Culture Category RSS Feed | Culture RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network The Dark Pictures Anthology — The Devil in Me Preview: Like, Zoinks! Tue, 25 Oct 2022 15:32:02 -0400 Peter Hunt Szpytek

Supermassive Games has been building out something of a rollercoaster with The Dark Pictures Anthology; the quality of the franchise has been up and down without ever reaching the heights of the studio’s breakout hit, Until Dawn. As a result, my expectations were relatively low going into a preview for the anthology's final entry, The Devil in Me. Turns out, they were at least met in most areas — if not exceeded — by the promise of possibility brought about by a handful of new mechanical elements.

The Devil In Me follows the typical Supermassive formula: you play as a group of regular people put in over-the-top horror situations, which play out differently depending on the choices you make. In that regard, if you’re looking for more of the tried and true formula, it seems you won’t be disappointed with The Devil in Me. The branching paths of previous entries make an expected return.

However, unlike other entries, The Devil in Me also seems to be leaning more into puzzles than previous installments with the addition of character-specific items. One character has a business card that can be used to unlock desk drawers, while another has a camera tripod that can be used to knock items off high ledges and are out of reach of other characters. It’s unclear just how integrated those mechanics will be in the long run, however, making my faith in them a little uneasy. 

During roughly an hour and a half with the game, I was able to use character-specific items to find new evidence and further the story, but the main draw of including such abilities specific to each character seems as if it would be to recontextualize explorable spaces each time you visit them as someone new. I didn’t experience anything like that with The Devil In Me, though it’s possible that something of the sort could come into play in the full version. 

Giving characters individualized abilities isn’t breaking new ground, but it’s a step in the right direction in updating the Supermassive formula that’s been growing staler with each new release. That, however, remains to be seen.

The Devil in Me also introduces locked doors and key hunts to the mix, but, similar to the new items and abilities, they feel a little shallow so far. There were two times I encountered a locked door, stopping my progression in its tracks; I looked around the environment for a key and, after finding it, continued on my way. That's it, which means it isn't much of a mechanical addition, even if it does break up the typical room-to-room exploration since you'll be keeping your eyes peeled for specific items instead of the usual plethora of collectible documents and mystery clues.

I’m hoping that these keys become something more substantial in the finalized game, since I think leaving certain doors locked or open could result in interesting choices and narrative outcomes when things start getting lethal.

The unfortunate thing about the interactive film genre The Dark Pictures Anthology falls into is that it lives and dies by the quality of the writing, and it's an area in which Supermassive has been historically inconsistent. The preview of The Devil in Me didn’t exactly instill confidence that the final entry would be the best written out of the bunch.

Previous Supermassive games often have cringeworthy dialogue that usually makes sense coming from teenagers, and it can feel like intentional homages to the campy horror classics of the 1970s and '80s. Here, though, it feels a little more out of place coming from fully grown adults, especially when paired with some stiff acting and performances. 

I’m interested to see what The Devil in Me brings to the table as the final entry in Supermassive’s Dark Pictures Anthology. My takeaway right now is that if you’ve been a fan of previous entries regardless of their overall quality, you’ll probably want to keep The Devil in Me’s November 18 release date circled. But I’m not sure if this will be one to win those over who have been disappointed with the studio’s mixed efforts to recapture the magic of Until Dawn.

The setting of a mansion full of traps run by a serial killer is certainly intriguing, but the game needs to make good on its new mechanical promises and have better writing than I was able to see in order to really stand out from the blander entries in the series — and end things with a bang.

The First Descendant Preview: The Lush Post-Apocalypse Thu, 13 Oct 2022 08:00:01 -0400 Thomas Wilde

After the end of the world, the only survivors will be supermodels, cyborgs, and cyborg supermodels. 

That seems to be the general idea behind The First Descendant, a team-based third-person shooter/MMORPG from Korean developer Nexon. As an empowered survivor of two separate alien invasions, you're the troubleshooter sent in to deal with situations that would instantly kill normal human troops.

So far, The First Descendant is one of those games where the situation is bleak but the environment isn't. You're one of the only things standing between hostile aliens with an uncertain agenda and the relative handful of human survivors, but everything from people to landscapes to enemies looks almost idealized. It's like its own classical painting of itself.

The First Descendant was built in Unreal Engine 5, and it's used all that additional power to render some of the most idyllic vistas I've seen in a video game. Then, of course, I was asked to travel through them and kill everything I saw.

The game's probably best described as a hero-based "looter shooter." At its core, The First Descendant is about blasting aliens to death by the half-dozen with powers, guns, explosives  you can also rip them apart with your bare hands  and collecting everything that falls out.

You're up against a series of murderous loot pinatas who are out to wear you down by force of numbers. Sometimes, it's a question of whether you can kill them fast enough to replenish the resources you're losing in the process.

You're one of the handful of remaining defenders of the holdout city of Albion, the last significant human presence on your home planet. Most of the rest has been taken and/or destroyed by the Vulgus, a race of cybernetically-powered aliens that were more or less on track to wipe out humanity.

That was until several people became Descendants, borderline superheroes, who are capable of holding the line against both the Vulgus and the massive killer robots they're able to summon to the planet. You play as one of them, sent out into the field to whittle away at the Vulgus' positions and try and predict your next move.

On top of that, there's a mysterious woman that no one else seems to be able to see or hear, who keeps contacting you in the field to warn you that things are even worse than they look.

You can collect up to 10 descendants in your playable roster, who share your inventory but level separately. Each has their own stats, with four active skills and a single passive ability that feeds back into them.

I ended up putting the most time into Viessa, a "glass cannon" sort of character who specializes in using ice. Her default ability's an unreliable grenade that sort of slows enemies down a bit, but she's a lot more interesting after a few levels.

Her later skills include a shotgun blast of ice that murders everything in front of her, the ability to manifest a frost slick behind her that freezes and/or kills anything that touches it, or an ice tornado that can take out entire packs of enemies at a time.

Unlocking new characters after the start of the game seems to involve purchasing reagents with what might be a premium currency (not sure yet). I ended up having enough during my preview window to unlock Bunny, a crazily upbeat cyborg in a themed bike helmet who can shock entire crowds at once.

The problem with both Viessa and Bunny, I found, is that The First Descendant is very much not designed as a solo activity. Once you've got a few levels under your belt, you've probably got some tricks that'll take out a few aliens at a time, but it turns out the Vulgus aren't particularly interested in playing fair. 

The later missions in a chain will think nothing of throwing small armies at you at once, and at that point, it really pays to have at least one other player along to split the Vulgus' focus.

In addition to their powers, each descendant comes out of the box with a regenerating shield that has to be chewed through before you start taking actual damage; a grappling hook, which lets you vault onto distant rooftops and ledges; a double-jump; and three weapon slots for an arsenal that includes hand cannons, assault rifles, submachine guns, beam lasers, and a giant bazooka that the game simply calls a "launcher."

The First Descendant is currently in beta, with closed test periods coming intermittently over the next month or so. If you're looking for something that lets you look cute while you murder entire hordes of aliens and collect their looty filling, this might be right up your alley. It releases "soon" for PC, PlayStation, and Xbox platforms. 

Wild Hearts Preview: Be Still, My Untamed Heart Mon, 10 Oct 2022 11:50:34 -0400 Josh Broadwell

EA and Koei Tecmo announced their new joint-venture project Wild Hearts not even a month ago, a Monster Hunter-like hunting game that pits tiny humans against massive beasts to tame the land and restore harmony to the human and natural worlds.

I recently had the pleasure of going hands-on with the hunting game's early hours and seeing a bit of what Koei Tecmo has in store long after the prologue wraps up. While a few questions remain – namely regarding how interesting the open world will actually be – I came away excited about this fresh spin on an established genre and its combat innovations.

Wild Hearts tasks you, or a party of you and two others, with tracking down massive monsters and slaying them. That may sound identical to Monster Hunter, mostly because it is, but Wild Hearts will implement several changes to help distinguish itself. One of the most promising is its approach to multiplayer. 

If Monster Hunter World burned you with its bizarre determination to make multiplayer as cumbersome as possible, rejoice. Wild Hearts players can join regardless of their progress in the main game without having to view cutscenes or reach certain milestones before missions become available. You can complete every main and side quest solo or with a party of friends, and combat difficulty scales to match the number of players present.

Wild Hearts' underlying premise resembles Monster Hunter on the surface as well. Beasts of fantastical proportions face each other in catastrophic battles for territory, encroaching on civilization and all too willing to raze an entire settlement to the ground if it gets in their way. 

Where the wyverns and other beasts of Monster Hunter are intertwined with nature on a conceptual level – changes in the balance of the environment send monsters into a frenzy, for example –  Wild Hearts' monsters, called Kemono, are intertwined with nature, a vital part of the fantasy setting Koei Tecmo and EA said they wanted at the center of Wild Hearts.

Your first Kemono, the Kingtusk, is a boar the size of a small hill and can command the earth itself to erupt under your feet or summon a torrent of deadly roots. Other Kemono EA showed during a preview trailer included an eagle with a volcano on its back, covering a field with blistering lava to narrow your movement options before sweeping in to attack, and a tree monkey with tails that resembled large berries, a Kemono so cute that I  fervently hope we don't have to fight it later. 

On the bright side, if we do fight every monster, adorable or otherwise, at least Wild Hearts' combat makes it worthwhile. The preview build featured a katana, bow, and umbrella, though the final version will include several more weapon types. Intriguing though the umbrella was, I stuck with the katana for ease of use and to satisfy my curiosity over how it compares to Monster Hunter's Longsword, one of my favorites in Capcom's franchise.

It turned out the blade's length is the only passing similarity. Monster Hunter builds its Longsword around the spirit meter and a handful of combos tied to building and then using the meter. Fighting with it, like with most weapons in Monster Hunter, involves remembering a few button inputs and weaving combos together in what feels like an elaborate dance.

So far, combat in Wild Hearts feels deadlier and more fluid. The katana surprised me with how many opportunities opened up after using the basic attack, with at least three branching options and several special moves I could string together that turned my hunter into an unstoppable blade vortex.

Or they would have been unstoppable if I hadn't just spun into a rock. Aiming attacks at this point feels as imprecise as it can be in Monster Hunter, which doesn't fit quite as well with Wild Hearts' movement and combat style. Still, the build EA provided was an early alpha. I'm sure plenty of changes are in store between now and launch; even in a somewhat rough state, combat in Wild Hearts seems full of promise.

Wild Hearts' pace is faster than Monster Hunter – even your hunter moves faster – and it has a stronger effect on battles than you might expect. Fights with Kemono feel more intense, and better movement means you have more methods for responding to unexpected changes in the Kemono's behavior and on the battlefield itself.

You can even climb Kemono to target their weak points, assuming you have the stamina for it. Where stamina in Monster Hunter lets you run away and depletes when you attack, Wild Hearts adopts a more traditional open-world approach, setting you loose in a vast landscape to track down clues, clamber over hills, and eventually corner your quarry. 

Open worlds tend to make me wary, and I'm not entirely sold on Wild Hearts' take on it yet. Size doesn't naturally mean quality, and the admittedly short exploration segment in the preview build was a bit too linear and empty to get a good idea of Koei Tecmo's vision for the final product.

What caught my interest more is how, at least in the few areas shown in the preview footage, Wild Hearts feels more lived in than most hunting games. Kemono flee, or follow you, in combat similar to Monster Hunter.

Where you might have to follow a Nargacuga from one forested location to another chunk of woodland, Kemono sometimes invade human spaces, such as the Kingtusk rampaging in a built-up viewing area constructed around an ancient cherry blossom tree. Having Kemono move out of the wilderness like this is a small but important feature that underpins your mission as a hunter and makes me hopeful that Koei Tecmo's teases about an exciting, engaging story will turn out to be true.

One of the most exciting differences between Monster Hunter and Wild Hearts is crafting and the Karakuri you can make on the fly. Karakuri is a broad name for a staggering range of items you can make in Wild Hearts, items such as zip lines and human catapults, handy for reaching high places, along with walls, towers, and other architectural creations that let you shake up your approach to a fight and get a height advantage.

You learn new Karakuri patterns through defeating Kemono and, in the case of Fusion Karakuri, using the right combos in the right situations. Between construction Karakuri, weapon modification Karakuri, and even furnishing and decoration Karakuri, EA and Koei Tecmo said Wild Hearts has hundreds of possible combinations, and even they don't know all the ways you can use these inventions, especially in a hunt.

That spirit of innovation sits alongside the kind of customization you expect from a game like this — hundreds of weapon variations, unique equipment suited for specific circumstances, and so on.

Wild Hearts has a lot going for it with its gorgeous fantasy setting and creative monster design, but this open-ended approach to combat and the fluid, satisfying feeling of battle itself are what sold me on the hunting game and have me eagerly awaiting its February 17, 2023, release date.

The Invincible Preview: A Classic Sci-fi Adventure on an Alien World Thu, 06 Oct 2022 12:00:09 -0400 Justin Koreis

Few things can elicit the mixed feelings of wonder, danger, and isolation like space. Its scope, beauty, and risk are often taken for granted in video games, reduced to a playspace for outrageous technology, incredible powers, and soaring space operas. 

The Invincible seems to buck that trend, embracing the adventure and trepidation of visiting an alien world. We went hands-on with an early build of this narrative-based, first-person sci-fi adventure from Starward Industries and came away with more questions than answers about what's going on in the universe — all in the best possible way.

I begin my demo cruising an interstellar rover toward the last known point of another crew. It's bright, and the sun is high in the air over a desolate canyon. Strange columns of brown and red stone rise around me, and a deep, unnatural gouge in the canyon wall creates an unsettling "otherness" to the space. 

The Invincible is based on the 1964 book of the same title by Polish science fiction author Stanislaw Lem. It's a work of hard sci-fi, leaning heavily into a firm set of scientific rules and principles rather than relying on Star-Wars-esque space magic. Expect this game to challenge you philosophically rather than take you on a light-hearted romp through outer space. 

Disembarking my vehicle, I climb through an abandoned research station and crawl through a narrow tunnel. At the bottom is a clearing and a large robot, almost similar to a miniature automaton from War of the Worlds. The missing crew is nowhere to be seen until I stumble across a body partially buried in the sand. 

In these early moments, one thing already sticks out. There's a powerful feeling of the unknown running through The Invincible. It at once pulls at my natural curiosity and fills me with a dread I can't quite shake. Finding that first body doesn't help; my character reports her findings over the radio to her colleague, and I choose the option to express the grim resignation that I am not surprised to find members of this crew dead.

I turn my attention to collecting information. The lifeless robot is an Antimat, a mobile platform for an anti-matter cannon. I pull the log from its board camera, and I'm treated to a series of semi-transparent slides detailing what happened. The crew had used the Antimat to bore a hole into the canyon wall, but it turned on its human controllers and slaughtered them with its cannon for unknown reasons. 

The retrofuturist technology in The Invincible is on overt display throughout. Everything is clearly inspired by the '50s and '60s ideas of what advanced technology would look like "in the future," similar to the ideas and themes running through the Fallout series, just without the apocalypse (as far as we know so far).

Beyond the slides and the Antimat are handheld meters, a map, and low-tech optical binoculars. It's an interesting aesthetic and could be a nice change of pace from the usual high-functioning sci-fi typical in most games. But we'll have to wait and see in the final release.

Seeking answers, I press forward into a cylindrical hole in the wall. At the other end is a humanoid robot walking in a circle and bizarre metallic plants with deep, inorganic roots running in the ground. It starts a philosophical debate between my character and her handler about what constitutes life. They clearly have a long history together, and the rapport makes for a lively conversation. 

Eventually, the man-shaped robot wanders off. I follow it, only to see it vaporized by the now-awakened Antimat. The anti-matter cannon now trained on me, I prepare to meet the same fate before the automaton inexplicably stops and returns to rest. There's a new tunnel formed by the powerful shot that obliterated the humanoid robot. I enter it and continue pursuing the mystery of the missing crew and this strange planet.

As my demo ends, I'm starting to get a clearer picture of what The Invincible could be: Firewatch in space. The natural banter and walking-exploration gameplay already have their teeth in me, and this small slice of the universe is just enough of a taste to make me want more.

The atompunk technology aesthetic is extremely compelling, and if Starward Industries can nail the story adaptation, this could be one of the most interesting games on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC when it releases sometime in 2023. Stay tuned for more. 

Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider Preview – If Contra and Shinobi Had a Love Child Thu, 29 Sep 2022 15:03:16 -0400 Jason D'Aprile

Our look at JoyMasher’s latest, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider, was brief: two levels from the upcoming retro-styled platformer from the same folks who made Blazing Chrome, another excellent run n’ gunner in the classic style.

JoyMasher is obsessed with 16-bit fidelity and that certainly shines through here.

Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is the sort of game that would look just at home if it were a cartridge slotted into a Genesis or SNES. The look, feel, and overall design all induce waves of nostalgia for the early 90s. The gameplay is more run n’ slash, as if a ninja were thrown into a slightly different game (say, if a sword-bound Shinobi got stuck in Contra), but it seems to work in our short time with. 

In other words, it’s also taking a hefty influence from Capcom’s classic, Strider.

As a cybernetic ninja woken from a stasis rather violently, you're thrust into a pixelated 2D landscape of endlessly respawning soldiers, bots, cannons, and other bad things. Armed only with otherworldly agility and a badass sword, your vengeful guardian can slice and dice through anything and even reflect enemy weapon fire back. 

The two example levels were enough for me to get a strong idea of what the final gameplay should represent: this will be something 90s kids are going to really enjoy.

The first level is an enemy-filled tech corridor with plenty of pinpoint jumps, crossing chasms hand over hand, and fits of daring involving Moonrider’s metal-cracking aerial attack kick. It ends with a room-sized boss fight between the ninja and a hulking ghoulish mech with laser hands and a nasty mouth.

The second level is an aerial chase where Moonrider must run and jump across floating airships, avoiding devastating energy attacks from a giant ship looming over the level, while fighting off more basic villains as well. It has the unforgiving classic feel of early platformers, where one false step or missed jump means death. 

All this mayhem is brought to life with hefty usage of Mode-7 like pseudo-3D effects and detailed, if still definitely 16-bit-styled, pixel art. The chiptune soundtrack follows suit, creating a near-perfect replica of the bygone era of the game’s influences.

The actual controls are kept simple for the otherwise challenging gameplay. There’s the sword attack, a special attack that uses energy and can be switched up as the game progresses, jump, and run.

We didn’t get much of a sense of what the special attacks would be beyond a powerful energy punch (no others were available), but Moonrider can wall jump, use his speed for enhanced attack power, cling to walls, and perform other familiar ninja things. 

So far, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is shaping up to be another retro winner, but the full game releases later this fall, so you'll have to wait a little bit longer. It will be available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, and Amazon Luna. Stay tuned for our full review. 

Saints Row Reboot Interview: 'It Really is Saints Row' Tue, 26 Jul 2022 15:24:22 -0400 Justin Koreis

The upcoming Saints Row reboot has been a bit of an enigma since it was announced in 2019. The series has historically been everything from gritty crime drama to absurd sci-fi comedy and everything in-between; even with all of the developer diaries and trailers released so far, pinning down the reboot's tone and focus has been difficult.

So when I had the opportunity to sit down with Volition UI Artist Danielle Benthien, I was as curious as anyone about the direction the team decided to go. Is the franchise reboot going to be a story-driven character piece, similar to the first Saints Row? Will it be a genre-bending thrill ride? Or is it something else entirely? The answer to those questions, it turns out, is yes. And more. 

“So you have people who love that crime, that realness, that grittiness, the sort of elements of (Saints Row) 2, and then you have that really bombastic, larger than life stuff in (Saints Row) 3 with the comedy, with the action,” Danielle tells me. “And we (Volition) love both of those things about the games. And those are the things that really resonate with the fans”

Danielle describes Saints Row as a meld of grounded realness and over-the-top bombast. You watch a criminal empire rise and spread through the dust and dirt of the American southwest, all while partaking in the action movie adventures of the glamorous Saints living their rich-and-famous lifestyles. “Not just the art side, but (the) combat side, writing side, every sort of artistic element, and put them into the middle of the Southwest," Danielle says. 

Saints Row is set in the fictional city of Santo Ileso, which amounts to a mashup of the landscapes and cityscapes you’d see in Texas, Nevada, and Arizona. Santo Ileso stands in contrast to the heavily industrialized cities of Steelport and Stillwater from the previous games in the series.

As Danielle puts it, “Steelport and Stillwater are absolutely iconic, but if you look back at what the color palette was, it’s nothing like Central L.A. You’ve got this beautiful city full of light, vivacious murals, and neon lights that light up in the night."

During our hands-on demo, we noticed a variety of groups within Santo Ileso, each with their own distinct style and swagger. Who are they?

“You have the Idols, who have very neon, rave, anarchy kind of things going for them, like social media influencer sort of stuff. Then you have the Panteros, with the muscle cars — (a) more Saints Row 2 style — where they have brute force and care a lot about your car, your ride, your group. And then you have the Marshalls, (they're more) technological, not necessarily a gang by name, but a private military group. “

The differences are more than superficial. The Marshalls, Danielle explains, use tech that you need to figure out how to counter, while the Panteros are pure aggressive muscle, enemies who get in your face and pack a punch with big weapons. “And then you come in there with whatever flavor you want to make the Saints and crush them under your heel.” 

Danielle’s expertise is UI — she's the architect behind one of the most important tools at your disposal in Saints Row: your cell phone. In Saints Row, your mobile device acts as a roaming hub of sorts, where maps, missions, communications, and skills converge. How do you translate all that functionality into something that also feels usable?

“I think the main thing that matters is when we have our cell phones, we set them up in a way that makes the most sense to us. The apps we use the most are always in the front, then things you might not need as much are sort of pushed to the wayside," Danielle says. Maps are an example. These are used constantly in Saints Row, so they are front and center. As you play the game, more apps are added, and more features are offered. 

Cell phones are also some of our most personal pieces of technology. I asked Danielle how she handled that aspect. “The user experience elements of it, those always come first. Then from there, wanting to make it feel not generic; The Boss has a huge personality, but to make something that anybody can look at and say, 'this is my boss as well’ (is important)."

So what about the Saints themselves? They are somewhat unique with their iconic branding, featuring a logo and color that is immediately identifiable. As Danielle puts it, ”When you know it’s Saints ‘something,’ you can feel it. Its spirit is inherently ‘Saints’. And I think playing the game, and seeing it all come together over all the years that we’ve developed it ... maybe on the surface, to some, it might not look like it, but really at its core, it really is Saints Row.”

The sheer variety of experiences offered by the Saints Row franchise over the years is unique and has appealed to many different tastes. Trying to reach fans across each generation of the series is an ambitious goal, but if Volition can pull it off, then the return of the Saints will truly be something to behold. Saints Row releases on August 23, 2022, for Playstation, Xbox, PC, and Google Stadia. 

Deceive Inc. Preview: Suspicious Activity Tue, 26 Jul 2022 09:17:02 -0400 Peter Hunt Szpytek

The pitch for Deceive Inc. is pretty simple: It's a pseudo-hidden-role multiplayer game with espionage flavor that requires you to act natural and fly under the radar in a race to complete objectives. Admittedly, that's totally my thing, but after playing an early preview build of the game, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed.

After talking to some of the development team at Sweet Bandits Studios, they gave me the impression that the goal of Deceive Inc. is to recreate the tension of going undercover in a spy movie, translating it to a multiplayer video game environment. I think that they definitely succeed on some levels, but there's still a long way to go.

Each match consists of three phases: insertion, infiltration, and extraction. Essentially, the goal is to infiltrate a science facility, grab a package, and high-tail it out before the other players can beat you to the package or stop you from leaving with it. All the while, you're copying the identities of the NPCs in the facility to gain access to different areas that require different levels of clearance.

In concept, that sounds like a lot of fun, however, in practice, it doesn't always work so well. As soon as someone picks up the package, everyone playing is alerted to their location. You drop whatever you're doing and try to kill them, making the last five minutes of each match turn from psyop to shooting gallery.

Although permadeath makes for tense shootouts, there's currently no reason to even bother with all the espionage when you can simply wait by the extraction point for someone to grab the package and promptly kill them. In the handful of matches I played, I don't think there was a single time when the person who first got the package was able to win the match by getting away. Instead, the winners were those who were best equipped to fill everyone else with holes.

It's a shame, too, because the hidden-role mechanics are far better than the shooting ones. It's clear that a lot of thought went into how assuming the identity of an NPC would work so that players wouldn't be easily identifiable when hiding. Those elements work really well, so it was something of a shock when they were dropped instantly in favor of bog-standard shootouts.

There are plenty of great mechanics that fall to the wayside as soon as someone grabs the package. The spy gear that comes with every loadout  like instantly inflating balloons that launch you through the air  is a lot of fun, but there was nothing as effective at taking someone out as shooting them.

Each character has their own unique weapon, but apart from some aesthetic choices  such as one character's prosthetic shotgun arm or the character who wields a type of sword  they're all typical FPS weapons. I didn't use them during the demo since they are rated the most difficult to use; no one else in my lobby seemed to feel confident enough in the game's mechanics during our short time with it to give them a spin.  

Based on Deceive Inc.'s spy mechanics, it would seem as if it were designed for a stealthier approach, one favoring patience and trickery. For example, the level available during the preview is packed with secret passages and openings only accessible by using fun spy gadgets. However, they went largely unused because they weren't directly linked to the objective at any point in each match. 

The game isn't due for roughly another six months, so there's still room for it to grow and change. But after playing a few rounds, I'm not entirely convinced its spy-movie influences can outgun its shooter DNA. 

If the goal is to recreate the tense moments from espionage movies, it's missing the mark a bit. What makes a game like Spy Party so compelling is that one player is trying to pull something over on the other while in secret, which seems to be part of Deceit Inc.'s goal, but so much of it is deflated once the bullets start to fly.

In the end, I liked what I played and saw some promise in Deceit Inc. but for it to truly be successful, there are a few wrinkles left to iron out before it launches for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S. 

Saints Row Hands-On Preview: Insane Adventures in Santo Ileso Thu, 21 Jul 2022 16:32:53 -0400 Justin Koreis

Everything was going well until that damn train stopped me. My crew and I had just knocked over a Payday Loan joint. I didn't feel bad; those guys are the real crooks anyway. But now we were stuck, and the police were bearing down on us. I hit the gas, but it didn't matter. They were catching up. 

As we raced through the winding highways outside of Santo Ileso, I went on the offensive, sideswiping the pursuing cop cars and running them off the road in what I’m sure were very safe fiery explosions. 

I tried to switch cars, but another gang had stripped my backup ride, so I parted with my companions and made an off-road escape on a dirtbike. It's a tactic that almost worked — until my path took me right into a police roadblock and some very effective spike strips.

As the fuzz closed in and all seemed lost, my accomplice Neenah showed up in a car, jumped it to the top of a billboard, and brought the giant sign down like a flyswatter onto the bewildered cops below. Splat. 

It was a move almost too ridiculous for even a Fast and the Furious movie. It was stunning, absurd, and precisely the tone-setter I needed for my hands-on preview of the upcoming Saints Row

The initial reaction to the Saints Row reboot trailer was lukewarm at best. But it’s hard to get a sense of tone or scope from just a few minutes of video. With that in mind, I was interested in getting my hands on a playable build at a recent preview event in Las Vegas. I wanted to see what this new chapter in the Saints saga was all about.

As I played through the intro — which I won’t spoil — the art style stood out immediately. Things look clean and realistic, but with exaggerated colors and visual pops instead of highly detailed textures. It's a sort of middle ground between the hyper-realism of Grand Theft Auto and the more cartoonish look of Fortnite

I started in a small apartment with the new Saints, all with their own unique skills and interests that a burgeoning criminal enterprise needs, be it driving, finance, or just good old-fashioned muscle. They are a personable group, especially The Boss, and even in my short time with the game, I found myself invested in the characters as we tried to create a name for ourselves in Santo Ileso. 

The main story missions I saw were full of dramatic set pieces, like a high-speed convoy chase or a visit to a rave that ended with me attaching a tow cable from my car to a shipping container and swinging it like a flail to obliterate the fluorescent dune buggies in pursuit. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds and entertaining as hell.

After a few story missions, I decided to see what side quests are available in Saints Row. In short order, I was picking up dropped drug crates, dumpster diving for lost treasure, and stealing things from a helicopter to make extra cash. I bought a nice big machete and sombrero with my ill-earned money, and the vast number of shops around town indicate a lot of variety for your loadoutsAt one point, I was leaving a bad review on the in-game version of yelp, which naturally ended in violence.

Shooting guns feels about the same as any third-person action game, and swinging my machete was satisfying. Over time, you build a meter through attacks and kills that lets you execute a takedown animation, instantly eliminating most enemies and refilling your health, similarly rewarding aggressive gameplay like Doom.

Santo Ileso itself feels very alive. The neighborhoods and districts I drove through were distinct, with cars and people that varied to match the area. Residents milled about, visited shops, and generally behaved in a manner that felt natural. At one point, I found myself just sitting and watching a group light fireworks, basking in the colorful bursts of light.

I couldn’t let the peace last for too long — this is Saints Row, after all. As my playtime neared its end, I did what any person in an open-world game inevitably does; I started creating as much mayhem as humanly possible. I began by crashing into a fuel container truck. I jumped out of my car and filled the massive fuel tank with machine gun fire until it erupted in a very satisfying fireball. 

Unsurprisingly, it caught the attention of local law enforcement. The first car deployed a pair of officers. One charged me but met the business ends of my fists. The other didn’t want any part of that action and fled to call in reinforcements. I could have tried to stop them from getting the call through (there is a small meter that fills, indicating the progress of a backup call), but I wanted to see how far things would go. More police arrived, and a high-speed chase ensued when I stole a nearby car. I took out a few cruisers with carefully-timed sideswipes, and my Wanted level increased. 

As I sped along to create more chaos, the growing number of pursuers started setting up roadblocks. I decided to fight my way out on foot, using a rocket launcher to clear the SWAT teams trying to box me in with their riot shields. My fight didn’t end until I finally pissed off the authorities enough for them to send in a fully loaded tank, and the machine guns and cannon brought me down in a blaze of glory.

There is a lot to like in what I played of Saints Row. It looks and plays well, and the variety of action and set pieces kept me well entertained. It’s a crowded genre with some heavy hitters. Still, the bombastic action and engaging characters might be just what this reboot needs to stand out and reestablish the Saints as a group to be reckoned with when it releases on August 23, 2022, for PlayStation, Xbox, PC, and Google Stadia. 

Soulstice Preview: The Berserk Game You've Always Wanted Mon, 13 Jun 2022 09:14:22 -0400 Hayes Madsen

Few manga series have had as significant an influence as the blood-soaked classic Berserk. Its effects can be seen in video games, as series like Final Fantasy and Dark Souls have taken liberal inspiration from the late Kentaro Miura's work. That's part of what excited me during a preview session of Soulstice; the developers outright said both Berserk and another manga series, Claymore, served as massive inspirations for the upcoming action RPG. 

From its dark gothic world to the spiky armor and massive sword of protagonist Briar, it's easy to see why. Soulstice could finally deliver the Berserk video game experience so many people have always wanted. After both hands-on and hands-off time, I'm incredibly interested to see how the overall experience turns out. 

Soulstice's unique setup has you controlling two different characters at once, sisters named Briar and Lute. While the demo took place part way through the story, the sisters have been transformed into a kind of hybrid weapon known as a Chimera through ritual sacrifice. Briar has a physical body, while Lute is a ghostly apparition constantly hovering over her shoulder.

The idea of duality seeps into every part of the game, both in how the story plays out and the dual-character combat system, which feels like a mix between Devil May Cry and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. You directly control Briar, who has various weapons used to hack apart enemies. There is, of course, the default massive sword, but the demo also gave me access to a slow but powerful hammer and an AoE chain weapon. 

The demo I played had the pair traveling across a massive bridge, trying to gain access to the plagued city of Ilden. As I moved closer to the city, more signs of death and destruction became apparent, and I was forced to cut through hordes of plague-ridden enemies. 

Lute will appear on your shoulder during combat and automatically fire off ranged attacks at enemies, similar to Atreus in God of War. However, you control Lute to block attacks with magic (mapped to circle/B on a controller) since Briar doesn't have any kind of block animation. Lute also has the otherworldly ability to put up blue and red purification fields. Some enemies can only be damaged while the corresponding field is up, but leaving the field up for too long will overwhelm Lute and cause her to disappear for a short period of time. 

These different elements might sound confusing at first. Still, it doesn't take long to get used to the general flow of combat, decimating hordes of enemies with the sisters' combined abilities. It's easy to link together combos, and the game clearly signposts enemies' attacks and gives you time to respond.

While I obviously couldn't see the entire upgrade system in my short demo, Soulstice has two different currencies that are used to upgrade Briar and Lute's abilities respectively. For Briar, you unlock new combos and abilities, while Lute has a whole skill tree system that can enhance her abilities in different ways. 

Soulstice's combat system seems like it could have a lot of depth, and we'll have to wait and see more. The only problem I have right now is that Briar's attacks don't have enough weight behind them, and everything feels a little too floaty at the moment. Games like Devil May Cry do a great job of making your blows feels like they connect, both in terms of visual and audio design. Soulstice's combat has a lot of potential, but there's just some key element that needs to be a little more refined at the moment. 

While most of Soulstice's enemies presented little problem for the sisters, my demo ended with a climactic boss battle that drastically upped the ante. I could only damage the bow-wielding boss while using a red field, and it alternated between three different mechanics, one of which would add a handful of basic enemies to the arena. I was honestly amazed at the massive difficulty spike, but the challenge really let me dig into the game's mechanics. 

Although combat is the main focus of Soulstice, the game does mix up the pacing with some light platforming and puzzle-solving sections. One fascinating section made an "echo" of past events appear, and I could interact with the scene to hear dialogue spoken by characters in the past.

This scene featured a troupe of knights escorting some mysterious object into the city, and it helped build a bit of intrigue for whatever I was walking into. Combat encounters can feel a little drawn out, but having a few slower sections breaking up the pacing is nice. 

Deep character action games are few and far between these days, and Soulstice feels like it could nicely fill a niche that remains open. Combat seems fast and engaging so far, but there needs to be more weight behind it, and I hope that the experience at large can create even more depth. There's still some work to be done as cutscenes, and animations feel a bit rough around the edges. With a few months left before release, hopefully, that can all be ironed out. 

Still, I'm already fascinated by the game's setting and Berserk-style tone, and if it can deliver on that promise, Soulstice could end up being a standout of the year.

Saints Row Boss Factory Has the Bells But Not All the Whistles Thu, 09 Jun 2022 16:26:05 -0400 Jonathan Moore

There's been a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding the character creation tools in the upcoming Saints Row reboot. It's pegged as the deepest, "most powerful" customization suite in the series, though the feeling is that developer Volition really wants to say "ever."

An April deep-dive revealed the depth of customization options that will be offered for characters, weapons, and vehicles – and it seems like there really are at least hundreds of options for each. To drum up more hype for the reboot and help fans get a headstart on perfecting their Boss ahead of its August launch, Volition has released Boss Factory for PC, PlayStation, and Xbox platforms. 

Boss Factory is a free, standalone "game" that gives you access to the character customization suit that will be in Saints Row; there's no gun or vehicle customization here (whomp, whomp). Characters can be saved and imported into Saints Row when it launches, though Bosses will need to be created on the same platform to carry over (you can't make a character on PC and transfer it to PS5, for example).  

You'll be able to search for and vote on Bosses shared by other players, and in August, you can download curated bosses from other players from any platform. It's a somewhat odd wrinkle not being able to transfer your Boss to any platform but curate others from any platform, but there ya' go. 

Those who "save and share" their Bosses from Boss Factory will also get two pieces of exclusive in-game DJ headgear. Anyone who registers for a Saints Row profile can expect to receive the Marshall Defense Technologies Rocket Launcher (though that's not exclusively tied to playing Boss Factoryregistration can be done here). 

Ahead of Boss Factory's release, I was able to hop in and toy around with the customization suite. On a superficial level, it's mostly just an ordinary character creation tool. There are standard options for facial features, skin color, body type, clothing, and accessories. The number of preset choices is broad across the board — there are more than 100 for various head presets alone — and as expected, there are sliders for brow depth, ear height, jaw width, nostril size, etc.

When you start digging into Boss Factory, the possibilities become apparent, even if progression-related options are still locked in this version of the suite. There's a lot of cool stuff here, including vampire teeth, zombie bite scars, and smiley-face eyeballs. There's an expansive catalog of hairstyles and beards to choose from, you can make almost any body type you'd want, and the modesty options are funny if terrifying for what they could allow folks to create. 

Still, some options are admittedly underwhelming; the metal skin types, in particular, are cool but mostly indistinguishable from each other. Tattoos are another disappointment. There are options for full sleeves and upper and lower portions of your Boss' chest, back, arm, and leg. Still, there's no way to combine multiple designs in a single area, they can't be rotated or moved around, and the number of choices doesn't provide nearly enough variety. 

One of Volition's most prominent points of emphasis with the new Saints Row character creation tool is the ability to make asymmetrical faces, but it's kind of just … ok? While presets, such as eye shape and color, cover both hemispheres, individual sliders for the forehead, brow, ears, and eyes can be tweaked across the face or on just one side.

Oddly, it seems those for noses, chins, cheeks, mouths, and jaws can't be. What's more, there doesn't seem to be an option for applying makeup or glitz to just one side of the face. It's undoubtedly one of the most unique options in the entire feature suite and will lead to some very interesting designs — and I'm sure many a Frankenstein's monster, too — but I can't help but feel a bit let down by it.

Note: I've asked Volition for clarification regarding asymmetrical faces and will update this article as necessary. 

The bright spots highlight the diversity Volition's further infused into Saints Row. Prosthetics have their own menu and feature a variety of options; there are 18 to choose from for right, left, or both arms, and there are 21 to choose from for right, left, or both legs. Their designs can't be changed, unfortunately, but colors and materials can (note: every piece of clothing and accessory has "cutting edge" materials that add further customization options, but those are locked in Boss Factory). 

Another nice touch is the ability to add body hair of any color to the default skin types (the option oddly disappears for the advanced skin types, even though three of them are just red, blue, and green), as well as other skin details like vitiligo.

Overall, Boss Factory is a neat tease to what we can expect in Saints Row when it launches for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Series X|S on August 23, 2022. Volition says this is mostly the finished character creation suite and includes basically everything we'll see in the final product. If that's the case, this isn't the Don Corleone God-tool it's been propped up to be. Though I sound kind of down on the whole thing, it's also got a lot of cool bells and whistles that are fun to play with. 

[Note: Volition provided the copy of Boss Factory used for this article.]

Destroy All Humans! 2 – Reprobed Preview: There's Nothing Like Dumb Fun Fri, 03 Jun 2022 14:37:02 -0400 Michael Feghali

A couple of years ago, Developer Black Forest Games launched a complete remake of 2005's cult classic Destroy All Humans!. Now the same team is working on Destroy All Humans! 2 – Reprobed, a remake of the second entry in the franchise originally released in 2006 for PS2 and Xbox. It's set to release on August 30, 2022, for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S.

I was able to go hands-on with a preview version of the game, where crypto has returned to terrorize humans once again.

Destroy All Humans! 2 – Reprobed kicks off with a warning: most of its content has been unaltered and might be too much for the modern human mind to handle. While the message is meant to be satirical tongue-in-cheek, it's also a legitimate word of caution: the dialogue and story are filled to the brim with offensive jokes and racial stereotypes that haven't aged well. While the story remains true to the original, the developers could have done without the tasteless humor, making the game much less offensive to modern audiences.

I was able to explore the game's first two locations, Bay City and Albion. Bay City is a parody of San Francisco set in 1969 overrun by hippies, whereas Albion is Destroy All Humans! 2's version of London. These cities are instantly recognizable and make for great playgrounds for alien destruction. Wherever you go, there are always humans going about their day  until they see Crypto zooming around causing absolute mayhem.

Combat is by far the game's greatest strength and the main reason why I completed the first two areas in one sitting. There is nothing more satisfying than wreaking havoc across a whole city while watching the AI's pathetic attempts at stopping me. Even in the early stages, where your choice of weapons is limited, Crypto is a force to be reckoned with.

This, however, means that boss fights aren't as challenging as they should be, even at higher difficulty settings. At no point did I feel forced to use the different weapons at my disposal. So far, the bosses can be beaten quite easily, without employing any specific strategies or tactics. Hopefully, it's something that's tweaked in the final build. 

The remake has been reassembled from the ground up in Unreal Engine 4, and it shows. It won't be able to compete with some of the latest AAA titles in terms of visuals, but it doesn't look dated and can certainly pass as a modern title. The new graphics help bring the open world to life with vibrant colors and detailed character models. This time around, the developers decided to skip last-gen consoles entirely in order to benefit from the power of newer hardware and push the game even further visually.

My biggest gripe has to be the flying saucer sequences. The saucer controls feel janky, dated, and aren't the most intuitive. While these sections where you rain destruction from above are a nice change of pace from the typical combat and escort missions in these two levels, the UFO's combat mechanics are nowhere near as satisfying as those for Crypto himself. And it's mostly because of the awkward camera angle and unnecessarily complex controls, especially for controlling your altitude. 

However, that's not to say there aren't a few issues with Crypto, either. Traversal is somewhat of an issue in the current build, as Crypto-138 isn’t the fastest and can't sprint, though things get much more bearable as you unlock the ability to skate. This allows you to zoom around the map at lightning speed once you've fully upgraded your skates and thrusters.

Speaking of upgrades, you can upgrade weapons and gear from the pox mart, which uses a simple system that clearly tells you what each upgrade does and how much it will cost. What makes upgrading your gear even more enjoyable is that each upgrade has a noticeable impact on the gameplay. In line with the more nostalgic feel of Destroy All Humans 2!, it is a relief that the developers avoided the unnecessarily complex upgrade trees that we've grown used to in similar titles. 

Apart from the main missions and side quests, there are also some multiplayer modes, including co-op split-screen, such as Duel-mode and PK-Tennis that I have yet to try out.

Destroy All Humans! 2 – Reprobed is far from a finished product. I did encounter some bugs throughout my four hours with the preview build. Sometimes, character voices in cutscenes are drowned out by surrounding noise in the open world. But it's important to remember this is a preview version of the game, and these issues should be ironed out in the final product. Even so, in true fashion to the series, the game’s overall clunkiness suits it well and adds to its silliness and humor. 

So far, it seems that Destroy All Humans! 2 – Reprobed will play out similar to 2020's remake of the first game. What you'll be getting is a game filled with alien shenanigans that doesn't take itself seriously (though the jokes could have aged better). It's been a while since I've played a game this silly, fun, and addicting.

If that sounds like your kind of game, keep an eye out for when it launches on August 30, 2022, on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S. Pre-orders are available now; those who pick up the sequel up early will gain access to Destroy All Humans! Clone Carnage, a standalone multiplayer mode, for free. 

[Note: THQ Nordic provided the copy of Destroy All Humans! 2 – Reprobed used for this preview.]

V Rising Early Access Review: A Bloody Good Time Wed, 01 Jun 2022 13:19:12 -0400 Michael Feghali

We've gotten our fair share of vampire games over the last few years, and it's been a mixed bag, to say the least. Now, Stunlock Studios have released V Risingan open-world vampire survival game in Steam Early Access.

V Rising lets you take on the role of a vampire that has awakened and been stripped of its powers after hibernating for centuries. You'll rebuild your vampire empire and reclaim power while quenching your thirst for blood. While the basic premise should be familiar to anyone who has played games in this genre, V Rising has a uniqueness to it that makes it stand out from the crowd.

V Rising Early Access Review: A Bloody Good Time

V Rising features several game modes. In PvE, you can play solo or cooperate with other vampires on a server to take down enemies and revive each other. By joining a PvP server, you can attack each other and raid castles, and it is recommended to play alongside some friends to help each other out.

As a vampire that was recently stripped of abilities, your character is still powerful but also vulnerable. You can get swarmed by groups of enemies easily if you aren’t constantly moving around. So you'll have to pick your fights and avoid unnecessary combat when you're low on health.

Initially, melee attacks with your sword are the go-to approach for taking down foes. But you don't put your vampire powers to good use this way. Casting flashy ranged abilities allows you to defeat enemies from a safe distance without exposing yourself to their attacks. There is no mana or stamina bar, but there is a cooldown for each ability, and you’ll need to use every tool in your arsenal to survive. Learning how and when to use each ability at your disposal is key.

Sword combat is fun, but things become extremely satisfying once you learn to cycle different abilities so that you're constantly casting spells without worrying about the cooldown timer.

When enemies are weakened, you can feed on their blood to refill your blood pool, essential for keeping you alive. In addition, feeding on blood grants you bonus effects depending on the type of enemy (warrior, rogue, creature, etc.). Also, depending on the quality of the blood, your character can unlock temporary buffs based on a tier system. For example, feeding on creatures will initially grant you increased movement speed at the first tier. Once you gain enough blood quality to reach the second tier, you’ll also get increased sun resistance.

In true vampiric fashion, you’ll have to sniff out bosses by following the scent of their blood across the map. The game does a great job of giving each of the 37 bosses a unique look and set of abilities to ensure that each encounter feels different than the previous.

Unlike most RPGs, there is no experience system for leveling up your character. Instead, your power is determined by the gear that you have equipped. While bosses do put up a good fight, none of them feel particularly unfair or overpowered as long as your gear is sufficiently powerful. Tracking and defeating bosses rewards not only resources but also new abilities and spells. For instance, defeating the first boss and feeding on its blood grants you the ability to transform into a wolf for faster traversal.

If there are two things that vampires hate it is silver and the daylight. While the former deals continuous DPS, it isn't as persistent as the latter, which proves to be your most dangerous foe in V Rising. The day and night cycle means that you'll need to be very careful when moving around when it's sunny. 

You can be in the sun for a few seconds at a time before your health starts to deplete rapidly. The direction of the sun will also vary as the day passes so you won't be able to stay in the same spot for too long.

Of course, you could always wait things out by sleeping in your coffin, but those brave enough to venture out during the day must hop between spots of shade and stay in the shadows. This can be done by taking cover behind trees and structures as you move around.

Within my first few hours playing, though, it became apparent that this is primarily a survival game with few vampire elements added to the mix. V Rising takes a step back from the typical vampire activities and puts most of the focus on crafting and building.

You’ll start off by crafting makeshift weapons and equipment just to get yourself going, though you’ll have a fully-fledged castle with a sawmill, furnace, and blood press to conduct all your typical vampire activities soon enough.

Here, managing resources and being efficient is key for quick progression. Grinding for resources can be a slogfest, so you’ll need to optimize the process as much as possible by taking note of the exact number of resources needed and having multiple refinement stations working in tandem.

There is no worse feeling than making a long journey from your castle and back only to realize that you are just short of the requirements and must make another trip across the map. While you can fast-travel to certain locations, you cannot take materials with you; you'll often need to make the long journey back to your base on foot.

The world of Vardoran is expansive and diverse, consisting of dense forests, vast farmlands, and snowy mountains.  Traversing this hostile world is no easy task. Almost every NPC you come across will instantly attack you. In this hostile environment, NPCs will even battle it out with each other, which can prove to be helpful.

While the core gameplay loop and mechanics aren’t entirely original, V Rising has a certain uniqueness to it that kept me hooked for hours on end. The highly addictive objective system helps guide you without holding your hand. For instance, you will need leather to perform certain upgrades, but the game does not tell you where to get it. Instead, you’ll need to figure that out for yourself or refer to a guide on how to get leather. Completing these quests will help familiarize you with the different refinement stations and raw materials without overwhelming new players.

Customizing the look of your vampire, however not that important given the top-down perspective, is a nice touch. Being able to tweak your character’s hairstyle, skin tone, and physical features lends a sense of ownership to your vampire kingdom. 

One feature that V Rising desperately needs, though, is a photo mode. It's an oversight that you can't fully appreciate the grandiosity of your castles from the top-down perspective after spending so much time building them. Even disabling the HUD isn't an option, which makes taking screenshots even trickier

Of course, the game could benefit from some quality-of-life improvements and finishing touches, as well, but V Rising is very close to being a finished product. Throughout my time with the game, I never encountered any game-breaking bugs or performance issues that cannot be ironed out in upcoming updates.

V Rising Early Access Review — The Bottom Line



  • Fluid and engaging combat.
  • Deep crafting system.
  • Large world with plenty to explore.


  • Top-down perspective can be limiting.
  • Minor technical hiccups.


Early Access games tend to be hit or miss, but V Rising has shown great promise with its deep crafting system, engaging gameplay, and addictive objective system. V Rising has quickly built a large fanbase and is already charting among the Steam games with the most concurrent players.

The overall state of the game is impressive given that it is still in Early Access; only time will tell if it can compete with the likes of Valheim. V Rising has plenty to offer at a competitive price of $19.99, making it a no-brainer for fans of action role-playing and survival games.

[Note: Stunlock Studios provided the copy of V Rising used for this Early Access review.] 

My Time at Sandrock Early Access Review: Grind for Glory Thu, 26 May 2022 13:29:28 -0400 Josh Broadwell

On my first day in Sandrock, a man in a cape swore to defend the town with the power of his chiseled chin, and a yak zealot tried getting me to drink yak milk when we first met. On my second day in Sandrock, I collapsed after running out of stamina while trying to gather enough resources for a simple building project.

If this sounds a lot like My Time at Portia, you’re not wrong. My Time at Sandrock is a follow-up, after all, and in many respects, it's a crafting-centered desert skin stretched over Portia’s venerable bones. It’s got everything you’d expect from a life-sim, from dating and town improvement to item building and even farming, and while it does most of these things very well, it doesn’t really try anything we haven’t seen before.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Some excessive grinding makes Sandrock a chore at times, but it’s so charming and finely crafted that you can’t help but fall in love.

My Time at Sandrock Early Access Review: Grind for Glory

My Time at Sandrock starts with your arrival in the eponymous town, after tailoring your builder to your heart's content with a surprisingly detailed character creator. You're here not to fix up your dear grandad’s old farm, but to take over from the former builder Mason, who seems rather relieved to be putting the desert oasis behind him. It’s not long before you find out why. Yan, the town commissioner, has a tendency to bully builders – and everyone else – into doing whatever he wants, typically without much recompense if he can get away with it.

Still, you’re here and determined to make the best of it, bringing peace – or “telesis,” as one out-of-place instance of the game’s randomly implemented parlance calls it – to the town and its residents. That means taking on their requests and building items ranging from the useful, such as an elevator that lets salvagers reach valuable materials in dangerous places, to the convenient, like an umbrella seat near the local oasis.

It’s a winning formula we’ve seen before, and once you get into a pattern of crafting, socializing, and exploring, it’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in Sandrock. Or it would be if it didn’t keep doing its best to get in the way and make itself a chore. 

You can do a surprising number of things with Sandrock's character tools, and some things you probably you shouldn't do.

Crafting games always require a certain amount of grinding, but Sandrock takes things a bit too far. Consider your recycler, the only way to get a handful of important materials for main missions in the early game. You’ll need to find the right resources from the right locations to feed it, though there’s a chance during scavenging that you won’t end up with what you want anyways. Then there’s the recycler itself.

Say you’re after four copper sticks. Ideally, you put in four pieces of copper scrap and get the sticks. Instead, it took 15 copper scraps and almost two days of fuel to get what I needed. Fuel is, thankfully, easy to come by, but you also need water to power every machine at your workshop. Later, you can get a dew collector to make water gathering easier, but for a while, you’re stuck getting dew off plants. 10 dew stacks add one percentage point of water to your tank, and you get where this is going.

Done well, these kinds of loops are supremely satisfying and even relaxing, but in its Early Access phase, Sandrock asks a bit too much of you to really be enjoyable in its opening five hours or so — even 12 and 15 hours in don't change things much quite yet. Even after you get better machines and a stockpile of materials, most blueprints require too much time to build and effort – getting copper to smelt into bars to turn into 10 copper screws and so on. 

Much of it just feels like busywork right now, though Sandrock is also happy to let you be as not-busy as you want. From what I can tell, no main missions or side missions have time limits, so if you want to take a week to make those copper screws, spending the rest of your time chatting with folks or exploring ruins, you’re free to do it as long as you have the interest and the stamina.

I can’t say any of the characters grabbed me emotionally, but they’re a cheerful, sometimes bizarre, bunch that almost always has something interesting to say. And the ruins you can explore are fine, but nothing as in-depth as Stardew's, for example (that's not to mention how few easily-findable items give any substantial amount of stamina to keep going for too long).

In the end, though, I was happy to keep playing My Time at Sandrock because it has such a strong sense of place, a sense that only grows as your work helps contribute to the town’s growth. Expanding businesses, new conveniences, new features, and a general sense of growing well-being are the fruits of your labor, direct effects of your actions that you often don’t see in similar games.

Considering Sandrock is still in Early Access, I imagine the rougher points will gradually be smoothed out so what makes it charming and enjoyable can shine through even stronger.

[Note: Pathea Games provided the copy of My Time at Sandrock used for this EA review.]

Saints Row Reboot Hands-Off Preview: Self-Made Anarchy Fri, 20 May 2022 14:57:10 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Self-made. It’s a phrase you hear a lot when it comes to the upcoming Saints Row reboot from Volition and Deep Silver. Central to the game’s design philosophy, it appears big and bold in trailers and showcases to hammer home a central idea: this is a game that lets you be whoever you want and play however you want. It’s been a throughline for the series that’s being taken to the next level. 

Ultimately, self-made boils down to having choice. And there’s a panoply of customization options for nearly everything in Saints Row – and a million and one ways to play.

I was recently able to see roughly 40 minutes of Saints Row in action during a hands-off preview – and it looks fun. Even if its narrative is a bit more down to earth than Saints Row: The Third and Saints Row IV, there’s still a lot of absurdity here, keeping alive what’s made the franchise so popular – and set apart from GTA – all of these years. 

We already know the breadth of the Saints Row customization system is kind of bonkers. You’ll be able to change literally everything about your Boss from head to toe, but one of the best parts is that you can do so on the fly.

Instead of having to visit your HQ or a shop (though you can still do that if you’d like, and you’ll need to go to the latter to actually buy things), you can use an in-game phone app to tweak anything you want about your Boss – including gender, skin tone, skin type, and hairstyle – and have it reflected in real-time. Volition showed this off with a complete rework of a character as they were walking down a sidewalk.

As for weapons and vehicles, those will be highly customizable, too. That’s something we already knew was possible, as well, but the scope of immediately available options shown in the preview was nigh on staggering, even when compared to the customization trailer released in April. There are dozens if not hundreds of unique combinations for every weapon and the game’s 80 vehicles. And yes: you can customize the tank and attack helicopter to your heart’s content. 

The one thing that feels left behind in this cornucopia of customization is the Saints HQ. It’s still not clear if your Homebase can be tailor-made to the same extent. Erecting collectible statues in very specific spots around the church compound seems to be all there is to it, though perhaps there are more granular options being saved for a later reveal. Maybe. Hopefully. 

Outside of perfecting your look and getting your HQ set up just right, there’s a lot to do in Saints Row. Santo Ileso appears to be a sandbox worth playing in for both long-time fans and those who may be discovering the series for the first time.

There are a variety of locales in which to play, ranging from deserts and canyons to bustling city streets, industrial zones, and quite a bit in between. There will be 25 primary missions and a cavalcade of side missions, random events – like busting open armored vehicles for cash – Mayhem events, and 14 business ventures that see you taking over city districts through various not-so-ethical means like committing insurance fraud, trafficking arms, or selling drugs. 

The first mission of the demo followed the Saints early in the game as they raided a loan shop outside of the city. After a short cinematic, what followed was a frantic driving segment with the police in hot pursuit (as they always are in these types of games).

As the Saints zipped through the streets of a desert suburb at high speed, the goal was to lose the cops by any means possible, which mostly meant using the new sideswiping (pit maneuver) ability to make cars slam into each other and the environment to go boom. It was fairly generic GTA-style, car-chase-car stuff, but it wasn’t any less captivating. 

A later mission saw the Saints use an attack helicopter to rain bullets and rockets onto the unsuspecting Los Panteros gang holding a barbecue outside of a factory-turned-hideout. The objective? Seek revenge on the ne’er-do-wells by infiltrating the compound and destroying a monster truck. Because sure, why not?

Fighting through the complex showed the ability to shoot cars off of their blocks and send them hurtling through gang members, as well as the more traditional guns – from sniper rifles to assault rifles to sledgehammers – that will be available. 

But don’t fret: there will be zany weapons, too. A third mission showed these off to full effect. There are literal foam finger guns. There’s the Thrustbuster, a football-esque weapon that attaches to enemies and vehicles, jetting them off into the stratosphere in a ball of light. There’s an infra-red weapon that can shoot straight through walls. And a pinata launcher that launches, well, explosive pinatas because of course it does. 

There are takedowns, too, finishers that see your Boss quite literally slap down enemies or Crane Kick them in the face. And of course, there are various skills and abilities, ranging from the mundane like dropping smoke screens to the more outlandish like Pineapple Express, which sees you drop a grenade down an enemy’s pants and hurl said enemy into anything else that needs exploding. 

And that’s the thing about the Saints Row reboot. There likely isn’t going to be anything revolutionary about it, and it might waver between a more serious narrative and absurd gameplay in a way I’m not 100% sure it can pull off. But hell if it doesn’t channel that classic Saints Row cartoonishness and make it look like being self-made is going to be a ton of fun. 

The Saints Row reboot launches for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC platforms on August 23 and features full drop-in-drop-out co-op, so we’ll have to wait until then to find out how it all comes together.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge Preview — Cowabung-again! Thu, 19 May 2022 10:55:44 -0400 Samuel Adams

For fans of old school beat ‘em up action games, it’s hard to overlook the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. From standup arcade cabinets to home consoles like the NES and Sega Genesis, the TMNT side-scrolling brawlers became beloved favorites that have remained popular decades later. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is bundling up many of these old-school experiences later this year, but Dotemu (Streets of Rage 4) and Tribute Games (with members that worked on Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game) are set to release something entirely new for longtime fans of the Turtles and newcomers alike.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is slated for 2022, and it's set to channel every bit of that nostalgic action that made players fall in love with this genre decades ago. After sitting down with a demo featuring two levels and six playable characters, I’m happy to say the developers have captured the magic.

Shredder’s Revenge immediately catapults you into the 80s arcade scene. The game opens with a stylish animation featuring classic characters and a rocking title track that could have been pulled straight from a 1990s Saturday morning cartoon. That sets the tone for what's in store. Alongside a pixel art style, those highlights make the entire experience pop with classic flair, working together to pack the punch of a retro brawler with the quality-of-life improvements of modern titles.

Six different playable characters were available in our hands-on demo: Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo, Raphael, Master Splinter, and news reporter April O’Neil. Each character features their own weapon type and stats that slightly change traits like speed and power.

TMNT: Shredder's Revenge Screenshot

These tweaks over previous entries in the long running "series" seem small, but picking a character with abilities that match your specific playstyle can make a noticeable difference in the flow of things. I played as all six characters during my time with the demo, with each one delivering a unique spin on combat that adds just enough variety to the experience.

As you fight your way through rounds of Foot Clan, an attack meter builds up earning you ground, air, and kick special attacks that are distinctive to each character. While replaying levels as a different character might not fundamentally alter the overall experience, these special attacks offer a nice touch of variety to switch things up.

One of the biggest takeaways from my time with the demo was how well the game played. Where a something like Battletoads might feel a bit slow to respond at times, Shredder's Revenge feels accurate and tight from beginning to end. The controls are extremely accurate and responsive, giving you the opportunity to really nail the right moves to deliver devastating attacks on your opponents. 

The demo featured two levels, each following the same classic formula: drop-in, beat up some baddies, and find a boss fight. The first level, "Jaw-Breaking News," took place in an office building/TV studio, bringing plenty of opportunities to kick equipment at enemies and pick up pizza to replenish health or boost power before facing off against Bebop. The second level, "Big Apple, 3pm" followed the Turtles out of the studio and into the streets, chasing down Rocksteady and his crew as they stripped cars for parts along the way to their hideout.

"Jaw-Breaking News" featured cameras and set pieces like cameras scattered throughout the stage, providing the opportunity to give them a kick across the screen and send enemies tumbling. Lights on the ceiling could fall and crush anyone unfortunate enough to be below them while the Foot Clan could bust through a door with boxes and TVs ready to launch at the Turtles. 

"Big Apple, 3pm" delivers its own set of environmental tricks with exploding barrels scattered in key locations along with Foot-Clan-driven cars and motorcycles that can fly across the screen with one misstep. Between these two levels, opportunities to interact with the environment really made each one feel alive in its own way. 

It's something  I hope continues in the full game. There's plenty of replayability when all of these things combine, whether you’re jumping in for a solo session or using the drop-in co-op with a friend. 

TMNT: Shredder's Revenge Screenshot

As someone who didn’t grow up on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, my expectations going into Shredder’s Revenge were low. Thankfully, it’s now become one of my most anticipated games of the year. The team’s goal was to use the 1987’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as inspiration for a new entry and so far, they’ve nailed every element.

Stellar graphics, music, gameplay, and level design all combine to create what looks to be a modern TMNT game that perfectly taps into its old-school roots. For fans of side-scrolling brawlers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is certainly one to keep your eye on when it launches later this summer. For hardcore fans of classic TMNT games, it should be on the very top of your list.

[Note: Dotemu provided the demo copy of TMNT: Shredder's Revenge used for this preview.]

Prehistoric Kingdom Early Access Review: Exploring the Alpha of Dino Park Sims Thu, 12 May 2022 15:54:41 -0400 Jason D'Aprile

Blue Meridian's dinosaur park sim, Prehistoric Kingdom, is certainly taking its sweet time to completion. While the game had a brief semi-open early test a while ago, it's actually been in development for years and has only now hit Early Access status on Steam and the Epic Game Store.

We need to emphasize the "early" part heavily, as that $30 price tag feels more like a pre-purchase with an instantly playable, limited dino sandbox to give players a taste of what's to come.

Timed remarkably well with the release of the (hopefully) final Jurassic World movie, Prehistoric Kingdom bears a lot of obvious similarities with the Jurassic World Evolution games. Both are dino-obsessed park creation and management simulations. Yet each is crafted with a somewhat different audience focus. This particular Kingdom seems much more geared toward those who love both ancient beasts and micro-management simulations.

Prehistoric Kingdom Early Access Review: Exploring the Alpha of Dino Park Sims

Granted, it’s early, but Prehistoric Kingdom’s maze of functions, options, buttons, and menus is already as imposing as it is confusing for newcomers. Thankfully, there’s a tutorial that gives you the gist of how things work, complete with voiceover instruction from Nigel Marvin. If that doesn’t sell you on the game, we’re sorry.

Nigel who? Marvin! The imminent BBC time-traveling, dinosaur-wrangling biologist, of course. For anyone who’s had dinosaur-obsessed children in the last two decades, Marvin’s BBC shows Chased by Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Park were required viewing. He’s a jovial fellow here, lending his soothing, happy tones to help smooth out the stress of running a massive, over-complicated biohazard of a park. 

Mr. Marvin aside, the game has a lot going for it already. It’s gorgeous, for one thing. The park itself is a mix of common, mostly green and brown environments, but the animals are fantastic. These aren’t the scientifically-questionable beasties of Jurassic Park and while complete scientific accuracy in paleontology games is a sketchy endeavor at best, it’s clear Blue Meridian put a lot of thought, time, and research into representing extinct animals according to modern science. 

Like the JW Evolution games, there’s genetic research, egg hatching, sub-species variations, and even paleontology digs to throw money at. The difference is how everything here feels more in-depth, complicated, and layered. The current build has over 20 prehistoric critters (including ice age mammoths) and understanding their needs is vital.

Each attraction must be carefully planned, maintained, and watched over to ensure the animals are taken care of. As this progresses, you’ll theoretically be able to hire staff to cover some tasks, but right now the AI in any of the computer-controlled creatures (be they human or animal) is very light. Or possibly just not actually included yet. 

Humans wander around at random, without much in the way of any interaction or purpose. The dinosaurs independently behave well in a very canned, pre-scripted fashion, but they don’t yet actually interact with each other or even their environment. It’s all just surface country so far.

The labyrinthine UI is another problem and the current state of the help system is, well, not particularly helpful. During the tutorial, for instance, I spent a frustrating five minutes trying to clean dung out of a pen by foolishly clicking on it and anything else around it before realizing that to access that option, you have to actually click on the tiny, sometimes hard-to-see parameter fence of the enclosure. 

There are a lot of little nagging issues like that, where intuition seems to have flown the coop and you just have to memorize where every option is. There are some single-player missions included, mostly to get the lay of the land, but they’re buggy and limited. Mostly, this Early Access is about the sandbox mode.

In sandbox mode, the building powers of the Prehistoric Kingdom do start to shine. You can create some really cool and picturesque structures and enclosures for the animals. For people who really love building a park, there are a lot of options. There’s a surprisingly robust online community as well, sharing their creations, which is an excellent sign regarding the future of the game.

Blue Meridian has stated they’re planning for the game to remain in Early Access for the next 18-24 months, which seems like a long time. There’s a lot missing so far, but the bones of the game are solid, despite sometimes being hidden a little too deeply in the menu systems. The presentation is already exceptional, with a great soundtrack and score to complement the finely rendered zoo attractions.

Prehistoric Kingdom Early Access Review — The Bottom Line


  • Critters looks fantastic.
  • Ability to make elaborate and sprawling parks.
  • Nigel Frickin' Marvin.
  • Has a nice bent toward being at least somewhat scientifically accurate.


  • Very incomplete and exceedingly Early Access.
  • Confusing and maze-like user interface makes things harder.
  • Little in the way of AI and mostly just a sandbox to get a taste.

For fans of this particular little genre, Prehistoric Kingdom might well be worth an early look, especially if they temper their expectations. The game is far from finished and likely to frustrate players as much as amuse them, but the grand spectacle of ancient giants is fully on parade here.

Dinosaurs are awesome and Kingdom is doing a top job of capturing that sense of wonder, despite the flaws.

[Note: The writer was reimbursed for the copy of Prehistoric Kingdom used for this Early Access review.]

Songs of Conquest Early Access Review: A Breath of Fresh Air for Strategy Games Tue, 10 May 2022 15:26:39 -0400 Justin Michael

Taking place in a high fantasy world with mysterious faey creatures, hordes of undead, and powerful magic users known as Wielders – of which you are one – Songs of Conquest brings a lot to the table for fans of strategic turn-based games in its Early Access release. With an obvious (and heavy) influence from the Heroes of Might and Magic games, Songs of Conquest offers up the nostalgic feeling of those early- to mid-90s games but with a polished and unique blend of gaming mechanics.

While the main loop falls within turn-based play, Songs of Conquest also provides a blend of exploration, settlement building, RPG-like character progression, tactics-based combat, and much more. It does all of this in a manner that has fluidity and doesn't feel cumbersome or cobbled together. 

Songs of Conquest Early Access Review: A Breath of Fresh Air for Strategy Games

One of the alluring things about games like Songs of Conquest is the setting; the world itself, the lore, and the distinct factions vying for control. Songs of Conquest captures these things perfectly with lore uncovered during play, dialog between characters, and a world that is beautiful to take in. 

Speaking on design, developers Lavapotion have nailed it with their striking and gorgeous pixel style merged with a 2.5D approach. The world map feels alive with various buildings, ancient sites of power, resource points, and gorgeous terrain features.

The character design is also a thing of beauty for the four distinct playable factions, as well as the scores of other enemies and creatures that inhabit this universe. Layered on top of that is an equally enjoyable soundtrack that really helps round out the feel of things.

Songs of Conquest has a blended mechanics system but let you dig a bit deeper into what I think sets it apart from other games in the genre and really makes it shine. 

Settlement building is one of the first things I found myself chomping at the bit for. The settlement and construction system is where the tactics of Songs of Conquest start; that’s what determines a lot about your troop composition. Each settlement has a size ranging from small to medium to large, which factors into how many buildable tiles you’ll have to work with. You’ll find yourself picking and choosing from several buildings, all with their own importance and some with synergies. 

Looking to build a castle (a medium-sized structure)? You'll need a peasants' hut (a small structure) as a requirement. This, coupled with the limited building tiles per settlement makes choices matter and scratches that economy/empire management itch at the same time. 

Combat in Songs of Conquest is another area that has obviously had a lot of thought and intention placed in it. The battle map makes use of a hex-based system with the addition of elevated portions on the battle grid. For more than show, these give troops high-ground advantages and even allow ranged units to fire further with more devastating ability.

Combat is also high stakes. It is quick, bloody, and brutal, especially when you clash with another Wielder. I personally don’t use the auto-resolve button on the combat screen and instead choose to manually handle every encounter. That's after a few early skirmishes where I took heavy losses and then virtually none having redone it manually. While some might find this tedious, I personally don’t mind.

The last and biggest thing that Songs of Conquest really hits out of the park for is the magic system. There are many different spells available to you as a Wielder from several different “schools”' of essence, but that essence is tied to the troops in your command. There are additional means of essence production, such as through equipable artifacts, but the main income lies in the composition of your army. 

With each faction having its own diverse roster of troops, you can expect to come up against different tactics and magics throughout.

At the time of writing, Songs of Conquest is in Early Access with two narrative-driven campaigns available for two of the four factions. The first campaign sees you play as the Arelon, a human faction with a heavy focus on medieval-type units like knights and swordsmen. This is the first campaign and plays as a bit of a tutorial. It's also an introduction to the lore of the world and those that inhabit it. 

The second campaign sees you play as the Rana, an anthropomorphic race of amphibian and reptile creatures rising up against their oppressive slavers. The storytelling is reminiscent of the 90s style that it lovingly imitates but has depth and a sense of satisfaction as you move through the mission maps.

Additionally, Songs of conquest also has multiplayer options for both local and online play, allowing you to have some friendly competition with friends and the community as a whole. There are also the scenario and map editor tools that give you the freedom to create your own challenges with nearly all the same tools as the developers.   

With a roadmap that slates Song of Conquest to be in Early Access for the next year, there’s plenty of time for Lavapotion to smooth out what little bumps there are in the gameplay loop presently. At nearly 10 hours of playtime at the writing of this EA review, I’ve only had two issues: a slight audio glitch during a victory cutscene transition and the audio cutting out midway that a simple save and load fixed. The amount of polish at this stage should serve as an example for future Early Access titles. 

Songs of Conquest Early Access Review — The Bottom Line


  • Stunning visuals.
  • Unique game loop.
  • Immersive world.


  • Slightly repetitive combat.
  • Minor audio glitches.
  • Minor learning curve.

Songs of Conquest delivers unique and enjoyable gameplay with stunning visuals, audio, and a world with lore worth exploring. It's an Early Access title not to be missed, especially for any fan of turn-based strategy. 

[Note: Lavapotion provided the copy of Songs of Conquest used for this EA review.]

Hard West 2 Preview: There's Ghosts in Them Thar Hills Fri, 06 May 2022 16:34:55 -0400 Josh Broadwell

“It’s probably not a real ghost train,” Hard West 2 protagonist Gin Carter tells his posse as they head out to rob a federal locomotive nicknamed The Ghost Train. It’s the kind of foreshadowing that tells you the train will, in fact, be haunted and probably by something more terrible than just your average ghost. The premonition bears fruit, as the gang winds up facing a hellish opponent and unleashing chaos on the world, with Carter losing his own soul in the process.

I spent a few hours with Hard West 2's preview build, and while developer Ice Code isn’t reinventing the steam engine with the sequel’s clever turn-based tactics, Hard West 2 is, so far, proof that innovation isn't always necessary.

Carter’s journey opens with a tutorial that sees you board the Ghost Train and learn the basics. Like its predecessor, Hard West 2 is essentially “what if XCOM, but wild west occult.” Each party member has a pool of action points you can spend by moving or using skills, and the Bravado system replenishes your points if you manage to defeat an enemy with a skill. 

It’s easy to underestimate just how influential Bravado is, but with the right planning and a bit of luck – more on that in a moment – you can take calculated risks and still retreat to cover, potentially turning the tide of battle. Or you could doom your posse if you make the wrong moves, which I totally never did at all (except in every mission). On the bright side, death is temporary for your party. You may have to restart a mission, but you won’t permanently lose a key member of the gang.

It’s a testament to the quality of Hard West 2’s level design that using Bravado never feels like you’re cheesing the game. Other squad-based strategy games invite you to break them with overpowered builds or exploiting the environment for cover, but Hard West 2 built Bravado into its challenges.

Enemy placement, reinforcements, and your posse’s fragile mortality mean you’re always just one step away from defeat even when you’re using every tool available. I could see this potentially becoming a frustration further on if later stages require precise solutions over free strategizing, but for now, I appreciate the balanced difficulty.

Hard West 2’s luck mechanic adds another smart layer to your tactical considerations. You’ll earn Luck for certain actions, which you can expend during your next turn to buff your combat abilities. The most common use in the early stages is increasing the likelihood of certain skills dealing extra damage or scoring critical hits, but I’m eager to see how Ice Code uses it once your party expands further.

Once the tutorial ends, and Gin loses his soul to the devil in the process, you’re free to explore a semi-open world and recruit other party members from a motley variety of human and undead outlaws. It still seems a bit early to say whether these random recruits can hold their own compared to the four lead characters, though, recruiting a team of zombies is fun just for the sake of it.

If you’re thinking “Yep, this all sounds like Hard West,” that’s true, which is a slight problem. So far, Hard West 2 isn’t doing a whole lot different from the first game. Your core team covers the usual melee, ranged, and power classes, and the environment is a crucial tool providing both cover and a way to bounce bullets back into your foes. Gin’s journey to recover his soul means the sequel has greater narrative potential than the original game, but again, it’s still far too early to say. 

The prospect of meaningful stories for the rest of the party is rather less certain, though. Kestral Colt seems like your stereotypical gambling, womanizing cowboy, and Flynn, a young woman scorned by the church, has some kind of supernatural affinity that could make for an intriguing subplot. 

Then there’s Laughing Deer, an unwelcome surprise in the form of your usual two-dimensional portrayal of Native Americans in media. He’s a fighter, possibly a sadist, who lives for combat and makes comments about being a true warrior. And it just… doesn’t need to be that way. 

Hopefully, the rest of Hard West 2 justifies Laughing Deer's existence and builds on the biggest strengths in its opening hours. Familiar it may be, but innovation isn’t everything. There’s just as much value and fun in a solid game executed well.

[Note: Ice Code provided the copy of Hard West 2 used for this preview.]

Dune Spice Wars Early Access Review: Not So Spicy Yet Mon, 02 May 2022 15:19:03 -0400 Josh Broadwell

4X games light my brain up, and starting Dune Spice Wars the first time was almost like the expanding brain meme come to life. The genre is enough to catch my interest, but add in a fantasy sci-fi setting, the promise of deep political and economic systems revolving around conflict over a basic resource, and you’ll make me a very happy person.

In theory. Dune Spice Wars has all of these things, but it’s also very much still in Early Access. The management systems are at once overly complicated and frustratingly restrictive. You have few meaningful choices over how to lead a campaign, and that means little incentive to keep playing. It has promise, but the current build is a bit of a letdown that betrays its own possibilities.

Dune Spice Wars Early Access Review: Not So Spicy Yet

Dune Spice Wars opens with a dramatic narrative sequence outlining the four factions’ motivations. I opted for the Fremen, initially. They're the only indigenous race left on the planet and one that wants to “turn the planet green” by reclaiming their rightful place. I discovered shortly after the game started that my choice actually mattered very little. Aside from a few minor advantages and some slightly different advisors, the Fremen play similarly to the Smugglers, who play similarly to the Atreides, who play similarly to the Harkonnen.

Your goal is, as ever in a 4X game, total domination. How you arrive at that goal doesn’t matter, mostly because there’s only one way to do it – keep the trade guilds happy with regular spice shipments and conquer the other three factions. You’ll earn spice by harvesting spice fields near certain villages, conquer settlements to gain more resources, and customize these towns and villages with buildings that boost your resources in some form, such as extra water, Dune’s version of supplies or food.

It’s all fairly standard stuff, albeit with a Dune skin pulled over it. Combat revolves around a limited roster of unit types that, despite their apparent strengths and weaknesses, tend to perform the same in most circumstances.

I’m one of those who actually likes overly complex games. If you make me take notes to keep up with your systems, I’ll love it. Spice Wars aims for complexity, but the current build misses the mark in a few ways.

Take the politics system. During my first few Landsraan meetings – nation-wide council gatherings that pass laws and shape government – I threw all of my influence into passing measures that benefited me, even at the expense of the citizenry. There are a few problems with that, though. One is the corruption inherent in that process, a sly, backhanded method of politics that goes against the honor-bound Atreides house or the noble Fremen. 

The other is the unnecessary complexity. Along with influence is a second stat I’ve already forgotten about that determines how many votes you can cast and the likelihood you’ll get your way. You’ll automatically end up with influence regardless of how you play, so the end result seems like complicated window dressing placed over an overly linear system.

The issue spills over into other areas of the game as well. Authority, for example, accrues naturally from the settlements you conquer. If you want to subjugate a new village, you need a certain amount of Authority, but getting it is just a matter of waiting an in-game day. How you manage or mismanage your territories doesn’t matter.

The same goes for the espionage branch. Complicated menu and advisor stats aside, infiltration boils down to sending agents on a quest and hoping they succeed. Here, too, your actions have much less influence than you’d expect.

The advisors and faction leaders also seem like a bit of a missed opportunity. They’re one of the few aspects after the opening introduction with substantial flavor text giving them personality and, you would think, a dynamic role to play in the world. Instead, they perform basically the same functions.

I was surprised to see my espionage-oriented advisor have the same available espionage tasks and even the same chances of success as my second advisor who was less suited to spy work.

Dune Spice Wars Early Access Review — The Bottom Line


  • Strong potential.
  • Rich source material to draw on.
  • Solid 4X strategy foundation.


  • Factions are too similar.
  • Territory management is fairly basic.
  • Needless complexity in several systems.
  • Shallow narrative and characters.

Spice Wars has rich source material to draw on for creating meaningful moments tailored to these distinct personalities, and I hope it ends up doing more with its characters to distinguish itself from similar games.

I still enjoyed my time with Dune Spice Wars despite all this. It’s a strong 4X game with everything you’d expect from the genre, so if you’re just after a strategy game with a trace of Dune flavor, then it’s fine to go ahead and jump in now. There’s just the potential for so much more here, and with some fine-tuning, Spice Wars could be a standout strategy game once it leaves Early Access.

[Note: Shiro Games provided the copy of Dune Spice Wars used for this Early Access review.]

Sniper Elite 5 Preview: World War II Hitman Wed, 27 Apr 2022 10:36:04 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Sniper Elite 5, the latest installment in the WWII shooter series that lets you shoot Nazis in the balls, is due to release in just under a month for PC, PlayStation, and Xbox platforms. It brings the action to France around the D-Day invasion and sees protagonist Karl Fairburne once again hunting down high-ranking Third Reich slime to stop another of the Fuhrer's nefarious plots.

I was able to go hands-on with a preview version of the game in mid-April, wreaking havoc against Nazi rank and file in Occupied Residence, the expansive second level of the game that sees you infiltrating a heavily-fortified French villa. 

Fairburne's latest deployment doesn't rewrite the series' history books, carrying forward some of the better parts of Sniper Elite 4 (as it should). Still, it does add new systems and mechanics that make killing Nazis more efficient and, most importantly, more fun. 

In Occupied Residence, you're initially dropped on the outskirts of an idyllic French villa, forced to make your way through pastoral fields and bucolic forests crawling with Nazi scum. Your goal, of course, is to reach your target, learn what you can of the greater operation afoot, and take him out. Thing is, he's hidden deep within a sprawling estate surrounded by watchtowers, traps, and patrols.

So far, most things in Sniper Elite 5 are familiar, but it's immediately grander; there's a decided increase in fidelity over Sniper Elite 4. The graphics are crisper, making the staple X-ray killcam even more visceral and brutal. Objectively, Occupied Residence likely isn't larger than anything in SE4, but how Rebellion has crafted the level adds a sense of multifaceted sprawl. 

The forest area, for example, is relatively small but could be the majority of the map, like Sniper 4's Regilino Viaduct, if Rebellion so chose. But its pathways and terrain forge a rugged, dangerous path through only one portion of the map, where hills, streams, and glens hide quick death from machinegun emplacements and large squads of patrolling soldiers before branching out into wider open areas.

It's not as stark a contrast as it may sound, though. The area blends nicely into the golden fields and workhouses on the western side of the map and then into the estate's Victorian gardens in the northeast. Such distinct locations blend naturally into one of the more diverse (and visually compelling) levels in the series so far. Hopefully, it's a design choice that holds up through the rest of the game's 10 levels. 

Neatly, a new addition to the Sniper franchise shares something in common with the Hitman series. Whereas previous Sniper entries see you enter a map from a single location, shooting or stealthing your way through the same enemy patrol patterns over and over again, Sniper Elite 5 allows you to unlock additional starting points in various portions of the map, just as you can in the latest Hitman games.

Most of the fun in Sniper Elite is going through those same patrols multiple times, perfecting loadouts and solidifying tactics until you've become an unstoppable and incredibly efficient Nazi killing machine. All but diehards can tire of such overt repetition. Having access to multiple ingress points on top of even more diverse inter-level pathways makes replaying areas more dynamic and conducive to a variety of playstyles. 

And that increased sense of freedom is something Rebellion has emphasized with Sniper Elite 5. Without compromising the series' core, they want this to be a game where stealth and "going-loud" are equally viable. Perhaps my biggest gripe with the series at large has been its sharp distinction between those two playstyles. Though at its best in Sniper Elite 4, run-and-gun has always been a dicey option at best — and an infuriating one at worst. 

I think Rebellion may have changed that with one, simple addition: first-person ADS for all weapons. 

Sniper Elite 5 is still a third-person, over-the-shoulder shooter; there is no first-person camera setting that turns it into Call of Duty, to be clear. Check out Sniper Elite VR for an experience like that. But everything from the Welrod to the MP44 now has both third-person aiming and first-person aiming options smartly mapped for easy switching. 

The power of this change is tangible and became evident the first time I miscalculated the number of Nazis patrolling near my position in the forest. I leveled my SREM-1 Enfield, held my breath, and (satisfyingly) drove a bullet through the kidney of an MG42 gunner. The shot wasn't masked by noise (there weren't any generators or alarms about, no planes flying overhead), and his comrades poured down from the hills around the emplacement. 

I was able to pick a few off as they descended into the riverbed, but three quickly reached my position, typically a death sentence in previous games. As they took up positions in the grass and shrubbery on one side of the glen, I quickly switched to an MP44, aimed down the iron sights in first-person view, and pulled off two quick and precise headshots to even the odds.

It was perhaps the first time I've ever felt comfortable when rushed by enemies in a Sniper Elite game. I felt cool, calm, collected — just like a seasoned Fairburne would. 

Another change I'm excited to see more of comes in the form of gun and loadout customization in-mission. Sometimes even the best-laid plans crumble once the bullets start to fly (or TNT explodes, as it may be). In previous games, only wit, skill, and patience could compensate for an inadequate loadout. But now you have the ability to upgrade weapons and change kit at workbenches inside levels. Occupied Residence, for example, has three of them, all well hidden.

Once you do come across one, you can swap entire kits, singular weapons, and individual attachments for ones perhaps better suited to the situation at hand. Find out you need better kit for a particularly troublesome checkpoint? Backtrack to a workbench and try a different loadout.

The best part is that while the new system offers more granular moment-to-moment control than ever before, it's not intrusive or even necessary. You don't have to use workbenches at all if you choose not to; weapon and loadout customization is available before missions, as well, letting you play Sniper 5 in myriad different ways, old and new alike.

The only caveat here is that it appears certain attachments are locked behind finding specific workbenches, so even if you don't choose to use them, they're still worth seeking out for future upgrades and augments. 

There's still a ton I haven't yet tried out in Sniper Elite 5, such as multiplayer, co-op, and Axis invasions. I haven't seen other levels, either. On top of that, there are many other systems yet to talk about not covered in this preview, such as unique in-mission weapons, skill trees, and traversal.

I will say traversal is currently a sticking point for me, alongside difficulty balancing and a ho-hum photo mode. You can climb up roofs and vines just fine but can't vault simple fences, it seems; the difficulty spike between easy and medium is far too drastic; and the photo mode is barebones, lacking some of the most basic tools available in other games, making it feel tacked on to simply check a "features" box. 

Despite those things, what I have seen in just a single level has me excited for the full release and what else is in store for Fariburne's latest mission. Stay tuned for our review around the game's May 25 release on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Series X|S.

Turbo Overkill Early Access Review: Cyberpunk Chainsaw Man Mon, 25 Apr 2022 14:46:16 -0400 Peter Hunt Szpytek

Turbo Overkill is the type of game your parents were afraid you were playing when you were a kid. It's a loud, gratuitously violent, dark look at a potential cyberpunk future. Despite feeling like the type of thing parents might want banned in the early '90s, it's an Early Access shooter full of potential that grabbed me from the beginning.

While Turbo Overkill takes many queues from modern arcade shooters, specifically Doom: Eternal, it doesn't feel like developer Trigger Happy Interactive's influences stopped there. Turbo Overkill takes lessons from a wide range of titles like Hotline MiamiLeft 4 Dead, and the original BioShock that manages to be a Frankenstein of sorts. For the most part, it juggles its mechanics and systems well. 

Its fast-paced, aggressive gameplay is certainly not for everyone but it's a fantastic way to spend your time if you've been a fan of any modern arcade shooters of the past 10 years. Even in Early Access, Turbo Overkill has a lot to offer and will only get better as Trigger Happy Interactive continues to work on it.

Turbo Overkill Early Access Review: Cyberpunk Chainsaw Man

On the surface, Turbo Overkill seems like a pretty straightforward cyberpunk-themed run-and-gun shoot-em-up. After completing the tutorial level, however, its depth becomes clear.

Levels are huge and sprawling with hidden secrets and paths scattered about, giving you the option to be an unstoppable freight train of bullets and chainsaws (don't worry, we'll get back to the chainsaws in a bit) or a methodical detective investigating every nook and cranny available to them hidden just off the main path.

It's pretty refreshing to see a game in this mostly linear genre be full of truly secret optional areas worth poking around for. The environments are well designed and pique your interest without hitting you over the head with the fact you might be missing a thing or two if you leave some stones unturned.

The rewards for exploration range from finding collectibles (that don't ultimately add up to much) to accessing new weapons before they're introduced through the main path. For me, that was the true goal of exploring: the variety of weapons is excellent and their abilities are, for the most part, satisfying.

Turbo Overkill features a lot of guns. They're your typical FPS finds from shotguns to rifles and pistols, but their alternate fire modes are where they shine. Shotgun blasts can be saved and stacked on one another, pistols can turn into insta-kill, motion-tracking death machines, and rifles can be duel-wielded to double damage or picked up one at a time for higher accuracy. The list goes on, and there isn't a single weapon that doesn't have its place in combat.

Combat is fast-paced as you shoot your way through waves and waves of horrific cyberpunk monstrosities that have taken over sections of the city. Movement speed is high and each gun packs a real punch, but the true cherry on top is the player character's chainsaw leg. 

The chainsaw leg is used anytime you slide, which gives you a burst of speed while you cut down absolutely everything in your path. As you explore the world, you're able to buy body augment upgrades, but the very best ones increase the power of your chainsaw leg and allow you to drain enemy health and armor for yourself. Essentially, most of the upgrades are meant to encourage you to be aggressive with the chainsaw.

It gives combat a real sense of momentum and brutality that sets Turbo Overkill apart from the likes of other popular arcade shooters. Every so often, I would run into a tough room of enemies that would take me a few tries to get through, all before realizing that I could forget shooting my way out because I'm essentially a cyberpunk Chainsaw Man.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about Turbo Overkill is that it feels packed to the brim with ideas. From the chainsaw leg to the inspired level design to its interesting alternate weapon modes, the game keeps you guessing and continues to impress. The one thing that stands in the way of it being one of the best in the genre is its difficulty and poor checkpointing.

I died a lot playing on the recommended difficulty. At first, it seems as if Turbo Overkill is going for a Hotline Miami-type system where death is frequent, but if you have a plan, you can overcome any obstacle. That quickly fades away once you begin to realize how infrequently the game dishes out checkpoints.

I spent a lot of time fighting through a few rooms of manageable enemies before getting to a troublesome room and dying within a few seconds of setting foot inside. After repeating that a few times, frustration become one of Turbo Overkill's strongest foes.

Paired with some clunky insta-death platforming sections, the checkpoints still need work and stick out a bit from an otherwise well-polished experience. If the checkpoints were better, the difficulty might be more manageable since you're back in the fight a few seconds after going down. But as it stands now, there's plenty of frustration to be found in the later levels because of it. 

The game does have a story, but it takes a pretty major backseat to the gameplay. From what I could tell, a rogue A.I. is spreading a mind virus throughout the city and you're there to stop it. It's such a minor thing, however, that it hardly feels worth mentioning other than to say Turbo Overkill doesn't have much for anyone looking for a great cyberpunk story full of lore and meaning. 

Turbo Overkill  Early Access Review — The Bottom Line


  • Fast-paced, exciting combat arenas.
  • Excellent variety of weapons and enemies to use them on.
  • Stylish cyberpunk visuals.
  • Chainsaw legs.


  • Sharp difficulty curve with no real solution other than turning the difficulty down.
  • Poor checkpoint system. 

Everything about Turbo Overkill suggests it's a game to watch closely. The problems I had with it seem like the kinds of things Trigger Happy Interactive will be able to fix before it's done cooking, but if they're neglected could be major roadblocks in the way of a truly great shooter.

While it's story-light, it's chainsaw-heavy, and I think that more than makes up for the cyberpunk aesthetic being nothing more than window dressing for a brutal run-and-gun shooter. If you can get past the issues listed above, then a recommendation is easy, even before its official launch. Check out the demo if you think it's up your alley

[Note: Trigger Happy Interactive provided the copy of Turbo Overkill used for this Early Access review.]

Ghostwire Tokyo Preview: Weaving a Tangled Web Mon, 14 Mar 2022 11:53:28 -0400 Josh Broadwell

I met a Shiba Inu when I visited Shibuya, and gave them a treat. In return, the friendly pup showed me a secret (buried in concrete no less), which was far nicer than the welcome I received from the city’s other visitors. Harassed salary workers dogged my steps, lost schoolgirls heckled me at every turn, and housewives lobbed projectiles at me when I passed by.

They also all wanted to send my soul to the underworld where it would suffer eternal torment and/or be “saved” by a masked murderer – it could go either way – because these visitors are capital-V Visitors in Ghostwire Tokyo, evil spirits born from the pent-up negative emotions of everyday people. 

I’ve played the first two chapters of Ghostwire, and while the story beats and gameplay segments in these chapters is mostly what Bethesda showed us a few months ago, I was surprised how fresh and exciting they still feel – and how empty Shibuya is outside the main story.

Hannya is behind the mysterious fog engulfing the city, pulling souls from their bodies and opening the door to the Visitors, who now stalk the streets of Shibuya in place of all the humans – all except one. That’s you, Akito, joined by the soul of KK, a former police officer-slash-ghost hunter who invades your body and seeks revenge on Hannya. 

Akito has several goals: cleansing the fog, finding lost spirits, and eventually dealing with Hannya. There’s no shortage of spirits to save, with the total maxing out at a whopping 200,000+, an initially intimidating number before you realize each cluster gives you at least 90 or more of the spectral remnants each time. Cleansing torii gates purifies the city, unlocking new areas with more spirits, challenges, and Visitors.

It’s a bit too formulaic at times, though Ghostwire makes up for it with personality. Akito’s relationship with KK is predictable in the opening hours – the reluctant young hothead playing sidekick to the grizzled hero. It’s still well-executed so far, though, and I’m invested in finding out how KK ended up in his current form. 

Nekomata man (cat?) the shops and stalls, selling everything from canned goods and Yakuza Puffs to lucky talismans and even some of KK’s old case notes. Best of all, for me at least, is that the writers and localizers went all-in on every item and collectible.

Wondering why this curious snack food is called Yakuza Puffs? Good news: there’s a detailed reason in the item description. That's not even going into some of the bizarre and sometimes poignant requests some lingering spirits have for you.

The world feels rich and interesting, which makes its relative lack of depth so far all the more disappointing. Tango’s vision of Shibuya is an absolutely gorgeous one, but it’s also pretty empty. You find most of the interesting items as part of the main story in the first two chapters, and the city’s many alleyways and heart-stopping heights usually just hide more spirits.

You’re barred from entering most buildings. It makes sense, considering everyone’s on the verge of eternal torture anyway, but it still puts a damper on the sense of discovery and makes the setting feel a bit duller than I expected. 

Combat and Akito’s skill system just start getting interesting at the end of chapter two, so it’s still too early to get a feel for these. However much I might wish Shibuya had more to offer, I’m enjoying my time with Ghostwire Tokyo immensely and can’t wait to see how it unfolds from here. Look forward to a full review later in March.

[Note: Bethesda provided the copy of Ghostwire: Tokyo used for this preview.]

Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle Preview — Survival Horror From the Ancient Times Tue, 22 Feb 2022 11:26:31 -0500 Jason D'Aprile

Since the original Resident Evil hit the PlayStation way back in 1996, we’ve seen a lot of games try to capture the magic of Capcom’s survival horror classic. Some have had much better luck than others, but the passing years haven’t diminished the urges of new game developers to pay homage to the king of gaming horror. Daymare, from Invader Studios and Leonardo Interactive, is unabashedly following in Capcom’s bloody boot prints.

There’s a pretty good chance you missed the Daymare: 1998. It had a fairly low-key release on PC (2019) and consoles (2020). Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is a prequel to that game, so it seems like a reasonable starting point for newcomers. Due out later this year, we took some time to check out an early preview demo for the sharp-looking take on survival horror.

Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle Preview — Survival Horror from the Ancient Times

Right from the start, Daymare: 1994 instantly feels very familiar. Controls are thankfully not quite as irksome as the ancient tank-like play of the original Resident Evil and the camera is a bit more user-friendly, but otherwise, this definitely looks, feels, and plays like a revamped lost artifact of the PS2 era. That’s the point, however, not a criticism. 

The graphics are sharp and detailed but have a distinct sort of style that harkens back to the PS2. It’s not cutting edge by any means, but things look decent. The gameplay leans heavily on mixing up combat and puzzles, with plenty of scrounging for ammo and other supplies amidst the rather maze-like maps in the demo. 

Daymare: 1994 puts players into the boots of special agent Dalila Reyes. Reyes works for H.A.D.E.S., which is short for the Hexacore Advanced Division for Extraction and Search. You can tell she works for them based on the weird backpack she wears that advertises the logo with an alarmingly bright blue neon light. So, clearly it’s not that secret of an organization. 

Reyes finds herself stuck with the task of exploring the “most advanced experimental research center in the U.S.”, where bad things have clearly happened as such bad things are wont to do in secret science places. It’s the usual B-movie setup that powers most games of this sort, and the facility thus far seems a fine place for a horror show. Full of dim corridors and passages, large industrial rooms, and weird glowing science things, the location seems like an ideal place for lumbering zombies and hideous toothsome aberrations. 

To help deal with such problems, Agent Reyes has an interesting freeze thrower (hence the glowy blue backpack) that is used to both slow down monsters and solve puzzles. She can use it to put out fires in her way and, in one example, freeze overheating reactor pipes to open a blast door. It’s fun to use on the zombies we encountered as well, since completely freezing them lets you deal a crushing ice-making final blow.

Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle — Coming Attractions

Taken on its merits, Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is shaping up to put on a pretty good show for those in need of a new horror fix. Capcom isn’t likely to be pumping anything but re-re-releases of older Resident Evil for a while, so we appreciate others stepping in to fill the survival-horror void.

The demo looks fine and shows off some interesting monsters, locales, and puzzles. Our time with the demo was hampered by weirdly glitchy and unresponsive controls, however. Camera and aiming controls in particular were unworkably sluggish at times, making both combat and one particular puzzle frustrating. 

That said, this is just an early demo of a very unfinished game. We’d expect the controls to get cleaned up by release sometime later this year. Be sure to check out the free demo yourself during Steam Next Fest, available now.

Rune Factory 5 Preview: Signs of New Life Mon, 07 Feb 2022 14:09:30 -0500 Josh Broadwell

Most farm games let you rest after a hard day’s work, but Rune Factory isn’t most farming games. After tending the fields and helping the local smith source some materials, I ventured into the forest and fought a mystical wolf – who then turned into the missing woman villagers had been so worried about for a week. 

I’ve spent a few hours in Marvelous’ latest, and while the soil still needs some tending to produce a high-quality crop, the early signs are promising.

Rune Factory 5 Preview: Signs of New Life

After a stylish opening sequence, you wake up in the woods outside Rigbarth village as Alice or Ares. Rune Factory 5 introduces same-sex marriage for the first time in the series, though the main character gender binary remains the same. Our hero lost their memories, though some early signs – and an overwhelming reaction from Rigbarth’s Soulsphere, a mystical item that helps protect the village – point to a secret past and special destiny. 

Which is fine. If the Fates insist on afflicting Rune Factory heroes with memory loss every time, at least we’ll get something interesting from it 30 or so hours later.

The opening feels a bit slow and stilted compared to Rune Factory 4, but thus far at least, I’ve grown attached to Rigbarth. There’s a rugged, close-knit feel to this frontier community that you don’t quite get from Selphia and its fairytale doesn’t quite have polish.

You join SEED, a ranger squad dedicated to keeping the village safe from monsters, and that includes providing farm goods and handling requests for the inhabitants.

Rigbarth’s citizens and fellow SEED members initially seem subdued compared to the likes of Dolce, Clorica, and Dylas, but that’s potentially a good thing.

I knew what to expect from Selphia’s residents immediately, but most of Rigbarth’s folk have me wondering what makes them tick – the grumpy carpenter’s apprentice, the timid SEED assistant, the pint-sized commander. They slot less easily into caricatures, which ideally means there’s more room for growth and surprises, and the writing continues to sparkle in every instance.

The preview period covers the first two hours of the game, and it seems most of the traditional Rune Factory mechanics are here in much the same form as always. It’s a relatively simple action-RPG, where you can customize your style using Rune Powers, specialize in different weapon types, and face off against gigantic monsters when you’re not tilling the fields. 

The biggest difference is the world in which you’re doing all this. Rune Factory 5 is the first fully-3D Rune Factory game, and I’m not convinced it was a good or necessary change. Environments are sparse, character movements are loose and imprecise in the field, and it seems poorly optimized as well. 

Exiting a building drops the frame rate exponentially for a few seconds, and it even struggles to keep up with camera movements in busier parts of Rigbarth. Whether it’s by design or accident, even enemy movements seem off. There’s a good five or more seconds between a foe telegraphing its attacks and you being able to flee from them. I don’t think Rune Factory has to be challenging, but half of it is focused on combat. That level of looseness removes any semblance of tension from an important part of the experience.

The voice acting is implemented more haphazardly than usual as well. A few lines in a conversation will randomly be voiced – sometimes in the middle of what’s being said – before it reverts back to silence or sound bytes.

Minus the environments and oddly paced voicing, I’m sure the other issues can and will be addressed before launch on March 22. And that’s enough for me. I’m much more interested in getting closer to the good people of Rigbarth and seeing how their stories unfold, even if the world looks a bit sparse. We’ll have full review impressions in the coming weeks, so stick around.

Ghostwire Tokyo Preview: City of Surprises Fri, 04 Feb 2022 11:21:41 -0500 Josh Broadwell

When Bethesda and Tango Gameworks first revealed Ghostwire Tokyo, I expected a slick action game about battling ghosts. After seeing roughly half an hour of brand-new Ghostwire Tokyo footage as part of a press preview event, I can safely say I was only half right. Ghostwire looks like so much more than just spooky Tokyo, and it’s one of my most-anticipated games of the year at this point.

Bethesda already introduced Ghostwire’s two heroes during a recent deep dive — Akito the human, and KK the spirit — but we got to learn a bit more about KK and how he’s able to help Akito. KK was a ghost hunter before being killed, and he’s determined to rid Tokyo of the baneful fog swallowing up the souls of its people. He also has a grudge against Hannya, the sinister masked villain attempting to herald some kind of new world.

What Hannya’s purpose is and how he’s connected to KK remain a tantalizing secret for the time, but whatever the relationship is, I’m more interested in KK himself. While he didn’t speak too much during the footage I saw, he has the potential to be more than just a sardonic senpai, as he dropped some surprisingly incisive comments about society and justice along the way.

I also didn’t expect Ghostwire to embrace its quirkiness as much as it seemingly does. The original trailer suggested it would lean into the horror aspect more, a la The Evil Within, Tango’s other notable projects. What I saw was closer to “Yakuza but spooky."

As you’re wandering the ghost-filled streets of Tokyo, Akito overhears bits of everyday conversation from spirits trapped in the fog. You release spirits by absorbing them into paper dolls and placing those dolls on a payphone. Spectral landlords continue to exploit their long-dead tenants, and when you walk into a nearby convenience store, you’re greeted not by a deadly monster or ethereal shopkeepers, but by a cat yokai eager for business.

Not all yokai are so friendly. Most are only too happy to tear Akito’s soul from his body, and that’s where KK comes in and grants Akito the power of Ethereal Weaving. This is where the “wire” part of the title comes into play, as Akito weaves (obviously) ghostly (of course) wires to entrap the yokai’s spiritual cores, pull them from their monstrous bodies, and absorb their power for his own.

Just, y'know, your average undead pedestrian with massive scissors. Nothing to worry about.

Ghostwire Tokyo’s combat system appears to be complex and multifaceted, though we only saw Akito using the power of wind to keep yokai at bay and expose their cores. Sometimes, direct confrontation isn’t the best route, though. Akito can use stealth to surprise yokai and immediately expose their cores for extraction to avoid combat and attracting too much attention to himself.

The overall goal is cleansing the fog by purifying corrupted Torii gates around the city. While the overall narrative structure and quests between these points remains a mystery, we did get a glimpse at some of the action outside combat – and it’s one of the most promising next-gen experiences I’ve seen. At one point, Akito explores an abandoned apartment building and must destroy four spiritual cores to shatter a barrier threatening to engulf that portion of the city.

The trouble is, the building keeps phasing in and out of reality. It turns upside down at one point. The walls ooze an evil-looking substance and constantly shift form, and while Akito walks down a hallway, it suddenly transports him hundreds of feet above the city suspended in midair, all in the span of a second. It is, for lack of a more eloquent phrase, freaking cool, and Bethesda promised it’s not the only area to experience such fluctuations.

The one thing I have some concerns about is how fresh all this will stay after a few hours, though side quests have the potential to keep things interesting. We only saw one during the preview, and it was surprisingly poignant.

Akito encounters the soul of an elderly lady mourning the loss of her apartment, not because she still needs to live there, but because her miserly landlord kidnapped her luck spirit. You, being half ghost hunter, agree to help her out and head inside the apartment to see what you can do and coax the spirit back with some rice cakes. 

The corner of the apartment shifts suddenly and turns foul. The landlord’s twisted spirit appears, repeating how he was owed the luck until you finally exorcise him and return the spirit to the elderly lady. She teases you before severing her last ties to the mortal realm and moves on to the next plane with her lucky spirit in tow – but not without some commentary from KK about scummy landlords.

It’s a touch of humanity and social consciousness I absolutely did not expect. Exploring a haunted Tokyo could easily get old fast, so I hope Ghostwire leans into this style of questing and worldbuilding even further.

We don’t have to wait much longer to find out if it will either. Ghostwire Tokyo launches March 25 for PlayStation 5 and PC, with early access for those who pre-order the digital deluxe version opening March 22.

Expeditions: Rome Review-in-Progress — Marching Ever Onward Tue, 18 Jan 2022 13:58:30 -0500 Jason Rodriguez

Expeditions: Rome is a massive game. From the grassy plains of Asia Minor to the sandy dunes of North Africa, I traveled with Legio VI Victrix. I defeated armies to capture settlements, and I emerged unscathed from skirmishes against hostile squads.

Still, with just over 25 hours of playtime under my belt, I've realized that I've progressed no further than the halfway point of the Expeditions' second act so far. Normally, you'd think that you hadn't scratched the surface of such an enormous endeavor within that time. Unfortunately, it feels as though I've experienced all that the game has to offer.

Expeditions: Rome Review-in-Progress — Marching Ever Onward

Expeditions: Rome puts you in the role of a Roman commander from a Patrician family. Your father has been slain and your in-laws have sinister designs. At the start, you'll choose a class and meet none other than Julius Caesar himself. Then, as you progress a bit further in the campaign, there's a twist where you realize that you're about to carve out your own destiny.

Along the way, you're aided by unique companions. There's your loyal friend, Caeso Quinctius Aquilinus, as well as Syneros, a trusted advisor. Soon, you'll meet Bestia, a fighter who's got a chip on his shoulder, as well as Julia Calida, masquerading as a man so she could join the army. Much later, your group is rounded out by Deianeira, a gladiator whom you'll free from servitude.

The revolving door of personages doesn't stop there, as you're also introduced to historical characters, some of whom are integral to the plot. We'll leave those for you to experience yourself. 

Past games in the Expeditions franchise have emphasized exploring the world map with your merry band. In Expeditions: Rome, however, you'll get to lead the Legio VI Victrix.

You'll still roam around to visit villages and points of interest akin to an RPG, though your legion will bear the brunt of Conquest Battles, clashes between your army and a hostile force that controls a region, such as Asia Minor, North Africa, or Gaul. These Conquest Battles are presented as an overhead tactical map where small icons move automatically. In each phase, three cards known as Strategems are drawn. Pick one, and you'll see an outcome.

When your legion conquers a sector, you'll be able to undertake missions to pacify it, as well as send your forces to occupy infrastructure. You'll then receive resources that can be used to upgrade the buildings in your outpost.

This is just the meta-game in Expeditions: Rome. The core component as you advance the narrative is your regular party. You're not just limited to your companions, as you're allowed to recruit generic soldiers who can become Praetorians (party members) in their own right.

All characters belong to a particular class. For instance, Caeso and Deianeira are Princeps, the "tanking class." Bestia, meanwhile, is a Veles, the assassin archetype that can easily flank foes and deliver quick strikes with dual-wielded weaponry.

As for Julia, she's a Sagittarius, but it doesn't mean that she likes Leos and hates Capricorns. Rather, the Sagittarius is your archer class, with an "overwatch-esque" ability to boot. Lastly, there's the Triarius class, which is what Syneros is. It provides utility and healing effects for your team.

Combat with your party in Expeditions: Rome follows a tactical turn-based affair similar to its predecessors and others in the genre. Characters move to hexes and use their abilities to drop their foes. Planning and effective target selection are also vital, so you can chain kills, sunder armor, eliminate incapacitated opponents, or gain buffs through flanking maneuvers.

Moreover, because you're allowed to recruit generic characters, you can build a squad to suit your playstyle. Do you want several Triarii for endless healing, free action refreshes, and AoE boosts? That's perfectly fine. Alternatively, you could bring multiple Sagitarii if you want to hang back and snipe anything that comes your way.

Similarly, you'll partake in siege battles, which are the culmination of each act. These are multi-phase tactical encounters where your entire party is required (you'll split them into squads to tackle different objectives in a fortress). During the final engagement, everyone regroups to push back the last remaining enemies. You even get to use catapults to rain death from afar.

On paper, Expeditions: Rome has a lot going for it. Regrettably, there are a few things that get in the way.

Despite everything, the Conquest meta-game becomes tiresome the further you get into the campaign. When I first started taking over the territories in Asia Minor with my legion, it was like a breath of fresh air. I truly felt that there was a grand adventure that awaited me. Then, a few hours later, I started begging Expeditions: Rome to stop making this mechanic a requirement to advancement.

Indeed, the main quest requires you to pacify five regions at first, then seven, then 10, and then all 13 to advance to the next act. Later, there is a similar requirement in Act 2. "Here we go again," I muttered to myself, cursing the predicament.

It doesn't help matters that Conquest Battles are uninteresting and the Strategem cards you received to complete them are drawn randomly. In the same vein, your outpost buildings basically act as menus, with subsequent upgrades only improving their boosts.

This feeling of disappointment is further compounded by random events on the world map. To be fair, this is a staple that I tend to like in various games. However, because there are dozens of regions that must be conquered, and owing to the fact that you need to let in-game time pass between certain actions, you're going to experience numerous random events.

Many of these have outcomes that must be avoided to keep characters from getting injured, dodge dialogue options that cause approval/loyalty drops, or keep your army from losing rations. As such, it comes to a point where reloading saves to prevent RNG-based mishaps is a common occurrence. 

The tactical side of things in Expeditions: Rome is less problematic, but a few oversights still crop up. For instance, characters assigned to outpost facilities can't be inspected, which means you have to remember their perks and unlocked skills.

On top of that, you won't be able to respec skill points. You have to live with your decisions if you build your companions a certain way and the abilities turn out to be lackluster eventually.

In the case of generic Praetorians, your pool of recruits has random, premade builds already, and I had two options if I wanted the right abilities. The first was to "save scum" until I found a character that I liked. The second was to dismiss my army leaders and rehire them as regular party members. This was to ensure that I had high-level soldiers with skill points that could still be allocated.

Expeditions Rome Review-in-Progress — The Bottom Line So Far


  • Turn-based mechanics offer significant tactical depth.
  • Classes have distinct capabilities and battlefield roles.
  • Party composition allows freedom to mix-and-match different or identical classes.
  • Dual, interchanging loadout system allows for versatility.
  • A decent narrative with key twists.
  • Appearances by real-life historical figures.
  • Companions with their own personalities and traits.
  • Unique items that can truly impact skills trees and builds.
  • Dismantling system that allows you to craft unique variants.
  • Secrets and sidequests.
  • Siege battles and catapults.


  • Lengthy Conquest meta-game devolves into a tedious slog. 
  • Bland army battles with RNG-based card draws.
  • Passing time on the world map leads to random events (which is fine). But too much would mean save-scumming to avoid disastrous outcomes.
  • RNG-based Legion recruitment.
  • Rhetorical Style dialogue options are rarely used.

Expeditions: Rome is ambitious in size and scope. Those who've played the previous games in the franchise would be surprised by the sheer scale of its campaign. Sadly, there are a few missteps on the strategic side of things that veer into tedium, even if the tactical battles keep you on your toes.

So far, I feel as though I've seen everything that Expeditions: Rome has to offer on the mechanics side of things, even though I'm only in Act 2. I'm genuinely engaged with the story, quests, and tactical battles. Likewise, I love the challenge presented by lengthy siege battles. Unfortunately, what I still can't stomach is the meta-game slog just to progress.

[Note: THQ Nordic provided the Expeditions: Rome key used for this review-in-progress.]

GameSkinny's Best Games of 2021 Thu, 30 Dec 2021 12:42:04 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Another year passed means another great list of video games worth playing on PC, PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, Stadia, and more. To look back on the year that was in video games, we've collected our highest-reviewed games of 2021 into a "best of" list. 

Since we're a small staff at GameSkinny, going the traditional "staff voting route" doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. Though it means there are more games here than on other lists, the best way we've found to highlight the best games of the year in 2021 is to include any game with a score of "8" or higher. So that's what we've done here. 

A few games on this list didn't technically release in 2021 or perhaps have other editions that released in years prior, but we reviewed certain versions and ports that released in 2021, so we've decided to also include them here. 

The Best Games of 2021

12 Minutes

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Luis Antonio (Nomada Studio)
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: 12 Minutes is a game about escaping a time loop, which is ironic given that it's so good that I wish I could see it all again for the first time myself.

Read our full 12 Minutes review.

Aerial_Knight's Never Yield

Publisher: Headup Games
Developer: Aerial_Knight
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Aeiral_Knight's Never Yield is a short, yet stylish endless runner with one of the year's best soundtracks.

Read our full Aerial_Knight's Never Yield review.

Alan Wake Remastered

Publisher: Epic Games Publishing
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Alan Wake still shines in a modern landscape thanks to its unique story and intoxicating atmosphere, and the remastered visuals modernize it just in time for Remedy's inevitable sequel.

Read our full Alan Wake Remastered review.

Alba: A Wildlife Adventure

Publisher: Plug In Digital
Developer: UsTwo Games
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch 
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Alba: A Wildlife Adventure wonderfully recontextualizes the video game sandbox as a wholesome call to action.

Read our full Alba: A Wildlife Adventure review.


Publisher: Dear Villagers
Developer: Nameless XIII
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Ashwalkers tells an open-ended story the right way, mixing equal parts agency and powerlessness, hope and despair.

Read our full Ashwalkers review.

Atelier Lydie & Suelle DX

Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Vita
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Atelier Lydie & Suelle DX is a hard sell if you've already played it, but remains a stand-out Atelier game with strong heroines, excellent crafting, and good combat.

Read our full Atelier Lydie & Suelle DX review.

Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy

Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Atelier Ryza 2 improves on the original in almost every way and, despite a few stumbling points, proves Gust is still one of the best at making something magical out of ordinary things.

Read our full Atelier Ryza 2 review.

Axiom Verge 2

Publisher: Thomas Happ Games LLC
Developer: Thomas Happ Games LLC
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, PS5
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Axiom Verge 2 marks a fine return to form for the indie darling, providing fans with a compelling adventure worthy of its Metroid-influences roots.

Read our full Axiom Verge 2 review.

Base One

Publisher: Blowfish Studios
Developer: PixFroze
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Overall, Base One is an enjoyable experience that you can play casually for a few in-game cycles or a few IRL hours. It doesn’t really bring anything new or innovative to the table but executes well the familiar game mechanics that make up its loop. 

Read our full Base One review.

Before I Forget

Publisher: 3-Fold Games
Developer: 3-Fold Games
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Before I Forget is a highly emotive tale about one woman’s struggle with dementia, and a story that everyone should experience.

Read our full Before I Forget review.

Before Your Eyes

Publisher: Skybound Games
Developer: GoobyeWorld Games
Platforms: PC (reviewed)
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Telling a gut-punch of a story with novel gameplay mechanics is no small feat, and Before Your Eyes marvelously delivers on both fronts.

Read our full Before Your Eyes review.

Black Book

Publisher: HypeTrain Digital
Developer: Morteshka
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Black Book is an RPG/CCG/detective simulator/visual novel where you're either the villain or weakly trying not to be.

Read our full Black Book review.

Blue Reflection: Second Light

Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Blue Reflection: Second Light is an improvement upon the first game, following a group of schoolgirls looking for a way back home while fighting evil monsters.

Read our full Blue Reflection: Second Light review.

Bravely Default 2

Publisher: Nintendo/Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Bravely Default 2 is the best JRPG that never came out of 1998 Japan. It has a deep combat system, a sunny disposition, and a weirdly positive outlook.

Read our full Bravely Default 2 review.


Publisher: HypeTrain Digital
Developer: RedRuins Softworks
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Breathedge isn't a perfect space survival game and is sometimes aggravating, but there's plenty to enjoy, and few recent games can be so relaxing.

Read our full Breathedge review.

Capcom Arcade Stadium

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S 
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Capcom Arcade Stadium isn’t flawless. It could definitely be more complete, but the 32 games on display here still offer a pretty great slice of gaming history. As examples of their genres, it’s amazing how well most of these games still hold up while serving to vividly illustrate just how much gaming has changed since.

Read our full Capcom Arcade Stadium review.

Castlevania: Advance Collection

Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Collecting three superb Castlevania entries from the Game Boy Advance era and one more obscure SNES offering, this is a must-have for any fan of the genre that Castlevania carved out.

Read our full Castlevania: Advance Collection review.

Chivalry 2

Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
Developer: Torn Banner Studios
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Chivalry 2's ability to convert chaos into exuberance gifts players with an experience that brilliantly hones in on one of the greatest aspects of gaming: fun.

Read our full Chivalry 2 review.


Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Fishlabs
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5, Stadia, Amazon Luna
Rating: 8/10

What we said: With a solid gameplay loop, a variety of side missions, and an engaging, original story that doesn't overstay its welcome, Chorus delivers one of the best sci-fi experiences of the year.

Read our full Chorus review.

Control: Ultimate Edition

Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, Series S, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Control was one of 2019's best games, with the only pervasive issue being that consoles couldn't always run the ambitious game so well. That's all changed.

Read our full Control: Ultimate Edition review.

Cozy Grove

Publisher: Spry Fox
Developer: Spry Fox
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Cozy Grove presents island life sans crass Capitalistic Raccoon Overlords, and it is a lovely experience through and through.

Read our full Cozy Grove review.

Curse of the Dead Gods

Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Developer: Passtech Games
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Switch 
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Curse of the Dead Gods is an action-roguelike with slick combat and a risk-reward loop that will keep you coming back.

Read our full Curse of the Dead Gods review.

Cyber Shadow

Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Developer: Mechanical Head Studios (Aarne "MekaSkull" Hunziker)
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Cyber Shadow is a beautiful, lovingly-crafted gut-punch of an experience. Get ready to throw some controllers.

Read our full Cyber Shadow review.

Days Gone (PC)

Publisher: PlayStation PC LLC
Developer: Bend Studio
Platforms: PC (reviewed)
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Days Gone received a lukewarm reception when it released for PS4, but the brilliant PC port will give new life to a game about a dying world.

Read our full Days Gone PC review.

Death's Door

Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Acid Nerve
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Taking somewhere around 8-10 hours to finish, Death’s Door is a macabre journey well worth taking. The combat is generally simple but excellent, the world is fascinating, and the characters are memorable. 

Read our full Death's Door review.


Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Arkane Studios
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PC
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Deathloop takes elements from games like Bioshock and Dishonored, combining them with a Groundhogs Day like timeloop to create the coolest, most stylish, and best game of the year.

Read our full Deathloop review.

Disco Elysium: The Final Cut

Publisher: ZA/UM
Developer: ZA/UM
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch, Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Disco Elysium’s expanded edition successfully builds upon an already excellent RPG, making it just as relevant today as it was in 2019.

Read our full Disco Elysium: The Final Cut review.

Disgaea 6

Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PS4
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Disgaea 6 isn't a massive change for the long-running series, but the substantial improvements it brings means it doesn't have to be either.

Read our full Disgaea 6 review.

Dying Light

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Techland
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Dying Light on Switch is the same old Dying Light, which means it's one of the best survival horror games — just portable.

Read our full Dying Light Switch review.

Eldest Souls

Publisher: United Label
Developer: Fallen Flag Studio
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: A demanding pixel art Souls-like beautifully rendered and artfully crafted, Eldest Souls is not without issues, but it's worth your time for its bosses, art, and world.

Read our full Eldest Souls review.

Farming Simulator 22

Publisher: GIANTS Software
Developer: GIANTS Software
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: With its many improvements and some important additions, Farming Simulator 22 is the best in the franchise thus far.

Read our full Farming Simulator 22 review.

Fatal Frame: Maiden of Blackwater

Publisher: Koei Tecmo/Nintendo
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: This port of the clever and under-appreciated Wii U J-Horror game might feel a little old but is a terrific example of a familiar genre given a unique spin.

Read our full Fatal Frame: Maiden of Blackwater review.


Publisher: Big Blue Bubble
Developer: Big Blue Bubble
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PC, PS4, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: An open platformer heavy on combat, upgrading, and exploration, Foregone is an involving and entertaining adventure well worth downloading ... This gorgeous retro platform adventure deftly mixes traditional linear and roguelike elements into one entertaining package.

Read our full Foregone review.

Forza Horizon 5

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: Playground Games
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Forza Horizon 5 is ultimately more of the same, but that's hardly a bad thing when it does the same thing so darn well.

Read our full Forza Horizon 5 review.

Green Hell (Console)

Publisher: Creepy Jar
Developer: Creepy Jar
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Green Hell is the latest PC survival sim to arrive on consoles, and it brings a solid and challenging survival experience that requires whits and perseverance.

Read our full Green Hell console review.


Publisher: Akupara Games
Developer: Clover Bite
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: GRIME takes influence from more genres than most games and succeeds at combining them into a cohesive whole. It's well worth your time.

Read our full GRIME review.


Publisher: Playism
Developer: Petit Depotto
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Gnosia draws similarities to games like Among Us and Zero Escape, but ultimately crafts a unique story with a crew of memorable characters.

Read our full Gnosia review.

Guilty Gear Strive

Publisher: Arc System Works
Developer: Arc System Works
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Guilty Gear Strive continues the long-running series’ love of amazingly bizarre character designs, fantastic fighting action, and gorgeous visuals with superb results.

Read our full Guilty Gear Strive review.

Habroxia 2

Publisher: Lillymo Games
Developer: Lillymo Games
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch, Vita
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Lillymo Games have made a great attempt with Habroxia 2. Capturing the spirit of old-school SHMUPS, it isn’t especially long, but these kinds of shooters rarely are. Focusing more on replayability with branching mission paths, a customizable ship, and New Game+, it fills a niche sorely missing on modern platforms.

Read our full Habroxia 2 review.

Halo Infinite

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: 343 Industries
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: While there are some improvements that can be made, Halo: Infinite is a return to form for the storied FPS franchise.

Read our full Halo: Infinite review.

Hitman 3

Publisher: IO Interactive
Developer: IO Interactive
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Series S, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Hitman 3 brings to a close one of gaming's great trilogies with one last display of immaculate level design and intoxicating mood from IO Interactive.

Read our full Hitman 3 review.


Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Amplitude Studios
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Move over Civilization, there's a new strategy sheriff in town, and it's called Humankind. Amplitude Studios knocked this out of the park.

Read our full Humankind review.

It Takes Two

Publisher: EA
Developer: Hazelight Studios
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Series S, PC, PS4, PS5
Rating: 8/10

What we said: It Takes Two is the culmination of a decade of novel co op gaming ideas, and that makes it one of 2021's best games no matter what else comes out.

Read our full It Takes Two review.

Judgment Remastered

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Ryo Ga Gotoku Studio
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), Xbox Series X|S, Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Judgment remastered is a fine return for 2019’s Yakuza spin-off. Though all of its changes are purely technical, it's the best version of this detective thriller.

Read our full Judgment Remastered review.

Jurassic World Evolution 2

Publisher: Frontier Developments
Developer: Frontier Developments
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Jurassic World Evolution 2 builds on the foundation of its predecessor to create a memorable and addictive park management sim.

Read our full Jurassic World Evolution 2 review.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Publisher: Ember Lab
Developer: Ember Lab
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Kena Bridge of Spirits is a charming adventure that packs a ton of heart, as well as a wealth of engaging systems.

Read our full Kena: Bridge of Spirits review.

King of Fighters 14: Ultimate Edition

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: SNK
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: King of Fighters 14 Ultimate Edition really is just the original game with all the DLC automatically added. There’s no other change to the base game. If you missed it the first time around, this is still a fine way to get into the series.

Read our full King of Fighters 14: Ultimate Edition review.

Last Stop

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Variable State
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Variable State rejects one-hit-wonder status with its long-awaited follow-up, Last Stop, a game that feels equal parts arthouse and blockbuster.

Read our full Last Stop review.

Little Nightmares 2

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Tarsier Studios
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch, Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Little Nightmares 2 is bigger and better than the original, offering up a larger world to explore and all new enemies waiting to devour you.

Read our full Little Nightmares 2 review.


Publisher: SmashGames
Developer: Sean Young
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Littlewood's warm setting, deep customization, and endearing characters make it one of the better farm-sims on Nintendo Switch.

Read our full Littlewood review.

Loop Hero

Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Four Quarters
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Loop Hero blends a number of influences and ideas for a time-bending adventure that's familiar but refreshing.

Read our full Loop Hero review.

Mario Golf: Super Rush

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Camelot Software Planning
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Between all of the positives on offer in Mario Golf: Super Rush, it's hard to find a complaint for anyone looking to play this in a way that you'd expect from other titles in Nintendo's Switch catalog. Even if things could be a little deeper or more difficult, this game is just too much good, old-fashioned fun to let those things get in the way. 

Read our full Mario Golf: Super Rush review.

Mario Party Superstars

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: NDcube
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Mario Party Superstars is the best of classic Mario Party in one package, and it's just as glorious as it's ever been.

Read our full Mario Party Superstars review.

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is a surprisingly compelling single-player adventure that packs in some real emotion, despite a few shortcomings.

Read our full Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy review.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition

Publisher: EA
Developer: Bioware
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PC, PS4
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Though it shows its age in spots, Mass Effect is still as mesmerizing today as it ever was. The Legendary Edition is a fully-featured revival of one of gaming's greatest stories.

Read our full Mass Effect Legendary Edition review.

Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition

Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: 4A Games
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS5, Xbox Series X|S
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Metro Exodus is back in a high-octane enhanced edition to push your new gaming hardware to the limit. For newcomers eager to put their new hardware through its paces, this is both a visual wonder and a generally great game.

Read our full Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition review.

Metroid Dread

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Mercury Steam
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Metroid finally returns with a new sequel, and it’s exactly what we expect from the series. It’s a fine return to form for Samus with a huge world to explore but definitely doesn’t reinvent the wheel.

Read our full Metroid Dread review.

MLB The Show 21

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment 
Developer: Sony San Diego Studio
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S
Rating: 8/10

What we said: MLB The Show 21 isn't as flashy as its cover star. Lacking many overhauls to its modes, this year's game focuses on a decent laissez-faire story mode, a cool new Stadium Creator, and more of the superb baseball sim gameplay that has earned the series its reputation as one of the best Sony exclusives. 

Read our full MLB The Show 21 review.

Monster Hunter Rise

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Monster Hunter Rise as it stands might be one of the easiest games in the series, but it's also one of the most flexible and ultimately satisfying in each and every regard, and for that, it deserves full marks.

Read our full Monster Hunter Rise review.

My Friend Peppa Pig

Publisher: Outright Games
Developer: Petoons Studio
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PC, PS4, Switch, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: My Friend Peppa has the unenviable task of convincing parents their young kids deserve video games. For the families that don't shy from the medium, this is a delightful new way to play together.

Read our full My Friend Peppa Pig review.

NieR Replicant Ver. 1.22474487139 ... 

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: NieR Replicant Ver. 1.22474487139 is an upgraded version of the original NieR, and it improves on almost all aspects to offer something for both newcomers and veterans alike.

Read our full NieR Replicant review.


Publisher: Noiseminded
Developer: Noiseminded
Platforms: PC (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Sometimes we wake from a dream and wish we could recall its details. Sometimes we're trapped in a nightmare and wish we could wake at all. Nightslink feels like a bit of both.

Read our full Nightslink review.

New Pokemon Snap

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Bandai Namco
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: New Pokemon Snap delights at every turn, offsetting a grindy mid-game with a parade of charming Pokemon in this cozy on-rails photo adventure.

Read our full New Pokemon Snap review.

NEO: The World Ends With You

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4
Rating: 10/10

What we said: NEO: The World Ends with You is everything a fan of the series could ever ask for in a sequel. This isn’t just only the best JRPG released in 2021 so far, but perhaps one of the best games this year, period. It’s simply incredible.

Read our full NEO: The World Ends With You review.

Nioh Collection

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Team Ninja
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The Nioh Collection brings two of the most satisfying last-gen games to next-gen, offering improvements both new and returning players are sure to love.

Read our full Nioh Collection review.

Pac-Man 99

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Arika
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Pac-Man 99 follows deftly in the footsteps of Nintendo’s Tetris 99 to provide a near-perfect multiplayer Pac experience.

Read our Pac-Man 99 review.

Persona 5 Strikers

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Atlus
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Persona 5 Strikers is a fantastic sequel to the original game. It's fun, stylish, and sleek, a road trip to remember.

Read our full Persona 5 Strikers review.

Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: ILCA
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Despite some rough edges, Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are the best of modern and classic Pokemon.

Read our full review of Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl.

Psychonauts 2

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: Double Fine
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Psychonauts 2 is a brilliant, thoughtful sequel and one of the most creative experiences of the last generation.

Read our full Psychonauts 2 review.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Insomniac Games
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed)
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is an exemplary PS5 game, showing full well what the system is capable of — all while masterfully reviving a beloved series for the new generation.

Read our full Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart review.

Resident Evil Village

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Resident Evil Village has some of the biggest scares in the series to date, but it also has a peculiar feel to it, like a lot of story and gameplay was chopped out before launch.

Read our full Resident Evil Village review.

Resident Evil 4 VR

Publisher: Oculus Studios
Developer: Armature Studio
Platforms: Oculus Quest (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Resident Evil 4 VR is a brilliant port of an already fantastic game and the ideal way to experience Capcom's classic.

Read our full Resident Evil 4 VR review.


Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Housemarque
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Returnal is a tightly designed roguelike with some of the best gameplay the genre can provide, and it's the first game since Demon's Souls to provide a reason to own a PS5.

Read our full Returnal review.

Riders Republic

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5, Stadia, Amazon Luna
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Riders Republic boasts an open world full of exciting challenges, scenic views, and the freedom to tackle anything as you wish, making it a surprise hit for 2021.

Read our full Riders Republic review.

SaGa Frontier Remastered

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: You'll be hard-pressed to find many RPGs that are so enthralling from a combat and mechanical perspective, that suck you in with a myriad of questions about more than just story and ultimately compel you to do it again and again. 

Read our full SaGa Frontier Remastered review.

Scarlet Nexus

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC, Xbox One, Series X|S
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Scarlet Nexus is slick, stylish, smartly executed, and just all-around cool.

Read our full Scarlet Nexus review.


Publisher: Dear Villagers
Developer: Flying Oak Games
Platforms: PS Vita (reviewed), PC, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Like so many indies before it, roguelike Scourgebringer has found its true home on the PlayStation Vita. 

Read our full Scourgebringer review.

Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne Remastered

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Atlus
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Shin Megami Tensei 3 remastered might show its age in some places, but its narrative excellence remains unaltered.

Read our full Shin Megami 3: Nocturne Remastered review.

Shin Megami Tensei V

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Atlus
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Shin Megami Tensei V is a triumph, boasting a stellar narrative and combat system with unique style all its own.

Read our full Shin Megami Tensei V review.

Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon

Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Developer: Vine
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon brings one of the best puzzle games of the year while staying true to its roots.

Read our full Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon review.

Skul: The Hero Slayer

Publisher: Neowiz Games
Developer: SouthPAW Games
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: As endearing as it is challenging, Skul: The Hero Slayer takes the rogue-lite mechanics you know and adds some flair of its own and a unique take on the fantasy narrative.

Read our full Skul: The Hero Slayer review.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2

Publisher: CI Games
Developer: CI Games
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 delivers one of the best shooters of the year, with intense sniping, skillfully crafted progression, and engaging levels.

Read our full Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 review.

Solar Ash

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Heart Machine
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Solar Ash is a complete package, with stellar gameplay, a well-told story, and a realized world ripe for exploring.

Read our full Solar Ash review.

Song of Horror (Console Edition)

Publisher: Raiser Games
Developer: Protocol Games
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Whereas so many modern indie horror games can feel like on-rails haunted hayrides, Song of Horror keeps players on their toes.

Read our full Song of Horror review.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Publisher: Aspyr
Developer: Aspyr
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Overall, KOTOR on Nintendo Switch is well worth picking up. Not only is it relatively cheap at $15, it's still one of the very best RPGs you can play. And it's high on the list of the best Star Wars games available. There's a reason people want more KOTOR.

Read our full KOTOR Switch review.

Subnautica: Below Zero

Publisher: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The follow-up to Subnautica offers more of the same intriguing mix of gorgeous underwater exploration, survival and crafting, and fascinating alien intrigue. 

Read our full Subnautica: Below Zero review.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 10/10

What we said: With some of the cleverest level designs and a boundless sense of joy, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury is essential playing for any Mario fan.

Read our full Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury review.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is the best of classic Monkey Ball with some fantastic new touches to keep things interesting, though accessibility takes a back seat in these remakes.

Read our full Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania review.

Tails of Iron

Publisher: United Label
Developer: Odd Bug Studio
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Out of humble materials, Odd Bug Studios have created a rich, beautiful, and thrilling fantasy world in Tails of Iron.

Read our full Tails of Iron review.

Tales of Arise

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Tales of Arise heralds a brilliant new dawn for the series and is one of the best RPGs of the last generation.

Read our full Tales of Arise review.

The Artful Escape

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Beethoven & Dinosaur
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The Artful Escape is a kaleidoscopic coming-of-age story that is a joy to move through, even if the actual gameplay is sometimes hardly there.

Read our full review for The Artful Escape.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Despite a few pacing issues, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles takes the series to new heights with its splendid characters, storytelling, and setting.

Read our full Great Ace Attorney Chronicles review.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Tantalus Media
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Skyward Sword HD on Switch still suffers from backtracking and gimmicks, but its clever dungeons and engaging narrative make it one of the best games in the series.

Read our full Skyward Sword HD review.


Publisher: Thorium
Developer: Thorium
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: UnderMine on Switch is a strong, quirky roguelike full of personality that strikes a healthy balance between challenge and accessibility.

Read our full UnderMine review.


Publisher: Humble Bundle
Developer: Witch Beam
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Unpacking is simple in concept but complex, interesting, and ultimately meditative in execution. Simply put, it's delightful.

Read our full Unpacking review.

Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars is a quaint game that doesn't bring anything exceptionally new to the genre, but it is undeniably charming.

Read our full Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars review.

WarioWare: Get It Together

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 9/10

What we said: WarioWare: Get It Together is probably one of the best and most frantic multiplayer games on the Nintendo Switch.

Read our full WarioWare: Get It Together review.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse — Heart of the Forest

Publisher: Walkabout
Developer: Different Tales
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: A well-done and intelligent choose your own text adventure set in the venerable World of Darkness Werewolf RPG universe makes for a satisfying bit of interactive fiction.

Read our full Heart of the Forest review

Wraith: The Oblivion — Afterlife

Publisher: Fast Travel Games
Developer: Fast Travel Games
Platforms: Oculus Quest (reviewed), PC, PS4
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Wraith: The Oblivion — Afterlife is a thrilling VR horror game that engrosses on a level not seen since last year's Half-Life: Alyx Jeff sequence.

Read our full Wraith: The Oblivion — Afterlife review.


Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: Bugbear Entertainment
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Wreckfest is back with a fine next-gen port, going that extra mile with some wonderfully chaotic gameplay.

Read our full Wreckfest review.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox

Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Switch, Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is an outstanding RPG and a big step forward for Ys, with superb story, combat, and characters — plus one of the best settings in the series.

Read our full Ys IX: Monstrum Nox review.

That's it for our list of the best, highest-scored games of 2021. What were your favorite games? Let us know in the comments below! 

Video Game Release Calendar 2022: PC, PlayStation, Xbox, & Switch Mon, 27 Dec 2021 18:19:18 -0500 Jonathan Moore

If you're looking for a complete rundown of all of the video game releases for 2022 for PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch, you've come to the right place. This evolving calendar collects all of the known video game release dates for games out in 2022.

We'll be updating this list as more information becomes available or as release dates shift. Click the links below to jump to each month or to the TBD and TBA sections. 

2022 Video Game Release Date Calendar

January Releases

  • Deep Rock Galactic (PS4, PS5) — January 4
  • Monster Hunter Rise (PC) — January 12
  • Astroneer (Switch) — January 13
  • Shadow Man Remastered (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — January 13
  • Spelunky 2 (Xbox One, Series X|S) — January 13
  • The Anacrusis (PC, Xbox One, Series X|S) — January 13
  • God of War (PC) — January 14
  • Shadow Man Remastered (Switch) — January 17
  • Nobody Saves the World (PC, Xbox One, Series X|S) — January 18
  • River City Girls (PS5) — January 18
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch, iOS, Android) — January 18
  • Blackwind (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — January 20
  • Expeditions: Rome (PC) — January 20
  • Rainbow Six: Extraction (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Stadia, Amazon Luna) — January 20
  • Windjammers 2 (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch, Stadia) — January 20
  • Baby Storm (Switch) — January 21
  • Gnosia (PC) — January 23
  • Cities: Skylines Airports DLC (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — January 25
  • Reverie Knights Tactics (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — January 25
  • The Artful Escape (PS4, PS5, Switch) — January 25
  • Dread Hunger (PC) — January 26
  • Monster Harvest (PS5) — January 27
  • Circuit Superstars (PS4) — January 27
  • Pokemon Legends: Arceus (Switch) — January 28
  • Re:Turn 2 Runaway (PC, Xbox One, Switch) — January 28
  • Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection (PS5) — January 28

February Releases

  • Life is Strange: Remastered Collection (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia) — February 1
  • The Waylanders (PC) — February 2
  • Cavyhouse (PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — February 3
  • Paradise Marsh (PC) — February 3
  • Dying Light 2: Stay Human (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — February 4
  • Crusader Kings 3: Royal Court (PC) — February 8
  • Model Builder (PC) — February 8
  • Olli Olli World (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — February 8
  • Sifu (PC, PS4, PS5) — February 8
  • Zorya: The Celestial Sisters (PC, Switch) — February 8
  • Action Arcade Wrestling (Switch) — February 9
  • Backbone (Switch) — February 9
  • GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon (Switch) — February 9
  • Castle Morihisa (PC, Switch) — February 10
  • Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue (Switch) — February 10
  • Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5+2.5 ReMix (Switch) — February 10
  • Kingdom Hearts III + Re Mind (Switch) — February 10
  • CrossfireX (Xbox One, Series X|S) — February 10
  • Edge of Eternity (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — February 10
  • Kingdom of the Dead (PC) — February 10
  • Know by Heart (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — February 10
  • The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — February 10
  • Kingdom of the Dead (PC) — February 11
  • Lost Ark (PC) — February 11
  • Not Tonight 2 (PC) — February 11
  • Claustrophobia (PC) — February 14
  • Infernax (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — February 14
  • Cyberpunk 2077 (PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — February 14
  • Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — February 15
  • Super Dungeon Maker (PC) — February 15
  • Home Behind 2 (PC) — February 16
  • Assassin's Creed The Ezio Collection (Switch) — February 17
  • King of Fighters 15 (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — February 17
  • Total War: Warhammer 3 (PC) — February 17
  • Horizon Forbidden West (PS4, PS5) — February 18
  • Rover Mechanic Simulator (Switch) — February 18
  • Deadness (PC) — February 22
  • Destiny 2: The Witch Queen (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Stadia) — February 22
  • Monark (PC, PS4, PS5, Switch) — February 22
  • Edge of Eternity (Switch Cloud Version) — February 23
  • Clouzy! (PC, Xbox One) — February 24
  • Dusk Diver 2 (PC) — February 24
  • Martha is Dead (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — February 24
  • Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream (PS4, Switch) — February 25
  • Elden Ring (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — February 25
  • GRID: Legends (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — February 25

March Releases

  • Conan Chop Chop (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — March 1
  • Elex II (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — March 1
  • Hero's Hour (PC) — March 1
  • Pants Quest (PC) — March 1
  • Shadow Warrior 3 (PC, PS4, Xbox One) — March 1
  • The Cruel King and the Great Hero (PS4, Switch) — March 1
  • 35mm (PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — March 2
  • Babylon's Fall (PC, PS4, PS5) — March 3
  • Beholder 3 (PC) — March 3
  • Farm Manager 2022 (Xbox One, Series X|S) — March 3
  • Gran Turismo 7 (PS5) — March 4
  • Triangle Strategy (Switch) — March 4
  • Ironsmith Medieval Simulator (PC) — March 9
  • Ashwalkers (Switch) — March 10
  • Aztech Forgotten Gods (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — March 10
  • Chocobo GP Racers (Switch) — March 10
  • Distant Worlds 2 (PC) — March 10
  • Submerged: Hidden Depths (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — March 10
  • Workshop Simulator (PC, PS4, Xbox One) — March 10
  • Young Souls (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — March 10
  • Golden Light (PC) — March 10
  • Syndrome (Switch) — March 11
  • Grand Theft Auto 5 (PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — March 15
  • Phantom Breaker: Omnia (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — March 15
  • Tunic (PC, Xbox One) — March 16
  • Dark Deity (Switch) —  March 17
  • Monster Energy Supercross: The Official Video Game 5 (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) —  March 17
  • Onde (PC) —  March 17
  • Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (PC, PS4, Switch) —  March 17
  • Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — March 18
  • Rune Factory 5 (Switch) — March 22
  • Animal Shelter Simulator (PC) — March 23
  • Crusader Kings 3 (PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — March 23
  • A Memoir Blue (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — March 24
  • Expedition Zero (PC) — March 24
  • Imp of the Sun (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — March 24
  • Mr. Prepper (PS, PS5) — March 24
  • Norco (PC) — March 24
  • The Ascent (PS4, PS5) — March 24
  • Ghostwire: Tokyo (PC, PS5) — March 25
  • Kirby and the Forgotten Land (Switch) — March 25
  • Tiny Tina's Wonderlands (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — March 25
  • Tunche (PS4) — March 25
  • Kowloon Highschool Chronicle (PS4) — March 26
  • Abermore (PC) — March 29
  • Crystar (Switch) — March 29
  • In Nightmare (PS4, PS5) — March 29
  • Death Stranding: Director's Cut (PC) — March 29
  • Green Hell: Spirits of Amazonia Part 3 (PC) — March 29
  • Agent Intercept (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — March 30
  • Cat in MeowmeowLand (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — March 30
  • Dead Man's Diary (PC) — March 30
  • Coromon (PC) — March 31
  • Lawn Mowing Simulator (PS4, PS5) — March 31
  • Midnight Ghost Hunt (PC: Early Access) — March 31
  • Moss: Book 2 (PS4) — March 31
  • Weird West (PC, PS4, Xbox One) — March 31
  • Tropico 6 Next Gen Edition (PS5, Series X|S) — March 31

April Releases

  • Craft Hero (PC: Early Access) — April 1
  • Before We Leave (PS4, PS5) — April 5
  • LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — April 5
  • MLB The Show 22 (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — April 5
  • Chinatown Detective Agency (PC, Xbox One, Switch) — April 7
  • Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — April 7
  • Forgive Me Father (PC) — April 7
  • Green Hell VR: Quest Edition (Quest 2) — April 7
  • Happy's Humble Burger Farm (Switch) — April 7
  • Janitor Bleeds (PC, Xbox) — April 7
  • The House of the Dead Remake (Switch) — April 7
  • Total War: Medieval II (iOS, Android) — April 7
  • Lake (PS4, PS5) — April 8
  • Serious Sam: Tormental (PC) — April 8
  • 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (Switch) — April 12
  • Biota (PC) — April 12
  • Car Detailing Simulator (PC) — April 13
  • Cat Cafe Manager (PC) — April 14
  • Crimesight (PC) — April 14
  • Nobody Saves the World (PS4, PS5, Switch) — April 14
  • Pop Slinger (PC) — April 14
  • Sockventure (Switch) — April 14
  • Tormented Souls (Switch) — April 14
  • Aircraft Carrier Survival (PC) — April 20
  • Ember Knights (PC: Early Access) — April 20
  • Liberated: Enhanced Edition (PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S) — April 20
  • Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Switch) — April 20
  • Anuchard (PC, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — April 21
  • Chernobylite (PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — April 21
  • Godlike Burger (PC) — April 21
  • The Last Friend (Switch) — April 21
  • Bit Orchard: Animal Valley (Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — April 22
  • Neptunia X Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars (Switch) — April 22
  • Out of the Park Baseball 23 (PC) — April 22
  • Turbo Overkill (PC: Early Access) — April 22
  • Dune: Spice Wars (PC: Early Access) — April 26
  • King Arthur: Knight's Tale (PC) — April 26
  • The Serpent Rogue (PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Switch) — April 26
  • Zombie Army 4 (Switch) — April 26
  • Bloodhunt (PC, PS5) — April 27
  • Prehistoric Kingdom (PC: Early Access) — April 27
  • Arise: A Simple Story Definitive Edition (Switch) — April 28
  • As Far As The Eye (Switch) — April 28
  • Bugsnax: The Isle of Bigsnax (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — April 28
  • Cities VR (Quest 2) — April 28
  • HunterX (PC) — April 28
  • Kaiju Wars (PC) — April 28
  • RICO London (Xbox One, Series X|S) — April 28
  • Rogue Legacy 2 (PC, Xbox One, Series X|S) — April 28
  • Tasomachi: Behind the Twilight (PS4, Switch) — April 28
  • Nintendo Switch Sports (Switch) — April 29

May Releases

  • Dungeon Defenders: Awakened (PS4, PS5) — May 3
  • Loot River (PC, Xbox One, Series X|S) — May 3
  • Oaken (PC: Early Access) — May 3
  • Dinosaur Fossil Hunter (PC) — May 4
  • Citizen Sleeper (PC, Xbox, Switch) — May 5
  • Trek to Yomi (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — May 5
  • MythBusters: The First Experiment (PC) — May 5
  • Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit (PC) — May 6
  • Deadly Broadcast (PC) — May 9
  • Eiyuden Chronicle Rising (PC, PS4, PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — May 10
  • NIS Classics Vol. 2 (Switch) — May 10
  • Salt and Sacrifice (PC, PS4, PS5) — May 10
  • Songs of Conquest (PC: Early Access) — May 10
  • This War of Mine: Final Cut (PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — May 10
  • Unpacking (PS4, PS5) — May 10
  • We Were Here Forever (PC) — May 10
  • Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia (PC) — May 11
  • Soundfall (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — May 11
  • Source of Madness (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch)  — May 11
  • Achilles Legends Untold (PC: Early Access) — May 12
  • Cloud Gardens (Switch) — May 12
  • Stellaris: Overlord (PC) — May 12
  • The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story (PC, PS4, PS5, Switch) — May 12
  • Cantata (PC: Early Access) — May 12
  • Harvest Days (PC: Early Access) — May 12
  • Evil Dead: The Game (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — May 13
  • Figment 2: Creed Valley (PC, Switch) — May 15
  • Deadcraft (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — May 19
  • Vampire: The Masquerade Swansong (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — May 19
  • Dolmen (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — May 20
  • Cotton Fantasy (PC, PS4, Switch) — May 20
  • Crossfire: Legion (PC: Early Access) — May 24
  • Hardspace: Shipbreaker (PC) — May 24
  • Green Hell Spirits of Amazonia Parts 1 + 2 (PS4, Xbox One) — May 25
  • Ni No Kuni Cross Worlds (PC, iOS, Android) — May 25
  • Sniper Elite 5 (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — May 25
  • My Time at Sandrock (PC: Early Access) — May 26
  • Out There: Oceans of Time (PC) — May 26
  • Kao the Kangaroo (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Switch) — May 27
  • SnowRunner (PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — May 31

June Releases

  • Lake (Stadia) — June 1
  • Silt (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — June 1
  • Behind the Frame (PS4, Switch) — June 2
  • Card Shark (PC, Switch) — June 2
  • Diablo Immortal (PC, iOS, Android) — June 2
  • Gigapocalypse (PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — June 2
  • Souldiers (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — June 2
  • Spellforce III: Reforced (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — June 7
  • Yurukill: The Calumniation Games (PS4, PS5, Switch) — June 7
  • Star Wars: KOTOR II (Switch) — June 8
  • Green Hell VR (Steam VR) — June 9
  • Tour de France 2022 (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — June 9
  • Pro Cycling Manager (PC) — June 9
  • Demon Slayer - Kimetsu no Yaiba - The Hinokami Chronicles (Switch) — June 10
  • Mario Strikers: Battle League (Switch) — June 10
  • Metal Max Xeno: Reborn (PC, PS4, Switch) — June 10
  • Project Warlock II (PC: Early Access) — June 10
  • The Quarry (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — June 10
  • Deadly Premonition 2 (PC) — June 11
  • Symphony of War (PC) — June 11
  • Lumbearjack (PC, Switch) — June 13
  • Jurassic World Evolution 2: Dominion Biosyn Expansion (PC, PlayStation, Xbox) — June 14
  • Lumbearjack (Xbox One, Series X|S) — June 14
  • Blackguards 2 (Switch)  — June 15
  • Frozenheim (PC) — June 16
  • Horgihugh and Friends (Switch) — June 16
  • Mothergunship: Forge (Quest 2, Valve Index) — June 16
  • Neon White (PC, Switch) — June 16
  • OmegaBot (PC) — June 16
  • Redout 2 (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — June 16
  • Skeleton Crew (PC) — June 16
  • Starship Troopers: Terran Command (PC) — June 16
  • Surviving the Aftermath: New Alliances (PC) — June 16
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — June 16
  • The Sims 4: Werewolves (PC, PlayStation, Xbox) — June 16
  • Zorro The Chronicles (PC, PS4, PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — June 16
  • OMORI (Switch) — June 17
  • West Hunt (PC EA) — June 17
  • Grindstone (PC) — June 20
  • Anvil Saga (PC EA) — June 21
  • Mago (PC) — June 21
  • Mindfulness Simulator (PC) — June 21
  • Oddworld: Soulstorm (PC) — June 21
  • Shadowrun Trilogy (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — June 21
  • Wreckfest (Switch) — June 21
  • Redo! (PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Switch) — June 22
  • Deliver Us the Moon (PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — June 23
  • Disney Mirrorverse (iOS, Android) — June 23
  • Naraka: Bladepoint (Xbox Series X|S) — June 23
  • Sonic Origins (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — June 23
  • AI: The Somnium Files -- Nirvana Initiative (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — June 24
  • Capcom Fighting Collection (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — June 24
  • Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes (Switch) — June 24
  • Birushana (Switch) — June 28
  • Disgaea 6 Complete (PC, PS4, PS5) — June 28
  • DNF Duel (PC, PS4, PS5) — June 28
  • MTX vs. ATV Legends (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — June 28
  • Outriders Worldslayer (PC, PS4, Ps5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — June 28
  • Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — June 30
  • Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak (PC, Switch) — June 30

July Releases

  • F1 2022 (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — July 1
  • FireSquad (PC) — July 1
  • Witch Strandings (PC) — July 7
  • Arcadegeddon (PC, PS5) — July 8
  • Madison (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — July 8
  • KLONOA Phantasy Reverie Series (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — July 8
  • Neon Blight (PC) — July 11
  • Time on Frog Island (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch, Stadia) — July 12
  • Xel (PC) — July 12
  • Loopmancer (PC) — July 13
  • Rune Factory 5 (PC) — July 13
  • Tamarindo's Freaking Dinner (PC) — July 13
  • Eyes in the Dark: The Curious Case of One Victoria Bloom (PC) — July 14
  • Xel (Switch) — July 14
  • Endling — Extinction is Forever (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — July 19
  • Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels (PC, Xbox) — July 19
  • Deer Journey (PC) — July 21
  • River City Saga (PC, PS4, Switch) — July 21
  • Wayward Strand (PC, PS4, PS5) — July 21
  • Capcom Arcade Stadium 2 (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — July 22
  • Live A Live (Switch) — July 22
  • Fire Commander (PC) — July 27
  • Bear & Breakfast (PC, Switch) — July 28
  • Digimon Survive (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — July 29
  • Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town (PS4) — July 29
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 3 (Switch) — July 29

August Releases

  • The Gallery (PC, PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, iOS, Android) — August 1
  • Turbo Golf Racing (PC, Xbox One, Series X|S) — August 4
  • Retreat to Enen (PC) — August 5
  • Thymesia (PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — August 9
  • Two Point Campus (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — August 9
  • Cult of the Lamb (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — August 11
  • Grid Force: Mask of the Goddess (PC, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — August 11
  • Madden NFL 23 (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — August 19
  • Midnight Flight Express (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) — August 23
  • Saints Row (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — August 23
  • I Was a Teenage Ecocolonist (PC) — August 25
  • SD Gundam Battle Alliance (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — August 25
  • NHRA: Speed for All (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — August 26
  • Soul Hackers 2 (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — August 26
  • Destroy All Humans! 2 (PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — August 30
  • Tinykin (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One Series X|S, Switch) — August 30
  • Scathe (PC) — August 31

September Releases

  • Gerda: A Flame in Winter (PC, Switch) — September 1
  • Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle R (PC) — September 1
  • Ooblets 1.0 (PC, Xbox One, Series X|S) — September 1
  • Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battel R (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — September 2
  • LEGO Brawls (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch)— September 2
  • OmegaBot (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Switch) — September 2
  • The Last of Us Part 1 (PS5) — September 2
  • Biomutant (PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — September 6
  • Life in Willowdale: Farm Adventures (PC, PS4, PS5, Switch) — September 6
  • RE: Legend (PC) — September 6
  • Temtem 1.0 (PC, PS5, Series X|S, Switch) — September 6
  • Steel Rising (PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — September 8
  • NBA 2K23 (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — September 9
  • Splatoon 3 (Switch) — September 9
  • Isonzo (PC) — September 13
  • Warhammer 40,000: Darktide (PC, Xbox Series X|S) — September 13
  • You Suck at Parking (PC, Xbox One, Series X|S) — September 14
  • Absolute Tactics: Daughters of Mercy (PC, Switch) — September 15
  • Metal: Hellsinger (PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — September 15
  • Outer Wilds (PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — September 15
  • Whateverland (PC) — September 15
  • Soulstice (PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — September 20
  • Scrap Riders (PC, Switch) — September 21
  • No Place for Bravery (PC, Switch) — September 22
  • Potion Permit (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — September 22
  • Serial Cleaners (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — September 22
  • Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — September 22
  • The DioField Chronicle (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — September 22
  • Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythm Festival (Switch) — September 23
  • Moonscars (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — September 27
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero (PC, PS4, Switch) — September 27
  • Brewmaster (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — September 29
  • Railgrade (PC) — September 29
  • Undungeon (PS4, Switch) — September 29
  • Airoheart (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — September 30

October Releases

  • No More Heroes III (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — October 4
  • Overwatch 2 (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — October 4
  • Triple Take (PC) — October 6
  • No Man's Sky (Switch) — October 7
  • Coral Island (PC EA) — October 11
  • Unusual Findings (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — October 12
  • Cultic (PC) — October 13
  • Triangle Strategy (PC) — October 13
  • Dragon Ball: The Breakers (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — October 14
  • Nickelodeon Kart Racers 3 (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — October 14
  • A Plague Tale: Requiem (PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — October 18
  • Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — October 18
  • Batora: Lost Haven (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — October 20
  • Mario + Rabbids: Spark of Hope (Switch) — October 20
  • Norco (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — October 20
  • Scorn (PC, Xbox Series X|S) — October 21
  • Gotham Knights (PC, PS5, Series X|S) — October 25
  • Saturnalia (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — October 27
  • Bayonetta 3 (Switch) — October 28
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 — October 28
  • The Unliving (PC EA) — October 31

November Releases

  • Humankind (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — November 4
  • Sonic Frontiers (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — November 8
  • God of War Ragnarok (PS4, PS5) — November 9
  • Company of Heroes 3 (PC) — November 17
  • Pokemon Scarlet & Violet (Switch) — November 18
  • Evil West (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — November 22

December Releases

  • Marvel's Midnight Suns (PC PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — December 2
  • The Callisto Protocol (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — December 2
  • Hello Neighbor 2 (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S) — December 6
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl (PC, Xbox Series X|S) — December 8

TBD Releases 2022

  • Commandos 3 HD Remaster (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Game Pass, Switch) — September
  • Lemon Cake (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch) — September
  • Scourgebringer (iOS, Android) — September
  • Sword Ship (PC, PlayStation, Xbox, Switch) — September
  • Astronite (PS4, PS5, Switch) — October
  • Sons of the Forest (PC) — October
  • Syberia: The World Before (PS5, Xbox Series X|S) — November

TBA Releases 2022

  • 30XX (1.0)
  • 9 Years of Shadows
  • Advance Wars 1+2
  • Afterimage
  • Afterlove EP
  • Aliisha — The Oblivion of Twin Goddesses
  • Amnesia: Memories
  • Amnesia: Later x Crowd
  • Asterigos: Curse of the Stars
  • Blood Bowl 3
  • Boyfriend Dungeon: Secret Weapons
  • Brewmaster: Beer Brewing Simulator
  • Dead Space Remake
  • Deathverse: Let It Die
  • Demon's Mirror
  • Disney Speedstorm
  • Earth From Another Sun
  • Elderand
  • Eville
  • Exo One
  • Exophobia
  • Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed
  • Gigabash
  • Goat Simulator 3
  • Goodbye Volcano High
  • GRIME (Switch)
  • Gundam Evolution
  • Homeworld 3
  • I am Future
  • Immortality
  • Inkulinati
  • Ixion
  • Little Orpheus
  • Loco Motive
  • LotR: Gollum
  • Metal Slug Tactics
  • Moon Farming
  • Moroi
  • Mortal Sin
  • Nightingale (PC EA)
  • Nobody — The Turnaround
  • No Man's Sky (Switch)
  • Not Tonight 2 (console)
  • One Lonely Outpost
  • Outbreak Island
  • Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous (console)
  • Phantom Galaxies
  • Planet of Lana
  • Portal: Companion Collection
  • Potion Craft: Alchemist Simulator
  • Priest Simulator
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Remake
  • Read Only Memories: Neurodiver
  • Red Frost
  • Restless Soul
  • River City Girls 2
  • Road Diner Simulator
  • Rocksmith+
  • Sable (PS5)
  • Samurai Gunn 2 (Switch)
  • Sea of Stars
  • Serial Cleaners
  • Shadows of Doubt
  • She Dreams Elsewhere
  • Slaycation Paradise
  • Slime Rancher 2
  • Somerville
  • Sonic Frontiers
  • Star Ocean The Divine Force
  • Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town (PS4)
  • subROV : Underwater Discoveries
  • Super Dungeon Maker (Switch)
  • Sword Art Online Variant Showdown
  • Tchia
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection
  • Teravit
  • The Courier
  • The DioField Chronicle
  • The Fabulous Fear Machine
  • The Fridge is Red
  • The Last Hero of Nostalgia
  • The Smugglers
  • The Outlast Trials
  • There is No Light
  • Tower of Fantasy
  • Two Point Campus (Switch)
  • Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection (PC)
  • Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi (PS5)
  • Valkyrie Elysium
  • Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines 2
  • Voidtrain
  • Wanted Dead
  • We Are OFK
  • Witchfire (PC EA)
  • Wipeout Rush
  • Wizard With a Gun
  • World Championship Boxing Manager II

And those are all of the video game release dates for 2022 for PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch so far. All of these releases could change as we move throughout the year, so be sure to bookmark this page for quick and easy reference! 

Sifu Preview: Rumble in the Club Wed, 15 Dec 2021 11:00:01 -0500 Kenneth Seward Jr.

Sloclap is quickly becoming one of my favorite developers. It started with Absolver, the studio’s first game, that captured my attention with stylized design and fluid, somewhat realistic, combat. And while Absolver didn’t land every punch upon release, I felt that for fans of the genre, it was — and still is — worth checking out.

Now we have Sifu on the horizon, an upcoming beat’em/action-adventure game from the same developers. Like Absolver, it too looks great in trailers. The anticipation of something grand is palpable at times. Thankfully, based on my recent time with a preview build, I can wholeheartedly say that Sifu doesn’t just look good: It’s also pretty damn fun to play!

Sifu follows the story of a kung fu student  a seemingly young practitioner of Pak Mei  who’s looking for a group of assassins responsible for murdering his family and martial arts teacher. The goal is to hunt these assassins down to learn why they attacked his home and potentially dispose of them. This, of course, is easier said than done. The assassins can be tricky to find, are protected by strong fighters, and are far more seasoned at this than he is. At least, for now.

Sifu’s premise is interesting enough. What makes Sifu so compelling, though, is its combat and self-resurrection systems. The physics-based fighting is designed to be somewhat realistic. Flashy attacks look great, but it’s their relative nature and how they impact your surroundings that really stand out.

On paper, the resurrection mechanic is akin to the system found in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice; when you die in combat, you can use a magical pendant to resurrect, continuing the fight immediately. The difference in Sifu is that our nameless protagonist grows older with each resurrection. Grow too old before completing your quest, and the game is over.

All of that sounded good to me before playing Sifu. After spending a few hours in-game, I got a better understanding of its story and how these gameplay mechanics work together. The demo build I was given starts during the first half of the second chapter. And while it didn’t offer all of Sloclap’s planned features – a tutorial, photo mode, certain progression-based elements, and so on – it did have enough systems present to give me a good impression of what’s to come. 

Sifu opens inside a Wuguan, which looks to be a living space or dojo of sorts that you can visit between missions. A notes-board highlights important figures and locations, a window acts as mission select, and a wooden training dummy allows you to access a training room among a few other odds and ins. After spending some time familiarizing myself with the buttons and combos in the training room, I dived headfirst into the available mission, an assault on The Club.

I died — a lot. I was able to parry attacks, chain together a few combos, and even dispatch a boss in a stylized fashion. But I still died way more than I thought I should have before the preview build ended. The enemies you’ll face in Sifu aren’t exactly pushovers, and blindly whaling on them isn’t smart. Waiting to parry every attack, done by blocking right before enemies land a hit, wasn’t the move either. Playing conservatively and going all out were both equally detrimental to my efforts. It wasn’t until I remembered how Sifu incorporates physics and relative interactions with the environment that I stopped getting thrashed. 

During my second playthrough, I was far more methodical. I’d move around to not to get surrounded, toss items at enemies, dodge more – I started to control rooms better. I still died a few times, but it was mainly because I wasn't familiar with a particular enemy’s attack pattern, not because I was being easily overwhelmed like before.

In Sifu, knowing how and when to use your different abilities is critical. Parrying leaves enemies vulnerable to follow-up attacks. Dodging negates incoming strikes but, like parrying, has to be timed well. Blocking is also an option, but doing so damages your posture, and once broken, it's impossible to negate attacks for a few seconds. What you choose to do during any fight depends on preference and circumstance. Parrying is risky, especially when surrounded, but trying to block everything will get you killed much faster. 

Your offensive options are similar in that regard. Fast attacks soften up enemies while slower/stronger attacks usually send enemies flying. If you miss an attack or have your attacks blocked, you’ll pause for a moment before following up.

Items around the environment can be thrown or kicked into foes, knocking them down so you can focus on someone else or create space to catch your breath. That said, these same items can be picked up by enemies, potentially making matters worse. A focus move that slows down time can get you out of a sticky situation, but it’s regulated by a focus meter that needs to be refilled by landing basic attacks.

Sifu’s various enemies can do most of what you can. That includes parrying, dodging, and using items. They can even use your abilities against you. Damage an enemy enough, and you’ll have the opportunity to perform a powerful finishing move by pressing two buttons simultaneously, ending the fight early. However, if an enemy parries this move, they’ll evolve into a stronger version of themselves. What were initially tough fights are now mini-boss encounters. 

That's is why situational awareness is so important in Sifu. Sliding into combat range and throwing a few punches can work. Or you can parry an attack, pick up a bottle, and knock a foe silly. Or you can kick them into someone else, causing them enemies to fall over a railing. But your choices are dependent on the situation at hand.

Because enemies react to the environment realistically, you can often manipulate them into situations that put you in a better position or cause them to harm each other. This idea applies to every move you make. Grabbing someone presents a simple throw. Grabbing them while close to a wall might have you slam their head into it.

I enjoyed my time with Sifu after these things clicked. The dynamic and inventive ways of approaching combat are enthralling for the most part. Playing Sifu is like being in a Jackie Chan film; the ability to use anything and everything to dispatch foes makes each brawl feel fresh, even after revisiting the same location multiple times.

The aging mechanic bolsters this. Every time you die, you get older. With that comes experience. Not only will your character hit harder, but they’ll also have the opportunity to learn new moves. You’ll rise from death as a more significant threat with more options at your fingertips. You’ll be weaker in stature (for balance’s sake) but still a potential beast in battle.   

But combat isn’t without its faults. Namely, Sifu treats its established rules unequally. One of my favorite things to do is counter an enemy’s attack. For instance, I performed a leg sweep as an opponent was about to throw a punch. Connecting first, I knocked them to the ground, creating a domino effect. Another character, who was running up behind the one I had just dispatched, tripped over the fallen body. Instead of just throwing punches, I used my head and took out two foes with one move. It was brilliant. Unfortunately, this sort of thing doesn’t work with certain telegraphed moves.

Some enemy attacks are powerful enough to withstand anything. A bottle to the face may not stop someone from performing a spinning kick. And it probably wouldn’t be possible to stop someone who’s flying through the air with a kick of my own. But there were times I thought I could counter a particular punch only to be sent flying through a table.

For whatever reason, certain enemy attacks are prioritized to the point of breaking Sifu’s physics-based rules. This often results in what feels like cheap shots, a gamey mechanic that arbitrarily increases how difficult the game can be at any given time.

Unchecked, this sort of uneven treatment could tarnish an otherwise great experience. Not so much because it creates "cheap" moments, but because Sifu's roguelike elements alter how one approaches any given mission. It is possible to age out and permanently die, requiring what amounts to a restart. No one wants to start a new “run” after being killed while adhering to established rules.

Thankfully, some other aspects of Sifu somewhat negate this. The protagonist’s note-board documents important information, which carries over after death. Learn the password to a secret entrance or snag a keycard from a minion, and you’ll be able to use that info/item on your next run, potentially avoiding needless fights.

Dragon Shrines can unlock boons like health regen whenever you subdue a foe. Aging allows you to learn some new abilities. Achieving a specific overall combat score gives you others. Essentially, there are a ton of options to improve your character’s chances of staving off death.

I believe Sloclap has outdone themselves. Even in this early state, Sifu stands over Absolver as I did a defeated foe. Respect was given, but one was clearly superior.

A few things need to be addressed to make Sifu’s combat feel consistently challenging but fair. Beyond that, though, I’m pleased with what’s here. And that’s before even mentioning the stylish visuals, solid soundtrack, and interesting story bits. Sifu’s February 8, 2022 release date can’t get here soon enough!

Dying Light 2 Developer Interview: How Real History Shapes the Post Apocalypse Thu, 18 Nov 2021 15:38:05 -0500 Justin Koreis

Dying Light 2: Stay Human shows every indication of massively improving on the already very solid original. Its tighter controls, greater verticality, and satisfying action weren’t lost on us in our hands-on preview. But it was improvements to the narrative and the fleshed-out characters that really stood out. It is fortuitous, then, that we had the chance to sit down with Piotr Szymanek, Narrative Director for Dying Light 2, and discuss what's in store. 

Dying Light 2, Szymanek tells me, takes place 20 years after the original. Humanity is living in a new Dark Ages. Civilization, as we know it, has collapsed, and people are trying to build a new civilization from scratch.

“There is no London, there is no Rome, there is no Paris anymore. Everything that is still on the planet is very, very small Survivor camps. And Pilgrims are responsible for the contact between those survivors.” 

You play as Aiden Caldwell, one of these Pilgrims. These are the people that make the dangerous trek from settlement to settlement, connecting the disparate communities found in Dying Light 2. These are hardened people, often ex-criminals, who don’t fit in with other Survivors. Szymanek describes them as “pretty brave, and pretty desperate”. Aiden is searching for his sister, and comes to the city of Villador to find answers.  

“At the beginning of the pandemic, people found many infected inside (Villador), so they built walls surrounding the city from the outer world. But what was from the beginning the curse of the city, because the infection was found there, eventually saved the city and its inhabitants.” 

Being ground zero gave those in Villador a chance to study the virus before the world collapsed. They developed the biomarker, which suppresses the effects of the zombie-like infection, allowing them some level of control over the disease. Everyone in the city is infected, but only some have turned into the monsters crawling the streets.

“The people," Szymanek says, “are still just infected, but fighting the infection every day. That’s why ‘Still Human’ is our subtitle for the game. Because it’s always the struggle to stay human.” 

The Living, the Dead, and the Living-Dead 

This idea of people trying to simply live their lives in this new Dark Age is deep in the DNA of Dying Light 2.

“Humankind has always struggled with very big and sometimes hard moments. But what we as a species have in common is that we can live in every extreme condition.”

Szymanek looked to real examples from human history for inspiration. The fall of Rome, the collapse of ancient Greece, eras where the most sophisticated civilizations collapsed. Actual periods of societal decay provided a blueprint for what may happen.  

“What happened back then, was not like, you know, the whole civilization just wiped out and medieval times were built on nothing. They used what the Roman Empire established, but they used it in a different way. That's exactly what people in Villador were doing. They're rebuilding the civilization on the scratches of the last one.” 

According to Szymanek, everyday items like refrigerators and televisions that no longer function still have uses. It's why weapons are makeshift, and crafting is haphazard.

One early mission has you helping a would-be craftsman make a simple electric fence to control livestock. The results aren’t quite what he had in mind, but what he makes can be repurposed into a helpful weapon mod. The world-building informs the game systems in a very deliberate way. 

Deep Characters in a Dark World 

“When we were creating characters, we’re always asking ourselves, 'What was this guy or this woman doing before the pandemic, before it all went to hell?'”

The original Dying Light was well regarded, but NPC’s had a tendency to blend together. Making fleshed-out people, with their own lives and motivations, was a focus for this sequel.

Szymanek gives me an example of a boy you can encounter, looking for his lost dog. The boy is a serious canine enthusiast, and, as kids tend to, wears his enthusiasm on his sleeve.

“The reference to him was, for example, Tim from Jurassic Park, who was like crazy into dinos. So, we have this boy who is crazy about dogs. And he's constantly talking to the player about some interesting stuff about dogs all the time. So, yeah, every time in with each character, we are asking ourselves, 'Who he was, what he wants, what's his journey? What will be his character's arc?'” 

Choices Matter in Dying Light 2 

Advancing the narrative and world-building also means reinforcing the importance of choices. There are different factions with competing interests, and it’s up to you as Aiden to decide who to support and when. These decisions alter the path of the story and are reflected in the city. According to Szymanek, there are three types of choices players make.

“First, the most important choices in the game will influence the finale, the end game itself. It will influence with whom will you end the story, how the city will look like when they end the story.”

These are largely the choices in the core narrative. Think about the big decisions you make in something like Mass Effect. Different playthroughs will have branching stories and different endings depending on what you choose.

“The second one is obviously inside the quests. So for example, if the NPC will be your ally or not, or you will get rewarded for what you've done or not.”

I saw that first hand in my preview. Dialogue choices can make you friends and enemies. People living in the world may come to you for help, or threaten your life over limited supplies.

The third type is the City Alignment system. There are key buildings and zones to capture. Once you do capture them, you must decide which city faction gets control. In the first region, for example, you can choose between the paramilitary Peacekeepers or the more cooperative and community-focused Bazaarians.

“Peacekeepers are using completely different kinds of survival than Bazaarians do, and there will be more patrols in the city. So there will be fewer infected. But when you will give the same structure to Bazaarians, you will find more zip lines, you will find more equipment to do the parkour.”

Dying Light 2: Stay Human is a game of great promise. Leaning into its world-building and well-developed characters may be just what the series needs to take a step forward and join the iconoclasts of the post-apocalypse genre.

The way choices affect the story is intriguing. Whether developer Techland can deliver on these promising elements remains to be seen, but we will find out when Dying Lights 2: Stay Human releases for Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch Cloud Games, and PC on February 4, 2022. 

Elden Ring Network Test Impressions: Guiding Grace Wed, 17 Nov 2021 17:33:16 -0500 John Schutt

Elden Ring appears to be the best of every mainline Souls entry in the genre. It takes the most successful ideas from Dark Souls 1 through Dark Souls 3 and puts them to work in a gorgeous open world.

FromSoftware didn’t have to do as much of the lore work this time, of course: George R.R. Martin is responsible for the vast majority of that. But the enemy designs, demanding yet precise gameplay, and world-class visual and musical direction are all straight out of the Hidetaka Miyazaki playbook.

I spent about eight hours roaming a small section of The Lands Between, Elden Ring’s worldspace, taking in the sights, beating down bosses, and learning what’s new and what isn’t. I watched hours and hours of Elden Ring's co-op and PvP too. Let's see what we can learn about it.

Prepare to Explore (and Die)

The Elden Ring Network Test only gave players access to a small portion of the world map, though we could see beyond the boundaries for a fair distance. We met a few NPCs and experimented with a limited set of systems.

There were nine bosses available to fight, but only one main story boss. We also saw a portion of one of the game’s Legacy Dungeons, Stormveil Castle, which should feel familiar to those who’ve experienced the architecture of Dark Souls 1 and DS 3.

The difference in Elden Ring is the scale of everything. Stormveil looks to be far more expansive than almost any of the environments we’ve seen in previous titles, with only Lothric Castle from Dark Souls 3 offering a seemingly similar size, if not complexity. If Stormveil is as extensive and multi-layered as it appears from the gates, the closest comparison would be the Painted World of Ariamis but expanded severalfold.

The field leading up to the Castle, part of a place called Limgrave, appears closest in scope to The Great Plateau in Breath of the Wild. There’s much more to find in Limgrave, however, and none of it is friendly. In fact, the first enemy you encounter is a golden-armored knight on a similarly gilded horse, and they are more than happy to flatten and/or bifurcate you at the first opportunity.

For this reason, and many others, put your concerns about Elden Ring’s difficulty to rest. Enemies are aggressive, they deal significant damage, and they attack in great numbers. Or at least with big swords. You can alleviate some of the up-front challenges by using magic, but those resources are limited, and you’ll eventually have to take the fight to your enemies.

FromSoftware’s love of surprise attacks, unfair fights, and general shenanigans is unchanged. One encounter initially appeared to be a simple hill assault through some archers, but quickly turned on its head when a giant with a sword in its chest jumped down to pancake any foolish enough to walk in without caution.

You’ll see similar giants pulling carriages with loot in Limgrave as well. Horse-riding mercenaries fill the space between, as do rank and file soldiers and thoughtless undead who serve almost no threat.

Hidden throughout the world are small dungeons, promising rewards if you can survive the trials within. There were six of these total in the small space we could play in, and each came with an end boss. The dungeon bosses offered less challenge than the single story boss, but they were all unique, weird, and demanded different strategies to overcome.

The side dungeons were fairly small, with the smallest being a boss arena and a loot room. The largest was a modestly-sized ore mine with multiple levels and enemy types to fight. The mine boss was, oddly enough, a Dark Souls 2 boss in all but name. Seeing the almost one-for-one design was surprising, as the second entry in the Souls series remains the most divisive.

That commitment to evolving past successes is where some of Elden Ring’s greatest genius comes from. Tarnished can make use of the most successful ideas from every game in From’s library. It doesn’t matter if it’s Souls or -Borne or Sekiro: if it worked, it’s present in the Lands Between, plus so much more.

The Puzzle Completed

Elden Ring’s laundry list of systems and mechanics evolved from previous games could go for miles, but the short version is:

  • Demon’s Souls: Ambushes and almost-unfair encounters make their return, as do the weird boss and enemy designs. Opaque systems are back, too, with some mystery mechanics in the Network Test no one could account for.

  • Dark Souls 1: Passive poise based on your equipped armor, allowing you to tank hits from certain types of weapons once or twice. There’s also a recommitment to interconnection in the world design. Parry timings seem similar for most weapons, though there is some overlap with how Dark Souls 3 handles parries.

  • Dark Souls 2: Power standing weapons is back and heavily simplified: equip two of the same type of weapon in both hands and you’ll have access to the full power-stance moveset with the left trigger. Magic is extremely powerful again and is effective in both PvE and PvP.

  • Dark Souls 3: Weapon Arts return, this time swappable between weapons rather than tied to them. Flask allotment and weapon-tier matchmaking are also back, as well as the basic graphical style.

  • Bloodborne: Combat speed and maneuverability are Bloodborne’s most significant contribution to Elden Ring, with quick steps and other mobility options available. We only saw a few weapons in the Test, so something like a Trick Weapon isn’t out of the question.

  • Sekiro: Both the player and enemies have a hidden Stance value that, when broken, opens them up to a critical attack. It isn’t a guaranteed kill like in Sekiro, but it’s more pronounced than in the Souls titles. Then there is, of course, the jumping, which isn’t as significant as in Sekiro but gives From entirely new avenues of map design.

Elden Ring isn’t just a greatest hits album of From’s previous work. It has its own identity. From traveling on horseback to the flow of combat, there’s plenty unique in this latest game.

So How are the Fights in Elden Ring?

You’d be forgiven to think Elden Ring’s combat is just more Dark Souls 3. There are definitely influences, and you’ll find the core in the final Souls entry, but the addition of jumping flips the script almost entirely. Now the terrain is even more important to the moment-to-moment combat because you can reach places previously unheard of.

The viable build variety in Elden Ring also feels much larger than in previous games, though that’s certain to change within a few weeks after the full release. There are over 100 weapon arts, most of them interchangeable, and with magic back on the menu, I can’t imagine how many different setups are actually usable.

The PvE considers all these options, with high enemy density in both dungeons and the open world. As mentioned, almost every enemy is quite aggressive, with sometimes unpredictable moves and odd attack timings.

The damage output was also double what most will be used to, at least when you aren’t leveled up. Bosses take the damage to another tier, easily two- or three-shotting properly geared players. Add in their potential to combo three or four attacks together, and you can and will die very, very fast.

Summoning allies can make the dying part a little less prevalent, and there are more ways than ever to call in help. Summon signs remain a workable option, but there’s now a summoning pool potential helpers can enter at any time, and it searches for jolly cooperation no matter where you are in the world.

Having co-op partners is still one of the best ways to bring some levity to the challenge present in a Souls-like. Enemies still have trouble dealing with more than one player present. You and your friends can still stun-lock most foes into oblivion.

There’s no penalty for being a summon, either health or otherwise: you bring everything with you. If you can’t, or won’t, summon, there are also ways to call in NPC phantoms through reusable items that cost varying levels to cast. These NPCs can turn the tide if you have to play offline and need some help with an encounter, and there’s almost no penalty for using them.

Invading doesn’t have any additional penalties either beyond the usual. You will be outmanned, whether by summons or blues — likely both. Thankfully, you have a couple of new advantages as a red phantom.

First, if you can keep your fights one-on-one, there don’t appear to be any long true combos. You can roll away after the first hit of any weapon’s moveset. The same is true for your targets, and multiple people can lock you down with a well-timed sequence of attacks.

Your second tool will give you some breathing room: the Phantom Bloody Finger, which teleports you to another spot near your target and their friends. The cast time is about one second and has a generous invincibility period shortly after use. You’ll use that and your knowledge of the area to stay one step ahead.

I should mention that backstabs, at least in the Network Test, were much harder to pull off consistently. The cone to activate the animation is much reduced from previous titles, and the action’s start-up is slow, meaning you have to both get directly behind your enemy and manage to nail the tight timing.

There are plenty of smaller details I could cover, but the above are the most high-profile topics. I can’t wait for the full release, because I know we only saw a sliver of what Miyazaki and FromSoftware have cooked up for us. I’m already in love with the world they’ve built and how it’s filled with just enough to engage but not so much that it feels cluttered. Everything is beautiful and grand, but there are plenty of quiet moments to appreciate as well.

Elden Ring releases on February 25, 2022, and I don’t know what I’m going to do until then.

Dying Light 2: Stay Human Preview — The New Dark Age Tue, 16 Nov 2021 15:21:00 -0500 Justin Koreis

I had a dangerous choice to make. It was the middle of the night, and the city streets of Dying Light 2, largely subdued during the day, were now teeming with aggressive Infected. I needed to find shelter, a place to hole up and await the relative safety of daylight.

But the danger of night also presents opportunity. There, enclosed by a chain-link fence, was a Revenant, a badly mutated Infected that is both deadly and durable. Bringing it down, no easy task, would net a large amount of experience and unlock containers holding potentially high-level weapons and crafting components.

The risk to my life, though, was immense. Throwing caution to the wind, I climbed the fence and drew my weapon, crudely crafted from a broken street sign, and the Revenant turned to face me.

Dying Light 2: Stay Human Preview  The New Dark Age

Dying Light 2: Stay Human is a game about choice. I learned this lesson well in a recent hands-on preview hosted by developer Techland. The world has advanced 20 years past the initial zombie apocalypse in the original Dying Light. What remains of humankind is trying to live in the harsh, post society reality.

What remains of civilization is fractured into factions, and it is up to you to take sides, choose allies, allocate resources, and make decisions that permanently alter the world around you.  

With this setup in mind, I began my adventure in the fictional city of Harran. Aiden Caldwell, the protagonist of Dying Light 2, is on a mission to find his missing sister. I start by talking to the Survivors, a group of people trying to rebuild a cooperative community. They may be able to help, but first, they need something from me.

Sophie is one of the Survivor leaders, and Barney, her brother, is missing. Dialogue choices allow me to push back on the potential busy work, but I elect to play nice and agree to help with the search.

Dying Light 2 continues the first-person parkour-based gameplay of its predecessor. I climb from car to car, avoiding the slowly shambling Infected as I move toward my objective. Nearing the end of a street, I climb atop a low building and begin leaping from roof to roof while the decaying, zombified population shuffle below, unaware of my traversal above.

The action is fast and fluid, noticeably more responsive than the first Dying Light. The city is also much more vertical. While much of the action previously takes the form of hopping from cars and fences, like a zombie-themed game of “The Floor is Lava,” now I’m ascending multi-story buildings, using lights poles as stepping stones to cross streets. 

Eventually, I come to what appears to be a former department store, the last known whereabouts of the missing person. It’s daylight outside but pitch black within. The Infected avoid the light, so the odds are quite good that there will be a sizable number of them inside.  

I could come back at night when the streets are busier and the interior is likely to be deserted, but I decide to take my chances. I crawl into a low opening and am greeted with seemingly dozens of Infected. I pull out my weapon, a curved blade bolted to a short pole, and begin to cut through the masses. 

It is clear that I am going to be quickly overwhelmed. In my desperation, I spy a large chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Climbing it grants me access to the second story and a reprieve from most of the Infected. A few, however, are talented climbers themselves and give chase. Cornered, I stand my ground.

Stand and Fight

Combat in Stay Human is very similar to the original Dying Light. I swing my blade in wide arcs, chipping away at the health bars of the Infected. I can block most incoming attacks and use quick dodges to circle my foes. Swinging a makeshift weapon about is intentionally crude, and the bloody affair sprays the walls in crimson as I whittle down my adversaries, lopping off limbs and heads as I go.

Enemies have a stagger gauge; depleting that with rapid attacks enables you to springboard off them and strike down devastating blows from the air. I found the interaction between parkour and combat almost seamless and very enjoyable.  

Eventually, I reduce all the infected to quivering masses of gore, and I rescue Barney. Barney has a bit of an attitude, a far cry from his sunnier and more cooperative sister. Indeed, throughout my entire multi-hour preview, I find NPC’s tend to have strong identities and are distinct, well-acted characters. It's a massive improvement over the largely generic cast in the previous entry of the series.

I continue following the story threads and press through sections of the main campaign. I won’t spoil anything, but narrative-relevant objectives offer compelling reasons to press forward. Missions had me sprinting across rooftops, sneaking and assassinating members of rival factions, and at one point racing from a collapsing windmill in a frenetic parkour puzzle that had my heart pounding.

Dying Light 2 is so far a carefully paced mix of flowing movement, brutal combat, puzzle-solving, and explosive set pieces.

Choose Your Own Adventure

The city is a massive sandbox, an open area in which to play. I frequently went off the beaten path to find weapon parts to scavenge or discover new side quests. There are key structures that can be captured, similar to outposts from the Far Cry series. And there are optional bosses, like my aforementioned Revenant friend.

Battling these monstrous enemies is extremely challenging. The size of the Revenant belies the speed of its powerful leaping attack. It has powerful melee attacks, an AoE toxic mist, and a thrown projectile.

I opted for a close-range strategy, using quick steps to close distance and land attacks with a lead pipe. I would quickly dart back or to the side to avoid the answering blows. It worked well until the Revenant summoned an infected hoard. Suddenly, my avenues of dodging and weaving were cut off.  

I spied a red propane tank. Recognizing the international video game code for explosives, I grabbed the container, lit it, and threw it. The ensuing explosion cleared half of the surrounding mob and took a good chunk of the Revenant's health for good measure. The satisfaction was short-lived, however, as multiple beastly screams rang out in the night. The infected are attached to sound, a key detail I forgot. A larger mob bore down on me, more aggressive than the first.

It took time, but my hit-and-run tactics won the day. Killing the Revenant opened the hatch on a sealed building, granting access to some new equipment. Gear now includes six distinct classes of armor, including shirts, pants, bracers, etc. There is a Borderlands-like randomization of stat modifiers on the gear, a significant step to further RPG-ify Dying Light 2. 

In my time with Dying Light 2, I saw many interesting things. Different districts of the city have their own stories, characters, and factions. I searched for explosives, investigated murders, and even sailed through the skies on a hang glider. One minute I was leaping from a rooftop and crushing the head of an infected walker to break my fall; the next, I was carefully weighing dialogue choices, hoping to make allies or avoid conflicts.  

As my time with Dying Light 2 came to an end, I found myself wanting more. Improvements to storytelling, combat, and movement have me intrigued. There is a lot that could go wrong between now and its February 4 release, but if the Dying Light 2: Stay Human preview is indicative of the final product, this could be the next great franchise unfolding before our eyes 

Outriders New Horizon: Nearing the Promised Land Mon, 15 Nov 2021 13:18:34 -0500 Jonathan Moore

People Can Fly have spent the seven months since Outriders release to change the game for the better. A number of updates and patches have been released meant to address community concerns after its promising but rocky start.

There have been buffs and nerfs, and some of the peskier imbalances have been tweaked, even if they aren’t precisely where some would like them. Matchmaking has been improved, the overall online experience has been smoothed out, and full crossplay is here.

Now there’s New Horizon, a free Outriders update that looks to make the overall experience and endgame the best it's ever been. Set to release on November 16 for all platforms, it adds new Expeditions, adjusts loot drops, and introduces transmog, among other things (no new weapons, enemies, or narrative elements yet). 

I was able to go hands-on with it recently to get a feel for what it brings to the table. And … it’s fine.

Mechanically, it’s more Outriders. Having taken some time away from the game after playing 70 hours around launch and having previewed the game twice before that, my initial impressions of New Horizon are that it probably won’t do much to change the way some feel about Outriders. At least from a purely gameplay perspective. It's still difficult in places.

Outriders seems to favor specific builds over others, while enemies will still swarm you. The Trickster People Can Fly provided me during the New Horizon preview didn’t stand a chance at the higher tiers in these new Expeditions, and I went down more than I would have liked to. I chalk part of that up to rustiness and my uncomfortability with the particular build and weapons I had, but it’s also because some builds still just melt enemies while others don’t by a long shot.

Despite patches and updates meant to balance enemies to this point, they’re as ruthless and unforgiving as ever. Elites are still bullet sponges and coupled with how lower-level ads continue to flood combat areas in droves, there remains a general feeling that something’s a little bit off about Outriders endgame, something that I was hoping wouldn’t be.

Regardless, New Horizon does make some worthwhile and very welcomed changes. First on the docket is gear.

People Can Fly have heard the community loud and clear when it comes to loot drops, implementing a brand-new system with New Horizon.

Expeditions no longer have timers by default, and Expedition rewards are not — in any way — tied to how quickly you complete an Expedition. People Can Fly have left players the option to enable timers if they choose, but more casual players aren’t forced into specific builds and playstyles automatically because of an arbitrary time limit.

Loot, then, is said to be more prolific, balanced, and fair. Legendary drops rates are up 100% throughout the game, including the campaign, and the final Expedition level grants a guaranteed Legendary from a pool of three (you pick your poison). Tiago sells random Legendaries. And you can now spend Drop Pod resources to re-roll Legendaries after Expeditions. These are all very good things.

It’s difficult to say exactly how these additions will ultimately play out when New Horizon enters the wild, but they felt tangible romping through the demo. Even in the short time I was able to play it, I came away with more worthwhile gear than I ever did in my many hours grinding the endgame just after launch.

And that leads us to another addition I, and many others, desperately wanted at launch: Transmog. People Can Fly said this was meant to be part of launch, and whatever kept it out doesn't matter because it's perhaps the most exciting part of New Horizon.

Unlike some other transmog systems elsewhere (ahem, Destiny), transmog in Outriders New Horizon is incredibly easy to use and lets you go hog wild from the get-go. There are no resources to collect, no arbitrary currencies to grind for, and no dismantling. When you find a weapon or piece of gear that hits your inventory, you can use it indefinitely in the transmog system on every character and across classes.

Accessing transmog is intuitive and straightforward too; just pop over to your inventory, go to visual customization, and select the weapon or gear piece you want. In a neat touch, you can easily transmog a single item or an entire gear set at once at the press of a button, and transmog for weapons also includes sounds and animations. It took me less than 30 seconds to pop into the system and only about a minute more to settle on a unique look I was happy with. Then I was back in the action.

Four new Expeditions are also being added in New Horizon: Molten Depths, City of Nomads, The Marshal’s Complex, and The Wellspring. Like combat, these new areas are fine and serviceable, giving players new backdrops to battle against while revisiting old locations and characters.

Despite being visually compelling, these levels still mostly adhere to the same “enemy-filled-hallways-with-a-boss-at-the-end” structure we bemoaned in our Outriders review. Nothing’s really changed. Though there are a few bright spots where the level design creates new strategic kill zones with enemy spawns that force you to rethink your tried-and-true Outriders tactics, none of them particularly stand out. 

They serve their purpose to expand on the lore of Enoch and the Outriders, but they don’t seem essential. With the right build, everything can just be bulldozed anyway.

To be fair, I don’t know what I would have liked to see outside of a radical, unrealistic paradigm shift in level design, but what’s on offer just sort of blends into the Rolodex of levels already available. Depending on who you ask, that’s not necessarily a bad thing: again, it’s more Outriders, for better or worse.

Overall, New Horizon is a step in the right direction for Outriders, despite not blowing me away. You can skip the opening movie now. There are more controller remapping options. And there’s Expedition kick protection. There’s more elite variety, and revisiting old locations and characters is nice. Getting guaranteed legendaries and running into fewer dupes will be great, and transmog kicks ass. Destiny, eat your heart out. 

But even with these additions and quality of life upgrades — and for how much I genuinely like the game for its worldbuilding, campaign, and fun team play — I’m still not convinced the endgame is exactly where it needs to be. Things still feel geared toward specific builds, and there are moments, especially on higher tiers, where enemies can be overwhelming to the point of frustration.

Honestly, I’m most excited for what the future holds beyond New Horizon in Worldslayer, the story-focused expansion People Can Fly have teased for 2022. You can watch the entire recent Outriders broadcast over here to see more.

Xbox One, Series X Black Friday Deals & Sales 2021 Tue, 09 Nov 2021 13:58:30 -0500 GS_Staff

While there are sales and deals on Xbox games and hardware sprinkled throughout the year, perhaps none are as monolithic as Black Friday. With the annual shoppers "holiday" moving from a single day to a weekend and now close to a full-fledged month, some retailers are already offering discounts — and others are gearing up. 

Plenty of game deals and hardware sales are up for grabs this year for both Xbox One and Series X|S. Though, you'll still likely have trouble actually finding one of Microsoft's next-gen consoles online or in-store. Xbox Series X|S restock is still in critically short supply nearly one year after launch. 

Related articles:

With a few weeks left to go until actual Black Friday, only some retailers have active sales and deals. We'll be updating this page to include new discounts as they become available — and hopefully, some of those will be for Series X|S hardware inventory. Use the links below to jump to each retailer's section.  

Amazon Buy 2 Get 1 Free Xbox One, Series X|S Games

Ok, so this isn't being called a Black Friday deal by Amazon, but it's November, and it's a sale, so it's close enough for now. Amazon will conceivably have more deals in the weeks ahead, and we'll add those here. But you really can't pass up this BOGO offer in the slightest.

This Buy 2 Get 1 sale is on a wide range of video games, including those for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PS5. It includes many of 2021's Game of the Year contenders, as well as brand-new releases like Call of Duty Vanguard, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Far Cry 6.

Something to keep in mind is that this is a mix-and-match BOGO, where you can buy two games for any platform and get one free for any platform. It also includes movies and books, among other products. Some of the games are on sale, while others are full price.

Click over to the BOGO page on Amazon, and sift through the qualified titles. To take advantage of the deal and redeem the offer, Amazon says that you'll need to add three items to your shopping cart and the savings "will automatically be applied at checkout, if eligible." 

A few highlights for Xbox One and Series X|S include:

  • Call of Duty Vanguard
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes
  • Minecraft Dungeons
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator
  • Riders Republic
  • Star Wars Squadrons
  • Hitman 3
  • Chivalry 2
  • Outriders
  • Hades
  • FIFA 22
  • Far Cry 6

A very select few controllers, such as the Pulse Red Xbox Wireless Controller, are slightly discounted, but again, this isn't a full-fledged Black Friday sale just yet. So hold off unless you really need one right now.

Xbox One, Series X|S Black Friday at Target

This is another sale that falls just outside of the Black Friday umbrella it seems. Like Amazon, Tarjay also has a Buy 2 Get 1 free deal for video games. An ad scan mentions that these deals are valid through November 13, so act fast. 

Similar to Amazon, this sale is a Buy 2 Get 1 mix-and-match sale, including all gaming platforms, movies, books, and more. Here are some highlights:

  • Madden 22
  • MLB The Show 21
  • It Takes Two
  • Hitman 3
  • Resident Evil Village
  • Subnautica Below Zero
  • Cyberpunk 2077
  • Biomutant
  • Scarlet Nexus
  • Crash N. Sane Trilogy
  • Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania
  • Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2
  • Little Nightmares 2

Again, some of these games are currently on sale, while others are going for regular price. If you're after something in particular, waiting until Black Friday may be the better choice. But if you're looking to pick up a few games and get one 100% free, well, this is a pretty solid deal.

GameStop Xboe One, Series X|S Deals

We'll have to wait just a little bit longer for GameStop's 2021 Black Friday ad to make it into the wild, but until that happens, there are a few Xbox One and Series X|S games on sale, all in new condition. 

  • Far Cry 6 ($49.94)
  • Resident Evil Village ($49.94)
  • Scarlet Nexus ($37.18)
  • Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition ($33.88)
  • Control ($23.99)
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator ($50.99)
  • Madden 22 ($46.14)

And that's basically the list; there aren't any barn burner bargains just yet. Aside from these, you can pick up the Shock Blue and Carbon Black Wireless Controllers for $10 off, as well as a LucidSound LS10X Wired headset for $20 off. Head over here to check it out.

Best Buy Xbox One, Series X|S Sale

Best Buy has been offering Black Friday deals since mid-October, but there really isn't much at all available for Xbox owners right now. There are a few (small) bargains available, such as $10 off the Astro A10 Wired Stereo Headset and $60 off the Razer Wolverine Ultimate Wired Controller, but there isn't much outside of that. 

Walmart Xbox Deals

Walmart is still holding its Black Friday deals and discounts close to the vest. There are a few games on sale, but nothing brand-new it seems and certainly no BOGO offers. Walmart will be beginning its Black Friday sale on November 13 at 3 p.m. EST. It's an Early Access period for Walmart+ members because why not?

Unless you're a Walmart+ member (trials aren't eligible for Early Access Black Friday sales), you'll have to wait until the bargains go live closer to Black Friday.

As with any sale, it's hard to say what will be available, though there's a chance newer games like Vanguard and Black 4 Blood will see some price drops. It's also likely some peripherals such as controllers and headsets will go on sale as well. Series X|S console restock? That might be wishful thinking.

Microsoft Store Discounts

There are currently 250 items, games and DLC included, on sale over on the Microsoft Store. They are, yet again, another set of deals not marked as Black Friday bargains, but they are part of a November sale nonetheless. There's no current timeframe for how long these will be discounted

Keep in mind that it's very likely a specific Black Friday event will hit the store in the coming weeks. 

In the meantime, you can save on all kinds of digital games, including: 

  • LEGO Harry Potter Collection ($9.99)
  • Gang Beasts ($9.99)
  • Mass Effect Legendary Edition ($32.99)
  • Hades ($19.99)
  • Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning FATE Ed. ($32.99)
  • Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection ($14.99)
  • Backbone ($19.99)
  • Children of Morta ($8.79)
  • The Artful Escape ($15.99)
  • Twelve Minutes ($19.99)
  • Star Wars Squadrons ($13.99)
  • Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Deluxe Ed. ($19.99)
  • Hitman 3 ($31.99)

You can find more over here

Those are the Black Friday and before Black Friday Xbox One and Series X|S deals and sales available right now. We're still waiting to see any movement on consoles, controllers, and most other hardware. Hopefully, more retailers will be able to add restock consoles and other hardware will see discounts. Bookmark this page, as we'll be updating it throughout the month. 

PlayStation 4, PS5 Black Friday Deals & Sales 2021 Mon, 08 Nov 2021 20:23:10 -0500 GS_Staff

With Black Friday just around the corner, and some retailers already rolling out the discounts and deals, it's time to take a look at some of the best current and upcoming PlayStation 4 and PS5 sales.

As we hurtle headlong into the holiday season, there are plenty of games on offer already with more to come; there are also some hardware discounts too. Though, widespread PS5 system restock may be a bit too much to ask for even a year after launch. Most are still sold out.

Related articles:

A number of the biggest retailers, from Amazon and Gamestop to Target and Best Buy, are getting in on the action. Here are the best deals we know of so far. Use the links below to jump to each retailer's section.  

Amazon Buy 2 Get 1 Free PS4, PS5 Games

This isn't exactly a Black Friday specific deal, but it's available in November, so we're counting it. Amazon will conceivably have more deals in the weeks ahead, and we'll add those here. But for now, this BOGO offer is almost too good to pass up. 

This Buy 2 Get 1 sale is on a wide range of video games, including those for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Series X. It includes many of 2021's Game of the Year contenders, as well as brand-new releases like Call of Duty Vanguard and Far Cry 6.

The best part is that you can mix and match, picking up any combination of PS4 and PS5 games, or any for Nintendo and Microsoft consoles. The offer also includes movies, music, books, and other items. 

Head over to Amazon, and sift through the qualified games. To take advantage of the deal and redeem the offer, Amazon says that you'll need to add three items to your shopping cart and the savings "will automatically be applied at checkout, if eligible." 

A few highlights for PS4 and PS5 include:

  • Call of Duty Vanguard
  • Assassin's Creed Valhalla
  • Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Riders Republic
  • Immortals Fenyx Rising
  • Resident Evil Village
  • Outriders
  • Watch Dogs Legion
  • Demon's Souls
  • It Takes Two
  • Final Fantasy VII
  • Hitman 3
  • Far Cry 6
  • Mortal Kombat 11

Adding extra incentive, some of these games are already discounted, some heavily. You could theoretically grab three brand-new games for the price of two, and still pick up a handful of others on the cheap.

PlayStation 4, PS5 Black Friday at Target

This is another sale that kind of, sort of falls under the Black Friday banner it seems. Like Amazon, Target also has a Buy 2 Get 1 free deal for video games. And since it's in November too, we're including it here. An ad scan mentions that these deals are valid through November 13, so act fast. 

Also, just like Amazon, this is a Buy 2 Get 1 mix-and-match sale, including all gaming platforms, movies, books, and more. Here are some highlights:

  • Madden 22
  • The Last of Us 2
  • Ghost of Tsushima
  • Marvel's Spider-Man (GOTY)
  • Marvel's Avengers
  • Sackboy: A Big Adventure
  • Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
  • Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2
  • Cyberpunk 2077
  • Scarlet Nexus
  • Days Gone
  • Star Wars Squadrons
  • Yakuza 7: Like a Dragon

There are plenty more on offer as well, as the sale for video games alone spans 29 pages with 24 entries per page. While some games cross over with Amazon's sale, such as Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Hitman 3, and It Takes Two, it appears that more recent titles, such as Far Cry 6, CoD: Vanguard, and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart are not included in Target's sale.

Either way, you can check out what's on offer by heading over to Target's BOGO video games page. We'll update this page with more Target deals as they pop up through the month.

GameStop PS4, PS5 Deals

GameStop's official Black Friday ad doesn't appear to be in the wild just yet. That will probably be coming soon, though. Until then, there are a few PlayStation 4 and PS5 games on sale. 

  • Deathloop ($39.99)
  • Far Cry 6 ($49.94)
  • Riders Republic ($49.94)
  • Madden 22 ($43.49)
  • Tales of Arise ($49.99)
  • Resident Evil Village ($45.99)
  • MLB The Show 21 ($49.00)
  • Scarlet Nexus ($39.49)
  • Aliens: Fireteam Elite ($33.88)
  • Yakuza 7: Like a Dragon ($49.99)

All told, there really aren't that many scintillating deals as of right now. While the sales over at Amazon and Target are almost too good to pass up, you could hold off picking anything up from GameStop right now. But don't let us tell you what to do with your money. Head over here to check it out.

Best Buy PS4, PlayStation 5 Sale

Best Buy has been offering Black Friday deals since mid-October, but it doesn't have much of anything for PlayStation 4 or PS5 right. Outside of discounts on Madden 22 ($49.99), FIFA 21 ($19.99), and Outriders ($19.99), we'll have to wait until closer to the traditional Black Friday day to see what else pops up.

Walmart PlayStation Deals

Walmart is another retailer that hasn't shared all of its plans for Black Friday 2021 deals on video games, which is slightly odd considering the retailer's holiday ad is already out. Regardless, Wal-Mart will be having an Early Access Black Friday sale for Walmart+ members starting on November 10 at 3 p.m. EST. Early Access is not available to Walmart+ trial members.

There's really no idea what to expect, though it's safe to assume some PlayStation games will be on sale. We're probably looking at deeper discounts on older games, with the shallower deals hitting recently-released titles like Back 4 Blood and Vanguard.

PlayStation Store Discounts

There are currently 590 items, games and DLC included, on sale as part of the PlayStation Store's November Savings extravaganza. Again, another set of discounts not carrying the Black Friday moniker but a set of discounts nonetheless. This one runs until November 19.

It's very likely a specific Black Friday event will hit the store in the coming weeks. 

In the meantime, you can save on all kinds of digital games, including: 

  • Maneater ($23.99)
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice GOTY ($38.99)
  • Final Fantasy XIV Complete Edition ($23.99)
  • Subnautica ($16.49)
  • Horizon: Zero Dawn ($9.99)
  • Monster Hunter World: Iceborne ($20.99)
  • Red Dead Redemption 2 Ultimate Edition ($34.99)
  • Crysis Remastered ($14.99)
  • Mafia III: Definitive Edition ($9.89)
  • Control ($11.99)

The above doesn't even begin to scratch the 25 pages worth of games and DLC available. Check it out here. On top of that, there's also a Retro Sale and Games Under $15 Sale as well. 

Those are the Black Friday and before Black Friday PlayStation deals and sales available right now. We're still waiting to see any movement on consoles, controllers, and most other hardware; DualShocks and DualSenses are still going for full price. Bookmark this page, as we'll be updating it throughout the month. Stay tuned. 

Nintendo Switch Black Friday Sales & Deals 2021 Mon, 08 Nov 2021 17:28:30 -0500 GS_Staff

Black Friday is upon us once again, and there are quite a few Nintendo Switch sales and deals to be had. Some deals are live now, while other sales will go live starting on November 21. Some may arrive even later in the month (ya' know, when Black Friday is supposed to start). There are plenty of games on offer, though, as any Nintendo fan may expect, there aren't too many hardware deals available.

Related articles:

A number of the biggest retailers, from Amazon to Gamestop to Target, are getting in on the action, of course. Here are the best deals we know of so far. Use the links below to jump to each retailer's section. 

Nintendo Black Friday Games and Bundles

The Big N itself will be offering sales and deals starting on November 21. Those include discounts on a wide range of first-party titles, as well as a Nintendo Switch bundle. 

A recent sneak peek at those deals confirm that Nintendo will be offering a Switch bundle for $299, which includes a base Nintendo Switch (not the OLED variety), Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and 3 months of Nintendo Switch Online.

This console bundle sale isn't exactly new; a 2020 GameStop Black Friday ad features it front and center. Right now, it's unclear if it will appear at other retailers or be exclusive to Nintendo. Either way, it's not something to pass up for those in the market for a Switch at a steal.

Aside from that bundle, a number of high-profile games will also be on sale from Nintendo itself for $39.99, including: 

  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  • New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe
  • Splatoon 2
  • Astral Chain
  • Kirby and the Rainbow Curse
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Mario Kart Live will fall to $59.99, and Ring Fit Adventure will go for $54.99. It doesn't appear that some games, such as Metroid Dread and Mario Party Superstars will receive any discounts. These sales will be available until November 27, according to Nintendo, and when they do appear, they can be found over here.

Amazon Buy 2 Get 1 Free Switch Games

Ok, so this is technically a Buy 2 Get 1 on a wide range of video games over at Amazon, including PlayStation 4 and PS5, as well as Xbox One and Series X. But perhaps the biggest piece of news is that some Nintendo Switch games are included as well. 

Head over to Amazon, and sift through the qualified games. To take advantage of the deal and redeem the offer, Amazon says that you'll need to add three items to your shopping cart and the savings "will automatically be applied at checkout, if eligible." It seems not every game is up for grabs, but a good few are. 

The best part is that this is a mix-and-match deal; it applies to not only games for other systems but also movies, music, books, and more. 

A few highlights for Switch include: 

  • Minecraft Dungeons
  • Hot Wheels Unleashed
  • Monster Hunter Stories 2
  • Doki Doki Literature Club
  • Dying Light Platinum Edition
  • Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD
  • Rune Factory 4
  • Kitaria Fables
  • Hades

Nintendo Switch Black Friday at Target

While it doesn't specifically mention Black Friday, Target also has a Buy 2 Get 1 free deal for video games. And since it's in November, we're including it here. An ad scan mentions that these deals are valid through November 13, so act fast. 

Also, just like Amazon, this is a Buy 2 Get 1 mix-and-match sale, including all gaming platforms, movies, books, and more. Here are some highlights:

  • Mario + Rabbid: Kingdom Battle
  • Pokemon Let's Go, Pikachu!/Evee!
  • Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD
  • The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
  • Luigi's Mansion 3

It should be noted that Target's selection is far smaller than Amazon's currently. Either way, you can check out what's on offer by heading over to Target's BOGO Switch page. We'll update this page with more Target deals as they pop up through the month.

GameStop Nintendo Switch Deals

It doesn't appear that GameStop has released its Black Friday ad just yet, so we don't exactly know what's up for grabs or at what prices just yet (if you've seen it and it exists, drop a comment below, and we'll update this article). 

Regardless, there are currently some Nintendo Switch games on sale at the retailer, including: 

  • Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
  • Super Mario Odyssey
  • Mario Golf: Super Rush
  • Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD
  • Nickelodeon All Star Brawl
  • Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze
  • Super Mario Maker 2
  • Yoshi's Crafted World
  • Pikmin 3 Deluxe

All told, there are roughly 12 full pages of sales, though some games that return for the query don't seem to be on sale, so you'll have to do a bit of minimal sifting. Head over here to check it out.

Best Buy Nintendo Switch Sale

Best Buy has been offering Black Friday deals since mid-October, but it doesn't appear that the retailer is in full-fledged holiday sale mode just yet. There are only a handful of video game deals available through their website as of this writing, and their Black Friday ad hasn't appeared just yet. 

There aren't any Switch-specific deals and frankly, not much of note. 

Walmart Nintendo Switch Deals

Walmart is another retailer that hasn't shared all of its plans for Black Friday 2021 video games, which is slightly odd considering the retailer's ad is already out. Regardless, Wal-Mart will be having an Early Access Black Friday sale for Walmart+ members starting on November 10 at 3 p.m. EST. Early Access is not available to Walmart+ trial members.

There's really no idea what to expect, though it's safe to assume some Switch games will be on sale. 

Those are the Black Friday and before Black Friday Nintendo Switch deals and sales available right now. Bookmark this page, as we'll be updating it throughout the month. Stay tuned. 

Stay Here: An Interview With the Creators of Before Your Eyes Mon, 08 Nov 2021 09:54:58 -0500 Mark Delaney

Though several weeks and a few major video game launches remain on the 2021 release calendar, I can't imagine any of them affecting me as much as GoodbyeWorld Games' Before Your Eyes. It arose out of nowhere for me after I learned of it via word-of-mouth in the springtime from another outlet's glowing review.

As it turns out, that word-of-mouth would continue to spread like wildfire following its release in April. Today, Before Your Eyes is widely considered a surprise Game of the Year candidate among those who have played it. That's owed to its novel gameplay concept of webcam-enabled blinking to advance time, as well as its gut-punch of a story that seems to devastate anyone who finds it.

Recently, I was able to chat with two of the game's developers, Lead Writer and Creative Director, Graham Parkes, as well as Game Director and Composer, Oliver Lewin. During our hour-long talk, we touched on the seven-year journey of Before Your Eyes, whether its intended emotional turmoil is ever numbed by working so closely on it, and more. 

*Note: There are spoilers ahead! If you haven't played Before Your Eyes, do that first, then come back.*

Before Your Eyes is just a 90-minute game, and yet it took seven years between concept and launch on PC and Mac earlier this year. The project, Parkes told me, was born out of a senior capstone at USC by Goodbyeworld Games founder, Will Hellwarth. Hellwarth plotted the initial concept of telling a story where time advances when the player blinks in an introduction to game dev class. Parkes and Lewin joined Hellwarth to mold the concept into something playable.

Then a funny thing happened: The game, back then titled Close Your, started to win awards. First, a Developer's Choice Award at IndieCade 2014, then Best Student Game at Independent Games Festival the following year.

Together, the group felt like they had their "entry into the scene," Lewin said, and the fact that they found themselves "brushing shoulders with a lot of people that we looked up to was very inspiring. Like, I remember seeing Austin Wintory walking around, like, 'Oh, cool. One of the coolest composers there is.'"

The early successes helped keep the game afloat, at least as an idea.

"It's not like we were seven years full-time working on this," Parkes told me. "Off of those two awards, we said, 'We don't want to stop working on this thing.'" But its small beginnings meant people had to move on to some extent, find other work. "We wanted to keep it alive. So we did a Kickstarter."

The 2016 Kickstarter looked like a success — it finished about $10,000 over its base goal of $25,000 in pledges — but Parkes said the team bit off much more than it could chew, "like a lot of Kickstarter projects."

"The plan was to kind of complete it on nights and weekends and kind of, you know, do the real indie bootstrap thing with it," he added. But things always got in the way. After receiving financial investment in 2018, presumably from eventual publisher Skybound Games, the team was able to hire people on a full-time basis and commit wholeheartedly to the already four-year-old project.

Three years later, the game would launch after two name changes — the second name, Coda, was already earning buzz as an unrelated indie film, causing the game devs to ditch the name. Poetically, the project that would come to be known as Before Your Eyes once more took home some hardware from IndieCade, the 2021 Jury Prix. 

With the award show serving as unintentional bookends to the game's evolution, I asked the pair how they think about its success this year after they spent the better part of a decade working on it, especially as Before Your Eyes continues to garner Game of the Year consideration from countless outlets.

"I never expected that we'd be in a position where like, every day, there'd be emails from people sometimes that are quite lengthy," Lewin told me. "And some of them are very personal. And so we're grateful for that, as creators, you know, the generosity on behalf of some of our fans telling us why it resonated with them so much."

The developers also spoke to going down the rabbit hole of fan reactions given that Before Your Eyes is so stream-friendly, which I myself know very well, as I've made a months-long habit out of watching streamers play through the final few heart-wrenching moments.

"It's kind of a treasure trove, you know," Lewin said."Whether it's YouTube comments or the [Twitch] chat room, or just listening to streamers kind of express their opinions as they're playing. Because you learn new things, or you're reminded of things that are years old, that you kind of forgot about."

"It was a pretty magical first week, like, Twitch became kind of where we all were living," Parkes added, contrasting the launch of the team's first game with that of a movie from his filmmaking background. "Even if you make a movie, you go to a screening. It's not like you have a camera on every audience member's face. There's something about putting a game out in the world where you get to literally see the effects that your work has, like on a micro-level on people's emotions."

"I don't think we expected it," said Lewin, sharing an anecdote that captured the game's earliest, and ultimately trendsetting, hours in the public.

"Right after it launched [at 5 a.m. local time], one of us checked Twitch and was like, 'Oh, there's someone streaming the game.' And we were like, 'This is amazing. We get to watch someone play it. Let's see if there are any bugs.' Then kind of towards the end, it was like, 'Wait there's another person playing. I'm gonna go check out that person's stream.' And it was kind of non-stop, and we all just kind of got addicted." 

While that launch period was one of elation, working on such a sad game for so many years might eventually numb one to the experience they're trying to craft, but the duo explained how they were able to rediscover that somberness at various moments during development.

"It definitely comes in waves. You lose your objectivity, and then you get hit by it fresh again," Lewin told me. "Like when you do the recording sessions, you're sitting in there with the headphones on and you hear the actors bringing life to it in a way that you hadn't foreseen or been prepared for. It's like it's hitting you: 'Damn, you know, I was just in this funeral scene, tweaking things for hours, and I'm feeling sad.'"

Parkes echoed the sentiment and commended the performances from the pair of real-life friends that portray the story's parents, Sarah Burns and Eric Edelstein. "I just sort of knew that whatever I wrote, we'd go into a very kind of, you know, safe space, and we'd be able to workshop it, and they'd bring themselves to it," he said, revealing that he wrote the parts specifically for the pair.

But how does one write characters who know they will outlive their child? As a parent of two, I likened the experience to watching a horror movie, where I am blanketed by the fact that it's all for show. I can grapple with it in that moment, then return to my kids, who are fortunately healthy. But for the writer, it's a long and arduous task to deliver those crucial scenes with the necessary devastation, even as Before Your Eyes tries to let a little light in too.

"When you realize that the story is going there, you kind of, as a writer, you get a little scared. 'Am I gonna be able to pull this off?'" admitted Parkes, who added that his own time spent sick and bedridden as a kid was there for him to draw from, even as his experiences were never as dire as protagonist Benjamin Brynn's.

Though so much can be said about its inventive webcam gameplay, for me the greatness of Before Your Eyes is best represented in one late scene.

When you are about 10 minutes away from Benny closing his eyes for good, you rejoin him and his ferryman companion. The ferryman rows him through a non-denominational version of an afterlife, toward a Gatekeeper that resembles Benny's childhood pet. The ferryman, who will be judged as well based on the strength of the stories he brings to the gatekeeper, bellows out the true story of Benjamin Brynn for the first and only time.

"Gatekeeper, before you sits the soul of a child who died before he could grow old." He continues, but it's that exact moment that hit me in the gut when I first played it. It's torn me up all year, really, and it's that moment I've sought out regularly online like some sort of cathartic high. I'll find a streamer's VOD and cut to the 80 or so minute marker in the playthrough. Then I watch as they fall apart on camera, just as I did when I reviewed the game back in April.

For me, that moment is the most beautiful part, because it's when we can no longer evade the story's tragic reality. Some players can surely see disaster coming but don't yet have it all cleared up, while others are certainly less sure what they've seen to that point. But in that moment, there are no more mysteries.

"The way Graham wrote [the ferryman] is that he's also on his own kind of journey," Lewin said, "because he's nervous about his performance and his kind of big moment on stage, so to speak. And while you're kind of full-throttle, recognizing the realities and the kind of tragedies of the story at that moment, he's kind of coming into his own."

"[Voice actor Steven Friedrich] played it with no preciousness," added Graham, "no sense of underlying underlining the sentiment with that character. I do think that sometimes you kind of want to leave it up to interpretation. At that point, you just want to tell people what's going on. And that might be a moment of that, where it's just like, you know what's been happening, but you haven't maybe fully processed it, and then that line kind of helps you. It helps it sink in."

There's no alternate, happier ending in Before Your Eyes, which according to Google Trends, is not what many players hoped to hear. The story of Benjamin, through whose eyes we see from infancy until his death 11 years later, and with a host of imagined happier moments in between, ends when his unnamed terminal illness takes his life in his bedroom as he's surrounded by his family.

Why end the game on such a brutal blow, especially when the story to that point offered some branching paths and was once envisioned to feature even more of them? 

"This story was always going to end the way that it did," Parkes told me. "Most games are about empowering you. And this is about taking power away. And it is sort of about humbling yourself to the fact that you're gonna have to blink eventually, you're gonna have to die eventually."

"Tragedy is practice for what might befall us in life," he added, quoting Aristotle. Thus Before Your Eyes is, as the team sees it, "a test run for death." 

Weird West Preview: Why We're Excited For This Occult Western Wed, 03 Nov 2021 10:37:26 -0400 Mark Delaney

The immersive sim genre is a strange one. Those who know it by name are often obsessive fans who will replay their favorite genre games to keep toying with the malleable worlds. Despite that, it remains a difficult term to define.

Weird West is an upcoming indie take on the immersive sim, but it comes from a team comprised of former AAA vets who worked on Dishonored and Prey, two of the finest takes on the slippery genre to date. So it should be to no one's surprise that it's looking quite fine itself.

After a few hours with an early build of the game, I've fired off a six-shooter of things that caught my attention in the promising preview. Here's why I'm excited for the WolfEye debut, Weird West.

The Pedigree

Weird West comes from WolfEye, but this is the small, distributed team's first game. While that necessitates an introduction, the team's past works need no such thing. Raphael Colantonio, former President and Creative Director of Arkane Studios, founded the team alongside Julien Roby, former producer at Arkane, and industry vet Binu Philip, COO.

Collectively, the team's penchant for immersive sims and games with deep systems is on display early and often with Weird West, and as this is a genre that lives and dies primarily on level design, I'm excited to see this team put their expertise to use on a more focused scale such as this.

The Environments

As the game opens with the death of your son and the kidnapping of your husband, you'd think Weird West is set to be a bloodsoaked vengeance quest, but it doesn't have to be. Just like Dishonored and Prey before it, Weird West gives players hub-like levels full of enemies, but also ripe with opportunities.

Do you create a distraction then sneak in the back door? Do you pick off enemies one by one, hiding their bodies in the tall grass? Maybe you set off a chain reaction that gets all the enemies in one spot only to shoot out a lantern near an oil slick, allowing you to burn them all away.

Level design is what those Arkane games do best (truly better than anyone, in my opinion), and Weird West looks to recreate some of that magic even from an angled perspective. It looks different, but it's still so satisfying to take one's time with an encounter and get things exactly right.

The Combat

Going hand-in-hand with those elaborate environments is the combat, which, after a tutorialized introduction, really opens up to reveal the extent of your abilities. Unlocking major new powers thanks to Weird West's occult leanings adds a surreal twist to it all, but even the good old-fashioned shootouts provide excitement.

That's because enemies, even in this unfinished build, act with a killer instinct. It will be wise to sneak around for as long as you can in Weird West. Every time I blew my cover in a dense area, I was quickly overcome by a swarm of enemies, some of whom wasted no time flanking me with shotguns.

The almost RTS-like UI will keep you informed of your aim and damage, but it's purely up to you to stay on your feet by planning ahead — and acting swiftly when the plan falls apart. 

The Setting

Though I've placed it here in the middle of this list, I'd say the setting is actually my favorite part of Weird West so far. I'm a sucker for when two genres collide (It's a heist movie and a Christmas movie? Reindeer Games rules!), so the blend of mysticism and westerns in both thematic and aesthetic elements has been nothing short of eye-popping.

The central enemy faction wears burlap over their heads like twisted serial killers, cannibals roam the land, and even fiercer monsters are hinted at for the full game. Weird West does a lot with surely far fewer resources than some on the team are used to, and this is most evident in the world-building. It feels expertly crafted as the dark centerpiece to a game already doing a lot right.

The Music

Even before I properly started Weird West, I had my suspicions that it was going to be interesting. Part of that is because of the pedigree I mentioned. But another reason for that is the music. The trailer embedded above gives a good taste of it. It brilliantly captures Weird West's dual sensibilities: the walk-tall western and its touches of occult mysticism.

I love it so much that as soon as I booted it up, I reached out to ask the team that provided the code whether we could expect a soundtrack release (no word on that yet, by the way). WolfEye's website mentions that audio is a point of emphasis, and in the team's debut game, it shows.

The Hints of More to Come

In my demo time with Weird West, I was able to play through the story of bounty hunter Jane Bell, but the full game will offer five playable characters, each with their own tale to tell. This approach ensures variety, and also seems to suggest some crossover.

I'd love it if, by the end of Weird West, we can look back and recall how each of these characters, seemingly living disparate lives in the early going, actually affected each other's stories directly and indirectly. With more monsters to discover, more anti-heroes to emerge, and more tragedies to befall the characters of Weird West, I can't wait to see how it all comes together.

Weird West arrives on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox platforms on January 11, 2022.

Shadow Tactics — Aiko's Choice Preview: A Puzzle Within a Puzzle Wed, 03 Nov 2021 10:05:06 -0400 Josh Broadwell

The 10th time I deployed my tanuki decoy, I actually managed to squeeze little, old Takuma past the guards to mark one of the mission’s target items. It was a short-lived success. I misjudged how distracted one of the straw-hat guards would be while speaking with a comrade. It didn’t take long for them both to strike down poor, defenseless Takuma, and it was time to try again.

Shadow Tactics: Aiko’s Choice takes what you knew about Shadow Tactics and turns it on its head, even if some of the same mechanics are still present. These missions might seem familiar on the surface, but Aiko's Choice is a different take on Shadow Tactics' strategy, for better or worse.

Aiko’s Choice takes place roughly in the middle of the Shadow Tactics campaign and explores some of its characters in more depth than the original story. It revolves around the mysterious reappearance of Aiko’s old sensei. The preview build I played dropped me in the second chapter, though, so there wasn’t much chance to get a full idea of the expansion’s story.

What I did get was a different way to play. Takuma, normally a competent sniper, was stripped of everything but his tanuki and thrown in prison aboard a cramped ship. This first mission tasked me with marking five crates carrying dangerous weapons, so Takuma’s companions could find and deal with the threat once they rescued him. The trouble was actually reaching the crates. 

The overview for the preview said the mission should take roughly 10 minutes to complete, though that doesn’t take into account the process of figuring out how everything in it works. It certainly took me longer than that to navigate through the guards and find the right path.

Mimimi wasn’t kidding when they said Aiko’s Choice drastically increases the challenge compared to the main campaign. Granted, the preview skipped the tutorial and first mission, dropping me in the second challenge, but this is definitely meant for those familiar with strategy and Shadow Tactics’ particular brand of it.

Fortunately, save-scumming — reloading if your plan fails — is easy, and Aiko’s Choice actually encourages you to do it. It’s a small touch, but a welcome one that keeps frustration at bay.

I appreciate the approach, even if it also gives me slight cause for concern with the final version. On the one hand, this is Shadow Tactics unrestrained and at its most imaginative. The ship level might have given me serious cause to doubt my strategic ability, but it’s still brilliantly designed, not least because it makes you use a familiar character in a completely new way.

The follow-up level is even better, trading tight spaces for freedom of movement and forcing you to divide your strategy between two different islands.

On the other hand, Aiko’s Choice has a bit of Valkyria Chronicles syndrome, at least in the first half of the preview build I played. There’s strategy involved, but it starts to feel more like you're experimenting until you find the one tactic that works. Takuma’s first mission requires exact timing and placement, for example. There’s some wiggle room in how you approach it, but less free-thinking and planning than I expected.

Still, this is only two of Aiko’s Choice’s six total missions — three primary challenges and three interlude stages — so it’s tough to say whether the remainder will follow the same trend. While I might have hoped for a bit more strategic option so far, I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with the expansion and can’t wait to experience the full thing when it releases in December for PC. Stay tuned for more.

Book of Travels EA Review: A Road Worth Taking Mon, 11 Oct 2021 11:24:06 -0400 Josh Broadwell

I woke up wet in a sheep field, the result of choices whose effects I could barely fathom at the time. The only reason I know it was a sheep field is because some of the more curious wooly beasts were nuzzling my face and making sheep-sounds.

Otherwise, it was far too dark to make out my surroundings or even if I was safe, though my wanderer’s instinct — and an ounce of common sense — told me assassins and bandits usually don’t hide among farm animals in the middle of nowhere.

Fortunately, a friendly shepherd approached and pointed me in the right direction, so off I went on yet another journey. Or rather, off Bahvet the wanderer went, on just one of countless adventures in Might and Delight’s Book of Travels.

I had a chance to spend several hours in the TMORPG (tiny multiplayer online RPG) ahead of its Early Access launch on Steam, and I can say without hesitation that Book of Travels is unlike anything I’ve experienced before in the best of ways.

Book of Travels EA Review: A Road Worth Taking

Book of Travels skill menu.

Your time in Braided Shore begins similar to many other deep RPGs. The game master tasks you with picking a character, an origin story — you can even create your own — and some unique characteristics. I expected something like Divinity: Original Sin 2, an interesting backstory that shapes your early hours, plus some skills that sometimes influence your conversations and not much more. 

I was so wrong.

I opted for the archetypal wanderer, a seasoned traveler who’s always restless and prides himself on being a good judge of character. It’s romantic and absolutely pointless when you wake up drenched and sick in a sheep pen.

Needless to say, I didn’t linger there long. With just my clothes — gross clothes, according to the in-game description — to my name, I set off toward the Crossroads settlement in search of something or nothing at all. 

That wasn’t just a roleplaying decision, either. Book of Travels is one of the most open-ended experiences I’ve ever encountered. The smart thing to do was finding Crossroads, but I could have gone in the opposite direction or even just picked a fight with another traveler (which I did anyway, and lost).

Book of Travels encounter.

BoT gradually told me enough about the world to get me started with brief explanations of Knots — a kind of magic — the all-important tea rituals and teahouses, and how to get what I needed along the way through bartering.

The fields I journeyed through were dark and empty because time passes normally in Braided Shore. People resumed their travels once the sun rose, but I was content on my own with just the brief glimpses of starlight flickering through the trees and the glimmer of torches telling me I was headed in the right direction. 

The occasional person I did meet was always up for a short chat, which gave me a welcome experience boost I could eventually put toward learning new skills. I could gush endlessly about how much I love the way Book of Travels handles skills and experiences. It’s one of the most organic and intuitive in any game I’ve played.

Your memory capacity determines how many skills you can hold at any given time. Using a skill helps perfect it, but if you don’t use it often, it gradually grows weaker and eventually could get replaced. Experience comes from anything, whether it’s completing tasks or just talking to people, and it’s illustrative of Book of Travels’ intelligent approach to design in general.

Like any multiplayer RPG, you can party up with others if you want to, and you’ll sometimes need an extra hand to deal with certain tasks. As it’s just entering Early Access on October 11, the number of other players I encountered was naturally slim, and I was pleased to see it had little effect on what my hapless wanderer could accomplish if he wanted to.

There's always another road to take or task to accomplish, even if companions are nowhere to be seen.

The party-up process is quick and organic as well. I encountered a fellow traveler named Kirk at the railway station, and we exchanged friendly emotes before deciding to join forces. I had a ferry to catch, though, and while the fellowship of two didn’t last long, I suspect Bahvet preferred it that way.

Book of Travels character creation.

Some might find the open-ended approach off-putting, and you do wind up at a loose end fairly often, especially in some of the large, empty areas. It's worth it, though. There are few other joys in gaming like seeing your choices pay off in unexpected ways or picking up on a subtle clue about what you could do next and stumbling onto a new adventure in the process.

I’ve never felt as invested in the actual roleplaying experience as I do in Book of Travels. Bahvet’s journey feels like a true adventure, where I’m learning about the world and what I can do in it at the same rate he is. I’m curious to see what big events there might be further down the way, but I’m also perfectly content with the myriad small moments that have marked my time so far.

Like with any good journey, these moments define the experience more than any massive setpiece could — losing to a duelist by the railroad, missing my ferry and getting lost in conversation with the dockhands instead, being passed up for naval recruitment because I clearly had the look of a landlubber. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and Book of Travels is already unforgettable.

The best part is that it feels like my journey more than I can say for most similar RPGs. I know others who picked different skills had a wildly different first few hours, especially those who prioritized the mystical side of the skill tree. Hints of your choices’ effects dot the landscape as well, from monuments you don’t know how to interact with to machinery that’s way out of your league until later.

Book of Travels is a genuinely magical adventure so far. In a landscape crowded with big games shouting their expansive content at you, it’s a quiet voice offering something different and meaningful, an experience that’s equal part traveling simulator and laid back RPG.

There’s nothing else like it. I don’t know what’s ahead for Bahvet and where his journey might take him, but that’s okay. Whatever it is, we’ll get there eventually.

[Note: Might and Delight provided the copy of Book of Travels used for this Early Access review.]

Age of Darkness Final Stand Early Access Review: They Are Not Billions Wed, 06 Oct 2021 13:28:51 -0400 Fox Doucette

The base-builder RTS genre, popularized in the 1990s by games like Starcraft and those in the Warcraft series, used to be one of the stalwart genres of PC gaming. That was before falling into an age of darkness around the time Empire Earth 3 fell flat on its face in 2007. The last real hit in the traditional style might very well have been the third Age of Empires in 2005. 

However, the genre has risen from the dead, as so much old pop culture has in the age of the reboot, and developer PlaySide Studios and publisher Team17 are attempting to end the age of darkness with... Age of Darkness: Final Stand, a grimdark RTS similar in style and execution to 2019's They Are Billions, with a heavy-handed nod to those old Blizzard games from 20 years ago as well.

Age of Darkness Final Stand Early Access Review

The game is in Early Access, so it's also super-stripped-down and plays more like a demo than a full-fledged game. There's just one game mode — what the developers call “Survival” — and it's just like the one-off quick battle singleplayer modes in every RTS game to come before it. A campaign is, presumably, coming, but for now, it's one-off battles and only one-off battles.

A roster of heroes is planned, too, those super-powered general units who, whether based on historical figures as in Age of Empires or fantasy archetypes as in Warcraft, apply bonuses to troops while delivering suitably inspiring one-liners whenever you tell them to attack something.

For now, however, Age of Darkness supplies just one: a fellow named Edwin, who wields a flaming sword and has the personality of a wet noodle. A proper hero character in a game like this should feel appropriately heroic. Canned lines of cliched dialogue and one useful line of backstory — "a veteran of many expeditions into the Veil" — in the menu does not a hero's tale make.

Right now, hero characters aren't much more in gameplay terms than upgraded mooks, and there's no incentive for trying to keep them alive — if they die in battle, they just respawn back at base, every bit as expendable as, say, the Patriot characters in 2003's Rise of Nations.

The enemies in this version of RTS home run derby are the Nightmares, who may as well just say “zerg rush kekekeke” in a nod to old Internet memes; if you've played Starcraft, you've seen this a million times.

Buglike swarmers who die by the thousands and whose main ability is to simply overwhelm defenses by sheer numbers are rank and file here. It was zombies in They Are Billions, it's scampering four-legged critters who look a bit like long-lost cousins of the ghouls in The Witcher 3 here.

The enemy also has boss-like units, but they are relatively few in number and defined not at all in the game's lore. They're just more cannon fodder that happen to take a few more hits from regular soldiers but die just as easily from anything upgraded.

Which brings us to the base-building part of “base-builder RTS”. Everything is as you'd expect from the genre; there are zero risks from innovation. The main keep is the defend-at-all-costs objective. You lose the game if the keep falls. There are barracks for making soldiers, towers for defending stationary assets (like, say, the keep), farms and loggers and quarries for gathering the game's resources.

As seems to be the norm nowadays in the revived RTS world, the game wants you to build quickly. A system is in place where a “Death Night” occurs every few in-game days. Enemies burst from the void at ludicrous speed, and the mode is not over until you've killed every last one of them, a demented version of the multiball mode on a pinball machine with your armies as the flippers and the zerg stand-ins as the balls.

During the mode, your base suffers a random malus that may, for example, prevent your units from healing, or raise their upkeep costs such that your economy might crash while you're fighting off the enemy, or other nasty tricks.

The upside, however, is that if you win the Death Night, morning dawns and you get to choose a permanent perk that will usually upgrade one of either your hero, your armies, or your base.

The problem isn't that Age of Darkness is bad. No, it's simply competent. A report card full of B and C grades. Sure, it's good enough to graduate, but it's not making the honor roll. It's built on the RTS base-builder design document, but it has no character, no soul, no defining “Hey, this is worth it” feature to set it apart from what is, after years wandering the wilderness, a revived genre.

Yes, sometimes that's exactly what players are looking for. And yes, it's the earliest of Early Access. Age of Darkness might get better as launch approaches, whenever launch may be — gods know there are more than enough titles that got launched into Early Access and never got finished.

But is that a recommendation? Well, no. Not when you could play They Are Billions, which is a complete experience, or wait a few weeks for Age of Empires 4, or even chase down an old copy of Warcraft 3 or StarCraft, which are still great games over 20 years after they first came out.

Age of Darkness: Final Stand is simply not ready for prime time in its current state. There is a lot of work left to be done. Of course, we'll check back and see how it's turned out a little further down the line and who knows: maybe it will find that one upgrade to survive the night. 

[Note: Team 17 provided the copy of Age of Darkness: Final Stand used for this Early Access review.]

Chorus Preview: Almost on Key Fri, 24 Sep 2021 14:34:20 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Some of the best musical compositions ever made subvert expectation, melding the recognizable with the unexpected. Perhaps it’s something as simple as a change in meter or a layering of effects that makes it memorable. Maybe it’s a complex instrumental arrangement or time signature.

It may seem strange to begin a preview of Fishlabs’ upcoming space shooter, Chorus, talking about music. Still, as the name suggests, its development process was directly informed by the ebbs and flows of melody.

This isn’t a rhythm game, to be clear, but there is a tempo to its combat that feels like a musical ballet of bullets, lasers, and rockets, underpinned by a refrain of narrative mystery that exudes the supernatural.

Oh, and its actual soundtrack is pretty terrific, too.

So far, Chorus feels like it could be a hits compilation of multiple genres if it ultimately hits the notes right. That remains to be seen, though I’ve come away from a recent hands-on preview build of the game excited to see more. 

Chorus Preview: Almost on Key

Chorus takes place in a universe that could be called post-apocalyptic, where the usual vectors of famine, disease, and war have pushed humans to the brink, causing them to look for answers and direction in anything that will give it to them. Those things are found in The Circle, a cult that promises to set things right and achieve a new “harmony,” as members of the development team put it.

Of course, things don’t go as planned (or perhaps they go exactly as planned), and The Circle takes full advantage of its powerful position, subjugating the inhabitants of the galaxy to nothing short of tyrannical rule.

Calling to mind shades of Anakin Skywalker post Revenge of the Sith, a powerful “Chosen One” named Nara acts as The Cult’s arbiter of terror, using her preternatural abilities and a sentient ship called Forsaken to quell rebellions and destroy worlds. But the galactic harmony is off, and something pushes Nara to ultimately rebel against The Circle, placing her directly in their crosshairs.

The traumas from this era of her life seem to be at the core of the game’s narrative. Nara can’t escape what she’s done, and her internal conflict plays out through dialog segments between her and Forsaken, as well as in her own mind. It’s unclear where the story is headed ultimately — or how the inclusion of the alien Faceless and their space-temples ties in outside of bestowing Nara her powers, called Rights — but so far, it reminds of both Hellblade and Control in its presentation.

Considering the development team consistently refers to the feeling of Chorus as “shamanistic,” I’m interested to see how deeply the final build delves into these concurrent themes of trauma and mysticism.

Regardless, things won’t always be linear narratively. Some missions and subquests present choice-based decisions, where actions can have rippling effects throughout the story. In one preview mission, I could briefly ally with a pirate faction to help escort refugees through Circle space, or I could destroy them on site. Letting them live proved helpful in the immediate term but disastrous in a later questline.

The semi-open world of the game will indeed play into this as well. Locations are self-contained within the larger galactic map (think hubs), but they’re vast, open, and peppered with sub-areas. You’ll have the freedom to explore these places — with asteroids, mining installations, warp gates, and small cities — to uncover hidden items and currency, as well as take on side missions.

The core of any space shooter, though, is the flying and shooting itself. So far, both take a bit of getting used to, even if they excel the more you play. Banking, in particular, is non-existent, which leads to a strangely restrictive inertia during flight. Its absence creates a discombobulating effect in and out of combat, where the camera compensates for it but doesn’t immediately re-orient when coming out of a turn.

This can be fixed with the press of a button, though it’s cumbersome to pull off in a dogfight against dozens of ships, where you’re dipping and diving at a rapid pace. The development team said that there is an auto-orientation feature to take care of this on its own, but it didn’t seem to work as well (or as quickly) as it should in my preview time.

The most interesting and unique aspect of movement, however, is the ship’s Drift ability. This allows Forsaken to glide in a single direction while firing in another. On paper and in practice, it reshapes the strategy of space combat and leads to some unique and compelling tactics that make you feel like a maverick space pilot.

Forsaken can also barrel roll, loop, dodge, and boost to evade fire and comes equipped with three weapons — a Gatling Gun, a laser, and a rocket launcher — all of which come in different rarities with different buffs and traits that you can unlock throughout the game. Ammo is unlimited, too, which adds to the semi-arcadey feel Fishlabs seems to be going for (it’s nice not seeking out ammo resupply after every encounter).

Shooting itself is tight and responsive on controller, though slightly floaty using mouse and keyboard. I appreciate the latter, as it allows for more precise crosshair movement without as much maneuvering, where turrets feel like they’re on a swivel. But a lack of inversion controls for mice specifically (they exist for controller) kept me from truly giving the input method a more extended test.

There isn’t a lock-on mechanic here, as there is in other games like Star War: Squadrons, though its absence didn’t make dogfighting any more difficult since there are symbols at the edges of the screen to keep track of target ship locations (again a la Squadrons).

The missing function did, however, make targeting stationary objectives like turrets and enemy hangars more cumbersome, especially when the camera was tilted at a 45-degree angle. Coming to a full-stop or bumping into structures was a common occurrence in these situations.

Nara also has abilities that aid in combat, such as what’s essentially a teleportation skill called Rite of the Hunt. This allows you to keep up with fast-moving targets or warp to specific objectives to get out of the line of fire.

It’s a neat ability that is almost like a get-out-of-jail-free card that stops short of being a full-on cheat code… when it works. After a few hours of play, I’m still unsure of when or how often it can be used despite being briefed on how it should work in-game.

Despite some of my overall reservations, Chorus has potential and more systems at work than I’ve covered in this preview or was able to experience going hands-on.

The story so far is compelling if nebulous. The environments are pretty and convey the vastness of space, though I hope there's more variation. And the combat is fun and exhilarating once you come to grips with it, but a lock-on system would be nice.

That's a lot of caveats, sure. And I am concerned that some hurdles in the combat department could dissuade some players from sticking with Chorus. There's a definite way it wants to be played. I'd be lying if I didn't admit understanding some of its mechanics is frustrating. But I'd also be lying if I said I didn't have fun. 

How this all comes together in harmony remains to be seen, but we’ll find out soon enough. Chorus releases on December 3 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, and Stadia.

[Note: Fishlabs provided the copy of Chorus used for this preview.]

Aragami 2 Preview: A Stealth Game That Cuts Deep Fri, 27 Aug 2021 10:59:56 -0400 Jason Coles

I never played the original Aragami. I liked the look of it and the idea of its gameplay loop, but I loathe fail-state stealth games. The moment you're spotted things go horribly awry and you can't fight back?. No thanks.

It's never made sense to me that an undead ninja would be unable to fight back in a pinch, so I'm incredibly glad that Aragami 2, on top of all the usual stealth shenanigans you'd expect, adds in some proper combat options, too.

After a few hours with a preview build of the game, things are looking good for this stealth sequel. 

Sneaky, Sneaky, Sir

You can now parry, block, dodge, and just button-mash your way through some of the fights. It's not an ideal thing to do, though, because while Aragami does allow for a bit more flexibility in viable playstyles, you're definitely better off using the ridiculous array of unlockable stealth skills.

Along with being able to crouch, hang off of ledges, and double jump, you also have access to a few supernatural abilities, including the ability to teleport to a ledge if you're within a certain range and even the ability to go into shadow vision to see everything around you that's a threat.

These are just the abilities you start off with; it turns out that there are a lot of other abilities you can unlock as you play that all feel a lot like new toys, but where your toys let you kill people or knock them out.

All of this gameplay takes place across missions that you take from your village, all with the aim of keeping the Rashomon Valley safe. Missions vary between attacking specific places or people, finding different items, rescuing people, and just generally exploring areas. While you're essentially running between objective markers, and it's all fairly good fun, it's not without its flaws.

Incredibly Cool Backflip, Followed by Two Minutes of Being Lost

While most of the levels are designed in a way that allows you to move fluidly from one cool stealth move to another, and that feels great every single time, there are a fair few moments where you just kind of wander around a bit aimlessly. They don't ruin the game (at least so far; this is a preview after all), they do make things a bit lackluster and crop up more than I'd like. 

On the plus side (though this isn't something I've had a chance to check out just yet), there is actually co-op in Aragami 2. While I did start to suspect some of the missions could creep into being repetitive when playing solo, I imagine that's completely offset by running around as a group of three trying to maintain stealth while undoubtedly getting in each other's way.

We'll just have to wait and see.

Keeping an Eye on a Stealth Game Feels Heretical

Aragami 2 is definitely a game I'm going to be keeping an eye on. Its mix of stealth and action really helps it break away from what I was worried about in the original, and the style is just cartoony enough to justify the absurd shadow powers you'll be learning as you hack, slash, and sneak your way through the stunning scenery.

There's a lot of promise here, and while I'd definitely be less inclined to keep up with things if it was exclusively solo, co-op always enhances a game, so I'll be checking back in with the final product when it launches September 17 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and XSX|S.

Astria Ascending Preview: A Competent RPG That Never Truly Soars Mon, 23 Aug 2021 04:00:01 -0400 Dylan Webb

Astria Ascending has come a long way since its initial launch. Released on iOS as Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey in 2015, Artisan Studios is undertaking a full gameplay reconstruction, retaining Zodiac's world but implementing an overhauled story.

With several Final Fantasy veterans onboard like Hitoshi Sakimoto and Kazushige Nojima, that version launches on September 30 for PC and consoles, sporting a lovely visual presentation. Promising 25 dungeons, five explorable cities, and 30-50 hours of gameplay at full release, our hands-on preview only covered 1/10 of that.

Astria Ascending Preview: A Competent RPG That Never Truly Soars

Astria Ascending takes players to Harmonia, an idyllic world split between five cities. Protected by eight Demigods, these mighty individuals serve for three years before ascending to the next plain, replaced by a new group. Having reached the 333rd set of Demigods, this story sees them investigating mysterious creatures called Noises, who’ve begun attacking cities and appearing in unusual locations.

Each character has their own story, and to begin, you’ll play as Ulan Merer, leader of the 333rd. She’s joined by Eko, Dagmar, Kaydin, Alek, Kress, Arpajo, and Alassia, who are all available immediately. In that regard, Astria's quite refreshing compared to other RPGs, as companions often don’t arrive until later on.

Each Demigod is customizable with basic combat gear and accessories, but you can develop them further with Astria's job system. While Demigods hold a base job — the choices of which range between your standard RPG options of captain, soldier, and thief  they can be assigned three additional jobs — main, sub, and support  later on.

Crucially, they offer new combat abilities through the Ascension (skill) Tree, alongside stat boosts like extra HP or defense. To unlock those, you’ll spend skill points (SP), which are earned through completing battles, and each character has a separate SP allowance.

Once you’ve prepared your party, you’ll go exploring across 2D locations.

Much of this preview involved exploring dungeons, jumping across ledges as in an old platformer, finding treasure chests for new items and currency, and taking down Noises.

Upon reaching a Noise, which appear as large bubbles, you can pre-emptively strike by slashing it, increasing your probability of going first when combat begins. However, if a Noise approaches you from behind, they’ll always start first. If you’re not up for fighting, you’ll quickly find a zodiac ring that freezes them, letting you jump straight over them and skip the fight.

Should you battle, you’ll enter a round of turn-based combat, where each combatant holds weaknesses and resistances. Alassia, for example, resists Water attacks but is weak to Lightning, whereas Kress hates Fire but is strong against Ice.

Between choosing a physical attack, MP abilities like elemental magic and healing, guarding, choosing items, retreating, and swapping party members, combat’s very straightforward for an RPG. Later in our demo, Alassia learns how to summon Astraes, too, powerful beings capable of fierce attacks that temporarily replace your party.

If a character proves ineffective, rather than swap them out, you can allocate focus points (FP), earned by exploiting enemy weaknesses or choosing the “focus” command, for increased damage output, meaning characters spend their turn charging the meter. That increases damage by 50% per FP, going up to a maximum of four points, and it’s an interesting system that prevents characters from feeling useless in battle.

For challenge seekers, there are four difficulties to choose from, but there are other options too. You can disable field encounters and enemy respawns in dungeons, turn off XP/ SP Gain/ items/Lum (currency) gains, alongside deciding how much XP backup party members earn, making Astria more accessible.

Outside of dungeons, Astria Ascending features a minigame called J-Ster, where you challenge inhabitants across the game's cities. Using a 7-slot hexagonal grid, you have 5 tokens, and you’ll aim to flip over an opponent’s pieces.

To do that, your token’s value must be higher than the defender’s and depending on your chosen attack angle, tokens can potentially block those moves. It’s not especially deep, but J-Ster is an enjoyable distraction.

There are certainly merits to Astria Ascending, but unfortunately, this preview never truly captivated me. Astria’s story was still finding its feet when things ended for me, combat felt functional if mostly unremarkable, and dungeon exploration teetered on tedium. It was never terrible, but major gameplay systems simply felt uninspired.

Ultimately, I left Astria Ascending’s preview without any strong feelings. Artisan Studios has established foundations for an entertaining RPG, sure, and though Astria never does anything specifically wrong, it never excels, either.

Featuring a good presentation, intriguing FP system, and gameplay customization, there are a few things RPG fans will enjoy, but as it stands, I’d struggle to recommend Astria over other games. I’m hopeful a longer playthrough will convince me otherwise.

Glitchpunk Early Access Review: Pew, Pew — But Futuristic Fri, 20 Aug 2021 14:35:08 -0400 Jason Coles

Glitchpunk asks you to remember the olden days of Grand Theft Auto, back when it was a top-down carnage simulator instead of the online behemoth it's become in recent years. Set is a dark and edgy cyberpunk world, Glitchpunk casts you as a newcomer to the city, one who's an android, and that instantly means most people hate you.

You're special, though. You're able to go against your programming, which means you can do whatever the hell you want. Well, theoretically...

You'll actually have to align yourself with factions as you go and complete their missions to further the story. There are no real good guys in this world because it's a cyberpunk story, so you just have to decide on which version of unpleasant you're going to be, rather than how heroic you are.

And every time you complete a mission for someone, you'll end up upsetting everyone else, so there's a fine balance to be drawn.

Glitchpunk Early Access Review: Pew, Pew — But Futuristic

As it's a GTA-inspired game, you'll be happy to know that guns are sold in vending machines all over the place, and if you want to, you can gun down just about anybody. Combat feels fine, weapons make satisfying sounds, and things die if you shoot them. But Glitchpunk lacks some of the feedback that helps games truly stand out amongst the sea of titles released nowadays.

There's no real nuance in its combat outside of pointing your gun at things and pulling the trigger, or smacking enemies in the head with a stun baton or other melee weapon. It's all fairly simple stuff, though it is enhanced by your ability to hack the things around you.

One of the first augments you get allows you to put nearby people into a rage state, where they'll basically attack everything, and that's quite good fun.

Gonna Take You for a Drive

The world of Glitchpunk is, even in its Early Access state, absolutely massive. Walking from one side of the city to the other takes an age, and because it's futuristic, the roads often make no sense whatsoever. There are very few places you can't accidentally get run over if you're not paying attention.

Of course, you can always go ahead and grab yourself a vehicle. Driving is easy, although the vehicles never feel very good to control. I'm not sure if this is meant to be because the old GTA games are equally awkward to control. but it's either very on-point if so or just frustrating if not.

Well, it's actually pretty frustrating either way, because driving nearly always ends with you running over several people by accident or crashing. That could just be me though.

An Aptly Named Game (At Least So Far)

As you can probably tell, I'm fairly middling on Glitchpunk as it stands. I know it's Early Access, so I'm definitely taking that into account, but there are a few little technical bugs and hiccoughs during my time with the game that were rather jarring. The frame rate occasionally grinds to a sudden halt, and there were several of times where I had to Alt+F4 the game as it stopped cooperating properly.

Outside of the tech stuff, the writing is needlessly aggressive and edgy. I get it, cyberpunk is a genre about dystopia, but it all feels a bit like everyone is a teenager all angry at their parents for putting them to bed too early. These aren't people crushed by the weight of inevitable capitalistic ruin and a complete lack of hope. They all just feel kind of grumpy.

I don't dislike Glitchpunk, but I'm also not enamored with it. I feel pretty neutral about it all, but I do think that the gameplay loop, while fun for half an hour, grows stale ultimately. There's not much to indicate that things will be more complex as the game evolves, but I'm hopeful that I'll be proven wrong in this case, because I'm sure there are plenty of people hungry for a return to old-school GTA games.

[Note: Daedalic Entertainment provided the Early Access copy of Glitchpunk used for this EA review.]

Tales of Arise Preview: Tales Ascending Tue, 10 Aug 2021 10:00:01 -0400 Josh Broadwell

It's been five years since Bandai Namco released Tales of Berseria on PlayStation 4, a hefty gap in a release schedule that normally sees a Tales game launch every two years or so. I spent a few hours with Tales of Arise's opening chapter ahead of the full game's September 10 release and can safely say that gap might be the best thing that's happened to the series.

Tales of Arise’s protagonist is an amnesiac. A mysterious young woman bursts into his life on a mission to change the status quo, and they’re both hurled into a political conflict between two civilizations. He also can’t feel pain, has no sense of taste except for one specific flavor, and works alongside other Dahnans, enslaved people harvesting energy through stones embedded in them for a dominant civilization.

The opening 30 minutes alone drips with callouts to previous Tales games, especially Symphonia, Berseria, and Abyss. Arise is, for the opening chapter available in the preview build at least, partly celebrating the series and also laying aside some of its now-too-familiar trappings for something more ambitious. 

Every recognizable trope has at least one significant twist to keep it interesting — and even valuable  to the narrative. The first chapter left me with a dozen questions and the kind of eagerness to understand them that not many games leave me with, especially so early on.

That goes double for anything to do with Alphen and Shionne, who could easily end up being the series' best protagonists, but also for the broader story Bandai is telling. 

Arise’s opening act is an uprising story and a darn good one at that. It’s no spoiler to say the Dahnans eventually rebel against the lord ruling over Caliglia, presiding over their pain for his own benefit, but the execution (no pun intended) is surprising in its strength.

This is fine!

Alphen and Shionne’s time in Caliglia might be brief, but there’s no escaping the Dahnan’s misery at every turn. Bits of environmental storytelling and sub-quests all help tell the story of the oppressed and, combined with some very good voice acting all around, make not getting caught up in the freedom fighters’ bid for liberation almost impossible. 

It’s the kind of story and storytelling that makes Arise feel much more like an epic fantasy than its predecessors. 

That shift is significant in another way as well, one that might not sit as well with some. There’s potential to capture the series’ usual lighthearted tone even aside from the skits — my Alphen wore a pair of Shiba Inu ears to the final confrontation with Balseph, Calaglia’s overlord — but so far, there’s no denying Bandai Namco is intent on telling a more serious story with Arise.

Of course, Calaglia is a closed territory gated off by a literal wall of fire. It’s a big world out there, and the one concern I have is whether Arise will maintain its opening excellence, solid pacing, and engrossing story.

Even if some of that does come up short later, there’s still combat to fall back on.

Arise’s combat is equally refreshing so far and the biggest enhancement since Tales of Xillia introduced a heavier emphasis on skills. Berseria’s point-based system returns, where you use normal attacks to charge your TP and chain skill combos, but it also adds new layers of strategy with several new twists. 

One is interruption attacks, where, after meeting certain conditions, a party member leaps in with an extra move. It’s handy for dealing extra hurt and vital for encounters with certain enemy types — even bosses.

Another big change is healing, which Arise unchains from TP and links to a separate pool of points. You’ll use this same pool for other important activities, and while it’s essentially shepherding resources the same as you do TP in other games, the new setup changes how you approach combat more than you might think.

That's not even getting into how Aries builds multiple skill trees in connection with titles gained through the main game and other activities. It has the potential to be a vast system, but one still doled out in easy-to-understand ways.

Of course, the other immediately noticeable difference between Arise and other Tales games is its presentation. Arise is easily one of the best-looking anime-styled games around, and that’s even with just being limited to the land of fire, sand, and death. Some character models lose a bit of their detail when the screen is crowded during cutscenes, admittedly, but it’s nothing too drastic.

Zestiria disappointed with its bland, empty, and outdated-looking overworld, but there’s mostly no danger of that with Arise so far. The wastelands around Calaglia are devoid of life, but not of interest. 

There’s substantial attention to detail in everything from flowing water to ruins and even the sound of Alphen’s boots or Shionne’s heels, to say nothing of the things you’ll find in the wilds.

True, most of it is standard fare, such as finding ingredients for cooking or things you’ll need on a quest later, but exploring always feels like a valuable way to spend some time — not something you could say for every Tales game.

In just three hours, Tales of Arise defied my expectations at nearly every turn. It's a more complete and ambitious package than most of its older siblings, and along with being bold enough to tackle a new kind of storytelling after two decades, it potentially has the foundation to pull it off and land among some of the greats.

Halo Infinite Tech Preview Impressions: Halo for the Modern Era? Tue, 03 Aug 2021 13:48:07 -0400 David Carcasole

If you were playing a word association game, the first word many might associate with Xbox is Halo. No franchise is as ingrained in the fiber of a platform as Halo, except for perhaps the name of a certain plumber. So with Halo Infinite finally on the horizon for this holiday, and the first technical playtest come and gone, how is the newest installment in the franchise shaping up?

Pretty good based on our short time with it. 

Most of what the preview included was a PvE mode with select times for PvP play, the latter of which was straightforward, classic Slayer. In the grand scheme of things, it was just a small snippet of what the MP will ultimately be like. It is, however, still a good place to start analyzing the Infinite's gameplay, considering that Slayer is to Halo what blood is life. 

All of the weapons we tried out feel good to use, mainly because each of them has a general feeling of added weight when they fire. Each of your shots has that extra "oomph" that makes them feel punchy. 

Mainstays like the assault rifle, battle rifle, sniper, and rocket launcher are all very fun to use and feel great, though I do think the battle rifle's recoil could do with some adjusting as I found it plenty easier for the reticle to taper off my target than in previous Halo titles. 

The added weight and punchier feel to each weapon, though, is what I would say is one of the more modern influences for the better. Modern shooters like Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal, for example, have weapons that almost create an extension of your feeling, so that when your shot hits it has the sensation of actually hitting something. 

Halo Infinite doesn't quite get to the feeling that Doom does, but it's definitely on that path, and it all works to increase the overall immersion. 

At the end of the day, the skewer wins the top spot for the best-feeling weapon, though, at least when it connects. Whether or not it's a headshot, it always feels good to send Spartans flying with a weapon that Captain Ahab would have killed for. 

When it comes to multiplayer gameplay, there are several aspects introduced this time around that are already drastically altering classic Halo combat. 

The new grapple hook does an excellent job of adding another layer of maneuverability to Halo's combat and opens up an entirely new avenue of interacting with the world. You can grab a far-away weapon or item to pull it toward you for a clutch kill, make a quick getaway, or throw yourself directly at an enemy for a melee attack. 

So far, it doesn't break the flow of combat because you can only use it three times after picking it up, and like everything else on the battlefield, you won't be able to grab it right after someone already has. 

Sprinting isn't exactly a new mechanic for Halo, though it is one that is still highly contested within the community, and I'm not entirely sold on it yet. While I do appreciate being able to move through the world faster, it makes the gameplay feel more in tune with other modern-day multiplayer games, not Halo

That isn't necessarily a critique or a negative overall, but currently, it sticks out as the only thing working against this return-to-form for the Halo franchise. Having an optional no-sprinting game mode for multiplayer or even a toggle-able feature for custom lobbies would be a welcomed feature for the full release.

The few maps we were able to experience aren't exactly anything to write home about. They're certainly not up to snuff with the legendary maps Halo is known for, but more than anything, they seemed simply "serviceable" for the test. 

Weapon locations were varied to provide players more chances with each one; they were small to keep you consistently engaged, and the weapons available for each map fit its individual landscape fine. 

Their potential came through mostly during PvP matches, specifically with the Bazaar map, but they were more or less just okay.

This was just a playtest though, and we'll obviously have more than just three maps for the full release. So while those maps in this weekend's playtest do not leave me hopeful, exactly, the selection can only get better.

All that being said, I am much looking forward to playing more Halo Infinite when the time comes and assured that the direction in which 343 seems to be taking the multiplayer is, in fact, a good one. 

Is it better than classic Halo multiplayer in the Halo: MCC? It could be, but it is too early to tell. Does it feel like Halo? Yes. Is it fun to play? Absolutely. 

At least for now, Halo Infinite is on track to again be one of the most popular shooters in gaming. 

Chilling Allegations Emerge From Activision Blizzard Lawsuit Sat, 31 Jul 2021 10:12:39 -0400 Ashley Shankle

Last week and this have seen a flurry of accusations come to light against Activision Blizzard staff. They arise following a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing against the company.

The state agency filed the lawsuit after a two-year-long investigation that uncovered a history and culture of discrimination and harassment against women throughout the company, from matters regarding compensation and employment to allegations of a "pervasive frat boy workplace culture."

Most chilling among the allegations against Activision Blizzard is a female employee who committed suicide while on a company trip with a male supervisor she was in a sexual relationship with, and it is also alleged nude photos of her were passed around at a company party.

The announcement of the lawsuit and its details are a bombshell considering Activision Blizzard's public stance on discrimination, as the company has been outspoken about its inclusiveness throughout the years.

From the outside looking in, it appears a flurry of emails has been circulating throughout the company about the allegations. Vice president of corporate affairs Frances Townsend claimed in an email (appearing in the Bloomberg article that broke the original story) they were "a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories  some from more than a decade ago."

This isn't the only insight we have into what's happening inside Activision Blizzard, as over 2,000 of the company's 10,000 employees signed an open letter with demands for more inclusive and transparent policies within the company.

The letter's demands were that the company acknowledge and issue official statements about the allegations, that Frances Towsend step down as Executive Sponsor to the ABK Employee Women's Network, and that executive leadership collaborates with employees to create an environment where they are safe to step forward.

Following the letter, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick released a statement admitting their initial responses to the allegations were "tone-deaf," and highlighted five actions the company would implement immediately. These included employee support, listening sessions, personnel changes, additional compliance resources for hiring practices, and changes to their games that are deemed inappropriate.

On Wednesday, July 28, over 350 employees joined in a walkout to protest Activision Blizzard's response to the discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit. The company sent out an email the day before promising pay for those who joined the walkout, which lasted from 10 a.m. PDT to 2 a.m. PDT.

With the walkout came an additional set of four demands entailing an end to mandatory arbitration clauses in employee contracts, the publication of compensation data to aid in deducing fair pay, an overhaul of the company's hiring and promotion policies through an internal Diversity, Equity & Inclusion organization, and a third party to audit the company's HR department, reporting structure, and executive staff.

The more micro aspects to this lawsuit are more damning than what can be found in the court documents. Since the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed its lawsuit and the Bloomberg report on it, multiple instances of repeated harassment have come to light, and the number of victims coming forth as well as the list of perpetrators just keeps growing.

In the meantime, development on Blizzard's flagship title World of Warcraft has halted and developer Alex Klontzas has hinted the next patch may be delayed. Activision Blizzard has also hired a legal firm best known for busting unions, which it has done with great success in regards to retail titan Amazon.

This story is ongoing. 

In Sound Mind Preview: Rethinking Indie Horror Mon, 19 Jul 2021 09:15:01 -0400 Mark Delaney

I love indie games. I love horror games. I don't always love indie horror games. Despite what should be a liberating ability to forge new paths, unshackled by the sometimes rubbernecking major publishers, an inordinate number of indie horror games seem to fall into the same trappings.

Seemingly handcuffed by smaller budgets, indie horrors tend to fall into the adventure-horror genre — with faux haunts, too-scripted scares, or any number of other typical shortfalls when games in this genre are made with limited resources.

To both my surprise and my delight, In Sound Mind bucks this trend, delivering a horror experience that, so far anyway, looks poised to outperform many of its counterparts.

Player character holding a flashlight in a well-lit home office.

Therapist Desmond Crane is haunted by his own invasive thoughts, he feels he's going crazy, and apparently, it's been affecting his patients who have all been dying off lately. To figure out why, Crane must venture into the recesses of both his own mind and theirs, in a supernatural just-go-with-it setup I neither expect nor really want to be explained in real terms.

In Sound Mind's premise is an interesting one right away, with its emphasis on a central protagonist with a backstory I haven't seen before. His story is merely an excuse for the real heart of In Sound Mind, however: the chaotic, even psychedelic, inner workings of his patients' minds. 

The current build of the game allowed me to explore the first few "tapes," recordings from Crane's therapy sessions, and I was stunned to see just how different they were from each other. While the whole game uses a first-person point of view, these two levels demonstrated In Sound Mind's apparently greatest feature: variety in its setting, and thus its scares.

In Virginia's tape, I explored the self-hatred of a physically scarred girl through the twisted underworld version of a haunted superstore where she had a traumatic experience, all while her ever-present ghost stalked the aisles looking and listening for me.

Player character standing in a grass by a road and signpost at night, holding a flashlight.

Hiding from Virginia, dressed in a ghostly dress with a lower body made of snakes, the game dared me not to sneak past her, but to lure her. To defeat her, I'd need to get her to look into various mirrors, using my handheld shard to watch her behind me, like the children at the border of the woods taunting the monsters of Shyamalan's The Village.

With controls inverted in the mirror and her hellbent intentions to do me harm, I had to clumsily Pied-Piper her to five separate mirrors before she was finally overcome and I'd unravel more of her story, finally free of the haunting. It was almost always as intense as intended.

It was this first encounter where I realized In Sound Mind is built differently than so many games of its stature. This is not a horror-lite experience. This is a real survival horror game, where managing ammo, going the extra mile for that additional critical resource like flashlight batteries, and solving complex puzzles with monsters breathing down your neck work together to keep tension mounting.

Each tape brings new mechanics to Crane's arsenal, like that shard of glass that can both cut through previously inaccessible obstructions as well as reveal hidden objects in its reflection.

Later, piecing together a pistol from crafting parts and collecting a gas mask give the hub-like apartment a metroidvania-like unraveling, whereby you recurringly take one step forward and two steps back through the increasingly hostile hallways, which can morph into even more unsettling labyrinths right before your eyes a la Layers of Fear.

Player looking at a lighthouse emitting red light behind a tall chain-link fence.

The second tape feels plucked right out Alan Wake, and I don't mean that in any way suggesting offense. I loved it. A much bigger open-world area dropped me into coastal town into Allen's mind (the name is apparently no coincidence), where a lighthouse's red gaze loomed on a threatening rotation, dealing damage whenever I was caught in it. Later, a dark presence (if you will), hunted me in the shadows while I manipulated light to outwit the angry spirit.

While some of the story details are decidedly different, I felt like this newest tape was a deliberate homage to Alan Wake, and I'd be curious to know if that's true. It was pretty close, both mechanically and aesthetically speaking. Either way, it once more showed me the depth of gameplay on offer with In Sound Mind. This section was very much unlike the first tape, and there will be more tapes to explore in the full game, presumably each one as fresh as these.

This isn't to say it's flawless. Some enemy encounters seem like they can be gamed in a way that breaks immersion, like running from "Inkblot" enemies until they despawn rather than face them head-on. Even the haunting Virginia seemed to stop slashing at me if I just kept running away when spotted, though I can also see how this is better than getting insta-killed by her with every failed try.

Things like these remind me this is still an indie game from a relatively small team. There will very likely be hiccups in the full release, but because it does so much else, and really more than so many counterparts of equal pocket depth, I'm willing to forgive these issues for now and wait and see how they feel in the full game.

Player shining a flashlight on a mannequin that's pointing right.

Even in this partial playthrough, the game kept giving me new ways to explore, new reasons to turn over every stone, and new, genuine scares. In turn, I found myself enchanted by this rare indie horror that actually delivers emergent haunts and some remarkably varied environments.

This has the makings of a game that really shouldn't work as well as it does. It feels like it's doing too much and it should buckle under the weight of so many elements. But so far, that just doesn't seem to be the case. Horror fans should keep this on their radar. In Sound Mind will be on my mind a lot between now and when it launches on September 28 for all major platforms.

In Sound Mind is releasing on September 28 for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X and will be releasing on the Nintendo Switch at a later date.

Rogue Lords Hands-On Preview: Darkest Dungeon Meets Classic Horror Fri, 25 Jun 2021 09:59:28 -0400 StevenGreen

Between the indie hit Darkest Dungeon and the dozens of similar strategy titles available on platforms like Steam, there is no shortage of difficult turn-based RPGs on the market. But for those looking to play something akin to Red Hook's popular title with a classic horror movie filter, Rogue Lords from Cyanide Studio (Styx, Call of Cthulhu) could be something to sink your teeth into.

While it's true that difficulty is often relative and can be either a positive or negative factor based on whoever's playing, Rogue Lords looks to find a balance between difficulty and accessibility. With a cartoony art style and unique mechanics, its gameplay so far, thoroughly enjoyable and noteworthy despite some difficult sections. 

I was able to go hands-on with the recent Rogue Lords beta build on PC ahead of the game's fall release, and here's what I think of it so far. 

Rogue Lords Hands-On Preview: Darkest Dungeon Meets Classic Horror

Lilith, Baron Samedi, and The Headless Horseman fighting two privateers.

Rogue Lords casts you as the Devil. After being driven into the depths of Hell from whence you came, you find yourself atop the black throne poised to incur payback and justice on the demon hunters of Van Helsing. To do so, you'll fight through the forces of good with a variety of classic horror movie monsters and fairy tale villains at your command.

The beta I played consisted of two levels: the prologue and a section set several hours into the game. The prologue unsurprisingly gets you up to speed, letting you familiarizing yourself with the map and movement. Your posse of monsters moves through foggy areas, discovering various paths and locations in the game's procedurally generated levels. These ultimately lead to a boss encounter at the end of each location which featured stringer enemies than normal.

As you move about the world, you'll engage in combat, buy abilities and health from vendors, and interact with classic horror characters like Dr. Frankenstein in narrative portions, all of which build up your characters' attacks and powers while leading you on your very own path towards world domination. 

With your pre-selected team of three, you'll fight your way through enemy units to learn new abilities or gain additional aid on your journey. For this pre-release playthrough, we were given the ability to try out three of what appears to be several available team members: Dracule, Bloody Mary, and the Headless Horseman. Each character has its own set of abilities and attacks, each embodies your standard archetype of tank, healer, etc.

A gaunt Dr. Frankenstein in a black cloak alongside dialog choices.

Combat consists of turn-based attacks where you spend action points to perform moves and abilities. Actions for opposing units are displayed to help you plan moves ahead or use abilities that negate some of the incoming damage or avoid attacks altogether, for example.

After a character's abilities have been used, they can't use them again unless they take the time to reset with a separate power-up. It's a mechanic that adds to the strategy as you use up some of your character's abilities while potentially saving others for later. 

While most of this type of gameplay can be found elsewhere, the unique thing about Rogue Lords is that you have the ability to cheat, just as the Devil would. You can lower the health of enemies, change the odds of passing certain checks, and even heal party members in exchange for your own health.

See, your team of three playable characters can never perish; instead, they get incapacitated. Once this happens, you, as the Devil, take damage directly. Deciding whether to use your precious health resources to increase your success is your call, but it could spell potential disaster down the road. 

Overall, Rogue Lords looks to be the type of experience those who liked Darkest Dungeon or similar experiences will want to check out. The featured characters from classic horror make it a unique one, and the additional Devil mechanics totally change up the strategy on offer. 

Rogue Lords will release later this year with all of its horror trope goodness with releases on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch. 

Hot Wheels Unleashed Preview: Putting The Flame In The Game Thu, 24 Jun 2021 12:00:26 -0400 Mark Delaney

Hot Wheels is one of the most recognized and renowned toy brands in the world, which gives Hot Wheels Unleashed a deceptively tough legacy to live up to. A Hot Wheels game from Milestone has even loftier expectations, as the studio operates as almost a racing team exclusively.

We're months away from the launch of Hot Wheels Unleashed, but after about a week with some modes of the game, I get the feeling Hot Wheels fan old and new will find something to enjoy with Unleashed, even if the game lacks just a bit of the childlike imagination the toys inspire in fans around the world.

At first, I was worried Hot Wheels Unleashed would be too adult of a take on the property. Milestone makes some great sim racing games, but historically, Hot Wheels games have always rightly been closer to kart racers.

I have to admit the impressive visuals are initially what threw me off. These games have never looked as good as this one, not even in the context of their own release eras. This feels like it must have the biggest budget of any Hot Wheels game to date.

So far, it seems like money well spent. I was able to play Quick Race in my time with the game, selecting from nearly 30 Hot Wheels originals, or "fantasy" cars.

Nostalgic or still impassioned fans of the flame will recognize many all-time greats and newer favorites too, such as Twin Mill, Rip Rod, Roller Toaster, and Exotique. Like most Hot Wheels games, Unleashed doesn't seem poised to offer licensed cars. Rather, this is about taking Mattel's in-house creations for a spin.

Each car has its own stats plainly visible when you're choosing which to use, making it feel more like other kart racers and giving younger or inexperienced players a quick guide on deciding their future favorites. The game even breaks these cars up into tiers, including Common, Rare, Legendary and Super Treasure Hunt vehicles. 

That last group is based on real-life and normally the ones collectors pine for, though I couldn't seem to access it in the preview build. I'm told players can upgrade their cars in the full game too, both for fashion and function.

The cars are faithfully recreated too. In the selection screen, close-up models reveal uncanny attention to detail. The plastic windows reflect just as they should. Each paint job is remarkably life-like. I spent a good while inspecting every toy car, comparing them to the 600+ my son has in his bedroom. In the end, every detail major and minor is present in Unleashed and it's a joy to observe.

These touches are lovely for fans, however, they don't mean anything if the racing itself is subpar. But again, this is Milestone. The team seems poised to deliver a racing model that is easy for younger players and still has a skill ceiling (and an option for brutally tough AI) for more experienced racers.

The medium difficulty AI was already giving me a run for my money, though I was warned the difficulty isn't yet balanced properly, so I expect this to be sorted by launch.

Tracks themselves are perhaps the most exciting part. Split into difficulty tiers, even the easy tracks give off the high-speed hijinx fans love with things like boost pads and turbo meters always taking the speedometer to its limit. The best tracks are those in the higher tiers, where fantasy elements like spiders shooting webs at players and looping track pieces almost perfectly capture the spirit of Hot Wheels.

Where this element falls short, however, is in its atmosphere.

Though tracks are necessarily built much wider than their real-life counterparts, they're still mapped onto worlds much bigger than the cars, in an effort to capture the scale of the toys. But these college dorm rooms and skate parks feel rather lifeless as periphery scene-setting. Meanwhile, the soundtrack doesn't help either, as sterile, pre-canned rock music plays as you whip around every track.

Hot Wheels has done well to constantly reinvent itself in the real world with new toy lines like Hot Wheels AI, tons of licensed crossovers like Rocket League, always walking a tightrope between modernity and timelessness. Thus, I find myself taken aback by Unleashed's musical selection, which feels ripped out of the ads I saw as a kid 20 years ago. Adding more "life" to the world beyond the tracks themselves would go a long way to staying true to Hot Wheels.

In the full game, players will be able to take on a career mode including boss races, play multiplayer local or online for up to 12 racers, and — the best bit — toy with a track editor to build their own custom races. Nothing in the game is really more important than that, given the brand. Right now I have high hopes for this arcade racer, but I need to get my hands on that portion to deliver my final verdict on the game.

Hot Wheels Unleashed debuts on Xbox, PlayStation, PC, and Switch on September 30.

Wolfstride Preview: Black and White Mech Fights Tue, 15 Jun 2021 10:26:47 -0400 George Yang

Wolfstride is an upcoming turn-based RPG game about mechs from Ota Imon Studios and Raw Fury. It was revealed back in 2020, and it was recently showed off at E3 2021.

Wolfstride is definitely an interesting game to look out for when it eventually releases. We even named it one of our most-anticipated turn-based RPGs of the year. I was able to play a brief demo build of the game and I came away intrigued by what I’ve seen so far. 

In the demo, you control a character named Shade, who unsurprisingly, dons a pair of cool shades. Immediately, the two aspects that stood out to me were the music and the art direction. Both are absolutely fantastic.

The song that plays in the main hub area is a great rock guitar tune that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Persona 5 dungeon. The overall art design of Wolfstride employs a black and white comic book style in its menus, battle animations, and character portraits. 

Shade himself looks very similar to Kamina from the Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann anime, especially since Shade has the same sunglasses as the character. Wolfstride is really a pleasure to look at and listen to.

Good, ol' Fashioned Mech Battles

Wolfstride's gameplay revolves around turn-based mech battles, and you have certain actions at your disposal that either take up MP or AP. The action line at the bottom of the screen consists of squares that you can move along to get closer to your opponent. MP is primarily used for moving and going towards the middle squares in the line, and it can offer you bonuses like increased damage output.

AP is used for both attacking and defending. Certain skills use a set amount of AP, so you have to strategize what skills to use. Skills have varying properties —like Knockout Punch. It can only hit an opponent if they’re right in front of you, but it also has the ability to push them several squares back. Another example is Reload, which is a defensive skill that allows you to reload bullets. Defensive actions like Reload use up AP just like any other skill.

To beat an opponent, you must destroy the chest area of their mechs. The mechs have separate HP bars for each part of their body, such as the arms, head, and chest. While the chest is the primary objective, taking out other parts first has its advantages. For example, taking out the right arm can shut down your opponent’s ability to use a certain attack skill completely. Destroying the head impairs the mech’s ability to target specific body parts.

Back at the hub area, you can purchase new parts of your mech using money earned from victories, as well as repair any damage you sustained from the previous fight. These new parts can have positive effects like simply increasing base damage. However, some might have drawbacks, too. Some may increase HP but also decrease your ammo capacity. It's a system that welcomes strategic planning as you build the best mech for your playstyle. 

It's Just a (Wolfstride) Demo!

Though it's just a demo, I wasn't able to get a clear picture of the game's story. I was just dropped off in the middle of the hub with barely any context, so it's hard to say how the narrative will play out.

There’s also a big difficulty spike between fighting the first mech and fighting the second. The demo emphasizes practicing on the first mech battle to earn more money and buy new parts, but hopefully, that’s not an indication of drawn-out grinding during the main game. We'll just have to wait and see. 

In the full game, it seems like you’ll be able to explore the setting, Rain City, in a greater capacity, and you’ll seemingly be able to talk with residents and forge relationships. Unfortunately, the demo doesn’t provide access to that part of the game, so I am definitely curious to see how that all plays out later.


Wolfstride draws a lot of its nostalgic air from the era of Japanese mech-battle TV cartoons, which has been done before. However, the art style and music will certainly help the game stand out from the crowd.

The battles are strategic enough without feeling like they’re dragging on, and the degree of mech customization is fun so far. The demo only gives a small taste of what’s to come, but hopefully, with a few difficulty tweaks and more content, I can give Wolfstride a more accurate assessment down the road.

If you like the kind of setting and aesthetic that Wolfstride employs, then by all means give the demo a shot when it launches on PC on June 16.

Monster Harvest Hands-On Preview: Poke Valley Wed, 09 Jun 2021 09:00:02 -0400 StevenGreen

Harvest Moon has been an ocean of ideas — revisited a number of times in recent years — with games like Stardew Valley taking the world by storm, washing over players in a wave of nostalgia and excellent game design.

One such upcoming title coming, which takes inspiration from that classic franchise, is Monster Harvest, a top-down pixelated farming sim that looks, feels, and starts similarly to most titles in the genre. However, it mixes into the formula another notable piece of nostalgia: monster collecting and battling, similar to what you might expect from Pokemon.

Now, Monster Harvest is more closely related to other farming sims, but with an item known as slime, players can stimulate plant growth, turning flora into unique creatures that can help the protagonist around the farm. 

I was able to go hands-on with a recent preview build of the game on PC. Here's what I think of it so far. 

Monster Harvest Hands-On Preview: Poke Valley

Waking up from that everlasting slumber known as "the start of every farming/romance simulator," you're given the opportunity to take over a farm from your uncle. With this stroke of agrarian luck, you pack up your dreary city life and become one with nature in Planimal Point. With a story as old as time (or gaming, I guess), Monster Harvest transplants the player to a town they know nothing about with neighbors who expect regular presents and pay very little for services. 

While I jest about the tropes found in the genre, Monster Harvest does include many of the mechanics you'd expect from a game like this. You start by clearing your farm of the initial debris of rocks and trees before growing crops with your basic tools. That's followed by slowly improving your farm and tools to allow for smoother daily routines and better quality vegetables. 

Where things get unique is with the inclusion of the aforementioned slime that is spread onto crops. Based on the crop that gets oozed(?), you're gifted a special animal friend that follows you around. You’ll be able to create up to 72 different mutations in Monster Harvest, all of which will help you in the fight against the wicked corporation, SlimeCo. 

This twist to Monster Harvest makes things interesting enough to sway you away from the similarities to its genre cohorts, as the story focuses on your fight against this company. While that turn-based battling feels similar to other titles as well, it is an interesting divergence from the rest of the game, even if the auto-battling and slower style of it isn't necessarily exciting. 

For those diehards who are still in the market for their fully-fledged farming simulator, don't fret — you'll get plenty of what you're digging for as well. Crafting allows you to build furniture for your customizable home, as well as items used across your farm. Piping and sprinklers allow for more efficient farms, and all the artisanal crops and products you'd want to work towards can also be found here in Monster Harvest

All in all, Monster Harvest is coming to a genre that's exploded over the past few years doing a lot of the things you'd expect it to do. However, it also adds in some new mechanics that make it a much more unique experience than what lies at the surface. There's still a lot to learn about this one. 

Monster Harvest is releasing on August 19, 2021, for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Check back for our full review around that time. 

Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX Preview: Another Classic from the Brutal Past Returns Tue, 01 Jun 2021 09:00:01 -0400 Jason D'Aprile

Alex Kidd is the latest series from Sega’s 8- and 16-bit era to get the modern-day remastering treatment. Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is a revamping of the 8-bit Sega Master System platformer. The full game releases on June 24, but we checked out a demo to see how things are coming along.

The three levels included showed off the variety of gameplay at work in Miracle World. The focus is primarily on familiar platform running and jumping with lots of block smashing. Gold blocks reveal coins used to buy things in the shop and power-up items. A variety of enemies populate the landscape waiting to be punched or just avoided, and there are plenty of regular blocks that can be destroyed or jumped on. 

Being a fairly straightforward and faithful recreation of a game from 1986, the gameplay here is very familiar for anyone who’s played a side-scrolling platformer in the intervening 30+ years. Admittedly, a lot has changed since then and Alex Kidd is more than happy to vividly display how things used to be. Alex, despite being a martial arts master, is also a one-hit kill sort of guy. As in, he gets hit once and it kills him. 

Unlike Mario, he also can’t bounce on top of enemies to kill them, which just feels wrong at this point. What Alex can do is find (or purchase) power-ups to give him an advantage in this harsh, unforgiving Miracle World. Shields, power attacks, and other goodies all provide a temporary edge. 

Some of those goodies are vehicles. The demo included two levels where Alex purchases a ride. One is a motorcycle that allows you to plow through enemies and jump obstacles. Another is a sort of helicopter balloon thing that turned the level into something resembling a shoot ‘em up. What’s interesting about these levels is they’re still platformer-centric and getting the vehicle is optional.

The vehicles can be destroyed as well, leaving Alex to run and jump the rest of the way. It’s an interesting spark of creativity that still holds up after all this time.

Another fun option is being able to switch between the original 8-bit version of the game and the new version at any time. Just press a button to see Alex in his original, primitive pixelated glory.

The new graphics, on the other hand, have managed a remarkably good compromise between the old days and modern tech. Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is still very much in the 2D-pixel art style, but the modern palette of color and high detail makes it look superb. The gameplay itself feels accurate to the original, with exacting, unforgiving jumps and attacks, multiple boss battles, and instant death everywhere.

The DX version does expand on the original game (which, incidentally, can be found in the Sega Ages collection on the Switch) in some key ways. For one thing, this version will have new and expanded levels with more story, enemies, and refined boss fights. There’s also a new "boss rush" mode for those who just really like beating up large angry things.

Much like the recent Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is shaping up to be a lovingly redone version of a game from a bygone era. Stay tuned for more. 

Hokko Life Preview: A Fresh Start Full of Heart Fri, 28 May 2021 16:06:39 -0400 Josh Broadwell

Team17 invited us to go hands-on with Hokko Life before its early access launch on June 2 and get a taste of what life in a village of unbelievably adorable animals is like. Naturally, comparisons to Animal Crossing are inevitable, and while they aren’t without merit, it would be a disservice to Hokko Life to pass it off as an Animal Crossing clone. That said, you might want to wait a bit before starting your cozy new life.

Hokko Life starts with you falling asleep. It’s a normal enough occurrence, except this time, it happens on a train, and you wake up in a strange new town populated by talking animals. Although perhaps it’s not too strange since you seem to take it all in stride.

Either way, now arrived and needing a place to put your head, you chat with the local pink elephant innkeeper who lets you stay the night and then indefinitely — on one condition. The town’s seen better days, and Moss, the local shopkeep and giraffe, thinks you might be able to fix that with your fresh, out-of-town ideas.

One of Hokko Life's big draws is decorating. You can decorate nearly anything, anywhere, placing it at unique angles, giving it a fresh coat of paint, or whatever you see fit.

That goes for neighbors’ houses too, which you can invade and redecorate at will. It’s a welcome feature after seeing the travesties Animal Crossing neighbors created with their homes, though Hokko Life’s critters do seem to have better design sense on the whole.

They also have if not more heart, a different kind of heart. The writing in Animal Crossing is superb, but you know what to expect from the broad personality categories the series itself helped create. 

Hokko Life might fall into these categories later on too. For now, though, the townsfolk are a refreshing blend of broader archetypes and personal characteristics that makes them easy to empathize with. It’s like if Stardew Valley characters were animals.

Mei the patchwork elephant isn’t shy, for example, but she does get overwhelmed in crowds and finds relating to books easier sometimes. Moss, thankfully, is not a self-conscious Tom Nook imitation, but a generous pillar of the community who genuinely wants to help everyone. He’s also adorable, but Hokko Life won’t let me hug him.

Your day-to-day activities vary depending on what you want to do. Once you finally get a house, you can grind for money and materials to buy loads of furniture and customization pieces from Moss’ store, or you can help the townsfolk, go fishing, or explore.

It’s here where Hokko Life’s Animal Crossing similarities are most apparent, though the structure is closer to a farm-sim game. Time passes faster, and you’ll see new seasons soon after settling in the village.

If you’ve sunk hundreds of hours into Animal Crossing: New Horizons, it might all still seem a bit too familiar, especially at first, when access to items and blueprints is limited. However, Hokko Life’s visual style and heart make it distinct enough to stand as a separate entity.

That said, it might be worth waiting a bit to leap into Early Access. The opening stages are still a bit rough, especially with how you progress. One early request from Moss took several in-game days to finish while I waited for flowers to grow, days where there was nothing else to do. Villagers are sometimes excessive in their demands, too; for example, Mei wanting six monarch butterflies when I couldn’t even find one. 

Waiting for the real estate agent to build her office so I could have a house, accessing new blueprints, earning money — it all just takes so long. I’m not concerned about it for the final product since this is pre-Early Access even, but it does mean I spent more time skipping ahead by sleeping than I’d have liked.

Regardless, Hokko Life is charming and full of potential, and I can't wait to see how it grows alongside the village itself during Early Access. Hokko Life will release into Steam Early Access on June 2. 

Can the New Super Mario Bros. Speedrun Record Be Beaten? Wed, 19 May 2021 14:43:53 -0400 Gavin Burtt

On April 7, 2021, speedrunner Niftski set a new world record in the Any% category of Super Mario Bros with a time of 4:54.948. This was the first-ever sub-4:55 run of the classic Nintendo platformer and will go down as the last-ever second barrier. A sub-4:54 run is impossible, but is it possible to get a lower 4:54 and break Niftski's record?

Super Mario Bros, released in 1985, has had ample time to be mastered by speedrunners. As it stands now, the Any% category is one of the most optimized runs in all of gaming. This, plus the popularity of the franchise and the cultural impact of this specific title, make speedrun world records in this game some of the most coveted. 4:54, being the last-second barrier possible to break in the game, makes this world record one of the biggest milestones in speedrunning history.

To better follow along with this discussion, take a look at Niftski's world record:

How Was the Record Set?

To really drive home just how optimized this run is, it's iportant to know exactly how the game functions. Super Mario Bros can only load the next level on every 21st frame, an interval of time that players have dubbed "framerules," which are 21 frames or 0.35 seconds. If a runner reaches the end of a level 11 frames into a framerule, 20 frames into a framerule, or just one frame into a framerule, the next level will only load at the beginning of the next framerule.

This means that once a level has been optimized to the point of being beaten in the earliest possible framerule, then it is already at its theoretical limit.

The Any% route is as follows: play through 1-1, take the warp zone in 1-2 to 4-1, complete 4-1, and take the warp zone in 4-2 to 8-1. Then play through the final four levels and defeat Bowser at the end of 8-4.

Runners play through eight levels total. Of these eight, Niftski got the theoretically best possible time on six of them. Not even AI programmed to beat the game as quickly as possible could beat Niftski on those six levels.

Of course, this means there is still time to save on two levels. We'll get to those, but first, let's consider some of the highlights of the current world record that put this run into perspective. Some of this may sound like jargon at first, but what's important is that it's noted how precise all these tricks are.

  • On worlds 1-1, 4-1, 8-1, and 8-3, Niftski performed what is known as the flagpole glitch. These glitches allow players to skip the flagpole animation and enter the castle early, and all require frame-perfect inputs and subpixel-perfect positioning.

  • 1-2 and 4-2 both include frame-perfect wall clips. The first is used to access the warp zone quicker, while the latter is used to push Mario further to the right side of the screen, a requirement for the first "wrong warp" glitch.

  • 8-1 features what is known as a fast acceleration on the first frame of the level. Niftski had to hit left on the first frame of the level, then jump and hit right on the third frame, and release jump on the fourth frame. These are all frame-perfect inputs that allow Mario to reach running speed quicker and must be started on the first frame possible, with no cue as to when that first level frame is coming. Doing this, plus the flagpole glitch at the end, allows him to catch the earliest possible framerule with zero frames to spare. 

  • 8-2 includes the infamous "Bullet Bill Glitch" to trick the level into ending two framerules early; another frame-perfect trick, as well as the "TAS 8-2" setup, which involves getting to the end of the level at such a pace that was only recently determined to be humanly possible thanks to new setups.

  • Timing ends on the frame that Bowser's axe is grabbed, not the framerule that it is grabbed, so every frame counts on 8-4. Niftski made use of a frame-perfect wall jump and an incredibly difficult fast acceleration before the second wrong warp to get a low enough time for 4:54. 

That only covers the key moments of the run. Every level features at least one frame-perfect, pixel-perfect trick, and Niftski hit each one in succession, on top of perfect general movement through everything between.

So what are the two levels that runners could theoretically save time on, and are they humanly possible to save time on?

Where Can Time Be Saved?

The more realistic area to save time on is 8-4. There are 20 possible frames to save on this level, though the fastest 8-4 ever done in practice only saved 17 of those frames, also done by Niftski.

These 20 frames can be saved by performing first-frame fast accelerations in every room of 8-4, similar to what is done at the beginning of 8-1. Considering the incredibly low success rate of the 8-1 trick by even the most accomplished speedrunners, it is unlikely that we'll see anyone hit it multiple times in one level at the tail-end of a world record pace run, anytime soon at least. 

A fast acceleration means that Mario is programmed to decelerate from running speed to zero faster than he accelerates from zero to running speed. The software determines deceleration when you are trying to move in the direction opposite the way you are facing. Thus, by facing left and doing a backward jump to the right, you will "decelerate" to maximum speed quicker. 

The other level to save time on is 4-2, where a single framerule can be saved. This is done by hitting a trick known as "Lightning 4-2." The trick to this level is to push Mario 20 pixels further to the right of the screen than is normally possible.

By doing so, Mario can enter a pipe before the screen has scrolled far enough to the right to overwrite the pipe's transition data. Instead of taking you to a coin cache like normal, it takes you to the above-ground region that you typically need to watch a vine-climbing cutscene to reach. 

Niftski uses the wall clip to nudge Mario to the right enough, but there is a quicker way of doing it. By bumping into corners of blocks in the right way, while facing backward but holding right, runners can force Mario to the right 7-10 pixels per bump. Two perfect bumps would thus get you the exact amount of pixels needed, and going down the first pixel of the pipe would take you above ground. This saves a few frames over Niftski's record.

Once above ground, runners would then have to hit a first-frame fast acceleration, just like 8-1 again, then enter the 8-1 warp zone pipe on the first possible frame to save an additional framerule overall on 4-2. When Niftski practiced this trick, it took him six months of on-and-off attempts to hit it once.

In conclusion, there are 41 possible frames left to save in Super Mario Bros, so yes, the record can and will be beaten. Most likely, the next few records will involve small timesaves on 8-4 as single fast accelerations are added, but a framerule save on 4-2 is inevitable. It's just a matter of time and practice.

Taking down those 41 frames would result in a 4:54.265, the fastest possible time the game can be beaten. As we come closer to perfection, the improvements only get harder, and right now, those improvements are nearly impossible. To see Niftski's run compared with the theoretically perfect 4:54.265, and see those potential 4-2 and 8-4 timesaves for yourself, check out this comparison video:

Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous Beta Impressions — By the Numbers Wed, 05 May 2021 17:58:30 -0400 Gabriel Moss

If you’re getting tired of waiting for Baldur’s Gate 3 to exit Early Access, and if you’re jonesing for another D&D-themed top-down roleplaying game, you may want to check out Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous when it releases this September. Wrath of the Righteous is the latest game to carry the CRPG genre torch, indirectly following up 2018’s Pathfinder: Kingmaker.

This past week, I got a chance to drop into the official Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous beta and get a feel for how it plays, including story structure and combat. 

Granted, I don't have a foundational understanding of the Pathfinder series, having never played a game in the series. My closest point of reference is the Pillars of Eternity series, Divinity: Original Sin 2, and Disco Elysium, so I went into the beta a bit green. But as a completely new player, here's what I thought so far.

Also note that these impressions are based on only the first few hours, since I simply did not manage to get the time to dig as deep as I wanted before the embargo lifted.

Character Creation

Like every top-down roleplaying game, the first thing you do in Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is select your character.

If you don't want to choose a pre-made character and want to really fine-tune the precise details of a character, you can't go wrong with what Pathfinder offers here. I counted about 25 regular classes, 12 prestige classes, and 12 races to mix and match between. Not to mention, you get to also choose your race, background, ability scores, skills, two feats, a deity, alignment, appearances, portrait, voices, and, of course, a name.

I was even able to choose a birthdate for my character, though I'm not so sure how relevant that will be in the final build. Whether there are any story implications, I’m uncertain, but at least it’s cool from a roleplaying standpoint.

However, I was totally overwhelmed by the number of feats and deities I could pick and choose from, which is par for the course for this sort of game, but I already know that many tabletop and CRPG fans will love this variety of choice.

I'm not quite sure that much of this choice is meaningful; I barely noticed many of my character's unique traits coming into play, even during dialogue sections. Most choices seemed arbitrary or based around pushing me down a particular path in Pathfinder's Mythic system, which seems like a souped-up campaign morality system, but with six different paths instead of a binary system like in Mass Effect.

All of this isn’t to detract from the sheer depth of choice here. Even in beta, you can get lost in the character creation system for hours if you'd like. Exploring all the different possibilities is certainly a big part of these games, and at least in Pathfinder's combat system, the unique mixture of classes and traits could probably make for some very unique playstyles.

Appearance customization is about as detailed as it is in other recent CRPGs, namely Pillars of Eternity 2 or Divinity: Original Sin 2, where you have a palette of skin and hair options, but not much beyond that.

Character portraits — images that represent your character in Pathfinder's user interface — are limited to a handful that you can choose from by default. But Pathfinder made it easy to import my own portraits if I wanted to go that route instead of choosing one from the provided selection.


To somebody who has played many fantasy games but isn't too well-versed in and doesn't have much of a connection to Pathfinder lore, the story in Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous comes off as run-of-the-mill high fantasy stuff involving angels and demons. You're a relatively unknown hero who awakens from unconsciousness in the middle of a city square, during which the populace is celebrating the end of demons in general.

But that all changes when, a few beers later, demons attack the city and force you underground with a handful of refugees. Long story short: you team up with a group of woefully misunderstood humanoids called Mongrels. And then together you all make a break for the surface, an experience that takes you through the first level or so before you're let free to venture around in the world map.

The first thing that stood out here wasn't the contrived story, but rather the voiced dialogue. Most lines of dialogue in this early section were voiced, and the quality of the voice acting was pretty darn good throughout. It wasn't quite as tonally consistent as in the voiced narrations of Disco Elysium: Final Cut, but it grounded me in Pathfinder's world immediately.

I'm a fan of storybook-esque "events'' in computer roleplaying games, where the story is narrated and you choose from a list of different options, succeeding based on different skill checks or trait checks. Now, I'm not talking about dialogue here. I'm talking about illustrated sequences that are presented in a choose-your-own-adventure book format.

Interactive sequences in this style — not the choice-based dialogue variety — were one of the main appeals of Pillars of Eternity and its sequel, and it was cool to see that Owlcat Games are attempting it in Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous as well. However, I noticed that these choice-based sequences appeared substantially less than I would have hoped, and without nearly as many skill checks or prerequisite checks.

Most options in these roleplaying segments, and in actual dialogue with other characters, simply contributed toward a score, such as your alignment or Mythic score, and thereby felt less about roleplaying the character you already created and more about creating a character through your roleplaying.

Some will love that, but I wasn't as big of a fan of it, since I never saw any kind of meaningful impact for any of my decisions in the few hours I spent in the beta. It struck me as a shame, given just how extensive I found Pathfinder's massive character creator.

Granted, again, I didn't get too deep into the beta beyond the first few hours, so these choices may expand further into the game.

Gameplay & Graphics

Overall, the environments are pristinely detailed, and the lighting in darker areas looked great on my 1440p display. But I found that the character models look dated, something more apparent during cutscenes where the camera zooms in on them for dramatic effect. 

There's a multiclassing system, and from what others are saying it sounds like you can throw a new class onto a character every time they level up.

That's consistent with my experience; each time I leveled up, I could choose which class got that level, meaning that I could also choose just how far I could progress into each specific class if that's what I wanted. But since it's so open, and because I could pair any set of classes with minimal guidelines or directions, I felt like at any moment I could quite easily "break" a character by mixing playstyles that wouldn't fit together.

For creative sorts, this unlocked multiclassing system is probably ideal, and there's a ton of room for players to tweak and experiment.

The biggest standout feature for me was the idea of shared storage, which pools each character’s inventory capacity into one aggregate storage space. In theory, this makes inventory management much easier and simpler to deal with because you don’t have to root around in each character’s inventory to find the items you want to sell or equip. I also appreciated the fact that there was only a minor debuff in my party’s speed if I over-encumbered myself.

Also neat was the fact that, if I tried to leave an area before collecting all of the dropped loot in that area, I was prompted to auto-loot everything before I transitioned to the next area. I’m not sure if this feature picked loot out of chests as well, but I definitely thought it made things more convenient when I left a zone without looting every monster corpse.

The default combat system in Wrath of the Righteous is based on a real-time with pause system; every action is played out in real-time, but you can pause the game and make decisions for what you want each character in your party of up to six to do next. This system worked as fine as anyone would expect a real-time with pause system to work in a top-down roleplaying game, but I do lean more in favor of a turn-based system, so I'm a bit biased here. For those who also prefer turn-based systems, there is indeed a turn-based combat system if you go looking for it in the settings menu!

I did enjoy casting Enlarge Person on an enemy, making them more physically strong but very easy to land hits on and kill early in a battle, and while I mainly stuck to my tried and trusted healing and damage-dealing spells, I noticed a ton of "weird" spells (like Enlarge Person) that I could get creative with if I wanted to.


So far, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous feels like just another top-down roleplaying game. And for hungry roleplaying game fans, that might just be good enough. Nothing about the story really stuck out to me, and while I’m a sucker for extensive character creation systems, none of the choices I made here seemed to have a ton of story or gameplay impact beyond combat.

But of course, this is all just how it plays in only the first couple of hours of its current beta. I didn't dig nearly as far as I could have if I were given more time, given how much content was provided, and it's still not quite a finished product yet, so I'm certainly willing to bet that I'm passing more than a few misguided judgments of Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous far too soon. Regardless, even if you just want another roleplaying game to fill your time, this one is definitely shaping up to be worth at least checking out.

Scavengers Early Access Review: Can We Last Through the Winter? Tue, 04 May 2021 15:24:31 -0400 Mark Delaney

In just four years, the battle royale genre has gone from niche to a must-have addition for many of gaming's biggest franchises. Now, many competitive games, including virtually all shooters, continue to iterate on the popular mode in different ways.

Though Midwinter Entertainment is unusually shy about saying so, Scavengers is one of the genre's newest innovations.

It seems as though the team doesn't want to be pigeonholed into the battle royale maelstrom, and perhaps that's smart given how busy that space is these days, but some games inevitably rise to the top, and thanks to the team's shooter pedigree, Scavengers has the potential to emerge from that storm as a fan-favorite.

Scavengers is a free-to-play third-person co op "survival shooter," according to its creators, but for anyone jumping in for the first time, what you really need to know about Scavengers is that it's a battle royale.

With dozens of players on every iteration of the game's massive and frosty map, teams of three must work together to scavenge for supplies, fend off enemies both AI and human, and be the last team standing when the dropship arrives.

Perhaps Midwinter doesn't call its debut title a battle royale because that comes with certain connotations, several of which Scavengers defies. For instance, you can die and return after a 60-second respawn timer. There's no Gulag to prevail in. There's no Reboot Van at which your allies revive you. The simple, yet ultimately nerve-rackingly long, respawn timer is one way Scavengers challenges players to play cooperatively.

As the map shrinks due to an ever-encroaching blizzard, if at any point all three players are eliminated on a team, they're all sent back to the lobby. This provides the right kind of anxiety, the kind this genre is meant to provide. Being the lone survivor on a team, desperate to survive until your allies get back in the fight, is fun every time, even if it doesn't go your way. It gives every round the sense that you're going down swinging.

The map's storm moves slower than the ones in other games in the genre, meaning you can often outrun it even if you start to trek out of it later than you should.

But there are unique consequences for staying in Scavengers' storm. With gauges for both hunger and warmth, players will see the latter drop fast, eventually blocking part of their health bars unless they can recover it using campfires or some crafted items, like a Thermal Boost. As you sprint, you accumulate hunger as well, so even if you're hoping to lie low for a long portion of any round, it won't be long before it's time to hunt for food.

These survival elements add a necessary spin on the genre. In addition to crafting vital survival tools, players can also craft shields, throwables, and signature weapons for each of the game's seven class-based heroes at launch, three of which are unlocked on day one. While crafting and survival mechanics aren't anything novel either, Scavengers bridges the last-player-standing excitement of battle royale with the reward of survival games, where the best-prepared players, not necessarily the best shooters, can do the most damage.

Shooting in Scavengers feels excellent. The game's pedigree, including the former Halo creative director and veterans from BattlefieldCall of Duty, and more, shines through. A pretty standard assortment of guns, like assault rifles, shotguns, snipers, revolvers, crossbows, and more, don't impress with any sort of innovative mechanics on their own, but they make up for it thanks to tight controls that ensure players never need to grapple with the game itself, only the enemies.

That's more than one can say for what is admittedly still my favorite game ever -- PUBG -- and puts Scavengers closer to Warzone or Fortnite in terms of battle royales that actually feel good to play. The genre is wildly all over the map in this regard, but Scavengers is reliable when it comes time for a shootout.

The biggest issue Scavengers has is its map features. The point of every round is to escape with not just your life, but also the most Datapoints, which can be gathered at major settlements across the map or dropped by AI and human enemies. This added factor means Scavengers is the battle royale that scores you based on your found loot, which is fun as a concept.

Some of the game's best bits are nevertheless let down at times by a map too flat and barren in between its main settlements. I've landed on using the sniping- and crossbow-class characters, because I just don't see the utility in playing someone with close-quarters special weapons, like a shotgun or a melee sword. The sightlines are so vast when between settlements. It feels like anyone who needs their targets at close range is at a severe disadvantage.

I've lucked into my preferred character, a stealthy archer named Kali, being such a strong fit for the current geography of Scavengers. Anyone who loves to play as the shotgunner of their group may find Scavengers to be more of an uphill battle, figuratively and ironically speaking, because the terrain can be so flat on the outskirts of towns. 

I expect the meta to quickly reveal itself to favor long-range gunners, at least in this earliest of Early Access stages.

Scavenger's economy is based on not just cosmetics, but also individual research projects players can explore between rounds. Researching new items, weapons, and talents is straightforward for anyone who's played mobile games or those that borrow from it, though it's worth noting nothing in Scavengers' economy is predatory like those of many mobile games. Players earn credits as they play, and while you can use them to complete research projects faster, I've not yet seen any reason to.

There's always more to unlock, and every crafting resource you'll need can only be found by playing the game. I wouldn't call anything in Scavengers pay-to-win for that very reason. It's play-to-win, with an option to speed things up by a few hours if you really want to.


Scavengers is in its infancy as an Early Access live service game, and that's a period during which fans should reasonably expect some growing pains. Midwinter's debut has fewer than some others, to its credit, though no one would rightly argue it's without blemishes.

The foundation is strong, and one can quite easily see a future where this competitive game continues to grow thanks to its fusion of two of the industry's biggest trends. Scavengers has at least earned my curiosity for now, and with strong ongoing support, I expect its harsh but fulfilling world will draw in plenty more Explorers too.

Black Skylands Preview: An Ambitious Open-World Pixel Art Adventure Tue, 04 May 2021 15:09:46 -0400 Luke Shaw

Set in a skypunk fantasy world full of airships, pirates, floating islands, and giant airborne beasts, Black Skylands is a mix of genres that manages to work despite its patchwork nature. It's an ambitious project for indie studio Hungry Coach Games, but all the ingredients for success are baked in.

We were able to go hands-on with the latest Black Skylands playstest on Steam and came away with positive impressions. Here's what we thought. 

Limitless Horizons

In Black Skylands, you play as Eva, a girl from a farming community who wants to explore the wide world beyond her Fathership, the floating paradise where she lives with her father and brother. Soon after a short segment introducing players to the game's farming and settlement building mechanics, your home is attacked by pirates and razed in front of your eyes.

You fight back, learning how to shoot enemies a la' Hotline Miami with Skylands' fun aim deviation if you spam fire. You're then introduced to the hook that drives the demo and the early game: your brother has gone off into the sky to fight the pirates on their home turf, and you'll need to take an airship out into the great beyond to find him. Taking the first steps into the sky lets you drink in the gorgeous pixel art on display.

For a demo of an Early Access game, Skylands already looks extremely polished, with flocks of fauna flying overhead as giant sky-faring whales casually float below. It's clearly far beyond your average retro-aesthetic, with lush detailing everywhere, and the only complaint is that the top-down characters are not quite as bold or instantly recognizable as they could be, which often leads to missing certain things here and there, such as important shopkeeps.

Piloting in Black Skylands is wonderfully tactile, and stocking your ammo and fuel involves grabbing crates from stores and physically carrying them to your hold. Fuel cans must be purchased, filled up, and then emptied into your ship's motor. Managing your ship's repairs feels unique, too, and operating its guns is done with the left and right mouse buttons. On top of that, you'll need to keep an eye on your firing arcs and how much fire as the guns can overheat. 

Grand Theft Airborne

Cooling overheated armaments and repairing damage to the ship can only be done by letting go of the steering wheel and manually moving to the damaged area or affected gun and expending time (and often resources from the ship's hold) to fix the issue. While aerial combat is mainly you fighting against smaller ships and propeller-suit-wearing pirates (at least so far), it can get fraught as you try and orientate your ship's firing arcs while avoiding gunfire, rockets, stationary mines, and clouds of noxious gas.

Transitioning from ship to island is achieved by diving off the deck of your ship and latching to firmament with a grappling hook. The hook is a great tool in combat, as well, letting you zip around or pull enemies in for a melee attack or close-range shotgun blast. You are equipped with a dodge roll that takes you through projectiles, allowing you to dance through bullet-hell style waves of attacks and avoiding swarming melee grunts.

There are plenty of weapons to choose from, running the gamut from pistols to shotguns to submachines, and each is fully moddable with upgrades found at vendors and in loot boxes. There are also mods to craft for your airship, and buildings you can create and upgrade back at the Fathership, which makes the game feel familiar to recent Assassin's Creed titles. 

Islands in the Sky

It may sound odd to say, but Black Skylands is very clearly trying to parrot some of the trends found in AAA open-world games, but with the kind of top-down, retro stylings that are so favored by indie studios. It sounds like an unlikely combination, but it's a good fit.

The small opening story quest ends the demo, but there is scope to carry on exploring the rest of the open world. Each island is occupied by a host of enemies, and clearing them all lets you stake a claim on the island, giving you new resource options and access to new vendors.

Black Skylands releasing in Early Access makes sense for a drip-feed of content. The map is limited right now, but there are clear plans to expand outside the demo area. The islands on offer currently present a good mix of top-down platforming, combat, and exploration with some minor secrets to find. 

With the scope it has for constructing buildings on your Fathership, upgrading you weaponry, armor, and airship, and the vast expanse of the sky to explore, there's a great foundation here. Controls are a little finicky at times, and the distance and reliability of your grappling hook take some getting used to.

It will be extremely interesting to see where the developers take Black Skylands next, especially if new challenges and sky biomes are added. This is one to keep your eye on. 

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 Hands-On Preview: Aiming to Please Tue, 04 May 2021 10:18:08 -0400 Justin Koreis

The mission was quickly becoming a disaster. I’d managed to assassinate my first target, an Arms Dealer named Antwan Zarza, in a large industrial area at the northwest edge of the map. My journey to the next target took me right through a makeshift military base. I eliminated an enemy overlooking the camp but failed to notice his friend, who managed to raise the alarm before I could put him down.

Now I was pinned down by fire from below. I picked off a few of the soldiers with my sniper rifle, but at the center of the base, a soldier was preparing to fire a mortar. The explosive shell would almost certainly end my life.

I drew my rifle, calibrated the scope to accommodate for bullet drop, and took aim at his chest. That’s when I saw it, the gleam of a grenade hooked to his belt. Quickly adjusting my aim, I took note of a slight crosswind, held my breath, and fired. The grenade erupted in a white-hot flash of fire and shrapnel; the power of the explosion tore through the surrounding men, ending the skirmish in an instant. I was on to my next target.

When I went hands-on with CI Games' upcoming Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2, the sixth installment in the Sniper Ghost Warrior franchise, I was expecting another solid sniper game, with quality gunplay and over-the-top Bullet-Cam kills. What I found was a game with the potential to deliver some of the best emergent gameplay of the year, where every player’s unique adventure exceeds anything a scripted encounter could ever hope to deliver.

Contract Killer

In Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2, you are Raven, an expert sniper dropped into enemy territory, tasked with eliminating key cogs as you work to topple a corrupt head of state. Along the way, you must complete certain objectives, such as freeing prisoners, destroying special equipment, and more.  

Right from the beginning, it was clear that SGWC2 is more than just a point-to-point sniping game. The first mission dropped me into a large map, with three potential targets, each in a different area. The overall lack of direction was refreshing, as I was free to make my own however I saw fit. In this case, I headed South, pursuing expert hacker Fyodor Novikov, who had taken refuge at a military facility.  

The journey to my destination wasn’t easy. I had to work past multiple groups of guards by way of intuitive first-person stealth. Keeping to shadows, I was able to get behind a guard and ambush him. The goon found himself more than willing to divulge where the rest of his allies were in hopes I would spare him (I didn’t). With this newfound information, I plotted a route around the group's perimeter and made my way to the target zone.

Cerebral Assassin

There are five total levels in Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2, each filled with targets, missions, and challenges. Three are built as hubs, with Extreme-Range Sniping assignments scattered around. The other two levels are pure sandboxes, more akin to previous SGW titles, where you can take the perfect shot from afar or make a stealthy approach for an up-close and personal assassination.

Novikov was in an Extreme-Range Sniping zone. Previous games have you eliminating targets from a maximum range of around 600M. This time, you fire from up to 3X that. In this case, I was roughly a kilometer from the target, and I set to work.

One of the great strengths of this series is the balance between realism and fun gameplay. CI Games consulted with actual snipers of GROM, the Polish Special Forces. These conversations lead the team to focus on strategy through observation and planning before taking any shots. In practice, this meant I spent several minutes watching the target zone through my binoculars, tagging enemies and points of interest.

To have the best chance of success, I needed to plan out an entire series of moves and attempt to visualize the sequence of events before taking a shot. It was chess from a kilometer away, with a .50 caliber sniper rifle.  

I decided to play it defensively. First, I eliminated an opposing sniper on a rooftop. This would give some margin of error should I miss my shot. At this range, no one would hear the sound of my rifle firing. I could try and lead the target by a few steps, catching him in stride, but I found a spot where he liked to greet one of the guards. I sat patiently, trigger finger at the ready.

Taking the Longshot

At 1,200 meters, there were many factors to consider, all of which were readily visible in the thorough but unobtrusive UI.

First, I calibrated my scope for distance. This would center my crosshairs at an elevation that accounts for the effect of gravity on the bullet over the distance. There was a slight crosswind, illustrated by the Dynamic Reticle System, which drew a line trailing off the side of the crosshairs, reflecting the bullet's path. The bullet would take more than a second to travel this far, so I needed to line up my shot for where the target would be at that time. He entered my field of view, and I fired.  

There is immediate feedback when you find a well-aimed shot. The camera exits the first-person perspective and follows the bullet on its course in a cinematic follow-view. A rifle of this power strikes with unbelievable force. My bullet struck the side of my target's head, just above the ear.  

At player request, the gore has been turned up from previous entries in this series, and it was on full display here. The concussive power was enough to shatter the skull. A crimson explosion erupted, with anatomical details similar to what you would find in Mortal Kombat. It was at once disgusting and exhilarating, striking the right balance of violent enough to not diminish the violence of what you, a sniper, are doing, yet exaggerated enough to avoid being excessive or gratuitous.

Gore can be turned down in the menus to an extent if you prefer.

Another Round of Shots

Now that my target was eliminated, I made a hasty retreat. My successful kill earned me money and upgrade tokens, which are used to buy new equipment and upgrades. There are several upgrade trees that you can customize to your style. Gadgets include spy drones, special ammo, and even a remote-control sniper you can use as a second gunman.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 missions are designed to be repeatable. You can return to try different strategies for eliminating your target. As you progress and upgrade your equipment, you can start honing some of the more creative ways to eliminate your targets.  

In addition to your rifle, there are environmental hazards to take advantage of. In one case, I saw a crane with a heavy load suspended conveniently above the path one of the targets likes to walk. Another had an escape vehicle that I could destroy once my quarry was inside. These emergent sections give the game a Hitman-like replayability, with challenges and achievements to match. 

As I continued playing, I found each encounter to be dynamic. Once, I was spotted and had to snipe the driver of an armored vehicle. Another time, I carefully circled an enemy until he was aligned with another soldier, and I was rewarded with two kills for a single shot. I shot circuit breakers to lure a target into the open in one assassination attempt and blew up a parked helicopter to create a distraction in another. Everything I did felt dynamic, and every encounter had to potential to be unique.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 feels like the marriage of tried-and-true first-person sniping and the unique experiences possible in modern open-world games. As much as I am looking forward to playing the final release, I am more excited to see and hear the unique experiences of other players. Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 might just be a shot worth taking when it releases on June 4

Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart State of Play: The Next Best Looking PS5 Game Thu, 29 Apr 2021 19:18:44 -0400 David Carcasole

June is almost here and for PlayStation fans, that means Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart is closer to release on PS5. In anticipation of Insomniac's continuation of the fan-beloved series, Sony hosted a State of Play event on April 29 that gave fans the most in-depth look into the game yet.

After beginning the State of Play with a look at the upcoming Subnautica: Below Zero and announcing an impending Among Us release on the PS4 and PlayStation 5, Sony and Insomniac devoted the rest of the time to Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart.

The tandem wasted no time in starting the event with a visual spectacle. Within the first few moments, we see Rivet and Clank, then suddenly a massive robot ripping off the wall in front of them before attempting to steal Clank while Rivet grabs her hammer and goes after him.

Just as Rivet is about to smash her way to Clank's rescue, Marcus Smith, Creative Director on Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart at Insomniac takes over and begins to narrate over a mix of cinematics and gameplay. 

From the game's logo, we pan down to find Ratchet, picking himself back up after being thrown across dimensions into one where Dr. Nefarious has succeeded in his plot for domination and is now Emperor Nefarious. As Ratchet explores the world, we're treated to our first full look at Nefarious City, a full urban sprawl that feels incredibly realized, and it looks stunning.

We also start to discover some new story beats. For example, Ratchet acquires a dash and wall-running ability after visiting a new character called Phantom. There's also a new vendor in Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart, Ms. Zurkon, who hints at a larger rebellion fighting to end Emperor Nefarious' tyrannical rule. Ratchet re-confirms the existence of two Dr. Nefariouses as he begins to find out more about where he's landed in time and space.

Before he can get to them, Ratchet sees Rivet and Clank on the run from Emperor Nefarious' forces. When they jump in a ship, he rushes to find a way off-planet. 

Ratchet's exploration also shows off other small changes long-time fans of the series will note. For example, Raritanium has once again been redesigned and looks more akin to a box of bolts than ever before. 

While showing off Ratchet's new methods of traversal, Smith said that "one of the focal points in gameplay for Rift Apart is increased mobility. This focus on mobility allows players to chain moves together, to create exhilarating combos."

The gameplay shown also seems to have a heightened sense of verticality than previously seen in other Ratchet & Clank games. 

From there, the event moved onto the game's combat, and the variety of new weapons players will be able to use. Some old favorites return, but there are, of course, plenty of new out-of-this-world weapons for Ratchet to take advantage of, like the new Shatterbomb. 

Smith went on to explain how dashing allows players to evade attacks either by dodging outright or dashing through them.

We also got another look at dimensional tears within the world of Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart and how Ratchet will be able to use his rift tether to make a quick escape or get the jump on his enemies. Later in the demo, it is shown that Rivet also uses a rift tether. 

As combat continued, Smith explained how the Dualsense controller on PS5 will be utilized, both with the haptic feedback features and adaptive triggers. Different weapons will fire differently and will require different inputs from the trigger, such as the difference between a full press and a half-press to determine the rate or strength at which you fire. The haptic feedback from the controller will allow players to really feel the impact of every shot. 

The demo then continued to what appeared to be a mini-boss fight with a large enemy encounter, as Ratchet used all of the new mobility tools at his disposal to avoid a barrage of attacks thrown his way.

Suddenly, before the fight is done, Ratchet and his enemy are sucked into another dimension, and we see how quickly they can jump between entire worlds, loading them in seconds, by way of the PS5's SSD. 

The demo then shifts to Rivet and Clank, and we see our first lengthy amount of gameplay with Rivet and her hammer at the helm. Smith said here that Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart features alternate dimension versions of classic planets and locations from previous games within the Ratchet & Clank series.

More than just feeling the impact of each shot, haptic feedback within the Dualsense will also be used to send direct information to players with specific vibrations indicating an enemy's status, though it only seems to work with a new weapon called the Topiary Sprinkler currently. 

We then get a closer look at one of the pocket dimensions that can be explored throughout the story of Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart. Rivet and Clank go for a ride on a "speetle" to help them get around faster, and this is another case where we see the speed of the SSD as Rivet and Clank fly straight through from one world into another entirely different one.

While continuing to follow Rivet and Clank as they attempt to save Rivet's friends, we get a nice extended look at the combat and the gunplay for Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart. From there, the demo ends and Smith said there will be multiple modes and features to be found within Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart such as battle arenas, Clank puzzles, large open areas to explore, aerial combat, armor to obtain, and collectibles to gather like gold bolts. 

Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart will also include a bevy of accessibility features, though more information on those will be shared at a later date. Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart omni-wrench smashes its way to PS5 consoles everywhere on June 11, 2021. 

Naraka: Bladepoint Beta Impressions — A Blade in the Night Tue, 27 Apr 2021 11:00:01 -0400 John Schutt

Naraka: Bladepoint is a new ninja-melee, close-quarters-combat battle royale from 24 Entertainment. It has all the trappings you might expect from the genre: team and solo matches on a shrinking map where you pick up weapons and upgrades while looking out for enemies to defeat.

But that’s where many of the similarities end.

Naraka cares very little for whatever gun skill you’ve picked up in Apex Legends or Warzone. Not only are most fights in-your-face brawls, but you’re also equipped with a grappling hook and can parkour around the map at will. You can also choose between a growing number of heroes (a term used lightly) with different abilities you’ll need to master if you want to succeed.

It’s easy to misstep with this sort of gameplay loop, but Naraka nails it. It also runs beautifully on PC, meaning you won’t be hurting for frames even on max settings. In short, Naraka is a rare combination of novel ideas and established conventions that should definitely have your attention.

Fast, Chaotic, Fun

As a melee-focused action game, Naraka’s map is significantly smaller than the maps in Apex and Warzone. The time you spend in combat vs. looting is about the same as other BRs, thanks to everyone having to run everywhere.

There are no vehicles to speak of in Naraka. Instead, you’ve got a grappling hook and the ability to climb almost everything on the map.

Grappling hooks are looted items like any other consumable, making them a valuable resource to take in the late game. The grappling system is a little finicky, where players need to let the ending animation finish before continuing, and there’s a slight delay before you can grapple as well, making its use in combat less an escape mechanism and more a tool for closing the gap or repositioning early in a fight.

You can attack at any point during a grapple and can even attach the hook to enemies if your aim is good, giving you a brief window to strike quickly and with less fear of punishment.

Regardless of how you close the distance, combat itself is usually faster than any other BR I’ve played. Once a fight starts, it tends to only end when one team is dead. A highly-skilled player could grapple away, hide, then return for his fallen friends, but because you leave behind a grave (called a cairn), a quick survey would reveal the deception.

Actual combat uses one of three melee weapons: a Sword, a Greatsword, and a Katana. Each weapon has its own moveset and upgrade path, with a special ultimate ability if you’re lucky enough to find one of the rarest Souljades, the game’s player-upgrade items.

An encounter between two newer players is likely to devolve into a spam-fest, but Naraka spices combat up by adding a counter mechanic. If you time the button presses perfectly, you’ll not only stun your opponent, you’ll also disarm them, leaving them vulnerable. You’ll also want to make liberal use of Focus Strike, a charge attack that prevents stun and deals a lot of damage. And while there are technically ranged weapons in Naraka, including a bow, gun, crossbow, and... cannon, they aren’t ever going to be your main means of fighting.

With a cast of heroes to play, any fight hinges not only on your ability to swing a sword but also use your ability and your Super effectively. Your role in the team is thus dependent on what your character can do, be it heal, disorient, distract, or destroy.

Nuts and Bolts

For those keyed into the BR genre, what I’ve just outlined sounds a bit like Apex Legends, and Naraka does owe some of its more micro details to both that game and Warzone.

Every weapon, Souljade, piece of armor, and consumable upgrade you acquire has a rarity, and their effects or stats increase with higher rarities. The color scheme is familiar, from grey at the bottom to gold at the top.

If you get your hands on some of the best items in the game, you can do things most players can’t, giving you a straight-up advantage. You’ll also be harder to kill. You’ll hit harder. And you'll be more deadly in whatever encounter you have, no matter how one-sided.

Every weapon also has a durability value, or how many times you can use it before it deals significantly less damage. This applies to guns and bows as well, so you’ll want to have not only armor and health restoration but also weapon repair items in your backpack.

There’s also the Talent system to consider, which is a set of passive upgrades your characters unlock over time. Whenever you unlock a Talent, you can head into the Talents tree and apply it, giving your character an instant and permanent boost to their capabilities.

I could go on about the buy stations scattered around the map and the currency they use. I could talk about the hazards around the map, the tightly-designed match pacing, the revive mechanics for solo play (you get three) — I could go on for another couple thousand words examining the nuances in Naraka, but instead, I’ll end this section by talking about how the game has another mode beyond the BR component.

The alternate game mode is called The Bloodbath, and it’s basically Team Deathmatch with heroes. It won’t hold your attention long, as it’s fairly barebones (right now anyway), with a focus on taking down bounties and staying alive for long periods. It is, however, a great way to get a feel for a new character before taking them in the real meat of the game.

Bloodbath is very “instant action.” You’ll never need to look far for a fight. If you want to try out a new tactic or trick without dedicating a long time to a proper battle royale match, this mode is the way to go.

Naraka also has a training room where you use all of the weapons and Souljades in the game, learn their effects, and see which weapon type suits you best.

Final Thoughts

Naraka is very, very fun. The smaller map size and novel focus on melee combat sets it apart from almost every other entry in the genre. It’s exceedingly well-paced, and every weapon is fun to use; in the right hands, they're capable of mass carnage.

Only two things give me a little pause: the ladder skill ranking system and the monetization element. If you’ve played any other free-to-play BR, you should see where I’m going with this.

As you play Naraka, the game scores you based on how well you do in each match, then it attempts to put you in lobbies with others of a similar skill level. The justification here is keeping new players out of the deadly clutches of veterans, likely to ensure they don’t immediately rage quit the game entirely.

It’s a valid argument, though players of the highest caliber will end up playing only other tryhards, making every game a struggle. As someone who enjoys giving a good stomp from time to time and who knows what it feels like to get my teeth kicked in, I understand the sentiment.

That said, I don’t believe there’s a reason not to have a non-ranked playlist where fun is the only goal. If you’re 100% focused for the entire match, or even most of it, burnout becomes more and more likely, as do the other issues that come from a skill-based matchmaking system.

The other issue is monetization. In short: loot boxes. Called Tidal Crates in Naraka, you need the premium currency, Gold, to unlock them. You can buy as many Crates as your gold can purchase, but you can expedite the process by buying crates in packs of 10.

Loot boxes are fairly controversial in the gaming space, but they are effective when used correctly. I think adding a premium currency on top of a loot box mechanic seems a little much, at least without a good way to spend it directly on cosmetics and other niceties.

Those two issues will likely not affect Naraka’s success. This game is carried by its amazing gameplay, incredible art style, and the many upgrades that make every game unique. It isn’t necessarily a game for shooter fans, but it isn’t trying to be, and more importantly, I think the ways Naraka breaks with convention will bring in those same players.

I’ve got high expectations of Naraka, especially as it grows and brings in new players while maintaining current ones. If you have any love for the battle royale genre, check out Naraka the first chance you get.

Unpacking is a Zen Puzzle Game That Makes Order Out of Chaos Fri, 23 Apr 2021 11:33:01 -0400 Mark Delaney

Do you ever find yourself stress-cleaning? It's that compulsion to tidy up when everything seems to be weighing you down. Maybe work is pouring in, the kids are bouncing off the walls, and the puppy is peeing on the carpet again. It can feel like your only options are to pull out your hair or, as a healthier alternative, clean your house.

It's a way to create some semblance of control. There's something soothing about reorganizing a bookshelf or dusting the entertainment center when you're having a bad day, isn't there? 

The stressors of daily life have only become more burdensome for many folks during the pandemic. That's why, as we seem to finally be turning a corner in this whole mess, Unpacking has become the meditative timeout I wish I had a year ago — but it's one I'm thankful I have today.

As part of LudoNarraCon, this week's indie games festival focusing on story-based games, I was able to check out a few dozen demos of upcoming indie games, but Unpacking is my favorite of the whole event.

In Unpacking, players organize rooms as though they're just moving in. Without so much as a text-based intro or an opening cutscene, the first level drops you into a child's room fit with bunk beds in 1997. An empty shelf and a desk sit there, as do three taped-up cardboard boxes. 

Instinctively, you know to open the boxes and start decorating the room, and the total lack of timers, score settings, or much of anything that would be considered gamification makes it so much more inviting. You're mostly free to organize and decorate the room as you see fit  there are nearly no wrong answers in Unpacking.

Maybe you want the stuffed animals to go on the shelf, the board games to go under the bed, and the soccer ball to sit in the corner beside the desk. Or maybe you want your soccer trophy on display prominently in the middle of your desk, but you're through with the stuffies, so you set them on the top bunk, generously donated vertically to your little brother.

Only a gentle guiding hand will let you know that some object or objects are not in one of their many "right" spots. You can't, for example, just leave the board games strewn about the bedroom floor, but what kind of ne'er-do-well would want to anyway?

All the while, lackadaisical music plays and the game moves only at a pace you choose. For the stress-cleaners, the serial organizers, or even the interior decorators of the world, Unpacking is a unique experience you probably didn't know you wanted. 

Without any character models or dialogue, you're free to make up your own story as you move from room to room, year to year, house to house. Who is this person whose bedroom you've decorated? That stuffed pig toy that sat on their desk in 1997 is now beside their dorm room computer in 2004. Did they bring it to college? It's for you to decide.

Awkwardly, my inferred story even got a bit dark when I imagined the stuffed animals as belonging to the younger sibling in the game's first level, so I put them on their bed, but when I pulled the same pig out of the box in the subsequent level, I had to account for why the big brother brought their sibling's toy with them to college.

Was it a gift from a brother who would miss you? Was it a monument to a child taken too soon? No one knows for sure, but like the act of decorating the room, there seem to be few wrong answers.

Unpacking apparently provides for a vast blank slate for players to fill in their own stories this way, but even if you don't think too much about the details of what you're decorating with, there's a wonderful sense of tranquility in moving room to room, opening up the boxes, putting away their contents as you prefer, and admiring your finished work.

I'm the type of person who genuinely feels a bit of stress when a movie includes a scene with a messy space, like a child's toy room or a trashed post-rager kitchen. The simple act of cleaning a room in Unpacking feels like the cure for what so often ails me, now more than ever in a year where my eight-year-old son has been home-schooling for a year, my two-year-old daughter has never even seen a library or a toy store, and my wife and I work a combined three jobs, two at home and one in a city hit pretty hard by the pandemic.

One can start to feel overwhelmed, even in a family as loving and close-knit as ours. But playing Unpacking gives me the sort of respite I find so inviting and so effective. Best of all, it's so unexpected.

I wouldn't think this game's concept would work, but with soothing music, a nostalgic visual style, and no-wrong-answers design, Unpacking has become the pause in the daily chaos I so appreciate. I can't wait to unpack the full game when it arrives on PC later in 2021. 

Lake is the Best of Death Stranding Without the Nonsense Fri, 23 Apr 2021 11:00:01 -0400 Mark Delaney

Lake, the upcoming adventure game from Gamious, is somehow not the first to cast players in the unexpected role of a mail carrier traveling the land and interacting with their community. But it's so far my favorite of this apparently emerging niche.

Death Stranding, the game that has widely popularized this new subgenre, is a polarizing experience. Some decry it as Kojima's misguided passion project, while others consider it an instant classic. Personally, I land closer to the first group, but I still fondly recall some of the game's good parts: the quiet moments when it's just you, the terrain, and a stellar soundtrack that invites an uncommon meditative experience AAA games rarely provide. 

Lake rebottles all of that same magic without veering into sci-fi gunplay and hour-long monologues. It's a much more grounded experience that confidently leans on an odd but surprisingly intoxicating gameplay loop of delivering mail and taking a breather.

In Lake, players assume the role of Meredith Weiss in 1986 Oregon. Weiss has just moved back from the city to slow things down and fill her dad's shoes as the local post office mail carrier. She's been away for many years, so while some remember her as a child long absent from the town of Providence Oaks, others don't know her at all. It's said that the full game will let players live out three weeks of Meredith's respite in the mountain town, and the demo already gives players access to those first few days.

It only took one for me to know my pre-demo excitement was warranted.

Getting some on-the-job training from a seasoned employee acts as the game's tutorial before it sets you off on your first day of work. I had both paper mail and bulkier boxes to deliver, with a simple map system keeping me aware of where I was and where I needed to go. There seemed to be neither timers nor any way to deliver the wrong mail to an address. Lake isn't about gamifying the delivery process. It's more about Meredith, her past, her future, and perhaps most of all, her present.

Driving the mail truck, listening to the radio, and soaking in the serenity of the day gave me the same feeling I get when I go for bike rides during Portland's quieter hours. Sometimes I'll turn off my music or podcast and just soak in the stillness. In Lake, that same stillness is present and irresistible. Meredith seems to need the timeout, and amid the unstoppable rush of regular life duties and a relentless games calendar, I appreciate the deliberate pacing of Lake myself. 

One of the best parts about Lake so far is its welcoming nature to those who like to role-play their characters. Some Grand Theft Auto players, for example, forego the madness and violence to instead abide by traffic laws, park safely, and so on. In Lake, that's encouraged even more, of course, and you can really put yourself in the time and place when you play it that way. 

Sure, I could speed off on the wrong side of the road in my mail truck, but the dissonance between that and who Meredith seems to be would make no sense. Instead, it was much more enjoyable to slow the truck to a stop, walk to the back, and pull out the right package for delivery. Just like a real mail carrier. 

With each delivery, you get to meet residents of the quiet town, and as you learn about them, you also start to learn a lot about Meredith. I can sense there is a deeper story waiting to be told in Lake, but to be honest, I checked out of the demo before it forced me out because I knew I was enjoying it so much and wanted to keep the rest fresh for the full experience.

Death Stranding showed me there is an unexpected appeal in a game about traveling and delivering mail, but for me, it's an experience bogged down by many of the usual Kojima touchstones: long diatribes, combat I didn't ask for, and a convoluted world difficult to connect with. 

Lake takes the best parts of Death Stranding  its tranquility and its stories of human connection  and puts them in a setting still unique but now tangible, and it features characters still compelling but now lifelike. 

Lake looks like it will be a welcome pause in a hectic year, and though I suspect its story will eventually unveil its own tumult to sort through, I've really enjoyed the peaceful vibes it's delivered so far.

Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood's Companions Add a Needed Layer of Depth Thu, 22 Apr 2021 14:39:10 -0400 Gabriel Moss

Elder Scrolls Online is a lonely game. Rather, it's lonely in contrast to other MMORPGs like Final Fantasy 14 and World of Warcraft. Those games, which take place in sprawling virtual worlds much like the one you explore in Elder Scrolls Online, basically force you to interact with other players in order to move forward.

In ESO, much of the world is completely open by default, and a hefty chunk of ESO's content is designed around ease and simplicity. Because of this, it's incredibly easy to run around and pursue your own quests, utterly missing out on interactions with other players altogether. That is unless you specifically seek them out. Even then, the places in which you do end up playing with others are usually in PvP Battlegrounds, Public Events, or World Bosses, none of which stack up to good old questing.

That being said, there's a wealth of story content in Elder Scrolls Online, and most of it is soloable. Each story casts your character as the protagonist, making it inconvenient to share your journey with others (unless you specifically seek out ESO's multiplayer-focused content). Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood does its best to fill the gaps in social interaction with NPC characters that follow you around and level up with you.

These newly-introduced NPCs, called Companions, do a great job of making you feel connected to the world, and they often have their own commentary on what's going on.

During a press preview event for ESO: Blackwood last week, I spent about three hours alongside the mercenary companion Bastian. Once I helped him infiltrate a cave of vampires, he was mine to summon any time I wanted his assistance.

But as I explored the bog surrounding Leyawiin, an iconic city best remembered from the southeastern portion of the Oblivion world map, I quickly learned that Bastian had his own insights to share when I approached him for conversation. And, as I entered battles and completed quests, Bastian commented on those events as well.

It wasn't the most on-point commentary, and he did repeat himself a handful of times, but it did serve to fill in a layer of depth that I feel has been missing in the game. Not to mention, it made the world of Elder Scrolls Online more lived-in and alive.

For those who are curious how well the companions perform in PvE against bosses and challenging groups of enemies, I found that Bastian added to the flow of combat quite well. I also found my choices for his development affected the abilities I chose for myself. See, companions have their own skills that you can invest in and equip, based on what kind of playstyle you want to go with.

For example, I could choose to make Bastian a healer if I wanted to play as a tank, or I could customize him as a melee battlemage if I were building a ranged DPS character.

There's more to companion customization beyond skills. I found out that I could even equip different weapons and equipment to Bastian, decking him out even further. Granted, I was disappointed to find that the only items I could equip to Bastian were designated "Companion's" pieces, and I'm unsure how difficult it is to find or craft those. But still, it's a neat idea that I'm excited to explore further.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that I could further customize Bastian's look by equipping him with my own outfits and mounts that I'd saved in the Crown Store or earned through questing. The preview character that I was provided only had a couple of those unlocked, so I wasn't able to see Bastian riding around on my beloved Dragonscale Solar Horse mount from my primary account, but it's something I'm excited to play around with when the final version of Blackwood releases in June.

Companion bits aside, my impression of the new Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood expansion is leaning positive. The world itself didn't feel quite as fleshed out as I'd have expected, often revealing large, ugly patches of ground that hadn't been treated with flora and other features. And, if you're getting sick of the general gameplay of Elder Scrolls Online, there isn't nearly enough here that will change your mind.

Of course, these things are all subject to change as the release date looms closer.

But it's shaping up to be a decently-sized expansion pack that further thickens the massive suite of stuff to do in ESO's world. Companions are clearly the highlight this year, and I'm curious to see how far Bethesda takes the system going forward.

Chivalry 2: A Bloody Good Time Wed, 21 Apr 2021 09:00:02 -0400 Justin Koreis

If you are going to kill a man using a chicken, make sure he’s not on your team. I learned this lesson the hard way, as my ally and I battled an enemy knight in Chivalry 2.

I had thrown my sword earlier in the battle, and the chicken was the first thing I could find to defend myself with. My attempt to hurl the bird into the enemy was poorly timed, and I struck the final blow into the back of my teammate's skull. Left unarmed after my fowl betrayal, all I could do was stand and laugh, as my foe crushed me with his massive war hammer.

It was moments like this, more than the wins or losses in the first-person Medieval multiplayer sequel, that stuck with me following my hands-on preview of Torn Banner Studios' upcoming Chivalry 2.

The game kept me alternating between sweaty determination and tear-filled laughter, and it might just be the game we all need right now.

Inelegant Weapons for a Less Civilized Age

Chivalry 2 puts players in the boots of soldiers in massive medieval armies. Up to 64 players control one of several archetypes, from Swordsmen to Archers to the above-mentioned hammer-wielding Vanguard and more. Player-controlled armies then clash, facing off in team deathmatch, capture the flag, and various other game types.

The preview began with the Siege of Rudhelm, an objective-based game type where the invading Agathian Knights assault a city held by the opposing Mason Order. My knight joined his comrades-in-arms pushing massive siege towers towards the city walls and fighting off player-controlled foot soldiers sent to stop us.  

The action is, by design, somewhat clumsy and brutal. Weapons swing in wide arcs, striking friend and foe alike. It doesn’t take much damage to kill or be killed, but a mercifully short respawn timer gets you right back into the action.  

My comrades and I found ourselves off to a fast start. Mixing blocks, feints, and attacks from different angles, I had decent success felling the enemy. Hiding around the corner of the siege tower and ambushing enemies unseen piled up my body count, and eventually, we took the main gate.  

The melee was so much fun I honestly don’t remember who won, nor do I particularly care. Severing heads never got old, and anytime I died it was followed by a laugh, and a desperation to return to the fray.

Embrace the Chaos

The well-designed tutorial walks you through Chivalry 2's surprisingly deep combat, with an over-the-top instructor barking orders with equal parts Drill Seargeant-esque authority and cartoonish comedy. Controls are simple to learn but require timing and strategy to execute in battle. There is support for gamepad or keyboard and mouse, and I found both to work equally well.  

Torn Banner has made a game with a dirty medieval style, and they embrace it wholeheartedly. The world is brutal but with a sense of humor that successfully makes the violence a part of the joke, rather than something darker. The presentation works symbiotically with the gameplay to realize a world that exists for players to take part in. It almost reminds me of Rare and Sea of Thieves, just with less water and more severed limbs.  

This is most evident in the weapons you can find on the battlefield. The arenas are littered with everyday objects to use as weapons. One second, I was fighting side by side with a man holding pitchfork, the next my head was being caved in with the bell from a nearby church (which I’m not convinced is what the clergy had in mind).  

I threw books, smashed people with barrels, even attempted to slay a man with another man's skull. It became a metagame that both armies leaned into and resulted in immediate post-game conversations about who killed or was killed in what hilarious way.

Make Your Soldier Your Own

Next, we all engaged in some good old-fashioned team deathmatch, played on foot in a jousting arena. The two armies sprinted to each other, and the resulting scrum was an excellent facsimile of something out of Bravehart.

Finding opportunities to flank enemies and/or bullying them with superior numbers became key. It’s hard to overstate the joy of bating an enemy to attack you, only to watch your teammate cut them down while you use the in-game emote system to hurl insults at your fallen foe.  A quick click of a button and your character can emote, battle cry, beg for mercy, and more, all fully voiced. There are multiple voice types, with masculine and feminine options to suit your taste.  

The battlefields have environmental hazards as well. I sent people through trap doors onto spikes, was killed instantly by a scorpion (a sort of giant siege crossbow), was crushed under stone on a rope. Every battle revealed a new wrinkle to explore.  

Customization wasn’t available for the preview, but come launch day, Chivarly 2 will feature player customization across each class. Both an earnable in-game currency and premium currency will provide options to purchase cosmetic upgrades. There is also an in-game progression system, allowing players to earn experience points to unlock additional weapons and clothing options.

Chivalry 2 is shaping up to be a grand experience. It's coming to PC via the Epic Game Store, PlayStation 4 and PS5, and the Xbox One and Series X|S with full crossplay support on June 8, 2021. Xbox One and PS4 editions can be freely upgraded to next-gen.

Based on our preview play, this has the potential to be the most fun video games of the year. Prepare for battle! 

Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne HD Remaster Preview — Embrace the Chaos Tue, 20 Apr 2021 10:00:02 -0400 Josh Broadwell

The world as you know it has ended. Tokyo lies in ruins. Lost souls wander the streets as the world struggles through a tortuous infancy on the path to a brighter — or more destructive — future.

Basically, it’s just another day in Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne.

Nearly 18 years after its original PlayStation 2 release, SMT 3 is getting the HD remaster treatment. I’ve had a little while to wander Tokyo’s desiccated remains, and while there’s still so much left to uncover, I can already say this is probably ending up on my list of top five RPGs — at least until Shin Megami Tensei V comes out.

The end of the world takes surprisingly little time to happen, as it turns out. Within the first 30 minutes of SMT 3, your normal after-school routine gets shattered by the Conception, a catastrophe that rips the world apart, destroys almost all humans, and fills the void with demons.

Not every human dies, though. Your teacher and a handful of others survive intact. You’re different, though unlike other RPGs, being the chosen one in SMT 3 means having an old lady shove a demon bug down your throat. 

That demon bug is a Magatama. Aside from granting you Demi-Fiend status, it also gives you a number of special skills. It’s not the only one, either, and it plays an important role in your strategy.

Where Shin Megami Tensei 4 ties weaknesses and character development with equipment, different Magatama influence stats growth, skill selection, and elemental weaknesses in SMT 3. You’ll get a second one barely an hour or so into the game, and it’s evident swapping between these for key fights is vital for survival.

And yes, you still have to ingest Magatama to gain their powers. It’s as gross as it sounds and then some. Occasionally after battle, for example, the Magatama will “rage” within you and grant some kind of additional effect.

However, it adds to Shin Megami Tensei 3’s atmosphere and presentation. SMT 4 leans into the post-apocalypse theme, and Persona gradually shifted away from horror. There’s a distinct sense of dread and mild horror permeating Shin Megami Tensei 3, though, giving it an identity not often found in RPGs.

Where SMT 4 has the series’ staple law, neutral, and chaos routes based on choices made, SMT 3 is all chaos. Admittedly, I haven’t seen much of the game’s broader story or how choices affect it so far, but you get a clear idea of the game’s main players early on and what their intent for the world likely is.

Fortunately, the pacing is much tighter than SMT 4, and you won’t be wandering a deadly multi-level dungeon for hours before anything interesting happens.

Fighting is turn-based with a twist. Physical attacks are lumped into types, elemental skills drive combat, and it's all centered around finding and exploiting weaknesses. Unlike SMT 4, the difficulty seems more balanced. That’s probably because the godforsaken Smirk system is absent, so enemies don’t steamroll you before you have a chance to think.

Still, like other games in the series, SMT 3 is no pushover. The signature Press Turn system grants additional turns if you exploit unique weaknesses and takes turns away if yours are exploited (which they will be) or you miss an attack (which you will). 

The key to victory lies in negotiation and fusion, though more than in Persona games. Fortunately, the remaster lets you choose skills to inherit, removing a significant hassle from the original release. Negotiation is as opaque as ever, and you get a good idea of what demons want pretty quickly. Spoilers: it's almost always your soul.

There’s also a new quick save feature, which is a huge relief when you’re nowhere near a save point and it’s already 2 a.m. The free DLC, Merciful mode, lets you tone down tougher fights if you don’t feel like grinding, since difficulty is changeable at any point during the game.

The most evident new change is the HD part of the remaster, obviously, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Character models look slick and polished, absolutely oozing with Kazuma Kaneko’s style, and the demons have never looked better.

The dungeon areas are a bit too PS2, though, and probably would have benefited from more than just improved textures. They look good — just sparse.

That’s about the only complaint I have so far. Others have reported some black screen flashing problems, though it’s not something I’ve encountered.

This is all barely scratching the surface of the writhing darkness in Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne remastered. Stick around for our full review sometime later in May.

Diablo 2: Resurrected Hands-On — Flawless Technical Alpha, Impressive Controller Support Tue, 13 Apr 2021 16:32:26 -0400 David Jagneaux

Over the weekend, Blizzard hosted a technical alpha period for Diablo 2: Resurrected on PC. I got the chance to spend a few hours with the remastered action RPG classic and came away impressed, excited, and more than anything, eager to play more.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Diablo 2: Resurrected is that it's, quite literally, almost exactly the same game as the original. Other than a few quality of life changes, such as letting you share your stash between characters, this is almost exactly identical.

To be clear: I mean that in the best way possible.

Diablo 2 Resurrected for Modern Players

The technical alpha only featured three playable classes: Amazon, Barbarian, and Sorceress, none of which are my usual Necromancer or Paladin, so I had to make do with something new.

Diablo 2 is also entirely gender-locked and character-locked for its classes, which means other than equipping different gear and giving them a unique name, all classes have the exact same underlying design in terms of their face, hair, body type, etc. You don't spend much time looking at them closely, so that's not a huge deal, even if it would have been a nice feature to see added in this version.

I tried out both a Barbarian and an Amazon. They play similarly at first, but specializing the Amazon to focus on bows and spears for long-range and mid-range combat is a lot of fun. I loved shooting a fire arrow with my ice bow and watching enemies either freeze or burst into flames.

Barbarian is a class I never tried in Diablo 2 originally, usually opting for a Paladin, but he's a lot of fun as well. The Leap ability is excellent for clearing crowds, and the multi-attack can really make quick work of tough elite enemies. 

One of the best and most immediately noticeable changes with Diablo 2: Resurrected is that you can switch back to the original graphics at any moment at the press of a key. Changing between the two has such a weird effect that while playing with the new graphics, I started to think, "Wait. Didn't it always look like this?" before switching back and getting a huge punch in the gut. Turns out retro gaming memories are in HD but the reality is not.

I don't fully understand the sorcery at play here, but Blizzard must have made a deal with Diablo himself because the game feels the same but looks new. It's that very special sweet spot I think every developer wants to hit when crafting a remaster. The PS4 version of Shadow of the Colossus comes to mind as another great example.

Back in the early 2000s when I first played Diablo 2, I was struck by the depth of its world, its amazing characters, and its addictive loot mechanics. Nowadays, we're spoiled for choice in this genre with Path of Exile, Torchlight, Grim Dawn, and tons of others, but none of them can hold a candle to the methodical charm and dark, gothic world of the Diablo series.

There's just something so satisfying about the sound effects for every hit, the cracking of bones and squish of blood, and the jingling of gold hitting the floor. It's so satisfying on a core, primal level in ways that few games manage to be.


Keyboard and Mouse vs Gamepad Controls

I never liked playing Diablo 3 on consoles and have only ever played this genre on PC. There is just something that feels natural about clicking on enemies and loot, and quickly navigating menus without a second thought. It feels great and plays great — just like I remember it.

But... I think I prefer playing Diablo 2: Resurrection with a controller?

For starters, the fixed camera angle means that analog stick movement is simple and straightforward without any weird hurdles to jump over. Holding down the attack button is just like holding down shift and clicking, so it's great for dealing with large groups without stutter-stepping in combat.

The real reason, though, is the hot bar. When you play Diablo 2 on PC, you have two ability buttons: left mouse and right mouse. You can assign hotkey switching to any of your skills, like how pressing "F1" changes the RMB to a fire arrow or "F2" switches to the rapid-fire javelin jab. The hotkeys are nice, but you still have to fire off the skill with a mouse click and keep cycling.

On a gamepad, you can assign all four face buttons as well as a trigger and bumper button to a specific skill — plus as a secondary duplicate hotbar when you hold the left trigger. Potions go on the d-pad.

This is just so much more efficient and functional for dynamic classes like Amazon and Sorcerer that will need access to all their skills at any moment for all situations. 

Diablo 2 is Back

Obviously, the verdict is still out since I only played for a few hours between two characters and didn't get around to finishing Act 1, but I'm really impressed with Diablo 2: Resurrected so far. There is a lot of content to cover across multiple Acts, the expansion, and all of the procedural shuffling that happens with each playthrough and each class — not to mention the politics and excitement of playing online or playing with permadeath characters.

Diablo 2: Resurrected was already one of my most-anticipated games of the year list out of pure nostalgia, but now that I've tried it for myself, it's near the very top. I can't wait to take down the Lord of Destruction once again.

[Note: Blizzard provided the alpha copy of Diablo 2: Resurrected used for this impressions piece.]

Eville Preview: Wouldst Thou Care For a Murder? Tue, 30 Mar 2021 14:37:54 -0400 Josh Broadwell

The sun peeks through your curtains and signals the start of another lovely day. You get up, and, remembering the local herbalist needs some materials from you, get ready to head out. The birds are singing, and all is well — except the village mayor is lying dead five feet away from your doorstep.

Welcome to Eville, a town where murder and other deeds most foul are afoot. It’s a social deduction adventure from VestGames, but don’t let the tagline “Art thou sus?” fool you. Eville is closer to an interactive game of Clue than it is an Among Us lookalike.

I had the chance to play a few rounds thanks to Vest Games and UberStrategist, and despite still being in its early development stages, Eville promises to be a wagon full of gruesome fun.

Eville supports up to 12 players, and the development team said bigger parties are ideal. It’s easy to see why as well. Once the round starts, Eville assigns each player a specific class.

The naughty ones are the Conspirators: barbarians, thieves, slanderers, and smugglers. Their goal is stealing from and/or murdering everyone in town. The other players are Villagers of varying types, ranging from Seers and Detectives to the Mayor, among others.

By day, it’s (hopefully) a normal village. You can mill around, see what others are doing, take on quests, and other totally normal things such as buying traps to keep people from assassinating you in your sleep. Night is a different story. Few characters can venture out after the sun goes down, and it’s when all manner of mischief can happen.

Most murders and poisonings happen then, but the more brazen Conspirators can bump people off in broad daylight too.

Each class has a role to play. Barbarians slay under cover of darkness, for example, while Trappers set traps (obviously) for catching Conspirators, and Ghost Whisperers can glean clues from the departed. 

I ended up as Detective and Seer in my two rounds.

Detectives can enter people’s homes and, once per day, examine their belongings to see what role they might have. They can also venture out at night once per game to see who is behaving badly. Seers can track suspicious villagers and set up night cameras to monitor certain areas.

These roles are where Eville’s greatest potential lies because you can only gather so much information as one person. Piecing together the rest of the mystery means working with villagers you think you can trust, while always seeing who might be lying and whose actions are inconsistent with their stated roles.

Eville lets you accuse others of having a certain role, whether good or bad, and you can claim one for yourself. It’s instant chaos, throwing a wrench into what you thought was a clever deduction plan.

Yet it also gives you a hint at how to use your skills. In the first round, I realized the person who claimed they were the Mayor couldn’t be, because my Detective’s skills showed me the real Mayor was dead. Sadly, my ace sleuthing didn't extend to realizing the browser muted my microphone. The killer remained at large until they murdered someone in the town square.

The game switches to a "judgment mode" whenever someone discovers a body. There’s a period for placing blame, and then the accused undergoes another trial. Everyone takes sides to choose whether they think the accused is guilty, and the majority opinion determines whether they live or die.

Murder victims, alongside the falsely accused (and subsequently murdered), exist as ghosts after death. The test build I played didn’t include it, but VestGames said they’re adding ghost quests to later builds so the dead won’t be bored.

Outside all of the sleuthing and killing, Eville gives you several other tasks to complete. NPCs have requests you can fulfill for money, there’s a shop with useful recovery items and traps, and the local herb witch is on hand to sell you potions should you find yourself inexplicably poisoned. It’s here where I ran into my only hesitation.

The day cycle is fairly short, so having time to actually find and complete a task in the same day is rare. There’s a distinct sense of injustice when you’re dispatched before finishing a quest too.

For all I know, though, the planned ghost quests could be “unfinished business” where you can still do most of what you could in life. Still, restricting skills to once per day or per game also makes the cycle feel more limited than I’d have liked.

These are minor complaints, though. Eville is already highly polished, much more so than I'd expect from an early alpha build. The unique classes and skills add a surprising amount of variation in each game, and the deduction element, so far, makes for one of the most enjoyable mystery experiences I've encountered in games. I can’t wait to see what’s in store when it enters early access later this year.

NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139... Preview, First Impressions: Automata Renewed Mon, 29 Mar 2021 13:42:58 -0400 George Yang

When I first played NieR: Automata on PlayStation 4 in 2017, I was amazed by the smoothness of its combat, especially compared to the original NieR. Platinum Games did a fantastic job making Automata’s minute-to-minute gameplay feel exciting and responsive. 

Now comes NieR Replicant ver. 1.22474487139..., a remaster/remake of NieR Replicant, which is the "alternate version" of NieR only released in Japan, featuring a different set of main characters and a few other minor tweaks.

Ahead of the game's release on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on April 23, I was able to go hands-on with an early build of Replicant. And for this preview, I brought out my PlayStation 3 and the original NieR to directly compare some of the early game areas.

A Mix of Old and New

For the most part, the combat in NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… feels much more in line with Automata’s gameplay. While it keeps most everything else relatively the same from the original game, there are a few quality of life enhancements to be found here.

In battle, Nier can now simultaneously use and charge magic attacks while executing regular physical attacks, which, for example, lets you rapidly fire Dark Blasts at enemies while also slicing and dicing them with your sword. Think something similar to Automata’s pod machinegun fire.

Another change comes in the form of heavy attacks. Previously, players could only perform a shoulder tackle that would stun enemies and inflict minimal damage. In Replicant, that function is now a stronger sword combo, another carryover from NieR: Automata that is a welcome addition.

Though those mechanics have changed, there are some that have stayed the same in this remake/remaster. The magic meter returns, indicated by a blue bar at the top right of the screen. With it's inclusion, there's no spamming attacks like in Automata

Nier’s running speed still slows down whenever you use magical attacks, like Dark Lance, as well, giving you a better chance to line up the crosshairs and hit the appropriate target.

The Lock-On System Shines

Speaking of selecting targets, the best new feature is the lock-on function. Just by pressing in the right thumbstick, you can aim at a particular enemy or a boss’ weak point. In the original, pressing the right thumbstick would reset the camera behind Nier, which isn't exactly helpful for keeping track of any target, much less fast ones.

Luckily, if pressing the thumbstick isn't comfortable, you can remap all of the controls in ver. 1.22474487139, allowing you to set this new feature to another area of your controller. 

This feature particularly shines in the Junk Heap and The Aeries, the two dungeons I was able to play during the preview. These two areas are practically identical to their original counterparts, complete with the same top-down and side-scrolling sections and bosses. The main difference is being able to lock-on to the bosses.

After dealing a set amount of damage in these battles, a timer appears on a boss' body part, and you must deal more damage to it before the timer runs out. If you’re successful, the battle moves on to its next phase. If not, then the boss recovers a bit of HP, and you have to repeat the process. In the original game, I had a much harder time beating that timer, but in Replicant, I'm able to easily aim using the lock-on function and finish off bosses without any trouble.

As for some of the game’s aesthetic changes, your book buddy, Grimoire Weiss, now floats around Nier at all times. In the original NieR, Weiss would only appear during gameplay when Nier conducted magic attacks, so it's nice to have them tag along everywhere this go around. 


There's a lot more to cover about NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… but that will come in our full review later in April. Right now, the game is shaping up to be a great experience. Developer ToyLogic has managed to keep the spirit of the original game intact while incorporating the refined gameplay mechanics that NieR: Automata introduced.

Having spent a few hours in the game so far, it feels fantastic. Be sure to check back for more soon. 

Daedalic Wants to Make Gollum "Sympathetic" in The Lord of the Rings — Gollum Thu, 25 Mar 2021 18:15:01 -0400 Josh Broadwell

Daedalic Entertainment has been working on The Lord of the Rings — Gollum for a while now, and I recently had a chance to see the game in action and speak with Daedalic’s Publishing Director, Jonas Hüsges, about it. A good bit of Gollum is as unknowable as the creature himself, though Hüsges and the demo reel did offer some insight about telling Gollum's story and building a world around him.

The footage Daedalic presented is from a mid-2020 build. Hüsges assured us the visuals have changed significantly since then, but that’s not the only difference. The 2020 build was from when the game was still a “stealth and reaction” game, and while Hüsges couldn’t share much about how Gollum has evolved, he did say it’s much different from how Daedalic originally conceived the game.

Whatever the differences are, Gollum’s core gameplay still revolves around sneaking. The demo shown followed Gollum’s desperate attempts to escape captivity. While fans of The Lord of the Rings books and movies know how Gollum’s story ends, Hüsges understands this.

“It’s like watching Titanic,” he said. “You know how it ends already, and we won’t be altering the world."

J.R.R. Tolkein buried much of Gollum’s story in the appendices of Return of the King, which gives Daedalic plenty of leeway to, if not alter his tale, embellish it with some unexpected elements.

Take Gollum himself, for example.

“He’s a fascinating character, and we want to do him justice,” Hüsges said. “In the movies, he’s very much a creature. We want to present a more sympathetic side to him.”

Another unexpected element is seeing Gollum make a friend in Grashneg, another prisoner. I don’t know why he’s there or what happens, but it ultimately seems to make Gollum’s story that much more tragic. “You don’t have any friends. Nobody likes you” as Gollum tells Smeagle in The Two Towers film.

For a time, though, Gollum will partner with other characters and make use of their special abilities. Strength isn’t the wiry Gollum’s forte, but Grashneg, for example, can smash obstacles. Gollum will encounter other characters with unique abilities as well, though Daedalic kept quiet on who they might be and where he’ll find them.

These embellishments and expansions come with full approval from Middle-Earth Enterprises, the license holder for anything related to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

“We are working closely with [Middle-Earth Enterprises],” Hüsges said. “Everything we do, we show and discuss with them. We have two or three bigger calls every year and also try to meet up when that’s possible.”

Friends and temporary acquaintances aside, it seems a good bit of Gollum’s journey will be solo. Traversing Daedalic’s massive rendition of Middle Earth puts Gollum’s superhuman mobility to the test. Each stage has multiple routes Gollum can take, and which one seems the most expeditious at the time might depend on how you play the game. 

For example, some routes feature small tunnels Gollum can escape through that force large pursuers to find another route and give him a chance to flee. The short exploration segment I saw had three different paths, and that was just one part of the larger level. Gollum can climb almost any surface, turning it into a kind of Middle-Earth parkour experience.

Other actions include jumping and swimming, though Gollum uses stamina for these. Anything Gollum does makes noise, so just because you can smack a fish against a rock doesn’t mean you should.

The demo I saw didn’t feature it, but Daedalic said the current Gollum build features a listening mode where Gollum can "see" sounds to get a clearer idea of where danger might lurk and how much of a ruckus he’s caused.

Gollum’s open level design and parkour climbing make for plenty of replayability, though what accessibility measures Daedalic includes remain to be seen.

I asked Hüsges about options that might help indicate possible paths or mark obtainable items for visually impaired players.

He said “I don’t know what kind of accessibility features are already in the game, but I’m sure we’ll take this very seriously. Visual impairment is important to address.”

It's certainly important in a game like Gollum. Guesswork is involved in determining whether landmarks are actually ways out or just deathtraps. The demo footage showed no quest markers or other visuals to help guide players either.

While Gollum has changed in the 10 months since the footage I saw, stealth will still play an important role in every level. Gollum can take a few hits and restore health through food — including fish, naturally — but ideally, he’ll stay hidden or in the shadows as much as possible. 

Foes who spot him raise an alarm and make hunting Gollum their priority. It’s not just the one enemy who spots him, either. Orcs and other foes spread the word about Gollum’s activities and increase the threat across the entire area.

You might think sneaking behind a nasty orc and throttling them would be the best course of action, but that's not the case. While Daedalic is remaining quiet on how Gollum’s choices affect each playthrough, they did mention a few ways your choices matter.

Killing an enemy might remove an opportunity to exploit them or even get help from them later. Some characters, even friendly ones, might retaliate depending on how Gollum treats them, but playing nice could also convince others to lend a helping hand.

Fortunately, Daedalic is including several difficulty modes. Players who want a hardcore stealth challenge will find it, and those who just want to experience the story can do exactly that.

It's a shame Daedalic can't share more information about how The Lord of the Rings — Gollum has changed in the past 10 months, but not because the old build is bad. Beyond the dated visuals lies the promise of something intriguing, of seeing and experiencing Tolkien's epic landscape from the viewpoint of Middle-Earth's most tragic and detestable creatures, and I can't wait to see more of it.

Evil Genius 2 Preview: World Domination Isn't a Piece of Cake Fri, 19 Mar 2021 18:11:15 -0400 Luke Shaw

Put on your best jumpsuit, steeple your fingers, and polish your gun made of precious metals: Evil Genius is back with a sequel after nearly two decades.

Following in its the nefarious footsteps of its forebear, Evil Genius 2 is a base building game where you construct an wicked lair underneath an arcadian island resort. From there, you recruit minions, research technologies, and run ignoble schemes.

It all mostly works together, and where it does, Evil Genius 2 shines. We were able to go hands-on with the game ahead of its March 30 release on PC. Here's what we think of it so far. 

Evil Genius 2 Preview: World Domination Isn't a Piece of Cake

Once you've got a stable base of operation going in Evil Genius 2, the meat of the game revolves around performing schemes to take over portions of the game map. As you put your schemes to work, you build heat in a somewhat similar fashion to Grand Theft Auto. Once you meet a certain heat threshold, an attack on your base is triggered and waves of investigators, soldiers, and super agents begin to close in.

To deter these dastardly villains, you can outfit your base with a wide range of traps and security doors, and you run a casino as a front to hide your operations.

Functionally, not much has changed from the original game. You dig out corridors and nooks underneath the resort for your rooms to slot into and must ensure you leave plenty of space for generators and control nerve centers. The former gives you much-needed power for the various items you build, and the latter gives you network power, letting you set up outposts on the world map from which to run schemes.

Other buildings are fairly standard: the vault acts as a treasury for your gold, holding cells allow you to confine prisoners you have captured, and barracks, rest areas, and canteens let your minions refresh over time. 

The main wrinkle in running your base is that you generally must commit minions to your schemes for them to work.

Workers are your basic variety, and they can be upgraded into specialist types: muscle, science, and valet all have their own functions, which are fairly self-explanatory, and some schemes require these specialists.

Beyond your regular minions, there are more specialist classes you can unlock, as well as henchmen with better stats and specific abilities. These are great in practice, but like your Genius abilities, such as removing suspicion from agents, they often feel a little too specialized and fiddly to deal with while managing everything else.

With the Genius Maximillian, I often ended up running between my training room and science room to deploy his "instant training" and "work harder" buffs, before sending him to recharge. This is similarly cumbersome as it's very easy to misclick, or forget that your Genius needs to recharge.

As schemes constantly drain your manpower, it can feel a little hard to keep up with constant invasions by enemy spies, especially when more powerful agents come knocking. Minions and agents dying lowers your morale, and when they die, they litter your base with body bags, which also lowers morale. It's an easy spiral to fall into and a hard one to escape.

Progress is slow after the game's lengthy tutorial is over; most everything in the main game is contingent on fulfilling schemes on the world map, battling down heat, and then tackling tougher assignments. All of this is a drain on your minions, which you acquire in a slow trickle. They can be "purchased," but that costs gold, which you can only get by sacrificing minions to schemes.

It's yet another tough cycle to get on top of, but ultimately, that's where the challenge is. Evil Genius 2 wants you to feel smart by balancing your minion requirements and making sure you have enough of each type (but not too many). It wants you to expand your facilities to make sure they are outfitted well enough to support your schemes, but not so sprawling that you can get caught out by agents sneaking through your defenses.

When you do get on top of managing everything, Evil Genius 2 is a great time.

The aesthetics are polished to a wonderful mirror-sheen that reflects your maniacal expression as you build and toil. In a nice touch, your personal sanctum matches your Genius of choice, so, for example, Maximillian has a gaudy gold finish to everything, including his huge conference table. 

Elsewhere, the game is all chunky retro-future aesthetics that feel one part Austin Powers and two parts Saul Bass and John Kricfalusi. Animations are also wonderful, with minions educating each other in the Henchmen Training 101 apparatus, and valets and technicians running around doing all the work with their arms slumped to their sides.


Though it's a little more taxing than something like Two-Point Hospital, Evil Genius 2 is shaping up well so far.

Guards seem sluggish to respond to threats at times, and despite putting mandatory guard posts in my corridors, they often abandon them to sit around in the armory. This is part and parcel of the genre, though; wrangling your minions is meant to feel like part of the challenge, even if I wish it were just a little more streamlined.

Overall, it's a unique experience, with a wonderful retro-aesthetic, and plenty of comedic touches. Each main objective unlocks more of the game's research tree, and there are clearly some interesting aspects I've yet to see. Be sure to check back soon for more. 

Until then, stay evil.

Cartel Tycoon Early Access Review: This is Bat Country Wed, 17 Mar 2021 10:19:59 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

Sure, we've all been there. The DEA won't stop raiding your meth labs. The gang a city over keeps disrupting your supply lines. Your most trusted lieutenant threatens to rat you out unless you give them another raise. And all you want to do is throw another event at the salsa club. 

That's the world of Cartel Tycoona business management game from Moon Moose where the business isn't exactly legal. Set in the 1990s, Cartel Tycoon puts you in charge of a burgeoning drug empire. Your task is to outmaneuver rival cartels, law enforcement, and your own scheming underlings to take over the narcotics market.

Releasing in Early Access on March 18, Cartel Tycoon shows a lot of potential, though it's still very early in development. 

Cartel Tycoon Early Access Impressions: This is Bat Country

Like any good tycoon management game, Cartel Tycoon starts you out small. At first, it's just you and your opium farm. As a set of narrative quests teach you the basics, you build a few new farms, take control of a few shipping points, and get a few lines of production going. You ship your product to a private airfield. The money starts flowing in.

One of the more interesting mechanics surfaces not long after you start cooking. Cartel Tycoon gives you two pools of money.

One is a pool of "dirty money," which goes to support many of the illegal activities you're engaging in. As you sell drugs and bribe politicians, your dirty money stores fluctuate rapidly. However, there are a lot of things you do on the level, too — or at least need to appear like they are. You could be sitting on a huge sum of money but be unable to spend any of it, as a lot of the purchases you make won't accept suspicious cash.

To fix this, you also have to invest in some other businesses so you can launder your cash into another pool. That might come in the form of a casino, a taxi company, or some other front.

You must edge out rival gangs using violence to get those businesses going, which eventually attracts the attention of law enforcement. Soon, you have too much product for your tiny private planes to handle. You need to grow legal products and build production centers that hide your drugs inside crates of veggies or coffee to get through bigger shipping centers. Naturally, this requires more violence. The cycle continues.

While Cartel Tycoon starts you out "small," that's a relative term here. The game does a great job of making things feel "big" and substantial right away. You deal with what seems like a lot of money right from the beginning, and things escalate in a hurry. It's nice that you don't have to start selling baggies of weed out of your dorm and build a criminal empire from there. The stakes feel high right from the start.

That feeling is compounded because Cartel Tycoon is not much of an idle tycoon game. There aren't a lot of opportunities to build the perfect machine, then sit back and watch it hum. You are constantly putting out fires and juggling more and more plates. You gradually lose control of cities and shipping points if you don't have underlings stationed there. You have to use those same characters to move dirty money from building to building, capture buildings from rivals, and fight off enemies. Losing one cog in the machine can cause the entire thing to grind to a halt.

In one scenario, I was paying off a debt and loaded a bunch of money in the trunk of a lieutenant's car before heading to the drop-off point. Not long after I started driving, the DEA began raiding a shipping point, so I had to close operations there for a few days. At the same time, a faction attacked another shipping point, forcing me to divert a substantial crew to fend them off.

Shutting down these shipping points alongside taking out such a huge payment caused my laundering businesses to stop operating. Without any of that money coming in, my workshops and farms stopped operating.

I had to keep moving my gang members around to keep control of various access points, and I reached out to a mayor for a loan to keep me afloat. The only issue with that? I'd have to pay it back, with interest in a relatively quick turnaround. Thus, it all began anew.

This cyclical nature is the big issue I see right now with Cartel Tycoon. Even though it isn't an idle game, it doesn't exactly have events either. You're just kind of doing things, but those things aren't big enough or substantial enough to offer a sense of steady accomplishment. Battling a rival gang is just a matter of moving enough "power" to be higher than the enemy "power," then waiting for a meter to fill up. When the police come to investigate, you just turn off the building they're looking at until they're done.

A lot of this polish will probably come with time, as the game is still in very early stages. Though the developer is a newcomer, publisher tinyBuild has a pretty solid portfolio and a long history of listening to community feedback to provide support for their releases. It would be nice to see a bit more "oomph" in Cartel Tycoon, and I'm really hoping to see a greater variety in how things start and play out as it moves forward.

The only other issue with Cartel Tycoon in its current state is the game's tone. It's really hard to tell if it's completely serious, tongue-in-cheek, or shooting for total satire. Its cartoonish aesthetic and somewhat goofy trailers give the sense that things here are campy, but I saw almost nothing that suggested this is a silly or lighthearted game while playing.

It may look to be in the same vein as Tropico (or something similar), but I didn't get that sense at all in this early build.

Cartel Tycoon Early Access Review The Bottom Line So Far

It's always hard giving a recommendation for games that are still so young in the Early Access phase. Cartel Tycoon has a really strong foundation, and could definitely bloom into a really impressive management game. It could also not address the holes that currently exist and never gain any traction.

As of right now, it's still a bit too early to go all in and fully recommend it. Keep watching this one, though: it could grow into something excellent.

[Note: tinyBuild provided the copy of Cartel Tycoon used for this Early Access review.]

Voidigo Early Access Review: A Lurid Monster Hunting Experience Mon, 15 Mar 2021 10:03:38 -0400 Luke Shaw

Video games are full of really good noises and audio cues. The distorted explosion of rockets in Quake, the awful crack of a headshot in Gears of War, Mario's iconic whoops and hollers. They serve as hooks that bring us into the worlds of our favorite games.  

There are plenty of subtle animations that do this, too: the screen shakes that crop up in Vlambeer's pixel-art arcade games, the pause-on-hit and stark audio cues of Hades' combat. They enhance every action and delight the player with the way they infuse each experience with a sense of kinetic energy and reward.

Voidigo leans into of all that so hard that it falls over, sending everything in the room clattering and bouncing away, with a cacophony of honks, squeaks and trills before getting up, dusting itself off, and doing it all over again.

Every frame of Semiwork Studio's roguelike is full of movement and activity. It brings to mind the jittery, wiggly animation of Klasky Csupo, as objects and characters bop and wobble around before you send them flying with a shot to face.

Voidigo Early Access Review: A Lurid Monster Hunting Experience

At its core, Voidigio is a Roguelike similar to other screen-shaking top-down shooters Nuclear Throne and Enter the Gungeon. You are Drash, a small pink bird lady who has no memories of her past but has been picked by the Antivoid to help battle the Void, an all-consuming evil that has messed up reality.

You do so by entering levels shaped like wheels, each with a hub in the middle reaching out to six spokes that are all connected in a ring. Every level has a boss, a big beast corrupted by the warp and turned into an aggressive hunter. When you encounter the boss, which can be from a set roster including everything from a giant queen ant to a carnivorous plant with an angler fish style lure, you are able to begin chipping away at it. 

Bosses have fairly large health pools and a wide range of telegraphed but still hard-to-avoid attacks. You'll notice fairly quickly that they have a big health bar covered in padlocks; this is because each map has a set of void-corrupted monoliths that protect the boss. Of course, you'll need to smash those before you can fully defeat the level's ultimate enemy.

But wait! The monoliths are often locked by a key held by one of an assortment of minions that can be found in the area surrounding the main hub. So the aim of the game is to find the monoliths, get the key, zap it, and hunt the boss. It's not so simple, though, because bosses aren't static. Instead, they roam around the map, haranguing you when they feel brave or scarpering to heal from a hiding place. 

In practice, the loop works like a mix of Monster Hunter and Nuclear Throne, a set of micro objectives forcing you to engage in bullet-hell battles with a menagerie of aggressive tree people, shell wearing goons, and boisterous pigs — all while looking for new loot vortexes to grab weapons from, or shops to spend currency in to top up your ammo count (or durability for melee weapons).

Like most roguelikes, you can also get a whole host of passive upgrades: gems that shoot lasers when you dodge with your jump, buttons that trigger random environmental effects, familiars that make you shoot faster, a long arm that, unsurprisingly, makes your arms longer.

Scrap Mechanics

Combat is hectic and kinetic with projectiles and enemies pinballing off each other, but you're equipped with a good few movement options, including a sprint, a jump that does double duty as a dodge, and a Mario-style stomp that stuns enemies for a few precious moments.

Weapons range the gamut from banal — a revolver, a shotgun, various swords and clubs — to the brilliant — the shotgum, which is a shotgun with bouncing gumballs, the basshunter, a gun that fires small watery fish, and, well, there are lots of unique and memorable weapons best not spoiled.

As with all the great roguelikes, synergies between weapons and effects allow for fun combos to play out. I found a tasty one where my sprint left little electric clouds behind me if I was in combat, which coupled with a gun that shot water projectiles had the added effect of spreading the electricity to even wider areas, stunning bosses and foes alike.

Load up on peppers, which modify melee with effects like fire and poison, and soles, which affect stomps in a similar way, and you might end up going with a full melee build for a run. After the first and second stages, there are shops where you can trade items for health and vice versa, giving you a variety of things to consider as you progress. More health is always good, but sometimes an extra item is better. 

Rush of Blood

Currently, there is a third stage that gives you a wealth of guns and other weapons to choose from as you attempt to battle three bosses at once in a madcap dash around the world. The game currently ends after this, as it is only at version 0.0.2 right now — but it's quite a finale as it stands. 

There are already options to try harder runs, change your starting loadout, and a hint that more characters will be coming over time. It's a really promising start for a roguelike that's already bursting at the seams with creativity.

It's also nice to see such an aesthetic switch-up for a genre that often favors sci-fi and fantasy of the more conservative approaches. Voidigo is a day-glo nightmare world, more 'zine than comic book in its presentation. Music has a pop lean that fits the way everything in the world shakes and shimmies, and it's nice to hear novel instruments like slap bass, woozy synths, and tin drums clatter away in the background.

Voidigo Early Access Review — The Bottom Line So Far

Voidigo is definitely one to watch, so don't let the over-the-top 90s surrealism look put you off. There's great scope here for an exceptional experience, and having bosses smash through levels to chase you is something that never grows old. The whole thing feels slightly manic, and that goes hand in hand with the die and try again approach of a roguelike.

I'm already itching to get my hands on new characters and try out new weapon combos, and I can't wait to see where the developers take things next.

[Note: Semiwork provided the copy of Voidigo used for this Early Access review.]

Valheim Early Access Review: A Well-Executed Viking Survival Experience Tue, 02 Mar 2021 13:39:10 -0500 Justin Michael

I had spent days in Valheim preparing for this fight. No longer was I clothed in rags and armed with only a meager wooden club. I was protected in tough leather armor crafted from the many deer and boar I had hunted in the sun-drenched meadows that I called home. The club was replaced with a primitive but deadly flint axe. A hearty meal of roasted meats and mushrooms bolstered my health and stamina bar as I placed the sacrifice upon the altar. 

The sky darkened as Eikthyr made his way into my world from the void. His antlers, branches of iron that lashed out at me. His hooves, the sound of thunder as he charged. His voice, a howling gale of fury as my arrows found purchase in his flesh.

Eventually, the mighty beast lay broken before me, and I relished in my triumph, giving praise and glory to Odin in the form of the mighty stag’s head, a trophy to the All-father from which I received its boon. 

This was my first three hours in Valheim, the wildly popular Viking survival game currently in Steam Early Access. Here, in this wonderful but deadly world, you take on the role of a fallen Viking warrior battling for the right to feast and fight in the glorious halls of Valhalla. The path there is a perilous one, however, and this battle against the mighty Eikthyr was merely a taste of the challenges still to come.

Since then, I’ve battled hordes of greydwarves skulking in the dark of the black forest. I've slain trolls larger than the humble hall I call home. I’ve set sail across the vast ocean in my Karve only to find myself beset upon by a fearsome sea serpent. And I've landed not on a shore but the back of a mighty leviathan.

Valheim is an experience. It's a blend of well-thought design, adventure, and survival. It is full of beautifully wonderous moments, all wrapped in great RPG elements and mechanics. 

Valheim Early Access Review:  A Well-Executed Viking Survival Experience

The way Valheim handles its health and stamina mechanics is one of the first things that stood out to me. Food isn’t yet another meter to manage, giving the game an inflated measure of difficulty; unlike other genre titles, you’re not going to starve to death without eating.

You will, however, be weak and have virtually no stamina. Food is the key to survival and variety is the spice of life. It's also the deciding factor in the size of your HP and stamina pools. 

Whether it's roasted meat harvested from the hunt or foraged berries and mushrooms, each food item in Valheim carries with it varying stats that add to your maximum hit points and stamina. Simple foraged foods like berries provide modest buffs for short timeframes, while roasted meats or the more involved mid-to-late game recipes from farming provide much more for longer periods.

You’ll find many different foods during your travels, and travel you will. The map is vast.

Much like the Vikings of history, you’ll be doing a lot of exploration in Valheim as you seek to slay the various bosses and earn your spot in the honored halls. There are numerous biomes — meadows, black forest, swamp, plains, and mountain — each with its own challenges and inherent difficulty spikes. 

Before fighting the first boss, Eikthyr, I decided to explore a bit of the vast area around me. Valheim starts you off in the “tutorial" biome of the meadows — an area with relatively weak enemies — but given the procedural generation of the map, danger could be right next door.

In my case, exploration found me with my pathetic wooden club and rag tunic wandering around the black forest biome, totally unaware of the danger I was in until I saw something large and blue: a troll. The encounter was over before it began, as the troll hurled a boulder, killing me instantly.

Death is the name of the game in Valheim, and while it can be a bit frustrating at times, it's also a welcome challenge, carrying with it a great sense of accomplishment when you get revenge on your adversaries.

Eventually, you’ll find your way to the ocean, in search of adventure and new lands that give way to new biomes, treasure, and enemies. The progression here feels substantial and natural as you explore biomes leading into each other; the meadows merges into the black forest, the black forest to the mountains and swamps, and then into the deadly plains.

Beyond those areas, more are yet to be discovered as the mistlands, ashlands, and deep north have yet to be fleshed out.

Together We are Strong

While Valheim can be played solo, playing with others is a rewarding and tribal experience. Boss battles are much easier as a group, resource gathering can be divvied up, and building up your small settlement into a leviathan stronghold gives the game a real feeling of community.

Things are even more fun when tackled with a roleplaying mindset; toiling in the field farming while others brew mead, smelting ores into ingots while others gather raw materials and scout biomes for an upcoming raid. 

It’s welcome relief to have a few others with you when attacked on the seas by serpents, or when spelunking in the sunken crypt full of powerful draugr. And let’s not forget the bit of solace when there’s someone else to draw the aggro of the deathsqutio when you make your first landing in the plains.


Valheim has a unique look, melding together pixelated and 3D styles into something vaguely reminiscent of something from the Nintendo 64. That, though, isn't a knock but a testament to its great nostalgic sense of self, where it contrasts with very cinematic moments. Watching the sun crest over the ocean as the dark of night transitions into day, or gazing at the rays of light peeking through dense pines as you make your way into a clearing.

Each biome I’ve encountered in my more than 30 hours of play has the right feel. The meadows are bright and inviting. The black forest is dark and ominous. And the swamp is damp and rotting. Areas often come together in a showcase of real diversity, though, at times, the random generation does make for some strange mixtures bleeding into each other. 

The audio is also enjoyable, with the background music deserving special mention. It blends into the background not to be lost, but simply be, further creating a tapestry perfectly fitting of a Viking adventure.

Enemy audio cues fit well and the sounds emanating from the various crafting benches lend to an immersive feel. I particularly love the sound of the fire as it crackles inside of my modest home, all while the gale of a storm mixes with the patter of rain outside.

Valheim Early Access Review — The Bottom Line So Far

What I find most exciting about Valheim is that it isn’t finished yet. I’ve played my fair share of Early Access games. Some are great, others sit collecting virtual dust.

Early Access can be a real shot in the dark and games sometimes end up becoming something entirely different than what they started as, making them something I’m not entirely comfortable evangelizing to others. 

I don’t feel that way about Valheim.

While it's not a finished game, there’s a lot of meat on the bones right now, and with the absolutely massive four million copies sold since launch in early February, I don’t believe fans will have to worry about Iron Gate Studios second-guessing their development roadmap.

At the time of writing, Valheim is easily worth more than its $20USD asking price. If you’re looking for exploration, adventure, and rewarding combat with the option of solo or co-op play set in a fantasy Viking setting, then Valheim is that game.

And if that seems like a lot to experience, we have plenty of guide content to help you explore the vast expanse that is Valheim.  

Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town Preview — Fields of Promise Mon, 01 Mar 2021 16:35:16 -0500 Josh Broadwell

Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town, the first brand-new Story of Seasons game in four years, is out on Nintendo Switch this month. I’ve been spending the past few weeks getting a feel for the pioneer lifestyle courtesy of XSEED and can tell that, even after a few seasons, things are only just getting started in Olive Town.

Instead of a big overview about the game (because that’s what full reviews are for), I put together a few of Pioneers of Olive Town’s best and not-so-hot standout features so far.

The Prize Crops

Life on the Frontier

Most SoS/Harvest Moon games share a common foundation. You start from scratch, clear your fields, and gradually develop your podunk farm into an agricultural mega-producer. PoOT is no different but puts heavy emphasis on "from scratch."

Your farm is a wilderness of weeds, trees, and dilapidated buildings, and you only get a measly tent to live in at first. You craft almost everything important you’ll need on the farm, and there’s a definite by-the-bootstraps feel to proceedings.

Olive Town itself is much the same. Your goal is to transform the sleepy town into a bustling tourist destination, and you see and benefit from your hard work in tangible ways.

Pioneers’ organic progression system adds to this enterprising feeling. You unlock new crops by finding and shipping wild variants around your farm-forest. You’ll fix up farm buildings with materials you harvest and craft instead of just buying a barn outright, and the more you do, the more you raise your skill levels, which unlocks yet more activities and craftable items.

So Much Freedom

PoOT pairs all this opportunity with an equal amount of freedom in deciding what you want to do and how. Aside from customizing your farm layout however you wish, you can prioritize what you want to focus on and run with it.

I put off building a house, for example, because I funneled all my money and resources into high-selling crops and more maker machines than I have room for. However you want to build your farm is a viable path to success, and you’re rarely forced into doing any specific thing to move forward.

A Hard Day’s Work

If it’s not already apparent, Pioneers of Olive Town is stuffed full of things to fill out each day with. Planning your routine even feels like breaking new ground because it’s not going to be the same as previous SoS games — and probably not the same as another player’s, depending on where you split your focus.

It’s refreshing, but above all, seeing your farm and town evolve almost every day as a direct result of your actions makes it all even more satisfying than usual, since your ultimate goal is much more than just watching that money counter climb ever higher.

What’s Not Ripe Enough Just Yet

Flat Characters 

Pioneers of Olive Town’s characters don’t have much to say or do in your first few seasons, and you won’t see introductory events — or any events period — until you’ve raised their affection meter by one heart. PoOT ditches the series’ lovely 2D character portraits as well, so it’s harder to get a read on personalities for longer than I’d have liked.

Adding to the issue is a set of vague cues for likes and dislikes. Either everyone in Olive Town is so polite they won't complain about getting garbage as presents, or the dialogue needs to be more specific.

Object Borders

This is a very specific issue that others might not even care about, but something in how the game treats object borders means you can’t put items such as fences or maker machines up against other objects.

There’s a gap between the fence and coop, for example, and the mayonnaise maker sits out about an inch from the building instead of butting up against it. It’s a small issue, but notable nonetheless for restricting some of that freedom to build how you want. That's not to mention how it borked my farm layout in the early days, where space is limited by how many trees you can clear out in one day.


Don't get me wrong, Pioneers of Olive Town incorporates diversity in representation much more effectively than most games. Still, there's a nagging issue in character creation that's left a sour taste. Despite throwing open the options for clothing, hair, and voices, you only get two overall looks for your character. You can have a feminine (cute) stance or a masculine (powerful) stance, an oddly restrictive and arbitrary choice in an otherwise open gender design.


My first few seasons in Pioneers of Olive Town have been about making my own farm and leaving my footprint in the wilderness more than getting to know people or feeling like part of a community. Signs indicate that’s likely to change as the year draws to a close, and I hope the characters spring to life a bit more.

Still, there’s no denying Pioneers of Olive Town is a big step in the right direction in revitalizing the series’ familiar systems and gameplay, and I'm eager to see how the rest of the game continues growing. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks. 

Watch Dogs Legion Online Hands-On Preview: London Hosts the Hacking Olympics Mon, 22 Feb 2021 17:23:42 -0500 Mark Delaney

It's the current trend of games planning to offer both a deep single-player campaign and a robust online suite of modes to give players only the former at launch. The idea is to get the game out the door, take in feedback, and work on making the eventual online launch even better.

Robust worlds like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption have been revealed with such staggered schedules, and though 343 says it's not true, a rumor once suggested Halo Infinite would launch without multiplayer at first too.

The move has so far seemed to be a smart one. Players tend to forgive delays more easily than buggy launches, especially if the results are fun and exciting. For that reason, Watch Dogs: Legion Online will likely be forgiven for arriving five months after the solo story mode. Time will tell whether the game mode can be the hacker timesink Ubisoft has envisioned, but the source code proves intriguing.

Right away, it's evident Watch Dogs: Legion Online takes many cues from Grand Theft Auto Online. Like GTAO during its launch in 2013, Legion Online (or henceforth WDLO)'s range of things to do is wide enough but merely feels like the foundation for something grander in the months and years ahead.

Players can choose from activities such as instant co-op missions that matchmake them into lobbies with up to three others for one-off jobs and special assignments. They can also jump into the Spiderbot Arena or, in the suite's centerpiece, take on lengthy, multi-part (and often grueling) Tactical Ops.

Of course, sometimes the best part of all of this is just running around the sandbox of dystopian London, causing cars to veer off the road into Albion checkpoints. Admittedly, my team of four games journalists bookended our hours-long session just this way and had a blast in the process. 

In the in-between, we were given a tour of the game's more structured attractions. While the co-op missions were fun, they didn't shatter my expectations heading into the event. Each mission felt almost procedurally generated. Go to this spot, hack/steal/kill a number of machines/cars/bad guys, and exfiltrate alive. It's a rote formula, though like our freeform open-world antics, the missions do benefit from the universal truth that nearly everything is better in co-op. 

Conversely, Spiderbot Arena feels like it will be WDLO's most overlooked mode, and for good reason. It's fun in short bursts and controls really well, but in my experience, Legion has too many spiderbot sequences already, so I wasn't looking for any more chances to take control of the arachnid automatons.

If you're trying to command players' attention en masse, you'll need to do better than some familiar co-op missions and an arena shooter afterthought. It's a high bar in such a crowded field, where every multiplayer game is crafted to capture dozens of your gaming hours every week.

Delightfully, Tactical Ops mode clears that high bar. If the full game is so clearly inspired by GTA Online, Tactical Ops mode can be considered the game's "heists." These multi-part, potentially hours-long co-op missions creatively use the game's systems in ways that are unique to the online mode, meaning even players who loved the story but might be uninspired to play with others should give it a try.

Often Tac Ops missions split your party, two and two. This is interesting because as you break into pairs, you'll still all be sharing the same voice channel working on separate objectives but needing to coordinate, and maybe even synchronize, with your immediate partner as well as the whole group. It's the ultimate teamwork mode, and for that reason playing with friends looks to be a blast and one of the things I'm most looking forward to doing when the mode launches in a few weeks. 

Having said that, nothing makes fast friends as well as life-or-death co-op missions, and as our hands-on time with Tac Ops came close to the end of our day of play, my teammates and I quickly developed a workable, enjoyable camaraderie that enabled Tac Ops to go over not just successfully, but often hilariously.

At one point, we sought desperate refuge in a pub while killer super-drones patrolled just outside the windows we dared not peek out of, like a reimagined Shaun of the Dead where robots took over instead of zombies.

Some of Watch Dogs: Legion's most fascinating elements have been imported into Legion Online, such as the play-as-anyone directive. Like in the campaign, you can recruit whomever you'd like, and every anti-hero hacker brings their own skills, personality, and tools for the job. But unlike in the story mode, these recruitments cost you Tech Points, which were previously only used for upgrades like better guns and new gadgets. 

This means you'll have to choose between upgrades for your characters and new characters entirely. More impressive recruits mean a higher price but don't worry, they aren't on sale as far as I saw. Permadeath is still in play too, though since it's co-op, you'll now have a revive window to be saved, or maybe do the saving yourself. This makes your team cohesion all the more vital, as allies running off on their own may only have themselves to blame when their star Operative is down and out for good. 

Each mission of Tactical Ops takes anywhere from 20-60 minutes, and there were five parts in the Tac Ops mission I got to play.

We ended up dying several times on the final boss, which was both a rewarding challenge but also a bit of a questionable chore as it was a near rehash of the solo story's endgame. This is just one of many planned Tactical Ops missions, however, and I get the sense they will come more commonly than the GTAO heists.

The conundrum of live-service games today is that each one of them is built to be your live-service game. No one has time to fully invest in maybe more than two or three at the absolute most, so each one needs to prove it can sustain your interest in the long haul. Watch Dogs Legion Online looks to launch with a gamut of modes and attractions to try and capture the hearts of ample hackers.

Daily, weekly, and event challenges, a cosmetic rewards train a la the ubiquitous "Battle Pass," and enough blips on your map to ensure you're always catching up with what's available today collectively means WDLO is built to commandeer your free time.

Some of what will determine the success of that mission wasn't visible during my time but will be shortly after launch; things like how fast players can level up the Season Pass, how much XP players get for missions big and small, and what kind of rewards players can expect for just goofing around will all determine whether Legion builds a legion of online fans or London is left a ghost town.

The prospect of revisiting Ded Sec's London with friends and co-op partners is itself alluring, though to really keep players for the foreseeable future, Ubisoft will need to supplement Tactical Ops with more engaging content.

In 2021, every game with a big budget offers impressive quantities, but they don't all give players the quality experience worth hundreds of hours. Tactical Ops does, and its open-world is an even better sandbox with friends along for the ride, but some of the other parts of Watch Dogs: Legion Online don't capture the imagination as well, at least not yet. But that's the beauty of a live-service game. In time, the entire city can be the hacker's paradise everyone  players and creators  wants it to be.

Watch Dogs Legion Online launches across all its available platforms on March 9 as a free update for all players who already own the game. If you've yet to jump into Watch Dogs: Legion, consider checking out our review.

Project Triangle Strategy Demo Impressions: Top Tier Tactics Mon, 22 Feb 2021 11:58:48 -0500 Ethan Anderson

Those who watched the most recent Nintendo Direct know that Square Enix's new RPG, Project Triangle Strategy, received an announcement trailer during the presentation, alongside a surprise demo drop. Don't be fooled by the terrible placeholder title, though. Project Triangle Strategy's somewhat-lengthy demo provides a solid preview of what players can expect to find in the full game when it launches in 2022.

Using the same awesome visuals as 2018's Octopath TravelerProject Triangle Strategy manages to implement new, strategy-driven gameplay systems that set it apart.

History of War

After giving you a short backstory on the land of Norzelia — the continent in which this story of war and conflict takes place — the demo drops you right in the middle of things as Serenoa Wolffort just as a short-lived era of peace is about to come to an end.

Norzelia is home to three great nations that don't exactly play nice. The Kingdom of Glenbrook is a land of flourishing trade, the Grand Duchy of Aesfrost contains rich veins of iron, and the Holy State of Hyzante is where life-giving salt can be found. Their previous conflicts eventually grew into what became known as the Saltiron War (not the most creative name, but it gets the point across), so it's not entirely surprising they're fighting once again.

With such a large amount of lore and history, there's sure to be some confusion here and there, but the demo does a decent job guiding you through the most vital information. For example, you're able to instantly pull up a character profile whenever a character speaks during dialogue sections, which helps things tremendously. This is especially true when you're trying to remember the various houses, allegiances, and family ties that play central roles in the plot.

Friends in High Places

Project Triangle Strategy may look like Octopath, but it certainly doesn't play like it. It's not another static turn-based RPG. It's much more dynamic, as it contains familiar bits and pieces of other strategy RPGs that came before it. Think Final Fantasy Tactics and, maybe, the more recent Fire Emblem: Three Houses.

Each party member (or unit) is a different class with unique abilities and playstyles. Serenoa, for instance, is a Soldier. He's most effective with up close and personal attacks, but his vertical movement is a bit lacking. He won't be jumping up on a roof to get a vantage point.

Hughette, on the other hand, is a Scout who inexplicably rides into battle on a giant bird. Naturally, she can change elevation with ease, giving her the ability to rain down fire from above with her bow.

In all, you can control up to nine party members in battle. Couple that with the need to understand verticality, positioning, and terrain, and there's a lot to keep track of during combat. Attacks from greater elevations do more damage, for example, and attacks from behind are automatic critical hits. This is true for both friends and foes.

Enemies that are close enough to attack you will have red lines connecting them to your units, much like Three Houses. Additionally, purple spaces indicate areas where foes can reach you with their attacks.

Most enemies in the demo can move and attack from a good distance, and the damage they deal adds up fast. For this reason, you won't want to venture too close to a group of foes without having some sort of plan in mind. Even so, one or two wrong moves can put your units in dire situations depending on their position. 

The key to winning battles efficiently, then, is knowing how to properly use each of your units in terms of positioning, movement, attack, and support.

Talk It Out

One of the most interesting parts of Project Triangle Strategy has nothing to do with its combat.

Exploration phases occur between battles and story scenes, and it's during these phases where you shape Serenoa's mindset as a leader through dialogue choices.

The "Scales of Conviction" system is an invisible parameter that changes as you make dialogue choices between utility, morality, and liberty-related decisions. Depending on your choices, new party members may join your cause.

Even beyond the Scales of Conviction feature, there's also a voting system for major plot-altering decisions. During the voting phases, each member of your party, including you, votes on which path you take in the story. The majority will win, no matter what you choose to vote for.

However, if you gather enough information on the topic being voted on through exploration and conversation, you can attempt to persuade party members to vote how you want them to. In the end, you won't know exactly how they're going to vote until it actually happens.

It's an engaging bit of unpredictable gameplay that breaks up the action-oriented segments perfectly.

Project Triangle Strategy is definitely a turn-based RPG that you should keep an eye out for leading up to its full release in 2022. This is doubly true for those who can't get enough SRPGs, specifically.

The demo manages to give a solid look at the story, world, combat, dialogue, and even the main characters to some extent. It shows off a lot more than you might expect, but like any good demo, it'll leave you wanting much, much more.

Everspace 2 Early Access Review: All Systems Go Mon, 08 Feb 2021 16:06:25 -0500 Justin Michael

I love space, and I love games that put me in space. Old-school titles like Freelancer and X3: Terran Conflict were some of the first games to hook me, melting the world around me away as I fought, explored, traded, and built my space empires.

Then Everspace came out back in 2016, and it blew me away. I spent over 100 hours exploring Everspace and loved every second of it. I then reviewed it after its full release, and it again proved to be a defining experience. So when I heard that Rockfish Games was making a sequel, I knew I had to play it.

Everspace 2 is currently in Early Access on Steam. As with any EA title, this one's not yet finished. As of this writing, there's no firm release date for the game. Nonetheless, here's how the game is shaping up so far two weeks after release. 

Everspace 2 Early Access Review

In Everspace 2, you play as Adam, a skilled fighter pilot working as security for a mining company operating out in fringe space. How did you get so skilled at fighting? Well you died, a lot. You see, Adam is a clone, and that puts a big colonial-military target on his back. 

After an outlaw ambush catches you off guard, you end up in a whirlwind alliance with an ex-soldier to save the life of your injured comrade and only friend. Of course, there's also the potential to earn a lot of credits in a not-so-legitimate way.

While the story is a bit cliche and a bit predictable at times, it’s still engaging. I found myself wanting to see more of it unfold which, at the current time of writing this EA review, is a bit on the short side, taking about 3-5 hours to complete. It is Early Access though, so I have no doubt that it will become much more expansive as development continues. 

Speaking of size, Everspace 2 has a significantly larger gamespace than its predecessor. Not only is there plenty of space to explore, but also there are also massive stations and planetary surfaces to uncover. If Everspace 2 already does one thing well, it's providing massive scale for its worlds and areas, giving you an expansive space to explore. 

Even simple asteroid fields tell a story; some are littered with destroyed ships and mining outpost debris, while some have barely functioning automated systems grinding away. There's a feeling of hustle and bustle when you get to a jump gate port and see ships having their cargo scanned or various drones whizzing about welding this, transporting that.

The game world feels alive and lived in, which just adds another depth of immersion to a sprawling universe. 

Everspace 2 differs from the first game in that it’s not a roguelike — it’s more of an open-world shooter with RPG elements. That is not a bad thing. Death isn’t a progress reset anymore, and instead you’ll find yourself respawning at the last autosave point — with your gear and credits intact — ready to try again.

While I'll miss the satisfaction of the roguelike runs of Everspace, I feel like the direction Everspace 2 is taking is one of more accessibility. It feels like Rockfish is trying to tell more of a story here, and honestly, I don't think the roguelike play loop would work for the open-world exploration gameplay and narrative they're trying to achieve.

Currently, there are five different ships to choose from — which I covered in my ship guide — and presently 10 primary weapons, three secondary weapons, ship modules, and numerous consumable items to choose from making for all kinds of mix-and-match to fit your playstyle.

Playing Everspace 2 with keyboard and mouse is as comfortable as it is with a controller, and I even prefer it because there seems to be more control with weapons like the rail gun; there's no feeling like sniping off drones from max distance with the precision only a mouse can give.

The dogfighting is natural and visceral in the ships meant to dogfight, like the interceptor and the striker, while the much heavier gunship functions true-to-nature— as a brick loaded down with heavy ordinance. 

Enemies come in a number of different variations; you’ll fight scout ships, fighters, bombers, and more, sometimes in small packs and other times supported by all manner of drones. Combat is challenging and rewarding, especially when you manage to survive wave-after-wave onslaughts culminating in a mini-boss battle with a Destroyer ship. 

Past those combat aspects of Everspace 2, there is plenty of exploration and some puzzle-solving pieces as well, all of which act as good changes of pace to keep gameplay fresh. While not particularly challenging, puzzles generally reward you with a strong weapon, ship module, or much-needed credits in the early game. 

Much like its predecessor, Everspace 2 also incorporates crafting, though presently not to the same degree, allowing you to craft varying levels of weapons and modules with RNG bonus effects making no two items alike. I'd love to see the crafting expanded to include consumable items as at the present time, the only way to get those is to find or purchase them.

Everspace 2 Early Access Review — The Bottom Line So Far

Everspace 2 is everything I thought it would be and more, especially in its current Early Access state. The graphics are gorgeous, the gameplay is spot on, and the story so far is fun with lots of room for growth. There's little in the way of bugs; the game loads a bit slowly, and there are subtle issues like the occasional lag between menu screens. Nothing to really complain about.

If you’re a fan of space shooters, RPGs, and open-world exploration, then Everspace 2 is right up your alley. The high level of polish and a good 15-20 hours of playtime under its belt gives you plenty to enjoy while the game continues development. Stay tuned throughout the game's run in EA, as we'll be checking back in to see how things have progressed. 

[Note: Rockfish Games provided the Early Access copy of Everspace 2 used for this review.]

King Arthur: Knight's Tale Early Access Review — Grimdark Tactics Wed, 03 Feb 2021 13:31:39 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

Don't let the screens or trailers fool you: King Arthur: Knight's Tale is not a Diablo clone. Instead, it's a turn-based skirmisher set in the time of Arthurian legend. However, this is not Disney-fied, Sword in the Stone Arthur either. This is nasty, grimdark, metal-as-hell Arthur, with zombies, questionable morals, and a strange who's-actually-the-good-guy subversion.

We got our hands on the Steam Early Access version of King Arthur: Knight's Tale, which features the game's first few story missions and a few sidequests, alongside some of the economy management and roleplaying elements that look to feature much more heavily in the final build.

So far, it's a good start, though it seems like a game whose lofty ambition might be weighing it down just a bit.

King Arthur: Knight's Tale Early Access Review — Grimdark Tactics

At its most basic level, King Arthur: Knight's Tale plays a lot like a tabletop RPG. You control a team of heroes (in a fairly morally grey sense of the word) going out on quests to battle a variety of baddies. Bandits, the undead, rogue knights  typical fantasy stuff.

As you progress, you level up your characters, giving them new abilities and outfitting them with better gear. You also make choices that affect your morality, pushing you in different directions on a skill-tree-like chart that changes what characters you can recruit and the decisions you can make.

This is all set in a twisted world of Arthurian legend, where you take on the role of Mordred. You've been raised from the dead by the Lady of the Lake to find a destroyed Camelot and an also-raised-from-the-dead Arthur gone mad. You stake your claim to the throne and set out to raise an army and stop the scourge plaguing the land. Depending on the choices you make, you'll also encounter other heroes of legend along the way.

It's a good setup for some skirmishes, and each scenario in King Arthur: Knight's Tale feels familiar if you've played other tabletop-inspired turn-based games, such as XCOM, BattleTech, and the like.

Before each scenario, you choose a small team based on the classes you think you'll need. You outfit them with gear and start your journey. There are branching paths through each mission, so, for example, if you've brought a strong force, you'll probably be able to take some side paths, get in some extra scuffles, and come away richer for it. If your heavy-hitters are on the bench, you may want to beeline straight for the objective.

I was pleased to see just how similar the battles in King Arthur: Knight's Tale are to something like the tabletop version of Pathfinder. The pandemic wreaked havoc on regular tabletop RPG sessions, and King Arthur scratches that itch nicely, albeit in a simplified way.

Luring enemies into chokepoints where your archers can pick them off, or buffing up a heavily-armored tank and sending them in to scrap is always good fun. Likewise, the stakes are high.

Your characters can suffer wounds that put them out of commission for extended periods of time; if things are bad enough and you aren't paying attention to status ailments or the odds are stacked against you, they can even die outright. Extremely hardcore players can even play the game on a roguelike setting; you still play through the story, but things are much more randomized and much more permanent.

The snippet of the game I was able to play also offers some glimpses at the big picture of King Arthur's campaign, which allows you to rebuild the kingdom of Camelot, recruit new heroes, and build up resources that help you in your quest. You can put captured bandits to work, helping to upgrade your castle, or you can put them to the sword to scare the remaining population into compliance. As you progress, these decisions move you around the game's morality chart and give you different opportunities for building, recruitment, and more.

There are a lot of big ideas at play in King Arthur: Knight's Tale, and those big ideas could also wind up being problematic.

This is not a game from a well-known studio (NeocoreGames is probably best known for Van Helsing, though they've done a few others), but it has aspirations to come off as one. The opening moments are cinematic and intense, and look as if they've been taken straight out of a heavy metal music video. Its morally-ambiguous characters would fit perfectly into some 80+ hour action-RPG hybrid where your early decisions come back to haunt you.

However, it seems doubtful (so far) that those big ideas will fully coalesce.

The voice acting for some characters, even central protagonist Mordred, comes off as amateur as frequently as it doesn't. Even with my video settings turned way down, a few missions were borderline unplayable due to chugging framerates. On top of that, King Arthur is a game that looks a lot better in screenshots than in motion. My video card is certainly getting a bit long in the tooth, but it can handle plenty of heavy lifting still. I did not expect King Arthur to test it like it did.

The other danger that King Arthur might run into is a lack of differentiation. Though the Early Access version is only a few hours long and there's still more to come, combat generally plays out a little too much like I planned. In general, tactics can dissolve into "group your biggies together and put your smallies behind them." The AI struggles with simple ideas like targeting my ranged fighters to smack my beefy bois, making some of the strategy here rather simple. 

I generally found that, when I tried to get too cute, things quickly fell apart. I hoped something like a pincer attack, or delaying a move in order to flank my enemies, would pay dividends, but almost universally, I found that things probably would have gone better if I had just charged in like a dummy.

One other problem I ran across was that it's just hard to parse out a situation at a glance. Many of the status effect icons are tiny and aren't really explained, and it's really tough to quickly tell things like enemy difficulty or abilities. Even telling the difference between your own units can be tough, as many of them are just big grey suits of armor. Approaching an enemy is a bit of a crapshoot, as it is not immediately apparent if they're going to be a tough foe or fall in a single swipe of the sword.

All these issues are things that could get ironed out through the Early Access period, and hopefully will. Learning the mechanics and systems will (hopefully) come with more time playing. Optimizing the way a game runs on different systems and tweaking AI are some of the main reasons developers release games into Early Access, so hopefully, these issues are addressed before King Arthur's full release.

King Arthur: Knight's Tale Early Access Review  The Bottom Line


  • Differentiated take on well-known source material
  • Tactical combat feels good and has nice risk-reward balance
  • Lots of different systems will push strategizing


  • Some scenarios cause massive framerate issues
  • Strategy can take a backseat
  • Voice acting could use some polish

When it's all said and done, I am pleasantly surprised by King Arthur: Knight's Tale, and I hope the developers can address some of the central issues before its full release.

It's got the bones of a smart, tactical sandbox that lends a lot of different ways to succeed, but it also seems like it could get bogged down by attempts to be too big for its own britches. We'll just have to wait and see. 

[Note: NeocoreGames provided the early access copy of King Arthur: Knights tale used for this review.]

Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 4 Hands-On Preview Mon, 01 Feb 2021 10:44:25 -0500 Justin Koreis

I’ve got my weight forward on my dirt bike with the throttle wide open. I’m ready. The gate drops, and I, along with 21 other racers, shoot out, jockeying for position. We speed to the first turn, and I’m near the back of the pack. I shift my weight to the outside, then come back in hard. Everyone else is carried wide by their speed, but my tight angle cuts inside of the pack, and I accelerate to the front. I’ve got the holeshot, the leading position at the start of the race, and just like that, this is my race to lose... 

Moments like this are at the heart of Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 4. I had an opportunity to go hands-on with the latest entry in the series recently, and it looks like it has the potential to be a strong next step for the franchise.  

It Starts with a Feeling

In Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 4 (Monster Energy Supercross 4 for short), developer Milestone’s expertise in motorcycle racing is apparent from the moment you start your first ride. The bikes have a tangible sense of weight and power. The tracks, replete with bumps, jumps, and grooves carved by other bikes, give constant feedback as you go. Different surfaces, such as dirt, sand, and mud, change the way bikes accelerate or turn, and effective use of blur at high speeds gives a strong sense of velocity. 

The act of riding is a blast. 

The gameplay straddles a line between sim and arcade, with options to skew further one way or another. By default, the game provides some assistance with shifting your rider's weight, braking, and managing your transmission. There is a rewind function that lets you redo the last several seconds of the race a limited number of times, or you can turn all of that off and switch the assistance features to full manual control for a truer to life experience.  

Racing itself is a much more cerebral endeavor than you might expect. Passing your competition requires careful positioning, and the amount of time you spend with your bike in the air, with little to no control, means you are often planning several moves ahead. It’s almost like chess, just with a 450cc four-stroke engine tucked between your legs.  

Real World Championship 

I started my preview with Championship mode. This series of races is based on the real-life 2020 AMA Supercross World Championship, sponsored by Monster Energy. You face off against hundreds of real-life supercross stars, including Ken Roczen, who is making his much-anticipated debut in the series.

The mode itself is pretty standard for a racer: you accumulate points based on your finishes over a series of races and try and finish in the top spot. The series of races takes place across 11 stadiums, with 17 different tracks and optional qualifying races. 

The authenticity of the presentation goes a long way toward making Championship Mode shine.

One of my first races was in State Farm Stadium, where the NFL's Arizona Cardinals play. The stadium is painstakingly recreated, complete with crowds, signage, and title banners the Cardinals have won over the years. The announcers are convincing enough before and after the race, and the fanfare is very true to life for a Supercross broadcast. Even the moving lights on the truss around the starting gates move realistically. It all adds up to an immersing presentation.  

DIY Fun 

The free roam area in Monster Energy Supercross 4 is called “The Compound.” Only a small subsection of this area was available for the preview, but it provided a fun palette cleanser after all the racing. The area I was in had a steep hill with switchbacks, a pair of sizable jumps, and rocks strategically placed to use as impromptu ramps. I was compelled to repeatedly race to the top of the hill and launch myself off of a cliff, attempting aerial stunts as I went.

This was especially entertaining in the updated first-person mode. Even now, I can’t help but smile, recalling riding through the rain as my tinted goggles accumulated dirt, the sound of the rain drumming on my helmet, and being totally absorbed in the world before promptly wrapping my rider around an unseen tree.  

The Track Editor is back as well and is easy to use, with a well-designed tutorial to walk you through creating your first track. All tracks need to contain certain elements, such as a starting gate, and they need to be verified as well, which requires both you and AI players to complete one lap around the newly-created track successfully.

Once that tutorial was done, I set about creating my own track with one very specific goal: to see if I could launch myself into the stands. I particularly appreciate that you can jump quickly between editing and testing a track. One long straightaway and a large hill later, I was officially flying into the cheap seats. Success! It was a fun distraction, and I'm interested to see how much the Monster Energy Supercross 4 community embraces the track editor.  

Racing to the Future 

Monster Energy Supercross 4 has plenty of new features as well. Next-gen consoles and high specification PC's will have support for dynamic 4K and 60fps. There will be an extensive new Career Mode, with skill trees and progression, and online multiplayer with dedicated servers, though neither of those modes were available for this preview build. 

Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 4 has the potential to be a big step forward for the franchise. The riding feels great, and the modes I saw in the preview are all well-crafted and enjoyable. Whether or not the game truly steps into the upper echelon of racing games will depend on how compelling the career mode progression is, and how strong the community around this game grows, but early indications are that this is a game to keep your eye on.  

Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 4 releases March 11 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Stadia. 

[Note: Milestone provided the copy of Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 4 for the purpose of this preview.] 

Balan Wonderworld Demo Impressions: Old School to a Fault Wed, 27 Jan 2021 03:00:01 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

Balan Wonderworld is a game to get excited about. It's helmed by Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima, who also were responsible for Sonic Adventures and Nights Into Dreams. It's published by Square Enix, and it flexes those big names to deliver a unique and delightfully odd style.

The full game doesn't release until March 2021, but there's a free demo coming on January 28 (available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, and Switch) that will let you get your hands on Balan Wonderworld early to see if it's up your alley. We got to put the demo through its paces a few days ahead of its release. Here's what we thought.

Balan Wonderworld Demo Impressions: Old School to a Fault

So, you're going to have to bare with me a bit in trying to describe Balan Wonderworld. It's a weird duck.

The game focuses on two kids, Emma and Leo, who are seemingly disinterested in the world. That changes when they stumble into a run-down theater and encounter Balan, who's is a well-dressed maestro that seemingly draws more than a little influence from sources like The Cat in the Hat and Looney Tunes. Balan zips around and whisks Emma and Leo off to a magical dream world, where their goal is to (I think) travel into people's minds and help them stave off depression.

They do this, seemingly, by donning a variety of costumes that grant them different abilities and by collecting gems. Still with me?

It could be easy to watch gameplay footage of Balan Wonderworld and assume it plays like Kingdom Hearts. If you go in with that mentality, you're going to be disappointed. This is an unapologetically old-school platformer whose gameplay would feel right at home with so many Banjos, Bubsys and Bandicoots.

Wrapping your brain around the controls in Balan Wonderworld takes no time at all; there are literally only two controls to utilize alongside movement. There's a swap costume button and an action button. And that's where the world-building elements of Balan Wonderworld are likely going to make or break it for many players.

When you aren't in a costume, the action button jumps. The bulk of each level is figuring out which costume changes (you can have up to three in your inventory at a time) to bring with you in order to achieve your goals. One costume dresses your character as a plant and allows them to stretch and become extremely tall. Another is a dragon that blows fire, which can defeat enemies and break blocks. One is a sheep that can float on air currents.

It is as bizarre as can be, with each world looking like the inside of a pinball machine. The three areas included in the demo are pretty inventive, and it looks like there are plenty of opportunities for the developers to create difficult combinations that will test your platforming abilities.

Along the way, there's lots of dancing. Seriously, you'll encounter phantom-like characters who just... dance. You'll run across more than a few frustrating level sections, as any salty veteran of 3D platformers will know. You'll encounter over-the-top color and music. And, unfortunately, you'll discover a game that seems like it may not have as many tricks up its sleeve as we had hoped for.

Balan Wonderworld sets an impressive stage. My jaw was literally hanging open during the opening cutscene, as Balan zipped around the screen and characters put together a choreographed dance number that would make a Broadway playwright jealous.

The game itself, though, at least so far, never quite lives up to the moments that the cutscenes set out.

Movement feels clunky and imprecise. The levels, though clearly inspired by dreamscapes and imagination, all have this weird scale where the background kind of rolls into view as you move. It literally gave me motion sickness on occasion, and that's never a thing I've dealt with while gaming before.

On top of that, there's sort of the question of "why"? Why is my goal to collect all these gems? Why do I feed them to little marshmallow peeps called Tims who chirp incessantly and (this is true) build a tower once I feed them enough? Why are there bizarre QTE minigames where the goal is literally to press a button when two pictures line up?

For right now, it just feels oddly put ogether.

Sometimes, a game is made better by selling out to totally bizarre concepts. Sometimes that really works, and I'm not necessarily arguing that Balan Wonderworld doesn't work. However, the small sections of gameplay that the demo provides don't inspire confidence that it has enough substance to back up its very appealing style.

I hope this isn't the case.

There is a moment, after a particularly tricky section, where the game stops so several of the characters can get together and dance. Balan flies around, and dozens of creatures on a series of moving platforms just go nuts. It's delightful.

But then I pop back into the game, slowly running around a mostly empty world, jumping in the air to collect a lone red gem. Then I encounter a puzzle I can't move past unless I backtrack to a different portion of the level and swap out a costume. The game itself is far too slow and methodical, whereas the fantastic cutscenes make everything feel like it should be flying past at warp speed.

I want to explore these imaginative worlds like Balan would, flying through the air, laughing and spinning all the while. Instead, I'm trundling along with a clumsy jump, trying to avoid getting hit so I don't have to go back to the beginning of the level.

All that said, we've still got high hopes for Balan Wonderworld. If the gameplay itself can capture some of the magic and style that it clearly has, it could be a fun, bombastic brainteaser of a 3D platformer. As of right now, it kind of feels like someone slapped a shiny coat of paint on a GameCube launch title. Fingers crossed.

[Note: Square Enix provided the demo copy of Balan Wonderworld used for this impressions piece.]

GameSkinny's Best Games of 2020 Thu, 31 Dec 2020 09:00:02 -0500 GS_Staff

To look back on the year that was in video games, we've collected our highest-reviewed games of 2020 into a "best of" list. We're a small staff at GameSkinny, so going the traditional "staff voting route" doesn't really make a whole lot of sense for us. The most democratic way to make a list like this is to include any game with a score of "8" or higher. So that's what we've done. 

This list will not include DLCs (such as The Foundation or AWE for Control), expansions (such as Destiny 2 Beyond Light), or hardware reviews. It will contain ports and remakes of games. 

Here are our best games of 2020, starting with a real good one and getting better from there. 

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Vanillaware
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 10/10

What we said: 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim mixes smart design with superb storytelling, then slathers the whole package in gorgeous style. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim spins a web of mystery around you, then chuckles smugly as you think you've found your way out only to realize you're in the middle of a maze.

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A Fold Apart

Publisher: Lightning Rod Games
Developer: Lightning Rod Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, iOS
Rating: 9/10

What we said: A Fold Apart is about hope and how love can get us through even the toughest of times. In that way, it's timeless. 

The game is so incredibly charming and so accurately depicts the rigors and pleasures of being in love that I can't help but adore it. The first title from Lightning Rod Games isn't perfect by definition, but even with a few tiny blemishes, it's only a fold apart. 

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Amnesia: Rebirth

Publisher: Frictional Games
Developer: Frictional Games
Platforms: PC, PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Though its scares don't reach the heights of the original, Amnesia: Rebirth remains a must-play horror game for delivering a story more akin to a brilliant novel.

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Among Us

Publisher: Innersloth
Developer: Innersloth
Platforms: PC, Switch, Mobile
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Flaws aside, Among Us is a clever game that deserves its time in the spotlight. It works a surprisingly complex concept into a simple and accessible package where matches are quick, fun, usually hilarious, and sometimes even intense.

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 10/10

What we said: The latest Animal Crossing is also the best, full of life, charm, and near-endless ways to make your very own island paradise.

New Horizons is bursting with personality and charm, with opportunities to create something new and completely you. It's compelling and also one of the most chilled out games you'll ever play. In short, there's nothing quite like Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

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Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Assassin's Creed Valhalla builds its world around a familiar formula, but with a compelling story and plenty of things to do, it's a game series fans will find inviting.

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Astro's Playroom

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Team ASOBII
Platforms: PS5
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Astro's Playroom proves that the DualSense's haptics and adaptive triggers are for real — and that Astro Bot could have a very bright future on PlayStation 5. Though it's short and may lack enemy variety, Astro's Playroom makes up for it in character and heart. 

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Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk DX

Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd
Platforms: PS4, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Atelier Ayesha DX is a solid entry starting off the Dusk trilogy, with compelling crafting and gameplay loops, as well as plenty of loveable characters. Overall, Atelier Ayesha DX is a great entry in the series whether you're new to it or just finding it now. 

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Atelier Escha and Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky DX

Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd
Platforms: PS4, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Atelier Escha & Logy DX refines the formula Ayesha laid out and other new features that make it not just the best in the Dusk trilogy, but one of the best Atelier games in general. All in all, Atelier Escha & Logy DX is easily the best entry in the Dusk trilogy  With refined mechanics, better combat, and seriously compelling crafting systems, it even stands among the top entries in the Atelier series on the whole.

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Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea

Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd
Platforms: PS4, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Though Atelier Shallie falls short in some ways, it's still a solid package with compelling crafting and combat systems. Atelier Shallie is the weakest part of the Dusk trilogy. It's ambitious in doing away with the time system and trying for a more flexible approach. But there's just not enough worthwhile content to make the freedom and flexibility a satisfying trade-off for the systems it does away with, and it doesn't make good use of its own strengths.

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AO Tennis 2

Publisher: Big Ant Studios
Developer: Big Ant Studios
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: AO Tennis 2 feels like a sports sim built first and foremost to correct its predecessor's mistakes, and that's a directive that pays off for tennis fans. Not without issues, AO Tennis 2 is my pick for the best tennis game on the market today. There's obvious room to grow, but this has quickly become Big Ant's best series in their ever-expanding catalog of sports titles.

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Before We Leave

Publisher: Balancing Monkey Games
Developer: Balancing Monkey Games
Platforms: PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Before We Leave is a relaxing take on the post-apocalypse and city building, with enough benefits to overcome its hiccups.

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Publisher: Paper Cult
Developer: Paper Cult
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Bloodroots is a high-speed slash-and-bash extravaganza that always makes you want to beat "just one more level." A good game can be really fun when things are going well and you feel skilled and empowered. A great game remains fun when you feel like a useless idiot who can't do anything right. Bloodroots is a great game. 

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Blood Rage

Publisher: Asmodee
Developer: Exozet Games
Platforms: PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Blood Rage: Digital Edition is a strong port of the popular tabletop game that's challenging for both newcomers and veterans alike. Blood Rage: Digital Edition is a really strong port of a popular tabletop game. 

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Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: Rare
Platforms: PC, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Battletoads returns after 26 years, and it's a love letter to gaming past and present. The urgency at which it propels you through its runtime is both a blessing and a curse, as it’s hard to put down but ultimately a short affair. 

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BPM: Bullets Per Minute

Publisher: Awe Interactive
Developer: Awe Interactive
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 9/10

What we said: BPM: Bullets Per Minute is a challenging rhythm shooter that’s difficult to master but highly satisfying. It's not a forgiving experience, and though it's difficult to master, BPM proves surprisingly easy to pick up and play. 

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Bubble Bobble 4 Friends

Publisher: ININ Games
Developer: Taito
Platforms: PS4, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is, for the most part, exactly what fans would have hoped for. It’s a modern classic that keeps all the charm we loved about the original 80s game. There’s a significant graphics improvement of course, but the gameplay itself is largely identical.

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Cake Bash

Publisher: High Tea Frog
Developer: Coatsink
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: There’s a lot to love about Cake Bash, and High Tea Frog has made an excellent party game for their debut title. With a variety of entertaining games, some lively stages, and good replayability, it’s a fun experience, especially with friends. We only wish there was more of it on offer. Though some minigames feel a little finicky, it’s otherwise a sweet treat all around.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch, Raven Software
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is full of content that series fans will enjoy and offers a few unexpected surprises along the way. The vast amount of content at launch is enough to draw players in, while the promise of more will keep players around. 

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Beenox
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered is a mostly commanding return of the game's classic single-player, though not without a few hiccups. It is a functionally updated retelling of a story millions know and played in their formative years. The characters and politics are somehow as relevant today as they were back when the game first released, and it still sounds, plays, and looks better than most shooters on the market.

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Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Tamsoft
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions is legitimately the best arcade sports title to come out since Rocket League. The simple, easy truth here is that if you're craving an arcade soccer game, you really should buy Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions. 

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Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Phobia Game Studio
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Carrion is a beautifully orchestrated symphony of blood, guts, and dismembered limbs. While Carrion won't win any awards, it plays out much like a late Friday night feature, full of gruesome horror and satisfying effects. More importantly, it doesn't outstay its welcome.

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Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Toys for Bob
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Ultimately, Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time had a lot riding on it. Being the sequel to a 22-year-old game likely presented Toys for Bob with some developmental challenges, but the development team nailed nearly everything about this sequel. The Crash series has seen its fair share of mediocre (or even bad) entries, but Crash 4 is a big step in the right direction, and the future of the series couldn't be more exciting. 

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Crusader Kings 3

Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Paradox Development Studio
Platforms: PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Crusader Kings 3 is the best looking and most accessible the series has ever been. If you've always been intrigued by the idea of Crusader Kings but bounced off of it, Crusader Kings 3 is the best way to get started. 

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Deliver Us the Moon

Publisher: Wired Productions
Developer: KeokeN Interactive
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: A narrative journey through space so intriguing and full of compelling puzzles that it easily papers over some minor cracks in execution and major leaps it asks the player to make.

Just as the interesting minutiae of the plot are enough to overcome some of the issues I had with the macro-level concept, the overall experience was more than enough to make up for having one or two bouts of irritation.

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Demon's Souls

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Bluepoint Games
Platforms: PS5
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Demon's Souls is an instant classic, one of those rare retellings that stands triumphantly alongside the original as an essential experience. This remaster stands as a shining example of how transformative reimaginings can be, and how, with loving dedication, a remaster can be just as revolutionary and memorable as its source material.

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Desperados 3

Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: Mimimi Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Desperados 3 is a much-belated sequel that strikes the right balance between classic gameplay mechanics and modern sensibilities. It's a welcome return for the series. Mimimi Games has proven once again that they know the genre, as both Desperados 3 and Shadow Tactics demonstrate.

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Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Platforms: PS5, Xbox Series X|S
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition makes a great game even better with a new character, new modes, and overhauled visuals for next-gen consoles. Devil May Cry 5 may not have a whole lot that's truly new to offer, but what it does add and change manages to elevate an already excellent action game into the upper echelon of the entire genre.

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Dirt 5

Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Codemasters
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Dirt 5 continues Codemaster's tradition of creating some of the finest racing games around that have neither the words "Gran," "Forza," or "Speed" in the title.

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Disgaea 4 Complete+

Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Platforms: PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Disgaea 4 Complete+ is the definitive version of the game, with upgrades galore, tons of content to get lost in, and one of the strongest casts in the series. Disgaea 4 Complete+ is one of the stronger entries in the series, with its outlandish cast and relevant, if loose, story.

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Doom Eternal

Publisher: Bethesda 
Developer: id Software
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Stadia, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Doom Eternal absolutely delivers on all-fronts by blasting us with one of the most intense and satisfying single-player shooter campaigns in years. From the moment you kill your first enemy with the starting shotgun to when you revel in the explosion of blood from your final enemy, Doom Eternal is a nearly non-stop thrill ride that exceeds almost every expectation.

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Dragon's Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Dragon Quest XI Definitive Edition makes one of the most joyous and downright wonderful gaming experiences of all time even better. The Definitive Edition of Dragon Quest XI is the perfect salve. It's a game unashamed to be a video game, and it's one that embraces its roots in a charming, beautiful way. It's unashamedly jolly and light, but most importantly, it's comforting.

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Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Media Molecule
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 9/10

What we said: On one hand, Dreams is a bottomless bag filled with toys, vignettes, and indie games. On the other, Dreams is a must-own for anyone who's ever been curious about game design. Dreams is the best platform for anybody who loves playing tons of indie games, or who would like to make one themselves, or even just those who'd like to network into a game development community.

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Fall Guys

Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Mediatonic
Platforms: PC, PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Despite unbalanced team-match dynamics and pesky server issues (which the developers are ironing out) sometimes interfering with the fun, the simple approach of Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout makes these negatives seem meaningless in the long run. This is not only the game we want in 2020 — but it's the game we need. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is a comfort blanket that provides some warm, friendly fun with friends.

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Final Fantasy 7 Remake 

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Final Fantasy 7 Remake faithfully updates Midgar and the original’s enigmatic cast of antiheroes for a new generation, masterfully weaving its own grand tale in the process. In fact, it could be the best Final Fantasy game I've ever played — period.

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Fort Triumph

Publisher: All In! Games
Developer: CookieByte Entertainment
Platforms: PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Fort Triumph expertly blends genres into a strategy experience that's infinitely fun and endlessly charming. Fort Triumph is just a lot of fun, and the charm oozes from every arrow wound, spell singe, and sword strike, making it a very easy recommendation indeed. 

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Publisher: NCSOFT
Developer: Harmonix
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: FUSER would be an incredibly special game if it came out last year. But now, in late 2020, it almost seems necessary. This game is already something very, very special, and it's only going to get better as the community grows. After all, it's always better to make music with friends.

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Gears Tactics

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: The Coalition
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Gears Tactics takes the intense third-person action of the console game into the realm of PC-centric turn-based tactical strategy. Thanks to intuitive controls, Gears Tactics is easy to get into even for players who have never played a turn-based tactical squad game before. It’s just a shame there’s not more here.

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Get Packed

Publisher: Coatsink
Developer: Moonshine Studios
Platforms: Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Get Packed is strangely not the only indie co-op arcade game about moving furniture to launch recently, but it ends up standing out with its own kind of hilarious chaos. Get Packed is playable for up to four players in local or online play and across several modes, including a campaign, versus, and destruction. Whichever you choose, the colorful and bubbly characters and levels you've come to expect from games like this are back once more.

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Ghost of Tsushima

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Sucker Punch
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Ghost of Tsushima offers an amazing open-world experience and satisfying combat, only mildly held back by its writing and characters. Ghost of Tsushima does a lot of things right. Its got fun combat, a wonderfully designed world, and top-notch sound design. Neither the story nor the characters moved me in any real way, even though I could tell both were trying.

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Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: One More Level
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: In Ghostrunner, a single slash divides life and death. It's fast, frenetic, and, even in the face of its weaker moments, endlessly satisfying. Ghostrunner offers satisfying combat in a well-constructed, beautiful cyberpunk world. You will feel more and more powerful as the game moves on, and moving through the world is always a wonderful experience.

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Publisher: Supergiant Games
Developer: Supergiant Games
Platforms: PC, Switch
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Hades is everything great about the roguelite genre all but perfected. Few games aim as high, and fewer still reach their goals. Hades does, exceeding even the loftiest expectations.

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Half-Life: Alyx

Publisher: Valve
Developer: Valve
Platforms: PC
Rating: 10/10

What we said: While the "VR-only" part may alienate many current PC gamers, it's a triumph that a VR title as excellent as Alyx exists at all.

The release of a VR game like Half-Life: Alyx is a momentous occasion. Not only is this one of the very first AAA VR games to break the bubble, but it's also a revival of one of the most beloved game franchises on the planet, following up on a nearly 13-year hiatus that left us all on a very inconvenient cliffhanger.

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Publisher: Coffee Stain Studios
Developer: Easy Trigger Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Huntdown is a throwback run and gun shooter that cares about style and rewards precision. Huntdown understands the genre and its influences, and it carves its own path. It's short enough that you can play through it in a single sitting, taking four to six hours, depending on the difficulty you choose. 

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Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Omega Force
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a heck of a Warriors game and a fantastic love letter to Breath of the Wild and Zelda in general. Maybe Age of Calamity is a stop-gap to tide fans over until Breath of the Wild 2, but no effort was spared in making it a quality game.

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Iron Harvest

Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: King Art Games
Platforms: PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Iron Harvest leverages its unique setting and strong design into an impressive and memorable RTS. If you're looking for a strong, single-player RTS with a unique world to explore, Iron Harvest is a perfect option. 

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Immortals Fenyx Rising

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer:  Ubisoft Quebec
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch, Stadia, Amazon Luna
Rating: 8/10

What we said: It may look like a Breath of the Wild clone, but Immortals Fenyx Rising has a lot of unique charm that makes it a must-play for fans of the genre. Immortals Fenyx Rising has undeniable charm. Your mileage may vary, but don't sleep on this one. It's worth the adventure.

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Journey to the Savage Planet

Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Typhoon Studios
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Journey to the Savage Planet is a satirical and colorful Metroidvania that survives its corny jokes thanks to fun traversal and worthwhile exploration. With an intriguing world and creature design, the right amount of retro principles, and a surprisingly long post-credits tail worth chasing, Journey to the Savage Planet is a light-hearted, charming debut from a promising new studio.

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Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Melody of Memory is a nostalgic, rhythmic celebration of Kingdom Hearts that fans of the series and the genre will adore. Drawing upon a rich soundtrack that ranges from original songs to Disney hits, there’s a lot to love in this new spin-off, but don’t expect any major story developments.

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Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning

Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: Kaiko
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning changes little from its original release because it doesn't need to. This is immediately one of the best RPGs you can play this entire generation.

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Publisher: The Arcade Crew
Developer: TurtleBlaze
Platforms: PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Classic components come together to form a stellar slashing platformer, with the titular kunai providing a particularly high note.

Metroidvania games remain a popular niche in the gaming community with good reason, and KUNAI is a worthwhile addition to the genre. It's easy to pick up and get going, but it provides enough escalation as you progress to keep you interested as you move from sector to sector, picking up new toys and perks along the way.

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Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
Developer: Tripwire Interactive
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Maneater's deep combat and deeper oceans provide just the type of blissful escapism we need right now. Even if it wasn’t on your radar at all, Maneater is a title that will gobble you up for a few hours of blissful escapism. 

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Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer:  Insomniac Games
Platforms: PS4, PS5
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Insomniac wanted to please Miles Morales fans with their latest Spider-Man adventure. The result is a damn near perfect action-adventure game. It’s also close to being perfect when it comes to representation. Black and brown people fill out most of the roles and do so with gusto. Their performances, at times, eclipsing what came before. I’m thoroughly pleased with what Insomniac has accomplished.

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Magic: ManaStrike

Publisher: Netmarble
Developer: Netmarble
Platforms: Android
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Magic: ManaStrike is a very familiar strategy game that includes some classic characters to make for an all-around fun time. There is a constant stream of rewards for those who don't want to spend money, too, so you never feel hamstrung for not wanting to buy in-game items. It's fun and has enough depth to make for some interesting strategies, the more you play. 

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Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom 
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection is an excellent little package that is sure to please fans both old and new.

Overall, you'd be hard-pressed to beat the Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection. All of the games are enjoyable, the new features make them far easier to consume for modern players, and the love to the series spills out of every frame. It's just a very good collection of very good games, even if the title is utterly absurd. 

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Metro Redux 

Publisher: Koch Media
Developer:  4A Games
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Metro Redux arrives on the Nintendo Switch with a bombastic statement: absolutely nobody's safe from Switch-ification. 

Metro Redux on Switch feels like one of those rare Switch games that shouldn't exist. I mean that in a very, very good way. I also mean it in the sense that, thematically and technically, it doesn't seem like it would be a great natural fit for Nintendo's portable gaming console.

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MLB The Show 20

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: SIE San Diego
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: MLB The Show 20 doesn't rewrite the script, but its numerous tweaks to gameplay, modes, and options makes it the best baseball game around. MLB The Show 20 still feels like the most complete baseball title available — comfortably so, in fact. But it doesn't feel like a significant evolution over last year's entry in the series. 

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Mortal Shell

Publisher: Playstack
Developer: Cold Symmetry 
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Far from being a pretender, Mortal Shell is a sometimes exceptional entry to the genre. Its stumbles are noticeable only because there is so much to enjoy.

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Moving Out

Publisher: Team17
Developer:  SMG Studio
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Moving Out's familiar brand of local-multiplayer party-game fun lets everyone join in on the fun, laughter, and cursing. Whatever your preference is, Moving Out certainly provides the same flavor of co-operative tension and burst-out-loud laughter as Overcooked. 

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Murder by Numbers

Publisher: The Irregular Corporation
Developer: Mediatonic
Platforms: PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Murder by Numbers is an exquisite detective puzzler with wonderful writing, gorgeous graphics, and masterful music. The comparisons to the Phoenix Wright series are instantly evident. Not only do the visuals share the same motif of hand-drawn 2D sprites, speech boxes, and thick lines, but the gameplay is very similar, too. 

The soundtrack is lively, bouncy, and upbeat. It's inspirational and uplifting when the moment is happy, it's imposing and harsh when the pressure is on, and it's cold and gloomy when the protagonist doubts themselves. 

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My Hero One's Justice 2

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Byking 
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: My Hero One's Justice 2 is a lot like the original, with a few minor adjustments that might entice you to enter the arena once again. Make no mistake, My Hero One's Justice 2 is a good, fun arena brawler on its own merits. Taken on its own, the game really does provide an amazing adaptation of the My Hero Academia franchise.

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NHL 21

Publisher: EA
Developer: EA Vancouver
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: NHL 21 provides more of the same, and with the uncertainty of the real world season, even less of what few changes fans come to expect of yearly releases.

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Nioh 2

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Team Ninja
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Nioh 2 takes everything great about the first game and dials it up. Despite a few returning gremlins, this is an instant hit for fans of the series. Nioh 2 is essentially more Nioh, but better. Fans of the series will find plenty to enjoy here, and newcomers won't feel like they had to play the first game to appreciate what it has to offer.

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Not for Broadcast

Publisher: TinyBuild Games
Developer: NotGames
Platforms: PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Who knew that overseeing a bunch of media personalities who say so little by saying so much could be so fun? Not For Broadcast is excellently paced. As soon as you pull up behind the switchboard, you're presented with a smorgasbord of screens, buttons, and switches. While it would be easy to overwhelm new players with options, the game takes it slow.

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One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is not only one of the best One Piece games but possibly one of the best Musou games around. When you throw in the ability to grind out your skill trees and chase ever more impressive kill counts, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is a game with an incredible level of replayability.

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One Step From Eden

Publisher: Humble Bundle
Developer: Thomas Moon Kang
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: One Step From Eden is a fantastic rogue-like deck-building game that is a few small tweaks away from perfection. Like most roguelites, One Step From Eden is brimming with replay value but can easily be played in short stints, too; each run takes 30-60 minutes to complete — or, more often, 5-10 minutes to lose.

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Ori and the Will of the Wisps 

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: Moon Studios
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Ori and the Will of the Wisps is another triumph return for the series — a beautiful game with only the smallest blemishes to its luster. If you want to play a beautiful, often difficult Metroidvania with some of the most satisfying combat and traversal mechanics the genre has to offer, Ori and the Will of the Wisps will give you plenty to be excited about.

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Initial Release Date: 
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Othercide is a modern gothic take on turn-based tactics. It's stylish, difficult, and a solid addition to the genre. If you want a tough take on turn-based tactics, Othercide is a great pick-up. If you've tried the genre before and bounced off because of the gameplay, it isn't going to change your mind.

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Orcs Must Die 3

Publisher: Google
Developer: Robot Entertainment
Platforms: Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Though its name offers no way around it, the creative ways you dispatch foes makes Orcs Must Die 3 perhaps the most addictive Stadia exclusive to date.

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Orwell's Animal Farm

Publisher: The Dairymen
Developer: Nerial 
Platforms: PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Orwell's Animal Farm faithfully recreates and even reinvents the classic allegory at a time when it's never been more relevant for some players. There's absolutely an audience for this game, and if you find yourself in it, Orwell's Animal Farm is a timely, effective reimagining of one of the last century's most notable allegories.

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Paper Mario: The Origami King

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Despite a combat system that gets old quickly, Paper Mario: The Origami King's writing, puzzles, and worldbuilding make it the best entry since The Thousand-Year Door.

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Persona 5 Royal

Publisher: Atlus USA
Developer:  P-Studio
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Persona 5 Royal improves on the original in almost countless ways, big and small, to deliver a top-notch RPG for new and old fans alike. If you haven't played Persona 5 countless times, you're in for a real treat. Persona 5 Royal is easily the best Persona game yet and one of the best RPGs available right now.

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Pikmin 3

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Eighting 
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Pikmin 3 Deluxe is the best the series has to offer, a showcase of creative design and smart strategy. It's one of the most enjoyable experiences on the Switch.

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Pumpkin Jack

Publisher: Headup
Developer: Nicolas Meyssonnier
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: With levels reminiscent of beloved 3D platformers and an irresistible audiovisual experience, playing Pumpkin Jack this Halloween is exciting and youthful like trick-or-treaters finding the house giving out full-size candy bars.

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Rune Factory 4 Special

Publisher: XSEED
Developer: Neverland
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Rune Factory 4 is an abundant RPG, full of fun characters, things to do, and a compelling network of interlocking systems. While Rune Factory 4 might not reach the epic heights of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 or Dragon Quest 11 S, and as a simulator, it might get overlooked for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. However, Rune Factory 4 manages to be something else entirely and manages it very well.

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Resident Evil 3 Remake

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Resident Evil 3 is a decent horror-action game that falls short of the Resident Evil 2 standard. To be fair, though, RE3 is trying some new things. It's much more of a straightforward action game than RE2, keeping a lot of the trappings of survival horror while emphasizing RE4-style shoot-'em-up gameplay. 

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Robotics;Notes ELITE & DaSH

Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Developer: Mages Inc.
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Robotics;Notes ELITE & DaSH give fans lighthearted adventures with the Robot Research Club in the Science Adventure universe. Fans of the Science Adventure series, and visual novels in general, will enjoy Robotics;Notes ELITE. While it doesn’t quite reach the incredibly soaring highs of Steins;Gate, it is more enjoyable than the underwhelming Chaos;Head.

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Sackboy: A Big Adventure

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Sumo Digital
Platforms: PS4, PS5
Rating: 9/10

What we said: After a six-year absence, PlayStation’s knitted icon returns in stunning form in one of the year's best platformers. With an A-list cast, superb visuals, and some strong co-op gameplay, Sackboy: A Big Adventure successfully proves that Sackboy can thrive without LittleBigPlanet’s creation mechanics, all while still paying homage to his roots.

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Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin

Publisher: XSEED
Developer: Edelweiss
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a bold genre fusion that pays off with superb farming and combat systems plus a cast of characters you'll remember for a long time to come. It might ask you to take it on its own terms from time to time, but that's a small price to pay when the experience is this rewarding and unique.

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Sakura Wars

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: SEGA 
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Sakura Wars' unique LIPS system, thoroughly charming cast of characters, and great writing more than make up for its less than stellar combatIt's a strong reboot, and one I truly hope heralds an encore for the series. There's nothing else quite like Sakura Wars, and that's a compliment.

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Samurai Shodown

Publisher: SNK
Developer: SNK
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: 2019's Samurai Shodown is finally available for the Switch, bringing one of the foundational Japanese fighting games to a brand-new audience. Samurai Shodown has managed to make the trip to the Switch without sacrificing more than a little bit of graphical fidelity. 

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Sayonara Wild Hearts

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Simogo 
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 10/10

What we said: In its one-hour runtime, Sayonara Wild Hearts transcends video games and becomes not just a playable pop album, but a hypnotic self-help soundtrack. It's an endorphin factory. Sayonara Wild Hearts is more than a game for me. It's a catharsis vessel. It's a story of self-love. It's a reminder that some things break but that doesn't make us broken. It was once a dream and now forever a memory. It's transcendent and undying, but, of course, it is. Wild Hearts Never Die. 

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Serious Sam 4

Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Croteam 
Platforms: PC, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Serious Sam 4 is a delightfully old-school first-person shooter that doe