When all is said and done, Shadows of Change is the most uneven outing in Total War: Warhammer 3’s DLC plans yet. The previous packs were giant leaps. Immortal Empires, Champions of Chaos, and Forge of the Chaos Dwarfs came into this massive fantasy world, and things felt irrevocably changed. I still remember the awe with which I first saw the four fearsome Champions tearing across the northern expanse, or the first time I struggled to hold off the wave of machine-minded dwarfs spilling out of the Dark Lands at the center of the map. Shadows of Change is less an evolution than a maintaining of the status quo. Are all three Lords powerful in their own way? Absolutely. Will I itch to play as them every time I see them on the Lord Select screen? I suspect not. Ironically, Shadows of Change may have done less to evolve Total War: Warhammer 3 than any of its DLCs yet.
These are moments where I’m gently reminded that true player freedom is, of course, a fallacy. Nintendo created this world, and I inhabit it. Weeks, months, or years from now, I may affect it in ways its creators didn’t intend, but still — I will be using the tools they provided. The brilliance of Tears of the Kingdom lies in how well it imparts the fantasy of player freedom. Sure, Nintendo shakes me out of the daydream every now and then, and in those moments, I see flashes of its old rigid self. But no matter: At some point, I’ll fully escape its watchful gaze.
I’ve tried each of the three Chorf factions, in both the base game campaign and the Immortal Empires game mode. And although they’ll likely get their fair share of nerfs and minor reworks in the coming months, I can confidently say that they’re one of the most consistently engrossing races in the vast world of Total War: Warhammer. Their armies are flexible, their economy is robust, and their political mind games keep campaigns interesting into the triple-digit turns. As with any addition to this digital facsimile of the Warhammer Fantasy world, their presence will have ripple effects in the game’s future. And as usual, I can’t wait to see what happens next.
I’m a sucker for studios that don’t play things safe. IO Interactive kept toying with the Hitman formula until the very end, Supergiant reinvents itself with every new release, and there’s not a genre that Thunderful won’t touch. With Company of Heroes 3, Relic could have easily taken the safe route — or, to put it in Sid Meier-speak, ignored the “completely new” and “improved” pillars of sequel design in favor of something familiar. Instead, it looked outward, recognized what made the best modern strategy games tick, and adopted those factors into its own formula. Company of Heroes 3 is a great sequel, yes. But it’s also just an excellent game.
Hitman’s Freelancer mode is something rare: an intoxicating blend of challenge and approachability. It plays on the hubris of longtime players, but also guides newcomers with thematic objectives and a more explicit overall structure. It may not allow for the micro-repetition that makes the base trilogy tick. But it does maintain a rapid momentum from the beginning of each run to its bitter, comical end. After so many hours spent with this trilogy, combing each of its locations for something, anything I missed, I did not think it possible for IO to surprise me anymore — but here we are.
Even so: I can’t help but marvel at the scope and imagination with which Creative Assembly has brought Warhammer’s fantasy world to life. And maybe I can forgive Immortal Empires for occasionally not working properly because it’s so packed with factions that already bend the rules by design. There are leaders whose army buffs I haven’t even touched, and parts of the world I haven’t yet set foot in. But if my past few campaigns have taught me anything, it’s that there are trees falling everywhere, and they’re making quite a lot of noise.
Has Risk of Rain 2 had as much of an impact as Mario 64? Of course not. Its scope is decidedly narrow and its ambitions are confined to a small world focused on frantic combat in a straightforward, never-ending gameplay loop. But did Risk of Rain 2 reframe a game that I still consider close to perfection? Absolutely. Should Hopoo ever make a Risk of Rain 3, I’m hard-pressed to imagine what it will look like — my imagination swims at the thought of universes the studio hasn’t shown me yet.
I’ll always have those moments on the battlefield where Triangle Strategy is willing to meet me halfway — just like it did when it sent me Narve, the wandering mage, who showed up at my encampment the night before a pitched battle, plucky and sincere, to offer his services. His elemental spells were weak, but he had potential. In the morning, I put him next to Rudolph, the bandit whose skill with a bow and affinity for bear traps made him a staunch protector. Narve struggled against a few elite enemies, but Rudolph watched over him. They both emerged unscathed, and became fast friends.
Death Stranding is replete with questions of whether any of this is worth it - the solidarity and togetherness of it all. If catastrophes will keep piling up, and humans will continue to isolate, and communities will continue to fracture, then what's the point of ever coming together? For all of its preaching, the game doesn't end with tidy answers. To tie a bow on these questions in a final cutscene would undercut all of the work its gameplay has already done more elegantly than its thousands of words.
One particular mission ended in a robot boss that was resistant to the types of weapons I had spent all of my upgrade materials on thus far. OK, I told myself, that's on me. I should have been prepared. The problem then became finding the requisite components to upgrade an energy weapon I had neglected. In order to do so, I had to slog back through previous environments and take on side quests that ran the gamut of quality: One sent me on a prolonged fetch quest in search of a suitcase, while another tasked me with gathering testicles from slain enemies. One hour and countless frustrations later, I was ready to once again take on that robot boss.