Ah the launch days of a new online game. They’re almost always filled with bugs, server problems and teething issues the developers and their play testers never managed to come across. You’ll be forgiven for thinking that Early Access would be a solution to this, even if you spent oh I don’t know something like 4 years in it. Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem debuted to an audience that was hungry for a new arpg and the hype it had built up to its release ensured that its release date was not so dissimilar from the AAA games it sought to emulate, plagued with numerous issues that made the game chuggy and problematic for many and downright unplayable for an unlucky minority. However like many of its other brethren after the initial furor died down what was left was an extremely competent arpg, just one that I lost interest in after the real grind set in.
In Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem, you, Valeria, and Edric, are the three only survivors of the slaughter of Castagath. Rescued by Grand Inquisitor Heimlock, you were drafted into the Republic’s Army of the Purifiers at a very young age to be trained in the military academy and become perfect soldiers. You also had the chance to benefit from Heimlock’s occasional advice and training. This special treatment led you and your childhood friends to be named the “Children of Heimlock”. However one day it’s revealed that you’re able to channel some devastating forms of magic, something that’s very much frowned upon in this world. This begins your quest to survive and determine what your true fate really is.
I honestly couldn’t believe that the dev team chose Cryengine as the basis for their game, given its propensity for seriously high end graphics and not-so-great multiplayer support out of the box. However what the team has created is really quite something, making full use of the engine’s capabilities. The environments are massive and filled to the brim with detail although in the later, predominantly procedurally generated levels, things do start to get a bit samey. The game does shy away from the Blizzard/Diablo style of using more bright and varied colour palettes to keep visual interest up but there’s still a good helping of lighting and particle effects to keep everything from blurring into a dark background. All of this runs amazingly well, even when you get a good number of enemies on screen. That’s not to say I didn’t have any performance issues at all but I do have to admit I was trying to see how far I could tilt the thing before it fell over.
Wolcen follows the standard isometric dungeon crawler formula pretty closely with its own spin on the various tropes that I’m sure we’ll see emulations of in future games in this genre. There’s no formal classes to speak of however what weapon you decide to wield dictates which skills you’ll be able to use and, by consequence, which talents and attributes you’ll be prioritising. Skills themselves aren’t a given either, you’ll have to find them in drops from enemies or purchase them with a particular kind of currency from the right vendor. The talent tree is also quite novel, consisting of 3 rings that branch out in a constellation like fashion allowing you to choose your own path to the talents you want. There’s also a rudimentary crafting and gem system although if I’m honest I don’t think they’re actually worth using at all. Finally there’s a kind of rift like system which makes up the bulk of the end-game content, servicing as an endless grind to help rebuild a city which will confer back to you some benefits. Honestly using the term “Diablo clone” here would be a disservice to Wolcen as whilst it certainly draws inspiration from it there’s enough new things in here that I think Blizzard will be taking notice.
Combat is, for my build at least, a fast paced balls to the wall killfest that literally doesn’t stop for anything. Now I’m quite sure that the build I was running has likely been nerfed into oblivion since I stopped playing but suffice to say, when I can 2 or 3 shot pretty much any boss or mob I come across in the game it’s not likely to be long for this world. Still it was certainly fun, especially considering that it was such a glass cannon build that I had to ensure I was actively using particular skills constantly lest I cop a few hits in a row which would see me downed in short order. Of course being basically unstoppable did also mean that there wasn’t a lot of challenge left for me in the game once I reached that point, especially without an end-game grind that was building to something interesting.
It probably also didn’t help that I settled on a skill build and playstyle early on and all other variants seemed to be far, far less effective. To be sure there seems to be a lot of build variance available but speaking with my mate who tried numerous other builds none of them were as effective or useful as the good old slow 2 hander with bleeding edge. Some of the skill modifiers did make for more interesting rotations but most of the time they just allowed me to do the one thing I needed to do more efficiently or with a greater margin for error. I’m sure for those seeking to craft the one true ultimate build there’s a lot to explore and experiment with here but without a goal to work towards I can’t imagine there’s going to be much enjoyment in doing so.
Like most arpgs the progression comes thick and fast at the start but begins to slow down measurably once you hit the end game. When once you’d be able to find an upgrade or two during a dungeon run now you’re likely to go multiple runs without finding anything. Worse still you’ll likely have to spend quite a bit of time sifting through all the gear you’ve picked up to find that one upgrade, a rather tedious chore that’s unfortunately not made much easier by the inclusion of gear archetypes that are supposed to make the culling easier. I found a pair of rogue gloves early on in my endgame grind that were just flat out better than anything else the other types could provide, even though I should’ve rightly been using bruiser or heavy gear. Towards the end I was just looking for gear that appeared to be as good or better than what I was currently using and then saw if equipping it upped my character sheet DPS. A blunt tool, to be sure, but comparisons beyond that just aren’t really feasible.
It doesn’t help that the crafting system is pretty much useless, allowing you to reroll or add random attributes to your gear. Gems are also somewhat moot as you can’t combine lower tier gems to higher tier ones and the effects they provide are minimal at best. Not having a comprehensive crafting system isn’t really a major issue but it does mean that there’s really only one path for progression in the end game and that’s to grind, grind away at those dungeons. For some this is probably exactly what they want but for me? I’d kind of like the option of doing something else with my overflowing pack of loot other than vendoring it all. That or some semi-meaningful goal to grind towards.
All this taken together you’d think that I was somewhat dour on the whole Wolcen experience but apart from the last couple hours I actually really enjoyed it. Tooling around in the campaign was always fun, especially when I teamed up with my mate and we had stupid banter over the dialogue whilst we waited for the next quest step to appear. With loot being so plentiful too it was a no-brainer to share everything as well and the game’s catch up mechanics made questing with my much higher level mate very much worth it for both of us. It’s just that it feels like there’s an expiry date on the experience as once you hit a certain point with the game there’s likely not going to be much going back to it. This was much the same as Diablo III for me as whilst I spent a good lot of hours in it initially after hitting Inferno 1 and seeing the grind ahead I just decided to call it quits. I think I’ve only been back a couple times since.
There’s no denying that Wolcen was a buggy mess during its 1.0 week. For the first few days my group of mates and I would routinely get put on servers all the way around the globe which led to a less than stellar experience, even at 180ms ping. There were also the raft of issues around joining games in progress, how quest progress was handled and just a general set of problems that could only be ascribed to launch week teething issues. To be sure a lot of these got better but for one of my mates the game remained unplayable for a week and when it was useable he’d frequently crash if he used certain skills. Right now though the game seems to be in a good spot so if the initial negative press put you off it might be time to revisit it.
The world and story of Wolcen is certainly interesting although it is somewhat predictable given its use of the standard tropes for many of the game’s protagonists and their motivations. The whole thing is predicated on the big bag thing coming to town and you doing everything you can to stop it. There’s definitely more of this world to explore and I can definitely see myself coming back if they drop any story content in the near future. However for this particular instalment it’s decidedly middle of the road but hey, at least you’re not going to be playing this for the narrative right?
Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem is an extremely well thought out arpg, taking inspiration from all the right places and then applying their own brand of creativity to provide a game experience that’s quite different to what you’d expect from a run of the mill Diablo clone. The game’s initial teething issues appear to be sorted out for now and hopefully, if you’d decided to give it a miss because of that, this review can convince you that it’s still worth a look in. You might not sink as many hours as you did in Diablo or Path of Exile but it’s still something to tide you over until Diablo 4 releases sometime this year.
Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem is available on PC right now for $56.95. Total playtime was 18 hours with 36% of the achievements unlocked.
Oh my word would you look at that, it’s another RPG from our good friends over at Spiders. If you are unfamiliar with them (although how could you having read every single one of my reviews!) they are a small developer who has aspirations of being the next Bioware but not where near the prestige nor funding to achieve it. Their previous run of games, which are all startlingly similar in their construction, have all been firmly in the B-grade category; having many of the trappings of its AAA brethren but nowhere near the same level of polish, finesse or integration of mechanics that would make it seem somewhat similar. Over the years then I’ve grown to love seeing Spiders releasing things because it means that they’re somehow still making money despite peddling some of the most mediocre titles for years on end. However, and I feel strange for saying this, their latest game Greedfall actually manages to be a half decent game, even if the spectres of its past are still very much visible. So this may be the first time ever that I say I’m actually looking forward to seeing what Spiders comes up with next.
You are De Sardet, legate of the Congregation of Merchants and you’ve been tapped on the shoulder to accompany your cousin to a newly discovered island called Teer Fradee. He’s to be the governor there and it’s your job to assist him in ensuring that the will of the Congregation is executed over there. At the same time you’ve been tasked with trying to find a cure for the terrible sickness that has been plaguing everyone on the content, a disease that has been named the Malichor. Your journey is not simply one of bashing heads and saving those in distress; no instead you’re there to ensure political stability on the island, including finding a way for those of the continent to get along with the natives of the island. That’s going to be something of a challenge considering the number of different factions, all of whom have their own ideas of what this new island should be used for.
The graphics of Greedfall are brought to us by Spiders’ own game engine called Silk which itself was based off the free Sony engine called PhyreEngine. The graphics it delivers though are more akin to the best we’d seen out of the previous generation, although when compared to previous Spiders titles it’s definitely a major step up. Whilst there’s a healthy dose of asset reuse the environments are still more detailed than they ever have been before. They will start to blend into each other after a while as all the forests look pretty much the same as do the towns save for the few custom designed areas that each of them has. Heck even the various governor houses are basically identical save for the texture jobs. There’s also some noticeable differences in the game’s framerate and the physics engine’s rate which is probably most notable in your cape which stutters along rather than flowing like you’d expect. Credit where it’s due though this is a pretty big step up for Spiders and I’m not one to chide someone for making progress.
It seems that after making ostensibly the same game 4 times over Spiders has finally managed to streamline it to the point where they’ve actually managed to make most of the systems work properly. You’re still going to have to choose to main one of three character classes, each of which largely fits into the regular RPG tropes. The multiple different attribute and talent systems make a return although at least this time around there’s a respec facility that gives you the ability to tweak things if you happen to make a wrong decision early on. You’ll still be saddled with AI companions that you have zero control over however and their AI hasn’t really improved much in the years since the Technomancer. Crafting once again makes a return although it suffers from the same problems at it always has. Overall whilst the theme of “put everything in that the AAA guys do” is still very much prevalent in Greedfall at least this time it’s a lot better done making for a game that’s actually kind of fun to play.
Combat is still a very simplistic affair, being mostly focus on you whacking at enemies and dodging their more obvious telegraphed attacks whilst waiting for your abilities to come off cooldown. The game asks you what archetype you want to be at the start and, for a change, I decided to see what being a spellcaster would be like. To their credit this was actually quite a viable build although, unfortunately, it still meant that I’d spend about half of most combat encounters meleeing things as I waited for my mana to regen. However there were also times that I could completely wipe out an entire group with 2 spells, something which I sorely needed to do later in the game when I was over everything and just wanted to complete the story. I still have the feeling that going for the warrior tree might’ve been the smarter move overall as it seems all the good weapons and armor require you to invest in points that that tree makes use of. Having to split my points a bit between things to support my spellcasting whilst also wearing armour that wasn’t total shit was a bit of a pain, although it wasn’t too much of a drag for the last 5 or so hours of my playthrough.
Like most things in Greedfall though the combat gets extremely repetitve after not too long. The enemy variety is very low and doesn’t really change much throughout the game. This unfortunately means that the increased challenge usually comes from the game throwing more of those enemies at you or simply giving them a truckload more health and armour. This turns most fights into drawn out slugfests and with an unfortunate late of variety in spells and skills there’s not much to really keep you interested. To be sure I could’ve easily respecced between any of the 3 trees anytime I wanted to (you’ll pick up more than enough items to cover them all off) but I shouldn’t have to completely up-end my build just to keep things interesting. The games that Greedfall aspires to be (Dragonfall: Origins should I take a wild guess) managed to keep me interested without the need for me to change things up so I definitely feel like it’s a lack of time and/or resources on Spiders’ part here.
Pro-tip: there’s basically no reason to invest any points in crafting as there’s NPCs who can craft everything for you. Not only that but all crafting recipes are available to you right from the get-go so there’s really nothing else for you to do but to go and find the required mats. This is made incredibly easy by the fact that every time you travel you have to camp, which also brings with it a vendor who always has every crafting item in stock. It’s probably still worth picking up various mats along the way as you’ll sometimes need to craft something or use them to complete a quest but other than that you’re going to end up with a bunch of materials that you’re not going to have any use for. Thankfully they don’t weigh particularly much so you can still indulge in your packrat ways if you so wish. Once I’d found a good set of unique armour and an associated weapon I maxed out crafting to upgrade everything to the fullest and then respecced into something more useful right away. I think I ended up using that setup for over half the game.
Progression is a muddled affair as you’ll get skill points every level (and can even find “skill shrines” that give you additional points) but will only get attribute and talent points every so often. This means that if you find a sweet piece of armour that needs endurance 2 it’s not going to be 2 levels to use it, no more like 5+. Whilst this does mean that the early game is a bit of a balancing act to get the most out of the loot you have it ends up being a pretty big source of frustration later in the game. This is most apparent when all the good loot requires the higher tiers of attributes unlocked or not having a particular skill (like say vigor) levelled up enough means taking the very long way around something. Of course I totally get the idea that this is meant to make you specialise in something but given the loot isn’t particularly diverse it kind of means that non-warrior builds are less viable than their melee focused counter-parts. This is honestly par for the course with Spiders games though so I really shouldn’t be surprised.
There have been some major quality of life improvements over previous Spiders games like, finally, a fast travel system. Unfortunately this is tied up with a completely unnecessary (but mandatory) “camp” intermediate level which basically means you’ll always see 2 load screens unless you’re travelling within a current map. It would be so, so much better if you had the choice of camping or not as later in the game there’s really not a lot of reason to spend any time at camp. Other improvements include item comparison, so you can see if what you’re looking at is an upgrade, a useable map and a UI that isn’t complete garbage. It’s still probably about 5+ years behind what I’d call AAA but at the very least we’re streets ahead of what I’ve come to expect from this developer.
Of course the game is still riddled with issues, some of which may be due to their continued use of the Silk engine or perhaps just straight up lack of polish. Pathing is a major issue and you’ll routinely get cornered or stuck by NPCs or your companions alike although they’ll usually figure out you’re trying to get past them after a 30 seconds or so. There are missions in the game that are obviously related to each other but haven’t had alternative voice lines recorded from them so you’ll often have your character experiencing weird bouts of amnesia about things that they really should know about. Whilst the level of the jank in the combat is certainly decreased the same issues in Spiders’ previous games still exist, like spells or melee hits just straight up not connecting for no reason at all and enemies straight up ignoring terrain to get at you. A lot of these things can be patched out though and hopefully Spiders does invest some time between this game and the next on improving the overall experience.
The story is passable as it’s rather predictable but at least many of the characters are given time to develop and there appears to be a much richer world behind everything than previous Spiders’ games had. Even with that said though there were a good number of characters I was just straight up not interested in talking to, including 2 of the companions that are introduced much later in the game and as such feel like strangers in your tightly knit crew. I will admit that I played for much, much longer than I would have otherwise just because I wanted to see how everything panned out but even that became quite the chore towards the end. Overall it’s a vast improvement but there’s still a lot of room to grow here.
After 7 years of not really improving at all it’s heartening to see signs of life from the Spiders team. Whilst Greedfall is certainly still in B-grade territory it’s very, achingly close to tipping over to into A. There’s still tons of room for improvement here and a “less is more” approach could still help immensely in focusing more on what matters to the core game rather than trying to emulate what others deliver in the same kind of experience. Still I hope that the success that Spiders has found with Greedfall either gives them bigger budgets or allows them to attract more top tier talent as it’s clear there’s something going on there, they just need the right guidance and resources to make something truly AAA worthy.
Greedfall is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and XboxOne right now for $69.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 22 hours play time and 51% of the achievements unlocked.
Going into games with little to no expectations makes for some…surprising moments. Most of the time I know what kind of experience I’m in for but there are times when I haven’t looked into the game beyond a cinematic trailer or two before I consider myself sold on playing it. Such is the case with Jedi: Fallen Order as I’m something of a Star Wars and Respawn Entertainment fan so I figured it was a done deal that I’d enjoy whatever happened when the two were combined. Imagine my surprise when I find myself in the middle of a Star Wars soulslike experience, far from the traditional RPG or third person shooter style games that this IP has been known for. Coming into this game somewhat late in the piece means I missed most of the extreme jank that plagued early reviews but still, as an overall experience, I think Fallen Order could do with some more work in a few key areas.
Five years after the execution of Order 66 and the beginning of the Great Jedi Purge, former Jedi Padawan Cal Kestis is in hiding from the newly risen Galactic Empire. On the planet Bracca, where he works as a scrapper salvaging ships from the Clone Wars. After he uses the force to save one of his friends from certain doom he becomes a target for the Inquisitors, an elite squadron of force users trained by Darth Vader himself. Luckily Cal is able to escape with the help of a former Jedi Knight named Cere Junda and her partner pilot Greez Dritus. Cere then tells you of her plan to rebuild the Jedi order using a holocron that contains the names of numerous force sensitive children scattered throughout the universe.
Fallen Order’s visuals excel in the wide open spaces that it puts you in, the wide vistas in the background providing some great screenshot bait. Up close however it’s clear that the visuals have been tuned a little bit more towards the performance end, wanting to ensure that the framerate remains more consistent during heavy action sequences. Part of that could also be due to my older rig not being capable of rendering more detail as I know that the PlayStation 4 version has a “performance” graphics setting which is recommended for non-pro users which looks quite similar to the results I’m seeing here. Even with all of that taken into consideration Fallen Order is still a fine looking game.
Fallen Order doesn’t make too many changes to the souslike core game loop, staying pretty true to the original formula. You have bonfires (meditation points), estus flask (stims), maps that twist and turn on themselves to reveal shortcuts that will make repeated trips through them quicker and a progression system that punishes death in the usual way. Fallen Order is a little more generous with its various mechanics however, making it one of the more tame soulslike experiences I’ve played to date. The only real changes to the formula are the much more contained levels with each world being its own distinct area to explore and the combat tending towards Bloodborne a little more than a traditional souls game. If you’ve been shying away from this genre for a while now I’d say that Fallen Order would be a good place to start, especially if you’re a fan of the IP it comes from.
Following the Bloodborne style for combat means that the game’s pace is a lot faster than your traditional souls game, being a little more hack ‘n’ slash rather than a strategic stamina management battle. Parrying is very much the name of the game here as you’ll have a much easier time if you’re able to hit the required timings rather than trying to dodge your way through everything. That’s partly due to the parry timing being somewhat generous and the dodging feeling a little buggy as it rarely works as you’d expect it to. Indeed the whole integration of the physics engine with the combat mechanics doesn’t feel 100%, even after the patches that took out the most egregious errors that plagued the game’s release.
That, coupled with the game’s rather basic approach to increasing the challenge for you (mostly by just throwing more enemies at you and/or the time between save points) makes for a combat experience that’s a little below par. To be sure there’s some great fights in there and I quite enjoyed a lot of the boss battles as they really did capture that same feeling I got when facing down bosses in other souls games. However much of the later challenge was really just frustration, forcing me to replay through sections over and over again just because I encountered something that I couldn’t have planned for. There was a lot of scope for Respawn to make every world have its own unique set of challenges with different enemies and mechanics but, in the end, they opted for most of them to be basically the same with only slight variations in the trash mobs. That could have been done a lot better.
Progression comes pretty steadily as you gain XP by defeating enemies, finding collectibles and unlocking secrets. Early on you’re likely going to unlock all of the skills available before you get the next tier unlocked and, even towards the end of the game, you’re likely going to be wondering what you really want to spend your points on. For the most part though the skills and upgrades are minor improvements and there’s no one build that’s going to be a lot better than others. To be sure there’s a few skills which will likely make some encounters a little easier than others but you won’t be able to say, build around a particular boss in order to cheese them.
Exploration feels somewhat rewarding however looking for all the crates isn’t something you’re going to need to do. Pretty much all the items contained in them are just cosmetics with no impact to your character’s stats at all. There are upgrades to your health and force scattered around the place but they barely feel worth seeking out as the talent tree does a good enough job of bolstering those up for you.
Whilst I never had any issues with the game freezing or crashing there was still a good helping of physics and hitbox related issues during my playthrough. I couldn’t tell you how many times I jumped at a rope, tried to wall run or jump onto a small rail only to have Cal fall to his death. That only got more frustrating during the more challenging platforming sections as I’d often fail at the last point, requiring me to replay the whole section again. This physics and hitbox jankiness pervades throughout all of the game’s various elements making for a rather annoying and inconsistent experience at times. It’s certainly no where near as bad now as some of the early videos show but there’s still a lot of room for improvement here.
Fallen Order’s story goes through peaks and troughs; sometimes reeling you in with some heartfelt moments whilst at others falling utterly flat. Usually this comes down to bad pacing however Fallen Order does manage to get that right, delivering story items at a consistent rate to keep you engaged enough. I think it partly comes down to a lot of false crescendos as the story appears to be leading to a pivotal point only to shoot off in a completely arbitrary direction, making you feel like you really haven’t gotten as far as you think. The one thing I will credit them for is not relying heavily on main Star Wars characters to drive everything, a sin many Star Wars games commit all too frequently.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a competent soulslike experience that suffers from some fundamental technical issues that make it a good, but not great experience. There are glimmers of excellence all over the place, from the expansive visual set pieces to the steady pace of progression and some key story moments that really hit home. But those are buried under the janky physics and hitbox issues that pervade the rest of the experience making things like combat, exploration and solving puzzles a frustrating experience. This is something that will, hopefully, get better over time but as it stands today, even after a couple patches, Jedi: Fallen Order is a game that’s probably best picked up when it’s on sale a few months from now.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $89.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 17 hours play time and 46% of the achievements unlocked.
I’ve found myself stumbling across a lot more work from game developer students of late and I have to say I’m continually impressed at the work they’re putting out. To be sure part of it is because of my own history in trying to make games with mixed results although I do contend that they were crafted over a decade ago, long before Unity and its community were in existence. Still the fact that students make games is only part of it as it’s more about the quality of what they’re putting out which bears mention. Undefeated is a fantastic example of this as it manages to do what a lot of other, bigger budget titles fail to do: make being a superhero just plain fun.
Undefeated’s premise is simple: there’s a city in trouble and it’s up to you to save it. Initially this takes the form of beating down the hordes of rank and file bad guys who are getting in your way, stopping to help citizens in trouble as you do so for good measure. From there it turns into a kind of superhero anime where you’ll have to level yourself up through the ranks so you can take on the ever increasing threats to the city (mostly in the form of boss fights). In all honesty I went into this thinking I’d have yet another trash heap to review but, to its credit, Undefeated managed to get me hooked no less than 5 minutes into the game.
Visually Undefeated is quite simple, retaining that default “Unreal engine” feel that many games built on the platform have when they use assets from the store. The UI does appear to have been given some love though, mostly to give it that very distinct Japanese UI design that lovers of JRPGs and other such titles seem to favour heavily. This simplicity means that the game runs buttery smooth and will quite likely do so on pretty much any platform you care to throw it at. However it’s not the visuals that makes this game, it’s the rapid pace and careful selection of mechanics that makes it so gosh darn fun.
You’re immediately greeted with a game that looks a lot like the Earth Defense Force series of games but plays a lot more like Prototype. The basic premise is you’re a superhero that can fly, has super strength and is lightning fast. This means that you’ll be zipping from point to point, beating the living heck out of something before moving on. It sounds simple but the execution is spot on, giving you this feeling of being completely unrivalled as you tear your way through streams of enemies. The two mission types follow the same trope, either having you blow up a bunch of stuff or flying through rings. There’s also minor events which will spawn every so often, usually just another bunch of bad guys which you can take out in a couple hits.
Then there’s the boss fights which are where the game’s challenge really starts to kick in. Instead of you having a health bar it’s actually the city and the challenge comes from stopping the boss from doing damage to the city whilst you try to pummel them down. Each one of the bosses is another big step up in difficulty from the last one, with every one bar the first requiring at least some kind of strategy to take them out. It’s at that point where the game starts to struggle a bit as the shine wears off and the game’s more egregious errors start to come through.
Of course they’re the kind of things you’d expect from a small group of students working on their very first title. The controls can feel a bit janky at times, your character not responding exactly how you’d expect him to. Hit detection could also use a bit of work as it doesn’t seem to be 100%, especially with the boss fights (like trying to put out fires). The camera also routinely loses your character when he’s zipping around certain things which can make some challenges far more difficult than they were intended to be. The control scheme is also somewhat unintuitive, although I’ll admit to not having played a great deal of Eastern titles so it could feel a lot more natural to those who do. Overall these are all fixable things and they’re easy enough to ignore to enjoy a good chunk of the game.
Undefeated is a fantastic example of the results you can get when you focus on the fundamentals of what makes your game fun. Sure the graphics aren’t the greatest and there’s a bunch of rough edges that need polishing but the core game play is just, well fun. The fact that a handful of students from Japan were able to recreate the fundamental game loop of some bigger AAA titles is honestly quite astounding and I hope the team that put this one together has a serious look at building out a fully fledged title.
Undefeated is available on Steam now for free. Total play time was 33 minutes.
Sekiro rattled me a little bit, making me wonder if I was no longer “gud” enough to play these soulslike games anymore. Part of it is definitely time, I have a lot less of that to dedicate to challenging titles ever since I became a dad, but there’s always that lingering thing in the back of my head that’s telling me father time is catching up to me. So when I saw The Surge 2 appear on Steam I was conflicted, knowing that if I didn’t smash this one then it could be the beginning of the end for me with this genre. I’m happy to report that my fears were just that and I quickly found myself thoroughly enjoying the soulslike experience that Deck13 has built with this franchise. It’s still got some very rough edges however but if you can get past them what lies beneath is a pretty great game, one that’s definitely found a comfortable niche for itself.
Taking place right after the events of the original game The Surge 2 puts you on a plane that was enroute to Jericho city at the time of the rocket launch. Unfortunately your plane is struck by the rocket after it launched, sending it careening down on the outskirts of the city. You somehow manage to survive and are evacuated to a nearby medical facility. Months later you awaken to visions of a young girl speaking to you, calling her your warrior. You quickly find out that you’ve been put in a prison medical facility and it’s been thrown into disarray as a nanite infused beast tears through it, killing anyone in its path. With little more than a hospital gown and the remnants of your restraints for weapons you set out to find out why you’ve been imprisoned and what the hell has happened to Jericho city.
Deck13 has mentioned that there has been a lot of improvements made to the FLEDGE engine in order to support the larger, more open world of The Surge 2. For many that’s meant a marked decrease in performance, myself included. Indeed to start off with the game was aggressively down-resing, so much so that it was rendering in what I can only assume was 640 x 480. Fixing that made the game a lot more legible but it quickly became apparent that my rig wasn’t really up to the task. The first performance patch and a driver update addressed it somewhat, but it’s still clear that whatever is going on under the hood is either poorly optimised or requires a ton more grunt than my near 5 year old rig can provide. It’s somewhat of a shame given that The Surge 2 doesn’t look much better than its predecessor and that ran perfectly fine. Perhaps the improvements Deck13 made become more apparent at higher resolutions, something that only a really modern PC is going to be able to provide.
The Surge 2 is an evolution of its predecessor, streamlining the experience considerably whilst leaving the core game loop mostly intact. The same soulslike combat experience is back again, requiring you to learn the movesets of your enemies so you can pummel them down and lop off their limbs. Tech scrap is still the currency and main source of progression, levelling up your core power that will enable you to use better armour and mods. The drone is now more of a standalone mechanic in its own right, no longer using energy and instead having its own ammo and differing mods that provide a whole range of different combat options. What’s really changed however is the inclusion of the online social interactions that the Dark Souls series has become famous for, allowing for a limited set of interaction with other players by leaving messages and playing an interesting version of hide and seek. The world is also much more open than it used to be with a lot more options for exploration and a truckload more sidequests for you to tackle if you want. The improvements are very much welcome, even if the game still has a little ways to go if it’s ever going to be considered to be in the same league as the games that inspired it.
Combat retains the same structure as the original with you focusing on a particular body part to wail on (either for damage or to cut off to get their armour or crafting mats). It didn’t take long for me to get back into the swing of things although there was a good 5+ hours there where things were definitely a bit of a struggle. Part of this is due to the lack of options you have at that early stage of the game, limiting your ability to craft a build specifically designed to counter the challenges you’re facing. However this is a game where certain weapons, armour and mods are simply straight up better than others and as you progress through the game it becomes possible to construct a build that renders you untouchable within certain limits.
The sharp difficulty jumps are still here, although they were a non-issue for about 60% of the game after I settled on a build that seemed to be able to deal with pretty much anything that came my way. My weapon of choice was the double-duty style, specifically the spark disciple one that did added electric damage. It was possible to blow all my stamina on attacks before they had a chance to fight back and, most of the time, would net me a stun so I could then take a beat and begin it all again. To be sure there are some enemies where this was a sub-optimal strategy, especially those that couldn’t be staggered for whatever reason, but with the amount of energy that my build would generate I never had an issue out healing them before I could get a stun off and then finish them. Later on the only mods I made to the build was to swap out the electric weapon for a nano one when enemies were immune to electric damage.
Bosses were, of course, a different beast entirely as most of them would require their own unique build in order to get past them. Mostly that was to make up for whatever weakness I had in my playstyle that the boss was able to exploit, like my penchant for dodging over blocking or the lack of a particular resistance. There were a couple where I could just go ham on them with my default build and, shockingly, was able to one shot a couple of them without too much difficulty. The harder bosses though often challenged me to change up my playstyle a bit in order to be able to get through them, like the Delver which is an absolute nightmare to get past if you don’t know how to counter block correctly. I didn’t try any of the drone focused builds although I can’t say I wasn’t tempted for a few of them as being able to rain down hell ala Remnant: From the Ashes style was quite appealing.
The progression system feeds you a steady stream of upgrades to keep you going and is thankfully well designed enough so you don’t feel completely locked into the one build you’ve optimised everything for. Scrap is easy enough to come by, especially if you’ve got a solid route to run that allows you to execute a number of enemies along the way (which increases your multiplier for tech scrap generation). At the start you’ll most likely want to be dumping your scrap into your core over upgrading your gear as later sets of gear have a large core power requirement that you won’t be able to meet. Later on it’s all about upgrading your preferred set to the maximum whilst keeping an alternate set of gear at a similar level should you find the need to switch. That being said though crafting and upgrading is pretty cheap so if you find yourself needing or wanting another gear set it’s usually not going to take you that long to get it.
The new social system is good although it does seem to take out a massive part of the game’s challenge when everyone and his dog is putting up graffiti that points towards all the secrets that the devs have tried to hide. Sure you could still try to troll with them but given there’s a rating system for them it seems like all the troll ones have long since disappeared and the only ones left are the beneficial ones. I did quite enjoy the hide and seek mini game though as it was always fun to try and find places that players wouldn’t be able to figure out or those that others simply wouldn’t be able to get to. The tech scrap you get from that early on is a real lifesaver to, often netting you a free level.
Most of the issues of the past have been dealt with although a trove of new ones have sailed in to take their place. Alongside the graphics performance issues I also got some strange glitching that would often occur at game start and, every so often, in the game itself. It was obvious the game was running in the background but the game itself didn’t render correctly at all. The UI still worked and changing the resolution seemed to fix it. The game also crashed numerous times, sometimes for no reason and others for specific encounters with certain enemies. Some of the in-game interactive elements can take a few tries to work properly, making you wonder if you’re actually meant to interact with them at all. Pathing is still an issue, something that’s made all the worse by the more complicated environments. Most of the time it’s just funny but there’s certain times where my character inexplicably pathed off something or enemies got stuck on geometry and couldn’t figure out how to get themselves out of it. Suffice to say I think, given the fact that the series has now firmly established itself as an ongoing concern, Deck13 could spend a little extra time on polishing these various elements so that future instalments in the franchise aren’t so janky.
The Surge 2’s story is pretty straightforward, if a little forgettable and simplistic. Characters from the previous game (including the player’s character) make a return and knowing the previous story does help explain some of the more esoteric elements. However if this is your first foray into the world of The Surge then you’re not going to struggle to understand what’s going on as it’s a largely standalone narrative. The story also wraps everything up pretty nicely with some potential avenues for a sequel that were left there subtly rather than being shouted loudly at the end of the main narrative. The Surge 2 definitely isn’t a game you’d play for the story but it’s at least not a massive detractor from the game.
The Surge 2 is a solid step forward for the franchise, keeping quite a lot the same and refining the rest. The game has now carved out its own little niche in the soulslike genre, extending on the formula and defining its own little tropes. One of those is an unfortunate penchant for a lack of overall polish, resulting in some fundamental issues that Deck13 should have addressed before release. Beyond those issues however lies a game with solid mechanics that will challenge your skills as a player and reward them handsomely. I have no doubt that we’ll soon be seeing another instalment in this franchise and if they can make a similar level of improvements in that as they did here I can see them continuing on for a good long time to come.
The Surge 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $69.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 22 hours play time and 59% of the achievements unlocked.
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.
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.
The Resident Evil series and I go a long way back. I started playing the series with Resident Evil 2, skipping the first because I don’t think we had a PlayStation until long after it was out (we were a Nintendo household, dagnabit). For some reason though the series stuck with my brother and I, the game getting numerous replays as we sought to master its every aspect. I even remember going as far as doing a no-save run, a feat which saw me playing through until midnight, netting me the infinite ammo gatling gun. However after Resident Evil 3 (which I am very much looking forward to seeing a remake of now) my interest in the series waned I went to greener gaming pastures. It was impossible to ignore the wide critical acclaim that the remake was receiving though and, after being prompted to play it by my brother, I found myself back in the zombie infested world of Racoon City. Suffice to say if all remakes were done this way I think we’d all be far more welcoming of developers pillaging old classics.
You play as either Claire Redfield or Leon S. Kennedy, both of whom are venturing into Racoon City for their own reasons. The story starts when both of you stumble into a petrol station on the outskirts of the city, seemingly abandoned with no signs of any humans around. It quickly becomes apparent though that everyone here has turned into zombies and thankfully you bump into each other before making your escape into the town proper. As you journey towards the police station, in hopes of finding shelter and help there, you become separated and so your journey begins to escape Racoon City and, possibly, save a few others along the way.
Resident Evil 2 is based on the same RE Engine that powered Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and the visuals have definitely improved since then. The level of detail has improved significantly, the game no longer relying on the dark setting to hide away the lack of detail in certain areas. Some of this is out of necessity, given that a lot of the areas are a lot more open and bright than they were in 7. There’s also a lot of nice visual touches like the animations that play when you’re using an item and the subtle changes in colour temperature for different rooms that are lit by different sources (moon light vs incandescent lights, for example). The cutscenes are probably the only sections that highlight some of the lesser graphical aspects, the animations sometimes getting out of sync with the sounds or even the animations themselves not being quite right. Overall though I’m glad that Capcom made a concerted effort to improve upon what they delivered previously with this engine.
Capcom was vehement that this was a remake, not a remaster, and that’s certainly true of the game’s core gameplay. Gone are the fixed cameras (thank goodness) replaced instead with a third person, over the shoulder view. This in of itself is a major change to how the game plays out, no longer are you limited to small, awkwardly framed sections that made even the most benign task a challenge. Instead you now have this almost open world in front of you, one that’s littered with many of the same challenges that the original had. Beyond that the game sticks to its survival horror roots, giving you precious little ammo to take on the numerous zombies that will be coming your way. This makes choosing your path through the world critical as you won’t be able to simply blast your way through everything. Stacked on top of this is a heavy focus on item management, forcing you to make decisions about what to take with you and what to leave behind. Lastly there’s a rudimentary crafting system, adding a another layer of complexity in deciding how you’ll tackle the problems at hand. All of these mechanics are, in the truest sense, the essence of what made the Resident Evil series great back in the day and their modernisation some 20 years later has proven the formula can still be successful.
Combat is, as it always is in survival horror games, a frustrating affair of never being sure if you have enough to make it through to the next stage. Zombies never really reliably go down, often just falling over and getting back up at some later stage (save for a few weapons which guarantee kills like the magnum). You’ll also be faced with situations that will make you panic and drain your reserves rapidly, leaving you with few options but to try and run past whatever is trying to kill you. Realistically the only thing in common it has with other third person shooters is the perspective you play from, everything else is more a game of strategy to minimise the use of your consumables whilst maximising the amount of distance you can cover. So whilst it might be a frustrating, seemingly random system there are a number of things you can do to increase your odds of getting through unscathed and with only a few bullets loosed.
If you’re playing on anything but the easiest mode you’ll also have to deal with the health system which retains the originals Fine/Caution/Danger levels which roughly translate to how many zombie bites you can sustain. Other things seemingly do part damage, like some boss attacks or other smaller sources of damage, but they won’t register on the inventory screen. Similarly healing items seem to indicate that they’ll have varying levels of effectiveness but they all seem to be roughly the same, either repairing you 1 level or 2. I’m sure there’s some deeper level to it, probably one that speedrunners are intimately familiar with, but for your average player there doesn’t seem to be more subtly to it than that.
The inventory system is one of the game’s core mechanics, making it hard for loot rats like myself who by default pick up everything in sight. Sometimes it can mean just having to loop back later to pick up some more crafting materials but often it can mean coming across a crucial progression item that you’ll then have to leave behind. Thus you play an optimisation game, scanning the room for everything in it and then deciding what you can and can’t take with you. It gets easier later on as you expand your inventory space, although then you’re usually carrying around more guns to deal with the game’s increased level of threat. I’d typically chide a game for making inventory management such a ballache however it’s clear that it was a core part of the game design, not something that was simply neglected. So whilst I might have been annoyed at the multiple trips I might have had to make to get everything in a room I understood that this was part of the challenge laid out before me.
Now I’m not sure if it’s my 2 decades of experience as a gamer since I played the original but the puzzles of the remake feel a lot more straightforward than they previously did. All the clues you need will come to you without the need for studious exploration and those that don’t can often be worked out with a little logic or brute force. There was only one time when I got stuck and that was due to me legging it out of a room without fully exploring it, something a second trip through fixed up immediately. I was playing on the Standard difficulty so I understand some challenges are a little harder on the top tier but even then I don’t think most seasoned gamers would struggle. For those who do there’s the easiest difficulty level which I think would cater to even the most casual of players.
It’s hard to tell what’s janky in Resident Evil 2 and what’s meant to be a core part of the game. For instance the zombies’ ragdoll physics constantly goes haywire, even when they’re not completely dead. On the one hand this could very well be deliberate as ragdolling in games often means the enemy is completely, 100% dead; something which this game really doesn’t want you to be sure of. Additionally the enemies AI breaks down around doors, sometimes they’ll break them down and follow you through whilst others will instantly forget you’re there the second you close it. Again, could be a game mechanic or could be a glitch, I really can’t be sure. It’s true to the nature of the genre somewhat, frustrating controls and random mechanics that always keep you guessing, which is also one of my biggest gripes with games like these. So either it’s part of the challenge or a frustrating lack of polish, you decide.
The story remains true to the core events of the original and retains the same ever present tension that the Resident Evil series was always so good at generating. Now I’m not typically a fan of the horror genre but it’s hard to deny how well Resident Evil 2 executes it. The game does have some rather severe pacing issues, something which I think is part due to its true to core nature and the assumed multiple playthroughs (which I have not done), but it does seem relationship progression between most of the characters happens way too fast given the time that would’ve passed (less than one night). A lot of it made sense to me given my history with the original game but for those who never played it I can imagine things might have seemed a little weird. Indeed the story seems to be the thing that recieved the least polish which is a shame but it’s still at least enough to carry you through it.
All this being said RESIDENT EVIL 2 / BIOHAZARD RE:2 sets the bar for what remakes of classic titles can be. Changing up the mechanics, completely rebuilding the environments and thoroughly modernising nearly everything about it brings about a new experience that keeps the essence of the original whilst still doing something new. Even for single playthrough gamers like myself there’s a lot to love here, from the well laid out puzzles to the min/max strategy, ensuring that there’s always a challenge at had to keep you occupied. There are some parts that could either be a lack of polish or a deliberate design decision, something that has always irked me about the survival horror genre. Still, all things considered, if all remasters or remakes were like this I think we as a gaming community would be far more welcoming to them. We may get to see more of it with a possible Resident Evil 3 remake on the horizon and I, for one, am definitely looking forward to it.
RESIDENT EVIL 2 / BIOHAZARD RE:2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $89.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 7 hours playtime and 40% of the achievements unlocked.
I couldn’t tell you why I never got into the Hitman series. It’s not something I’ve deliberately avoided, no I think it’s more that I’ve always had something else to play at the time it was released and, by the time I’d finished whatever I was playing, it was on to the next biggest and best title. However I have one particular friend who is…quite fond of the series and has been relentless in his pursuit to get me to try it out. So, with January not providing any much in the way of new games to play, I figured it was finally time to give the series a go, starting with Hitman 2.
This seems to have been a pretty good place to start because the story of Hitman 2 (which for the purposes of this review also includes Hitman since I played through all of those missions as well) fleshes out a lot of the background of the characters. You are Agent 47, a world renown assassin who works for the ICA: a shadowy contract killer organisation who works at the behest of the board. You and your handler Diana Burnwood are tasked with eliminating targets who pose a threat to your clients in one way or another. However as you complete your missions a pattern starts to emerge and it seems that your assassinations may be playing part in a larger game.
There really is no other game that can compare to the extraordinary amount of detail that’s crammed into each and every level of Hitman. Not only is every place bustling with numerous NPCs, many of which have their own dialogue and action sequences, the environments themselves will likely require multiple playthroughs in order for you to explore them completely. It really is quite incredible to just simply wander around the map to figure out all the different avenues that you have available to you, including the ones that may not have been intended by the game designers. On a purely visual basis the graphics aren’t exactly top tier however that’s made up for in spades with the attention that’s paid to every detail. Performance is also quite good, the game never missing a beat even on my now 4 year old PC.
Putting Hitman into a genre is a bit of a challenge as it borrows elements from many. The core mechanics are essential stealth, challenging you to find ways into various areas without being detected. Whilst I never really tried it there also seems to be a rather well developed third person shooter in there as well, at least that’s the only reason I can think of for the developers to include so many varied weapons in it. There’s also a puzzler element as well as whilst you can likely conclude most missions by simply shooting your target in the head there are many more nuanced ways to eliminate them but doing so will likely require a little digging and out of the box thinking in order to accomplish. There’s also a bunch of different modes in the game that I never tried either so there’s likely other mechanics as well that I personally haven’t experienced. Suffice to say there’s a lot to unpack in Hitman and I can see why it’s one of the few games that’s managed to do well with the episodic model: there’s just so much damn content in each mission.
The stealth is done exceptionally well, even if it is comically unrealistic with some things. NPCs will generally react negatively to behaviour that’s out of character for your current disguise, whether that be walking into places you shouldn’t be in or performing an action that wouldn’t be expected of you. There’s the typical awareness meter which functions as you’d expect it to: enemies further away taking longer to recognise you and those close up being able to recognise you instantly. There’s also the usual mix of stealth mechanics mixed in (hiding in bushes, distracting them with items, etc.) which all work well. Your main challenge is usually hiding the bodies of people whose clothes you’ve stolen which is easy enough, if you can find a place to hide them. Of course you’re very likely to stuff these things up so saving and reloading constantly quickly becomes the name of the game, that is if you’re chasing a high score of course.
Most of the time the system seems fair however it’s not immune to glitching out and behaving in strange and unpredictable ways. Certain actions can seemingly be traced back directly to you even if there’s no witnesses. One mission in particular I hid out of view and shot some gas canisters to eliminate my target. Apparently everyone of the guards nearby was able to trace where those shots came from instantly, altering everyone. There’s also times when NPCs will walk into areas that they’ve never pathed into before, all for the purpose of finding that body that you didn’t hide in a dumpster or closet. Some actions also count as murdering someone when they probably shouldn’t, like dragging someone through a small puddle or pushing them over a small railing. Of course once you know about these nuances of the stealth system you can work around them but it can be rather frustrating to have a Silent Assassin run ruined by some behaviour that you couldn’t predict and can’t fix since you didn’t save before you committed a certain action.
I predominantly played the mission stories and I have to say, whilst there’s probably a lot more to discover in replaying it without them, I had a great time just following them along. To be sure it can make some of the supposedly most difficult missions trivial but they provide a good introduction to the mechanics of the level, it’s layout and how you might go about certain things. Of course not all of them are completely straightforward and you can often find yourself in the middle of completing one without even realising it. There was one level (the Swedish banker one) where I stumbled onto the cameraman mission story without the game telling me I was on it. So what ensued was my own take on it which, honestly, was just as much fun as the other directed ones. I didn’t go back and replay any of the missions though, nor have I done any of the elusive targets, as there was more than enough content for me in just a single play through alone.
The stealth system isn’t the only thing to glitch out unfortunately as there are numerous other things that can go belly up if certain conditions are met. NPCs routines can get messed up for any number of reasons, which can sometimes mean locking you out of a particular mission objective. I had one of my targets get stuck in a loop pathing up and down a set of stairs constantly and no amount of reloads could bring him around. I have to assume that this was because I’d set up for one mission whilst attempting to complete another one which sent the AI spare. I eventually worked around it by luring him out with a trail of coins and guns, but even after that he didn’t resume his original routine. I was still able to complete the mission, just not in the way I wanted to. It’s somewhat understandable given each level’s size but it can still be frustrating to have your run ruined by glitchy mechanics.
Even though this is my first Hitman game I quite liked the story and the developers did a great job of providing background for all the characters. To be sure there are bits I’m likely missing (although my friend did give me a little insight into some of the earlier games) but even coming in at this late juncture I didn’t feel the need to reach for Wikipedia articles or plot summaries in order to understand everyone’s motivations. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t have the budget for cutscenes in between the Hitman 2 missions, instead opting for animated still shots, but they at least kept the same amount of dialogue and character development in them meaning the story could still progress. It’s a slightly cliche plotline but it’s still quite enjoyable, heck it’s likely because it’s cliche that it’s so much fun.
Hitman was a series I’d left on the shelf for a long time but I don’t think I will be any longer. The game’s flagship feature is its incredibly well crafted levels, brimming with detail at every corner. This goes hand in hand with well designed stealth mechanics, ensuring that not two playthroughs of the same level are likely to be the same. The mission stories are great for people like me, ones that tend towards wanting a guided experience but also love to experiment every now and then. The cliche story is thoroughly enjoyable, even to someone like myself who has no history with the franchise. Overall I have to say I wasn’t expecting to enjoy playing Hitman as much as I had enjoyed watching people play it on YouTube but I very much welcome the surprise.
Hitman 2 is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $84.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 15 hours playtime and 20% of the achievements unlocked.
Eastern styled RPGs have a bit of a… reputation. The most notable part of this reputation is their penchant for horrendous grinds, forcing you to spend hours upon hours drudging your way towards that next level or shiny purple. They’re also renowned for being mechanically dense, often with multiple interwoven systems that all need to be understood and exploited fully if you want to live out your power fantasy. My first brush with these kinds of games came almost a decade ago with Aion: Tower of Eternity, a game so grindy and dense that I gave up when I reached level 30, which is saying something from someone who levelled 2 characters to 60 in vanilla World of Warcraft. This was why I originally passed on Monster Hunter World when it first came out as it looked chillingly like the eastern MMORPGs I’d played in the past. However with few good titles out at the time I figured I had nothing to lose and so I gave it the old college try. Unfortunately in this instance I didn’t find a whole lot to like about the Monster Hunter experience, the depth and complexity of the games numerous mechanics lost in the seemingly endless grind that I’d have to go through to exploit them.
You are a Hunter who is traveling to the New World as part of the Fifth Fleet. As part of the Research Expedition your job is to help out in determining why the Elder Dragons migrate to the New World every ten years as part of an event called the crossing. However on your way there your fleet is attacked by Zorah Magdaros, an elder dragon the size of a mountain that was making its journey to the New World. Thankfully you wash up on shore and are able to make it to Astera, the Research Expedition’s main base of operations in the new world. From here you begin your quest to understand the elder dragons, the reason behind the crossing and how to survive in this new land filled with monsters looking to make a meal out of you.
Monster Hunter World has that distinct, eastern RPG art style to it which (for whatever reason) tends to favour slightly worse graphics that are made up for with lavish amounts of detail. Honestly it feels like a game that would’ve came about at the end of the PlayStation 3’s development cycle, not a current gen title. Part of that is likely due to the multiplayer components with the potential for a lot to be going on at any one time. Still there are current generation MMORPGs with higher player caps that have managed far better visuals so I’m guessing that this was a stylistic choice more than anything. This all aside Monster Hunter World is a visually diverse and detailed game, overflowing with colour and visual spectacles. The areas might not be large in scale but they’re full of hidden paths and secret areas, making them feel a lot larger. If this kind of game appeals to you though the visuals aren’t really going to matter, it’s the grind you’re really here for.
Monster Hunter World embodies the eastern RPG archetype to a T, favouring deep mechanical systems that give the player seemingly endless choices in how you approach the game. There are no classes or talent trees to speak of, instead your progression is tied to your weapon of choice and armour set, both of which you’ll upgrade numerous times over the course of the game. The core of the game’s progression centers on the various crafting and upgrade systems, most of which require you to go out and hunt certain monster types to get the items required. Sprinkled over the top of all this is your usual RPG flair with town hubs, vendors and side quests galore that are certain to keep the completionists out there busy for hundreds of hours. Combat comes in the form of a kind of dark souls-esque type experience although it feels thoroughly less refined than its FromSoftware counterparts. In all honesty in the 16 hours I was playing it I still felt like I hadn’t scratched the surface of the game with many of the game’s mechanics still left untouched. Monster Hunter World certainly demands a lot from its players and unfortunately, for this old gamer, I just couldn’t find the strength to keep going back.
Now I’m not one to shy away from the kind of combat that Monster Hunter World puts forward but it honestly felt incredibly unrefined in its implementation. The Dark Souls inspired combat system brings with it a good set of mechanics but utilising them feels like a real hit and miss affair. For starters a monster’s hit box seems to be a finicky affair, sometimes registering as a hit on you whilst at other times simply moving you out of the way. Similarly the target lock mechanic flails wildly whenever there’s more than a few places you can target, often whipping you between different parts of the monster (or other monsters in the vicinity) as you try to position yourself around it. Getting on a monster’s back also doesn’t seem to work as it demonstrated most of the time, often failing to latch when I landed directly on the monster’s back but inexplicably working when I’d barely brush the top of their head. Even the resistance/weakness system felt really ineffective as I ground specifically for a set of weapons to fight one beast only to find that they didn’t make a lick of difference in the actual fight. Maybe I’m just not getting it, but if you can’t understand a game’s combat system after 16 hours then honestly I fault the game, not the player.
I’ll partly lay the blame of that at Monster Hunter World’s utterly glacial pace of progression. Even the most basic of upgrades requires gathering a substantial amount of materials and then, when you do craft it, the benefits are slim at best. In typical min/maxer fashion I tried dumping all my mats and time into crafting a decent set of starter gear (the bone set you see above) and honestly I couldn’t really tell you how much of a difference it made. I even tried grinding out some of the higher level sets of gear but with each monster kill taking 20 minutes or so to complete (if the fucker didn’t “leave the area” right at the end) getting a new set of gear would likely take hours. It got so bad that in the end I simply crafted a hodge podge set made up of the best crafting mats I had and even then that didn’t seem to reap any kind of benefit. Again I’m happy to admit that this is likely a failing on my part to understand the greater complexities that are hiding within Monster Hunter World’s various mechanical systems but if 16 hours of gameplay and intense Googling can’t get me there I’m really not sure what can.
Credit where credits due though, Monster Hunter World does have one of the deepest and most integrated crafting systems I’ve seen in quite some time. For most games there’s going to be a stock standard build that you can head straight for that will ensure your victory. For Monster Hunter World though there’s really no one-size fits all build that’s guaranteed to turn you into an overpowered god. Instead you’ll need to tailor your gear to your weapon choice, play style and prey that you’re chasing. This results in a near infinite number of builds, all of which appear to be viable (at least from what I can glean from various Reddit threads). I can definitely understand the appeal of such a system, heck I myself have invested many hours in games that had similar deep mechanical roots, it’s just unfortunate that I wasn’t able to find that hook to keep me playing.
There are some pretty notable issues with game on a technical level, some of which I think are inherent and others that are most certainly due to the porting process. The game’s graphical performance was horrendous when I started playing, something which I found out was a known issue. This was mostly fixed by using the Special K mod developed by Kaldaien which also allowed me to run the game in borderless windowed mode (although the game still seemed to have some teething issues with that). The netcode also seemed extremely fragile, something which is wholly attributable to Capcom. This is because there’s no native network framework for Monster Hunter World to make use of like it does on consoles (think PSN and Xbox Live) which mean they had to develop their own. When I first started playing it seemed to work fine but however after a week or so I found myself unable to get into any online games at all. Then, inexplicably, it started working again with no changes made on my end. I then foolishly decided to try a multiplayer quest only to have my teammates drop from my game session halfway through a monster fight. Honestly whilst its admirable that Capcom didn’t want to outsource the porting I can’t help but feel that maybe, just maybe someone else could have done a better job.
This isn’t also mentioning the various game design issues with the game’s core being focused on controller based play that doesn’t translate well to the PC platform. The default layout that’s chosen for you isn’t exactly congruent to keyboard and mouse play and even the MMORPG styled layout isn’t a whole lot better. The various menus are also incredibly obtuse with numerous different options hidden in random areas, necessitating a whole lot of flipping around in order to find the thing you’re looking for. I’m sure given enough time I could remap the keys or find mods that would make it better but honestly it’s not like UI design for games like this is an unsolved problem space. I managed to stumble my way through, to be sure, but honestly it feels like a game made for a different kind of gamer playing on a different kind of platform. If it’s any consolation I’m happy to admit I’m likely not Capcom’s target demographic for this particular title.
I figured that I’d at least play the campaign through to completion just to see how the game’s story pans out. I didn’t manage that as the overall plot is just too shallow and the use of a mute protagonist just served to highlight all of its flaws. I certainly liked the premise, travelling to a new world to understand a phenomenon that has eluded everyone so far, but there just wasn’t enough character or plot development to keep me that interested. Some of the things also don’t make a terrible amount of sense, like the fact that the various fleets don’t appear to talk to each other very much or why parts of the island are seemingly inaccessible despite you being able to fly everywhere. Again maybe the story depth is buried somewhere I didn’t look but if the game can’t at least tempt me in that direction then I’m more likely to conclude nothing is there.
Once again I find myself on the opposite side of popular opinion, gazing at a wildly successful title and wondering what everyone sees in it. I can certainly appreciate the depth of game play that Monster Hunter World presents, embodying (for better or worse) the stereotypical JRPG grindfest that so many people enjoy. However for me I just couldn’t find the appeal, even after ploughing in more hours than I typically would in an attempt to find that hook. I’m willing to admit that there might be something in there that I’d enjoy but I just couldn’t find it. Perhaps playing with friends could have changed my opinion as I’ve enjoyed many a trashy online experience so long as I had my mates by my side. Maybe the game is just for a different demographic than the one I fit into, I don’t know. It’s quite possible you’ll look at all the gripes listed here and chide me for my opinion, thinking that’s the whole reason you should be playing Monster Hunter World. If that’s the case then you’ll likely find the enjoyment I missed in Monster Hunter World.
Monster Hunter World is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 16 hours play time and 22% of the achievements unlocked.
Dontnod almost didn’t make it to where it is today. Whilst I quite enjoyed their first game, Remember me, the wider gaming community wasn’t as enthused. To be sure it sold well enough, some 2 million copies or so, but it was Life is Strange that brought them the commercial and critical success they needed to survive. Not one to rest on the laurels it seems they quickly got to work on Vampyr with many of the Life is Strange team moving across to work on their next major title. It’s most certainly an aspirational title for them, yearning to be included alongside other RPG greats like the titles from BioWare, Bethesda and CD Projekt Red. However much like other developers with such aspirations (I’m looking at you Spiders) Vampyr falls short, including too much of some things and not enough of others.
The Spanish Flu grips London, striking down even the strongest in mere days and forcing much of the city into quarantine. You are Dr. Jonathan Reid, recently returned from the front lines of the war to help London overcome this gripping epidemic. However before you can make it all the way home you’re murdered by an unforeseen foe, only to rise once again stricken with an insatiable lust for blood. You are so blind with bloodlust that you don’t notice you first victim is your sister who came looking for you after you didn’t return home on time. After being chased through the streets of London by vampire hunters who saw your first feed you stumble into a local bar and try to make sense of what has happened to you.
Vampyr’s development began just after the release of current generation consoles so it surprises me that it looks as dated as it does. The Unreal 4 engine that powers it is capable of some quite impressive visuals (Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and LawBreakers are two recent examples) so it’s most certainly not a failing of the platform. My best guess is that it was a deliberate choice due to budget constraints with much of their resources spent on other aspects of the game. Honestly if it was from some small time indie studio or a Kickstarted game I’d understand but Dontnod has 10 years of experience in the industry. Heck even Remember Me looks better than this and that game is 5 years old at this point. The upside of this is that it’ll likely run like it was a game from that long ago, giving some reprieve to those who’ve put off buying a new graphics card for the last few years.
Mechanically Vampyr is an action-RPG with a heavy focus on dialogue, both in terms of narrative as well as a core part of the game play. There’s all the usual trappings you’d expect in a modern action-RPG: levels, talent trees, crafting, items and a combat system that took some inspiration from the Dark Souls games. The levelling system isn’t a straightforward kill things/get XP/get levels deal however (although that is part of it) as to make any meaningful progress you’ll have to feed on people, all of which play a part in the story. This ties into the game’s larger emphasis on player choice, giving you a lot of control in how the larger story plays out. Indeed this appears to be where Dontnod spent the vast majority of their resources in building Vampyr as the game can play out vastly differently depending on what you do and what you don’t.
Combat is a little unpolished, suffering from many of the same issues that other games have when trying to replicate a Dark Souls-lite type experience. It’s set up much how you’d expect, with your main combat resources being stamina and blood (to power your abilities). Enemies telegraph their moves pretty openly although their movesets are much more random than I’d ever encountered in a Souls game. The hitboxes act a bit weird at times, with hits that shouldn’t have connected managing to land and vice versa. Locking onto enemies is a bit of a mixed bag too as it seems to limit your movement options somewhat, making dodging a lot harder than it should be. The jumps in difficulty are also area dependent and not at all smooth so you’ll likely find yourself going from competent to struggling at the drop of a hat.
All of this is a bit of a shame as when you’re extremely overpowered the game actually becomes quite fun, allowing you to run through areas without a care to who might be in your way. Whilst I understand that the game wants to make the choice of levelling up impactful (I.E. you can only be that powerful at the cost of others) if you, like me, didn’t enjoy the large amount of dialogue that the game throws at you then it’ll be hard to find a lot of enjoyment in Vampyr. Indeed this is one of the few games where I felt like the heavy amount of dialogue was getting in the way of the larger game; bogging me down in meaningless interactions that didn’t add much to the overall story.
This is probably my biggest gripe with the game as it takes quite a long time to churn through all the dialogue options with all the characters. Indeed past the first 2 chapters I simply stopped bothering with the majority of it. Sure, I probably missed out on some quests and some other bits and pieces, but honestly finding all the clues to unlock all the dialogue options just didn’t feel worth it. I mean it’s great that they endeavoured to give nearly everyone in the game a backstory but most of them only exist within the confines of the area you find them in. Only the campaign missions seem to build the story in any meaningful way, the others are just there as flavour text. I’m sure there’s probably 40 or 50 hours worth of game in here but honestly I would’ve preferred a solid 15 with better mechanics, tighter story and maybe a little more time spent on the visuals.
The other parts of Vampyr are similar to the combat in their implementations: rudimentary implementations of otherwise good ideas. None of the choices in the talent tree will impact the game in a major way (I.E. no abilities will unlock otherwise hidden parts of the map, say) but there are some cool things in there. I ended up with a simple build relying on the blood spear and the shadow ultimate as Vampyr tended to only throw a few enemies at me at any one time. My weapons were focused similarly, using a hacksaw for my main and alternating between the blood knife and stun focused gun for my offhand. Given the steep cost for levelling abilities there wasn’t much room for experimentation unfortunately. That is unless you decided to go on a mass murdering spree.
Which I did once, after I was able to clean out the hospital when my mesmerise level was high enough. That bumped me up around 12 levels in one sitting and was enough to ensure that I didn’t need to do it again for the rest of the game. However whilst there weren’t any direct consequences in the game doing so meant I was locked out of all but one of the endings, something I wasn’t aware would happen until right at the end of the game. Now the game does mention that it’s up to you to choose how difficult the game will be, indicating that feeding on London’s residents will lead to very bad things, however in the grand scheme of things I didn’t chow down on that many people. To be sure I devastated the hospital but the rest of London was untouched and that gave me the absolute worst ending in the game (although, to be honest, I liked it). Reading more into it you have to be very strict with your feedings to get the other 2 endings and the “best” one can only be obtained without feeding at all. The latter is especially devious given the game essentially guides you into feeding on the first one, making it look like a tutorial rather than an actual choice.
Credits where credit is due though the amount of effort put into crafting the story elements is quite phenomenal. Should you want to dive deep into this world and its inhabitants you can, even going as far to have some modicum of influence over it should you want. Although it’s not always exactly clear what your decision will lead to and often you won’t find out that until it’s far too late to undo it. I didn’t mind that so much as it meant that some of the throwaway choices I made did come back to bite me in some of the most interesting ways. It’s reminiscent of older BioWare games in that way with dialogue being the main mechanic by which the game revealed itself to you.
Unfortunately I found it quite hard to engage with the overall story for a number of reasons. The greater story moves far too slow at the beginning with the major questions getting basically no air time until the final couple hours. I couldn’t really empathise with the main character at all and the fact that all the NPCs would spew forth their life story at the drop of the hat just didn’t feel that believable. Towards the end I simply ignored all the ancillary dialogue and quests and, honestly, the game started to feel a lot better. Perhaps my completionist tendencies worked against me in this instance, my want to min max everything I could being at odds with my actual enjoyment of this game. I will never know but if you, dear reader, find yourself in much the same position hopefully that may help you.
Vampyr is an aspirational title from Dontnod and, unfortunately, it didn’t pay of well for this time around. Released some years ago it may have found itself among good company but in today’s market it feels two steps behind the norm. The graphics, combat and other mechanics are all simplistic in their implementation with the vast amount of effort spent on the dialogue and interaction with NPCs. It strives to be among games from the RPG greats but fails to do so, maybe not as badly as others have, but still fails nonetheless. I honestly had zero expectations going into Vampyr (only finding out it was made by Dontnod after I bought it) and have come away from it wanting more. I applaud Dontnod for experimenting as much as they have but, perhaps, in future they could limit their vision a little bit in order to make a stronger overall game.
Vampyr is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $49.99. Game was played on the PC with 17 hours of total play time and 71% of the achievements unlocked.