The full release of Grounded is impressive due to its polish, attention to detail, and unique, compelling premise and world, but is still in need of some work to reach its full potential as a giant of the survival genre. It is staggering to see where Grounded started and how far it has come to reach version 1.0, and it is easy to get immersed in this familiar but new world. Grounded should, if nothing else, serve as the example for future game accessibility functions. Grounded is one of the more sophisticated and unique co-op survival games available today, and both veteran survival gamers and newcomers to the genre can find a lot to enjoy about its gameplay and style, especially if they've ever dreamed of exploring the world while the size of a bug.
The stand-out feature of Coral Island, however, is the message. While it's not completely uncommon to see conservationist messaging in farming simulators, the way conservation and nature exploitation is addressed in Coral Island is integral to the game's story without feeling too preachy. It also combines well with the more metaphysical lore of the island. It's not an especially subtle message, but it is well-incorporated and elevates the story and stakes. Fans of cozy gaming will find a lot to love about Coral Island, and, even in Early Access, there is a polish and sophistication that bodes well for the full release.
Overall, The Fridge is Red succeeds in creating a creepy atmosphere through the use of liminal spaces and excellent sound design. The world immediately pulls players in with its unsettling feeling and almost demands to be explored. However, The Fridge is Red misses the mark significantly due to the lack of consistent scares, often obtuseness of puzzles, and low-quality graphics. The Fridge is Red includes several great ideas, twisting the stress of everyday encounters into something surreal, but they never quite become fully fleshed out, and they become predictable when they all end in more or less the same manner. Players looking for a few hours of new horror content this October could certainly do worse, but The Fridge is Red lacks the depth and frights needed to contend with the best short indie horror games currently dominating the genre.
Overall, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader is a fun little trivia romp that faithfully adapts the spirit of the original game show. There is a lot to really love about this game, especially the variety and difficulty of the questions, which can pose challenges for players of all ages. The collectibles add another layer to Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader and offer a tangible goal while adding significant replay value. With a few tweaks to the presentation, like tightening the long pauses between segments, the experience could feel far less stilted. If the somewhat dated concept and graphics aren't too off-putting, fans of the show should definitely pick up Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader for the nostalgia factor, and fans of the trivia genre in general should consider adding it to their collection for a new and exciting challenge to face alone or with friends.
The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle may not be a total home run, but it is another solid installment to the MMORPG despite its weak story. High Isle itself is a gorgeously realized location that feels more alive than other settings have thanks to the incredible attention to detail by the art team, and the gameplay is a lot of fun where it matters most. The inclusion of Tales of Tribute works wonderfully, and the game itself was clearly well-designed and executed. However, it could have been even stronger as a base game feature that all players could enjoy.
Overall, Mothergunship: Forge comes out of the gate strong and gets more fun with each subsequent run. The randomization of the roguelite mechanics ensures almost endless replayability. Mothergunship: Forge feels far different than other wave shooters in the best way and gives players multiple customization options to build some incredible, zany creations. Despite the somewhat simplistic premise, the possibilities and variety do feel endless. With a few updates, the gameplay experience can be even stronger and easier to master. The graphics and sound design in Mothergunship: Forge are also well-done and contribute to the immersion, but the standout is undoubtedly the gun-building physics and the use of VR technology to put players more directly in the game. Mothergunship: Forge is a must-have VR experience and demonstrates so much potential, both for the future of virtual reality games and for its own future and the future of Terrible Posture Games as a developer in the VR space.
Overall, Cities: VR offers a new way to experience the beloved city-building sim, and, as one of the first games in the genre to come to VR, it is enjoyable despite its not-insubstantial drawbacks. The smaller scale, lower quality graphics, and clunky controls could be a sticking point for fans of Cities: Skylines. However, just like its PC and console counterpart, Cities: VR is easy to become immersed in for hours and does contain many of the same tools and features, which is itself a feat worthy of celebrating. Given VR is technically in its infancy, many of the games and experiences currently on offer can feel experimental or closer to a mobile gaming experience than one for PC or console. Cities: VR is undoubtedly one of the stronger VR games to be released so far, and with a few post-launch patches, it has the potential to be one of the best games currently available for Quest 2.
Despite its somewhat one-note premise, The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk - Splat Jaypak's Arenas is a solid addition to the game and undeniably addicting as players practice and perfect their strategies to lead the party to glory, just as The Ranger dreams.
The terror and hindrance effects make each run feel uniquely challenging, and the story events and Disciple traits are where Rogue Lords really shines. Unfortunately, as it stands, Rogue Lords suffers significantly from its lack of balance and the repetitive nature of both runs and combat. It can be difficult to strategize when RNG constantly feels stacked against the player, and being forced to restart a book after a surprise, impossible boss fight is demoralizing. With some retuning, however, Rogue Lords could better capitalize on its great ideas and innovate for the roguelike genre.
While there is a lot of content in this update to bring players back to the game, it may not be quite extensive enough to satiate fans long-term. Hopefully, the time between content patches will shorten as Valheim continues its Early Access period, and players can look forward to further updates as solid as this one.
For players who enjoyed the base game, Barn Finders Amerykan Dream offers more of the same. There are new opportunities to explore abandoned buildings and bid on valuable storage units, more ways to earn quick money, and a few new puzzles to solve. Like the base game, however, this DLC lacks the challenges, length, and variety needed to maintain player momentum and increase replayability. It feels like developer Duality Games missed an opportunity to introduce more new mechanics and deeper, varied challenges to Barn Finders, and without much extra content in this DLC, it's difficult to justify the price.
The Sims 4 Cottage Living has the potential to become one of The Sims 4's essential Expansion Packs in the eyes of the community, forever altering gameplay like Seasons and Parenthood did. There is a lot to like about The Sims 4 Cottage Living, and with luck, Sims 4 fans will see more like it in the near future.
Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood is a solid expansion to ZeniMax's popular MMORPG, explaining the rise of Mehrunes Dagon and introducing new mechanics that can be expanded upon in future chapters. Fans of Elder Scrolls Online are likely to find something they really enjoy about the Blackwood zone and story despite some of the drawbacks, and new and solo players can have a much better experience diving in and facing challenges if they start with Blackwood, thanks to the new features.
Sea of Thieves: A Pirate's Life is by far one of the best additions to Sea of Thieves in recent memory. The crossover with Pirates of the Caribbean is a natural fit, and it feels like the two IPs work together rather than vie for supremacy. The new enemies also feel appropriate, bringing much-needed variety to the lineup of foes players may face both in and outside Tall Tales. The beginning homage to the Disney Parks ride is a subtle and effective touch fans are sure to appreciate, and Jack Sparrow himself is exceptionally crafted. Rare has created something special with Sea of Thieves: A Pirate's Life, and it will be exciting to see how these new mechanics lead to future growth for the pirate-themed co-op.