Borderlands 2 (2012)

Admittedly, I don’t have a fresh mindset going into Borderlands 2. I wish I did, but I’ve played this game numerous times since its release. It is hard for me to give my straightforward impressions since I am already so familiar with everything in Borderlands 2. This should be a testament to how much I enjoyed the game. I rarely replay games, but I’ve played Borderlands 2 about five times. Even after a couple of single-player campaigns as well as a few co-op playthroughs I still never grew tired of Borderlands 2. With Borderlands 3 finally being released, I think it is time for me to finally let one of my most played games rest.

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Playing the first Borderlands has made me appreciate the sequel with at least a little of a fresh perspective. The original game invented the looter-shooter genre, but Borderlands 2 perfected it. The general formula is the same as the original game: you play as an intergalactic treasure hunter, blasting your way through desolate wastelands to reach a mystical vault. There are 4 different vault hunters to choose from, each with their own abilities and skills to upgrade as they level up. Of course, to reach the vault the player must shoot their way through hordes of bandits, alien creatures, and deadly machines.

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Unsurprisingly, Borderlands 2 is tangibly more modern than its predecessor. Visually, Borderlands 2 holds up superbly. The classic comic book style is striking and remarkably distinguishable. When you see a screenshot of Borderlands, you know its Borderlands. While I felt like the environments of the original game were an amalgamation of shades of brown, the world of Borderlands 2 pops with vibrant colors and varied areas. Most importantly, Borderlands 2 just feels better to play than its predecessor. Movement is less sluggish, the weapons are more responsive, and there are far less technical issues. It cannot be understated how important it is for an FPS to have guns that simply feel powerful. The sounds, animations, enemy reactions, and immediate feedback all contribute to having weaponry feel impactful. Additionally, my Borderlands playthrough was plagued by technical issues like bugs and crashes. Thankfully, Borderlands 2 performs consistently and cleanly compared to its ancestor.

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Looter shooters live or die on their loot system. When loot is weak or infrequent, the player can feel like no progression is being made. Conversely, overly powerful or abundant loot can lessen the impact of those moments where you get something really special. Borderlands 2 strikes a nice balance which the original game did not. The original game’s loot was heavily randomized: fodder enemies could drop top-tier loot, but most of the time you just got garbage. While Borderlands 2 cut down on the player’s odds of getting great loot from random enemies, instead the game doles out more consistent loot at obvious intervals. Doing side quests and defeating bosses is the single most reliable method of getting new and exciting guns. I much prefer this system over farming numerous weak enemies for a tiny chance at a new piece of equipment.

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Borderlands 2 is legendary partly due its characters and story. As you traverse the planet of Pandora you encounter various factions vying for control. At the head of the conflict is Handsome Jack, a cruel and vindictive business man. His ultimate goal is to open the vault and harness the power that is held within. As the vault hunter, the player is obviously at odds with Handsome Jack. As you ally with the locals at the town of Sanctuary, Handsome Jack is prepared to do anything to take you and your associates down. It cannot be understated how iconic of a villain Handsome Jack is. His genuine belief that he is the “good guy” makes him a compelling nemesis, willing to do anything to succeed.  There are many returning characters from the first game, including the playable vault hunters from that expedition. I absolutely loved seeing how the protagonists from the first game played a key role in the narrative of Borderlands 2.

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While known for its bombastic sense of humor, Borderlands 2 is hit or miss in the writing department. Every character is an over the top caricature, equipped with heaps of jokes. Unfortunately, many of the jokes fall completely flat. Now, this is partially due to when the game was released. In 2011, the internet was full of outrageous “random” humor which Borderlands 2 heavily leans into. It may be unfair to judge the ridiculousness of Borderlands 2, as it was a product of its time. Still, it feels like the writer’s were trying to hard to pack in a million gags, and I wish it had been dialed back a bit. Despite it being a defining feature of the game, much of its humor has not aged particularly well.

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Ultimately, I think Borderlands 2 was a revolutionary game which blew open an entire genre. Looter shooters have become increasingly popular over the years, but Borderlands 2 holds supreme. The bombastic action, variety of characters, plethora of guns, graphic art style, and wacky dialogue certainly makes this game unique. I’ve played this game numerous times since its release, and it will always remain as a classic in my heart.

 

Gravity Rush 2 (2017)

With its evolution from PS Vita to PS4, I had high hopes for the Gravity Rush series. Unfortunately, Gravity Rush 2 missed the mark of my expectations and left me disappointed. The original Gravity Rush had vibrant characters, an exciting world, and unique gameplay, but it was hindered by its lack of scope and general repetition. Gravity Rush 2 inherited all of the great things from the original game, but the menial gameplay was also brought along. It’s a shame because Gravity Rush has tremendous potential as a series, but it is squandered by painfully boring missions.

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It is undeniable that the characters of Gravity Rush 2 are incredibly likable. Kat remains as a bubbly and exuberant as ever, but Gravity Rush 2 introduces some equally lovable heroes. Also, a stronger focus on returning characters such as Raven and Sid is a welcome addition. Undoubtedly, the largest improvement was to the world itself. The original Gravity Rush took place within the confines of the flying city of Hekseville. Gravity Rush 2 progresses through multiple settlements and cities, taking a deeper look at life in this fantasy world. Moreover, the vibrant artstyle brings plenty of life and character to the setting of Gravity Rush 2.

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Initially, the player starts in Banga, a mining settlement which is no more than a loose collection of shanties and huts. The people of Banga fly through the skies, stopping at pits of ore that they collect that is used to power the flying machines. The nomadic miners sell the ore to the flourishing city of Jirga Para Lhao. This metropolis is a collection of floating islands, separated into economic sections. The verticality and scope of Jirga Para Lhao is truly astonishing, and it serves a phenomenal example of a memorable game world. At the very bottom of the city is a rundown slum, overcast by clouds and the islands above it. The central level is a bright and lively marketplace, while the top level consists of mansions and private islands.

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Unsurprisingly, the theme for much of Gravity Rush 2 is class inequality. While Kat tries to recount her past, her helpful personality leads to her uncovering exploitation and abuse of power. Kat motivates the downtrodden people of Banga and Jirga Para Lhao to rebel against their corrupt government. It’s not a revolutionary plot-line, but it was heartwarming. After that story-line, Gravity Rush 2 enters complete insanity mode. Once the truth of Kat’s past begins to unfold, the interconnected nature of all the plot-lines becomes clear. It’s hard to accurately describe the ending of Gravity Rush 2 without spoiling too much. It suffices to say that time-distortion and higher-power beings play an integral role in the final chapter. Throughout the series I was worried that all of the seemingly disjointed threads would never be connected, but I was thoroughly satisfied by the over-the-top conclusion.

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While the presentation of Gravity Rush 2 is stunning, I was incredibly disappointed by just how banal the gameplay actually was. Most missions fell into a few different archetypes, the vast majority of which were just flat out uninteresting. The most common thing the player is tasked with is flying to various waypoints. While this makes use of the fairly fun flying system, most of the time you are just repeatedly flying in a straight line from island to island. Many of the missions consist of flying around searching for a needle in a haystack. The game will give you a general location of your objective, but you have to painstakingly comb the area for what you are searching for. The absolute worst is when you have to talk to every nondescript NPC you can find and hope that is the right person. These sections are nothing but a frustrating waste of time. To make matters worse, many side-missions strip away your gravity powers entirely. This is odd considering that the premise of the game is to shift gravity.

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For some bizarre reason, Gravity Rush 2 implemented a significant number of stealth missions. The core prospect of the game is being free to manipulate gravity and zip around the city, so being forced to slowly walk around in a stealth mission is an obnoxious interruption. The mission structure of the game sucks out any modicum of fun that could’ve been drawn from the game’s unique concept. The optional side-missions could’ve been a great asset to the game, as they let the player interact more with the beautiful world and characters. It’s a shame that they are so mundane and offer pitiful rewards. Gestures and objects to be used in the game’s photography-mode is not a suitable reward for a 45-minute long side-mission. While I gave up on doing many of the side-missions, the main-missions of the game are not any better.

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I heavily criticized the original Gravity Rush for its combat system. Luckily, Gravity Rush 2 has made significant improvements to the diversity of the player’s tool set. I no longer had to spam the gravity kick repeatedly, as the standard kick and gravity throw have been upgraded to actually serve a purpose. The standard kick, while still weak, is used to charge up the player’s special gauge which is used to unleash more powerful attacks. The gravity throw was substantially improved as it’s radius for grabbing nearby objects was greatly increased. Also, it can be used to grab some of the game’s weaker enemies. I will always get a kick out of flinging some poor guy at his friends like some sort of human bowling ball.

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The other way that the game improves upon some of the combat repetition is by adding some additional styles. The new Lunar style decreases the effects of gravity and makes Kat much lighter. This is critical for fighting airborne enemies who can otherwise be a nuisance. Conversely is the Jupiter style, which greatly increase gravity and makes Kat much slower and clunkier. She deals much more damage, but is far more unwieldy. I didn’t make much use of these additional styles because they both made Kat much harder to precisely control, but they both have merit in specific situations.

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Even with the addition of the new styles and improved combat, I still felt like the combat of Gravity Rush 2 was lacking in a few regards. Most fights still just consisted of spamming either the gravity kick or gravity throw. Also, I felt like I was fighting the camera just as much as I was fighting the enemies. If you miss your gravity kick by a little bit, be prepared to massively disoriented. Additionally, a few areas existed in such tight confines that it was incredibly difficult to make accurate use of any gravity shifting powers. As a result, the combat was mediocre and not nearly enough to carry the rest of the game’s shortcomings.

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I really wanted to like Gravity Rush 2. I was enthralled by its world and excited by its premise. The original game showed plenty of promise but needed to reduce repetition, but it seems the sequel has just doubled down on these flaws. I rarely found myself having fun with the game, and every mission felt like a chore. I don’t know how you take the concept of being a gravity shifting superhero and turn it into a game where you mostly do menial chores like handing out flyers and bringing people from one place to another like some sort of glorified taxi service. Still, the game’s presentation is absolutely stunning. It is for these reasons I give Gravity Rush 2 a 5.5/10. I was incredibly disappointed that the missions were so fumbled so badly that it dragged down the more promising aspects of the game.

Sundered (2017)

As someone who loves metroidvanias, action games, and Lovecraftian atmospheres, Sundered seemed like a perfect fit. This is the second game developed by Thunder Lotus Games, who have become renowned for their beautifully hand-drawn characters. At times, Sundered felt exceptionally exhilarating to play, but in other instances the game was pure frustration. This dichotomy stems from the game’s core ideas and the inherent randomness of the experience.

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In Sundered you play as Eshe, an adventurer who fell into an eldritch portal which transported her to an ancient underground city. Eshe encounters a shapeshifting sinister being, which guides the player on their journey and serves as their weapon. You travel throughout the devastated city, encountering monsters and bosses along the way. Eshe collects new weaponry and upgrades to aid her on her journey back to the surface. Simply put, the game is a metroidvania, but with a unique twist. The levels are partially randomly generated, which is a bold decision in a genre that heavily relies on its level design. Additionally, apart from new weaponry and items, you also collect currency and runes to upgrade Eshe’s abilities.

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As you explore the world, you will uncover runes that can be equipped. These runes are intriguing because they have positive and negative attributes. For example: you deal 30% more damage, but you have 20% less health. You must pick and choose which runes you would like to use, being aware of what synergies make sense. Players must decide what negative effects they are willing to cope with. I quite like the choices and I enjoyed testing out different combinations of runes. In addition to runes, you will collect currency to spend on your skill tree. This giant tree also implements some interesting decision making. Small nodes contain flat bonuses to your damage, health, armor, and shield. Scattered along the tree are larger nodes with more powerful bonuses such as an additional 15% damage or more critical strike chance. You must prioritize which bonuses you want to go for, as it quickly becomes expensive to work your way through the tree. I actually really liked this implementation of progression as building a character to my liking is engrossing.

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Each area in Sundered has a basic outline, represented by big blocks on the map. Within these large chunks, there are smaller blocks which are randomized. Every time you generate an area, these smaller blocks get jumbled around and create a different path through the big blocks. In essence, the basic structure of the area will always remain the same, but the exact path is going to constantly change. I actually feel like this works decently. Metroidvanias are all about exploration, and with the levels constantly changing, the player will always need to explore. With the unchanging large block locations there are cleverly placed shortcuts to open to ease navigation. As you progress through a level, you can open doors that link back to locations earlier in the level. This way, next time you go through the level you can skip many of the procedurally generated bits. This randomization also makes sense in the context of Sundered. It’s appropriate that the twisting, living tunnels of a demonic city are constantly shifting.

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The downside to the random level generation is much of the game ends up being entirely forgettable. The tunnels and rooms utilize the same assets, so there lacks a unique element to make areas stand out. Every trip through an area feels like déjà vu, you encounter the same rooms, just in a different order. Overall, a procedurally generated metroidvania works in the context of Sundered, but it ends up being repetitive after a while. Interestingly, randomization doesn’t end with the level design; enemies also spawn in randomly. Occasionally enemies will spawn in small groups, but the bulk of the combat occurs when hordes spawn. Hordes occur randomly and are signaled by the signature bang of a gong.

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The pure chaos which a horde brings is almost indescribable, hundreds of enemies run at the player from all directions. Many of these enemies can also shoot projectiles, fly, or teleport. Absolute mayhem. At times, hordes can be actually incredibly fun. If you are well equipped and in a prime fighting location, shredding through dozens of enemies with a few satisfying swings of the blade is viscerally gratifying. It’s challenging, intense, fast-paced, and pure fun. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. If you aren’t strong enough, hordes will absolutely wreck you. No amount of skill can overcome the muddle of hordes, you are guaranteed to be hit, you just need sufficient stats to win. Moreover, if the horde spawns in an inopportune location, such as one with many hazards or pits, the fight can become immensely overwhelming.

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Furthermore, with so many enemies, visual effects, animations, and projectiles, it is incredibly easy to lose track of where Eshe is. Especially since you get bumped around when taking damage. The absolute worst part about hordes is how randomly they occur. Sometimes I could play for 10-15 minutes with no combat at all, and other times there were so many hordes I literally could not progress forward. I would defeat a horde, move forward for 15 seconds, then the gong would sound and have to do it all over again. Fighting multiple hordes in a row can easily drain your health potions and get you killed. It can be frustrating that your progress is essentially tied to how many hordes spawn in any given timeframe. I wish hordes occurred in specific rooms instead of entirely randomly. That way the developer can control the environment, the type of enemies, and how many hordes a player has to deal with before unlocking a shortcut or new item.

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The enemies and bosses of Sundered are incredibly creative and interesting to look at. The bosses in particular are humongous, awe-inspiring beasts. The boss fights are mostly very fun, you have to hit weak points to do damage. Dodging the telegraphed attacks of the bosses works better than fighting hundreds of enemies at a time during hordes. Towards the end of a fight, the boss will begin spamming all of their attacks. It becomes a frantic rush to finish off whatever little bit of health they have left before you get overwhelmed. My only big issue with the boss fights is that they are so big that the screen has to zoom out, making it hard to make out where your character is located. Eshe and the weak spots are tiny in comparison to the gargantuan beings, making it unbelievably difficult to execute precise movements.

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Combat itself is fairly simple. Aside from basic directional attacks, there are also finishers. Hitting attacks builds the finisher meter, and getting hit drains the meter. Once full, the player can unleash a finisher attack which has high range and damage. These are quite useful for dealing with groups of enemies, the additional range is incredibly helpful. There is also a dodge roll that lets the player dodge through enemies. Additionally, hitting enemies in the air resets your jump. As long as you keep whacking at enemies, you can stay in the air. Overall, the combat is simple and intuitive. Unfortunately, when fighting hordes, you often just have to mash buttons and pray that your character is strong enough.

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Sundered is hit or miss. Every game design decision seems like a neat idea, but they have significant downsides. Randomly generated levels prompt exploration, but end up being repetitive. Hordes can be chaotic fun, but can get overwhelming. Bosses are awe-inspiring, but they are so big that I find it hard to tell what is going on. Combat is simple and character building is interesting, but it often becomes stat-check button-mash fests. It is for these reasons I give Sundered a 6/10. Sundered has many unique aspects, but some of these facets can grow irritating and spoil the experience.

 

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.