Skull and Bones is finally a real, fully-launched product after several years of troubled development. While some components manage to pleasantly surprise, like ship buildcrafting and general ship-to-ship combat, the jankiness on the technical front, the exhausting live service components and the slim yet grindy endgame leave a lot to be desired. As always with live service titles, we can look towards the next year of seasons and additional content to see how it develops, but for now Skull and Bones is a middling recreation of the pirate fantasy.
Vertigo Games has a strong zombie slaying VR title on their hands with Arizona Sunshine 2. It doesn't elevate the genre in any notable ways, reminding us that the initial entry led the charge in a much different VR landscape than we are looking at today, but it still manages to keep the fun factor intact. It may not be a massive evolution over its 2016 predecessor, but it still maintains an alluring experience (one that is improved by Buddy's presence).
Owlcat Games took special care of their endeavor in creating a beautifully grim setting within the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Nearly everywhere you look, Rogue Trader nails its digital realization of the source material. The grittiness of the surroundings is reflected in the brutality of battle, but ground combat far exceeds the tedium of the space-bound dogfights. There's truly a great Warhammer 40,000 game here, both for newcomers and longtime fans, but its edges remain rougher than desired due to a litany of bugs and inconsistent difficulty problems. A great game exists on the other side of focused patches, but right now it's only "mostly" good.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a surprising tie-in, masterfully building a world that's as exciting to view as it is to briskly navigate. Ubisoft Massive has painstakingly brought the Western Frontiers of Pandora to life, ensuring both casual and die-hard movie fans will appreciate the views. And while the game is able to match the awe of the movies at times, its success is partially stripped back by the all-too-familiar Ubisoft formula peeking out from underneath its beautiful exterior.
GYLT is a gateway horror game. Taken as an introduction to the genre for a younger player, GYLT certainly succeeds. That isn’t to say that older, more experienced players will find no to enjoy Tequila Works once Stadia are exclusive. Still, they would be hard-pressed to identify systems and mechanics that feel like true modern-day implementations rather than their older iterations. NPCs and puzzles seem to adhere to the designs of yesteryear, creating a mechanically-basic outing for Sally. And yet there’s a charm that can penetrate these enveloping issues. Combining the twisted Pixar-style aesthetics with the heart-wrenching presentation of bullying elevates GYLT just enough beyond its failures to be enticing. If only Tequila Works had more to say about their engrossing world, GYLT would have undoubtedly ascended further.
ZeniMax has largely adhered to their tried and true recipe for The Elder Scrolls Online story content. And while there is much success to be found, there is much that could be improved upon as we wrap up the year-long Shadow of Morrowind storyline bookending the Necrom chapter release. Looking ahead, it’s exciting to theorize what will come next. But for now, looking at Necrom as-is, we still have an amusing if by-the-books expansion drenched in the allure of the arcane arts and a truly stunning setting brought forth with Apocrypha. Whether you are a new player or someone looking to create their nth alt character, Necrom is sure to offer up hours of content to get lost in.
ELEX II builds upon its predecessor, offering up an enticing return to Magalan, a setting that is as enjoyable as ever. As with all Piranha Bytes games, there is a level of unrefined gameplay to be found. Audio and animations can be a mixed bag. But beyond the rigidness, there’s a game full of sprawling, deep systems that give the player the freedom to tackle this medieval/sci-fi mash-up their own way. It’s unfortunate that the design of a bygone era comes under fire from resolvable technical problems that make it harder to overlook the rougher edges. After a few patches, ELEX II may be able to shine brighter, but as it currently stands it has one too many jagged edges overshadowing its greater parts.
Shadow Warrior 3 is touted as the next step for the franchise, but the end result feels like several in the wrong direction. Lo Wang’s terribly brief outing fails to fully find its rhythm, although it does occasionally glimpse a better version of itself. The lackluster dialogue, platforming, and campaign all hold back the newest installment, providing us a watered-down gun-toting, sword-slinging adventure that tosses aside the loftier ambitions of its predecessor. If fast-paced FPS action is what you crave, your appetite is better satisfied elsewhere.
Rainbow Six Extraction is a mildly interesting repurposing of the Siege formula as it’s molded into a co-op only outing. Breaking away from the 5v5 PvP that has led the charge since 2015 is certainly refreshing, even if combatting parasites with tactical professionals is unlikely to be the experience Tom Clancy fans desire. Whether or not Rainbow Six Extraction vibes with you may be partially dependent on your prior disposition towards Siege, as the central gameplay is copied as is. The difference is in the use of those gameplay mechanics against a different enemy, which changes up the pacing. Those that have been long-time Siege faithfuls may find the Extraction spin-off a fun deviation for the series. Those without prior participation in Ubisoft’s successful multiplayer title are likely to be more aware of the flaws showing through the uninspired implementation of another game’s soul.
Forza Horizon 5 is a masterclass in arcade racing. There is no equal out there. Burnout has all but disappeared; Need for Speed has fallen from its once-lofty heights, and The Crew is hardly a competent competitor. Playground Games have proven that their formula is still king, offering up countless hours of racing bliss as the live service seasonal format unfolds. As long as you aren’t looking for a more simulation-bound experience like Forza Motorsport, you simply cannot do better than Forza Horizon 5.
Call of Duty: Vanguard is mostly more of the same, for better or worse. Sledgehammer Games has brought fresh ideas to a formula that desperately needs a shake-up, but the execution only leaves us desiring more. The inevitable Call of Duty: Vanguard 2 may further explore the designs seen in their infancy. And we sure hope it does because Vanguard could signal a notable change in the future. But for now, we have a relatively amusing installment that ticks the required boxes and little else for the annual series.
Tormented Souls is a love letter to the earlier years of the horror genre. The fixed camera angles, heavy reliance on puzzle solving, and claustrophobic mansion-style environments all combine to form a package heavily reminiscent of the titles spanning the fifth and sixth console generations.
Rage 2 contains some of the best shooting of any game in 2019. Taking numerous cues from Doom, the familiar gunplay is loosed upon a more open environment. Shredding bandits and mutants never gets old, regardless of if you have a campaign-only focus or you are pushing past the 20th hour on a completionist run. The achievement set by the gunplay reveals how far below it other areas sit. The open world isn’t utilized to its fullest potential, characters (including Walker) are as forgettable as the story, and driving leaves much to be desired. Rage 2 may be considered a one-trick pony, but that single aspect is so gratifying that it carries the lesser parts on its back to the finish line.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is From Software at its best (so far). The developer has beautifully married the demanding nature of their Souls games to a narrative-driven action game. The swordplay is engaging, requiring quick learning and quicker reflexes. All in all, Sekiro is top of its class, offering one of the most memorable experiences of 2019.
Far Cry New Dawn hardly reinvents its core formula, for better or worse. The expected bits are all there, peppered with a few low-impact RPG elements. This isn’t an evolution of the franchise, but rather a more favorable pairing of gameplay and setting than past releases. New Dawn sure feels familiar, but it definitely knows how to have a good time.
Metro Exodus emerges from the underground to explore a world far more colorful than the Moscow railways. Exodus does a fine job of injecting larger spaces with familiar gameplay, even if the two don’t always compliment each other. The refocused survival aspects are welcome additions and add to the hopelessness of the post-apocalyptic setting. The game goes off the rails a bit due to abundant technical issues and restrictive movement that reveal the lack of AAA polish. Even with its lesser parts, Metro Exodus takes the franchise forward with an experience worth seeing through to the end.