Review – Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

Believe it or not, there used to be a time where a new Call of Duty wasn’t simply a sign of the inevitable coming of winter. Even when it became a yearly series almost a decade ago, each title was still a showcase of excellent first person shooter gameplay. Each game brought something new to the series’ brand of brisk combat. Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare sub-series still stands as the pinnacle of this franchise, but the Treyarch-developed Black Ops wasn’t far behind.

The first Black Ops had what might still be the most enjoyable single-player campaign I’ve played in Call of Duty. It didn’t take itself too seriously, and was a story that was a bit goofy at times, but the Cold War-era spy thriller intrigue that it was based on really made it an enjoyable experience from front to back. The multiplayer also shined, providing one of the best versions of that mode.

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Review – Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country

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Prior to this review, I suggest checking out my review of the original Xenoblade Chronicles 2, since this particular review will tread a lot of the same ground. Torna – The Golden Country is what was originally announced as the “story DLC” for Xenoblade 2. However, it’s clear that somewhere along the way, this evolved into something greater. This can be evidenced by the fact that Nintendo has chosen to sell Torna as a separate game, and that’s because it basically is. Torna is a full-on prequel to Xenoblade 2, telling a brand new story within the world of Alrest, and making tweaks to the original’s mechanics.

The result feels like somewhat similar to the way The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask came about–it’s a brand new experience built from parts and pieces of what came before it. But while Ocarina of Time was like a rock-solid foundation that elevated Majora’s Mask into something transcendent, Xenoblade 2 is shaky. Don’t get me wrong–I loved it enough for it to be in my top 10 from last year–but it was also a game plagued by clunky design and performance issues. How does that affect Torna? Let me explain.

(I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum for people who haven’t played the original Xenoblade 2, but some story elements will have to be discussed to talk about the plot of Torna)

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Review – Octopath Traveler

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Octopath Traveler is the latest Switch title from Square Enix. It is an RPG developed by the minds that brought us the celebrated Bravely Default on the 3DS. I was from the camp that thought Bravely Default was “okay.” It was a charming JRPG with a lovely art style. It also had great quality of life design decisions that made it feel very modern. However, it was also a rather by-the-books game that struggled to keep my attention as the it went on. Because of that, I never bothered to check out Bravely Second, the sequel that was released on the 3DS in 2016.

Octopath is a weird game to me, because it does share the same DNA as the Bravely series in the sense that classic JRPGs such as the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series heavily inform the design of the game. But unlike Bravely Default, Octopath feels remarkably experimental. Its structure and narrative feel quite different from the games that inspired it, but is that enough to let the game dig its own niche in the JRPG canon? Continue reading

Review – Pillars of Eternity

There are many ways for a developer to recapture nostalgia. In the Divinity: Original Sin series, it feels like the developer rebuilt the CRPG from memory, taking all the best aspects and making them shine, but leaving an experience that is unmistakably modern. Pillars of Eternitydeveloped by Obsidian and released in 2015 (I just picked it up in this summer’s Steam sale!), takes a different approach. This doesn’t feel like a modern take on the CRPG–it feels exactly like a CRPG straight out of the genre’s heyday in the late 90s and early 2000s.

That kind of approach can lead to mixed results. Just look at Yooka-Laylee, a game that aimed to recapture another genre from this same time period, only to remind us that maybe we were looking at that time with rose colored glasses. Pillars of Eternity, however, is an example of this done right. This is not an RPG you can casually dig into, but if you give it the time and dedication it deserves, you’ll find that this game is well worth your time.

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Review – Dragon Quest Builders

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I always viewed Dragon Quest Builders with skepticism. Minecraft clones are a dime a dozen, and watching a beloved publisher such as Square Enix put one out isn’t very encouraging. As more information came out about this game, and now after playing it, I was surprised to see that it is much more of a Dragon Quest game than I gave it credit for. Dragon Quest Builders delivers enough fresh ideas to differentiate itself from other games, and it’s very much a worthwhile entry into Square’s popular RPG series.

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Review – Bayonetta 2

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Well, now that was an unexpectedly amazing experience! I went straight into Bayonetta 2 without many expectations. I have never played any of the Bayonetta games, and while I know the game is pretty beloved, I didn’t really expect it to be this good.

Bayonetta 2 is an action game originally released on the Wii U a couple of years back. Like I said, I never played it due to my love-hate relationship with the console, and boy am I glad it got ported, because this game does not deserve to be stuck on the Wii U. This game keeps you in a perpetual state of sensory overload from beginning to end, constantly throwing new and creative encounters that are legitimately challenging and a blast to overcome.

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Review – Shadow of the Colossus

Oh boy, where do I start? Anyone who’s been playing video games for the past 15 years knows of Shadow of the Colossus. This is a game that is often brought up as an example of video games as a form of art, and with good reason. Back when it was originally released for the PS2 in 2005, this game was an unmatched audiovisual masterpiece, let down only by the technological limitations of that console.

I first played this game when it was ported to the PS3, and I could quickly see why this game is so beloved. There is a solemn beauty here that you can’t really find anywhere else. The desolate environments,  sweeping, melancholic soundtrack and magnificently crafted colossi all work together to craft a powerful feeling of awe. Hell, I get goosebumps just writing about it.

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