My E3 Impressions (2019)

Everyone knows that E3 is the time of year where tons of games get announced and hype begins to build. Publishers hold a conference to announce what they will be releasing in the upcoming months, often times revealing new games. E3 can be an exciting time: interesting new games get announced, dead franchises get revived, indie games get a chance to be on the big stage, and highly anticipated titles get definitive release dates. I have decided to give my impressions of E3, going through what I was intrigued by at each conference. I am not going to go through every game shown, but just the ones that I am interested in. Obviously E3 is run by the publishers, so games are often misrepresented to build excitement and boost sales. I try not to buy into the hype too much, and I am aware that many games shown are going to over-promise and under-deliver. With that being said, it’s still fun to talk about the grandiose trailers and teasers. At the very least, this time next year I can look back at my list and laugh if these titles flop.

I will split the games into 4 categories: Heavy hitters, looks good, piqued my interest, and uncharted territory. Heavy hitters are games made by well-respected studios and that look to be phenomenal, generally I will buy these games as soon as they are released. The looks good category is for games that have impressed me for whatever reason, but they are not quite as hype-garnering as the heavy hitters. Piqued my interest is for games that seem to be interesting, but there is not enough info about them to make a proper judgement yet. Lastly, uncharted territory is for games that are part of series that I have not played yet. Games in this category could easily be heavy hitters for many people, but since I have not played their respective series, I am not overwhelmingly excited for them. Any game not mentioned just did not impress me or wasn’t my kind of game. That being said, let’s get into the conferences.

EA

Heavy hitters: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

Looks good: N/A.

Piqued my interest: N/A.

Uncharted territory: N/A.

Not much can be said for EA, they showed very little and most of what was shown were just updates for already existing games. The only thing saving their conference was Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. People have been clamoring for a single-player, story-driven, Star Wars experience for decades. This game looks to deliver on satisfying lightsaber combat, create a unique new Star Wars story, and tap into the magnificent world building of Star Wars.

Microsoft

Heavy hitters: Cyberpunk 2077, Elden Ring, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Borderlands 3.

Looks good: The Outer Worlds, Spiritfarer, Way to the Woods.

Piqued my interest: Twelve Minutes, Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Uncharted territory: Halo Infinite, Gears 5, Tales of Arise, Psychonauts 2.

If you ask me, Microsoft knocked it out of the park with their presentation. Rapid-fire trailers for both big games and indie games alike. The obvious elephant in the room is Cyberpunk 2077, holy moly. This game looks insane and it nails the cyberpunk aesthetic, CD Projekt Red have my full trust since I played The Witcher series. And it has Keanu Reeves in it! Elden Ring is the next game by FromSoftware, directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki and consulted on by George R.R. Martin. Miyazaki and his team have continuously blown me away with Soulsborne, and one of my favorite authors is world building for this game, sign me up. In the world of indie games, Ori and the Will of the Wisps looks to capture the feeling and bliss that made Ori and the Blind Forest so magical. While Borderlands 3 has been announced and has had a release date set for a while, it was cool to see some more info for the next installment in my favorite looter-shooter series.

I am cautiously optimistic for The Outer Worlds, it looks solid. Obsidian did a phenomenal job with the legendary RPG Fallout: New Vegas, and if this game is anywhere close to that level, I will be immensely pleased.  Spiritfarer looks gorgeous, and looks to be the perfect kind of game for developer Thunder Lotus Games. It looks to be a cozy management game with beautifully hand-drawn characters, gorgeous locales, and emotionally charged moments. While it may not be as high profile as other games, Way to the Woods looks enchanting. I am getting some serious Journey and ABZÛ vibes from this game. Exploring the world as a deer sounds like a remarkably comfy and calming experience.

As for games that piqued my interest, Twelve Minutes is at the top of that list. This Groundhog Day inspired game seems to be ripe with mystery and intrigue. While I have never played a flight simulator, Microsoft Flight Simulator captivated me. Something about being able to fly around a fully detailed Earth is just enticing. I’m not sure if this genre will appeal to me, but it piqued my interest nonetheless.

The Microsoft conference also included a ton of familiar series that I am sure many people will be excited for. Again, I have not played the respective series yet, but I would be remiss to not mention these games. Halo Infinite carries the torch for one of the most famous series of all time, and now that Halo is coming to PC, I might actually be able to play it. The Gears 5 trailer didn’t really get me hyped, but I am sure long-time fans will be thrilled. While I am not a JRPG lover, Tales of Arise looks to modernize the series and maybe I will give it a try. Lastly, Psychonauts 2 is a sequel to the renowned platformer, hopefully it will live up to the 14-year-long wait.

Bethesda

Heavy hitters: DOOM Eternal.

Looks good: Wolfenstein: Youngblood, Deathloop.

Piqued my interest: GhostWire: Tokyo.

Uncharted territory: N/A.

I am immensely disappointed that we did not get any info on Starfield, and that the majority of the conference was filled with expansions of already existing games. Luckily, DOOM Eternal looks phenomenal. The 2016 reboot of DOOM was a bombastically fun demon killing-spree, and DOOM Eternal looks to expand upon the unparalleled FPS action. Taking the battle to Earth looks to mix up the environments and color palettes of the game which is a much-appreciated change. As much as I love the brutal red hellscapes of Mars and the Underworld, I think some varied environments would be nice.

While Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was fairly underwhelming, Wolfenstein: Youngblood looks to be a promising spin-off of the main series. With a focus on two-player coop, with any luck this game will rekindle my confidence in the series. With help from one of my favorite developers, Arkane Studios, I am hopeful that level design takes a big leap forward in this game. Speaking of Arkane Studios, I am also excited for their upcoming game, Deathloop. Not much was revealed about this game other than it has some sort of ambitious idea where the two protagonists attempt to murder each other to break the never-ending time loop. I consider Arkane Studios to be geniuses of modern level design and their previous games such as Dishonored and Prey were fantastic, so I am looking forward to Deathloop.

The game that piqued my interest the most was GhostWire: Tokyo. While I am not super familiar with the developer and no gameplay was shown, the trailer itself was magnificent. I legitimately thought it was a real-life video, but it was insanely detailed prerendered CGI. Seriously, go check it out. The game looks to be a spooky action-adventure with an air of mystery. The atmosphere and aesthetic of the game look to be top-notch, so I am looking forward to seeing some more details about this game in the future.

Devolver Digital

Heavy hitters: N/A.

Looks good: Fall Guys, Carrion.

Piqued my interest: My Friend Pedro, Devolver Bootleg.

Uncharted territory: N/A.

Devolver did not bring any heavy hitters, but a couple of neat indie games looked impressive. Fall Guys is a 100-man death run where players compete to make it to the end of an obstacle course. It looks like a ton of goofy fun. Carrion on the flip side is a “reverse horror” in which the player is a monster reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing. A 2D side-scroller where you play as the monster? Sounds good to me.

While I’m sure My Friend Pedro appeals to many people, it looks almost too much like one of those old internet flash games for me to really get invested. I’m going to wait for reviews before I pick this one up, as flash games can be dumb fun for 15-30 minutes, but a full game is a stretch. Similarly, the Devolver Bootleg is a silly idea that seems like it could be a fun novelty, but I’m not sure if I see myself playing it for very long. A five-dollar collection of bootlegs of Devolver’s own games sounds neat, but I’ll wait to see if it is more than just a one-time novelty.

PC Gaming Show

Heavy hitters: Baldur’s Gate III.

Looks good: Starmancer.

Piqued my interest: Unexplored 2, Remnant: From the Ashes, Per Aspera, Valfaris, Genesis Noir.

Uncharted territory: Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2.

Larian Studios have the monumental task of reviving the legendary Baldur’s Gate franchise. This beloved Dungeons & Dragons inspired series has been dead for 20 years, and modernizing it will not be easy. That being said, Larian did a great job with Divinity: Original Sin 2, hopefully they can bring a similar level of creativity and world building to Baldur’s Gate III.

Starmancer is a space station management game in which you design and customize your colony. Trade with other colonies and defend against space pirates to enhance your space station. This seems to be similar to RimWorld and Dwarf Fortress, but in a more contained environment. Hopefully Starmancer nails the space colony management aspect.

The PC Gaming Show included many titles that looked interesting, but I’m not quite sure if I’m going to get them yet. Unexplored 2 looks like a fun exploration roguelike. Remnant: From the Ashes is a coop shooter with some horrifying bosses and an oppressive atmosphere. Per Aspera seems to be a management game about colonizing Mars, but it’s tough to tell exactly what the player will be doing. Valfaris is a brutal 2D action-adventure infused with heavy metal. I’m not quite sure what Genesis Noir entails, but the noir and jazz stylization are interesting.

For a kind of obscure RPG, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines has built a substantial fanbase. I haven’t had a chance to play the original game yet, but I’m sure fans will be pleased with the reveal of the sequel. The trailer encapsulated the grim style that I hope a vampire RPG would demand.

Ubisoft

Heavy hitters: N/A.

Looks good: Watch Dogs Legion.

Piqued my interest: Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Gods and Monsters.

Uncharted territory: N/A.

Ubisoft games are known for being generally repetitive and derivate of each other, but Watch Dogs Legion looks to be one of the most ambitious games of all time. Set in a future surveillance state, the player can recruit characters to join their resistance group. Every single character in the game supposedly can be recruited, has special abilities, and their own backstory. The trailer seemed to insinuate that every character has unique voice lines and their own story, but I am skeptical. The city of London would need at least thousands of people to seem semi-believable, so it is an incredibly ambitious undertaking. Being able to recruit and play as anybody is incredibly unique and attractive, I just hope they can pull it off.

For less ambitious games, Ghost Recon Breakpoint looks like it could be some coop fun similar to its successor Ghost Recon Wildlands. It’s fun to feel like an expert operative tasked with infiltrating and taking down dangerous organization. Gods and Monsters is a cartoony action-adventure game set in ancient Greece. Not much was shown, but I’m always down for large-scale boss fights and ancient mythology.

Square Enix

Heavy hitters: N/A.

Looks good: N/A.

Piqued my interest: Marvel’s Avengers: A-Day, Outriders.

Uncharted territory: Final Fantasy VII Remake.

Square Enix is known for their JRPGs, which I admit are not for me. Most of the conference was saturated with JRPGs, so unfortunately, I did not get much out of this presentation. Marvel’s Avengers: A-Day was not really clear on what type of game it would even be. An on-rails story focused game? A linear beat ‘em up? Or an open world action-adventure like the recent Marvel’s Spiderman? Playing as Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk, or Ironman is certainly a great hook to sell games, but I hope we get some more substance. Outriders is another game which looks like it could be fun, but really very little details were shown. We know it’s a shooter in a dark setting, that’s about it.

I have never really played a Final Fantasy game. They just never really appealed to me. I have to say; the Final Fantasy VII Remake looks to change my mind. I’m sure dedicated fans of the series are enormously hyped for what is touted as the best game in the series getting a full-scale remake. If a JRPG seems cool to me, it must be doing something right.

Nintendo

Heavy hitters: Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Sequel.

Looks good: Luigi’s Mansion 3, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

Piqued my interest: Astral ChainDaemon X Machina.

Uncharted territory: N/A.

Despite Nintendo showing a bunch of exciting upcoming games, I have to say I was a little disappointed overall with their presentation. Most of the games shown have already been revealed. The only big true reveal with the sequel to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It seems like the next Legend of Zelda game is a direct sequel and will reuse many characters, areas, and assets. I am extremely excited as I adored Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild so the beautiful style and world of that game is exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately, I think this game is a long way away, as Nintendo didn’t even give a release window. I anticipate 2021 will be when we will get our hands on this game. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is getting released next year and it looks amazing. I have never played any Animal Crossing title, but this one looks to be right up my alley. Building up your island and town from scratch is extremely appealing to me. I don’t know why, but the cozy feeling of building a town and having NPCs come and inhabit is what I am looking for.

For some games that aren’t as high profile, Luigi’s Mansion 3 seems to introduce a bunch of new mechanics to the series. I like the original goofy ghost hunt of the original Luigi’s Mansion, hopefully this game captures the same essence. While I am a huge fan of the tactical Fire Emblem series, Fire Emblem: Three Houses still seems iffy to me. Developers have been shifting away from tactics and deeper into fanservice and JRPGs tropes. Hopefully Fire Emblem: Three Houses can deliver on a quality gameplay experience. The remake of Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening also is looking solid. A faithful recreation of the original with some modernizations. I’m not sold on the overly cutesy art style yet, but I’m sure the game will be great.

As for some games I’m unsure about, Astral Chain looks like it has some potential. Platinum Games titles are always top-tier action thrillers, and hopefully this game can easily fit right in. Daemon X Machina is a giant robot action game, which is something that everybody wants. Both Astral Chain and Daemon X Machina seem like they could be great hidden gems, or complete jank-storms. Both seem a little too “anime-y” for my tastes, but maybe the action will be worth.

Who Won?

For me, Microsoft takes the E3 crown. They had plenty of big-name games to show alongside a slew of indie games. I wish they showed a little more gameplay, but otherwise their conference was phenomenal. Next up is Nintendo, while they didn’t have many new games to show, they gave plenty of details for games I’ve been waiting for. PC Gaming Show also had a good presentation, hopefully all of the indie games they show turn out to be memorable.

On the underwhelming side, Bethesda was fairly disappointing. Arkane Studios and DOOM was really all they had going for them. Ubisoft mostly was pushing their live service games like For Honor and Rainbow Six Siege, and since I don’t care for those games I was bored by their presentation. I’m sure plenty of people love Square Enix and their expansive JRPGs, but it’s just not a genre that I enjoy. Lastly, EA was terrible as per usual. EA’s conference hinged on the fact that they have Star Wars.

All in all, it was a decent E3. I would have liked to see more gameplay instead of cinematic trailers, but I understand why developers choose to save gameplay for later dates. E3 is about rapid-fire trailers, and the best way to catch someone’s eye in 1 to 2 minutes is through intriguing cinematics. Gameplay is better served in 15 or 30-minute demos to show off key features. Regardless, I am hyped for some of the big releases on their way. It should be a phenomenal year for video games.

 

Good Week for Games

Writing about news or teasers and trailers is not really my forte, but it feels appropriate to share my excitement for some recent announcements. While I was fairly disappointed in a lot of what was shown at E3 and the subsequent Game Awards, I’ve been absolutely blown away by the number of announcements made this week. Seemingly out of the blue, 3 indie developers that I have been following for the past couple of the years just dropped some trailers for their upcoming games. Also, Nintendo dropped some huge bombs that I am also looking forward to. But I will start with the indie news from Team Cherry, The Game Bakers, and Red Hook Studios.

First and foremost, I absolutely have to talk about Hollow Knight: Silksong. The complete unexpected nature of this announcement blew everybody away. If you don’t know, Hollow Knight is an absolutely phenomenal metroidvania that received critical acclaim back in 2017. The 3-man-team known as Team Cherry funded Hollow Knight through Kickstarter and the game was released as a resounding success. It quickly became a hallmark of the metroidvania genre, and many people consider it to be one of the best metroidvanias ever created. As one of their Kickstarter reach goals, Team Cherry planned to release DLC for the game where the player could play as an alternate character: Hornet. What was completely unexpected was that Team Cherry decided to just make a whole new game for Hornet instead.

I am extremely excited for this as Hollow Knight is without a doubt one of my favorite games. You can read more of my opinion on Hollow Knight in my review of the game. The trailer for Hollow Knight: Silksong looks absolutely fantastic. It keeps the aesthetic and feel of Hollow Knight, but it looks like it will introduce plenty of new things to keep the game fresh. Hornet seems to be much more agile and have a wide array of attacks and trinkets to use to liven up combat. With 150+ new enemies, a new kingdom, and the introduction of Hornet, I hope that Hollow Knight: Silksong can live up to its predecessor while also being fresh and new. That being said, I have a lot of faith in Team Cherry. Additionally, Team Cherry announced that anybody who backed the original Hollow Knight for $10+ on Kickstarter will receive Hollow Knight: Silksong for free, which I think is pretty cool of them.

Watch the trailer here:

Aside from Hollow Knight, another indie game that I really loved was Furi. Furi is an adrenaline-pumping boss rush extravaganza that I played through entirely a couple times because it was just so damn satisfying. The music, aesthetic, action, and difficulty all felt spot on. You can read more about my opinion of Furi in my review. I have been keeping an eye on The Game Bakers to see what they have in store next.  Apparently, that thing is Haven. Not much was shown or described about Haven in its short teaser, but I am definitely interested. Haven is marketed as an RPG rather than an action game like Furi, so I am intrigued to see what new direction the developers are taking. Despite that, the art style and music are almost identical to Furi which I am happy about. I mean, Furi has one of the greatest video game OSTs (original soundtracks) of all time as far as I’m concerned. Hopefully many of the artists will return to work with Haven. All we really know about Haven at this point is that it is an RPG about two lovers who escape a planet together. I have a sneaking suspicion that Haven may be connected to Furi, but that’s just a guess. Either way it seems to be an entirely new experience and The Game Bakers have my attention for whatever news comes next.

Watch the teaser here:

For an indie game that I’m more skeptical about, Darkest Dungeon 2 was also just teased. I really do have a love-hate relationship with the original Darkest Dungeon. The combat, artwork, atmosphere, writing, and even the resource management aspects were incredibly entertaining to me. The overarching issue with Darkest Dungeon was its incessant grinding. The game was ridiculously long (60+ hours), but the player would have seen most of what the game had to offer in the first 15 hours. Also, endgame mechanics dragged on the game even longer for no apparent reason. You can read more of my opinion in my review here. All in all, I’m cautiously optimistic for Darkest Dungeon 2. The characters, Lovecraftian horror, combat, and even Wayne June’s narration make a return. Red Hook Studios have said that the game will differ from the original Darkest Dungeon in a few ways, so all I can hope is that the overbearing tedium is significantly cut down on. Darkest Dungeon 2 looks to be set in a similar setting to Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, so I will have to read that as well.

Watch the teaser here:

In non-indie games news, the recent Nintendo Direct also announced some big new titles. The remake of the 1993 classic The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is the most exciting news for me. I’m a huge fan of the series, but for some reason I never finished the original release of the game. I got about halfway through before I just kind of stopped playing because it did not really click with me. Hopefully this remake will modernize the experience, as I remember the original being incredibly vague and hard to follow. I am just happy that I get the opportunity to give this game another shot. I am not completely sold on the new art direction, it looks a little too cartoonish and cutesy to me. I think I would’ve preferred well-made 2D sprites, but oh well maybe it will grow on me. Still, it is cool to get a remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on the Switch.

Watch the trailer here:

The final announcement that I want to talk about is Super Mario Maker 2. The original Super Mario Maker let players create their own levels and share them with the community. Usually games that try to add level creation features end up with a janky mess, but Super Mario Maker executed the concept incredibly well. The easy to use user interface and tons of different tools from the Super Mario series combined into an experience that lets the community run free with ideas. I personally did not play the original Super Mario Maker much, but now that Super Mario Maker 2 is coming to the Switch I will definitely pick it up and see what levels the community has created.

Watch the trailer here:

That’s about it for the big announcements. Other than the games mentioned we received some news on the upcoming indie game Baba is You and also some more info on Fire Emblem: Three Houses. All-in-all it was a pretty solid week for game reveals. More so because all of this was unexpected and came out of seemingly nowhere. I cannot wait for all of these games to be released and I am looking forward to playing them.

 

Waluigi Doesn’t Deserve to be in Smash

After Nintendo’s E3 conference centered around the reveal of Super Smash Bros Ultimate fans have been in an uproar over the exclusion of Waluigi. I don’t think highly of Waluigi, and I think even less of the fans behavior. The outcry surrounding this one particular character is insane, and people need to take their outrage down a notch. Would I like to see more characters in Super Smash Bros Ultimate? Yes. But the reality is that roster space is limited and character slots are valuable. As such, Waluigi should bring something to the table that every other possible candidate doesn’t. Personally, I don’t think he is worthy.

Who would he replace?

The entire point of Super Smash Bros Ultimate is that every character from four previous games would be playable in the game. So right off the bat, you cannot replace any of those characters with Waluigi. Next, there are 3 newcomers to the game: Inkling, Ridley, and Daisy. I think it is indisputable that Inkling and Ridley are far more deserving to be in the game than Waluigi. They both are main characters from major Nintendo franchises while Waluigi is a side character who only appears in spin-off titles.

Moreover, those characters are from underrepresented series. Inkling is the only character from Splatoon to be added to Super Smash Bros Ultimate, and Ridley is the third character from Metroid. The Mario series already has like 10 characters in the game, Waluigi would be overkill. The only debatable newcomer is Daisy, but Daisy is an “echo” fighter, meaning that she simply copies her moveset from Peach. Daisy was easy to create, and an entirely new Waluigi character would not be. I imagine that Daisy was a quick addition to the game while Waluigi would require much more work.

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He is not a major character.

There are a lot of characters that get requested to be put in Super Smash Bros. Obviously, Ridley and Inkling were probably the two most desired characters and they both made it in the game. Other than that, Bomberman, King K. Rool, Shovel Knight, Banjo & Kazooie, Bandana Dee, Decidueye, and Shantae were all also some high-profile choices that were commonly requested. Like Waluigi, none of those characters made it into the roster either and I think they are all probably more deserving.

Truthfully, I don’t know when this Waluigi hypetrain got in motion. Only in the past few years have I seen Waluigi gain a whole lot of attention and before that he was a throw away character. I think that he is some internet culture phenomenon that is popular solely as a joke. Sure, the existence of a bizarro Luigi who can only say “WAHHH” is kind of funny, but I genuinely feel the majority of his popularity exists due to meme culture. Waluigi’s entire existence came about because Wario needed a partner for the original Mario Tennis. Since then, he has not starred in any of his own games, nor is he a main character in any game. He is a spin-off filler character, and that is not debatable.

Realistically, Waluigi’s meteoric rise in popularity is only because he has become a meme. Super Smash Bros games are timeless, and I would be pretty disappointed if the developers added a meme character in the game over a major character from another franchise. Sure, it would be hilarious now, but the nature of memes is that in a few years it won’t be funny anymore. If Waluigi is added now, years down the line people will be asking “Why was Waluigi included over X,Y, or Z again?”.

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The fans behavior is disgraceful.

Ok, now for the serious part of the article. The real issue at hand is that fans have been acting terribly since the reveal of the Super Smash Bros Ultimate roster. It was pretty evident at the Nintendo E3 presentation that the game’s director, Masahiro Sakurai, was determined to fulfill many fan requests. They brought back every single character from every previous game, that in itself is pretty crazy. Furthermore, they added two highly requested new characters, Inkling and Ridley. And they added the somewhat popular Daisy as an echo fighter to boot. So, what is the fanbase’s response to the fulfillment of many long-time requests? To go completely ballistic apparently.

Seriously, is it worth making such a fuss over Waluigi after Sakurai and his team worked hard to include numerous fan desires? I would be surprised if the developers ever listened to fans again. It was stated directly that they went through great lengths to include every previous character and Ridley in particular was difficult to design. Yet the developers are treated like garbage because of the exclusion Waluigi. Furthermore, harassing a game developer over Twitter is immature and unacceptable. The fact that there is such an uproar about this is absurd. What about EA’s predatory practices? What about the pre-ordering problem? What about microtransactions? What about cash-grab DLC? Seriously, of all the things people choose to get upset about, it’s Waluigi. Unbelievable.

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I’m all for tons of different characters being included in Super Smash Bros Ultimate, even Waluigi. But including characters takes time, resources, and money, so roster space is ultimately limited. Inlcuding Waluigi as a joke character over numerous other worthy choices is kind of bizarre if you ask me. Waluigi is a meme, and memes die off. Still, regardless if whether or not you want Waluigi in the game over anybody else, don’t act like a jerk. Harassing the developers over social media and writing angry posts about Waluigi is just disrespectful. Even if you’re joking, remember that people’s literal livelihood was making Super Smash Bros Ultimate, and berating them and their efforts because they didn’t include a meme is unacceptable. Maybe I’m taking this too seriously, and honestly, I didn’t care much about the issue at first. But when a developer goes out of their way to appease fans and they get flak for it I can’t help but get offended. Games are meant to be fun, the community should strive to be friendly, not full of vitriol and hatred.

The Witcher 2 : Assassins of Kings (2011)

It is always interesting to see how a developer progresses across games. Without a doubt the largest improvement I’ve seen is CD Projekt Red and The Witcher series. The first entry in the series certainly had a lot of heart and inspiration behind it, but it was an ultimately clunky and it underwhelmed me. That being said, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings has made great strides to improve nearly every aspect of the game. The visuals, story and most importantly, gameplay, were significantly upgraded. There were still a few bizarre design decisions that baffle me, but regardless I consider The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings to be a stellar RPG and a must play game if you are remotely interested in fantasy.

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The most obvious improvement is in the gameplay department. The original game’s combat was point and click, most of the gameplay was pure preparation and understanding your enemy’s weaknesses. Thankfully, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings built on the preparation-based concepts from its predecessor. Gathering ingredients and performing alchemy to create potions is invaluable. Instead of just choosing a predetermined “fighting style” like in the original, in this game you proactively choose between heavy and light attacks depending on the enemy and circumstance. Furthermore, in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, you dodge, block, and parry by actually pressing buttons and responding to enemies’ actions, rather than being a static chance like in the original game. Item usage also got a massive overhaul, allowing the player to seamlessly integrate traps, bombs, and other related items into their combat repertoire. Still, I would not consider the combat in this game to be stellar, but it is beyond serviceable and was not a source of frustration like the original game. There is absolutely no doubt that the gameplay took gigantic leaps forward from its predecessor, and that is what is so remarkable about The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.

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While the gameplay was undoubtably a massive improvement, The Witcher series is first and foremost an RPG, so story and roleplaying aspects should be the focus of the series. It is fortunate then that The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings has such an engaging and gripping narrative. The Witcher is often described as a gritty, realistic, and mature fantasy series, it is not a fairytale story, and this title certainly follows that standard. The player regularly has to choose between the lesser of two evils, and you will often regret and rethink your decisions after the fact. It is obvious that these games are grounded in reality, even with their fictional magic, creatures, and world. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings tells the story of the monster hunter Geralt, who was framed for the murder of a king. As you hunt down the king’s assassin, you experience a wartorn land, humans fight nonhumans, and foreign invaders seek to seize the opportunity to claim power now that the king is dead. Geralt’s amnesia also begins to clear up throughout the story, which challenges previous knowledge and expectations that you have. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings tells a riveting story and I cannot wait to play the next game to see what happens next.

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Obviously, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings made notable improvements over the first game, but there are still a few strange design choices that cause nothing but frustration. The first is that potions are unusable during combat. At first glance this makes sense as it prevents player from stocking up on potions and just chugging one whenever you take some damage. However, this is already prevented because potions heal you gradually rather than all at once, so you cannot just chug for instant regeneration in combat. This is annoying because it is not always obvious when the game is going to throw you into a big battle or boss fight, as there is usually a long cutscene or dialogue segment beforehand. What usually ends up happening is that the player talks to another character, gets tossed into a boss battle immediately afterwards, and then has to reload a save from 10 minutes prior just to drink a potion and sit through all the dialogue again. Another odd choice was to separate the world into 3 different acts. This was possibly because of engine limitations rather than an intentional choice, but it is a flaw nonetheless. Once you complete an act, you cannot visit that area again or do its quests, which makes the whole world feel smaller and more confined. There are also a few usability issues I had with the game. The user interface was messy and difficult to navigate and I frequently encountered glitches and bugs which forced me to restart my client numerous times. These issues were common enough that they significantly hampered the experience, they are not just small nitpicks.

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As a whole, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings managed to make great strides to improve upon its predecessor. More developed combat and a gripping story make the game worth experiencing. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is a quintessential action RPG, and it is no where near as clunky as the original. It is evident that CD Projekt Red put forth a lot of effort to improve on their flagship series, and it shows. If the next game improves as much as this one did, it may very well be a masterpiece.

Should games journalists be good at games?

The controversial question that many gamers have been recently asking is this: do reviewers have to be good at the games that they review?  This all started from the DOOM Polygon disaster last year, in which a Polygon reviewer was sent to preview the new DOOM game and record some footage. Here is that footage. Whoever Polygon chose to send to this event and preview DOOM for the world to see clearly has never played an FPS before and it showed in their anemic gameplay. This sparked a bit of a controversy and led to this question at hand. This question has recently shown its face again, similarly it is from a 30-minute preview of an upcoming game, this time the game is Cuphead. WARNING, this video is painful to watch for anyone who as ever played a video game. In the 30-minute-long video, the games journalist fails to even complete the first level of Cuphead and does not seem to grasp the basics. Hell, he spends 2 minutes trying to complete a single jump in the tutorial. This shameful display has resurfaced and reignited the debate if game journalists should be good at the games that they play.

To me, the answer to the question is fairly obvious. People who review games for a living absolutely need to be good at them. In the two previously mentioned examples, it would be very unfair for those 2 journalists to give their opinion on games that they clearly have no business playing. The games would be horribly misrepresented, as the reviewers would give their perspective from somebody who does not even know how to play the game. Now to be fair, people may be more experienced with certain genres of games, but if that is the case, do not review a game from a genre that you are clearly bad at. I think most people would tend to agree that reviewers have to have a decent level of competency to review a game.

The real question for me is, can reviewers be just average at games, or do they actually have to be fairly good? My mentality at first was “just don’t suck”, but my opinion has changed let me explain why. Originally, I figured that as long as journalist had a basic level of skill and were average at the game, they could give an accurate review of a game. I mean, most people are average, so a reviewer who is also average would have opinions that tend to align with the majority, right? Probably, but that does not qualify them to explain what makes the games they are discussing good or bad. Sure, they could talk about some surface level stuff, but a lot of games are great because of the small details, because of the things an average player would not notice, but they are still there.

Just like in movies, an average viewer like myself could tell you if a movie was good or bad. But if you ask me about narratives, cinematography, lighting, audio design, CGI, editing, the director, etc., I would be completely lost. I can view it as the whole, but I cannot break it down and explain what makes it successful. The same applies to video games. A casual player cannot pick apart a game and explain the minutiae that all come together to make one cohesive experience. Dark Souls for instance may seem to be just an average fantasy RPG at first glance, but most people who play it agree that it is one of the best and most influential games ever made. The leveling system, lore, enemy design, visuals, world building, level design, unforgiving attitude, and the online aspects make for an extraordinary experience. I will not go into details as that is for my upcoming Dark Souls review, but many reviewers and average players just glance over these details and what makes them work so effectively.

As a sort of aside note, I wish everyone would stop referring to hard games as “Dark Souls of X-genre”. Yes, Dark Souls is notorious for its difficulty, but that isn’t the only factor about the game. When I see games like Cuphead, which has no similarities to Dark Souls other than its difficulty, being referred to as the “Dark Souls of run-and-guns” my soul hurts a little bit. Game comparisons can be valid, but they actually have to make sense and be more related than just the difficulty level of the game. For example, Hollow Knight is Dark Souls-esque because of its looping level design, checkpoint system, visuals, ambiguous lore, intense boss fights, death and soul system, unforgiving and hostile world, and its difficulty. So please stop calling everything “similar to Dark Souls” just because it is hard.

I think games journalists these days are mainly hired for their writing skills or their personalities, rather than their expertise of video games. This is becoming abundantly clear. Harder games often get flak for being too hard, and game reviews do not explain the in-depth mechanics of games and what makes them work. I do not consider myself to be one of the best video game players or an expert, but I do feel like I am good enough to give a valid opinion on the games that I play. People who are paid to professionally play and review games should be experienced enough to understand the inner workings of a game and dissect it, rather than viewing it as a whole. Just like what a professional film critic might do. At the very least, websites like Polygon need stop using people who are wholly incompetent and unable to play games, let alone review them.