There is little not to like and Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown has a little bit of something for everyone, franchise fan or not. Perhaps as the release cycle continues we will see tweaks, like the ability to turn down the overpowering and extremely loud background music or compare ships, but those are more quality of life issues and less game-stopping problems. Even as it stands, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is wicked fun that should be experienced by all.
Insurgency: Sandstorm was a bit of a mystery to me going into it; I grew up playing countless hours of Team Fortress (the original!), Counterstrike, and Unreal Tournament, leading all the way through to modern shooters like Call of Duty, Player Unknown's Battlegrounds, Arma, and Battlefield, so I was not sure what to think going in. Boy was I shaken to my core; my daughter would often pop her head into the room to check up on me as I giddily laughed or made some exclamation at the awesomeness that will be found throughout the entirety of Insurgency: Sandstorm. Well done I say, well done indeed.
Kenshi is a unique blend of pure squad-based RPG leveling set in a sandbox world where your goal is to first survive then thrive and it is an extremely difficult title. Not only is it difficult it is also extraordinarily complex yet with an dated but useful user interface that leaves no vital information too far out of grasp, with graphics that are both complex and at times, stunning while reminiscent of mid-late 2000's isometric viewpoint RPG titles (I believe it has graphics comparable to those found in the Dungeon Siege franchise) yet do not let the graphics fool you; Kenshi is deep and highly complex and at times feels like a management / sim game with RPG aspects built into it. This is a good thing and the brilliant mix of various game genres has me eyeballing their update notes as I am itching to get back in there … even if it means my squad ends up eaten by cannibals.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a must-buy this holiday season. Such a seamless and wonderful amalgamation of genres is rare and The Bearded Ladies have blended them so well that in Road to Eden you have a completely unique experience that feels natural, almost welcoming. Until it steps on your face but I say that is a part of the charm…
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is, I hope, the start of an interesting genre that blends relatively free-form movement until turn-based tactical combat rears its bestial head. A perfect title for those that are itching something different than their three hundredth playthrough of XCOM 2, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is a great way to pass the long days of your holiday vacation.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker is exactly what the roleplaying genre needed; an excellent evolution to one of the most respected and beloved genres in gaming. Though there are plenty of little technical oddities, the level of detail put into every single aspect of Kingmaker is something many other studios should take note of; if you are looking to create a rich world that is utterly encompassing, then look to OwlCat's Pathfinder: Kingmaker. With a world full of consequence, for good or worse, with tactical combat, extremely deep character customization and growth, and some of the best micro-stories I have seen since The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, Pathfinder: Kingmaker is here to stay. Watch out Larian Studios, the Divinity franchise is no longer alone in its excellence. In fact with a little optimization, Pathfinder: Kingmaker can, and will, give you a run for its money …
If you are looking for something different, something deeper, but want to maintain the darker presence of a Lovecraftian novel, then Sunless Sea: Zubmariner Edition on PlayStation 4 is most certainly your game. With patience and perseverance you may even be able to survive well enough that you do not need to eat your crew… A note of fair warning though, is that this game is less about pushing off from a dock and blowing everything up but rather about managing supplies, fuel, food, and terror as you work to perform quests throughout the Unterzee. With a port that seems meant to be, Sunless Sea: Zubmariner Edition is the perfect game to pick up as we roll into Halloween 2018.
Conan Exiles could have been so good, so rich, but instead it turned out to be an awkward and often poor experience just on the gameplay mechanics alone. Add in the poor framerate on consoles and you will likely do as I did and turn the game off for a spell, hoping against hope that further console optimization without any additional loss in graphical fidelity happens (hint, it likely will not happen). Even the animations do not know where to stand in the quality and functionality of Conan Exiles, as many are plastic or wooden looking while others are smooth as a buttered baby's backside. Hell, even the environments are confused … Water? It is stunning but grass and shrub textures? Purely out of the mid-2000's. Once Conan Exiles is able to take itself seriously it may actually turn out to be a decent game, but by then it may be too late.
Though I may be harsh on Strange Brigade it is because it is coming from a studio that has consistently put out top-quality, engaging, enjoyable, and replayable titles; Zombie Army Trilogy, next to Tom Clancy's The Division and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands is one of the most-played titles in my household. Sniper Elite 3 is literally one of the only games I have 100%'ed … since the Super Nintendo was the primary household gaming system. I can say this with utter certainty … After beating Strange Brigade I will not be back to play it again for a long, long time. I cannot say the same for other Rebellion titles, as they are not chalk-full of reused and tiresome puzzles, simple and predictable levels, or sympathetic player characters. Sure the mid-mission briefings done old-school Newsreel-style with a bit of comic relief thrown in are spectacular, but it just feels "off."
Shenmue 2 is an excellent continuation of not only Ryo Hazuki's story, but also showing the evolution of open-world adventure RPGs around the turn of the century. Shenmue 1 & 2 paved the way for so many other greats; Dragon Age: Origins, Grand Theft Auto IV and V, Demon's Souls/Dark Souls, and even the Tomb Raider reboots. Though they may not have necessarily pioneered some of the now-standard aspects of gaming, Shenmue 1 & 2 showed that abrasive functions like the QTE or that open-world aspect of "alive" worlds. With Shenmue 1 & 2's rerelease, gamers of all ages can experience a cult classic that deserved for more exposure than it received. Now, with it releasing on common platforms, Shenmue 1 & 2 has a larger audience than ever before, and those that decide to follow Ryo's story will be richly rewarded.
The comical aspects of Two Point Hospital are a convincing camouflage for a deep and almost tactical hospital simulation game. That very comedic façade can be misleading and is often dangerous as you may find yourself enjoying the humor and being focused on the actual people a little too much, and spending far too little time in the financial sliders of Two Point Hospital. Though it can be challenging, in no way have I found any intentional malice or downright brutality and that is a fine line to walk with simulation titles. Fortunately Two Point Hospital takes itself serious enough that diehard simulation fans will find some enjoyment in it while those new to the genre will be gradually introduced to the finer enjoyments of a deep simulation title.
That said, Ys: Memories of Celceta *did* accomplish many of the things I was looking for within a new franchise; it is a series of games that I have not experienced before while scratching the action-RPG itch that I have had for some time. With clean, highly adjustable graphics, running along smoothly along at 60 FPS is a wonderful affair and after Nihon Falcom / XSEED pushed through a fix to address combat slowing down a bit at higher framerates, an extremely fast and engaging experience. When combining the delicious sound effects, voice acting, and snappy combat, Ys: Memories of Celceta is both a successful port and a fun little title; just try to reduce any expectation of it bringing something new and exciting to the table.
As Sudden Strike 4: European Battlefields provides gamers with the core game as well as the Road to Dunkirk and Finland - Winter Storm campaigns, fans of the tactical RTS genre will have plenty to keep them busy and when the campaigns have been beaten, there are plenty of maps (13) to play in the single-player Skirmish mode or various multiplayer modes to enjoy (not my personal cup of tea, but they are enjoyable to those in the mind for classic skirmish or Domination modes). The excellent focus on tactics and intelligent aggression combined with stunningly rebuilt late-1930's to mid-1940's battlefields, Sudden Strike 4: European Battlefields should be lauded for its successful adaptation of the RTS genre on console. Now if only others would follow suit …
Beyond a few quirks though, Warhammer 40,000: Gladius - Relics of War is an excellent 4x game set in a dark and gritty universe. In time I hope that we see the additional races, Eldar, Dark Eldar, Tyranids, and my personal favorite, Tau, as only 4 playable races does make the game feel a bit empty at times. That said, what is there within the four playable races equates to a solid turn-based strategy game that, Emperor take me, is an excellent Warhammer 40k title. Gladius - Relics of War is 2018's Warhammer Must-have.
Ancestor's Legacy is without a doubt one of 2018's gems; fantastic characters, a unique and absolutely brilliant camera that allows you to get up-close and personal with the action on the ground, an interesting story, a gorgeous world, and wonderfully tactical real-time combat are packaged up into a must-have experience. With a bit here for RTS fans and a bit here for RPG fans, Ancestor's Legacy really is a title that any gamer can pick up and play, though they will be punished for their mistakes. Whether you choose the screaming Vikings or the straight-backed Germans, you are in for a surprisingly deep and incredibly intricate real-time experience.
Though there are plenty things to gripe about, from the lack of diplomatic options (like subterfuge) to a relatively dull selection of cultures, Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia is still a wonderful experience for both new and veteran gamers. With the seemingly smaller scale, Thrones of Britannia feels more intimate than Total War titles of the past, which adds a certain personal touch to the overall feel of the game. While Total War: Shogun 2 is still the crème-de-la-crème of the Total War franchise, Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia is a wonderful addition to the longstanding and beloved franchise.
Though the combat and in-game puzzles are none too deep, they are richly populated and fantastically presented in Omensight, and wrapped up in the gorgeous darkly cartoony aesthetic creates a must-have cult hit for any budding PlayStation fan. While it may be completable in a single playthrough, the time spent as the Harbinger will be an excellent one that will ultimately leave you satisfied and at about $20 USD, it is an absolute must-buy.
With interesting mechanics such as "beating" the game for dying at certain times or doing silly things like removing your operating system, or the extremely odd way that some of the enemy machines pantomime the more mundane (or not so mundane) actions of humanity, Nier: Automata is oft-times confusing but the deftness with which the various elements found throughout, miraculously pulls the game together and is anchored by the best music in the business. What results is easily the most under-appreciated game of these last two years.