Band of Bastards is the third major expansion for Kingdom Come: Deliverance - Warhorse Studios’ medieval simulation RPG, which is holding up well a year after release - bringing with it a cluster of combat-oriented missions for battle-hardened players to get stuck into.
So, once you’ve polished off Dangler and been accepted into the nefarious crew, what adventures await? With around five hours of new content, Band of Bastards is comprised of six quests - five main and one side - plus the opportunity to explore your new camp and get to know the mercenaries within it.
Each of these characters feel unique and well-rounded, sharing entertaining backstories about how they became members. Particular highlights are the tale of how Dangler acquired his moniker (that’s sure to have set your mind racing) and how Sir Kuno’s family fell from grace.
The DLC’s solitary side quest, where head bastard Kuno asks you to retrieve a ring that grants its holder unlimited booze in taverns, unfortunately proves to be little more than a series of fetch quests taking place entirely within the borders of the small camp area.
Main mission wise, four of the five on offer feature combat situations for players to get involved in, with some decent armour components up for grabs to those willing to pay the iron price. The action’s tied together by some impressive cutscenes, and, while the story may be relatively straightforward, it does explore the questionable morals and irresolute loyalty of a sellsword company.
Unfortunately, it’s over all too soon. Just as you’re growing emotionally invested in a character, the conversation options dry up, and the same goes for Band of Bastards’ narrative as a whole. More disappointingly, the big finale ends on rather a limp note; the game’s framerate tanks and enemies display bizarre behaviour, doggedly chasing you around the battlefield whilst ignoring the rest of your party hacking them to bits. Granted, it’s possible to avoid a brawl altogether and settle things in single combat, but doing so means you miss out on a lot of extra loot, including a significant amount of coin.
None of that’s to say we didn’t enjoy the new content, though. The opportunity to venture out with your own crew and battle loads of baddies is exactly what Kingdom Come: Deliverance needed - the problem is, it needs even more of it! Band of Bastards is good, but it could have been great. All the components are here - the memorable characters, backstories and adventures - they just needed a bigger stage to flourish upon.
Some things in life are bloody hard. Think ironing on those travel-sized boards, resisting that packet of Ginger Nuts hidden within the cupboardy prison, understanding anything written by a lawyer, or the cleverly titled DiRT Rally 2.0. We might jest, chums, but seriously: this is the *snicker* Dark Souls of racing games...
From the title screen you’ll find two main methods of play: My Team and Freeplay. My Team focuses on online-centric challenges, AI challenges, and both rally and rallycross career modes. The career modes are an excellent timesink, but we’ve really found ourselves getting stuck into the daily and weekly challenges, which counter-balance the longevity of career with short, sharp tear-ups.
Freeplay features a quad collection of historic rallying (absolutely fantastical), officially licensed FIA world rallycross championship, time trial, and, most intriguing of all, custom mode. Here in the custom world one can create and share their very own championships and stages, all created via an easy-to-use system. Players decide on terrain, type of race, number of stages, weather for these stages, track conditions, etc. Much like DiRT 4’s Your Stage, Custom guarantees staying power.
Raindrops hit the screen with a thud, and muck splatters the back of whatever diesel-burner you happen to be controlling.
2.0 is a real looker, too. Bash your way around cliffs as the sun sets and you’ll see what we mean, as gorgeous lighting creates lens flare and has distant waters shimmering away beautifully. Stagnant puddles glisten with filth, raindrops hit the screen with a thud, and muck splatters the back of whatever diesel-burner you happen to be controlling. Some of the backgrounds might be lacking a bit in detail, but honestly, when the driving is this intense, and the foreground this pretty, you probably won’t care.
Sound-wise, 2.0 gives us the same aural problems that DiRT 4 did, unfortunately. The raucous wailing of engine noise possesses the ability to grate on both oneself and the neighbours, and, on a personal note, the monotone of the co-driver is so reminiscent of my Year 10 ICT teacher that I began to nod off. Menu music and background vibes are fine, if a little understated.
We do have a few more niggles that we’d like to mention on top of that charismatic co-driver, though, folks. Whilst we personally loved the total lack of hand-holding tutorials, many with the desire to get involved with DiRT for the first time will be left feeling woefully unprepared for the mountainous learning curve and ridiculously narrow tracks that lie ahead. A practice/training mode, as seen in DiRT 4, would certainly have allayed this issue.
We’ve also experienced some problems with low-light and night races (the many miserable, rainy Polish rallies come to mind), where even Dr. Personality’s instructions can’t save you from smashing into trees, or even missing whole corners, because you couldn’t bloomin’ well see ‘em! Playing these at nighttime with the lights off and the brightness dialled up will help, but that’s realism gone too far.
These minor negatives aside, DiRT Rally 2.0 is exactly the kind of game that people don’t really make anymore. It’s mercilessly tough, never holds your hand, and takes a while to really get under your bonnet. If you don’t have the leather interior and hub-caps for that, then we suggest you stick with DiRT 4, but for anyone up to the challenge, we can’t recommend this enough.
Anthem isn't a bad game. While the press coverage leading up to launch (including our somewhat lukewarm preview) might not have got you hyped for the latest offering from EA and BioWare, the game itself deserves a chance, so let's get into it.
There's also a social space known as the Launch Bay, home to elements like the Forge, where you can customise your Javelin. This hub is one of the areas where the comparisons with a little game called Destiny most prominently rear their head. At this very moment, though, there are no dance contests, impromptu football matches or equivalent to speak of, making for a comparative dearth of sociability.
While the game being “like Destiny” isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's clear that this is a first attempt at something similar. The reality is that this style of game (a live service, if you will) remains fairly new territory for both EA and BioWare compared to publishers like Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft, who’ve seen multiple games and franchises trying their best to tread water in an increasingly busy marketplace filled with microtransactions and loot boxes.
There's none of the latter here, though the cosmetic upgrades on offer (which only subtly customise the look of your Javelin) are fairly pricey - in the realm of 60,000 in-game Coin for an armour set, to be exact. You can skip the 6-8 hour grind required to amass that for 850 premium Shards, which will set you back in the region of £8, since you can only buy them in excess.
Annoyingly, you can then only apply your wears to any one of the four specific classes of Javelin. On that note, you'll start out as the well-balanced Ranger, the all-rounder’s choice, akin to a nerfed War Machine from Iron Man. The Storm suit, our personal favourite, makes for your archetypal mage, boasting elemental attacks which look particularly impressive and often prove more effective than firearms.
Storm is a particularly good choice for taking advantage of Anthem’s combo system, open to all classes, which deals bonus damage when you combine different types of attacks. It's never explained in any real depth, you’re just left to experiment with it, which works well enough in the end.
If diving straight into the fray is more your thing, you'll probably want to try the nimble Interceptor, which sports twin blades to look extra cool when engaging in melee bouts. If that sounds a faff and you'd rather sit back and pummel foes into submission with a barrage of bullets, then the lumbering Colossus should do the trick.
Whichever you opt for, all of the Javelins sport identical flight modes which made us pine to see them implemented in a licenced Iron Man game. Your jets are prone to overheating, remedied by nose diving or taking a refreshing dip, but the limited air time is sufficient to survey Anthem's beautifully idyllic and highly vertical locales with ease. Don't try to go too high though, or you'll hit some turbulence concealing the invisible glass ceiling…
Traversal during missions can be further limited at times, as the action centres around the player closest to the next objective marker, meaning that if you leave the main path to explore a little - or even when you remain shockingly close to them on occasion - you'll be told you've strayed from the mission marker before being respawned back with the group after only 25 seconds.
If this made for a brief disruption it’d just about be a bearable irritation, but, unfortunately, it’ll require you to sit through another of the many incredibly lengthy load screens that clutter the entire game. Improvements have been made over the demo build, but there are still far too many lengthy periods of downtime between performing even basic tasks, such as customising your character, making loading a constant pain and disruption to the otherwise largely smooth flow of gameplay.
It's particularly telling that Destiny manages to call up your loadout in a few seconds just by pressing start, whereas Anthem forces you to go to a specific area, though you can at least fasttrack straight there at the end of missions.
BioWare’s post launch plans for Anthem seem promising, and, as corny as it sounds, it feels like the game is destined to blossom into an acceptably meaty product after a year or so. The problem therein is that they’re asking full price for it right now, while offering an experience which provides only fleeting moments of satisfaction.
There’s simple joy in the act of soaring around a thoroughly beautiful (if quite empty) setting, especially when venturing online to recruit teammates and devastate the hostile natives with visually impressive combos. However, these pleasures are at risk of being lost amongst the forgettable story, repetitive mission structure and uninspiring weaponry, which drops far too sparsely considering we’re dealing with a ‘looter shooter’.
Those in the market for this brand of service game are already well catered to by continual support for Destiny 2, Warframe and Ubisoft’s upcoming Division 2, which looks set to refine an acceptable first iteration. As such, many players may want to hold off on exploring the colourful world of Anthem for now; but, if you really must fulfil your wild Tony Stark fantasies, there is fleeting fun to be had today.
Desolation. While winter in the UK has its moments, it pales in comparison to Russia at the best of times. In the bleak future of the Metro series, after the Last War reduced the world to rubble, this oppressive landscape begets a bleak outlook, but, just beneath the surface, there is hope.
Tense and claustrophobic underground sections keep your hair standing on end, while bright open-air encounters allow for flexing your action muscles.
The game definitely feels like an epic, despite hanging onto a mostly linear structure. Even larger open areas, which have vignettes of things to explore tucked away here and there - like a makeshift enemy stronghold or an abandoned cabin - flow from one event to the next before transporting you on to another area, which will have its own feel and weather as the in-game seasons pass.
Shootouts are a mixture of musical stings and often frantic ducking for cover, as you toe the line between risk and reward by going loud. More often than not the throwing knife is your best friend in human encounters, far more effective at taking down enemies instantly and not disturbing others nearby.
Out in the open there are more monstrous creatures to tackle, transformed by the surface radiation, who you'll want to have a loaded shotgun ready for. Fortunately, there's a fairly in-depth attachments system in place to let you piece a weapon set together that suits your play style. Don't become too reliant on your equipment though, as things can break and require the odd spot of maintenance, be that pumping up a pneumatic weapon or charging your torch.
Previously, you could only tinker with your loadout at a select few vendor locations, but now these storefronts are a thing of the past. This makes way for on-the-fly resource crafting, via scavenged components, whilst also nixing the intriguing dilemma of choosing whether to utilise bullets for currency or self-preservation seen in the past games. That might seem like a loss, but it quite quickly became arbitrary as you almost inevitably amassed more ammunition than you knew what to do with.
Whether the game holds onto enough of the haunting, thriller gameplay which made the tunnels of Metro 2033 and Last Light so compelling for some is up for debate. Coming in fresh, the balance and variety of gameplay feels on point here, with tense and claustrophobic tunnel sections keeping your hair standing on end, while bright open-air encounters allow for flexing your action muscles.
Visual details go a long way in bringing everything together, particularly as weather effects play with the lighting to make you feel as isolated or on edge as Artyom does. In native 4K on Xbox One X, some of the details are stunning.
Taken as a whole, the experience is a testament to the minute care and attention lavished on every element of Metro Exodus, leaving few drawbacks to speak of. Some characters feel a bit cartoonist at times, but the core interactions between Artyom and his wife alone will be enough to get you caring about the fate of this character and his community.
After making its way to Steam and North American Switch owners last summer, Sleep Tight has finally reached our shores this month, bringing its Pixar-inspired take on the classic horde formula to Europe.
During our early playthroughs we attempted to construct a square fort in the middle of the room, using barricades and the four upgrade stations as indestructible cornerstones. While visually pleasing, this left us open to attacks from all sides and required a much more hands-on approach to defence. Later runs brought about a change of strategy, namely hiding in a corner behind a wall of turrets, which allowed us to sit back and watch the automated fire do much of the dirty work for us. There was even a rather daring run which saw us eschew all defences in favour of ammo and shield power-ups, a strategy that proved surprisingly effective.
Every night survived sees you rewarded with suns and, along with stars dropped by downed enemies, these serve as a currency used for purchasing products at the aforementioned stations. You’ll need those to combat the evolving suite of enemies, which could easily pass for Monsters, Inc. movie extras, with small and speedy creatures being complemented by the introduction of bigger, stronger types capable of dealing serious damage to your base as rounds progress.
With only a few suns handed out each morning, you’ll need to spend wisely in order to stay alive for as long as possible, especially considering they don’t carry over to the next day. Do you repair a turret on its last legs, or stock up on shields and ammo in case things go south? It’s decisions like these that can make or break a playthrough, and while watching the inevitable downfall unfold on a particularly good run brings with it a tinge of sadness, last stands are always good, frantic fun. The game’s relatively speedy pace also means it’s never too long before you’re back in the thick of things, which helps.
From a technical standpoint, Sleep Tight appears to run well on Switch, both when docked and handheld. The only drawback was some screen glare when playing in handheld mode during daylight hours, as the game’s entirely set at night and obviously quite dark as a result. You can exit and save progress between rounds, but we often found that simply putting the Switch in sleep mode then returning some time later was a decent way to keep a playthrough going when interrupted.
Overall, Sleep Tight is another solid addition to the Switch’s growing roster of indies. Whilst it would be great to be able to team up with friends for a monster mash, the quick pace of rounds, satisfying gameplay and battery-friendly nature of the game make it a great candidate for solo commuters.
After a brief period of exclusivity with Discord, At Sundown: Shots in the Dark has been released onto multiple platforms, bringing with it an atypical twist on the multiplayer shooter.
As you continue to play and progress, unlocks are awarded with each level gained and come in the form of new weapons, maps and game modes. Whilst the unlockable maps and modes offer some variety (King of the Hill works particularly well), building the unconventional armoury is At Sundown’s real prize.
The level cap can be reached very quickly, ensuring things aren't locked behind progression for too long, but that does mean you’ll pretty much have seen everything the game has to offer within a couple of hours.
Typically for a multiplayer-focused game, longevity comes from honing your craft. You can do so locally, with up to four players supported, while AI bots can fill in any available spaces. AI capability ranges from laughably easy to cheating bastard, which can depend more on the weapons in play than the difficulty setting.
Unfortunately, padding matches with bots isn't an option if you venture online. We weren’t able to find an online bout during our playtime, though that shouldn’t come as a surprise, as we were playing pre-release, but we were able to try out some 1v1 battles and, as suitably tense as they were (thanks in no small part to the ominous soundtrack), the experience felt proportionally watered down. Technically it was spot on, it just lacked the measured carnage of a four-way firefight.
Still, Mild Beast Games have taken the slow, methodical strategy of Battleships, infused it with the twitchy thrill of a modern shooter and presented it in a way which invites an inaccurate, but not unfair, comparison to Bomberman. If you and yours are any sort of frantic multiplayer fans, then At Sundown might just be worth a look.
Spiritual successor to the classic Wonder Boy games, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a strikingly gorgeous, achingly nostalgic adventure that gets better and better the more you play.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a strikingly gorgeous, achingly nostalgic adventure that gets better and better the more you play.
Some items come with associated abilities - like boots that enable a double jump manoeuvre - often granting access to new areas, or at the very least previously inaccessible nooks within explored locales. Monster World is pretty huge, so the detailed, screen-by-screen map that’s awash with hints pointing towards as-yet-undiscovered secrets is a real boon for completionists.
Fortunately, the game’s setting is as varied as it is vast, encompassing idyllic, bustling hub towns through dark, labyrinthine sewers. Not just visually diverse, areas also require different tactics to traverse, making each feel doubly distinct and effectively staving off any potential fatigue resulting from what’s, ultimately, quite a familiar overarching structure.
In basest terms, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is another retro platformer, but, given time, it blossoms into something altogether more complex and enthralling. The fact that the folks at FDG Entertainment and The Game Atelier managed to pull that off while remaining staunchly true to their ‘80s inspiration, Wonder Boy, results in a masterfully-executed game that fans of retro platformers and modern metroidvanias alike will adore.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden takes the turn-based tactics integral to its tabletop namesake and mixes them with real-time stealth and exploration, giving life to a hybrid brand of gameplay which fittingly mirrors the title’s overarching themes.
Straying from the main path to explore offshoots in the game’s “post-human” take on Earth allows you to uncover these materials in abundance, as well as new weapons and armour, plus even the odd side quest. The latter pair with collectibles to flesh out an intriguing background for what’s a rundown-yet-lush world reclaimed by nature; environments are thick with fine visual details, noticeable even from the game’s somewhat removed, isometric perspective, which makes it a shame that the camera can’t be zoomed in to appreciate them to their fullest.
After any stint outside the one remaining safe haven, a hub area known as the Ark, you can return to tune your kit before heading back out into the Zone, which encompasses the rest of the uncharted world, except for the vague promise of Eden. It’s this illusive, titular paradise you spend the game seeking, initially just as Dux and Bormin, a squabbling and lovable duo comprised of (shockingly) a duck and a boar respectively.
More humanoid companions are acquired along the way, but despite their appearance, everyone in MYZ is mutated in some way or another in order to survive the harsh landscape. All of the party characters are decent, but they only ever share playing third fiddle to the more charismatic leading duo; everyone at least maintains the pervasive air of silliness, quite humorously misinterpreting “ancient” technologies to cut through what can otherwise be quite a bleak atmosphere.
MYZ is a strange game, but in the best way - it’s a mechanics and lore-focused gamer’s game not requiring the sort of time and energy commitment many of its ilk do.
If you can put aside the somewhat cumbersome HUD and a few performance hitches - which aren’t too invasive, due to the game’s methodical pacing - there’s an awful lot both to get to grips with and to be gripped by. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a strange game, but in the best way - it’s a mechanics and lore-focused gamer’s game that doesn’t require the sort of crazy time and energy commitment many of its ilk do. For a budget buck, or no extra cost to Xbox Game Pass subscribers, it’s one that fans of role-playing and strategy shouldn’t sleep on.
Hot on the heels of their Crash Bandicoot reboot, Toys For Bob and Activision are back with another slice of 90’s nostalgia in the form of Spyro Reignited Trilogy, an upgraded collection of the first three titles to star the diminutive purple dragon, lovingly restored for a new generation.
There are still gems galore to hoover up across the hub worlds and their many colourful offshoots, and old hands and newcomers alike will be glad to hear that the relatively rudimentary gameplay still holds up, even if enemies - particularly bosses - do seem absurdly easy by today’s standards.
All three games feature a healthy mix of biomes, from sandy deserts and treetop villages to the obligatory water levels, but it’s the sequels, Ripto’s Rage! and Year of the Dragon, that outshine the first thanks to the addition of non-dragon NPCs which imbue worlds with extra character. Year of the Dragon even sees you take control of Sypro’s sidekicks now and then, including a jetpacking penguin with shoulder-mounted rocket launchers, which is just about as fun as it sounds.
Along with bonus levels – including our personal favourites that see you flying through obstacles and taking out enemies within a time limit – these moments help to stop monotony from creeping in as you progress through the collection. There’s also the added challenge of collecting skill points, which are acquired through completing specific tasks on certain levels, be it taking out enemies with particular attacks, reaching a hidden area or taking no damage during a boss fight.
Reuniting with Spyro provided a welcome and nostalgic distraction from modern life.
They add another layer of depth, especially for the completionists out there, but the concept art offered as a reward for their completion is a bit underwhelming. We’d have been much more motivated to hunt down all of the numerous challenges if there was a sweeter bonus up for grabs, like maybe a means to switch between the original and remastered visuals. As it is, the only throwback to the original games’ design is the option to play with the old-school soundtrack (composed by The Police drummer Stewart Copeland) enabled, which doesn’t actually sound all that different from the updated one.
Although the Reignited Trilogy may appear basic compared to many of today’s offerings - you won’t find any branching skill trees or a particularly engaging storyline here - the colourful, cheery nature of the games kept pulling us back in for more. On the whole, reuniting with Spyro provided a welcome and nostalgic distraction from modern life, reminding us of a simpler time when penny sweets and six o'clock double headers of The Simpsons were the norm.
The game industry’s love affair with World War 2 goes back years, with countless titles following in the footsteps of film in exploring some of the most iconic moments in conflict. Battlefield itself is no stranger to WW2 either, with some of the game’s first installments set in the 1940s, but does Battlefield V feel like a respectful return to the well-trodden era or a tired relic?
Core gameplay has been updated, in line with the usual tweaks between releases, most notably making the spotting mechanic noticeably less powerful this time around. What this means in practice is that you really need to look a tank square on in order to tell your squadmates it’s there, which can be a bit of a pain when you get a face full of explosive shell for your trouble.
Squads continue to be crucial to success in the objective-focused multiplayer, now boasting flimsy fortification building, helping Battlefield V to retain a point of difference from the killstreak-loving Call of Duty. The number of packs of ammo and health being thrown around at any given moment can get a bit out of hand at times, though it’s well worth sticking close to a particularly friendly ammo-bearer to avoid running out of munitions in the field, since they can now be fairly limited.
Battlefield V still features some of the fairest, most accessible and well-balanced combat in the genre.
Community member Jordan "Metalrodent" Thomas tried to make the best of a minor crash situation.
The remixing of the iconic Rush and Conquest game modes continues, particularly with Grand Operations, though we’d argue the spectacle of the zeppelins in Battlefield 1 better captured the day-by-day, progressing battle approach to multiplayer skirmishes. Fortunately there are handy intro videos for each mode, so you can easily get to grips with the difference between Domination and Breakthrough, but the overall feel is similar throughout, with only different slants on scale and the use of vehicles.
From the hand-holding introduction accompanied by some stoic voice work from Mark Strong, the tone of the game is set early on - this is an entry in the franchise that’s taking itself a bit more seriously. The ongoing live service known as Tides of War, expected to bring to life the “unplayed battlefields” of WW2 with a foot planted firmly in historical reality, offers reason to keep engaging with the game, while an upcoming battle royale mode gives us something to look forward to from a development team very familiar with creating quality post-launch content.
The visual bugs are particularly abundant, such as this lovely floating bell.
Single-player War Stories make a return, bringing more intimate, even character-driven perspectives on the war, but the format remains too blunt an instrument to create the pathos achieved by something like the recent 11-11: Memories Retold, and distills down to a training grounds for the multiplayer main course.
In the end, it seems Battlefield V has achieved what it set out to do: bring tried-and-tested shooter combat - frankly, still some of the fairest, most accessible and well-balanced in the genre - and re-introduce it to a war which may have seen it all before, but still offers exhilarating experiences, enhanced by the solid foundation of the squad-based approach to combat.
It might not push the boundaries into completely new areas, but delivering an experience which both feels right to existing fans and isn’t too daunting for newcomers is a hard balance to strike. If only it had the character and humour of Bad Company 2 or sheer impact of Battlefield 4’s step forward in DICE’s self-styled “levolution” system, it might jump up from worthwhile to essential. As it is, in a crowded marketplace, Battlefield is finding it harder and harder to make its mark.