[Review] Need for Speed Rivals – Safe, But Not Dull

Want an audio version of this blog post? Click here.

“Are you a cop? Or a racer?” This is the choice that’s presented to me shortly after a cutscene in which two equally edgy drivers bump their egos against each other for two minutes. The basic premise is that the cops enjoy the thrill of going fast in their cars, and they’re tough guys because they’re the law, whereas the racers enjoy the thrill of going fast in their cars, and they’re tough guys because they break the law. With little to differentiate them, then, I choose racer, a choice which is quickly rendered meaningless ten minutes later when the game forces me to also learn how to race as a cop.

The more I think about what I’m going to put into this review, the more I realise how scathing it’s going to come across. I have some gripes. I have a lot of gripes! So I think it’s important to first of all mention that the game is fun. It’s solid. It’s a good racer, and a decent Need for Speed game. I do not regret my purchase. I am, in fact, considering aiming for the Platinum trophy, which looks to be a bit of a grind. I want to pursue as much gameplay as Rivals has to offer. I’m just not a huge advocate for how that gameplay is delivered to you.

When you begin your career as either a cop or a racer, you’re thrust into the open world of Redview County, a name so generic I had to look it up before finishing this sentence. Redview County is a fairly island-shaped map with four distinct biomes – town, forest, desert, and snow – with very little space to transition between them. There’s literally an area on the map where you drive from snow to desert in about twenty seconds. The visuals also leave something to be desired, but given that this is a game from 2013, I can forgive it a little for being a product of its time; it’s dark, gritty, and grainy, clearly an outlier from the PS3/Xbox 360 era where this aesthetic was commonplace. That being said, I didn’t like the aesthetic any more in 2010 than I do in 2020.

Redview County is not Paradise City. Sure, it has jumps, and speed cameras, and an autolog system which pits your score against your friends and those in your lobby, but they’re almost an afterthought. Jumps are clustered together in areas like the city or the airport, and nowhere to be found on the longer stretches of road between. This can make certain objectives a pain in that you have to seek out these locations, rather than achieve them as you make your way around the island. These objectives are grouped together and presented to you by way of “speedlists”, and each one you complete nets you a level, and a new car unlock. As a racer, you can personalise them (though that system is somewhat limited), upgrade their performance and outfit them with pursuit tech; as a cop, you’re limited to choosing your pursuit tech only.

The pursuit tech, while not new to the Need for Speed series, is a welcome inclusion. There have been countless occasions where I’ve been surrounded by cops, at risk of losing my session’s SpeedPoints – this game’s currency – and let off a shockwave that propelled my pursuers into barriers, trees, and other unfortunate passersby. Racers have access to Turbo boosts, stun mines and more, while the police are offered more traditional spike strips, road blocks and helicopter backup. I’ve not played around with all of these, but I’m yet to find one I don’t like, as utilising them effectively almost always yields satisfying results. Interestingly, I’ve also found that using a shockwave on a racer who’s ahead of me is often to my own detriment, as it boosts their speed, or laying a mine when a car is directly behind me will catch me in the stun range too. All this adds an additional layer of tactical thinking to your races.

It must be said, though, this game feels disjointed, and not just because I’ve been skipping the awful cutscenes. You level up by completing arbitrary sets of objectives, some of which don’t even include races, and there’s very little to persuade you to try one of your new car unlocks. There’s not much discernible difference between the performance of a Ford Mustang and a Lamborghini Gallardo; the latter is obviously faster and more agile, but you’d expect the difference between the two to be much more extreme than it actually is. The only time I felt like I had to think about which car I brought to an event was the very last Racer speedlist, a 15-minute Hot Pursuit race around the island, which my Gallardo wasn’t durable enough to survive.

So, is this the best Need for Speed? Of course not. And yet, there’s a reason I’ve been playing it for hours at a time. The structure may be awkward, the story virtually nonexistent, and the progression unsatisfying, but the moment-to-moment racing sells it all the same. If I’d read the review I just gave this I’d be inclined to give Rivals a pass, but at the end of the day, I’m happy I didn’t. Not every Need for Speed game has to be on par with Underground or Most Wanted, and while I’d not recommend picking this up for £30, acquiring it as a bundle of three with the reboot and Payback for £15 is more than good enough value for me.

Kritigri’s Top 10 Played Games of 2019!

Wow it’s that time of year again already! As always, it’s about what I played this year, not just what was released this year, because I’m not made of money and can’t afford to buy every release that interests me for full price. Also, DLC counts if it’s an expansion or a similar level of content release to a pre-existing game.

In fact, let’s acknowledge what I was interested in this year but never got the chance to play:

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Devil May Cry 5

Planet Zoo

Borderlands 3

Control

Rage 2

Onto what I actually did play, then. I’d say this year’s been pretty good, but every year’s good when you’re looking at your top ten. Games are a lot of fun!


Honorable Mention: The Outer Worlds

This game gets my yearly “I’m sorry I abandoned you” award.

The Outer Worlds was good. GOTY material. I thought that, in my head, as I was playing it. I finished the entire first planet, including a few sidequests, and I was really enjoying my time. But on the way to the next planet I realised that I’d reached a good stopping point, and another release pulled me away.

I swore to come back, but I never did.

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.


#10 – Beat Saber (PSVR)

Whenever you see clips of people doing amazing things in Beat Saber, just know that they are literal gods who walk among us. The level of satisfaction you get from just watching them work is easily achieved by accomplishing much smaller feats in your own play sessions. The game does exactly what it promises to do in its visuals – it makes you feel like a damn Jedi. When you get it right, anyway. And when you don’t end up punching your bookshelf… I don’t have a lot of movement space in my room.

My only complaint is that there’s no Spotify or Youtube integration, with an algorithm for generating your own levels. Choice of level is sparse, with music that’s personally only enjoyable because of the accompanying gameplay. I’d be way more interested in playing Beat Saber to the tunes of heavy metal, just to see how insane that could get, but it seems like the creators are opting for a DLC method, netting them more money but us far less options in genre. Ah well.


#9 – Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (PS4)

Of all the late discoveries in my GOTY lists, this one must be the latest. Despite the original game having not even been released this decade, the PS4 remaster holds up. Whilst the fact that it’s a PS3 game shines through in some of the flat platform ledges and basic, albeit touched-up faces, the gameplay didn’t feel clunky at all.

I really didn’t know what to expect going into Uncharted. It’s a genre I never cared about as a teenager – I actually sold Uncharted 3 which came with my PS3 – to the extent that I’ve never even gone out of my way to watch gameplay of the series. I was surprised by the amount of cover shooting the game had, though not unpleasantly so. I was even more surprised by the turn the story takes towards the end, into the supernatural. I took my time with the game, playing through a few chapters over the course of weeks, but I had a great time.

If you’re wondering why I chose the first game, which everyone tells me is rough compared to its sequels, here’s the answer: I’m not doing playing Among Thieves yet.


#8 – Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch)

One of my most anticipated games of the year. The original’s existence was my one regret for not owning a Wii U, having already been deeply invested in making my own Mario levels years before on a fan-made version called Super Mario Flash.

I love that it’s just always there, on my Switch, millions of levels ready to go. This time around Nintendo also included 100 levels of their own in a cute little story mode, where you can rebuild Peach’s castle and earn some new level parts along the way. I’m also a big fan of the huge variety of themes across all games, with night levels including some fun modifiers. It truly feels like there are limitless possibilities.

I made a couple of levels, and was decently surprised to see them get played and rated nicely. However, my idea of recreating Crash Bandicoot levels in Mario Maker form didn’t exactly pan out, and it kinda crushed my motivation to make levels from there on out. Plus, the issue of the level pool being flooded with low quality content stops Super Mario Maker 2 from being higher up in the list; a flaw of its own nature.


#7 – Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (PS4)

I’m going to level with you here – I haven’t played this game in months, so I don’t have any sort of fresh take to give you. But from what I remember, it’s my favourite Assassin’s Creed game since AC2. Kassandra is a genuinely likable assassin with a story that I actually give a damn about, and having agency over basic choices in the story makes a world of difference. Plus, the world of Ancient Greece is superbly crafted. And it’s HUGE. I’m still awestruck and bewildered as to how they made such a huge and detailed environment.

It’s a long ol’ game, and it’s one I’ve pledged to return to at some point. I think that point may be coming up sooner rather than later.


#6 – Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr (PC)

Back at the start of the year I played through the preceding Summerset chapter, and considered it to be a gorgeous and well-crafted island with a somewhat dull story riddled with ambiguously magical plot points. Then, in the summer, I began the Elsweyr chapter when it came out, but the story just didn’t grab me, and I ultimately fell off of playing it, not even thinking about it again for months.

Then, last week, I got the urge to resume my travels and discovered that the second half of the Elsweyr story is when shit got interesting. And just when I’d grown attached to the characters, the story ended, and I continued onwards to Southern Elsweyr in the accompanying DLC released this fall to wrap up the year-long storyline. As far as ESO stories go, it was pretty grand! Zapped some dragons, helped some cats, did the hero stuff. I haven’t actually tried any of the side-stories yet, though. I’ve spent my last few play sessions levelling an alt through the Daggerfall Covenant questlines, which I’ve scarcely touched.

This year is the first time I’ve given into temptation and opted into the optional ESO Plus subscription instead of just buying the smaller DLC packs outright. I’ve gotta say, the freedom of being able to loot everything without worrying about the crafting materials eating up all your bag space does make questing that little bit more enjoyable.


#5 – Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled (PS4)

CTR:NF is the most generous game when it comes to free content that I’ve ever seen, with one huge caveat: Despite initially promising that the game would have zero microtransactions, season two saw the introduction of the ability to buy Wumpa Coins alongside earning them through play. I’ve kept a close eye on the valuation of store items, though, and nothing’s been tweaked to be more of a grind that I can see.

Anyways, this game is more than just a faithful remake of the original PS1 title. It goes above and beyond, including every track from the PS2 successor Crash Nitro Kart, as well as the aforementioned seasonal content, each bringing with it a free new track that’s unlocked for everyone. It is incredibly generous. Not only that, but I personally find the gameplay more fun that Mario Kart 8’s, and I love Mario Kart 8 (though I am now AWFUL at it).

I’m currently a bit burnt out, having successfully completed my Champion Kart grind in the Halloween season, but it’s definitely a game I’ll be returning to often.


#4 – Pokémon Sword (Switch)

I almost didn’t buy this game.

The last mainline Pokémon game I really loved was Pokémon Diamond. I’ve always been more of a fan of the remakes and spinoffs, like Pokémon Leaf Green, Pokémon SoulSilver and Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee Edition. It’s only because I bought the two-game-pass thing months ago that I decided to pick up Sword; I was initially going to go for Dragon Quest XIS, but I fell off playing the demo. (It seems like a really good game, my attention span just betrays me.)

I’m so glad I changed my mind! This has legitimately been the most fun I’ve had in a Pokémon game for years. I love the setting, I love the Galar region Pokémon, I love the story (yes, even Hop), and I love the spectacle of gym battles. When you look at a clip of a Pokémon dynamaxing it looks stupid, but when you’re immersed in the game’s story and challenge, it genuinely feels awesome when you dynamax for the first time.

Hell, I’m even planning on checking out the anime for Pokémon Sword when it comes out. And I never watch the anime! That’s how much I love the Galar region.


#3 – Halo: Reach (PC)

It feels like I’ve been waiting to play a Halo game for my entire life, and I am so, so happy that I finally have the chance to do so.

That being said, Halo: Reach’s campaign didn’t really grab me until halfway through. The somewhat blunt gun-feel took a little bit of getting used to after years of Destiny 2, and the setting of the first few missions isn’t quite the fantastical sci-fi romp that I’ve known Halo to be from afar. It does get there eventually though, and when you’ve spent some time with the weapons they do feel effective in their own way. By the fifth mission I’d fallen fully in love with Halo: Reach.

The multiplayer is hugely refreshing, hailing from an era before ultimates and gameplay tailored to try and give every player their hero moment. There’s obviously still a fair amount of one-shot kills, such as sniper rifles, rocket launchers and energy swords, but these are weapons which you have to fight over to obtain, rather than being a bar which charges up over a set amount of time. I love the Crucible in Destiny 2, and I do enjoy the ultimate based gameplay, but it does lead to more moments of frustration. In comparsion, Halo feels like a breath of fresh air.

I can’t wait for the rest of the collection to come to PC.


#2 – Destiny 2: Shadowkeep

Choosing between this and Halo for #2 was a difficult choice. I have friends who would object one way or the other. But when it really comes down to it, to what I spent the most amount of time in getting the most amount of enjoyment out of, it has to be Shadowkeep, purely by way of design.

As far as the story goes, I made an excellent decision in brushing up on the lore of Destiny before this expansion dropped. (Chapters, DLC, I don’t care what the devs call these things, they’re expansions.) The “oh shit” moment near the start of the campaign was really an “OH SHIT” moment for me. The over-arcing narrative of events on the moon was really fun to explore. To be honest, though, the seasonal story felt tacked-on, and the Vex Offensive event for season 8 had absolutely no replayability. Season 9 has just kicked off but I’m still a little burnt out from reaching the end of season 8’s loot pass, and it’s a little weird adjusting back from Halo.

Nevertheless though, I’ve spent literally 100 hours in the game since Shadowkeep launched and while I may have gotten frustrated with it towards the end there, the majority of time was well spent.


#1 – Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4)

I beat this right at the start of the year in January, so my memory might be a little vague, but this remains the best game I’ve played on PS4. One of my favourite fictional worlds from one of my favourite game developers turned out to be an amazing (hah) combination. I immediately fell in love with the story and bought all the DLC, playing to 100% completion. This is legitimately one of my favourite versions of Spider-Man across all forms of media, up there with the Spider-Verse movie and the Ultimate Spider-Man comic line.

I’ve honestly been keeping myself from doing another run through the game until my memory of it is distant. And hey, it is now… and to grab that platinum trophy I need to beat the game on its hardest difficulty. So there’s a good excuse.


Most Anticipated 2020 Titles

And that’s a wrap on 2019!

This list could have looked very different without a few delays, however. Where would Animal Crossing and DOOM Eternal have landed on this list? What if the other Halo games had also launched this year? Let’s take a sneak peak at what the next year holds in store. My most anticipated titles, not ordered because I honestly can’t choose, are:

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands

Elder Scrolls Online: Untitled Skyrim Chapter

DOOM Eternal

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Halo 1-4

LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga

And probably a bunch of stuff I’m forgetting right now. Looks to be a good year!

Guildies Over Game Design (A World of Warcraft Classic Review)

Audio Version

After several minutes of wandering up and down the small stretch of coast where Murlocs appear, I see him – the final Murloc Warrior that I need for my quest. Four types of Murloc have been plaguing Westfall’s beaches and I’ve been tasked with killing seven of each, a task which has taken me about half an hour so far. Targeting the creature, I begin to cook my Fireball – a 3 second long cast – and just as I finally let loose, a Dwarf Hunter from the middle of bumfuck nowhere opens fire and steals the rights to the kill. I seethe.

WoW Classic is a specific experience. If you’re after an MMO which respects your time, which recognises the way players behave and adjusts systems to benefit your average player accordingly, WoW Classic is not the game for you. However, if you’re after an experience which feels like a grand adventure, which creates communities out of the necessity of teaming up and encourages people to explore every avenue of the world including cooking, then WoW Classic is absolutely the game for you.

WoWScrnShot_082619_230438
This was one layer… of one starting zone… of one realm… of one region.

 

Everyone’s origin story of how they discovered WoW is different, and I’m very lucky in that I get the best of both worlds when it comes to enjoying the game as it used to be. I levelled a Druid up to 20 in the Burning Crusade expansion, which hardly touched the original levelling experience, so I have the nostalgia of returning to a pre-Cataclysm Azeroth and re-discovering the game’s systems as they used to be. At the same time, though, I only properly got into World of Warcraft for good during the Mists of Pandaria expansion, a time long after Looking For Dungeon and other oft-maligned quality of life improvements had been added to the game, so I also get to play the version that hooked so many people and thoroughly explore the pre-Cataclysm world for the first time.

Classic can be frustrating. It was, of course, rather naive of me to try to tag that Murloc Warrior with a 3 second cast during the intensely busy launch period of the game, but having gotten used to the ability to share kill credit with non-party members of the same faction in the modern game, I’ve grown complacent. But the game is often more rewarding than it is frustrating, like that moment the second after that bastard Hunter tagged the Murloc, when I saw the three other Murlocs he had aggroed along the way chase him down and make swift work of him before he could finish the kill. In his hubris to snatch a quest objective from out under my nose he had acted recklessly, and he thoroughly deserved my /applaud before he released his spirit to begin the long corpse run.

WoWScrnShot_082719_100411
They let me into the city dressed like this?

Most community interactions aren’t ones of conflict, I’m happy to report. Typically in a situation like this, strangers will party up together to share quest objectives, even on quests where you have to loot items from corpses, which take longer in groups due to the way group looting works. On several occasions I’ve had party members stay back and help me finish my quest objective, despite having finished their own, simply because we got to talking and they wanted to be friendly. In fact, at the very start of my WoW Classic journey I found myself re-grouping with a priest from an earlier party to kill kobolds. The area was incredibly over-populated with players, making the quest take far longer than it otherwise would have. During that time I struck up a friendship with the priest and joined her guild, who I am now increasingly familiar with as I log on each day. And that is honestly the quintessential vanilla experience I’ve heard tales of for many years.

The game’s been out for a little over a week now, and I have about 3 days /played… and that’s with a job that I’ve not taken a week off from. And despite all that time playing, I’m only level 23. If I was playing modern WoW for that much time, I’d easily be level 110 or higher already, and I likely wouldn’t have spoken to a single person on the way there. And I feel like it should be said, I do like modern World of Warcraft and I likely will go back to it. I enjoy the narrative, the more thoroughly built world, and the quality of life updates. But while the evolution of the game was cheered on as these features were introduced to ease player frustrations over quest objective stealing, the time it took to form a group for a dungeon, that sort of thing, the community spirit of the game also began to fade, and it sort of happened without most people noticing until later. So while I’ll always be attached to the modern game to see Jaina, Thrall, Baine’s story unfold, I’m also very much attached to Classic, where the focus of the story is about how the highest level player in our guild right now is a Warrior, about one of our officers who got two blue drops in one day, or about how it took forty dead bears to inexplicably drops six bear asses.

Seriously. How many assless bears can exist in one place?

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New Allied Race confirmed.

Kritigri’s Top Games Played During 2018

Welcome back to Kritigri’s Top 10 Games Played, this time during the 2018th year since some kid was born in a barn or something. Once again I would like to reiterate that since I don’t always play the most recent games, this list is not restricted to games released this year (although to be honest most of them were this time around). I’d also like to clarify that a game previously featured can be featured again if there’s been a major DLC or expansion release, or some other transformative update that has changed the game significantly. Also, I bought a PS4 about a month ago, so that marks three years in a row where I’ve introduced a new console (or PC) to my gaming arsenal.

Let’s begin with not one, but three honorable mentions.


Honorable Mention – Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4)

A-HA! Caught RED-HANDED, FRATERNISING with CRIMINALS!

The only reason that this isn’t on the list is because, well, I’ve only just started playing it. I’m about five hours in, but I’m already gushing about what a bloody masterpiece it is, and how proud I am of Insomniac for creating yet another brilliant game that’s rocketed to the top of my favourites. The world feels lived-in and vibrant, and the game keeps throwing things to do at you as you progress throughout the campaign (I watched 60% of a playthrough when it released). The unlockable suits and powers are excellently crafted, but most beautifully of all, this game has a story which is every bit as captivating and authentic as any Spider-Man comic or movie I have ever read or watched. Just… bravo, Insomniac. Bravo.


Honorable Mention – Fortnite (PC)

Well I say PC, but my best played game was on the Switch. Go figure.

I played a lot of Fortnite during season 4 with a friend, as I was interested in the Battle Royale experience but not quite willing to shell out money at the time. Plus, I preferred the look of Fortnite’s cartoony aesthetic compared to the gritty military visuals of, say, PUBG. I played a lot of Fortnite when I was invested, and had an unashamedly fantastic time doing so, but the way the Battle Pass system works eventually made the game feel like a bit of a chore for me, as I was determined to unlock the full Omega skin but had a long road ahead of me and little time to accomplish it. Plus, I found myself altering how I played games in the hopes of completing challenges, as opposed to playing it for the enjoyment of it. After unlocking the full Omega skin shortly before the end of season 4 I ultimately felt burnt out, and have only rarely returned to the game since. Still, I can see why the kids love it. Stop mocking them. Let them dance. But remember, this game is more than just memes. Epic have built something really unique here within the Battle Royale subgenre.


Honorable Mention – Runescape (PC)

Wouldn’t be Runescape without a yak in the picture

This game doesn’t qualify for the list as it’s one I’ve been playing on and off for almost half of my life, and it hasn’t had any kind of expansion or game-changing update to warrant inclusion as something new that I’ve played this year. And yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if I sunk the most hours into Runescape in 2018 than any other year. This year I finally achieved my first level 99 in Woodcutting (it was an auspicious moment), and then followed it up with 99s in Firemaking, Divination and Fletching, in that order. I also unlocked the endgame city of Prifdinnas, which requires effort enough to be considered a 99 in itself, in my opinion. Crucially, I achieved a high level (70+) in almost every skill, which has opened up so much more of the game for me. Runescape doesn’t attract too many new players these days, but it keeps the ones it has, and therefore most of the updates that are made for it are skewed towards the higher levels so as to be appetising to its active player-base. While you certainly don’t start in a barren wasteland at level 3, it does create this interesting situation where the game just gets bigger and bigger, the higher level you are.

Another important reason for my increased time in Gielinor is my clan. Hi, clan! The game is so much better when you have people to talk to, let alone awesome people such as yourselves.


#10 – Celeste (Switch)

Down I go…

Celeste is a difficult platformer with a heart of gold. I’ve not finished it (or admittedly picked it up in a while), but it nails the level of difficulty required for stubborn players like me who want to bash their heads against a level for a good half an hour if necessary until completion, when the sense of satisfaction becomes palpable. Plus it is not shy about throwing new mechanics at you and moving on, without milking each mechanic for as long as they probably could. The game also lets you know how many times you died on each level, which is always a fun statistic. The Switch’s easy sharing functionalities have made for some fun moments on my Nintigri Twitter feed, too. I’ll be coming back to this one.


#9 – Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Switch)

Have you ever accidentally thrown your key to escape into an endless void? Toad has.

Bloody hell does this game make me smile. I’m not a huge puzzle game kinda guy, but I bought this on a whim during a sale and at the recommendation of a streamer, and boy am I glad I did. The game is bursting with charm, although its bright exterior belies some truly perilous situations in later levels. The level design philosophy seems to be all about packing as much stuff into as small a level as possible and it truly is impressive how successful they were in this endeavour; what at first seems like a simple chunk of world is often home to many nooks and crannies that you’ll need to access if you want to complete every objective. Plus, bonus objectives add replayability post-completion, and the level count is nothing to be sniffed at.

And so it comes to pass that perhaps my favourite puzzle platformer is one that features characters who can’t even jump. (Their backpacks are simply too heavy!)


#8 – Pokemon Let’s Go: Eevee Edition (Switch)

He RIDES on your HEAD

I feel ashamed. I’ve only beaten the first three gyms, and then I got distracted by the PS4 I purchased. But make no mistake, my time in Kanto is far from over. Because holy heck have I had a fantastic time rediscovering all my favourite first generation Pokemon and interacting with a familiar world in new ways. I’ve always favoured the remakes over new games (my favourite Pokemon games peak with Pokemon Soul Silver and Pokemon Leaf Green), because they’ve always felt like a perfection on old ideas, and the Let’s Go games take it one step further by reinventing the nature of capturing and levelling up Pokemon. It’s honestly refreshing, although I’m glad it’s a spin-off and not the prevailing philosophy for the core series.

One gripe I do have is that the game feels somewhat too easy, as the focus is on collecting and levelling rather than battling trainers, but I’m still fairly early in the game and I have noticed a bit more variety being introduced to trainer battles, so maybe that’s not a problem later on.


#7 – World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth (PC)

“To find him, drown yourself in a circle of stars.”

Seeing as I expected this to be at the top of this list pre-launch, expect most of this entry to be me exploring why it isn’t. Firstly, though, it is here because the continents of Kul Tiras and Zandalar are beautifully realised, new expansionary features such as Allied Races and the War Campaign were welcome additions, and because ultimately it’s still new content for World of Warcraft, which is ever contesting with the real world for possession of my soul.

To start with, the levelling experience didn’t grip me as much as I’d expected. I feel like this is in part because the story was building up to a war between the Horde and Alliance but focused instead on local issues, in part because Blizzard have jumped the narrative shark of dealing with the Legion, and in part because when stretched across three zones, the pacing of questing felt elongated and never-ending. Stormsong Valley is beautiful, vast, and bloody endless. This isn’t helped by the fact that zones were designed with side-quests in mind, but there was no indication that what you were doing was vital to the story or not until you’d spent half an hour killing quillboars only to check your story progression and find it hadn’t moved an inch. Hence, after cleaning out Tiragarde Sound and Stormsong Valley of every yellow exclamation mark I could find, I only made it a few quests in to the hauntingly atmospheric Drustvar before hitting level 100, and being required to finish the zone to continue the over-arcing narrative without getting any further relevant rewards became a frustrating grind despite the fantastic setting.

At end-game, everything became time-gated. You needed to reach certain levels of reputation with certain factions in order to progress, which was an issue when the only method of earning said reputation was to grind World Quests. Island Expeditions, while delivering on promises of exotic landmasses and a new style of gameplay, actually gave little reward and amounted to little more than a stressful combat rush which didn’t let you stop and take in the setting or provide any sort of narrative. And Warfronts were so impressively time-gated that I actually gave up on waiting.

8.1 may have fixed a lot of these issues, but I’ve not yet returned to have a look, and don’t think I will until I have much more time available to me. There’s no doubt that the expansion is fun and gave me hours of entertainment, but when ranked up against Legion it just doesn’t yet compare.


#6 – Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind (PC)

Who needs Star Wars Droids to project a messenger? Just possess an elf!

Right, so I did include ESO in my 2016 list, but this is about an expansion sorry, chapter, that was released in 2017. Sorry for the confusion. Anyway, I wasn’t expecting too much outside of the ordinary ambling around Tamriel I do in my occasional bouts of playing the game (I’m almost level 50 now, you know), but to my surprise Vvardenfell hooked me in. Before that, I’d spent some time in Coldharbour completing the main quest line, so it helped that I was already immersed in the game, but questing in Vvardenfell was so interesting and fun that it almost reminded me of some of my deepest dives into Skyrim. Not that you should ever compare ESO to Skyrim. They’re different genres, okay? STOP GIVING IT NEGATIVE REVIEWS FOR NOT BEING MULTIPLAYER SKYRIM i’m fine.

Maybe I’ll play Summerset in 2019!


#5 – Assassin’s Creed Origins (PC)

Every game needs a photo mode.

Origins, not Odyssey. I’m a bit behind. But Assassin’s Creed Origins marks the first RPG(ish) that I’ve fallen off of, and successfully returned to six months later without needing to restart the game and subsequently fail at progressing. I’ve still not finished it and I have put it down again for the time being, but I have faith that when I return to Egypt once more it’ll be the game’s refined stealth and combat systems that keep me entertained, while exploring Ptolemaic Egypt will keep me immersed far better than Bayek’s decent-but-meagre personal plot. This game feels like a deep dive into ancient history and my favourite parts are always the things I learn about the contextual world that genuinely fascinate me.

Shooting bandits in the back of the head without alerting the rest of the camp is a close second, of course.


#4 – Spyro Re-Ignited Trilogy (PS4)

I love how the PS4 takes screencaps upon earning trophies. Also, game’s bloody pretty innit.

This game is what caused me to finally buckle and buy a PS4. I have no doubt that it’ll be announced for Switch and PC eventually, but I have no regrets. Reliving my childhood was a complete blast, and the games look absolutely gorgeous in their new rendition by Toys For Bob. I spared no time in getting a Platinum trophy in all three games, and even streamed my playthrough of Year of the Dragon, the game I was most familiar with. The only gripe I have is the Sgt Byrd was a goddamn disgrace to control, but that may have been the case in the original, too, I don’t remember.

I was excited for this game for a long time and after completing all three, I’m still itching to play more Spyro. I could honestly replay the whole trilogy right now, if I didn’t have so much else I wanted to play!


#3 – Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy (PC)

Crash symbolises life. The bear symbolises me.

I just had to choose between Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon and I do not want to talk about how difficult it was to put one above the other. When it comes down to it, though, I love difficult platformers, and while Crash may not have been designed to be difficult for its time it’s certainly aged that way. I’ve gotten every crystal and gem in the first two games, and am very slowly working my way through the relics (speedruns, for the uninitiated). In Warped, it seems that you need to get relics first to unlock every level, so that one is slightly more complex. Regardless, I intend to fully complete them all if I can. I’ve certainly made the most of my many many failures within my playthroughs.


#2 – Ratchet and Clank (PS4)

This legitimately took my breath away.

You didn’t think I was just going to let Naughty Dog beat Insomniac, did you?

Ratchet and Clank was my original reason for wanting a PS4, and the strongest, and holy shit I finally got to play it and it was amazing and Insomniac please marry me. This game was not only a recreation of the original but an improvement upon it, with new areas and a new story, which was incidentally based off the animated film that was also based off the original game! (It was okay). Not only that, but this game feels like an amalgamation of the best parts of the entire series, including favourite guns from previous games such as the Groovitron and Mr Zurkon. Not only that, but Insomniac cooked up some new guns too, such as the brilliantly inventive Pixelizer and the Proton Drum. The game added a set of collectables in the form of Holo-Cards, cards which showcased some of the series’ other guns and characters as well as providing some fun lore about them.

The game is beautiful. The first time I saw Novalis I nearly cried, and I wish I could tell you I’m exaggerating. Seeing something you’re intimately familiar with and have a plethora of childhood memories attached to recreated with such care and skill is an experience that cannot really be summed up in words.

As it stands, I’ve beaten the game’s campaign and its challenge mode, and only have four trophies left: fully upgrade every weapon, fully mod every weapon, fully upgrade Ratchet’s health, and witness the Groovitron animation for every enemy. That last trophy is so easily missable that I legitimately had a bad dream about forgetting to do it last night. If you miss an enemy, you have to redo an entire playthrough. Not cool.


#1 – Destiny 2: Forsaken

I have been ironing some banners recently

I BET THEY DIDN’T EXPECT THAT! – Lord Shaxx

Yes, Destiny 2. I shunned it a little in 2017, but hello, 2018 called and it wants its GOTY back. I’m attributing this to the Forsaken DLC as it is for all intents and purposes a major expansion, but if I’m being honest I started to get back into the game when my friend convinced to give the Warmind DLC a go. Unlike Curse of Osiris it actually had content, and Mars is still my favourite location to this day.

Forsaken, though, added an enthralling campaign, two new locations, a new type of enemy, wove a compelling narrative, redesigned the way gun slots work, and most importantly, added Triumphs and Collections, essentially adding achievements into the game as well as a way to see what gear you’ve earned (and potentially re-acquire it) with ease. These simple features have made the game immediately more quantifiable in scope, and have allowed players to set themselves goals and drive themselves to replay content they otherwise wouldn’t. By players, of course, I mean me.

The bounty system is also a welcome return, as I feel I’m never short on things to do, especially with the release of the Black Forge and its daunting Power Level requirements. (I’m still in the 570s.) Many of the issues that plagued the game in Year 1 have gone, and while Bungie still makes some questionable design decisions, I find that I experience two moments of satisfaction for every one moment of bafflement.

I’m yet to determine whether DLC of the Black Forge variety is particularly lucrative or worth the money, but here’s hoping for more expansions like Forsaken in the future.

Kritigri’s Top 10 Games Played During 2017

Welcome to this years list of the top 5 10 games I played throughout the year! I’m adding 5 more onto the list this year because, well, I guess I played more games. Which is odd, considering I had less time to do so. As with last year, the games on this list were not necessarily released this year, they’re simply what I played. I do my list this way because I don’t often find myself playing the newest releases, so there wouldn’t be much of a list if I did! But before starting, I’d like to include a game that didn’t make it.


Honorable Mention – Chivalry: Medieval Warfare (5 hrs)

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A standoff!

If you go into Chivalry expecting a sensible experience with knightly knights fighting knavely knaves, you’re going to be in for a surprise. Chivalry adopts the more Game of Thrones style approach to fantasy, with screams and mud and gore. But all of this is combined with a Monty Python-esque silliness. The war cries and death screams are sufferingly long and drawn out; the taunts wouldn’t sound out of place in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

I picked this game up via Yogscast’s Jingle Jam 2017 bundle, and while I’ve known of the game for some time, it’s never been a particularly important acquisition for me. When I booted it up for the first time only last night, however, I found myself laughing and shouting at my screen for a good few hours before pulling myself away. The combat is chaotic and mangled, but it feels fair. The flash decision to wait and parry or go in for a slash makes duels intense, with moves such as feinting, blocking and dodging making close-quarters combat and tight and exciting experience.

The different choices of class and weapon loadouts ensure that you have a variety of opponents to face, and I myself favour the archer. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as hitting a lethal shot on an enemy swinging his sword directly towards a retreating teammate. Drawing your bow takes a decent amount of time and you can’t keep your arrow notched for too long, so making sure you hit your target feels all the more important. That being said, if you’re being charged you can always fall back on your trusty secondary weapon – saber for me – and try to outplay your likely stronger opponent.

The reason I added this as an honorable mention is because I can see myself playing a damn lot of this game, but with 5 hours of playtime I simply can’t weigh this up against the other games on this list. It’s an absolute blast, and I can’t wait to continue playing it, but I couldn’t quite bear to go without mentioning it simply due to the timing of my picking it up.


#10 – Dragon Age: Inquisition (23hrs)

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Found a book nearby called “Plants versus Corpses”. Nice.

And thus begins the theme of this year’s list: Games which should have been higher up in the list, but weren’t due to me bouncing off of the game and playing something else. For Dragon Age: Inquistion, this was because I hit a certain point where I’d amassed a large amount of side quests, and after leaving my save file for a week and returning I felt overwhelmed and lost, like I had to re-learn the game and the plot. (This, to be fair, is a common RPG problem.)

I did play a sizeable portion of the main questline, though, unlocking Skyhold and filling out the roster of characters you can add to your party. I played this game way back at the start of the year, so you’ll have to excuse me for not going into detail, but I remember very much enjoying the story, the plot and mostly the environments. Despite eventually abandoning the game due to growing sidequests and subplots, I did appreciate the sheer quantity of quality content to be found in the lands of Ferelden and Orlais. During my time of play, I was fully immersed in the narrative and continued through my journeys not just because the game was fun, but because I wanted to progress the story and see how things played out. There were plenty of ‘oh shit’ moments and I don’t doubt that sometime next year I’ll reinstall and reacquaint myself with this expansive RPG.


#9 – Tower Unite (22hrs)

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My workspace. For important work.

For many years, I’ve been on the lookout for games which let you simply play minigames and make a sweet little virtual life for yourself. Of course, there have been many, with varying levels of success, but none of them really grabbed me like the idea of Playstation Home. Playstation Home, as it turned out, was complete garbage, but a GMod gamemode by the name of GMod Tower popped up with many similar features and eventually, the developers decided to build this world from the ground up as their own standalone game. This was the birth of Tower Unite, and I’ve written more extensively about it here.


#8 – Minecraft: Switch Edition (15+ hrs)

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I claimed this village! So I de-weeded and re-pathed it.

Yes yes, I can see you rolling your eyes. Let me explain.

I wouldn’t usually consider a console’s own edition of a game to be viewed as a separate game in its own right. I don’t consider Minecraft: Switch Edition to be separate to other editions. The reason I’ve put this here is because I consider this edition of Minecraft to be the perfect example of everything the Switch does right as a console.

Minecraft was my third purchase on Switch – my previous two being #6 and #5 on this list. I picked it up because I wanted something sandbox-y to mess around in while I waited for other releases, and I honestly didn’t expect much out of it. What I found instead was that all my worlds felt like little pocket dens, but without the restrictive touch controls and processing power of the actual Pocket Edition. The world I ended up settling on and playing the most was a survival-friendly flatmap with ores and caves. I set myself up in a village and have resolved myself to rebuild and expand it, alongside linking it to neighbouring villages via a nifty (but expensive) train system. This little project hooked me on survival Minecraft in a way that hasn’t happened in years, and the Switch’s portability and accessibility was key to bringing new life to a game I’ve already played to death.

Knowing that my own personal world is just a few seconds away at any given moment – and in any given place – is oddly comforting, and while my initial tunnel-vision focus on the game has passed, I often find myself picking it up to complete little projects to make life better for me and my villagers.

Animal Crossing can’t come soon enough for the Switch.


#7 – Destiny 2 (40+ hrs at a guess)

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It’s not pink, it’s lightish red!

Oh boy, do I have a lot to say about Destiny 2.

So, as someone who got to level 7 in Destiny 1 on PS3, you can safely assume that my experience with this franchise is minimal. And when the sequel was announced to be coming to PC, I was excited. After monitoring the console release, the PC beta and the general direction of the game, I made a tentative preorder a few days before launch…

And I don’t regret it. Playing through the campaign was an absolute blast and I enjoyed it all – the gunplay, the cinematics, the story, and especially the level design. Not only did three of the four locations look gorgeous (sorry Titan), but the combat and the enemies were reminiscent of a series I’d always wanted to play but never got the chance to: Halo. And the endgame, while admittedly low on incentive to complete replayable content, was full enough for me to come back to for a good few weeks. I do not regret purchasing Destiny 2.

I regret purchasing the DLC.

Curse of Osiris had a campaign that lasted merely a few hours. The story had you returning to the recently damaged Mercury – no, not the damaged side of Mercury, don’t be silly and don’t bring it up – to fight the Vex and try to save longtime mysterious character Osiris and, ostensibly, save the universe. The evil robots are doing evil robot things, such as running multitudes of probabilities in a dimension called the Infinite Forest to predict all possible outcomes in a war against, well, everyone, I guess. Naturally, they can predict all of our movements and it looks like they’re going to win, except they didn’t predict us because we’re the Guardian and we’re special. Yep. Moving on.

Gameplay wise, Curse of Osiris is even more sparse than it appears. You’ll expect me to complain about the amount of repurposed content in the DLC; for instance, every other mission in the campaign sees you returning to one of Destiny 2’s vanilla worlds to rerun an old section of content. (The enemies are different. That’s about it.) But I’m also going to bring up the fact that the game puts you through the Infinite Forest multiple times, a randomised, procedurally generated set of combat sections which removes one of the key things Bungie does well in Destiny – top-tier, hand-crafted level design.

I won’t whinge for as long as I could though, as this isn’t a full review. Suffice to say that I greatly enjoyed Destiny 2, and the DLC probably disappointed me as much as it did because I was looking for reasons to continue playing the game, and was instead convinced to just uninstall it and wait until they’ve fixed things up later down the line. This game was originally in the #2 spot, but given the questionable design decisions that have marred this game’s progress since release, I’m comfortable placing it down in #7.


#6 – Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (5+ hrs)

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What eldritch yellow demon has invaded my Mario Kart

My first Mario Kart game was DS, and up until Mario Kart 8 Deluxe it was my favourite. Sure, Mario Kart Wii and 7 may have had better handling, more characters, better tracks etc, but DS was the one I was most familiar with. In Mario Kart, you’ll be at your best when you know all the tracks and their turns, shortcuts and efficient power-sliding routes.

That being said, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe looks so good, has so much more content, and has such a good quality of said content that it even overtakes the familiarity of Mario Kart DS to claim the top spot in the franchise, for me. I’ve not really played enough of it yet to get fully stuck in, but I’ve played enough to know most of the tracks and to hold my own online – though I’ve always had a strange affinity with Mario Kart’s controls to rank decently against most people. My only real gripe with the game is that they didn’t choose some of my personal favourite tracks for the retro courses, but you can’t please everyone!

There’s not much more that can be said about Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Yeah, it’s Mario Kart. It’s been too long since I played a new one. If you don’t play as Yoshi at any given opportunity, you’re dead to me.


#5 – Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (10+ hrs)

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Someone’s getting ready for Animal Crossing

Okay, so remember when I said that I hadn’t played enough of some of the games on this list to place them higher up? Breath of the Wild is the absolute epitome of this problem. It’s most people’s Game of the Year, and I don’t doubt it could be mine if I’d played more of it. Unfortunately, my attention span sucks, and as an example, I’d owned Skyrim for years and started many playthroughs before I finally forced myself to tunnel-vision it until I’d really latched on. From that point, I enjoyed it so much it took the top spot on last year’s list.

For the 10 hours I did play, though, I enjoyed it immensely. The influence of games like Skyrim on Breath of the Wild seem influential, which gives a fuzzy feeling inside given that games like Skyrim and the entire RPG genre originally took notes from prior Zelda games. That being said, it wouldn’t be Nintendo unless they took the idea in new directions, including weapon degradation, puzzle shrines and more, all wrapped up in a traditional Legend of Zelda type story we all know and love. (At least it seems that way from 10 hours in.)

So yes, I’m doing this game a disservice by placing it at #5 – but I’m also being honest with myself. This is a list of games I’ve personally played, not a list of games based on their objective merits as a whole. I’m sure I’ll get back to Breath of the Wild and fully focus on it in time. For now, here’s four more games that held my attention more than this one.


#4 – Quake Champions (29 hrs)

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Ah, ragdolls.

I grew up on Unreal Tournament, but unfortunately the new game isn’t doing so well. Development seems to have all but halted while the devs are focusing on other games, and the lack of any kind of progression system (last I checked) and the limitations of the game being unfinished (lack of maps etc) have caused me to turn to alternatives.

So hey, Quake Champions is a thing.

And like certain other items on my list (see #3), it’s a little controversial. Some people, like me, are fine with the implementation of the champions and enjoy the game’s evolution as a service, with new maps and champions being added over time. Others do not. Others detest the notion of game-changing abilities and unlockable cosmetics. And that’s fine, because Quake Live is still a thing. So they can go back in that direction while we all have fun with what we’re enjoying.

I play a lot of Scalebearer and DOOM Slayer (forever plastered into my brain as Doomguy). Personally I find the gunplay very satisfying and while the net code was an issue up until recently, a recent patch has greatly improved issues on that front. The abilities feel balanced, for the most part, and knowing how to deal with them adds an interesting dynamic to the traditional arena shooter gameplay.

I just wish the majority of people didn’t vote for Blood Covenant every single goddamn time it came up. I get it, it’s a classic map, the Deck 16 or Facing Worlds of Quake. But sometimes I wanna play Burial Chamber or Ruins of Sarnath. C’mon, folks. I’m good at those maps.


#3 – No Man’s Sky 1.3 (42 hrs)

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I name my spaceship The Arrowhead. It looks cool until you look into the cockpit and see all the discarded sweet wrappers.

No, I’m not mad, and no, I’m not trying to be controversial. The reason I put the game version in the title of this is because No Man’s Sky quite famously launched as a ridiculously overpromised and underdelivering game, and there’s no denying that this was a shitty move on the developer’s part. However, as someone who both loved the space stage of Spore and has a soft spot for bad games being patched until they’re good, I decided to give the game a try after hearing some good things from a friend.

No Man’s Sky is one of those few games that I found myself having to tear myself away from to go to bed, only to immediately play it the following day the moment I had some free time. The game is still plagued with a myriad of flaws and imperfections, but since 1.3 the content that’s available is well worth a look. The game has a main questline now with a decently written plot that gives depth to its strange universe; there are sidequests and motivations to push you forwards, and while the limited world generation does eventually become rote and stale, it still provides decent exploration incentive for a decent amount of time.

I’ve written more about the game here, but for now I’ll say this – the game’s desolate themes, found within its soundtrack, scope and story, is something which makes the wide emptiness of space something to be immersed in, and not driven away from. I had a good 42 hour stint back when I bought the game, and I now find myself looking to reinstall it and fire up my trusty Arrowhead to delve into the abyss once more.


#2 – Super Mario Odyssey (15+ hrs)

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All in a day’s work.

I was as sceptical as anyone else when this patchwork quilt of a game was unveiled earlier this year. New York in the same world as the Mushroom Kingdom? Talking hats? Possession of sentient creatures? I basically wrote it off for a good few months. But then I reflected on some of the previous 3D Mario games I’d missed, and began to reconsider. And boy, am I glad I did.

Super Mario Odyssey is perhaps the most fun I’ve had in a 3D platformer since the Ratchet and Clank series. I’ve been yearning for a good 3D platforming collectathon for a while now, and have found that the older games aren’t as fun as I remember and the newer ones don’t live up to the past. I was actually thinking that this genre was maybe not for me after all, until I played this game.

Odyssey is as thematically spontaneous as the trailers suggested, and this has led not to a loss of unity of effect, but instead a brilliantly successful tour of the many wonders of, well, whatever Mario’s planet is called. Each level has a set of diverse and unique enemies, some returning from older games and some new. There’s usually one standout enemy that has a unique ability you can use once you possess them, from swimming in lava to lengthening your body across long gaps, and what’s amazing is that the game touches on each new mechanic for only a brief period of time before launching you into something completely different. It’s an Odyssey in every sense of the word.

What’s also impressive is the amount of content available to you after completing the main game. I won’t spoil anything, but there’s an absolute plethora of activities to keep you occupied after you confront Bowser and reach the end credits. I imagine that there’s probably more to do post-game than during the story!


#1 – Overwatch  (128 hrs)

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Do you need a hug?

When Blizzard announced that they were developing a competitive, hero-based first-person shooter, I was very excited. My laptop couldn’t really run the game though, so I put it out of my mind until April of this year when I took the plunge and bought it. And I don’t think I’ve stopped plunging since. The longest period of time I’ve been absent from the game was for about two or three weeks, and that felt weird. I’m always playing a game or two, usually with my friend Reece. It’s so easy to pick up and play. So, where to begin?

I’m a level 177 all-rounder (thanks Mystery Heroes), though my most-played hero is Roadhog. Seeing the game from outside I always thought I’d main Reaper thanks to his dual-shotguns and his abilities simply appealing to me. After seeing my friend play Roadhog, however, I gave him a try, and pretty much mained him until his damage was nerfed and he could no longer one-shot most heroes after a hook. That being said, he’s still one of my more consistently played heroes to this day, followed by Ana (who I suppose I mained a bit after the nerf), Hanzo (who I admittedly suck as), Pharah (who’s fun depending on who you’re up against), Junkrat (who I seem to consistently get many kills with) and McCree (who scratches the same itch Unreal Tournament’s instagib mutator did, providing I get the headshots).

Overwatch doesn’t have a campaign, but it does a phenomenal job of characterising the heroes through a combination of voice lines and interactions in the spawn room, emotes, skins, and outside media. It has the most diverse roster of original characters I’ve ever seen, and the world they inhabit is as fascinating as it is familiar. The maps are thematically diverse in the best sense; one match you could be pushing a payload down a narrow London street, while the next, you could be trying to attack the point in a space base on the moon. The cartoonish style of the heroes and environments separates Overwatch from many other competitive shooters on the market, giving it a distinct style that makes it immediately recognisable, while not looking childish or naff.

As a longtime WoW and Diablo 3 player I’m already a big fan of what Blizzard create, and Overwatch is no exception. I don’t think I’ll ever quite get into Hearthstone or Heroes of the Storm (much as I like their aesthetic and cosmetics, respectively), but in Overwatch, Blizzard have cemented their place as my favourite and perhaps most trusted games developer so far. Their design philosophies, from “don’t ship it til it’s ready”, to their general release model for updates and patches has earned my consistent attention, and while they often make some questionable decisions (like dismissing the notion that their loot boxes should be included in the ongoing controversy), I always have faith that they’ll find the right path.

I hope.

Diablo 4 please.

Your Endless Virtual Vacation (Tower Unite)

Tower Unite is a social, minigame driven MMO which boasts the promise of no microtransactions to ruin the fun. It began life as a GMod server – called GMod Tower – and whilst it was an enjoyable experience, it was largely held together with sticks and tape, from what I could tell. Its successor, Tower Unite, is instead built in the Unreal engine, and is no longer free to play, to the game’s own benefit. The servers and developers will have proper funding, and everyone in the game is going to be on the same level of opportunity as opposed to donors holding certain privileges. Tower Unite is still lacking in content when compared to its predecessor, and is admittedly riddled with bugs from time to time (though not unplayably so). But I’m going to tell you why it’s worth picking up even in its current state.

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Uh oh

I’ll address the level of content immediately. Lacking though it may be in comparison to its predecessor, it still boasts a fair amount of activities to keep you occupied. As far as minigames go, you’re able to choose from a wide variety of courses in Minigolf and Ball Race (a super-monkey ball style game). The newly released Little Crusaders is quite fun – lots of little crusader players versus one player driven dragon – though it currently only has three maps. Virus is a decent to mediocre shooter that some players may recognise from other FPS games, though this also has little in the way of maps. And I can’t speak for the final minigame, Planet Panic, because I’ve not found an open server the two times I tried to play it. I believe it’s a horde-mode game type. These minigames are all quite fun, each clearly having care and effort put into them. You’ll definitely play them for more than just the currency they award you for winning; I typically find the earning of Units to be a bonus rather than a motivation.

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Get down here dragon. You do not belong up there.

That’s far from all there is, though. If you join a Lobby, you’ll be placed into the main world of Tower Unite. The Lobby, as well as being a rather pretty place to explore, contains multiple shops, a few activities such as the Typing Derby (a typing speed game) and Trivia, and some other locations such as the Cinema (almost identical to GMod Cinema) and the Casino. The Casino is where you’ll typically find most of the players in the lobby, and I’ve spent a few hours there myself. The existence of a Casino in modern day games typically sets off alarm bells but, as you’ll recall, there are no microtransactions in this game, and the machines in the Casino are actually rigged slightly in your favour. They’re also by no means the best way of earning money, with the grand appeal being the constant attempt to hit the jackpot on various slot machines. The last thing the Lobby serves well to do is preview upcoming pieces of content, with some buildings being shown as “under construction”. I’m personally hyped for the eventual completion of the Arcade.

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Here’s what your starter house’s main room will look like. Behind me is a very generously sized backyard and beach.

One thing that drew me to this game, and to its predecessor, is the ability to own and extensively customise your own condo. This is what you’ll likely sink most of your Units into. Upon buying the game, you’re given a very generously sized and located player home, a modern building on the beachfront that’s decently sized and has more rooms than I’ve been able to furnish as of yet. You can place furniture literally anywhere you like, with complete freedom of placement and rotation, no matter how ridiculous. That means armchairs on the ceiling. You can paint your floors and walls different colours and textures, as well as save different house templates, meaning that you could theoretically have multiple different interiors depending on the occasion. And, most enticingly, the media services that allow the Cinema to be a possibility also apply to buyable televisions for your home, meaning you can invite your friends over to your virtual house and watch Youtube together, making it a brilliant virtual hangout.

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This is the life.

None of my friends have picked up the game so far – not for want of nagging them – but even so, I find myself drawn to the social aspects of this game unlike any other MMO. I’ll happily talk to others gambling their souls away in the Casino, or start using voice chat in a particularly enjoyable minigolf lobby. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes Tower Unite different in that aspect to other games. Maybe it’s the second life nature of the game. Rather than focusing on gameplay and ulterior motives and goals, or finding hostility in open world interactions, I’m simply enjoying a virtual holiday-esque experience with those around me. Either way, it’s an aspect of the game that keeps me company, and prompts me to recommend it even to those who would be playing alone.

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You BASTARD

Despite all of this, I’ll admit that after 19 hours of playing, I feel like I’ve played a lot of what’s currently to offer. There’s only so many times you can pull the lever at that slot machine or fail to hit a par on most golf courses before you crave something new. There’s plenty of content that needs to be added, such as more clothing options, more minigames, and maybe some quality of life improvments when it comes to hosting game lobbies, like kicking people and being able to host a server for more than just the one round of a particular minigame. (And please, for the love of god, fix hair clipping through hats). But I doubt it’s something I’ll uninstall any time soon, and I’ll be following Tower Unite’s progress very eagerly over the coming months and – hopefully – years.

The Travels Ezio Auditore da Firenze (Assassin’s Creed: 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations)

When Assassin’s Creed 1 was announced as a launch title for the PS3, I remember being somewhat interested, but ultimately, I never ended up playing the game. In fact, I kinda forgot about Assassin’s Creed altogether. It wasn’t until I decided to watch a Youtuber do a playthrough of Brotherhood that I really became interested in the series, and I bought and played 2 on PS3 some years ago.

Since then, I’ve been keeping a loose eye on the series, and in the recent Steam Autumn Sale I decided to pick up 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations. This was motivated partly by the fact that The Ezio Collection has recently been released on PS4 and Xbox One, meaning that everyone was talking about my favourite Italian in gaming once again. (Sorry, Mario.)

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Moments like this make me glad to not be afraid of heights!

From a narrative standpoint, it has been very interesting to see Ezio grow from a boy to an old man. I’m a sucker for lifelong narratives, and I’m currently halfway through Revelations and still finding great interest in the machinations of old man Ezio. (I could happily go on about my interests in lifelong narratives and life from the perspective of the elderly from here, but that’d be straying too far from gaming territory. Suffice to say it is a topic that interests me greatly.) But aside from Ezio’s story, I’m also greatly enjoying the story of Desmond Miles, the protagonist outside the animus who is using it to relive the memories of his ancestor, Ezio. Whilst some only care about the stories of past Assassins, I find myself drawn in to the sci-fi portions of Assassin’s Creed as well as the historical, though I hear this is significantly toned down in later games.

I have to say, I believe Assassin’s Creed 2 had the perfect amount of side missions and collectables. Whilst I’d not run around collecting 100 feathers myself, I found that outside of missions, the Subject 16 puzzles, the viewpoints, codex pages, Assassin Tombs and Villa management were enough to keep me satisfied. After 2, I feel that it gets a little out of control. I enjoyed the Borgia towers in Brotherhood, but they added Borgia Flags in addition to feathers, city management in ways of buying stores, investments, extra missions as rewards from 100% synchronisation, animus trials and more. And in Revelations, there’s still more to do. Though, I will admit that I am perhaps biased as somebody who is playing the games back-to-back, rather than as somebody who is waiting a year between games as they were developed.

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Assassin’s Creed has boasted odd glitches since long before Unity.

I’ve never really been one for stealth games, but Assassin’s Creed is somewhat different with how you move around the city, between crowds and across rooftops. Anyone familiar with the series will know of its uniqueness (if you can call a game with 9 main titles and a remaster ‘unique’ anymore). It’s not all about stealth, though; Assassin’s Creed has some satisfying swordplay, though I’ll admit that it becomes maybe a little too easy when they introduce kill streaks in Brotherhood. You kill one guard, you kill the entire crowd, so long as you time it right.

Parkour is also a huge element in the games, and the completely parkour oriented levels (i.e the Assassin Tombs in 2 and the keys in Revelations) are probably some of my favourite parts of the series. I love being presented with something seemingly insurmountable and being able to work my way there through conveniently placed nooks and crannies, leaping from one deadly hazard to the next. And Revelations definitely kicks it up a notch in terms of how dangerous it looks; there have been many sequences where a ledge will crumble as you grab onto it, and suddenly you’re kicking off of a falling rock and onto the parallel ledge, barely escaping your terminal fall. It can also be a source of frustration in the general run of things, though, as many times I’ll find myself running up a wall instead of past it, or leaping off backwards when I meant to simply jump.

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That’s, uh… that’s some good finger strength right there.

I only bought up to Revelations, but in a massive stroke of personal luck, Ubisofts free Ubi30 game this month is Assassin’s Creed 3, the very next game in the series. I very much look forward to playing it.

Kill, Loot, Die, Repeat (Overture)

In the recent Halloween Steam sale, I focused on looking for super cheap arcade style games that I could waste my time on in small bursts. This was partially because there wasn’t too much in the way of larger titles on sale this year, but also because I’m a little… entirely broke. But, regardless, I have come across a nifty little game called Overture for 40p.

Overture is an action-adventure roguelike which draws heavy inspiration from hits such as Diablo, Realm of The Mad God, Zelda, and The Binding of Isaac. Explore vast randomly generated dungeons and slay hordes of cunning enemies!

The mixed reviews initially put me off. I saw many complaints of people dying too quickly and unfairly and not even knowing what killed them, but having played the game for myself, I believe that these players have simply been running into enemy-spawning traps and failing to utilise the game’s running mechanic to evade the ambush. That being said, this game is a bit of a roguelike that you have to throw yourself into and die repeatedly to progress. If this doesn’t suit your playstyle, then this may not be the game for you, though I’ll add that the sense of progression is well implemented, and deaths feel more like a small hindrance than a punishment. The speed at which you can die if you’re not careful can make longer runs feel very rewarding.

Here’s how it works – you have four classes of hero to choose from, each containing some sub-classes that you can play individually. In the game, monsters and barrels and other assorted environmental caches drop gold, which fill your character’s XP bar for that run. When you level up, you get better stats. This gold also carries across runs, and can be used to purchase upgrades for your characters. These upgrades increase your character’s base strength when going into the dungeon, essentially guaranteeing you progress on even the most catastrophic of runs. So while this game may seem like you’re bashing your head against a brick wall at first, you’ll swiftly start to notice your character getting stronger and dominating the earlier stages that previously gave you trouble.

Loot does not carry over between deaths, but it is extremely easy to see what is an upgrade for your character on the fly. In Overture, you’re not going to be sitting in a character screen humming and hawing over which statistics you want to gain and sacrifice between two different sets of robes. Rather, you’ll run over a treasure chest at some point and a shiny trinket will drop with green bold text saying +ATT, +MRGN or something along those lines.

One issue I can understand is screen clutter. I often find myself running into an enemy and being damaged before realising what’s happening. I can fully understand the confusion about ambush traps and not understanding what’s attacking you under the sea of numbers and pixellated gore. But I also have to admit that I find that to be part of the challenge. This is a heavily action based game that relies on reaction speed, and realising that there’s a skeleton popping out of the ground to skewer you on a bone kebab is just one of the aspects of the game that you need to be on the lookout for.

My only other criticism in this game is the achievement system. There are four achievements – one for completing the game with a character of each class. There’s plenty of opportunity to give players achievements for upgrading their characters, reaching certain floors, collecting particular loot or slaying particular bosses. But this isn’t something that a lot of people will care about, and I’m aware that many developers don’t bother with achievements at all. Just a little personal gripe.

Anyway, the game is usually £3.99 (which I wouldn’t call unfair), but it sometimes goes on sale for much cheaper. If you want an easily pick up and put down-able roguelike to throw yourself into which isn’t a platformer or a tactical dungeon crawler, then I’d point you in the direction of Overture.

The Life of a Pretend Millionaire (Grand Theft Auto V: Online)

I bought GTA V on PS3 when it first launched back in 2013, and since then have kind of regarded that as a bad move, given that it was £50 and I didn’t even play it all that much around launch period. In fact, since owning it on PS3 I’ve hardly ever booted it up, save for when me and my friend want to fuck around in a private session. But he eventually upgraded to the PC version, and the game becomes somewhat significantly less fun when you’re running around a private session (or public session populated by 12-year olds with a Michael Bay fetish) on your own. But according to my Rockstar Social Club statistics, I’ve played over 50 hours of multiplayer on PS3, so I suppose that it did sort of pay off in the end.

Well anyway, I finally upgraded to the PC version last week and whilst I’ve still not had a chance to fuck around with my friend in a private session as is my usual go-to for the game, I did decide to give the actual multiplayer a try. Whilst I still prefer the relative safety of a private session to the insufferable explosive hell that is public sessions, I’ve found in GTA V the multiplayer racing game that I’ve always wanted. So long as the host isn’t a dick and the racing isn’t “GTA-style”. The recently released Cunning Stunts DLC has made up the bulk of my activity; for those of you who are unaware, it give players the option to race in the more arcade setting of loops, ramps, and mid-air racing rather than the typical street-racing that was in the game before. I’m willing to bet that this was a decision made after reviewing the popularity of similar-styled racing on hacked tracks back in GTA: San Andreas multiplayer. I certainly approve! Winning a hard-fought race of multiple players in this game is so rewarding, both mentally and in cash and RP.

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Weeeeeee!

One issue that people have with GTA Online is the microtransactions. I’ve heard it said before that they purposefully put the free new DLC at ridiculous in-game prices so players are forced to buy it via the purchasable cash cards. And sure, that’s certainly true to an extent, it’s their business model. But I’ve found that it also isn’t unobtainable through standard play. I’ve only got 5 hours played of GTA V on my Steam account, but I’ve already made over $250k just from chilling out with some Cunning Stunts matchmaking. And of course, it’ll take me a fair amount longer to reach the millions necessary for some DLC content, but it’s certainly not an unreachable goal for those who do play the game for fun and not to grind out money. And I’m not actually attempting to save up for any particularly expensive content; I’ve actually spent some of it on some car modifications and stuff, so maybe that’s why it doesn’t feel like such a grind to me.

Loading times and UI issues are legitimate criticisms, though, and they have been since the game’s release. There’s plenty of annoying nitpicky stuff, such as the inability to start a private online game unless you’re launching into it from the single-player campaign. When in multiplayer, I had a very hard job trying to find out how to simply play offical Cunning Stunts races with matchmaking, and there’s still no way of knowing whether the lobby you’re joining is going to be an active one with 10-16 players or one with 4-5 who then leave. And the waiting times between races border on frustration at the best of times. At the end of a race, you have to look at who won, wait for everyone to like or dislike the race, go back to the lobby, wait for the host to decide to start the game, choose your car / outfit or whatever, and wait for everyone to ready up before a final loading screen. This can take up to 5 minutes, based on personal experience, and depending on the length of the race, you’re looking at actually racing for about half the time that you’re online.

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It is surprisingly difficult to get a picture of one’s entire garage.

One thing I do love about GTA Online is the progression of ownership. When I walk into my garage, I like being able to look at my vehicles and remember where they came from. Many people just have a collection of supercars, I’m aware, but my supercar shares a garage with my Bifta (off-road buggy style thing), my suped-up mini, my Banshee (favourite car in the game), my two muscle cars (one stylish and one for casual open-world usage), that free sports car they gave everyone (an Elegy), my original stolen and insured car that I began with, and more. The other day I walked into my downtown garage and found one of the slowest cars in the game that I’d hijacked and painted pink in a free-roam session a few years ago with my friend. The memory brought an instant smile to my face.

So yeah, I’m having a good time with GTA, and I don’t regret buying it a second time. On PC it looks gorgeous. I should probably play some single-player, too, because I remember being interested in the story the first time I began it. Plus, if I remember rightly, they give you plenty of the DLC multiplayer cars for free in a garage somewhere for a test-drive. So if you need me, I’ll be zooming off the edge of Mount Chiliad.

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The Pimp Wagon, in all its glory.

Pokemon Sun and Moon Special Demo Version

Whilst I’m not exactly foaming at the mouth for the next Pokemon game as much as other people are (for I am still fully ensnared in the videogame crack den that is WoW: Legion), I decided to give the demo a go when it released today (see: 2 days ago, when this post was written). For those who are unaware, the modern Pokemon demos are typically standalone experiences that introduce the player to the setting and key game innovations for this iteration of the franchise. In this case, it document Sun’s (the main character who you’ll be able to rename in the main game) arrival to the first island in the game, and gives you some two main areas to explore: the town, and what would typically be called a route.

The first thing I noticed was the movement. In Pokemon X / Y, they allowed the player to move outside of grid-based movement for the first time in the franchise, although this was still restricted to roller-skates and bike riding. They expanded on this in Omega Ruby / Alpha Sapphire (ORAS), allowing grid-based movement only if you used the D-pad. In Sun and Moon, they graduate from this entirely, adding smoother running and walking animations and removing all remnants of the oppressive grid-based system.

But that’s only one minor improvement. From what I’ve gathered from the demo, one of SuMo (Sun and Moon)’s key selling points is its iteration. There are many quality-of-life improvements that are a great welcome from a game which has a tradition of following a set schematic, and the main game seems set to stray from tradition in more ways than the minor quality-of-life updates. But as far as they go, I was pleased to see they’ve added a way to check what stats have been buffed and debuffed during the battle. They’ve also added a system wherein you can see what moves are not effective, effective or super effective against an enemy if you’ve beaten them before. Part of me welcomes this change greatly, as the National Pokedex is getting too large to remember the types of every single Pokemon, though I do worry that this will devolve the game into less tactics and more mindless button-pressing.

I was never all that sold on the setting of Alola itself. I’m not a holiday island kind of a guy. But playing through the demo, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the cultural quirks which differed from the other regions. And that’s just as well, because they’re going all-out on this; the professor isn’t even a professor, because they want him to seem more laid-back. I’m a fan of what we’ve seen so far from Kukui and the, er, the rival dude who’s name escapes me. I even found myself enjoying Team Skull; there’s a big danger of them simply becoming edgelords, but they were actually somewhat amusing to me.

They give you a Greninja for the demo, and so far there’s been no indication as to whether you get to keep him or anything else from the demo to take to the main game (as was the case with the ORAS demo). At one point you get to use a Pikachu, and that was during the (frankly odd) trial where you had to go and sneak pictures of Pokemon, who would subsequently attack you. I have a feeling that that mechanic is going to be one of those features that Game Freak try to promote but ultimately ends up falling by the wayside. At the end of the trial, there’s a boss Pokemon, which is basically one of the earlier Pokemon but in a different form – which then assumes another, fiery form… it’s confusing. I’m not entirely sure I like that particular direction the game series is heading in.

Z-moves are cool, though. I’m not sure I was ever fully sold on mega-evolutions and having to mega-evolve your Pokemon in each fight to get the best out of them. Z-moves are SuMo’s mega evolution type game-changer. Whilst you only got a chance to use it once in a demo, I’m assuming that you can only use them once per battle, and that they do a hefty portion of damage. And the animation was awesome… though I can see it getting somewhat annoying once you’ve seen it a few dozen times, because it does take around 10 seconds to complete.

And then the demo ends but not really because New Demo Plus. You get to go back to the demo zones and ride a Taurus around, which is another feature coming in the main game that I absolutely love. It beats the bike by miles. Not only is it really fast – and has a charge move that goes even faster – but it also has utility, seemingly taking the place of Rock Smash as you barge past rocks and open up new areas. Speaking of which…

The area you can unlock with this charge is a kind of mini Safari-Zone. And I’m talking oldschool Safari Zone. There’s no time (well, step) limit, but they give you a certain amount of Pokeballs and chuck you into the long-grass, telling you to catch yourself some pocket monsters. However, demos being demos means there’s only three to catch – Pikipek, Yungoos, and Rockruff, so that gets stale pretty quickly.

And that about sums it up! I look forwards to playing the full game when it’s released. I should probably go and work on completing Pokemon Yellow so I can transfer those guys over…

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“Hey Slowpoke, can I leave the demo area?”