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.
Force fever is running high once again with the triple threat of a new Star Wars film - Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker - Disney+ series The Mandalorian and video game Jedi: Fallen Order all occupying the zeitgeist at the same time.
Your lightsaber can be a brutal weapon, particularly when it comes to performing finishing manoeuvres, which you'd expect from the samurai sword the concept was originally based on. It feels surprisingly personal too, by the simple notion of letting you heavily customise your saber with collectibles found strewn about the game's various worlds, alongside the existing cosmetic microtransactions and pre-order bonuses. Before long, the offering will almost certainly be expanded to include tantalising new DLC linked to The Rise of Skywalker.
Exploring multiple worlds is the name of the game - and seemingly the flavour of the autumn after The Outer Worlds - thanks to friendly transport ship the Mantis, which you can also customise to an extent. Traversing around is a mix of platforming and climbing which borrows from titles like Tomb Raider and Breath of the Wild, but it's the collective library of FromSoftware that Fallen Order pulls its strongest influences from.
Falling in battle sees you respawn at a designated checkpoint that’s never too far away, with these meditation spots being equivalent to bonfires. You can upgrade skills there, while also replenishing your health and healing items at the cost of reviving lesser enemies. Should one of them kill you, you'll need to return to the perpetrator and land a single hit to retrieve the experience gained since earning your last skillpoint.
You'll know danger is around the corner when grumbling strings start to creep in, helping to build a sense of tension whenever enemies attack – often from blindspots as you move through doorways.
After the initial tutorial level, which is fairly cinematic and exposition heavy in its attempt to introduce a lot of mechanics, you'll find the game opens up and lets you explore. It’s possible to wander into locations where the difficulty spikes or you don’t have the necessary equipment to explore, which is an indication to turn tail and come back later. It can feel odd to do so, since we’ve been conditioned to see gaming Jedi as unstoppable, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with shifting expectations.
Having only been a youngster when the order fell, Cal isn't a master; not to mention it's been a while since he flurried a lightsaber around on a daily basis. You can knock the difficulty down at any time, however, dialling back enemy aggression and damage while giving you a wider window to parry attacks.
Fallen Order challenges you to discover the Force, just as Cal is rediscovering it, and on that front it definitely succeeds. Combat is satisfying and has the bite of challenge a lot of fans will have been looking for, and the setting is a delicious meal of sci-fi Star Wars goodness. Where it hits a few stumbling blocks are mostly technical issues and things which remind you that this is, after all, a game. Texture and enemy pop-in is fairly common, performance can occasionally slow down, and minute-long load times can really kill your momentum after being defeated in battle.
Still, for those who’ve been waiting for EA to do something really special with the Star Wars licence, Jedi: Fallen Order is exactly that.
The road to the Galar region has been a rocky one for Nintendo and Pokémon fans alike, but when it comes to deciding how this pair of new Nintendo Switch games fare, we'll be focusing on what is here more so than what isn't.
A cross between Teletubbyland and Breath of the Wild's rolling plains, the Wild Area itself could use a bit more intricacy. Biomes and various weather effects seem to shift from hail to sun and back again largely without rhyme or reason, but you'll lose plenty of time pottering about nonetheless. For the collectors amongst you, it's also a great opportunity to fill your Pokédex and diversify your party early on.
The story is by the numbers as usual, so those hoping for a deep, meaningful conversation with an NPC hanging out in a Pokémon Center will continue to be disappointed. A cheerful tune greets you whenever you do visit, though in this region there doesn't seem to be any Poké-helper for the nurse.
Elsewhere, the soundtrack is an awkward mix of sound effects we've been hearing for years (decades even), an increasingly archaic lack of spoken dialogue, and some charming new themes composed for the Wild Area and various cities. So fun are these latter spins on British culture, visually as well as musically, that you might find yourself spending longer than you should lingering in any one location.
While some rockstar Pokémon like Pikachu and Eevee get full sound effects - the creatures often saying their own names with a springy sense of joy - most don't have as much aural character, instead relying on adorable animations to help you bond with them as you play together in camps.
Animations overall are a strange mix, though. Even brand new additions like the three available starters (Scorbunny, Sobble and Grookey) have either well-choreographed displays for their unique moves, or completely generic ones which don't seem to match the move at all. You can go from the delight of a bespoke Wooloo "Tackle" to Scorbunny merely jumping on the spot to covey a "Double Kick" – even when it kicks merrily for some other moves.
Shortcomings don't end there, as the game also struggles to make the most of its new platform. Some locations and scenery really shine in terms of their design, but generally you'd be forgiven for assuming that Sword and Shield were 3DS ports.
That might still be enough for many players; after all, it’s almost impossible to escape the joy of setting out on an adventure to go from Pokémon zero to hero. Getting properly invested in a team and playing with their movesets to feel like you have all the bases covered is constantly rewarding, in spite of the eye-watering number of type combinations that are now available.
Hopefully the development compromises and sacrifices felt across Pokémon Sword and Shield will allow Game Freak to reassess and build on their successes to push the envelope in the future. In the meantime, there's a solid and enjoyable experience here, just not a new one.
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.
Here it is, chums: Nintendo’s latest console remodel is finally out. Is it a welcome addition to the Switch family? Is it a worthy successor to the fabulously robust 3DS? Is it, in fact, neither? All will be revealed…
Whatever you opt for, they’re all equal in comfort. Nintendo’s Switch Lite boasts a grippy matte finish that perfectly complements its rubber analogue sticks, along with satisfying, reliable buttons and a triumphantly returning d-pad. I’m also pleased to report that, for the most part, it continues to feel comfortable during more rigorous play sessions - unlike even the New 3DS XL.
That comfort is further enhanced by the absurd weight of the console. It really only becomes apparent that you’re using a handheld in something like an FPS, where the offset nature of the sticks becomes a slight issue (more on that later), but regardless, it does feel robust in that signature Nintendo fashion.
How about that smaller screen, current Switchers? Well me ducks, I can honestly say that this is visually the best handheld I’ve ever used. Booting up Link’s Awakening for the first time sent echoes of nostalgia all through my rotting, sagging flesh and coloured my day with whimsy. It doesn’t auto-change the brightness like big brother, but it’s still plenty clear, crisp and girthy nonetheless.
So the design be grand and the screen be lovely, but that doesn’t really matter if you’ve got nothing to play on it. Yours truly has been testing the Switch Lite with the aforementioned Link’s Awakening, charming Stardew Valley, handheld staple Tetris 99, and the brutal DOOM to really put the console through its paces.
For the most part, I’ve been very impressed. How can this dinky little thing run the frantic, exploding-head wonderment of DOOM (2016)?! That’s a fantastical achievement in itself, even if the small form factor and offset sticks make aiming slightly difficult. Yet it’s that small size and maximum portability that makes me smile so. Having Stardew on the go is worth the price of admission alone if you ask me, but account for that massive and expanding library of third-party hits alongside Nintendo’s own bigguns and the potential for bank account destruction is supreme.
Yet all that good does come paired with some rather corpulent bad. It’s been well publicised that this is, in fact, a Switch that doesn’t switch, yet it still seems like a bizarre decision. For games like Stardew and the rest of the indie cannon it’s fine, but will Nintendo’s Breath of the Wild sequel have the same emotional impact on a smaller screen? Only time hath the answer. You can add the endless battery life debate to the fire as well (I’ve managed probably four hours tops so far), and the lack of Bluetooth headphones support is absurd in this ridiculously technological universe of ours.
Alas, you’ve reached the end. Well done. After a month in its company I say with much admiration that I’m glad to be back in Nintendo’s warm and ample bosom. I adore the cheaper price, portability, comfort and games library. Undeniably though, you will be making some rather large sacrifices in choosing the Lite over its conventional forebear. Much like this old bugger, consider your lifestyle and how often you actually play games. If, like me, you only really get to play on commutes, then the Lite is well worth the dosh.
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.
Liverpool vs Manchester United. Borg vs McEnroe. USA vs Europe. Whatever the sport, a decent rivalry can add so much more to a simple competition, eliciting passion, anger and excitement from spectators and participants alike. It’s an extra layer of intrigue that veteran motorsport developers, Codemasters, have successfully recreated in GRID thanks to their nemesis system, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
GRID’s AI provide excellent opposition, keeping races both consistently competitive and entertaining.
Before each race, you’re given the chance to take part in hot lap qualifiers, which, while entirely optional, are a great way to learn each track’s nuances ahead of the main event and also give you a chance to improve your starting position. Leading the line going into a race is, naturally, a big advantage, especially when competing on GRID’s city tracks, where tight corners and narrow streets make it harder to break out from the back of the pack.
Starting in the rear means you’re also more likely to collide with other drivers, and, intentionally or not, pick up a few nemeses in the process. It usually takes several collisions to spark a rivalry, though occasionally just a single bump is all that’s required to annoy the AI. Teammates aren’t immune to a bout of in-house rivalry either, and will actively ignore orders and requests if you hit them too many times.
City tracks are particularly impressive at night
Rival drivers are marked out by an angry red indicator above their car, and will attempt to hinder your progress should they get the opportunity to do so, sometimes even to the detriment of their own race, whether its aggressively blocking an overtake or performing a surprise pit maneuver just as you’re taking a tricky corner. It’s a brilliant system that adds so much more to races, creating short-lived rivalries and added drama without ever feeling unfair or overpowered.
In fact, GRID’s AI in general provide excellent opposition, keeping races both consistently competitive and entertaining; we’ve seen computer-controlled drivers smash into walls, flip cars and take risks that, at times, mirror human behaviour, adding to the overall sense of authenticity. You can, of course, get a similar experience by delving into the game’s online offering, but without the option to pick and choose tracks, car types or weather settings (unless you’re hosting a private game), you might find yourself battling the conditions more than other drivers.
Visually, GRID is a good-looking game, if not spectacular. Some levels stand out more than others; racing through one of Zhejiang’s city circuits at night, with neon lights reflected in the rain-soaked road, for example, looks amazing, but traditional circuits like Silverstone and Brands Hatch, with their wide tracks and open surroundings, are relatively bland in comparison. One of the more bizarre visual hiccups are the cars’ mirrors, which display reflected images in retro-like low-res graphics and reduced frame rates. If, like us, you prefer a cockpit view, it can be a little jarring, but it’s a minor issue that certainly doesn’t detract from an otherwise decent game.
Objects in the rear view mirror are actually a lot prettier than they appear
GRID also caters to both petrol heads and newcomers alike thanks to a generous suite of difficulty options; while we preferred a more arcade-like experience, with automatic gears, race lines, cosmetic damage only and face-saving flashback abilities enabled, it’s possible to turn all assists off, increase AI difficulty and transform the game into a proper simulator. It’s this flexibility, along with the game’s solid racing gameplay, generous solo offering and excellent nemesis system that make it an easy recommend.
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.
Looting and shooting may be all the rage, but with the latest iteration of Borderlands boasting billions of guns, the series that popularised the genre is back. Does it have anything new to say?
The plot sees you try to nab vault key parts before the Children of the Vault (or COV) do. Sister of the intergender twins, Tyreen Calypso, keeps gaining power as a siren - a class made famous by Lillith, Maya and newcomer Amara - and you'll be picking up plenty of familiar faces on your journey to help you take them down. In particular, Tales from the Borderlands' Rhys is back (though no longer voiced by the prolific Troy Baker) and brings the same endearing quirks with him, though unfortunately many of the other NPCs aren't as compelling without having had a game to set them up.
It's definitely the game to scratch that looter-shooter itch you might've been looking to satisfy.
Which leads us to an important fact – Handsome Jack is missed. He was always the pinnacle of the brand of amusement the series peddles in, none of the enemies, or the on-the-nose streamer pastiches the Calypsos themselves, have the same endearing quality. Even CL4PTR4P (or Claptrap) feels like the soul of the character has been lost from the change in voice actor, though not as noticeably as we'd feared from the trailers.
A final, and unfortunate, point to make is the technical issues we came up against. Though there is local split-screen co-op, which is notable for its rarity alone these days, the performance suffers pretty consistently, especially jumping in and out of menus - which happens a lot with the loot management element. Elsewhere we ran into a bug which forced our Xbox to turn off at a certain point in a cutscene multiple times, insisting it was going to overheat, as well as other crashes and freezing.
While it's definitely more Borderlands, the game is a sequel which more than earns its right to exist, but generally plays it safe and falls back on its established rules and systems. It's definitely the game to scratch that looter-shooter itch you might've been looking to satisfy, especially for fans of the series, but, despite being a good entry point, ultimately falls short of its potential.