The final frontier has been the setting of choice for countless titles over the years, but Surgical Scalpels are upping the ante when it comes to vacuum-based fun by putting the vast, empty void we call space front and centre in their upcoming game, Boundary.
After a brief rundown of some of the game’s basic features – customisable weapons, gun range, multiplayer modes etc. – we were handed the controls for our first match against a few members of the development crew. Despite being well experienced in the FPS genre, the lack of gravity and our newfound ability to move in six degrees of freedom initially took some getting used to.
The slower, considered movement of our avatar (a heavy Support class, but the floaty nature of space means nearly all classes move at a similar pace) coupled with the temptation to go blasting off across maps led to more than a few deaths as we were caught in the open by the opposition. Drift too far from the action, as we often did, and you’ll suddenly find yourself lit up on enemy radar. Linger even longer near the fringes and you’ll end up in the middle of a micro meteor shower that’ll quickly rip through your suit and health. Safe to say it took us a couple of matches before we eventually found our space legs.
Surgical Scalpels are aware that for many players, like us, this will be their first taste of zero-g combat in a competitive FPS. The development team have, therefore, tried to make gameplay as intuitive as possible by implementing a control scheme that’ll feel instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played a mainstream shooter like Call of Duty or Battlefield. Some elements are naturally going to be a little different, given the setting; there’s no jump or crouch/prone in space, after all, so those are swapped for ascend and descend abilities, while shoulder buttons traditionally saved for grenades are instead used for rotation.
Most classes – save for the Flanker, which we’ll discuss in a bit – come with a grapple that can be used to navigate close-quarter areas at a slightly faster pace than the standard thrusters allow (we used this method to pull off a particularly impressive surprise kill during one match) or quickly reach floating structures, from where players can set up ambush opportunities or catch a moment's respite to regenerate health and manually patch up any major leaks in their suit. The game also makes excellent use of the DualShock 4’s gyro sensor, which allows for easy precision aiming while on the move – a feature that was particularly handy while we were still getting to grips with zero-g traversal.
Maps themselves, like the rest of the available tech and weaponry, are in keeping with the game’s near-future aesthetic; we played one that was dominated by the scattered remains of a destroyed space station, with plenty of solar panels and pod-like compartments to hide behind. Some parts, like those huge solar panels, are destructible, with players able to shoot holes in them and peek through in a way that was very reminiscent of Rainbow Six Siege’s breakable walls.
When I asked if Surgical Scalpels had any plans to add maps set on the surface of a planet or moon where there might be a touch more gravity, I was told that it could be a possibility in the future, but that post-launch DLC would first focus on adding more classes, with three more said to be arriving at some point after the game launches. The base game will begin with five classes in total, of which we tried the Support, Recon and Flanker (there’s also a Sniper and Medic class).
The Support class is the most armoured, with a huge exoskeletal-type chassis on its back that, while bullet proof, also has the largest silhouette. Most come with two main weapons, an ability, and two secondary weapons - such as heavy cannons or missiles - that are attached to the frame of the big backpack. Recon was our favourite, thanks to a gadget that detects enemy players once it is dropped or launched. Every class’ suit will alert you with audio (and eventually visual, once they’re close enough) warnings to the presence of a nearby enemy, but having one of these beacons floating around proved to be extremely useful at helping us track down the other team’s players amongst the large map’s debris and hiding spots.
We definitely see the aforementioned Flanker class being the most popular, however, due to its “ninja-like” abilities and speedier movement. This class never shows up on enemy radar, and instead of a grapple it has a triple action quick-boost ability that easily outpaces the standard ‘sprint’ found in other classes (it also won’t reveal your position to the enemy if it overheats, unlike the latter). Even though the loadout we tried only came with a shotgun/pistol combo, the reduced range was worth the trade-off for the extra speed and stealth. We wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a nerf coming its way post-launch.
While our session drew to a close before we could really get to grips with what the game had to offer, what we did play was enough to convince us that Surgical Scalpels could have something special on their hands. First person shooters can often feel formulaic, but Boundary brings something refreshingly different to a crowded table. Once you’re over the initial (albeit gentle) learning curve, the controls prove to be comfortably intuitive, and the extra freedom of movement considerably liberating. Most importantly, underneath it all is a decent shooter that, a few pre-launch bugs aside, felt reassuringly solid, despite the unconventional lack of terra firma underfoot.
With The Outer Worlds' memorable cast still fresh in our minds, we turn our attention to the loyal companions that have followed us into danger without a thought for their own lives. A trustworthy escort or two can enhance gameplay, through either their personalities or simply the bonuses they offer. Whether they are friends, hired guns or merely folks whose interests align with our own, these are the people we'd choose to watch our backs.
This is how The Outer Worlds should be played.
James | Garrus Vakarian - Mass Effect
There's few game characters who have the charisma and likeability of Garrus Vakarian. Initially cold to your character, Commander Shepard, in the original Mass Effect, he quickly stands out from the rest of your companions and only goes on to be near indispensable as both a gun hand in combat and ready with a charming quip or two in conversation.
The joy of the series is often the relationships you build with your crew, and Garrus' interactions with the other characters is endearing as much as his chit chatting with quest givers and adversaries alike. His experience and knowledge has a genuine impact on your decisions too, making you think again about the right course of action, something which is far from clear cut.
On the battlefield, in the fight against the Reapers and various factions they're in cahoots with, Garrus' gunplay is sublime, and you'll combine that with his tech powers to create a diverse supporting character you can always rely on.
There were times in the series that Shepard's journey got difficult, and every single time Garrus would be there in my party to keep pushing me forwards, have my back in combat or be a confidant with advice and support with some of the trickier moral decisions in the game.
On top of all that, it never fails to raise a smile seeing just how much he loves his calculations.
If his sharpshooting skills don't scare the enemy, that melted Halloween mask of a face just might.
Sam | Morrigan - Dragon Age: Origins
Dark Souls notwithstanding, Dragon Age: Origins is my favourite RPG of all time. A major deciding factor in that is the strength of its supporting cast of companions, my favourite among which is Morrigan.
Daughter to a haggered shapeshifter, Morrigan - also known as a Witch of the Wilds - answers the protagonist’s call to aid them in stopping the apocalyptic “Blight” from consuming Ferelden. Though the cause is noble, Morrigan is anything but a willing heroine.
She’s incredibly blunt and dry witted, perfectly brought to life by the excellent Claudia Black (Chloe Frazer in the Uncharted series). When paired with morally upstanding companions like Leliana and Alistair, constant squabbles ensue as Morrigan plays the antagonistic part of devil’s advocate. Often she’ll suggest the less moral (but more practical) solution to a problem, much to the chagrin of other party members regardless of whether or not it needed to be heard.
As a result, Morrigan can come across as uncivilised and abrasive, but the unfiltered truth of her perspective can help any hero to make the hardest decisions with all bases covered. Over time it’s possible to dull her hard edges somewhat and even to romance her, though ultimately, she’s still just serving her own desires.
Unconventional to the end and damn handy in combat, Morrigan lives up to her title by being one helluva wild witch to come to appreciate.
If a tough decision needs to be made, you can count on Morrigan to give it to you straight.
Liam | The Ghosts - Ghost Recon Wildlands
There have been so many notable companions and partners in games over the years that I struggled to pick just one. There’s Skyrim’s Lydia, a Nord sworn to carry our burdens (read: dwarven tat and pillaged foodstuffs) who also loves a spot of spelunking, or Ashley Williams (the steadfast crew member from Mass Effect, not the Bristol City centre back) for whom I sacrificed Kaiden to save during the ill-fated mission on Virmire.
Both would be worthy winners, but, in the end, I’ve gone for the AI squad from Ghost Recon Wildlands. As Sam quite rightly pointed out when we were discussing our choices in one of PTC Towers’ many luxurious spas, these guys aren’t exactly known for their winning personalities, despite their penchant for military humour (and "military" language, shown below).
I couldn’t even tell you their names (I think one was called Midas, though couldn’t say which for sure) but their ridiculously overpowered sync shot easily trumps any personality vacuum. This ability let you pick out three enemy targets which your squad would then take out on your command no matter what was in the way, be it buildings, solid steel walls or even small hills. I’ll take that over a sunny disposition any day.
By military humour, we mean it's not for young ears.
Let us know who your favourite travelling companions are.
Infinity Ward's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare reboot has been released into the wild and, though the welcome return of a fully fledged campaign mode is the main attraction for some, one could argue that the fast-paced multiplayer is the biggest draw. Any multiplayer title worth its salt has a few game types to complement the standard team deathmatch and free-for-all offerings but do objective-based modes tickle our fancy as much?
Teamwork never looks quite as polished during actual gameplay.
When a copy of Modern Warfare unexpectedly dropped into my inbox over the weekend, I dove straight into the campaign and finished it over a couple of sessions. Due to obligation more than anything else, I then hopped into the competitive multiplayer suite.
Generally I avoid Call of Duty multiplayer for a couple of reasons: the somewhat mindless run-and-gun mechanics and a devoted player base that I can’t compete with. After trying and enjoying the improved Ground War mode, which is more akin to Battlefield’s iconic Conquest game type than anything else, my opinion on this particular topic was reaffirmed.
By introducing a bigger map with multiple objective points that it’s inherently harder for devotees to memorise every inch of, the playing field is immediately levelled somewhat for newcomers. Even more so with the ability to contribute by spotting enemies, capturing objectives, resupplying allies, chauffeuring them in vehicles, and even serving as a mobile spawn point for squadmates.
No longer do you need to have perfect twitch reactions and extensive knowledge of each map and their ideal loadouts in order to perform decently. This greater accessibility is what makes objective-based multiplayer far more appealing to me, along with the more diverse range of play styles it accommodates to ultimately help with long-term engagement.
The popular Ground War is better than ever.
Anyone can be "just" a trigger man (or woman) when it comes to video games. Tactics, patience, teamwork – all of these are more important in an objective match, and the rewards more satisfying.
Rainbow Six Siege for example, released to lukewarm reception, but became more successful after introducing new operators and maps which forced players to play the tactical game, using special abilities which were more nuanced than just a bigger gun (though admittedly they did add some bigger guns too...).
One of the best in class for this is still Halo 3, which provided endless fun from just a handful of objective-based modes like Capture the Flag and Rocket Race back in the day, and still holds up in The Master Chief Collection.
Contrast that to even the best example of deathmatch, arguably Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, where the experience is ultimately forgettable.
Having an objective can also elevate perception of a game. Overwatch, for me at least, probably wouldn't have caught my attention as it did if it was a straight up deathmatch. Accompanying a payload through a level in stages is particularly satisfying, and the narrative elements in the more horde-like event modes like Halloween Terror make me pay closer attention.
In the end, it really comes down to the sort of game I am actually half decent at playing, and that's objective every time.
Truly the pinnacle of online multiplayer.
Team deathmatch has always been my go-to mode in online shooters, but I also have a soft spot for objective-based matches so long as I have a few good friends in tow, such as in late 2007 to early 2008 when myself and a few Xbox Live cohorts regularly got together for a few hours of the original Modern Warfare's Search and Destroy.
We could normally gather enough people to fill all six player slots, and without having to worry about randoms ruining strategy or failing to call out enemy positions we quickly became a well-drilled unit that, more often than not, emerged from rounds victorious.
My favourite modes, however, are those that blend the carnage and pace of TDM with some lite objective-based gameplay. Prime examples would be Call of Duty's Headquarters or Battlefront's Drop Pod - two very similar modes in which you capture then hold random locations.
These modes encourage players to work together by drawing everyone to the same spot that's currently up for grabs or under siege, even if it's a team of individuals. Also, most of the time your final K/D ratio has little impact on the outcome of matches, which is perfect for fodder such as myself.
This what happens when you abandon your team.
Let us know your preferred choice of multiplayer modes below.
After trying out a host of excellent indie games at EGX Rezzed earlier this year, our appetite was well and truly whetted for more incredible titles at what is the biggest UK gaming event of the year, EGX.
The showcase had us following V in both Netrunner (i.e. stealthy stealthy) and Solo (i.e. all-out action) figurations through Night City, a broken utopia which never reached the potential of its vision. All this we previously knew, so what's different?
To call the game a mixture of Deus Ex and Fallout is an oversimplification, but as V moves around the world NPCs will interact with you naturally and you'll have multiple routes to taking on a problem. The gameplay is slick, the presentation even more so, and the use of Keanu Reeves as your digital imaginary friend isn't overplayed. It'll be interesting to see if he ends up being more than just a sci-fi Jimminy Cricket as the narrative unfolds, though.
The intrigue of the story, even in this brief slice, was arresting and interesting, plus even the hacking mini-games and other such tropes felt naturally integrated. It really feels like this game is showing us exactly what it will turn out to be, rather than overpromising a "living breathing world" and not delivering. We'll find out for sure when it launches on 16 April 2020.
Best Singleplayer - Luigi's Mansion 3
With the previous game released on 3DS in 2013, it's been a while since Luigi has had a spooky adventure (if you don't count the scary levels from Mario+Rabbids Kingdom Battle - which you should).
Now Mario's younger, taller brother is back to do his best Ghostbusters impression - just in time for Halloween. The poltergust (his hoover-like busting equipment) returns along with a new wrinkle in the form of the puzzle-solving champion Gooigi, a goopy green clone of the plucky plumber who can handle spikes and slip through grates.
The presentation has the usual Nintendo sheen, and the visuals look particularly crisp, if a little tiny on a Switch Lite. It's a wholesome premise which has an artstyle that keeps things entertaining rather than scary, even for youngsters.
Sadly, there was no sign of Waluigi, so we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed for the full game.
Best Multiplayer - Cake Bash
A game we've seen before at EGX Rezzed, the confection-based brawler is only getting better with more time in the oven.
In your quest to become the tastiest cake, there's now a new mode which sees you avoiding a hob placed in the centre of the map, and reportedly there's even more ideas to bring more unusual twists to this Smash Bros-‘em-up.
The biggest sign that this title – brought to life by ex-Ubisoft devs High Tea Frog and published by Coatsink – has a bright future is the number of children and families who turned up to their booth at the show. (Of course, the deck chairs and cuddly toys probably helped.)
We're expecting the final game at some point in 2020, so there may be more to see at next year's Rezzed.
Best Indie - Adventure in Aellion
Have you ever been taking on a Hinox for the 18th time in Breath of the Wild and wished you had a little help? Adventure on Aellion (pronounced Ellion) aims to bring the accessibility and excitement of a solo Zelda adventure to a group of players.
It's still early days, but already the visual style and solid gameplay shows the premise's potential. Developers The Game Production Company are keen to get feedback on the project in terms of how many players there should be and what features should be included.
With an emphasis more on puzzles than combat (the latter of which they’re still expecting to explore), the experience will appeal to those who enjoy the brain-teasing seen in BotW’s Sheika shrines.
Don't miss a few words from Director Luke O'Donoghue in our video round-up.
The Longshot Award - Kung Fu Jesus
This is an interesting one. You're already intrigued by the name, right? What you are picturing can't quite prepare you for the reality of what this game is, however, and more importantly what it could be.
Based partly on hallucinogenic experiences, Kung Fu Jesus is an alternate take on history where Jesus Christ (yes, that one) returns to Earth with no memory, is trained by a kung fu master and works for a drug dealer.
The actual experience at the moment is limited. With creative choices around dialogue in particular, which reuses a handful of (possibly placeholder) foreign language lines, not giving us much to get into and the combat itself feeling quite basic.
Hopefully this is just the first few steps towards a greater end product, as all development is to an extent, let's not forget, and the final game will break through the haze to connect with players while still retaining its quirky spirit.
Most Anticipated - Pokémon Sword and Shield
Pokémon is everywhere. Our phones, our films, even our shopping centres - nowhere is safe from the pocket monsters. It's even already on the Switch, since Let's Go! Pikachu and Let's Go! Eevee were released about a year ago, but many fans might tell you they "don't count".
So, with just a few weeks to go, we got a chance to dive into the new Galar Pokémon region, loosely inspired by real-world Blighty, to fend off a few new 'mon. While it was only a brief glimpse, coupled with the extended information released from various Nintendo Directs, trailers and presentations, it gave us a good sense of how the game will play, and it's good news.
The wheel isn't being re-invented here. The technical challenge of making the jump from 3DS to Switch was more than enough to keep Gamefreak busy, but there's a few new wrinkles to the formula which could be interesting, including Dynamaxing pokémon, a process which sees them grow to football pitch size and unleash devastating attacks.
There was just time to challenge the water-type gym leader Nessa, and we were gifted a full squad of level 50 pokémon to give her a damn good thrashing. The animation was fluid and the performance sound, even as two dynamaxed monsters threw everything they had at one another. There's just a few more weeks to wait for the full experience, and our excitement is palpable.
While blockbusters like the notably weird Death Stranding might have drawn the crowds, there are always more great games at EGX than we can do justice, so here's a few quick ones at the end, hopefully just before you tune out.
No Straight Roads, our top pick from Rezzed, returned with a fresh bit of polish and a few updated UI elements here and there. Indivisible proved to be a delightful hand-animated-style 2D platformer in the usual smattering of 8-bit would-be indie darlings and Boundary, though tricky to get to grips with at first, was very entertaining and a well-executed concept. Keep an eye out for Liam's upcoming interview for more on that one.
In the more AAA camp we had Marvel's Avengers from Crystal Dynamics, with Nolan North and Troy Baker filling in for their better-known Hollywood counterparts. The gameplay was more satisfying than the initial trailer let on and we had a blast smashing up baddies with Mjolnir. Hopefully the final game, which will take a less linear approach to the prologue we played, will impress in the New Year.
Finally, while there wasn't time to try it out, Ring Fit Adventure from Nintendo proved to be a hugely entertaining spectator sport, and one which was definitely popular with the kids who put it through its paces (or...loops?) at the show.
What was your highlight? Did we miss a must-see game? Let us know in the comments and don't forget to watch our video on YouTube.
Following the recent Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament, Blizzard found themselves under fire for their treatment of the winner, Blitzchung, after he voiced support for the people of Hong Kong. His prize winnings have since been reinstated and the ban cut in half to six months but not before their reputation took a hit. Spurred on by this, we recount some of the times developers and publishers have shot themselves in the foot and how it's affected our perception of them.
Fans found Battlefront II's lack of Vader disturbing
Sam | Ubisoft
I wouldn’t say any particular controversy has ever made me do an about face and turn my back on a game company entirely. My decision in this instance hasn’t been made based on any one monumental blunder, but rather Ubisoft’s controversial decision to gradually homogenise most of their, once diverse, franchises into a big boring blob.
Series like Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, Ghost Recon, and more once comprised a diverse range of properties in the French publisher’s catalogue. Now, however, all of these games have converged to follow the same dull formula.
It’s so widespread that the thought alone of booting up a Ubisoft game to be faced with a gigantic map, all but overflowing with markers denoting busywork is enough to make me light headed. When Far Cry and Ghost Recon titles weren’t essentially the same, I enjoyed playing both, but the merging of their mechanics has since served to make them suffocatingly boring for the same reasons.
The latter is most egregious to me; Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and it’s sequel were absolutely exemplary, so to see the regressed state of the series more than a decade later is appalling. The latest entry, Breakpoint, is a genuine embarrassment, to the point I’ve audibly proclaimed that “I fucking hate this” several times while playing.
Hours of adventure, or packed with tedious busywork?
Liam | Rockstar
The only controversy that’s come close to putting me off a publisher, or a particular game, was the revelation of crunch culture at Rockstar following the release of Red Dead Redemption 2. As someone who spent a number of years in the hospitality industry, I know what it’s like to work long unsociable hours and the toll it takes on your personal life, and even your health.
One could argue it’s simply the nature of the beast; games have become these huge, sprawling creations that are built by teams of hundreds for an ever more demanding audience, and crunch is simply part and parcel of that process.
It’s something I never really gave much thought, especially when I was younger, but stories of employees sleeping under desks, afraid to be singled out or let go for not doing their part certainly made me reconsider whether I want to support such a process.
I’m not going to pretend my reasons for avoiding RDR2 were entirely noble (a lack of time and funds also played a significant role) or that it made much difference, but the controversy did at least shine a spotlight on an industry-wide issue, which will hopefully bring about lasting change.
Has our demand for bigger and better games helped fuel crunch culture?
Let us know if a controversy ever put you off a company or game below or in the forums.
We've seen alliances forged and broken since Team Talk's inception one year ago, but today we look back on that first year with fondness, as we think about all the... err... wonderful things we've learned about one another.
Liam and I are very similar in a lot of ways. We both have an aversion to horror games but can fight through the fear if it's compelling enough (or we have a little back up). It's thanks to Liam that I've finally got around to the underrated Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and his choice of starter Pokémon is second to none.
I wouldn't say our professional relationship has evolved to the point where I'd consider moving to a different country just to be physically closer to him, but I can respect anyone's decision to do such a thing.
He's almost adorable.
Having been Team Talk’s baby daddy throughout most of its first year, before recently handing the reins over to the very capable combo of Chris and James, I’ve almost definitely spent longer pawing over past entries than anyone else.
More than anything I’d say that compiling five (or thereabouts) different opinions on one topic each week has taught me how diverse gaming is and, similarly, how diverse Team PTC are as a group. Many a time I’ve choked at the sight of someone’s unbelievable pick - or, in the case of an appalling lack of support for Sobble, everybody’s - but after resisting the urge to make liberal edits I’m generally abated by logical justifications made in 200 words or less.
As Chris pointed out we rarely all agree, which is fine - in fact, no: it’s great! At times games (especially of the AAA variety) can feel homogenised, but in reality, to each individual perspective the landscape is very different.
Most recently, however, I learned that our new host is more perceptive than I give him credit for. I am always on the money and, as predicted, Crackdown 3 is total shit. Thanks Chris!
So much potential...
Having recently moved back to Blighty, I’ve saved Chris the trouble of having to up sticks and join me in the wonderful land of Nether, however, looking back at my contributions – which includes admissions of liking EA’s maligned Battlefront reboot and finding Roof-Crouching Simulator 2012, aka, Dishonored, rather rubbish – the gaming masses would surely feel his loyalty has been misplaced.
I feel slightly less bad about starting and never finishing a game knowing that James, our leader, is a serial offender too. He also favours an aggressive, no nonsense line-up when it comes to assembling a crack team of gaming characters, something I can relate to, considering my suggestion for stopping Voldemort involved massive military strikes.
Like me, Rob grew up in the beautiful south (the location, not the 80’s pop group), but there must be something in the sea air down on the coast that’s addled his mind. This is, after all, a man who thinks of slaughtering legions of undead as a party, and, by his own admission, actually bought a Wii U. That being said, there's no-one I'd trust more when it comes to the classics.
That’s not as disturbing as Sam’s own revelations, which include never having played Ocarina of Time(!), championing an invisible frog, and using Little Sisters as cannon fodder – though he does display exceptional taste when it comes to Mario Kart and superhero games.
Despite all our differences (which, again, is a good thing) it was nice to see this here crew at PTC come together when it really mattered, namely sticking the boot into Google Stadia and loot boxes. You’re welcome, Earth.
Though we could be singing a different tune once it's out in the wild.
Getting a team together is all the rage these days, thanks to them Avengers taking the box office crown this year and also plotting a game release next year. Team Talk has shown off our range of skills quite effectively, establishing the team as our own bunch of colourful superheroes.
Sam is our Tony Stark, working tirelessly pushing the envelope with not only Team Talk itself (his Vision, if you will) but our weekly giveaways and a huge number of well thought-through, entertaining and engaging reviews. Fortunately he shuns Tony's less desirable penchant for self-destruction, but is pushing himself to bring you all more gaming stuff from his brain than ever before with new gigs, writing on other sites.
Chris is Captain America (or Captain Britain), the anchor who holds the team together by keeping the news agenda going, bringing you hot takes and breaking news from all over the place, from the announcements for new games and consoles to supporting our E3 watch parties (and the subsequent lengthy write ups, in case you missed them).
Liam is our Black Widow. Chris' co-pilot in the news stakes and often throwing in a review or two of his own. Also he's a globetrotter, jet-setting from Denmark, to the UK, to Australia and back again in the dead of night. Undoubtedly looking the part in a leather catsuit, Liam's skills keep the team flexible and, until recently at least, let us hit our international quota.
Rob is the Hulk. Not only a smarty pants, but prone to lengthy periods of absence to take on all manner of creative pursuits, including music. He's our resident Nintendo guru and will soon be bringing you his take on Ninty's latest hardware – the Switch Lite.
Everyone has something interesting to say and Team Talk is the best place to hear from all these clever people.
Which would make James our Nick Fury, because Thor is a fictional character.
Will we be all smiles and sunshine after another 12 months of working together? Find out next year.
It's a good time to be a fan of single-player RPGs, as remastered versions of Baldur's Gate and Dragon Quest are looking dapper (having been cleaned up for modern systems), a sequel to The Surge saw release on Tuesday (expect a review very soon) and a new IP from Bandai Namco, the Souls-like Code Vein, will be with us in time for the weekend. With so many differently styled RPGs out there, both old and new, it's hard to choose a favourite, but we've done just that.
In a situation like this, survival is often the best one can hope for.
Sam | Dark Souls
It’ll likely come as no surprise to anybody that FromSoftware’s unforgiving Dark Souls is my choice this week. Not only my favourite RPG but quite possibly my favourite game of all time, it’s such an entirely cherishable experience in every which way.
That even includes every crushing defeat, because without the comparative lows the game would never reach its intoxicating highs. The in-depth systems, lore, setting and combat are all outstanding on an unparalleled level in my mind; frankly, it’s just a damn special experience.
That being said, and I’ll make this transition in part because I’ve gushed over Dark Souls here several times before, BioWare’s Dragon Age: Origins gives it a good run for its money. Launching back before EA got their mitts on the RPG-specialist studio, there were none of the compromises synonymous with BioWare today.
Origins’ tactical combat, lore, systems and setting were also great in their own right, but where the game far exceeds Dark Souls is in its cast of characters. Allies comprising protagonist The Warden’s party were particularly memorable, with my personal favourites being Alistair and Morrigan for all their endearing squabbling. They were honestly more like real-world friends than fictional characters in a game and I can only hope we’re reunited in the upcoming Dragon Age 4.
Dark Souls' cast may pale in comparison but it doesn't take away from the series.
Liam | The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
All Zelda games are an easy sell, but there’s something extra special about The Wind Waker. Even the ridiculously catchy opening bars of the title music are enough to let you know you’re in for a treat.
Stepping out into Hyrule Field for the first time in Ocarina of Time might be regarded by many as a defining moment in the series but, for me, The Wind Waker’s sprawling seas offered a much greater sense of adventure.
I loved heading into uncharted waters, watching shadows on the horizon grow steadily larger until they transformed into a new island, ripe for exploring. Rare encounters with spectral ships and kraken-like sea monsters just added to the sense of wonder.
This was the first Zelda game I finished on my own, without help from older siblings, friends, or guides. The only assistance I needed was Link himself, who would use his gargantuan cartoon eyes to give hints as to what to do next, almost as if he were pondering the situation as much as I was.
The Wind Waker sets a personal standard by which other RPGs are judged. It’s got everything; adventure, action, great storytelling and characters, plus a superb soundtrack. It even has a magic pear that lets you control seagulls. What more do you need?
Now that's a catchy opener.
James | Mass Effect
Mass Effect is not only a series I enjoyed thoroughly, but one I actually finished (and regular readers will know how much of a rare occurrence that is) and was possibly the first time I lost myself in the story of an RPG. Shepard's quest to save the Milky Way started off (and, some would say, ended) clunky and awkward but found its feet thanks to BioWare's mastery in creating compelling characters and an interesting, Star Trek-esque future society where humanity wasn't the leader of the Federation, but a race that was constantly trying to prove itself.
The gameplay is solid, and gets even better as the series progresses. You've got a lot of variety to play with in your character too, equipping your version of Shepard with Force-inspired superpowers or technical skills to use in combat. The real game-changer is the branching dialogue trees and Paragon and Renegade system, which sees your Shep change as you play, even opening up dastardly or pious actions depending on which side of the line you tread.
Who can forget moments with well-rounded characters like Mordin Solus singing Gilbert and Sullivan, the impossible choice about the fate of the Krogans on Virmire and the epic final dash through the Omega 3 mass effect relay as you tightly clutch every beloved character you can get your hands on. I'm not Commander Shepard, but this is my favourite RPG on the Citadel.
Bioware get top marks for storytelling, right until the very end.
Let us know which RPG you would recommend above any other.
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee recently released a report on "immersive and addictive technologies" which came with the recommendation that the UK Government regulate loot boxes under the Gambling Act and prohibit the sale of them to children. Loot boxes are not uncommon in most AAA titles, particularly those with a multiplayer component, but are they welcome, or do they subtract more than they add?
They certainly know how to make them alluring.
The only time I have any contact with loot boxes (or whatever industry executives are calling them these days) is when they’re handed out as in-game rewards. I’ve never paid money for one, and I’ve never felt the urge to. But that’s not to say I’m entirely immune to their charms. I’d eagerly rush to open a new box between rounds of Overwatch hoping to find a rare skin, and I’d always save my REQ points (Halo 5’s in-game currency) so I could go for the more expensive gold REQ packs and enjoy the fanfare that came with earning higher tier loot.
I can see the problem with having such mechanics, especially paid ones, in games that are readily available to a younger audience. In my teenage years I stood for hours in bookies watching friends lose money they didn’t have on digital roulette machines in pursuit of a win, and I know how painfully addictive the chase is.
Slapping an 18 rating or a gambling warning on FIFA is unlikely to stop waves of oblivious parents from buying the game for their child, and while I doubt we’ll ever be rid of them in titles like that in some form or other, more stringent regulation coupled with consumer outrage might at least convince a few publishers to ditch the trend.
Ultra rare drops are sometimes even less common than the name suggests.
Coverage of the scrutiny loot boxes are under has had very few rallying to the defence of the big publishers who make their existence a reality, besides the publishers themselves, as most gamers, it's safe to say, aren't huge fans.
The notion that you need to spend more money, after paying upwards of £50 on a game, to get the best experience doesn't sit well at the best of times, but to do so and not be sure what you're even paying for is far worse.
The targeting of young and vulnerable people in particular is bad (though it isn't the only industry to do so), and the report specifically suggests putting barriers up to protect youngsters and their parents' credit cards.
The regulation of some of these mechanics (which are certainly anything but a surprise) should be an opportunity to help the industry to be taken seriously, when compared to a passion for film or TV, and put an end to the latest story your parents hear about gaming being how a 6 year old spent £1,000 in FIFA Ultimate Team.
A world-class digital team could require a lot of physical funds.
Provided they don’t affect game balance, I’m not entirely opposed to traditional microtransactions. This most often means they take the form of cosmetic items that hold little to no value for me personally, but having a reasonably priced option for those of a different disposition is generally harmless enough.
Not entirely harmless, mind, with one example being kids getting bullied for playing as the default character in Fortnite. That obviously isn’t okay, but you can at least grab exactly what’s needed to address the “problem” if need be. Games that tie everything into randomised loot boxes don’t allow for that (and it’s telling that this is the stage we’re at) “luxury”.
Instead you might be lucky enough to get a 0.5% chance at unlocking the desired item, which can not only lead to children emptying their unknowing parents’ bank accounts, but also prey on adults that are susceptible to the intentionally insidious hooks of problem gambling. Regardless of any ancient definition that might legally rule out loot boxes as a form of gambling on a technicality, the blighters are precisely that.
Free-to-play games that need so-called “whales” (a dehumanising term which, one could argue, helps with handling the question of morality) to support them are one thing, but when full price games like FIFA are built around the same model it’s just a display of unchecked greed. Especially when, in this instance, the offending Ultimate Team mode does affect gameplay balance.
The free-to-play model works a lot better in free-to-play titles.
Let us know how you feel about loot boxes.
Borderlands 3 has released today and, just like with Pokemon and Fire Emblem: Three Houses, we've got some pretty strong opinions on who you should start your career with. Join us for a light-hearted, friendly, debate about the best character, and the others, in Borderlands 3.
Sam | FL4K
I have to be honest and say that I really don’t like the Borderlands series, although Telltale Games’ narrative-based adventure Tales from the Borderlands does stand as a notable exception.
Gearbox Software’s looter shooters have historically bored the pants off me and so I’ll be opting out of Borderlands 3, likely much to the chagrin of the salivating general gaming populous. If I were to be a glutton for punishment and give the latest cel-shaded shooter a try, however, I’d probably opt for FL4K the Beastmaster.
This gender-neutral, robotic Vault Hunter doesn’t do anything to appeal to me in themselves, but coming bundled with what are essentially three pet doggy companions makes for an easy win. Unfortunately you can only summon one at a time, but it’s pretty cool that they all have different abilities designed to complement your chosen playstyle as you upgrade their master’s attributes.
As for FL4K’s competition? Zane’s a total snooze fest, Amara’s stuck in the shadow of fellow multi-muscly-arm-owner Machamp, and Moze is pretty much just a Titanfall reject...
Liam | Moze
Sam’s Team Talk choices have come a long way since the dark days of Sobble, but once again we find ourselves at loggerheads following a fleeting alliance against Chris, James, and their moody magicians, although I will allow that Zane is by far the most boring character on offer here, closely followed by Amara and her magic fists.
I mean, if you’re going to survive on a hostile planet, it’s best to do so in the company of a giant death machine that also cooks dinner and doubles up as an alarm clock, rather than with a mutant ‘dog’ in ski goggles. Titanfall reject indeed!
But there’s also an element of pragmatism to my choice. I know you’re supposed to play these sorts of games with people you like, or, failing that, your friends and family, but nine times out of ten I’ll end up going stag, so having an autonomous mech in tow will at least give enemies something else to shoot at. As Moze herself points out: “When your BFF’s a BFG, you don’t need anyone else watching your back.”
James | Zane
Having played as Zero on a recent replay of Borderlands 2, it's been an assassin-tastic time on Pandora, and I'm looking forward to continuing the adventure in a similar vein.
Zane is a different kind of character though. While Zero is quiet and robotic, Zane is described as a suave, James Bond-esque character who is "wealthy and has a lot of gadgets at his disposal."
There's an advantage immediately to choosing the gentleman's assassin, in that he can equip two action skills rather than one, which lends itself to a wider variety of movesets across his Doubled Agent, Hitman and Under Cover skill trees.
You have the tried and tested decoy (now known as a "Digi-Clone") as well as a SNTNL drone and a shield barrier to play with as we explore not just Pandora, but a few other planets for a change.
In skills, I'm amused to see we have one called "Nanites or Some Shite" which causes your barrier to give you and your allies health regeneration, faster reload speed and quicker shield recharge when cowering near it.
The character itself is related to bandit leaders Captain and Baron Flynt and is a "semi-retired" hitman, suggesting he might have seen a few things in his time. Though with Borderlands as a series it's rare your character is particularly important to the plot, more along for the ride.
Let us know who you've chosen and if we managed to change your mind.
The Sims 4: Island Living is the seventh major expansion for Maxis’ popular life-simulator, taking players (and their Sims) to the tropical paradise of Sulani for a slice of laid-back island living. Following a successful launch earlier in the summer, we chatted with Jill Johnson, Associate Producer on the The Sims 4, about escaping the rat race, island upkeep and the danger of mermaids.
The amount of colour offered by a change of scenery is one of the first things you notice, and players have a responsibility for looking after the island to keep it that way. How easy was is to balance the aesthetic elements with making the experience compelling for players?
From a visual standpoint, we had a few discussions early on concerning the starting stage for Island Conservation. We universally knew we didn’t want the starting point to look like a bleak wasteland, but we also needed to have that wow moment in contrast for the final stage of conservation.
Especially in the earliest phase, boosting up your Island’s conservation takes a bit of commitment. We did this intentionally so that when you’ve finally picked up that magic last piece of trash or spread the word to enough people, you get a very satisfying sense of investment when you get a vibrant notification telling you that your island is thriving.
Our Art and Design teams got pretty creative by pulling a handful of different levers to keep a noticeably visual progression without roughing up the starting point too much. The palm trees and the coral gets a little bit brighter. Instead of nets and piles of litter, eventually you start to see more fish and turtles and butterflies. Bright and colorful flowers start to show up. And my personal favorite is the striking bioluminescence you can spot glowing at night.
There seems to be a disaster movie element here, with your active volcano in particular stopping Island Living from being a total paradise. What sort of unexpected events will players be dealing with this time?
Oh yes, the volcano. It’s true, one of the pillars of Island Living is a peaceful, relaxing lifestyle. But this is still The Sims! And we definitely have some people on the team who love to grief their Sims. Other than possibly getting pummelled by lava bombs and catching on fire - if the Volcanic Activity Lot Trait is on your lot, of course - your Sims can find themselves in some other compromising situations around Sulani.
My personal favorite danger is the shark. If you swim out into the deeper, darker parts of the ocean there is a very real threat that you may encounter a shark. Pro tip: If you don’t get your Sim out of the water right away, you might just get pulled under and die.
If you displease the Island Spirits from the Island Spirits Lot Trait or the Island Elementals that are tied to the Child of the Island Personality Trait, they will make your luck turn sometimes disastrously bad.
And last but not least: not all Mermaids are sweet and friendly. Mermaids can use Summon Ocean Threat or use their Siren’s call on other unsuspecting swimmers that leaves them in a very bad state.
Dolphins also inhabit Sulani's waters, though encounters with them are markedly less threatening to your health
With The Sims being loosely based on our own exciting lives, how do you make things like dealing with insurance claims and the more serious business of child protection fun and interesting? Is it difficult to find the right balance between real life and Sim life?
We try to keep most things in The Sims generally light-hearted & entertaining, even when dealing with the less glamorous parts of life. We also don’t want our Sims universe to be this pristine perfect utopia, because what’s the fun in that? Sims can fart, Sims can die, and sometimes Sims can milk a Cowplant.
Many of our players love being able to play a realistic life, homework and all. Like any of our features, when dealing with something mundane or dark, we play the feature and feel it out. Our development team has gotten a very fine sense of what feels appropriate and what might need a little more silly.
If something’s feeling too boring, maybe we’ll adjust the tuning to make it less of a grind or add some extra funny chance to fail. If something’s feeling too serious we might liven it up a bit with some goofy animations. We try to keep a balance.
For those who might have been away from the series for a while, or players who haven't tried The Sims before at all, do you feel like this is a good point to jump into the delightful world of Simlish and unprompted kitchen fires?
Of course! It’s never too late to jump in and pick up The Sims. One of the coolest things I think The Sims has to offer is that, similar to most of the game pieces, even the packs you chose to play help make your experience modular. So if Island Living is the only expansion pack you own, you won’t be worse for the wear. Your Sims just might be a little more chill than others. Tee hee.