Category Archives: Video Games

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

Advertisements

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!

10 Things to watch out for in 2019

Before I get to my traditional ‘Best of Year’ articles, I thought i’d take some time to do a preview of the likely hits that 2019 might give us. While this type of article is pretty common for this time of year, I’ve never done one before, but I thought I’d try my hand at it. So without further ado, here’s my pick of what films, TV and gaming to watch out for in 2019.

1.Game of Thrones, Final Season: Season 7 really upped the scale of events in Thrones and gave us cinematic battle sequences and long-awaited character interactions into the bargain. Now Season 8 has 6 hour-plus long episodes to wrap everything up. With the White Walkers finally past the wall, expect huge scale battles and significant character deaths. However it ends, its sure to be unmissable television.

2. Avengers: Endgame: Infinity War broke all kinds of records and finally, FINALLY delivered a truly great villain for the MCU. That said, it wasn’t a flawless film, even if it was extremely entertaining. But it set the stage for this: the final Avengers film (at least for this group of Avengers). With a high probably that Iron Man and Captain America will either die or bow out at the conclusion, this might finally be the Marvel film where there are actual consequences. But whatever the fate of the heroes, its another 3 hours (supposedly) of Thanos, and that alone makes it worth seeing.

3. Captain Marvel: Marvel finally gives us a female-superhero movie. Brie Larson certainly looks the part, and the trailer really gives you a sense that there’s some ambition in this one. Expect it to lead straight into Avengers: Endgame too. Throw in a significant role for Samuel L. Jackson, and this could be Marvel’s best origin story since X-Men: First Class. Its only real hurdle is it has to live up to Wonder Woman. Speaking of which…

4. Wonder Woman 1984: One of the two good Worlds of DC films (aside from Man of Steel) finally gets a sequel. With iconic Wonder Woman foe cheetah and a no-doubt rousing soundtrack from Hans Zimmer, this might finally be the film where DC turns the tide. Or it could be the final nail in its coffin if DC screw it up. Either way, its Wonder Woman, so you know its worth a shot.

5. The Last of Us, Part 2: After the first Last of Us and the Uncharted Games, expectations are sky-high for this PS4 exclusive next year. Not only does Naughty Dog have a great track record, but the first game is still one of the best we’ve had this decade. With the same mix of epic storytelling and zombie survival horror, I’ve got very high hopes for this one.

6. The Outer Worlds: Made by Obsidian, this looks like it could be the Dark Horse of gaming releases in 2019. Not only is it the product of the brains behind Fallout: New Vegas (AKA one of the best Fallout games) but it looks like a mash-up between Borderlands and Fallout. That can only be a good thing. We haven’t have a good sci-fi RPG since Mass Effect 3 came out.

7. Stranger Things, Season 3: With House of Cards finished, most Marvel shows cancelled and Orange is the New Black drawing to a close, Stranger Things is kind of Netflix’s last standout show. Its also the best Sci-Fi show on television right now (admittedly not hard when its up against Star Trek: Discovery and Chibnall’s bastard version of Who) with one of the best young casts in television and superb support from Veteran actors such as Winona Ryder and David Harbour. With an incredibly catchy theme, a great soundtrack and brilliant special effects, you’d be mad to miss it.

8. Metro: Exodus: Since there is suddenly an unexpected market for a decent post-apocalyptic RPG game, Metro: Exodus seems likely to do very well next year. The Metro series has always had an interesting story, set in the tunnels underneath a nuclear devastated Russia, it had a pretty unique tone and feel. With Exodus its third and easily most ambitious entry, this not only looks set to pick up many disaffected Fallout fans, but also has little competition in the February release window. I’d put money on it doing quite well so long as they don’t botch the release (looking at you Bethesda).

9. Orange is the New Black, Final Season: Netflix’s longest running hit finally comes to a close in 2019. While the last few seasons have been divisive, I’ve loved them, and I’ll be sad to see it go. With several characters fates up in the air after S6, it’ll be interesting to see how they wrap it all up. With the usual mix of comedy, drama and heartache, i’m sure it’ll be a memorable ride.

10. Star Wars, Episode IX: After the critically successful but audience divisive Force Awakens and Last Jedi, Disney has a fight on its hands to bring the Star Wars fanbase back into balance. With yet another film which had to change director halfway through (this time bringing back J.J. Abrams to replace Colin Trevorrow) we know very little about how this will go. Will it be a Rogue-One-esque triumph? A Force-Awakens style remake of Return of the Jedi with plenty of style but no substance? An innovative yet divisive entry that keeps fans guessing like Last Jedi? (yeah right, this is Abrams. The guy hasn’t had an original idea ever aside from how to overuse lens-flares). Or will it be irrelevant and will audiences just stay home like they did for Solo? Wherever it ends up, it will either be the end of an era or the moment the Star Wars franchise goes back on hiatus. So either way, its going to be an unmissable end to 2019!

The three things I’m most hyped for at this point have to be The Last of Us Part 2, Avengers: Endgame and Stranger Things S3, but who knows – one of the others may pleasantly surprise me and outdo all my expectations. Either way – 2019 is definitely looking good in the entertainment industry (which is reassuring, since the outlook is dire everywhere else!).

Next Up: My look at the best and worst films that have released in 2018, with TV and Video Game articles close behind…

The rise and fall of the Fallout franchise.

How the mighty have fallen.

It’s been a pretty awesome year for Video Gamers (particularly on PS4) with hit games such as God of War, Detroit: Become Human, Spiderman and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. But even great gaming years have complete turkeys. Fallout 76 is this year’s – reviews have been universally critical (average rating’s are around 4/10 to 5/10) and the fans are mostly furious at how poor the finished product is.

Its rare for the big beasts in gaming to screw up so spectacularly. It happened with Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Mass Effect Andromeda last year, but both those games had redeeming features. Battlefront 2 had solid gameplay and was still quite a decent experience, despite the stupid loot box and microtransactions system. The DLC also helped make it a more complete experience. Mass Effect Andromeda was disappointing, but is still a reasonably fun game. The negative reaction was mainly due to it not living up to the VERY high standards of its predecessors, and some laughably bad character animations due to tech issues. But most of those issues were fixed pretty quickly, and a 2nd playthrough with lower expectations proved the game itself is decent if a bit forgettable. But Fallout 76 has even more problems that those games did.

Firstly, virtually none of the long-term fans wanted it. Fallout has always been a single-player experience, and no one was crying out for a multiplayer version. It smacked of being a simple cash-grab, not a fan-service extra. Secondly, the game is notoriously empty without NPC’s. While there’s still some fun to be had for co-op players, playing this solo is not an option. Finally, and most damningly, the game seems absolutely riddled with bugs. Not just bad animation bugs (which the fallout series is well known for) but game breaking bugs like stuck loading screens and endless crashes. Now, this may be fixed somewhat over the next few months, but frankly, its unacceptable for a game priced £59 at launch to be in such a poor state. No wonder the price got cut to £34 within a week after poor sales.

This is a real pity. Fallout has been an absolute gem of a series so far. While I never played the PC, turn-based RPGs the series began with, I came in at Fallout 3 on PS3 and loved it. It was up their with Elder Scrolls Oblivion as my favourite game for a long time. The DLC was very hit and miss, but the main game was flawless. Fallout New Vegas, while not as highly praised by critics is often regarded by true Fallout fans, including me, as equalling if not bettering Fallout 3. Its faction-driven story and more humourous atmosphere elevated it, and while the DLC was once again a mixed bag, it remains one of my all-time favourites. Fallout 4 may have strayed too far from the series’ formula, but its engaging plot, wonderful graphics and improved game engine still made it worth your time. The DLC was overpriced, but one bit of it, Far Harbor, was actually a huge improvement on the main game, and is the main reason I haven’t sold the game on yet. But now the series has stumbled badly, with a game few wanted, with obvious design flaws, a multitude of performance issues and which totally disregards what Fallout is really about. They’ve basically made it into a co-op shooter, with barely any RPG elements and a bland, lifeless server where interactions with other players are rather limited.

If you’re seeing a pattern here, think Elder Scrolls. Also made by Bethesda, it had critically acclaimed if now outdated games with Daggerfall and Morrowind, a great game in Oblivion, an even better game with a better engine and graphics in Skyrim, and then an online spin-off with ESO. But ESO, while not my thing, worked considerably better. Firstly, it was a much livelier world, with way more players on each server and quite a few NPC’s to interact with. Secondly, it was nowhere near as buggy at launch. Thirdly, Medieval Fantasy is much better suited to online MMORG’s than post-apocalyptic sci-fi. Thanks to stuff like World of Warcraft and Skyrim’s never-ending popularity, there was an obvious market for ESO. There really wasn’t an obvious market for Fallout 76. COD-gamers who love co-op shooters already have dozens of options which cost less or are more their thing. Long-term fallout fans weren’t happy with Fallout 4’s changes to the series formula, and multiplayer was yet another unwanted change. Single-player RPG fans won’t want to waste time in a world as empty as fallout 76’s. That just leaves fans of co-op shooters with rpg elements. But half of them will probably avoid it now because of the critical mauling its got and the bug-ridden nature of the game.

Bethesda really need to buck their ideas up. While Elder Scrolls VI will draw fans back, trust in Bethesda is going to be low for a while, which isn’t ideal with Starfield, a new property, likely to be their next release. As for Fallout, the series isn’t dead yet, but one more failed release would do it. Here’s my advice for Bethesda if it wants to win fans back:

  • Ditch Multiplayer. Leave that to gaming companies who specialise in it. A sequel to ESO might be worthwhile, but aside from that, no one wants multiplayer RPG’s from you after this debacle.
  • Listen to fans: Fallout 4 ignored what the fanbase loved about 3 and New Vegas. Sure it won over a lot of mainstream gamers who hadn’t played those games, but long term fans really weren’t happy with the changes to perks, skills and the absence of multiple settlements to interact with. Give the fans what they actually want for once!!!
  • Stop overcharging!: £59 for Fallout 76 is ludicrous. The DLC for Fallout 4 was similarly overpriced (Far Harbor was brilliant, but I waited for a sale for a reason. Who’s playing £20 for 1 piece of DLC???). I know current-gen is expensive, but this smacks of trying to squeeze way too much money from customers.
  • Scrap pointless quests and building mechanics: The biggest flaw with Fallout 4 was the amount of annoying, repetitive quests (particularly in the Minutemen story arc) and the construction mechanics. Building your own settlements was a cool idea, but like the Batmobile in Arkham Knight, it was a cool idea that was so overused it became an annoyance. Scavenging around for materials constantly to repair power armour or build items to advance quests was a real irritation, and should have been something that players could do if they wanted, not something that you HAVE to do constantly. This really needs to be scaled back for the next game, and the quality of the quests could really use a boost.

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.

God of War (2018) Review

This one is something special.

Minor Story Spoilers – but only in terms of setting/characters, not plotline.

It’s been a while since a new PS4 game has truly gripped me. While COD: WWII and Batman: Enemy Within have kept me busy, I haven’t been blown away by anything new since Horizon Zero Dawn released last year. Until now.

This has a very different style from previous God of War games. Its more character driven, with more RPG elements and a much more open world than previous instalments. Kratos is a much more nuanced character here – in previous games he’s been defined solely by vengeance and tragedy, here he gets some slow but merited character growth. This is mainly because of his son, Atreus, who serves as Kratos’ companion and protégée throughout the game. Another change is that Kratos’ main weapon is now the Leviathan Axe, which works in a similar way to Thor’s Hammer (Kratos can recall it at will after throwing it) apart from the fact its abilities are Ice based rather than lightning based. Fans of previous games needn’t worry however, as Kratos’ Blades of Chaos do become available as an alternate weapon a third of the way through the game, which adds a bit of variety to combat. The biggest change however, is the move from Greek myth to Norse myth, which, if anything, proves far more interesting than the Greek. Kratos isn’t taking on the whole pantheon of Norse Gods here, but a few of them crash proceedings to make his task more difficult. The Norse idea of ‘Nine Realms’ is faithfully portrayed and engaging brought to life, along with many, many figures and monsters from Norse mythology.

Combat has also been significantly revamped, mainly because the third person camera is now much more tightly focused on Kratos, rendering him more vulnerable to flank attacks but giving you much better control of his own attacks. While combos still play a big part, it feels like a cross between Skyrim-esque hack and slash and the switch it up style of Arkham games – but is arguably far better than either. There are a wide variety of skill upgrades available which unlock more combos and increase damage, paid for by XP (given for defeating enemies and finishing quests). XP is also used to upgrade various Runes which Kratos can apply to his and Atreus’ weapons, which allow very powerful rune attacks and spirit summons that can only be used after lengthy cooldowns. Atreus’ bow and choke attacks are also upgradeable, and can prove very helpful in tough battles. There isn’t a levelling system as such, instead certain areas are locked off until you progress to a certain part of the story or receive a particular upgrade, usually preventing you from running into enemies that are far too strong for you (marked by a purple health bar). You are free to explore most of the map pretty quickly, but its advisable to get very good skills and gear before you even think of taking on Valkyries or other really strong enemies, who usually lurk in hidden, underground chambers.

The map size is significantly large, encompassing a sizeable part of Midgard (Earth) as well as Helheim (Realm of the Dead), Muspelheim (Realm of Fire) and various other realms from Norse mythology, all of which have a unique feel to them – and all of which look absolutely stunning. I don’t normally go for many screenshots or use photo modes while playing games, but God of War is absolutely beautifully rendered – even on my standard model PS4. I can’t think of a better looking game I’ve played. The soundtrack serves its purpose but only stands out in a few places – most of the time spent travelling instead uses background conversations between Kratos and Atreus which underpins their burgeoning  relationship and provides insight to the Mythology and History of the world they inhabit.

Aside from the main story, which I won’t spoil, there are numerous side quests from two dwarves called Brok and Sindri, who serve as the games’ shopkeepers and blacksmiths, who buy, sell and upgrade all of Kratos and Atreus equipment, in addition to the many collectibles which can be found in hidden chests or areas throughout the maps. There’s just so much to do in the 20-40 hours of gameplay, ranging from freeing imprisoned Dragons, to killing Odin’s Ravens, to defeating combat challenges in Muspelheim and solving puzzles to unlock Nornir chests and improve Kratos’ health and rage. To be honest though, exploring the map is such fun it doesn’t matter if its for a quest or just for the sake of exploring – its compelling either way – though I recommend you play through the main quest pretty frequently, as this unlocks more areas and gives you more XP than other activities (don’t worry – you can keep playing post main quest so it doesn’t matter what order you do things in).

Kratos and Atreus never feel overpowered, mainly due to the wide variety of enemies, including reavers, draugr, wolves, dark elves, trolls, werewolves, Valkyries, stone ancients and bosses, which include everything from giants to dragons to Norse Gods. This variety, added to the multitude of combos and rune attacks prevent combat ever getting repetitive or stale (the same tactics don’t work on every enemy – werewolves dodge too often for axe throws to be effective, frozen enemies are sometimes immune to axe attacks etc.). You have to switch things up a fair bit, particularly when completing challenges in Muspelheim or fighting Valkyries, who are a real challenge even on Normal difficulty.

The one thing I will say about the story is that it offers one of the most compelling Father-Son dynamics I’ve seen in gaming. Atreus and Kratos both have their flaws, but make interesting protagonists. The game does very much feels like a ‘part 1’ of their story, which can only be a good thing. Whether the Norse setting lasts 2 games or 3, I have a feeling that Ragnarok isn’t far away…

Overall God of War is the best game I’ve played on PS4. It balances difficulty, fun, story and gameplay exceeding well. I wouldn’t say its my all time favourite, but it probably is the best designed game I own. If you have a PS4, you need to get this. If you don’t have a PS4, buy one – because missing out on games this good is not an option. Who needs Elder Scrolls VI when you have this?

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Seriously people, just look at the exclusives Sony has at the moment. God of War, the Uncharted series, Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last of Us AND upcoming games like Spider-man? There is nothing on Xbox One or Nintendo Switch that even matches one of those games, let alone all of them. I get arguments about brand loyalty, price and controller layout, but the amount of quality games you can’t get without a PS4 isn’t even funny anymore. If you’re a gamer and have the cash, get one!

Call of Duty: WWII Review

Sometimes, simpler is better.

As I mentioned in my article about a possible MW2 remaster, the Call of Duty Series has lacked direction for quite a while. Infinite Warfare, quite rightly, got a massive backlash from gamers, not even because of its quality, but because they disagreed with the entire direction it took. COD is not Halo and never should be. A general rule is that the more futuristic the COD series has got, the more its popularity has declined. Advanced Warfare’s Combat Exo-suits and 2050 setting were about as far as you should push either the timeline or the technology in this series. The original Black Ops and the Modern Warfare trilogy remain the most acclaimed games in the series, and its easy to see why. They were grounded, they were relatable, and the multiplayer felt balanced.

Fortunately, the series’ producers seemed to notice that fan enthusiasm was waning, and decided to take the Call of Duty series back to its roots: World War 2. This meant no exosuits, no stupid wall-running, no drones and no OP killstreaks. And boy, is that a breath of fresh air. As a result, they’ve actually made a decent multiplayer for the first time in what seems like forever. All the standard game modes are back (Team Deathmatch, free-for-all, search and destroy, domination etc.) with the addition of a new War mode, which features teams either attacking or defending a series of varying objectives. The maps are actually all pretty good for the first time since MW2, varying from London Dockyards to a USA battleship to German artillery installations, there’s enough of them that you won’t get bored or need to purchase the expansion packs for extra variety. All playstyles are viable, even if you’ll find yourself sticking to assault rifles or SMG’s for most of it. A real bonus is that snipers are no longer as overpowered as they used to be. They’re still an ever present threat if they find a good position on the map, but most of the time they’re pretty easy to flank, and its no longer an option for snipers to try 360 no scopes and other stupid trick shots. If they try, they will die constantly. Similarly, grenades and rocket launchers will get you some kills but are far less effective than previous games – spamming the damn things doesn’t work very well. All of this provides a much more realistic experience and actually makes it challenging to earn kill/scorestreaks. These streaks range from Molotov cocktails to flamethrowers to strafing runs from fighter planes and bombers. While some are quite powerful, you won’t get one player decimating entire teams with successive kill streaks like in previous games. This all makes it far easier to get into games at low levels, and rewards skill a lot more than some previous games. The multiplayer is a definite highlight.

Zombies mode is also pretty great, and feels more accessible than it has done in a long time (it’s easier not to get hemmed into tight spaces on the maps, although you still have to know what you’re doing). The maps seem better designed than they have in a while, and the variety of zombie types has definitely improved. David Tennant even voices one of the four playable characters. Ultimately I’ll spend more time with the multiplayer, but the Zombies mode is a good one for fans who are mainly after that.

The only disappointment is the campaign. Admittedly, the gamemakers have done a good job of bringing the horrors of WWII to life. It feels real and visceral in a way other World War 2 games like COD 3 did not. But there’s nothing new on offer here. It’s the same mix of the usual COD levels (provide sniper cover, clear out enemy positions, defend chokepoints, infiltrate an enemy base ex cetera). It’s reasonably fun to play through, if not particularly challenging, but it’s really not all that memorable. Even Advanced Warfare and Ghosts’ campaigns are a cut above what you get here (as well as being significantly longer). It seems a bit like they threw something together because they thought fans expected some sort of campaign, not because they had a particularly great idea of what to include in one. Honestly, I can see why there are rumours Black Ops 4 will ditch the campaign entirely. The same old stuff just isn’t cutting it anymore.

Overall, the campaign might be a few hours of token adventure you won’t remember a day afterwards, but the fun zombies mode and brilliantly back-to-basics multiplayer make this the best Call of Duty Game since Modern Warfare 3. I’m not convinced the series is getting back to its best anytime soon, but this is a step in the right direction.

Rating: 4 out of 5