It's difficult to think of an anime and manga property more suited to join Omega Force's Warriors meta-series than Berserk. Franchise protagonist Guts lives and breathes hack-and-slashing, enough that he, at first glance, can be mistaken for a one-dimensional mercenary obsessed with killing. Unfortunately, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk's simplistic gameplay does little to demystify this shallow perception. It's an inadequate introduction to the Warriors games although the abundance of anime and CG cinematics makes it a fitting gateway to the Berserk series even if it doesn't do its main character any favors.
For a manga series that has lasted over 27 years, spanning myriad story arcs, it was wise of Omega Force to focus on Berserk's most well known events, namely the narratives that have been adapted into various anime productions. The result is a comprehensive Story Mode that chronicles Guts' evolution from a raging teenage mercenary with no life goals to a homicidal adult seeking retribution. Band of the Hawk isn't a sufficient substitute for the anime since it glosses over many supporting characters' storylines. Furthermore, the best action scenes, from The Golden Age film trilogy in particular, have been omitted as you get to reenact those same battles instead. Unfortunately, these playable scenes fail to elevate its presentation to match the show.
Berserk is representative of Warriors games at their most simple and straightforward which, when compared to their recent achievements with Hyrule Warriors and Dragon Quest Heroes, is all the more disappointing. Assignments are limited to three types: destroy, rescue, and kill. The game of region dominance--a hallmark of Dynasty Warriors campaigns--is barely utilized and would have added depth to Berserk's 46 story chapters.
Even with Guts' propensity for killing, there's no substantial or long term incentive to slaughter everyone that crosses his sword. At its best moments, amassing a body count of over 1,000 while completing goals in a single mission feels cathartic but there's never the compulsion to wipe an entire map clean of enemies. To do so would add monotony to an already tedious campaign, when the drive to tick off objectives and reach the next cutscene becomes more appealing than staying on the battlefield.
Despite the multiple objectives, the occasional mid-mission plot twists, and all the running around, the majority of chapters can take less than 10 minutes to complete. What results are missions that are shorter than the cinematics that frame each sortie. The intermissions in the first third of the story mode wisely reprises scenes from Berserk's Golden Age film trilogy while players are spared from footage from the divisive new TV show in favor of new CG scenes. It's plot-heavy by Warriors standards but works in the context of Guts' epic road to revenge.
Guts' brutal and offensive-minded repertoire is expressed through the simple combos that make up much of his move set. It all comes down to how many quick and strong attacks you string together. After every hundred or so kills, Guts can unleash a finishing move that wipes out every nearby foe. Such carnage is fitting for him though it's easy to see how a sense of routine can set in quickly and often. Without a greater variety of objectives, Omega Force's brand of unrefined hack and slashing becomes all the more magnified as you labor through this lengthy campaign.
The novel appeal of playing someone other than Guts loses its allure quickly since Free Mode only features previously beaten story missions.
This reliance on the Warriors formula extends to the playable areas outside the story. Free Mode, a staple of the meta-series, serves as an outlet to try out Berserk's supporting cast. They all control with the same quick attack/strong attack simplicity of Guts, each with their own brutal flourishes, where two dozen troops can be vanquished with a single sword stroke. The androgynous Griffin kills with the lethal grace of a fencer while the skilled Casca moves with the agility of a ninja. The novel appeal of playing someone other than Guts loses its allure quickly since Free Mode only features previously beaten story missions.
Berserk's repetitiveness is all the more pronounced in Endless Eclipse, the game's endurance mode. Despite its seemingly intimidating 100-round design, this mode lacks character as it's neither a tower dungeon nor is it a hectic wave-based survival mode. Instead, it mimics the Story Mode's prioritization on completing objectives with no penalty for running past all the lesser enemies in each round. Endless Eclipse also underscores Berserk's lack of replay incentives, despite the character-building rewards it bestows when completing missions. In Endless Eclipse, boredom is as much an obstacle as anything this mode throws at you.
Given how well Guts' bloodlust and battle experience are well-suited to the crowd fighting and mass slaughter of Warriors games, it's disappointing that this tie-in lacks the engagement and nuance of Omega Force's more imaginative efforts with other franchises. Its saving feature is the expansiveness of the campaign narratives, which serve as a hearty sampling of the Berserk franchise's multiple story arcs. If not for these insightful cutscenes, the developer's penchant for adequate but unengaging hack and slash combat would perpetuate the image of Guts as a one-note protagonist. And even if you're a Warriors fan who knows not to expect a Dark Souls level of gratifying melee combat, Band of the Hawk still deprives you of the juicy sights and sounds that one associates with Guts' savagery; the splashes of red that result from every kill hardly counts as "gore".
If there’s one common thread that unites Tim Schafer’s extensive catalogue of creations, it’s charm. From Monkey Island to Broken Age, Schafer’s writing never fails to imbue his games with cheeky humor and subtle humanity. It’s no doubt partially responsible for the enduring (if niche) success of the original Psychonauts, an inventive platformer that lets you run around inside the minds of its characters. Naturally, that same charm permeates Schafer and Double Fine Productions’ latest game, the PlayStation VR-exclusive Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin.
While fans will find a familiar cast of characters, Rhombus of Ruin actually plays more like an adventure game than a platformer. You’ll spend most of the game glancing around environments from various fixed positions in search of clues and points of interaction that can help you solve puzzles. It’s a natural evolution of the point-and-click pixel hunting of classic adventure games, one that embraces the uniquely immersive qualities of VR. But there are, unfortunately, a few problems: at a painfully short two hours long, the campaign ends just as it starts to hit its stride, and many of its puzzle are disappointingly simplistic.
Even the story, charming though it may be, ends up feeling insubstantial. The entire narrative revolves around a single short-lived mission: player protagonist Raz--a bright-eyed new member of the eponymous psychic spy outfit--and his fellow Psychonauts Sasha, Lili, Milla, and Coach Oleander must rescue the kidnapped head of their organization (and Lili’s dad) Truman Zannotto. On your way to his location, your plane crashes into the Bermuda Triangle-esque Rhombus of Ruin and your crew is captured, leaving you to rescue them one by one.
Though more than a decade has passed since the original game released, the characters feel instantly familiar and authentic. As a longtime fan, I found it fun just interacting with them up close and hearing the original voice actors deliver new dialogue. It was like rediscovering an old favorite cartoon. That said, I don’t think you necessarily have to be a fan to appreciate the tone and humor Rhombus of Ruin. It’d be tough for anyone not laugh at a self-consciously cheesy joke that puns “carrion” with “carry-on” or smile at Raz’s endearing insecurity in the face of his budding romantic relationship with Lili.Rhombus of Ruin picks up right where the original game left off and will eventually connect the original to the upcoming sequel.
Beyond these enjoyable yet superficial interactions, however, there’s not much substance to the plot. Basically the game starts, your plane crashes, you swiftly rescue everyone, you confront the main villain, and then the game just kind of ends, all within the span of two hours. There’s no narrative arc to speak of, and while you do learn who captured Truman, the game never really gets into how or even why he was kidnapped. At one point, you actually dive deep into the villain’s mind to see what makes him tick, but it’s just a brief section. I really wish there’d been more opportunities like that, but aside from the evil mastermind, all the bad guys are doofy-looking anthropomorphic fish, who, while amusingly clueless, don’t have much of a psyche to explore.
The story setup also has material repercussions on the mechanics. Each comrade you rescue grants you a new psychic ability, so until you save them all, your means of interacting with the world are somewhat limited. Though you eventually end up with telekinesis, pyrokinesis, and psi blast, you’ll spend most of the game simply prodding buttons with psi poke and, more importantly, hijacking the minds of the game’s many minions using clairvoyance. Raz actually spends the majority of Rhombus of Ruin strapped to a chair, so he can only “move” through the world by looking at an enemy, zapping himself into that enemy’s brain, then psychically interacting with whatever they (and by extension, you) see.
This ever-extending daisy chain of new perspectives is an exceptionally clever justification for keeping players seated while playing, thereby avoiding motion sickness. It also allows for some unique puzzles. In an early area, for example, you must enter a secret code into a hilariously childlike computer in order to open a window. Once you spot the code written down way across the room, you must poke a button to move a platform into the proper position, then hijack the mind of the guard on that platform in order to read the code up close. It’s a short but reasonably satisfying version of a classic adventure gaming trope, and it takes advantage of Psychonauts’ distinctive mechanics.
Problem is, puzzles rarely grow more sophisticated than that. Some are even simpler. In fact, you’ll spend a fair amount of time just hopping from jellyfish to jellyfish as you make your way to the next imperiled Psychonaut. I enjoyed the immersive, underwater views of sunken ships and mangled airplanes, but I would have preferred a few more challenging puzzles instead (or in addition). In fairness, a couple puzzles definitely tripped me up--one tricky section in particular confronted me with a multi-step problem that took several minutes to solve. But even then, I wasn’t uncontrollably delighted by how clever the solution was once I figured it out. And outside of those few occasions, I was generally able to simply poke around until a solution slapped me in the face.The game’s story naturally creates an elegant structure, but its various sections don’t actually differ all that much.
Rhombus of Ruin adopts a smart approach to VR and executes it with humor and confidence. But it could have been longer and deeper, more challenging and surprising. Like the story, the gameplay is superficially enjoyable but barely has time to develop, and because you’ll know all the puzzle solutions by the end, the campaign doesn’t offer much replay value. If you’re content with a light snack, Rhombus of Ruin may be enough to tide you over until Psychonauts 2 because indeed, its world and characters remain utterly charming. I only wish we’d had more to do in our brief time together.
A society with a foggy past and an uncertain future is truly lost; such is the reality for the denizens of the world of Horizon Zero Dawn. Roughly 1,000 years from today, tribal communities lead primitive lives, surrounded by mysterious high-tech fossils of the Old Ones--the fractured legacy of our real world, the result of technological advancement run amok. Diminutive animals like rabbits and boars still roam the wild, but they trot in the footsteps of imposing mechanical beasts that dominantly stride through dense jungles and lurk on snowy mountain tops.
How the world ended up in disarray isn't clear at first, but Aloy, an orphaned outcast who locates an advanced communications and analysis device, holds the key to unlocking these mysteries. Using her newfound tool--known as a Focus--you can tap into techno-artifacts and glean info about the past. While the full story of the world's downfall takes a while to unravel, the fascinating revelations you eventually uncover more than make up for time spent navigating less-than-compelling tribal politics during the first half of the game.
The dueling themes of nature and technology are present in Aloy, who's forever changed when she accepts technology into her otherwise primitive life. She transforms in so many ways throughout her journey, and it's amazing to look back when all is said and done, reflecting on not just the awesome challenges you've overcome, but also on how much confidence and maturity Aloy's gained in the process.
But no matter where the story takes you, combat--deservedly--owns the spotlight. The world's intricately crafted environments teem with electric beasts and warfaring cultists, and the pronounced excitement of controlling Aloy in the midst of rampaging enemies is a near-constant thrill.
This excitement comes in part from Aloy's ability to deftly leap out of harm's way and bound right back into action, but her arsenal of weapons and ammunition are the special ingredients that give you the ability to topple Zero Dawn's massive robotic monsters with power and style. You start with a simple bow and arrows, but you eventually gain access to elementally charged bolts, slingshots that lob explosives, and an assortment of traps that can surprise or constrict unsuspecting enemies.
Juggling these tools mid-fight is made easy by a weapon wheel that opens with the tilt of the right analog stick and slows down time to give you a moment to plan. It's simple to get the hang of, and you never have to put yourself in too much danger when looking for your weapon of choice; you can still run, dodge, and jump while accessing the wheel.
Dodge-rolling between enemies, turning around, and jumping to deliver a critical blow while drawing and aiming your bow in slow-motion never gets old. There are no actual supernatural powers on display, unless you count the fact that Aloy's Focus can pinpoint enemy weak points. Nevertheless, when the controls seep into your subconscious, heroic displays of cunning, might, and fearlessness lend Aloy a superhuman quality. You can employ basic stealth tactics and sneak up on enemies, but when you're properly armed, there's hardly a compelling reason to deny yourself the pleasure of Zero Dawn's head-on engagements.
While sprinting around the battlefield and fighting with a range of projectiles makes for a great time, melee combat is unfortunately less effective. Your only options are light or heavy spear attacks, and when fighting indoors, you're more likely to hit a wall than your intended target. Furthermore, where spear-wielding enemies can block incoming attacks, you cannot, putting you at an immediate disadvantage when relying on your spear. But you're never forced to use melee, and can always revert to fighting with a mix of evasive maneuvers and projectile weaponry.
When the controls seep into your subconscious, heroic displays of cunning, might, and fearlessness lend Aloy a superhuman quality.
To keep fights interesting over dozens of hours, Zero Dawn doles out new robotic enemies at a gratifying pace, introducing slightly larger and more complex beasts by the time you gain mastery over less challenging foes. Where you may face small bipedal Watchers as well as approximations of horses and bulls at the start, you eventually engage with rampaging armored crocodiles, jaguar-like bots with cloaking devices, and, yes, giant enemy crabs. By the end of the game, you can confidently roll into battle facing a towering metallic T-Rex knowing full well that you are in control, despite your relatively diminutive stature.
Being an effective hunter in Zero Dawn requires one part execution and one part knowledge--namely, understanding what enemies are capable of and what parts of their body are most vulnerable. A well-placed shot on a body part that glows through the use of Aloy's Focus can knock off a piece of armor and expose a robot's vulnerable innards. It's also possible to disarm enemies and use their own weapons against them. Your standard weapons are effective enough, but nothing beats finishing a fight with a massive laser cannon you've earned through tactful aggression.
Zero Dawn's map is predominantly wild, but tribal settlements are easy to find. Most are modest--just a few shacks and a store--but a handful of miniature kingdoms offer sizable populations of merchants and quest-givers. At best, typical side quests are vehicles that propel you into the far-reaching wild with some semblance of narrative motivation, but it's common to find the personality of the quest giver more interesting than the ultimate meaning behind your objective. With larger questions and fates at play in the main quest, Zero Dawn's sub-stories simply can't compete.
While combat is at the forefront of Zero Dawn, you habitually gather any resource in reach as you travel from point A to point B. Plants and pieces of animals and robots alike are necessary for crafting Aloy's ammunition and traps, upgrading item storage, and brewing health potions. When it comes to making items, it's as simple as looking through a crafting menu and seeing what is or isn't available based on your current stash of resources. Selling items is a painful process, however, as there's no way to sort your inventory. You have to scroll through a gallery grid of up to 100 icons and manually read details to determine what to keep and what to sell. For a game that manages to handle complex systems in real-time with aplomb, it's odd to see something as basic as inventory management feel like an afterthought.
There are sets of rare artifacts to find in the wild, though the material rewards you get for collecting an entire set and trading it to a merchant are a bit of a letdown. While this realization comes as a slightly sour note, any excuse to look around a new corner or down a new valley is a good excuse to jump back into battle. And don't write Zero Dawn's open-world off just yet; items aren't all it has to offer.
A handful of alien-like constructs lie embedded in the earth, and at the heart of each of these intricate, otherworldly dungeons is a machine that will give you the power to hack a specific category of robotic animals. Some robots will simply fight on your side or leave you alone when hacked, but a few allow you to ride on their backs. Granted, this option is limited--no, you can't ride a robot T-Rex--but it's the one argument for the game's stealth mechanics, as you can only hack a robot by sneaking up to it.
Looking beyond your reward for conquering these high-tech dungeons, they also exist as the antithesis to the natural splendor that permeates most of Zero Dawn. Yet from the heat of dusty plateaus to the cool shadows of metal monstrosities, you'll feel at home no matter where you travel. This is because Aloy and the beasts she topples are walking embodiments of the dueling themes that define their world. Zero Dawn is a bit too concerned about establishing its primitive side at times, but by and large it does a fantastic job of bringing its two halves together for a truly captivating experience.
This is first departure from the Killzone series for developer Guerrilla Games, and though you might think the team took a risk by stepping out of its FPS comfort zone to create a third-person open-world action game, you'd never know it was their first rodeo. For every minor imperfection, there's an element of greatness that recharges your desire to keep fighting and exploring Zero Dawn's beautiful and perilous world. Guerrilla Games has delivered one of the best open-world games of this generation, and redefined its team's reputation in the process.
Melee-focused action games have spent years enacting the fantasy of engaging in armed combat, fortunately sparing us the hours of rigorous training and resolve it takes to actually do so in real life. But For Honor, Ubisoft's third-person weapon-based arena combat game, is different from other melee-focused action games, like Dark Souls or Dynasty Warriors. Its combat system is simple on the surface, but executing its more advanced tactics requires a patient mind, as well as an understanding of its deliberate pacing. There are not many games quite like For Honor; it's an incredibly entertaining fighter that's satisfying both in single and multiplayer, even despite the narrative flaws of its story mode.
Its fantasy medieval world is populated by three of history's most iconic warrior classes: knights, vikings, and samurai. Regardless of which faction you choose to play as, For Honor challenges you to restrain yourself and uphold self-control in the face of strenuous conflict. The elegance of its combat is at times awe-inspiring, easily pulling you into the euphoric highs of a well-deserved victory, where your patience was maintained and your reflexes were on point.
For Honor focuses primarily on one-on-one duels, though fights against multiple foes are common. There are 12 heroes to choose from, each brandishing their own unique weapon and fighting style. While the game's combat is simple enough to be accessible to beginners, its deep mechanics allow frequent fighters to noticeably develop their skills. It's only then that each Hero's strengths and weaknesses are fully revealed. For example, the spear-wielding Nobushi offers a wealth of slow, long-range poke attacks, which when put up against Orochi's swift sword swipes, transform the battle into a calculated struggle of space management and precision striking. Every moment you spend in combat is rife with strategic possibilities: should you keep baiting an opponent with an attack or dodge? Should you get in close and knock them into a nearby pit? Or should you disorient them by being overtly offensive? For Honor's combat encourages adaptive thinking, providing substantial depth and balance in its moment-to-moment action and myriad matchups.
At times, putting what you learn into practice is a test of patience, whether you're playing against human opponents or AI. Fights are slow and measured, demanding you diligently carve out openings through subtle, calculated movements rather than through brute force or button mashing. As a result, you spend as much time--if not more--trying to read your opponent than attacking them. The pace of combat in its initial stages seems clunky and disorienting--especially if you're used to faster-paced fighting games--but once you grow accustomed to its tempo, it's For Honor's most fulfilling and enjoyable quality. Its slow-pace is much like learning a dance; you aren't adjusted to the choreography’s complexity and speed, but after repeated practice, it becomes a gratifying exercise of muscle memory.For Honor's combat encourages adaptive thinking, patience, and quick reflexes.
Aside from a few informational videos and practice sessions, For Honor's most useful training tool is its single-player story mode--at least for a time. It more or less functions as a long-form tutorial, putting you into various story-driven scenarios that teach you the fundamentals of combat. For example, some stages offer you insight on how certain characters are played and how their special abilities (called Feats) are used, while others familiarize you with some of the multiplayer modes.
Unfortunately, the narrative that links these scenarios together is a nonsensical mess. A warlord named Apollyon, whose intention is to ensure an eternal age of all-out war, instigates the conflict gripping its world. But her motivation is so irrational, muddled, and unclear that she rarely makes for an entertaining presence. Meanwhile, the battle-hungry ensemble cast tasked with either standing up to or supporting her are marred by lackluster characterization. They provide little in the way of relatability, coming across more as tools to move the story forward than actual living, breathing people. It also doesn't help that their character models are lifted straight from multiplayer, with recycled, faceless designs that make it difficult to distinguish them from the multitude of other characters.The story mode's ensemble cast provide little in the way of relatability, coming across more as tools to move the story forward than actual living, breathing people.
While the story mode is content to act as a multiplayer tutorial, there are moments when it attempts to be more ambitious. For instance, you sometimes encounter set pieces, like a desperate siege against a heavily fortified Japanese castle or a fast-paced chase on horseback. But these moments end up more monotonous than exciting, as they typically consist of repetitive fights against dozens of AI opponents with the occasional objective involving interacting with an object in the environment. The attempt to string together For Honor's unique take on melee combat with a narrative leaves much to be desired. Its roughly six-hour length effectively teaches you its base mechanics, but it overstays its welcome well before the first half with a haphazard narrative. And due to the simplistic AI of many of the foes you encounter, it’s easy to become more aggressive and complacent in duels, which is a bad habit to bring into multiplayer.
When you tackle For Honor's multiplayer, there are plenty of modes to dive into. However, the most varied and entertaining of the bunch is Dominion, a 4v4 mode where you and your team cooperate to capture and hold three zones in a battlefield filled with AI minions. Rushing from point to point, defending a zone, or working with your teammates to obtain others is exhilarating. And in the midst of all this, there is always a multitude of emergent moments to experience, like heroically sprinting into the middle zone and slaughtering swarms of AI minions in order to capture a point and turn the tide of battle, or finding yourself cornered on a bridge alone, up against three members of the opposing team. Unfortunately, combat in this mode can become too chaotic when no respawns occur at the tail end of the match; this often causes you and your teammates to mindlessly button mash your way to victory against the last standing hero. Despite this, Dominion encapsulates the sensation of a large-scale medieval battle on a smaller scale, distilling the desperation of a relentless charge and the ruthless sword fights that ensue in its wake.
Elimination mode, meanwhile, emphasizes and amplifies the complexity of For Honor's team-based duels. It's uncomplicated in premise: a 4v4 face-off to the death with no respawns. Combat is thrilling and challenging in this mode, especially when it's solely up to you and a teammate to secure a victory against a full enemy squad. You come to understand not only how to fight against multiple foes, but also how to judge when and where it's appropriate to do so. Learning this is at times punishing or unfair, as poor environmental awareness in a battle against multiple foes often spells certain death. But when your reflexes and ability to manipulate these factors work in your favor, it's difficult not to feel an overwhelming satisfaction in how the game makes it possible to win against all odds.
If Dominion demonstrates For Honor's capacity to create varied and exciting moments, and Elimination embodies the thrill and depth of its team-based fights, then Duel showcases combat at its most tense and absolute. This strictly one-on-one battle mode removes your ability to use Feats, forcing you to rely on the strength of your Hero's base moveset. The grace of its simplicity heightens the tension of combat, taking the base of its complexities and forming it into something more akin to a traditional fighting game. Duel's stripped down nature showcases the brilliance of For Honor's one-on-one combat, elevating its other modes in the process by how it condenses what a duel is into a raw and brief competitive instance.The sense of community and promise of rewards in Faction War gives you a higher sense of purpose.
It helps that many of For Honor's various multiplayer modes are each entertaining in their own right, as playing through them feeds into a cross-platform territory acquisition system called Faction War. As you play matches, you earn War Assets based on your personal performance, which can be distributed to further your chosen faction's influence. While it doesn't seem like much, the sense of community and promise of rewards it provides gives you higher sense of purpose.
In terms of performance, For Honor runs smoothly on both PS4 and Xbox One versions with little issues in online stability. The PC version runs well too, even on low to mid range hardware setups. You're given a slew of options to find the best balance between visual quality and frames per second. This is paramount since the game requires you to consistently run at a bare minimum of 30 fps in multiplayer.
After slaying countless foes, it’s clear the impact For Honor's combat has had; its fundamental tenets of discipline and restraint are bestowed upon you permanently, forever changing the way you perceive a melee-combat encounter in a game. In its highest moments, For Honor is difficult to put down. Its slow combat pace and narrative shortcomings might turn off those unwilling to take the time to dive deep into what it has to offer. However, make no mistake--those who do will be rewarded with some of the most satisfying multiplayer melee fighting conceived in recent years.
Diluvion is in that most tragic class of disappointing game: the kind with great ideas. There's so much to love and appreciate on the surface that the game's profound awkwardness and convoluted mechanics just hurt to experience.
It presents an unusual take on a post-apocalyptic society where humanity doesn't go to space or live in the nuclear wastes. Instead, they're forced to build civilization anew underwater, with steampunk-inspired submarines and habitats as their only means of shelter. Humanity's only hope of breaking through the oppressive ice above is a godlike ancient artifact lying at the bottom of the ocean.
As the captain of your own tiny vessel, you are tasked with recruiting a capable crew, building a ship strong enough to withstand the crushing ocean depths, and locating the powerful artifact before anyone else. As you creep your way to the bottom of the ocean, you'll often have a checklist of parts to grab, people to see, and enhancements to make. Much of your journey is spent scavenging supplies and key items in uncharted danger zones infested with landmines and sea creatures--and it's hard not to be affected by seeing how many other vessels tried and failed to infiltrate the same areas. One of the more chilling commonalities along the way is finding merchants who were stranded in isolated areas, waiting for someone to come along to give them the jump they needed to escape.
The game is at its unnerving best when it sends you into near-pitch blackness, with only the comfort of sonar to light the way toward your objective. Missions may be as simple as raiding a derelict ship, but even that might turn into a much different, frantic scramble away from unexpected danger. Being underwater, nothing in the world is particularly fast, but the management of resources to optimally escape a dangerous situation delivers great tension.
Thankfully, Diluvion isn't always fear and dread. The journey's gentle pace leads you to treasure every new landmark you come across--many awe-inspiring in either scale or design. Towns are elaborate wonders of construction. Most checkpoints are man-made structures overtaken by ice or algae. Diluvion's most notable accomplishment is its score, a beaut symphony that haunts every mile you journey in-game, accentuating the wonder in one scene, ratcheting up the tension in another. The more shallow sections of ocean are bright, wondrous places that you can find yourself wandering around aimlessly with a sense of peace and calm.
The ancillary, narrative experience of Diluvion is a fine one. It's the act of actually having to play the game that causes the whole thing to dissolve.
Interacting with other characters takes on a lighter tone, with the view switching from the artfully rendered 3D ocean to 2D when docking at towns or with other subs. There's an element of repetition here, since many of the stock NPCs are copy-pasted throughout the entire game, and most of them are interactive only to issue random grunts and sighs. The ones who do talk, however, speak in snappy, often funny lines of dialogue, with more than few characters worthy of endearing themselves over time--especially your erstwhile crew, who will interact not just with their captain but with each other when they're docked. The relationships tend to fall by the wayside as exploration ramps up, but it's always welcome when the game takes a breath and allows your helmsman to give the history of a new area or lets your crazy gunner talk rings around the submissive sonar expert. The ancillary, narrative experience of Diluvion is a fine one. It's the act of actually having to play the game that causes the whole thing to dissolve.
Diluvion is marred by unintuitive controls and one of the most needlessly convoluted user interfaces in recent memory. This is a problem that truly shows its ugly face when your sub is forced into a fight. Your attack options are limited to begin with: you can fire shrapnel--or later on, homing torpedoes--at your enemies, and maneuver slowly around them. That's about the extent of your tactics, and in practice, most naval battles in the game resemble less Assassin's Creed: Black Flag than a toddler crashing two submarine toys against each other going “pew-pew!” before eventually deciding one of them gets to win. Boss fights are well conceived, but once the initial shock of many of the creature designs fades away, you're left with the fact that all these problems multiply in the face of larger enemies. More powerful gun upgrades help later, but combat in general is a slapdash affair that builds dread for the wrong reasons.
When you're not fighting, you're exploring. You'll get a constant, easy-to-follow list of tasks for every mission, most of which just revolve around traveling to an unknown area and scanning for a particular type of resource. Errand-running aside, the game completely flounders when it comes to the actual act of navigating Diluvion's vast ocean. There is an in-game map that doesn’t actually show the player's location relative to any of the landmarks they've visited. Your waypoint function is a school of golden fish who come to help only when they feel like it and often swim through walls--something you cannot do. Checkpoints are frequently miles away from where you've traveled, and running out of air during the journey back is something that occurs frequently until you invest the hefty funds required to buy a new air tank. Occasionally, even if you are able to reach a specific location, the game has a nasty habit of not telling you that you need to hear a specific conversation before a particular event is actually triggered.
For every one fresh, intriguing, and delightful element Diluvion brings to the table, the act of getting to experience any of it is an exercise in frustration.
These are the problems that plague Diluvion, and far too often, the persistent state of your sub is “hopelessly lost.” The game tries to make you do some actual navigational heavy lifting, which is admirable, but you're stuck with a limited pool of resources (like air and food for the crew) that restrict how long you can spend out in the unknown before desperately needing to refuel.
And therein lies the true tragedy of Diluvion. For every one fresh, intriguing, and delightful element it brings to the table, the act of getting to experience any of it is an exercise in frustration. And while the story answers the questions posed at the outset, more often than not those answers aren’t worth the Sisyphean effort it takes to find them.
Halo Wars 2 lies somewhere in between an RTS game for Halo fans and a Halo game for RTS fans. It adapts Halo's FPS roots well, taking the series’ classic missions and reformatting them in ways that make sense for a strategy game without sacrificing accessibility. But ultimately, this is a very light RTS experience geared toward Halo veterans, not a robust strategy game, and it runs out of steam quickly.
Halo Wars 2 takes place nearly three decades after the first Halo Wars and chronologically after Halo 5. The crew of the Spirit of Fire emerges from cryosleep and is now taking on a rogue Brute faction called the Banished, rather than the Covenant. At the head is Atriox, a Brute known for his extensive cruelty, and you and your army are tasked with finding him and shutting him down. It’s an interesting story as a Halo fan in that it explores other aspects of the universe, but it doesn’t offer compelling revelations or necessary information for the main Halo storyline. There are, however, some gorgeous cutscenes that make following along worthwhile, and even when characters are saying some slightly cheesy action-movie lines, seeing the emotion in their faces is enough to get pulled back in.
Unfortunately, Halo Wars 2 never develops its characters in a meaningful way, which leaves cutscenes feeling more like eye candy than essential additions to the universe. But most pieces of the story feed into battle effectively. Pre-fight dialogue helps to prepare you for what you’re about to face--including why troops are in certain positions and why you have to defend specific points--and that’s useful when you’re still getting used to the structure of battle. The story integration is smart and not overdone, allowing you to find your footing without the feeling of being coddled by a tutorial.
The campaign consists of discrete missions based around capturing points, defending bases or troops, or surviving waves of enemies. You have control of the entire army, including manufacturing new troops and managing the two resources you need to fight: supply and power. There’s a bit of a balancing act involved when deciding when and how much to produce, and you often have to make those choices quickly. You can flip through different points of interest, like a group of units or your bases, with the D-pad, and battles that involve multiple fronts or more enemies require you to coordinate between those different points as fast as you can.
But Halo Wars 2’s campaign is at its best when it borrows from its FPS source material, and that’s most evident in its mission design. A Warthog sequence in the first mission feels like a bird’s eye version of the Warthog runs in Combat Evolved and 3, and the structure is comfortably familiar even if the big-picture strategy angle isn’t. Slower missions with snipers are bookended by chaotic horde battles in what feels like a typical Halo campaign played from a different perspective, rather than an RTS in its own right.
But Halo Wars 2 can often feel too stripped-down to be truly strategic. On the one hand, it’s accessible, but the campaign is only challenging in the final few missions and is a little anticlimactic. Unlike in Halo Wars 1, you can form custom groups of any combination of units, but you may not need that feature--despite it being a welcome addition--until one of the very last fights. Up until that point in the game, you can get by so long as you keep an eye on your opponent’s unit types and build an appropriate army to counter it, rock-paper-scissors style. Marines make good fodder, Cyclops units counter vehicles, Hellbringers have the upper hand on infantry, and so on. On the normal difficulty, the AI doesn’t seem terribly smart, and they only had an advantage over me when I wasn’t correctly armed (as opposed to flanking me or adapting much to the makeup of my army).
With this knowledge under your belt, which is really the main strategy element at the core of every battle, you can basically end a fight by sending all your troops to one location for an attack. It’s often easier and more effective to just double-tap the right bumper to select all of your units rather than try to separate them by unit type and form a truly organized offense. There are rare battles where you need to build the exact right units in the right amounts--and send each group to separate fronts all at once--to achieve victory, but for the most part, Halo Wars 2’s tactical hurdles are too low to be truly satisfying.
In multiplayer, the only important decision to make is which of several leader powers to pick--otherwise, the UNSC and Banished factions offer pretty similar tactical opportunities. But the modes cleverly take tried-and-true Halo FPS modes and adapt them for an entire army. Domination games--which involve capturing and holding a location, like the Territories mode in 2, 3, and Reach--are an arms race requiring a lot of resource management, for example. And if you’re used to drop-in FPS matches, Halo Wars 2’s RTS adaptations usually have a pretty quick pace, so you can still jump in and play a game or two even if you’re short on time.
Matches are generally hectic enough to be exciting, but that streamlined, FPS-inspired nature of battle is only entertaining for so long. Because options are pretty limited, particularly with control inputs on the gamepad and the several leader powers you can select before the match, there’s only so many possibilities to react to and counter. Once you’ve ironed out a general plan of attack and gotten resource management mastered, there’s not much left. Other than that, Blitz mode is interesting, putting an RTS spin on Halo’s deck-building card game--so instead of being turn-based like most CCGs, you’re using cards on the go and managing things like resource drops. Of course, without a solid RTS foundation for the game at large, that doesn’t mean much for Blitz, and like the rest of Halo Wars 2, it’s not deep enough to have legs.
Halo Wars 2 carries forth enough of the series' beloved elements to make any fan of Halo feel right at home at first, but not in the long run. It’s palatable for those used to the FPS games, taking inspiration from favorite missions and putting a strategic spin on them; but just when things become more challenging and actually interesting, it runs out of steam.
Playing Divide is akin to experiencing deja vu over the course of several hours. It’s built on a promising sci-fi premise, but each new area, encounter, and objective feels cyclical and repetitive to the point of tedium and frustration.
Divide's story blends elements of corporate greed, familial ties, and time travel with David at the center; a widower left sorting through the mess left behind when his wife passes away. After receiving an urgent message from a man who worked with his late wife, David takes his daughter Arly and meets with the man, who gives David a suitcase without explaining what’s inside. In the midst of a weird mishap with the strange technology inside the case, David is separated from his daughter and flung into the future, where he teams up with a young woman named Eris trying to escape a planet dominated by corporate control.
Divide is an isometric game with elements of RPGs and twin-stick shooters. It’s a unique blend for a narrative-driven sci-fi game, and it oscillates between interesting and maddeningly dull. The main mechanic is driven by a pair of contacts David wears that allow him to interact with technology in the world via an augmented-reality UI. Using these contacts, he can hack into servers, upload data, control aspects of the environment, and even amass new abilities to interact with enemies.
It works well--until it doesn’t. The contacts don’t become activated until you guide a reticle around David’s body using the right analog stick, and although it’s satisfying to discover new points of interaction in the environment--sort of like a digital treasure hunt--it’s frustrating to use the interface in any capacity other than fixed objects. Attempting to use it on an enemy proved fatal on multiple occasions when I’d fixate on one foe and attempt to hack them, only to have them move slightly and completely throw my alignment--and thus my aiming--off. The sensitivity can be adjusted, but it feels awkward regardless.
These problems are amplified by Divide’s poor communication of objectives and location. A majority of the game is spent wandering aimlessly in sterile, repetitive environments, each looking practically identical to another in layout and presentation. The level map is difficult to read, the purpose and significance of different icons and actions aren’t clearly specified, and clues are easily missed in seemingly throwaway conversations with NPCs.
The level flow follows a familiar pattern of wandering around the environment looking for specific terminals and uploading information to gain clearance to a new areas. Divide offers flavors of Metroid-style backtracking, but instead of new weapons or abilities used to progress, you’re rewarded with a clearance that allows you to unlock doors. The similarly constructed environments mixed with just a handful of occasional new elements and abilities to break up the pacing make Divide feel like one long, homogenized experience. Wandering around an area without any clear direction or information quickly becomes tedious and frustrating.
Divide has a solid sci-fi hook, and like many forms of science fiction, it explores multiple themes in its Philip K. Dick-style narrative: the dangers of capitalism, corporate greed, maintaining a healthy family dynamic, and a humanist view of freedom from oppression. It explores all these elements to varying degrees of success. It’s easy to sympathize with Eris accompanying David, who wants nothing more than to escape the planet and the overreach of its techno-fascist state. The interactions with David and his daughter are believable and, at times, gut-wrenching, especially when they venture into discussion about her mother and her fierce dedication to work. Even the villains have a delightfully evil charm and chew an appropriate amount of scenery with glee.
Divide stretches on for a bit longer than it probably should, but the strengths of the story are heightened by decent writing and voice performances throughout. Conversations feel organic and real, line deliveries have a satisfying amount of emotion, and each character comes across as genuine. But the strength of the story is undermined by a game that poorly communicates necessary information and is built on repetition to the point that it loses the personality contained within the characters. If there’s a second meaning to the title, it describes the division between a strong narrative and mediocre gameplay that would’ve been better served with more variety and direction throughout.