One Piece Odyssey is a wonderful trip down memory lane for fans of the series. The game’s original story is earnest and the endearing bond between the Straw Hat Pirates comes through loud and clear. The engaging combat system and a decent number of side quests don’t hurt either. Sure, new players might get overwhelmed by some of the rushed chapters in the midgame and the flow between chapters could be better, but it’s hard not to notice the amount of heart and soul that was poured into the game. More than just a fantastic anime-based video game, One Piece Odyssey is an impressive JRPG and already one of the best surprises this year.
Originality is a rare quality in games, and Blacktail has this in spades – the Slavic folklore, the surrealist narrative, the unusual plot structure, the craggy yet dreamlike artstyle, the archery-based gameplay. Sure, some of the systems could be simplified and streamlined, but at least they aim to test the boundaries and seek a different point of view. Blacktail may not be a graphical marvel or a masterstroke in action gameplay, but this indie title has a fascinating magic all its own that’s difficult to define and even harder to find in games today.
Despite the growing pains, Darktide is a solid co-operative action game that’s great for a group of friends to play in spurts. At launch, the experience is limited in progression and variety, but the gameplay is challenging and viscerally satisfying enough to keep your attention. It doesn’t hurt that the soundtrack slaps and, performance issues aside, the graphics pack a punch. Since Fatshark is known for updating the Vermintide series over time with frequent content updates, Darktide is expected to improve as well. It may even deserve a higher score within the next six months, but I can only review what’s available now. So if you’re considering a purchase of the game, think of it as an investment that will likely pay off in a few years. It’s more than understandable, though, if you would rather wait for Darktide to meet your standards for a full release.
Evil West is a straight shooter. It doesn’t pretend to be something more than it is — a game about cowboys slaying vampires without mercy. Despite being a tad unvaried, the combat is viscerally gratifying and confidently uncomplicated. And for that alone, the game is largely able to overcome the hiccups with the limited multiplayer, graphics crashes, and awkwardly edited story. Though the campaign is fairly short given the asking price, it has a permadeath mode and new game plus for replayability. Evil West may be rough around the corners, but it’s worth a shot of whiskey down at the nearest saloon.
A game like Pentiment doesn’t come around often. Top developers like Obsidian Entertainment usually leave smaller productions like this on the editing floor. The vast majority of games with fantastic stories usually ask players to kill something, solve puzzles, or have some other gimmick to it so that they remain engaged. Pentiment dares instead to rely on its craftsmanship, authenticity, and choice-based dialogue, trusting that the murder mystery is enough of a draw to pull players in. And despite some minor quibbles, Pentiment succeeds in its pursuit, creating a fantastic generational period drama with a wonderfully original vision.
Like the three protagonists it features, New Tales From the Borderlands is a hot mess. If you don't take the game too seriously, there's a fun, heartfelt adventure buried somewhere beneath the layers of erratic writing and misplaced humor. It's an oddball romp with a bumbling cast of characters who deserve more substance than they were given. If the original Tales From the Borderlands is ice cream, New Tales From the Borderlands is frozen yogurt. And at the end of the day, even Fran admits that frozen yogurt just isn’t as good.
Valkyrie Elysium is a disappointing, befuddled, and mistimed return for the Valkyrie series. Its Einherjar-supported combat system only takes the game so far when it’s saddled by an underwhelming story and artificially extended by crude level design. It falls into the trap of chasing trends, turning classic JRPGs into action games and copying other successful titles like Dark Souls without adding much new to the genre, when many fans would have been more than satisfied with an updated version of a standard Valkyrie game.
Priced at under $20, Dome Keeper will keep you on your toes for several mining sessions. Its cyclical design is simple and executed fairly well, keeping the tension consistent throughout a run. However, upgrades quickly become restrictive in terms of effective builds, and both mining and defense become predictable in subsequent playthroughs. That said, the game has plenty of room for future updates that could help balance things out. Dome Keeper, without taking too many risks, fits simply and innocuously inside the world of the iterative survival genre.
Ooblets is a peculiarly enjoyable jack-of-all-trades adventure that stumbles near the finish line. The slice-of-life farming sim and town interaction are more developed than the card battling, and the leveling system feels unfinished. That said, the game may expand with additional content or balance patches as the developer continues to update it. Priced at half the cost of a typical full-fledged game, Ooblets is still worth playing for a few hours or so every once in a while, but there are better farming sims, monster battlers, and card-based games out there.
Though not as successful as Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, Digimon Survive has the workings of a cult classic mainly for Digimon fans. The story, despite a few insufferable characters, explores a darker reinterpretation of the original series to its favor, and the combat system is executed moderately well for as simple as it is. The game’s art style and music have its moments too from composer Tomoki Miyoshi and artist Uichi Ukumo. However, many plot points drag on longer than necessary, the Karma system is forced, and the UI is lackluster. Developer Hyde has a spark of a good idea here, but it might not last long enough to merit a sequel.
In the absence of other open-world racing series like Burnout Paradise and Test Drive Unlimited, the Forza Horizon series has steadily become a racing staple, and with Forza Horizon 3, it's now on cruise control. With a revised skill system, a wealth of racing content, and a co-operative campaign, you'll want to bend and curve around every corner in picturesque Australia landscape at least once, even if that's the only time.
Nuka-World may not have a storyline that is as significant and connective as Far Harbor's, but it still ranks as one of the better expansions for Fallout 4. Instead of ending the game with a heavy, emotional finale, Nuka-World is a humorous excursion that's feels like a well-deserved, fun-filled Nuka-vacation. (A Nuka-cation?!) As a world of refreshment, it certainly does the trick.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided isn't as polished as it could be, but it still continues the franchise's deft interpretation of modern political, technological, and societal issues without being preachy. Though the story could have brought more attention to the ending and more fully developed the character relationships in the game, the environmental storytelling and exploration through the city of Prague is intricate and memorable. The stealth-based first-person gameplay, paired with the flexibility of the augmentation system, remains as one of the best in the business. Adam Jensen doesn't ask for much, but I'm sure he wants a sequel, and I do too.
Gearbox Software's experience with Borderlands clearly shows throughout Battleborn, blending a silly episodic story and a cast of charismatic characters with the competitive, on-trend MOBA genre. While its single-player and multiplayer offerings are limited at the moment, they're strong enough on their own to sustain a community, so long as Gearbox continues to update the game frequently. Battleborn could have easily been a soulless copycat of Borderlands or just another MOBA, but this is one fusion game that has its own identity and lays the solid groundwork for much more to come.
Through climactic boss fights, bewitchingly forsaken landscapes, and heightened combat, Dark Souls III meets the lofty expectations of the Soulsborne series. Even with minor issues with linearity, framerate, and the originality of level design, Dark Souls III is an outstanding send-off for a seminal trilogy that has influenced and legitimized difficulty in games with unapologetic force. Its undying flames will be felt forevermore.
Street Fighter V is a work-in-progress. The combat system stands as the game's strongest and most important pillar, which masks some of the minor imperfections with the graphical clipping and online performance. Having a console release now is understandably more important for the sake of the competitive community even if that comes at the cost of the single-player experience. However, asking for both a full single-player and multiplayer experience at launch should be the standard. The review score for the game will likely improve over the next three months as more content is added over the course of the year, but unfortunately, I can't grade what doesn't exist. Along with the new Hitman which will release episodically, Street Fighter V makes the case for rolling reviews as a necessary practice moving forward. So expect periodic updates to this review or as separate reviews as Street Fighter V develops over its lifespan.
Despite a few flaws in the storytelling and the combat system—although both move at a favorably brisk pace—Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is still handedly the game that Digimon fans have been waiting for. Its faithful translation of an extraordinary roster of Digimon into fully-realized models lays the groundwork for future Digimon titles in this console generation. With more refinement in character interaction and less of a need to roam around in search of story triggers, this Digimon series could re-establish itself as a premiere RPG. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is the shot that Digimon video games have long deserved.
Although Blade & Soul is rough around the corners with its outdated quests and PvE envrionment, its strength in action-based combat and PvP shines through. Nailing a 20-hit combo on a poor fool has rarely been this satisfying outside of the fighting genre. The in-game store for microtransactions is mainly for cosmetic items and premium membership which keeps this free-to-play title away from the pay-to-win model, with Daily Dash prizes as bonuses for daily logins. While gold spammers had taken over the global chat, the new block spammer button has neutralized the situation. With NCSoft's attentive support of the title as the US release continues to catch up with the Asian release, the remaining story acts, classes, and dungeons will hopefully fill in the gaps by way of the developer's aggressive post-launch schedule. For now, Blade & Soul has a swift but cautious kick of a recommendation.
XCOM 2 more or less maintains the XCOM series as one of the best strategy titles today. The very nature of concealment and fast-and-loose guerrilla tactics lends itself to an almost obsessive amount of trial and error, but that doesn't mean you won't want to try over and over again until you pass unscathed. I've sunk hours into XCOM 2, and there's no doubt that you will too. With an unnerving sense of persistent tension and procedurally-generated maps that extend the value of every map, XCOM 2 survives the hype train with just a graze.
Amplitude is a solid remix of the original that should win over longtime fans as well as new players who want to explore a fresh version of a game that brought Harmonix into prominence. The track list could have been fuller in terms of quantity and genre variety, but the gameplay remains challenging, crisp, and energetic. Put on a pair of quality headphones, and Amplitude is worth every note.