All posts by Charles Boucher

Tinertia Review – PC/Steam

I feel that I should preface this review by saying that, despite making an earnest effort, I wasn’t able to complete Tinertia. This isn’t through any fault of the game, as the controls are tight, the level design flows well, and the core player actions are elegant. I think, ultimately, it comes down to Tinertia being too hardcore for me and my fading reflexes.

The core of Tinertia is fairly simple: You’re a small robot with a rocket launcher, whose ship crashed into the core of a planet, ascending through a labyrinth of obstacle course to make your escape. You can’t jump. Instead, you shoot rockets by flicking the right analog stick, and the force of their blast launches you into the air. Additionally, for extra control and distance, you can air dash with the left analog stick and a bumper, giving you an extra push and canceling your previous momentum.

These tools take you a long way, from fairly simple platforming exercises in the beginning, to complex courses full of lasers, temporary platforms, surfaces that alter your friction, and more. What starts as relaxing quickly becomes taxing, and while competent play can finish a world in a couple minutes, it’s more likely that learning the courses and actually correctly performing them will take the better part of an hour.

After being stumped by the movement system for a couple minutes, I was soon fluent. Most of my deaths didn’t come from missed jumps, but bad reflexes and poor impulses, sending me shooting into an obstacle at the exact wrong time. Every death felt fair, and the frustration largely came from my physical inability not to hurl myself to my own death like a giant moron.

The courses are all part of a single contiguous world, which spirals around itself. It didn’t come into effect in the gameplay as far as I saw – the courses didn’t cross over each other – but it was an interesting effect, and seeing previous courses shoot by in the background as I fell to my death was interesting and did a good job of establishing the overall height of the worlds.

At the end of every world is a boss, where you have to evade parts of a giant robot guardian preventing you from accessing the next world. These are spectacular, in a literal sense, but the first was one of the few points where I was frustrated at the game rather than my own mistakes. While Tinertia did a good job of educating the player in its mechanics up to that points, the fact that you need to use your rockets as a weapon to slow the boss’s massive, chainsaw-fingered hand in addition to a movement tool was a new mechanic that it was necessary to understand to complete the boss fight, and nothing indicated this in play. I had to watch a YouTube video of somebody else beating the boss in order to understand what I needed to do.

Tinertia is pretty enough, and has a charming graphical style. The variety of platforms and obstacles are clearly differentiated, and the protagonist has a clunky charm to him, with the boss robots huge and intimidating in comparison, looming in the background as parts of their bodies dominate the course and become deadly obstacles. The electronic soundtrack was decent throughout, but highlighted the bosses I was able to reach especially well.

For those with more skill and fortitude than me, Tinertia doesn’t end with the campaign. Each course has a par time and a par for number of shots fired that add even more challenge to an already difficult run through. And then there are speedrun and boss rush modes, for comparing your best efforts against the game against other players. So far, the list seemed pretty empty (I was able to place 7th on the speedrun list for the first world and had a pretty accident-prone run), but it’s definitely ripe for competition.

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Endless Legend Review – PC/Steam

Endless Legend, the fantasy 4X game from Amplitude, creators of Endless Space and Dungeon of the Endless, is only about a month out from its early access release, and it’s already shaping up to be a better game than Endless Space was after years of development. Even with the gaps in its mechanics and small selection of factions, it’s a game with remarkable potential.

In Endless Legend, you play as the survivors of a deadly winter, trying to rebuild society on the dying world of Auriga. As you build cities, research new technologies, deal with the minor factions to pacify them or bring them into your empire, and make war against rivals, you’ll work to make the greatest empire on a planet that’s slowly freezing to death. It’s sort of a poetic commentary on the futility of the human project that will surely be ruined when they add extra victory conditions.

Sarcasm aside, for its very early state, it’s already a rich experience. Each of the four factions currently in the game play quite differently, from the Vaulters, who build up their defenses and have a marked technological advantage, to the Necrophages, a race of insects who are locked into eternal war with the other races of Auriga. Special features drop the map, each with interesting lore that highlights how the technologically-regressed inhabitants of Auriga relate to what the ancient Endless left behind. Quests lead you through gameplay, giving you goals to shoot for and lending a plot to each faction as they try to rise to power and glory. It is – and this is an important distinction among early access games – an actual, interesting strategy game.

You’ll need to decide where to place and expand cities, plan military campaigns around the threat of winter, and balance the need to explore, the need to protect yourself, and the need to pacify the minor factions, even when you’re at peace. Once you meet other major factions, things get more complicated. Diplomacy is nothing special, but the AI can be fairly aggressive, so it’s important not to get complacent.

It definitely shares a lot of DNA with its older space-borne sibling. Though the game takes place on a hex map reminiscent of Civilization 5, when a battle happens, the forces spread out across the terrain, automatically playing out their fight with only minimal instructions from you, a version of Endless Space’s card-based combat that’s simultaneously stripped down and much more comprehensible. The research tree – more of a research blob, since you can research any tech from your current era or before at any time – has a series of technologies that seem more practical than fantastical, as Endless Space did. It even shares the core resources of Food, Science, Industry and Dust. But where Endless Space could feel a little bit empty, Endless Legend creates a vivid world.

Scouting out a region, trying to find the perfect place for you to place your city – only one per map region, and map regions can get pretty big – is a much more exciting experience than just sending a scout ship to a new star and hoping it has something useful for colonists. One thing it didn’t have, at least yet, is the ability to customize your rank and file units, though frankly, I don’t mind the small selection currently in the game, and limiting customization to your heroes gives them a good deal more focus.

The narrative of a 4X game is always a huge source of enjoyment for me as I play, and Endless Legend manages a good job of that, even at this point in the game’s development. Detailed descriptions of the environment, well-written quest text that gives insight into the world, the ability to assimilate minor factions into your empire, all of this adds up to an ability to tell stories to yourself about the society you’re creating that’s fairly unmatched outside of the Civilization series.

The graphics are a mixed bag. The paintings for unit art, quests, and events are all beautiful, some of my favorites in recent games, while the 3d art for the world is really rough. It took me a while to get used to it, and even once I learned what each thing was, it still wasn’t especially attractive. The unit models are fine; striking a midpoint between the exquisite paintings and the super rough environments that I hope are placeholders.

Endless Legend has the potential to be an amazing 4X game, but even just now, it’s still better than quite a few who’ve made their way to market. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes as it moves towards its release.

FROM EARLY ACCESS TO FINAL RELEASE

Endless Legend’s come a long way from its initial early access. While the game’s core concepts are largely unchanged, they’ve been built on dramatically, with roads, naval travel, and four new factions, each of which plays the game dramatically differently. That’s probably the game’s greatest triumph. Each of the game’s eight factions has unique elements adding a level of asymmetry that’s not often seen in 4X games.

If you’re playing as the Roving Clans, who can move their cities on the backs of giant scarabs and can’t go to war unless someone else starts it, you’re playing a dramatically different game than someone playing the Necrophages, who are locked into war with every other faction, with abilities that pressure them to start fights in order to keep growing, or even the Cultists, who have one megacity and specialize in assimilating minor factions into their empire.

Every faction in this game shows a degree of personality and mechanical difference that’s just delightful. The game’s been polished from early beta, and now the map is rather attractive, complementing the aesthetics that the writing and paintings had already established. It’s actually managed to become one of the game’s highlights, and the abstract topography of the hex map and the way it plays into both battle and strategic movement is a fascinating element.

There are still a few rough spots – The tech tree presents too many choices at any given time for my liking, and I’m still getting used to city placement – but I’m starting to think that those are largely the growing pains of getting used to a game that’s rather different from any other 4X games I’ve played in a long while. Still, I do wish the game had fewer choices to make, with clearer results, rather than the myriad small choices that go into building an empire and heroes.

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Road Not Taken Review – PC/Steam

Have you been waiting for an adorable puzzle-roguelike about loss and unexpected results? Probably not, unless you’ve specifically been hankering for Road Not Taken, but it’s still one of the most interesting games I’ve played in a long time. Coming from Spryfox, having spent a huge amount of time with Triple Town, I expected a game that was constrained and elegant. Instead, I found that Road Not Taken was sprawling, full of secrets and strange interactions, with more depth than I had imagined. It was a beautiful game.

In Road Not Taken, you play as a ranger who arrives in a village, one in a long chain. With a staff that lets you pick up and move objects, you navigate the forest every winter. You’ll align objects to open paths, combine things in the environment to create new things, and try to bring children back to mothers in order to rescue them from the forest.

All of this is shown in some of the most adorable graphics, but it has a definite dark edge. It feels like a fairy tale world, where foxes protect lost children, berries can extend life, and spirits roam the woods. When a child dies, they’re dead, and the people in the village express their grief, disappointment, and, sometimes most distressingly, pragmatic acceptance towards that. Sometimes, I would rather die in the woods and start over rather than go back home when I hadn’t fully completed a level.

I feel like that’s intended behavior, or, at least, valid. The idea that the ranger would rather die in the woods than give up and return home seems like the kind of resolution that exists in the story the game tells. Really, what’s impressive is how so many of the things here feel like they belong. Some are strange, like combining three red spirits to get an axe, but others, like the child-protecting foxes taming vicious wolves, follows the storybook logic of the game.

Learning the rules of combinations is a huge part of Road Not Taken. You can go a little ways by just bumping things into other things, but without knowing what reactions exist, why you’d want to do them, and when, you’re going to have a rough time. Early on, I felt disappointed that I was playing a prerelease version of the game, if only because my immediate interaction when faced with something this mechanically dense is to go to a wiki and figure out how things interact and what my priorities should be, but as I kept playing, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how mechanics interacted. The hard-won knowledge that combining spirits in certain ways would create a vicious ghost, or that some villagers would resent me befriending people they dislike, felt much more valuable when it was a penalty that messed up a run rather than warning of something to be avoided.

That said, after a while playing it, there are some elements that bug me. Needing to herd animals to open pathways is always a little obnoxious, and I wasn’t fully sure how the banning mechanic worked, since I found wolves in the forest after I thought I got rid of them. That said, those are fairly minor annoyances in what I thought was a really impressive, thoughtful game. I also sometimes found myself overthinking the game and getting gloomy enough that I didn’t want to play again for a while, but that’s more operator error than anything inherent in the design.

It’s definitely not for everyone, but if the idea of a randomized puzzle game about unexpected occurrences seems like a cool idea to you, and you like the core mechanic of picking up and throwing objects, it’ll probably be worth playing. Road Not Taken might have earned a space in my list of sleeper games, like Binding of Isaac and Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup that I’ll keep coming back to whenever I have a few minutes for a game.

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The Wolf Among Us – Episode 5: Cry Wolf Review– PC/Steam

So, The Wolf Among Us is finally over. It’s been a long ride, but a worthy successor to The Walking Dead. One of the few licensed games that’s better than the source material, it manages to bring the mystery to a satisfying conclusion, with twists both magical and mundane, and an ending fitting its noir inspiration. The last episode felt like it was mostly denouement, but a well-deserved one that lets us reflect on how we’ve played Bigby Wolf over the course of the season.

 

If you’re just reading the very last review and no others, that’s weird, but anyways, here’s the premise: the characters from fantastical stories have been driven out of their native land, and settled in New York, under an amnesty that brings monsters, villians, and fallen nobility together. The lucky live in Fabletown, a neighborhood protected from mortal attention by magical means, while the less fortunate live on the outskirts, away from the protection of the fable government.

 

In the middle of this, you’re Bigby Wolf. After the amnesty given to fables, you’re the sheriff of Fabletown. Trying to enforce the rules is a thankless job, and your history – eating Red Riding Hood, blowing down pigs’ houses, and your time as a terrible manifestation of nature, red in tooth and claw – doesn’t make it any easier. After the fight that capped off the third episode, Bigby is adrift without many leads to follow up on, and shot full of silver.

 

The situation soon changes, though, giving you a hot pair of leads. As you follow up on them, you’ll make snap decisions that determine how things play out, and you never know what’ll come back later and what won’t. It does a great job of putting you in the shoes of Bigby, making snap decisions and hoping things will work out. Knowing when to ask questions, make statements, or just shut up and let things unfold is vital.

 

The voice work is continues to be excellent. A lot of fascinating dialogue unfolds in the background as Bigby talks with others, and the game does a great job of mixing these conversations together.

 

The visuals are pretty much perfect. On a technical level, the cel shading is ace, to the point where screenshots have the look of being hand-drawn pictures. The color palette isn’t quite as muted as I remember the comic being, but gives a lurid air to the investigation. Meanwhile, the environmental details are amazing, even if I can’t really share anything at this point without it being a spoiler.

 

This is the end of the season, and it really sells that. The back half of the episode is spent looking back on your actions, seeing the people you’ve done well by and the people you wronged all getting together for one last stretch. I’d played Bigby as a penitent, trying to do well by the people of Fabletown, and give a voice to the voiceless, but I can easily see someone who embraced his brutal side having a far different experience – something worth exploring in a second replay, which the game fully embraces, even it its Book of Fables and Achievement unlocks.

 

The Wolf Among Us is pretty much the video game version of a page turner. Every time a new episode comes out, I can’t wait to dive back in, and nothing will take me out until I get to the end. Now that it’s over, I’m just hoping that Telltale manages to produce a second season as engaging as the first.  As far as interactive stories go this was a good one, and if you’ve waited this long to jump in, now is the time to experience the entire story without the lengthy intermissions between episodes.

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WildStar Review for PC

WildStar’s a bold move to make in 2014. We’re in the golden age of free-to-play (which is to say, some of the games are worth playing for reasons other than ‘free’), so it takes a certain amount of boldness on the part of Carbine to make a brand new game and actually charge to play it. But, aside from being plagued by the tech issues common to new MMOs, WildStar manages to back it up. Its distinct style, unique group content, and engaging story make it a game that’s worth playing.

For the purposes of my part of this review, I played a human exile medic to level 50, spec’d as a healer when I grouped up and, of course, focused on damage when I was alone. The medic’s WildStar’s damage over time class, or at least it can be. When I fought, I specialized in dropping fields of damage on the ground, overlapping them for maximum pain. It was a pretty fun way to fight, though it was always a downer to see a more burst-capable class explode an enemy I was fighting and take most of the kill credit.

That said, leveling in WildStar is pretty painless. Compared to other MMORPGs, the XP curve is fairly flat, and the time to level from 19 to 20 isn’t too much less than the time to level from 49 to 50. Once you get your house, rest XP is fairly generous, and I was able to hit the level cap after about a week and a half of dedicated play, which was some of my best time with the game.

I was drawn in by the game’s lore especially, the history of Nexus, full of species living in the shadow of the long-departed Eldan, and the off-world visitors looking to reap the world’s bounties. Both were fascinating, and the sheer amount of information presented – largely unobtrusive, so it’s there for the lore nerd, but not in the way of anyone who doesn’t bother reading quest text – dazzled me as a fan of the world. Each zone was full of new information, and the exploration was made all the better by the variety within each zone. Each zone had multiple biomes, enhancing the feel of exploration and making me excited to see what was over the next hill in a way I haven’t been in most games.

That said, there are some areas that kind of drag. I ended up skipping most of the non-story quests in the end of Whitevale and the start of Farside, when it just seemed like too much effort to grind out what the quest needed. But that was a just a small nadir in what was, overall, a very enjoyable experience. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the combat’s very engaging, built around interrupting enemy casts, dodging telegraphed attacks, and setting up interactions between skills. Player skill can sometimes make up for bad stats, which is more than can be said for some games, though, of course, sometimes auto-attack damage can overwhelm and under-leveled or under-geared player.

[signoff]Additional thoughts from Mahamari — The soundtrack is fantastic. I really love how the composer (Jeff Kurtenacker) combined a bunch of elements from various genres (orchestral/soundtrack, electronic, Western, etc.) to match WildStar’s hybrid sci-fi/Western setting. I think this might have been the first time I’ve heard banjos layered so fittingly with electronic sounds. I would definitely buy a copy of the soundtrack if it were available. I really enjoy the higher challenge of the combat and learning to dodge each enemy’s telegraphs. It definitely makes combat more interactive and less monotonous than I was used to in an MMO, and the difficulty level makes beating bosses more satisfying.

I dig the bright colors and the hyper-exaggerated art style. It’s like the Looney Tunes version of more run-of-the-mill MMO game art (a la WoW), and the animals and plants are super cute. I would love a stuffed vind, seriously. The sci-fi elements also have a fun retro look that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’ve heard comments around the web from other female players who felt offended by the exaggerated female body shapes, but I didn’t feel that way myself. I don’t think the characters are oversexualized or objectified in general, at least from what I’ve seen so far, and I find the body types match the extreme proportions echoed throughout the rest of the art style.

The game’s sense of humor is another thing I like about the game. I get a laugh out of being made fun of when I die, and the NPCs have memorable personalities. I ran into some random bugs once in a while (quest trackers disappearing, etc.), but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying the game. I haven’t had any difficulty with server overpopulation or too much lag, so that’s nice. [/signoff]

When you’re playing as a team, the emphasis on skill becomes more pronounced. It’s some of the game’s hardest content, but it can be thrilling when you overcome it with a skilled team. My first time through Stormtalon’s Lair, the first dungeon I encountered, beating the final boss felt like such a feat that I cheered out loud.

Adventures are the easier side of the equation. They tend to be a little bit more experimental in form, from the tower defense action of Siege of Tempest Refuge and the MOBA-styled action of War of the Wilds, to the narrative branching in Hycrest Insurrection and Crimelords of Whitevale. The resource management and path-finding of the Malgrave Trail is the culmination of all this, a long, elaborate adventure full of potential forks and interesting challenges that responds to player choices. Sadly, right now, many of the adventures have bugged options that cut down on the decision making, but it’s a promising enough idea that most players I talked to couldn’t wait to branch out and find different routes through them.

On the other side of the equation, dungeons are more traditional and more hardcore. Full of bosses with intricate mechanics, optional objectives, and difficult fights that require teamwork, dungeons are a great time when you’re playing with your guild, but an absolute recipe to get angry at strangers when you queue up for them alone. Adding another wrinkle is the medal tracking. Dungeons and adventures (Really, almost everything you do in WildStar aside from questing alone) rates how well you do and assigns a medal that affects that number and quality of rewards you get when you finish. It’s a real cool system, but ends up being a little problematic in pickup groups, when someone abandons the group at the first sign of not getting a gold medal, forcing everyone else to get back into the queue. I ended up avoiding going group content unless my guild had a run going.

Part of that was the degree to which teams need to work together and make allowances for how their healer works. While other classes get the benefit of burst heals from long range, medics have short-range area of effect heal-over-times, with limited burst potential, and unique shield-healing powers that give players more long-term damage mitigation. It’s a fun play style, but it lead to a lot of button mashing, and when someone decided to wander away from the group or when AoEs split the party up and they couldn’t get back together, it was a good sign that someone was going to die. Fortunately, WildStar’s skill-based combat makes it so one or two people can eat it – maybe even the tank – and you can still win a fight, as long as everyone’s good at dodging, interrupting, and working together.

[signoff]Additional thoughts from Jason Flick — I grew up on tab targeting based MMOs and even though I still love them it’s hard to go back to them ever since MMOs started to be all about skill-based combat. Carbine Studios paid attention to that growing popularity when they set their sights on creating an MMO of their very own and it shows with the release of WildStar. Building upon this fast growing and fast paced norm, Carbine has taking things to another level with the use of telegraphs. Since players must manually aim to hit their targets telegraphs allow you to see the range of your attacks as well as those of your foes. I chose to play as an Aurin Esper Explorer so knowing the range of my attacks/heals was almost a necessity in battle. Telegraphs are very important to pay attention to as your enemies actually aim at you and this gives you a chance to avoid their attacks entirely most on the time. For me it made combat much more engaging and fast paced and put a smile on my face every time I managed multiple kills at once like something right out of Halo.

One of main reasons that I really enjoy WildStar so much though is that the game has real charm. When I’m not in combat I’m exploring every inch high and low discovering tucked away areas and marveling at the level designs. WildStar features an anime inspired design in both its locales as well as its character designs which is easy to tell in the Aurin race. Seriously, you can be anything from a neko to an almost bunny if you want to. There is even a race of brilliant by psychotic chipmunks that you can play as. Just don’t ask them to sing. To make the storytelling and adventuring complete, WildStar literally features plenty of attitude in its awesome voice acting and music. When a voice yells “Triple Kill” or “Uh Oh. Now you’re enemies are really shitin’ their pants!” out of nowhere when you level up is just awesome and gives the game character.

To top it all off I was presented with a world class soundtrack featuring a combination of classical and electronic genres to give WildStar an amazingly epic space western opera vibe. You have everything from sweeping melodies that just gives you chills to energetic movements that make you want to rush headlong into battle. The music is so good that I will buy the soundtrack as soon as it becomes available. While I still have a lot of exploring to do, levels to gain and obstacles to overcome WildStar is a MMO that I will happily sink a lot of time into for months to come. [/signoff]

To even stand a chance in the group content, especially at the level cap, you’ll probably need crafted gear, which is currently a very useful stepping-stone into the endgame. Over the course of my play, I ended up trying the technologist, relic hunter, outfitter and survivalist professions.

Technologists make power cores for crafted gear and gadgets, but mostly they make potions. Any given recipe can have several outputs, which you discover by spending money on additives to move a cursor around a dartboard-style grid. Some of the outputs are revealed from the start, and others are secret, leading to a somewhat-frustrating game of hot-cold as you try to work out where, exactly, a given recipe might be.

Relic hunters find the omni-plasm that technologists need in the bulk of their recipes, and can be exciting in and of itself. Sometimes, as you’re harvesting, the relic node gets up and skitters around in a bid to escape, and at other times it rises from the ground and starts to summon drones to protect it. It was a great way to add spice to what’s usually a very drab part of  a game.

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Outfitter, like the other gear-crafting professions, makes its equipment by slotting stat modifications into preset slots. It takes a fair deal of skill to know how to best optimize what you place and how you charge it to make the ideal gear for a given player. It was probably my favorite crafting skill, and while I’m sure a lot of the gear I made was terrible compared to a really skilled player willing to take risks, it felt more solidly mine than crafted gear has in any other WoW-style MMORPG.

Survivalist, its complementary gathering skill, though, was a definite letdown. I was under the impression that it was supposed to increase leather drops from creatures, but it didn’t feel very significant. Most of what I harvested as a survivalist was wood, which was primarily useful to architects. Nice, but kind of tangential to my interests as an outfitter.

Still, despite my complaints, WildStar has some of the most engaging crafting in any MMORPG. It just needs some post-launch tweaking and some systems, like item imbuements, are already in place to make the gear, and the feeling of ownership over it, even more significant, even cooler.

Housing, meanwhile, it already much more significant and cooler than I first expected. The ability to customize a plot of land, with aesthetic and practical additions, and putting props around the house is both addictive and a great creative outlet. My neighbors list includes a house with raid training equipment, like a DPS target dummy and a telegraph-dodging training course, houses built up as art installations, and plenty of other specialized little curiosities. House zone chat even manages to be some of the friendliest in the game, an added bonus after spending an afternoon adventuring and listening to terrible nerds be awful in the rest of the world. I ended up spending hours just relaxing and tweaking my house for the sake of it.

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WildStar’s stylized presentation serves it well, because it’s a world that’s a joy to just hang around in, full of stuff done in a great cartoony style. It’s hard to pick a single standout, but if I had to, it’s probably the lopp. I’d seriously not shut up about them to my friends. They were so charming that I even went out of my way to get a lopp party addition to my house so I could dance with them when I was at home.

The game’s music is catchy and fills in the space-western vibe with a few standout tracks like the House Of Tomorrow-style Protostar theme, but after so long hearing it, it eventually got turned down in favor of listening to podcasts. The voice clips, though, stayed on. From the exiles humans’ down-home southern accents to the lopp’s lilting, vaguely eastern European tone, to the 1950s-esque salesmanship of the Protostar clones, every voice clip was a delight to hear.

[signoff]Additional thoughts from David Larmour— t mute it and put on my own soundtrack. The voice acting is plentiful, varied, and whimsical. This is a game that banks on having style, and it succeeds wonderfully.

Mechanically, it’s familiar territory, though there are some new twists. Your attacks target an area rather than a single enemy, and you’re frequently blasting away at two or three opponents at once. Meanwhile, many enemy attacks can be dodged. It’s a much more active combat style, with a lot more movement and a lot less standing in place auto-attacking. There’s very little hand holding by the game, and it largely assumes you’ve played similar games and doesn’t need to explain much. Regrettably it doesn’t really explain things that DON’T work the same as every other MMO and you can sometimes be left in the cold by not understanding a vital mechanic.

The quest design has a little more variety than your standard MMO, but there’s not much here that’s unexpected. The levelling experience is smooth and the storyline quests should generally take you to the level you need to be but the quest design starts to suffer in the mid-levels, as you begin to run into many quests that are either buggy or have extremely ill-conceived objectives. Moving away from the level grind, there’s plenty to do that isn’t just pushing to the level cap as fast as possible. The crafting system is much more in depth than any other game I’ve played, with even low level cooking having a great deal of twists you can put on creating a simple item.

The player housing system is simply a delight. It’s open to anyone and everyone, as it’s unlocked at a low level and the basics are cheap enough that any player can afford to have their own little getaway. Designing your home is an incredibly robust system that you can sink hours into getting every little decoration just right. Honestly this was probably the part of the game that I enjoyed the most.

Lastly I want to tackle the group content. Unfortunately I never levelled high enough to see a raid on anything other than a world boss (which was a mess of an experience) so I can’t say anything about the raids that isn’t speculation, but I did experience the adventures and dungeons. Adventures are varied scenarios for a five man group that can range from a branching series of instanced quests to a tower defense module. Some of them are easy; some of them are bone crushingly hard. The dungeons are what nearly put me off the game entirely. Now, WildStar, like many games, has a random grouping queue. But the dungeon difficulty does not feel like it was intended to run with a randomly selected group of people. In fact, the first dungeon I did, when I was merely at level 20, nowhere near the endgame, felt like an endgame raid in any other MMO. Some may relish this sort of difficulty, but I don’t believe it’s appropriate in a mid-level dungeon, where you’re still learning how all your abilities work and when anything that you’ve previously encountered that had a chance to kill you was only because you were fighting something you shouldn’t.  WildStar wasn’t really for me, but if you miss the old days of 40-man raids, or if you’re simply looking for a harder, more punishing MMO to overcome, this may be the game you’re looking for. [/signoff]

I’d spent almost two weeks fully immersed in WildStar, all my free time going into plugging away at it. Hitting the level cap and starting the elder game broke that spell for me (Which, I suppose, is probably a good thing, though I miss the heady rush of MMO addition). Once you hit the cap, there’s not a lot to do right now except run challenges, go after world bosses, do events and daily quests, and try dungeons and adventures. Granted, that’s a decent amount of stuff, but I missed the structure I had when I was leveling. In an attempt to get that structure back,  I devoted myself to getting my attunement for the first raid done, and that meant a lot of time spent handling specific endgame grinds, one after the other.

I’d spent enough time in Crimson Badlands, the first daily event zone, to swear it off for a while after I got enough elder gems to buy my raid key and hit maximum relutation with the Exiles. It’s not a bad zone by any means, but doing the exact same quests, day after day, got tiresome pretty quickly. Especially since, as I was focusing on healing, a lot of my DPS gear was pretty bad. I wasn’t able to start raiding by deadline, but the veteran adventures I’m currently running to get raid access are exciting, if hectic.

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Fortunately, Carbine’s promised monthly meaningful content in the form of Ultradrops. The first one, Strain, is almost here, with a new daily zone and a new world zone, and a bunch of goodies themed around the grotesque, all-corrupting infection that’s one of WildStar’s biggest threats. If they manage to keep up the pace and introduce significant content on this scale every month, it’ll be a terrific reason to keep subscribed.

The biggest problem WildStar faces is probably its tech. Between serious memory leaks, UI crashes, performance issues on AMD hardware, and bugged content, there’s a lot of stuff that give the impression that it could have used another month or two before release. Still, it’s in the process of getting fixed, with most of the worst stuff already on the way out, so I have high hopes for state of the game in the near future. As I was constantly reminded by my guild as I complained about the lore window throwing a scripting error almost every time I tried to open it,  it is an MMORPG launch.

So, despite some growing pains, WildStar’s a really good game, with a lot of potential for evolution. It’s easily the best new MMO of the year so far, and if it lives up to that potential, it’ll be a good candidate to stand toe to toe with Warlords of Draenor when it comes out. It just needs the time to work out its kinks, and it could end up being to this decade what WoW was to the last.

Thanks to all our contributing staff writers on one of our first team-based reviews here at Game Chronicles.  If you enjoyed this multi-perspective look into WildStar let us know in the comments and we can try to do more in future projects.

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WildStar Q&A with Chad Moore

Wildstar’s been out for almost a month, giving gamers a chance to explore Nexus and learn the secrets of the Eldan. Game Chronicles got the chance to talk to Chad Moore, Creative Director at Carbine, about what goes into creating narrative content and making creative decisions on a new MMORPG, as well as some lore trivia, and a question that couldn’t be answered.

Game Chronicles: What kind of compromises had to be made to make everything consistent in Wildstar? It’s a huge game with a lot of content, but its narrative tone and style are a lot more on the mark than some other MMOs out there. It seems like there must have been something left on the floor, or special effort put towards everything was in line with what you wanted to present.

Chad Moore: I think the compromises that we made, in general, we didn’t have to make a lot of content compromises, because of tone or design, but I believe that the biggest compromises we ended up having to make from a narrative standpoint are just because of the nature of an MMO. Ultimately, it’s challenging to tell a traditionally-structured story in what ends up being an inherently non-linear game. Beyond the first fifteen minutes of gameplay, we don’t control, at any point, what direction you go, what content you experience. And so, because of that, it can be difficult to tell a story that’s cohesive, in the same way a novel or a single-player RPG is cohesive.

So, I think, those have been the biggest challenges for us. How can we get players bought into not just our game, but our overall universe, and ultimately into the bigger story of things that’re happening on Nexus, and not compromise what’s cool about an MMO, the total freedom to experience whatever content you want. Any compromises we’ve had the story side have been just because of the inherent nature of an MMO.

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GC: Are there any specific challenges about presenting the lore with any degree of depth to the player that never opens the lore window? There’s a huge amount of information in the game, and there are things that you can pick up on from play, even without paying special attention to it.

CM: I think for a player who’s just not interested in reading quest text, or opening the lore window, there’s just a level of detail they’re going to miss. That said, I think we do a lot of work in our game, in our zones, our dungeons and adventures, using what we call visual storytelling.

Let’s say you come into an area and there’s this giant robot in an excavation site. So, if you don’t read anything at all, what you’re probably getting is, you’re on the legendary planet of Nexus, these guys were digging stuff up, and now there’s a robot on a rampage. I think, just on a base level, I think we work very hard to make sure the environments players are questing through, are telling story, not just of what’s happening in this region, but of what’s happening on the entire planet.

I think one of the bigger things we do is, we have avenues for storytelling that don’t require you to stop, or watch a cinematic. We have Datacubes, fully voiced research notes left behind by the Eldan. When you click on them, you start to hear a snippet of what was going on in this area when the Eldan were here. What I like is, it lets you keep moving, keep enjoying the gameplay without having to stop.

We try whenever possible to tell stories that way. Stories that aren’t getting in the way of players who just want to grab things and get back into the gameplay. As a general rule, almost all of our deep storytelling is what we call opt-in. If you’re a player who really likes lore, there’s tons and tons of it out there, but you’ve got to decide to dig in. Quests might have an extra dialogue node to tell you about character motivation, or the Galactic Archives, part of your lore tab, let you go in at any time to read about a particular creature, a particular NPC, or a world group. So, players who enjoy that can dig deep, but for players who just want to play, we try to have vehicles for storytelling that don’t get in the way of playing.

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GC: I love that stuff. I was really excited to see how everything worked. Now, when you’re building a new IP, and you have to make everything from scratch, how do you make the initial decisions? Are the design of the world, and the design of the races based on specific player interests, or is there something else you use as a launching point for your initial creative work?

CM: In terms of the visual designs for the player races, what we tried to do is to present a broad range of character types, in terms of visuals and archetypes, so that any kind of player can probably find something that resonates with them. So, on the Dominion side, we have the humans, the Cassians. But then we have our robots, the Mechari. They’re sort of like our James Bond-meets-The Terminator archetype. Then we have the Chua, who are these little psychopathic rodents. Much smaller, sort of creepily-cute, and that resonates with a certain type of player. As we were developing the lore, what was really important is that we had a really strong variation between the races that would resonate with whatever sort of player logged into the game.

And so, from there, once we had those visual landmarks, how we developed the stories were determined by the factions. So, for the Dominion, we had this powerful empire, and you’ve got the Mechari, who’re spies, hunting down enemies of the empire, and the Chua, who’re technologists who build all the cool weapons and spaceships, and the Cassians, who’re the leaders, and the Draken, who’re this warlike race. And that covers most of the important things within that faction, so we did that for both sides. So what you have in the end is this balance of visual archetypes, but also social and cultural archetypes within each faction. It gives the broadest range of choice, not just from a faction standpoint, but from a player race standpoint. It’s a two-pronged approach but I think, ultimately, it was successful.

GC: Absolutely. Just a month out from release, there’s so many people identifying really strongly with a given race, so many arguments in chat about what race is the best race. It’s hit a strong vibe for a lot of people.

CM: Yeah. And I think the other thing that was really important for me, from a lore standpoint, is having this strong conflict between the two factions that’s kind of irreconcilable. I like the idea that these two groups are never going to hold hands and group up. Or even have a temporary truce. I know some people like that sort of thing, but I like the idea that, no matter what’s going on, if a Dominion guy sees an Exile guy, they’re going to drop everything and go at it. There’s something kind of compelling about that.

So, that was one thing that was really important. But, also the individual stories of the races tie directly into the conflict. Each one of the races has a specific reason why the bigger conflict matters, why they care so much about it. It’s not just because they’re part of the group, each one of them has deep-seated motivations that make the conflict between the two factions even more important. So, that was another thing we really focused on as we developed the races, the reasons they cared about the conflict that drives the game.

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GC: Yeah. Like, in World of Warcraft, every expansion ends with some reason for the Alliance and Horde to team up. I like the idea of that not being the narrative saw the game keeps coming back to.

CM: Yeah, when you pledge your allegiance to a faction, people relate. They see their character in that light. It’s a really awesome choice, and it’s more awesome when you make it mean something in the game. When it’s there’s not Terrible Event #762 that causes everyone to set aside their differences and work together. I just don’t really like that kind of storytelling. (laughter) Talk to me in five years and see if I’ve been able to hold my ground on that, but for now, that’s where I’ve planted my flag in the sand.

GC: We’ll see if every expansion starts with a hero getting corrupted.

CM: (laughter) Right.

GC: Oh, a friend wanted me to ask. Given how much Wildstar draws on pulp tropes, is there going to be a Hollow Earth? Or a Hollow Nexus, I guess.

CM: I’d love to answer that question. But I don’t think I’m going to be doing that today.

GC: Fair enough! Branching off that a little, what sort of things led you to design the world like you did?  When I heard it was a sci-fi game, I expected something more built up and Star Wars-y, but it’s got this fantasy-western aesthetic with some sci-fi around the periphery. What informed that when you were making the game?

CM: The simplest point, to start that discussion is, when we first started talking about what became Wildstar, even back then there were quite a few fantasy MMOs. Obviously, there was World of Warcraft, but Ultima Online, Everquest, they’re fantasy games. We knew we wanted to do something a little bit different, but we also saw the value of having certain touchstones from fantasy, right?

Our warrior having a sword felt cool. The name itself: Warrior. It just felt right. Whenever it made sense, we decided to hang on to certain things, because they felt right. What that resulted in is, we have this unique and complex mix of fantasy and science fiction elements, and it’s one of the things that makes Wildstar unique. We didn’t fall into the science fiction trap of making things so different, so alien that they’re not relatable. We tried to hit the right balance so, even though it’s a sci-fi universe with other planets and alien technology, there’s those comfortable touchstones that keep you grounded in our game.

So, just to answer the science fiction versus fantasy question, that was where we started. In terms of the theme and the tone, it took us quite a while to get to where we are today in terms of Wildstar’s story and themes. What really defines what it is about our story is the idea of Nexus, this legendary world out beyond the fringe, beyond the known regions of space. There’s the question of what happens when someone finds a legendary place like this, or like Atlantis. One of the coolest things that sort of fell out of that story is that, if this place has never been seen, then that makes it a wild, unexplored frontier.

Those themes, whether they’re in literature of film, are obviously very popular. The idea of the old west, with expanses of unexplored lands and vicious creatures, and beautiful landscapes and hostile natives, all of those things that characterize stories of the old west. I think those things just fit into the story of Wildstar, and we started to really embrace what’s cool about that. The name itself has overtones of the wild west genre. Some of our marketing, our music, a lot of the storylines resonate with those themes. It was one of the more unique things that came out of development of the show. A lot of us liked Firefly, its take on the science fiction genre, and having some similarities to that was exciting for us. When it’s been appropriate, we really reflect that in our design and storytelling.

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GC: I think a place where the game represents the feeling of frontiers in a really interesting way is that every zone has multiple biomes. It’s something I don’t really see in that many MMORPGs.

CM: That was something from the very early days of our development, that was a big focus. Like, this entire zone might have the same name, but if players are going to spend, sometimes, dozens of hours just in one particular zone, you get tired of seeing the same visual themes over and over. In all of our zones, it’s a conscious, deliberate choice to make these vastly different biomes, and then those biomes have vastly different world groups and stories. It’s an attempt to keep things fresh within the zones, and try to avoid zone fatigue. I think it’s been very successful.

GC: Absolutely. It’s one of my favorite parts of the game. Do you mind if I ask some picky nerd questions? Like, the traditional terrible Comic Con questions about inconsistencies or whatever.

CM: Go right ahead.

GC: Awesome. First, is there some kind of narrative around death in the game? Like, I know Holocrypts get mentioned in some of the ambient dialogue, but I wasn’t sure if there was some kind of secret of Nexus related to resurrection technology or something.

CM: (laughter) You know, it’s funny that you ask that question. I literally just sent off an email to some of our designers about this question, so I’ll give you the same answer I gave them:

There’s some things in games that’re just game mechanics, and death is one of those things. Like, it happens, you know you’re going to be resurrecting the player, so trying to explain that in a way that’s somehow consistent, for not just you, but for every character in the game, it’s sort of a slippery slope. So we decided a long time ago that there’s just no specific lore concerning the Holocrypt. We attached a voice and some personality to it, since it’s something that you experience all the time.

As much as we can, for those things that happen all the time in our game, we try to vary up the experience a little bit. Dying is never fun, but we try to add a little bit of levity, so you can wonder, oh, what’s the Holocrypt going to tell me this time? But, yeah, there’s no actual detailed lore or justification as to why you keep appearing at this holocrypt.

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GC: Huh. I didn’t realize that was the voice of the Holocrypt, like how the Transmat has a voice. I always associated it to the level up voice, assumed it was just the voice of the narrator.

CM: It’s funny. I don’t know if people have made this connection, but the voice of the Transmat is actually the voice of the Caretaker.

GC: Oh! I didn’t put that together, but I did think they sounded similar.

CM: So, we don’t show him, but the idea is the Caretaker is always out there, and still trying to fulfill his original programming, to maintain and preserve all the things on Nexus. And we have the taxi, who has a voice, and the level up is our in-game narrator, who also shows up in the zone synopses. Wherever we can, we try to infuse a little bit of that Wildstar personality to keep players smiling and having fun.

GC: Is there an actual reason, aside from it needing to be true, that the Gambler’s Ruin and the Dominion fleet are both in orbit around Nexus, but not constantly fighting, or bombarding the surface?

CM: That’s a good question, and one we actually have a specific reason for. The reason there’s not orbital bombardments – for the Dominion for sure, but also for the Exiles, to a degree – is that it’s almost the holy land. At least for the Dominion. It holds a lot of value for the Exiles as well, as they study what happened to the Eldan and try to take advantage of this technology.

So it’s not that they don’t fight, and there’s not wars happening, but as for large-scale destruction, weapons of mass destruction, or orbital bombardments, those are things neither faction engages in because they don’t want to destroy what could end up being extremely valuable knowledge or technology.

In terms of the two sides, how we describe it is each arkship is on opposite sides of the planet. We do show that the Dominion sometimes tries to board the ship and attack. We don’t show this in the content, but there are probably space battles happen, where each side is trying to establish their territory in orbit. We don’t think people should assume things are completely hands-off, but at least in our mind, there’s still some reasons for why one of the Arkships hasn’t been destroyed, or why there’s not rampant destruction on Nexus.

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GC: Awesome. And, one last thing: Is there a large delay between when Nexus is discovered and the game actually starts? Because there’s lore about the past events in Gallows, and things like the Dominion cities that’re immediately very built up.

CM: So, the way I describe it is, the Arkships arriving is when the vast majority of the population from both sides is showing up. But from a timeline standpoint, Nexus is discovered about five to seven years before the beginning of the game. There are definitely people who came here much faster, though, and started to build settlements.

It’s kind of a funny thing, because people – at least people who do housing – see the speed at which things are built. It doesn’t take super long to build walls and houses using the technology that Protostar and the factions have. Some of how some settlements are more built up is a factor of how they have this technology, and some is a factor of how long people have been there while the player was on the Arkships.

GC: Okay, cool. I think that taps me out. Thanks for talking to me today.

CM: Awesome, man. Nice to talk to you.

Distant Worlds: Universe Review – PC/Steam

It’s impossible to deny that there’s a huge amount of appeal in the idea of being a space lord. I mean, for decades, people have been making games that try to capture the ideal space lord experience, the feel of sitting on a galactic throne and watching over an empire of a hundred worlds, and meeting with various degrees of success. That said, Distant Worlds: Universe is probably the best space 4X game since Master of Orion 2, a game of remarkable depth that’s exactly as easy to play as you want it to be, whether that’s treating it as an interactive screen saver to micromanaging every single aspect of your empire’s government.

 

You probably won’t want to do the second. Distant Worlds starts off easily micro-manageable when you’ve only got one system. When you’ve got five, you might want to start turning on AI advisers and trusting their judgment as to what to build when, and how to manage your money. When you have twenty-five, fifty or more, all working in real time, it might be time to start focusing on the parts of the game you like, whether that’s exploration, dealing with story events, espionage, ship design, or war, and turning on the AI for anything that you don’t want to have to deal with.

 

The triumph of Distant Worlds is that, unlike other games that relied heavily on AI, Distant Worlds manages to give this the feel of being a leader, removed from the action and supported by staff, rather than the feeling of wrestling against a bumbling AI that unintentionally sabotages your decisions that weighed down games with similar concepts. I’m not nearly expert enough at the game to know when the AI’s decisions aren’t as good as what I could do if I handled every single aspect of my empire, but it usually seemed like reasonable options, presented with unobtrusive pop-in messages on the corner.

 

Even if you choose to limit your focus, there’s a lot to do. The galaxies are massive, and in addition to the optional storyline that brings the galaxy to an enormous war, there are plenty of emergent stories that pop up as you go. Each race has their own preferences, victory conditions and AI settings, that drive their behavior in play. The world itself is full of random occurrences, whether they’re ancient ship graveyards waiting to be fixed up, or a nanite plague that can spread across worlds, eating a civilization on the fringes if they find it too early, there’s plenty of things that stand out and create the story of a playthrough.

 

There’s a tremendous amount to do aside from that. You can design ships in what’s probably the best, most intuitive ship design system I’ve seen in a game like this, and they give them AI preferences to dictate how they respond in fights. You can group fleets and give them orders as you build the infrastructure of your space empire. All of this is amazingly high-level, and you don’t even see civilian technologies or buildup on colonies, except in the abstract.

 

In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of Distant Worlds is the civilian half of your empire. While you’re rebuilding ancient death stars, forming fleets, and researching better technologies, your civilian population is trading, mining, shipping materials and more, adding a sort of background noise to your empire that’s incredibly satisfying to watch grow. More than just show, though, the civilian activity is responsible for a huge portion of your income. Keeping them safe and encouraging their growth is important, if only so you can collect more taxes.

 

And that’s just the very basic game. There’s also playing as a pirate, where your entire society is in space without the benefits of planetary colonies or a settled population, or playing in the Age of Shadows, where only pirates start with the secrets of warp speed travel, and the settled planets are only just beginning to reach out into space again, or playing in the very early history of the game’s setting, that you only see in lore encounters during a normal campaign. Distant Worlds: Universe is a game with more than a few expansions, each of which refined the original experience and added new elements.

 

And if the massive scope of the original game isn’t enough, Distant Worlds is extremely mod-friendly. I tried out a mod that almost doubled the number of races, each of which had their own unique goals and diplomatic angles, which drastically changed up how the game plays. If you dig into the mod code, there are plenty of really cool options that can shape how the game plays. On top of that, there are plenty of UI and graphics mods to help clean things up.

 

The UI out of the box isn’t very attractive, and it took an hour or two of tutorials until I more or less knew my way around, but that’s sort of par for the course for intense strategy games like this. That said, the visuals manage to be beautiful in their own way, especially when paired with the background music. Seeing a small fleet warping between stars with the lonely, space-y music playing was a really pleasant experience.

 

Distant Worlds is an impressive game. Now that it’s on Steam, at a reasonable price for a game and several expansions, anyone interested in 4X space games should take a look. The divide between the government and private sector makes for an experience that’s no other 4X game has attempted, and the modability and emergent stories will give it legs for years whether you’re looking for intense space strategy or one of the best chill-out games in a while.

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The Wolf Among Us – Episode 4: In Sheep’s Clothing Review – PC/Steam

If you’ve been along for the ride with The Wolf Among Us, episode 4 keeps things going with new twists and turns. And if you’re waiting until the entire game’s out to pick it up, well, you’re almost there and the game’s still worth getting. Though the game’s as sharp as ever, and had its share of fun scenes, I felt like this episode, In Sheep’s clothing, was more of a bridge to the ending rather than anything super exciting in and of itself. But, still, that has value, and it looks like it could be a great conclusion.

The characters from fantastical stories have been driven out of their native land, and settled in New York, under an amnesty that brings monsters, villians, and fallen nobility together. The lucky live in Fabletown, a neighborhood protected from mortal attention by magical means, while the less fortunate live on the outskirts, away from the protection of the fable government.

In the middle of this, you’re Bigby Wolf. After the amnesty given to fables, you’re the sheriff of Fabletown. Trying to enforce the rules is a thankless job, and your history – eating Red Riding Hood, blowing down pigs’ houses, and your time as a terrible manifestation of nature, red in tooth and claw – doesn’t make it any easier. After the fight that capped off the third episode, Bigby is adrift without many leads to follow up on, and shot full of silver.

The situation soon changes, though, giving you a hot pair of leads with new locations and new suspects. As you follow up on them, you’ll make snap decisions that determine how things play out, and you never know what will come back later and what won’t. It does a great job of putting you in the shoes of Bigby, making those decisions and hoping things will work out. Knowing when to ask questions, make statements, or just shut up and let things unfold is vital.

The voice work continues to be excellent. A lot of fascinating dialogue unfolds in the background as Bigby talks with others, and the game does a great job of mixing these conversations together.

The visuals are pretty much perfect. On a technical level, the cel shading is ace, to the point where screenshots have the look of being hand-drawn pictures. The color palette isn’t quite as muted as I remember the comic being, but gives a lurid air to the investigation. Meanwhile, the environmental details are amazing. The pawn shop, full of magical goods sold by fables trying to make ends meet was probably the highlight of the episode.

The Wolf Among Us is pretty much the video game version of a page turner. Every time a new episode comes out, I can’t wait to dive back in, and nothing will take me out until I get to the end. Even with the long wait between episodes, it’s such a delight that I’m already hoping there’ll be a second season.

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Wolfenstein: The New Order Review – PC/Steam

Wolfenstein: The New Order takes BJ Blazkowicz from a desperate, last battle in 1946 to a Nazi-ruled 1960. Like its protagonist, Wolfenstein is caught between two times, with old school and modern shooter mechanics mixing freely, and like its protagonist, Wolfenstein manages to be pretty awesome. Furious action and great level design mix with a pretty cool upgrade system and a story that manages to be way smarter and slicker than I initially expected it to be.

 

The great triumph of Wolfenstein: The New Order is how it manages to combine three different styles of combat, making it possible to flow seamlessly between them as situations demand. I found myself starting any given area by trying to sneak, stabbing Nazis and armored dogs that I encountered, dispatching enemies from across the room with lobbed knives. Once I was seen, I’d use a single gun, cover and iron sights to fight in wide open arenas, and a pair of guns in narrow corridors to lay down storms of ammunition. No matter how I fought, it felt great, and the sheer variety in how combat could go, from being a silent assassin, a careful sniper, or a maniac with a gun in each fist did a lot to keep the combat from being dull through the twelve or so hours that a playthrough could take.

To help encourage these play styles, the game has a perk system that tracks actions and rewards you based on them. Almost all of them are things you might normally do in play, whether it’s silently killing enemies that set off alarms when they see you, gunning down Nazis with mounted turrets, or going for headshots, but having the perk unlock pop up is a really nice hit of dopamine to reward you for mixing up how you fight. There’s also an interesting element in foreshadowing to the perk trees. The only thing keeping me from getting the capstone perk for dual wielding was having no LKW kills, and having no idea what the LKW even was. And when I got the LKW? Man, that was an exciting moment.

 

To go with the modern aspect of perks, the game has a good helping of old school flair. Health and armor go from 1 to 100, and though health partially regenerates, rounding up to the nearest 20, there’s still a need to scrounge for food and med kits, to stealing helmets off of dead Nazis for armor, to gorge yourself on health and go into overcharge. There’s also the weapon system. Though you lose your weapons after every chapter, you can still carry every gun you lay your hands on – two of them, in most cases. It’s a breath of fresh air in comparison to the Call of Duty/Halo two gun model that’s spread across the genre.

 

That said, Wolfenstein: The New Order isn’t just gunplay. It’s also got a remarkably engaging story, far past what I expected from a game about killing thousands of Nazis. It manages to tie together the darkness of a world ruled by Nazis and the inherent absurdity of alternate history sci-fi into a coherent whole, making it a game where infiltrating a concentration camp to spark a riot and liberate the prisoners and a raid on a Nazi moon base both make sense and feel necessary. Every character has interesting moments that humanize them, and the cinematography in the cutscenes is some of the best I’ve seen in a video game. Even games that consciously ape movies pale in comparison to the slick editing and directing choices that someone at Machine Games made.

I found myself talking with friends as I played, picking apart the writing and directing, trying to find a core thesis of the game. I won’t bore you, readers, with literary criticism in a video game review, but the fact that that’s even an option in a run and gun shooter is kind of amazing, and it makes me want to see what else the developers can do with this franchise.

 

Aesthetically, the game is amazing. The music meshes perfectly with the action, save for a part at the end where the villain’s mocking speeches are drowned out by the awesome music as you raid his fortress. The game’s graphics were great on my low to middling laptop, though there was a huge amount of texture pop-in that I think can be pinned on the id Tech 5 engine, and a strange de-sync between voiceovers and subtitles during in-engine cutscenes, a significant problem when literally every antagonist speaks German.

 

A high point of the music are the Nazi pop songs, reinterpretations of major bands from the 60s. If you look carefully, you’ll find versions of The Beatles, the Monkees, Sonny and Cher, and more. It was a real delight to see these recognizable artifacts of a terrible world that you mostly interact with via guns.

 

In just about every way, Wolfenstein: The New Order is an excellent game. Great gunplay, aesthetics, and storytelling combine into what might be the must-play shooter of the summer, marred only by the technical problems that seem to plague every game made in this engine. Still, putting those aside, there’s a lot to love in The New Order, and if you’re in the market for a first person shooter, you can’t do a lot better.

 

Screenshot Gallery

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