We will build your DREAMWEB!
January 7th, 2012
(as of 2012-12-05 01:50:35 PST)
Soul Calibur V (PS3) (UK IMPORT)
DescriptionSOULCALIBUR V is the newest installment of its multi-million selling weapons-based fighting series for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation3. It delivers exhilarating 3D fighting mechanics, breathtaking visuals, and new characters, as well as expanding the online + character creation modes.
Developer NeocoreGames has announced The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III for PC. The game will be the final episode in the Van Helsin trilogy, and will be released sometime in the second quarter of this year via Steam.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III takes place in Borgovia after the civil war has concluded. The city is beset with warring factions, criminals, and a cult which prophesizes that the end is nigh. The game follows titular protagonist Van Helsing in his quest to hunt down a "former ally turned into fearful archvillain" and unearth "the darkest secret about the birth of the modern Borgovia." The game will also explore the past of Lady Katarina. Like its predecessor, Van Helsing III will include tower-defense mini-game sequences.
The game is a sequel to 2014's The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 2, which was also developed by NeocoreGames. The game was well-received in GameSpot's review, earning an eight out of ten for its dense environment and quick, rewarding combat.
With that in mind, the Scholar of the First Sin Edition is what it looks like when that monster puts on its best, smiling face, and tries its absolute best to be warm and welcoming to one and all. That's a welcome extended to the folks who've sunk hundreds of hours into the game who think they know what they're getting with this version. It's a welcome extended to complete newcomers who've never played a Souls game. It's a welcome extended to the people who've been mired in Bloodborne these past few weeks. And it's a welcome extended to me, someone's who's gone into each of these games determined to slay the beast, and found myself cowed each and every time. This version is meant to entice, a Cheshire smile shared between From Software and all players, old and new, that can't hide its newly sharpened teeth.
The new edition entices the way many predators do: with the utmost sweetness and light. In previous iterations, the world of Drangleic where Dark Souls II takes place felt like a ruined, half-faded memory of a beautiful place, whose washed out, dismal details gave the sense that the world itself was quietly eroding into the dirt. Even the PC version, running at its highest settings, in its most grand environments, had this feeling of dulled luster.
Stepping out of the first cave into hub world Majula this time inspires the sense of grandeur it was always meant to have. There's a new warmth and vibrancy to the place, a clarity that feels fully realized at last, serving to suggest the beauty that once was instead of accentuating the wreckage that it is. The graphical uptick has that effect on the whole game, offering a feeling of rejuvenation, that Drangleic is still alive.
It is alive, and crawling with the undead like never before.
From Software's version of "Welcome to Drangleic" is a higher fidelity to the visual than ever before, but its version of "Welcome back to Drangleic," for veterans, is about walking into the Forest of Fallen Giants for the first time, turning a corner, and running right into one of those massive hippo/cyclops creatures. It’s about trying to go to the Cathedral of Blue, and the Ring of Binding at its entrance, and finding it guarded by a fire-breathing wyvern instead of a single knight, and that's if you kill the sped-up spear-wielding white knights swarming in the Heide Tower of Flame area, and that's if, when you first get there, you get past the sleeping ones who no longer lay dormant if your level is high enough. It’s finding out that The Pursuer is almost as common as the giant knights at the Tower of Flame, and there are no handy giant crossbows to make their appearance any easier. A new relentless Hollow NPC assassin, The Forlorn, now lurks among the hordes when you least expect and never want it.
In that traditional dastardly way of theirs, From Software has revamped layout for NPCs, enemies, and items virtually throughout the entire game. Much of the game feels familiar, but you can hear the evil cackling of the developers trying their best to throw a wrench into any sense of comfort or routine in this new run. Enemies have been placed and replaced for maximum surprise factor--and unlike a new-game-plus, you may not have enemies performing new attacks, or have backup during boss fights, but you're also not starting with all your gear so you can deal with new problems when they arise. It changes the options for exploration in much the same way, where an area that was once accessible to everyone--well, as accessible as anything in Dark Souls can be--now has a bloody and brutal price of admission. Moments of respite at bonfires have either been moved, or now have an obstacle to surmount first.
It doesn't necessarily make for a brand new game, but it does give it a different flow. Death still comes in Dark Souls with all the ferocity of its reputation, but its tone and timbre has been altered, for the grudgingly, frustratingly better.
That said, if there's one thing that experts have always driven home about Dark Souls II, it's that it has a rhythm. There's a pace and structure to everything. Dark Souls as a musical genre is prog rock. It's insanely dense and intricate, and while it might not be everyone's favorite tempo, it is still there to be appreciated. And for what it's worth, something about this new tempo finally struck the right note. By the game's count, 67 hours have gone into this particular run through, and 22 of the game's bosses have died by my hand. Where I am now feels like a urgent, furious push into the unknown, a never-ending series of fights for my life. Even with a giant sword that destroys most anything in my way, and a tower shield that barely budges, there's the feeling that missing my cue will still cost me my life. I feel like I've passed some threshold and met the core of Dark Souls, where I no longer fear every interaction, but anticipate whatever new devilry wants to test my mettle. It's an ongoing supply of new revelations, characters adding their particular dysfunction to the experience, and equippable items all with their own tales to tell. It's a time where the simple act of opening a chest feels like I'm gambling with my life.
That said, it is, as of this moment, an incomplete experience, as the multiplayer servers on the PlayStation 4 remain closed, and the eponymous Scholar of the First Sin battle is explicitly tied to the endgame. I can't wait to meet him. I can't wait to look this ugly sucker in whatever passes for his eye and introduce him to my greatsword. I can't wait to collect up a horde of phantoms to lay waste to the demons in my wake like never before.
God help me, I can't wait to die again.
Upcoming action game Batman: Arkham Knight will have a series of content "exclusive" to the PlayStation 4 version of the game. As it turns out, this content--comprising extra missions and skins--will come to other platforms later, according to an Amazon advertisement for the extras.
A line from the ad reads: "Bonus content exclusive until at least fall 2015."
This content will be available to PS4 players when Arkham Knight launches on June 23. However, it's unclear when exactly it will launch and what it will cost when it finally arrives for Xbox One and PC.
The exclusive content is not the first example of Sony and Warner Bros. working together to give Arkham Knight PlayStation fans special treatment. Sony will also release a two special Arkham Knight-branded PS4 consoles for the game's launch this summer.
Earlier today, we learned that Arkham Knight will output in native 1080p on PS4.
This isn't the first time Sony has secured a time-exclusive DLC arrangement for a major multiplatform game. The company did the same thing with Activision's Destiny, offering extra content first on PlayStation platforms. This content was later released for Xbox.
DeNA, the mobile game partner Nintendo chose to help bring the company's franchises to mobile devices, is expecting big things in terms of revenue. The Japanese company said Wednesday, in an interview with Reuters, that it's hopeful that its Nintendo games can generate over ¥3 billion ($25 million) per month.
"We want to create games that will be played by hundreds of millions of people," DeNA chief executive Isao Moriyasu told Reuters. Previously, DeNA said it was hoping to topple Candy Crush and generate more than 100 million daily active players for its Nintendo games.
To do this, Moriyasu said DeNA will create a catalog of highly compelling Nintendo games. "We want to create multiple hit games rather than aiming to succeed with just one powerful IP element," he said.
Regarding the $25 million figure, Moriyasu admitted that he hadn't discussed financial targets yet with Nintendo. All the same, he's hopeful that DeNA's Nintendo games will be big business for both firms.
"We haven't talked to Nintendo about targets, but at DeNA, our best-selling game brought in ¥3 billion yen a month, and we want to surpass that," he said, referencing the smartphone game Kaito Royale. This game has since been spun into a TV series, Reuters notes.
Nintendo and DeNA have not disclosed revenue sharing details for the upcoming smartphone games. However, analysts told Reuters that Nintendo is likely to make around 70 percent of all proceeds.
The first DeNA-Nintendo mobile game will be released later this year. Nintendo has not announced any projects so far, but has pledged it won't simply port its console games to smartdevices. The company is also considering a range of business models, including free-to-play, which Nintendo president Satoru Iwata actually calls free-to-start.
Nintendo's big move into the smartphone market has been received positively by investors, as shares of the company skyrocketed by more than 30 percent. The company also announced that it had started work on a new system, known internally as the "NX." This system, which Nintendo says it won't start talking about officially until 2016, aims to surprise and innovate.
We're expecting even more Nintendo news during tonight's Nintendo Direct briefing, which starts at 3 PM PDT / 6 PM EDT. Check back then for all the news as it happens.
Driveclub developer Evolution Studios is celebrating April Fools' Day with free DLC. Available now in the PlayStation 4 racing game is a special Wombat Typhoon buggy from the developer's other major racing series, MotorStorm.
"It's April 1st; drive like a fool in Driveclub," Evolution wrote on Twitter. Watch the trailer above to see the new vehicle in action.
In other Driveclub news, the free PlayStation Plus version of Driveclub has not been canceled, but it's still without a solid release date. Recently, Evolution suffered potentially massive layoffs.
The PlayStation 4 edition of upcoming action game Batman: Arkham Knight, the conclusion of Rocksteady's Arkham trilogy, will run in native 1080p. That's according to the game's PlayStation Store product page.
This is not much of a surprise, as images and gameplay videos we've seen so far have looked gorgeous.
The Xbox One edition's resolution, however, remains unconfirmed. We've reached out to Warner Bros. for clarification. Meanwhile, the system requirements for the PC version of the Caped Crusader game have not yet been announced.
In other recent Arkham Knight news, Sony just yesterday announced a new PS4 bundle themed around the game. Included in the $450 package is a steel-grey PS4 console featuring a Batman faceplate. Sony will also offer a $400 Arkham Knight bundle that comes with a standard, jet-black PS4.
After its latest delay, Arkham Knight is now due to launch on June 23.
More PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation Vita games are on sale this week as part of Sony's "Spring Fever" promotion, which now enters its fifth week.
The eight-week Spring Fever event spotlights "unique" games, with Sony releasing a new PlayStation game every week through April 21.
Last week's new release was Metal Slug 3, while this week's is the Metroid-style Axiom Verge ($20). The game is available now on PS4, with the PS Vita edition to come later featuring Cross-Buy support.
In addition, Sony has marked down numerous Warner Bros. games, including a handful of Batman titles and more. A variety of Batman movies are also on sale this week. All deals are good through April 6, and PlayStation Plus members can save 10 percent.
The full list of Spring Fever deals are listed below. Don't see anything you like? Check back next week (and the two weeks after that) to see even more Spring Fever deals when they're announced.
Looking for more deals? April's free PlayStation Plus games have also been announced; they go on sale next week.
|PS Plus Launch Week Price||Regular Price|
(3/31 through 4/6)
|Title||Platform||PS Plus Price||Sale Price||Original Price|
|Injustice: Gods Among Us: Ultimate Edition||PS4||$7.50||$12.00||$29.99|
|BAO: Deathstroke Challenge Pack||PS3||$1.50||$2.40||$5.99|
|Batman Arkham Asylum||PS3||$5.00||$8.00||$19.99|
|Batman Arkham City Ultimate Ed.||PS3||$8.63||$13.80||$34.49|
|Batman Arkham City: Catwoman Bundle||PS3||$2.50||$4.00||$9.99|
|Batman Arkham City: Harley Quinn’s Revenge||PS3||$2.50||$4.00||$9.99|
|Batman Arkham City: Nightwing Bundle||PS3||$1.75||$2.80||$6.99|
|Batman Arkham City: Robin Bundle||PS3||$1.75||$2.80||$6.99|
|Batman Arkham Origins Season Pass||PS3||$5.00||$8.00||$19.99|
|Batman Arkham Origins Ultimate Edition||PS3||$9.38||$15.00||$37.49|
|Injustice: Gods Among Us: Ultimate Edition||PS3||$7.50||$12.00||$29.99|
|LEGO Batman 2||PS3||$5.00||$8.00||$19.99|
|Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe||PS3||$5.00||$8.00||$19.99|
|Title||SD Original Price||SD Sale Price||HD Original Price||HD Sale Price|
|Batman & Robin||$9.99||$6.99||$12.99||$8.99|
|Batman Gotham Knight DTV 2006||$9.99||$8.99||$17.99||$12.99|
|Batman Year One Animation DTV||$9.99||$8.99||$17.99||$12.99|
|Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: Deluxe Edition||NA||$8.99||$17.99||$12.99|
|DCU: Son of Batman||$14.99||$12.99||$19.99||$16.99|
|Green Lantern First Flight DTV||$9.99||$8.99||$17.99||$12.99|
|Green Lantern: Emerald Knights –|
|JLA Doom DTV Development||$9.99||$8.99||$17.99||$12.99|
|Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox||$9.99||NA||$17.99||$15.99|
|Justice League: War DTV||$14.99||$12.99||$19.99||$16.99|
|Superman Doomsday 2007||$9.99||$8.99||$17.99||$12.99|
|Superman vs. The Elite|
|Superman-Batman Public Enemies DTV||$9.99||$8.99||$17.99||$12.99|
Despite the fantastical premise, Worlds of Magic commits too many cardinal sins to count. As a game of fanciful wizards and creatures, you'd expect it to be vibrant and alluring. Instead, its landscapes wholly lack imagination. The excitement of battle is ground to excruciating tedium, buried under mindless tasks and micromanagement. Worlds of Magic can't even claim a decent feeling of progression or power escalation--a key piece of any proper 4X strategy game--to drive engagement. The result is a tepid mélange of half-baked ideas and pointless hindrances.These soldiers are literally fighting on tar.
Worlds of Magic begins, as these affairs so often do, with you selecting a civilization to lead to victory. The choices seem diverse enough. Standard humans, elves, orcs, and dwarves are there, as well as dragon people, insects, and the undead legions. The potential breadth of play styles should be a great platform upon which to build a game, but here it just isn't. Except for the unhallowed, none of these races has anything unique about how it plays. No matter whom you pick, the similarities are too obvious, slashing potential replayability and depth.
After picking your race, you select a sorcerer lord to lead your armies. You may choose a pre-built one with specialized traits, or you can create your own and customize him a bit, though either way, your choices lack impact or import. I, for example, chose as my first leader R'jak, a powerful lich. By his description, he should be a powerful undead monstrosity with an abject hatred for everything living. In play, he's like any other leader, custom or not: He has a few spells that do a little damage, and a few more with minor utility. The problem here is twofold. Firstly, leader choice is disconnected from race selection, so it's weird but possible to have an army of normal humans led by an undead warlock. Secondly, many of the sorcerer lords have plenty of overlapping spells, again diminishing the effect of picking any one for his specific powers or abilities and robbing him of any uniqueness. Instead of playing the strengths of the undead against R'jak, they each need to be able to function independently for the sake of balance. That leaves either choice without any personality of its own.
Most of your time with Worlds of Magic is spent managing resources, building up your armies, and conquering. In an ideal world, these separate systems would work together to create new opportunities for players to flex their tactical muscles. At every conceivable turn, however, Worlds of Magic finds a way to strip every intricate layer strategy game designers have implemented over decades' worth of genre evolution.Because even on a world of sand, we need oceans… made out of sand.
Cities are at the heart of Worlds of Magic. They are your only means of border expansion, production, and resource generation. Cities are also the source of most of the problems. In a normal 4X game, cities are somewhat malleable. You found them, build a few structures or improvements nearby, and tailor them to what you need at any given point. Worlds of Magic doesn't permit such flexibility, however. You still found cities wherever you please, but their borders never expand, you can't construct any tile improvements, and you can't micromanage any piece of them beyond how many citizens are dedicated to food, production, or research. City buildings also follow a complex unlock tree that require you to build too many structures that don't relate to your chosen focus. It is feasible, for example, to build a city near a rare resource and then push a city towards economic output. Doing so, however, requires that you build structures that offer no benefit beyond unlocking buildings that you need, making them effective dead weight.
This also only serves to highlight another of the game's fundamental flaws: There's no associated cost with having dozens or even hundreds of settlements. Your citizens build up a degree of unhappiness, but it's a local issue and not tied into a single global resource, like happiness, that you need to manage. Moreover, if you don't maintain positive food and gold income at all times, your units begin to disband and your buildings are decommissioned. Since cities usually generate positive income, and since the number of municipalities you control is your sole production cap, the whole system forms a disastrous feedback loop. You build more cities so you can build more settlers so you can build more cities. In each of those new towns, you erect the same buildings and manage them in the same way. This is one of the only consistently viable ways to win, but it also means burdening yourself with tons of repetitive work wholly devoid of actual strategizing.
I found myself wanting to quit games not because I didn't have the ability to win, but because it had become a chore to manage it all. What's worse is that tedious management is so critical in the early game, it was common for me to skip 50 turns or more just waiting for my population to build up. That's not OK: It's grinding without any tangible reward. Most turns should somehow require your attention so that you are engaged and invested. Tellingly, I made a macro to auto-skip turns while I walked off to go make myself dinner. And again, I stress this is the most successful strategy in Worlds of Magic, by far. The other main option is to build units and construct buildings early on, but the upkeep cripples your resource production, making you decommission units you just ordered. The whole thing is an absolute mess.After a while, the game just starts naming cities "ORCS1," "ORCS2," etc.
In what must have been an attempt to make these worlds seem denser and more interesting, the land is dotted with swarms of high-level monsters. They don't spew forth and attack you, but they're intended to be among the first things you find on any given map. They often have valuable treasure or can net you a powerful monster of your own. Because they are so well-guarded, you can't do anything with them until the mid-to-late game, so they sit there, taking up space. Your only other opponents are AI-controlled races and countries. Given that there are at most seven of them scattered across several planes which, in turn, can only be accessed via special portals containing the same high-level monsters, there's nothing to do in the early game. Over time, your units get stronger and you get better, but for that to be satisfying, you need an idea of your early limitations. Worlds of Magic trades that for a mad rush to the late game so you can do anything of note, and problematically, those late-game units need more gold and food for upkeep, reinforcing the city grind.
An alleged selling point of Worlds of Magic is its tactical battle system. Should two opposing units meet, you jump into a turn-based tactical mode to maneuver your troops around. Battles are functional, but together, the tactical system and strategic one kill Worlds of Magic's pace. It's nice to defend a city against an attack with only a handful of troops and some clever positioning, but tactical battles require you to take five or ten minutes away from a game already bogged down by the worst kind of micromanagement. There is an auto-resolve feature that helps with the monotony, but it does a poor job of actually mimicking the results you would expect to see should you manage these battles on your own. In my testing, I found that even when I had many more units of ranks far higher than my enemy's, I would often inexplicably lose fights. Granted, choosing auto-resolve means playing the percentages, but when two basic enemy soldiers defeat five or ten veterans, there's a problem.
Worlds of Magic doesn't just have issues with its strategy mechanics, either. It suffers from an array of bugs, glitches, and crashes, and its frequent texture pop-in makes it an absolute eyesore. During some of the tactical sections, maps fail to load entirely. On at least four occasions, my computer locked up and I had to restart the machine. Countless tiny bugs can also cause certain attacks to miss, actions to not work, and the user interface to become completely unresponsive.Sometimes, the map won't even load in.
I could forgive some, though not all, of these issues if Worlds of Magic had something intriguing to show. Part of the appeal of fantasy worlds and settings is that they show you the special, the unreal. Worlds of Magic only ever offers the mundane. In Worlds of Magic, there are several magical races strewn across disparate worlds, each with its own governing element. The leaders of these races are powerful wizards that bring world-buckling sorts of magic to bear on their foes. These sorcerers are a force unto themselves, and they dominate everything. The premise plants the proper seeds for an enchanting adventure, but Worlds of Magic doesn't cultivate them. As one of these grand wizards, your spells are feeble at best, and every plane--no matter the element--features similar mountains, oceans, and other topological features. Yes, the shadow plane uses tar pits instead of water, but that's nothing more than a palette swap. In contrast, Warlock and Warlock 2 have the same structure and purpose as Worlds of Magic, but they are executed with far more skill. Warlock's plane of life has tiles that heal you and weaken the undead. The plane of fire has dozens of volcanoes and lava that have real effects on how you play. Your spells, too, can reshape vast swaths of land, raising valleys or wiping away mountains. In that series, there exists a sense of agency that unfolds as you explore the bizarre settings.
Worlds of Magic has none of that mystery. Its fantasy world is undercut by bland artistic direction and a lack of conviction. Choices about your leader and civilization that should matter lack weight in favor of same-ish armies and leaders that blend together. Grand-scale strategy that should make any player feel powerful, or at the least clever, gives way to the dullest slog. Worlds of Magic tries to mimic the cleverness of its superiors, but reaches far beyond its ability to perform.
The fruit of your labor is yours to ripen, but it takes time and patience to see your farm in Story of Seasons—a Harvest Moon game in everything but name—progress beyond a small patch of unripe tomatoes. Tilling dirt, planting seeds, spreading fertilizer, keeping your animals happy and healthy—the list of chores is long (and yes, these are chores.) You won’t gleefully rush to brush your two rabbits and water your spinach crop before the day’s end, but you’ll still push through these menial tasks for the good of the farm. The products that come from the processes drive you to action, and while these procedures are often tedious, the payoff of your hard work is too rich a bounty to resist.He's just so happy!
When you’re first planted into town, there’s actually very little to do. As a new farmer looking to sell your goods and attract fresh business, your customizable character (who can be either male or female) has very few tools and tokens to work with. You’re given a ramshackle dwelling stationed on an unkempt plot of land, as well as an assortment of equipment with rugged grips and dull edges. It’s from this unremarkable cocoon you must emerge, and while the compulsion to create proper plots for crops and to tidy up this agricultural mess is strong, making any real progress takes time. Your first few weeks feel empty, and at times even aimless, since you don’t have the means to accomplish much.
It’s not just your budding flowers, fruits, and grains that determine the pace. It’s your character’s insufficient stamina that drives activity, and while cooking the various purchasable recipes and ordering an entrée at the local restaurant gives you a healthy boost of energy, the consistent burden of running out of juice is wearisome. Every swing of the axe, thrust of the hammer, or flick of the wrist as you water crops affects your stamina, and that’s a nagging, momentum-killing issue early on. Without the proper funds or food (or if it’s a Wednesday and the restaurant’s closed), you can easily wind up with depleted strength before noon. After that, you’re left to either socialize with your neighbors or sleep the day away to fully restore your energy. Story of Seasons’ biggest flaw is its insistence on too literally conveying the world-weary axiom, “There just aren’t enough hours in the day.”
The fruit of your labor is yours to ripen, but it takes time and patience to see your farm in Story of Seasons progress beyond a small patch of unripe tomatoes.
You learn to work within these tight boundaries. After watering your crops and tending to your livestock Monday morning, maybe you’ll spend the next three hours fishing—an activity easy on your stamina—with the hopes of nabbing a rare catch. If it rains on Tuesday and you don’t need to manually water plants (an occurrence you’ll cherish), you can spend the morning selling crops to the merchant visiting the market. From there, you can allot your waning hours of sunlight to chopping down trees to free up additional space for barns, or working the land for all those sweet potato seeds taking up space in your inventory. Once you discover valuable minerals like copper and purchase enough blueprints for new tools, though, the stamina restrictions loosen. By the time I crafted a gold brush and watering can, I was able to attend to almost every errand in a given day without depleting my food bank or splurging at the restaurant.
Unfortunately, digging up dirt and picking up stray branches isn’t fun. In fact, gathering materials and making sure everything on your farm is in tip-top shape before you hit the hay can be an lifeless grind. But even after spending three in-game days doing little more than watering plants and milking cows whilst waiting for a merchant to come to town, the compulsion to continue expanding my empire was strong. After playing a marathon session and with every intention of putting the 3DS down, simply waking up to the pitter-patter of rain against my roof was enough to get me out of my virtual bed and back into the fields. Story of Seasons intelligently doles out new tasks and items that build upon its basic farming mechanics, so it’s easy to just barrel through weeks at a time in anticipation for bigger and better results.Time doesn't grow on trees, Elise!
The deliberately paced farm work coupled with the time between planting crops and seeing results only makes cashing in your trove of goods sweeter. A calendar tells which days of the week merchants come into town, and the more you sell, the more unique buyers visit the market. Different items are also in-demand during certain weeks and with particular buyers, so while you might have moaned and groaned as you slaved over dozens of different plants, selling an entire crop of chili peppers at above-market value can turn the whole game around. This sudden influx of cash allows you to lease new land, buy more cows, or even expand your house.
That’s when Story of Seasons is at its best. After spending weeks digging through your couch cushions for enough loose change to simply feed your cows, finally selling your goods and using this influx of money to upgrade each aspect of your agricultural business is wonderfully satisfying. The subsidiary activities, such as fishing, decorating, and (eventually) mining for rare minerals can be entertaining on their own, but they all feed into Story of Seasons’ primary goal—to build the biggest, best farm possible.
Every swing of the axe, thrust of the hammer, or flick of the wrist as you water crops affects your stamina.
Because of how single-minded you can become, it’s difficult to find entertainment outside of the farm. Poking the townsfolk to hear repetitive dialogue is dull, and the planned events that range from cooking competitions to fashion shows feel more like roadblocks during your daily routine than novel ways to interact with your neighbors. Different events through each of the four seasons do well to break up the pace, but every moment you’re not farming can feel like a waste of effort.
One nagging distraction is the frame rate, which noticeably dips as you travel from screen to screen. Story of Seasons isn’t a visual powerhouse, even if the cartoony characters and vibrant colors of the different seasons are nice to look at. But as soon as you step into a patch of land littered with seeds and budding plants, the presentation stutters. It doesn’t prevent you from completing any specific tasks, but the frame rate remains a consistent nuisance.
Even so, Story of Seasons is a wildly addictive, bizarrely rewarding adventure constrained by tight restrictions that only loosen after a significant time investment. The early pacing problems do well to bolster the sense of progression later in the game, and while the restrictive stamina system tempers the fun early on, the eventual payoff for all your hard work is enhanced by the early days spent toiling in the fields. There are blatant issues—some of which might keep you from advancing beyond the first season—but once Story of Seasons has its hooks in you, it’s difficult to walk away from the farm.
Starships happens to actually be a mobile game--the kind that harks to those days of yore, when "mobile" equated to "simplistic." It released simultaneously on PC, Mac, and iPad, and in more-or-less the same form to boot. And the first things you notice about it are the various ways it seems visually bottlenecked by its tablet version. On PC, it unfurls in a tablet's compacted, low resolution window, and there are no graphical settings to massage. Its sci-fi galaxy is mostly abstracted, and its unit models are simple and blocky. It's not those issues that really put me off of Starships, but rather the way it seems to aspire to that narrow, dated idea of what makes a "good" mobile game. I can turn aside the quick and obvious assaults on PC sensibilities--the rough graphics, the lack of options--but it's the cynical design that guts me, in the end.The abstracted galaxy doesn't try very hard to sell the sci-fi setting.
The titular starships form a single roving fleet on the game's galactic map, and act as the lone controllable unit. From your home base, the fleet can be moved over to any adjacent planet with the press of a button, which triggers combat missions that award points towards bringing the planet into the fold of your empire. Planets under your control confer resources each turn (food, industrial production, science, and energy) that can be spent on upgrades for your starships, or used towards buildings and world wonders that improve your production or military capabilities. The salient goal is to have a majority of the galaxy under your thumb--51%, and no less.
Where Meier's Civilization series accommodates pacifism, there isn't much to do with your Starships fleet on the galactic map except pick fights. There are victory conditions outside of conquering your opponents, sure--controlling X amount of world wonders or researching Y amount of technologies--but these goals take resources to complete, and the only way to fill your storehouses is to perform combat missions and claim planets. The different victories have different names, but they all boil down to exercising military might, which in turn requires trudging through watered down and grossly exploitable battles.
Combat missions set your ships down on a honeycomb game space surrounding a planet. You might be asked to escort a unit (that, mercifully, you also control), or hunt down an escorted one yourself. Or you navigate a maze of asteroids to reach an escape gate, or defeat an enemy boss. The asteroids strewn about the playing field block fire, and black holes teleport ships to other black holes on the map. It's simplistic board game strategy propped up by only the barest of fiction, and eminently exploitable. Every one of your ships can be upgraded to deploy zippy, surprisingly powerful fighters, meaning that in a single turn it's possible to effectively double the size of your fleet. The fighters are fragile, but they're so strong and can quickly cover so much distance that they throw the balance of any fight. Even forgoing them, I found I was able to comfortably win almost every engagement on any difficulty level by committing to longer range lasers and picking off enemies as they tried to approach, one at a time. It's a strategy game without strategy, enabling you to sleepwalk your way to triumph.Combat plays by bland, tired, grid-based formulas.
Starships ostensibly picks things up where Civilization: Beyond Earth left off, but practically speaking, all that means is that the preceding game's cardboard cutout leaders have been stood in front of Starship's backgrounds. Each has a unique stat bonus in place of an actual personality, and their speech is characteristically mechanistic. "Our computer calculations indicate that you have but a 19% chance of dominating this galaxy" is what passes for a greeting in the game's stripped-down version of diplomacy. If you're thinking about declaring war after that (and I wouldn't blame you if you were), it's trivially easy to gauge your odds. Your opponents themselves provide an itemized list of their military assets on request--Starships is wanting for any other, more suitable screen to house the information. There are no ceremonial trappings, here. Two deadpan leaders simply meet, compare spreadsheets, and arrange peace or war accordingly.
You're presented with a similar rundown at the end of missions, tabulating all the ships destroyed and lost, and divvying out bonuses multiplied by various modifiers. Starships throws these figures and calculations at you, but there's nothing useful to be done with the information, as though the game just wants to make sure you know that it did the work. Numbers are always going up a thousand at a time in the game--you get lost in all that effortless forward momentum, and it becomes impossible to care about a few lost hundred here or there.
Beyond Earth's Affinities also make the jump, representing a choice between one of three broad societal values: Purity, Supremacy, or Harmony. But like everything in Starships, they've come unmoored from any cultural tie-downs, and now simply denote which of three arbitrary stat bonuses you feel like beginning the game with. Constructing a wonder means pressing a button when you've got enough of the requisite resource. There's no actual sense of building--a variable has simply shifted somewhere behind the scenes. It's an issue exacerbated by the fact that your ships are functionally immortal--though they appear to blow apart when destroyed in battle, you can still simply repair them afterward for a nominal cost. Even the loss of an entire fleet in a mission simply means being sent back to the planet you arrived from, down a few of the action points you expend to move around on the map on a turn. The stakes of this intragalactic war are at mechanical remove--any one defeat amounts only to an obscure amount of wasted man-hours.Just buy fighter upgrades. Guaranteed win on every difficulty.
As mobile games find new heights, Starships takes its sci-fi premise and uses it to trawl the primordial pools they ascended from. Its planets are suspended in a two dimensional plane, and when your turn is up, enemy fleets dart back and forth among them in seemingly random directions. They look less like interstellar armadas, and more like single celled organisms responding to simple stimuli. They flit about from planet to planet, hex cell to cell, as though guided by the basest biological compulsions, consuming and growing. And you're right alongside them--with a few disinterested clicks or swipes across the screen, killing, conquering, and leveling up.
Dreamfall is and has always been a story about duality--the yin & yang of Stark and Arcadia, magic and science, occupation and rebellion. These themes run deep in Book Two and offer a strong lens through which to view the bond between the journeys of two disparate leads: Zoe Castillo and Kian Alvane. Where Book One told a tale of parallel jailbreaks with Kian's escape from Azadi prison and Zoe's liberation from a Dreamtime-induced coma, Book Two continues this trend with a tale of two spies and a pair of fact-finding missions. With Kian embroiled in the Azadi conflict in Marcuria and Zoe finding herself at odds with the ever-increasing presence of EYE forces in Propast, the heroes launch headfirst into breaking down the mysteries and conspiracies within. And boy, do they have their work cut out for them.
Will Zoe bite The Hand That Feeds?
For starters, Book Two is massive and takes over twice as long to complete as Book One. This is due both in part to the ample story progression and the introduction of a whole new, if familiar, environment in which to explore. While bigger isn't always better (and this is certainly true in some respects here), there is something satisfying about how the episode digs in, offering plenty of time to get lost in the world. There's a lot of meat on those bones, and this is excellent news for those of us who spent their time with the first book waiting for the story to go full-on Longest Journey. Book Two finally hits that stride and wastes no time getting there.
Book Two opens with Kian convalescing at Resistance headquarters, the underground ring of Arcadian rebels formerly led by the Captain to combat the growing Azadi threat. It is as if Robin Hood is being introduced to the band of Merry Magicals: Kian is ordered to prove his loyalty to the cause, and before long, finds himself roaming the streets of Marcuria. While wandering through the city in the game's third-person perspective, it was difficult not to get excited to be back on these old stomping grounds, and I had forgotten just how great a contrast the fantasy vibe of Marcuria provides when juxtaposed against the futuristic, Blade Runner-meets-Beyond Good & Evil aesthetic of Stark.
Like revisiting the house you grew up in many years later, Marcuria is simultaneously familiar and strange. The landmarks are still here (The Magic Market! The Journeyman Inn! The Rooster and Kitty!... wait, didn't that tavern go by a different name before?), but many areas are tweaked, askew, or entirely new. While several popular haunts have been abandoned since the occupation, there are plenty of new nooks and crannies to explore, leaving Marcuria feeling cautiously lively, like a party in a prison cell.
Where Book One told a tale of parallel jailbreaks with Kian's escape from Azadi prison and Zoe's liberation from a Dreamtime-induced coma, Book Two continues this trend with a tale of two spies and a pair of fact-finding missions.
This is not necessarily all for the best, however. As Kian ticks his way down the Resistance's to-do list, he must do so donning an Irhadian Veil so as not to be recognized by his fellow Azadi patrolling the streets. Narratively, this makes perfect sense. Since Kian was initially imprisoned for treason, anonymity should be a high priority. In practice, however, Kian's pace slows to a crawl anytime he passes a guarded gate or entryway, which yields a lot of tedious slow-walking as he makes the transition. As it is, navigating the town is sludgy enough, and you will find yourself holding down the run button constantly just to feel like you’re moving at a reasonable pace. These belligerently slow zones, while not terribly prevalent, are enough to frustrate when moving between areas.
Unfortunately, the same goes for Zoe's trek through Propast as well. While Kian works to dig up dirt on the Azadi in Marcuria, Zoe investigates a possible source of corruption within the political campaign she works for and what, if any, connection there is to the EYE and WATICorp. As Zoe gets closer to the answer, Propast's faux-pen world layout becomes less accessible to her. Roadblocks are increased, security is beefed up, and carving a path through the city becomes a puzzle all on its own. It's an effective way of communicating the EYE's growing threat through environmental storytelling, but as someone who often found himself disoriented on the streets of Propast, I did not appreciate the constant detouring required of Zoe in order to reach many of her destinations.
Perhaps the most baffling detour of Book Two occurs back in Arcadia when Kian is tasked with sneaking into Marcuria Harbor to sabotage a weapons shipment. Apparently, his magical veil loses some of its mojo in this area as the guards here are able to detect Kian's presence if he gets too close, initiating a fail-state. Not only is it an incredibly awkward slog to complete, but my attempts were riddled with bugs, robbing me of success the first couple times I managed to satisfy all passing requirements. It's aggravating and flies in the face of the more cerebral types of quests presented in the series so far. To add insult to burglary, when I finally managed to reach the cut-scene, I was awarded with the Steam achievement, "I Thought There Wouldn't Be Stealth!" Its description reads, "So you thought there wouldn't be stealth and also you suck at it," as if the lack of a proper toolset to engage in stealth--such as sneaking, or crouching, or any sort of visual feedback--had anything to do with the player's input. No, Dreamfall Chapters, it is you who sucks at it.Propast may be a pain to navigate, but it sure is gorgeous.
Mechanical flaws aside, Dreamfall Chapters soars when its quests provide the connective tissue between narrative mystery, tension, and resolution, and Book Two offers some excellent entries in this department. On their own, most missions offer little more than the deduction-based adventure-game fare familiar to Dreamfall vets. But string them together and a bigger picture comes into focus--one that leverages incremental progress with gratifying bursts of dramatic revelation. Without giving too much away, Dreamfall Chapters understands that what makes solving a key puzzle interesting isn't the act of opening the door, but discovering who's behind it and the intense conversations that arise as a result.
On this note, including dialogue choices is a natural progression for the series. As we have been told, Zoe's destination is predetermined, but her path along the way is not. This jives with the way the game's Bioware-style branching conversations work. The details change, but the big finish usually remains consistent. So while there may be less expectation for player choices to have a drastic impact on the final outcome of the plot, they do have a measurable impact on the smaller, more idiosyncratic moments (Reza's lunch will have repercussions!), and I found myself enjoying the smattering of incremental payoffs rather than anticipating a much larger one that may or may not come later. Again, it has a layered effect that, when added up, amount to an effective and intricate feat of storytelling.
It all comes back to the trilogy's bread & butter--its cast of characters. Book Two enjoys more colorful dialogue from the likes of Mira, the abusively foul-mouthed cybernetic chop-shopper; Baruti, the Botswanian campaign manager; and the nefarious Commander Vamon leading the Azadi occupation. If Kian is the Robin Hood of the story, Vamon is undoubtedly the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Dreamfall Chapters soars when its quests provide the connective tissue between narrative mystery, tension, and resolution.
To keep things fresh, there is also an influx of new and notable characters gracing the second act. For instance, in Arcadia there is Lihko, a wounded Dolmari warrior outspoken against Kian's presence who begrudges him for his Azadi heritage and the sacrifice made by the Resistance to save him. He's a complex and conflicted character whose intimidating presence is amplified by his booming voice.
At his side, there is Enu, a sassy feline Zhid with a curious mind and zero filter. In contrast to Lihko, her flirty frankness and positive attitude help to make Kian feel as welcome as possible given the circumstance. Without a doubt she is one of the more interesting and entertaining characters to be introduced so far. Her snarky dialogue and too-much-information attitude, especially regarding sex, inject much-needed comic relief within a group that is otherwise all business.
In addition, there's the mysterious Anna, a cunning rogue who appears to have a history with Kian despite his lapse in memory of any such relationship. Also crawling out of the woodwork is The Mole, Bip the thief, Hanna the punk rock runaway, and even a familiar face or two from Zoe's past. Other than an underwhelming showing by Reza, who's the most consistently mediocre brat of the pack, this episode walks the Dreamfall walk with plenty of meaningful roles to fulfill and subvert the archetypes within. With unique and diverse characters such as these, the series continues its tradition of utilizing a fantastic ensemble cast--an aspect that cannot be understated but was lacking by the end of Book One.Enu, probably telling a sex joke, and Lihko, unamused as usual.
The Longest Journey series is a collection of inhabitable moments and by the end of this act, I appreciated what each moment had amounted to. This is emphasized by the radically tense cliffhanger the episode goes out on, which had me questioning every step that led up to it. As these pivotal moments pass, they offer new opportunities to reflect on the events that have come before them. They have a cumulative effect that changes the way in which you see the big picture. What happens in Stark can inform your understanding of what is happening in Arcadia and vice-versa, for their fates are interconnected. And as Kian and Zoe's worlds parallel each other, Dreamfall's world parallels our own, offering social and political commentary via the themes of its stories and the lives of its inhabitants. Book Two succeeds in reminding us that our destination may be predetermined, but our path is not. It's how we choose to travel, and who we keep by our side, that makes the journey worthwhile.
Axiom Verge is your chance. Following an experiment on Earth gone horribly wrong, you wake up in a strange place known as Sudra. It's a world unlike Earth, where strange biological formations meld with mechanical contraptions to form massive structures. Being inexplicably transported to such a place would rock most people's psyche, but the protagonist, Trace, barely bats an eye. It's weird that he doesn't collapse in shock, honestly, but this misstep doesn't detract from the fact that Axiom Verge's plot is so good at drawing you in with heavy doses of mystery and intrigue. These moments kick off when large mechanical beings known as the Rusulka enter the picture. They act as guides, providing directions in exchange for repairs (something has left them in disarray), and insight into Sudra's troubled history. I'd love to go into greater detail, but to describe the relationship between you and the Rusulka any further would spoil one of the best aspects of Axiom Verge's world. It's a world that emphasizes exploration in the same vein that Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night do, but it's also a quest for knowledge that keeps you guessing until the very end.
As you make your way through Sudra's foreboding world at the behest of the Rusulka, you encounter numerous types of imposing wildlife. The only bad thing that can be said of the enemies in the game is that you occasionally find one that feels out of place, and this small inconsistency is one of a mere couple issues with the game, neither of which are important enough to detract from your enjoyment in a significant way. Big or small, Axiom Verge's enemies command your attention with wildly varying behavior and impressive displays of force. Some let out ear piercing battle cries while slashing at you with great speed, while others use more creative means to attack, such as spewing swarms of energy leeching bugs that are difficult to shake. It takes time and practice to learn how to deal with the trickier enemies, but you quickly gain new weapons as you explore, and thus new methods to defend yourself become available.The drill is one of the first tools that you find, and it's an invaluable aid when digging for Sudra's most elusive items and secret areas.
Your primary weapon, the Axiom Disruptor, fires simple energy-bullets, but you quickly rack up augmentations that make it capable of delivering shotgun-like blasts of electricity, or a beam of current not unlike what you might see in a Ghostbusters movie, for example. With more than a dozen weapons to find, you have to spend a lot of time searching for each and every one. While you don't need every weapon to be efficient at blasting away enemies that stand in your path, you learn to love many of the weapons over time, and who doesn't like having options?
There are other tools to discover that make navigating Sudra manageable, let alone possible. A laser drill lets you plow through rock (and some tough-skinned enemies), revealing new pathways and potential secrets. You eventually find a grappling hook that turns you into a veritable Bionic Commando, allowing you to bridge large gaps and swing across ceilings. Like in Metroid, you can sneak through small tunnels that you find, but not by morphing into a ball. Rather, you find a drone that can do the exploring for you. It has its own life bar and some modest firepower, and while it's out and about, you get to rest inside an impenetrable force field. A quick press of a button, and the drone dismantles itself before zipping back to your location. Eventually, it becomes a remote teleportation device, allowing you to warp to its location.
One tool stands out as the most special of the lot: the Address Disruptor. This device can corrupt enemies or repair garbled matter, which has many implications and uses during your adventure. Sometimes, firing it at glitchy matter will yield a new platform that will help you get to a new location, while other times it can clear a path. The most interesting application, however, is using it to transform enemies. Every enemy has a different reaction to the Address Disruptor, and it's critical to pay attention to the particulars therein. An enemy that spawns laser firing bugs may suddenly spawn life energy once you've corrupted it, while another may start to gnaw away at rock, which you can use to your advantage when trying to access hard to reach areas. There are dozens of different behaviors associated with the Address Disruptor, and it's easily one of the most interesting weapons or tools that I've ever seen in a game.An experiment this dramatic is bound to go wrong.
One enemy's reaction in particular leads me to talk about the game's password system. Within the inventory and map menu lies a place to input passwords. Passwords can trigger different things, such as changing your outfit or allowing you to read previously indecipherable texts. All of the info in the documents you find are supplements to the story, but they also stoke your curiosity to dig deeper into the mysterious events of the past and present. Passwords aren't just given out, you need to work to find them. In one case, a hard to reach document contains a translation string, another reveals itself when you use the Address Disruptor on a glitchy area of the map. My favorite, and the basis of this segue, is the enemy that reveals a code, letter by letter, after it's been corrupted. This particular enemy is only in one room, and even though there are others like it to be found on the map, it only provides a password in this particular instance. Moments like this are when you realize that you must use every tool at your disposal if you hope to uncover all of the secrets that lie within Axiom Verge. It takes a lot of work to find some items, but you get a real sense of accomplishment when you overcome difficult situations by combining your skills in clever ways.
Part of the reason you want to find secrets and secret areas is because you may gain a new weapon or ability, but also because your speed, map coverage, and item percentage have an impact on the game's ending. No matter what, Axiom Verge's final third will satisfy your curiosity and surprise you, but you learn more about Trace if you get through the game with efficiency and an attention to detail.The Address Disruptor is Axiom Verge's defining tool. It can transform enemies into allies and reveal hidden objects, to name just a couple of its effects.
Accomplishing everything it takes to get the absolute best ending isn't easy, especially your first time through. It took me the better part of 14 hours to get through to the end, and even with all of that time, I only uncovered 92% of the map and found 70% of the items. It's not an impressive run by any measure, but it would have been far worse if Axiom Verge punished you for every death, which I experienced dozens of during the course of my journey. Thankfully, dying only sends you back to the last save point on the map with all of your progress kept intact. While this may mean that you're teleported back a significant distance across Sudra, any milestones you've hit are preserved, meaning you don't need to waste precious time repeating previous efforts.
Speaking of repeating previous efforts, once the credits finished rolling, I couldn't wait to jump back in and start Trace's journey all over again. Some games conclude and I'm happy to walk away, but Axiom Verge is such a joy to play, with dozens of tools to play with, and too many secrets to find. The skills and rules you learn inform your expectations and plans, and my second trip through became more about the gameplay than the story, which isn't entirely a bad thing. After all, the better I play, the better the payoff in the end. I'm still working through Sudra for the second time, occasionally going back to my first save to identify things I may have missed so that I'm prepared when I encounter them again.
Axiom Verge is a game that's easy to fall in love with because it hits so many high notes. It takes the Metroidvania model and adds layers of ingenuity that are in a league all of their own, the most notable being the Address Disruptor. Yes it's occasionally drab looking, and some enemies may not fit in with the rest of the world, but when a game is this good, these blemishes quickly fade into the back of your mind. The chilling sci-fi setting, mysterious plot, and a seemingly endless number of abilities keep your mind busy, and your curiosity at fever pitch. It's not a stretch to say that Axiom Verge is better than the games that inspired it, because it's so inventive and thoughtfully crafted. There's no excuse to hold onto the past when the present is this amazing.
OK. It's obviously not Arnold Schwarzenegger, but while defending humanity's last home from incoming enemy spacecraft and environmental hazards, you do randomly spout some famous lines in his voice. It's a fun touch, but don't let the comedic side of Protector get in the way of what's most important: defending that house. You run along the ground, firing into the sky as enemies nosedive into frame. Although the house you're defending can withstand some damage, similar to structures in the classic game Missile Command, all it takes is one hit for you to die in Commando mode, and there are no continues. You do have a few of the same abilities as your spaceship, including bombs and speed boosts, and you can jump, which is useful when ground-based enemies eventually appear. Because you can fire in more than two directions with the right analog stick, Commando mode feels like it has more in common with twin-stick shooters than it does with Resogun.
Blasting through increasingly difficult waves of enemies in Commando mode is challenging and the Schwarzenegger impersonations are humorous, but fighting on foot isn't as thrilling as zipping around in a ship. You don't move particularly fast, and your gun is underpowered for what feels like too long relative to how fast the number of targets increases on screen. This new style of gameplay is intriguing because it's different, but it lacks the sense of speed and excitement that's typical of Resogun. That's not to imply that it's bad or even not fun--you still experience the wonder of voxels and the drive to earn higher and higher scores, and likely a bit of laughter--but Commando mode just doesn't compare to the rest of Resogun.
If you're looking for something more fast-paced and exciting, focus on Protector mode. It plays very similar to Resogun proper, where you zoom around a ring-shaped level, shooting down enemy ships and rescuing vulnerable humans on the ground, but you earn weapons and armor upgrades at a much faster rate than usual. The trade-off is that enemy swarms grow equally fast and you don't start with any extra lives; the only second chances you get are in the form of expendable shields that occasionally come as bonuses for saving humans.
Piloting a fully-upgraded ship is a treat rarely afforded in other modes, where extended boosts and more destructive overdrive cannons are reserved for the best players, so Protector mode is a great way to experience a side of the game that may have been out of reach before. It's oh-so-sweet to have a massively upgraded ship, and because the difficulty also scales fast, you still feel like you're being challenged, even with all of the added firepower.
If Resogun has already run its course in your mind, there's nothing in Defenders that's going to lure you back in for the long haul. Of course, it's hard to imagine how someone could ever get enough Resogun, being that it's one of the best arcade-game experiences in years. In that sense, Defenders is a worthy addition to an already great game that will no doubt please anyone with a fondness for fighting within an inch of their life while also blowing up everything in sight into tiny, beautiful pieces.
The Frostback Basin is a deceptively big zone. What seems easily conquerable on the map screen is actually a sizable and intricate mix of environments. Foothills open up into plateaus, which feature deep, dangerous pits. A lakeshore runs into the bubbling, muddy shallows of the basin, and those turn into misty swamplands and damp jungles. It's all brought to life with vibrant color and fresh ambient sounds. The Frostback Basin feels distinct from the game's other zones, and it's mostly a joy to explore.The environments in Jaws of Hakkon really show off Inquisition’s lighting engine.
I say "mostly," because sometimes it feels like BioWare is trying to stretch out the available content in Jaws of Hakkon. Over the course of eight hours in the Frostback Basin, five different missions make you "follow the trail" across territory you've already explored thoroughly in the course of doing other missions. Most egregious is a mission that sends you around to flip a number of switches scattered across the northern half of the zone. For the previous six hours of play, these switches had been visible but inactive, and I knew that they'd send me back eventually. They did. This decision is particularly strange because Hakkon doesn't need to be stretched in any way. The Frostback Basin is packed with all of the elements that made me love Inquisition to begin with: smart characterization, interesting combat encounters, and carefully written lore.
The Frostback Basin is home to two rival tribes of the Avvar, a human society that briefly pops up early on in Inquisition. The development of these groups (and of the region's history in general) is the high point of Hakkon, and you'll get the most out of this DLC if you dig into the lore about these people and their culture and religion. Dragon Age has always been at its best when the stories it tells are multifaceted and mysterious, and the same is true here: Religious iconography blurs together; magical traditions are at once remarkably similar and fundamentally different; and the final, "true" history is often left unknown.What’s better than hanging out on a moonlit beach with some buds?
Best of all, the Avvar work to break apart the classic binaries that show up throughout the Dragon Age series. They share the Elven relationship to nature, but are human. They're human, but don't belong to any of the major political powers. They're deeply spiritual, but also incredibly practical. They have a strict system to govern the use of magic, but use terms and concepts to explain the magical world that are entirely different than those used by the Templars and Circle of Mages. All of this works to complicate the world of Thedas by providing yet another potential perspective to consider.
This makes it extra frustrating that so little of Jaws of Hakkon shares the cinematic sheen of the rest of Inquisition. Most other zones in the world of Thedas have a mix of two different sorts of quests. Firstly, there are the little, MMOG-style missions you complete for this or that character: kill ten bears, or recover a missing satchel, or perform some other small task. Secondly, there are the major story missions that take you out of the third-person perspective and into a cutscene view, where dramatic music supports characters who emote and animate as the plot unfolds. In Hakkon, only the very beginning and very end of the main questline offer this second sort of storytelling. Throughout the rest of my eight hours, I watched as world-shaking information was delivered without any pomp or luster.Learning about the Avvar culture is a highlight.
If you told me last week that this would bother me, I'd tell you that you'd be absolutely wrong. But here I am, missing the intimate close-ups and the sweeping vistas. (Maybe this shouldn't be be surprising: Imagine an episode of Game of Thrones that never shows the detail of a character's face.) Over the course of the previous 70 hours, Dragon Age: Inquisition had quietly taught me to expect a certain rhythm: I'd meander around a zone until I was ready to commit to one of the many "big" story events. There was a sort of storytelling grammar at work, and by reducing the use of that grammar, Hakkon rarely feels as substantial as it should. Thankfully, the final hour or so of Hakkon does utilize those storytelling tools to great effect, and it joins them with some new, unique mechanics in a series of major combat encounters that build momentum and velocity until an explosive climax.
Though I wish that Jaws of Hakkon was less bloated, and though I miss the cinematic flair of the rest of Dragon Age: Inquisition, I know that in a month I'll have forgotten these quibbles. Instead, I'll remember my time spent in Frostback Basin fondly. I'll remember the sharp wit of Svarah Sun-Hair, the leader of the local Avvar clan. I'll remember the holy symbols that blur the line between competing faiths. I'll remember the mist and the mountains and the sun's light through the trees. I'll remember confronting legendary foes, and the time I got to spend with some of my favorite characters in video games.