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Saricino

Division Leader
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About Saricino

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    ArcheAge guild leadership

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    Female

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    The Secret World, ArcheAge
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    Saricino
  1. Bungie took a big chance when it chose to reset three years of progress and start all players, new and returning alike, at ground zero for Destiny 2. The risk has allowed for a reinvention of troublesome systems and a new opportunity for players to climb the level curve, while still maintaining the successes learned across the many updates of the first Destiny. The result is a game that is more accessible, streamlined, and sensible, with a clear through line in both gameplay and story. However, this refined sophomore effort in the Destiny universe comes at the cost of flexibility to play how you want and fully customize the experience as you go. Newcomers to Destiny 2 will discover the same core precepts that have kept others engaged for years. Hundreds of years in the future, humanity’s fate has been reshaped by a powerful alien entity, spreading our reach across the solar system. A later inexplicable collapse has left a scattered people scrambling for survival, guided and protected by deathless Guardian warriors. The fiction seamlessly melds fantasy and sci-fi tropes into a richly imagined setting. Gameplay features remarkably taut FPS gunplay enhanced with seemingly magical powers. Your character grows in power alongside friends that inhabit the same public playspaces, and they join you in all manner of integrated exploits. If the first Destiny introduced the universe, Destiny 2 is the story that begins to make meaningful changes to the status quo. With no mention of a nebulous Darkness to be found, we instead have a game all about Light, a power that sets humanity apart and represents concepts of hope, self-sacrifice, and resilience. That focus on Light and its meaning lends an optimistic tone to the plot. In the wake of a devastating opening in which The Last City is brought to ruin, the Guardians are scattered, and power lost. The dramatic setup leads to a coherent and straightforward tale that spans the solar system, and culminates in several stellar set piece confrontations, including a thoughtfully concocted central villain. Individual missions are varied and smartly paced, and I love that we get some more insight into the minds of our supporting cast. I relished the adventure, but some of the magic and mystery I've come to expect is absent. Some of the most troublesome and cryptic story elements from the earlier game also made its universe feel bigger and stranger, and I'm not sure Bungie has managed to replace characters like the Awoken Queen, or design concepts like the Grimoire, with equally curious alternatives. Most enemy types return from Destiny 1 with only minor alteration, diminishing the disquiet of facing a new threat. I'm also mystified by the decision to lock so much of the story content away after its conclusion, replayable only in prescribed chunks a few times each week. The inability to relive favorite moments outweighs the gains in simplifying the map with fewer icons. Likewise, I'm stymied by the absence of an option to select individual strikes, and their inclusion only as part of a playlist. These excellent small-team cooperative expeditions are great fun, but seem almost relegated to an afterthought following the campaign. Breathtaking environment art and design maintain at least some of the story mystique I was looking for, accompanied by a dizzying and inspiring orchestral soundtrack. Every one of the major sites visited in Destiny 2 is majestic, beautiful, and vast, from a European forest overrun by alien conquerors to a grand underwater city hiding beneath the methane waves on one of Saturn's moons. Bungie creates compelling and intimate battlefields, but also communicates the grandeur of massive, daunting backdrops. The first Destiny offered large open planetary destinations with little narrative context. The biggest change to gameplay is a welcome reorganization of those destinations into compelling spaces for exploration, punctuated by clearly marked sites for blistering battles beside other players. Mini-dungeons called lost sectors provide a sense of discovery. Public events are easy to find, and even feature fun heroic variants for those in the know. And a bevy of excellent new story quests and adventures extend the narrative potential post-campaign, revealing the story of these locations and their characters. (Please visit the site to view this media) Crucible play has been overhauled in substantial ways, and moment-to-moment combat feels more competitive. Teamwork is highly valued in every mode, and encounters take a split-second longer to conclude, with fewer one-shot kill options on the table. I quite like the change, which adds up to more strategic and thoughtful engagements. From the new and intense Countdown game type to returning modes like Control, every Crucible match type demands players move and play in different ways. Yet again, I'm perplexed by the decision to force players into one of two playlists, quickplay or competitive, rather than let them choose their preferred mode. I'm also torn by the move to exclusively four-person teams in PvP; the compact group size demands everyone pull their weight, which is great. But neither three-person strike teams or six-person raid groups can easily transition into competitive play, a symmetry that was ideal in the prior game. If most of Destiny 2 caters to accessibility and ease of play, the new Leviathan raid offers a potent counterpoint. The most challenging cooperative activity is a mechanics-heavy beast of an expedition in which constant communication is necessary, and nearly flawless play is required. The sprawling pleasure palace is one of Bungie’s most intricate and fascinating environments to date, accentuated by a maze of secret passages and hidden chests beyond the main encounters. My biggest issue is with the new reward system, which separates the excitement of new gear from the moment of victory, and doesn’t offer most loot until a full completion. Without the ability to gather much new gear as you progress through, there are few ways to gear up for the next battle. Your choice of Hunter, Titan, or Warlock class shapes the experience, whether exploring as a lone wolf along a moon of Jupiter, grouping up for challenging cooperative challenges like the briskly paced new Nightfall strikes, or trying to hold ground in the Crucible. All classes play well and offer their own avenues to mastery. The reliance on mostly returning subclasses within each of the three is a tad disappointing, but each has been tweaked in purposeful ways. Add in a new and aggressive offense subclass for each, from the aerial superiority of the Dawnblade to the melee-oriented Arcstrider, and you have several thrilling playstyles to explore. Each subclass features two pre-optimized paths. Yet again, it’s a design choice that puts even new players on equal footing with returning players, but the more limited customization options sting. Progression is smooth from opening to endgame, thanks to an elementary milestone system that always suggests meaningful content to confront, and an in-game map that is easily navigable. A new clan system makes friend groups more important, and offers substantial rewards, even if they also create some danger of insular bubbling with players you already know. No matter the preferred style of play, collectors are in for a treat. New exotic weapons and armor are joined by welcome revisions of old favorites, and everything from legendary gear to emblems are a lot of fun to gather. Gear comes fully powered now, so you're free to play with the gun or helmet you like, rather than waiting to power it up. Even so, I'm bummed that most items have so few customization options, as I have fond memories of tweaking those as I played in Destiny 1. Vault and inventory management have seen only minor changes, and even in these early days the management chores aren’t much fun. While I love all the collections, the cosmetic customization system has taken a step back, offloading and embedding many of the coolest ships, shaders, and other visual trappings within the microtransaction system alongside a slow-paced alternative to earn the same packages through play. Being able to apply shaders to weapons and vehicles is a great addition, but the system discourages experimentation, since shaders are consumed on use. A rich equipment modding system is also sadly looped in with the microtransactions, diminishing an otherwise compelling power customization tool. A veteran player of any game is likely to home in on criticisms, and there's a danger of getting lost in the weeds, which would be a mistake. Destiny 2 is a massive and rewarding game that offers the potential for hundreds of hours of fun and discovery with friends. Quibbles aside, Bungie has crafted a fantastic follow-up to a wildly popular formula, and one that no other developer has come close to equaling in sophistication. Many of the streamlining choices welcome a new crop of Guardians into the mix, but also make this new game more playable and understandable for even returning players. As I settle in for what I hope to be another several years of adventures, I hope Bungie can nail the elusive balance between depth and accessibility. View the full article
  2. A Fine Finish

    In 2012, Arkane Studios introduced the world to the city of Dunwall, a dark fantasy kingdom inspired by Victorian London, where nobles stabbed other nobles in the back for crumbs of power when they weren’t busy grounding the poor into dust. For nearly five years and across multiple entries, Arkane has built its fantastical universe around assassins and vigilantes, people sick of corrupt politicians and tyrants molding the world in their image and willing to do anything to stop them – even making deals with the devil. In the world of Dishonored, the closest thing to the devil is The Outsider, a mysterious figure on the outskirts of reality who grants those he deems worthy of his interest supernatural powers. It’s no surprise that Death of the Outsider, supposedly the last chapter in Dishonored’s story, is focused on The Outsider. He’s always been the most compelling character in this universe as well as being the one person tying everything together across every game. While Death Of The Outsider isn’t the strongest Dishonored game, this standalone expansion does justice by its enigmatic character and serves as a strong finale for a series that’s mined the depths of revenge, justice, and the absurdity of existence for all of its combined worth. In Death of The Outsider, you play Billie Lurk, Daud’s pupil and a returning character from the original Dishonored’s first DLC, The Knife of Dunwall, as well as Dishonored 2. Lurk finally reunites with Daud after years of separation and her former teacher presents her with one last job: to kill the Outsider and end the chaos that he introduces into the world. Death Of The Outsider does a great job of setting up both Daud and Billie’s motives for wanting to do so. They’re both old, hardened killers who had many years to try and come to terms with their years as assassins. They’re filled with regret over their actions – including killing Empress Jessamine Kaldwin at the beginning of the original Dishonored – and are looking for redemption. Daud’s on his last leg, coughing with disease, so it’s up to you to do the job. Luckily, as is Dishonored’s inclination, you’re given more than enough tools to get it done. Death of the Outsider replaces the abilities from Dishonored 2 completely by giving Lurk her own three abilities: Displace, Semblance, and Foresight. All three powers are essentially mutated versions of powers from Dishonored 2, but the mutations make them worthwhile. Displace lets you teleport from place to place like Blink, but it’s switch-oriented instead of instantaneous. So you can place a marker in a safe spot, run into a zone filled with enemies, kill a few of them, and then zap back to where the marker is before you’re overwhelmed. You can also use that same power to ‘displace’ an enemy, meaning you can teleport inside them and literally cause them to explode into gory chunks. Nifty. If you’re a pacifist player, Semblance allows you to literally steal your enemies’ faces and walk around as them, passing through checkpoints. The New Game Plus mode lets you play through the campaign with the powers from Dishonored 2 as well. (Please visit the site to view this media) On a gameplay level, Dishonored has always been about giving players a variety of skills and abilities to accomplish their objectives and then letting them go hog wild. Death of the Outsider might be the strongest version of that series concept thanks to one seemingly small, but important tweak. While previous Dishonored games required you to constantly find or buy potions to recharge your mana, Lurk’s power currency, called ‘void power’ is constantly recharging so that you can use your abilities as much as you want – they just have a cooldown that lasts a few seconds. This change eliminates you having to worry about rationing power use and instead encourages you to use it all the time, stringing together powerful combos like displacing behind a target and then using Semblance to steal their identity and walk through the entrance of an enemy base smooth as hell. The chaos system, which determined what ending you would get in Dishonored and Dishonored 2, is gone completely. You can kill as many people as you want and suffer no narrative consequences for it. This tweak also turns out to be for the better, giving you the freedom overcome obstacles with whatever means necessary, lethal or otherwise, without any systems in place to hold you responsible for your actions in an artificial manner. Death of the Outsider is a fairly short experience, about half as long as Dishonored 2. However, peppered throughout every level are a number of side quests you can do called contracts that reward money and are often skilled-based challenges. I ended up doing most of these and enjoyed them for their variety, as they’re much more than just wetwork. One quest requires you to infiltrate an enemy bar, knock out the bartender, and bring him across the city. How you do that, whether you go in stabbing everyone or sneaky, is up to you. Other contracts include stealing the contents of a lockbox from a bank and, amusingly enough, killing a mime and making it look like an accident. The biggest strike against Death of the Outsider is while its levels are fun and open-ended in the way series fans have come to expect, none of them are particularly memorable enough on their own. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun pulling off a heist with minimal casualties and navigating The Void while being pursued by giant monsters, but there is no level that comes to matching the enigmatic wonders of Jindosh’s Clockwork Mansion or the time-bending puzzles of Artemis Silton’s house. The storytelling also occasionally leaves something to be desired. On paper, having a game centered around killing The Outsider is a fantastic concept worth ending the series on, but the game has trouble rising to the occasion. For example, The Outsider himself has a habit of showing up and giving Lurk special powers or presenting her with frustratingly dull philosophy 101 questions about people and the choices they make. My reading was these scenes were intended to be mystifying, playing into The Outsider’s reputation as an enigmatic figure who just does whatever he wants, but in the end, they mostly annoyed me as they felt like scenes that existed to strike a wobbly balance between fan service and pushing the plot forward at breakneck speed. Some of Daud and Billie’s character development feels rushed as well, with limited conversations between the two failing to capitalize on the dramatic history between them. Luckily, everything comes together in the end in a predictable but satisfying way, making these occasional weak points bumps in the road on a journey worth taking. Death of the Outsider ultimately emerges as a strong chapter in one of the best modern action/RPG series thanks to gameplay refinements and dedication to its dark fiction. This standalone expansion doesn’t revolutionize the series but instead does something more important, navigating the familiar to bring everything to a satisfying conclusion. View the full article
  3. Speed and skill are a given in the modern NHL, but those traits alone don’t anoint Stanley Cup champions. Beating the best in the world takes more than tape-to-tape passes and wicked slappers. The little things like short shifts, back checking, and never giving up on a free puck can make the difference when the skill gaps are marginal between great teams. EA Sports’ NHL 18 may not have the cutting-edge features and talents of its FIFA and Madden brethren, but this year’s edition starts doing a lot of the little things correctly, which results in a more competitive experience. Competition intensifies on the ice thanks to the new bag of tricks developer EA Canada gives to attackers and defenders. On the rush, puck carriers can unleash several new deke moves to gain separation and tickle the twine. Between-the-legs dekes, one-handed moves, and Datsyuk-esque puck flips are easy enough to learn but more difficult to pull off in fast-flying games. Defenders can neutralize these new threats thanks to the return of the defensive skill stick, which allows for better gap control and zone coverage to take away passing lanes and shut down overzealous stick handlers. Offline players should appreciate the savvier A.I., which is much better at making smart breakout passes, using dekes to gain free ice, and staying in a proper position. Legacy problems like missed puck pick-ups and being unable to make micro movements in small spaces on defense still frustrate, but overall the gameplay feels strong. At first glance, the headline Threes mode introduced in NHL 18 looks like a casual arcade experience, but in practice, EA wisely didn’t handicap its controls. With a smaller sheet of ice, fast play, and money pucks that can turn the tide of matches, users can show off all their sickest moves in these fast and furious 3v3 competitions. EA’s smart implementation of various ways to play with friends (any combination of offline couch play and online team-ups works) makes this a great destination mode for party pick-up games. Just don’t expect much from the more fleshed out Circuit experience. This grind against CHL, AHL, and NHL teams starts you with a roster of 60-rated players, and rather than reward you with fun-to-play NHL stars and legends at the peak of their powers, it instead doles out lesser-versions of modern players to pad out the journey. This robbed the Circuit of any fun for me, so I recommend sticking to the more entertaining exhibition/online match-ups. For years EA has largely neglected easy improvements to make its franchise mode stronger, but NHL 18 shows that the developers were indeed listening. Fan requests like mid-season contract extensions, better draft classes, and stretching player ratings to create a bigger skill gap between stars and fourth liners make this a vastly improved mode. Realizing a pending free agent had no interest in re-signing with my club before the trade deadline gave me the opportunity to get something of value in return instead of letting him walk for nothing. Draft class variety more realistically mimics the modern NHL; I even saw one class with six NHL-ready players who could jump right into the pros. Player progressions can stagnate or surge based on their circumstances, which makes free agency more interesting. More than once I was able to find a stalled prospect for cheap who eventually realized his full potential with my squad. All of these small but important changes reinvigorate the mode much more than the headline inclusion of expansion drafts. (Please visit the site to view this media) I’m glad EA chose to include expansion teams (both the incoming Las Vegas Golden Knights and a 32nd team of your creation), but the implementation leaves much to be desired. Including mechanics that allow you to squeeze out extra assets from teams for not picking particular players like Vegas GM George McPhee did would have been nice, and picking as the 32nd team from Vegas’ leftovers doesn’t hold many exciting options. I wish they followed the lead of NBA 2K and allowed you to introduce the 32nd expansion team in a season down the line instead. Speaking of lines, Hockey Ultimate Team offers new ways to improve yours via the introduction of solo challenges. The handful of options in HUT may not have the diversity or depth of the options on display in FIFA and Madden, but I’m nonetheless glad to have another way to grind for coins. EASHL, Be A Pro, and Draft Champions modes all return mostly unchanged for better or worse. Even with the reintroduction of trade requests, the Be A Pro mode in particular feels outdated given the story-focused experiences in other sports titles. While EASHL introduces 3v3 options for those who can’t field a full lineup and want to avoid having A.I. on the ice, I still feel the mode would benefit greatly from a player progression system that served the needs of competitive balance while letting users customize skills in a meaningful way. NHL 18 may not win every scrum in the corner or go top shelf with every shot it takes, but it still shows enough grit and hustle to earn your respect. The new offensive and defensive tools are welcome additions on the ice, and the entertaining Threes mode could become a party staple for hockey fans. View the full article
  4. I was very happy with Pro Evolution Soccer 2017's gameplay because of the way it felt and the things it allowed me to do in the game, so I was surprised when developer Konami announced that it was changing things up for 2018. I braced for disappointment, but instead I'm beyond relieved. The developer didn't just tinker with the game for the sake of slapping the word "new" on the box. They improved a vital component of the franchise without changing what was already great. The gameplay speed is slower than 2017, allowing users to better see, feel, and control players' touches with the ball. The game is slower, but it's by no means clunky. While there are still some moments of predetermined possession, if you think you can stretch out that foot for a last-ditch volley on goal or get your foot on the ball to control it and start dribbling on the run, you can do it thanks to the still fluid movement. This sensation is even more remarkable given that the game adds a layer of physicality to the gameplay as players shield the ball and jostle for position. The result of this combination is sophistication, not ugliness. In general, PES' animations are beautiful but rarely feel contrived or cumbersome. As highly as I rate PES 2018's gameplay, legacy issues persist. Even on higher difficulty levels, rapid one-touch passes, give-and-go passes, and through balls can break the lines perhaps too easily, and leave defenses vulnerable. Playing against the A.I., their buildups and attacks can feel the same. However, I liked having to be selective in my defensive movements, because having to recover from a step in the wrong direction or a hesitation often makes an important difference between success and failure. (Please visit the site to view this media) The Master League career mode also has its additions, although the mode feels less fresh than the gameplay. Small touches like release clauses, a preseason tour, and a new challenge difficulty for the mode (including transfer refusals from some players) are nice, but it still needs an overhaul. Transfer windows lack drama, with the news buried in menus and a lack of Galácticos and large transfer amounts separating the elite from the rest of the pack. I also feel the mode needs more injuries, more variety in the sim engine, and in-depth scouting and youth departments. Konami added more club and league licenses while others like Manchester United and Bayern Munich fall away, and you'll still have to deal with import files if you want many of your teams, leagues, and competitions to look like they do in real life. The MyClub fantasy roster mode remains largely the same, but adds 3-on-3 co-op to the play options (co-op is also available for offline play), and trying to level up and receive categorical accolades and MyClub rewards is addicting. Exhibition Random Selection matches similarly offer a different way to experience the game – even if they're one-off matches – but how this all adds up when you step back and look at the game's big picture is hard to assess. I absolutely enjoy playing PES 2018; its gameplay elevates an aspect that was already strong. This is remarkable in and of itself, but also highlights the work still to be done in important areas such as the Master League. The franchise contains a great foundation, and will have to continue to build on it to remain at the top of the table. View the full article
  5. NASCAR Heat 2 is more than just a sequel to last year's title. It represents developer Monster Games' return to multi-series racing – one of the things the studio was known for with 2002's Dirt to Daytona. Heat 2 includes the Camping World trucks and Xfinity cars, as well as the new multi-stage racing rules. These aspects, alongside a new rivalry system, alter the career mode but aren't a clear step forward, which is a problem for this sequel. Career modes can ask a lot of gamers. Managing players' development and juggling the financials can mean a lot of irons in the fire. Heat 2 simplifies things by stripping away the R&D aspect of your team's operation, and presenting objective-based contracts on a rolling five-race basis. Hit some objectives and you can feel your operation and race results get better. This is an easy way to let you progress without making you agonize over smaller aspects of your organization. Unfortunately, it also takes out any potential meat from the mode and makes it feel like you're on a tour of the racing series rather than orchestrating and being a part of a satisfying rise up the ranks. You earn money from race to race, but it doesn't go towards anything and is just a number to help gauge your progress. Rivalries are notched according to whom you run into on the track, but despite the many, many bump-and-runs I performed (and even outright wrecking), I didn't worry about reprisals on race day because nobody really came after me. (Please visit the site to view this media) The racing itself has its positives, but is also undercut by oddities such as cars randomly checking up for no apparent reason, inconsistent yellow flags, tire wear not being as important as it should be (even on the max setting), and being able to cut through parts of the field like butter even on the higher difficulty. The A.I. ability of cars has been a problem in many racing games through the years, from not executing smart pit strategy to allowing players to exploit certain racing lines, and that continues here. All of this is a shame, because like NASCAR Heat Evolution before it, this sequel has some good racing moments in it. There are cars throughout the field that give you a good fight, making you try different lines to work for the pass. Some even stand their ground and refuse to be intimidated by a shove or a bump. Slipping up in many situations means the other cars are going to exploit you and seize the opportunity to roar by. While there is room for improvement in this game, I celebrate moments like these. Racing online with the game is a different beast, as players can tweak cars' setups more for good lap times, which is a reason I wish Heat 2 provided some guidelines as to the effects of tweaking aspects like brake bias, springs, weights, etc. At least, this year offers more multiplayer lobby options such as flags, stages, and stability options, as well as more structure via continuous five-race mini-seasons. Along with these additions, I wish the title also included a no-collision option in multiplayer to cut down on the caution-filled chaos which inevitably happens on many tracks. The game also includes offline, splitscreen races, which is a nice feature that delivers a good sense of speed even with a full field. All of this represents good progress for the franchise, but while NASCAR Heat 2 adds racing series, rivalries, and other features, it misses an opportunity to make them meaningful and expand the actual scope and excitement of the game. View the full article
  6. The original Metroid pioneered a new breed of exploration-based gaming. It was a non-linear experience that allowed players to traverse eerie alien landscapes, slowly amassing an ordnance of new weapons and tools that would help them overcome both environmental obstacles and combat challenges. Metroid’s formula was so strong that – even 30 years later – its influence on the industry is still felt. Games like Axiom Verge, Ori and the Blind Forest, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night can all trace their heritage back to Samus’ first steps on the planet Zebes. However, despite the many challengers to Metroid’s throne, Samus Returns proves that Nintendo still understands the formula best. The game picks up right after the events of the first Metroid. Intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran must travel to the Metroid homeworld of SR388 and eradicate the alien species before they can be turned into biological weapons. This 3DS title is technically a remake of the Game Boy title Metroid II: Return of Samus, and fans of the original will recognize certain enemies and environments, but Samus Returns features so many fresh ideas that it feels like a completely new adventure. One of the big new additions to the franchise is a melee counter system that allows Samus to stun enemies with well-timed button counters that expose their weak spots and leave them vulnerable to a quick finish. This counter makes the moment-to-moment action more engaging than past 2D Metroids, and it keeps you on your toes because you never know when some creature is going leap from the shadows. Whenever I missed a counter, I knew it was my fault, but I loved finding the perfect flow in combat and hitting two or three counters back-to-back then wiping out a screen’s worth of enemies in seconds. Like previous entries, Samus Returns features alien environments that do an incredible job pulling players deeper into cavernous landscapes with the promise of powerful upgrades. Many enhancements are familiar favorites, like the ice beam and spider ball, but MercurySteam also delivers a few new gadgets that offer fun twists to both exploration and combat. For example, Samus can use a new alien energy called aeon to overpower her suit for a short time, granting her defensive and offensive boosts. I got a real thrill out of using a new machine-gun aeon attack to burn through enemies who had previously seemed invincible. Likewise, Samus’ aeon shield was invaluable during boss fights and while passing through volatile habitats. (Please visit the site to view this media) Thanks to a massive list of collectibles, your next reward is always just around the corner. Every area is littered with tiny power-ups like extra missiles and energy tanks, so you constantly feel rewarded for exploring every nook and cranny. Of course, many of these toys remain tantalizingly out of reach and beg you to come back after you’ve acquired the right tools to extract them from their environmental cages. The big and small rewards are so evenly spaced out that Samus Returns’ pacing remains superb, and I had trouble putting the game down for any length of time. Collecting all of Samus’ upgrades is even more rewarding thanks to SR388’s richly detailed locations. These subterranean labyrinths wind through lava-filled caverns and ancient alien ruins. Mapping out the entire subsystem requires clever use of your entire toolkit, and subtle background touches like glowing eyes and crumbling debris help sell the feeling of foreboding isolation. Samus’ last 2D adventure was in 2004 with the GBA release Metroid: Zero Mission, which was a remake of the original Metroid. Despite the lengthy hiatus between 2D entries, I was initially disappointed to hear that MercurySteam’s Metroid project was another remake. However, Samus Returns has enough unique content that it feels like a worthy sequel. MercurySteam’s first outing with the franchise is also different enough from the recent fan remake AM2R, so fans shouldn’t hesitate to pick up this rare gem. This might be Samus’ first 2D adventure in more than a dozen years, but it’s a great reminder of why we fell in love with the franchise in the first place. View the full article
  7. The Monster Hunter franchise is well known for offering precise combat, a high-skill cap for weapon mastery, and boss-battling hunts against giant monsters that can withstand massive amounts of punishment. Monster Hunter Stories combines those monsters and biomes with turn-based combat and a monster recruitment system to deliver an interesting spin on the series formula. Without the focus on real-time action, Monster Hunter Stories instead taps into a Pokémon-esque desire to catch, train, and genetically splice perfect monster companions. Discovering new monsters and customizing them via options that get progressively more advanced as you work through the game (like taking one monster’s abilities and putting them in another) is enjoyable. Collecting them is also fun, as you discover standard and rare egg nests – sort of randomized mini-dungeons where your goal is to sneak off with a powerful egg you can hatch later. As a fan of the franchise, seeking out my favorite monsters like the terrifying, strange Khezu and enhancing them was a treat. Hunting down eggs and finding out what’s inside, assembling your perfect monster squad, and dialing down deeper to create ultimate allies forms a satisfying loop. The overworld is neat to explore and nothing like the self-contained island-find boss-exit style of the core series and constantly refreshing itself with crafting materials, egg dens, and monsters to battle. (Please visit the site to view this media) While the game is incredibly accessible due to the rock-paper-scissors turn-based combat system, it’s a double-edged sword. The simple combat system is mastered quickly, and although weapon abilities, monster special skills, and combos attempt to make things more interesting, combat quickly falls off in terms of enjoyment and becomes a rote, repetitive task. If you’re looking for a challenge, you won’t find it here. Your sidekick monsters act on autopilot, but can learn many useful abilities and skills, and you can ride them during combat to execute special abilities. You hotswap between monster companions in combat to find the right skills you need for the job, and they also have out-of-combat abilities to help you break boulders, traverse water, or find items in the overworld. You can even go for “break offs” by targeting specific monster locations during a fight like the head, which may weaken it as well as dropping a valuable piece of loot –nods to the core franchise like these are interesting to see in turn-based translation. Don’t expect anything resembling an engaging story despite the game’s name. I expect the dialogue will appeal to a younger audience, but it didn't resonate with me. Thankfully, the gameplay is the main allure. While Monster Hunter Stories doesn’t have nearly the amount of weapon and armor choices that appear in the main entries, you can outfit yourself to an offensive or defensive playstyle and upgrade your gear with monster parts. After you’ve mastered your skills, you can take on other players online with your ultimate team of monsters, which is perfect for players that want to really dig in to the endgame experience, as the title doesn’t really offer the hundreds of hours associated with one of the mainline games. Series fans might be put off by Monster Hunter Stories’ simplified combat, but I enjoyed the opportunity to pilot some of my favorite creatures from the franchise on the other side of the blade. Fans of turn-based JRPG fare, newcomers to the franchise, and younger gamers have more to enjoy here – to explore and engage with the Monster Hunter universe without having to enter through a less accessible door. Monster Hunter Stories is a warm and welcoming trek that’s only brought down by stale and repetitive combat. Despite its shortcomings, there’s still a neat egg to crack here. View the full article
  8. Console launches have a long and frustrating history of mediocre games. Knack is the prime example of a launch title that gave gamers a brief taste of what the PlayStation 4 could do before the adventure settled into a mundane rhythm of repetition. The showering of polygons ended up being the highlight in an adventure that rarely tapped into the potential of a size-changing hero. The idea was interesting enough to lure people in, but the execution didn’t quite hit the mark. Enter Knack II. Iteration can go a long way in making a formula work, and that is crystal clear in this sequel, which clings to the core tenants of the inaugural release, yet finds ways to keep them exciting, fresh, and varied from start to finish. The changing scale of the character also grows in meaningful ways to deliver the sense of being incredibly powerful at 30 feet in height, and resourceful at just two. Knack II clobbers the combat repetition that plagued the debut, and never falls into a rut. Instead, the action bounces from one challenge to the next. A typical level could begin with an average-sized Knack brawling against a handful of trolls, move on to tiny Knack using stealth to infiltrate a base, shift to a harrowing platforming sequence, and conclude with giant Knack laying waste to tanks and giants. Each level has a nice blend of action, along with well-placed secrets that require a keen eye to detect. I was impressed just how quickly it would move on from one challenge to the next. 
Combat is the most enhanced element, sewing in a variety of moves and powers that are fluid and fun to use. The feeling of being a force of pure destruction amplifies as Knack learns new abilities. These powers can also be upgraded by investing points in a skill tree that ups his speed, power and more. By the end of the game, even a smaller version of Knack can topple giants using a flurry of punches, roundhouse kicks, and aerial slams. He can even grab enemies and pull them in for a pummeling using an extendable arm, much like Mr. Fantastic. The enemy A.I. is quite resourceful, knowing when to rush if your health is low, and when to keep guard. The first game pushed players to use the same attacks (sometimes modified by elements) against the same foes. As monotonous as it was, the combat was still surprisingly challenging. Knack II retains that difficultly, but it’s made less frustrating thanks to better checkpoints and less frustrating enemy designs. It also helps that, much like the first game, you can play this entire campaign with a friend via couch co-op. This is the optimal way to play, as new moves are unlocked when the two Knacks interact with one other. For instance, unleashing that flurry of punches into the back of your friend’s Knack will hurl relic pieces at your foe. The platforming sequences also require skill, but are rendered somewhat challenge-free given the lenient checkpoint system. Regardless of the challenge, the act of jumping feels great and is backed by harrowing designs filled with spinning gears, sliding platforms, and sections that require the player to switch between tall and tiny Knack in a flash. Again, variety is key to keeping the player off kilter. The puzzles littered between combat and platforming are perplexing, and do a great job changing up the flow of action. SIE Japan Studio has created a game that I didn’t want to put down and enjoyed playing from start to finish, yet I never once felt a strong tie to the world or Knack as a protagonist. He’s as unlikable a character as I’ve seen in a game. He’s fun to control, and is somewhat cute in his tiniest form, but has the appeal of a heap of building blocks and a personality to match. (Please visit the site to view this media) Given how uninteresting Knack and his companions are, the villains end up stealing the spotlight in this lengthy (and beautifully animated) story. The narrative’s introductory chapters are as predictable as can be, but things begin to unravel in interesting ways roughly halfway through the campaign. I like where the story goes, and it gets surprisingly dark in the final moments. Knack II is the sequel no one expected to see, yet everyone should consider playing, especially if they are fond of Ratchet & Clank, Jak and Daxter, and Crash Bandicoot. View the full article
  9. Love is a powerful emotion, which can make us feel both euphoria and devastation. Last Day of June explores these feelings and how they change when tragedy strikes. While it has some poignant scenes, Last Day of June loses its lasting appeal with mediocre gameplay and repetition. You play as Carl, who experiences tragedy following a relaxing picnic by the water with his partner June. When things go awry, he is left by his lonesome, crippled and devastated. Later on, he magically obtains the gift to rewind time and change the past, giving him a glimmer of hope that all is not lost. Last Day of June plays in an infinite loop of that final day, where you embody multiple neighborhood characters from one sequence to the next and change their choices. For example, if a young boy uses a rope to fly a kite, then another character can no longer use said rope to safely secure boxes atop their vehicle. Each choice makes a butterfly effect that can either help or hinder you from saving June. These varying outcomes kept me invested, but are brought down by repetition. The puzzles are never too difficult and can be entertaining, but the way they are implemented is frustrating. In order to change past events, you experience characters’ arcs repeatedly to find correct solutions. Certain characters can open up pathways or gates that others cannot, which is annoying because switching characters requires playing through their entire day again. Some cutscenes are skipped through these sections, but the repetition is still sluggish and distracting. (Please visit the site to view this media) Once a day is completed, you watch the outcome of your choices and whether you managed to save June from death. You see June die not just once, but over and over again, which makes it lose its original emotional impact. I grew tired of seeing the repeated scene, and my connection to characters waned. Last Day of June’s best moments take place in present day, during interactive scenes. When Carl wakes abruptly from sleep to find his wife no longer beside him, my heart sank. He is wheelchair-bound, and his anger, frustration, and sadness take over. When his stomach growls, he struggles to reach a can of food on a high shelf, and it takes great effort to get around. The dim lighting makes his home feel claustrophobic, and each time he turns back time to try and save June, I empathized with his growing hopelessness. The neighborhood is a joy to explore, with its brightly colored environments that look like watercolor paintings. The characters feel lively and real, despite their vague, eyeless appearances. They speak to each other in incoherent murmurs, which means the story is told mostly through body language and visuals. I enjoyed having to piece things together myself, but their high-pitched mutters grew tiring, often portraying exaggerated emotions that didn’t feel authentic. Last Day of June paints a world that is visually beautiful on the surface and darker at its core, but its emotional story loses luster quickly. While some narrative twists drew me in nearing its conclusion, I never connected enough with the story and felt distracted by its repetitive nature. View the full article
  10. Multiplayer in virtual reality is one of the more attractive concepts of the still-young gaming technology. Standing in a virtual space with another person is a strange experience, more personal than talking on a headset to another player. CCP Games recognizes this and has crafted a sports game that pits two players against one another in a surprisingly intimate and fun competition that feels like it belongs in VR, but little has been put in place to keep you coming back. The disc game played in Tron, where two opponents try to hit each with digital Frisbees, is the quickest and easiest comparison to make for the rules of Sparc. Two players facing one another in a slender hallway try to hit their opponent with a ball. This ball can be bounced against the walls and ceilings, or you can hold on to your ball for a single-use shield. If you are hit by your opponent’s ball they gain a point. If you are able to dodge the ball (by physically moving), but it still passes through your hit zone, your opponent doesn’t get a point, but their ball grows and moves faster next time it’s thrown. Executing a good toss right to your opponent’s face is satisfying, but even more satisfying is activating your shield right before you’re about to get hit with a ball. Everything works well, and once I got some practice with throwing, games started to have a fun back-and-forth flow I was eager to recreate in the next match. As a virtual reality experience, Sparc is thoughtful in its execution. You don’t walk or move, so you have to worry less about motion sickness, and trying to dodge and counter bright bouncing balls with your shield as they speed towards your head is an exciting experience. Even watching the game as you figuratively wait in line for your turn is interesting. You, and whoever else is on deck to play next, loom over the match in progress. From your perspective, you see a tiny version of Sparc being played in front of you. From the players’ perspective, giants are watching you play. The spectator aspect is weird and initially unsettling, but it does a good job incentivizing you to leave your headset on while you wait. (Please visit the site to view this media) Sparc only has a few modes, placing a lot of value on its base game. That’s a risky bet, but not an entirely unfounded one. Of its three online modes, I could only regularly find matches in the novice mode. For the advanced play, and the experimental mode that changes gameplay elements like the shape of the arena, it took much longer. To get into these, I would take off the VR headset and angle it in such a way that it was still recognized by the camera, sit to the side, and wait until someone else entered the room. This could the product of few VR players out in the world, but with little incentive to play the other modes, like more experience or money, I’m sure many felt the same way I did: Why leave the crowded room to try the different rooms without a compelling reason? The admittedly small, early online community is very cordial. Something about being in a physical space together meant every round ended with a genuine, “Good game!” which goes a long way to making Sparc an inviting online space. Every clothing option is unlocked from the beginning, meaning I never saw the same custom character. You don’t have a level you watch grow as you play, which is both good and bad; none of the customization options feel arbitrarily withheld, but the reasons to keep playing outside of simply enjoying the base game are few, which can only take you so far. The act of bouncing a ball back and forth against an opponent in a virtual space, the main hook of Sparc, is fun and it works well. After overcoming my initial shortcomings of accurately being able to throw a digital ball, I quickly began to enjoy Sparc and even work up a small sweat. Beyond the basic fun of the main game, however, there just isn’t much here. View the full article
  11. Having the Hot Shots Golf series (as it used to be known as in North America) on PS4 is undeniably great. I was hoping that since the game isn't tied to a platform launch like it normally is, developer Clap Hanz would be able to stretch out and offer more than the normal collection of courses and unlockable opponents. That's the intent of Everybody's Golf, with its online courses and hub world you can wander around. However, the disjointed implementation of those plans is where the game trips up. Despite having various modes available as separate destinations from the hub world (including career, online play, and Open Courses), no one mode satisfies. Career mode is the usual gauntlet of beating characters in order, but the path is marred by the slim offering of only five courses out of the box. You are left with too much grinding on the same courses and holes, even with different parameters added like small/large holes and penalties for going into the rough. These same courses are available in the online Open Courses sections. Here everyone runs around in the environment and posts scores on leaderboards, but they aren't directly playing each other (for that, you have to go to a specific competitive online section), although you can see players and communicate with them. You can fish, swim, and find special items and currency in the Open Courses. However, these activities are not that interesting, largely because you've been on these courses a ton already. (Please visit the site to view this media) To play directly against other players online (standard local multiplayer is also an option) at launch, you only have two options: creating/finding a stroke play lobby or heading to the Turf War mode. Turf War is fun; your team has a limited amount of time to score better on select holes than the other team to claim the hole. The problem is the matchmaking can be uneven, since a team with more players has an advantage. Even worse, you get no reward for winning – another weird dead end. It would be nice if what you did in the online portions of the game helped unlock the career mode courses faster, like how many other titles preserve your progress across modes, but that's not the case. The career mode and hub world feel further isolated because both act like tutorials in that part of their function is to explain core concepts. But what are they an intro to if the online portion they ostensibly open into is underdeveloped itself? At least the three-click gameplay is reliable, and in one of the game's few positive steps forward, it uses clubs that get better the more you perform with them. With different sets to try out, I like taking a chance with ones that might be harder to golf with for the payoff of potentially better shots and the fact that I'm improving them with every outing. This franchise's attempt to step out from its own shadow is only half successful, and not because it dared to do so in the first place, but because it didn't dare enough. It also lacks a singular vision, and instead feels like a collection of parts pieced together. Sony has promised online tournaments and other additions post-launch (two DLC courses are already grayed out in the course selection screens), and an inaccessible online gate is present, but that's meaningless at this point in the game's life. Everybody's Golf is fun to play – as it always has been – but that's not enough to fulfill its own ambitions or mine. View the full article
  12. Facing Reality

    Life is a series of struggles we can't avoid. The original Life is Strange explored the concept of rewinding time to ease conflict and create different outcomes, but Life is Strange: Before the Storm is focused on reality. In this prequel, you have no special powers. You are forced to face life head-on and confront its painful plights. New developer Deck Nine uses Awake, the first of three planned episodes, to emphasize choices and emotional turmoil. Awake retains the essence of Life of Strange (with plenty of callbacks to the original), but now you play from the perspective of Chloe and see her budding friendship with Rachel Amber. The result is an episode that pulls at the heart strings despite some stumbles. Before the Storm takes place two years after the death of Chloe's father (and three years before she reconnects with Max), and she's still grieving. Her depression has taken a toll, causing her to rebel and not care much about anything or anyone. Playing as a younger Chloe is a nice change of pace, as she isn't completely the confident free-spirit she was in the original. She's still figuring herself out, and has more naivety and vulnerability that makes her more sympathetic. Rachel Amber is on the opposite end of the spectrum; she's popular, gets good grades, and has a financially stable family. The pair meet at a concert and embark on a complicated friendship, as they're both facing their own trials. This episode is a slow burn, gradually introducing you to Chloe's world. You travel to familiar places like Blackwell Academy, and to new locales like a punk club. One of my favorite aspects is seeing Blackwell students from the original game, like Victoria Chase to Nathan Prescott. However, you see younger versions that foreshadow their future. Yes, Victoria is still a stuck-up brat, but you start to see the beginnings of her concern for Nathan, while watching Nathan deal with his own difficulties from his father's influence. This episode also sets up Chloe's conflict with her mom and new boyfriend David well, providing insight into why Chloe's so angry and distraught. It also doesn't forget to show the impact Max had on her life, which was the focal point of the original game. Max is mentioned a lot to show Chloe's hurt that she moved away, and isn't there to help her through the hardest time of her life. (Please visit the site to view this media) Even with several parts that feel genuine, Chloe and Rachel Amber form their friendship at unnatural speed. They've only known each other for a day, so their interactions can feel forced. In their second time hanging out, you can already decide if you want to tell Rachel Amber if you want to be more than friends. That being said, they have some fun bonding moments, such as playing games like Two Truths and a Lie and observing people and making up stories about their lives. The most authentic part of Awake is how Chloe mourns the loss of her dad (dream sequences heighten this), and Rachel Amber's reaction to finding out some disturbing news about her father. Both girls are recognizing harsh realities together, and I felt for both of them in their anger and sadness. Without the rewind feature, you're mostly exploring and making choices. The change makes sense for the story, and I didn't mind it. Dialogue plays a larger role, and Deck Nine does a good job creating interesting interactions, such as Chloe playing D&D and allowing you to pick her moves and responses. The only new aspect that didn't entirely jive with me is Chloe's backtalk option. During certain conversations, you can talk your way out of things by being brazen. You need to pick a string of "correct" dialogue options that relate to what the person just said and goes with the tone of the conversation. Mostly, this is Chloe throwing insults and threatening people, including talking back to her principal to get out of an after-school visit and convincing a bouncer she's tough enough to enter a shady music venue. Sometimes Chloe's insults are so over-the-top, I didn't believe she could have gotten away with talking to any human like that. When it beats you over the head with Chloe's rebellious side, Awake feel disingenuous. As you explore, interacting with certain items can open up dialogue options, and Chloe can tag special places with graffiti akin to Max taking extra photos in the first game. Some areas also have obstacles that you must get past, like finding a way to steal wine or getting a jammed quarter out of a machine. These sequences never go on too long, and I enjoyed the focus on the story and characters. As this is the first episode, I can't say for sure how far-reaching the choices are, but you do have plenty of decisions, including how you treat other characters, whether to steal money, and even what clothes Chloe wears, which characters notice. I wish this episode had a few tougher choices, but hopefully future episodes have more agonizing ones with satisfying payoffs. Awake shows you a broken Chloe - someone at her lowest. Everyone hits those trying times in their lives, and what Awake does best is illustrate how much another person can make a difference in those situations. The emotional pull is strong, and the story's strength is its relatability. This first episode has me intrigued at how Chloe and Rachel Amber will make it through their distress, and it also has me rooting for them. View the full article
  13. Telltale recognizes the importance of laying narrative groundwork in its games, establishing character motivations in early episodes with an eye toward payoffs in later installments. That strategy is evident in More Than A Feeling, in which the titular Guardians have a well of competing motivations and desires established through backstories and flashbacks. That tension gives Episode Three the most emotional resonance so far, but the reoccurrence of another ancient temple, along with some technical problems, hold things back. An important new character enters the scene in the latest episode; Mantis’ first appearance in the Telltale version of the Marvel universe echoes the naïve but earnest portrayal established in the recent film treatment. Her empathic powers provide a good bit of the humor, and establish the impetus for emotional conflicts to come to a head between several of our leads. The most important of those conflicts is the backstory between Nebula and Gamora, a fraught sibling rivalry with life-and-death consequences. The flashback mission about what created the original rift between the two is fun to watch unfold, especially since we get the opportunity to see it from both perspectives. Both Gamora and Nebula have been profoundly shaped by the results of that encounter, which can also be said for most of the rest of the cast and their own personal losses. While it’s a theme we’ve seen throughout the season up to this point, the idea of losses that profoundly shape us has special significance, as the opportunity that these losses might be wiped away begins to tear the team apart. (Please visit the site to view this media) With the whole galaxy to explore, I admit to some disappointment that this story once again winds its way toward another not-so-mysterious ancient temple. It’s such a notable repetition that Rocket even jokes about the location’s tedium upon arrival. Instead of a thrilling new vista or wonder to uncover, the third episode’s finale unfolds in a space that looks remarkably like other places we’ve already visited. Meanwhile, the traits that have so far defined the season endure without much change. Facial animation and voice work combine suitably well to squeeze some genuine emotion out of the colorful alien heroes, and the writing elicits some smiles, if only rarely chuckles. Action scenes are welcome, and present some cool combat exchanges. However, they still feel stilted, especially as brief stuttering loads sometimes pause the action in crucial moments. While I’ve yet to run into any irreparable technical problems, I had to deal with a temporary progression bug in Episode Three, in which an essential conversation pop-up didn’t appear, halting my ability to move the story forward. On a subsequent reload of the sequence, the problem inexplicably resolved itself, but not before I’d spent half an hour trying to figure out what I was missing. Telltale continues to do some fun things with these familiar comic-book heroes, especially in fleshing out character backgrounds in compelling ways. More Than A Feeling wraps up the initial conflict, and lays out a new one to carry us into subsequent episodes. If this installment fails to dramatically up the tension, at least it maintains a solid storytelling pace, and fans of the galaxy’s most loveable space misfits should continue to find moments of fun. View the full article
  14. The Ys series has always captured the heart and soul of an adventurer. Throughout its nearly 30-year run, developer Nihon Falcom has complemented fun exploration with adrenaline-pumping boss battles, all starring its iconic red-headed protagonist Adol Christin. Ys VIII stays true to the franchise's core values, but those elements plays off each other wonderfully, creating an engaging gameplay loop that had me glued to the game for hours on end. Ys VIII puts exploration front and center. After a vicious monster attacks a ship transporting Adol and various others, they end up stranded on a deserted island overrun with strange creatures. To survive, Adol must gather resources, build up a base, and find a way off the island. During his journey, he can recruit fellow passengers to jobs on the base, such as a blacksmith, tailor, and gardener. Watching your headquarters grow is exciting, and it was one of my favorite parts of the experience. I loved venturing off to explore more of the island, then coming back with new materials to craft better things. The vibrant island also has mysteries to uncover, taking you to deserted pirate ships and ancient towers. Some sections of the vast landscape are blocked off until you recruit more members or obtain certain gear; special gloves let you climb vines to reach new areas, while another item allows you to breathe underwater. I enjoyed revisiting areas to obtain treasure I couldn't get before, and unlocking the new abilities for Adol keeps gameplay fresh and fun. Climbing vines adds some verticality to the experience, and battling creatures underwater is slower and methodical, making you anticipate where your opponent is going to be rather than striking where they are. Narrative beats slowly unravel as you progress. At first, your goal is merely to figure out a way off the island, but then the focus turns to discovering why all the beasts are roaming around it. The answer is more interesting than I expected, but the plot tends to drag with awkward dialogue and boring, long-winded sequences. The latter especially hits when you play as Dana, a mysterious girl Adol is connected to through his dreams. These perspective shifts often have you backtracking, and feature some of the most lackluster dialogue in the game, as conversations feel more like filler than interesting revelations about Dana's world. Part of the story also revolves around building bonds with the strangers you meet. You can get to know your fellow castaways better by completing quests and giving them gifts, which often nets you new items and improves their support skills in battle. Ys games aren't traditionally built on strong characters or story, and while Ys VIII is an improvement, these areas remain weak. That being said, I appreciated the little bonding moments and having characters with more personality, like a sassy noble to a lighthearted fisherman who add some levity to the journey. (Please visit the site to view this media) Outside of exploration, Ys VIII's bread and butter is its stellar action combat, which is fast and smooth. Specific weapons are stronger against certain creature types; selecting the right one is essential for bringing down foes. For instance, pierce weapons are strong against flying enemies, while slash ones are superior against soft-bodied creatures. At any point, you can swap to a character in your three-member party to take advantage of this. All combatants have different fighting styles, from slower powerhouse tanks to quick-jab fencers, which adds variety to fights. You also have skills and special moves to unleash, but the focus on the dodge and block mechanics is the shining star of combat. If you dodge at the right time, you can unlock a flash move, which makes you invincible for short time and slows everything down. This is key for creating openings to get the edge on enemies. Similarly, if you guard right as an enemy strikes, you unleash a flash guard, where all attacks briefly become critical hits and all damage is nullified. My most satisfying moments were when I pulled off both a flash move and flash guard in succession to wreak havoc on bosses. These big battles don't disappoint, as you go up against larger-than-life enemies and live to tell the tale. Every boss has weak points to target, so part of the fun is finding the right area to hit and recognizing their patterns. The bosses are a highlight for me, as they force you to pull out all stops and really showcase the battle system coming together at its best. Dodging, jumping, and using your skills at are opportune moments are key, and taking down these large enemies is an adrenaline rush. The only time combat frustrated me was due to controls. The dodge and block buttons are on the shoulder buttons, and if you press them both at once, you trigger your special. When you're in the heat of battle, accidentally hitting both at once is easy, wasting your special. This happened to me on more than a few occasions. Ys VIII gets its hooks in you with its progression loop; you're always making new discoveries and locating new materials to craft something better. Nihon Falcom also does its best to inject variety when it can, from battles that involve your entire village to Dana learning different fighting styles throughout the game. With a wealth of content to pursue, you always have something to do, even if it's merely fishing or cooking. On top that, Ys VIII has a lot of memorable battle moments; I only wish the story and characters held the same allure. View the full article
  15. Absolver is a strange game. It’s an adventure with few zones, several bosses, and an interesting combat system that lets you learn skills and abilities from enemies and apply them to your own fighting style. It’s filled with other players you can team up with to accomplish your adventuring goals, mentor by forming your own school, or simply pummel into the ground when you see them. While that may sound like fun, the building blocks never coalesce into anything meaningful over the scant hours offered. Absolver’s strength is its combat, which is formed via combat decks and is mainly handled with fists, kicks, and body blows. Weapons are available, but they are limited use items or special activated abilities that only last for a short duration. The concept of tying your core stats to these skills is cool, like a heavy punch gaining more damage as you increase your strength, or a flying kick getting a bonus from more dexterity. Linking together chains of abilities and switching stances to execute powerful maneuvers is the best part of the game. Learning new abilities by sparring with enemies and other players is also quite satisfying, and complements the combat systems nicely. While the excellent combat leaves lots of room for performance and features a high skill ceiling, you can muddle your way through the entire game by smashing one button if you really want. (Please visit the site to view this media) Outside of combat, the world is puzzlingly barren and small. Absolver features three core “zones” that players can explore, and although it can be tense and interesting to move through these areas with other players coming and going at will, the environments feel dull and lifeless. The enemies are incredibly bland, and the mini-bosses and boss encounters are barely different from your average humanoid fighter out in the overworld. While a few nooks and crannies have neat items, the stages are linear and generally have only a few encounters in the way of each key battle. Absolver is notably short and conspicuously compact if you’re looking for a single-player experience, and should only take you a handful of hours to barrel through even if you’re not the fastest adopter of the combat systems. You should not play this game for story, but you do have the opportunity to forge your own tale should you decide to go down that rabbit hole after completing the game for the first time. As an Absolver, you can travel the world freely and recruit other players to your cause, take on “new game plus” versions of previous encounters, and even start your own combat school. For players looking for a post-game experience and more things to do, this is a decent reason to keep playing, leveling, and tracking down those hard-to-find skills. However, I didn’t really feel especially drawn to the post-game PvP-focused content after beating my way through the campaign offerings. Sloclap’s first foray shows glimmers of brilliance in the combat and the somewhat intriguing aesthetic of masked martial artists going at it in strange lands. Even so, Absolver feels like a collection of little pieces from something larger that just never happens. It’s as if someone has set the table for a fascinating three-course meal and the appetizer is the only thing that ever comes out of the kitchen – and by the time you take your first bite, you’re being ushered out the door. This review pertains to the PC version of Absolver. Absolver is also available on PS4 View the full article
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