Call of Duty: Ghosts offers very few reasons for all but the most obsessed fans to take a look. Most of the time it revels in being mediocre and cowardly by the numbers rather than outright terrible, though there are moments where it manages to be both. If this isn't a wake up call, showing once and for all that churning out more or less the same stuff year after year only serves to dilute the quality of a franchise, then I don't know what is. It's completely shameless, and it's undoubtedly going to sell phenomenally well.
I was wrong. It's a universe filled with boring people living on boring space stations, and playing in this universe is, unsurprisingly, really bloody boring. There's not one thing that X Rebirth does that Albion Prelude or, indeed, any of the X games doesn't do better beyond a few visual treats. Even when the bugs are fixed, the bizarre design choices will persist, as frustrating and counter-intuitive as they were at launch.
The renown mechanic was a huge misstep and the Dredge become a bit dull after 15 hours of slaughtering them, but Stoic has still managed to weave a compelling tapestry of epic conflicts with emotionally engaging characters. When I found myself with a dagger in my back courtesy of characters I trusted, I was enraged. When I saw my warriors survive against the impossible odds, I was elated. It's a rollercoaster of agonising decisions and hard-won battles, and as filled with sadness as it is, I was just as sad to step off the ride.
Despite a few missteps, Smoke and Mirrors is an excellent follow-up to Faith. It's a twisted journey through Fabletown's dirty, neon underbelly exploring the darker side of glamour magic and the exploitation of fables. It ends somewhat abruptly, with a terrible revelation, making the wait for the third episode already agonising.
Consortium is a tragedy. There's an extremely clever game to be found within, but only when it works. It's just the first part of a planned trilogy, and I have so many questions that I won't be able to help myself, I need to play the second part. But I can only hope that it's not held together by chewing gum and sellotape again.
South Park: The Stick of Truth feels like it's been 16 years in the making, drawing on the high points from 17 seasons of lewd hilarity. Kenny dies a lot, and those immortal lines are uttered; Jimmy takes five minutes to spit out a sentence, requiring players to press a button to skip it; and Canada is a weird place containing dire bears, farting comedy duos and queefing women - it's all there. This is South Park, and Obsidian's RPG design at their very best.
Cigarette in one hand, and now a whisky in the other, I watch as the credits roll. The climax of the episode is a big one, masterfully presented to ensure the maximum emotional impact and lots of awful regrets. "I've made a terrible mistake," I say as the credits fade. "I'm going to pay for it in the next episode."
I'm not sure if anything is worth waiting 11 years for, but if it was, it would be Age of Wonders III. This isn't Duke Nukem Forever, shoved out the door to exploit ravenous fans. Nostalgia has a lot of weight, and this definitely feels like something that could have existed over a decade ago when we were swimming in turn-based strategy, but that's not why it's great. It builds on its past rather than just using it as currency. The familiar sits beside the modern, the fleshed out classes, the deeper tactical combat. It's the best that Age of Wonders has ever been.
Betrayer is an FPS where the shooting is lackluster and the enemies annoying. An adventure game where investigations are restricted to looking for objects on the ground. It is carried by artistic flair and - when it works - impressive audio design. As the violent encounters started to drain me of my energy and the plodding search for clues started to drain me of my sanity, I weathered it all because of my burning need to finish the story and my mission. I needed to put these souls to rest. But mostly I just wanted it to be over.
I'm completely invested now. I worry about Bigby. I'm pointlessly going through the decisions he made, I made, attempting to figure out how they will change the way the rest of the fables' view their protector. But most of all I want to finish this case and catch whoever is responsible for this titanic mess, and then rip his limbs off. Bigby's indignation and quest for vengeance is infectious.
Had I not known that this was the work of Jane Jensen, I honestly wouldn't have believed it. And when there are so many adventure games coming out during this renaissance, it's hard to see why anyone would choose this over, say, The Walking Dead or one of Daedalic's traditional, bloody hard adventure games.
Warlock II might take place in a silly universe where narrators like to impersonate Sean Connery and kingdoms are ruled by regal rats or chatting skeletons, but Ino-Co has taken its construction very seriously. It's exactly what a sequel should be, keeping the spirit of the original but improving every aspect.
I never expected Smite to worm its way into my roster of games I keep playing after review. It's a small number because there isn't enough time in the day for more, but Smite's going in there. It will likely be my go-to MOBA, at least until Heroes of the Storm. There are still almost 40 characters I've barely played, many not at all, and I confess that I might even chuck in a bit of money so I can grab some of the ridiculous god skins. Catwoman Bastet, Sith Lord Sun Wukong: they are absurd and I must own them.
The journey through Drangleic needs to be experienced. It's a marriage of phenomenal world design and impressively tight mechanics. And then it probably needs to be experienced all over again through New Game +. It's undoubtedly bloody hard work, but that just makes every sliver of success precious. Hurrah for Dark Souls II.
With its awful characters, inconsistent voice acting and combat hampered by problematic enemies, what little there is to enjoy is whittled away. It's something to be tasted when absolutely starved for RPGs and could provide enough sword and sorcery shenanigans to tide one over until something more appetizing comes along, but it's unlikely to prove fulfilling.
At number 5, we're still seeing iteration rather than revolution. Everything that's great about Tropico 5 is built on the same foundation that all the previous games have built on. That's a solid foundation, of course, but it's become a bit too familiar. There aren't any surprises to be found here. But just as familiarity can breed contempt, it can also provide comfort. Returning to Tropico remains a delight, and the drive to plonk down one more hotel, oversee one more year and win yet another election continues to make it the sort of game that can swallow hour after hour.
In Sheep's Clothing is a bit short and not as shocking as previous episodes, but it is darkly unsettling and deftly sets the scene for the closing of this horrific case. And we're left with one final cliffhanger. Standing in a room, surrounded by enemies. The question is: who's getting out?
It is Open World: The Game, and as such, struggles to find an identity of its own beyond its entertaining hacking hook and the inspired multiplayer. But those two elements make up a sizeable portion of the game. There are moments of genuine brilliance buried in the game that elevates it above mediocrity, but its reliance on increasingly tired design does it a disservice.
Distant Worlds: Universe is an exceedingly complex, infinitely rewarding space strategy game. It's made me more excited about the genre than any other game of its kind since Galactic Civilizations II. All of those numbers and systems that hold the simulation together create these dramatic stories, ones about gallant captains constantly pushing back the frontier, races under the thumb of pirates rising up and taking back their independence and wars between empires that spread throughout the galaxy like wildfire.