Skylines 2 appears to be the distinct result of a dev team looking out at other places to find beauty and, more importantly, designing with an aim toward getting players interested in thinking of themselves as people making aesthetic choices. It’s thrilling.
The next-gen upgrade is going to make that available for more people, and I’m excited for that. But it did leave me with a melancholy feeling about where we’ve been and, given the future of The Witcher franchise, where a post-Cyberpunk Witcher game might go. I hope CD Projekt Red’s 2015 RPG, rather than the one it released in 2020, is the foundation that’s built upon.
GTA 5 feels like an infrastructural flavor in gaming at this point, delivering that same action driving and shooting, showing up to comfort you wherever you might want to play it. When novelty appears, like when I was driving through the night and Burial’s “Hiders” played on the in-game radio, apparently added back in 2017, it really stands out. But playing GTA 5 today is not generally an exercise in a new experience for millions of us. It is a return to the familiar, a known entity, and these new-gen versions of the game offer us repetition with slight differences. If that is what you’re angling to get out of your time in 2022, GTA 5 is there for you.
Overall, I think Streets of New Capenna hits the sweet spot for what a Magic set can be. It is weirdly experimental on the creative side and tries to afford a huge amount of possible play experiences due to some new mechanical design on the game side.
But it is impossible for me to play the game after this patch and not think about how so many other games, with so many more interesting ideas and takes on the genre, are not going to get the second swing that Cyberpunk 2077 is going to get over the next year. Years of dev time to produce a standard and familiar 1980s dystopia in a pretty good frame. Just another day in Night City.
More than anything else, playing this trilogy in 2021 forced me to consider what a "remaster" is on a fundamental level. Is is just juicing up the graphics and making the main characters a little more detailed? Or could there be something more to it? I've been living with these games since they were first released. They each fueled moral panics in their own way. GTA 3 and Vice City were at the center of a resurrected set of arguments about video game violence, and how it would turn kids into mass killers. The spectacular nature of these claims propelled lawyer Jack Thompson into the limelight, and turned him into a special kind of video game culture villain, the bogeyman who still gets invoked when people are afraid anyone is going to touch their video games. San Andreas' Hot Coffee fiasco, produced when developers accidentally left the scripts for a sex minigame in the game files on release, ended with a class-action lawsuit settlement that allowed offended players to collect $35.
“Age of Empires IV” is a simple, pleasurable game that rewards developing high skill but does not require it to push and learn your way through. It gives you troops and their upgrades and some buildings and lets you decide what you want to do with them. It gave me a lot of freedom to make my own choices within a narrative that constantly told me how cool I was for playing in a historical playground with some of the coolest people who ever lived. These pleasures are few and far between in life, and I savored this one.
In a recent session, I had a rival pair, and one of them was slain by the final boss in the last turns of the entire game. I was presented with an option to either allow them to slink off the battlefield with a career-altering wound or have them strike out with their dying strength, dealing massive damage and sealing the victory. I weighed my options and had them take out the boss. What better way to end a rivalry than by saving the world?
It is a great game that had to smear itself in a layer of whatever-nothing to convince you that it belonged in a certain genre. But like the octopus pretending to be a rock, Metro Exodus is a brilliant creature in the guise of a worse one. With some time, energy, and emotional investment it springs to life.
I am not out here hollering for a specific mode of card game design, and I love that we live in a world where there are a plurality of games for people with different desires and likes in their card games. I am simply saying that Artifact has emerged into a world where digital card games finally seem to have figured out the sweet spot between mechanical complexity and friendliness for new players, and it has totally ignored any and all of those lessons in favor of a model that, to me at least, seems to be interested in attracting diehard fans of massive complexity and basically no one else. And maybe that works for Valve and the Artifact design team, but it sure as hell doesn't work for me.
It's a structure, like a gym or a concert, and we have our role to play in it. It is good for what it is, but it isn't more than that. This is a first-person shooter on a large scale, and if you've played one before and you're itching for the most-recent and best-looking Battlefield, then you've found it. Anything more or less than that and you're better off getting last year's model. It's probably gotten all the kinks worked out, at least.
And I guess, for some people, that might be the carrot that keeps them moving on. But when I reached that point in Horizon 4 after a couple dozen hours, I didn't have the drive to keep going and pursuing new paths. If you do, it is probably a game that will get its hooks in you like Need For Speed Underground 2 did me all those years ago.
Overall, I have some mixed feelings about State of Decay 2. It is a game that feels less focused than its predecessor despite making strong moves to deepen the experience in every realm. Focusing in on the details somehow made the game lose something; the steps the game took forward cost something fundamental and core to the experience.
Dead In Vinland scratches the same itch as Darkest Dungeon's less combat-focused parts and King of Dragon Pass's more personal moments. It's unique in the world of games, and it shows what the medium can do when it's committed to a distinct vision of what numbers-and-narrative can do when they're understood as intertwined and integral to one another.
I'm in a weird place because I know that Surviving Mars is probably excellent for someone who is not me. If you enjoy Paradox games like Crusader Kings II but not city builders, then this is probably a great bridge for you to relax and play. If you like managing numbers, resources, and people, then this is the game for you. What I wanted was a more freeform experience that allowed me to design and fiddle with Martian landscapes to my heart's content, and this is not the game for that.
Ni no Kuni 2 aims for a lot of different targets: world-spanning story, management sim, recruitment game and solid combat experience. Against all odds, it manages to hit them all in a way that very few games in its genre can manage.
If you commit and dig in, you'll be rewarded with that rare feeling of accomplishment in a videogame. Not because you leveled up or because you managed to get one over on the game, but because the puzzle feeling of Into The Breach makes the game appear to be extremely fair. I never feel like I've been tricked when I lose, and I never feel like I've done something out of bounds when I win.
Dynasty Warriors 9 exists at the nexus of a lot of different desires on the player community side and the development side. I just want to wander around inside a big space and win epic battles in long-ago China while coveting the throne. That's what I'm in it for, and that's what it delivers. If you're in it for that, you might like it too.
As a person who enjoys the stories and characters of the Final Fantasy franchise, I'm immediately more likely to be invested in Dissidia NT and what it's offering me. However, that's not enough; I need to love these characters and this complicated and opaque game type, and truly enjoying the heart of it isn't really possible for me.