In between the very start of an H1Z1 match – in which up to 150 people parachute down onto a small and continually shrinking map – and the final moments laced with exploding crossbow bolts, it’s utter chaos. Sometimes that’s the good kind that leads to great moments of action, and sometimes it’s the disorganized and directionless kind that leads to boredom. In a genre now dominated by Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, this battle royale struggles to find its own identity despite predating both – with the most promising spark of inspiration coming from an inventive new destruction derby-style mode.
H1Z1 is actually a refreshingly simple game in a lot of ways when all is said and done. Where contemporaries PUBG and Fortnite define themselves by aiming for a realistic feel and zany base-building shenanigans, respectively, H1Z1 floats somewhere in the middle. You can’t attach scopes and quick-draw magazines to your rifles and there are no sky bases or mile-high sniper towers to be found in this one. That lack of commitment to a signature look and style often leaves an empty feeling, even if it does have the benefit of being a more accessible battle royale as a result.
Assassin’s Creed Origins: The Curse of the Pharaohs takes you on a compelling journey through ancient Egypt filled with desecrated tombs, restless spirits, and haunting trips to the afterlife. Coming face to face with the undead shadows of the great pharaohs is both a fun fight and an interesting depiction of Egyptian myth that’s rarely been seen. Encounters like these make this DLC difficult to put down. (If you missed it, check out our Assassin's Creed Origins review.)
Curse of the Pharaohs has all the things that make an Assassin's Creed game great: a story with themes relevant to the time period, combat that’s both challenging and fun, and a stunning historical setting that ties it all together. In this adventure, Bayek travels south of Siwa to the bustling city of Thebes, which is a hub for trade and beautiful monuments. It’s conveniently nestled along the Nile river across the water from the Valley of the Kings, and home to the temples of Karnak and Luxor. These temples are the city’s biggest landmarks, featuring lush gardens, lotus blossom ponds, and ornate architecture that make Thebes a place that’s full of opportunities to explore.
There are few things quite as satisfying as the feeling of popping a ratman’s head like a grape with a giant war hammer. Or cutting that head clean off with an ax, or possibly unloading a full revolver clip into it, or just burning the whole thing to a crisp. The truth is, just about every one of the multitude of ways Warhammer Vermintide 2 gives you and your co-op team to kill your enemies is punchy, powerful, and a whole lot of fun.
I’ve been playing the pre-order beta of Vermintide 2 for the last week, as well as the closed beta before that, and I’m already enjoying it a lot - though I’m left wondering how long its randomized loot progression and relatively straightforward level design will keep me engaged. I’ve only had access to a total of six missions, so there’s still a whole lot I’ll be trying out in the full game for our final review, but here’s what I think of it so far.
When I think about Fable, I think about choosing between good and evil in a whimsical world full of base but charming humour. I think about combat with Hobbes, Hollow Men, Bandits, Balverines and sometimes well-intentioned guards. I think about faithful dog companions. I also think about games that were rough around the edges, that sometimes delivered and that sometimes fell disappointingly short. Fable Fortune may be a card game instead of an RPG, but it’s very much an embodiment of all those things.
Fable Fortune’s closest cousin in the genre is probably Hearthstone, as opposed to games like Magic: The Gathering or The Elder Scrolls: Legends. It has six classes – Alchemist, Shapeshifter, Gravedigger, Knight, Merchant and Prophet, each of which has a unique hero power, which costs two gold pieces (Fortune’s mana resource) to use. Players construct 30 card decks with a maximum of two copies of each card, aside from Fabled cards, which are restricted to one.
The Sword Art Online anime poses the question of what happens when virtual games have life-or-death consequences? Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is a game that poses the question of “what happens if you turn an anime about a roleplaying game into an uninspired action-RPG?” While it’s a nice change of pace from the faux-MMORPG adaptations we’ve seen from this series, it still doesn’t quite hit the target.
Fatal Bullet puts you in the world of Gun Gale Online, the massively multiplayer online VR game seen in Sword Art Online II. Of course, it’s not really VR, and it’s only partially online, but it’s all part of the fiction. You begin as a newbie to Gun Gale Online, customizing an original avatar character and venturing into the world alongside your friend, Kureha. On your very first mission, you stumble across one of Gun Gale Online’s rarest finds: an intelligent, humanoid AI called ArFA-sys. It’s not long after claiming your treasure that you meet the rest of the Sword Art Online crew and get the opportunity to hang out with famous faces from the anime like Kirito and Sinon.
Moss won me over instantly thanks to its adorably cute and to-scale mouse heroine, DualShock-fueled precision controls, and charming world design that lets you exist as a human-sized guiding hand inside a rodent-sized world. And outside of minor technical annoyances with PSVR itself, it never erased that initial joy when its literal storybook ending came four hours later.
Quill, the adorable mouse heroine whom you control with the DualShock, can move, jump, attack with her sword, and interact with things such as levers. She even has a couple of timing-based attack combos that elevate the fighting above simple button mashing, though you’d never mistake Moss’ combat for Bloodborne’s. You’ll face a few different enemies during the adventure, and while they’re never particularly dangerous individually, things get enjoyable hectic when their numbers start piling up and the various enemy types attack you simultaneously. Most of the enemies are either beetles or super beetles, but the exploding guys who go boom if you get too close create a nice bit of tension. Figuring out the key to defeating them quickly and painlessly (hint, it involves using your Reader ability) is vital.
A lot of tactical depth can happen on a simple eight-by-eight grid. Into The Breach, the follow-up to the legendary FTL: Faster Than Light from Subset Games, creates a fantastic variety of turn-based tactical battles between your team of three mechs and giant, city-destroying kaiju monsters. On a regular basis, Into The Breach makes me scratch my head and wonder how I’m going to get out of this mess alive. And on a few of those occasions, it’s a thrill when I actually do.
Aside from the subtly detailed animations, the colorful and easily readable pixel-art graphics style does risk Into The Breach being mistaken for a typical simplistic mobile game - though, to be honest, I very much hope it’s eventually ported to phones so I can play it everywhere I go. On the most surface of levels, it’s about moving your units into position to shoot, punch, bombard, push, or otherwise affect the waves of monsters that erupt from the ground, and uses an XCOM-like one move, one attack per turn system that’s become common since 2012. But the way its countless smart rules interact with each other makes learning the nuances of its battle system one of the most rewarding tactical experiences I’ve played in years.
Most turn-based tactical RPGs give me the sense that I’m guiding a crack squad of elite soldiers through deadly engagements with quick thinking and military precision. Pit People, on the other hand, feels more like herding a gaggle of semi-competent maniacs to an improbable victory over equally ridiculous foes. And when I came to terms with that, it actually ended up being a lot of fun.
The first thing Pit People hits you in the face with is the madcap music and signature, absurdist, oftentimes wonderfully unhinged art style of Dan Paladin, known from such games as Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers. From murderous pixies to boot-scooting unicorns that function as candy-colored artillery pieces, I was never given any impression that this world takes itself seriously.
Rust is a griefer’s paradise. There’s nothing quite like finding a guy sleeping in a forest and looting him before he wakes up, or camping outside another player’s fort and killing her when she opens the door. For those who enjoy deadly games of cat and mouse, Rust might just be the best survival game out there. But anybody more interested in building and exploration, or isn’t able to devote themselves to one game, may have a rough time.
Even though other games are better at specific elements like crafting, combat, survival, and exploration, I’ve never played a survival game that combines them quite like Rust. The way it blends survival and competitive genres is fun, especially if you enjoy the goofier bits, like firing rocket launchers at a naked man running from a pig, or being stabbed to death by a person blasting Russian music over their microphone and brandishing a spear. It’s weirder and less polished than the competition, but that’s part of the fun.
When we first reviewed Payday 2 in 2013, we gave it an 8.0, for great. Here’s what we said about it then:
“Played as intended with a group of friends, PayDay 2 is much like one of its heists: things can get a little sloppy, but the potential payoff is big. Parts of its presentation are lacking, and the state of its single-player is criminal, but overall, it's a deep, addictive co-op shooter that tickled my inner burglar.” Read the original Payday 2 review.
The Switch version has all of that, plus most – but not all – of the content updates the PC and console versions have gotten since launch, and the addition of an exclusive new character and HD rumble give it a slight edge. But as with many ports, performance isn’t its strong suit, and the lack of built-in voice chat is a big problem for a game that requires such tight cooperation for success.
Past Cure is a classic case of unfocused game design, and it’s easy to imagine that it ended up this way as a result of the developers wanting to do too much. One moment it’s a generic third-person shooter, the next it dives into psychological horror but forgets to build the stakes first. At one point you’re sneaking through a decent stealth mission and then, abruptly, you’re dipping into some simplistic puzzles and riddles. It’s ambitious in that it wants to include different genres and a variety of different playstyles, but it never develops them to the point where any of them becomes interesting.
The story immediately piqued my interest by giving the impression that there is a lot to learn about the character you play as, Ian, and the world that surrounds him. What’s up with those creepy nightmare sequences? Why and how are you able to slow down time? Who is this woman who keeps showing up in the mysterious dream world? All interesting questions, but they ultimately amount to nothing as the plot only gets messier as you continue on. A good mystery allows your burning questions to fester and evolve, building anticipation to some kind explanation. But by the end of Past Cure, five or six hours later, I was mostly trying to pinpoint where the story had lost me. Mysteries are introduced and quickly rushed out, as are characters and their motivations. That made it nearly impossible to care about any of it.
Battlefield 1: Apocalypse should be thought of mostly as a map pack, with two especially strong and great-looking ground battles leading the charge back into the fray. The pair of simple air battles, on the other hand, aren’t much more than a distraction from the real war.
Apocalypse’s River Somme, Caporetto, and Passchendaele are standard Battlefield maps meant to be played in modes like Conquest. They all bring the brutality the same way: they’re relatively open and less directed, with limited cover options. That’s a contrast to Battlefield 1’s previous maps, which have emphasized high cover and defined flanking routes. It’s easy to make a beeline for the next objective, especially on Passchendaele, though this still leaves you vulnerable to sniper fire.
Metal Gear Survive is a weird game. In its sometimes clumsy efforts to merge stealth action, base-building, survival sim, and horror by stitching together pieces from past Metal Gear games, it’s effectively scrubbed those elements of the series’ signature humor and personality. That uniquely wild mix of sharp socio-political commentary and zany military sci-fi that has defined Metal Gear is swapped out in favor of a subpar fantasy plot involving zombies and wormholes, delivered by a cast of underdeveloped characters.
But there is fun to be had in Survive’s mishmash of ideas and the repetitive, yet comforting loop of resource-gathering and base-building, if you’re willing to power through many hours of initial tedium.
Netherrealm has built a reputation for including some wild guest characters in its fighting games, but perhaps none has been as unexpected as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crashing the party in Injustice 2. While it may initially seem strange to see Leonardo clashing with Superman, or Donatello in a gadget battle with Batman, Netherrealm has done an exceptional job with fine tuning the Turtles to make each one of them feel unique, yet familiar, and all the while fitting in with the rest of Injustice 2’s super powered roster. (Read the full Injustice 2 review.)
The most important thing to note about the Turtles in Injustice 2 is that while this $10 package only takes up one character slot on the character select screen, all four are playable characters with similar but substantially different movesets.
You know what this Secret of Mana HD remaster makes me want most? A full Secret of Mana remake. While I love how this remaster has all the heart and joy of the SNES original from 1993, it misses an opportunity to elevate this classic RPG by bringing it up to modern standards in areas like AI, combat balancing, and even graphics. The result is a charming but clumsy 20ish-hour adventure that both frustrates and delights.
Much of this push and pull starts with the new art style, which attempts to convert the original’s sprites into 3D. On the one hand, Mana’s world design is scrumptious eye candy: almost everywhere you go you’re greeted with scenic fields bursting with flora and coated in cheerful, sugary pastels like so much colorful caramel. Wolves trot through clusters of glittering, multihued trees while quaint wooden signs point travelers toward their destination so they don’t get turned around by an endless procession of right angles. Even the imposing palaces guarded by hostile ducks wearing kettle helmets (don’t ask) look inviting when decorated with beautiful stained glass windows. These lovely settings feel like chicken soup for the soul.
When we first reviewed Bayonetta 2 in 2014 on Wii U, we gave it a 9.5. Here’s what we said about it then:
“Every aspect of Bayonetta 2 feels polished and focused. At times, the writing feels ridiculous, but I still love how it plays. The superb pacing and combat are just that good. By the end I was convinced: This sequel builds on everything that made the original great, and delivers one of the most satisfying action games I've played.” Read the full Bayonetta 2 for Wii U review.
The Switch version delivers that same action-packed experience, while smoothing out some rough edges.
Koei Tecmo and Omega Force’s 21-year-old Dynasty Warriors series has never been a series known to step outside its comfort zone, but Dynasty Warriors 9 is not your typical Dynasty Warriors game. For the first time, the developers have retired the tried-and-true segmented mission structure in favor of a large, open-world map with missions, points of interest, and random activities scattered sparsely about. But if this is the vision of what a modern Dynasty Warriors game is, then I’d prefer a flashback to the series’ more focused and co-op friendly past instead.
Combat in Dynasty Warriors 9 is its simplest joy, and at its height it’s like a ballet of beautiful, high-flying violence. I’ve shot tornadoes out of swords that wrecked an entire battlefield, juggling dozens of enemies in the air. I’ve rained ice and fire from the sky with the point of my finger. I’ve even created a vortex of electric storms that erupted all around me during a flurry of sword slashes. The shouts of enemies in agony, my allies supporting me, and the sounds of my attacks rampaging through the battlefield meld together with the rocking soundtrack.
Within my first hour of playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance, I was beaten up by the town drunk. By the end of the almost 70 hours I spent with it, I was sizing up a trio of bandits with a smirk on my real-life face, knowing even together they were no match for my steel and the extensive training I’d received under some of the toughest knights in this beautifully recreated medieval land. This wasn’t merely a change in stats and equipment. Without a single spell or magic sword, Kingdom Come gave me the abundantly satisfying feeling of transforming from doe-eyed scrub to stone-cold killer.
Warhorse’s tale of tribulation and betrayal shines brightest in the little ways it sells the fantasy of living in the Late Middle Ages. Not only are there survival mechanics that track hunger and fatigue, but every aspect of your character’s appearance has an impact on how NPCs perceive you. The biggest example is how clothes will accumulate wear and trail dust as you traipse through the wilderness, leaving nobles less than impressed with your scruffiness.
If you’re looking to put a new spin on a winning formula, you probably don’t want to leave out your secret ingredient. Monolith does deserve credit for trying to make the Blade of Galadriel DLC feel like something other than just more of the same Shadow of War gameplay, but wielding Galadriel’s Light can’t hold a candle to the domination and Nemesis systems it sidelines.
Blade of Galadriel picks up after the third act, with Eltariel recovering Celebrimbor’s ring on the tower at Barad-dur and heading off to fight the remaining Nazgul on behalf of Galadriel. She’s still as bland a character as you’d expect a female elf version of Talion to be, so don’t expect any big twists, turns, or character moments from her. What few interesting moments there are come from brief appearances by Talion, though they serve only to repeat things we've already seen in slightly greater detail and, of course, to retread more lines from characters from the movies and books.
The Analogue NT does one thing really well: It allows you to play actual Super Nintendo games – not ROMS – on a modern television. Sure, with the right adapters you could probably hook up your beloved, beat-up SNES to your current HDTV, but colors wash out, strange bars appear at the edges, ugly lines mess up the picture, and games just don't look how you remember them.
The Super Nt doesn't make games look exactly like you remember them either. But with an HDMI port, clever engineering, and presumably some sort of blood magic, the Super Nt renders games in gorgeous, clear pixels on your giant flatscreen. Overall, the Super Nt makes SNES games look amazing again – for a price. The MSRP is $189.99, and that doesn’t include a controller.