Since leaving Steam Early Access just over two years ago, Red Hook Studios’ aptly titled dungeon crawler has made its way to a number of platforms. Nintendo Switch users are the latest glory hunters to be offered the opportunity to test their mettle, but is this dungeon worth delving?
Outside of a PC, this has to be the best way to enjoy the game.
The risk of forever losing a favourite character, coupled with a hefty amount of information to absorb, can at first seem a little daunting, but push past the opening hours of uncertainty and you’ll be rewarded with a solid, tactical RPG filled with rich, atmospheric environments, unforgiving-yet-satisfying combat and some of the best accompanying narration heard in gaming.
So, after recently releasing on Nintendo Switch, a console that combines many of the advantages offered by the other devices the game calls home - the portability and touchscreen capabilities of the PS Vita or an iPad, the home console experience of a PS4 – is Nintendo’s hybrid the ultimate platform on which to enjoy Darkest Dungeon?
Considering this is the third iteration of the game to arrive on a console, Darkest Dungeon still feels very much like a title that’s been designed first and foremost with mouse and keyboard in mind. Menus aren’t the easiest to navigate with a standard controller setup, and often require awkward button combinations to open stat screens and sub menus. Handheld mode alleviates this somewhat by allowing you to utilise the Switch’s touch screen, but playing this way also comes with a couple of caveats.
Darkest Dungeon and its blend of gothic horror and engrossing fantasy adventure is an excellent and most welcome addition to the Switch’s rapidly expanding roster.
As we found during our time with Severed, the shape, weight and balance of the Switch doesn’t lend itself well to combined Joy-Con/touch screen control for any lengthy amount of time. In addition to that, the already small text and menu icons shrink even further when viewed in handheld mode and can be quite difficult to read, though Red Hook recently stated they’re looking into resolving this issue after receiving player feedback.
In spite of these drawbacks, Darkest Dungeon and its blend of gothic horror and engrossing fantasy adventure is an excellent and most welcome addition to the Switch’s rapidly expanding roster of games. Outside of a PC, this has to be the best way to enjoy the game, effortlessly merging the home and portable experiences offered singularly by other platforms.
After launching on PC and consoles in 2016 to critical acclaim, Furi recently made its way to Nintendo Switch, as publishers and developers alike continue to throw their weight behind Nintendo’s hybrid console and its ever-growing popularity.
From the outset, the game lets you know exactly what kind of punishment you’re in for. Though the words may be spoken by the cocksure introductory boss (whose bark is, in fact, much worse than his bite), the threat of an eternal cycle of annihilation rings true: you’re going to die in Furi. A lot.
That’s part of the learning process, as you may already have learned through exposure to a spate of super tough games inspired by the success of Dark Souls, and most of the time boss encounters in Furi, while imposing at first, are very beatable if approached in the right way. That said, a couple of encounters close to the end of the game do feel overpowered and almost cheap by comparison to earlier fights.
The opening Guardian serves as an introduction to Furi’s combat mechanics, which blend ranged twin-stick shooting elements with close-quarters swordplay. The former comes into effect when enemies are engaging the player in bullet hell-like sections, in which you must dodge a variety of incoming projectiles with the help of a boost ability.
Enemy attacks can become extremely hectic, coming together to form a spinning, colourful kaleidoscope of death as they chuck lasers, fast-moving homing attacks and great walls of energy that encompass entire arenas your way. You’ll need to avoid all of this while also dealing out damage, picking away at a Guardian’s health bit by bit with standard blaster fire, or risking a charged shot to inflict greater damage.
You’re going to die in Furi. A lot.
These ranged confrontations can become stretched across a whole level, with the camera zooming way out to encompass all of the action. It’s here where playing Furi via the Switch’s handheld mode gets a little tricky, as the already small characters become tiny dots lost amidst the chaos on the console’s six-inch screen. It’s not so much of a problem in the more confined melee sections, however, which narrow the action down to a blue ring housing you and your opponent.
This is where timing becomes key, and the game really shows its teeth, as players have to learn and quickly react to a Guardian’s mix of melee and area of effect attacks, each telegraphed by a sound and visual cue, in order to successfully block or avoid them. Blocking melee attacks not only mitigates incoming damage, but also recoups a small amount of health; if you’re lucky (or skilled) enough to pull off a perfect riposte it’ll also temporarily stun an enemy, presenting an opportunity to land a successive flurry of hits.
Both you and the Guardians you face enter an encounter with multiple lives that are incrementally lost when an energy bar has been depleted. You only ever have three lives per fight, while your opponents can sometimes have twice that. It isn’t as unbalanced as you might think, considering that every time you knock one off an enemy’s tally you gain back a lost life, allowing players the exciting opportunity to battle back from the brink of defeat.
With the game’s excellent soundtrack and unique, neon-drenched art style, relatively peaceful pauses between the action can be incredibly atmospheric moments.
Featuring designs by Takashi Okazaki, the man behind Afro Samurai, bosses in Furi have unique personalities and are memorable in many ways, not just for the significant challenge they pose. Some beg for you to turn back, offering an olive branch instead of cold steel, some will openly mock and scorn you, while others simply set to their task with a heavy heart, and it can actually be quite wrenching to see them cut down as a result.
It’s a shame that Furi isn’t one of the titles on Switch that allows you to capture gameplay clips, as, despite the potential heartbreak, emerging victorious from a particularly gruelling boss encounter is a rewarding moment you’ll likely want to relive and share with others.
Aside from this lacking feature and a couple of dropped frames in some of the more intense bullet hell sections, Furi runs more than adequately on Switch. It also comes bundled with all content and updates found on other platforms, including the One More Fight DLC which adds an extra boss.
Featuring combat that feels sharp, fast-paced and satisfying, as well as a ranking system and practice mode that lets you relive individual encounters and engage with those satisfying mechanics at your leisure, there’s plenty to enjoy here. Those looking to cut their teeth on an atmospheric and challenging title ahead of the recently announced Dark Souls remaster should look no further than Furi.
If Furi sounds like your thing, keep an eye out for next week’s giveaway, in which you could win the game on Steam.
When Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King first came to our attention earlier in the year, we immediately thought Castle Pixel’s homage to the top-down Zelda games of the past would be a natural fit for the Switch. As it turns out, Nintendo agree, snapping up the retro inspired action-adventure as a console exclusive.
Blossom Tales is an easy recommendation on Switch; a charming, colourful, and, most importantly, fun, title that feels right at home on a Nintendo system.
So, how does it fare on Switch? Having originally played Blossom Tales on a basic laptop that, while capable of running the game, probably wasn’t the optimal platform to best enjoy it on, reliving Lily’s adventure on Nintendo’s hybrid console was an absolute blast, particularly in handheld mode, where we spent the majority of our playthrough.
Seeing Blossom Tale’s world brought to life in the palm of your hands looks and feels great; colours are bright and punchy, and, despite the game’s tendency to pack the screen with large numbers of enemies at the same time, the Switch version puts in a decent performance, holding a steady framerate in all but the most chaotic of boss fights. Despite an impressive console debut there were some slight, platform-specific issues that cropped up during our time with the game.
The HD rumble, an exclusive feature for the Switch version, didn’t really feel like it added much to gameplay and became noticeably irritating after a while due to its intensity, while the default button layout also felt like it could have been better optimised, with the Y and A buttons feeling much better suited for item use than the standard setup which saw X and B allocated the task.
These were both minor issues, however, easily solved with a bit of tweaking in the menus and didn’t detract from the overall experience in any meaningful way, plus the boons of the Switch, particularly flexibility, means it still feels like the best way to enjoy the game.
Being able to pick up and play at any time, almost anywhere, is something that no other platform can offer, and Blossom Tales isn’t a title that’s taxing on the Switch’s battery, meaning it’s possible to leave it in sleep mode, walk away for a few hours, and return to find there’s still plenty of game time left in your console.
Clocking in at around 15 hours to complete, and with a price tag of just £13.49 / €14.99 / $14.99, Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is an easy recommendation on Switch; a charming, colourful, and, most importantly, fun, title that feels right at home on a Nintendo system.
The Surge’s suffocatingly dark and claustrophobic maze of interiors made for a nightmarish setting that was arguably the star of the show. Continuing that trend, A Walk in the Park places it’s fantastical and fresh theme park at the fore to draw fans of the action role-playing game back into the fold.
The lighthearted location is enticing - especially around the festive season - in providing a welcome break from an otherwise largely bleak game.
Two boss battles help to offset the lack of big bads in the main game, though the first is as bog standard as they come and both are, arguably, too easy. A Walk in the Park lives up to its name for the most part, with easily telegraphed enemies and frequent healing opportunities hardly taxing returning veterans at all.
An abundant supply of high level implants to gather and a new drone attack further tip the odds in your favour, though swapping out an existing, upgraded weapon for one of 16 new additions - amongst them a flaming candy cane staff (!) - will help to stop you steamrolling the competition, should a high level of challenge be something you wish to preserve.
While A Walk in the Park won’t quite scratch the same masochistic itch as the base game, its lighter tone and less demanding nature are just the ticket this time of year and see the add-on dodge merely feeling like more of the same. In managing to juggle this with remaining loyal to The Surge’s core tenants, the £11.99 asking price is one that everybody with a copy of the game should consider.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When the original Destiny was announced, expectations were high. Activision was keen to lay out the legacy of their and Bungie’s project for the next decade, before anyone had even decrypted a single engram. Now, four years in, the franchise has established itself and Destiny 2 launches not only on console, but also on PC. Is the sequel a fresh new chapter in this saga, or just more of the same?
Bungie’s mastery over gunplay remains on point.
You still do your slaying as one of three character classes, but the choice doesn’t slam shut as many doors as you might expect in terms of playstyle and items. There are subclasses too, meaning you can work your way towards a character who has perks to match how you enjoy playing the game. As there are only 20 levels to progress through before it all becomes about your Light level - boosted by acquiring better equipment, as in the first game - the skill tree is deliberately basic, which serves to keep things straightforward and accessible for new players.
Jumping into the world of Destiny at this stage could be intimidating - all that lore and story to catch up on, right? In fact, other than a nice touch which sees your Guardian’s past exploits recounted over a series of splash screens at the beginning of the game, complete with dates and who you completed missions with, the original feels like a non-essential prologue.
Playing alone is all well and good, though you’re still very much encouraged to venture online with friends. When it comes to Raids, however, that’s absolutely required. These major set pieces see you team up in order to tackle the most devious puzzles and gargantuan enemies Destiny 2 has to offer; they’re the pinnacle of the Destiny experience, though barriers to entry mean you won’t get to enjoy them until you’ve been playing for a while.
It’s at least a testament to the game’s flexibility that it can feel like you’ve had a substantial gameplay experience from the campaign alone, leaving it up to the player whether or not they engage with the endgame content. There’s a lot of depth to explore if you do choose to stick around, not least in gathering the coveted Exotic items and upgrades, which are outstanding weapons and armour pieces that can only be equipped sparingly. You’ll likely want to kit yourself out with these before getting competitive in the enjoyable PvP modes.
It can feel like you’ve had a substantial gameplay experience from the campaign alone, leaving it up to the player whether or not they engage with the endgame content.
Now that the initial hype for the game has slightly died down (and on that note, sorry for the delay), Destiny 2 is free to impress you on its own merits, holding your outstretched hand considerately, but firmly, to pull you into a world which asks as much as you’re willing to give.
If this is a game you’ll play for the odd hour, then there’s an excellent campaign to enjoy in its own right, but if you’ll be sinking hours at a time for the foreseeable future, that will work just as well. One side effect of this is that it’s difficult to feel that you’ve experienced everything the game has to offer, whichever camp you’re in, but more content is good content when it comes to the Destiny framework.
In the end, if you have any attachment to RPGs, MMOs, or, most specifically, FPS games, you’ll definitely find something to latch onto and enjoy in Destiny 2. Beyond that base level of pure enjoyment, the rest is up to you; if you give the game the chance, there’s far more substance here than you might first assume, presented more beautifully than ever before.
Developer Ninja Theory promised that Hellblade would bring about the resurrection of the independently made AAA game, and after fighting through the darkness, demons and sheer audiovisual trickery on offer in Senua’s Sacrifice, we can’t help but praise their achievement.
Perhaps the best example of this comes early on, in the excellent Valravyn’s Keep section. To reach the winged bossman himself you’ll have to gaze upon his landscape through special gates. Look and walk through it one way to visit previously hidden areas, complete the vital tasks therein and head back through the same gate to see the landscape in its initial form. This is one of the many fabulous visual tricks on show in the game, that really help to further place you in Senua’s mindset, making you question your own sanity.
The combat is, as you might expect from a developer with a rich pedigree in the area, crunchy, satisfying, and, in this instance, wonderfully rhythmic. The controls are easy and intuitive too: one button each for a light, speedy attack, a heavy, sluggish attack, a guard and an evade move.
Timing really plays a part here, in a way that reminded us of the Guardian battles in Breath of the Wild, or the more obscure 3DS game Hana Samurai. Block at the right moment and the game slows down, leaving you time to counterattack. Good timing also allows you to use your focus (right trigger), which not only slows down enemies, but also unmasks those blighters hiding in the shadows. It would be an understatement to say we enjoyed the fighting in Hellblade, especially once we gained the ultra-powerful, aqua-glowing Gamr sword.
Undoubtedly though, the stars of the show here are the visuals, binaural sound design, and wonderful motion captured performances from the cast. We found it impossible to rush through the game, as every so often there’s a massive change in location or style that prompts pause to take it in. The lighting really is a dream, swaying both the player’s and Senua’s mood on a whim. It’s hard not to be in awe when darkness and depravity swiftly melt into glorious sunshine, vibrant fauna, soaring mountains or crashing oceans. Personally, I’d go as far as to say that this is the most effective use of lighting I’ve seen in a video game.
You can’t underestimate how effective it is when Senua’s inner voices blend and swish around the headphones, helping you to understand what it must be like for someone suffering from psychosis.
Cast performances have been gloriously rendered, really showcasing the gravitas of the story. Melina Juergens shines in her acting debut, her gutteral screams, whispers of confusion and range of facial expressions perfectly portraying Senua’s fragile state of mind. Elsewhere, a special mention must go to Nicholas Boulton, the man behind Druth, Senua’s rather vocal friend. Druth gives Senua advice along the way, and also regales the player with tales of Sigurd, Ragnarok and the Norse Gods every time you find one of the rune stones scattered across the gameworld. His voice is Scottish wonder, and we miss hearing his tuneful expression now we’ve completed the game.
Binaural (3D stereo) sound employed during the course of the game is yet another watermark in quality. You can’t underestimate how effective it is when Senua’s inner voices blend and swish around the headphones, going some way in helping you to understand what it must be like for someone suffering from psychosis. For us, that really makes the difference, placing Hellblade as the formative game to tackle mental health.
Hellblade’s brooding, intense music also gets a nod from us. The way the intensity rises and plummets, and combines with the visual trickery, is just pure magic. Unfortunately, the mood is spoiled at the end of the game with an absolutely mediocre, out-of-place stinker from band HNV Nation, though.
As fantastic as the game is, there are still a few issues that prevent it reaching heavenly greatness. We found certain objectives - such as the repeating perspective-based rune puzzles - became a tad repetitive as we reached the conclusion of the story. This is a real shame, as the concept itself is fantastic - another puzzle type in the mix would’ve prevented this fatigue.
Battles towards the end can also feel rather unbalanced, especially the fight against the hell beast Fenrir, and the bridge scrap against the Northmen. The former takes the lighting trickery one step too far, plunging you into a darkness so black that only the rumble from your controller can provide clues to his whereabouts. In principle this is genius, but it just doesn’t quite work out. The latter drops you on a bridge far too gaunt for the amount of sword-wielding bastards on it, resulting in many unfair deaths. It’s a real shame then that these two slobberknockers rely on cheap tricks to ramp up the difficulty.
So, as we reflect on our journey through Hellheim and Senua’s mind, we can’t help but be hugely impressed with what Ninja Theory have achieved. The stunning performances, visuals, binaural sound design and all ‘round trickery carry a brave story about mental illness and mythology unlike any other game before it. It may be on the short side, and lacking in replayability, but it’s an independent AAA production at a budget price, and an experience so effective and involving that we implore you to go and check it out for yourself.