Elder Scrolls Online heads to Elsweyr, the homeland of the Khajiit. While the environment isn't as impressive as Morrowind or Summerset, Zenimax Online's storytelling is still impressive and entertaining. Unfortunately, the combat mechanics need a little more punch and the addition of dragons ends up be less impactful than advertised. It's a good expansion, but feels like a step down from the previous few.
Dauntless is Monster Hunter for those that don't have the time or money to devote to Capcom's Monster Hunter: World. Dauntless falters in certain areas, but provides the feel of hunting and gear progression in a more streamlined manner. the world can feel a bit lifeless and gamey at time, but this is definitely good enough to carve out it's own space alongside Capcom's flagship series. And being free-to-play with full cross-platform play helps a great deal.
The roguelike nature of Darkest Dungeon combine with more substantial narrative and exploration, and a Korean manhwa aesthetic. Unfortunately, the mechanics of Vambrace need work. Your squad of mercenaries is largely disposable, there's too much randomization in terms of progress, and there are several issues with the user interface. Perhaps a sequel can bring the gameplay closer to the excellent aesthetics, but Vambrace: Cold Soul doesn't come together completely.
Sumo Digital is back to hit you with that fantastic Sonic Racing action. Team Sonic Racing has a new focus on team-based mechanics, but it ultimately feels like a step back from the excellent Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. The tracks are great, there's a whole of new customization options, and Team Adventure's challenge courses do well to differentiate the game from its peers, but it's a rebuilding year.
In Rage 2, you move fast and kill faster. It's the synthesis between id Software's 2016 reboot of Doom and Avalanche Studios' Mad Max, bringing together some of the best ideas from both. Moment-to-moment play on foot is fantastic with each weapon and ability just opening up your options for destruction. Driving could be improved and it's a little on the shorter side, but Rage 2 is a damned good time.
The zombie apocalypse is well-trodden territory and the open-world spin of Days Gone can only differentiate it so much. There's a strong narrative focus, but Deacon St. John doesn't carry that weight as deftly as he could. There are highlights and fun tools available within, but the game doesn't push those forward first, leaving the players to deal with some tedium first. Days Gone is a great foundation for something better though, so hopefully Bend gets the chance to improve upon it.
There's a lot to love in Mortal Kombat 11. It's a fantastic fighter with a roster of 25 varied characters, tons of customization options, beautiful graphics, and one of the best story modes in a fighting game. It's a shame that modes like the Krypt and Towers of Time inject annoyance and tedium into what was an excellent experience. The progression is complex and obtuse, when it should be easy and straightforward. MK 11 could been an all-time best, but it's just a contender.
Be the ultimate badass and kill your enemies in slow-motion. There are a lot of games that try to be like Hotline Miami, moving from area-to-area murdering with sheer ruthlessness, but few games match the execution and style like Katana Zero. Great pixel art, a wonderful use of color, and fantastic synthwave soundtrack. From start to finish, it's a fever dream worth having.
Anno 1800 is a city-builder that caters to new players. It's gorgeous, has a campaign that's a huge tutorial, and players don't have to worry about sim aspects like traffic and power distribution. While there have been improvements to the Anno formula, some mechanics are simply not explained and the user interface is lacking for a game built so heavily around trade and economics. It's a good game for sure, but it needs some tweaks to make it fantastic.
Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain plays around with the concepts players have gotten used to with previous EDFs. Classes are open, and the new Prowl Rider offers a new flavor of play that hasn't been seen in the franchise before. Weapons are open, giving more player freedom in terms of character loadouts. But Iron Rain loses some things from the main series, notably the huge swarms of enemies in favor of larger, more meaningful enemies. It's a fine entry in the EDF franchise, but it doesn't step far beyond its predecessors sadly.
Recent games have reminded me that sometimes great execution is better than a noble failure, and The Division 2 executes on its concept with finesse. The story is lackluster, and the real-world aesthetic will turn of some players, but it doesn't matter because the core and flow of this looter shooter is great. There are something things that could be tweaked, like enemy density and their ability to one-shot you, but overall The Division 2 is a sequel done right.
Capcom fills fans' dark souls with light! Devil May Cry 5 is an excellent return to form for the franchise, setting it up for a bright future. Nero's here, Dante's back in pitch-perfect form, and V provides a brand-new style of play. All Capcom really needed to do with Devil May Cry 5 was repackage the classic DMC gameplay with a modern coat of paint, but DMC 5 is an excellent, thoughtful update.
Dead or Alive 6 carries much of the franchise's risque DNA, but shows a bit more initial restraint. The more revealing costumes are unlockable and the jiggle physics tend towards a bit more realism now. Combat remains accessible, but new moves like the Break Blow and evasion add new layers for DOA vets. Dead or Alive 6 could use a little more graphical polish and its netcode needs to be better, but it's a pretty good fighter all around.
Anthem is a frustrating experience. There's a core gameplay idea that's fun, but it's not enough to keep the experience alive in endgame and beyond. It wants to sell us on flying and combat, but Grandmaster levels stop that dead. It offers a wide world to explore, but offers no reason to do so. Anthem ultimately doesn't feel like the best BioWare can do, and that's a horrible shame.
Far Cry: New Dawn cuts away some of the bloat of its predecessor Far Cry 5, to deliver a cleaner, more focused experience. The visual style breathes a good degree of life into a setting we've seen before, and Expeditions add more variety on top of that. The systems push you towards repeating content, but the boring rewards don't back that up. And hunting, once one of the core parts of Far Cry, is mostly an afterthought here. Despite those problems, New Dawn's short running time is a boon and the story provides closure to those who played the previous game. If you played and loved Far Cry 5, pick up New Dawn. If you didn't, know that it's still fun, but you'll lose some of the context.
Astroneer is definitely on the soft side of the survival spectrum. It looks inviting and fun, whether your lone explorer is bounding across the colorful landscape or mining deep within underground caves. Collecting resources and crafting them into new tools is the main focus, and Astroneer falters in not having more interesting things to find within each planet. In the end though, it's a lovely little game if you want to survive without all the pesky hunger and thirst you find in other games.
There are times when Just Cause 4 is amazing, but the final result is a game that loses parts of what made Just Cause great in the first place. The new mission structure repetitive and causes the series' staple destruction to take a backseat. The tether customization is top notch and the new weapons are a winner, but things like throwable C4 are gone. And the extreme weather, which is exciting when it appears, doesn't make its presence felt during most of the game. I had fun with Just Cause 4, but it's a game I want to love more than I actually do. Temper your expectations.
Eight years after the masterpiece that was Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar Games is taking a second shot. New protagonist Arthur Morgan gets a better supporting cast, an absolutely beautiful open world with more visual variety, and a ton of things to kill or collect. There's some occasional tedium in travel, and a few bugs and annoyances, but nothing that prevents Red Dead Redemption 2 from being an excellent game.