lot more direct than other Souls games tend to be quite a lot of the lore is locked up in journals and other walls of texts scattered around the place, something that’s not exactly conducive to immersive and enjoyable storytelling. It probably doesn’t help that most of the characters are pretty one dimensional, usually vomiting exposition for a good 5 minutes when you first meet them then only giving you a sentence or two when you meet them after that. Its rare that you play these kinds of games for the story though so it’s unlikely to detract from your experience with Remnant.

Remnant: From the Ashes was a nice surprise, bringing with it a few new ideas to the Souls-like genre and, I feel, making it approachable to a much wider audience. The graphics might not be the greatest and sure there’s a load of jank to be found but the overall experience, especially when playing with a friend or two, is actually pretty great. It’s certainly a sum of the parts is greater than the whole kind of deal as individually the game borders on being a very B grade experience but combined they manage to stumble into A- territory. So if you’re looking for a lark with a couple mates or have been eyeing off the Souls genre for some time then Remnant: From the Ashes could well be for you.

Rating: 8.25/10

Remnant: From the Ashes is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $56.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 11 hours playtime and 55% of the achievements unlocked.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood: Heir to Blazkowicz

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.

Rating: 6.5/10

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.

Vane: Where The Wind Takes Us.

Yeah I know, I have a type.

Take some kind of high concept, wrap it in an intriguing art style, throw in a few interesting puzzle mechanics and back the whole thing up with a semi-decent soundtrack and you’re almost guaranteed to get a look in from me. Part of my penchant for these kinds of games was born out of my time being consumed by other things but over time I’ve grown to quite like the genre and all the weird titles it seems to produce. Vane, as you’ve likely already guessed, fits that description almost perfectly and was the second title to come to me via the new Steam recommendation engine. I’m glad to say that this time around it was bang on the money, directing me to an incredibly surreal and intriguing experience that I had not come across before.

In a ruined desert, a strange golden dust transforms a free-spirited bird into a determined young child. You are not the only one to have undergone this transformation however and the world around you is littered with evidence of a world that was once far more than what it appears to be today. Your transformation sets in motion a chain of events that will reshape the world, hopefully for the better.

Vane’s art-style is quite unique with its direct influences coming from the Team Ico games of old. That’s combined with a weird glitchy aesthetic, which gives it this strange sci-fi overtone. Indeed the styling of the world is equal parts fantastic and high-tech, giving you this feeling the environment is stuck between the fantastic and the real. Given I’ve played far too many low-poly indie games of late it’s nice to see a developer take a different angle with it instead of simply using the aesthetic as a way to get out of needing to texture too much. There were a few poorly optimised areas, mostly the larger open areas when the heavy particle effects were going, but other than them the game ran perfectly smooth.

You’ll encounter a wide variety of puzzle mechanics whilst playing Vane as it starts off as a kind of walking-simulator-esque experience as you soar around the desert looking for places to land. From there the game evolves into a kind of puzzle platformer, requiring you to explore the level to figure out how it works, look for where you need to transform and so on. Later on the game then adds in what I’ll call the “rebuilding” mechanic which appears to reconstruct the destroyed world around you. It makes for an interesting progression in terms of mechanical complexity, gradually ramping up the challenge over the game’s short length.

None of those mechanics are well introduced unfortunately, making figuring them out a rather laborious endeavour of trial and error. There’s hints around, of course, but it can be hard to tell when the game is trying to nudge you in a direction or if it’s just something that looks like it should be investigated. Vane isn’t the first game to suffer from a problem like this and it’s one of the more challenging elements to get right; making exploration worthwhile by challenging the player and not just filling the world with random rubbish to seek out.

I’d probably be a bit more lenient on Vane if it weren’t for the absolutely god awful controls that it has. Flying is honestly a major chore and it’s far too hard to perch on something, especially considering that’s one of the core mechanics. Indeed I managed to spaz out the physics engine multiple times by flying too close to something and it not being able to figure out if I should land, bounce off or do something else. This continues with the controls on the ground which feel far more wonky than they really should be. This is most aptly demonstrated in the part of the game with a procedurally generated level, often resulting in you getting stuck on geometry or sliding around randomly as the game tries to figure out how to place you. For a game that gets so much right to get a basic thing like controls so utterly wrong really perplexes me.

The story is interesting, even if it’s so hand wavy in what it shows that you could really make anything out of it. It’s obvious that you find yourself in the ruins of a once prosperous world, one that’s ravaged by what appears to be a never ending storm. However from there everything is pretty much up to your interpretation. On a hunch I just checked and there are 2 different endings although really it seems either of them are as about as satisfying as the other. All this being said I don’t think that the story of Vane was the developer’s overall focus and, whilst it’s somewhat interesting to contemplate, it’s not really the main thrust of the game.

Vane is a weird dichotomy of excellent craftsmanship in some respects and down right negligence in others. The art of Vane’s world is an eclectic mix of old world fantasy with sci-fi overtones all built up beautifully in low poly detail. The puzzle mechanics grow organically throughout the game, ramping up the challenge gradually. However the lack of any direction with the puzzles coupled with the absolutely trash controls means that the game experience is far more frustrating than it needs to be. I’ve dealt with vague puzzle mechanics before, and I can somewhat forgive them, but controls that are that wonky just makes everything worse. Hopefully future titles from Friend & Foe Games don’t incur this penalty as what they’ve built here has the makings of something truly awesome.

Rating: 7.5/10

Vane is available on PC and PlayStation 4 right now for $28.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 2.7 hours playtime with 39% of the achievements unlocked.

Sea of Solitude: The Monster in All of Us.

Exploration in games used to just be about finding the secret room or a hidden easter egg that the developers left behind. For many games now exploration is a key part of the experience, sometimes completely changing the narrative or mechanics leading to a whole different kind of experience for those who invest the time to explore deep and wide. Further the exploration of things outside of the game has also become an integral part of many titles, including Sea of Solitude which seeks to explore the emotions of depression, loneliness and loss. It unfortunately does so in a rather ham fisted, stereotypical way; it’s apparent metaphorical storytelling being far more direct than I think it’s creators intended. To be sure I’m not denying that the feelings that went into creating this story aren’t real, indeed the creative director states that it was due to a breakup of hers, but it’s clear that that experience has been workshopped and massaged into a very middle of the road experience.

You play as Kay who finds herself in a world that’s been consumed by the sea with only a few scarce buildings popping out over the waves. Her boat is her only respite from the deep waters that are inhabited by monsters who taunt her endlessly. Those monsters are of her own creation however, stemming from events in her past that she has yet to deal with fully. Your journey is then one of exploring her past, uncovering the trauma that has created the monsters that now inhabit this sunken world. It’s up to you to guide her through the pain and, hopefully, come out the other side healed.

Sea of Solitude’s art style is the ever-trendy low poly chic that nearly every indie game seems to be implementing these days. The wider world isn’t exactly filled out well with a lot of noticeable asset reuse, making a lot of the more open parts of the world feel very samey. However the internal level parts are brimming with detail, each which their own distinctive style (something which I’m sure the level designers are quite proud of). Animations are a little on the simplistic side however, feeling like they’ve mostly been hand cranked which makes some characters look a lot more stilted than they should be. Overall the games visuals are quite good for Jo-Mei’s first all inhouse, standalone title.

I’ve shied away from calling games like Sea of Solitude “adventure” titles as, in my mind, that’s games like the old school LucasArts titles and their more modern equivalents. Instead I feel that games like this are more akin to puzzle platformers as their puzzles are typically self contained and usually heavily blended in platform elements. Indeed that’s pretty much Sea of Solitude in a nutshell: you’ll move between various different platforms (quite literally most of the time too), working your way through until you hit a puzzle that requires you to solve before going on. There’s two sets of collectibles for you to track down although whether or not they actually change the game in any appreciable way is unclear. Altogether Sea of Solitude is a pretty simple game mechanically and isn’t likely to challenge most players.

With all the puzzles being self contained it’s usually not terribly difficult to figure out what needs to be done. Some of them are unforgiving though, sending you all the way back to the start of the puzzle should you happen to time something wrong. Many of them are platform based which, as anyone who’s played 3D platformers before will tell you, means there’s a certain unwieldiness to them. There’ll be times when you’re pretty sure you’ve made a jump or calculated your timing perfectly only to be slapped down unceremoniously. Thankfully the game doesn’t require frame level precision nor are any of the puzzles minutes long sequences that need repeating upon failing so you won’t be struggling for hours on end to get past something.

The game also has a few rough edges that could do with some sorting out. For starters it’s not completely clear on communicating its mechanics to you, most notably during the first light beam puzzle which tells you to “focus” with the mouse…somehow. I tried doing everything I could think of with my mouse and nothing seemed to work, until I started wiggling it wildly only to find that the game had dropped the sensitivity way down, requiring quite a few long passes across the mouse pad to get the beam moving. This then extends to the rather unwieldy controls which make most things a little more challenging to navigate than they otherwise should be. Most notably this happens with the boat which makes navigating around with it quite a pain. These things aren’t beyond fixing so I hope future patches will smooth these things out.

Sea of Solitude warns you straight up that it’s going to deal with some heavy emotional content but what follows fails to really deliver any emotional impact whatsoever. There’s no real one issue at play here, more the culmination of the various storytelling choices removed any kind of empathy I had for any of the characters. The voice acting isn’t particularly great, feeling devoid of emotion save for a few choice scenes that happen later in the game. The ham-fisted approach to working through the various emotional challenges, typically done by using stereotypical exposition of scenes associated with them (Bullied at school, career focused father, depressive boyfriend), makes it hard to truly resonate with the story. Given that I’ve been through most of the trauma that the game describes myself you’d think it’d be a slam dunk but, in all honesty, it felt like someone from the outside trying to tell my own story back to me. It simply didn’t hit the mark at all.

That is really the true failing of Sea of Solitude. For all the effort put into making a great looking game the substance needed to back it up, either in the form of great mechanics or an intriguing story (perhaps both, if we’re lucky) just wasn’t there. The CEO describes this as her most personal game to date but I just don’t really get that feeling. The story, even if born out of true events, feels like it’s done at arm’s length, almost as if there’s a fear that doing so would alienate those seeking to play it. Really that was done the second they decided to partner up with EA and therefore only be allowed to release on Origin, not exactly the platform known for its vibrant indie scene. For what it’s worth I’d still like to see more from Jo-Mei but only if they can take the lessons learnt from this and make something that actually achieves some form of emotional impact.

Rating: 6.5/10

Sea of Solitude is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $29.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 3 hours playtime and 73% of the achievements unlocked.

A Plague Tale: Innocence: A Brutal Coming of Age.

There are some rules of thumb in game development that can help ensure a studio is successful. The first is once you’ve discovered a successful formula, whether that’s an original title or say a deal with a publisher to make a certain type of game, stick with it and iterate on it. Another is to never build your own engine, lest you spend the majority of your budget developing it and not the game itself. Finally if you’ve got a publisher it’s likely best to stick with them, especially if you’ve had success with them previously. So for Asobo Studios to ignore all those rules in developing A Plague Tale: Innocence many would’ve thought them down right crazy, given the line of successful (albeit not exactly groundbreaking) titles they’d released in the past. The gamble has paid off in spades however as this game stands out as one of the more unique experiences of 2019; bringing together a beautiful world and great storytelling.

Set in 1349 France A Plague Tale: Innocence puts you in control of Amicia de Rune, a young noble in the rural province of Aquitaine. The plague grips the country but has thankfully yet to make its way to your lands. Things take a dark turn when the English Inquisition invades, taking your father hostage and demanding that you hand over your brother. When he refuses the Inquisition brutally murders him and anyone who stands in their way as they search the property for your brother. Your mother urges you to escape and seek out Laurentius, a doctor friend who has been treating your brother for a mysterious illness that has long plagued him. This begins your long and tortuous journey to find out why the Inquisition is after your brother and what they intend to do with him.

Asobo Studio developed their own in-house engine to power A Plague Tale: Innocence and I have to say the results are absolutely stellar. Building an engine capable of graphics like this from the ground up couldn’t have been easy, especially considering that this is also a cross platform release. Suffice to say the screenshots in this review speak for themselves, all of them taken from directly in game. Performance is also rock solid to, even when you have what appears to be thousands of rats on screen at once. The game does demand a bit of your hard disk though, enough that I moved it onto my SSD in order to play it. Still all things considered I’ve seen many more well funded development houses attempt to build engines and get nowhere near as good as what Asobo has put out here so hats off to them.

From a core gameplay perspective A Plague Tale: Innocence is a kind of stealth action game, starting off initially as a kind of stealth walking simulator before graduating more into a typical action-oriented game with largely optional stealth elements. Unlike other games which reward you more for taking the harder option (I.E. stealth) this game doesn’t really seem to mind if you go all out against every enemy, save for a few choice voice lines. Indeed the game’s progression system, whilst having a myriad of different options, heavily favours enhancing your combat abilities rather than your stealth. That being said whilst there’s a couple different routes to be taken for each level they are, for the most part, linear experiences that have a distinct right and wrong way of completing them. There are times when you can create some emergent gameplay opportunities but they’re rare and usually ill-advised. Overall it’s not a mechanically deep game but it doesn’t really need to be, the focus much more on the story and its telling.

Combat revolves around Amicia and her sling which is unfathomably accurate and ludicrously deadly. Once your combat abilities are unlocked you can one shot any unhelmeted guard which makes the stealth aspects so much easier. There’s a host of different types of ammunition you’ll be able to craft later on that unlocks the ability to get guards to take off their helmets, sick rats on them and all sorts of other abilities which have both combat and puzzle functions. About two thirds of the way through the game you’ll have all the required ammunition types and enough of them crafted to be able to take out all enemies in a level and, honestly, there’s no reason you shouldn’t. Most games would punish you severely for doing this so it’s pretty refreshing to play a game that has an obvious bent towards stealth but doesn’t really mind if you go on a murderous rampage. I’m not sure if that fits with the theme of the whole game but hey, it was fun.

Upgrades come through crafting, driven by finding various different kinds of materials around the world. Most of the upgrades rely on “blue” materials which aren’t particularly common and are shared with some of the more high end consumables. The game does try to play this off as some kind of a trade off, I.E. if you want to have that consumable (which usually gives you a second life, effectively) you might not have enough for that upgrade you’re lusting after. In my experience though you’re better off not crafting those consumables at all as all the times when you’d end up using them are encounters where you shouldn’t be needing them anyway. Hunting for these materials feels a little hit and miss as quite often most of the upgrade materials are clustered near the workbenches. There are some hidden elsewhere in the world but they’re mostly stuff you’ll already have max of anyway. I don’t think there’s enough materials in the game to upgrade everything but there’s certainly enough to get all the upgrades that matter.

It’s through these upgrades that the game slowly transitions from a game that requires stealth to one where it’s completely optional. Initially you have to be pretty tactical about who you take out and how with your limited ammo supply and the long time it takes to wind up the sling. However after a few choice upgrades you’re basically unstoppable as there’s more than enough ammunition and crafting materials around to keep you fully stocked pretty much all the time. I had figured that there might be some consequence to just taking out everyone I saw but as far as I can tell there wasn’t one. Perhaps it was the Dishonored-esque setting and gameplay setting that was making me feel that way.

A Plague Tale: Innocence is largely bug free and didn’t have any performance issues once I got past the incredibly long load times due to my RAID 10 array playing up. As I mentioned before there are some instances where you can do what appears to be something that wasn’t intended by the developers although most of the time that leads to breaking the encounter completely. The game also doesn’t do a great job of letting you know when you’re attempting something that is 100% impossible, leading to a few instances where you can think you’re doing the right thing and just failing at it when, in actual fact, you’re breaking the encounter completely. Thankfully there aren’t too many of these but there could be a few more dialogue cues or other things that would indicate when you were barking up the wrong tree completely.

The story is one of the stand out features of A Plague Tale: Innocence as it’s all fully voiced (save for a few bits of flavour text here and there) by some great voice actors. It’s somewhat confusing to begin with as the game doesn’t reveal much to you early on, leading to some slow pacing to begin with. However in the last half or so things really start to pick up and it became quite enjoyable to play through. I’m not typically one for period pieces like this but the story gave all the characters enough air time to build them up enough for me to care about them. I might not have come to like Hugo as much as other reviewers did, but I can at least see where they’re coming from.

A Plague Tale: Innocence was a nice surprise, coming out of left field in the middle of a deluge of AAA titles and standing out among them as one of the more well crafted experiences of this year. The graphics are phenomenal, brought to us by an in-house engine that I hope Asobo continues to make use of for future titles. The gameplay is an eclectic and evolving beast, one that transitions from a kind of stealth walking simulator to an almost full action RPG by the end. The story brings everything together, starting off slow but building up to a great ending that wraps everything up without committing the cardinal sin of teasing a sequel. There’s a few rough edges but nothing that’s beyond patching. So if you’re looking for a narrative focused game that doesn’t ask too much from you then A Plague Tale: Innocence could be right up your alley.

Rating: 9.0/10

A Plague Tale: Innocence is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 9 hours play time and 57% of the achievements unlocked.

Rage 2: Ranger Danger

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.

Rating: 7.5/10

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 Division 2: Washington’s Deep Crisis.

It’s been interesting to chart the course of The Division and Destiny as they’re both games I’ve played a lot of and each of them have had their own challenges over the years. Destiny started out strong and built on that, managing to bring me back into the fold with nearly every expansion that they released. The Division on the other hand couldn’t bring me back until Patch 1.8 when I came back into a game that had grown substantially. From there Destiny began to waver until it found its feet again in Forsaken (although I’m yet to go back after Black Armory). So I had some trepidation stepping into The Division 2, fearful that Massive might pull a Bungie and uproot all the good work they had done with the original. I’m glad to say that this isn’t the case, there are changes to be sure, but all of it seems in aid of making the game more accessible (bar one recent development, of course). At a nuts and bolts level it’s more of the same but given it’d been over a year since I last played basically everything old was new again. That and the fact that there was a renewed interest from my crew to play it meant that I had a grand old time shooting up Washington DC over the last couple months.

It’s been seven months since the Green Poison attack and Division agents have spread far and wide to help support the survivors in rebuilding society. You’re helping defend a civilian settlement when the SHD Network goes down, preventing you from communicating with other agents both locally and abroad. It’s right at this point that you receive a distress call from Washington DC: they’re under attack by a large force and need The Division’s help to repel it. You arrive on the scene shortly later and, after defeating the attack, learn that Washington has fallen into the control of 3 large factions. Your job, Agent, is to help the JTF retake the city, restore the SHD network and begin the process of rebuilding everything that has been lost.

The Snowdrop engine returns in The Division 2 with a minor tweaks to make the DX12 experience a lot better. There are some notable additions though like numerous different dynamic weather events (some which drastically change how missions play out) and an even more attention paid to the smallest of details in the game. The development team apparently used LIDAR and other GIS data to build out the bones of Washington DC before they turned it all post-apocalyptic. Now I’ve never been there myself but many I’ve played with have and they’ve all stated unequivocally how eerie the levels feel because of it. Right alongside this is the great foley work and sound track which is usually pushed aside as a small detail but it goes a long way with making the experience feel a lot more complete. Performance is also really good, even in the middle of heavy firefights with numerous things on fire. I had expected no less from Massive but it’s always nice not to be disappointed.

The Division 2 retains much of the original’s core game mechanics and structure with major changes to the loot system, abilities/talents and the gameplay loop. The major part of the game is still going to be centered around hiding in cover and shooting bad guys however how you progress is completely different. You’ll still find drops and chase the dragon for that perfectly rolled whatever which you need complete your build but the system has been revamped somewhat to dissuade you from doing that for days on end. The introduction of specialist classes is a nice way to make all of the builds more active than the previous class system was which often saw healers like me hiding behind cover for most of the mission. There are an overwhelming number of stats to min/max now which, depending on whether spreadsheets appeal to you or not, could be a good or a bad thing. Progression towards endgame is nice and linear, with predictable stage gates that you can work towards by simply playing the game in any way you want (or getting someone with higher gear score to feed you drops which works so well it feels like you’re cheating). I could go on describing the minutiae of the game but realistically it’s not going to make much of a difference to whether you’ll play it or not. That, my friends, is going to be wholly decided by whether or not you like the kind of loot grind that The Division 2 has on offer.

Combat is more refined and a whole lot more punishing than it was in the original game. Gone are the days when enemies would predictably spawn in front of you, take their cover positions and then take pot shots at you from there. No instead the AI now flanks, suppresses and is generally a royal pain in your ass which during the first few hours feels quite rough. Part of that is due to how I play games like this, favouring being right in the enemy’s face, which is a recipe for disaster most of the time. It got so bad that my mates eventually coined the term “Going Full Dave” when I’d inevitably end up face down in the middle of a bunch of enemies, a term I think I fully deserved. However as you gear up and understand how the AI works it becomes quite an enjoyable challenge, especially with some of the newer abilities like the mortar turret which is just a joy to use.

I still ended up sticking to the same weapon archetypes that I became comfortable with in the original. I mostly stuck with LMGs in the original due to their stupidly large magazines that countered the long reload times well and SMGs for their ridiculous DPS at close range. The same combo works well in The Division 2, even if I can’t get myself a 200 round LMG or a SMG that removed armour instantly. Much to my dismay shotguns are basically worthless, doing about the same amount of damage as a sniper rifle but carrying with them so much more risk that they’re just not worth using. I didn’t have much luck with sniper/marksman rifles but I’ve never really favoured them in any game I’ve played anyway (and by all accounts they are quite effective). Everyone I played with had their own set which they relied on so overall I’d have to say the weapon design is on point.

The skills are a blend of old ones that have been revamped (like the Seekers), new takes on old skills and completely new ones that shake up the game play significantly. I went back on my old faithful building initially, using the chem launcher with the heal and the hive, again with the heal, to supplement my reckless playstyle. This worked ok for the majority of the campaign however I found that I wasn’t really using the hive much and, when I did, it wasn’t particularly effective. When I chose the demolitionist specialisation though I replaced the hive with the mortar turret and, oh boy, am I glad I did. The game could have been a little clearer that it has friendly fire (just for you) as there were a couple deaths that I had no idea why they happened until I realised that I had the mortar pointing at the back of my head. Hilarious in retrospect though. Much like the weapon builds my friends and I had a diverse range of abilities selected so once again I’d say the ability design is well done, ensuring that all options are viable.

The progression through to endgame is refreshingly linear with clear activities and stage gates that you’ll need to complete in order to get through. Playing everything normally you’ll likely get to the last mission of the campaign either bang on or just before level 30. I myself had to do about an hour or so of grinding to get that last level out but you could probably skip that if you’ve been grouping for most of the game. From there you have to progress through 5 “World Tiers” which are effectively just gear score gates, forcing you to grind a bit to get enough gear up to take out a stronghold before you progress to the next one. In all honesty after doing the requisite precursor missions and a couple control points you’re likely going to be there already. Even better still if you have a friend like me who’s on WT5 and you’re on a lower tier all the gear that drops for your buddy will be at the max level for your world tier. I took one of my friends from newly minted 30 to gear score 325 in the space of 2 missions, absolutely fantastic if you’re gearing up people for end game content. I think this clear, defined progression path is what kept me coming back for so long as I always had a clear goal to work towards. Indeed it was so clear that I’ve yet to really dive into any other areas of the game except for the PVE components.

Which is why it was slightly disappointing to see that, despite basically everything in the game having a matchmaking component to it, the raid won’t. Now I’m no stranger to this challenge, I’ve made my raid career in Destiny out of grouping up with 5 other strangers on DestinyLFG.net, but I was hoping to not have to resort to that for once. It’s especially disheartening as whilst I could probably get a crew of 4 mates together to give it a crack finding another 4 is going to prove to be a royal pain in the ass. Thankfully it seems like the developers are hearing our concerns and will be bringing it in eventually although strangely cites concerns that I’d say are pretty easy to deal with. Heck DestinyLFG dealt with them years ago with a few drop down boxes. I don’t think that’s beyond Massive’s ability to deliver.

As with any of these large, open world games there’s going to be some level of jankiness that comes along with them. Typically they’re small issues, like sounds repeating themselves or models glitching out in fun and weird ways, but there’s also been some persistent crashing problems that have plagued the playerbase. I myself have only had 2 crashes in the time I’ve been playing but mates of mine had them at least once or twice a night. This does seem to have gotten better over time though so there’s hope that one day they’ll be gone for good. It does appear though that the raid isn’t immune to the plethora of small issues that dog the main game like an overly aggressive AI, sound problems and textures no loading correctly. Again I don’t believe these are beyond fixing but they are a small black mark against an otherwise stellar game.

The Division 2’s plot is fairly generic, as are pretty much all of the characters. Quick, name a main character in the game without looking them up. Pretty hard isn’t it? That’s because, as my good friend put it, Ubisoft and Massive are great at building out awesome, expansive worlds but suck hard at filling them with memorable characters. The good news is that you don’t really need to enjoy the overall plot to have fun and many of the missions stand on their own quite well without context from a larger overarching story. There’s numerous things that happen “because plot” which likely won’t get explained anytime soon but at the least they’re not so bad as to distract from the gameplay itself. I guess the biggest sin here is that the story is forgettable and, in all honesty, there’s far worse things that it could be.

The Division 2 is, I think, the right way to do a sequel to a game. It’s got the core of what made the original great with enough new things to keep it interesting. The lessons learnt from the past aren’t forgotten and have heavily influenced the new game loops that are core to The Division 2. There’s still improvements to be made, mostly around squashing the remaining bugs/glitches and introducing matchmaking for the raid, but otherwise I think there’s no better base for this sequel to start off from. The question is where do they go from here? These initial content tranches have been great but it remains to see if the upcoming content is going to be enough to bring me back to the fold on the regular. I’m very keen to see that though as my time with The Division 2 has been well spent and I look forward to more of it in the future.

Rating: 9.25/10

The Division 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $79. Game was played on the PC with a total of 43 hours of game time and 62% of the achievements unlocked.

Far Cry: New Dawn: Rebuild What Once Was.

After their long hiatus between Far Cry 2 and Far Cry 3 it doesn’t seem like Ubisoft is willing to let the series breath for much more than a year between releases. For some of the instalments this has been great, like the much loved Blood Dragon (which I’ve strangely not reviewed but I did complete) but it has cast a dim view on others like Far Cry Primal. With the wild success of Far Cry 5 it seems like Ubisoft was wanting to strike while the iron was hot and pushed out Far Cry: New Dawn as soon as they were able. Indeed New Dawn feels a lot like an overgrown DLC more than it does a full game, what with it borrowing so heavily from its predecessor and not adding a whole lot more in the mix. Still it was a mostly competent game in its own right, even if it was quite short by Far Cry standards.

17 years after nuclear war laid waste to the world in what has become known as The Collapse the survivors have emerged from hiding and are seeking to rebuild. You, known only as the Captain, are part of a travelling team of specialists that are helping everyone out in any way they can. One day you’re approached by someone from Hope county, Carmina, who’s settlement has come under attack from a gang of bandits called the Highwaymen. You agree to help however the gang gets wind of your impending arrival and derails your train before you can arrive. So begins your struggle to restore peace to Hope county, a task that will surely take more from you than you ever thought you could give.

The Dunia engine looks as great as ever, this time around with a more vibrant and saturated colour palette that instantly reminded me of Blood Dragon’s overblown visual aesthetic. This is very much contrary to the usual visual style that accompanies post apocalyptic games and honestly I quite like it. Sure, there’s times when it looks like someone let their toddler do the texture work, but it is both interesting and visually diverse. Interestingly it seems whatever optimisation problems were in Far Cry 5 at launch are gone as there was no need for me to tweak any settings in order to get solid performance and gorgeous visuals. Granted though the level of detail and pop-in was quite noticeable from a helicopter so it could just be better default selections than anything else. Still Far Cry maintains the standard it has long set for itself and brings a new visual flair to the post apocalyptic world that I’m sure will be replicated by others.

Where Far Cry 5 swing the pendulum more towards streamlining and simplification of the series’ core game mechanics New Dawn instead moves the needle back the other way a little whilst keeping most of the optimisations. The basics are still the same: limited weapon loadout, capturing outposts, crafting, etc. however the implementation of each varies somewhat from what Far Cry 5 did, enough so that it does play out like a very different game. There’s also some interesting mechanics that are included to keep you playing longer like infinitely upgradeable talents. recapturing outposts that get harder each time and a type of mission called expeditions that has the similar “harder each time” mechanic. It definitely seems like Ubisoft expected players to blast through the story and then continue to grind on these things for hours afterwards but, honestly, I don’t think anyone will see the appeal.

Combat feels a bit wonky as something weird has happened to the hit detection. Quite often shots that seem perfectly placed will miss, seemingly for no other reason than the game just didn’t think you were shooting at what you were looking at. It seems to get better with the higher end weapons so it’s possible there’s some stat I didn’t see which was affecting my aim in a way I wasn’t anticipating. Regardless the game doesn’t really educate you about anything like that so the first few hours are likely going to be spent wondering why you’re missing half your shots. Thankfully though headshots are a one hit kill, provided you have the right tier of gear for the enemy you’re trying to kill. You’ll also need a certain level of gear to even damage certain enemies, something that doesn’t become quite apparent until you run up against someone who seems impervious to all your bullets and only goes down to grenades. Thankfully the crafting mats for those are plentiful otherwise there would’ve been quite a few frustrating missions.

The crafting system goes back to its roots somewhat with animal skins now converting to various different crafting components that you’ll need to make the higher end gear. This does mean that hunting is no longer something you do when you’re strapped for cash; no you’ll need to go out and seek certain prey if you want to have the mats necessary to craft what you want. This wouldn’t be so bad if the maps didn’t really seem to lead you to the animals they say they do, quite often you’ll just end up in a barren area trying to figure out where the animal could be hiding. You don’t need to hunt of course, you can find most mats in chests or if you’re so inclined spend actual real money on buying them, but it is the fastest method by far. As someone who did enjoy hunting high end prey in the previous instalments I didn’t mind this so much although I would like the maps to be a little more reliable.

Further progression comes in two forms: ye olde talent tree and upgrading your own settlement. You’ll likely fill out the talent tree rather quickly thanks to all the points on offer from various activities: looting shelters, doing challenges and plain old levelling up. Of course the reason there’s so many points on offer is because some of the talents can be upgraded infinitely although I’m sure they reach diminishing returns at some point. I unlocked the whole tree without too much difficulty although to be honest I was just spending them at the end as I didn’t really need anything more beyond about halfway through the game.

Upgrading your base gives you access to various perks, most of which are quality of life improvements but others unlock the higher tiers of gear and vehicles that you’ll likely be lusting after. To get these upgrades you’ll need ethanol which comes from a variety of sources but the main one is from capturing outposts. After you’ve captured them once though you can scavenge them in order to bump them up a tier which, if you then go and capture again, nets you even more ethanol. Doing it with no alarms nets you a small ethanol bonus, which is pointless for the first level honestly, but doing it undetected nets you 50% more. For the tier 3 outposts this can be quite a lot, making getting those last tier upgrades quite easy. Of course doing that is easier said than done as the enemies at the final tiers can see you a mile away. Definitely a good balance of risk vs reward anyway.

Whilst there’s still some notable jankiness around, the combat being the worst of it, a lot of the polishes and bug fixing that went into Far Cry 5 have made their way into New Dawn. Even attempting some of the old physics tricks that would create some rather hilarious moments resulted in nothing much of anything happening. Disappointing in one respect but progress nonetheless. Some of the missions with unique mechanics (like the one where you travel north) were a little hit or miss, none of them requiring me to restart the mission but did point to those special instances not getting as much love as the base engine might have. So overall, given that New Dawn and Far Cry 5 likely share a lot of things under the hood it’s good to see progress in one translating to the other.

PLOT SPOILERS BELOW

The story unfortunately doesn’t really stand on its own feet, needing to borrow heavily from the previous game and unfortunately not adding a whole lot to it. The main antagonists in the game are laughably shallow, only managing to get any semblance of a compelling backstory quite late in the game. The strongest character in the whole game is Joseph Seed and that’s really only because he was already so well developed in the previous game. Far Cry isn’t typically renowned for having a deep and compelling story but they’re usually at least got something compelling to drag you along. This time around though? I struggled to even remember some of the character’s names when writing the review and one of them is on a sign in a screenshot I took.

PLOT SPOILERS OVER

Far Cry: New Dawn keeps true to the series’ formula, delivering competently in that regard, but doesn’t do much more than that. Some of the changes feel like a nod back to previous games but the bulk of it is following the trend that the last few games in the series have set down. There are some things done right, like the fantastical visuals and the trickle down of improvements from Far Cry 5, but other than that there’s not much more to talk about. I can only wonder what this game might have been like if it was an expansion or DLC to Far Cry 5 instead of a standalone title as it’s not really a game for those that haven’t played it. Far Cry: New Dawn goes down then as a slight misstep from Ubisoft in the series, certainly not a fall from grace but a small smudge on an otherwise solid recent track record.

Far Cry: New Dawn is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC right now for $68. Game was played on the PC with approximately 11 hours total play time and 59% of the achievements unlocked.

Anthem: The Power of Creation.

When a titan of the game industry gets into a genre the anticipation is always high for what they’re going to bring to the table. The looter shooter genre which came to popularity with titles like Destiny and The Division was seemingly set to see a new competitor this year in the form of Anthem from BioWare. I have to admit, even though I tried my darndest to stay away from the hype for it, I was excited to see what it would bring to the table. Heck I was even hoping it’d become another Destiny, something I could pick up every so often when a new DLC dropped to enjoy a casual raid or two. Unfortunately though those high expectations haven’t been met and the game that we’ve received seems to be cut down in scale and burdened with numerous problems that prevent it from achieving what it set it out to do. To be sure, there’s some great fundamentals in here, but we as gamers are tired of mostly finished games; especially from AAA developers.

The Anthem is a force of pure creation, left behind by the shapers of this world along with their various relics that forged this place that we now call home. Every so often the Anthem rises again, it’s unbound power causing chaos by ripping through the land. You, a rookie tagging along with famed freelancer Haluk for your first mission, go to tackle the Heart of Rage: a cataclysm that’s being caused by a device called the Cenotaph. The mission goes horribly astray however, with many of your fellow freelancers perishing at the horrors that were created. With that the hope that many in the freelancers is dashed and you spend the next couple years taking on odd jobs to keep the lights on. However it becomes apparent that an old power, The Dominion, is seeking to control the Anthem by using the Cenotaph at the heart of rage. It’s up to you, freelancer, to ensure that the ultimate power of creation doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

If there’s one thing that Anthem gets right it’s the visuals which set the bar for what many other games will be compared to this year. They come to us care of the Frostbite 3 engine so it’s no surprise that it’s able to pull off all the modern graphics tricks in the book. Flying through the environments is a joy, the wide vistas providing many good screenshot worthy moments as you explore the world of Bastion. It can get a little visually confusing during heavy combat scenes (with the enormous amount of particle effects everywhere) and during puzzle sections (as puzzle items blend in far too well with the background) and I don’t think that’s something that’s ever going to change unfortunately. Performance is also pretty great as I never experienced a perceptible drop in framerates whilst I was playing. I did initially tweak the settings a little bit to get it running smoother, I think just by turning off AA. Other than that I didn’t need to touch anything else for the rest of my playthrough.

Anthem’s core gameplay sticks close to the looter shooter fundamentals starting off with you picking a particular character class that will define your playstyle. As you level up you’ll unlock the others and you’re free to switch between them you may not have enough gear to make one viable at your current power level without a little grinding. There’s a core story campaign which you’ll need to complete to unlock most of the game’s content including strongholds which are the game’s endgame content. You can customize your javelin’s weapons and abilities with loot drops, all of which have their own play style and synergies with each other. There’s also the usual tropes of daily/weekly missions, world events and a rudimentary crafting system to try and drag you back day after day. When all is said and done there is a decent bit of content in Anthem, maybe a little less than there was in Destiny when it originally released, but what’s lacking is a driving force to make you want to explore it.

Combat starts out being one of the most impressive parts of Anthem with all the abilities and dynamic aerial fighting feeling like something truly new to the looter shooter genre. The abilities are the standout parts of the combat, especially when you work together with your teammates to unleash some spectacular combos that explode in a glorious cacophony of particle and sound effects. I have to admit to having quite a lot of fun in my colossus with the shock coil attachment, an AOE lightning attack that just cooked enemies around me as a I walked at them and triggered off combos left and right. The ultimate abilities are incredibly satisfying as well, allowing you to do incredible amounts of damage against even the toughest opponents if you know how to use them properly. However after a time the combat starts to get samey and that’s when the cracks start to appear.

The guns, for instance, are nearly completely useless in comparison to your abilities. You’ll often be plinking away at an enemy for what seems like an eternity with your main weapons, just killing time until you can use one of your abilities again to do some real damage. This doesn’t even change with higher tier loot unfortunately as the abilities scale much better. The abilities to don’t change much past a certain point and most of them are just variants on the same thing like the flamethrower just being a cone version of the shock coil or the various versions of the mortar and flack canons. This, coupled with the lack of mission variety, means that after a certain point every encounter starts to feel quite samey and that’s when the boredom starts to set in. This is typically where the loot grind is supposed to be the draw card but unfortunately Anthem got this completely and utterly wrong.

You’re lavished with loot from the get go, which isn’t an issue in and of itself, however it’s not entirely clear which piece of gear is better than another due to the downright confusing stats page in the forge. Most upgrades don’t really feel like they change much either, especially for upgrades that are in the same weapon or slot class. Without a meaningful power progression you don’t really feel compelled to seek out better gear. Worse still it doesn’t really seem like playing on the harder difficulties (at least pre-end game) nets you any more or better loot, completely negating the reason for taking on the additional challenge. The difference between hard and normal can also be the difference between getting stuck on a mission for an hour and getting it done in 5 minutes, further pushing you towards simply playing it on the easiest and breezing through. Whilst I didn’t bother with any endgame activities I’ve heard that this situation continues on even there which honestly doesn’t seem like a good way to increase player retention.

Flying around the environments starts out feeling exactly like what was promised back when Anthem was first demoed although, for some weird reason, they decided to limit your flight time when you’re flying between missions. This is supposed to be counteracted by you diving every so often or flying through a waterfall to cool your javelin’s jets but neither of these seem to work consistently. I could understand limiting flying in combat but for exploration? It just feels like that was done to make the world feel artificially bigger than it actually is. Even then though you can see all of the world in a pretty short timeframe if you’re so inclined as the overworld isn’t as big as it seems at first glance. You also can’t fly over any of the mountain ranges you can see in the game, instead you get pushed back down by jetstreams, further limiting how you can travel. I think many of us were drawn to this massive world that you’d be able to explore in a giant mech suit but instead what we’ve got is a limited world with limited options to explore it.

Decoupling your javelin’s look from its armament was a good idea on BioWare’s part although, weirdly, they’ve essentially given you unlimited customisation options right of the hop. Sure there’s only a couple types of javelin cosmetic sets available but you’re given dozens of different materials and unlimited colouring options right at the start of the game. This means that you can basically craft your own visual style right away without much need for you to go searching for a bit of loot to make your javelin look awesome. Whilst I appreciate the ability to do this it further diminishes the value of end game loot as part of the appeal is wearing your high tier gear in front of others, signalling you’ve done the game’s hardest challenges. Combine this with the other loot issues and you’ve basically got very little reason to pursue any end game activities at all.

This is also not mention all the base technical issues that plague the game, even after the proper “release” (side note: if the game is playable by the general public, it’s released. Anyone who says otherwise is being disingenuous to deflect negative feedback). Crashes and disconnects aren’t common place but do happen and without any kind of checkpointing system if you were in the middle (or at the end, in my case) of a mission you’ll have to do it over from the start. The UI is total garbage with even the simplest tasks taking ages to complete. Want to tag something as junk for mass deletion? That’ll take about 3 seconds to complete, just as long as it’d take for you to deconstruct the item manually. Challenges don’t track properly in the UI either and you’ll often get notified about tracking something which you’ve already tracked. Navigating between different panes defies usual UI conventions as well, often meaning you’ll end up completely quitting out of a particular menu by accident rather than going back to the previous tab. Anthem really needs some love when it comes to the quality of life department as simple things like this shouldn’t be so hard.

Anthem’s story was set up well for it to go anywhere the writer’s pleased and, for what it’s worth, I enjoyed it for the most part. Sure the villains, characters and various plot twists are predictable and one dimensional but the world behind it was pretty well fleshed out. The voice actors also did a great job of bringing the script to life as well and I was surprised at the number of big name talent I recognised reprising their roles in Anthem. Honestly had the core game been better the story could’ve really shone but, unfortunately, it’s hard to enjoy a good story when so much of the rest of the game just isn’t up to par.

The weight of expectations has proved to be too much for Anthem as the game we’ve received after so much anticipation has left us all wanting. To be sure the game’s opening moments are extremely fun, bringing a fresh perspective to the looter shooter genre and setting you up for what feels like an epic BioWare experience. However the shine starts to quickly wear off as it becomes apparent that there’s just not a lot of variety in the core aspects of the game and little outside that to keep you motivated. The conclusion of the main campaign is where I left Anthem as there was nothing left there that I wanted to explore. It’s a real shame honestly as it feels like Anthem could’ve avoided many of these mistakes but simply didn’t. Perhaps future DLCs and patches will bring it back up to par, much like it did for The Division and Destiny, but we gamers are long past the point of wanting to play games that aren’t finished.

Rating: 6.5/10

Anthem is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $89.99. Game was played on the PC with 15 hours total play time and 19.5% of the achievements unlocked.

Apex Legends: Battle Royale Done Right.

You never seen a review for a battle royale game here and that’s with good reason: I’m not a fan of them at all. I played PUBG for a few hours with a mate of mine, along with a couple hours solo to see what it was like, and honestly I just didn’t enjoy it. I like my shooters dumb and fast; the antithesis of what battle royale games typically are. When Apex Legends was announced I figured it was going to be more of the same and figured I’d leave it for more greener gaming pastures. That changed however when all of my friends started playing it relentlessly, giving me plenty of opportunity to play with a crew. Since then I’ve come to appreciate Respawn’s take on the battle royale genre, vastly improving on the formula by including numerous quality of life improvements that take nearly all the pain out of playing games like these.

Apex Legends is set in the same universe as the Titanfall series and takes a lot of design cues from its spiritual predecessors. All the weapons in the game are come directly from Titanfall, although they’re really only copies in name and look only. There’s really no plot to speak of, not that you’d be coming here looking for one, and the opening cinematic just serves to set up the characters that you get to choose from. As a big fan of the Titanfall series I can tell you that I was somewhat disappointed to hear that Respawn was working on this rather than another Titanfall game but after sinking a good amount of time into the game I think I can forgive them…for now.

Like all of Respawn’s games Apex Legends comes to us via the Source engine, albeit with a completely different kind of aesthetic to that of their previous titles. Instead of the more realistic visuals that the Titanfall series was known for Apex Legends goes for a slightly stylized look with bright colours, reminiscent of other slightly cartoony games like Team Fortress 2. That being said the world they’ve crafted is brimming with detail, enough that in my time with it I’ve yet to fully explore the single map that you’re given to play. Performance is still quite good even on my now 4 year old rig, something which I’m sure has helped broaden its appeal tremendously. That’s likely Respawn’s reason for keeping with their modded Source engine for so long as it’s far more lightweight than its competitors. Apex Legends might not do anything particularly novel visually but it certainly pulls all its varying visual elements together nicely.

The core of Apex Legends game play is the same as any battle royale: a number of players drop into a large map which constantly shrinks and the last one standing takes the crown. Whilst the addition of classes is certainly one differentiator it feels like the most minor compared to the rest of the improvements they’ve made to the formula. The inventory system has been streamlined to perfection, allowing you to loot with reckless abandon and know that you’ll always be upgrading your gear. The integrated ping system is an absolute godsend for both pub groups and organised teams alike, enabling rapid communication without the need for voice chat. The pace of the game has also been ramped up significantly, both in terms of how long matches take to complete as well as how long it takes to start one. Gone are the long downtimes between matches, replaced with a rapid fire matchmaking system that ensures you’ll never go more than a couple minutes without being in a fight. Instead of simply being a “battle royale game with X” Apex Legends feels like the new bar for what all games from this genre should be.

Whilst Apex Legends comes from the same developers who gave us Titanfall the combat is nothing like it at all. The gunplay is far more in-depth with numerous options that are sure to suit any player’s preferred style. Of course whether or not you can find your preferred kit is all up to RNJesus, so you’re forced to get good with a number of weapons so you always have something you can rely on. After a short stint trying my hand at sniping I’ve settled on a more medium range build typically consisting of a SMG (a prowler with select fire being my favourite) with either a peacekeeper or EVA-8 as my backup. This does mean of course I’m usually the first one in and the first to die but that’s pretty much my playstyle for all shooters anyway. Your mileage will vary though and the only way to figure it out is by playing.

The character classes mean a lot less than they do in other games, mostly just giving you some additional things to play with rather than actually making a huge difference to how the game plays out. I started out playing as Gibraltar, thinking that the gun shield would give me an edge in gunfights. That advantage was quickly outweighed by the fact that the shield is a massive giveaway for any enemies who might be looking for you and his other abilities didn’t really feel like they were making much of an impact to how my games were going. So I switched to Bloodhound which provided a lot more utility overall, even if the impact of their abilities still feels pretty minor overall. Realistically I think this is probably the only way you could do characters and still feel like its balanced as anything that really changed the gunplay dynamics would make it feel quite unfair. That’s why you don’t see any characters that have abilities that directly buff gun damage, reduce reload times or anything else of the sort. More the abilities are about positioning, intel and forcing your opponents to make bad decisions that you can take advantage of, adding an intriguing layer of strategy rather than simply finding the best place to camp.

The ping system goes a long way to making the pub experience much better, facilitating a higher level of communication than you’d typically find in any multiplayer game.It helps that it’s given such a prominent position during the tutorial, ensuring that everyone knows how at least the basics of it works. Of course whilst the pub experience is far better than any other battle royale game I’ve played it’s still a pale shadow compared to the experience of playing with a proper squad, especially if you’re like me and love dropping straight into the hottest zones and getting your fight on immediately. Indeed that’s probably why I’ve enjoyed Apex Legends so much more than other battle royale games; there’s a steady stream of mates to play with.

The microtransaction system doesn’t feel particularly in your face, only really showing up during the pre-match screens where you see your team and the champion’s player cards. Even with the legendary drop of crafting materials above I still don’t have enough to craft a legendary skin (that’d take 2 of the above drops) and there’s unfortunately no way to melt down other drops you’ve gotten to get more materials to use. This is all deliberate of course, forcing you to either play more or to shell out some real money to get the fancy cosmetics you’re lusting after. I’m quite fine with this approach honestly as you’re more likely to pay to lose with these kinds of things, what with all the sparkly skins that people seem to be rocking. We’ll see how long it takes me to crack before I pay a couple bucks to get a skin as I think it took me a couple hundred hours in DOTA 2 before I bought my first there.

Apex Legend’s release hasn’t been without its issues, many of which I’ve thankfully not experienced but have affected those I’ve played with. Crashes are commonplace, especially for those rocking the latest graphics cards from NVIDIA, which can often leave you a man down right at the start of a match. The servers will also turn the tick rate right down for seemingly no reason at all, making everyone move in slow motion before it starts to clear up. There’s also some weird loading issues with the pre-match lobby, sometimes dropping people before they get a chance to choose a character. Respawn is aware of all the issues and is working towards fixing them although they have said that they’re probably not going to bother putting in a reconnection feature due to their concerns around abuse. That’s somewhat disappointing so we can only hope that the work they do to increase stability makes the need for a reconnection solution moot.

Apex Legends is likely to down as the surprise hit of 2019, coming out of nowhere to dominate the charts with its fresh take on a genre that had started to grow stale. Its improvements come in the form of making the genre more approachable to a wider audience, reducing complexity without taking away from the depth of the gameplay. When I first saw it I didn’t think it would have anything to offer me but here I am, some 34 hours deep in it with no signs of stopping playing anytime soon. Those that were looking to unseat Fortnite as the game of choice now have a new contender they have to beat and a bar that’s been set even higher again.

Rating: 9.25/10

Apex Legends is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for free. Game was played on the PC with 34 hours of total play time and 42% of the achievements unlocked.