Why “announce” Fallout 5?

Xbox recently hosted its Games Showcase event – an addendum to Summer Games Fest, which has effectively replaced this year’s E3 industry event. The Showcase was generally pretty decent, with a focus being on games that will be released over the next twelve months. Some big games like Valheim and Redfall took centre stage, and there was news or updates about the likes of Grounded, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and even Fall Guys – the latter of which is belatedly launching on Xbox (and Nintendo Switch) in just a few days’ time.

Having recently been gobbled up by Microsoft’s expanding gaming division, Bethesda had a lot to say about Starfield. Though the game has recently been delayed until the first half of 2023, the Xbox Games Showcase event provided a massive update on the game and showed players a first look at gameplay. That’s what we should be talking about; that should be the headline for Bethesda coming out of their big summer presentation. But it isn’t, at least not in a lot of publications.

Bethesda chief Todd Howard chose to drop the “announcement” – if we can even call it that – that Fallout 5 will be the studio’s next-but-one big project, and that news has grabbed headlines and stolen attention away from Starfield right at the moment when you’d think its marketing campaign should be beginning in earnest. I just don’t really understand why it was necessary to make this so-called “announcement” and confirm what most players and fans had already been assuming.

Firstly, if Starfield brings in rave reviews, massive player numbers, and goes on to be the success that Bethesda and Microsoft must be hoping for, then surely a sequel should enter the conversation. By stating now, before Starfield has even launched, that Fallout 5 will follow The Elder Scrolls VI as Bethesda’s next-but-one project, that seems to push any kind of Starfield sequel even further away. If decisions need to be made in future to change that around for whatever reason, some people are going to be left upset. There’s literally no upside to talking about Fallout 5 at this juncture.

The same could have been said, arguably, about The Elder Scrolls VI when that was similarly “announced” at E3 in 2018. With the game so far off, talking about it so soon seemed premature at best. In that case, though, there was a case to be made that the constant stream of re-releases for Skyrim, the fact that there had never been such a long gap in between Elder Scrolls games, the releases of not one but two Fallout titles, and Starfield being in active development all combined to make it worthwhile to make a commitment to Elder Scrolls fans that their series hadn’t been forgotten.

With Fallout, there just isn’t any need. Fallout 4 was released in November 2015, and that was followed up by the (disastrous and unplayable) Fallout 76 just three years later. Fallout 76 continues to receive attention and updates, some of which have been pretty substantial, so there isn’t that same feeling of abandonment that some Elder Scrolls fans had been feeling in the wake of a lack of follow-up to Skyrim. Though I’d still suggest that announcing The Elder Scrolls VI in 2018 was premature, at least there was a kind of logic to it – a logic that this “announcement” of Fallout 5 lacks.

The Elder Scrolls VI was also announced with a slick teaser – obviously no gameplay, but at least a look at a pretty landscape and a logo. Fallout 5 got no such fanfare, with the news of its planned existence seemingly being an off-the-cuff remark dropped haphazardly in an interview with IGN. Perhaps someone at Microsoft or Bethesda needs to help Todd Howard with his interviews so this kind of thing doesn’t happen again!

Starfield has been Bethesda’s biggest and longest project to date, having been worked on for at least a decade. Production officially began following the release of Fallout 4 in 2015 and ramped up in the wake of Fallout 76′s launch in 2018, so this has been a massive undertaking. The Elder Scrolls VI will be comparable in scale, and if it follows a similar timeline to Starfield it may not be ready until 2027 or 2028. If Fallout 5 likewise takes five-plus years in active development, we’re potentially talking about a release window sometime in the early/mid-2030s. So why on earth should we be talking about this game now?!

One of the reasons why video game corporations like sequels is that there’s a built-in fanbase. Fans of Fallout 3 turned up for Fallout 4; fans of Oblivion turned up for Skyrim… and so on. Starfield represents much more of a risk compared with the likes of a new Elder Scrolls or Fallout title, and as a result it needs to be handled carefully, marketed cleverly, and not overshadowed by the bigger and more illustrious franchises that its parent company owns.

The mere act of mentioning Fallout 5 – which had not been discussed by anyone senior at Bethesda or Microsoft prior to this – has completely stolen Starfield’s thunder coming out of the Xbox Games Showcase, and that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen. Bethesda’s mistakes and stumbles – some of which go back several years – have already meant that there’s a bit of a caveat in the minds of some players when they think about Starfield, so the game needs every boost it can possibly get. Being overshadowed by a new title, especially one that’s probably ten years away from being released, doesn’t help and has actually hurt Starfield at the moment players should be beginning to pay attention and, from Bethesda’s point of view at least, get excited for its launch next year.

Maybe this was just a mistake; a throwaway remark that Todd Howard didn’t really intend to make. If so, I guess it’s fair to say that we all make mistakes, these things happen, and to try to move on from it and refocus on Starfield. But it won’t be easy to do. There are already a ton of articles about Fallout 5 being “announced,” and that will lead to questions from fans and the gaming press drawing attention away from Starfield at what was supposed to be its first moment in the spotlight.

We could have spent today talking about the gameplay that was shown off, how things like jumping and jetpacking look like fun, and how incredibly excited I am to design and build my own spaceship! But instead we’re talking about a marketing screw-up and a game that, to be blunt, I’m not sure I’m going to live long enough to see! It was a mistake to even mention Fallout 5 this early, and if Starfield exceeds expectations and becomes Bethesda and Microsoft’s “next big thing,” I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a sequel planned sooner than expected. That could push back work on Fallout 5, upsetting fans. There was literally no upside to this at all, and the resultant reaction to Todd Howard’s statement has drawn attention away from Starfield at the precise moment when fans should have been excitedly talking about its gameplay reveal, new features, and the scale of the galaxy that Bethesda has created. What a mess!

Starfield will be released in the first half of 2023 for Xbox Series S/X and PC and will also be available via Xbox Game Pass. Fallout 5 has no release date scheduled. Starfield, the Fallout franchise, the Elder Scrolls franchise, and other titles and properties mentioned above are the copyright of Microsoft and Bethesda Softworks. Some promotional images courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Knights of the Old Republic remake: a wishlist

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II.

The remake of Knights of the Old Republic is one of the games that I’m most looking forward to at the moment. I’ve talked about this before, but in the early 2000s – when Star Wars had been damaged by two disappointing films – Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel did an awful lot to rescue the franchise’s reputation for me. After twenty years, a remake that brings the game into a new engine and in line with modern titles could be a great way to re-experience it – as well as for new players to experience it for the first time.

Today we’re going to look ahead to the Knights of the Old Republic remake and put together a wishlist; these are things that I truly hope the new version of the game will include.

It goes without saying that I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything on the list below will actually be a part of a new Knights of the Old Republic game. This is a wishlist from a fan – and nothing more. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get started!

Number 1:
An updated combat system.

Revan’s red Sith lightsaber as seen in the teaser.

Even by the standards of role-playing games in 2003, KOTOR’s combat system was pretty “old-school.” That’s fine, and while turn-based combat isn’t my favourite way to play there was nothing necessarily wrong with the way the game approached battles and fights. But if KOTOR is being remade from the ground up with a view to being modernised for a new audience, I think a new approach is needed.

Turn-based combat feels clunky and slow, and it interrupts the natural flow of gameplay. Combat in the original version of KOTOR feels like a wholly separate event from exploration and the rest of gameplay with a noticeable transition, and I think a less rigid approach would be to the game’s overall benefit. Dropping the strictly turn-based approach in favour of a more fluid combat system doesn’t mean things have to be lightning-fast requiring the reflexes of a professional player! But a redesigned approach to combat would help the game feel like a more natural adventure and less like, well, a video game from the early 2000s.

Number 2:
A proper character creator.

KOTOR’s original character creation screen.

The original version of KOTOR had an incredibly basic “character creator” that only allowed players to choose from about a dozen pre-made portraits. There’s more to a character than the way they look, of course… but in a role-playing game – particularly a third-person role-playing game with cinematic cut-scenes and conversations that routinely show off the player character – being able to really customise the game’s protagonist is something I’d like the remake to offer.

Recent years have seen some truly remarkable character creators. Despite its problems, Cyberpunk 2077 has an excellent character creator, with more customisation options than you can shake a stick at! There’s scope for the KOTOR remake to implement something like that, and doing so would go an awfully long way to improving the role-playing experience.

Number 3:
Additional character classes.

The original game’s class selection screen.

While we’re talking about the game’s character creation, it wouldn’t hurt to add in some new classes. The original version of KOTOR included three starting classes and three Jedi classes that were unlocked partway through, and I think there’s scope to either add some new ones or to perhaps let players pick and choose to create their own custom class.

Classes which combine stealth and combat or Jedi abilities with engineering/tech would be a lot of fun, and would mix things up to make every new playthrough of the game feel different and unique. Look to how the Mass Effect trilogy offers six main character classes as a basic example of what I mean.

Number 4:
A fully-voiced protagonist.

Dialogue options in the opening level of the original KOTOR.

In Knights of the Old Republic every character was fully-voiced – except for one. The player character never spoke, with their dialogue being shown during conversations and cut-scenes as text only. This may have been a creative choice, but I suspect it was done to save file space! Hundreds of lines of recorded dialogue take up space, after all! But this limitation doesn’t exist in the same way in 2022, so there’s no reason not to give KOTOR’s protagonist their own voice after all this time.

Some games have multiple voices available to choose from – the Saints Row series offered this option, for example – and the KOTOR remake could certainly go down that road. But even to just have one masculine and one feminine voice as options, like the Mass Effect games or Cyberpunk 2077, would be fantastic.

Number 5:
Redesigned levels.

The Ebon Hawk touches down on Tatooine.

This one was originally going to be “expanded levels,” but bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better! However, twenty years of progress has been made in game design since the original KOTOR was released, so I feel there’s scope to redesign some of the game’s levels to reflect that and make the game feel even more immersive.

For example, the city of Taris could be populated with larger crowds of non-player characters to feel more like the dense urban jungle that the story portrays it as. The deserts of Tatooine could be enlarged to provide more of a sense of scale. Or the forests of Kashyyyk could be remade with a wider variety of plant life – like the version seen recently in Jedi: Fallen Order.

Number 6:
PlayStation 5/Xbox Series X only.

An Xbox Series X box.

And PC, of course! But what I mean is this: the KOTOR remake should take advantage of the latest generation of home consoles and not even try to be compatible with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 generation that’s now almost a decade old. By ditching last-gen in favour of current-gen only, the KOTOR remake will ultimately be a better, more enjoyable, and more visually impressive experience. And isn’t that the main reason to do something like this?

Fans are looking for a game that can take full advantage of two decades’ worth of improvements in technology; if the KOTOR remake tries to remain compatible with last-gen machines, that won’t be possible and at least some of its potential will have been wasted. Although there are still availability issues for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, those consoles are the future and more are being sold every day.

Number 7:
Don’t be shy when it comes to delays.

Cyberpunk 2077. Enough said.

We recently talked about delays when Bethesda and Microsoft announced that Starfield was being pushed back to next year. Without repeating myself too extensively: delays are a good thing! It’s infinitely better for both players and the developer and publisher of a game to delay it until it’s ready rather than trying to force it out too early to meet some arbitrary deadline. So far, we don’t have an official release date for Knights of the Old Republic… but when we do, there’s no need to stick to it if the game needs more time.

Having been burned by recent titles like Mass Effect: Andromeda and Cyberpunk 2077, more and more players are coming around to this way of thinking. A game delay is never fun, but increasingly players understand why it has to happen. I’d rather play a good, bug-free KOTOR remake in 2026 than a bad, rushed, glitchy version in 2023!

Number 8:
No DLC or microtransactions. One complete story.

It shouldn’t cost a packet to play the full version of KOTOR.

Microtransactions in single-player titles are unjustifiable in my view, and I hope that the KOTOR remake avoids this irritating trend. I’m also hopeful that there are no day-one DLC packs, nor any “special editions, “ultimate editions,” etc. The game should be in a complete state at launch, with the full experience available to everyone.

It might be tempting to cut off certain cosmetic items – like lightsaber colours, for instance – and sell them as DLC or as part of a “special edition,” but I really hope this can be avoided. The original version of Knights of the Old Republic didn’t have any of that nonsense – let’s keep the remake free of it as well.

Number 9:
Remake Knights of the Old Republic II!

Could a KOTOR II remake be on the agenda?

Obviously the KOTOR remake is just going to be the first game – but if it’s successful I really hope to see a remade version of Knights of the Old Republic II as well. KOTOR II is probably my favourite part of the duology, with levels like Dxun and Onderon that are truly outstanding. Given the positive reaction to news of a KOTOR remake, could the team working on it be already considering their next move? I hope so!

KOTOR II is a semi-standalone story, and an incredibly fun one in its own right. It would be amazing if a successful and profitable KOTOR remake could be followed up a year or two later by a KOTOR II remake – especially if such a remake could restore some of the content that Obsidian had to cut from the original version of the game due to time constraints.

Number 10:
Set the stage for Knights of the Old Republic III!

The Ebon Hawk.

If remakes of KOTOR and possibly KOTOR II are successful, could a third game finally be in the works? After a twenty-year hiatus, that might be the longest gap in between releases in the history of the games industry… well, unless we count Shenmue III – but the less said about that the better!

Although the MMO The Old Republic made reference to events in the KOTOR games, nothing has been conclusively resolved. And without getting too deep into spoiler territory, both games ended in a pretty open way. There’s absolutely the potential to bring back main and secondary characters for a third entry… so I guess we’ll have to watch this space.

So that’s it!

Darth Revan as glimpsed in the teaser.

That’s my Knights of the Old Republic remake wishlist. I’m hopeful that the remake will be a fun update to the original game and I’m definitely planning to check it out when it’s ready. Knights of the Old Republic isn’t just one of my favourite Star Wars games – it’s one of my favourite games of all time! I can understand why some folks are wary of a remake after lacklustre projects like Mass Effect: Legendary Edition or Warcraft III: Reforged, and the games industry in general doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to remakes and remasters sometimes. But I think there are reasons to be optimistic.

Even if none of my “wishes” end up in the finished game, just having the opportunity to replay Knights of the Old Republic with modern graphics will be fun. The original game was made during the Xbox-PlayStation 2 era and it’s definitely beginning to show its age by now! So any upgrade will be greatly appreciated. I feel optimistic at this early stage that Knights of the Old Republic will get a decent remake. Whenever it’s ready, be sure to stop by the website for my thoughts and impressions.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is being developed by Aspyr and will be published by Lucasfilm Games for PC and PlayStation 5. No release date has been announced. The Star Wars franchise – including all titles and properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Video game spotlight: Banished

This is the first part of a new occasional series that I’ll be running here on the website in which I’ll be taking a look in more detail at some of my favourite video games. It’s a lot of fun to review brand-new games and keep up-to-date with all the goings-on in the video games industry, but sometimes it’s nice to step back and just geek out about some of my all-time favourites!

If you’re a regular reader of my gaming content you’ve probably seen me talk about Banished before; it’s a mainstay on my lists of recommended titles whenever there’s a big Steam sale! But despite having recommended Banished on several occasions going back to the website’s first month in operation in 2019, this is the first time I’ve taken a deeper look at the game.

A recent town of mine in Banished.

Banished was released in 2014 for PC, and I honestly can’t remember where I first heard about it. The early- and mid-2010s were a mess for me for all manner of reasons, and my memory isn’t great even under the best circumstances! Suffice to say that I discovered Banished shortly after its launch, and for a relatively low price of admission when compared to titles in a similar city-building space, I thought it was at least worth a shot. The fact that I’m still playing it almost eight years later should tell you how I feel about it!

What astonishes me about Banished is that its developer – Shining Rock Software – is actually just one person. A single person managed to create this incredibly intricate and challenging game, one that exists in a pretty unique niche within the overall city-building game realm. I think that’s absolutely incredible, and well worth taking a moment to consider. Banished was a labour of love – and it shows. Maybe it doesn’t have the flashiest graphics or the most complex and numerous in-game mechanics, but it brings a lot to the table regardless. I’d still include Banished as one of my all-time favourite titles even if it had been put out by an entire studio backed up by a major publisher, but the fact that it’s an indie game made by a single person is just mind-blowing.

A market, crop fields, a mine, and houses.

I usually like to play games on the easiest mode available. Particularly with fast-paced titles like action games and shooters, I find that I just don’t have the reflexes, reaction time, or just the ability to play those kinds of games at that level. This should be the subject of a longer essay sometime, but as someone with disabilities, I really do believe that difficulty options are an accessibility feature that as many games as possible should include. I’ve been playing video games for more than thirty years; if I haven’t “got gud” by now, I’m not going to! But we’ve drifted off-topic.

Banished offers several different difficulty options that can be combined in different ways to customise the experience. The number of families (and individual citizens) that the town has at the start, the harshness of the weather, and whether disasters (like fires breaking out) are switched on or off all make an impact, as does whether the randomly-generated map has more or fewer mountains. Instead of just offering a standard easy, medium, or hard mode, Banished allows players to really tailor the kind of experience they want to have – and I think that’s something more titles in the city-builder genre should try to emulate.

The “New Game” menu.

I would call Banished a game that’s deceptively complex. Its relatively small number of buildings and resources makes it seem, on the surface, that it should be relatively easy to get to grips with. Harvest enough resources to keep your small population healthy, happy, and well-fed. That’s all there is to it, right?

But when you get stuck in, there’s so much more to it than that. Balancing your resources so you aren’t over-producing and wasting storage space while also making sure you don’t produce too little of something and run out is like walking a tightrope at times! I’ve ended up in some very sticky situations because I had slightly too much or too little of something important at just the wrong moment – and it can be fatal, in some cases, if you get caught out.

Harvesting a crop of wheat in Banished.

For example, it’s tempting to use all the logs your citizens gather to construct new buildings – especially at the beginning of the game when you don’t have many. But if you burn through your supply of logs too quickly and don’t have enough citizens assigned to chop down trees or work as foresters to replace them, come winter everyone will freeze because there won’t be enough firewood! Conversely, if you construct a woodcutter’s cabin and don’t keep a careful eye on how much firewood they’re making, they can easily chop up all of the logs you have meaning you won’t have any when you want to construct the next new building!

Banished isn’t a game you can set and forget. In order to truly succeed you need to be on top of your resources pretty much all the time. Even though there aren’t that many you need to manage, it’s a balancing act to stay on top of all of them at once. A single disruptive event can completely bowl you over if you aren’t careful, and when citizens don’t have the right balance of resources their health and happiness will drop, making them less productive. In the worst case they can die – starvation, cold, disease, and so on can all spell doom for the residents of your community!

A small cluster of buildings in a forest.

Take a recent game I played as an example! While building up my town I was constantly hampered by a lack of stone to construct new buildings. Even after building a stone quarry this problem persisted for a while, so I prioritised things like building new houses closer to the quarry so I could get more stonecutters. I constructed other buildings in what I considered to be descending order of importance, prioritising things like making sure there was enough food for a growing population, which meant adding new crop fields, fishing docks, and assigning citizens to those jobs. After a while, there was an outbreak of disease – the measles, in this case. But because I hadn’t constructed any hospitals, the disease ripped through the population! By the time I’d figured out how badly I was screwed, half the town was infected. I pulled everyone off their jobs to get a hospital built, which happened in the nick of time. Doing that, however, meant that there was less food as the harvest went to waste as winter set in and the crops were still in the fields!

All in all, the citizens of my town had a very bad time because of a combination of bad luck and bad management on my part! A lot of citizens ended up dying because there was no hospital, and the disease was only stopped because a few hardy souls managed to scrape together enough resources to build a hospital from scratch at the last minute. It took a long time to recover from that!

Official Trekking with Dennis Top Tip:
Remember to build a hospital!

Like many great PC games, Banished happily encourages modding. There is (or was) a solid modding community, with mods adding in brand-new buildings, gameplay elements, and visual overhauls to name but a few. Shining Rock Software was keen from the very beginning for fans and players to get involved and develop their own mods for the game, and there are some very popular ones that really transform Banished into something different. Playing the game without any of these is fine – wonderful, even – but if you’re ready for a different experience after playing the original version, mods like Colonial Charter give Banished a whole new lease of life.

Returning to the original game, though, there’s plenty to enjoy. There are eight different types of crops, eight different types of fruit trees, and three different types of animals for the town to take care of. These are all different – and the differences aren’t merely cosmetic, either. Some crops grow faster than others, or grow better in different conditions. Citizens are healthier when they have a varied diet – and that includes multiple types of crops, fruits, meats, and the like.

Citizens walking past an orchard in the winter.

The three different animals (cows, sheep, and chickens) all produce different resources for the town, too, and at different rates. Sheep will produce wool, which is great for making clothes, and cattle will produce leather – but you’ll get an awful lot more wool per sheep than leather per cow! Chickens will produce plenty of eggs! It can be easy to overproduce wool and eggs (in my opinion, at least) once you start building a lot of animal pastures – and this can eat up storage space that could be used for other goods!

There are many strategies that players have developed in the years since Banished was released. I play the game my own way, and I’m sure you can find a strategy that works for you either through trial and error or by looking them up online! The fact that there are so many different approaches to playing the game, and so many different recommendations and suggestions for how to get started, what to build first, and so on is testament to the fact that Banished truly is a complex and deep experience.

Pastures holding sheep and chickens near a market.

Banished is a game I can get lost in for hours at a time. Building up a small town, managing its starting resources, and then establishing a trading post to bring in different crops and herds is a ton of fun. Because maps are randomly generated, Banished feels different every time. Every game starts off in a different location, with a different combination of starting resources. There are some things I usually like to do first – my top tip is to make the first building you construct a school so your citizens will always be well-educated and thus more efficient – but other than that I like to play it by ear, see what resources I have in the immediate vicinity of my starting location, and then decide how best to expand!

If you haven’t tried Banished, keep an eye out for it when Steam sales roll around; in recent years it’s often been heavily discounted, meaning you can pick it up for the price of an expensive Starbucks coffee! Even at full price, though, Banished is a game I’d happily recommend to anyone who enjoys a richly-detailed and complex city-builder or strategy game. I would caveat that by saying that Banished isn’t a “casual” game that you can absent-mindedly play while distracted!

So that’s it for this time. After having talked about Banished on a number of occasions I wanted to give it its own full article here on the website. This “video game spotlight” series will hopefully be an occasional thing I do going forward, so keep an eye out for my take on a number of other titles that I’ve enjoyed over the years in future! Happy building!

Banished is out now for PC. Banished is the copyright of Shining Rock Software. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Winter sale deals for PC gamers

Important:

ALL SALES DISCUSSED BELOW HAVE NOW ENDED.
Prices listed below will no longer be correct.

Check back in June/July for my picks from 2022’s summer sales.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas or Hannukah – it’s time for some of the biggest sales in PC gaming! Steam, Origin, GOG, and Epic Games all have major sales right now, and there are some steep discounts and great deals to be found.

PC gaming can be incredibly expensive to get started with, especially with sky-high prices for graphics cards and other components at the moment (thanks, crypto-miners). But huge sales like these go a long way to making up for the high cost of entry in my opinion! Steam sales have rightly acquired near-legendary status among gamers, and consoles really can’t compete with the steep discounts on offer.

So this time, for the third year in a row, I’m going to pick out a few of the best deals and discounts – and maybe give you a few ideas for games to play over the holidays and into 2022!

Deal #1:
Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force
GOG, 19% discount, £6.79

Elite Force is one of the rare Star Trek video games that broke through to players outside of the existing Star Trek fandom. For a time shortly after its release in the year 2000, the game was a must-play in the budding multiplayer first-person shooter space on PC. It was the first FPS that I played at a LAN party shortly after the turn of the millennium, and I had a blast with Elite Force.

The game has a solid campaign, too, with players taking on the role of an ensign aboard the USS Voyager. Elite Force brought back most of the cast of Star Trek: Voyager to voice their characters, further adding to the sense of immersion. And the campaign’s story is very Star Trek-y, as the USS Voyager is sucked into a void in space. GOG also has discounts on a few other Star Trek games, so check out the likes of Away Team and Hidden Evil too!

Deal #2:
Red Dead Redemption II
Epic Games/Steam, 50% discount, £27.49

After more than 100 hours across three months, I finally beat Red Dead Redemption II just a few days ago. The game is both beautiful and incredibly bleak, with an emotional story that will leave you jumping for joy and wallowing in melancholy. Stay tuned for a full write-up in the near future, because I’ve got a lot more to say about this one!

Rockstar Games took their open-world format and applied it to the late 19th Century, crafting a visually gorgeous rendition of the American Midwest and South in that era. Players take on the role of Arthur Morgan – an outlaw who rides with the Van Der Linde gang. Expect the usual chaos and mayhem as Arther robs banks and gets into shootouts, but be prepared for emotional gut-punches too. Red Dead Redemption II is a long game, but if you get stuck into it you won’t want to stop playing when it’s over.

Deal #3:
Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Epic Games, 25% discount, £23.99

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is almost certainly my favourite game of 2021. The adorable adventure game plays like a wonderful homage to older 3D titles while simultaneously making full use of decades’ worth of graphical improvements to look absolutely stunning. Kena: Bridge of Spirits was already competitively-priced, so to be able to snap it up at a discount feels like a real bargain!

One thing I admire about Kena: Bridge of Spirits is that it doesn’t hold your hand. You’re given all of the gameplay tools to navigate an area and then left to do so – there are no arrows pointing where to go nor a barrage of pop-up tips. It also features the Rot: adorable little critters who help Kena on her journey to the Mountan Shrine. You can read my full review of Kena: Bridge of Spirits by clicking or tapping here.

Deal #4:
Cyberpunk 2077
GOG/Epic Games/Steam, 50% discount, £24.99

I haven’t found many nice things to say about Cyberpunk 2077, the game which ended up being a crushing disappointment to many players who jumped aboard an out-of-control hype train. Even today, a year on from one of the worst game launches of recent times, it’s still not in a particularly good state – and as I’ve said more than once, the actual game hiding underneath the bugs and glitches could be described at best as being “above-average.”

But Cyberpunk 2077 has an interesting story, and when it works there’s no denying its dense cityscape is a sight to see. With a reasonable discount it feels like an acceptable buy, and with further patches to come in 2022, this could be a game worth picking up now with a view to playing in six months’ time once more development work has been done. Just remember to set appropriate expectations: Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t a genre-redefining experience that pushes the boundaries of what video games can be. On a good day, it’s an above-average role-playing shooter.

Deal #5:
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Steam/Origin, 63% discount, £12.94

Jedi: Fallen Order is the single-player Star Wars game that fans had been asking for for almost a decade, and served as a great palate cleanser after the controversies around Battlefront II and even The Rise of Skywalker. A fantastic story-driven action-adventure, players take on the role of abandoned ex-Padawan Cal Kestis in the years between Revenge of the Sith and the Original Trilogy.

Jedi: Fallen Order has a unique and engaging story, one that really pulled me in and made me feel like I was living through my own Star Wars adventure with Cal and the friends he met during his journey. The game is tightly-focused on lightsaber combat and a handful of Force powers, allowing less choice than some titles but honing to perfection those elements it chooses to include. Origin also offers Jedi: Fallen Order as part of a bundle with Star Wars Squadrons and Battlefront II – which could be a good deal if you haven’t played any of those titles!

Deal #6:
Shenmue I & II
Steam, 75% discount, £6.24

Although the Shenmue saga’s third entry, which was funded primarily by fans, didn’t accomplish the goal of concluding the story, the first Shenmue in particular is one of the best games that I’ve ever played and I’ll happily recommend it to fans of single-player titles for as long as I live! Originally released on the Dreamcast, Shenmue and Shenmue II follow the story of martial artist Ryo Hazuki following the murder of his father. The quest takes Ryo from his native Japan to Hong Kong and beyond.

For younger gamers who’ve grown up with 3D environments, open worlds, and the like, it’s difficult to fully communicate how revolutionary Shenmue felt when I first played it in the year 2000. It was the first game I felt was truly cinematic, and that told a story that could’ve been from a novel or a series of films. Shenmue was the game that showed me what video games could be – and it will always be special to me for that reason. Oh, and the first game has some Christmassy elements, so it’s great to play at this time of year!

Deal #7:
Fall Guys
Steam, 50% discount, £7.99

The only online game I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed from the past few years, Fall Guys is an obstacle course battle royale; a cute cartoony version of the likes of Total Wipeout. It’s an absolute blast, and there really isn’t anything quite like it on the market. Despite a recent buyout by Epic Games, Fall Guys is currently only available on Steam and PlayStation – with Xbox and Nintendo Switch versions both suffering long delays.

Fall Guys’ reputation may have been tainted by a cheating problem that plagued matches early in its life, but that was fixed a long time ago. The addition of new rounds offering new challenges has kept the game fresh, and if you’re sick of the usual shooters and third-person action-adventure games, Fall Guys could be the breath of fresh air you’ve been looking for!

Deal #8:
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Steam, 70% discount, £3.89

A few weeks ago, Skyrim hit its tenth anniversary, and next year Morrowind will celebrate its twentieth! With The Elder Scrolls VI still years away, it could be a great time to either get back into Morrowind or to pick up the game for the first time if you missed out when it was new. Morrowind is by far my favourite Elder Scrolls game, and I think even Skyrim players will be surprised at just how much there is to do.

Morrowind has more NPCs than Oblivion or Skyrim. It has more weapon types, more magic spells, more factions to join, and two expansive DLC packs that add even more to a base game already overstuffed with content. Its text-only interface may be offputting to some players, but if you can look past that limitation you’ll find what I consider to be one of the finest role-playing games ever created.

Deal #9:
Super Woden GP
Steam, 50% discount, £5.14

Super Woden GP is a very old-school racing game with an isometric perspective. It’s a lot of fun, a throwback to the days when racing video games seemed to be based on the games kids would play with toy cars! Super Woden GP includes over 70 real-world cars and a varied mix of tracks. There’s no first-person view, and this isn’t a simulation experience by any stretch. It’s just good old-fashioned racing fun.

There have been some great racing games this year. Forza Horizon 5 is just one example! But if you want something a little different, a game that has more of a classic feel, Super Woden GP is definitely a title I can recommend.

Deal #10:
Mafia: Definitive Edition
Steam, 50% discount, £17.49

Developers Hangar 13 could show Rockstar a thing or two about how to truly make a “definitive edition!” This remake of the first Mafia game from 2002 truly transformed the game and brought it fully into the modern day. When I first played Mafia on the original Xbox I thought I was getting “Grand Theft Auto III in the ’30s,” but that doesn’t do the game justice. It’s an amazing story-driven action game in its own right.

2021 has been a year of disappointing “remasters” that, for the most part, have ended up feeling like barebones reskins or just repackaged re-releases. But Mafia: Definitive Edition, which came out in September 2020, is in a completely different league. If you missed this game the first time around, or if you haven’t played it since the early 2000s, it’s absolutely worth a buy.

Deal #11:
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Steam, 50% discount, £14.99

Since we’re talking about great remakes, Halo: The Master Chief Collection is another fantastic release. Comprising the first six games in the Halo series, all you’re missing is Halo 5 – and if you’re planning on playing Halo Infinite at some point soon, it’s definitely worth getting reacquainted with the long-running sci-fi shooter series.

The first couple of Halo games, which came out on the original Xbox, were certainly beginning to show their age in terms of visuals, so the overhaul was greatly appreciated! I have fond memories of playing Halo: Combat Evolved with friends – both co-operatively and competitively – so for me this one can be a bit of a nostalgia trip. For the price, getting six great first-person shooters feels like a steal, so this is an easy one to recommend.

Deal #12:
Control: Ultimate Edition
Steam, 70% discount, £10.49

I played through Control for the first time earlier this year, and I had a blast! It’s a spooky game in some ways, with the malevolent Hiss an ever-present and very unnerving adversary. Control has a very clever design, making creative use of what might otherwise be fairly bland office environments to tell a genuinely engaging and interesting supernatural story.

I found Control to be one of the most accessible games I’ve had the good fortune to play. With various modes and options to cater to players with differing abilities, Control went out of its way to be as open as possible. That’s something I feel more titles need to do as we move into the new console generation.

Deal #13:
Road 96
Steam, 20% discount, £13.56

Road 96 is a unique narrative experience that feels as if it was inspired by recent events! Taking place in a fictional country that resembles the American Southwest, players must make it to the border and escape from the authorities – undertaking a road trip and meeting dozens of interesting characters en route, each with their own stories to tell.

It’s a clever game with a great soundtrack and a neat premise, very heavy on story. Road 96 also has an artistic visual style that adds to the experience. If you’re in the market for something different, a single-player game that isn’t just about shooting, Road 96 might be the indie game for you!

Deal #14:
Banished
Steam, 66% discount, £5.09

Banished is a non-violent town-building game in which you have to carefully manage limited resources to keep the population healthy and happy. It’s almost deceptively simple but very tricky to master – even with all the hours I’ve logged it’s still a challenge!

I can’t get over the fact that Banished was made by one single person. Even if it had been made by a whole studio I’d still heap praise upon it, but the fact that this entire complex experience was put together by a single developer never fails to amaze me. There are some fun mods for Banished that the fan community has made in the years since its 2014 launch – some of which add whole new ways to play. For such a low price it’s an absolute steal!

Deal #15:
Jade Empire: Special Edition
Steam, 75% discount, £3.74

If you’re a fan of BioWare’s games, make sure that you didn’t miss out on Jade Empire! Released as an Xbox exclusive in 2005, Jade Empire is a role-playing game set in a world inspired by Chinese legends. It blends martial arts and magic in a truly fun and unique experience. Released in between Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, I feel Jade Empire gets somewhat overshadowed – but it should be hailed alongside those games!

All of the trademark BioWare elements are here: well-written characters, a story with multiple endings, building up a group of characters and taking them on a journey. If you’ve played any other modern BioWare title the gameplay will feel familiar – but the story is well worth experiencing for yourself.

Bonus:
Epic Games Coupon
Epic Games, £10/$10

This one isn’t a game! But for the duration of the holiday sale, Epic Games are offering a coupon with a value of £10, $10, or the equivalent in your local currency to spend on games priced over £13.99 or equivalent. The coupon is valid even for titles which are on sale provided they’re priced above £13.99, so it can be a great way to stack up the discounts. For example, Cyberpunk 2077 would be £14.99 on Epic Games, or Red Dead Redemption II would be £17.49.

So that’s it!

We’ve picked out fifteen deals from the various PC digital shops and their big winter sales. There are a ton more games on offer at this time of year, so have a browse and maybe treat yourself to something new to play over the holidays! I know that’s what I’ll be doing!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Halo Infinite: first impressions

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for Halo Infinite, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and other iterations of the Halo franchise.

After the longest gap in between games since the franchise began, Halo Infinite was finally released last week. I haven’t yet completed the campaign, but I’ve spent a couple of hours with the game so far – enough time to give you my first impressions and initial thoughts about Halo Infinite.

First up, make sure you choose the right version when you go to download it! I have Game Pass for PC, and on the homepage of the Xbox app there was a big Halo Infinite icon, so I clicked it and it began to download – taking hours on my painfully slow internet connection. When it was done I booted up the game… only to find I couldn’t play the campaign, just the multiplayer! The campaign is a separate download, so I had to wait another few hours for that. Not the best start – and this should really be made clearer on the Xbox app.

Promo art for Halo Infinite.

When I was able to load the campaign, I immediately encountered an issue with the audio. I usually play games with headphones on, but although my headphones were plugged in there was no audio. After some investigating, the only way I could find to fix it came from someone else who’d had a similar problem and shared their solution on a forum – I had to go into my PC’s sound settings and change my headphone settings. Something uncomplicated but stupidly obscure; how this person figured it out I’ve no idea! It worked fine after that – but again, Halo Infinite made a poor first impression as a result.

The game opens with a cut-scene showing the Master Chief being thrown into space by an alien monster – the leader of a villainous faction called the Banished. This villain, and a couple of other Banished leaders who we’re also introduced to in cut-scenes across the game’s opening act, all feel quite generic. The vocal performances were hammy and over-the-top, and I don’t really get the impression that the leaders of the Banished are anything other than “evil for the sake of it” kind of villains. By default this makes the game less compelling and less interesting!

The game opens with Master Chief getting beaten up by this guy.

I haven’t played Halo 5; it wasn’t included as part of The Master Chief Collection when that was released on PC a couple of years ago, and it hasn’t been released as a standalone title. But the pre-release marketing and chatter about Halo Infinite seemed to indicate that the game was some kind of soft renewal of the franchise and would be a good jumping-on point for players unfamiliar with the world and lore of the Halo series – a series which, lest we forget, has recently passed its twentieth anniversary. Based on my first couple of hours with the game, I have to disagree with that.

Halo Infinite feels like an unapologetic sequel. We don’t find out why the Master Chief happened to be aboard that starship, and pretty quickly as he retrieves not-Cortana from a nearby Halo ring the game seems to reference events that took place in Halo 5 – something about Cortana going rogue and needing to be deleted. At this point I feel pretty lost with the story, with Master Chief blindly shooting his way through waves of enemies without any readily apparent goal or purpose.

I didn’t play Halo 5 so I feel a bit lost with the story.

I took a decade off from the Halo games after Reach, and it was only when I got The Master Chief Collection on PC that I played the fourth game in the series and the ODST spin-off. So I’m not the world’s biggest Halo fan by any stretch, and maybe big fans of the franchise are having a whale of a time – if so, that’s fantastic. I don’t want to detract from anyone’s enjoyment by being an old sourpuss! But Halo Infinite’s story appears to rely heavily on what came before, so for new fans or for folks who’ve been out of the loop, maybe The Master Chief Collection would be a better way to get started.

I found a couple of very odd graphical bugs during my relatively short time with the game, too. During the second mission, when Master Chief has arrived at the Halo installation, doorways appeared to glitch out: they’d appear to be solid even after “opening” and it was possible to just clip through what looked like a solid, graphically buggy door. Then shortly after, every alien of a particular kind (I think the Elites) were also completely bugged, and they ended up looking all stretched out and just broken. It’s hard to put into words, so see the screenshots below (click or tap the images for a larger version):

All of this kind of added up to mean that the game left a weaker-than-expected first impression. I’d been excited for Halo Infinite; the prospect of a franchise I remember with fondness from the days of the original Xbox getting a soft renewal and a new coat of paint was something I found genuinely appealing. I want to like Halo Infinite – but the somewhat dense backstory, a villain who feels silly at best, and a handful of bugs and glitches that should really have been fixed before launch have definitely got in the way of that.

So that’s the bad stuff out of the way. But my experience with Halo Infinite so far hasn’t been entirely negative by any stretch. There is definitely a good game at its core, one with some truly exciting and fun sci-fi shooting. The guns that I’ve used so far have been varied, ranging from standard rifles and pistols to Halo staples like the Needler. Halo Infinite’s gunplay is fluid, the environments so far have been well-designed, and were it not for those few bugs and issues that I’ve encountered I’d be giving it a ten out of ten for its gameplay.

Halo Infinite has great gunplay.

As a multiplayer player-versus-player online shooter, which is what many folks come to Halo for, I think that bodes well. I can absolutely see it being a game that keeps players hooked well into 2022 and perhaps even beyond that, as there seem to be teases of a lot more multiplayer content to come. And that’s great… for people who like that kind of game. As someone who came to Halo Infinite for its campaign, I feel underwhelmed more than anything else. Halo Infinite’s campaign isn’t exactly bad, it just isn’t as good or well-written as I’d hoped it would be.

So far, in addition to the Master Chief I’ve met two major characters: a pilot and not-Cortana – an AI named “the Weapon.” Both characters seem interesting, and I’m definitely curious to see how their stories progress as the game goes on. The voice and motion-capture performances for both characters have been great so far, with some of the Weapon’s facial expressions in particular being extraordinarily well-animated. The Halo games have come a long way from their 2001 origins in that respect. Were it not for those graphical bugs I encountered, I’d say Halo Infinite makes the franchise look better than ever.

Not-Cortana… a.k.a. the Weapon.

So I guess I need to read a synopsis of Halo 5 or something… get myself caught up with all of the story that I missed (and all the other story that I’ve forgotten about!) Maybe then I’ll have a better time as I progress through the campaign. Halo Infinite has potential, but I guess what I’d say is that I’m glad I picked it up as part of Game Pass; I’d feel far less charitable about its flaws and shortcomings had I paid £55 for it.

If you’re only interested in multiplayer, I think Halo Infinite will be a fine shooter going through 2022. Of this year’s big first-person shooter releases, there’s surely no question that Halo Infinite is the best choice by far. Battlefield 2042 and Call of Duty: Vanguard can’t compete, not by a long-shot. If you’re interested in the campaign, though, I think Halo Infinite isn’t as much of a soft reboot or fresh start as I was expecting – so make sure you’re caught up on what happened in previous games before you jump in.

Promo screenshot.

The bugs are disappointing, but so far they haven’t been so overwhelming that I felt the need to quit the game. Hopefully these issues can be patched out in the days ahead. There don’t seem to be as many reports of similar issues affecting the Xbox One or Xbox Series S/X version of the game, which is positive news for those of you using those platforms.

So that’s it, I guess. An unspectacular start, but not a terrible one. Halo Infinite could certainly do a lot worse, and in a first-person shooter market that increasingly only caters to the multiplayer crowd, it’s nice to see that Microsoft and Xbox are sticking with single-player campaigns. It’s also great that Halo Infinite got a simultaneous release on PC, and a day-one launch on Game Pass. Microsoft has become quite a player-friendly company in that regard, and I have to respect that.

If you already have Game Pass, it’s hard not to recommend Halo Infinite – you might as well give it a shot, at least. And its multiplayer mode is currently free-to-play for everyone, Game Pass subscriber or not. For £55/$60 though, the campaign alone might not be worth it. You’re probably better off signing up for Game Pass just for a month, beating the campaign, and then cancelling your subscription!

Halo Infinite is out now for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Halo Infinite is also available via Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Game Pass for PC. The Halo series – including Halo Infinite – is the copyright of 343 Industries, Xbox Game Studios, and Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Let’s get hyped for Star Trek: Resurgence!

Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise.

I was blindsided by the recent announcement of Star Trek: Resurgence – a brand new video game set in the Star Trek galaxy. Though there have been a couple of crappy mobile games and the ever-present Star Trek Online, it’s been almost a decade since the last single-player video game in the Star Trek franchise… and that didn’t go too well!

On the whole, Star Trek as a franchise hasn’t been especially well-served in the video game realm, despite the fact that there’s always been a significant crossover between Trekkies and gamers. When compared to the Star Wars franchise, which boasts some truly excellent games, Star Trek titles have never really managed to cut through, and with only a couple of exceptions even the best Star Trek games have mostly been the preserve of existing fans.

A new Star Trek game is warping onto our screens!

Here’s hoping that Resurgence can change that! Early indications are actually pretty good: the game’s announcement came at the Game Awards, one of the biggest industry events outside of E3. Resurgence has been picked up by a number of gaming publications and websites, featuring on several lists of the “best announcements” made at the event. Because it’s been a while since there was a Star Trek game, I think that might actually work in Resurgence’s favour to an extent!

One of the main things that seems to have piqued the curiosity of many players is the pedigree of the developer: new studio Dramatic Labs. Dramatic Labs is a studio comprised of former writers and developers at Telltale Games, the studio behind titles like the incredibly well-received The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, and the Batman adaptation. Many Telltale titles were exceptionally popular, with fans praising the quality of the writing and the unique branching stories that led to multiple narrative paths and several different endings.

The bridge of the USS Resolute.

I played through Telltale’s Batman game a few years ago and it was an enjoyable experience that was something different from many other titles. These narrative adventure games put storytelling and dialogue front-and-centre, allowing players to choose what to say at key moments and to influence the direction of the story through the choices they make. When I played through Batman it felt almost like an interactive film: a deep story, well-animated cut-scenes and sequences, but with many different moments at which I could choose what happened and which way the story would proceed.

The choices in games like these aren’t always obvious. In games like Mass Effect or Fallout, for example, there’s usually a “good guy” choice and a “bad guy” choice, sometimes with a neutral option thrown in for good measure. In Mass Effect you can, for example, choose to punch a news reporter or answer her questions, and in Fallout 3 you can choose to defuse a bomb or arm it and blow up a settlement. Both examples show how players can influence the story and shake up the game world, but in both cases it’s clearly telegraphed which are “good” and “bad” options. Telltale/Dramatic Labs titles don’t always make it so obvious!

Firing a phaser in the trailer.

For example, in the Batman game I mentioned, there are several points at which you have to make decisions that can have ramifications for the rest of the game but where the choice isn’t obvious. Choosing whether to save one character or another can end up creating a new villain to fight, or choosing to attend an event in costume as Batman can lead to a wholly different outcome than if Bruce Wayne attended without his disguise. These are just examples of the kind of branching narrative choices that Dramatic Labs is teasing us with in Resurgence.

We’re also promised third-person action sequences throughout Resurgence, and we saw examples of this in the trailer too. The official announcement also lists “shuttle piloting, phaser fights, tricorder scanning, stealth, and micro-gameplay mechanics” as things we’ll be able to do in the game. I’m not sure what “micro-gameplay mechanics” means in this instance; it sounds like it could be mini-games, and things like picking locks or computer hacking spring to mind as examples from other franchises. But it all sounds like a ton of fun!

Scanning with a tricorder.

From the trailer we got a glimpse of some of these systems in effect. There was a sequence with a character wearing an EV suit on what looked like the outer hull of a starship firing their phaser, a tricorder scanning sequence that looked like a lot of fun, and some sneaking around that was potentially representative of one of the stealth sections.

The idea of having two playable characters is fun, too, and we’ve seen a number of recent games do this to great effect. While we don’t know much at all about either of the playable characters, the fact that one is a senior bridge officer and the other is a non-commissioned engineer should mean we get to see two very different perspectives on the same story. Both characters should be approaching the situation from very different starting places, and that already sounds like something that could be a lot of fun. Aside from Chief O’Brien, we haven’t spent a lot of time with enlisted personnel before, and Resurgence might actually be the first time we’ve seen an enlisted crewperson as a playable video game character.

A familiar face!

It was so great to see Spock in the trailer, and I felt that the voice actor did a creditable job at imitating Leonard Nimoy’s iconic performance. Whether Spock will have a major role to play in the story isn’t clear at this stage, but as one of Star Trek’s most legendary characters his presence should be interesting at the very least. Dramatic Labs has also teased that there may be other “fan-favourite” characters included in the game, but no details yet on who those characters could be.

Dramatic Labs promise that players will “make those similar tough choices that iconic Star Trek heroes have been forced to contend with.” This is emphasising the narrative choice aspect of the game, and reinforces what I said earlier about the difficulty of some of the choices in games of this nature. The story seems to involve two alien races “on the brink of war” – I didn’t recognise either of the alien races seen in the trailer. Resurgence sounds enthralling, and I’m really excited to get stuck in.

Players will have to make some pretty tough calls in Resurgence

We need to set appropriate expectations, though, no matter how exciting it may be to finally get a new Star Trek game after such a long time! This isn’t going to be a sprawling adventure on the scale of something like Mass Effect, nor will it be an open-world title like Cyberpunk 2077. It’s a narrative adventure game, and that (hopefully) means that we’ll get a very strong and engaging story with a good degree of choice over how it proceeds. The third-person adventure elements look fun too, and I’m excited to try out things like phaser combat and tricorder scanning.

So keep an eye out for Resurgence when it arrives in the spring. Given the developers’ pedigree, I think Resurgence has the potential to appeal to fans of narrative titles and Telltale Games as well as Star Trek fans, and as long as the game is released in a bug-free state it has a lot of potential. Star Trek feels like a natural fit for a narrative adventure title, and it reminds me in some ways of games like Deep Space Nine: Harbinger and Hidden Evil from the late 1990s/early 2000s.

I’m trying not to get over-excited! I’ve been hoping for a new single-player Star Trek game for years, and hopefully Resurgence will be the first of many as the franchise continues to grow and expand. Regardless, I’m eagerly awaiting its Spring 2022 release! I hope you’ll come back when Resurgence is out for a full review.

Star Trek: Resurgence will be released for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X in Spring 2022. Star Trek: Resurgence is the copyright of Dramatic Labs and ViacomCBS Consumer Products. The Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits – full review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits has been out for three weeks now, and I finally got around to finishing the game the other day. I like to take my time with a game I’m enjoying, so I didn’t blitz through it at lightning speed! I’d been looking forward to Kena: Bridge of Spirits for months, and my first impressions of the game were fantastic. I already knew that I’d found something special in Kena: Bridge of Spirits, but having gone through the full experience I can now say with certainty that this is by far the best game I’ve played in all of 2021.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a rare offering: a visually beautiful game taking advantage of the best of modern graphics combined with an older style of gameplay that feels intuitive and uncomplicated. As silly as it may sound, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is unapologetically a video game – it doesn’t pretend to be an interactive movie. It also ignores many of the tropes of modern gaming: no “expansive open world,” no cluttered heads-up display with arrows pointing exactly where to go, no pop-up tips telling you precisely what combination of buttons to press to solve a puzzle. The game plays, in some respects, like a 3D action-platformer from the Nintendo 64 or PlayStation 1 era – and I’m absolutely there for that kind of classic gameplay style!

Promo artwork for Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

There are three main “levels” plus a brief tutorial, and with each stage the titular heroine Kena learns a new power that helps her navigate the game world, solve puzzles, and engage in some occasionally complex platforming. Each of the three sections is dedicated to helping track down relics and memories necessary to help a wayward spirit so that Kena can ultimately make her way to the mountain shrine. The story is mostly contained within cut-scenes that are seamlessly woven into gameplay, with Kena triggering a cut-scene upon beating a major boss or discovering a memory.

At first three levels broken down into a few different parts might not seem like a lot, and Kena: Bridge of Spirits isn’t the world’s longest game by any stretch. My playthrough, in which I completed the game and found as many hidden items and unlockables as reasonably possible, clocked in at 11 hours and 43 minutes. Anywhere from 9-12 hours seems to be a good guide based on online sources. For £30-35 (approx. $40) I felt that the game offered excellent value at that length.

Kena collecting one of the Rot.

Speaking of unlockables and collectibles, Kena: Bridge of Spirits didn’t go overboard in the way some titles do. Collecting the Rot – Kena’s adorable little companions – didn’t only feel like a natural part of gameplay, but having more Rot on your team allowed for more attacks and more powerful attacks which gave Kena an advantage particularly during boss fights. This made looking for hidden Rot feel worthwhile, and not just like typical open-world busywork in the way collect-a-thons in many modern games can.

There were also gems to collect, which were found hidden in chests, barrels, pots, and the like across the map. Gems can be spent on Rot hats, and while these aesthetic elements don’t have a gameplay impact, it was a lot of fun to collect the various hats and give different Rot different looks. By the end of the game, my 80+ Rot had dozens of different styles, including absolutely adorable ones like a dinosaur hat, a baseball cap, and even a cowboy hat. Anyone who loves animals or cute things will have a blast with the Rot and their hats, that’s for sure!

A Rot wearing the dinosaur hat – with examples of other available hats at the hat cart.

The Rot added a lot to gameplay as well. Kena could use the Rot to heal herself in combat, and the limited number of Rot Actions meant that timing became a consideration, particularly during long boss battles. Figuring out when to use the Rot and in what way added a much-needed extra dimension to combat. Otherwise, Kena had a light and heavy melee attack, a light and heavy ranged attack, and eventually a bomb as well. Each of these could be upgraded to deal more damage or to give Kena extra ammunition, and each could also be upgraded to give a Rot-powered attack.

The choice in some combat encounters was often between using a powerful Rot attack or using the Rot to heal, and it wasn’t always an easy decision to make! My personal favourite was the Rot-upgraded ranged attack, known in-game as the Rot Arrow, as this powerful attack was effective against many different enemies.

Kena using an upgraded Rot attack.

Kena was also equipped with a shield, which could also be upgraded, and a dodge/roll ability. By the end of the game she had also learned one final power: dash. In some boss fights, keeping out of range of a powerful boss who could do a huge amount of damage meant hitting the dodge button repeatedly! As the game progressed and Kena encountered a number of different enemy types, combat encounters became more varied. There were flying enemies, ghostly enemies that needed to be made corporeal before any attacks would harm them, and a range of different melee and ranged enemies, and they would appear in different combinations during combat.

If I were to make one criticism of the combat it would be that there were a couple of random difficulty spikes. At a relatively early point in the game I encountered a boss who, even on the easiest difficulty setting, could kill Kena in three hits. After he’d struck once, Kena was sent flying through the air and before she could recover had been hit a second time. This boss fight took a few attempts to complete, and while I admit I’m by no means the world’s best gamer, I felt that this spike in difficulty was noticeable. The boss was so much more difficult to defeat than any enemy before him, yet after beating him the game seemed to return to normal. It was odd – and frustrating!

This early boss fight was particularly difficult for some reason.

Aside from those couple of particularly difficult boss encounters, combat in Kena: Bridge of Spirits was outstanding. The relative simplicity of giving Kena one weapon – her magical staff – but allowing it to be used in three very different ways was interesting and fun. It also kept things uncomplicated, and I never felt like I had “forgotten” about some powerful attack or spell! Some games which offer a huge variety of weapons in a player’s arsenal can be overwhelming, and when the majority of players only use a handful of attacks at the most, there’s something to be said for keeping the options simple.

Despite that, there was still plenty of variety. Kena had light and heavy options for both melee attacks and ranged attacks, as well as a bomb – and then there were the aforementioned Rot-upgraded attacks that dealt more damage. There were enough options that I felt I had a choice of how to take out enemies and bosses, but not so many options that I felt overwhelmed or that combat was too complicated.

Kena using her ranged attack.

Kena’s magical staff and its different abilities also played a major role in traversing the game world. Arrows could be fired at targets that pulled Kena across long distances, and bombs could be used on certain highlighted areas to create new platforms for Kena to jump across. Arrows could also be fired to rotate platforms into the correct alignment, and later in the game Kena could use her dash ability to cross through portals and even jump across gaps too wide for her standard jump or double jump. Combining different powers and abilities led to plenty of variety when it came to exploring the game’s stunningly beautiful world.

There was a lot of platforming in Kena: Bridge of Spirits, and I loved that. When handled well, 3D platforming can be a huge amount of fun and offers incredibly rewarding gameplay, and Kena: Bridge of Spirits absolutely nailed that aspect of gameplay. Puzzles were complicated enough to not be incredibly obvious, yet simple enough that I never once needed to look up a solution online. I was always able to figure out what to do, where to go, and how to solve the platforming puzzles that the game presented based on what I’d learned through gameplay, and that’s a difficult balance for a game to get right!

Kena has to combine her powers and skills to traverse the game world.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits doesn’t hold your hand, though. After introducing you to a new power or attack that Kena can use, the game drops you into a new section of the map where that power can be used to its full effect. But there are no other hints pushing you in the right direction nor telling you how to solve a puzzle. It’s up to the player to use what they’ve learned and figure out how to get from point A to point B to keep the story moving, and I like that the game is bold enough not to offer too much help.

Many modern games across practically every genre hold players hands the whole time. I’ve played racing games that literally have an on-screen arrow the entire time, pointing exactly where to go, telling you when to slow down, speed up, etc. And games like Skyrim started the fad of having on-screen pointers guiding you to your precise destination. I’m a huge believer in accessibility features for disabled gamers, as I’m disabled myself, but even I consider that some of these features go too far for my personal taste. Kena: Bridge of Spirits was delightfully old-fashioned in that regard. It doesn’t drag you along the path it wants you to take, instead setting you down with all of the skills you need to walk the path alone and leaving you to do so.

Hanging from a ledge early in the game.

Fun combat and great platforming wouldn’t have been anywhere near as enjoyable, though, if Kena: Bridge of Spirits didn’t have an interesting and engaging story holding it all together. I was very keen during my playthrough to avoid spoilers, and the game was definitely much more enjoyable for experiencing the highs and lows of Kena’s journey first-hand.

Kena’s quest to reach the mountain shrine is motivated by the loss of her father, and this aspect of the story was quite emotional. Seeing Kena as a young child at one point really hammered home how this quest has been years in the making for her. At the same time, though, Kena was incredibly empathetic to the spirits she met along the way – even those she had to do battle with. Defeating one of the game’s three big bosses didn’t kill them – instead Kena, as a spirit guide, helped them overcome whatever was keeping them trapped in this world and make the transition to the spirit realm. She showed genuine empathy to everyone she encountered, and while she was on a mission of her own, she showed no hesitation when it came to getting side-tracked to help others.

Kena with her younger self in the spirit realm.

At the same time, going off in different directions didn’t feel like Kena was being sent on some disconnected side-mission. Helping Taro, the game’s first spirit, and Adira, the second spirit, were both presented as the next step to reaching the mountain shrine, and Kena was happy to help both of those spirits along with helping herself and moving her quest forward. The story thus flowed smoothly from point to point with nothing feeling unnecessary or like time-wasting fluff.

The third spirit Kena had to help was Toshi, and he was directly in the way of Kena’s progress to the mountain shrine, so once again this felt like a natural progression of the story.

That being said, I think the way the game was structured meant that coming to the aid of three spirits was probably the maximum the story could’ve gotten away with. Adding in any more might well have made them feel like unnecessary hurdles, and the fact that each spirit had three relics to collect before engaging in a boss fight would have risked becoming repetitive had it been repeated many more times. Three spirits was a good number, then, based on the way the game chose to handle each of them.

Kena helped several spirits while on her journey.

As well as learning of Kena’s father, the game had a number of emotional moments. Each of the spirits genuinely wanted to help their families or the people of their village, and letting go of what was anchoring them made all three cut-scenes after the big boss battles feel genuinely emotional. I may have shed a tear on more than one occasion!

Toward the end of the game, having collected many Rot (and many Rot hats) in different places and in different ways, Toshi stole all of the Rot from Kena after the first of two epic climactic battles. Seeing her lose her companions was heart-breaking – and definitely got me riled up for the next phase of the fight! After saving the Rot and defeating Toshi, allowing his spirit to achieve peace, the Rot were transformed back into their true form, a form which resembled a giant panther or cat. As a cat lover myself, this was an incredibly sweet moment; the high point of the game’s final story.

The Rot – restored to their true form.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits does seem to have left things open-ended, though. We didn’t get to see what happened after Kena achieved her goal and meditated at the mountain shrine, with the credits rolling after she settled down to meditate having saved and restored the Rot. Did she find her father, or information about him? Did she find something else that she didn’t know she was seeking?

Perhaps the game is teasing an expansion or sequel in future, and if that’s the case I’m absolutely going to be there! As it is, though, after the emotional loss of the Rot, the big battle to save them, and ultimately letting them go to restore their true form and bring balance back to the forest, for Kena to just plop down and close her eyes risks feeling like a bit of an anticlimactic ending. We saw her reach the goal she’d been working towards for the entire game, but we didn’t get to see what, if anything, that moment meant to her.

Kena made it to the mountain shrine… but what will happen next?

This could certainly be setting up a continuation of Kena’s story, and I’m okay with that. As things sit, her story doesn’t yet feel complete. I’m wondering what the future might hold for her! At the same time, developers Ember Lab did such a fantastic job on what is their debut game that I’d love to see them tackle a different project in future. Kena: Bridge of Spirits has been a huge success, topping the charts here in the UK and elsewhere, so the studio has the world at its feet. Should they simply move on to a sequel right away, or might they want to turn their attention to other projects?

Overall, I had a wonderful time playing Kena: Bridge of Spirits. It’s by far the best game I’ve played all year, and I don’t think it will be surpassed in the next couple of months before 2022 rolls around! It was one of those games where I didn’t want to rush through it too quickly; I wanted to preserve this moment in time and keep enjoying it for as long as I possibly could.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a visual masterpiece, a uniquely-styled game pushing modern-day graphics to their limit. It’s also a wonderful return to a style of gameplay that has fallen out of favour in recent years. Every element has clearly been lovingly crafted and honed to near-perfection, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is out now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the copyright of Ember Lab. Some promotional artwork courtesy of Ember Lab. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits – First Impressions

Don’t worry, there aren’t going to be any big spoilers for the story of Kena: Bridge of Spirits this time. I just wanted to take a moment to share my first impressions of one of the games I’d been looking forward to all year!

Unfortunately, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is an Epic Games exclusive on PC, meaning I had to finally break my year-long streak of avoiding the company. Long story short, I had a falling-out with Epic Games last year due to getting locked out of my account, and I had hoped to avoid spending money with them again. But Kena: Bridge of Spirits proved just too tempting, so I succumbed and bought the game. It had been one of my most-anticipated games of the year, so I was content to make an exception.

Promotional artwork for Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the debut game from Ember Lab, a studio which originally worked on animation and CGI for film and television. Considering this is their first ever game, and that they’re a small studio, I’m absolutely blown away. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is incredible, and I’d be impressed if it had come from a major developer with the backing of a huge publisher. But knowing that the title is the culmination of years of hard work by a small, independent team working on their first ever interactive project leaves me speechless.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the debut game from Ember Lab.

In the couple of hours I’ve spent with Kena: Bridge of Spirits so far, the game plays beautifully. There aren’t any loading screens getting in the way of gameplay, platforming is intuitive and smooth, combat is fast-paced and exciting, the transitions from gameplay to cut-scenes and back again are well-integrated, and I haven’t found so much as a single bug, glitch, or visual goof.

Kena hangs from a ledge during an early platforming section.

Sticking with gameplay, Kena: Bridge of Spirits offers some incredibly fun adventuring. Kena has all the moves you would expect for this kind of game: she can run, jump, double-jump, and climb ledges. The Rot – Kena’s adorable companions – have a range of abilities, the most useful of which include being able to move objects and obstacles to clear a path or open up a new area for Kena, as well as occasionally pointing the way so she doesn’t get lost.

The Rot moving a platform for Kena to jump on.

Gameplay is all very intuitive, with the default controls and buttons doing everything you’d expect. The design of the game’s early levels shows a lot of thought and planning; it was always clear which path to take and I never felt like Kena was lost. There were some paths that led to dead-ends, but these seem to be areas that can be unlocked or expanded later in the game, so I should be able to return to them later.

Kena in the game’s opening level.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits isn’t heavy on dialogue, and while it was certainly pretty clear what to do and where to go, I didn’t feel the game was holding my hand and dragging me down a narrow path. To give one example, at an early point in the game the camera panned wordlessly over three vulnerable spots that Kena had to take out before she could defeat the main boss during a fight. It was obvious that these three spots needed to be hit first, but the game didn’t say so explicitly, it merely pointed me in the right direction then left me to fight the battle.

Kena takes damage in an early fight.

Combat feels great in Kena: Bridge of Spirits. Kena has a couple of primary attacks and one defensive shield. Using her shield at just the right moment can lead to a defensive parry, and she has a light and heavy attack. The Rot can also play a role in combat, but I won’t spoil exactly what they can do. Combat is fast-paced, but not so blindingly fast as to feel overwhelming. I also felt that the number of enemies present at each encounter was about right as well.

Kena performs a heavy attack on a monster.

The game offers three difficulty options at first, with a fourth “master” difficulty that unlocks after completion. For players who like a very tough challenge, this adds replayability. I’m categorically not a “hard mode” gamer by any stretch, so I’ve been playing on the easiest difficulty setting. I found that to be quite enough for my skill level! Difficulty settings change the recharge rate of Kena’s Rot companions, which will affect their ability to participate in combat encounters, and also ramps up the aggressiveness and damage of enemies. Increasing the difficulty doesn’t add additional enemies into the game.

Kena is hit by a monster and flies backwards!

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is without a doubt the most visually stunning game I’ve played all year. After traversing the game’s opening area, Kena climbed a staircase overlooking a mountain and valley, and I was blown away. I literally put down the control pad and said “woah” out loud! How many games – ever – have made me say “woah?”

I had to stop for a moment when I saw this incredibly beautiful vista so I could take it all in.

The animation and visual effects work are absolutely beautiful. Kena: Bridge of Spirits has a bright colour palette, with sunlit areas that are positively glowing. Shades of blue, yellow, white, and particularly green present a striking contrast with the “corrupted” areas of the map, which feel depressingly dark with faded greys and browns and flashes of an evil, glowing red. Ember Lab’s past as an animation studio absolutely shines through, and the animators’ work with the game’s colours is pitch-perfect.

The contrast between the verdant green living areas and the grey-brown corrupted areas is striking, and the game uses colour to great effect.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits has an aesthetic that wouldn’t be out of place in a big budget animated film from the likes of Pixar or Dreamworks. The game doesn’t prioritise gritty realism over beauty, and what results is an astonishingly pretty animated look to both its characters and environments. Kena herself is a lovingly-crafted protagonist, and everything from her hair and outfit to her magic staff just looks fantastic.

Kena – the game’s protagonist and player character.

Other characters and Kena’s Rot companions also look visually impressive. The Rot – despite their somewhat offputting name – are utterly adorable critters. Their big eyes and cute faces make them incredibly sympathetic, which is important! Their fearful nature means they tend to scatter and hide at the beginning of combat encounters, and in another game I feel like that mechanic could become annoying. But because of just how darn cute the Rot are I actually found it spurring me on! How dare those evil monsters scare my poor little Rot!

Kena is accompanied on her adventure by the Rot. And they’re adorable!

Oh, and the Rot get to wear hats. Cute, adorable little hats. The hats can be purchased using gems that are found throughout the game world – something that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever played a game like this one. One thing I liked about the way Kena: Bridge of Spirits handles collecting these gems, though, is that Kena never destroys or damages property – even in abandoned houses or ruins. She carefully opens a chest or barrel, collects the gems, and then closes it again. No need to smash or break any pots!

Kena collecting gems from a chest.

There’s also a map, as you might expect. The map was easy to navigate and seems to highlight significant points and quest-relevant locations but without being overwhelmed. Some games have maps that you can barely read for all the pins and markers, but Kena: Bridge of Spirits has a well-designed map that’s legible, useable, and fits right in with the rest of the game from an aesthetic point of view.

The in-game map is useful.

When Kena puts on a spirit mask the game enters a static first-person view. This mode allows you to spot Rot, as well as certain quest-specific items. It’s a riff on the “detective mode” present in several other games, but it’s handled in such a way as to feel like a unique experience for Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

Kena putting on a spirit mask.

And that last sentence could summarise my thoughts on the game. Kena: Bridge of Spirits takes established tropes of the adventure genre but gives them its own presentation and sets them up in a brand-new world. The gameplay is fantastic, and anyone who’s played these kinds of games in the past will feel right at home. Where it truly excels is its art style and aesthetic. The designers have to get much of the credit for the unique feel of Kena and the world she inhabits.

I’m having a great time with Kena: Bridge of Spirits! The game has met all of the expectations I could’ve had going in, and at least in terms of visuals it even exceeded them. I would have been impressed if this game had been produced by an established team of developers backed up by the resources of a huge publisher, but to know that it’s the first ever game by an independent studio is truly mind-blowing. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is fantastic – and I can’t wait to jump back in!

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is out now for PlayStation 4/5 and PC. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the copyright of Ember Lab. Some promotional artwork courtesy of Ember Lab. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Knights of the Old Republic is being remade!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Minor spoilers are also present for other iterations of the Star Wars franchise.

Remember that rumour earlier in the year about a new Knights of the Old Republic game? Well the project was officially revealed at a recent PlayStation event, and instead of being a sequel or spin-off, it’s a remake of the first title!

Unfortunately all we were treated to was a tiny CGI clip of the villainous Darth Revan. The project seems at a relatively early stage of development and likely won’t see a release for at least a year. Interestingly, the remake is being handled not by BioWare – who developed the original title – but by Aspyr, a studio known primarily for porting games to new platforms. Aspyr has previously worked on Knights of the Old Republic, bringing the game to Mac, iOS, and Android over the years. So at least they have some experience with the title!

Darth Revan was seen in silhouette in the CGI teaser.

If you’re not familiar with the plot of the original game, I encourage you to stop reading now. Not only that, but try to avoid any Knights of the Old Republic spoilers from now until release; the game is so much more enjoyable if you can experience its story unspoiled.

Speaking of story, then, while Lucasfilm Games and Aspyr have pledged to stay true to the original narrative, there is already talk of the game being “re-written” and writers are known to be attached to the project. It’s possible, then, that there will be some incidental changes along the way, even if the overall thrust of the plot remains intact.

For my two cents, I think that’s actually a positive development. Remakes should aim to be ambitious, and to adapt the stories they tell for new audiences. There’s nothing wrong with Knights of the Old Republic in its original form, but shaking up things like side-missions would be no bad thing. Remember that we’re dealing with a game from 2003 that was released on the original Xbox; there’s room to potentially expand the game beyond what it was. Levels could be redesigned to be larger and more densely-populated, for example, and characters could be given additional lines of dialogue.

The remake is being developed by Aspyr.

With the game being a full-blown remake, it seems that the dialogue will be re-recorded. This opens up possibilities for expanding the things that characters have to say, as mentioned, and it could be possible to give the game’s protagonist a voice as well. In the original game, the player could choose what to say at certain points, but the player character wasn’t fully-voiced like NPCs were. Redoing the dialogue also means that at least some characters – including fan-favourites – will be recast. However, as voice acting in video games has arguably improved since 2003, that’s not necessarily a bad thing! Interestingly, Star Trek: Voyager’s Ethan Phillips (Neelix) had a voice role in the original game. I wonder if he’ll come back?

Though Knights of the Old Republic got an Oblivion-developed sequel a year after its release, the stories of Darth Revan and the Jedi Exile were left unfinished thereafter. Though it’s very early for such speculation, it seems at least plausible to think that Knights of the Old Republic II – my personal favourite of the duology – could also get the remake treatment if this project is deemed a success. From there, could the story finally get the sequel that fans have been asking for for more than fifteen years? Perhaps that’s too much to hope for right now and we should just be happy that Knights of the Old Republic is coming back at all! But I can’t help feel that there’s at least a glimmer of hope in that regard!

Is a sequel on the cards if this remake proves to be a success?

One area where Knights of the Old Republic could definitely do with an upgrade is its character creator. The original game offered players a handful of pre-designed male and female faces to choose from, and one of three starting classes. Three additional Jedi classes were available later in the game as well. This is one aspect that has huge room for improvement! Firstly, I’d love to see a non-binary gender option alongside male and female, perhaps with the character creator including a choice of pronouns. Secondly, a detailed character creator – like the kind seen in recent games such as the Saints Row series, Black Desert Online, or even Cyberpunk 2077 – would allow players to craft their own unique character, which is something I’d argue is an essential component of any role-playing game.

There’s a lot to be hopeful for when it comes to this project, and I can add it to the list of upcoming titles I’m looking forward to. Last year I had a great time playing through Jedi: Fallen Order as well as Star Wars Squadrons, so after a few years where there weren’t many Star Wars games the franchise has enjoyed some successes in the video game space. Coming after the disappointing way the sequel trilogy ended, a return to Knights of the Old Republic and a setting millennia before the films could be the palate cleanser that Star Wars fans desperately need.

The original game’s basic character creator is one element crying out for a major update!

Ironically, it was after two disappointing Star Wars films that the original Knights of the Old Republic appeared on the scene. The game (and its sequel) went a long way to rehabilitating the Star Wars franchise for me at the time, and gave me a reason to be excited for Star Wars after The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones had left me decidedly underwhelmed. Hopefully this remake is poised to do the same.

After several recent hotly-anticipated titles have crashed and burned due to being launched too early, my advice to Aspyr and Lucasfilm is to keep working on Knights of the Old Republic until they get it right. Don’t try to push out the game before it’s ready; the “release now, fix later” business model has been a plague on the modern games industry and players shouldn’t have to put up with bug-riddled, disappointing titles. This is a remake that many Star Wars and role-playing fans have been waiting for for a long time – it’s incredibly important to absolutely nail it!

A closer look at Revan and his lightsaber in the CGI teaser.

One of my favourite memories as a gamer is sitting with the Xbox control pad in my hand, mouth open in shock as Knights of the Old Republic dropped its huge story twist. I hadn’t been expecting it as the game’s wonderful storyline unfolded, and it hit me in a way that very few moments in all of fiction ever have. It’s got to be right up there with “no, I am your father!” in The Empire Strikes Back as one of the best twists in all of Star Wars, and I can’t wait to see how the remake will approach that amazing moment. Even though I’ll know it’s coming this time, I’m still ready to be blown away all over again!

So as you can tell, I’m quite excited for Knights of the Old Republic! But I’ll do my best to avoid boarding the hype train and to keep a level head. We don’t know much more about the project at this stage, other than it’s planned as a timed PlayStation and PC exclusive, so it’ll probably be at least a year after release before it’ll come to Xbox. I hope you’ll stay tuned here on the website, because if we get any significant news about the project I’ll try my best to break it down and analyse it. When the game is finally ready, I’ll almost certainly review it – and maybe do a complete playthrough too!

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is being developed by Aspyr and will be published by Lucasfilm Games for PC and PlayStation 5. No release date has been announced. The Star Wars franchise – including all titles and properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Bethesda teases more information about Starfield

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Starfield.

The in-engine teaser trailer for upcoming space-themed role-playing game Starfield was a bit of a let-down at E3 back in June. There’d been a lot of hype and rumours before the event that something big was coming from Bethesda and that we’d get our first major look at the game, so to only see a highly stylised teaser that might as well have been totally “fake” wasn’t the best. But the company has recently put out three new mini-trailers showing off three of the locations in Starfield, as well as dropping some more tidbits of information about the game, so I thought we could take a look at what’s been revealed and start to get excited!

Remember, though, that too much hype can be a bad thing! Just look at the disastrous Cyberpunk 2077 as a case in point. As fun as some of these bits of Starfield news may seem, it’s worth keeping in mind that we haven’t yet had a real look at the game itself. And as much as I hate to be too negative, Bethesda doesn’t exactly have a good track record in recent years when it comes to big releases. Their overreliance on a massively out-of-date game engine is also a concern. But Starfield is still over a year away, so hopefully there’s enough time to iron out all of the issues!

With that caveat out of the way, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned about Starfield since E3 – with a healthy pinch of speculation and guesswork thrown in for good measure!

Promotional artwork for Starfield.

The United Colonies is described as “the most powerful established military and political faction in the game.” Their capital city – or capital planet, not sure how best to describe it! – looks like a futuristic Dubai or New York City; a wealthy, clean megacity. This is the city of New Atlantis, and it’s described as being a “melting pot” of different peoples.

The “melting pot” reference is clearly meant to give the city and the faction an American vibe; the United States often likes to see itself as a mixture of cultures. But it could also mean that the United Colonies is akin to something like Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets – semi-independent cultures and worlds co-existing, perhaps under some looser federal form of government.

Concept art of New Atlantis (with a starship in the foreground).

I could be way off base with this, but it seems like the United Colonies isn’t going to be an evil or villainous faction. I didn’t get the sense that this was something like Star Wars’ Empire or First Order, but the fact that it’s described as being powerful – and with a strong military to boot – could mean that the player character is operating outside of the law, or that large parts of the game take place in areas beyond the United Colonies’ jurisdiction.

There were trees on New Atlantis, so the United Colonies clearly have some respect for greenery and the environment – even if just for aesthetic reasons. This is also something I think we can assume to be positive, as at least New Atlantis doesn’t have that overly industrialised, dystopian feel of some sci-fi megacities.

Concept art of New Atlantis showing a couple of trees!

If I were to hazard a guess I’d say that only parts of New Atlantis will be able to be explored and visited. The teaser image depicted a huge building complex with more buildings and lights in the distance, but it seems like making all of that part of the map might be too difficult to pull off; the last thing any of us want is a bland, mostly empty map that’s superficially large but has nothing going on or no one to interact with (looking at you, Fallout 76). New Atlantis was specifically mentioned in the context of a spaceport, so perhaps the spaceport and surrounding area will be able to be visited.

Going all the way back to 1994’s Arena, Bethesda has created contiguous open worlds – that is, game worlds that are one large, single space. There have been examples where smaller areas branched off from the larger game world – such as Morrowind’s expansion pack Tribunal, for example. But by and large we’re talking about single open worlds. Starfield, with different planets to visit and a spaceship being used to travel between them, seems like it will be a game where the game world is broken into smaller chunks. Some of these planets may be quite large, but the concept represents a change from the way Bethesda has worked in the past.

Large open worlds have been a Bethesda hallmark since 1994’s Arena.

Moving away from the United Colonies brings us to Neon, a watery planet with a facility run by the Xenofresh Corporation. This floating city resembles a large oil rig, and although the upper levels look well-lit and probably quite wealthy, I wonder if the lower levels of the platform might be home to the kind of sci-fi dystopia that didn’t seem to be present on New Atlantis!

The backstory of Neon was interesting – and perhaps the closest we’ve got so far to any “lore” of Starfield. The Xenofresh Corporation established Neon as a fishing platform, but soon stumbled upon a drug called “aurora” that they used to turn Neon into a pleasure city. Neon clearly operates outside of the jurisdiction of the United Colonies, and is the only place where this drug is legal.

Concept art of the floating city of Neon.

Previous Bethesda games allowed players to take drugs and drink alcohol, complete with screen-wobbling consequences! I can’t imagine that the developers would mention this aurora drug at this stage if players weren’t going to be able to try it for themselves in-game, so I think we can be pretty confident that aurora will play some role in the game’s story. Perhaps smuggling it from Neon to planets where it’s illegal will be an option for players to make some extra cash! Neon also gave me vibes of Star Trek: Picard’s Freecloud – a similarly independent, pleasure-centric world.

The final location shown off was Akila. The Freestar Collective, of which Akila is the capital, is described as “a loose confederation of three distinct star systems.” Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but singling out the word “confederation” could indicate that this faction is villainous or adversarial. The Confederacy or Confederate States was the official name for the pro-slavery southern states that seceded in 1860-61, instigating the American Civil War. We’ve also seen the name “Confederacy” used in Star Wars, where the Confederacy of Independent Systems was the antagonist faction in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

Concept art of Akila, a city in the mountains.

Perhaps I have recent news reports on the brain, but something about the concept art for Akila reminded me of Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan. The mountainous terrain, smaller buildings, and hooded or cloaked figures all gave me the impression of that kind of settlement. Perhaps a better analogy, though, would be a Wild West frontier town, and this is reinforced by the narrator saying that all of the people in the Freestar Collective place a strong emphasis on personal freedom and liberty. The whole faction seems very libertarian, then!

Akila was definitely the most Star Wars-seeming settlement, and there are several locales from the Star Wars franchise that Bethesda may have used for inspiration here. It was on this planet that we learned about the first confirmed alien enemy – the ashta, described as being a mix between “a wolf and a velociraptor.” Yikes! As above, there’s no way this critter would be mentioned at this stage if it wasn’t going to be something players could interact with, and like other iconic Bethesda open-world monsters like Fallout’s deathclaw or The Elder Scrolls’ slaughterfish, I think this is something we’re going to do battle with!

A closer look at some of the people and buildings in Akila.

So we know of three locations, each of which is controlled by a different faction. Presumably the Freestar Collective has at least two other planets under its control, as the narration specifically mentioned that the faction controls three star systems. Whether all three will be able to be visited or not is not clear, so I guess watch this space!

The Xenofresh Corporation could easily be in control of more worlds or settlements; I got the impression that it was the kind of mega-corporation that we often see in sci-fi, and thus it seems plausible that it controls holdings on other planets as well as its settlement of Neon.

The United Colonies would seem to be the most widespread and populous faction, but if players are potentially operating outside of its jurisdiction we may not get to visit all of the worlds that make up the United Colonies.

Is the United Colonies going to be similar to Star Trek’s Federation?

Then there’s the player’s faction or group – the organisation called Constellation, described as “the last group of space explorers.” The ship shown in the E3 teaser appears to belong to this group, so it’s assumed that the player will have some kind of relationship with them as well. If this faction is interested in exploration, they may not have a large settlement or permanent colony – but that’s pure speculation!

So that’s it for now. Starfield is still on course for a November ’22 release, but it goes without saying that that’s subject to change at any point between now and then. I’m tentatively looking forward to it, and nothing we’ve seen or heard so far has been offputting. If anything, these little teases are intriguing and make me want to learn more about the game, its backstory, and its factions and locales. I’m a little surprised that Bethesda didn’t include some of these details at E3; it would’ve been more impressive to give players a bit more information about the game rather than just sharing that stylised teaser trailer, and none of what’s recently been revealed seems like it couldn’t have been included a couple of months ago. This is all just backstory and concept art – things Bethesda certainly had at the time. But regardless, we’ve got another little tease of Starfield to pore over!

Starfield will be released on the 11th of November 2022 for PC and Xbox Series S/X. Starfield is the copyright of Bethesda Game Studios and Microsoft. Concept art featured above courtesy of Bethesda Game Studios and Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

EA Play joins Game Pass

EA Play is bringing a huge library of new games to Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass service! Because it’s been overshadowed by Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Bethesda, and the arrival of those games to Game Pass in recent weeks, this news seems to have flown under the radar. I almost missed this altogether, and it was only when I saw it on Twitter (of all places) that I realised what a monumental win this is for Microsoft, Game Pass, and quite frankly for subscribers as well.

I initially signed up for Game Pass for PC last year in order to play Forza Horizon 4, and it was well worth it! I’ve since played a few other games on there, and it’s easily value for money at £7.99 ($9.99 in the US) per month, in my opinion. One thing is clear, though, and that’s the fact that Microsoft has continued to invest heavily in the service. The addition of Bethesda’s lineup of titles brought the likes of Fallout 4, Skyrim, and Doom Eternal to Game Pass. And now EA Play has brought games like FIFA 21, Titanfall 2, The Sims 4, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and many others to the service, too. It seems all but certain that the upcoming Mass Effect: Legendary Edition will be available there as well – so maybe I’ll play it after all!

EA Play and Game Pass have struck a deal.

Game Pass has expanded rapidly, and continues to go from strength to strength. Right now, there’s no question that it’s the best way to get into current-gen gaming, and picking up a preowned Xbox One or – when availability improves – an Xbox Series S will mean that a huge library of games is available to even players on a limited budget. For less than the price of a Netflix subscription there are more games than I could play in an entire year, including some absolutely fabulous ones!

The only pang of regret I feel is because I’d bought a few of these games over on Steam! Of course if you’re worried about permanence it’s better to buy than subscribe, because it’s possible that EA Play and/or any of its games will be removed from the service in future. But just like we’ve seen happen with television and films thanks to the rise of streaming, many people are quite okay with that concept. Sure, losing access to a title is disappointing, and when Netflix removes a big name there’s often a minor backlash. But people have generally come to accept the impermanence of films and television shows on streaming platforms – so I daresay that will happen with games as well.

A few of the titles now available.

In the worst case, if a game you adore is removed from Game Pass, you can always buy it elsewhere. It doesn’t have to be the huge drawback that some folks insist it is. We increasingly live in a society of renting: we rent our homes, vehicles, and sometimes even our furnishings. We rent our films, television shows, and music via services like Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, and Spotify. And now, Microsoft is pushing hard to convince people to rent their game libraries too.

Having built up a Steam library over the better part of a decade I’m not willing to part with it, and I still don’t see Game Pass as a full-time substitute for buying games in a general sense. But you know what? I could be in the minority on that very soon. As mentioned, Game Pass now offers a colossal library of titles, and not only Xbox-exclusive games like Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Sea of Thieves. The FIFA series of football (soccer) games are literally the most popular titles around the world, and now the most recent entries are on Game Pass, with this year’s entry almost certain to follow. And huge multiplayer titles like Apex Legends are as well. Heck, you can even play Anthem… though goodness only knows why you’d want to.

Very specific there, EA.

For a player on a limited budget, Game Pass is now my number one recommendation. Whether it’s on PC or console, I honestly can’t recommend anything else. There’s simply no alternative that offers such a variety of major titles for the cost, and even speaking as someone who doesn’t use it as often as I could, it’s 100% worth it. This new addition of EA titles has taken what was already an enticing offer and made it even better.

There are still some issues with the Xbox app on Windows 10, and it doesn’t always work perfectly. But the games it launches do, and whether you’re interested in a strategy title like Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition or a racer like Forza Horizon 4, there are so many games now that it’s worth a try for almost anyone interested in gaming.

The Xbox Series S with a Game Pass subscription is the most affordable route into this generation – or at least it will be when availability improves!

Microsoft took a risk with Game Pass, banking on players turning away from the model of buying and owning individual titles to rent them via a Netflix-style subscription. As the service continues to grow and expand, both in terms of its library and its playerbase, I think it’s fair to say that the risk is paying off.

So what am I going to play first? That’s a good question! I was tempted by the Mass Effect trilogy, which I otherwise only own on Xbox 360. But with Legendary Edition coming soon I think I’ll wait to see if it comes to Game Pass, which hopefully it will. Titanfall 2 is calling out to me, and despite being a big fan of fantasy I’ve never played the Dragon Age games, so maybe I’ll finally give those a shot. Or maybe I’ll go back and replay Sim City 2000 – there’s nothing like a hit of nostalgia, after all. I feel spoilt for choice!

I might sit down to play some Titanfall 2.

This move makes a lot of sense for both companies. EA’s Origin platform and EA Play have both struggled to bring in huge numbers of players since they launched, and with EA diversifying and bringing many of its titles to Steam, joining in with Game Pass feels like a no-brainer. And from Microsoft’s point of view, anything they can do to increase the appeal of Game Pass shores up the service, and that can only have the effect of bringing in new subscribers as well as convincing existing ones to stick around.

When taken alongside the recent Bethesda acquisition and the launch of the weaker but cheaper Xbox Series S, I have to say that Microsoft is off to a very strong start in this new console generation – far better than I had expected even six months ago.

Xbox Game Pass is available now for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Prices were correct at time of writing (March 2021). This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Fall Guys – First impressions

I’m not usually an online multiplayer guy, and Fall Guys – also known as Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout – is the kind of massively-multiplayer game that I’d ordinarily overlook. The last online games that I played with strangers were Mario Kart 8 and Rocket League, and it’s been a while since I played those. But after hearing great things about its fun, silly gameplay I decided to take a look for myself, and for £16 on Steam it wasn’t a huge risk despite Fall Guys being a new title.

To be up front, Fall Guys currently has some issues with its server capacity; this is something that’s being worked on. High demand for the game seems to have caught developer Mediatonic and publisher Devolver Digital a little wrong-footed, but I’m confident that, with the game reviewing well and being popular, those problems will be fixed before too long. It is, however, understandably frustrating to get disconnected or to have to wait a long time to join a game. But part of the fun of Fall Guys is that its levels are very short – a couple of minutes or so at a time – so it’s easy enough to jump back in, and losing or getting disconnected doesn’t end up causing a huge amount of lost progress. If you’re on the fence about buying the game, though, it’s worth being aware of this server problem. It may be prudent to wait a couple of weeks to see how quickly it can be fixed if you’re really worried about it.

A couple of server error messages.

The first time I tried to play Fall Guys after installing it, I was hit with this server problem. Despite waiting almost half an hour I wasn’t able to join a game. It was only when I came back to try again several hours later that I was actually able to successfully play. Although the server problems made for a poor first impression, Fall Guys is a ton of fun!

The game is a cross between a competitive “battle royale” and television game shows like It’s A Knockout and Total Wipeout. For some reason, it also reminds me of late-90s kids’ show 50/50. Fall Guys’ levels are designed to look like they’re taken from such shows, deliberately using the aesthetic of soft foam rubber obstacles. In fact, many of the levels are designed like obstacle courses! An indoor children’s play area would be another good comparison when considering the look of the levels.

One of the levels, showing off the “soft foam rubber” look.

The other side of Fall Guys’ aesthetic is the incredibly cute character design. It’s hard to say exactly what these little guys look like – personally I feel like they’re somewhere between Oompa-Loompas and marshmallows – but they’re absolutely adorable. There are customisation options, some of which can be unlocked simply by playing enough rounds of the game. Other character customisation options are, however, paid for with in-game microtransactions. Because Fall Guys has a very child-friendly atmosphere, it’s worth making sure your parental controls are up-to-date if you plan to get the game for your little ones to play. Obviously I’d prefer a game that had no microtransactions at all, but this is the realm of online multiplayer – and these days, in-game monetisation comes with the territory. If Fall Guys were charging more than its £16 asking price I’d be annoyed at their inclusion, but considering that there are some cosmetic items that can be acquired in-game, and taking into account the relatively low up front cost, I think the microtransactions are okay. They’re easily avoided for those who don’t want to participate.

Microtransactions.

So Fall Guys is a battle royale/game show? How the heck does that work? Glad you asked! 60 players compete in a variety of events, including races, challenges, and some team events, to be the last one standing. Though it’s possible to play the game in such a way as to sabotage someone else’s chances of progressing, for the most part – at least in the early rounds – it’s easier to focus on one’s own character or team. Navigating the obstacles – like see-saws, spinning platforms, and windmills – to win a race or to make it to the next stage is great fun. And the team challenges borrow from the likes of Rocket League – there’s even a football-themed one!

I’m not great at games in general, let alone competitive multiplayer titles. Yet despite my limitations, I had a lot fun. I was able to progress to the latter rounds on several occasions, and the times where I lost in round one or two it usually only took a few seconds to load up a new game and try again. Fall Guys isn’t something you can be great at on your first attempt, even if you’re a regular online gamer. However, with each round lasting only a couple of minutes or so, losing doesn’t feel so bad.

Losing at Fall Guys is no big deal. Just try again!

Each round whittles down the number of players until only a few remain. The first round is supposed to begin with 60 players (though I’ve seen anywhere from 49-60 in practice), and of those, perhaps 40 will qualify for the second round. The game continues in this way until it reaches a final round, with the survivor crowned champion. Though I haven’t won (yet?) I’d reckon playing a full session from the preliminary round to the finale is only going to take maybe quarter of an hour at most. And as I keep saying, any time you’re eliminated, getting into a new game doesn’t take all that long.

There’s a “roadmap” of updates planned for Fall Guys, promising more content, more cosmetic items, and new levels. Though I’m generally sceptical of this kind of business model, the current version of the game has a lot to offer and doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything major. If you play for a while you do start to see the same levels repeat – there are 24 levels at time of writing, including three “final rounds” – but again, each one only takes a couple of minutes, and they’re chosen at random. If you discover a burning hatred for a specific one, I guess it might be annoying to keep encountering it, but Fall Guys is the type of game where even something like that doesn’t have to be a big deal.

An example of a character in the game.

It’s been a while since I played through a game that’s as apologetically fun as Fall Guys. There’s no story, there’s no background or explanation given for why these weird little characters are taking part in a game show, and there doesn’t need to be. It’s just simple, casual, pick-up-and-play fun. I had a smile on my face practically the whole time, and making it to the end of a challenging level when it looked like I wasn’t going to manage in time has been legitimately thrilling.

A lot of care and effort has gone into crafting what could be one of the sleeper hits of 2020. Though the server issue is definitely frustrating, it’s something that will hopefully be resolved in the coming days, and aside from that I encountered no bugs or glitches during my time playing. I’m looking forward to jumping back in!

A race begins!

So this has been my initial first impression of the game after spending a couple of hours with it today. I may write another piece in the coming weeks if I find that I have more to say after spending longer with Fall Guys. But for now, what I’d say to anyone on the fence is that Fall Guys is great fun, and the kind of game that practically anyone could pick up easily. The server issues are a problem, but when I got into the game on my second attempt I didn’t experience too many disconnections and was able to load up a new game every time without having to wait too long. However, it may be worth checking back in a few days or a couple of weeks to see if that’s still an issue if you’re concerned. For £16, though, I can’t really fault the game for the way it plays. If you’re a subscriber to PlayStation Plus, you’ll get Fall Guys for free this month – and if you’re in that category you have no excuse for not trying it out immediately!

Fall Guys is available now for PC and PlayStation 4. Fall Guys is the copyright of Mediatonic and Devolver Digital. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Some great Steam Summer Sale deals for PC gamers

Update: The Steam Summer Sale has now ended. All prices listed below will no longer be accurate. Check back in December for a rundown of some of the best Holiday Sale deals.

It’s that wonderful time of year again! No, not Christmas – though we are halfway there, as yesterday marked half-Christmas – it’s Steam Summer Sale time, which means there are going to be some spectacular deals for PC gamers. Sales like these make PC as a platform much more competitive compared to consoles. It’s true that there are sales on console games too, and of course console games on disc are much more easily traded in and resold, but no sale on other platforms can match the sheer number of deals available on PC.

Some titles can be reduced by as much as 90% – and from time to time there are full games available for free too. Even though getting started with a gaming PC – especially a higher-end one – can be more expensive than a console, these sales go a long way to making up for it.

Let’s do some quick maths! If a games console costs £400, and on average each game costs £40 (newer games will cost £55, older ones might be reduced so let’s average it out at £40) then by the time you’ve bought ten games you’ve spent £800 in total. But you could buy a decent gaming PC for £700, and with the deals available in sales you could easily pick up ten games – or more – with your leftover cash. And your investment will only get better over time. A console player with a library of 50 games will have spent £2,000 on games alone at an average cost of £40 each. A Steam library with 50 titles almost certainly won’t cost you anywhere close to that!

Okay, enough maths. Let’s get into the list!

These are titles I personally like and would recommend; this is not a comprehensive list of everything on sale. Some titles may have been mentioned on my previous PC gaming sale list in December (but don’t read that one, it’s out of date now and the prices will be wrong). The list is in no particular order.

Spoiler Warning: I’ve tried not to include major spoilers for any of these games, but minor spoilers may still be present.

All prices are correct in the UK at time of publication. Prices and discounts may vary by location and are subject to change. The Steam Summer Sale ends on the 9th of July at 6pm UK time.

Number 1: Max Payne (65% off, £2.09)

Max Payne, which was a game I first played on the original Xbox circa 2001-02, is a phenomenal game. Bringing The Matrix’s “bullet time” to video gaming for the first time, its third-person shooter gameplay was unique and innovative. Even though the features which I was blown away by at the time have been reused many times since, at its core Max Payne is still an engrossing crime/noir story that’s absolutely worth experiencing.

The blend of gameplay with graphic novel-style cutscenes adds to the dark, true-crime feel of Max Payne’s world.

Number 2: Vampyr (70% off, £13.49)

A game set in the midst of a pandemic seems particularly timely at the moment! Vampyr uses the 1918-19 Spanish flu as its backdrop, focusing on a doctor in a great rendition of early-20th Century London. Praise was heaped on Vampyr for its soundtrack and the main thrust of its gameplay.

The team behind the amazing Life is Strange put the title together, and Vampyr gives players a lot of choice about how to proceed through the game.

Number 3: Assassin’s Creed Origins (80% off, £9.99) & Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (67% off, £16.49)

The Assassin’s Creed franchise, which kicked off in 2007, almost burnt itself out by the mid-2010s. Publisher Ubisoft pushed for more and more titles to be released – more than one a year at one point, and the result was that the quality dropped and the franchise almost died. Origins rebooted Assassin’s Creed and introduced a number of customisation options and roleplaying game elements, something Odyssey refined a couple of years later. The result was two of the best games in the whole series.

Both games have a free “Discovery Tour” DLC, which is a non-violent walk through some of the real-world history of the games’ ancient Egypt and ancient Greece settings.

Number 4: Doom (2016) (70% off, £4.49) & Doom Eternal (50% off, £24.99)

Considering Doom Eternal only released three months ago, and is arguably a contender for game of the year, its 50% discount is huge! In 2016, Doom rebooted the long-running franchise, returning the series to its action roots and away from the horror vibe of Doom 3. This worked phenomenally well, and Doom Eternal honed that formula still further.

Both games also have great soundtracks that perfectly fit the tone and setting. Above all, Doom and Doom Eternal are just good solid fun.

Number 5: Terraria (50% off, £3.49)

Terraria is 2D Minecraft. That’s basically its selling point, yet the game is so much more than that. Earlier this year, Terraria received what was billed as its final update, as the team behind it are moving onto other projects. In the nine years since it was released it’s been updated a number of times, bringing new elements to the game. There are some great boss battles which are difficult and require a lot of strategy and skill. And it’s a great game to play with a friend.

I had a lot of fun playing Terraria in co-op, and though it’s designed to play great as a single-player title, that was where I had the most fun.

Number 6: Sid Meier’s Civilization VI (75% off, £12.49)

I’ve sunk countless hours into Civilization VI since its 2016 launch, and this digital board game has never been dull. While I’m not wild about its business model, as there are now a large number of DLC packs, the base game is still really enjoyable for fans of turn-based strategy.

I picked Civilization VI as one of my top ten games of the last decade, and for good reason!

Number 7: Shenmue I & II (75% off, £6.24)

I’ll probably be recommending the first two Shenmue games to everyone I meet for as long as I live! The first entry in the series was the first game I played that really showed me what gaming as a medium was truly capable of. Telling a slow-burning story of revenge that would be at home as a big-budget series or film, Shenmue created a genuinely realistic world, pioneering the “open-world” concept before anyone else. It was unlike anything I’d ever played before, and its story holds up today.

Some aspects of these games haven’t aged well, particularly the controls used for fighting. But if you get lost in the story, as I did, you won’t care.

Number 8: Plague Inc: Evolved (60% off, £4.79)

I first played Plague Inc. on iOS, and it’s rare that a mobile game like this can be successfully ported to PC. There are a few examples, of course, but it’s an uncommon success story. Plague Inc: Evolved is very similar in terms of gameplay to the original mobile title: you play as a disease trying to wipe out humanity. Timely, I know. The graphics got a boost and there are a wider variety of options in the current PC version.

Plague Inc. was on my tongue-in-cheek list of inappropriate things to watch and play while self-isolating a few weeks ago.

Number 9: No Man’s Sky (50% off, £19.99)

No Man’s Sky is an interesting title. Widely criticised on its 2016 release for failing to deliver on a number of promised gameplay elements, in the years since Hello Games have put in a lot of hard graft to rehabilitate its image. In 2020, after a number of free updates and patches, No Man’s Sky finally delivers on those initial promises, and I had a lot of fun with its sci-fi setting and exploration gameplay.

Some people have been put off ever buying No Man’s Sky because of the controversy. If you feel strongly about it that’s absolutely fair enough – but you will be missing out on a fun experience.

Number 10: Ori and the Blind Forest (75% off, £3.74) & Ori and the Will of the Wisps (20% off, £19.99)

I’ve been partway through an article on these two amazing games for a while, but I keep getting sidetracked. Hopefully I’ll finish it before too long! Both Ori and the Blind Forest and Ori and the Will of the Wisps are beautiful games – both visually and in terms of their stories. The games both 2D platformers in that niche genre often referred to as “metroidvania”.

Both titles are considered masterpieces, and I honestly can’t recommend them highly enough.

Number 11: Jade Empire: Special Edition (75% off, £3.74)

Bioware is better-known today for games like Mass Effect and Anthem, but in 2005 they released Jade Empire, a role-playing game set in a fictional world based on ancient China. Hot off the heels of their success with Knights of the Old Republic, the game uses a very similar format as players build up a party of characters and go off on an adventure. I had a great time with Jade Empire back on the original Xbox – where it was a console exclusive – and recently replayed it on PC.

I’ve long considered Jade Empire an underrated gem, and if you like Bioware’s older titles from the 2000s, you’ll definitely have a great time here.

Number 12: Grand Theft Auto V (50% off, £12.49)

Grand Theft Auto V is a juggernaut – having premiered on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it’s set to be ported once again to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Not many games have such longevity, and the amazing thing is that in the seven years since its release, it’s hardly ever dropped out of sales charts across all platforms. The reason for this success is of course its multiplayer mode, but there’s a great single-player campaign too. If you’ve somehow avoided it until now, it could be a great time to pick it up!

The familiar open-world Grand Theft Auto gameplay is still present, but the open world of Los Santos feels like a genuinely lived-in city. There are also some great voice acting performances from the trio of main characters.

Number 13: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (70% off, £3.89) & The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (70% off, £3.89)

I remember reading about Morrowind in a gaming magazine (remember those?) in 2002. I thought it sounded absolutely fantastic, and when I picked it up for the original Xbox I wasn’t disappointed. Morrowind is such a full game – even now, almost two decades on, there are quests I’ve never completed and factions I’ve never joined. Oblivion is a half-step between Morrowind and Skyrim, and while it’s been a while since I played it – and I’ve only played it once – it was definitely a fun experience at the time.

Oblivion also features Sir Patrick Stewart in a voice role, and though his character isn’t present through the whole game, having his voice definitely adds to the experience!

Number 14: The Deus Ex Collection (88% off, £7.79)

2003’s Deus Ex Invisible War was my first foray into the series. I went back and played the first game in this first-person action/adventure series afterwards, as I fell in love with its dystopian future setting. Human Revolution came in 2011 and dragged me right back into that world, and Mankind Divided – which is a direct sequel to Human Revolution – rounds out this bundle of four games.

Even if you skip the older titles, definitely give the two most recent ones a try. They’re great first-person stealth/action games, and there’s a surprising amount of customisation.

Number 15: Murdered: Soul Suspect (90% off, £1.59)

I like games with a novel or interesting premise, and Murdered: Soul Suspect definitely has that to offer! A police detective is murdered – don’t worry, that isn’t a spoiler, it’s practically the first thing that happens in the game! The twist is that this is the playable character, who returns as a ghost to solve his own murder! As a mystery game, once you’ve solved the case there isn’t much replayability, but for this price it’s definitely worth one go around.

Murdered: Soul Suspect is underrated, at least in my opinion. It isn’t particularly long, which is one reason why it may have underperformed when it was released in 2014.

Number 16: Planet Coaster (75% off, £7.49)

I loved games like Rollercoaster Tycoon and Theme Park back in the day. After a number of years where the theme park management sim didn’t really receive any new titles to speak of, Planet Coaster reinvigorated the genre. There are a wealth of options for your theme park – which can be almost overwhelming at first – resulting in a game with limitless customisation potential.

Even without any of the game’s DLC packs, there’s still a heck of a lot to have fun with here.

Number 17: Mirror’s Edge (90% off, £1.79)

Mirror’s Edge is one of those titles that has been heavily discounted for several years now. I don’t really understand why – it’s a great-looking game that plays really well, and its parkour-based running and jumping gameplay is uncommon if not wholly unique. From that point of view, I bet it’s something you won’t have experienced before – reason enough to pick it up for less than the price of a pint!

EA’s recent deal with Valve to bring their games back to Steam means the sequel, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, is also available.

Number 18: Titanfall 2 (67% off, £8.24)

Big caveat here: I haven’t played Titanfall 2 yet. However, it’s widely regarded as a phenomenal game, but was released in a very competitive window for first-person shooters, with EA pitting it against two big annual releases from Battlefield and Call of Duty. As a result it underperformed in the sales department. Titanfall 2 is another game which benefits from EA’s recent move to bring their back catalogue to Steam.

This is a game I’ve had on my wishlist for a while, and I was pleased to be able to pick it up at the discounted price!

Number 19: Sonic Mania (66% off, £5.09)

Originally a fan project, Sonic Mania is a beautiful old-school 2D Sonic game that you would think had been lifted straight from the Sega Mega Drive! The story behind the game’s development is sweet – a group of dedicated fans put together a rough cut which they showed off to Sega, who snapped it up and commissioned them to expand and polish it for the mass market.

Sonic Mania is a labour of love by genuine fans of the series. Too few games nowadays can say that.

Number 20: Garfield Kart: Furious Racing (60% off, £5.19)

I love funny, silly racing games like Garfield Kart or Meow Motors. If you don’t have a Nintendo Switch but are missing being able to play Mario Kart, this could be a fun alternative! It’s a comparable experience to Nintendo’s kart-racer: a fun, arcade racing game that’s easy to get started with.

Additionally, if you’re a fan of the Garfield comic strop (I was only dimly aware of it) you’ll find many familiar faces.

Number 21: Total War: Medieval II (75% off, £4.99)

The first game in the Total War series I played was its first entry, Shogun: Total War. The follow-up to that game was Medieval: Total War, and I wouldn’t like to guess how many hours I lost playing that game in the early/mid-2000s! Medieval II updates the game using a more modern engine, and brings a lot to the table. A title that mixes grand strategy with real-time battles is, for many strategy fans, the best of both worlds.

While a lot of people will recommend the Total War: Warhammer games, I think the franchise works best with real history, and the medieval period is just perfect for this kind of game.

Number 22: Banished (66% off, £5.09)

I’ve talked about this great city-builder a few times here on the website. It’s absolutely fantastic, and the fact that this complicated game was developed by just one individual is still shocking to me! Banished is in that sweet spot when it comes to open-ended games: easy to pick up but hard to master.

The game starts with a small number of settlers, and players must build up a town, gathering and storing enough resources for everyone. Getting the right balance is what the game is all about!

Number 23: Red Faction (75% off, £1.24)

2001’s Red Faction pioneered destructible environments in games. Using rockets and other explosives, it was possible to blow holes in walls or floors, create foxholes and craters, and generally use the levels themselves to gain the upper hand. I didn’t own the game at the time, but a friend did and we spent hours in multiplayer trying to outsmart each other with traps and hidey-holes! If you can think of any modern game that allows for such environmental mayhem, chances are it owes a lot to the trail blazed by Red Faction.

For me, this one’s on the list as a nostalgia trip and a bit of a guilty pleasure. But Red Faction does have a fun campaign, and if you can look past the outdated visuals I think you’ll have a fun time.

Number 24: Fallout 4: Game of the Year Edition (70% off, £11.99)

My first experience with the Fallout franchise was 2008’s Fallout 3. Fallout 4 is more of the same, as Bethesda brought development back in-house after outsourcing Fallout: New Vegas. There are a range of ways to play and plenty of customisation options, and the base-building element which was new to Fallout 4 is a ton of fun and could be a whole game by itself. It’s kind of a post-apocalyptic version of the house-building seen in The Sims!

The Game of the Year edition includes both main DLC packs, each of which expand the story and provide new areas to explore.

Number 25: Portal 2 (80% off, £1.43)

There really isn’t anything quite like the Portal series on the market. A mix of puzzle game, 3D platformer, and first-person action game, Portal 2 builds on its predecessor and gives players a truly unique experience that can be difficult to put into words. There’s a horror element to the game too – nothing scary, but definitely unsettling, especially if you pay attention to the dialogue!

Setting aside the “can’t count to three” jokes, it would be great if Valve could revisit this series one day. It’s been almost ten years since Portal 2 was released, and while it still holds up today, I’d love to see a new game using this formula.

So that’s it. Some great deals in the Steam Summer Sale.

If you were to buy every single entry on this list, it would cost you £228.20 – for 33 games (including the Deus Ex bundle). That averages out at £6.92 per game or thereabouts. Considering some of the titles were only released in the last few months, I think that represents outstanding value. To reiterate what I said at the beginning, these sales give PC an edge over consoles, despite consoles being cheaper initially. Something to consider as we await the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, eh?

I hope this was interesting and informative, and may have given you some inspiration for titles to take a look at as we enter the summer season. At a time where some form of lockdown or quarantine is still in place in a lot of areas around the world, having something to do to kill time is more important than ever. Gaming can be great for that.

All of the games on this list are available for purchase on Steam at time of writing (26th June 2020). Prices were correct at time of writing. The Steam Summer Sale ends on the 9th of July 2020. Prices may vary by region and are subject to change at any time. All of the games on this list are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. All screenshots and artwork courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.