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.
It can’t quite reach the crescendos that Three Houses did, and it certainly doesn’t achieve the longevity of Awakening. But it is consistently great. And it’s confident enough to let me take the reins.
Who could have predicted that such an odd amalgamation could elicit such joy? With Sparks of Hope, Ubisofts Milan and Paris have turned one of gaming’s strangest elevator pitches into one of Mario’s greatest spinoffs.
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.
Diablo 3 remains a clever, rewarding, and oftentimes brilliant action-RPG that has made a near seamless transition to Nintendo Switch, six years after its original release.
I Expect You to Die captures the tension, revelations, and exhilaration of a last-second escape in virtual reality.
Titanfall 2 is more measured and intelligent than its predecessor, but just as fluid and kinetic.
Gears of War 4 makes the best of the franchise's multiplayer modes, but delivers a lackluster campaign in the process.
In its third year, Destiny is showing signs of exhaustion, as it retreads old ground and struggles to find inspiration.
Mother Russia Bleeds brings an older genre back into the limelight, with clever boss fights, intricate stage design, and complicated storytelling themes.
Despite some rough edges and frequent moments of boredom, Master of Orion is an engaging reboot of a classic sci-fi strategy title.
Despite a slew of problems, Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma uses complex story techniques in a suspenseful tale about human nature.
Overwatch meshes vastly different ideas and schools of thought into one frantic, exhilarating, layered shooter.
Despite some visual impediments and a mediocre interface, Tastee delivers intelligent turn-based combat in a variety of intense scenarios.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End blends its gameplay, characters, and world into a magnificent whole, making it the best game in the series, and a new watermark for storytelling.