The FPS games of the noughties were almost exclusively set in the World Wars, an era that has seemingly endless stories to tell. However as time went on and year after year brought yet another World War based FPS to the table I grew tired of the setting and, for the most part, left the FPS genre behind. When the settings began to move towards the modern era towards the end of that decade I found myself coming back; my interest in the genre reignited by the utter ridiculousness that the Call of Duty franchise offered. From then on every year I found myself coming back, my obsession with the series peaking with Black Ops 3 with some 150 hours sunk into the multi-player. So when it was announced that the next instalment would return the series to its roots I was a little sceptical as the original Call of Duty wasn’t the one I fell in love with.
Call of Duty: WWII follows the story of the 1st Infantry Division’s Red Daniels, a first-class private who’s military career begins at the bloody Normandy landings. It’s there that you come face to face with the grim realities of war as bear witness to many of your fellow soldiers cut down in front of you. From there you continue your campaign through the western front, pushing back the axis line as you march steadily towards the centre of their war effort. It’s never easy however and the strain begins to wear on you and your commanding officers. Do you have the strength to continue on, after all the horrors you’ve witnessed?
The previous generation of games was dominated by the muted, drab colour palette that just so happened to be perfect for the World War 2 setting. This helped with the technical limitations of the time, the constrained visual diversity serving as a bit of a fudge to make things more realistic than they’d otherwise appear. As time went on the visuals became cleaner, crisper and the colours became much more vibrant as a result. The return to the WWII setting brings that drab colour palette back but with the visual fidelity of the current generation. The result is a game that, on first blush, feels like it’s a step behind due to low visual variation. However the game does manage to surprise you at times, especially when it comes to the in-game cut-scenes. The automatic graphics settings wizard doesn’t do a particularly good job however, erring on the side of performance over visuals a little too heavily. Even on my near 3 year old rig I could push pretty much everything up to maximum @ 1080p and still maintain a consistent frame rate.
WWII is innovative in the sense that it takes the series back to its roots, ditching the past 8 years or so of a trend towards modern and futuristic, at times fantastical, warfare. Gone is the infinite health regeneration system, instead returning to the health bar and first aid packs system of yesteryear (for single player only though, however), The two weapon system remains and your selection of armaments is your typical WWII affair. The campaign is a set of relatively linear missions containing the usual mix of straight up corridor shooting, vehicle sections and the tried and true tacked on stealth sections. Unlike the previous 3 or so COD games there’s no upgrade or progression system to speak of, just you and whatever armaments you can find on the battlefield. Multiplayer is still the same core experience with levels, loot crates and weapon progression but there’s a few new things thrown in the mix to make things interesting. Overall it feels like a return to basics for the Call of Duty franchise, for better or for worse.
Unfortunately that return to basics seems to have brought with it the unrefined combat mechanics that we left behind a decade ago. The Call of Duty series has always set the bar for fast paced, highly polished action but WWII doesn’t meet the standards I’ve come to expect. Sure the action is as fast paced as ever and the sense of scale is still there but when it comes to actually taking down enemies the guns feel ineffective and the controls sluggish. This is most certainly a design choice, wanting to emulate the real world weapons and combat more accurately, but it does mean that the overall game experience feels more clunky than it has in previous instalments. Indeed for someone like me who’s enjoyed the trend towards utterly ridiculous, almost fantasy level combat, this feels like a big step backwards.
One positive thing to come out of this return to basics is the simplification of the campaign. It’s your standard play one mission, advance to the next deal with a handful of collectables scattered throughout the mission for you to find. Each of the missions also has a set of “heroic acts” for you to complete which are usually taking out an enemy who’s about to kill one of your squad or dragging a fallen soldier back to safety. Some of the missions have stealth sections which are, for the most part, very simplistic in their implementation. The few vehicle sections are a nice way to break up the combat and, unlike previous COD games, aren’t overdone to the point of being monotonous. All said and done the campaign will probably only take you 5 hours to get through which is close to what used to be the standard for the COD franchise. Honestly I quite like that length, especially with it broken up over 10 missions or so.
The plot of the campaign is your typical WWII affair with a heavy focus on you and your fellow war buddies. Sure they dip into the main character’s history a bit, even trying to throw you for a loop by pitting him as an unreliable narrator, but the story is pretty predictable. It does try to touch on some of the pertinent issues of the time such as gender and race equality but, this being a WWII game, the heroes are still your typical American GIs fighting the good fight against the Nazis. Honestly this setting has been done to death so much that I really don’t find much to enjoy in it anymore, especially in the medium of video games. Perhaps one day that will change, I’m always open to a compelling story, but for now the story that Call of Duty WWII presents is nothing above what I’ve come to expect from the series in a setting that I personally find uninteresting.
The multiplayer didn’t undergo the same return to basics that the rest of the game did with the new system staying true to the current norms. The difference comes from how the usual COD perks are acquired which are now part of Divisions. At the start you’ll pledge to one Division (you can unlock the rest later with an unlock token) and as you level them you’ll unlock certain benefits. Those benefits are all broadly aligned to a certain kind of playstyle but you’re no longer able to mix and match to the extent you were in previous titles. This means there’s a little less variety in how you build your load out but it should make balancing things a lot easier. Loot crates are still a thing and, like always, can be purchased using in-game currency or cold hard cash. Thankfully it seems to be limited to cosmetics only so you won’t be going up against people who’ve splashed cash to get a leg up on everyone else.
There are differences of course, the main one being an interactive social area where you can go to get missions, try out score streaks or weapons and open up your supply drops in front of everyone. Unfortunately it’s not an optional area, you will have to go there to do all these activities whether you like it or not. Personally I much preferred the older, more streamlined systems which didn’t require me to drop out of the matchmaking system. There’s also a few new game modes although most people are still playing team deathmatch or domination, just like they always are.
I’ve spent a few hours in the multiplayer and honestly I can’t see myself spending much more time in there. The same sluggishness present in the singleplayer is there in the multi as well which, when coupled with the P2P networking (which has always been a little iffy), makes for some not so great online play. It’s a shame really as it looks like the new loadout system could be something of a winner but I just don’t have the patience to keep on playing when the core mechanics just don’t feel as crisp as they used to.
Call of Duty: WWII takes the series back to its roots and in doing so loses many of the things that drew me back into the series. Gone is the highly polished, fast paced combat which it was known for, replaced with a system that feels deliberately sluggish. The campaign’s simplified nature is certainly welcome although without the solid FPS combat to back it up it’s just not as satisfying as it could be. The slight change ups in multiplayer are interesting but not enough to the carry the game on its own. Indeed whilst fans of the setting or early COD games might find something to love here I simply can’t see it. My only hope is that Treyarch can pull this franchise out of the ditch it’s found itself in as the last 2 instalments have been nothing short of disappointing.
Call of Duty: WWII is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with 5 hours in single player and 2 hours in multi with 43% and 7% of the achievements unlocked.
Coming back to Destiny has always felt like slipping back into an old pair of shoes. Every time I’d go through the same process: be overwhelmed with the changes, find my footings through the campaign and then grind my way to the requisite light level before running the raid until I got bored. I must admit that whilst I did come around to playing a FPS on a console part of me always wanted it to come to PC as I just knew it would be a killer experience. With Destiny 2 I got my wish and whilst I’ve had to spend the last month or so carefully avoiding everything to do with its release on consoles I’m glad to say it has been well worth the wait.
Earth has come under attack by the Red Legion, a band of Cabal warriors who have never known defeat. Led by their Dominus Ghaul they caged the traveller and robbed all guardians of their light. You are left powerless, the gifts that the light granted to you seemingly gone forever. Soon after you are cast back down to Earth however you are flooded with visions that draw you to a shard of the Traveller that it flung away from itself during the collapse. The area surrounding it though has been heavily corrupted and no one who has entered the region has ever returned. This is where your quest begins to restore the light and defeat the unbeatable Red Legion.
On first look the graphics of Destiny 2 felt like they’d gone backwards from what I remembered of the original Destiny and its expansions. However after tweaking a few settings and spending a good deal of time in-game it became obvious that there have been a vast number of improvements made both to the underlying engine and the artwork the game uses. Of course I’m no longer introducing artefacts by running the game through a capture card although I had largely eliminated those when I moved to an Elgato HD60 Pro a year or so ago. The big bonus is the fact that I can now run the game at a buttery smooth 144FPS, something which I can still manage on my near 3 year old rig. Interestingly I know this game is pushing the limits of my system not because of stuttering but because my PC gets noticeably warm (since I usually rest my feet on the sides of it) during play. There have been some issues of course although the last couple patches have fixed most of the more glaring ones that popped up as part of the PC release.
By and large Destiny 2 remains faithful to the original in how it plays however there’s a lot of changes made for the sake of balance and quality of life (both for the developers and the players). The weapon classes have been reworked with primaries now being locked to kinetic damage, secondaries (now “energy”) all have an element type but also share the same weapon classes as primaries. Lastly some weapons (shotguns, fusion rifles and sniper rifles) have been moved to the heavy (now “power”) slot. Classes are mostly the same with a few tweaked and some replaced outright. You’ll still do the usual level thing until you hit the max at 20 at which time you’ll begin the same kind of light grind that we’ve been familiar with for the past couple expansions. Progression is now lightening fast up to a point after which you’ll be relying on weekly milestones, exotics and rewards from being in a clan to make any meaningful progress. At its core however it’s still very much the same game as it has been for almost 3 years and that is not a bad thing.
Whilst combat hasn’t changed much it is made that much better by being on PC. Of course I’m extremely, unabashedly biased in this regard but the fact that it was a great shooter on console was always going to mean it’d be a great one on PC. It did take me a fair while to get over my controller muscle memory, reaching for triggers that no longer exist, but it wasn’t long before I felt just as home on the PC as I ever did on console. The changes to the weapon system mean that your choice of heavy is much more meaningful than it used to be although, if I’m honest, the weapons that have moved into that slot now see much less use because they’re just not as good as the alternatives. Perhaps that will change as I find myself more gear but since I’m already at 281 light I don’t think that will change much. Unfortunately some of the lag issues are still present due to Destiny’s “complicated” P2P network architecture but they’re at least not as bad as they were at the original’s launch.
Levelling up is as much of a breeze as it ever was, happening organically as you progress through the campaign’s main missions. There were only a couple times that I had to drop out of it in order to get a level or two before being able to tackle the next one. This, coupled with not needing to go back to orbit after every single mission, means the pacing of Destiny 2’s campaign feels a lot more consistent with a lot less down time. Whilst the time to max out your level is about the same overall (8 hours or so) it does feel like a lot less thanks to the streamlining. They also do a pretty good job of re-introducing everything which is great for new players although it will be somewhat confusing to long time players (doesn’t my ghost know what the taken are?). Whilst the story is probably about on par with the original its overall execution does feel a lot stronger.
The gear grind is mostly the same as it was in previous expansions however now there’s a much heavier focus on the weekly activities. Whilst you can certainly keep levelling up your light without them it’s a much longer process, reliant on exotic drops more than anything else. Gone are the days when gear would randomly roll a light level around your current one, instead (past a certain point) they’ll always roll at a predefined level. The RNG comes from whether or not they include a legendary mod which bumps their light up by 5 levels. Once you have a weapon or piece of armour in a slot with one of those you’ll then be infusing it repeatedly until you reach light level 280. After then you can craft your own legendary mods and so all gear drops basically become on par. The only gear that will drop above your light level comes from the weekly events, the raid and the exotic quests (of which there are 4 I believe). This means you’re likely to hit a plateau each week before being able to progress. Still you should be able to get raid ready in a week and be able to blast past that easily in the second.
The renewed focus on Clans, with all the benefits that come from being in one and actively participating with it, was an interesting choice by Bungie. Certainly it ran against the way I used to play the game, preferring to just do everything on my own and hitting up DestinyLFG whenever I came up short. Joining a clan with an old friend of mine has been a pretty rewarding experience and I do look forward to doing more with them as time goes on. The clan interface could be a little better however, starting one requiring you to go onto Bungie’s website, something which the in-game client doesn’t tell you about. Once you’re past that point however it’s all pretty easy and, to be fair, you’ll likely be doing most of your co-ordination in Discord anyway.
As I mentioned before the story feels like it’s very much on the same level as it has always been, scraping just the top of the greater world’s lore. The grimoire is gone and there’s a bigger focus on putting much of what was in there actually in the game. A lot of the stuff is then hidden in the side missions, something which even I haven’t really gone through yet. That being said for those that I have played they’re a lot more upfront with bits of information, especially if you take the time to follow your ghost to scan things of interest. The great voice acting by the big name cast continues in Destiny 2 and the host of new characters brings a lot of life and levity that was missing previously. That being said it’s still not a game I’d say you’d play just for the story but it’s none the less an enjoyable one.
Destiny 2 takes the legacy that the previous game and its DLCs and rebuilds it for a new era. As a long time player of Destiny on the PlayStation 4 I can say unequivocally that it’s best experienced on PC as the platform gives the game all the things it needs to really shine. Bungie have done a great job of making the game approachable for new players whilst also ensuring it’s still got the things that the fans were looking for in the next instalment in this IP. Whilst I’ve yet to fully experience everything the game has to offer (which is saying something given the fact that I’m 26 hours deep at this point) it feels like the Destiny I’ve come to know and love with a few tweaks here and there to make everyone’s life just a little easier. I look forward to dumping many, many more hours into the game and its successive DLCs.
Destiny 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and XboxOne right now for $89.95. Game was played on the pc with 26 hours of total play time.
The sophomore release in a new game IP is always a telling experience. For the developer it means that the original release had merit, enough to warrant a sequel getting the green light. This provides them with an opportunity to hone in on what made them successful and what else they could do to improve the experience. Most critically though it sets the expectation for the overall direction of the series, showing us gamers what the developers want the game to become should it garner further future releases. For Shadow of War that direction is clear: it’s aiming to be the next big open world RPG to rival those from other veteran developers like Bioware and Bethesda. In many respects they have met this goal, delivering a game that’s several times the size of its predecessor, but that size has come at a cost.
SPOILERS FOR SHADOW OF MORDOR FOLLOW
Shadow of War takes place directly after the events of Shadow of Mordor with Celebrimbor’s memory fully restored he agrees to join with Talion to fight Sauron. Together they journey to Mt. Doom and forge a new ring of power, one that is free from Sauron’s corrupting influence. However shortly after crafting it the spider Shelob takes Celebrimbor hostage and forces Talion to hand over the newly crafted ring. Not all is lost however as she uses the ring to provide visions of the future to Talion who uses them to keep the human denizens of Mordor safe. However the ring, whilst free from Sauron’s control, still draws his eye and it’s only a matter of time before the Nazgul will come to take it away.
Just like its predecessor Shadow of War is a visually stunning game, absolutely overflowing with detail in all aspects. The aesthetic remains true to the original, retaining a muted colour palette with few flashes of colour to break things up. Whilst the opening credits of the game would have you believe it’s developed on a whole engined, dubbed Firebird, it’s still the same LithTech engine under the hood, albeit likely without the cruft required to support previous generation consoles and some improvements that 3 years worth of development typically brings. The visual fidelity didn’t come at a heavy cost either with my near 3 year old rig still able to run it at high FPS at 1080p. I’ll admit that good graphics are a shortcut to my heart and it’s great to see the series continue with the high standard that was set in the original.
On the surface Shadow of War feels familiar with the main game mechanics staying the same. The combat retains the same beat ’em up core however it’s now augmented by a whole slathering of new mechanics which add a lot more diversity to how your typical encounter plays out. The nemesis system is back again and the procedural generation system backing it now includes a whole swath of additional traits, adding a lot of variety to the Orcs that you’ll be facing. The world you’ll be playing in has also grown considerably with 5 different areas to explore, 4 of which contain keeps for you to overthrow to gain control of the region. The loot system has been significantly revamped and, much to the chagrin of everyone, now includes a microtransaction system which allows you to swap real world dollars for in game loot. Finally an online element has been added into the game, allowing you to avenge other player’s deaths and assault their keeps (both in a “friendly” way and in a ranked system). If I had to guess I’d wager that there’s about 3 to 4 times the content in Shadow of War when compared to its predecessor. Depending on how you feel about these kinds of open world games that’s either a great thing or giant red flag.
The increase in overall scale applies to the combat as well with Shadow of War really feeling like an all out war whereas Shadow of Mordor felt a lot more like isolated skirmishes. The reaction based beat ’em up core is still there however you’ll quickly find yourself dealing with many more enemies than you ever did in the original. Unfortunately the difficulty curve is mostly numbers based, throwing ever more grunts and captains at you in order to increase the challenge. The revamped nemesis system does mean that there are some ability combinations that are more deadly than others (like a top level cursed, no chance, assassin class orc that managed to kill me no less than 5 times before I could get rid of him) but once you get to level 30 or so you will have seen every combination the game has to offer. There also seems to be less tools available for dealing with large groups although I’ll admit I can’t exactly remember what made my build in the original so overpowered. Towards the end I did find a gear set that added explosions to the glaive attack, something which was an incredible amount of fun, but there wasn’t much beyond that.
Progression comes regularly both in terms of gear and skills. Unlike most RPGs where your early choices will dictate how the rest of the game unfolds for you Shadow of War’s skill trees are non-exclusive and unbound to your level. Some of the skills require campaign missions to unlock and most of the skill upgrades are level bound but, for all the base skills, there’s nothing stopping you from getting them at whatever level you chose. Considering the numerous different paths you have to get skill points (levelling, certain missions, side quests and collectables) it’s rare that you’ll ever find yourself wanting for a skill or upgrade. Indeed after about halfway through my playthrough I struggled to figure out where to spend my skill points because I already had basically everything I wanted. Of course if you want to unlock every upgrade you’re going to need all those skill points but, honestly, I don’t think there’s much point to doing so. Once you have all the base skills you’re basically as combat ready as you’ll ever be with a few key upgrade points giving you that slight extra edge should you want it.
Loot comes thick and fast but it’s tied to a RNG system that ensures getting the perfect piece for your build and/or playstyle will take some grinding to get. Pretty much every captain you defeat will drop a piece of gear and, should they have the Epic or Legendary title, a piece of gear will drop with that level. There’s some 54 pieces of legendary gear to collect and, unfortunately, they all drop at a random level that’s close to your current one. That means finding that sweet legendary early on is no where near as good finding it 10 hours later and there’s also no way to upgrade them, meaning they’re destined for the trash bin. This is, of course, part and parcel of why the microtransaction system exists, giving you a shortcut from the gear grind should you want to shell out a few bucks. There are in-game ways to earn some currency of course, the weekly challenge giving you enough to score a few chests, but the one you earn the most of can really only get you a few pieces of epic gear. The gem crafting system I pined for in Shadow of Mordor actually made it into Shadow of War and, honestly, if they had extended that to the entire loot system in some way I think it would’ve been fantastic. Instead the only way to make use of loot you don’t use anymore is to recycle it for silver which isn’t as useful as it first seems.
The grand scale of Shadow of War comes from taking the original’s ideas and copying them out about 4 times over. You now have about 5 areas to explore, 4 of which include fortresses for you to capture. So now you’ll spend a good chunk of time hunting down captains, turning them against their warchiefs and taking down fortress defences all so you can then overtake it and claim the region for yourself. The orc captains also seems to be far more aggressive in terms of when they’ll show up with the number of ambushes, blood brother revenges and other random encounters being far more frequent than I ever remember them being in the original. Indeed it got so ludicrous at one point that I had a betrayal, ambush and blood brother revenge all in one fight, pitting me against no less than 4 captains and their associated armies. I’m all for mechanics that enable emergent game play but honestly this was probably a little too much at times.
The fortress and nemesis system now extends online with you being able to take revenge on captains for killing other players and being able to attack other players fortresses with your own army. Both of these reward you with various chests and a spoils of war currency which, you guessed it, can be spent on more loot boxes. Whilst its kind of cool to see another player taking revenge for you there’s really no interaction beyond a notification. The fortress assaults are similar, only showing who was victorious. Personally it would have been nice to see something like a small movie of the player taking out the captain or the assault on your fortress as otherwise it’s just another piece of noise in the already overflowing world that is Shadow of Mordor. Of course if ranking high on a leader board is your thing then there might be a bit more in it for you with the ranked play but honestly I can’t see the attraction.
With a game of this size it’s inevitable that there’s going to be some bugs that slip through the cracks and boy, there are some doozies in Shadow of War. The physics system can get confused at times, contorting your character into all sorts of weird shapes or doing other amazing things like launching you in random directions when it can’t figure out what it should do with you. The free run system is also a little janky, at times being too aggressive in locking onto climbing points whilst at others being completely oblivious, sending you flying down to your doom. I also had numerous times when orcs voice lines would just refuse to play, the camera locked on their faces as their expression changed randomly whilst it waited on the sound file to time out. There is a watchdog timer for that thing though so whilst it appears that the game is stuck there it will eventually recover. This happened a lot during one of the scenes where you face a horde of undead orcs who, presumably, had their voices replaced with zombie like noises. These are all things that can be addressed in patches going forward so those of you who are waiting I’m sure your experience will be more polished than mine.
The story of Shadow of War is a step up from its predecessor, partially because it has a lot more room to explore the various elements it introduces. Of course thanks to the open world nature of the game the various story lines are almost wholly separate from each other which means there’s not a lot of depth to be garnered from completing them all. I was annoyed that different versions of the game seemed to include more story than the others but it seems that those campaigns are just ancillary ones, not forming part of the main story line. The retcons to the Lord of the Rings story are an odd duck to say the least, transforming some characters into different entities completely whilst also changing the main story arc in ways that only support the game’s version of the story. I’m not a die hard Lord of the Rings fan by any stretch of the imagination but the developers had to know that making such changes wouldn’t exactly be welcomed by long time fans of the IP. Still it was interesting enough, even if I didn’t have much emotional investment in any of the characters.
One main gripe I do have to level at the overall construction of Shadow of War is the final act called Shadow Wars. After spending 21 hours in the game, 7 more than I did in the original, I thought I had come to the game’s ultimate conclusion. Not so I was told, instead I would now have to do 10 siege missions to get through to the end. Considering the grind required for 1 was on the order of an hour or so I wasn’t entirely keen to spend another 10 hours going through non-story based content to see the ending. Indeed all the reviews I’ve read since then have said that the Shadow Wars grind was simply not worth it and instead I tracked down the 3 minute ending on YouTube. Let’s just say that I’m glad I didn’t waste my time on it.
Middle Earth: Shadow of War is a monster of a game, growing the scope of the original to something that’s numerous times its size. The core of what made the original good remains in Shadow of War, providing a solid base upon with Monolith has added in a truckload of more content. However much of that content is simply copy and pasted versions of the same thing, something which open world fans are likely to enjoy but those who fell in love with the original are likely to find tedious. For this reviewer I certainly enjoyed the majority of my time with Shadow of War however I can’t say that there weren’t times I wanted to shortcut the grind. That is, of course, why the microtransaction system exists but I’ll be damned if I spend money on digital items in a single player game. Overall, whilst I think Shadow of War is a successful sequel in its own right, it is weaker in comparison to the original, if only because it seeks to exploit the success of the past rather than build on it.
Middle Earth: Shadow of War is available on PC, Xbox One PlayStation 4 right now for $59.99 (base edition). Game was played on the PC with 21 hours of total playtime and 52% of the achievements unlocked.
I have to give it to those behind the Dishonored series as it really doesn’t take much from them to bring me back. I played the Knife of Dunwall expansion based on a single screenshot, the sequel simply because it’d been too long between drinks and, most recently, because of the name of the next instalment. For those familiar with the series the title “Death of the Outsider’ is an incredibly provocative one, almost begging to be played just so you can see if that title is justified. Whilst the game doesn’t bring anything particularly revolutionary or unique to the series or stealth games in general it is, for this writer at least, the best experience to be had in the Dishonored series.
Taking place shortly after the events of Dishonored 2 Death of the Outsider puts you in control of Bille “Lurk”, the right hand of The Knife of Dunwall: Daud. You awake aboard the Dreadful Wale, moored just outside of Karnaca, armed with the information that your former master is being held captive by a cult called the Eyeless. After you free him you learn that he is not long for this world and he has one last task for you: put an end to the outsider and the chaotic influence he has on the world. The plan is simple: find the knife that created him all those years ago and use it to end him. Of course things like this aren’t always as simple as they sound.
As you’d expect from a game released not a year after Dishonored 2 Death of the Outsider doesn’t bring with it massive improvements in the graphics department. The game’s big vistas and open environments are definitely its strongest point but the sheen wears off when you start to get up close and personal. This is also when the asset reuse starts to become painfully apparent with everyone have the same kind of cabinet, the same bathroom layout and a myriad of other things that are repeated ad-nauseam everywhere. Typically this wouldn’t be much of an issue as you’d be switching up scenes every mission but the majority of Death of the Outsider takes place in the same location. This issue isn’t unique to this instalment however so there won’t be much to be disappointed here for long time Dishonored fans.
Whilst Death of the Outsider retains most of the core game play aspects of the Dishonored franchise pretty much all of them have been streamlined considerably. No longer do you have the choice of what powers you get or upgrade; you get 3 and that’s it for the game. You no longer need to manage your mana closely as it regenerates back to full over time. Bone charms are still around but you can’t craft them until late in the game and the various “mechanical” upgrades are still available through the black market. Side missions are now contracts which you’ll gather off a sign outside the black market as well. There’s a grand total of 5 missions, each of which will probably take you around 2 hours (give or take) which puts it as the shortest of the stand alone Dishonored titles by a small margin.
As you’d expect everything about Death of the Outsider will familiar to those who’ve played any of the previous Dishonored titles although it is closest to Dishonored 2. Whilst you don’t have an extreme amount of flexibility in how you build your character your bone charms will dictate whether you’re a fighter or a stealth based player. I, of course, chose the stealth route for the most part although there was one contract which required me to literally kill every hostile in the level which put my stealth-first build to the test. Since there’s no levelling or chaos system to speak of the stealth/guns blazing kill/no-kill choice is largely symbolic however (save for a few achievements). The new powers aren’t different enough to set the game apart from its predecessors but, for me at least, that wasn’t really an issue.
Stealth and exploration is as good as ever, if a bit more involved than I would have liked. Instead of having a heart to squeeze and follow around (you still have one, it just lets you listen to rats instead) one of your powers is dedicated to marking things whilst your in a stopped time ghost form. No matter the mission there’s several ways to approach it, both from a physical and logistical perspective. A lot of these choices are lot more involved than I first expected too, sometimes finding what was the shortest route to finish a section only to backtrack “just to check” only to find what was essentially an entire other level. Interestingly I never found a route that required violence, instead all of them allowing a full stealth approach. Sure some of them would’ve been easier had I started killing right off the bat but I would’ve thought at least a few options would’ve forced my hand.
Some of the side missions are a bit buggy, two of which come to mind immediately. The first was one where you’re supposed to kidnap a bar tender then put him in a box somewhere. After spending far too long knocking out everyone in the bar I took my leave of it, bartender slung over my shoulder. However when I got to the area to drop him off a cutscene began playing and, I’m guessing here, in the interim I dropped him off the roof to his doom. No problem I can just load up my last save, except the game saved immediately after, obliterating my chances at a retry (without investing another hour at least). The second was the mime suicide one where, for some reason, it’d fail the mission randomly. I still had his unconscious body but it was simply not registered as the NPC I needed and the contract was failed. These are both minor glitches which can be circumvented with good old save scumming but it can be a rather frustrating thing to have to deal with multiple times over.
Maybe I’m getting older or more lenient on the Dishonored franchise as a whole but I felt that both the story and its delivery were the strongest yet. Dishonored’s voice actors typically delivered their lines flat and the story’s predictable nature didn’t help. This time around however the voice acting feels a lot better and the story, whilst still being somewhat predictable, was a lot more engrossing than I remember its predecessor’s being. Seeing as this might be the last instalment in the franchise, at least in this timeline with these characters anyway, it does feel like a fitting send off.
Should Dishonored: Death of the Outsider be the last we see of this series in its current state it will be a grand farewell, being the series’ best instalment to date. It’s not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, still retaining some of the issues that have plagued the series from day 1. However the streamlined game play, better story telling and overall tighter implementation (bar a few issues with some of the side missions) means that it’s much more easier to gloss over those rough edges than it ever was. Even if you haven’t played a Dishonored game before Death of the Outsider could be a great introduction into the franchise. Although if you do that know that it’s only downhill from here.
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $29.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 10 hours playtime and 50% of the achievements unlocked.
When playing games that wouldn’t fit the typical definition of the medium there’s always one question I ask myself: was this the only way this story could be told? Certainly for games where your choices matter there’s a strong argument (although who didn’t love those choose your own adventure books as a kid) but for linear, narrative focused games the choice is less decisive. There’s a lot to be said for interactivity, which can drive immersion in a story, but for some titles this can actually be a distraction. Such is the story of Last Day of June, a story that could have been served just as well, if not better, if presented as a short movie rather than as an interactive title.
Last Day of June follows the story of Carl and June, two people who are so adorably in love that you can be absolutely sure that tragedy is just looming around the corner. The sun is setting on a beautiful autumn day which you’ve spent down at the lake together. However it starts to rain and you both make a beeline to the car before you get soaked. On the trip home however tragedy strikes and you awake as Carl, alone in your house and wheelchair bound. What follows is a story of uncovering the events that led up to that tragedy and, interestingly, giving you the chance to undo the damage that has been wrought on you.
On first look Last Day of June’s visuals appear simple though they are anything but. The aesthetic is a combination of Picasso-esque caricatures and dreamlike visual effects which give it this kind of surreal cartoon feel. The characters big heads and lack of eyes do make them a little disconcerting to start off with but that fades relatively quickly. The amount of detail put into the areas you’ll be wandering around is impressive until you realise that you’ll be retreading it multiple times over throughout the course of your play through (more on that later). If nothing else Last Day of June is a visual marvel, one that manages to escape the Unity look-and-feel trap that many other titles fall into.
Whilst not strictly a walking simulator Last Day of June plays a lot like one. The same day is presented to you through different perspectives and the only way to progress is to figure out the way to change their outcome. Each of the different puzzle perspectives are simple enough but changing actions in one can have effects on another. This is all interspersed with flashbacks to the character’s memories, hidden collectables and a few other things which tilt this more towards a story focused puzzler than a more traditional walking simulator. Last Day of June’s biggest flaw isn’t from the execution of its core mechanics however, it’s from the ungodly amount of retreading a path already taken to progress the story.
Each of the new perspectives brings with them a new puzzle to solve and all of them will require you to undo things that you’ve previously done with another character. This means re-watching the same cut scenes over and over again as you stumble your way through each of the puzzles. Worse still all of them require you to go through the motions of failing the puzzle first before giving you the freedom to fix them, even if you’ve already managed to figure out a solution in the first place. This is only exacerbated by the lack of any skip function, even for cut scenes you’ve already seen multiple times before. I can partly understand this from a game length perspective, with my play through only clocking in at around 3 hours, but padding a game out with repetition isn’t something I’m in the habit of commending.
Last Day of June is also not free of technical issues, one particular one which I couldn’t get a fix to for several days. After playing for an hour or so I decided to call it there for the day but, upon launching it again, the game would crash just before the main menu. I traced the issue down to my save file (renaming it allowed the game to run) but nothing could cajole it to run with that file. After logging a support ticket and getting told to reinstall and verify the cache files (something I had already done but did again anyway) I was able to get back in. I’m not the only one suffering from this issue either as there’s quite a few people reporting the same problem both on Steam and on the official forums. I’m sure issues like this will get ironed out eventually but it did mean that I spent an hour or so on troubleshooting when I could have otherwise been playing.
I’m on the fence with Last Day of June’s story. Sure some parts of it resonate with me but the lack of dialogue does mean that there’s a certain lack of depth to most of the character’s development. Carl, for instance, doesn’t really receive enough development for me to empathise with him and June’s best friend’s crush on him feels like an unnecessary aside. I can identify with the themes of dealing with grief, wanting to change things that you can’t and all that but if I’m not invested in the characters their struggle will just feel hollow. It’s possible that a lot of my feelings are born out of the frustration I felt with having to retread the same path so many times which is why I thought that this story may be better served as watched rather than played. I would be interested to hear what anyone who watched it on Twitch or YouTube has to think as my money’s on the experience being just that much better.
Last Day of June comes out strong with it’s beautiful visuals and wonderful sound track but falls short in most other respects. The constant replay of puzzles you’ve already solved means that a lot of time is burnt on repetitive tasks, something you wouldn’t usually see in a 3 hour game. The short play time also means that most of the characters aren’t given enough time to develop fully, at least not to the point which this writer empathised with them enough. I’m willing to admit that it might be my frustration that was boiling over into other aspects of the game that’s influencing my feelings here, so your mileage may vary.
Last Day of June is available on PC and PlayStation 4 right now for $19.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 3 hours playtime and 71% of the achievements unlocked.
The survival genre and I have never really gotten along. I can appreciate the challenge you can create out of just existing but for me these kinds of games just never satisfied me. The act of survival is typically one of repetitive tasks and if I wanted to do that I’d go back to playing MMORPGs. Still enough people in my gaming circle had said that The Long Dark’s story mode, Wintermute, was worth the look in, with many comparing it to Firewatch. I’ll have to strongly disagree that the experiences are comparable but, at the very least, it’s reaffirmed my aversion to this genre.
Set in the present day The Long Dark takes place after a great “geomagnetic disaster” which wiped out the power grid for many. You play as Will Mackenzie, a pilot who services many of the remote towns in the Canadian wilderness. After a brief reunion with Astrid, his ex-wife, you agree to take her to where she needs to go without asking too many questions. On the way there however you hit rough whether and your plane comes crashing down long before reaching its destination. Stranded in the isolated wilderness you have to survive and, if you can, try to find Astrid before its too late.
Aesthetically The Long Dark opts for stylized/cartoony visuals much like that of Firewatch and games from Telltale. This does mean that the visuals are relatively simple and uncluttered, something which is a blessing when you’re scrounging around for things to help you survive. Interior buildings are a bit more detailed but then it’s more clutter than anything, which can make scavenging buildings a little more challenging. Fitting in with the simple visual theme is the lack of in-game physics on a lot of things, something which I think many of us have simply grown accustomed to seeing everywhere. Back when The Long Dark was first released I’m sure this visual style would have been quite impressive however, this being 2017, they do seem a little dated. I don’t expect that to change though.
Given The Long Dark’s 3 or so years in Early Access the survival game play is quite well developed. You’ve got a number of attributes that you need to keep up including food, water, heat and sleep. At any time you could be affected by any number of conditions ranging from things like food poisoning to wolf bites to good old fashioned hypothermia. Should you not manage your attributes properly your “condition” will start to deteriorate and, should it reach zero, you will pass into the long dark. Everything you need is available in the wilderness but it won’t be easy and you’ll have to make sure that you can survive long enough so you can…keep on surviving. This is all happening whilst you’re following the story line which, for the first hour or so, serves as an extended tutorial of sorts. Past there it becomes somewhat optional, although following it does have its benefits.
Just like in real life the business of just plain surviving in The Long Dark isn’t exactly a pleasant one. You’ll find yourself doing the same basic tasks time after time just to make sure you have a fire that will last, enough food to not starve and a small stash of emergency supplies should you fall down or get attacked by wolves (or worse). It’s these kinds of activities that turn me off these kinds of survival/sandbox simulators as I’m really not interested in having to gather firewood for the hundredth time or trying haphazardly to hit a rabbit with a rock so I won’t starve. Additionally, and I’m not sure if this was a limitation of the story mode, it seemed like I didn’t have a lot of options to improve my ability to survive beyond scavenging. Certainly the crafting menu was never populated with any beyond some simple things, despite me finding all sorts of materials.
Credit where it’s due though as the game really does a great job of simulating all the various things that drastically alter your chances of surviving. It didn’t take me too long to realise that venturing out at night was a fools errand, especially if I didn’t have a torch in my hand. I learnt this after following what I thought was a road for some time, only to find out it was a path to literally no where. Trudging along the same path during the day I could see where I went wrong and it became all too clear how easy it would be to get lost in the dark in bad weather. From there on I’d often spend just as much time indoors waiting out the time so I didn’t have to expend a ton of resources just to stay alive out in the night.
The Long Dark’s story starts off well however as the time between major events starts to draw out I started to become disinterested in it. The longest part of the story arc that I played (which is Episode 1, I gather) consisted mostly of fetch quests for a NPC, something which I’m not the biggest fan of even in the MMORPG genre. This means that the main story kind of stalls at this point and the ultimate conclusion to it doesn’t feel particularly satisfying at all. Firewatch by comparison had great pacing for both the main arc and the sub-plots ensuring that you always felt like whatever you were doing was leading somewhere. The Long Dark, at least in its first 4 hours, doesn’t have that and I’m not enough of a fan of the survival genre to forget that.
The Long Dark’s time in Early Access has resulted in a well crafted game but it’s unfortunately just not for me. I can appreciate the simplistic aesthetic it’s going for, especially when it produces something as gorgeous as the screenshot above, but it is erring on the dated side now. The survival mechanics are deep, requiring a lot of effort on the part of the player to make sure your character doesn’t simply freeze to death on the first day. The story’s strong opening fades relatively quickly and, should you not enjoy survival games as a rule, there won’t be much else to carry it on past the first few hours. Overall I can appreciate the craftsmanship of The Long Dark but it’s simply not a game for the likes of me, but it could very well be for you.
The Long Dark is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $34.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 4 hours playtime and 10% of the achievements unlocked.
It’s been the better part of a decade since I played a game from Ninja Theory. Whilst not everyone enjoyed Heavenly Sword as much as I did (although I do agree with many of the criticism levelled at it) I thought they had potential as a developer and hoped they’d go on to bigger and better things. The following decade has given them a modicum of success, although not with any titles I’ve cared to play over the years. When I saw some of the tech demos for Hellblade though I was reminded of what drew me to Heavenly Sword back in the day, and ever since then I’ve been eagerly awaiting its release. Whilst Hellblade isn’t what I had expected it’s an exceptional game in its own right, even if it will drive you slowly insane.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice’s plot is hard to give an introduction to without diving deep into spoilers but I shall endeavour to do so. You play as Senua, a member of a Pict who’s made a pilgrimage to…somewhere… in order to save the soul of your beloved one. You’re haunted by numerous voices who speak to you incessantly, voicing all your inner doubts, fears and, sometimes, granting you strength to push through your turmoil. The path you’re following is one dictated by Norse mythology and will ultimately lead you into one of their other worlds: Hellheim. Reality, illusions and delusions all blur together in a mess of truth and fiction, one that Senua must follow to its ultimate conclusion; wherever that takes her.
The visuals of Hellblade are stunning, utilising many of the modern features of the Unreal 4 engine to their fullest extent. Whilst the environments you’re placed in may seem large however that in of itself is an illusion as the traversable world is actually quite a lot smaller. I believe the reasons for this are two-fold: primarily it’s for performance as larger environments would necessitate heavy compromises in other areas to keep it performing at a consistent level. Secondly Hellblade isn’t a game about exploration and whilst there are a few things to be discovered if you move off the beaten track it’s certainly not the game’s main attraction. If I was being childish I’d say that was the protagonist’s hair, given Ninja Theory’s penchant for wanting to show off their physics engine, but I won’t do that…
Hellblade is billed as a action-adventure/hack and slash type game and, whilst it has elements of that, it’s actually a bit closer to a walking simulator in most respects. For the most part you’ll be walking through the environments, mis/guided by the voices in your head as others narrate your journey. There’s no levelling, loot or crafting systems to speak of but you will get some different abilities unlocked for you as the game progresses. The combat sections inbetween there are a mix of hack and slash coupled with some Souls-light style game play, focusing on movesets and reaction times. Puzzles are mostly visual in nature, pushing to you look at things in different ways in order to unlock doors, restore objects or transport you to between worlds in order to move onto the next room. In this era of modern games that attempt to do everything Hellblade is a refreshing lesson in focus, leaving all the unnecessary game elements at the door in favour of spending more time on the ones that matter.
The combat is quite enjoyable for an experienced Souls player like myself, mostly because it’s a lot easier by comparison. The standard enemy tropes are all there and their movesets are relatively predictable, meaning that for even inexperienced players it shouldn’t be too much of a blocker. The boss battles too are quite enjoyable, providing a different challenge to break up the other combat engagements. Unfortunately the ramp up in difficulty comes from the game simply throwing more of the same types of enemies at you, culminating in a final battle which is no different from all the other battles you’ve fought before. Considering the game only runs for about 6 or so hours this highly noticeable repetition is unfortunately one of Hellblade’s biggest flaws.
Puzzles are for the most part straightforward once all the mechanics have been demonstrated to you. Initially it can be a bit confusing as the solution can be visible but the way to get to it very unclear. Once you’ve figured out the various mechanics for seeing through illusions, changing perspectives and whatnot it becomes a lot easier. Hellblade does a good job of guiding you through the puzzles however there were still a few that stumped me, mostly because I couldn’t distinguish a certain visual element. Searching around for answers I can see I’m not alone with this so there’s definitely some room for improvement from a design viewpoint. Still I think that overall the puzzles are well designed, intuitive and feel like an organic part of the experience rather than an artificial blocker to progression.
Hellblade announces at the start that it’s best experienced with headphones and, whilst I largely agree with this, the reason isn’t so much due to the game’s general audio experience (although that plays a part). The reason for headphones is for the voices in your head which, maddeningly, do everything you’d expect voices in someone’s head to do. Most voices prefer one ear over another, they’ll quite often talk over the top of each other and they’ll continually provide commentary on everything that’s happening. It’s done deliberately, and for that I applaud them, but it’s also one of the reasons why I couldn’t play for more than an hour at a time. Having that going on constantly is an extremely draining experience, so much so that when they went away for the first time I had a palpable sense of relief. Hats off to Ninja Theory for developing an experience like that but make no mistake, it can make playing Hellblade an exhausting experience.
By and large the game is well polished although there are some weird glitches that can occur. Senua’s hair can go a bit wild from time to time which, whilst distracting, isn’t game breaking. I did have a few times where I got stuck in or behind invisible barriers, most notably during Sut’s trial where you are supposed to get pegged in a ring of fire to fight some Northmen. For whatever reason I was outside the barrier when it got erected which restricted my movements considerably. I was able to finish the fight and progress however but it could have easily gone the other way. I didn’t get any performance issues like others had described however I did play after the first round of patches came out. I’d hazard a guess then that these minor gameplay issues would also be sorted out in future patches.
Hellblade’s story is an extremely tragic one, something you learn about very early on. As one of the game’s core tenants is that it will lie to you with reckless abandon (as shown by the whole “All progress will be lost” thing if you die too much being a lie) it’s hard to discern just what’s true to the story and what’s not. Certainly much of it makes a lasting impression and it’s delivery is exceptional. However at the final conclusion I found myself feeling a little hollow with how things turned out. I’m not sure if it was the exhaustion from dealing with voices in my head or the fact that I didn’t quite understand what the objective truth was but that’s the feeling I was left with. Unlike similar stories that left me questioning just what happened though I didn’t turn to the Internet for answers. Maybe I will later, I don’t know. Suffice to say that whilst I think the story is well told I’m not quite sure how I feel about it overall.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an exceptionally well crafted game from Ninja Theory, showing that they’ve been no slouch in the decade since I last played one of their games. The visuals are stunning, both in terms of raw graphics as well as the visual theme and the environments its set in. The game’s focus on a few key elements rather than a whole lot of ancillary mechanics is refreshing, putting the focus firmly on telling the story. Some of its major flaws are that its combat becomes repetitive quickly, escalation in challenge only coming from increasing numbers of enemies, and that the overall story feels a little hollow at its conclusion. Still overall I think Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is still worth the price of admission, if you feel you can deal with the voices in your head that is.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is available on PC and PlayStation 4 right now for $29.99. Game was played on the PC with 6 hours of total play time and 93% of the achievements unlocked.
The class based shooter genre has seen a massive uptick in popularity over the past couple years, built off the back of exceptional titles like Overwatch and Titanfall. With that popularity comes a struggle for originality as new titles attempt to lure players in with the promise of fresh ideas. However new ideas are only part of the equation, the core game mechanics also need to be solid in order for those ideas to be able to shine through. LawBreakers, a game from Cliff Bleszinski’s new development house Boss Key Productions, brings some new ideas and solid core mechanics but has little to keep you coming back.
LawBreakers is a class-based arena shooter with 9 classes and 4 distinct game modes. The game’s tagline of “gravity defying combat” comes from the various micro-gravity zones that are scattered around the map, drastically altering your ability to move around it. The character classes are all on the RPG holy trinity spectrum with various shades of tank/healer/DPS mixed in. Of the 4 game modes 2 of them are pretty much identical (overcharge and uplink) whilst Blitzball is just capture the flag and turfwar is domination. At the conclusion of each game you’ll be given a score which determines your XP and, with each level up, you’ll be given a shiny stash box that contains decals, sprays and gear to customise your favourite character with. All in all it’s your pretty standard arena shooter affair with the low grav zones being the only real differentiator.
As you’d expect (given the developer’s pedigree) LawBreakers is built on the Unreal 4 engine and looks quite good, opting for a more realistic art style. Much like Bleszinski’s previous games it’s lavished with bright colours, outrageous neon lights and an all round exuberance of colour. When you get in the thick of the action this can be somewhat confusing visually but I’ll take that over the drab, uniform visuals so many shooters prefer any day. These visuals are also well optimised with LawBreakers never experiencing any noticeable slowdowns or lockups during my time with it.
The 9 different character classes largely follow the same pattern: a couple core abilities on short-ish cooldowns with a big ultimate which is on a timer. Everyone has a “fuel” resource which, depending on your class, influences how you can use certain abilities. Mobility is a non-obvious stat which will greatly impact how you play certain characters as, depending on what skills you have, certain parts of the map will be far easier to navigate than others. Indeed a big part of LawBreakers’ game play is your movement and momentum as players who are able to move swiftly and accurately around the map will likely perform far better than others who try to play LawBreakers in a more traditional way. All that being said however the character classes all follow the standard class based shooter tropes pretty closely with easy parallels drawn between them and the classes of other games in the genre.
In terms of how LawBreakers plays it falls into the mid-TTK (time to kill) bracket, not being as fast an spammy as say Call of Duty or Titanfall but definitely faster than something like Overwatch or Team Fortress 2. This means you’re unlikely to get one shot out of no where (although that can still happen) but you’re unlikely to have a fire fight that lasts longer than 5 seconds. Changing class is relatively painless, the only thing that you’ll lose being the charge on your ultimate. If I’m honest though ultimates in LawBreakers aren’t as game changing as you’d expect them to be with some of them being quite lacklustre. Of course the character classes with not-so-great ultimates make up for it in other ways. Overall the core game mechanics feel solid but it’s the things beyond that which leave a bit to be desired.
LawBreakers playerbase has been steadily decreasing ever since launch and it shows when you go to find a match. I’ve had it take upwards of 10 minutes to find me a match at one point and, even then, it wasn’t a full one. Worse still it appears that unbalanced matches won’t get filled with new players, leading to a lot of games with one team having more players than the other. As far as I can tell there also doesn’t appear to be a punishment for leaving games either so those who choose to leave and, by consequence ruin a game, aren’t discouraged from doing so. What this has meant for me is that rarely is a game decided on which team is better, it’s the one that has more players on its team.
After sinking 3 hours into LawBreakers I felt like I’d seen it all, having played all game modes and nearly all of the character classes. The loot boxes are obviously meant to be the carrot that keeps you coming back but, honestly, I didn’t really feel any compulsion to play to farm them. Thinking about it more I just didn’t feel like there was much mechanical depth to LawBreakers for me to explore. Whilst it is a team game, and those that play together well are more likely to succeed than otherwise, it didn’t have the same “team” feeling that a game like say Overwatch had. Instead it very much felt like the Unreal Tournament of days gone past, where that one good player could easily carry a team to victory.
LawBreakers is a solidly executed class based arena shooter that lacks the required elements to take it from good to great. It follows many of the standard tropes that have defined this genre whilst attempting to carve out its own niche with some unique features. Whilst these all work well the overall game experience isn’t that far off what’s already available. Couple that with the issues with match making, no punishment for leavers and a lack of a compelling reason to keep playing and you have a game that’s great for a few hours and nothing beyond that. In retrospect the change from F2P to pay-for-play model might be a blessing for Boss Key as at the very least they’ll make some money off the actual game sales. Suffice to say whilst LawBreakers is a mechanically solid game it’s little more than that and, unfortunately, I don’t think it’ll be enough to carry the game going forwards.
Rating: 7 / 10
LawBreakers is available on PC and PlayStation 4 right now for $29.99. Game was played on the PC with 3 hours of total play time and 23% of the achievements unlocked.
We’re now at the point where Supergiant Games doesn’t need much of an introduction. Their breakout hit Bastion won many people over with its unique visual style and expertly delivered running commentary. Transistor, to me at least, felt like the ultimate refinement of what a Bastion-esque game would look like and for that it took my Game of the Year for 2014. Like many I had expected Supergiant to once again return to their isometric roots with their next release but that was not to be. Instead we were given Pyre, a kind of hybrid visual novel/sports game that, apart from its visuals, shares little with its developer’s previous games. It’s a massive risk, leaving behind what made you great, but the risk has paid off as Pyre is another exceptional (albeit far from perfect) title from Supergiant Games.
For your crimes against the great Commonwealth empire you were cast into the Downside; a horrid, desolate place where no one expects you to survive. As you lay there, where death seemed certain, you were saved by a trio travelling past in a large black wagon. They soon discover the reason you were cast down: you are a Reader, a skill that’s forbidden in the Commonwealth. However in the Downside this skill makes you valuable, able to discern meaning from text and various other things that can be “read”. They hand you a book, one which in it contains the means by which one may return to the Commonwealth. The path is not easy however and you’ll all need to work together as one if you are ever to make it.
Pyre’s visuals are in Supergiant’s trademark style, combining hand drawn elements with cel-shaded 3D models to give you the feeling of playing in a living cartoon. It’s still in isometric perspective too however there’s no real game play reason for this, done more for style than anything else. The maturity of Supergiant’s tools and processes using their custom MonoGame engine is quite evident now showing that there’s just as much time to developing it as the game itself. If pressed I’d say that they were only a small step behind Moon Studio’s (of Ori and the Blind Forest fame) in terms of producing this kind of visual aesthetic. Suffice to say Pyre’s visuals are beautiful, bursting with colour and are sure to keep visual boredom at bay.
Pyre’s mechanics are a complete step away from it’s predecessor’s isometric, hack and slash game play. Instead you command a triumvirate of characters who’s job it is to grab a celestial orb and dunk it into your opponent’s pyre. That does an amount of damage depending on which character does the dunking and then the round starts again. The first one to have their pyre fall to 0 loses. Each of the characters have different attributes, skills and talents that make them better/worse to use depending on the kinds of opponents you face. After each rite those who participated in it will gain experience and those on the bench will gain “inspiration” (basically rested XP). Additionally each character can hold a single talisman which can bestow on them a number of other abilities or buffs. Whilst the combat didn’t feel as deep as Transistor’s there’s still a lot to uncover with many viable builds.
Initially your pool of heroes is relatively small and so rites will feel pretty similar for the first few hours. As your party expands your options open up and things start to get a little more interesting although if you’re like me you’ll tend towards the combo that works best for you. You can probably continue to run that one combo for about half the game before you’ll have to make some tough decisions about how you want the game to progress from then on out. When I realised this I was a little annoyed that I was being forced away from the combo that had worked so well for me but after a little while I started to like the other available characters a lot more. Sure they weren’t as simple in their use but there were some match ups with them where they were outright broken. Indeed I think a couple of the character’s skills probably need a bit more tweaking to be a little more fair, as much as that means for a single player game.
Pamitha, for instance, can get a talisman that allows her to do extra damage and not be banished when dousing a pyre, if she’s flying when she does it. Combining this with the other flight based talents she has you can essentially always have your entire team of 3 up. If those other 2 characters happen to be the more defensively inclined ones you can pretty much guaranteed that they can never get to your pyre and you can always attack theirs. Of course if you’re finding it all a bit too easy you can ratchet up the difficulty considerably using the titan stars although the risk vs reward in that situation isn’t as great as it’s made out to be. I personally only ever used them once and was still able to max out most of the characters without too much hassle so I wouldn’t worry about not using them too much.
The combat certainly starts to lose some puff around the halfway mark, even if you’ve been using different combos. It starts to pick up again as you acquire a few more levels and sol (the in-game currency) which allows you a bit more freedom to experiment but the core mechanic never really shifts. Transistor by comparison felt a lot more rewarding when experimenting, especially when you hit on a combo that just did ridiculous things. For what its worth though when Pyre starts to lag mechanically its plot starts to kick which was great since I had struggled to engage with it during the first 4 hours or so.
Now I’m not sure if Pyre was set up like this intentionally but it has a lot of the trappings I’ve come to expect from mobile games. Each of the various sections of the game can be completed in short bursts, perhaps anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes. Early on this makes it pretty easy to put the game down as you feel like you’ve gotten somewhere and there’s little impetus to keep going. Since Pyre isn’t available on mobile yet I can only assume this is an unintentional side effect of the game’s design more than anything else.
The vast majority of the game’s story progression comes in visual novel format, walls of text flying by accompanied by various noises and unintelligible words to set the mood. This time around you won’t have the signature Logan Cunningham narration however he makes several appearances in the form of various characters in Pyre. The voice acting and backing soundtrack are as amazing as ever demonstrating once again that Supergiant Games knows how to put all these elements together in a cohesive whole. Of course if the story wasn’t any good this would be all for naught but, I’m glad to say, it is well worth the time.
It took me a while to warm to Pyre’s story and I think that’s due to a few factors. For starters I’m not the biggest fan of the visual novel format although I did like Supergiant’s take on the style. The game also doesn’t settle into its own groove until about 4 or so hours in, with new mechanics still being thrown at you up until that point. Once you get past that point however you get a bit more breathing room to focus on the various story elements and that’s when it starts to grab you. Whilst it didn’t reach the same emotional heights that I recall Transistor hitting it still managed to tug at my heartstrings at times. From what I’ve read the story has a near infinite amount of variations built into it so it’s likely your experience will vastly differ from mine depending on what choices you make and when you make them. No matter what path you take though the theme of redemption shines through and is well explored through all the various character’s story arcs.
Pyre’s deviation away from the formula that made its developer great was a risk but one that has paid off for Supergiant games. The trademark visual style continues to improve; the maturity of Supergiant’s tool chain and processes continuing to bear some exquisitely beautiful fruit. The core game mechanics are unique and manages to retain some of the more interesting aspects from previous titles. The story’s narrative around redemption takes some time to get going but once it does it sucks you right in, pushing you to do just one more rite before you put it down for the night. Before then Pyre feels a lot more like a pick up/put down kind of game but it is relatively quick to redeem itself. Pyre is most certainly a game that will delight fans of the developer but I’m sure it will have wider appeal among those who enjoy games from those who are looking to experiment a bit more with the medium.
Pyre is available on PC and PlayStation 4 right now for $19.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 10 hours play time and 58% of the achievements unlocked.
Maybe I’m getting older or maybe I just have less time but walking simulators fill a perfect niche for me. Their short play times, slow pace and (typically) well crafted stories make them a great escape from my usual diet of non-stop work and rage-inducing DOTA 2 matches. It’s also been quite some time since I got to play one, the last being Event towards the end of last year. So when a friend mentioned that I should look into What Remains of Edith Finch, a game from the same developers who brought us The Unfinished Swan, I was instantly intrigued. Like all walking simulators it’s certainly not for everyone but, if you like a gripping (albeit tragic) story, then it’s definitely up your alley.
The Finches are an unfortunate family, one that appears to be pursued by a curse that befalls nearly all of them to untimely deaths. You play as Edith Finch, returning to your ancestral home for the first time in many years. What unfolds from there is the story of how your family came to be in this place, the stories of their deaths and why you left. Much of the family’s history had been hidden from you as a child, your mother refusing to discuss anything. However with her death she had relinquished to you a key, one that unlocked the many tragic tales that befell your family.
What Remains of Edith Finch is built on the Unreal Engine 4 and whilst it does a good job of hiding that “Unreal” feeling there are a few telltale signs that give it away. The visual aesthetic fits in between realism and fantasy which is tied in heavily to the story’s themes. The visuals excel in the wide open spaces, with lovingly crafted vistas sprawling out before you. Up close the lack of detail in some areas becomes apparent but, for the places you’re meant to explore in depth, you can definitely see the extra effort that’s been put in. Overall I’d say that What Remains of Edith Finch’s visuals are above par for the genre, even if they’re not a selling point.
As is expected for this genre What Remains of Edith Finch’s mechanics are simple in their execution. Typically you’ll be locked inside a room or area which you need to find one clue or dialogue trigger. You’ll be rewarded with additional dialogue and story development the more you explore although, thankfully, the game keeps red herrings and dead paths to a minimum. All of the flashback sections have their own little twist on story telling, blending in different story telling elements to make each of them unique. Beyond that there’s not much I can say without spoiling certain story elements but, if you’re a fan of the walking simulator genre, then I’m sure what I’ve described appeals to you.
Knowing that all of the flashbacks would result in that family member’s death ignited something of a moral conundrum for me. In order to progress the game I had to do as the game requested but this, essentially, meant I was condemning them to their fate. Like when you were the child swinging over the cliff it was obvious what the outcome would be. However if I did nothing I could go no further and morally speaking they had already died, so I wasn’t changing anything. I guess the feeling came from the deep engagement I had with the game and the sense that I should have some form of control over the outcome, even if it’s already set in stone.
Whilst, overall, I think that the tragic tale of the Finch family was told well I didn’t like the fact that the narrator was killed off in the end. Sure, I understand that this is part of the “Finch Family Curse” motif the developers are going for but it just didn’t seem necessary to the overall plot. Perhaps my feelings about this come from the sense of loss that the game instils in you, wanting the stereotypical Hollywood ending to soften the blow, so to speak. Of course how you react to the story will be unique to you and there is no right or wrong way to feel when the credits begin to roll.
What Remains of Edith Finch well executed tale of tragedy, taking you through the history of family that has been forever surrounded by death. It’s visuals straddle the line between realism and fantasy, echoing the story. As you’d expect the mechanics are simple and unobtrusive, focusing you on the story. The dialogue and story elements are well paced and delivered excellently, ensuring that you’ll want to complete this game in one sitting. The genre suggests that this game is likely not for everyone but, if you’re a fan of a good story (even if it’s a sad one) then What Remains of Edith Finch is worth your time.
What Remains of Edith Finch is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $19.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 2 hours play time and 56% of the achievements unlocked.