Category Archives: Game Review

Medieval 2: Total War Review

This game may have been out well over a decade, but despite it’s successors possessing more powerful game engines, better graphics and more varied gameplay, it’s still one of the best RTS’ (Real-Time Strategy) and TBS’ (Turn-based Strategy) games of all-time. The fact is, the Creative Assembly has never matched the standards of its mighty fourth entry in the Total War series, and none of the CA’s rivals have offered a compelling alternative either. Only its predecessor, Rome: Total War, holds a similar regard in the minds of the fanbase. But why is this?

Maybe because the series’ dual style gameplay of having Real Time Battles inter-spliced with turn-based management and strategic planning was so successful. The mix of siege battles and land conflicts adds plenty of variety to the combat, while random events, bad luck and AI factions lack of predictability can often leave you scrambling to face new threats to your empire. You can also avoid one of the aspects entirely if you want to focus solely on battles or empire-building (the computer can auto-resolve battles with you playing them, or can set taxes and building policies automatically it you want it to). The campaigns are also really unpredictable. Just when you think you have a faction on the ropes, their last army ambushes you unexpectedly in the woods. Just when you’re about to overwhelm your main rivals, one of your allies suddenly turns on you and strikes at a badly defended settlement. Or, worst of all, one of your generals defects and takes either an army, or worse, a whole settlement with him. Every campaign throws up new problems and offers enough factions to please any gameplay style. Love carving enemies up with Heavy Infantry? Pick Denmark. Love using cavalry? Go for Poland. Want an endless supply of Spearman? Welcome to Italy. Want to wipe out endless hordes of infidels on crusade? Pick Egypt and fortify the hell out of your cities! The multitude of factions means that your have many weeks worth of potential gameplay ahead, as well as immense replay value.

While Rome: Total War (referred to as RTW for the rest of this article) was initially my favourite entry in the series, I have to admit that Medieval 2 does fix several problems with RTW, and has more overall depth and replay value. The more I’ve played them, the more convinced I’ve become that Medieval 2 edges out Rome. To go into detail, Rome: Total War had a couple of very irritating niggles, such as its basic and easily broken diplomacy system. Once your faction got too rich in RTW, the AI factions would instantly start demanding ridiculous sums of money for any potential deals. Worse, if your faction became too powerful, weaker AI factions would regard almost all potential financial/diplomatic offers as suspiciously generous, and would refuse them outright.

Another problem with RTW was one of balance: the four Roman factions were slightly too strong in comparison to every other faction, meaning that you would either end up sweeping the map while playing them or, if playing a different faction, would always have the Romans as your main rivals late game, not anyone else. While Egypt, Carthage and the Greek factions were capable of standing up to the Romans late game, the Barbarian factions lacked any kind of extra units or infrastructure once they upgraded their settlements to cities, meaning that whatever faction you started as, it was rather inevitable that once you destroyed the Romans you would have few rivals left capable of challenging you. Every game played out reasonably similarly as far as the AI were concerned: The Greek Cities, Gaul and Carthage would be overwhelmed by Romans within 50 turns, while the Seleucids were nearly always wiped out by a combination of Egypt, Pontus and Parthia. The final problem was that half the factions in RTW were initially locked until you beat the main campaign as the Romans, and a third were totally unplayable without editing the game files (which, fortunately, is not difficult and there are plenty of youtube videos on how to do this!).

Medieval 2 fixes all of these issues: diplomacy was considerably refined, AI’s are more reasonable in negotiations and there aren’t any real issues creating deals between small and weak factions. All factions except the Papal States, Aztecs, Mongols, Timurids and Rebels are also easily unlockable. The game is much more balanced too: I’ve done at least 20 playthroughs over the years and its never been the same AI factions that have done well in every playthrough. Sometimes France is a really strong power who wipes out The Holy Roman Empire (Medieval Germany) and kicks England off the continent, sometimes they get crushed by a combination of Milan and Portugal. Sometimes Denmark takes over the whole Northern part of the map, sometimes the HRE and Poland leave them stuck in a single province. Sure some things recur: Venice always fights Byzantium, the Moors always fight Sicily, the Pope is a dick to Egypt etc. but while you often see the same kind of conflicts, the results differ. The AI still isn’t perfect, especially on lower campaign difficulties, where some nations just sit around or merely attack one or two rebel settlements, but for the most part it’s not an issue.

Medieval 2 also refines individual characters and their various traits. Everyone from Assassins to Diplomats to Priests have numerous traits that make them better or worse at their job. This can often have annoying consequences, as Priests who lack faith often become heretics, incompetent assassins get themselves killed and Kings who lack Authority suffer defections and rebellions. Every general has four stats: command, loyalty, chivalry/dread and piety. Commanders lacking in piety may be vulnerable to execution by papal inquisitors, disloyal generals cannot be trusted, Generals strong in command will rarely lose battles and men with high dread with frighten the hell out of the enemy. While some traits are random, you are largely responsible for how your faction members develop. Leave a general in a godforsaken hellhole for 20 turns? His loyalty will drop. Execute prisoners, use assassins and exterminate cities? You’ll be more dreaded than the Mongols. Build taverns in cities where you general lives? Expect a greater chance of him becoming an alcoholic and wrecking his stats.

Medieval 2’s time period also is a major factor in gameplay. Not only do you have to contend with the Black Death (which can wipe out a good 10-50% of your forces in the affected regions) but also invasions from the Mongols (who have extremely skilled Generals and awesomely strong cavalry) and the Timurids (who have elephants. And cannons. And cannons mounted on Elephants!!!). These ramp up the difficulty factor for eastern powers like The Turks, Egypt and occasionally Russia and Byzantium. The Christian factions are largely safe from these threats but have a bigger problem: the Pope. Not only will he constantly ask you to build churches and recruit more priests, but he will also commission crusades (usually against Egypt or the Turks) that force you to send one of your armies off to the East or risk his disapproval. Fighting other Christian nations (which happens all the time given that most/all neighbouring factions are Catholic!) will lead to the Pope turning on you and either excommunicating your faction, declaring war, or worse, declaring a crusade on you. On one campaign as the Holy Roman Empire I ended up assassinating 5 successive Popes because the Papal States were being such a nuisance. Another game-changer is the invention of gunpowder, which greatly diminishes the strength of your city walls and castles. For ambitious/naval inclined players, you can also send fleets to explore the ‘New World’ which can gain you a lot of money but also puts you in conflict with the Aztecs. All these means long campaigns have plenty of pratfalls to spoil your plans and prevent things being too easy.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

The game’s expansion pack, Kingdoms, which is included with the base game on Steam, is a great extra, offering four new campaigns and several new factions. You may not care for all of them, but there’s something for everyone, and it adds hundreds of hours of extra gameplay. The following ratings are my opinion – you may like the ones I don’t or vice versa, but they’re all worth trying!

The Americas Campaign: (Factions include New Spain, The Aztecs, The Mayans and the Apache, with another 3 tribal factions unlockable)

The Americas Campaign is my least favourite of the expansions, but if you want a challenge or miss the simpler, barbarian horde factions from RTW, this might be for you! The campaign focuses on Central America and the surrounding area at the time where the Spanish are just starting to invade (England and France will turn up during the campaign as well but aren’t playable). The Aztecs and Mayans are unique factions in Medieval 2 because they completely lack technology – i.e. no artillery, no guns, no cavalry – they rely solely on infantry and foot-based archers/missile troops. While this may sound like a major disadvantage, their numbers are vast and their infantry VERY fast, so they can hold their own against more ‘civilised’ factions, although heavy casualties are a frequent feature of their campaigns. New Spain have the technology, but lack numbers, so the early game is quite difficult for them, and fighting too many tribes at once will get them easily overrun. The Apache are a balance between the two – initially they are as undeveloped as the Aztecs/Mayans, but once they defeat any army from England, Spain or France, they can learn how to use guns and horsemen. Personally I don’t like this one much (infantry only battles can be a bit of a slog, and the numbers involved are always huge – no small skirmishes here!) though I find the Apache enjoyable.

Rating: 2 out of 5

The Britannia Campaign: (Factions include England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Norway – i.e. Vikings)

One of the best campaigns is the Britannia Campaign. Scotland get a much better unit roster here than in the main campaign, while England face a somewhat harder task than normal due to low approval and lack of funds, not to mention being at war with anywhere from 2-4 of the other factions for the whole game. Ireland are interesting if you like a mix of cavalry and artillery, while Wales are immense fun if you like using archers and playing defensively. Norway are a tough faction to win with, but Viking units are always fun to use, especially their infantry, and you can basically fight whoever you want with them (though Scotland will prove a problem if you don’t see them off early).

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Crusades Campaign: (Factions include Jerusalem [England], Antioch [France], Egypt, The Turks and the Byzantine Empire).

If you liked the whole Crusade aspect of the main game, this is the expansion for you. It’s basically giving you a chance to face off with much stronger units than you’d normally have in an early game. Personally I find it the least ambitious of the four campaigns – 3 factions are basically the same as in the main game, so you’ll probably want to stick with the Crusader states unless you really loved playing as Egypt, Byzantium or the Turks (my personal favourite).

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Teutonic Campaign: (Factions include the Teutonic Order, Lithuania, Denmark and Novgorod [Russia], with Poland and the HRE unlockable)

The Best of the bunch, the Teutonic campaign gives you two very different new factions (fans of Heavy Infantry/Heavy Cavalry will love the Teutonic Order, while the more simplistic armies of pagan Lithuania may provide a decent challenge to those who found the main game easy). Denmark are really fun to play as here, as they start from a much stronger position than in Britannia or the main game, and can really carve into the HRE and Poland before testing themselves against the Teutonic Order. Similarly, Russia (Novgorod) start off much stronger but lack the easy early expansion they had in the main game. Like the Britannia campaign, there’s something for everyone here.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Overall, if you’re any kind of PC gamer who likes strategy/military games, Medieval 2 is still a must have. Its far more accessible than the most recent total war games and in my opinion, far more fun. Its also more refined than Shogun, Medieval or Rome, and thus strikes the best balance between good gameplay and accessibility. Even better, you don’t need a good gaming PC to run this, whereas good-luck getting Rome 2: Total War to run properly on average PC’s. Medieval 2 is probably my favourite PC game of all-time, and I can’t see that changing anytime soon. And if you ever get bored with it (or Rome Total War for that matter) you can always mod the hell out of them.

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My Top Games of 2017

As usual for late December, here’s my take on my favourite games I’ve been playing this year. As always, some games weren’t 2017 releases but ones I’ve only just got around to this year. It’s not been a vintage year for gaming (Mass Effect: Andromeda and Star Wars Battlefront 2 both fell short of the mark for different reasons) but there’s still been some really fun entries. So here’s my top 6 and, as a bonus, my favourite bit of DLC too!

6: Guardians of the Galaxy: A Telltale Series

Telltale games may not be your thing if your main focus is gameplay (or graphics for that matter), but for story and character values they always excel. Having breathed new life into the Borderlands series and told interesting tales in the Batman and Game of Thrones universes, they’ve now turned there hands to the Guardians of the Galaxy series. I’ll forewarn film fans that this isn’t tied to the Marvel Film adaptions – the characters are the same, but aren’t voiced by the same actors nor do they look all that similar. But that isn’t an annoyance, as it allows the game makers to push the characters further than they have been in the film series. As you’d except with the Guardians, the dialogue options are often hilarious, but its the strength of the storyline that will grip you. As well as delving into Quill, Rocket, Gamora and Drax’s backstories, the 5 episode series features run-ins with Thanos, the Nova Corp, The Collector’s agents and newcomer Hela the Accuser, a Kree warrior who serves as the main antagonist. Choices in Telltale games often feel emotionally tied to characters rather than having a major impact on the overall plot, but there’s a few here that have lasting impact on the way the last two episodes play out (including whether Nebula and Mantis join the Guardians). Overall the story and characterisation make this a good entry in the series, if admittedly not a perfect one, as the quick-time events are very mixed in quality (they aren’t particularly difficult, and while the melee combat is good enough the shooting mechanics are terrible). I still enjoyed it enough though for it to scrape into sixth place on my list.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

5: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (PS4 Exclusive). Uncharted 4 may have wrapped up Nathan Drake’s story, but given how much of a success the series has been for Naughty Dog, it seemed inevitable that a spin-off would turn up. So does the series work without its leading man? Er – yeah, of course it does. Chloe Frazer was one of the reasons Uncharted 2 remains the highlight of the series, so having her headline the 1st spin-off was a superb choice, and the less predictable pairing of her and Nadine Ross (i.e. one of the villains from A Thief’s End) works wonderfully. The game isn’t perfect – the first few levels are by-the-numbers and a touch slow, but once you get to the open-world (yes really) area of chapter, the game really starts to come to life. The combat is pretty much the same as Uncharted 4, with the only major addition being the ability to use C4 late game. The treasure/collectable hunting is as good as ever and the game is visually stunning (there’s a reason a screenshot from it is my current screensaver). Unlike previous uncharted games, the action takes place in only one country, India, giving it a different feel to earlier games (there’s a big focus on Indian History, Religion and Mythology – replacing the supernatural elements featured in games 1-3 and the pirate storyline from 4). Asav is a workable but not particular memorable villain, though the boss fight with him is challenging. While I agree with other reviewers that the game can sometimes seem like ‘Uncharted’s Greatest Hits’, for the most part its its own beast, and Chloe and Nadine’s turbulent but ultimately engaging relationship coupled with the stunning setting means its well worth your time (and money).

Rating: 4 out of 5

4: Injustice 2 – DC’s track record of making good video games is still intact even if its film efforts are still falling short. Injustice 2’s improved graphics and combat and its enlarged character roster make it worth the upgrade from Gods Among Us. The story mode is fun, and the multiverse events mean there’s basically hundreds of hours worth of gameplay on offer here – and that’s without factoring in the multiplayer modes. Yes the games currency and loot systems aren’t perfect, but they are far from the confusing, cash-grabbing disaster of some games we could mention (cough *Battlefront II*). It can get a little repetitive after a while, but the wide range of characters with different special moves mean its easy to switch things up a bit. Overall a great 1v1 fighting game that certainly gives you your money’s worth.

Rating: 4 out of 5

3: F1 2017 – The latest F1 sim improves on its impressive predecessor in basically every way. It adds two new practice programmes (Race strategy and fuel saving) ensuring that completing all three practice sessions is actually worthwhile, and completely rejigs the R&D tree, so you can no longer get 80% of the upgrades just from one successful season, which makes numerous seasons with the same team actually worthwhile. The difficulty slider is far less rigid that last year – you can now select any level between 1 and 100, which makes small changes possible and gets rid of the large jumps between difficulty levels that lessened my enjoyment of the 2016 edition. The best addition is the championships mode, which allows you to drive classic F1 cars from the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s in a variety of short championships (hot lap championships, reverse grids events, sprint races, endurance races etc.) which is also an easy way to settle into the game and find what difficulty level is best for you. Overall, the game is a refined, polished version of its predecessor, which barring a few minor quibbles (overtaking can be a bit too easy on lower difficulty or with driver aids on, the safety car periods do drag on a bit) has delivered a great sim for any F1 fan. Worth the upgrade from any previous version.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2: Skyrim Special Edition – While the Special Edition doesn’t add much beyond vastly improved graphics, it fixes a lot of annoyances the original had (loading times have been cut to about 10% of what they were, while game-ending crashes are now far-rarer if still an occasional factor). Ultimately its worth a £20 upgrade if you liked the original but got frustrated with those issues, never brought the DLC for the original (the Special Edition includes all 3 expansion packs, including the sublime Dawnguard) or want to try out some mods without buying the PC edition. As I did a full review on this already, I won’t say much more, save that Skyrim is still as fun as ever, and with no new Elder Scrolls game in sight yet, this might be a fun way of getting back into the series.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

1: Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4 Exclusive) – There was only going to be one game that could get the top spot this year. It may not be absolutely perfect (the difficulty of individual missions can jump about a bit, the new game plus mode isn’t really necessary), but it’s bloody close and more inventive that anything else on the market (seriously, if uncharted and the last of us weren’t already enough reason for PC/Nintendo/Xbox gamers to get a PS4 on the side, this is). In what was a bad year for Sci-Fi on television (excluding Black Mirror) Horizon Zero Dawn delivered one of the most compelling science fiction storylines I’ve seen in YEARS. But then again, to quote Honest Trailers ‘it takes a shit-ton of plotting to make tribal girl vs. Robot dinosaurs make sense’. Yep its that game. Set on a post-apocalyptic earth where human tribes have lost almost all knowledge of technology and are forced to survive in an oddly tranquil but dangerous environment which is roamed by robotic dinosaurs and constructs. But as the game’s labyrinthine story unfolds, both the nature of the apocalypse (no its not a fallout-esque nuclear war) and the reasons for the dinosaurs creation (nope not aliens or anything stupid like that) become clear and are, in a way, strikingly and terrifyingly plausible in the same way some Black Mirror plotlines about rogue technology can be. The storyline is also anchored by main character Aloy, a tribal girl searching for the simple answers (who she really is and who were her parents) who is both an immensely likeable lead and probably the best new videogame character from 2017. The game’s missions range from taking down bandit camps, hunting down a mysterious sun cult, killing rogue robots and exploring ancient ruins to uncover clues (holograms, recordings, notes etc.) about the apocalypse. The robots range from the small scale Watcher and Grazer to the mighty Behemoth and Bellowbacks. While early levels feature foes you can take down with basic bows and spears, later levels see you having to employ everything from bomb slings and tripwires to shock arrows and mines to take down the humungous beasts. Part RPG (open world setting, optional side missions, various dialogue choices and upgrade options) part linear survival/stealth, it looks wonderful, is really fun to play and is extremely engaging. Add the Frozen Wilds DLC if you want an extra challenge.

Rating: 5 out of 5

And my favourite DLC is…

  1. Far Harbor (Fallout 4). Far Harbor is a rarity – a DLC that’s actually better and more engaging than the main game. Fallout DLC’s are often hit-and-miss, but Far Harbor absolutely nails what you want from a DLC: a new, exciting location to explore, new, challenging enemies and a good central storyline to get into. The location for this DLC is an island north of the main commonwealth that is covered in radioactive fog, making exploration of the monster infested island dangerous. It also adds three new major factions: a Synth refuge, the Children of Atom, and the Islanders themselves, who have been pushed back to one measly settlement by the fog and the monsters. The main storyline is engaging and it isn’t clear cut what the optimum moral choice is: the Islanders aren’t always sympathetic, the Synth leader has a pretty immoral past and not all of the Children of Atom are the antagonistic zealots their leaders are. The game gives you a lot of scope for resolving the conflict between the three factions (you can destroy the Children of Atom, allow the fog to overrun the island and kill the Islanders, make peace between the three factions or even call in the Brotherhood or Institute from the main game to wipe out the Synths). The side quests are also good, whether it be slaying the islands wide variety of mutated sea-creatures, helping out the various settlements or playing detective in a vault filled with Robobrains (one of the weirdest and most fun questlines). Far Harbor also avoids several of the pratfalls which weakened the main game: the crafting system plays a minimal role and is far less annoying than usual, while there are three major settlements to align with and do quests for, which is actually more than the main game gave us (let’s be honest, any settlement outside of Goodneighbor and Diamond City sucked in the main game). Overall, this might just be the best DLC a fallout game has given us, even if its attached to one of the weaker entries in the fallout series.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Hopefully 2018 will be a stronger year for games. With the new Spider-Man, Vampyr, Days Gone and the Last of Us Part 2, it looks pretty promising…

Star Wars: Battlefront 2 Review

Yep, I brought it. A bit of a gamble to be sure but it’s not the worst purchase I’ve made this year (for anyone interested that would be either Mass Effect: Andromeda or my rather underused Gym membership). If by some miracle you’ve missed the furore that has seen EA being repeatedly eviscerated on Reddit, Twitter and every conceivable form of social media because of this game, let me explain. Battlefront 2 costs full price at release (£50 for either console or PC) but features a levelling and reward system so slow and complex that the only way to get everything out of it was to either sink weeks-worth of time or fistfulls of extra cash into the game. Even then you aren’t guranteed to get exactly what you want, because the reward system relies on (sigh) random loot boxes, which leaves a very ‘luck of the draw’ feel to which players are rewarded most. As a result, Battlefront 2 has had the most difficult launch of any game since Mass Effect 3, whose ending got ripped to shreds by fans. And, as with that mess, EA has backed down. Sort of. Scrapping the ability to buy extra in-game currency with real cash does cut out the whole play-to-win issue, and they have reduced the cost required to unlock heroes and weapons. But the game still has plenty of other problems. So why’d I buy it? Simple: the gameplay’s actually quite good.

I loved the first remake last year (at least at launch). The multiplayer was really good, the servers were normally reliable, and everything felt pretty balanced. I didn’t really miss a substantial single-player mode because the online was nailing what I wanted from the game. Then EA messed about with it and fucked it up a bit. They did this because they wanted to sell £30-40 of DLC, which you basically had to buy to access all the new abilities and heroes the DLC packs included (the multiplayer became significantly harder if you persevered with the abilities/heroes from the base game only). The DLC was also a mixed bag (Outer Rim and Death Star were good expansions, but Rogue One and Bespin were undercooked and the maps nothing special). Although EA/DICE did balance out a lot of issues through updates, the gameplay wasn’t as pure as it had been at launch. I’ve still got the original, but I was kind of falling out of love with it, which is part of the reason I brought the new one (which EA has guaranteed will only have FREE DLC).

First up: the good news. Visually, the game’s a massive step up from its predecessor (which looked pretty damn good). The space battles in particular are stunningly rendered. You now can also play as Light or Dark Side in any of the three Star Wars eras (and you get heroes from the Prequel and Sequel trilogies into the bargain, such as Yoda, Darth Maul, Rey and Kylo Ren). Fans of the original Battlefront series will be pleased to hear that it feels a lot more like the originals than last year’s battlefront did (mainly because it has its own unique combat system and classes this time, not just a Battlefield 1 system with a Star Wars paintjob). The multiplayer has also been simplified, now there are only 5 distinct game modes: Blast (Team Deathmatch), Heroes vs. Villains, Starfighter Assault (Space Battles), Galactic Assault (Massive 40v40 game modes) and Strike (a smaller, 8v8 mode similar to Galactic Assault but easier for low level players). While the loss of modes like Cargo and Drop Zone are a slight shame, the lack of crap modes like Turning Point, Infiltration and Sabotage is an improvement, as is the new system of picking one mode and sticking with it for as long as you like (not cycling between modes, as happened in the first game’s DLC). I’m sure EA will throw in extra modes in DLC packs, but the original 5 are more than sufficient atm. The main improvement is the scrapping of power ups. Now, instead of having to memorise where power-ups appear on the battlefield, you get battle points from kills and completing objectives, which you can trade in to get access to jump troopers, flame troopers, heroes and vehicles. It’s a much better system, and ensures that only good players actually get the power-ups, which feels a lot fairer.

Heroes vs. Villains has actually been significantly improved. The new 4v4 battle between heroes is much better than the old version, simply because you don’t have to spend one of every two rounds waiting to be a hero (and getting repeatedly slaughtered as a standard soldier). Instead, each side has 4 heroes, one of which on each side will be marked as a target for the other side to kill. After a minute or so (or when a target is killed), the target player will switch (first side to 10 target kills wins). This allows for some great battles, as most heroes are pretty evenly matched (The Emperor and Lando are still pretty crap to play as but they’re the only duds). Well, they’re evenly matched unless there’s a single high level hero in play, which can get annoying very fast (especially Boba Fett, because Jedi are next to useless against him while he’s airborne).

This can be a recurring problem in the other modes. Galactic Assault, Strike and Blast can all be really fun, but players who’ve sunk time into the game or got lucky with loot boxes can repeatedly annihilate low level players (I know this is normal for multiplayer, but normally a skilled-enough player can compensate at low-level, but the difference here between low and high level players seems a bit more pronounced that it needs to be. Fortunately, there are no such problems in Starfighter Assault, i.e. Battlefront II’s best game mode. Ship combat and handling has been massively improved since the last game, the variety of Hero ships is better and they are all less overpowered. High level players won’t walk this mode, as skill is much more important than levelled abilities here. There are now 3 classes of ship: Interceptor (good at ship to ship fighting and very manoeuvrable but bad at doing damage to objectives), Bombers (highly damaging but slow and hard to manoeuvre) and Fighters (good all-rounders but not perfect at either style).

Looking at the single player, we’ve actually got a campaign this time. It’s a bit short (4-5 hours) but I suspect DLC will add to it. There are some great set pieces (The Battle of Jakku is a highlight, as are Luke and Leia’s levels) and Iden Versio makes for a compelling enough main character, even if the storyline is VERY predictable and the first few levels nothing special. Single-Player/Co-Op Arcade Mode is pretty fun, but is weakened by another stupid game mechanic, which limits the number of credits you can earn from Arcade mode in 24 hours. This seems utterly needless, given that you only get 100 credits per round (and thus would need 100 rounds worth of credits to unlock heroes like Chewbacca anyway) and disincentives you from completing the various challenges.

Overall, the gameplay, feel and look of the thing are perfect, so well done DICE. It’s just a shame you’re owned by EA, whose greed and outright stupidity have left a levelling system and in-game currency that are both needlessly complicated and rather frustrating if you’re not lucky with the loot boxes (Loot Boxes seriously need to DIE! This is the last multiplayer game I will buy which uses them. They are a toxic idea dreamt up by fat executives in suits who presumably could rival Jabba the Hutt for Greed and general Morality). In short, this game still needs work, but it is worth buying (preferably when its on sale – its worth £30, but not the £50 release price), so long as you’re willing to put the time into it. If you’re after a game you can play every so often but not consistently, ignore this. It isn’t an entry for casual gamers.

This isn’t a total failure, and it doesn’t miss the point of what fans wanted from it, but it could (and should) have been a lot better.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Injustice 2 Review

A superhero fighting game that’s actually good? Believe it or not, that’s exactly what we’ve got from NetherRealm Studios. For those who don’t know Injustice 2 is a Tekken/Street Fighter style fighting game which allows you to pit 2 DC heroes or villains against each other. Each Hero/Villain has their own abilities, attacks and Supermoves, ranging from Batman’s melee and gadget attacks to Superman’s various powers.

Minor spoilers for Single Player plotline follow.

The sequel to Injustice: Gods Among Us looks better than its predecessor and features a wider roster of DC characters. You don’t need to have played the original to get to grips with this or to follow the single player storyline (long story short: the first game featured Superman going off the rails and forming a tyrannical regime backed by Wonder Woman, Aquaman and several other superheroes after Lois Lane was murdered by Joker, only for Batman to rally other superheroes, such as Green Lantern and The Flash, against the regime and take Superman down). The story this time continues the power struggle between the two factions while also seeing Earth come under threat from Brainiac, the villain responsible for Krypton’s destruction.

The single player campaign takes between 3-4 hours depending on difficultly setting and your own proficiency. The game features an extensive tutorial mode which YOU NEED to try before jumping right in – it will take you several fights to get up to speed. While the campaign is short, there are so many single player modes that Injustice is well worth the £20/30 price tag. As well as a battle simulator and 1v1 modes, Injustice 2 introduces the ‘Multiverse’ section, which features a daily/weekly selection of challenges (involving a series of events featuring anything from 3-10 matches and an occasional high level boss fight). Multiverse challenges will often feature an additional twist, such as having a secondary hero who will occasionally support you, or added arena hazards to worry about. Given that the multiverse challenges refresh continuously, you’ll never really run out of single player. At least not until you’ve levelled EVERY character up to level 20 (the maximum) at which point only the hardest challenges or the extensive multiplayer might still provide challenges. This would take weeks if not months of gameplay, so you really don’t have to worry about running out of things to do.

As for what Heroes and Villains are available? Well put it this way: if you’re a fan of DC movies, the Arrowverse, Gotham or the various cartoons from when you were kids, you’ll be happy with the selection. Injustice 2 features:

Justice League Members: (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, Green Lantern and Aquaman)

Batman Villains: (Harley Quinn, Joker, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Bane)

Arrowverse characters: (Green Arrow, Supergirl, Black Canary, Firestorm, Captain Cold, Gorilla Grodd, Deadshot)

Others: Swamp Thing, Black Adam, Cheetah, Atrocitus, Blue Beetle and various other characters who you may not have heard of before also feature, but are all surprisingly fun to play as.

The season pass is well worth getting as well, as this gives you access to a whole host of extra characters, such as Starfire, The Atom, Raiden, Red Hood, Enchantress, Darkseid and, believe it or not, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!?!?! I don’t think anyone expected them, but there they are.

Incidentally my personal favourites to play as so far have been Starfire, Harley Quinn, Joker and Swamp Thing, but I’m sure everyone will have their own preferences in this game.

Injustice 2’s reward system is a bit more complicated than it needs to be (i.e. 3-4 types of currency where 2 would have really been sufficient), but its not a f*cked up mess like Battlefront II’s seems to be according to reviews, and any pay to play retards (i.e. ones who waste real money buying credits so they can level up faster) won’t actually get themselves much of an advantage in multiplayer. You may get loot crates throughout the game, that’s true, but most of the time the gear they provide is either immediately useable or only 1-3 levels above your characters level, so it isn’t a big problem. They also provide additional skins for your characters, some of which are really cool.

Overall it’s great value for money because of the wealth of potential single-player and multiplayer content. The currency system is a bit contrived and the gameplay can get repetitive, but overall its a fine fighting sim, and a must for DC fans!

Rating: 4 out of 5

Next Up: Horizon Zero Dawn (i.e. the game of the year so far).

Skyrim Special Edition Review

As PSN had it on sale, I finally decided to get the upgrade and re-purchase Skyrim for PS4. Was it worth it? In short… hell yes.

The original Skyrim had several major problems bugging it. The loading screen times were unacceptably long (particularly once you got past Level 30), the save files took up a ridiculous amount of room, and the game was prone to crashing when trying to save or load at high levels. This got so frustrating I finally threw out the PS3 version earlier in the year, as I was wasting 10 mins on loading screens for every hour of gameplay once my character had got up to level 40. Not the case anymore.

The Special edition fixes the loading screen problem completely. The longest I’ve had to wait so far was about 10 seconds, and this makes the game a lot less frustrating. The number of glitches is down as well (noticed two minor glitches and had one crash by level 26, which is a vast improvement on the original). The quicksave feature also helps speed up gameplay, while the game no longer risks crashing everytime it tries to autosave. The PS4’s vast memory also means the large save-file size is no longer an issue.

In short, the Special Edition fixes 95% of the original games problems. It also gives the graphics a welcome upgrade – the game always looked good, but the landscape almost feels real now in a way it didn’t before. The light and shadow effects are something truly special, especially the way that sunbeams and moonlight visually change the light level outdoors. Water, plantlife and weather look more realistic too, while sunrise and sunsets are truly beautiful. One side effect of the improved graphics is that character creation is now actually worth your time – (Argonians, Elves and Khajiit are now far more worth customising than previously, and you can see the effect minor changes make much more easily). Previously you could be done making a good-looking character in 1 minute, now you can take 5-10 to perfect all the details (or 20-30 mins if you’re like my friend Molly 😉 The new version also adds full mod support if that’s your thing.

The Special edition also comes with all 3 bits of DLC attached (Hearthfire, Dawnguard and Dragonborn), so if you never brought those its definitely worth the upgrade. For those who don’t know, Hearthfire allows you to build your own houses/manors, adopt children and, most crucially, helps you level up that Smithing skill really easily! While it’s a fun addition, the other two expansions are far more worthwhile. Dawnguard introduces two new factions: the Dawnguard, an order of vampire hunters armed with Crossbows, tough armour and a few armoured trolls, and the Vampire Lords, ancient vampires (with some really irritating drain health spells) and their minions (mindless thralls, Death Hounds and living Gargoyles). If you side with the vampires you gain Vampirism and the attached strengths and weaknesses (immunity to poison and disease, weakness to fire, improved powers, no health/magicka/stamina regen in sunlight), including most notably the Vampire Lord form, which features a truly brutal drain health spell and complements mages extremely well. Dawnguard also makes the Werewolf much more useful, as the new Werewolf perk tree allows you to make your bestial form much more powerful for every human you slay and feed on (a must for anyone doing the Companions Questline!). Dragonborn adds an entirely new area to explore (the Island of Solstheim), new enemies and a boss fight with Miraak, the original/first Dragonborn. Oh, and the ability to tame and ride dragons.

To sum up, the Special Edition fixes a lot of problems and really beefs up the graphics, but adds little in terms of gameplay. However, if you never brought the DLC for your previous gen version, would like to try out some mods or are just sick of frequent crashes and slow loading screens, get the upgrade. Just maybe wait till its on sale on PSN or Xbox Live. It’s worth a £20 spend, not the full price £35 it came out for.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (A worthwhile if overpriced upgrade)

I’m in a gaming mood atm, so expect reviews of Injustice 2, Horizon Zero Dawn, Assassin’s Creed Origins and Star Wars: Battlefront 2 over the next month, though I will find time for Thor Ragnarok and Justice League as well.

 

My Top Games of 2016

As with last time, this isn’t specifically 2016 releases but rather games I’ve been playing for the first time this year (though all of them have had recent releases). Spoiler-free.

6. F1 2016 (PS4) Formula One, like FIFA, realises a new game every year. Unlike FIFA fans I don’t waste my money buying every single one (Hell, I’ve only purchased 2010, 2012 and 2016) but F1 2016 got strong reviews and looked amazing, and given the lack of racing games on current-gen consoles atm, I gave it try. Boy was I glad I did. As an F1 Simulator, its all you could ever want, with practice, qualifying and the race all tuneable to your personal preferences (you can use aids like automatic gears and racing lines but they are easily switched off if you want the whole experience). Practice sessions now have a point (unlike previous entries) with 3 optional practice programs/mini-games that help you learn the circuit and earn resource points which you can use to upgrade your car. The random weather effects have never looked better or felt more real either (heavy rain is now genuinely challenging). Another welcome addition is the ability to save mid-session, even while on the racetrack, which makes longer-distance races and realistic qualifying sessions less of a challenge. The only slight problem is the AI difficultly, which can jump between difficultly levels somewhat steeply (particularly between Hard and Expert) but its easy enough to fix by altering the game settings in other areas. Admittedly the racing might seem a bit bland if you’re just looking for a fun racer, but for an f1 fan, its a thrilling recreation of the actual sport. Overall, a great F1 sim, though not one that will win you over if you aren’t a f1 fan already.

Rating: 4 out of 5

5. Batman: A Telltale Series (PS4) I’ve really got into Telltale games this year (for those who don’t know, they’re basically interactive episodes which play out dependent on the choices you make in game, with the main gameplay usually composed of quick-time events in the action sequences). The Game of Thrones one from 2014 interested me (as life-or-death choices/plot twists work well in that universe) and Tales from the Borderlands was a hilarious 5-episode romping spin-off from the game series. But its their 5-episode Batman tale that ends up in my games of the year, simply because it does something better than ANY of the Batman films (even the Nolan trilogy) in the way it focuses on the duality of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Its the best I’ve seen it covered and surprisingly the Bruce segments are in a way more memorable that Batman’s as Bruce gets embroiled in a scandal involving his deceased father’s connection to mob boss Carmine Falcone, while supporting Harvey Dent’s mayoral campaign. The Batman combat segments vary in quality (an early fight with Catwoman is underwhelming, but fights with new villain ‘Lady Arkham’ late game are very tense) and the best combat sequence in the game is actually where Bruce and Selina Kyle get in a downtown bar brawl. The game has Catwoman, Two-Face, Penguin and Joker (who has a small role but will probably return in the inevitable sequel) in addition to the ‘children of Arkham’ who serve as the main antagonists. A great story makes this the Telltale game to pick if you want to give the series a try. Can’t wait for their Guardians of the Galaxy game next year!

Rating: 4 out of 5

4.Bioshock: The Collection (PS4) We’ve had a fair few remasters this year (Skyrim, The Ezio Collection and Modern Warfare) but the Bioshock Collection has to be the best value of the lot. I brought it to get my hands on the DLC for the third game, Infinite and the collection is simply a delight. Bioshock looks amazing and the sequels are nothing less than cinematic in graphics quality. Several issues involving longer loading screens have been dealt with as well. It doesn’t include 2’s attempt at multiplayer but that’s probably for the best. If you missed this series first time round, don’t repeat that mistake – its a riveting shooter/rpg with a great storyline and superb dlc.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

3. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4) Uncharted’s fourth entry (and the final one with Nathan Drake) fixed a lot of the problems I had with the third one. The gameplay wasn’t sacrificed for the sake of the story this time, and this time the story was far more engaging. The exploring element factored in some of the Last of Us’ features such as optional conversations and collectable journal entries, adding considerable replay value. The fact this was theoretically a series finale also added much tension to the story, with the incredible graphics and cinematic score from Henry Jackman making this feel like a movie even more than the previous entries did. A few minor problems aside (the final third of the game is slightly too long and the final boss fight isn’t the best – admittedly a problem most uncharted games have) it’s one of the best in the series if not the best. Should they return to the series, it also gives us a new character  suited to carry on the adventures and if they don’t, it gives me even more confidence for the Last of Us 2.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2. Ratchet and Clank (PS4) Part-reboot, part remake of the first game, Ratchet and Clank was a joy to play. It was sheer fun – the guns are as wacky and varied as ever, while some very memorable missions (collecting brains for a blarg scientist has to be the highlight) are complemented by the insanely good visuals. The film may have been a disappointment but this is one of the best games in the series, even if the difficultly is minimal, you’ll have so much fun playing it that it might just be the best way of relaxing 2016 gave gamers.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

1. Shadow of Mordor: Game of the Year Edition (PS4) Ironically, Shadow of Mordor feels like the best Assassin’s Creed game we’ve had in years. The free-climbing, execution style kills, stealth gameplay etc. all feels like what we loved in games like AC II and Brotherhood, while the Lord of the Rings setting and innovative Nemesis system reals adds another level to things. Melee combat is very similar to the Arkham games (if not a touch better implemented) and the whole game feels like a sublime mesh of those two titanic gaming series. The challenge factor is decent too (though not anywhere as high as something like Dark Souls) as failure is punished by your enemies levelling up, to such an extent that if you bugger things up in the early game restarting isn’t the worst idea. The Nemesis system is particularly punishing, as the Ork who survives the most encounters/kills you most often will continually ascend in rank and power till you dispatch him. The dlc included with the GOTY version is worthwhile, the Beast-Lords campaign, while only a few hours long, adds an enjoyable if more of the same storyline with a few interesting monsters like the wretched Graug and the Ghul Matron adding additional challenges, while the Bright Master dlc fills in some backstory to the events of the main game while bringing Sauron to the forefront as never before. Overall, the main game itself is stellar, and the GOTY edition is a fine addition to your collection. Appropriately enough, Shadow of Mordor is my favourite game that I played this year, and i’d thoroughly recommend it to fans of LoTR, the Arkham Series or Assassin’s Creed!

Rating: 5 out of 5!

2017 hopefully should be a good year for games, with hyped sequels such as Injustice 2 and promising new entries like Vampyr. Personally though, I can’t see past Mass Effect: Andromeda… the game we all need after the last 12 months! If we’re lucky, COD might finally remaster MW2, accepting they can’t do any better. Regardless, should be a promising year, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting news on when the Last of Us 2 might come out (end of next year if we’re lucky?).

My favourite games of 2015

First up, this isn’t entirely comprised of games that came out in 2015 – it’s simply the ones I’ve had the most fun playing this year (though all are from 2014 or later) and the ones I’d happily recommend to a friend. All games are the PS4 versions.

6. Driveclub

While its not my favourite racer (nothing can match Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit on PS3) its easily the best one available on PS4 right now. It has a lot of DLC, but most of it is really cheap (1.50 each) and you can end up plugging a lot of hours into the single player. Factor in Multiplayer and it’ll be a long time before you run out of stuff to do on this game. The game looks amazing and the range of circuits and courses is high enough that it never feels repetitive. Not the easiest racer at the beginning, but with practice you’ll be fine.

Rating: 4 out of 5

5. Borderlands: The Handsome Collection

This is a strong candidate for hardest shooter I’ve ever played. I died so many more times on this than Bioshock, COD or Resistance. It’s two games in 1 (Borderlands 2 and the Pre-Sequel!) and both are pretty damn tough (levels 1-50, and if you’re level 25 a level 30 mission is basically impossible. That’s how quick the difficultly scales up). With literally millions of gun/grenade and shield variants with shotguns, assault rifles, pistols, smgs, rocket launchers, sniper rifles in various ammo combinations (fire, acid, shock) with The Pre-Sequel adding laser guns and Cyro rounds, it’s a shooters fantasy. It’s immense fun, but you NEED to be good at shooting games to play it. If you struggle on Recruit/Regular on COD, you’re going to be massively frustrated here. The game is rendered in a unique, almost comic-book/anime style way (watch clips to see what i’m on about) while the dark humour is up their with fallout.

The collection features 6 DLC expansions free, so in terms of value for money, it’s pretty damn good!

Rating: 4 out of 5

4. Fallout 4

The biggest confusion I’ve had this year is when people say they love Fallout 4 but hate Star Wars: Battlefront because they changed too much from the previous games in the series? That makes no f*cking sense, because Fallout 4 scraps or alters a LOT of established things from 3 and New Vegas. Individual Skills, the Karma system and the endgame slides for side-quests and companions have vanished, while the perk system and power armour has been completely revamped. Conversations and companion loyalty are now a lot more like the systems in Dragon Age or Mass Effect. Most of the changes are improvements, and the game looks and feels a lot better with the new game engine (far fewer freezes or annoying crashes than 3) but I still miss aspects from 3 and New Vegas. It’s a very good game, but at times it doesn’t feel like the same Fallout series. Fortunately, it keeps New Vegas’ idea of having 4 separate factions to pick from (this time its The Institute, The Minutemen, The Railroad and the Brotherhood of Steel) and each side has good points and bad (there’s no obvious evil Karma option like Caesar’s Legion in New Vegas) while even obvious good guys the peacekeeping Minutemen end up massacring the Institute in their final quest. I couldn’t pick who to side with till well into the games final act, and it was very close between the Brotherhood and the Railroad.

It’s good. But it’s not clear-cut the best game in the series as I’d expected it to be.

Rating: 4 out of 5

3. Dragon Age: Inquisition

In the same way Skyrim is the medieval style Fallout (or vice-versa) Dragon Age is the medieval style Mass Effect and if you liked that series, Dragon Age is the game for you. Inquisition is the third entry in the series, but you can drop right in without playing the previous two games and it won’t be that confusing (though my flatmate would say this was heresy!).  Set on the continent of Thedas, there are four races you can play as: (Male or Female on either) Humans, Elves, Dwarfs and Qunari (muscular warriors with pretty awesome horns who stand a foot taller than humans).

It’s got the same mix of colourful characters (ranging from charming rogue dwarf Varric, flirtatious gay human Dorian, crazy anarchist lesbian elf Sera, the prim proper and frequently exasperated Templar Cassandra and the brutal mercenary and potential ‘friend with benefits’ Iron Bull) as well as the epic storylines and breath-taking settings as Mass Effect.

If you love Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls Games or RPG’s in general, I’d recommend this! It has 3 DLC’s which are all either challenging combat expansions or crucial storyline additions.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

 

2. The Last of Us: Remastered

Spoiler Warning (two plot points from the first 2 hours gameplay)

A zombie survival game with more tension than the whole Resident Evil franchise and more heart than anything the Walking Dead can offer. Two bold claims but this is a game that pulls at the heartstrings as you play it. And it’s a bloody dark game with suicide, child murder and various violent death scenes all present at points throughout. There are two protagonists, 50-something Joel, mourning the loss of his daughter in the initial outbreak, and 14-year old Ellie, who is the first human to survive a zombie bite without becoming infected. You have a few weapons in your limited arsenal, ranging from pistols to rifles and improvised weapons like spiked baseball bats, shivs and molotovs. And there are a lot of enemies ranged against you in addition to the zombies. Featuring Cannibals, hunters and ruthless post-apocalypse military organisations, the humans are almost bigger monsters than the zombies. Not that some of the zombie sections aren’t terrifying (a bit where you have to restart a generator in a partially flooded hotel basement, which wakes up a ton of zombies nearby, is particularly memorable) but arguably the most tense sequence is where Ellie is stranded, alone, in a burning building with a machete wielding cannibal hunting her (in the closest thing the game has to a boss fight).

Remastered Edition also features Left Behind, a DLC with Ellie’s backstory. There is an online part but that’s not the main attraction, the single player alone is good enough that you should get this (I don’t even like zombie/survival games all that much- but its one of the best single player campaigns I’ve played)

Rating 5 out of 5!

1. Star Wars: Battlefront

It may have its flaws (basically all of which are because its made by EA) but who cares if the servers are occasionally down because when everythings working, this is simply joyous. Soaring through the sky above Tatooine in X-Wings, Tie Fighters or the Millennium Falcon, racing through Endor’s forest on Speeder bikes, downing AT-ATs in Walker Assault on Hoth, it has everything you wanted to do in a game about the original trilogy.

The best thing has to be playing as heroes and villains. Whether your Force lightning your way through Rebels as The Emperor, clashing blades in lightsaber duels between Luke and Vader (this feels pretty epic 1 on 1, which happens a fair amount on multiplayer), gunning down Sith Lords as Han and Leia (who are much more of a match for them than in Battlefront 2) or racking up massive kill counts as Boba Fett ‘don’t get in my way…’ its immense fun.

Not all the online game modes are great but personally I find Fighter Squadron, Heroes vs Villains, Drop Zone and Cargo to be pretty amazing, and Walker Assault or Supremacy feel like proper all out battles from the films. Good job DICE, even if you are working for EA. Now give us a sequel with the prequels will you?

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Anyway that’s what I’ve loved this year.

Predictably as this is a personal preference list there are some notable absences in terms of big name releases this year. Why? Well I don’t count FIFA as a proper game (it’s just not), I lost patience with the Black Ops series of COD games after the first one and Batman: Arkham Knight just wasn’t as good as its predecessors (its a decent game but I feel like it could have been so much more).