The fact I’ve never played Skyrim has been a dirty little secret of mine for more than half a decade now; the role-playing game that took the world by storm, and its re-releases, have simply passed me by. While shameful, this does make me almost uniquely qualified to approach Bethesda and Escalation Studios’ Skyrim VR without Sony’s future goggles taking on a rose tint. With nostalgia out of the question, how does The Elder Scrolls’ fifth instalment hold up on PlayStation VR?
Skyrim VR is the rare kind of game that you think about all day at work or school, eager to get home in order to reprise the exciting role of your in-game character.
The technical foibles hampering its execution include a familiar, but no less irritating, image drifting issue that sees your display gradually migrate to the side now and then. If you turn to follow it it only gets worse, and holding start to realign doesn’t do the job, so a quick and easy fix is to cycle your headset’s power with the inline control. The otherwise strong motion tracking on our PlayStation Move controllers also tended to go awry as they started to run low on battery, but that’s probably more to do with the hardware’s ancient tech than the software itself.
Provided you can tough these issues out and stomach the omission of a third-person camera perspective - which isn’t a big deal in VR, but it does mean you can’t fully appreciate that swanky new armour set - the positives you’re presented far outweigh the comparatively insignificant negatives.
It’s the little things that stand out, like approaching a mammoth and bolting when the towering beast postures as though about to attack; getting a real-life shiver when clouds conceal the sun and rain starts to pour in-game; nearly dying of a heart attack when a swinging log trap abruptly falls from the ceiling and crashes directly into your face. The sense of scale and depth creates an immersion that transforms the run-of-the-mill into the extraordinary, plastering a smile on your face as you internally exclaim “Now that was cool!”
Rock solid fundamentals evoke a similar response, whether you’re playing with motion controls or a standard DualShock 4. In addition to this initial choice, you're also able to adventure either seated or standing, and can tweak a range of comfort options, meaning just about everybody can jump in regardless of their virtual reality prowess.
Menus in VR can often be much less accommodating, due to finicky motion scrolling and illegible low resolution text, so it’s a real relief that Skyrim - a menu-heavy game by any account - doesn’t fall victim to these pitfalls. Both a high level of polish and some beautiful reworking make it much less of a hassle to, for example, ditch any useless items you pick up at the game’s mercy, as its point-and-click method doesn’t quite boast the finesse necessary to pluck individual gold pieces from a bowl.
VR's sense of scale and depth creates an immersion that transforms the run-of-the-mill into the extraordinary, plastering a smile on your face as you internally exclaim “Now that was cool!"
While the menus are great and all, favourite shortcuts help you bypass them to access your arsenal toute sweet, and stay in the thick of the fight. Dual-wielding Move controllers is a perfect fit for Skyrim’s mix-and-match combat, in which you can combine a range of spells, melee weapons and shields across both hands. For the first time you’re afforded total independent control, meaning you can simultaneously attack different enemies in different directions, perhaps after anticipating a flanking manoeuvre thanks to PS VR’s 3D audio output.
Getting to grips with combat can be like spinning plates at first, juggling motion and button inputs across both hands at the same time, but once you’ve got your head around it you’ll start to feel like a truly badass death dealer. The conventional system is still passable, but very stiff by comparison; it’s simply so much more involving to physically swing a sword, raise your shield to block a loosed arrow, or shoot arcane elements from the palm of your hand.
Similarly, VR’s proclivity for creeping terror makes travelling the stealthy route just as intense. Nocking an arrow, pulling back the string, aiming and releasing is incredibly rewarding, as you’ll more often than not hit your mark without any kind of HUD element to serve as a visual aid. Just don’t get too comfortable sniping from a perch, as being caught unaware by the incoming axe swing of a virtual assassin-come-executioner isn’t the nice kind of surprise...
Skyrim does show its age in places, particularly with regard to its ugly and stilted NPC interactions, but small sacrifices to visual fidelity had to be made across the board in order to hit the necessary 90 frames per second for a non-nauseating time inside your headset. Just rest assured that, at its core, the game is perhaps more so than ever an incredibly in-depth and engrossing RPG with many meaningful choices of approach.
Whether you’re revisiting The Elder Scrolls V or venturing into its snow-capped mountains, vibrant countryside and deep, dark dungeons for the first time, Skyrim VR is an essential play for PlayStation VR owners. There’s more game for your money here than anywhere else on the platform, and, in spite of a few flaws, it’s pretty much all killer and no filler. With Bethesda bringing Fallout 4 and DOOM to virtual reality just next month, this is a very promising insight into what’s to come from one of the few major players supporting the burgeoning technology, and single player games along with it.
They say foxes are cunning (if you believe 90's sitcoms at any rate), and the decision to ditch VR for this fox-themed follow up to exclusive Oculus Rift title Lucky’s Tale was certainly that if the aim was to reach a wider audience. Whether the move to a more traditional presentation makes it a more compelling game is another matter.
The accessible design philosophy results in a difficulty level that’s pedestrian for the most part, even coming off the already generous Super Mario Odyssey.
Four clovers are available in each individual stage, with the additional three awarded for hoarding 300 coins, collecting all of the Lucky letters and unearthing a secret. The hidden clovers offer up the most fun, such as requiring you to round up chickens into a pen.
While amusing distractions, these objectives don’t do enough to alter the fact that the game overall is fairly average. If the aim were specifically to please children, then it’s mission accomplished - with only a few moves to learn and basic mechanics to master, this is a decent stab at “My First 3D Platformer” - but beyond that there’s little in the way of compelling character, and with that, not much staying power.
There’s a suggestion from Lucky’s sister, Lyra, that “if only” Lucky wasn’t stuck in a book, she’d be able to help. Perhaps if she had been drawn into the story and the game acted as a drop-in/drop-out couch co-op adventure, it would not only help differentiate from the game’s predecessor, but fill a niche in the genre in need of filling - particularly around Christmas.
You’ll face boss encounters throughout Lucky’s adventure, which register a blip on the challenge-o-meter, but don’t change up the gameplay enough to stand out. ‘Unexpected’ visits from Jinx, the mastermind of the Kitty Litter (an equivalent to Mario Odyssey’s Broodals), are also more a distraction than compelling turns in the narrative.
If the aim were specifically to please children, then it’s mission accomplished, but beyond that there’s little in the way of compelling character.
Similarly, the locations in Super Lucky’s Tale are pretty uninspiring across the board, which, admittedly, stems from their relative proximity to the boundless creativity on display in Odyssey. Though nice and colourful, locales also fail to take any major advantage of the 4K upgrade which the Xbox One X offers - a particularly disappointing fact given the game is the X’s only official launch title.
With all that said, ultimately, the game is fine. Not offensive, not broken (though we have gotten stuck in the floor) and certainly not filled with egregious microtransactions. It’s just fine. Even though Super Lucky’s Tale will only set you back £20 (or £14 on sale at the time of writing), it’s a stretch to heartily recommend in such close proximity to Super Mario Odyssey, which just evolved the genre and left Lucky in its shadow.
Fancy trying your hand at winning a copy of Super Lucky's Tale on Xbox One? Check out our latest giveaway!
Well here we are, two years after EA burst onto the scene with the pretty but, ultimately, somewhat disappointing Star Wars Battlefront. Now, EA has pulled together a ragtag group of accomplished studios - DICE, Motive and Criterion - in an attempt to knock our socks off with the sequel, so, how did they do?
Janina Gavankar, who provides motion capture and voice over for the protagonist, gives one of the strongest performances we’ve come across in a videogame.
While it’s nice to fling a lightsaber about, there’s time for that in the multiplayer. Would it have been so difficult to really double down on Iden and make her story as central as she appears on the box art? The worst culprit here is the final mission which (minor spoilers) sees you control current trilogy baddie Kylo Ren “several decades later” in an elongated dream sequence/representation of mental torture which serves as a confusing coda which spoils the neat, if slightly derivative, ending of the proceeding mission (end minor spoilers).
Quibbles aside, the campaign doesn’t outstay its welcome and is structured in extremely manageable chunks, though it does feel quite short. The missions could use a few more memorable set pieces but are, without exception, stunningly beautiful - especially on Xbox One X. The stellar sound design also works to complement the visuals and fully immerse you in this iconic universe.
Multiplayer this time around offers a choice of the large scale Galactic Conquest, engaging aerial ship combat in Starfighter Assault, and the trio of Strike, Blast and Heroes vs Villains. Those looking to dive back into the droid-themed King of the Hill or Star Wars-y Capture the Flag modes are out of luck, but here DICE have focused in on the best they have to offer.
Galactic Conquest is the real headline experience, or at least should be, behaving similarly to Battlefield’s Rush mode, albeit with more varied objectives. The 40-player face off is a mixed bag at times, with certain battles feeling decidedly one-sided depending on whether your team is attacking or defending. More of a systemic problem across the board is players not pursuing the objective (an issue Sam’s lamented in the past) and instead going for kills in search of all important Battle Points.
Herein lies one of the most fundamental changes to multiplayer this time around, and one which, in theory, makes things a lot better. Instead of hero and vehicle pickups being dotted around the battlefront (if you will) in random locations, generally away from the action, they’re now bought with Battle Points earnt through gameplay.
Points values vary from a few hundred for what would be generous to describe as vehicles, to legendary heroes for a few thousand. There’s still only one of each unit on the battlefield at once though, so if you’re slow on the uptake you might find the hero you really want locked out after you save up your points.
This is where we get to the real crux of the matter: the loot box and Star Card systems. You can only choose your favourite hero in multiplayer if you’ve unlocked them first, which costs credits, some of which you get from crates. At the time of writing, EA have decided to deactivate all microtransactions in the game for the time being, meaning that loot boxes and credits can currently only be earned in-game. There are a few rewards on offer for completing campaign missions and gathering collectibles, but mostly you’ll acquire them through putting in a good performance in multiplayer.
When you do get your hands on a box or two, you won’t miss it, as the game’s title screen flashes a notification to remind you that you have goodies to unbox. This is where you get Star Cards, which unlock cosmetics like victory poses and emotes for your characters and heroes, but, more controversially, abilities and items which affect balance during competitive play.
The difference between having no card and a fully maxed out, top-tier card on a given ability can be quite stark. The Heavy class’ supercharged sentry hits harder, for longer, and is generally scarier to be on the receiving end of, for example. Likewise, the already powerful heroes can take on a whole new level of challenge when souped up.
If you do play (or eventually pay) your way to being maxed out, you would have a significant advantage, and that doesn’t make for a fun or healthy competitive culture in the game. Similar to how in Call of Duty those with the best killstreaks can overwhelm novices, the players with their pick of everything in Battlefront II can frequently dominate the end-of-round boards.
When taking the paid element into consideration, the entire thing feels uneasy, particularly when the likes of Overwatch and Lawbreakers manage to navigate the questionable loot box culture with relative grace and ease. Whether these practices are gambling isn’t for a gaming website to decide, but it undoubtedly promotes a haves and have-nots culture.
If you do play (or eventually pay) your way to being maxed out, you'd have a significant advantage, and that doesn’t make for a fun or healthy competitive culture in the game.
There are more basic issues too, amongst them comically bad bugs which spoil an otherwise impressive audio and visual presentation. A lot of deaths can feel cheap, with a short average lifespan meaning much of your time is spent sprinting back to the front line. Weapons lack distinctive naming conventions, or even a clear class system, which makes choosing between them a chore; add to that the fact that some max out their attributes fairly early on, and you’re also left reluctant to ever swap them out.
With two years and a wealth of feedback, which EA are adamant they listen to, the end result is a disjointed, incoherent experience. The game promises to give you the Star Wars universe, and you get moments where everything feels right and it does, but all too often these are short lived and followed by a drawback with no place being there.
There’s no doubt that Battlefront II is the best Star Wars game released in a while, but that’s only because of a lack of competition. The positives do outweigh the negatives in the end however - space battles in Starfighter Assault are gripping, Galactic Conquest does a lot to move things forward from 2015’s Battlefront revival, and the joy of stomping grunts as your favourite heroes can’t quite be matched. Throw in a campaign that’s well worth playing and, ultimately, the game stands up in spite of its toxic progression systems and further flaws.
Picking up where the first game left off, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 is an all-new original adventure that sees obscure super villain, Kang the Conqueror, hatch a typically outlandish plot for world domination. Thusly, it falls to you and Marvel Comics’ best and brightest heroes to set things straight.
As worlds collide, so too do super heroes and villains from different eras and realities, accommodating a bonkers narrative that’s packed with nods and direct references.
You'll use their abilities in conjunction with one another to solve simple environmental puzzles and progress through Marvel Super Heroes 2’s self-contained levels. While it’s disappointing to see a return to the more fragmented structure of a central hub with the main missions offshooting from it, after it was ditched in favour of a more fluent throughline in The LEGO NINJAGO Movie Video Game, it’s not a death knell when both elements of the game are entertaining in their own right.
While the areas that comprise Chronopolis aren’t nearly as detailed as some of their videogame counterparts - coming directly from Assassin’s Creed Origins’ take, Ancient Egypt fell more than a little flat - the variety is engaging and there are fun optional activities on just about every corner. Easily the highlight amongst these are the substantial Gwenpool (an amalgamation of Gwen Stacy and Deadpool) side quests that burst with energy.
Along the way you’ll engage enemies in combo-building combat, which is a step above the more typical LEGO game fare without matching NINJAGO’s considered freneticism. Even with additional methods of offence at your disposal though, it’s easy just to mash the standard attack button until you inevitably win. This obviously caters to the game’s younger audience, but, when you basically face no repercussions for dying (as usual in this series), adding a little more nuance wouldn’t do any harm. Set-piece battles against some gargantuan bosses are at least a genuinely cool spectacle.
While the areas comprising Chronopolis aren’t nearly as detailed as some of their videogame counterparts, the variety is engaging and there are fun optional activities on just about every corner.
You can bring a local buddy along for the ride in drop-in/drop-out co-op, or sample the game’s competitive modes if you’d rather battle against than alongside each other. With no restrictions on the characters up for selection the latter mode can be unbalanced, but that’s all part of the fun. You can also play against the AI, should you be on your lonesome.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 very much follows the established template, warts and all, with issues like an obstructive camera, clumsy control mapping, and performance blips remaining present and accounted for. None of the issues are invasive enough to undo the game’s consistent charm and fun factor, however; if you’re a Marvel fan, of any age or gaming skill level, there’s a lot here you’ll like.
It’s no secret that Microsoft began this hardware generation on the backfoot. An unpopular and confusing online-only plan and awkward game sharing policy proved to be a crippling initial salvo against the Xbox One, and Sony’s PlayStation 4 took full advantage. By now, the pressure on the company to inject some va va voom into the console race - much of it self-inflicted - is high, so does the new Xbox One X rise to meet that challenge?
From the sleek design of the hardware itself to the power of the silicon within, the X is both a treat to behold and an undeniable powerhouse.
Its CPU, the thing that moves all that information around and does the heavy lifting, has been bumped up too, though not nearly by as much, so it can still prove to be a limiting factor when it comes to maintaining an entirely steady technical performance in games that get extra frantic.
Games are the current stumbling point for Microsoft’s new console; 'Xbox One X Enhanced’ is the go-to phrase in describing titles which have been tweaked by their developer to see some sort of improvement on the X. The first thing to note is that even games which aren’t optimised for the hardware can see improvements, from loading more quickly thanks to a faster internal hard drive, to displaying at higher resolutions and holding steadier frame rates, but the games which make the enhanced list (in theory) offer more than just that.
At the time of writing there's 170 games on that list, including the recently announced Destiny 2, which will also get support on the PS4 Pro. That number sounds good, but as you start to do a bit of digging the disappointing reality becomes clear.
Firstly, only 76 titles are available right now (again, at time of writing) and while that does include excellent new releases like Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Middle Earth: Shadow of War, Assassin’s Creed Origins and The Evil Within 2, it's also peppered with the random likes of Danger Zone and Transcripted - which may well be great games, but hardly tentpole releases.
Add to that numbers made up by games now a bit long in the tooth, such as Halo 3 and Fallout 3 - both with successors in the 'Coming Soon’ or 'In Development’ categories - and you’re likely to be disappointed on some level. Even first-party exclusives like ReCore, which you'd think would be a no-brainer for launch day, are unfortunately absent at present.
There's plenty more to come, of course, but the fact that the console doesn't really have launch titles to speak of following Crackdown 3’s unfortunate delay - an exception being family-friendly platformer Super Lucky's Tale, which we’re working on reviewing - means that opportunities to see and share the pinnacle of what the Xbox One X can achieve are thin on the ground during the launch window.
One nice showpiece, which probably should have been pre-loaded on the console (though it’s understandable why not, as 4K assets are quick to fill the 1TB of included storage), is an interactive video from The Mill, famed for CGI work on Doctor Who and even the new John Lewis Christmas ad. Called Insects, the video loops some computer-generated footage and lets you tweak the settings on the fly, turning 4K and HDR on and off and changing the time of day and colour scheme to see the effects in action.
Opportunities to see and share the pinnacle of what the Xbox One X can achieve are thin on the ground during the launch window.
In my personal experience, sadly, the video wouldn’t register the HDR capabilities of my TV, so we only managed to play with the 4K aspect, but it certainly puts into perspective just what sort of difference it makes. An important thing to remember is that even on a 1080p screen the console gives you the best graphical fidelity you can expect, often rendering at a higher resolution and then downscaling the image, so the differences between HD and 4K aren’t as night and day as they were in the SD to HD transition.
HDR is in fact the effect that most people will notice, infusing a comparatively dull SDR picture with more vibrant and accurate colour, but it just so happens to also be offered by the now budget price Xbox One S (a console that can also upscale images to 4K, though that doesn’t compare to the X’s native resolutions).
Enhancements vary across the slate; higher resolution, HDR support and faster frame rates and/or improved textures are typically on offer, but only 32 games so far have the full hat-trick of features. This means your experience across specific games will very much vary in terms of how ‘enhanced’ they actually feel.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, the whole thing is far from black and white, and at times is very technical and complex to get your head around. Outlets like Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry in particular go a long way to making the terminology accessible, but to the casual consumer it’s difficult to say how ‘wowed’ they’ll be without putting the original state of the game alongside the enhanced version.
This isn’t something which the Xbox One X does however, and it’s missed a trick by not clearly illustrating the difference you get for your money. There’s no denying the theoretical power, and even the distinct differences in practice, but the reality is most people likely won’t appreciate just how much effort has gone into this little (but very heavy) black box to push the envelope.
The experience as a whole is made even more clumsy by not taking you through an extensive setup to make sure you get the best from your display - particularly if it’s 4K - when the machine is first turned on. We found ourselves tweaking options on both the X and the TV itself for at least a couple of days before we got to what feels like the right place, but even then it’s difficult to be sure when different games have different interpretations of light and dark.
It might sound like we’re really down on the X, but there's actually no disappointment directed towards the console itself, just the missed opportunities which appear to be perfectly within reach. The Xbox games library arguably isn’t as strong as PlayStation’s blow-for-blow or title-by-title, but now we’re starting to see original Xbox games introduced there’s certainly the scope and potential to have something for everyone across all generations of Xbox, so why at launch are we left wanting?
It might sound like we’re really down on the X, but there's no disappointment directed towards the console itself, just the missed opportunities which appear to be within reach.
The strongest examples that the Xbox One X currently has to offer are, really, from third-party games like Wolfenstein, Shadow of War and Assassin’s Creed Origins, and the former doesn’t even score the enhancement hat-trick. The first-party offering is frankly poor, with just Super Lucky’s Tale on the new release front and even older titles’ updates still MIA. Halo 5, Forza 7 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are the only saving graces, delivering on spectacle and performance across the board, but it doesn’t feel like Microsoft are doing enough when they’re asking £450 to get involved.
Xbox One X as a machine ticks all the boxes, but it can’t exist in a vacuum. It might be the right time to release a console, but Microsoft have far from given it the strongest start out of the gate. That said, it is an incredible machine, and a lot of what you can currently play is impressive in all the right ways, so, providing the price tag isn’t something that bothers you and you can accept that the enhancement process is very much ongoing, it’s a piece of kit we can still recommend.
A direct sequel to 2013’s The Stick of Truth, South Park: The Fractured but Whole sees players reprise their role as the titular mountain town’s New Kid, only this time, swords and sorcery give way to capes and ridiculous superpowers.
It’s classic South Park stuff - intentionally basic visuals and all - packed with the sort of crude humour, plot twists and biting satire that fans of the show know and love.
Battles in Fractured still follow the turn-based structure found in The Stick of Truth, but now offer players (and enemies) greater tactical freedom by allowing them to move around the battlefield on a grid. Rather than simply queuing up and kicking lumps out of each other, it’s now possible - with enough careful planning and the right mix of heroes - to surround and outmanoeuvre enemies, or even dodge their ranged attacks.
This new freedom is put to particularly good use in boss battles, creating some memorable fights. Highlights include outrunning an obese stripper and her one-hit-kill crush attack, simultaneously clearing a path through her minions, and a showdown with a sober Towlie, who’s immune to your attacks and instead must be pacified by igniting cannabis stores placed around the arena.
A range of QTEs crop up both when dealing out and defending against damage to boost outgoing or mitigate incoming punishment, as well as helping to build a meter that, once full, unleashes an over-the-top special attack that’s equally entertaining and devastating.
Before a fight, players can tactically select up to three other members of Coon and Friends to battle alongside them, providing you’ve already unlocked them as a buddy and aren’t on a mission that requires a specific set of characters. Finding the right team may take a bit of trial and error, as there are quite a few options to choose from, but most people should be able to assemble a preferred combination that compliments their play style nicely.
Some of your allies also have powers that can be used outside of combat to reach secret areas hidden around South Park. As an example, you can activate the Human Kite’s flying ability wherever you see a pinwheel, allowing you to reach previously inaccessible areas and rewards, such as new hero costumes and Artefacts (the latter enhancing passive powers and boosting your Might, which makes missions easier). It’s something that helps stop mundanity creeping in as you track your way back and forth across the limited reaches of the town, but, luckily, Jimmy returns to offer another fast travel option that makes things easier on that front.
The Fractured but Whole was always going to be packed with comedy gold, but buried underneath all the fart jokes and political incorrectness is an engrossing and hugely enjoyable strategy RPG.
Although you’re cast as the Amazing Butthole, whose legendary flatulence can be used to interrupt enemy attacks and even bend time, players are able to customise their avatar both visually and on a deeper level, specifically across hero classes and a range of abilities spread between brawler, speed and support archetypes. As you make progress more and more classes begin to open up, and you’re free to combine multiple, though you still only ever have four ability slots no matter how many you’re rocking, not counting your special attack.
It’s worth noting that you’re never locked into a choice, as you’re able to visit Cartman in Coon and Friends’ headquarters to switch out classes should you have a change of heart or just want to experiment with everything that’s on offer.
The Fractured but Whole was always going to be a faithful title packed with comedy gold, which is, to be fair, probably the main appeal for many, but it was surprising (maybe because I didn’t play The Stick of Truth) to find that buried underneath all the fart jokes and political incorrectness is an engrossing and hugely enjoyable strategy RPG.
Terrorism isn't something you usually associate with World War 2. There's some rose-tinted impression that war was 'proper’ back then, that there were rules and black and white interpretations of good and evil. Now I'm not about to suggest the Nazis weren't evil - however you interpret history that seems quite clear - but it's easy to forget many of those fighting for Germany weren't part of that regime.
New Colossus’ feel might be familiar, but everything about the game's presentation is more polished, with lighting effects being particularly striking, as dynamic light rays fall on you through a slowly turning fan in an air vent.
Brutality is no stranger either, as you merrily hack both legs from Nazis with a hatchet in some of the most gruesome and unsubtle stealth kills you're likely to have come across. Of course, this isn't a game from which you'd necessarily expect subtlety, but when you’re trying to get away with a stealthy approach there is a touch of finesse, à la Dishonored.
Sneaking up on enemies in general can be a bit hit and miss. Sometimes they can be overly sensitive to a bit of lurking about, catching sight of you from hundreds of yards away, but other times you can manage to creep right up to an alarm-wielding Commander and go unnoticed in messily dispatching them mere metres from two conversing soldiers.
Once you’re discovered, the music will amp up and you have little choice than to pull out the satisfyingly punchy big guns (a fact expertly pondered by RockPaperShotgun). Fortunately, the autosave system, and the ability to manually save at any time, makes most encounters fairly forgiving, though of the game's seven difficulty levels (six of which are accessible from the word go) even the second or third will prove challenging for most players.
Wolfenstein proudly flies the flag for the singleplayer game and really shines in its storytelling, not only deliberately limiting the player character, but presenting its story with a gripping, cinematic presentation that anchors you in Blazkowicz's shoes.
Wolfenstein proudly flies the flag for the singleplayer game and really shines in its storytelling.
Whether this is a game for you largely depends on your approach to first-person shooters. With no multiplayer to break up your play sessions, journeying through the campaign could feel overwhelming, but thankfully the levels are broken up in such a way that you can take a breather fairly frequently, providing you can unhook yourself from the adrenaline-filled saga.
While the trailers may present a balls-to-the-wall, showy action thriller, the reality is far more expertly balanced. Juxtaposing stressful, intense situations in the present with disturbing imagery from the past packs more of a punch than an over-the-top explosion ever could, and it's here we see the best that the game has to offer.
Unfortunately, and somewhat in character for Bethesda, we did experience some technical issues like the odd missing texture, getting stuck in a wall, or being unable to mantle over a fence with no real reason.
There's not a lot of weapon variety either, aside from the fun and definitely OTT heavy weapons, but this is more a symptom of the time than a real criticism.
As a whole, The New Colossus delves deeper into its conflict than the series has prior, but perhaps not by much, as it’s also a definite continuation of what's come before. While not a huge departure, you should at least feel that it isn’t just more of the same.
In truth though, in a time when games are drowning in complexity, loot boxes and systems upon systems (Shadow of War), it's refreshing to be able to enjoy a game as pure and unapologetic as this. MachineGames and Bethesda know what they’re doing by now and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a refinement, if not perfection, of its already outstanding predecessors that anyone who can stomach its world should definitely afford some time.
After breaking away from the annual release cycle last year to put a mediocre film out instead, Assassin’s Creed Origins sees the series triumphantly return with a sequel-come-prequel that cures the rot which had begun to take hold.
From bustling cities, to barren deserts and the Great Pyramid of Giza, environments are intricately detailed and authentic.
Though you’re free to tackle quests in the order of your choosing, if you’re under the recommended character level it’s a good idea to leave them well alone. Their inflated difficulty serves as a gating mechanic to control when you can viably go where, ensuring players aren’t immediately overwhelmed, but also providing motivation to keep gathering experience points and expanding your horizon.
A variety of weapons - each with their own rarity, statistics and status effects - are steadily pumped into your inventory as rewards and need to be swapped out or upgraded regularly. Upgrading weapons simply requires you to pay a blacksmith, though to improve the rest of your gear you’ll need to go hunting or intercept shipments and use the gathered resources to craft their betters.
You’ll put everything to use in the new and improved combat system, which is more satisfying than ever. No longer do enemies take it in turns to attack, letting you counter kill them one by one, but they flank and/or fire arrows as you’re actively engaged in combat. Encounters don’t look nearly as fluently choreographed as a result, but they’re far more compelling.
If you’re familiar with the Souls series or Breath of the Wild you’ll feel right at home with the new mechanics, which, in very similar fashion, see you lock on and avoid incoming attacks in anticipation of a window to launch a light or heavy counter attack. Though it’s more weighty and deliberate, especially when considering the pros and cons of different weapon classes, you can get away with button bashing for the most part.
Certain types of bows can be seamlessly integrated into melee bouts, while others are better served for stealth, but all of them shed the slight feeling of ineptitude ranged weapons have carried in Assassin’s Creed previously. It’s always been far preferable to take enemies on at close range, but Origins changes that, with a headshot being just as quick and deadly as your hidden blade.
Speaking of, stealth has seen a few small tweaks as well. Similar to Metal Gear Solid V you get a brief window of slow motion in which to eliminate an enemy after being spotted, plus you’ll now scout areas from a bird’s eye perspective as Senu, your eagle. Replacing Eagle Vision with a literal eagle’s vision is a better contextual fit and eliminates any ugly screen filters, all while offering up an animal companion to bond with. If Senu strays too far, however, you’ll often need to sit through a loading screen when you warp back to Bayek, which can be off-putting.
Covert infiltrations can also be made easier by utilising the dynamic day/night cycle to your advantage, as many guards retire to bed at night, generally making patrols lighter. An ability can be purchased from the skill tree that lets you change the time of day at will, while you can also unlock a range of familiar tools like poison darts and smoke bombs to further bolster your arsenal.
Combat encounters don’t look nearly as fluently choreographed as before, but they’re far more compelling.
All of the items and abilities available through the skill tree are tempting in their own right, pulling you in every direction and prompting careful consideration for how to invest your attribute points, as the best role-playing games do. Getting all of the abilities you have your eye on will take a while, which is good for longevity, though can feel ever so slightly like you’re being pointed towards Origins’ microtransactions when the game gently reminds you about its storefront.
That said, the implementation is nowhere near as egregious as some recent examples, and you’re given 200 of the premium currency for free. There are loot boxes, but they’re bought with in-game money, plus choosing to complete a daily online quest essentially awards one for free.
While Origins is the best Assassin’s Creed since Black Flag - also maintaining that game’s excellent naval combat - we’d have liked to see more polish from a title that spent twice as long in development. Glitchy animations, clipping, pathing issues and freezes are a few examples of problem we shouldn’t be seeing. While those are here to stay without a patch from Ubisoft, the impending release of the Xbox One X should at least help cut the lengthy loading times down whilst polishing the already shiny visuals.
In spite of the issues it preserves, Assassin’s Creed Origins is a successful soft reboot that comes just in time for the series’ 10th anniversary, modernising the Brotherhood’s adventures by taking inspiration from recent greats like The Witcher 3 and Destiny. It’s very easy to lose hours at a time to Origins’ improved combat and stealth systems, not to mention the wonderful setting, motivated by the developed RPG mechanics and a soundtrack with a touch of whimsy. Here’s hoping Ubisoft keep building on this foundation instead of running the new look Assassin’s Creed into the ground.
There's undoubtedly something special about a series which can recycle the same exact main plot thread over and over again while remaining charming, fresh and popular. Perhaps it's some sort of hypnotic magic cooked up by Nintendo, but every time you start a Mario title and Peach is whisked away you merely roll your eyes and think “Oh Peach, here we go again…”
However difficult the Power Moon you’re currently targeting might prove to be, the game barely penalises you for making mistakes, each death only costing you a measly ten coins and popping you back to a recent checkpoint. Mario has three pie segments of life that can be topped up with hearts, or doubled ahead of most boss fights, with these encounters being a fun and rewarding part of the game.
A relaxed approach to failure is an important design choice, making it feel like you’re always progressing and having fun. It also makes this iteration one of the most accessible Mario titles to date, possibly excluding his recent team up with the Rabbids.
The Odyssey itself - the hat-shaped ship you may have spotted in the trailers - is a charming, yet functional, device which marks your progress through the game satisfyingly.
Super Mario Odyssey is everything you could want from a Mario title, and will no doubt go down in history as one of the best in a superlative series.
Previously, in Sunshine for example, you might have needed to load up one of six or seven iterations of a level to gain access to all of its treasures, but here levels gradually unfurl as you collect their Multi-Moons (which are what they sound like) and/or significant Moons with cutscenes pointing you towards them. This makes progression feel natural, and rarely did we come up against a Moon we couldn't get to yet, which is a relief for completionists.
Levels themselves are intricately designed, offering variety emphasised by whatever local lifeforms are pottering about for you to possess. Not only do levels play brilliantly, but they also look stunning and run without a hitch in either of the Switch’s configurations.
Neat touches and charming moments are everywhere here, whether it's the sight of a huge, cartoonish slab of meat twitching as you try to get a hungry bird’s attention, or the 2D sections which have Mario return to his pixelated roots after heading through a warp pipe.
The trip to New Donk City, the New York-themed location most flaunted in Nintendo’s marketing of the game, is charming and doesn't outstay it's welcome despite us having already seen so much of it. A particular highlight is the snowy world, which is inhabited by cuddly polar bears shaped like Pokémon's Spheal - they even have their own Mario Kart-esque mini game.
Odyssey’s soundtrack is suitably upbeat, with a jazzy feel that fits the aesthetic perfectly, though an original song towards the end does stick out a little, while still raising a smile.
In terms of negatives, there are but an insignificant few. Stacking goombas is a treat when it works properly, but it's inconsistent as to when you've successfully jumped on one of your pals or not quite done enough and end up taking damage. The biggest irritation is that Mario's stylish costumes, featuring everything from a snowsuit to a samurai outfit, generally require a level-specific second currency to purchase.
While it might not sound like a big deal, this means that by the time you've naturally come across enough you’re generally ready to move on to the next level. As a result, there’s little to no time to enjoy playing an explorer in the jungle level, for example, instead you end up with an odd mixture of chef's hat and snow gear as you reach a cutscene that’s robbed of any drama as a result.
Of course, it's all in aid of fun and entertainment. This game is silly (it's about hat ghosts, after all) and absolutely more wonderful for it. Rarely is it convenient to play a game relentlessly with the many inconveniences of life getting in the way, but the Switch’s unique form factor combined with Odyssey’s moreishness make playing when and wherever effortless.
Super Mario Odyssey is everything you could want from a Mario title, and will no doubt go down in history as one of the best in a superlative series. If you own a Switch then this is an essential purchase; one packed with hours of enjoyment, even after Bowser (spoiler alert if you’ve been living under a rock your whole life...) is eventually defeated.