I’d love to say that Song of Iron was a great game made by one developer, with no qualifiers. I think where Song of Iron has some issues has less to do with it being a solo effort than perhaps the impracticality of the extreme minimalist approach as a concept, coupled with some consistent mechanical frustrations with movement and combat. Still, I love that Song of Iron is not weighted down by feature bloat. It’s a spare, beautiful-looking, engrossing iteration of a genre that always needs fresh ideas and bold, singular visions.
Naraka: Bladepoint offers a refreshing alternative to both the tired sci-fi or high fantasy settings and mechanics of familiar battle royale games, with a focus on fast and skillful melee combat and movement that can feel like an awesome martial arts film come to life. But the focus almost entirely on close quarters fighting can grow repetitive and frustrating, too, especially against the much better players that seem to dominate the space. Although it pushes microtransactions past the point of annoyance, they don’t radically impact the game, which is ultimately much more skill-based than that of other games in the genre.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is an exemplar of the CRPG genre, allowing the player to go on a very specific and incredibly rich fantasy journey, with mechanics and systems to add depth, variety and replayability at every turn. While it is much more welcoming to casual players than Kingmaker, there are still a great number of things to comprehend, manage and optimize in the course of play and the game is not without some jank and bugs. The new Mythic Path element is a literal game changer, the story and characters are engaging and although still just a bit intimidating, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous improves on its predecessor in significant ways. There are a lot of excellent ARPGs on the market, and Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous certainly deserves a place among them.
Surgeon Simulator 2: All Access absolutely does what it sets out to do, which is turn “surgical precision” upside down and allow the player to make an absolute mess of what should be the most delicate of procedures, adding physics-based puzzles and escalating objectives that will either frustrate or challenge. In this case, the awkward controls are a feature, not a bug. For anyone who has already played the game, this new version doesn’t add much, but for console owners or anyone new to the title it’s definitely the version to pick up.
Although as of this writing it is no longer a free download, The Virtuous Cycle is probably an easy to recommend purchase for fans of the base game. The new roguelike game mode is punishing fun (if that’s your thing) and the new Shell and weapon are a welcome addition to the arsenal. If you bounced off Mortal Shell due to its difficulty, this new DLC won’t change your mind, but it’s good news for most everyone who enjoys Cold Symmetry’s homage to Dark Souls.
While Humankind can’t compete with the current state of Civ VI with all that game’s major expansions and wealth of DLC, it should be remembered that at launch, Civ VI was a pretty basic product. Humankind is a solid, if not especially revelatory, take on what has become a pretty ossified genre. Its changes — in particular the opening Neolithic stage, and its combat systems — are not dramatic shifts, but they are enough to make an experienced 4X player pay attention. Just like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, Humankind (the game) is off to a good start.
So many videogames treat their human characters as singularly good or evil, or worse, as disposable cannon fodder that exist only to be killed. In addition to its excellent platforming, puzzles, and action, Psychonauts 2 impresses the most because it treats human frailty and failure with warmth, compassion, and humor that is never cruel or demeaning. Inside our heads, we’re all just bundles of doubt, random connections, ill-considered motivations, and weird memories mixed with kindness, aspiration, and delight. I’m grateful to Psychonauts 2 for the reminder.
Apart from a camera that despises the view from a corner, some buggy and inconsistent team matchmaking mechanics, and the curious decision to add punishing roguelike elements, Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a polished and potentially fun and action-filled romp through a corner of the Alien universe and lore. Played without human squadmates and reliant on AI stand-ins at anything but the easiest difficulty, the game’s more repetitious aspects begin to grate, as failure will be inevitable. Played with a trio of living beings possessing some situational awareness, reflexes and the ability to communicate, using an arsenal of cool guns and toys against swarms of iconic Xenomorphs is a mindless, if not mind-blowing, good time.
Despite some bugs (unfortunately, not a playable race but the game crashing kind) and a feeling of complexity that might be off-putting at first, Banners of Ruin is a smart and creative take on two very familiar genres. With a world, story, and characters that are a refreshing departure from the usual dark fantasy tropes, and gameplay that is engaging and addicting, the biggest knock against it might be players’ potential reticence to dive into yet another deck builder/roguelike. That would be a shame, and anyone who has grown weary of the genre might be pleasantly surprised by Banners of Ruin.