Having had the distinct pleasure of exclusively revealing the first glimpse of Warhammer: Vermintide 2 gameplay last October, the long wait for the first-person-shooter-come-brawler to arrive on console has been especially gruelling. Now that we’ve gotten our hands on it: was it worth the wait?
You’ll need to juggle priority targets and manage choke points as tidal waves of fetid flesh rage your way.
The level of customisation on offer gets altogether extensive when you also account for Vermintide 2’s loot and crafting systems. Taal’s Horn Keep serves as a sizeable hub area from which to launch your choice of the thirteen main missions, throughout which you can work towards satisfying daily challenges and career quests; completing these tasks awards the game’s strictly non-premium loot boxes, which rain a random array of weapons and gear that can be equipped to improve applicable characters, or, if you unbox a stinker, salvaged into materials used to craft new items and upgrades.
Refreshing a loadout can significantly impact how any given character plays, overhauling attributes and movesets, perhaps not always to your exact liking, but never compromising the viscerally satisfying core combat mechanics. Melee skirmishes can feel either hefty or agile, depending on your chosen armament, though always brutal as you gorily pop heads and lop limbs with each light or (particularly satisfying) charged heavy swing.
While mixing it up at close range you’ll need to be mindful to dodge and block incoming attacks from big bads, though opting for a character with more of a ranged combat style should keep you relatively out of harm's way to begin with. While letting loose with arrows, fireballs, bolts and bullets is good fun in itself, it’s almost a shame to snub one of the best first-person brawling systems around in favour of comparatively bog-standard blasting.
Still, variety is the spice of life, so mixing up your choice of hero whilst tackling repeat playthroughs of Vermintide 2’s semi-open levels - which accommodate multiple paths towards their culminating set-piece encounters, also randomising enemy and item spawns along the way - ensures things remain engaging. Throw in the lure of greater rewards when progressing to higher difficulty levels, as well as unobtrusive storytelling that allows players to easily consume their desired dose of action, and you have a package that’ll keep you busy for a good length of time.
Vermintide 2 is more in-depth than its peers in many ways, but retains the central simplicity that makes this brand of onslaught adventure so frantic and exciting. Doing so at native 4K resolution on Xbox One X, while mostly maintaining a solid frame rate, at no additional cost to Game Pass subscribers, makes for an experience that you (and preferably some friends) shouldn’t hesitate to get stuck into.
A building just fell on me. Before the likes of Battlefield and its 'levolution’ system came along, this 2009 Red Faction reboot and it's Geo Mod 2.0 technology was producing some of the most impressive environmental destruction to date.
What’s really under your control is the order in which you handle different zones, now a staple of any given Ubisoft open world title, to name but one frequent culprit. Here there's no handy radio tower to reveal the map though, so you'll need to roam the map the old fashioned way to discover all the EDF buildings you need to take down, tactically or by brute force.
There's something to be said for knocking the difficulty down to casual and just playing around without worrying too much about your health, but death isn’t too big of a hurdle, so (accidentally) blowing yourself up amidst the chaos isn't as bad as you might initially think. Not to mention that the AI is still extremely zealous, particularly when you're on foot, to the extent that once you have more than two enemy vehicles in pursuit it's basically a lost cause anyway.
As you tear Mars apart one smoke-less smoke stack at a time, you'll collect scrap metal which can be used to unlock and upgrade tools and abilities. It's all fairly rudimentary, but lets you boost things like the number of explosive charges you can place at once, or the number of enemies the fork-lightning-based arc welder will jump between.
Multiplayer was always a shining light for the original, seeing you don a plethora of combat and skill-enhancing backpacks that allow you to crash through walls, hover or beef up firepower for a short time. These variables made even a straight deathmatch, appropriately known as Anarchy, into a chaotic and exciting affair. In this Re-Mars-ter (we’re still undecided on whether the person that came up with that should be sacked or given a pay rise), the online community is fledgling and the early signs relatively encouraging, but you'll be left wanting if you envision yourself drilling down specific game types and levels.
While you’ll have fun regardless, especially since maps are often far more varied and interesting than the single player landscape, gameplay does show its age a bit. Elements are missing that were common even at the time, like iron sights and combat rolls, but after not too long it's fairly easy to adjust.
With that said, elements like mechs to pilot in true Aliens fashion and Wrecking Crew mode, which is a real playground for your destructive skills, do help to modernise the package a bit.
Lighting systems and draw distances (at least on the Xbox One X) showing a marked improvement over the original.
Despite gleefully ploughing through the story the first time around and it raising a nostalgic smile again in 2018, it's difficult to say revisiting Guerilla is essential. In the end then, it’s a good-not-great experience, as only a few bundled DLC missions fill out the package besides the expected suite of technical improvements.
On that front, the game holds up quite well, with the lighting systems and draw distances (at least on Xbox One X) showing a marked improvement over the original. Whether it's enough to warrant a return trip to Mars depends on how much you enjoy blowing things up, especially with a brand new Just Cause (or even, dare we say, Crackdown 3) on the horizon.
Red Faction is a franchise with a lot of potential, in both of its incarnations, which was sadly squandered by a lacklustre sequel (Armageddon) that failed to capitalise on what made this installment so good. Perhaps if the re-release does well for itself we’ll finally get the sequel it deserves.
The latest entry in the rapidly expanding Focus Home Interactive stable, Vampyr is brought to life by sleeper development studio DONTNOD Entertainment (Life is Strange, Remember Me). An ambitious action RPG, Vampyr casts players as Dr. Jonathan Reid and unleashes them on an occult interpretation of 1918 London, framed by relevant Victorian themes in class, disease, race and religion.
Every single citizen you encounter has a personality, relationships and community standing within their borough.
Furthermore, should your moral compass be broken, you aren’t entirely off the hook. Mounting homicide cases may lead people to flee, stores to increase their prices due to the dangers of operation, or, if you’re a real glutton, even plunge a district into irreparable chaos and eradicate its population. That’ll lock you out of any content tied to the unfortunates at hand and also prevent you from rearing any more meat in the area, so it’s best to use your skills as a medical practitioner to craft cures from looted gubbins and subsequently use ‘em to keep the health of a borough at an even keel.
When Shadow of Mordor and later Shadow of War were lauded for their ‘revolutionary’ Nemesis Systems, which supposedly served to build meaningful rivalries, we wondered if we might’ve missed something. The community systems within Vampyr don’t fall similarly flat, realising the potential in attaching a player to what would otherwise be secondary NPCs by making every exchange consequential on multiple levels.
Exploring the quasi open world, rich with environmental detail and written lore as it is, can be as fruitful as conversing in the pursuit of useful information. You’re often kept to a relatively linear path by unpickable locks that gate progress, which isn’t an inherent issue, but is somewhat galling when you consider Jonathan has the ability to teleport and could feasibly get anywhere, but arbitrarily can’t outside of designated contextual prompts. Regardless, streets and interiors alike are a dark and moody treat to turn over for crafting components, used to upgrade weapons and produce injectable buffs that aid in violent confrontations with humans, vampires and additional beasties.
As an immortal, Dr. Reid eats bullets for breakfast, but the likes of fire and holy symbols will quickly turn the tides. Each enemy has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, which, when coupled with a range of classes, create a varied opposition that present challenge in numbers. They’ll work in synergy to bring you down, necessitating knowledge of their respective attack patterns and target hierarchy.
The community systems within Vampyr attach players to what would otherwise be secondary NPCs, making every exchange consequential on multiple levels.
Bouts are fast paced and scrappy, very similar to Bloodborne both visually and mechanically, seeing you lock-on to a single target before launching attacks and dodges at the cost of stamina. Firearms can be equipped to the off-hand when using a one-handed weapon and unloaded without need to manually aim, or, alternatively, a secondary off-hand melee weapon can be used to inflict negative status effects, like a stun that presents feeding opportunities.
This is where the more unique aspects of combat come into play, as you’ll periodically want to clamp your jaws around someone’s neck to keep your blood gauge topped up - blood being required to perform a range of lesser and ultimate abilities that range from simply healing yourself to boiling an opponent’s blood. There’s really a lot at your disposal, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that combat here isn’t nearly as polished as its clear inspiration, lacking the same engaging challenge thanks to some simple exploits.
Animations can also come off as a little stiff, pulling you out of the moment in the midst of an otherwise satisfying combo, but even on the odd occasion that Vampyr underwhelms visually it continues to impresses aurally. Battlecries are particularly guttural, while theatrical voiceovers commit to the patchy script with convincing verve, all complemented by the bellowing chelos and screeching violins of an excellent - and also decidedly Bloodborne-esque - ambient soundtrack.
Whilst Vampyr can feel overly familiar in certain areas, it borrows from the top and at its core holds a unique and intelligent social framework that intertwines engaging themes and characters to birth an enthralling, meaningfully manipulable narrative. It mixes up the conventional RPG structure whilst maintaining a nice balance between management, conversation, combat and exploration to retain the same moreish X factor that made so many fall in love with the genre to begin with. If you can take the rough with the smooth, you’ll find a lot to love in what’s easily DONTNOD Entertainment’s best game yet.
Valentina, Beta, Alexxis, Jay… they're dead. They're all dead. While we mourn their passing, their permadeaths serve as an example of one of the greatest strengths of State of Decay 2.
As a newcomer to the series, it turns out that the complete breakdown of society can be pretty brutal.
Later, when your community swells and you gain enough influence (the game’s de facto currency), you can claim locations ranging from small, resource gathering outposts, to electricity generating power stations and even makeshift forts constructed from shipping containers. Each new locale has its own advantages and how you manage your growing empire, customising locations further with mods and upgrades, is up to you.
That said, it’s advisable that you take council from your community as morale upkeep is a constant battle in such dire circumstances, as one might expect. Sacrificing a building slot to set up a garden or fashion a lounge (in which you can install an original Xbox) can work wonders in keeping everyone cheery.
As time goes on, your survivors will improve their skills based on what actions they perform. While the game wants you to feel you're developing fleshed out characters in a manner akin to the likes of Skyrim, the reality is that skills are fairly limited, and you'll just want to make sure most of your population go for a run once in a while to boost their stamina, or they'll quickly become overwhelmed in a bout of fisticuffs.
What is unique to SoD2, and arguably the main motivator in investing you in its characters, are a collection of 100+ more mundane traits such as “Car crash survivor”, “Cat lover” and “Flatulent”, all of which have passive effects. When each survivor gains enough standing in the community their individual skill is unlocked, such as “Yoga instructor”, offering an amusing look at their pre-apocalypse lives. While these abilities sadly don't unlock a suite of oddly juxtaposed mini-games, they do offer depth at fairly low effort.
There's another side to this of course, in that not everyone gets on, so they can start fights in your absence or generally become disgruntled. If it comes to it, you might have to take the difficult decision to exile them for the greater good, though generally they do go quietly.
The same is true of the different AI factions, known as enclaves, which can get cheesed off if you repeatedly ignore their requests for help or side with other enclaves over them in disputes, potentially leading them to become hostile and spoil for a fight.
All of these elements comes together in a very compelling simulation, with the downsides to the experience so far (much of which lacked the minor polish brought by the game's hefty 6GB day one patch) being technical.
Zombies can drop in from about 20ft in the air as you approach, using vehicles places your life in the game’s hands as they can randomly flip out or explode, and the AI often behaves unpredictably, to the extent that more than once our fellow community members have perished in relatively mild peril.
Using vehicles was something we hardly dabbled in throughout the game's opening hours, assuming them to be too much of a zombie magnet, but in reality to reap the full rewards when scavenging around the map - in particular valuable resources like food or medicine - their boot/trunk space is quite essential. Casually opening a car door to obliterate a squishy zombie as you pass them at speed also never ceases to be messily fun...
Everything comes together in a compelling simulation, with the downsides to the experience so far being technical.
Another significant drawback is the lack of direction on hand for new players; a handful of prompts keep recurring, but seemingly there's little to lead you into new experiences as you’re drawn deeper into the game. On top of this, plenty of basic options like trading items between you and a follower out in the field are far from a simple button press away, taking us back to pre-Resident Evil 5 levels of AI buddy management.
Same applies in co-op, where up to three guests can venture into the host’s world and loot their own unique supplies to take back home with them, but should you want to swap items amongst one another it’s a cumbersome case of using menus to drop them on the ground before rifling through piles of stuff and picking up the relevant drops. There’s also a limiting tether that stops players from straying too far apart, but if you’re committed to watching each other’s backs that shouldn’t be too big of an issue.
Setting a few more minor bugs aside, the overall experience is stable, no doubt aided by the graphical sacrifices that see SoD2 appear visually underwhelming even with the added oomph of the Xbox One X at its disposal.
Whether SoD2 is for you depends on how you attribute value based on look and feel versus raw gameplay. If you favour the former, it certainly doesn't have many “wow” moments to entice you, or make for a particularly good sizzle reel, but the gameplay over time is undeniably compelling.
This post-apocalyptic world effortlessly encourages you to leave the safety of your home and explore just one more area, run over just one more zombie or pick up just one more follower, without drowning you in endless map symbols. Nor does it penalise you too much if you decide to be really heartless and ignore individuals’ needs (*cough* Sam *cough*), resulting in an unparalleled sense of freedom that allows you to craft your own narrative without completely abandoning you to your own devices in the process.
In all, at its basic price point, the game is well worth picking it up, and if you nab it as part of a Game Pass subscription you'll likely find even better value for money. With different areas to settle, origin stories to experience, and enclaves and survivors to encounter, there's plenty to keep you busy until the previously outlined DLC expansions arrive, but, for the time being, if you'll excuse us, we have a wind power station to claim.
Everyone loves a bit of Norse Mythology, right? Whether you’re enjoying the new God of War or cheering on your chisel-jawed hero Thor in Avengers: Infinity War, there's something particularly epic about that pantheon of gods.
Unlike the other titan-toppler we played this week, Extinction, there's plenty of variety on offer here.
While keeping the challenge level high might goade some players on, this combined with the limited dodge range of your character (in fact the dodge itself is almost as slow as normal movement) can start to see frustration build.
Other times, the beautiful hand-drawn art style and animations can prove to be a hazard, as enemies fall and catch you in their wake when you feel as though you should be free and clear.
The final twist of the knife is the camera, which often zooms far far out, to Below-esque levels of distant appreciation, to show you the points of interest in the scene, but, again, often at the expense of your character's wellbeing.
All in all then, the intrigue of Jotun will keep pulling you through, and, being a portable game on this particular platform, finds itself well suited for quick bursts while trundling along on a train. There's little to bring you back once your quest is done, with only the extra hard Valhalla mode left to tax the most dedicated players. At journey’s end your character might not have much of an emotional arc, but there's variety here to keep you occupied without outstaying its welcome.
There’s no hiding the fact that Bombslinger is heavily inspired by Bomberman, at first glance even appearing as little more than a Western reskin of the classic series. Whilst the serviceable Battle mode doesn’t do too much to dispute that, its roguelike Adventure mode blasts Bombslinger past Konami’s most recent effort - Super Bomberman R.
Its roguelike Adventure mode propels Bombslinger past Konami’s most recent effort - Super Bomberman R.
While not as complex as the likes of The Binding of Isaac, which can be pretty obstructive to newcomers, the occasionally clumsy four-directional movement in Bombslinger will leave some a-shakin’ in their snakeskins. You’ll very frequently need to duck around a corner to avoid the blast radius of a bomb, but every so often you can be slightly off centre to the gap you’re attempting to squeeze through and end up taking damage as a direct result of the fiddly correction process. Considering that this has the potential to put an end to a run, it’s far from ideal.
It’s not such a problem in Battle mode’s lower stakes skirmishes, though that’s not to say they’re easy - the AI takes no prisoners, yeller belly! DeathMatch and Last Man Standing game types can be played across 12 maps, with the former a frantic race to the frag limit and the latter a more considered bout for survival.
In familiar fashion, you’re placed into a maze filled with a mix of destructible and non-destructible obstacles, as well as power-ups and power-downs, with a mad scramble ensuing as up to four bombers fill lanes with flames in an attempt to quell the competition. It proves tense, fast-paced and skilful despite the inherent simplicity, which makes the lack of online multiplayer support all the greater a blow.
A pick up and play nature makes Bombslinger ideal for gaming on the go, but, when it comes to local competitive matches, a big ol’ TV screen is the ideal way for everyone to keep track of what’s going on. This makes Nintendo Switch the game's ideal platform, offering up the best of both worlds and sacrificing none of the sharp retro aesthetic in the process.
The occasionally clumsy four-directional movement will leave some a-shakin’ in their snakeskins.
Bombslinger’s tentpole is its excellent roguelike Adventure mode, which boasts a characteristically addictive gameplay loop that compels you to keep developing your skill set over time. Battle mode is very much a secondary distraction, though proves to be good fun when getting some local friends involved - it’s just a shame that the fun can’t be taken online when there’s nobody to hand, and that control issues can make a game with a consistent level of challenge stray towards feeling unfair. Still, if you’re a fan of the Bomberman template, Bombslinger is a game you probably won’t want to miss.
Masters of Anima is a charming action strategy game in the vein of Pikmin and Overlord, where the player guides a young man named Otto on a quest to save his betrothed.
Excellent balance is struck between the game's three key pillars in exploration, puzzle solving and combat.
Stocking up on a certain type of Guardian as a situation dictates - bow-wielding Sentinels for a boss that cuts a swathe through melee fighters, for example - can help to secure not just victory, but a pat on the back and some extra experience points too. You receive a letter grading at the end of each engagement, with the lofty S rank often taking a few failed practice attempts to reach.
Upgrading Guardians can help to make them useful in more situations, but with skill points shared between each class and Otto himself, deciding where to invest them can take a bit of thought; luckily, you can respec as many times as you like between levels in order to really nail the perfect loadout. Replaying stages will net you extra experience to keep improving your build, which is a nice little motivator to do so, as is the opportunity to improve upon letter gradings and gather any remaining collectibles.
Outside of the odd technical performance dip and a few proofreading oversights (just note that we were playing a pre-release version), Masters of Anima is a game that’s very easy to admire. Rich with personality and considered design, joining Otto on his quest is a no-brainer for fans of the often overlooked action strategy genre.
Welcome to a world without consequences. Set in a twisted version of Montana, USA, Far Cry 5’s Hope County has become overrun by religious fanatics, and your nameless deputy is either a professional freedom fighter or a destructive terrorist in a fight to restore order.
It sounds nitpicky, but the problem extends further. You’re free to shoot a quest-giver or ally in the head, leaving them writhing in pain on the floor, but as soon as you get them back up again, they act like nothing ever happened. The game asks you to fight for the cause, even though your character, a new Sheriff’s Deputy - who gets merely a handful of customisation options in the way of backstory - represents an establishment that locals don’t care much for at the best of times.
None of this would be an issue, if the game’s plot didn’t ask you to take the situation so seriously. The visual presentation - particularly stunning on Xbox One X at times - gives a sense of realism, while the practicalities of the game suggest the opposite.
As you start to complete missions, specialists will offer themselves up to join you in your quest (you’re arbitrarily limited to taking one into battle at first, then two later), and they can range from the fairly believable, if stereotypical, redneck with a penchant for explosives, to a bow-sporting Lara Croft wannabe, and, even… a trained bear called Cheeseburger.
Far Cry 5's plot asks you to take it seriously, whereas the game itself suggests the opposite.
Fighting with allies in stride makes you less of a lone wolf and more of a tactical force, as you can dispatch them into combat on a whim - they’ll even try to do it sneakily if the alarm hasn’t already been raised. Unfortunately, while in a BioWare RPG like Mass Effect or Dragon Age these allies are a true extension of your character (as well as having plentiful character of their own), here their implementation is staggeringly basic and the AI not up to the task nine times out of ten, often giving the game away or spending too long dawdling to prove useful.
Far Cry 5 is at its best as you make your way across the map, perhaps in one of many vehicles, towards an objective. Here the game’s freedom is a blessing, giving you the choice to get involved or jog on, safe in the knowledge that nothing bad will happen if you don’t prevent the evil going on all around you. Where things fail to hold together is when the narrative presents you with one of the Seed siblings, confusingly referred to as both Lieutenants and Heralds in different places in the game, and demands you pass judgement on them by destroying their regime a piece at a time.
Take Faith (above) for example, the younger sister of Joseph: she’s busy getting the locals hooked on a euphoric drug called Bliss so that they can see the light of ‘The Father’ (Joseph). As you begin to loosen her grip on her section of Hope County, she pays you a visit a few times and forces you to complete tests, such as a literal leap of faith that represents your own descent into drug addiction.
This begins to play tricks with you as you wander around the world - showing you animals you’re looking for or civilians in peril only to have them disappear or change shape when you get to them - but the climax, your final confrontation with her, is relegated to an antiquated-feeling gun show. Compare this to a more cerebral experience in, say, BioShock Infinite, and you’ll find that the places where the game as a whole could have gone that extra mile begin to wrack up.
If you’re purely looking for some solid shooter gameplay, then everything on offer is fine, though many of the better guns are locked away until you’ve made a dent in the Seeds’ regime. That or held behind prohibitively expensive store fronts which gesture naggingly towards Silver, the game’s premium currency.
FC5’s extremes are perhaps more at home in user-generated content fest Far Cry Arcade mode (and, by the names of them alone, its zany DLC packs), which offers up a range of challenges to keep an itchy trigger finger satisfied, as well as the opportunity to create your own.
All of this leaves Far Cry 5 in a strange place. The main antagonist doesn’t have the charisma or interest of someone like Vaas, who sticks in the mind from Far Cry 3’s trailers alone, which makes meandering around the world more compelling than actually getting closer to a final showdown with The Father.
Those who want a more tactical experience already have Ghost Recon Wildlands, albeit in third-person, and the awkward, mismatched tone here takes away more than it differentiates. If you fancy a distraction which is fun and varied while it lasts, but ultimately does little to leave a lasting impression (whilst failing to ask any thought-provoking questions at a time when the US’s attitudes and values are more under the spotlight than ever), then Far Cry 5 could be what you’re looking for.
The sea turned a blood red as my shipmates and I struggled to get our galleon back under control, begging for mercy from Poseidon and panicking, unsure of what exactly was going on. This was a tale of old, from Sea of Thieves’ beta (which you can watch below), and, unbeknownst to us, was the game’s clever way of telling us that we had strayed off the map and out of the area.
You also need to decide the size of crew you’re looking for from the off. Do you want to play by yourself? Or as a duo? Do you need a full crew of four? Or are you already partied up with two willing friends, ready to do your bidding as Captain? The choice isn’t the issue, but rather the fact that you’re locked into that choice for your entire session, unless you quit back to the main menu and start the process again.
When you do finally enter the game - greeted by an animated map sequence, complete with cryptic messages and a dropped hint here and there - you awaken in a daze at a tavern. If you aren’t careful, you could dash to your ship and set sail without even picking up a voyage to keep you busy.
Sea of Thieves is steeped in Rare’s trademark charm.
Being a game focused on player freedom, there’s nothing wrong with that of course, but you’re probably better off getting a mission from one of the factions if you feel like making some money for your time. The Gold Hoarders are all about treasure, making their missions treasure-hunting affairs, either following an X marks the spot map or solving a riddle to dig up your plunder.
The Merchant Alliance tend to ask for an assortment of animals, caught in traps and cared for on your voyage - chickens soothed with music, pigs fed on copious bananas - which isn’t a lesson the game teaches you actively, you need to pick it up for yourself or rely on the experience of your crewmates.
The final of the big three is the Order of Souls, mercenaries who pit you against undead skeleton pirate Captains and ask you to bring back their skulls for payment.
The other ‘currency’ all three deal in is reputation, which grows as you complete voyages and sell their spoils to the respective faction. In theory this grants you access to higher level voyages, which can potentially have multiple parts and bring greater rewards, but in our experience it’s just as likely they’ll be much the same as those that came before, and fail to introduce new ideas and challenges to the table to keep them fresh.
Once you’ve completed your first voyage, you’ve likely seen much of what the game has to offer. Sailing your ship, of either size, is accessible, and even possible with random players thanks to a context-friendly text emote system, though for whatever reason the wind has a nasty habit of always coming from the direction you’re heading and slowing things down to a crawl.
There are chests and artifacts to uncover randomly as you search various islands, or if you take a chance and investigate an abandoned shipwreck, but quickly these finds become pedestrian as well, rarely giving you something to feel really excited about.
There are skeleton strongholds to take on, which see a large number of enemies defend their turf and offer up rewards for those brave enough to defeat them, but these skirmishes feel like a distraction or a brief departure more so than something you can invest a lot of time and planning into.
In our experience higher level voyages are much the same as those that came before, and fail to introduce new ideas and challenges to the table to keep them fresh.
Some of the game’s best moments come from trading blows with other crews. Seeing another galleon on the horizon prompts a quick decision about the potential risk of taking them on, and how much loot you stand to lose should they send your ship to the briny depths. Firing cannonballs wildly as the two ships dance around one another is exhilarating and takes a certain amount of skill and team coordination. Taking cannonballs, in turn, brings its own challenge, as crew members patch up the holes with wooden planks and bail water from the ship to bring it back from the brink.
Other classic pirate activities fill out the experience, giving you something fun to do with your chums, including playing music and drinking grog, either from a tavern or a bottomless barrel aboard your ship. Of course with the active weather effects potentially bringing on storms at a moment’s notice, there can be little time for larking around if you don’t want to find a new home in the drink, encircled by deadly sharks.
The most heartbreaking thing about Sea of Thieves is that there’s little that’s really wrong with it - other than our main gripes in that it’s often impedingly dark at night, avoiding pursuing players can grow tiresome, and the misbehaving wind can make for slow progress - it’s more that it doesn’t have the depth or breadth of activities you might hope for in a game you’re expected to pay full whack for (unless you’re an active Game Pass subscriber) and keep on coming back to.
As soon as you’ve gained a few levels of reputation, standard chests hardly make a dent in bringing that number up higher, and the only real endgame items to go after once you’ve cosmetically kitted out your pirate are the pricey ship and sail skins, which bring a bit more personality to your vessel. There’s a telltale gap waiting for your ship to be named, something expected in a post-launch update, but as it stands (or floats, I suppose you could say) right after launch, you’ll find yourself getting through most of the range of activities the game has to offer in only a few days.
That’s not to say the game isn’t fun. There’s certainly good times to be had, and like many games of this nature, bringing friends along for the voyage makes all the difference in creating those memorable moments which really show off the game’s potential. Currently though, there’s so much potential and so little substance, some might not have the patience for it.
Perhaps the brightest spot for the game is its presentation. Thanks to the colourfully stylised visuals, it’s a real showcase for the technical powerhouse that is Xbox One X. Alongside the ability to cross-play with others on PC seamlessly, Sea of Thieves presents endless beautiful vistas, expertly realised water and lighting effects, and a fairly steady frame rate, all of which really show off just how good games can look on console.
Sea of Thieves is the first big title to leave Microsoft’s stable this year, and one which carries a lot of expectation for the future of Xbox, but it doesn’t feel like it’s done quite enough from the word go to really say “Yes, the Xbox is a great place to play fantastic first-party games”. Hopefully some of the areas which feel bare at the moment will fill out and the game will continue to go from strength to strength, but if you’re after something that will blow your socks off right now, it might leave you lost at sea.
With a star-studded team of Rockstar and Bungie alumni at the helm, as well as a pint-sized protagonist that’s cute as a button, anticipation for PlayStation VR exclusive Moss has been riding high since it was unveiled. Now that it’s out, does the storybook tale of an unlikely heroine on a grand adventure deliver? Or does it not quite measure up?
Whether she’s offering a high five to reward a job well done, performing actual sign language in an attempt to communicate, or even chastising you for wasting too much time on petting her, Quill is an incredibly sweet and personable mouse who’s pretty much impossible not to love. I’m not the soppy sort when it comes to virtual animal companions (you could fill a pet cemetery with the Tamagotchis, Fable dogs and Mass Effect fishies I’ve left in my wake), which demonstrates the care and attention poured into bringing her very literal three-dimensional character to life.
Quill’s charmingly stout stature also serves to imbue locations with a mesmerising sense of scale, absolutely dwarfing her, yet at the same time being detailed down to the smallest minutia. Each exquisitely lit area, from lush forest to marble-clad castle, ties into a cohesive whole without sight nor sound of an intrusive loading screen or menu to hamper the presentation so painstakingly built. This is a colourful world in which mice ride tamed and saddled squirrels, but it’s so beautifully grounded as to be believable.
Environmental storytelling hints at echos of human habitation within the realm of Moss, as does the mechanical nature of many enemies you encounter; whilst no definitive answers to these sorts of larger contextual questions are offered, the whimsical soundtrack compels you to linger on them in humanity’s apparent absence. The game does reach a neat conclusion on the more immediate front, however, whilst also extending the tantalising promise that there's more from this world to come.
Quill is an incredibly sweet and personable mouse who’s pretty much impossible not to love.
More Moss is definitely welcome, not least because the three to five hour runtime will probably leave you wanting. Beyond the opportunity to spend more time with Quill, trophies and collectibles are really all that might serve to draw you back in for a second playthrough.
While it lasts, Moss is a charming, magical and gentle-natured adventure which establishes a compelling setting and an absolutely adorable protagonist that’ll bring a smile to even the sourest of faces. Though its simplistic gameplay sees the experience fall short of matching the Hylian escapades that inspired its core design, the team at Polyarc have brought a winning formula to virtual reality along with bucket loads of unique character. If that isn’t a strong foundation on which to build the upcoming sequel, we don’t know what is.