Shadowlands doesn’t do everything perfectly. The questing experience doesn’t feel as fluid in as previous expansions, and the quests aren’t as diverse. And it’s still too early to see how good the endgame content and updates will be. But even with the limited time I’m willing to put into Shadowlands, I’ll actually be able to play that endgame content as it comes out. And as my real life just gets more complicated the older I get, I couldn’t ask for a better shift in philosophy from my favorite MMO.
Maybe open-world games don't need to boast 175 hours of playtime even while torturing developers with months of crunch. Immortals, and by extension Ubisoft, isn't immune to this problem, but there are pieces here that argue for a shift in the scope of a genre that has historically been more interested in simulating the minute details of a horse's genitalia than caring for the people who worked on them. Immortals makes an impression because it's not a massive game like Assassin's Creed Valhalla, even if it benefits from the many systems and ideas that Ubisoft's open-world games have refined over the years. Its sharpest ideas have just enough time to dig in before the game smacks you back down into an experience you could have anywhere else.
On their own, all of these things would have been significant improvements over the Zombies modes from the recent past. But when added together, they feel like a massive leap forward for the whole mode. By streamlining the overly complicated mechanics this time around, Treyarch is placing the focus back on the mode’s bread and butter: killing zombies.
The best part about Beyond Light is that it looks and feels like a sequel without needing to start from scratch. A new power set like this isn’t something I expected to see out of an expansion. In that way, Beyond Light answers a question that’s given me serious doubts as a fan: how much can Bungie change Destiny 2 without moving to a new game entirely? For the first time, Beyond Light feels like Destiny 2 is truly putty in Bungie’s hands, rather than a titanic ship that takes eons to turn.
The game never fully embraces the potential opportunities of its time-traveling premise, but I was still hooked throughout. Possibly it helped that Breath of the Wild already did such a good job of establishing the stakes. Age of Calamity didn’t have to do much to pull on the same heartstrings. Sometimes, a short cutscene with a pained glance or a wavering voice was all it took to reinvigorate the drama of it all.
Then, as your character nears their breaking point, a door opens to your side, revealing a small dark room with an arcade cabinet in it. It's a game of Kaboom!, which involves catching an endless cascade of bombs as they are dropped by a tiny figure at the top of the screen. Offscreen you can hear your handlers sigh in relief as Bell's stress levels ease back down to the baseline, absorbed, as you are, by a simulated arcade game from 1981. Even resisting the programming winds up being its own kind of programming.
Then, about three-fourths into my playthrough, I found a legendary warhammer with an unbelievably powerful perk. Whenever I used a Weapon Technique, it created an enormous bubble that slowed any enemy within it to a crawl. It didn't rely on a trigger, ailment, debuff, a percentage, or anything. When it dropped, I read the description in bewilderment. Was this thing for real? It was so out of line with anything else the rest of the game had given me that I doubted it'd be useful. But it was. It made tough encounters a breeze. It destroyed bosses. The rest of the game went by in a flash. It was the most fun I'd had with Godfall, and I held on to that warhammer even after it was one of the weakest pieces of loot I had, just because of that one perk. I wish I'd found more items like it, because it was a welcome change of pace.
One of the nicest new additions to Demon's Souls is a photo mode. In addition to giving players the option to actually pause Demon's Souls - something you couldn't do in the original - it also takes some lovely screenshots. (See: every image in this review.)