Category Archives: Game Review

My Favourite Video Games of 2019

As people familiar with my end of year blogs will know, my top video games list always features a mix of games from the year in question and the couple of years preceding it. My reasoning? No one can play every game the year its released – even if you had the money, you’d probably lack the time and vice versa. All gamers buy releases and don’t get round to them for a while, myself included. So I always highlight recent games that have had as large an impression on me as current ones this year.

Hope you enjoy my highlights of the best games I’ve been playing this year. Most are releases from the previous couple of years, but that’s mainly due to my sustained (if futile) attempts to get through my backlog of games.

6: The Council (2018): The Council is an odd one. Its a story led game which sees you interacting with famous historical figures such as George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte, all of whom are part of a mysterious ‘council’ secretly manipulating the direction of Western society in the late 18th century. Set on an isolated island owned by the mysterious Lord Mortimer, you’re tasked with not only navigating political intrigue, but also finding your missing mother and deducing the identity of a murderer at large. Playing main character as Louis de Richet, you gain experience which can help you unravel clues, decode ciphers, persuade others to assist you or enable you to retrieve items from hard to reach areas. You can develop Louis as an Occultist, Diplomat or Detective style character, each with their own benefits and drawbacks i.e. detectives will notice things other styles won’t, but might be unable to persuade important figures to reveal crucial information the way a diplomat can. You can mix and match talents, but this will often leave you struggling to maximise your abilities. The game is a mix of mystery, puzzles, diplomacy and, especially later on, supernatural elements which really turn things on their head in episode 4 of 5. While initially an episodic release, its all available as one now, and has considerable replay value. If you love story-driven games, I would whole-heartedly recommend this. Some puzzles can get frustrating, but persevere. And try not to screw up, lest Louis loses a hand. Or worse.

Rating: 4 out of 5

5: GreedFall (2019): GreedFall was a conspicuous attempt to fill in for the lack of Mass Effect/Dragon Age games at the moment. With Bioware’s star diminished after the mixed response to Andromeda, the critical mauling of Anthem and the seemingly never ending wait for Dragon Age 4, Spiders bravely stepped into the breach with this back to basics, pseudo-colonial fantasy RPG. Colonial era settings are somewhat rarer than medieval inspired ones in RPG’s, but Spiders did a good job here of imagining a plausible fantasy world where gun-wielding colonists come into conflict with magically skilled natives. You have complete freedom in how you approach things – you can side with the natives, the colonial powers or try to build some kind of accord between the various factions. While the game is geared towards finding diplomatic solutions to things, there’s no clear cut best way to handle things, with extremist factions amongst the natives and family ties to the colonists blurring the lines between where your loyalties should lie. Combat isn’t hugely in depth: you have choice about whether you play as a magic user, expert swordsman/woman, or gun-wielding trap expert, or indeed a combination, but there are only 6 or so abilities per style. Enemies do present a welcome challenge even on normal (I would not recommend Hard difficulty on first playthrough, that’s for sure) with a mix of humans, natives and creatures providing different problems to deal with. There are some limitations due to the small size of the company producing the game (invisible barriers, area exploration rather than open world environments etc.) but it has more to offer in terms of content than say the base version of fallout 4. Overall this is kind of a barebones Bioware game – you get 5 companions, 4 of which are romanceable – but it gets more right than wrong. You can craft and upgrade gear, choose between using stealth, diplomacy and combat and resolve missions in a variety of ways. A bit slow and talky for some people, but overall, a good first effort from a company with way, way less resources than the companies its trying to emulate.

Rating: 4 out of 5

4: F1 2019: F1 games have now made this list 4 years running, mainly because they have been slowly refining what was already a very good game in F1 2016. The 2019 version makes the interview mechanic more bearable, wet weather more challenging and enables AI driver swaps between teams to make it feel more immersive and ensure you aren’t constantly competing with the same 2 drivers over multiple seasons. Its main additions however, are a Formula 2 mode, where the cars feel slower but are much easier to control, and two invented drivers who serve as rivals to your one in campaign mode – both of which help make career mode feel like more of a journey rather than just a co-ordinated set of races. As usual, it isn’t worth a full price upgrade from 2018, but if its on sale, it adds enough that you should check it out.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

3: Modern Warfare Remastered (2016): It’s very rare for me to go 3 years back on this list, but since Modern Warfare Remastered came out free on PS PLUS in March, I checked it out. While the multiplayer has been slightly revamped with classes and new modes, the single-player and maps are all the same, just with better graphics. The campaign still ranks as one of the best in the Call of Duty Pantheon (and I’ve played through 4 this year with Black Ops 3, Infinite Warfare and the new Modern Warfare – none came close to this original) with famous highlights like the stealth mission in Pripyat, the AC-130 gunner sim, the cargo ship raid more vivid than ever in HD. But the main draw for downloading this was the multiplayer, which crushes games like COD:WW2 into the dirt. The maps, including classics like Shipment, Vacant and Showdown are very good and allow most playstyles to have a pretty even difficulty (snipers can’t dominate too easily, while campers are easy to flush out or outflank). The old-school killstreaks, limited to UAV, airstrike and helicopters, leave things way more balanced than in more recent COD games, and being on the worse team isn’t always a death sentence for strong players. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend getting this now, as the player base is likely to fall off a cliff with the rebooted Modern Warfare’s release, but its good enough to make my games of the year nonetheless.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2: Total War: Warhammer II (2017): Now I finally have a PC capable of running it, I’ve put some serious hours into Warhammer 2, and I can safely say that its the best Total War game of the past decade – perhaps the first since Medieval 2 that I can see myself putting hundreds of hours into. With 4 main races you get to play as Elves, Dark Elves, Lizardmen and Skaven (sneaky, untrustworthy ratmen with a genius for artillery) while DLC adds the pirate factions of the Vampire Coast and the Egyptian inspired Undead hordes of the Tomb Kings. The sheer variety of units, artillery, magic users and monsters make this, like its predecessor, immensely fun during battles, while the campaign design has been greatly improved, making this both easier to get into that Warhammer 1, and more involving during the middle part of the game: whether you’re scouting ruins for treasure, performing rituals or fighting quest battles, you’ll rarely just be spamming the end turn button. The Mortal Empires campaign, available for people who own both Warhammer 1 and 2, is a great addition, as many of the original factions have been revamped in the sequel and play better than ever. Overall, its still perhaps not the best TW game for newcomers, but for series veterans its a must have. Be sure to get the Tomb Kings DLC – they are one of the coolest factions I can remember playing as!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

1: Spyro: Reignited Trilogy (2018): The Spyro trilogy was originally released on PS1, hence remastering it to play and look as good as modern games was a Herculean task. Fortunately, the developers proved equal to it – all three games are brilliantly recreated. Whether you’ve played the originals or not, this will be entertaining – every level and enemy has been lovingly remade, with a host of collectables to find, and platforming and combat challenges aplenty. Difficulty varies from level to level and boss fight to boss fight – you might initially think its a cakewalk geared at kids – halfway through you won’t think that – getting to 100% completion will take serious work, as will earning all the skill points and trophies – these games really reward full exploration. All 3 games bring something different to the table too, with different mini-games, enemies and mechanics – it’s hard to pick which ones best to be honest – 2 was the hardest to get into but had a superb 2nd half. As someone who never played the originals, I was pleasantly surprised by how well this remaster works and the trilogy – sold as one item (which is a great deal as you’re getting tons of hours for not much money) – was very high quality. Overall, while some elements are a bit frustrating or simple, its easy the most fun I’ve had gaming this year, so tops my list.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Feel free to comment your own lists – there’s plenty that could have been here – I’ve elaborated on some glaring omissions below for those who are curious.

There are plenty of games I’ve played from this year (Man of Medan, The Outer Worlds, Catherine Full Body) that I felt weren’t quite good enough to get on this list.

There were also some I’ve started playing but haven’t put enough hours into to recommend yet, such as Control, Borderlands 3, Modern Warfare and Rage 2 – expect to see some of them on next years list (particularly Control and Rage 2).

There’s also plenty I still haven’t got round to, like Devil May Cry V, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Jedi Fallen Order – again, you’ll probably see them on a future list if they live up to their reputation.

If you enjoyed this, keep an eye out for my upcoming post: My Top 20 games of the decade – featuring my favourite games from 2010-2019 on PS3, PS4 and PC, which i’ll upload in the next few days, along with similar lists for Film and TV.

But before that: tomorrow will see my Top 10 TV shows of 2019 – which features some shows I’ve never put on that list before – see you all then.

5 Years of Blogging: Top 5 Expansions and Remasters

It is slightly unfortunate that video game companies seem obsessed with squeezing more and more money out of consumers. DLC and Remasters are a fact of life now, but fortunately, unlike microtransactions and lootboxes, there is actually a point to DLC and remasters and they can be really fun – these lists highlight the ones I consider the best in the business. Enjoy!

Top 5 DLC and Expansions:

5: Dawnguard (Skyrim) Dawnguard is still my favourite of the 3 Skyrim DLC’s. Although Hearthfire adds some welcome features and Dragonborn adds a new location to explore with some fun quests, Dawnguard arguably is the most memorable. Not only does it make playing as a Vampire or Werewolf much more fun (adding perk trees which allow you to greatly expand either’s abilities) but includes one of the best questlines in the game – whether you play as the Dawnguard (Vampire Hunters) or the Vampire Lords, the story is engaging and the quests are memorable (especially the trip to the Soul Cairn). The crossbow is a great new weapon for archers – it packs a hell of a punch but has a realistically slower reload time than normal bows, and can be upgraded repeatedly if you side with the Dawnguard. The DLC also includes Serana, the vampiric daughter of Lord Harkon, the main antagonist of the DLC, who is one of the best companions in the game. Ultimately, if you have Skyrim, you need to play this!

4: Old World Blues (Fallout: New Vegas) Fallout has a very patchy record with DLC, but Old World Blues is probably the first example of them getting it pretty much spot on. The plot sees your character abducted and partially lobotomized by a cabal of crazy scientists (who are now all brains plugged into robotic platforms) and the main quest involves you gathering equipment to help you retrieve your original brain (the scientists having replaced it with a mechanical one). Its mad, its hilarious and gives you a great new area to explore, full of messed up experiments, berserk droids and particularly nasty variants of the Mojave wastelands most irritating mutants. This is fallout embracing its crazy, wackier side for probably the last time (Fallout 4 had nothing as zany by comparison) to the extent that the main boss fight features a giant robot scorpion with a laser cannon in its tail. Fun and memorable, its only flaws are that of its parent game: i.e. occasional crashes or lag.

3: Citadel (Mass Effect 3) Mass Effect 3’s ending was made palatable with the free Extended Cut DLC, but Citadel gave the series and fans a proper goodbye. With a lighter story than the main game, tons of fun Easter eggs, great additions to companion romance arcs and a pulsating new combat arena, its pure fan service, but in the best way. It terms of content, humour and challenge (enemies give out pretty hefty damage here) Mass Effect’s never done better with its DLC. Even ME2’s excellent lair of the Shadow Broker doesn’t have the same depth this does.

2: Kingdoms (Medieval 2: Total War): Every Total War game since Rome 1 has featured some kind of expansion or DLC, but Kingdoms is arguably the best because it is four campaigns in one. No matter your preferred playstyle, Kingdoms gives you something to have fun with. Love stomping your foes into the dirt with heavy cavalry? Fight as Jerusalem or Antioch in the Crusades campaign and you can do just that. Prefer defensive playstyles? Wales’ wide range of missile units in the Britannia campaign are your jam. Want to conquer the map with hordes of heavy infantry? The Teutonic Order and Denmark spend the whole of the Teutonic Campaign doing just that. There’s also the Americas campaign, which pits Spanish, French and English expeditions against the vast numbers of Mayan, Aztec and Apache armies, some of whom are capable of learning the European’s technology and turning it against them. Put simply, if you love Medieval 2, you need to buy kingdoms. Fortunately, steam now sells them as one item!

1: Far Harbour (Fallout 4) Its rare for a DLC to be better than the actual GAME its a part of, but Far Harbour is just that. All of the problems of Fallout 4’s main campaign and side quests are absent here. Whereas the Commonwealth was quite a dull place to explore outside of the Main Quests, the Island is teeming with interesting vaults, warring factions and tough creatures to battle. It has a great atmosphere, with a radioactive fog cloud blanketing the entire island and danger lurking in every bog, marsh or piece of shoreline. The three main factions are all interesting to interact with and aren’t as boring as say, the Minutemen in the main campaign. You can even call in the Institute or the Brotherhood of Steel to deal with the Synth faction if you so wish. Even the stupid, repetitive build mechanic is hardly used here, and certainly isn’t critical to any missions. If you own F4, but don’t have this expansion, you’re missing the best that game has to other. Also – find the hidden vault – it sparks off a murder-mystery quest with Robobrain Residents that is one of the best sidequests in the whole damn game.

Top 5 Remasters:

5: Bioshock: The Collection: The remaster itself doesn’t really add much, which is why this collection is only fifth on this list, but I have to credit how brilliant this trilogy looks in HD. Rapture has always been one of the most memorable and well-crafted settings in video games, and seeing it realised on current gen was worth the upgrade. Shorter load screens are an added bonus, as is the fact this bundle contains all 3 games with all the DLC (it scraps Bioshock 2’s multiplayer mode, but that’s no huge loss) make it great value for money.

4: Modern Warfare Remastered: Call of Duty 4 is for many one of the franchise’s best entries. It has a great campaign and great multiplayer – in my opinion, only COD4 and MW2 can claim that – every other one is weak in at least one area (or has a bad zombies/survival/spec ops mode). Either way, it was no surprise that when Modern Warfare Remastered released, it outshone and outsold COD: Infinite Warfare, which, while superficially fun, lacks any real depth in its campaign and whose multiplayer the fanbase just wasn’t interested in. MWR harkens back to a time when call of duty multiplayer was balanced and had a good selection of maps – there’s only 3 killstreaks here and everyone has them available from the get-go, giving newbies more of a chance. While there are some maps you will dislike (in my case Wet Work, since Snipers and Grenade-spammers have a large advantage) and a couple that are just a bit forgettable (District and Downpour) the vast majority are all fun and allow the use of multiple playstyles. It still has a good player base (at least on main modes) 3 years after release, which is always a sign of quality. It’ll probably fall off the grid if the modern warfare reboot is any good, but MWR was one of the few remasters that people not only wanted, but actually delivered where it counted. Pity it has random loot drops, but this is COD. There’s a reason none of the developers got on my best gaming companies list.

3: Catherine: Full Body: Remasters tend to focus on improving gameplay, performance and graphics (or in the case of lazy cash-grabs, just graphics). Few add new content. Catherine: Full Body not only adds additional levels, but a new key character, new cutscenes, challenges and a complete revamp of its puzzle levels (the player can choose between the original or remix versions). Still one of the oddest games I’ve ever played (half anime-esque drama, half platform puzzle horror game) Catherine is a game that will make you ask ‘what the f*ckkkk?!?!?’ at least twice an hour. The full body edition is sexier, with more depth and more variety. Probably not a game that’s to everyone’s taste, but I have to give them credit for the effort they put into this comprehensive remaster.

2: Skyrim Special Edition: Skyrim was always a great game, but there was some roughness to the original. Load times got more and more ludicrous above level 25 and there were a large number of game-ending freezes and crashes. The Special Edition fixes both issues – loading times are now measured in seconds rather than minutes, and while there can still be odd crashes or freezes, they occur very rarely compared to the original. The graphical upgrade is a welcome addition – with great weather and shadow mechanics which make the world feel that bit more alive and real, and even more of a beautiful place to explore.

1: Spyro: Reignited Trilogy: This is a remaster with ambition – given that the Spyro games were a PS1 trilogy, turning it into a current-gen remaster was no mean feat. Every level and character is lovingly recreated here – the game looks superb, plays brilliantly and retains the charm of the original – they even brought back the original composer to work on the revised but faithful soundtrack. A treat for original fans and newbies like me alike, this sums up everything a good remaster should do – providing a huge graphical upgrade, refining gameplay and level design, and bringing a classic to a new generation. Add in the relatively low price (for 3 games in 1 remember!) and this is a must buy, one that in my opinion, is the best remastered collection out there.

Hope you enjoyed, next update will be up tomorrow, focusing on my favourite writers and directors in TV and film – see you then!

5 Years of blogging: Top 5 Game Developers and PC Games

There’s plenty of Game Developers who make good games. But after the past few years of microtransactions, loot boxes, overpriced season passes and terrible releases, a lot of companies have plummeted in fan estimation. Just look at Bethesda – in 2011 when Skyrim released, they were easily among the most popular companies in the business. Now, after the lacklustre Fallout 4 and the omnishambles of Fallout 76, fan trust is at an all time low. On a similar level, Bioware was one of the best RPG makers in the business at the start of the decade – now resentment over Mass Effect 3’s botched ending, Andromeda’s poor launch and Anthem’s notoriously poor quality has left them subject to much berating online. So, I thought I’d celebrate 5 game developers, who, while not perfect, the gaming industry would be much poorer without. I’ve also thrown in my top 5 PC games for good measure.

Top 5 Game Developers:

This aren’t the developers who pump out the most games – these are ones with consistency and less annoying business practices that I personally am a big fan of.

5: Quantic Dream (Heavy Rain, Beyond Two Souls, Detroit Become Human) They’ve made the least games of anyone in this top 5 (only 3 in the last 10 years) but they are some of the best storytellers in gaming. Prestigious actors are often a part of their games (including Ellen Page, Lance Henriksen and Willem Defoe). I’ve found all three of their recent games to be extremely compelling, with considerable replay value. Sure, they don’t have the best gameplay in the world (they mainly rely on quick time events or QTE’s) but they deal with hard-hitting subjects and adult themes in a way few gaming companies do. Interactive Drama is probably the best way to describe them, but if you love story led gaming, you need to check these out. A company with a small output, but a great one which is always looking to deliver something new with its releases.

4: Creative Assembly (Total War): Unlike the other 4 companies on this list, Creative Assembly has had its share of controversies and the occasional backlash. Empire Total War and Thrones of Britannia were not good games, and games like Rome 2 had decidedly shaky launches. CA releases a lot of DLC for its games, which at times is expensive for what your getting. Why then does it make this list: simple – it learns from its mistakes in a way that COD publishers, Bethesda and Bioware have not. When Empire overreached and suffered as a result, but its sequel Napoleon scaled back the action and delivered a much better experience. Slowly but surely, with DLC campaigns and patches, Rome 2 is now a much better game than it was at launch. Thrones of Britannia was lambasted for a weak campaign system, but Three Kingdoms has improved on that in many ways. The DLC may occasionally be on the expensive side, but its hardly a rip-off, especially given that Total War is part of Steam sales fairly regularly. Overall, Creative Assembly lack the greed some other companies seem to have – yes there’s DLC, but no microtransactions or season passes. Its hit rate is noticeably higher than other long running franchises (way better than COD or Assassin’s Creed – both of whom have similar yearly release schedules) and has a much better tendency to innovate. They aren’t perfect, but no one else is anywhere near them in the real-time strategy market.

3: Obsidian (Fallout New Vegas, Alpha Protocol, The Outer Worlds) Obsidian are a rarity in that when they make a game for an existing franchise, they tend to outshine the parent company. Fallout New Vegas is a case in point – its often highlighted as the best (or 2nd best if you someone who prefers Fallout 3) of the modern Fallout games. It’s also the only one since F3 not made by Bethesda. When you compare New Vegas and Fallout 4… the two aren’t even close. Obsidian are a smaller company, which often results in games that can be buggy, but are very good quality underneath. They are not someone who adds multiplayer for no good reason or cuts half the game out to sell as DLC later – Obsidian are a real gem, and when the Outer Worlds (their latest game – by the looks of it a spiritual successor to F:NV) releases, I’ll be buying it on day one. There’s very few publishers who give me the confidence to do that anymore.

2: Insomniac (Spyro, Ratchet and Clank, Resistance, Spiderman) If you’re a play-station gamer from any era, you know Insomniac. They’ve made some of the best PS exclusives (and best single-player games) of all time. Spyro made a lot of peoples childhoods on PS1, Ratchet and Clank did the same on PS2 and PS3 and Resistance is still one of the most unique shooter trilogies you can find. Spiderman won critical and commercial acclaim as one of the best games of 2018. Insomniac’s record is simply amazing – the only ‘bad’ games it has made were spin-offs, its main games are all good or great – whether they’re to your taste is the only question. Their games are extremely fun – Insomniac games feature compelling leads, memorable enemies and level designs and a huge variety of guns and gadgets to use. As long as they are exclusive to Sony, Xbox simply can’t match up.

1: Naughty Dog (Crash Bandicoot, Uncharted, Jak and Daxter, The Last of Us) From one Sony pillar to another, Naughty Dog are a gaming legend. Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter remain very popular franchises well over a decade after their last original release. Uncharted produced 5 good games out of 5 (3 of which were amazing) which is a virtually unheard of strike rate in gaming. The Last of Us is a strong contender for best game of the last decade, and you can bet its sequel will be a contender for best game of the next. Naughty Dog really does seem to put its customers first – very few of its games feature DLC, and when they do, its both really good and value for money. Another PlayStation exclusive, so if you don’t love them, you’re probably an Xbox gamer. I’ve never had a bad word to say about Naughty Dog, and while Insomniac run then close, I have to name them my favourite Game Developer.

Top 5 PC Games:

Note – this list is heavy on Nostalgia. I’m more of a console gamer, so if I play a game consistently on PC, its because I absolutely love the thing. Don’t expect this to be a list of the best games you can buy on PC or the best exclusives on PC. It isn’t either – it’s just my 5 favourite games to play on PC. All but 1 are PC exclusives though and all are very well regarded by the majority of gamers that play them.

5: Galactic Civilizations III: Galactic Civilizations II was probably the last PC game I was heavily into before I became permanently side-tracked by console games. Of all the PC games I’ve brought this decade, its sequel, GC3, is the only one I’ve logged really substantial hours on (some I haven’t got round to yet, some I definitely need a better PC to run properly). Galactic Civilizations is kind of the everyman’s 4X game. 4X stands for games that require you to eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate – they’re mostly space based games, with some exceptions like Endless Legend. In 4X games you take control of one of a number of races or factions and guide them to supremacy, usually using a mix of military strength, economics, diplomacy and research to gain superiority over the other races. Galactic Civilizations is probably the easiest game of this type to get into for beginners (the user interface is simple but the game itself has plenty of depth)

4: The Simpsons: Hit and Run: A game everyone has fond memories of, this was one of the highlights of my (and many others) childhood. Oft described as GTA for kids, the Simpsons was a great game with a wide variety of missions, races, collectibles and jokes. You play as Homer, Bart, Lisa, Marge and Apu and interact with everyone from Mr. Burns to Professor Frink to Kang and Kodos in 7 levels of pure madness and joy. Mission highlights included destroying Laser Gun stands for Krusty, capturing monkeys for Dr. Nick and helping Snake complete some ‘community service’ (which in reality saw him and Apu destroying an armoured car). Endlessly entertaining, laugh out loud funny on occasions, its a classic. The fact we’ve never got a sequel or a remaster is a crying shame. I’ve played this on PS2 at a friends house, but my copy was PC, so I will always think of it as a PC game.

3: Dawn of War: Dark Crusade: Warhammer 40,000 has perhaps the most video game adaptations of any Warhammer genre. Dark Crusade represents one of the few really good ones (Total War Warhammer 1+2 being basically the only others). The other dawn of War games are a disappoint by comparison, and unfortunately Dark Crusade is likely to remain the best game in the series for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, its a bloody good game and you won’t be desperate to replace it anytime soon. Featuring 7 available factions (The Imperial Guard, Space Marines, Chaos, The Tau Empire, The Eldar, The Ork Hordes and the Necrons), the game has a lot of variety in its faction rosters. The Imperial Guard has weak infantry but really strong tanks and artillery, the Orks are quite weak in general but have huge numbers and really strong top tier units, Chaos has a huge variety of infantry but a very limited range of vehicles etc. There’s a fare few unique things about each factions’ playstyle, but in general, its a case of capturing strategic points to earn requisition, building up your bases to gain power and recruit better units and finally throwing your forces in an all out assault on the enemy’s bases.

2: Rome: Total War: The game that got me into Total War, I probably spent more time on Rome 1 than any other video game I’ve ever owned. Its a pity it doesn’t run well on Windows 10, because its still a great game even now. Sure, the diplomacy stops working pretty early in the game, factions will betray you randomly and Rome is overpowered compared to the other factions, but for all its flaws, it is so fun to play. The variety of factions is great (particularly if you edit the game files to unlock all factions – which is very easy to do). Whatever playstyle you like, there’s something for you – want to crush your enemies with elephants? Go for Carthage. Want to reign arrows on foes then pull back before they can retaliate? Scythian Horse Archers are your friend! Want to carve your way through hordes of ill-disciplined Barbarians? The House of Julii welcomes you. If you ever get bored of the main campaign, there’s plenty of mods out there to try as well. Any game from 2004 that’s still mentioned fondly by Youtubers is one that is iconic in the eyes of the fanbase – this one more so than most.

1: Medieval 2: Total War: While Rome is perhaps the most fun Total War game, Medieval 2 surpasses it by the virtue of being a touch more refined, with a lot more depth. Diplomacy actually works, there’s no weak factions, the Crusade/Jihad mechanic is very fun and the Mongol and Timurid invasions provide a reason to keep playing long after its clear you’re going to win. The sheer scope of what you can do here is great – the campaign can see you try to survive the Black Death, master the use of gunpowder and discover America and conquer the Aztecs. If you’re a Christian faction, you’ll also have to contend with the pope, who will send you missions, demand you take part in crusades and (if you piss him off) send inquisitors to try your generals for heresy, excommunicate you and cause you public order problems, or even declare a crusade on you! I won’t claim the game is perfect (the first 50 turns are definitely the most fun – only crusades, mongol invasions and timurids can threaten you after that if you know what your doing) and the AI could definitely be better, but its still a lot of peoples favourite Total War game – me included. The Kingdoms expansion is the icing on the cake, and there’s more mods out there for this than any other Total War game. If your looking to get into the series, i’d recommend starting here – as an old game its very cheap on steam!

Hope you’ve enjoyed this, the next top 5 list will be up tomorrow!

5 Years of Blogging: Top 5 Racing and Shooting Games

It’s five years ago this week that I started this blog, way back in 2014. To mark this, i’ll be doing a week long series of Top 5 lists, with topics ranging from gaming to tv to films and books.

Hope you all enjoy it – not sure how much longer I will keep doing this blog, depends if post views improve or not, but either way I’ll make the most of it for the rest of 2019.

Without further ado, here’s my top 5 racing and shooting games (feel free to disagree, as with any list of this type, its subjective).

Top 5 Racing Games: (Pure racing games only – excludes games like GTA which have racing but are mainly focused on other things)

5: Motorstorm (PS3) Motorstorm was the first racer I brought on PS3. The fact I still play it speaks volumes about its quality. Races in Motorstorm games are utter carnage, with vehicles ranging from Bikes to Trucks crashing through circuits set in Monument Valley, which range from deserts to mudpools to huge, massive cliffs. Still very fun, with player needing to finish in the top 3 to gain points and progress, which isn’t easy. While its sequels, Pacific Rift and Apocalypse have their moments, the first one is still my favourite. If it had split screen, it would be perfect.

4: Onrush (PS4) Onrush is an unusual racer in that of its four main modes, there’s none which requires you to cross a finish line first. Instead the modes (which are all team-based, both online and off) have targets of wrecking opponents, crossing checkpoints, capturing mobile zones and scoring more points via wrecks, overtakes and reaching new top speeds. The game actively will sling you back into the action if you fall too far behind, so its easy to pick up, but hard to master. This also means there’s few cheating or balancing issues online, making it one of the most balanced multiplayer racers I’ve played. With bikes, buggies, cars and trucks available, there’s something for everything. This is Motorstorm evolved.

3: F1 2018 (PS4) F1 games have come a long way. The first one I played in ’06 was pretty hopeless, but since 2016 the series has peaked to the point where each new release is merely a case of refinement rather than revolution. With every circuit, car and team lovingly recreated and an AI difficulty and assist system which gives you total control over how realistic and challenging you want the sim to be, this is an extremely accessible racer, if not one that will win you over if you aren’t an F1 fan. Fortunately, race length and rules are easily customisable, while mid-race saving makes full-length races genuinely possible. Only weak driver models and a pointless interview mechanic hold it back. 2019’s version adds a few tweaks, but the two are of very similar quality.

2: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (PS3) This is still the best single-player racer I’ve ever played – its lack of a split screen mode is all that hold it back from the top spot on this list. Playing either as a racer or a cop, you compete in various events, such as time trials, duels, races, interceptors and hot pursuits. All are fun – time trials are challenging because of the penalty for collisions, duels and races can really test your abilities to manage boosts and use shortcuts, but the most fun has to be hot pursuits. Both racer and cop cars are outfitted with weaponry and gadgets to use to either takedown the opposition or evade them. This includes spike strips, EMP’s, jammers, turbos and in the police’s case, the ability to call in roadblocks or helicopters. There’s a huge range of cars too, particularly with the three dlc packs, which add a host of faster cars such as Lamborghinis, Porsches and the mightily fast Bugatti Veyron.

1: Mario Kart (Wii) It had to be. I got into Mario Kart a bit late, but ever since, I’ve absolutely loved it. There’s no better split screen racer out there. The Wii version had to win (later versions have all been disappointing slow or bland) with plenty of great tracks, including Grumble Volcano, Maple Treeway and one of the best Rainbow Roads in the series. The single player mode is a lot of fun, with mirror mode being hard to master initially, but the games core is split screen with your mates. I’ve had some epic battles on this thing, whether doing a series of 4 race grand prix or the absolutely mental option of doing a 32 race marathon with Items switched onto frantic. You’ll have some great memories from playing this game, whether its the first time you dodge a blue shell, recovering from 12th to gain an unlikely win or hitting a friend with a fake item box on the final corner of rainbow road [sorry Oscar ;)] you’ll have a great time – if you put the effort it. In my experience, people are either great at this game or hopeless, so your only problem will be finding a balanced group to play with.

Top 5 Shooting Games: (Again, these are all shooting-focused games  – games like Uncharted and Mass Effect have shooting, but its hardly the main point or appeal of them so I’m not counting them for this category).

5. Borderlands 2 [PS4] The best ‘loot shooter’ I’ve ever played, Borderlands poses a genuine challenge but throws in a memorable story, compelling villain and hilarious side-quests to distract from the occasional frustration. It’s ‘second wind’ mechanic where your character gets fatally injured but has a limited time where they can heal themselves by killing an enemy, is a great way of rewarding aggression. Its vast range of weapons (Shotguns, Snipers, Pistols, RPG’s, Assault Rifles and SMG’s, all with fire, corrosive, shock and explosive variants) prevents things from ever feeling too same-y. With a host of excellent DLC, this is a single player or co-op shooter that you could sink well over 100 hours into. For a shooter without competitive multiplayer, that’s a lot of bang for your buck.

4. Resistance 2 [PS3] The resistance trilogy were PS exclusives that (briefly) proved a rival to more established shooters like COD, Battlefield and Killzone. The first and third games had more of a horror-shooter vibe to them, but Resistance 2 doubles down on fun weaponry, huge boss fights and wacky sci-fi gadgets to deliver a memorable campaign, a great 8 player co-op mode and a chaotic but memorable competitive multiplayer. Alas, the player base ran out a few years back, but its still one of the best shooters I’ve played, and if the PS5 ever includes a remake, reboot or remaster of these games, i’ll be sure to check it out.

3. Star Wars: Battlefront (2015) [PS4] The game may have its detractors for its lack of a good singleplayer mode or campaign, but frankly, this was the most fun multiplayer I’ve experienced on PS4, and was a damn sight more satisfying than its more ambitious sequel. Focused solely on the original trilogy, the game lovingly recreates battlegrounds on Yavin, Hoth, Tatooine and (if you buy the DLC) places like Bespin, the Death Star and Scarif (from Rogue One). While not all its modes were great, there were so many of them you were bound to find one you liked (my favourites where capture-the-flag-esque Cargo mode and Heroes vs. Villains, which pitted Luke, Leia and Han against Vader, The Emperor and Boba Fett, with more characters like Lando and Chewy being added via DLC). Having sunk a lot of hours into this game, it had to get a spot on this list, but its back-to-basics approach for the series limits it to 3rd place.

2. Bioshock 2 [PS3/PS4] Bioshock was one of the most consistent gaming trilogies. The settings (an unwater metropolis and a city in the sky), characters (including Andrew Ryan and Sofia Lamb, two of the best villains in gaming) and plasmids/vigors (which give you abilities to hurl fireballs, unleash swarms of bees or crows, freeze enemies in ice and hurl enemy missiles and grenades back at them, just to name a few). At its heart though, its a shooting game, just one with an unusual amount of depth (pun intended). Bioshock 2 may be the least innovative of the 3, but its still my favourite, mainly because of how fun the combat is (though its still a decent challenge on normal and hard). Dual-wielding guns and plasmids gives you a host of combat options (the guns include a rocket launcher, shotgun, speargun and heavy machinegun, with a mechanical drill for melee). All can be upgraded and have multiple ammo types, so most playstyles are viable.

1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 [PS3] I didn’t expect 4 of these 5 to be the 2nd game in a trilogy, but clearly that’s where gaming keeps hitting the sweet spot. Modern Warfare 2 takes everything that was good about Call of Duty 4 and makes it bigger. Adding touches like thermal scopes, airdrops, chopper gunners and nukes made the multiplayer insane at times, but the maps were brilliant and the challenges fun to pursue. It all introduced the Special Ops mode, which to be honest has never (yet) been bettered as a series of co-op COD challenges. The campaign is equally strong, and had some serious balls to simulate a realistic conflict between the United States and Russia. With a soundtrack by HANS FUCKING ZIMMER, this game had some serious atmosphere and kick-ass music which really ramped up the intensity of the gunfights. Sure, there were a few balancing issues and OP perks, but there’s very few multiplayer shooters where that isn’t the case. If the servers on PS3 weren’t hopelessly hacked, I’d still be playing it today.

Hope you enjoyed, feel free to comment your own lists below.

Revisiting Mass Effect: Andromeda

As Bioware releases Anthem to a chorus of how buggy the cutscenes are, you get a feeling of deja vu.

It’s been two years since Mass Effect: Andromeda’s lacklustre launch, with fans rushing to criticise its buggy gameplay and terrible character animations. If it wasn’t for Battlefront II’s even more disastrous launch later in the year, Andromeda would probably have gone down as the worst big release of 2017. I did one playthrough of it after release, got bored, and left the game alone for the next 2 years.

But now, with a lot of patches and fixes and no new Dragon Age or Mass Effect in sight yet (and no interest in purchasing Anthem – like Fallout 76, it just isn’t something I’d have ever been interested in, good or not), I got back into Andromeda and was able to give it a second chance. Given that I couldn’t be asked to review it first time round, I thought I’d get round to it now. And I have one key question to answer: now the bugs are mostly fixed, is Andromeda worth playing?

Andromeda always had some plus points. The dialogue system had borrowed some good ideas from Dragon Age and was a lot more unique than the mostly binary good or renegade choices of Mass Effect 3. The planets always looked amazing and the graphics were very good quality for the environments. The combat was far more fluid than in previous games and the ability to mix and match combat, tech and biotic abilities gave you a lot of freedom in how you shaped your character. Ryder (male or female) is actually a great main character – in several ways they are more interesting than Commander Shepard, if nowhere near as badass.

There were also several drawbacks that are still present. The soundtrack is pretty forgettable compared to the first three games. Ryder’s crew has a few bright sparks but is not as engaging as the Normandy’s squad mates. Some of the choices Ryder has to make aren’t particularly consequential, and several of them are so one-sided that its unlikely you will ever pick the alternative (such as not allying with the Krogan in exchange for a power core that does not impact the game). Some of the romance options are quite badly implemented – with progression locked behind long questlines and some options which get locked if you go too far down another romance sub-plot (the lack of clarity on this is quite irritating).

However, several things that were initially irritating won’t bother you so much on a second playthrough. The fact that Andromeda only introduced two new alien races was originally quite disappointing, but it won’t bother you on a second playthrough. Equally, the similarities between the Kett and Remnant storylines and that of the Reapers and Protheans aren’t really an issue once you know what to expect. The fact that there are only 7 or so planets to explore is still a bit annoying, but to be honest if you enjoy what’s already there it won’t be a huge factor in your opinion of the game.

Then we get to the bugs. The facial animations are, mercifully, all fixed by this point, with no more dead eyed expressions or creepy smiles. There are far fewer bugs present that shortly after launch – a few still remain (such as people or things randomly floating) but I’ve yet to find one on my replays that has impacted gameplay or forced me to reload a save.

Overall, Andromeda is quite a fun game if you’re willing to forgive it’s shortcomings. Once you accept it isn’t up there with the first trilogy, it becomes a lot more palatable. The gameplay is fun, the game looks great and the storyline is mostly engaging. A few bland characters and forgettable side quests aside, you’ll enjoy what you find here. If you were put off by initial reaction to it, it might be worth picking up now, particularly as it’s currently very cheap to buy.

Rating: 4 out of 5

My Top Video Games of 2018

As usual, this list is compromised of favourite video games that I’ve played in 2018. I should say this doesn’t mean only video games that were released in 2018. I normally also throw in a couple from the last few years that I’ve just got around to. It doesn’t include every game that’s been a hit in 2018 either (I haven’t really played enough of Spider-Man to have an opinion of it yet, nor have I got Red Dead Redemption 2). Equally there are plenty of games which I’m just not interested in (Black Ops, Fortnite, FIFA etc.) so don’t expect to see them here.

7. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Odyssey is easily the best Assassin’s Creed game in a long time. The combat finally feels fluid, the game looks amazing and Ancient Greece is a really interesting setting. You can finally choose the lead (either Kassandra or Alexios. But I’ll save you time – choose Kassandra) and the game is now pretty much a full on RPG with a revised skill tree, better weapon/crafting systems and the ability to not only choose dialogue but even romance/flirt with NPC’s. Naval combat is back too, with a fully-upgradeable ship again. Unfortunately, the game’s still not perfect. The approach to in-game quests is unfortunately one of quantity over quality – there’s actually too much to do in a single playthrough, but the problem is that the quests tend to be quite repetitive – go to this location and wipe out this bandit camp, fetch this item from this location etc. while the setting and characters make a fair few of the quests memorable, I doubt you’ll remember even half of them by the end of the game. Ultimately, it’s a beautiful game world and the gameplay is a definite improvement on Origins, but I must say, Origins handled side quests better and had a more involving main questline. On the plus side, Kassandra is possibly the best lead we’ve had in the series – yes, including Ezio.

Rating: 4 out of 5

6. Onrush: Onrush isn’t so much a racing game as a full vehicular combat sim. For example, it has four different event types, none of which have a finish line you need to cross first. The game is far more unique than that. Instead, you gain points for boosting, rushing, jumping, performing tricks and wrecking opponents. If you fall behind the pack, the game simply respawns you back into the action, so there’s never a need to restart a match. It has four event types: Overdrive (two teams compete to earn a higher score), Countdown (teams race through gates, each of which adds time to their clock until one team runs out of time), Switch (each player starts with three lives, first team to run out of lives loses – but everyone you lose a life you switch to a tougher vehicle, and once you’ve lost all three you switch to the mega-tough trucks and must hunt down the enemy team) and Lockdown, where teams must compete to capture moving zones. They’re all great fun, and fans of Motorstorm games in particular will love it. Best of all – if you have PS Plus, you can get it for free right now as its one of the monthly giveaway games!

Rating: 4 out of 5

5. Titanfall 2: The only entry from 2017 on this list, I picked up Titanfall 2 for £4!!! Best buy I’ve made all year. Sure its campaign may be relatively short, but this is a far better shooter than COD or Battlefield games have ever been, and it has a good story to boot! Set in the future, there’s a mix of high-tech weapons for you to play around with, but the main draw for this game is the ability to control a titan – a hulking robotic weapons frame that seriously gives you an edge in combat, which can be upgraded with a wide variety of weapons. Before you buy tat like Black Ops IV or overpriced releases like Battlefield V, give this a shout. You won’t regret it.

Rating: 4 out of 5

4. Hitman 2 (2018) I’ve really got into Hitman games this year. First off I completed Hitman Absolution on PS3 (which I’ve been meaning to get round to for years) and enjoyed it quite a lot, so I thought I’d give the 2016 sandbox a look. I loved it over the summer, and happily picked up this year’s sequel once it was on sale. Not only does Hitman 2 give you 6 new areas to play around in and plan/improvise your assassinations (the most memorable of which include a slum in Mumbai, an expo park + racetrack in Miami and a medieval castle on a French island) but it also throws in legacy additions of Hitman 2016’s levels for anyone who already owns that game. Given that Hitman 2 has really improved the graphics and the shooting mechanics, this is extremely welcome. The game gives you a ridiculous amount of freedom in how to assassinate your various targets (please take note Assassin’s Creed) and whether your weapon of choice is a sniper rifle, explosives, poison, silenced pistols or 47’s signature garrotte, you’ll still stumble across some incredibly inventive ways to complete your mission (the standouts so far have been throwing a drug dealer down a mineshaft, locking a ruthless businesswoman in a medieval spiked effigy and subtly manoeuvring your targets out in the open to help a rival assassin execute them with a sniper rifle). You’ll need patience, and often things will go dramatically wrong and you’ll have to improvise, but perfectly your strategies if half the fun here. Best Hitman game ever, if not one that is particularly revolutionary.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

3. F1 2018: F1’s simulation games have got stronger year on year since 2016, and this year was no exception. The addition of ERS management added another degree of difficulty to racing, while the rain and car damage effects feel more realistic than ever before. The R&D mechanics have been streamlined and it now feels legitimately possible to turn a middle-field car into a frontrunner over a few seasons. There’s still the odd niggle (driver AI could be slightly better when there’s several cars following close behind each other) and the interviews are overused, but to be honest, given how much freedom you have to scale back or disable parts of the sim you aren’t interested in, any problems are mildly inconvenient rather than consistently irritating. As a bonus, the number of classic cars you can drive in the championships mode and time trials has gone up too. Its a refinement of F1 2017 rather than a huge leap forward, but ultimately, its the best F1 game on the market, and is well worth the upgrade.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2. Detroit: Become Human: Made by the creators of Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, Detroit: Become Human is set in 2038, where androids have become an integral part of human society, but, predictably, are starting to rebel against their servile situation and become ‘deviants’ outside human control. The game follows three very different strands which cross over with each other at various points. First off, there’s Kara, an android housekeeper charged with protecting a young girl called Alice, who becomes a deviant to defy her owner: Alice’s abusive father, Todd. The two then must go on the run together. The second story follows Markus, a prototype android who initially has a pleasant existence tending to his pleasant human owner, Carl, but then sees the callous disregard other humans have for androids and begins encouraging them to rise up against their creators.  Finally, there’s investigative android Connor, who’s paired with a human detective called Hank and assigned to investigate the cause of android deviancy. The amount of choice the game gives you is staggering – as is the number of places you can screw up, especially on harder difficulty. All three of the lead characters can be killed if you make the wrong choices, and the way the game ends can vary markedly depending on your choices. Markus can either lead a peaceful protest against humanity or a violent revolt, while Connor can either obey his programming and hunt Markus down or become a deviant himself. Kara and Alice may escape together or one or both of them may die depending on the choices you make. As is usual for story-driven games, the gameplay is mainly focused on quick-time events, but its the story where this really shines – there’s tons of replay value here and trust me, even though the ideas here are very common sci-fi tropes, they’re done so well you will get sucked into the setting.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

1. God of War (2018): Kratos is back, only this time he had Norse Gods and monsters to contend with rather than Greek. Moving from a bloody hack-and-slash to a violent RPG was a bold move for the series, but boy did it pay off. The gameplay is wonderful, with players either utilizing Kratos’ Leviathan Axe (which works a lot like Thor’s Hammer) or his more traditional Blades of Chaos to dispatch enemies. The game world is absolutely beautiful and epic in scope – not only can you explore a sizeable area, but you get chances to explore several of the ‘nine realms’ of Norse mythology including Muspelheim (Realm of Fire) and Helheim (Realm of the Dead). Combat is challenging on normal but not inaccessible to either newcomers or existing fans of the series. There’s a vast range of enemies, ranging from undead to giants to the awesomely powerful (and crucially, optional bosses) Valkyries. You’ll need to switch up your strategy for a lot of enemies, with good tactics and timing more important than button mashing. But its the story where this really shines, as Kratos struggles to deal with his wife’s death while trying to be a good father to his son, Atreus and fending off attacks from various Norse monsters and Gods, including two very irritating sons of Thor. It’s been a good year for gaming (especially on PS4) but nothing could outdo this. A stone cold classic.

Rating: 5 out of 5

My Game Awards:

Best Looking Game: Titanfall 2

Best Level Design: Hitman 2

Best Story: God of War

Best Combat: God of War

Best Hero: Markus (Detroit: Become Human)

Best Villain: Baldur (God of War)

Best Soundtrack: Detroit: Become Human

Best Character (Female): Kassandra (Assassin’s Creed Odyssey)

Best Character (Male): Connor (Detroit: Become Human)

I won’t do any ‘Worst’ awards because I haven’t played any particularly bad games this year. Just assume they’d all go to Fallout 76 and Bethesda. Congrats guys. You managed to temporarily replace EA as gaming’s signature villain. Good job. You’re second only to Doctor Who’s Chris Chibnall in not listening to what the fanbase wants.

Overall though, it has been a fantastic year for gaming, with numerous classics and good instalments from long-running franchises. If your still messing around with COD and Fifa… wake up people. There’s far, FAR better things to spend your money on. Finally, if you’re a Xbox gamer… you have my sympathy – because the amount you’ve missed out on the past few years isn’t even funny anymore (God of War, Spiderman, Detroit: Become Human, Uncharted 4, Ratchet and Clank, Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last of Us…) no amount of console loyalty is worth that. Microsoft better buck up their ideas – because Sony is killing it right now!

Anyway, that’s it, my last blog post of 2018. Thank you all for reading and subscribing in what’s (just about) been a record breaking year for this blog.

Have a happy new year everyone. I’ll be back in 2019!

Assassin’s Creed Origins Review

No story spoilers except for setting/time period.

Assassin’s Creed has often struggled to find its identity as a series in the last few years. The first few games all felt like natural successors to each other, and generally AC2, Brotherhood and Revelations either matched or improved upon their immediate predecessors. Then the series lost its way somewhat, which was a bit predictable, given that Revelations wrote out Ezio and Altair, the two most popular playable characters in the series, and Desmond Miles and Warren Vidic, the last two links to the first game, both exited in AC3.

That’s not to say the intervening games haven’t had their plus points. AC3 started the trend of having more open-world style areas, Black Flag and Freedom Cry gave us a delightful ship combat system, Rogue’s story is often praised as one of the best in the series and Syndicate’s Jacob and Evie were highlighted in reviews as the first memorable main characters since Ezio. But none of those games were perfect – the combat system often felt dated, games became increasingly buggy on release, the modern day story got increasingly hard to care about post-Desmond, and the settings just weren’t as interesting as the Crusades or renaissance Italy or Constantinople (I mean, was anyone crying out for games set in the American or French revolutions? I’ve never spoken to anyone who particularly wanted an Assassin’s Creed game in those eras).

With Assassin’s Creed: Origins, the series may finally have found its groove again.

Ptolemaic Egypt is a setting that deserves the current gen’s graphics, and boy, is the game world absolutely stunning. This is somewhere you will never get tired of exploring, and whether you’re exploring Alexandria, crossing the desert or sailing up the Nile, you’ll always be aware of how beautifully rendered everything is – and you’ll end up using the game’s photo mode a fair bit, let me tell you. It’s day/night cycle really makes a tangible difference to how the world feels, in a way only games like Horizon: Zero Dawn have done previously. Its a completely open world experience too, and while you’ll have an occasional moment where the game pauses to load the next area, its mostly pretty seamless at having you move around the map. Fast travel is available too, which helps a lot, although you have a lot of different transport options available (including horses, camels, ships and chariots).

The game’s playable characters are also a lot more memorable than in previous entries. You’ll spend most of your time playing as Bayek, the last of the Medjay, who’s a protector of the common folk but has a winning personality as well, and whose responses always seem human and believable – his outrage at atrocities, his snide dislike for corrupt officials, his sympathy for downtrodden peasants, it all seems natural and relatable. Bayek’s status as a Egyptian comes in play a lot, as he sees his country and people suffering a lot on account of their inferior status to Greeks, not to mention their vulnerability to the Romans, who are starting to encroach on Egyptian territory. You also get several levels as Bayek’s wife Aya, who’s equally compelling if not quite as likeable, as the two of them are caught between pursuing a revenge quest and trying to free Egypt from the grip of a civil war between Cleopatra and Ptolemy. The modern day stuff is kept to a minimum, but in Layla, we finally have a modern-day character who seems interesting enough to care about, even though she’s only on screen for 20 or so minutes.

The gameplay has also between heavily revamped to have a more RPG feel to things – there’s still a wide variety of weaponry available (spears, swords, axes, sceptres etc.) as well as four varieties of bows all tailored to different scenarios (hunting, stealth kills, boss fights, rapid fire etc.) which gives you a lot of scope for how you approach combat scenarios. There’s now a levelling system with numerous perks you can use to upgrade Bayek (providing him with poison darts, fire bombs and other tools, increasing his proficiency in combat or improving archery skills) and you can pretty much build his skillset as suits you. You gain XP for kills and completing missions, of which there are a multitude. In additional to the dozen or so main quests, which are fairly long and take you all over the map, there are around a hundred or so side quests, which usually involve you rescuing locals, clearing out bandit camps, dealing with animal attacks, evading Ptolemy’s soldiers or exploring tombs.

There’s a lot to do in this game in general – most tombs and camps have treasure for you to loot or captains to assassinate, and there are loads of them dotted around the map. There’s a fair amount of cities and towns too, most of which have a unique feel and plenty of inhabitants to interact with. You can become a gladiator in the arenas in Cyrene or Krokodilopolis, or a chariot racer in Alexandria. There’s a lot of sunken ships around the Nile for you to scavenge too. In short, you’ll never run out of things to do in this game – there’s almost too much of it to be honest.

Further embracing the RPG side of things, the game has a new game plus mode and an option that will scale lower level enemies to your level, if either of those things interest you. Origins also introduces variable difficulty into the series, with the standard game options of easy, normal, hard and nightmare which seem near universal at this point. Normal still presents a reasonable challenge, though it doesn’t require the precision of God of War on normal and is hardly comparable to RPG’s like Dark Souls. There’s a large variety of enemies: Human enemies are a mix of archers, spearman, standard soldiers, Brutes (heavy weapons), Elites (with shields) and bosses. There are also various animals to contend with, including Crocodiles (who are a much larger threat in water, obviously), Hippos (engage at range), hyenas (troublesome in packs), lions (surprisingly easy) and, rarely, a war elephant (these fuckers are VERY tough). Most annoying are snakes, who tend to lurk in the dark corners of tombs or caves, or worse, inside destroyable pots, and thus you often don’t see them until you run straight into them (which as snakes kill Bayek in 3-4 hits can be very irritating). Ultimately, whether you want a challenge or a stress-free run, there’ll be a difficulty setting that works for you.

The crafting system is crucial but easy to get to grips with, as you gather various metals, leathers, wood and animal skins, which can upgrade Bayek’s health, damage and the amount of equipment and arrows he can carry. Fortunately, gathering these materials is rarely a chore, as there’s only six main varieties of them, some of which can be looted from convoys of soldiers, others you can find from hunting animals or from scrapping weaponry, and if worst comes to worst, you can take a perk which allows you to purchase extra materials at shops. The currency system is more of a challenge than previous games – Bayek won’t be drowning in cash the way Ezio was, and will need to loot tombs and camps and sell old equipment a lot to have enough to buy new outfits and upgrade his weapons.

So all in all, pretty positive? Yeah, there’s one or two downsides: the game’s plot meanders a bit too much at times, not all the side quests are that interesting (some areas are definitely more fun than others) and shield combat isn’t done all that well, but overall, its such an improvement over its predecessors that I have to give it a rating of…

4.5 out of 5. Not perfect, but getting there.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey seems to be leaning even further into RPG elements (choice of main character, romance options etc.) and refining combat even further to fit ancient Greece. Fingers crossed it will be as compelling as Egypt. But for the first time in a long time, I’m actually looking forward to what the Assassin’s Creed team is working on, and that’s largely thanks to how well they’ve turned things around with origins.