Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Review

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Here we go again, the third game release under the EA Star Wars games 10 year deal, this time coming from the highly talented and experienced team at Respawn Entertainment. Titanfall and Apex Legends have been huge successes thus far but can this trend continue with their action/adventure game set in the Star Wars universe? If past ventures are an indicator then absolutely, but if not, I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

Cal Kestis is a former Padawan of the Jedi Order, training under Jedi Master Jaro Tapal. I say was, because we’ve all seen the films and know Palpatine put Order 66 into effect, which in turn declared all Jedi an enemy of the republic. This brought on the seeking out and destruction of any and all Jedi forcing many into hiding and for some a complete overhaul on who they are. Cal became a rigger of the scrapper guild on the planet, Bracca. So far, I am all in, being presented with the type of story I’ve always wanted to dive further into, what life was like for the Jedi following the purge.

What I also love is that for a Star Wars story it feels like one of the more grounded ones. Our hero is deeply flawed and faces many challenges in his journey. Not only that but at no point I felt out of place travelling through space, battling weird creatures and different races or running across walls. It’s a fantasy game sure, but doesn’t seem so unrealistically absurd. I wish I could explain this better, but I’m limited by my weak mind that is surely at risk of the mind trick.

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The journey from start and finish had me hooked, always wanting to see what was next for Cal and the characters I encountered along the way. I found myself infatuated more and more on my quest to rebuild the Jedi Order. This was bolstered by interesting characters, unique enemies to face, the variety of planets to explore and even the new ways to fight that you can acquire throughout. I wanted more Star Wars and damn it, I was getting it in spades.

I’m finding it difficult to do this review because I of course want to speak about many of the enthralling characters, but I feel you need to meet them for yourself. I do what I can to provide a spoiler-free review, and anything and everything could be regarded as a bit of a spoiler. There are situations where you will laugh, and ones that may induce a tear or two. Such is the weight of powerful story-telling that isn’t afraid to explore both the good and the bad parts of life as a post-Order 66 Jedi.

Action/Adventure can be the one of the hardest genre’s to cater for, relying not just on one key aspect of the medium, but many. Gameplay, story, visuals and audio are all majorly important in delivering an experience that is both rewarding and satisfying to play. Many action games can get by with impressive gameplay, RPG’s can be held up with a fantastical and complex story but you truly need all aspects to come together for this genre. Immediate thoughts on combat took me to the Dark Souls games with the importance of parrying, dodging and attacking at precise moments. Not to mention the difficulty faced at even the standard Jedi Knight level.

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There is a weight to the lightsaber that can I felt with each swing and parry. You are rewarded for expert timing and are encouraged to take a more deliberate approach to combat as opposed to trying to hack and slash your way to victory. I faced the biggest challenge of all whilst playing this game, myself. I have always come to an understanding that I like to go gung-ho, and swing wildly at anything in my path, and I got absolutely decimated for it time and time again. It seems I just cannot change, not having the patience to deal with the slow methodical approach, especially when equipped with a weapon I just want to have fast-paced battles with.

The souls-like combat style complements and yet seems to hinder at the same time the overall feel of the lightsaber duel. In some ways it adds to the epicness by having a long drawn out fight to the death in which each second matters and in other ways it can feel far too slow and even a slog to get through battles. During one boss battle I just couldn’t seem to overcome, I was forced to reduce the difficulty to story mode and from there I had no issues what so ever finishing the game. There is a huge leap between the two lowest difficulty settings and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, some games are absolutely meant to be played a certain way, a way that just doesn’t fit my personal playstyle.

So duel’s aren’t the only fight to get into, there are plenty of stormtroopers trying to shoot from afar with their fancy blasters. One of my favourite aspects of the gameplay is being able to deflect bullets and return them back to sender. I’ve felt like such a bad-ass before, but being a Jedi in this, I feel powerful and at the same time I don’t feel over-powered to the point of boredom, there is a challenge and a danger which made it important to keep track of not only the number of enemies but the type of them too. You grow in strength but are presented with new baddies to figure out and beat each time.

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Outside of battle, there is a heavy focus on platforming and puzzle solving as you navigate through each area. With many branching paths, and some only being accessible later on after you acquire certain abilities. What I found myself doing is heading back to areas after a new force power and seeing where else I could now venture. There is plenty of space to explore for those who want it. The platforming itself is solid, it has some of the common issues like missing jumps due to being off the mark slightly but it executes well and you can see clearly where you went wrong.

One trend that is to easy to identify with all three Star Wars games published by EA thus far is that they all look gorgeous. Respawn have gone a different route in terms of game engine, instead of Frostbite being used once more, Unreal Engine 4 is at the core of Fallen Order and does a fantastic job in showing that there are other engines out there that may perhaps be a better fit than the often clunky and jarring Frostbite engine.

Put simply, this looks authentically Star Wars with everything from the expansive universe to the smallest details on articles of clothing and items. When roaming through each planet I feel immersed into the location and can’t help but smile that I’m perhaps as close as I can be to being in the films. From popular previously visited planets like Kashyyyk and Dathomir to the lesser known Bogano and Zeffo, it all seems familiar in terms of the universe I’m surrounded by, in-game of course. Real-life universe is somewhat different, sadly.

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The variety witnessed from one planet to the next has not gone unnoticed, and is appreciated oh so much. Being able to go from the lush-green jungles of Kashyyyk to the treacherous icy plains and mountains of Ilum and to the dry, barren landscape of Dathomir is refreshing and helps prevent boredom that can come when exploring the same style of areas constantly. They have differing colour palettes, structure architecture and wildlife between each planet that every time I would visit a new place for the first time I had to explore every nook and cranny and take it all in.

Another way the game likes to put a stamp on authenticity is through its music and sound effects. The John Williams vibe is present and has been evolved upon to deliver something unique and yet someone without even having played the game could tell, oh this is Star Wars music right here. From start to finish, from one mission to the next, the soundtrack does a great job in taking me on this journey of loss, hope and conflict. It’s present in not just cutscenes, but in exploration and battles too and expertly tells the story of what is happening on screen. It evokes this sense of nostalgia and wonder at the same time, keeping the tension high where it needs to be and calming the mood when it’s called for.

Sounds effects play a pivotal role in atmosphere building, we all know what lightsabers and blasters are supposed to sound like thanks to many films, games and tv shows over the years and of course it all carries over here. That being said many new sounds have to be included what with the new creatures and weapons, each one coming complete with satisfying sounds that make it genuinely fun to play and interact with the new additions on top of the stuff I already know and love.

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Along the way there are collectibles to seek out that come in the form of lightsaber parts and customisation options for Cal, BD-1 who is your charming droid companion and the Mantis ship, mainly coming in the form of skins. It feels like more a quality of life type deal in which the extra is there if you want it, and rewards the exploration of each world.

More on the rewards front, you can acquire skill points through combat, force echoes and by scanning various lifeforms which in turn can be used to enhance one of three skill trees, lightsaber combat, survival or force powers. As you journey on there is always the opportunity to improve and get stronger. The best thing about the skill system is you are encouraged to head off the beaten path and dig for the lore, at least that was the case for me.

OVERALL: 9/10 – EXCELLENCE

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is perhaps one of the best Star Wars games of all time, up there with the likes of Knights of the Old Republic and the Jedi Knight series. It’s a more than competent action and adventure game that delivers rewarding and tough gameplay, combining it with a fascinating story filled with captivating characters and finished off with a huge helping of beautiful visuals and stunning sound design. Its difficulty curve is steep leading to many infuriating moments and thoughts of putting off playing the rest of the game. I’m just so glad I swallowed my pride, lowered the difficulty and kept on at it. What an experience.

Written by Rhys Baldwin.

The Outer Worlds Review

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Obsidian Entertainment have been around for about 15 years and in that time have built an impressive resume of games. Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II, Fallout: New Vegas, Pillars of Eternity and South Park: The Stick of Truth are but a few of the games developed by the studio, all of which receiving much critical acclaim. So, with the bar set so high, when The Outer Worlds was announced at The Game Awards in 2018, I was ecstatic, expectations have been set and even then, I felt it would be one of my favourite games of the year. Fast forward approximately 10 months later, does it meet the hype or fall short of its Outer World-ly expectations? (You’re damn right I just did that.)

You are a revived survivor, a revivor if you will, from The Hope which is a colony ship that was tasked with colonizing the Halcyon star system. Phineas Welles is the scientist responsible for bringing you back from stasis with the intent to have you help him save the rest of the populace who were deemed to have spent too much time in stasis that reviving them would ultimately result in their death. The only reason for you to survive is that Welles only had enough resources to bring back one person and you were the person he chose, your task is to then gather more resources to free everyone else.

Like most stories, there is of course a lot of coincidental events that need to happen to serve the plot, it just so happens only you could be revived out the thousands, etc. But without that there would be no game, I mean are you meant to play someone trapped in stasis for 20 plus hours waiting for salvation? From the get-go, the immediate hook was put right there in the open and I chomped down on that thing for dear life, from presentation, to visual design, to the very first character interacted with, I’m all in.

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As the ‘stranger’ you’re a malleable husk which you can customise aesthetically and then build in terms of skills and perks. It lends itself to this personal journey experience, becoming the character as opposed to playing one that’s already been established. The task of saving The Hope’s passengers is presented immediately and can then be taken in different directions throughout, through free-will, being able to choose what your character’s motivation will be and how to go about accomplishing the mission and sometimes changing the objective at hand. Freedom is not only at the centre of the story but the core element for gameplay as well.

Characters in Obsidian games have always been one of the best aspects, but god damn if we all don’t band together to protect Parvati, we are doing a dis-service to all of mankind. I guess what I’m trying to say is that throughout my twenty hour plus stint in Halcyon, I met some truly intriguing and memorable characters. Parvati is a lovable engineer with a heart of gold, Felix is the slick and yet slightly dull gunner and SAM is a complete machine, you know if you know. I could go on, but you need something to find out for yourselves, right?

Aside from the main story, there is a ton of side quests, companion quests and tasks to dig into. All of which add more depth to the world and give you a glimpse into the challenges a lot of these unique people face in Halcyon. Because of the writing, I found myself wanting to experience each and every side quest I could come across, but in a natural way as opposed to using guides or just scouring every nook and cranny. I would go off the beaten-track in a way to further my adventure whilst keeping an eye out for people in need.

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I feel that whilst the characters and story were ultimately strong, without the action elements of the gameplay this could have turned into a bit of a chore to play. Thankfully this is an action RPG and helped in breaking up those long stints of cutscenes, interactions and dialogue by being able to take control of the fight in a fluid and responsive way. You also don’t even have to fight, so it allows those who want to have a bit of a battle do that, but for those wanting to talk their way out of every confrontation or even stealth their way through, those options are also available and can be just as fun if not even more so. I had a guard come up to me ready to sound the alarms, asking for my ID, I persuaded him that he shouldn’t be talking during his shift, and he left me alone, meanwhile I was crying with laughter.

What I enjoy about jumping into battle is the overall feel of it, weapons have different feels dependent on what ammo they use or what aesthetic they have been designed with. Futuristic energy weapons are floaty and come across as cool pieces of space tech. In comparison, the typical physical bullet weapons are mechanical, rugged and thanks to vibration feedback they feel heavier. It is of utmost importance for the gameplay to be solid. There is plenty of space for error in the way it controls, leaning heavily towards light and loose, to the point that missing your target by a pixel or two was constant and bumping into objects or surroundings was frequent, which almost feels deliberate in the sense that you are in space so different gravity may be playing a part in things. I appreciate that may not be the best description but nonetheless, it never dampened the enjoyment I got from my ventures and in some way bolstered the immersion.

How you fight or what your limited to in battle is heavily influenced by your skills and perks. The skills have been split into seven disciplines with each housing more specific skills. The disciplines focus on different aspects of how to go about your mission. Melee consists of 1-Handed and 2-Handed,  Ranged features Handguns, Long Guns and Heavy Weapons, then in Dialog you find Persuade, Lie and Intimidate. On top of that you have Stealth, Tech, Defense and Leadership and whichever route you take in terms of which areas to spend your points will determine what type of character you are going to set out to play. I went mostly for Dialog, being able to talk myself out of or sometimes into any situation I saw fit, for those that love combat, that path would be the least rewarding and satisfying whereas for me, its been the most, because of how well written and emotive the dialogue trees are. I could get into heated confrontations without ever coming to blows physically or just laugh my behind off thanks to humour.

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Perks are just another way to buff yourself and can range from increasing walking speed to increasing carrying capacity and even allowing you to deal extra damage with certain weapon types. You are rewarded no matter how you play by being able to spend your perk points in perks not just related to battle but for everything outside of it too, ensuring that the system doesn’t become redundant if you’ve opted for the combat-less approach.

Whilst I went the heavy dialog route I spent a considerable amount of points in ranged, allowing me to take full advantage of the weaponry I acquired throughout. Workbenches can be used to upgrade your gear which is fantastic because it allows you to be somewhat fight competent without having points used in those areas. Spending currency to improve damage or armour ratings and using mods to provide a buff you can keep your equipment relevant and be ready for the encounters that you need to partake in.

The world of Halcyon is absolutely brimming with gorgeous visuals, spanning numerous towns, open fields and even planets. I cannot overstate just how much I love the look of not just the locations but the characters too. It all comes together and delivers this overall futuristic and yet run-down look that makes it come across as, yes you are in the future, but it’s not quite the future you would want. If I had to describe it in as few words as possible, it’s a dated, worn-out, lived in, future. Everything from level design to the colour palette to the effects all come together to deliver this look and it’s a fantastic looking game for it.

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Voice acting has proven to be pivotal in ensuring the characters come alive and feel relatable. The range of emotions they can go through did wonders in drawing me in and taking me on their unique journeys. I felt invested because I could hear the urgency, sadness or joy in their voices that made things almost real. Joining the performances is the sound track that is present throughout but not always apparent, with plenty of times it’s just a subtle tune that is making me feel emotions without me realising that’s what is happening. The atmosphere built has been thanks to a mixture of everything, visuals, music, the characters and it just feels so damn good.

OVERALL: 9/10 – EXCELLENCE

The Outer Worlds delivers a fascinating world that comes packed with captivating characters and thought-provoking stories. It’s gameplay is intelligently designed and expertly executed, balancing that fine line between the combat, stealth and dialogue routes. There’s charm and humour coming out of its rear end that makes the whole adventure memorable. This makes me very optimistic about what is to come from Obsidian now they are under the Xbox Game Studios banner.

Written by Rhys Baldwin.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Review

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Call of Duty is synonymous with gaming, even if you don’t play games, you know what Call of Duty is or at the very least have heard of or have seen it in some form. 16 years, that is how long the famed series has been around and in that time 15 main series console platform titles have released. There has always been an expected level of quality because of how high profile the brand and franchise is, that isn’t to say they always meet the mark, notable less well-received titles include Ghosts in 2013 and Infinite Warfare from 2016, what’s notable is both games were developed by Infinity Ward who take the helm for this year’s Modern Warfare. The need to deliver is very real, will this be a return to form or an addition to their lukewarm offerings?

What I’ve found to be the most interesting thing before release was that we are getting a reboot, not a sequel. To reboot a series of games that fans already loved and had no real issue with before is ballsy, didn’t need to happen but I think Infinity Ward realised long before now that what they had with Modern Warfare was something special. The risk is high, but the reward could be so much greater and with that, let’s jump in.

I spent roughly five to six hours on my journey through the campaign which immediately is a little bit of a sting, because after it finishes, I want so much more. I know the campaign hasn’t always been why people play these games but for those that do will be left wanting a little more for their money especially if you have no desire to spend much time in the multiplayer or co-op modes. But enough about quantity, let’s look at the quality.

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What I absolutely love is that this reboot in terms of timeline takes place before any of the events of the original game yet also set in 2019, years after the others in the subseries, basically think a completely clean slate almost like what Days of Future Past did for the X-Men Cinematic Universe but hopefully, better. It features some characters we’re familiar with, some being new versions of their former selves and introduces us to brand new ones that perhaps look to play a part in future instalments.

There are two core playable characters that you switch between throughout the story, the first one being Alex, a CIA agent who kicks things off with a mission to recover chemical gas that is inbound to Urzikstan. Kyle Garrick begins his path as an SAS Sergeant who is tasked with going to Piccadilly Circus in London to assist in controlling the horrifying situation after a terrorist attack, this is where we meet that moustache donning SAS Captain, John Price. Two separate encounters but what follows is an organic story development that shows just how close these events are related but in a smart way, not feeling just shoe-horned in or come across as out of left field.

Throughout, there are a ton of characters that get inserted in but only a select few that seem to matter and bring some depth to the story in terms of showing different backgrounds and cultures that are affected by this over-arching plot. Characters like Kate Laswell, Farah and Hadir go on to serve a purpose and then there are the plethora of named soldiers that don’t really do anything for the story other than to just be present and be cannon fodder. It makes battles seem much smaller as if only a select few characters matter and nobody else does, the stakes never feel real for anyone else, so when somebody dies it’s just, oh well.

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That aside, the main recurring characters are interesting enough to carry the story from beginning to end, delivering meaningful interactions with each other and are unique enough to feel diverse even when everyone is a soldier of some sort, they have different reasons for fighting and differing values that shows how close they are in terms of circumstance and at their core so far apart.

Antagonists need to come across as menacing and dangerous and I feel The Wolf, The Butcher and Roman Barkov all do, the issues that often arise for the villains is they can be very one dimensional and that they are just pure evil for evils’ sake. I feel this to be the case for atleast on of these baddies here, unfortunately it’s the main one, the other two show some form of humanity at pivotal moments. That being said, Roman nails the menacing vibe with his cruel humour and antics, it sucks because for being the top bad guy, he’s barely present, a couple of scenes and that is it, a forgettable villain, a good story does not make.

At times, events in the story are dark, sinister, and maybe offensive for some people but I believe do a lot in presenting you with context and aren’t just included for a headline etc. There are scenes that include torture, executions and some include children, not for the faint of heart whatsoever but are important in portraying that some of this stuff, it’s real and it happens to people. Very powerful stuff, absolutely not for everyone but I think executed as appropriately as it can be for a video game audience to witness.

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Perhaps the shining aspect of Modern Warfare is the gameplay, I absolutely loved going through each mission not only because I followed the story closely and wanted to know what was happening next, but because the gameplay made it fun to play. There are several missions that offer new ways to play and prevent the staleness that can often arise when just running and gunning. Scattered throughout, there are times you need to either stealth it up, do some sniping or use various equipment to accomplish the mission and all of them are enjoyable to take part in.

The general gameplay has been tight for years, it just works and is satisfying to play. That is the same here, with all guns feeling different and the time to kill is short enough to present some realism and long enough to not feel so easy in terms to kill things and not too unforgiving when getting shot that’s true for both the campaign and multiplayer. The gameplay itself is accompanied by the sound effects very closely because  the sounds make or break the reward aspect of using whichever weapon or equipment, that click of the claymore or the burst of air from a rocket launcher are satisfying sounds that make you want to keep at it.

Visually, it looks fantastic, of course it does and there’s no way that would be any different, I think at this point it’s almost taken for granted. The levels in the campaign and the maps for multi-player are well designed and varied enough to really display this stark contrast between having a battle in the dessert and executing a covert mission in an urban environment. Everything from the landscape to the fine detail of how walls and ceilings are designed in a mid-terrace house in London look so authentic, that I found myself looking around areas and thinking, I believe this.

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The cutscenes are where this game flexes it’s visuals best, it looks as close to real-life as I think possible to the point there were moments I questioned whether or not it just flipped to live-action. Details like facial expressions which are so pronounced that everything spoken comes across as intended, subtle mannerisms of each character you can pinpoint with ease, beautiful.

After the campaign there is still plenty to dabble in, the multiplayer of course and the co-op missions. The latter of which are delivered as a sort of mini-story that takes place after the events of the campaign. There are four operations available now at launch and they each feature multiple objectives and allow you the choice of how to go about each task. What makes the operations so exhilarating is variety, they are all vastly different and offer some fantastic set-piece like moments.

These operations are tough, if you aren’t communicating with your team or not on the ball, you will get overwhelmed, very quickly. That being said, what I found this did, is that when I beat an operation with my team, I felt like I accomplished something. They are a much-welcomed inclusion to the content offering, it’s something different to dabble in when you’ve been killed one too many times because of ‘bullshit’ reasons online.

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Now for the multiplayer suite that features a whopping 17 maps plus night variations of some of them and 9 game modes plus variations. That is a lot of content but of course that comes with a little caveat, not all maps are playable in all modes online, some are specific to certain game modes due to their size. Gunfight is a 2v2 mode so it only makes sense there are smaller maps to do battle on as opposed to Ground War’s need for massive locations to allow for 64-player combat.

The variety speaks for itself, there is something for everyone, whatever the playstyle and personal preference. Gunfight allows for more intimate gameplay, working cohesively with one other person to try and be the better team. Then you have your standard 6-a-side team modes ranging from team deathmatch to search and destroy and the newly added cyber attack. Finally, on the other end of the spectrum is the 32 per team Ground War, which looks to rival the feel of Battlefield’s large-scale warfare.

If you want a bit more of a challenge, Realism takes away the HUD and makes headshots a one-hit kill, as it should. This adds to the immersion, with no HUD to clutter the screen and distract you, you get sunk into the map and are completely focused on looking for the slightest movement. This isn’t what we know as hardcore however, as hardcore modes are separate to this.

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I think the map design has truly stepped up with Modern Warfare, they seem more optimised to cater for varying playstyles with plenty of indoor and some outdoor areas well suited for close-quarters combat. Then you have large open areas that allow for snipers to take control and everything in between. There are locations where certain loadouts will be the most beneficial and makes the game more tactical than before. In previous titles there has always been weapons and equipment that are rarely used but in this there is a time and place for all to be taken advantage of.

One big gameplay altering addition is finally being able to go up to a corner and mount your gun to it, allowing you to peer around it with protecting your body from gunfire. It’s been implemented well in other games and this is no different, it makes defensive type play so much more feasible, it sucks for those who hate defensive players or ‘campers’, however I am all about more strategic options and a big STFU to those who hate people for defending, in a defending game mode.

OVERALL: 8.7/10 – GREAT

Call of Duty Modern Warfare is a true return to form for the experienced team at Infinity Ward. Delivering a captivating story that is albeit short and produces a cast of interesting characters that make up for the throwaway ones. Gameplay is king, once again delivering a grounded experience that shows boots on the ground can feel just as satisfying if not more satisfying than in the air. The multiplayer and co-op suite is bursting with content allowing everyone to find something they enjoy. New additions in terms of features and modes keep the series feeling fresh. It’s the reboot I never knew I wanted, and eagerly anticipate what’s next for the Modern Warfare subseries.

Written by Rhys Baldwin.

Astral Chain Review

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What was a huge surprise towards the end of a Nintendo Direct earlier this year, Astral Chain arrives a mere six months after announcement and comes from the highly talented and experienced team at PlatinumGames. The action-adventure hack and slash gains a new IP to the genre, will this new universe bolster Platinum’s already impressive library that includes the likes of Nier: Automata and Bayonetta or prove to be a chink in their chain?

Extinction is imminent in the year 2078, the human race has been reduced drastically and what remains are those who now reside on an artificial island that features “The Ark” a city designed to be the last stand of humanity. From first look, the hook is there, immediately an interesting story is presented that features a clear and present danger. Chimeras have arrived from another dimension called the Astral Plane and seek to corrupt all life and in essence destroy everything in their path.

Enter your character who will be one of two siblings, twins to be precise and you get to choose which one to play. Your pick will become your unique character to customise whilst the other will be named Akira Howard and a unique point is that they are opposite genders, so your story may feature a male or a female Akira. The main purpose for this I believe is that it makes things so much easier from a story-telling and design perspective throughout and especially in the late-game. You and your sister join Neuron who serve as the Chimera-ass kicking good guys hell bent on thwarting the inter dimensional creatures and protecting humankind.

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Going on from the beginning you are immediately hit with character after character that bring a variety in look, personality and their own role to play. Not all of them unfortunately stick, with many being forgettable and only a few being ones to remember mainly due to their involvement throughout the story. Akira, Yoseph, Jena, Hal, Olive and Brenda I can name off the top of my head with the others I really have to dig deep for, not ideal to have so many what I feel to be throwaway characters but it lets some of the others shine just so much more.

PlatinumGames have a trend of producing unique, out-there stories paired with responsive, fast and enjoyable gameplay, the same goes for this through and through. The main gameplay feature is the player and legion link, you control not only your character but a legion which is linked to them via their Legatus equipment. This makes for an experience that is a bit tricky to pick up but after you find your footing it is so damn rewarding piecing all the intricacies and variables together.

The ZL and ZR buttons are heavily prioritised when in battle, with the latter being your regular attack button and the former used for calling on your Legion and attacking with them. Move and aim are as you expect, however holding ZL will mean the right stick will now move your Legion, handy for trying to navigating the many platforming style puzzles and blocking or tying up enemies. Between character and legion there is a strand that joins the two and this allows you to wrap around an NPC in order to halt them or can be used to block a charge and fling them off in the other direction, it’s different and just as much fun each and every time I execute it.

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Skills can be assigned to each legion and serve to provide depth to the gameplay loop, much appreciated but I feel it doesn’t quite prevent fights from becoming a tad stale at times, especially when facing the same type of enemy numerous times in a row. Fortunately, throughout the entire twenty plus hour story, new enemy types get introduced right through to the end and bring their own battle pattern to figure out and combat. Each legion comes with their own skill tree that allows you to power them up with increased attack power, defense power and more skills.

If that wasn’t enough, ability codes offer buffs that range in anything from auto-heal to increasing critical damage. There is a lot to keep track of but I never got overwhelmed, I would sometimes forget to manage a few of the features but never felt penalised for doing so. There are five legion to add to your roster and I think what’s quite refreshing is how evenly spaced through-out the story they are in terms of bringing them in. What’s so great about this is that everytime I felt I was getting too comfortable, boom, new gameplay style. Variety can be seen in just about everything, legions, enemy types, missions, skills and ways to fight.

Chapters come in the form of files and in between each file you roam the central hub, the police headquarters in which Neuron members prepare themselves for each mission. It’s basically where you buy any consumables, customise your look and maintain your legions but presented in a way that just makes it seem a bit more than what it is.

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This year has already produced some fantastic looking games in terms of art style and overall design, this joins that list with ease. The anime art style feels right at home in this futuristic, sci-fi setting and does well in covering up the quality limitations of the hardware. What’s quite funny is whilst there are some fidelity shortcomings, the setting and how the design has come together make the jagged lines seem deliberate, I can’t explain it other than it just fits.

All locations and characters exude this rough coolness, thanks to their aesthetic design and do a lot in building an epic fantasy world filled with bad-ass people to meet and interesting places to explore. Everything right down to the weapons and gear look like a piece of tech that I want to get my hands on, and what I dreamt of as a kid when running around with toy guns, swords and sabers. I could go on and on but simply put everything matches the setting, the UI, characters, locations, effects, everything, just……okay I’ll calm down.

What’s not to love about the soundtrack, it brings the beats and action when it absolutely needs to, it helps solidify the heartfelt, climactic moments and above all just makes me feel happy when playing. It doesn’t matter if I’m chilling around the central hub, exploring the rest of the city or in the heat of battle, the sound was with me at the right moments to build the tension and hype or bring the atmosphere down, it just kicks ass.

OVERALL: 9/10 – EXCELLENCE

Astral Chain is yet another fantastic addition to the Nintendo Switch library and the action, hack and slash genre in general. It reeks of personality, delivering not only a memorable story of survival, but a stunning soundtrack and awesome visuals too. Whilst among the cast of characters there are forgettable faces, I feel the ones that stick, do so for all the right reasons, well written and performed superbly. Platinum does it again.

Written by Rhys Baldwin.

Greedfall Review

Spiders has been around now for just over ten years and are still one of those unheard of, obscure studios until you actually realise what games they have created over the years. Of Orcs and Men, Bound By Flame and The Technomancer being perhaps the more popular of their games, unfortunately they mostly have either received lukewarm or mediocre reception. Can the latest from the experienced development team raise the bar for the studio or simply fall?

De Sardet is a simple Legate of the Merchant Congregation which is mentioned quite a lot throughout. Along with Constantin, your trusty cousin who has been named the new governor of New Serene, you travel to the island of Teer Fradee to aid your cousin in his rule. Another primary mission however is to hopefully find a cure for a disease that plagues the populace, called the malichor. This is the anchor to which the rest of the main story will develop on and even the vast majority of side quests serve a purpose in this main arc.

Whether its disbanding a group of fanatics, destroying the nests of some wild beasts or looking to free those wrongfully enslaved, everything adds some much-appreciated backstory and depth to the world. Side-quests instead of feeling like unnecessary padding, they feel important and not so much like a chore.

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As with any good RPG there are a varied and interesting cast of characters to encounter. Your party for instance represents the diversity of people on Teer Fradee well, five characters from different backstories, cultures and factions. Kurt is a captain of the Coin Guard and has been the protector of Der Sardet and his cousin for years prior, he chooses to remain by their side on their journey to the new island and beyond. Vasco is a captain of another kind, a sea captain, as part of the Nauts whose ship you use to cross the sea. Siora, Aphra and Petrus you meet at different stages of the story and are a Native, Bridge Alliance Explorer and Missionary of Theleme respectively. All come with their unique look, personalities and values that are fun to explore in their own questlines.

For those who like to dabble in romance systems when it comes to RPG’s will be happy to see you can build relationships with your party members even to the point of becoming partners. These bonds increase or decrease through your choices in the whole story but more importantly in their specific quests. It’s a basic system but one that isn’t always easy to trounce, just watch what you say and maybe keep different saves if your particular about who you want to end up with.

Story development is always what hooks me in these massive RPG’s, how you get from point A to B is important and I found the journey enthralling. Each twist and turn did well in not only surprising me but progressing the narrative in as an organic way as possible in a video game. It all flowed and nothing felt completely disjointed or out of left field, it all made sense even if it was all fantastical and weird.

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Going in, I didn’t exactly know what to expect in terms of combat and was pleasantly surprised at how simple they kept it on a base level but had all these variables available should you choose to make use of them. X and Y assigned to quick and heavy attack respectively with A and B assigned to Dodge and Parry, it’s easy to get started and allows you the room to learn everything else.

Now, that everything else I’m on about comes in the form of tactical pause, fury, spells, potions and hot buttons. This mixture allows thought to go into each fight and believe me there are battles that absolutely test your limits, and I played in normal difficulty. Entering some of the more major encounters or tackling some of those peskier enemies require some strategy and planning before-hand. If you go in empty handed in terms of health or resuscitation potions your going to have a bad time. (Insert THAT meme here)

Fury is like an energy meter that builds with each regular attack and dispenses with a special attack or spell. Managing this well can lead to some devastating combos to your enemy and it pays dividends to keep on top of this, building up the meter against the easier beasts to then use your better attacks against the more powerful is the way to go. But ultimately, the choice is yours and I love the experimentation that comes with.

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So as expected with most games of the Role-Playing Game persuasion, as you level up you get points to dish out amongst your Skill, Abilities and Talent trees. The rate at which you gain these vary, skill points acquired at every level whilst the other two every few levels. There are two sides to the coin on this and depending on which side you land you may like or not like this system. On one hand I appreciate that it forces you to specialise and carefully pick what to go for whilst having to leave some behind and on the other hand it kind of sucks you have to truly grind in hopes to reach a high enough level to have all the upgrades at your disposal. One way they cushion the blow of the latter is allowing you to reset your trees throughout by using memory crystals, so at those critical points in the game or just if you want, you can change up what you go for and try everything. It serves the game better this way rather than allowing you to be all powerful at once, but sometimes I just want to be OP.

Idle gameplay consists mainly of travelling through each location and crafting upgrades or potions, there isn’t a whole lot else to do when not tackling quests, which is a bummer because of the potential of this world. I’m a huge advocate for idle or side activities in RPG’s that you can get lost in, one example Gwent in The Witcher 3, or the plethora of activities in GTA V. So Spiders, if you’re reading, give me some of that, please?

Diplomacy is real and what I love is being able to literally choose what I believe to be right and wrong. Making friends or even enemies along the way thanks to my own decisions lets me take ownership of my own decisions, and not necessarily be forced into them by linear storytelling.

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The island of Teer Fradee is gorgeous, in both by design and visual fidelity. Something I found myself doing was exploring every nook and cranny of each town and city, fascinated by the layout and how buildings were kind of pieced together and structured. What’s most impressive is the variety shown between not only towns from different factions but also the differences between streets in the same town. Some buildings and structures made of wood in one section of a city and a couple of meters away in the upper-class areas they are all brick. Through the design is how the lore of the world is delivered, you can tell what each location is all about just by looking at it, be it streets filled with trash signifying the more downtrodden poor areas or villages bursting with flora that let you know the population really care about nature and all it brings.

Surprise shout-out to the soundtrack, it was a complete surprise for me which I guess has been the theme of this game, but what a greatly executed collection of music that sets the scene perfectly for whatever is taking place or where on the island you are. It delivers these harsh, menacing tones when in the thick of battle and in contrast can bring your mood up with up-beat, fantasy vibes when taking a stroll through the forest. Great storytelling through music.

The gift that keeps on giving, perhaps an accurate description for the voice acting performances that really exude what each character is all about. The voices that piqued my interest the most were those of the natives, not only are their accents completely different but their vocabulary too that set them apart from the rest of the islanders. It made me believe in the idea of these tribes living for hundreds of years in Teer Fradee before everyone else decided to hop on over and inhabit the land.

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Now I know so far everything has been more or less leading to a glowing review, but of course this doesn’t come without some shortcomings. If you laughed at comings, don’t worry, I did too. Character animations are a bit stiff (didn’t do that on purpose), and when speaking their mouths don’t match what they are saying so it comes across as a little awkward and disjointed. Adding to that there are subtitles that absolutely do not match what is spoken, its mostly little things like instead of “accident” they say “accidentally”, not a deal-breaker but noticeable. To be honest all my gripes are really nit picky ones but they are the ones that kind of break immersion or catch you off guard making me think, ‘huh, strange’.

OVERALL: 8.7/10 – GREAT

Greedfall has now set the benchmark for the team at Spiders for what they can accomplish, it feels like the beginning of what their experience in the industry can deliver and testament to the practice makes perfect mantra. Teer Fradee is gorgeous, filled with fascinating cultures and interesting characters. At times the world feels a little empty and yet still fun to explore thanks to its design and soundtrack that make it satisfying to continue on. The adventures of De Sardet and his companions is one I was more than happy to experience and urge you to as well.

Written by Rhys Baldwin.

(Disclaimer: Jester Says received a review copy of Greedfall, however this does not in any way affect the scoring of a game or my thoughts on the game itself. I believe in total honesty and being transparent with you.)

Gears 5 Review

Gears of War sits comfortably towards the upper echelon of my all-time favourite game series. After being there from the very beginning with the first title back in 2006 all the way through to Judgement, there’s something about seeing The Crimson Omen logo once more that gets the blood pumping. To lead into playing Gears 5 I finally found the time to play Gears of War 4 for the first time in order to get myself up to date and ready for next go around with Lancer in hand. It’s a mad world and will The Coalition succeed in delivering on the hype?

Now, for a third-person shooter that features a ton of gore, larger than life characters and bad-ass ways to execute your enemy, it’s the story that takes centre stage. It’s a shooter with tons of emotion, charm and above all, heart. Kait was first introduced in Gears of War 4 as part of the core squad, this time around she leads the squad and plays a pivotal role in the events of the game and the overarching Gears universe, if you will.

Number 5 follows the events of the previous title closely and directly deals with the final moments of GOW 4, Kait after losing her mother seeks to uncover the origins of her family and of the Locust. She finds herself a part of the very thing she used to fight against, The Coalition of Ordered Governments, also known as COG. Joined by JD, Del and Marcus who along with Kait reform Delta Squad, which is just a nice call back to the OG team.

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Start to finish each mission serves a true purpose, there aren’t any throwaway objectives or battles and all aid progression of Kait’s goal to find out what the hell is going on. Whether it’s traversing winter terrain in the hopes of uncovering the location of a comm tower or putting together a rocket in the harsh dessert, there is a sense of importance and urgency in everything you do that doesn’t overdo it or come across as cheesy. Throughout there are specific moments that add weight to the story and show the real danger present in the world of Sera. Whether it’s sweet victory or a bitter loss, I’m invested and celebrate or mourn each one respectively.

Something that has always stood out to me when it comes to these games is just how distinct and somewhat unique the gameplay feels. The series that popularised cover-based action has this gravity about it that makes it feel not only slower but heavier too, which is weird to even comprehend. If you take the gameplay and transfer it anywhere you could identify that this is straight-up GOW.

Weaving from cover to cover whilst trying to protect my skull from the impending sniper round eager to spread my brains all over the floor is exhilarating. The stakes in battle are very real where wrong moves can easily spell the end and even though respawning is a thing, I didn’t want to get that point. Shooting from cover requires strategy and awareness of your surroundings as the Swarm often flank or aim from afar, especially those with the torque bows that can be crazy accurate and frustrating to come up against.

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Sight and hearing go hand in hand when it comes to combat, using both simultaneously to keep track of any enemy movement and action. Picture this, you’re in cover, pinned down by several assault rifle toting swarm. One by one, you start picking them off, only to hear the distinct clicking noise in the distance, in that moment you swap to your Longshot sniper rifle, and with the flick of the thumb stick you scope in on an enemy looking to hit you with the torque bow and take his head out before he can let go of the shot, I love it.

Something that lets the gameplay down is the gunplay that feels in a way too slow when it comes to aiming and sensitivity that it causes plenty of missed shots, wasting valuable ammunition at sometimes important moments. The reticles feel a bit too big almost as if they were designed in a way for you to miss shots, like there is a smaller invisible reticle inside the one displayed on screen. I hope I conveyed that in a way that made sense to you, if not, well that is the best your going to get I’m afraid.

But to bring it right back around something to commend is the variety of enemies on offer that make every encounter have this sense of eerie wonder. The thought of not knowing which type of enemy will pop up next is unsettling, considering the widely different tactics needed to overcome some of them and the difficulty they offer. If you aren’t prepared for opponents like the Carrier or Snatcher then you’ll be in for a tough fight. Having your wits about you and holding off on using all your explosive type weaponry will pay dividends for sure.

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Boss fights are very few and far between which means when they do occur, they feel earned and not shoe-horned in. The one fight which for those who play will know what I’m on about is downright infuriating, and yet I still enjoyed learning the enemies moves and how to counteract them that the countless deaths felt worth it in the end, like I accomplished something.

By far one of the best if not the best-looking experiences to grace the Xbox One platform, Gears 5 brings an awe-inspiring world to life thanks to both its design and visual fidelity. Each location has vastly different looks but have these underlying common traits of being barren and run-down with a severe absence of normal life. Whilst obtaining all these dark qualities, the visuals glisten with a polish not yet seen by a first-party games from Xbox this generation.

From the world to the characters to even the weapons, all have been designed to accentuate the apocalyptic setting. Ranging from dull colours to the wear and tear encountered on textures through-out, everything comes together to produce this formerly lived in world that has seen its fair share of war. What I particularly love is the evolution of the character designs not only throughout the series but even just in Gears 5, dependent on the location and time in the story there are different appearances that some of the characters go through which show the struggle of life for them.

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Quick shout-out, write-out, type-out, to the sound design of Gears 5 and I mean sound design overall. The music that accompanies those memorable moments and adds meaning to them is very much welcomed, with many pieces being evolved versions of ones that have shown up in the past. Somehow, music has always been one of the highlights of the series and whenever I hear them it sparks this recollection of the events the pieces are played over.

Satisfying sound effects are essential in making gameplay go that bit further on the addiction scale, because they make you want to continue the fight, to hear the scope in effect of the Longshot or the roar of the Lancer’s chainsaw is just, well it’s just lovely.

Laura Bailey does an outstanding job reprising her role as Kait Diaz and stepping up to the spotlight in a way that shows her vulnerability and yet her strength at the same time. Being able to show a range of emotions and take you on the journey with her. Other notable performances include Liam McIntyre, Eugene Byrd, John DiMaggio and Rahul Kohli who each bring their respective characters J.D. Fenix, Del Walker, Marcus Fenix and Fahz Chutani to life. After writing those, to be honest there are more I want to include like Fred Tatasciore and Lester Speight who return as Baird and Cole, two of my favourites of the series thus far. Needless to say, it’s a damn fine cast.

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The multiplayer offering comprises of three core areas, versus, horde and escape. The first of which has been a staple of the series, since its inception and has often been among some of the most rewarding online experiences I’ve played. Unfortunately for me two glaring omissions have been made in versus when it comes to included game modes, the lack of Wingman and Execution is disturbing. That’s not to say the other modes don’t stand on their own merits because they certainly do and offer different styles of play that allow a bit of a mix-up when needed.

Arcade is a new addition to the versus catalogue and provides a five-on-five scenario that sees characters with passive abilities do battle. It also uses a system almost akin to Counter-Strike in which players need to gain skulls in order to upgrade yourself and improve your weaponry each round, the skulls you receive depend on round-by-round performance. Variety is certainly something the team at The Coalition went for and succeeded upon, whether they’re all quality modes to jump into is the question.

Horde returns and seeks to once again improve on the formula of old, each character is now a hero that have their own abilities and roles to fill. My favourite thus far is a toss-up between Kait and her camouflage ability and Fahz with his x-ray vision. Perks are obtained throughout the game and act as a progression system whilst in each game, being able to improve your survivability by spending power obtained from fallen enemies. A second progression system comes in the form of skill cards which allow for improvements of a character whilst in between matches and are specific to them, levelling up characters will get you closer to the best cards.

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Being able to customise the difficulty and add modifiers allow for replayability and the opportunity to really test your skills, 8 levels of difficulty each one adding a modifier, the latter levels really bring the pain. An issue I find with horde is that it’s only truly fun when with human players, preferably with ones that are talking otherwise you have to put up with bots and the unique challenges they bring due to not being as talented as real players.

Escape is new to the series and allows players to test their will in a battle against both the Swarm and time itself. Fast-paced action which is straight up my alley and that’s not a euphemism. Three players go in, hopefully all come out, much like horde it offers escalating difficulty levels. The biggest inclusion perhaps of the entire mode is allowing you to create your own hives and allow the player base to have at it. The potential is there but after a few go arounds, it does get repetitive and I feel will heavily rely on player creation in the future as opposed to dev created maps. A character-based system is in effect with specific hero’s having their own loadouts and abilities along with the option to add star cards to them in order to boost their stats or net some tasty perks.

OVERALL – 8.8/10 – GREAT

A bar has been set for Xbox Game Studios releases and it’s been set by Gears 5, being perhaps the first, first-party exclusive for Xbox One that delivers a deep story with interesting characters, stunning visuals and an addicting gameplay loop. The multiplayer suite has some surprising omissions but still manages to capture much of the magic that made me stay up for hours into night in its predecessors. The repetitive nature of Horde and Escape dampened my enthusiasm for the package that is Gears 5, but with a campaign as strong as it is, thankfully I can say I highly recommend.

Written by Rhys Baldwin.

Project Resistance Teaser Trailer Revealed

After a short wait of wonder on what Capcom will be bringing us in Project Resistance, we are met with a teaser trailer that leaves us still wondering just what will this game exactly be.

Now, educated guesses certainly point to a survival horror game in which four players will seek to stay alive against either the AI or perhaps what looks to be a player-controlled enemy.

What we now for sure is that it is definitely coming to PlayStation 4 as shown at the end of the trailer. More news to come at Tokyo Game Show, stay tuned.

Published by Rhys Baldwin.