At its roughest edges, The Bard's Tale IV shows its retro revival roots in some not so positive ways. It may not be special enough for me to easily overlook these technical shortcomings entirely, but it's an RPG that's brimming with enjoyable, challenging fights, elaborate and entertaining puzzles, and plenty of visual and musical flair. And that was more than enough to keep me humming along contentedly to its tune more often than not.
Two Point Hospital revitalizes the business management genre with flair, character, and enthusiasm. Easily understandable tips and icons make it relatively stress-free to get a working urgent care center running smoothly, while the potential for deep optimization through tweaking building layout and making wise hiring and training decisions leave plenty to munch on for the micromanagement lovers among us. If we're on the verge of another classic genre renaissance, this is a great first foot forward.
Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor - Martyr gets a lot of things right, but drops the ball where it matters most for an action RPG. We're left with a repetitive, not very tactically exciting combat system and itemization that arbitrarily forces you to gear for item level rather than better stats. Everything else is just a nice house built on a shaky foundation at that point. Even the Emperor can't protect this clumsy shoot-em-up from its own sins.
More often than not, Ancestors Legacy showed me a good time watching my berserkers, Teutonic knights, and Slavic tribesmen hack their way through forests, marshes, and the occasional open field. The weakness in the core infantry combat, which tilts a bit too much away from quick, tactical thinking and into correctly guessing how the enemy line will be arranged, was the main issue that kept me from really coming to love it. Historical inaccuracies aside, though, it scratched my itch for a traditional RTS in a way that will probably keep me coming back.
I've never been terrorized, stalked, or fascinated by enemy AI quite like I was in The Forest. It's a harrowing survival ordeal that knows how to play with tension and create the sense of a real world with complex inner workings and mysteries I was eager to discover. It's I Am Legend told in the depths of the hinterlands, with a meaningful story progression that doesn't overstay its welcome. Disregard the warnings on the walls and hidden between the trees at your own peril – and if you want a unique and memorable survival horror experience, then you should absolutely dare to do so.
The first Total War Saga game tries a lot of new things, succeeding at about half of them. It improves on a few areas historical Total War games have struggled with, but at the same time falls back into some bad, old habits that other games in the series were able to rise above. The overall tapestry reads as more than competent, and I could watch hardened huskarls with their massive axes crash into a Saxon shield wall all day. But there are too many blemishes for me to place it alongside some of its truly great peers like Attila and Warhammer.
Extinction is a sword-slinging, monster-decapitating action game that does a decent job of getting the blood pumping and reflexes twitching. The eye-catching, anime-inspired art will even give you some nice scenery to do it all in. It just never rises to be much more than that, and all the while it's inviting comparisons to other games that do. Extinction lands in that awkward position where, yeah, it's usually fun - but you're not really missing anything incredible by giving it a pass.
The catchy song that plays over Pit People's ending credits (and has been stuck in my head for the last several days) proclaims: “And it all makes sense now!” That might be overstating things, since its tactical battles never played out the way I expected due to each character having a mind of their own when it comes to what to actually attack or heal. But pit People's weird world has a special, quirky way of being amusing no matter what you're doing. I enjoyed it mostly in small doses, as the bright colors, twisted sense of humor, and goofy, energetic soundtrack can get to be a little much sometimes.
There's a shining suit of mail underneath Kingdom Come: Deliverance's authentically medieval grime. Strong characters and storytelling, one of my favorite first-person melee combat systems ever, and special attention given to building moment-to-moment immersion come together as a mighty alloy that ranks among the most unique, memorable RPGs I've played in years. While a lack of technical polish occasionally caused me a good deal of frustration having to replay areas due to a bug or poorly-communicated quest objective, it's the kind of adventure I didn't hate replaying.
Subnautica is a template for what open-world survival games should strive to be. It's fantastical, fresh, and frightening from surface to seabed, with a story that kept on surprising me and a cast of sea monsters that quite literally haunted my dreams. Even with more than 50 hours sunk, I have yet to discover all of its secrets. It's a testament to how enticing those secrets are that I'm willing to face my fears and plunge my submersible into the darkest corners of its unforgiving ocean again and again.
Civ VI is undoubtedly a better game with the addition of Rise and Fall - especially when you are struggling to hold everything together through a Dark Age. However, I do not think this expansion brings it to a place where all of its core ideas have really gelled yet.
Underneath a forgettable campaign and unimpressive AI, Tiny Metal houses the seed of a really deep and entertaining multiplayer wargame. But until a head-to-head mode is added, it's not much more than a set of unchallenging training scenarios broken up by far too much overwrought dialogue. I had plenty of fun with it, but didn't get the kind of edge-of-my-seat decision-making moments that turned the tide of a difficult battle I could find in similar games. I'd recommend delaying your enlistment until all the pieces are in place.
I can wholeheartedly recommend Bridge Constructor Portal as a rich, challenging puzzler with plenty of brain-twisters in store across its 60 levels. The pacing and methodical iteration it encourages meant it only ever taxed my mind, not my nerves. As a Portal fan's nostalgia piece, it's really not much better than a kitschy, amusement park gift shop recreation of the world many of us know and love – but the little nods serve well enough to enhance an already enjoyable puzzle game.
Hello Neighbor is a frustrating slog through a gauntlet of illogical puzzles that rely on persistence and thoroughness far more than cleverness, observation, or ingenuity. The stealth is hit-or-miss, alternating between feeling too punishing and borderline irrelevant from act to act. Some clever level design and a clear talent for making me feel creeped out eased the frustration, but don't present enough of a reason for me to recommend anyone put themselves through 15-20 hours of this. I wish I'd just stayed on my own side of the fence.
The core of Episode 5: Don't Stop Believin' provides a thrilling and fulfilling resolution to the season arc with a couple interesting surprises in store. I just wish it hadn't been immersed in this flimsy, fake crisis of the Guardians breaking up and getting back together that was never fully realized, and ended up dragging the whole season down. Flaws and all, however, Guardians of the Galaxy is, overall, one of the stronger stories Telltale has put out. This has become the version of the Guardians team I see in my head first when I think about them. I'd be thrilled to hear we might get to join them on the Milano for a second season.