Last Train Home might not be as deep as some management sims or as broad in scope as other RTS games. However, it combines the best of both styles with some smart and welcome improvements that give it a strong identity. Combine that with a unique story and brilliant presentation, and you’ve got yourself a strong candidate for one of the best in the genre.
Just when Tactica’s combat feels like it steps into its own, the game ends. Atlus definitely played it safe by easing players into the basics and gradually giving them more freedom to use all of Tactica’s tools, but the moment where everything clicks and all the systems work together happens a little too late. There's a lot of potential here, though, and I hope this isn't the last time Atlus brings tactics to the shadow world.
Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name may be a side story in RGG Studio’s long-running Yakuza franchise, but it’s also one of the biggest steps forward in quality and thoughtful design that the series has seen in years.
Total War Pharoah doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does introduce a handful of promising and sometimes deep new ways to approach the familiar formula. Combat is still hit-and-miss, but the approach to history and empire-building are among the best in the Total War series.
A more coherent story and confident use of setting could've helped Ad Infinitum live up to its full potential. The dilapidated mansion, nightmare trenches, and horrible creatures still give it a unique identity that goes some way toward making up for the narrative shortcomings. However, I hope there's a "next time" for Hekate and Ad Infinitum and a chance for both to play into their strengths.
In an ideal world, the remasters probably would have worked better as proper remakes. Baten Kaitos and Origins’ pre-rendered backgrounds were gorgeous on the Gamecube, and they’re just as lovely now. Some aspects would have benefited from more improvement, though. Character animations, limited dialogue illustrations, awkward battle structures, and wonky localization weren’t great at the time and don’t hold up quite so well. Both games are still worth experiencing, but there are a few more hurdles to enjoying them than there should be.
Sea of Stars aims for, well, the stars, but lands somewhere a bit lower. Its charming world and brilliant combat carry much of the adventure. However, when Sea of Stars wants very much to be a narrative-driven game with a big cast of characters, it’s difficult to overlook the story’s shortcomings.
Armored Core 6 is the essence of a soft reboot. It has the unenviable task of drawing newcomers to a niche, sometimes overly challenging series without changing too much of what made fans like it to begin with. The result is a mixed experience that, while it has some shining moments of brilliance, feels a bit loose and never plays to its strengths.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is unforgettable and one of the best experiences I’ve had in games. I may have just finished my lengthy first playthrough, but I’m already eager to delve further and push the boundaries of what’s possible in this exceptional world that Larian created.
Stray Gods is ambitious in its goals, and while the road Summerfall and co. take to reach them is rough and uneven, I won’t be forgetting Grace’s tale anytime soon. It’s a clever format, and the unfulfilled potential makes me excited for future attempts to meld games and theater.
Age of Wonders 4 might be overwhelming at first, but it's brimming with potential and gives you the tools to tell unique stories with your chosen hero. The nearly decade-long gap between releases gave Triumph the chance to polish Age of Wonders 3's weak points and come up with substantial improvements to combat and presentation. The result is one of the best grand strategy games in ages.
Everspace 2 might seem like more of the same, especially thanks to its plodding prologue, but there's more going on here than you see at first glance. There's a stronger sense of place, better story, and more interesting cast that feel like they fulfill the original game's potential. Exploration is better than ever, and while combat hasn't changed too much, the careful balancing act of managing your resources makes every encounter feel fresh and exciting.
Company of Heroes 3 is a splendid and rewarding RTS game. Tense battles, brilliant map design, and streamlined unit management make it easily one of the best in the genre, with the Italian campaign acting as an exciting blueprint for the series’ future. If Relic wants to use Company of Heroes to tell serious and significant stories, though, the team needs to commit to actually doing that beyond just giving them a surface treatment.
Octopath Traveler II does what an excellent sequel should. Instead of breaking new ground left and right, it improves on the original in nearly every way and feels more confident about the stories it tells. There’s still room for improvement in some of its stiffer areas, but Octopath II is a sterling achievement all around.