OK, let’s get the obvious out of the way – yes, Elden Ring is tough. This will be little surprise for anyone who knows developer FromSoftware’s track history, but it was important to give it a little more time than our usual reviews to really scratch the surface of this colossal experience, so here goes…
As you gain levels, the number of runes needed to gain the next increases, so at times you’ll find yourself wanting to farm runes to gain levels before taking on a particular area or boss. One area I stumbled upon (though I since read is a well-known farming spot) is a hilltop in Stormhill near the Warmaster’s shack, which has five trolls just hanging out.
Each gives you 1,000 runes, and one in particular is more chilled out than the others, making it an easier target. Throughout my time with the game I explored this area many times (and if you try yourself beware doing so at night, as the Deathbird boss lurks nearby), and every single time the experience has gone differently.
What’s frustrating is that the method and timing might be exactly the same, but because the enemy AI is clever enough to not be entirely predictable, you never feel like you have a particular handle on the situation, and after one early attempt where I killed 3 or 4 trolls in a row I foolishly went in with a new-found sense of confidence, only to be cut down before defeating even one.
Every experience of Elden Ring will be different. There are a lot of different options and approaches you can take – some which might be considered easier...but all are valid.
This is the sort of thing which means Elden Ring “isn’t for everyone”. Not because not everyone can “git gud” or because they aren’t capable, but because different people want different things from their gaming experiences, and here the rewarding feeling is earned by a lot of time, hours and determination to keep going back after being killed by Margit, the game’s first mandatory boss, depending on which way you go.
Bosses are a huge part (often literally) of this genre of game, and Elden Ring is no exception. One of the symptoms of an open world is that many of these battles are optional, or at least feel avoidable, since they can be tackled in different orders.
The tougher bosses have NPC summoning signs which you can use to bring a bit of coop support into battle, and the arcane skills known as Ashes of War can also include allies like wolves, a sorcerer or even jellyfish.
You can also team up with other players, the mechanics of which probably could be explained better, but, at this point, what did we expect? The important thing is, the option is there for those who want it, and if you’d rather play offline without any helpful (or deceptive) player messages littering the landscape, you can do that too.
Every experience of Elden Ring will be different. With so many classes, builds, weapons and paths to choose, there’s no right way to work through the game’s map, and there are a lot of different options and approaches you can take – some which might be considered easier than others, but all are valid.
Visually, the game doesn’t give as striking an impression as the Demon’s Souls remake on PS5, though there are plenty of beautifully crafted vistas and memorable locations, just something about this game’s visual style doesn’t have the same contrast and impact.
There is a lot of colour however, with the rich greens, reds and golds of the landscape and sky feeling like a breath of fresh air compared to the greys and browns you might typically see in a FromSoftware production.
There are some technical rough edges as well, with a fair amount of noticeable pop-in textures for things like grass. While it doesn’t tend to affect gameplay, it does emphasise the amount of detail that’s packed into the world.
Exploration on the other hand is a huge strength. Since sometimes you can run into a tough enemy and feel like you need a change, or to gain a few levels before heading back, having the option of picking any other compass direction and knowing there will be a completely different experience to discover is hugely exciting.
The score and audio design gains some big points as well, with the chilling, understated music swelling to raise the drama of an encounter, and you quickly getting to know sounds that come from touching a Site of Grace or summoning your trusty spectral steed Torrent.
In all, the journey across The Lands Between has been far more enlightening than I expected, with Elden Ring proving to be more forgiving, rewarding and yet more punishing than any game I’ve ever played.
Whether it’s an experience for you or not, you might have already made up your mind, but if you’re hesitant, I would say it’s definitely worth the benefit of the doubt. FromSoft have crafted an experience that's well worth a go.
Go! No “3,2,1”, no “On your marks, get set”, Forza Horizon 5 (and the series in general) wastes no time in getting you right into the action. In fact your first act in the game is to leap out of a plane in a series of cars and dive straight onto the beautiful open roads of Mexico.
One area which has a tremendous level of depth is the cars themselves. Adjusting tyre pressure and swapping out parts to tune your cars for whatever event you're about to take on is encouraged, and is something you can rely on the collective knowledge of die-hard fans if you’re unsure, thanks to a search option which lets you check out setups which have been shared.
If you’re feeling like online is a recurring theme, you’re not wrong. The narrative conceit for the game in the first place is a festival (or fiesta) in celebration of cars which wouldn’t be too out of place in an early Fast and Furious film. Horizon Festival is all about bringing people together, and the team has made sure they carry this spirit into every aspect of how the game is put together.
Not only will you see other players mooching around the map as you explore, but you’ll be pitted against other players’ Drivatars, digital echoes of their racing style, in races and events. While not a new idea, in fact the series has brought them in from the main Forza Motorsport series since its second outing, the compiling of player driving data makes for far more unpredictable and interesting AI opponents.
Hooking up with players in real-time is where things get even more fun though, as there are four main modes – Open Racing, Open Drifting, Playground Games, and The Eliminator – with tons of different types of events between them.
Open Racing is as straightforward as things get, challenging you to road, dirt, cross country and street races. Open drifting, as the name would suggest, is all about the drift, so you’ll be sticking to roads and trying to nail those corners, while Playground games include flag rush, king and survival. The Eliminator returns from FH4 as the Forza Horizon take on Battle Royale, pitting up to 72 players against each other into head-to-head races within a gradually shrinking area of the map.
The driving in Forza Horizon 5 is some of the most beautiful escapism you can experience.
On top of that there’s Horizon Arcade, which is more of a collection of minigames which you take on together as a group. Perhaps you’ll need to maintain a certain speed within an area of the map to score, or drift for as long as possible around a certain bend. These challenges, admittedly, do tend to be “drive around a specific area”, but to dismiss them as only that is reductive, as you can easily find some fun and memorable moments as a group.
Individually, your in-game persona will be the one interacting with the NPCs as you drive around. You can customise your character with different looks and physical appearance to an extent, including a wide variety of prosthetic limbs, but the general build and vibe of the different characters still feels a little flat. The game does call you by your real name, if you have it shared in your Xbox or PSN profile, as it has in previous games.
As you drive around, discover roads, smash billboards and complete other challenges, you’ll unlock accolades which let you progress through the game and unlock more events. You’ll also be given wheelspins, a free lootbox mechanic earned by completing in-game challenges, to unlock more cars, clothing for your in-game avatar and all sorts of other goodies.
While races are all well and good, you might find the expeditions a welcome change of pace. These involve exploring a specific area, which might, for example, have a tropical storm going on, and take pictures or find jumps to establish it as a new area for the Horizon Festival and unlock new events in that part of the map.
Since we were playing ahead of release, there were a few bugs here and there, but far less than we’ve seen in other pre-release titles. One technical issue we hope is sorted out is how the game handles the Series S’s Quick Resume feature. With online games this can often be very hit-and-miss in general, so perhaps it’s to be expected, but we didn’t manage to jump back into the game easily, whether we played on or offline.
The driving in Forza Horizon 5 is some of the most beautiful escapism you can experience. The cars themselves are as realistic as any buttoned up racing sim you could mention and the vast vistas and rolling hills are a joy to tear along, sending cacti, road signs and other debris flying.
Handling varies considerably between vehicles, meaning it can take a while to find a vehicle, or handful, depending on the road surface, which works for you. Once you’ve found the groove though, it’s totally up to you how you explore the expansive, marker-filled map. The towns, landscapes and even historical ruins you’ll find are all recreated with the care and attention of a team that has taken the time to make a game that feels like exactly what they wanted to make, with no compromise.
Game Pass, and a very comprehensive set of accessibility options, lowers the barrier of entry for this Forza Horizon more than ever, so, whether you’re new to the series, or just eager for another adventure, Playground Games has given you a sandbox with everything you need.
The Far Cry series is now over 15 years old, giving Far Cry 6 a lot of different expectations to live up to. With any established franchise like this, it can be a challenge to surprise players without making the established formula too different - losing what made people fall in love with it in the first place.
Initially mainlining the story is a good idea to get properly equipped, though it also allows for teaming up with a friend. There’s no narrative explanation for the delay, which might rub anyone looking to jump straight into co-op the wrong way.
Choosing to carry on solo isn’t a solitary experience, however, thanks to a selection of animal sidekicks. Amigos range from a crocodile to a sausage dog and each have different abilities, adding alternate tactical elements to encounters.
There’s a reasonable selection of weapons for Dani to equip, plus a bunch of customisation options in the form of useful attachments and cosmetic alterations. Far from the gunsmithing of Ghost Recon you only get the basics here, but some credit is due for not falling into the trap of needlessly overcomplicating things. There’s a carry limit of three primary weapons at a time, though that might include a beefy flamethrower which you somehow manage to stash about your person.
While there isn’t a huge amount about Far Cry 6 which really breaks its own mould, the gameplay is dependable.
FC6’s signature weapon, and something of an ultimate attack, is the Supremo - a rocket launcher backpack which fires a salvo of missiles into the (fairly unpredictable) distance to act as crowd control. This can be upgraded as well, but is more a fire-and-forget ability for the beginning or end of encounters.
While there isn’t a huge amount about Far Cry 6 which really breaks its own mould, the gameplay is dependable and there are enough hidden shortcuts, unique weapons and against-the-odds encounters to make exploration feel worthwhile. At the same time, buying into the world can be difficult when (for example) there’s no penalty for attacking Libertad allies in full view of their leader.
This is a minor symptom, but one of several actions that lack consequences that could add weight to players’ actions; it’s key to creating a believable experience, helping people to forget that they’re playing a game. Perhaps the DLC content, which puts you in the shoes of some of the series’ prior antagonists, might prove more engrossing.
Anyone that fancies an island getaway could do a lot worse than taking a trip to Yara. Far Cry 6 is an entertaining means to blow things up and mindlessly shoot people, though probably won’t prove to be memorable in a few years’ (or possibly even months’) time.
There's nothing like clambering over a snow-capped mountain while exploring the hallowed lands of the Norse. Assassin's Creed Valhalla makes this experience, and many more, nothing short of breathtaking.
There's no compromise on scale, though as you travel around you'll notice the odd bit of texture pop-in. Performance is fairly solid on the whole, though we did get stuck in the environment once or twice while searching for goodies in the wilderness.
The approach to uncovering those goodies is fairly unforgiving, with only a vague spot on the in-game map to shoot for. It's a difficult balance to strike, since players tend to roll their eyes at unnecessary hand-holding, but the odd understated voice line to suggest you’re getting colder or warmer would be beneficial in some of the more complex areas.
Valhalla can suffer from a lack of direction at times, but its Nordic influence seeps into every pore, leaving plenty to get excited about.
Environments are very much divided into things you can interact with and things you can't. You can pick up health from odd pots of food that the locals seem to have absent-mindedly left simmering, but a pile of fresh apples and other fruit in a barn aren't deemed edible, for example.
Elsewhere there are more inconsistencies, with Eivor being able to climb mountains endlessly - no stamina needed, à la Breath of the Wild - yet a few consecutive dodges during combat will quickly tire the protagonist.
Fortunately, combat as a whole is reassuringly savage and satisfying. Lower level enemies are entertaining fodder, but more advanced foes require you to keep your wits about you.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla can suffer from a lack of direction at times, but its Nordic influence seeps into every pore, leaving plenty to get excited about. Strong characters, choice of approach and presentation make it a great choice for those breaking in a new next-gen console or sticking with an older platform.
While we're not quite living in the dystopian future that Watch Dogs: Legion predicts, Ubisoft Toronto couldn't possibly have imagined the world it was releasing its latest game into.
Firearms are sparse, as you'd expect in England, which favours the tech-orientated culture this series is known for. Drones of all shapes and sizes are everywhere and vehicles, as in previous titles, can be diverted with a quick hack. Environments are so interactive, in fact, that it's often difficult to focus on the small keypad in front of you as opposed to items in the surrounding area.
An option which helps to set Legion apart from the swathe of similar Ubisoft games is permadeath; if operatives die with this setting enabled, they're gone for good. Problem is, recruitable characters lack personality, so rather than hitting on a personal level it’s just annoying to lose whichever special skills or items they had access to.
Connections between characters raise questions like "Why is that construction worker being targeted by a hitman?"
One nice feature, which admittedly has the potential to get out of hand, is a HUD element that displays connections between existing recruits and recruitable characters. It raises questions like "Why is that construction worker being targeted by a hitman?" and encourages you to start to build out a wider team, members of which are connected by emergent stories. When you get into recruitment itself, however, the variety of missions is fairly limited.
Characters in general have a few shortcomings. Animation transitions are abrupt and occasionally wonky, while speech seems very skewed towards British stereotypes. That isn't necessarily a surprise, but, since you're hearing the same voice line or two whenever you get into a conversation, it gets old quickly.
While cosmetic customisation is possible via numerous shops, some of the initial character designs clash with their intended roles. It isn’t a major issue, but it is another thing that highlights the shortcomings of procedural generation in Watch Dogs: Legion. It’s much harder to care about these characters than it would be a lovingly hand-crafted cast.
Watch Dogs: Legion’s core gameplay is good fun for the most part, but its procedural cast of soulless characters don’t lend themselves to helping players be absorbed by alternate London. Still, the sights and sounds of Blighty’s capital are exciting to explore - especially in lieu of being able to amble around the city in person at present!
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire reached its crowd-funding goal within one day of the campaign's opening. Two years after a successful PC release, Pillars of Eternity II - Ultimate Edition has now landed on consoles, including three significant DLC expansions and a host of smaller additions.
PoE II’s story can unfold in numerous ways depending on your decisions, with characters divulging more information if you pursue the right line of questioning or pass skill checks. Scripted Interactions (small text-based segments) play out similarly, awarding loot or opening up shortcuts to those who possess a high enough level in one or more relevant skills.
A new combat scheme was introduced to PC post-launch and is present on consoles from day one, offering players the option to either engage in standard real-time-with-pause encounters or alternate turn-based battles. The latter is much slower in pace, making gameplay more akin to something like Mutant Year Zero or Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle.
Pathing is an issue in smaller maps, however, which can make turn-based mode a chore. When faced with a choke point, characters may decide to take the long way around, attempting to circumnavigate the globe and attack enemies from behind, in the process wasting multiple turns and leaving the party exposed. This persistent niggle, along with the excruciatingly slow pace, caused us to abandon our first playthrough after around 20 hours and start again using real-time-with-pause. No, you can’t switch mid-playthrough.
This actually proved to be a blessing in disguise; literally, as each achievement earned will award a specific number of Blessings to be used for a head start in subsequent playthroughs. By leveraging windfalls like cash and increased stats, we managed to catch back up fairly quickly and the combat experience was a lot smoother.
You'll gain access to a ship fairly early on, which not only provides the means to travel throughout the eponymous Deadfire Archipelago, but also allows for ship-to-ship combat. Multiple vessels are available to purchase, each with differing stats, and can be upgraded to provide you with extra firepower, stronger sails and a more durable hull. Every victory on the high seas awards experience to you and your crew, increasing your captain level and your crew's abilities. It's a fun little addition that’s easy to get to grips with, though it can be bypassed entirely by boarding enemy ships and engaging in traditional combat instead.
Not everything is quite so plain sailing, though. Every now and then an exit would bug out, forcing us to reload a previous save. In addition to this, ability names aren't shown outside of the skill trees and you'll spend the majority of your time in a party of five. That accounts for a lot of available abilities at any one time and, as such, necessitates a particularly good memory unless you want to fall back on guesswork.
Issues aside, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire has a rich story with branching narratives, an incredibly in-depth party AI system and endless replayability thanks to its Blessings and multi-class mechanics. It’s a game that any self-respecting RPG fan will enjoy, regardless of whether or not they’re familiar with the original.
Arnold Schwarzenegger recently returned to the big screen in Terminator: Dark Fate, showing audiences a softer side to the relentless Cyberdyne Systems Model 101. That nostalgic entry is perhaps the best film in the long-standing action franchise since T2: Judgement Day, and similarly, Terminator: Resistance puts the series’ video game output on sturdier ground than most previous efforts. That being said, getting pegged as the best pick of a bad bunch isn’t necessarily worth much.
Resistance is a first-person shooter in which shooting is a weak link.
Unfortunately, a lot of good will towards the level design evaporates when you begin to notice frequently recycled assets and even complete area retreads. In these instances you can switch vision modes in order to see through walls and very easily sneak past enemies, though in the process you’ll be sacrificing experience and the associated skill points required to upgrade abilities from three basic skill trees.
Visually, it’s about passable – outside of the distracting lip sync and facial animations that further detract from wooden conversations. Aurally the game fares even worse, with an odd bootleg of the iconic main theme being the best element for its inherent novelty value.
If you’re a Terminator fan that can embrace mediocrity with open arms - you’ve had plenty of practice, after all - spending a tenner when the price drops and around six hours of your time completing Resistance isn’t the worst idea. For everyone else, occasional flashes of a good game are likely to cause frustration as you wade through its variety of just passable game mechanics.
If you've heard anything about The Outer Worlds it was likely in the same breath as some other properties, such as The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, Fallout: New Vegas, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and even titles without a colon in their name like Mass Effect or Bioshock. Those games appear to have influenced the developers (Obsidian themselves having worked on some of them) but it would be disingenuous to claim there's nothing to set this new IP apart from the precursors that were instrumental in its construction.
As is the fashion, quests can be completed in a number of ways. If you aren't built for stealth or wish to avoid stealing, a silver tongue may grant access to restricted areas or there's the standard RPG trope of a quid pro quo arrangement. Failing that, most folks won't argue with a flamethrower. At least, not for very long.
Many of the faces you'll meet are exaggerated caricatures, some endlessly parroting the company slogan through fear of punishment, others holding a genuine belief in the propaganda. Whilst this could wear thin, it's well-written satire that’s wonderfully performed by the voice actors, and serves to illuminate the "real" characters that have a more prominent role. Parvati, a companion you'll encounter early on (and one of our favourites), is a pleasure to travel with, not only for her combat and passive abilities, but her wholesome, innocent charm.
Your party will often run into trouble, even if it's a conscious decision made only to test out the whacky Science Weapons hidden around Halcyon. Fights are fast and frantic with smooth gunplay, which will feel familiar to anyone who's played a recent Fallout or Borderlands, but they're over a little too quickly on the easier difficulties. On hard mode and, presumably, Supernova (where food, water and sleep become necessary) a bit of forethought is required.
Tactical Time Dilation is a more skill-based V.A.T.S which slows the action to a crawl, allowing you a few free shots to damage and debuff the biggest threats, while each companion has a special ability to both damage and stun foes. Utilising these abilities will give you an edge, though it's important to regularly update your loadout and use the correct damage types. Consumables can be mixed in with your standard health packs, giving short-lived bonuses to stats. So ubiquitous are these items, that we found ourselves using them before, during and after engagements, yet still our pockets were overflowing.
An, albeit minor, sticking point is the game’s Flaws mechanic. After taking enough of a certain type of damage, say, from a specific enemy or too much head trauma, you'll be prompted to accept or decline a Flaw, a permanent condition that negatively impacts your stats in exchange for an extra Perk. Up to four Flaws can be accrued on Normal Mode, while higher difficulties feature more. It's a great idea for those fully committed to the role-playing aspect, whereby too many encounters with a certain type of foe could trigger ‘anxiety’ (read: debuffs) when near that enemy, but the hit to your stats rarely seems like a fair trade as the Perks, whilst providing concrete benefits, are largely unimaginative.
With that said, there's nothing that really detracts from the experience as a whole and our biggest gripe is having to wait years for the inevitable sequel. The Outer Worlds is a better Fallout than Fallout 4 and the shorter runtime (around 20 - 30 hours) is offset by having more replayability than its contemporaries. The fact that it's also free for Xbox Game Pass subscribers is just icing on the cake.
Breakpoint is the moment at which the tables are turned or the tides change in a conflict, forcing defenders to become attackers. For Ghost Recon, this could be the series’ last stand.
Adding in these elements has had another unfortunate consequence: an overabundance of systems. Whether it’s gun upgrades, customising clothing or crafting, every area of the game has its own system, some of which build on one another clumsily. It’s quite easy to get lost in the mission selection screen alone, which separates different types of mission by colour, as they show as little circles on the map, but you can pin several missions at once, making your mini-map a flurry of markers most of the time.
Individual weapons and gun upgrades are particularly at fault here, with the gunsmith view - heralded as a flashy innovation back in 2012’s Future Soldier - now an uninspiring slew of upgrades which make negligible difference to gameplay, and even locking higher tiered crafting a number of skill points deep into a specific shooting skill tree. The skills as a whole give you a class ability, either medic, assault, panther or sharpshooter, but it is understated and nothing like the sort of flamboyance you’d get in more deliberately class or character-based experiences.
Otherwise, the gunplay itself is one of the areas which feels sharp, and more immediate than its older sibling. AI enemies don’t pose much of a challenge however, even as they wander around the map fairly aimlessly in groups of three or four. Others will be clustered around a lone vehicle, waiting to be picked off by a well-placed sniper shot (or a not-so-well placed shot, as a round in the arm seems to do the trick).
It’s the drones and autonomous vehicles where the ante is well and truly upped, since they are ruthless in their pursuits and pack a heavier punch than mere mortals. The new prone camouflage can occasionally be used to evade these foes, but in most areas, aesthetically the effect is pretty pathetic, just a few blobs of dirt strewn across your characters arms as they lie motionless.
The rest of the visuals have their flashes of brilliance, with the sunrise breaking through the trees as the day/night cycle transforms the landscape, but otherwise it’s largely as expected for the current generation at this stage, and doesn’t leap forward in any particular area from Wildlands.
Ultimately, Ghost Recon is suffering an identity crisis. Last stand or not, the team doesn't seem exactly sure where they want the series to go, or what story they are trying to tell. A linear narrative might have been more effective in holding our attention on the journey of this character, and we get a few glimpses into what that narrative might have been through cutscenes (albeit with decidedly dated and distracting lip-sync), as it’s those images that stick in our minds more than trekking across endless kilometres of fairly samey terrain to reach another bad guy to fight or side mission to be distracted by.
Instead, the open world seems unfocused, and far from the concentrated, dense, and varied landscape we’d hoped for in a (slightly) smaller map compared to Wildlands. We find ourselves longing for that game’s open spaces so at least we can drive vehicles without bouncing them off rocks every few minutes. Guns are disposable and so upgrading them seems futile, even more so given rarity seems to make little difference to their effectiveness in combat. There’s a few nice elements on show here, but not enough to keep our attention from half a dozen other games which do all of them better, not only with more originality, but with more character of their own, and that’s what Ghost Recon sadly lacks.
Gears 5 continues the story thread that was started in Gears of War 4, dropping Kait into the role of main protagonist supported by Del and an upgraded Jack bot – the latter being playable for the first time in Gears' history – in both the co-op campaign (for up to three players locally or online) and returning Horde mode.
Jumping into Versus mode, the game’s multiplayer offering, for the first time can be daunting. Arcade is casual, class-based fun with loadouts unique to each character, which in no way prepares you for the competitive scene. At the other end of the scale, there's the Ranked playlist. Even with cross-play disabled, and those pesky mouse and keyboarders kept at bay, you'll occasionally run into God-like players who are capable of carrying their (and hopefully your) team single-handedly, especially in King of the Hill and Escalation. The non-ranked versus is more accessible and co-op against AI is a good way of learning map layouts and weapon spawns, while providing a safe environment in which to practice with the Gnasher, though the difficulty can be ramped up to suit all skill levels.
Horde and Escape, though very different, complement each other. The former, a mainstay of the franchise, tasks five players with surviving 50 waves of increasingly difficult enemies, whilst the latter offers a more bite-sized co-op experience. Your three-person team, having infiltrated a Swarm hive and planted a Venom bomb to destroy it from within, must escape before the deadly gas kills you, too. Beginning only with a sidearm and limited rounds, you'll want to be conservative with ammo until your party has tooled up.
In both modes, duplicate characters are forbidden, which can cause problems when matchmaking. Levelling up and completing matches will award Skill Cards to further raise your damage dealing and survivability. These Skill Cards will allow you to hold your own on higher difficulties but if someone has already bagsied your main, you're left with the choice of using an under-levelled character or re-queuing. Regardless, there's no barrier of entry and all of our encounters through matchmaking have been positive, though not always successful.
Despite a few minor issues, the new Gears recipe is the best yet. The story has enough presence without overstaying its welcome, open world areas are a nice addition and there's adequate co-op activities outside of the campaign to complete the package for anyone averse to PvP.