Reviews

Review: Dishonored 2

*Excerpt from The Maneater

Games that focus on stealth have always stood out to me. The Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid series as well as the original Dishonored game stress the potential of quiet, hiding-in-the-shadows gameplay that challenges and rewards the player with a greater sense of accomplishment. Dishonored 2 attempts to do the same and, for the most part, succeeds.

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Dishonored 2 takes place 15 years after the original, and the player is given control of either Corvo Attano or Emily Kaldwin. Attano is the bodyguard-turned-assassin from the first title, whereas Kaldwin is the former Empress of Dunwall, one of the city of the game. Arkane Studios gives the player the decision to play as either Attano or Kaldwin and the ability to give up their powers early on. Both characters have different abilities and skills, which in itself presents a reasonable call to replay the game simply to experience it from the other perspective.

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Dishonored 2’s stealth elements of the game presents new challenges and new ways of solving said challenges from a gameplay perspective. Enemy combatants are more aware of their surroundings because of changes to the artificial intelligence. For example, guards will notice when other members on patrol suddenly go missing. Some games love to play this off easy and make the guards simply not care or shrug off the fact that someone they previously saw is now missing. Now they will investigate and ‘track’ the player, but not directly. If they are confused or in a specific situation, they will simply hit an alarm.

 

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The game presents itself, to the best of its ability, from a linear storytelling perspective. Dishonored 2 is predictable but counters this with player choice and a feeling of freedom that is somewhat rare in linear games. I have the utmost praise for the level of design and variety of scenarios the game presents. Each level contains some sort of environmental variety like stacks of smoke that go up at different times or levers that can be pulled to improve navigation. These elements add depth to the linear gameplay. Dishonored 2 could have easily been a rehashed version of the first game, yet the skills and abilities of the two characters save it from this fate.

The weapons, skills and environments all force the player to act in a creative fashion. Blending of the three elements leads to unique encounters, but only if the player seeks them out. However, you can easily play through this game with a bland perspective. Dishonored 2 is only as enjoyable as you want it to be. The storyline isn’t intriguing. It’s a tale of vengeance much like the first, littered with lengthy and melodramatic exposition. That alone is my only true complaint. Sure, people are reporting bugs and framerate drops on the PC version, but my rig, which has i7-6950x processor and a GTX 1080 graphics card, held up just fine. Considering Bethesda’s new policy to not give out early advanced review copies, I am thoroughly surprised that others did not see this coming. It should be almost expected that there are going to be some bugs and kinks in the game.

Dishonored 2 attempts to stand on its own, and for the most part, it does. It tries its hardest to coerce the player into going the stealth route while not overtly penalizing the player for killing enemies. If you were a fan of the first game, I have no doubt that you will spend countless hours in Dishonored 2.

Edited by Katherine White | kwhite@themaneater.com

Review: Battlefield 1

Many expressed doubts that DICE would be unable to make a AAA game out of a World War I setting; some expressed that the old weapons simply would not appeal to gamers in the present. They were incredibly mistaken, Battlefield 1 is the best first person shooter experience I have encountered thus far on this console generation and here is why. The current first person shooter market is saturated with twitchy spray and prey shooters. Battlefield 1 by no means is not void of twitchy situations, but rather unlike Doom or the Infinite Warfare Beta, it does not rely on them to keep the players attention.

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Gameplay aside, Battlefield 1 is a remarkable depictions of a war that occurred basically a century ago. The gritty, mud covered battlegrounds littered with bodies not only refuse to romanticize war as patriotic adventure, but rather depict a hellish landscape ripe with the dead and dying. The prologue in the campaign does an absolutely outstanding job of making the player feel insignificant and powerless. The player is given control of a member of the Harlem Hellfighters, better known as the 369th Infantry Regiment, an all black unit. The player is tasked with holding the line. Yet, unlike countless other games when the player dies their is no reloading of a past checkpoint or save file, rather a date of birth to 1918 is displayed with the name of a fallen soldier. Instead the game hot swaps the player to a different soldiers perspective; this continues for the entirety of the battle and excluding several scripted deaths, the life of the player is completely up to their own skill. I found this incredibly effective at proving to the player that no one is invincible, and that video games can depict war for what it is, and not as a cinematic Michael Bay esque experience.

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Battlefield 1 follows up with the prologue with several war stories that follow multiple soldiers in different roles throughout the war. This is a departure from the ‘special hero soldier’ plot device that is used in other FPS games in order to put the player in a ton of awesome, cinematic scenarios. Rather the campaign uses the multiple protagonists much like the early WWII Call of Duty games to tell stories from various fronts during the Great War. These are not limited to a female Rebel in Arabia to a member of the Italian Army in search of his brother in the Italian Alps. What multiple ‘mini campaigns’ sacrifice in length they gain in worth and value. The game is not limited by killing off a protagonist or two so be warned. One can argue that the death of the player character simply adds to the reality of war, no one is guaranteed to survive. I found the campaign to be leagues ahead of past Battlefield games and oddly enough i beat it before even entering multiplayer.

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Only DICE can make mud filled trenches and shelled out cities look somewhat beautiful. Battlefield 1 looks fantastic on my PC and runs incredibly well. Before the actual official launch I only encountered a single crash and I blamed this on my own hardware due to a heat issue I quickly resolved. The game does however use a large amount of CPU, my i7 6700k hit around 75-85% usage at times while my GTX 1080 seemed to just exist and not suffer at all. Nonetheless the game runs incredibly well for what it is doing. I read several angry redditors comments complaining that their i5 processors were being strained and that the game was unplayable since they could not play the game on ultra with a 1440 display. Some gamers obviously aren’t realizing all of the work the games’ engine and therefore your computer has to do in order to keep up with 64 players fighting on large scale maps while at the same time looking as great as it does. So of course an i5 may struggle to deliver this game on a silver platter.

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The guns, maps, and player models all look as if someone toiled with them down to the digital strands of fabric on the khaki uniforms of the British soldiers. The attention to detail and the slight variances between different uniforms is a nice touch. This attention does no exclude the buildings in the game as well, it almost makes me feel bad for turning them to rubble with a tank or field gun. Lastly, the effect the weather has on the game is absolutely huge. Fog, clouds, or a sandstorm can all change how a match ends in multiplayer. It adds an element to the game that the players cannot control but rather have to adapt and overcome. For example, planes are pretty useless in a sandstorm (or fog depending on the map) bombing wise unless players are spotting targets on the ground. This changes the dynamic and adds to how players adapt on various maps. These are all fantastic  details that one would not notice had they not been implemented in the game yet it is hard to envision the game without them.

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Multiplayer in my opinion has never been better in a Battlefield game. The new gamemode, Operations, is everything Battlefield 1 be as a gritty WWI shooter. The gamemode to series veterans is best described as the synthesis of Conquest and Rush. In Operations a map is split into sectors. Each respected sector has two points at the least (in some cases there are more). The points are labeled alphabetically. One team is tasked with defending the points from attackers that are given a certain amount of tickets that allow their team members to respawn. Vehicles and defensive emplacements are all tossed into the mix in most sectors. The end result is a progressive and rigorous gamemode that stresses cooperation on the attackers part. Combat is normally maximized or centered around key points or routes to certain points. This creates an incredibly close quarters setting and dynamic. Defenders will at time be fighting off attackers within 10 meters of their own position, at times even closer. Essentially this gamemode best allows for players to engage in trench combat or close quarters combat one may have encountered in WWI. The sub Reddit ( http://www.reddit.com/r/Battlefield ) has had nothing but praise for this gamemode besides some suggestions for balancing.

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The 4 class structure returns in Battlefield 1 but with a catch, the kits have been altered to a degree. For starters the Assault kit no longer has the med kit, this has been given to a medic class. The LMG kit, Support now has the repair tool, mortars, and ammo. The engineer kit has been split up between the Support and Assault and the Recon/Scout kit is still overused by players solely playing for their kill to death ration and not the objective. I have several complaints. The Engineer kit that was featured in Battlefield 3 & 4 was a well rounded kit that excelled at engaging in close quarters combat with PDWs and Carbines while still being the best counter to vehicle threats. This is no longer the case; some of this is due in part to lack of several kinds of technology such as the RPG since it was not around during the time of WW1.

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In other words one can argue that the class was changed purely because it would not fit into the historical time frame. The anti vehicle role, or better put the anti-tank role has been given to the Assault class: it utilizes powerful anti tank grenades and an AT-Gun. Yet, DICE gave this class SMG and shotguns instead of self-loading rifles. SMGs and anti tank grenades do pair well with one another yet by balancing logic the Medic has access to the self-loading rifle. I feel as if the Medic should have the SMG since reviving dead teammates typically requires the player to approach areas that are full of enemies normally within close quarters range. This works against the medic since the self-loading rifles are a mid range weapon and by being in a position to revive teammates they will be in close proximity with enemies. Basically I would much rather prefer if the Medic had access to a shotgun or had some sort of remedy to essentially the Support and Assault Class in close encounters. Other than that I have no other drastic complaints for the multiplayer besides some tiny complaints that will more than likely be addressed.

Battlefield 1 Map Names & Images Leak

Conquest, Rush, the typical other gamemode and the new gamemode all play well to different degrees. The modes also all mesh incredibly well with the maps provided in the base game and I honestly do not have a map that i dislike to an incredible degree. Sure some aren’t perfect, but the majority of them all play and look incredibly nice. I personally praise the map design and departure from symmetrical map design. Vehicle combat is somewhat balanced, it is completely balanced if the team coordinates as a whole. The days of a single average player 1 v 1 ing a tank are over, that is what I am trying to get at. The gameplay and meta, or player environment is not the same as previous Battlefield games. This is not a bad thing.

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Overall Battlefield 1 is both what one would expect from a Battlefield game and slightly not. I have up-most praise for the singleplayer and the multiplayer. It is by far the best shooter on the market at the moment that can appeal to not only the casual gamer but also the hard core demographic at well. Its treatment of WWI with up-most respect in the singleplayer campaign is a nice touch and is somewhat expected. I have no doubt i will lose countless hours to this game and its expansion packs. I absolutely recommend it.

 

Review: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Producing a believable narrative with relatable issues in a game can be somewhat difficult. This is a far greater challenge in a game that takes place in a seemingly alternative reality in the near future. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided excels at placing the player back in the Cyberpunk world that Deus Ex: Human Revolution helped introduce to new fans of the Deus Ex series while still appealing to fans of the original games. Player choice combined with the stealth or loud approach topped off with strong RPG elements make this game worth the delay (s) it endured. Much like last year’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided stresses player choice regarding gameplay, but unlike Metal Gear player decisions also have more impact on the story and sub plots.

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Level design in Mankind Divided is better than ever. Various routes throughout the game allow for decisions to be made when it came to traversing the in game world. How the player traverses it, whether with stealth or a more ‘direct’ approach is all up to the player most of the time. However, for myself personally the non lethal approach is far more rewarding. This takes more time obviously and some more thought but honestly it is worth it. Verticality is fare more prevalent in this iteration of the franchise. Some areas or hazards such as laser grids or mines can only be dealt with through various upgrades to Adam Jensen, the protagonist. The fantastic plus to various means of traversal are the rewards you can find in various routes. It kept me constantly aware of various routes and I back tracked at times to check areas i either bypassed or sneaked by in entirety. There are tons of areas that may lead to small sub-quest that are easily missed. The quests are not really boring either so don’t expect simple fetch quests/missions. Small engagements ranging from simple dialogue to emails may also help present a sub-quest to the player in an organic fashion.

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The gameplay gravitates to first person perspective although third person shots are also present while in cover or during some conversations. Adam Jensen looks as badass as ever and with the new cover to cover system and mantling he moves far more naturally (even for someone with augmentations). The UI has been overhauled as well, notifications in general are far more visible to the player. Stealth in a sense is easier now due to the changes regarding combat and new augmentations make the game seem easier but with greater power to the player means that greater challenges are in store. The game expects the player to be aware of this. It isn’t quite as hands free as Metal Gear Solid V for references but it certainly does not hold your hand at times.

 

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Gunplay specifically feels right finally when compared to Human Revolution. On the fly modifications can make a normally single use gun such as an assault rifle function like a battle rifle or designated marksmen rifle with the right modifications (well only if you don’t feel like using the actual battle rifle). My one gripe with the gunplay in general is the lack of movement Adam’s hands actually make while shooting. It is just one tiny little detail but he has augmentations so maybe while shooting he has suction grip like hands. The level of improvement when compared to Human Revolution is so noticeable, that in Mankind Divided i never strayed away from using my arsenal simply because for once it was not clunky.

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The synthesis of both the gameplay mechanics regarding combat and RPG elements such as dialogue truly help immerse ones self. One player may experience a relatively non-violent encounter with a sketchy individual. Other players may meet the same individual, exhaust a few line of dialogue, become frustrated with the NPC and kill them. In Mankind Divided that is completely okay, although make sure violent tendencies stay in your video game playthroughs. An example of this for me was an encounter with a con artist that was impersonating a State Police officer. He was scamming people with augmentations into buying forged identification passes/cards that actually did not even work. After dispatching his men at the location where he was having a young woman make the cards I went back to meet him and confront him. Needless to say things went sideways and a fake State Police officer ended up face down in the alley next to his checkpoint. That was how I handled that specific situation, Mankind Divided allows for player choice which i cannot stress over enough.

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The game runs incredibly well on my PC but I cannot speak for the console version since I have yet to play it on PS4 or Xbox One. The new game engine handles lighting and large crowds far better than the previous title. I was able to maintain a steady framerate of 60 throughout the entire experience except for some cut-scenes that appear to be locked at 30 due to being pre-loaded onto the game’s file directory as a video file. The game only crashed once for me personally, although a recent patch fixed that on my end.

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Gameplay and level design aside Deus Ex: Mankind Divided attempts to portray discrimination not through race but through natural humans and those with augmentations. The game both succeeds and fails at doing so. Essentially after an event two years ago simply called the ‘Incident’ that caused people with augmentations to go into a violent rage the world, being the majority of humans that do not have augmentations are afraid that a similar incident will occur again. Thus augs (people with augmentations) are treated like second class citizens due to a combination of fear, hate, distrust, you get the idea. People with prosthetics are forced to carry extra identification, ride in separate train cars, and for the  vast majority of augs live in selected housing. Sound similar? Well it is even more obvious when topped off with the constant police harassment (IE beatings, threats, etc).

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Where the game fails to show off the “Mechanical Apartheid”  (note I did not coin the term, the marketers for the game did) is the fact that besides police harassment and a few threats with some physical encounters sprinkled in the player will hardly have to endure cruelty on a scale compared to the real life situations and time periods this is attempting to mirror. Sure the player as Adam, someone who has a ridiculous amounts of prosthetics is treated poorly, but it hardly compares to the treatment of other augs in the game. Part of this is due to the fact that Adam works for an international counter terrorism unit and therefore has higher clearance identification than the common aug. Even though the player is essentially looking at this in game social issue through a hypothetical window, the game still made me feel uncomfortable due to the discrimination in game. What I encountered in game and felt personally is probably regarded by others as an over analysis of a back drop theme to a video game. However, I have never felt as uncomfortable for my player character in a video game based off of a physical trait as I have in Mankind Divided. 

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The second class treatment and forcing of augs to live in awful parts of the in game city of the real life location of Prague combined with all of the discrimination made me feel uncomfortable at times in a VIDEO GAME. This is why i repetitively stress the importance the medium as a whole has for telling stories and attempting to semi-immerse the player into something they may or may not have experienced before. My point is i felt uncomfortable in a video game sitting in my dorm, I cannot imagine the plight specific individuals have to go through in real life regarding discrimination and or societal bias. Yet, after playing this game one thing I can take away is that I sympathize with groups of people targeted due to various traits even more. It is worth mentioning i already did but I never experienced any form of discrimination in real life. I more than likely never will so dealing with this kind of harassment furthers my understanding as to how uncomfortable it makes someone feel (and this was just in a game not in REAL LIFE). Now it is worth mentioning I am not equating anything i encountered or felt mentally about in the game can even compare to the real life treatment of groups treated as a minority. The video game medium as a whole is at the moment the closest way for me to observe any kind of treatment as one, albeit in game.

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The fact is i experienced this while in a fictional game world and I can turn it off if things ever got that dire (they never did, but still). A large chunk of the population in the United States can’t simply turn off their life or reset who they are, they have to continually go day by day, week by week having to deal with unfair situations and treatment that they themselves, at their core, were not responsible for. I never expected to write a game review that stressed more on the themes of the game than the actual game itself but with everything that has happened in the past and what is still currently happening in our society it is worth mentioning.

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Overall Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a solid game; it struggles with some plot issues and should have just attempted to mirror Human Revolution. It is still a beautiful game graphics wise and the gameplay is arguably the best in the entire series. The themes the game attempts to convey both succeed at times and fall flat; but the game still is able to display the core roots of the themes. Games like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided may not be the best games overall but they certainly attempt to tackle more complex issues/themes through interactive storytelling. Better games will come out this fall but i doubt any will attempt to approach such a topic as the treatment of second class citizens and discrimination. Needless to say you should play this game. *Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is available on PC, PS4 & Xbox One. This review was based off of the PC version.

 

Review: Doom

The first person genre for consuming video games and cinematic experiences was arguably brought to life among the masses in December of 1993. December 10, 1993 was the release of the titular title Doom. The effects of this sole title’s release can be seen through its core game-play aspects which have been adopted by the majority of first person shooters. The most recent re-imagining of Doom has proved to successfully recapture the feel and overall aesthetic of the original game. Although this title can be argued as “just a remake,” it also brings plenty of new content to player. Personally, anybody that argues that this is simply the original Doom rehashed has never played the original Doom. 

Doom has always put game-play first, while the story is on the back burner. So it wasn’t very surprising that this title lacked a blockbuster story or compelling narrative. ID Software did however successfully attempt to convey world building through the environment of the UAC Compound on Mars and Hell itself. Small descriptions of weapons, facilities, enemies, etc, allow for further understanding of the environment the player will find themselves in. This of course requires a need for conclusion or an additional story for the skeleton of plot that is revealed in game. Essentially, the player steps into the role of the Doom Marine (later referred to as the Doom Slayer). The player is tasked with shutting down a portal from Hell in a research facility on the Martian surface. This facility, run by the Union Aerospace Corporation (UAC), was experimenting using a form of energy from Hell in order to power things back on Earth. This energy, “ardent energy,” is siphoned from a pit in Hell simply called The Well. As the player progresses, further plot details unfold such as the true origins of the Doom Marine and how exactly the portal appeared. This game is essentially an attempt to reboot the franchise, so it can be inferred that the player is successful in shutting the portal down. Besides the bare-bones plot details, the story does not matter at all to me. Game-play on the other hand, game-play is key.

Doom is a frantic, adrenaline-fueled nightmare at times. Hordes of demons and possessed undead will continually rush the player until all have been dealt with. Doom like its predecessors gives the player access to a variety of methods of destruction. In the newest Doom, these weapons range from the new gauss cannon to the classic chainsaw. Obviously some weapons are better than others, while some are more effective against other types of enemies. Combining attacks by swapping constantly between weapons also proves to be incredibly effective against the demons from hell. The player arsenal in the beginning of the game is quite small so obviously this tactic of sporadically switching between weapons via the weapons wheel won’t exactly work. None the less the idea of killing all of the enemies in a room in order to enable linear progression in the game can only be as fun as the player wants it to be. Sure the weapons are amazing, the overly violent glory kills are fantastic animations (too graphic for me to actual show), and the outrageous carnage is fun but it can grow tiring and tedious.

The latest Doom in my opinion attempts to cater way too much to veteran player’s nostalgia. The single-player campaign offers obviously more modern means of conveying combat movement and overall game-play but it still appears to be strikingly the same. You can take that as you will, I personally didn’t dislike this but also was not a fan of it. The middle portion of the campaign though felt incredibly repetitive and I found myself taking breaks from the game simply because I was bored by repetitive eliminates. Find several specific key cards or skulls and fight through endless waves of hell spawn in order to get to the next area; then only to do it all again. I wish there was more variety than that but besides the three boss fights and some surprisingly well-placed platforming, the game begins to put itself on repeat by the end of the first act. At times, new guns and the ability to potentially upgrade all of your arsenal with new attachments proved to be the only thing that kept me playing the campaign. The very last chapter, however, stands apart. I won’t spoil it, but something about it just felt right when it comes to a modern interpretation of the first two games.

The original Doom is a timeless classic that was REVOLUTIONARY for its time. However, ID Software’s attempts to successfully recapture this lightning in a bottle prove to either be successful for incredibly nostalgic players or underwhelming to others. A reboot can only depend on the nostalgic factor oh so much before it ends up feeling like a cripple using the original nostalgia as a crutch. Sure, this game can stand on its own when a new player to the series plays it. Yet, I have a feeling that a newcomer to the series may feel underwhelmed because there are plenty of games that execute this kind of game-play more skillfully and smoothly. I have a feeling that this game will resonate more will players of the past games, whether that is a good or bad thing isn’t really the point.

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Doom’s multiplayer feels like a forgotten offspring of Call of Duty & Halo with some Quake sprinkled in while on speed. The map design is straight out of Quake in my opinion. Power weapon spawns such as the gauss cannon and the demon runes (they let the player become an over powered demon) become choke points on the map. This would ideally create some memorable matches centered around these points, this is not the case. Doom made the same mistake Halo 4 and every subsequent Halo game made multiplayer wise: they added the function of custom loadouts. The main joy in games such as Quake, the original 3 Halos games and arena style shooters was the focus on finding ‘power weapons’ that would give the player advantages over other players that are using the default kit and weapons. That is what set these games apart from Call of Duty or Battlefield. The new Doom not only adds custom classes but also consumables that act a lot like perks. This completely defeats the purpose, aesthetic and fun of Doom. When the majority of players can equip incredibly overpowered weapons, excluding the BFG and gauss cannon, the entire aspect and fun of finding these weapons detracts from the total experience. The whole flaw in the multiplayer could be addressed if custom classes were axed and the power weapons drops were increased in order to cater to players want for more powerful weapons while keeping them out of everyone’s hands.

Verdict: 7/10

Review: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Some developers (and publishers) tend to beat a franchise to death, milking it for every nickel and dime is it worth. This normally leads to a game series ‘death’ in a sense. So when developers announce that they will be concluding the series with one final title, the response from the public is always mixed. One camp doesn’t necessarily want something that they care about so incredibly much to end but understands that things move on and end. The other camp is simply too naive to realize that everything ends; and if it doesn’t it more than likely will grow into a game series that is completely alien to its core ideas, gameplay aspects and narrative of the original. I find myself nearly always with the first group of people. Naughty Dog had the fortitude to realize that the Uncharted series and its main character Nathan ‘Nate’ Drake deserved a well put together ending. I will easily put Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End among the best final chapters in a game’s series; here is why.

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For those not aware of the entire franchise and story, the series follows Nathan ‘Nate’ Drake. He can best bed described as a modern day Indiana Jones without the whip and fedora (My entire recap and review of the first three games can be found here). This game takes place several years after the third game, Drake’s Deception. The charismatic and likable Nate has apparently retired from the life of pursuit of treasures and lost cities. He has in fact settled down and got married to Elena from the previous games. While working for a salvage company, one in which Nate is the leader scuba diver, he is approached by his brother Sam (VA by Troy Baker). Nate had believed that his brother was dead, killed while they were undercover in a Panamanian Prison looking for Captain Henry Avery’s treasure. This is how the game begins excluding a boat chase on the high seas in the Indian Ocean that acts as a tutorial. This bundled with a movement tutorial that takes place during Nate’s childhood at an orphanage rounds out the beginning of the game.

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Sam explains to his younger brother that he, in fact, survived being shot while at the Prison and recently escaped. The problem, and the reason why Nate abandons his sedimentary lifestyle is that the man that broke Sam out was a drug lord imprisoned next to him. Hector Alvarez had constantly heard Sam ramble on about Captain Avery’s treasure and how he knew where it was. So when Alvarez broke out he managed to get Sam out as well on the condition that he bring half of Avery’s treasure to him. If he fails in doing so after a period of three months Alvarez’s men will kill Sam. This plot device allowed Naughty Dog the chance to pair arguably the two best actors in the video game industry together. Nolan North playing Nathan Drake alongside Troy Baker’s Same Drake just feels natural even though the latter character hadn’t been mentioned in the other games since he apparently died 15 years ago and Nathan move on. The chemistry between the two actor’s performances makes the two characters feel like actual real life blood brothers. For the majority of the game, Nate is alongside Sam, their banter and joking behavior with one another does not feel scripted in the slightest degree. The writer’s choice to use Sam as a tool in order to explain the past three games to the player through Nate keeps new players from being out of the loop for the past stories. Nate consistently refers to past adventures and explains them to Sam while they trek across the world for Avery’s treasure. This may feel a little repetitive and directed towards veteran players nostalgia of the past games yet at the same time, it is informative and at times usual for the plot to advance.

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What literally makes this game stand out from others is the wide variety of environmental set pieces and the visual presentation of the game. Uncharted 4 arguably is the best looking game on the market when it is broken down into art design and graphical presentation. For example, the foliage above combined with the dilapidated structures of this forgotten pirate Colony convey the passage of time and abandonment of this settlement incredibly well. Each tomb, town, island, etc all are incredibly well put together. This, of course, is important to have since this game ends up being a globe-trotting adventure. Basically, all of the environments look believable, nothing in the game looks to flashy but at the same time isn’t muddied down or bland. Environmental hazards or conditions such as rain or the explosion of a convenient red barrel all have an impact on the presentation of this title. Naughty Dog even managed to make mud look good in a way. I won’t spoil as to how but Nathan get incredibly dirty at times, covered in filth and grime. If the game had awful gameplay in my opinion it would still be worth eventually playing thanks to the diverse and well put together environments and the optimized graphics.

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Like the other titles in the series, Uncharted 4’s gameplay is split between third-person action sequences, littered with fantastic explosion and predominately balanced by basic gun play. The other half of the gameplay found in this series presents itself through puzzles in ancient settings (tombs, ships, caves) and the overall traversal of the actual in game environments. At times a cliff face and how the player will traverse it can be a puzzle. In Uncharted 4 however, Nate has a grappling hook which acts as a double-edged sword. It can make traversal of these environments easier, but the hook and swinging mechanics have also opened new doors for the developers to make more difficult puzzles. None of the puzzles are particularly hard per say, but they can take a while to either solve or transverse. This, of course, depends if it is literally a puzzle (pictured above) or rather if it is the act of climbing a hazardous cliff side in Scotland.

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The various character one will encounter, such as the two villains above, are all incredibly well written. All of them have layers or levels to their personality along with their goals and intentions. Rafe Adler (the man in the tuxedo above), comes from an incredibly rich and successful family. At the time of the game, he runs his parent’s inherited business but wants to make a name for himself and break away from his parent’s shadow. To him, the vast amount of wealth that would coincide with discovery Captain Avery’s treasure is unimportant. While Nate and Sam seek fortune, Rafe is searching for fame. So he has been using his wealth to employ the Private Military Company named Shoreline, headed by the woman on the left in the picture above: Nadine Ross. Nadine, unlike Rafe, is only interested in the money Rafe is paying her and her South African PMC. Although the idea of finding the treasure does indeed interest her, she is nowhere near as devoted to the search for it as Rafe and the Drake brothers. She is far more interested in running the PMC she inherited from her father, this reflects her characters behavior and morals in the game.

Victor “Sully” Sullivan makes an appearance in Uncharted 4 as well. The veteran thief and mentor to Nate have been keeping busy still continuing to be a thief despite his age. His role in the game of being Nate’s sidekick during gameplay has been replaced by Sam. He is still quite present in the game but partakes in a more supporting role. Elena Fisher, now Elena Drake, appears in the game and is essential to the subsidiary plot of the game. To sum that bit up Nate goes off on the adventure but tells Elena that he is actually going on an international salvaging mission in Malaysia. This lie as a whole divides Elena and Nate for part of the game but as one can expect she forgive him since he is basically doing this for his brother. The writing, especially near the end of the game, suffers from incredibly slow pacing at times, but overall the pacing was on point.

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Lastly, the gunplay is easily the best in the entire series. Reloading is now triangle on the controller but I grew accustomed to that quickly. The one complaint I have for the basic combat system is the ability to hold only two weapons. At the same time, I must compliment Naughty Dog for implementing slings for all rifles. This added to the realism since the rifles no longer float behind Nate. This pistol holster and the attention to detail when Nate physically switches weapons has clean and fluid animations that do not detract from the already stellar gameplay. The cover system has been overhauled, or at least it feels that way. It feels and plays a lot like Naughty Dog’s other game The Last of Us. Well, the cover system is like The Last of Us; the pacing is quicker when it comes to combat. Movement is far more important when engaging enemies. Otherwise, you may find yourself flanked because you were attempting to hold up in a single location. I won’t go into detail regarding the gameplay because the game, for the most part, plays like the other’s but is more precise and smooth. Also, the main focus for all of these games is the story and overall narrative. The third person combat is by no means anything unique but it isn’t bad either. Yet, when this gameplay is combined with blockbuster-esque set pieces and grade-A acting a fantastic masterpiece is created.

Overall I found my time spent playing the story mode in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End incredibly enjoyable. I was not able to play a lot of multiplayer since I had to quickly begin to play Doom for the next review. The story without going into detail or spoilers territory the game has a solid bookend ending. There are no cliffhangers and every single plot line is either ended or shifted into the greater meta of the story. What I am trying to say is that I could not ask for a better ending for this series. Although it does leave some room for the franchise to expand, Nathan Drake’s story or at least his adventuring has come to a close in an absolute fashion. I wish I could go into further detail but that would spoil the ending and its epilogue. I am personally pleased to hear that Naughty Dog is claiming to be finished with the series; Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the pinnacle of an award-winning series.

Verdict: 9.7/10 – nearly a 10 but does have some minor faults.

Review: Dark Souls 3

“Some day the flame will fade and only embers will remain.” This exact quote has been rehashed and muttered by countless characters in the Dark Souls franchise. The climatic end to this trilogy is a spiraling descent into utter madness which forces the player to examine the game worlds darkest motifs. For the uniformed, the Dark Souls series is noteworthy for two things: its difficulty that expects the player to learn and adapt to his or her surroundings and its relatively abstract lore and history. FromSoftware dark-fantasy RPG series from the outside perspective appears to lack any sense or overall story. This is a shallow and misconstrued examination. Like the difficult gameplay that forces the player to learn on their own, the story in itself parallels the gameplay very much so. The lore and story, the implications of a grand overarching story are all in the game; the player must simply look for it. Whether it is told through abstract dialogue with various side characters, to the item descriptions for the player’s gear, to the very architecture and environment that is presented to the player, a story is in fact present. This story is cyclical in nature. The world of Dark Souls is poetic, a never ending struggle between the darkness of the abyss and the light of the first flame. Yet the idea of the light being the “good” and the darkness being “evil” is never truly expressed. Each game has the player either ending the age of fire or plunging the world into utter chaos but according to the game’s lore embers always remain and the fire is rekindled. This remains true even in Dark Souls III if the player chooses to do so.

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You may be thinking, “Get on with the review already!” However, I cannot express how essential this struggle and cycle is when it comes to the central tenants of this games and the franchise. Games as a whole encompass more than the gameplay presented to the player. The specific way developers choose to feed players story varies significantly. FromSoftware’s unique approach throughout this titular franchise stand out personally. The player ultimately wields the power in Dark Souls III to either continue the previously mentioned cycle by feeding the first flame or leaving it alone, walking away from the player’s supposed destiny. The final choice effectively sees the world plunged into an eternal darkness with the player consuming the first flame and ushering in a world without light. These endings can be interpreted dozens of different ways, but I will spare you by not going into detail.

DSTweetAfter already playing the game early thanks to the early release in Japan and by making a Japanese PlayStation Network Account, I finally was given the oppurtunuty to play the North American version this past Monday (4/11). To mark the beginning of my character’s journey on my PC version I tweeted out at Xbox and the games official Twitter account “And the descent into utter rage begins….. @DarkSoulsGame @Xbox I hope the Elite Controller can take it.” I by no means expected an actual response from Xbox’s Twitter account but oddly enough I received a response “@TheHuntGilbert Good luck, Hunter. Try not to go Hollow!” This was a kind and genuine response which happened to clean my mental pallet for the struggles I was about to endure. It is worth mention that “to go Hollow” is an in game mechanic in all games that slowly begins to make the player character look rotten and dead after each death.

To further understand the game it is worth explaining the RPG elements that Dark Souls III has. The player earns souls, a form of currency by killing enemies and selling items that are used to level up their character. Skill points are allotted into which ever category the player wants. This ranges from adding additional points to your Vigor trait (that grants the player additional health) to luck (which can increase the drop rate for items after killing enemies). The catch is that if the player dies they lose all of their souls. The game allows the player to regain these souls by treking to his/her point of death and simply picking them up from the ground. If the player dies again before doing so the souls are lost forever. This mechanic which has been in all Souls games has led countless players into fits of rage and frustration for essentially being sent backwards on their overall progress (at times countless hours of progress can be lost).

The variety of traits allow for the player to customize their character to fit their own playtstyle. Whether you choose to use a sword and shield or a spear and staff Dark Souls III allows the player to further decide how they will go about their trek to the first flame. Magic can be used as well, the variety and ability to decide between, hexes, miracles, pyromancy and normal sorcery form a perfect synthesis and variety of magical power for the player to wield.

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One of the key tenants of every Souls game are the incredibly intimidating and elaborate boss fights. The series challenges the player to analyze each and every bosses move set on the fly while. Through countless deaths and at times fits of utter frustration, the strategy behind each boss is revealed. Most bosses have two stages, for example the first boss Iudex Gundyr begins the opening fight by wielding a large axe like weapon. Roughly halfway through the fight a dark serpent emerges from his back forming two enormous hands. The entire fight changes from a range battle to a more up close and personal engagement. In general, the change in fighting styles in boss fights in Dark Souls III becomes expected. At some times the health bar of the boss will come back altogether. This only occurs in a small amount of boss fights. Overall each boss fight proved to be incredibly enjoyable and difficult at times. Several bosses have some gimmicks but I felt as if they added to the overall presentation of each boss. Whether the gimmick was a specific weapon used to kill the boss or specific weak points that were the sole points of inflicting damage, each one felt necessary for the overarching engagement.

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The average enemies encountered between boss fights have a enormous variety. Whether it is undead hounds or holy paladin knights, each and every enemy has their own unique move set for the most part. Some enemies may be larger scale versions of other enemies or maybe enemies that share the same weapon types strike the same way. The majority of the enemies in my opinion are push-overs in one on one engagements. On the other hand gangs of the exact same kind of enemies can prove to be quite the hassle. Meanwhile, certain enemies, especially in later environments prove to require almost as much precision and focus that is normally required in a boss fight. It is worth mentioning that most gear used by enemies can be eventually recovered after slaying said enemy (the drops do not always drop at a certain 100%). Fan favorite weapons and armor pieces from past games make appearances throughout Dark Souls III. I won’t spoil as to which ones return but some will absolutely create an essence of nostalgia. This applies to characters from past games as well. Some other reviewers claim that the game attempts to cater to players nostalgia from the past games too much. I personally find a perfect balance between new content and older gear.

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It is worth noting one last new addition to the franchise: weapon arts. This new addition to the robust combat system adds unique move-sets to each kind of weapon. In some cases one of a kind moves are bound to each individual weapon but this does not apply across the board. Using spells along with these weapon arts uses FP, or the purple/bluish bar beneath the HP bar and above the stamina bar. FP is regained by either resting at a bonfire (waypoints used to warp across the world) or by chugging an Ashen Estus Flask (a consumable item that is refilled at each bonfire or upon death). Excluding weapon arts the formula for a Souls game is still present in Dark Souls III. It is worth mentioning that combat is somewhat quicker than that of the combat in previous Souls games. I personally corroborate this by the fact as to how fast combos are when using weapon arts.

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As previously mentioned the plot of the game is to reach the first flame. However, for the player to do so they must first hunt down and kill the Lords of Cinder. These are 5 different associates that all share some sort of power found within the first flame. In order to rekindle the first flame their souls and life force must be transfuse into a vessel that will then replenish the life force of the flame. The player character is this vessel. At first the task of hunting down 5 individuals may seem daunting, especially since two of the individuals are in fact not one specific person but instead a group of individuals that all share the soul. The game does make the whole process easier since one of the 5 individuals that holds one of these souls is already waiting for the player at the Firelink Shrine, the hub for the gameworld. That leaves 4 other Lord souls that need to be stripped from their current holders. The first and last soul are set to specific bosses due to how the game progresses while the other two can be retrieved to the players choosing. I personally found that killing Yorm the Giant was a far easier task than killing Aldrich, the Devourer of Gods, first. Yet I will leave the entire process up to the reader/player.

Spoilers Ahead

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After slaying all of the Lords of Cinder and combing their ashes in the Firelink Shrine the player is warped to a recognizable location to any player that has played Dark Souls I, The Kiln of the First Flame. This is when the entire game series clicked for me and I had an epiphany as to what I thought the series was trying to tell the player. As previously mentioned the average individual simply doesn’t put forth the effort to understand the cryptic nature of the story provided to the player in each game. The significance as to why the player has returned to this location is quickly revealed as the player treks up a steep slope of ash. Basically, the Kiln of the First Flame is where the first ever Lord of Cinder linked the First Flame. His name was Gwyn, Lord of Cinder (below on the right). The player kills him in the first game and then links the fire themselves or refuses to. Regardless of the players actions someone has linked the flame and when it was about to die out again an additional person linked the flame with the souls they have accumulated over their journey. This process has repeated itself so many times by the timeline in Dark Souls III that the Kiln of the First Flame is now littered with ashes of the charred individuals that linked the First Flame along with all of their weapons they brought with them.

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The player upon entering the inner ring of the Kiln initiates the boss fight with the final boss, The Soul of Cinder. The thought behind this fight by the developers actually made me sit down and write out my thoughts in order to retain what I had just accomplished by beating this boss. The Soul of Cinder is in my opinion tied for the most difficult boss in the game alongside the Nameless King which is actually an optional boss. The reason why this fight is so difficult is because of two factors: the open nature of the fight/lack of cover and the bosses moveset. The boss is literally all of the Souls that have been sacrificed by countless individuals warped into a single flaming set of armor. Through further logic since it is the culmination of all of these people into one being the boss itself can utilize all moves that the player can use from all three games! This gives the Soul of Cinder the widest variety of moves to kill the player. There are so many moves that I encountered only a 1/3rd of them on my first try. This in turn means that a player will have to either get really lucky on their first try or die multiple times in order to learn all of the bosses moves. When the player finally eliminates the Soul of Cinder’s life bar it takes a knee and the fast paced classical music that has been playing in the background is replaced by a musical queue associated with Gwyn from the first game. In other words a rampant symphonic score is replaced by a slow melodic piano. The Soul of Cinder then begins using the exact same moves as Gwyn from the first game. I found this touch incredibly nostalgic and kind of sad in a sense. Even though countless souls have sacrificed themselves to the first flame, the original soul still retains some sort of control over the warped and mangled body; thousands of years after the fact. The fact that the game ends in the exact same environment against the exact same final boss from the first game seems poetic. This on top of the cyclical nature of the games story feels oddly like the right way for the series to end.

Spoilers End

https://i2.wp.com/www.iamag.co/features/itsart/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/dark-souls-3-6.jpgDark Souls III is an astounding end to the well respected Souls series. As much as the public is aware, this is indeed the final game in the series. I personally am completely okay with that. Sure not having any more entries in one of my most beloved franchises is a sad idea but I would rather have the developers not recycle and rewash a franchise to death. The ending to this game also ties up the series in a sense so that is also a plus. For once there are no open endings and for that I am thankful. If you feel like embarking on an arduous trek through a realm of darkness, go pick up Dark Souls III.

Verdict: 9.5/10

Review: XCOM 2

Statistically, a 95% chance to hit a target seems like superb opportunity to take a shot on a target. XCOM 2 has reinforced the opposite mentality. This turn based strategy game developed by Firaxis Games  forces the player to make risky decisions on and off the battlefield. This sequel to XCOM: Enemy Unknown (of 2012) proves to be even more difficult than the reboot for several reasons. For those still unaware about the premise of the game (did the thumbnail not give any clues?), the XCOM series involves aliens, mainly killing them for the betterment of humanity. I personally have enjoyed my time spent with the game thus far. XCOM 2 rewards players that take their time in between turns to craft a formulaic plan for battle.

The premise for XCOM 2 takes place 20 years after the events of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Basically, humanity was invaded and overwhelmed by a coalition of extraterrestrial beings. At first, during the events of the first game, the world banded together to form the XCOM Project. The XCOM Project was a multi national reaction force designed to combat the aliens. Although the player could actually win and beat the aliens in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the canon ending is that the XCOM project failed. In between the previous game what is left of XCOM has been forced to fight as a guerrilla unit that lacks the support from multiple nations. Instead the player leads the remnant of XCOM from region to region across the world in their own commandeered alien supply-ship. In a sense, the player and therefore the story is basically that you are the last hope for humanity waging a hit and run war against the aliens. Yet it isn’t that simple, a lot of society has changed since the aliens essentially became humanities overlords.

Through propaganda and the use of superior technology, the majority of humanity has been convinced that the aliens are in fact here to help humanity become a more intellectually enlightened race (hence the statue of the alien symbolically helping the fallen human above). In other words, at times you will be fighting soldiers that somewhat resemble humans but without going into spoilers it really isn’t the case. Major cities have been constructed by ADVENT, the organisation that governs humanity, and humans are flocking to these cities in order to obtain remedies and a life style previously thought as impossible by standard means. The player over the course of the game begins to realize that through this indoctrination, almost brainwashing, the majority of humanity has lost the ability to be free. It is up to the player to uncover the aliens true intentions and to ultimately free humanity. This will be accomplished by raiding ADVENT coalition compounds, researching better technology and liberating various populaces from the aliens spheres of influence.

The minute to minute gameplay of XCOM 2 can be described at its core: a turn based tactical game. The player controls a squad of soldiers beginning with only 4. This can be increased by upgrades to a larger fighting force later in the game. The battlefield, or area of combat, is divided into tiles that represent places where your soldiers (or your enemies) can move. Depending on the class of your soldier, the amount of tiles you can move varies. In addition to movement, players need to keep in mind their surroundings. This of course is because there are several forms of cover your soldiers or foes can utilize as protection from attacks. The three forms of cover are no cover, partial cover, and full cover. It is up to the player as to where they want to move each turn. Some places may be safer locations though during battle. Another catch to this game is that turns basically revolve around two turn actions. Simply put, a soldier can run into cover or shoot. These turns continue for the player until all of their units have performed actions. Then, the enemy performs its own turn. There are a variety of actions or abilities that the player can use ranging from throwing a grenade to reloading your soldiers’ weapon. I will go into detail about the abilities in a little bit. Objectives for each mission (which the number of missions vary on each play through but the game takes around 30 hours to beat) range from destroying enemy monuments to extracting VIPs. This variety allows for diverse missions that differ in the time it takes to complete them. I have had missions that last 5 turns to missions that take over an hour to complete.

The meta game for XCOM 2 involves racing around the world gathering supplies, intelligence, and manpower in order to combat the alien threat. The events excluding specific missions are all procedurally generated in order to provide unique levels and objectives that will be the player’s own. In other words, your second play through may provide an entirely different start bias and equipment drops from enemies. The player will need to make contact with various other lesser resistance groups to gain supplies to research better guns, armor, equipment, etc. All of this while on the run from the ADVENT coalition may seem overwhelming, but I became some what desensitized to the idea of always being on the run. The raiding tactics the player utilizes almost made me feel like some sort of an insurgent or freedom fighter depending on your own point of view. The odds are nearly always stacked against the player, this made decisions like deciding to research an exo skeleton over new magnetic weapons a rough one to make. The game expects the player to adapt and over come these obstacles over time.

In order to combat this alien threat, you as the player must become well aware of the perks and proper uses for various kinds of weapons. Yet since you are a rebel faction, you and your soldiers cannot depend on abundant resources and new equipment. This idea leads into a new feature for the series: Weapon Modifications. Whenever one of your brave soldiers terminates an enemy there is a chance that modifications or rare resources will be dropped. These modifications like the auto-loader for the shotgun above can provide your XCOM operatives with an unconventional edge against the alien overlords. Some modifications work better with different operatives and armaments. I personally found that by adding an extended magazine modification to my main sharpshooter’s rifle proved to be the proper use. This allowed the rifle to take more shots without having to reload the weapon. Weapons and gear can however be lost forever if the operative using the gear is killed and their body is not recovered. My advice is that you never leave anyone behind, dead or alive everything and everyone is useful in this game.

Now let’s look at the variety of aliens your team will face off against. In the beginning of the game, the majority of your enemies will be humanoid troopers and somewhat lanky “sectoid” aliens that can attack your soldiers telepathically. As the game progresses, different enemy types will be revealed. Without going into spoilers you as the player will have to fight some seemingly unfair engagements. It is all achievable, I personally at the time of writing this have already beaten the game on the second hardest difficulty and am currently trudging through the most difficult setting. Ultimately, the enemies encountered will push the player to their limits and at times the game can be incredibly frustrating. Missing a shot with a 95% chance to hit it can be infuriating and is incredibly common. I cannot stress enough the importance of persevering through this lengthy campaign. Yes the game will be unfair at times, yes a single failed mission can scrap your entire play through but in the end every successful mission is truly earned. Whether it is earned through countless attempts or the loss of your soldiers that you customized after your friends, the game is worth it in the end.

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Lastly, as I briefly touched on it in the title of this review, the player can choose to fully customize the various soldiers they recruit throughout the game. Like in my XCOM: Enemy Unknown play through I named the majority of my soldiers after people who I know or unique fictional individuals or celebrities. Since the game has a permadeath feature, if any of these soldiers die they will be gone forever. This makes loses in my squads seems even worse since, for example my friend Joe died while trying to disarm a bomb on the third mission. These creative customizable features allow for awesome squads such as the one above. Having Big Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3, Mr. Wester as a sniper, and Nick Cage in my A-Team squad with several of my friends and myself makes for some amusing missions and losses. I found myself at times losing track of how much time I was actually spending customizing my soldiers and their load-outs. This immersion however made the game all the better.

Verdict: 9/10

Hunter’s Top 10 Games of 2015

Unlike 2014, there was a large quantity of seemingly stellar video games this year. In fact there were so many excellent titles this year I decided to compile a list of my own. These are my top 10 games of the year. However, I did take into account review scores and critical reviews from noteworthy reviewers and websites in order to eliminate some of my own bias. The outline of each title will be represented as following [ Game Title – Developer (Platform(s)) Noteworthy Awards]

*NOTE: No Sports Games or HD Remasters will be on this list

#10. Halo 5: Guardians – 343 Industries (Xbox One) VG Hunter 8.8/10

I will certainly get a lot of flak from Xbox fanboys for placing their beloved Master Chief in the number 10 slot on this list. However, I can back this placement up by the fact that the only awards it yielded this year all had to do with being the best Xbox One game of the year (that isn’t saying much when you look at 1st party Xbox games). I enjoyed the game a lot but excluding the warzone gamemode the game was sort of a disappointment. With a setup Halo 2 esque ending combined with abysmal writing and the fact that you never really hunt the Master Chief (even though the marketing campaign made this out to be a legendary hunt for the ultimate super soldier) I felt lied to honestly by the developers. Gameplay on the other hand is smoother than any other Halo game, and that is saying something since Halo is known for its simple but skill based gameplay.

#9. Splatoon – Nintendo EAD Group No. 2 (WiiU) – Game Awards Best Shooter & Best Multiplayer Game

Who would have thought one of the best multiplayer experiences of 2015 would be on a Nintendo console? I might (absolutely will) get some hate for placing this game ahead of Halo 5, but Splatoons simple and fun gameplay. Basically the object of the game is to cover as much of the map as possible with your own teams color of paint while covering the areas that the other team has painted with their own. Sounds simple? Well in most cases it is just that: simple. Yet this game for some odd reason gave me a since of pleasure and achievement even though i was completing a childish task. The art style is adorable (yes I used that word) and fits the game quite well. This game is playable by gamers of all ages and skill levels. That is why it was placed on this list, due to its availability, relatively balanced gameplay and somewhat lack of violence.

#8. Tales from the Borderlands – Telltale Games (PC/PS4/PS3/Xbox One/Xbox 360/ OSX/IOS) IGN 9.3/10

Honestly when it boils down to voice acting and overall writing for a game, Tales from the Borderlands delivers and then kills the standard for narrative and storytelling. With a cast including Troy Baker (The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite, etc), Nolan North (Uncharted, Batman Arkham Series, Assassins Creed, etc), Ashley Johnson (The Last of Us, The Avengers, etc) and countless other noteworthy voice actors, this game is full of talent. This five part Telltale series explores the world of Pandora from the Borderlands franchise. Although the gameplay is simple point and click puzzles with quick time combat moments, the writing focusing on the characters is absolutely astounding. The humor and overall lack of morality is exactly what a player should expect from a game taking place in the 2K’s beloved game world. I found myself laughing hysterically countless times during my endeavors on the surface of Pandora. Yet, I also found some of the player choices and moments to be incredibly thought provoking. If you want to play a game just for the story and you have a somewhat sick but great sense of humor pick this game up on its various platforms of availability.

#7. Rocket League – Psyonix (PC/PS4) The Game Awards 2015 Best Independent Game & Best Sports Game

Rocket League is the end product of combing football(soccer) and high speed rocket-powered cars. This title that has been released on the PC/PS4 so far (Xbox One in February) is simple from the surface, but truly has some depth to its gameplay. The object of the game is simple: knock a giant ball into the other team’s goal while protecting your own. Basically it is soccer with rocket cars, hence the name Rocket League. Whether you are playing a 1v1 or a chaotic 4v4 the gameplay in Rocket League is simple but effective when it comes to providing a spark of excitement to the player. Dramatic saves and goals will more than likely be plentiful in your own experiences with this fantastic indie game.

#6. Super Mario Maker – Nintendo (WiiU) Giant Bomb’s 2015 GOTY Awards Best Game

Nintendo finally made the game that their fans have been asking for decades, a game that lets the player make stages using Super Mario’s assets and set pieces. Super Mario Maker allows gamers to make everything from simple levels to seemingly impossible death traps. The community since the game has been released have created quite the variety of levels. The simple interface allows for fans of the series of all ages to have the ability to make levels that they can play and share with friends and family. Since there are thousands of player created levels the game has an incredibly high replay-ability so as a gamer you will certainly get your bang for your buck.

#5. Undertale – tobyfox (PC/Mac-OS) Destructoid PC Game of the Year 

Undertale proved once again that fantastic games do not have to have fantastic graphics or come from the minds of a Triple A developer. This PC/Mac title shared some basic RPG elements, but honestly this game belongs in its own category altogether. Each of the game’s boss fights had its own unique and signature aspects and features. The game also gives the player the ability to play the entire game without killing a single enemy. The class RPG elements combined with the neat puzzles and animated/energetic non-playable characters is a nice touch. The combat is essentialy a bullet hell style system that gets progressively harder as the game moves on. Basically the player has to guide a little heart around in a box, dodging various things that will in turn hurt the protagonist. Undertale was a game that main stream gamers never saw coming, I for one am glad that gamers got this neat little game.

#4. Bloodborne – FromSoftware (PS4) Golden Joystick Awards 2015 Best Original Game & IGN PS4 Game of the Year

Bloodborne absolutely was the best original game of 2015. The games ahead of it on my list all are sequels in various game series. Bloodborne was an entirely new IP (Intellectual Property) all together. The PS4 exclusive was dark, difficult and quite foreboding. From the minds behind Demon Souls Dark Souls, Bloodborne proves to be ever so difficult as the titles it takes elements and tropes from. This hack ‘n slash RPG stands on its own though by divulging far more plot elements than the other games made by FromSoftware. The Gothic art style and brooding setting in a dilapidated city stained by the blood of monsters and a psychotic populace was a nice touch to the aesthetic of the game. The gameplay does not hold the player’s hand in anyway. The game expects the player to be smart, it respects your intelligence and therefore provides the player with a difficult but rewarding style of gameplay.

#3. Fallout 4 – Bethesda Game Studios (PC/PS4/Xbox One) Game Awards Nominated Game of the Year 2015

Some readers may believe that this title should be closer to the best game spot, I however feel quite the opposite. Fallout 4 was no doubt a good game, it told a far more meaningful story and the new chunk of the American Wasteland that players got to roam in was full of incredible stories, moments and sidequests. Yet, the same thing can be said about Fallout 3 or Fallout New Vegas. Sure the game added a nice settlement feature and crafting but it lacked something special that would make it truly feel next-gen. There was simply no feature that could set it apart from the other games if all of the games appeared the same graphically. None the less the game is a fantastic RPG that is second only to the #1 game on this list. The game itself is what one would expect from a Bethesda style RPG, but I wanted more, something else was missing that is keeping this title from being higher on the list. Still a fantastic game though.

#2. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – Kojima Productions (PC/PS4/PS3/Xbox One/Xbox 360) – PC Gamer Game of the Year 2015 , Game Awards Best Action-Adventure Game , IGN 10/10VG Hunter 10/10

Hideo Kojima’s final iteration in the Metal Gear franchise was my personal favorite game of the year. The reason why it is not number one on this list is due to the fact that I already gave it a perfect 10/10 on my website and it seems too bias to place it in the top spot. The gameplay and overall aesthetic of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is precise and surgical down to the actual frame rate and presentation of the game. I have to give credit to the now defunct Kojima Productions for optimizing the game on every single platform it was released for. Yet, the best experience can be found on the PC version of this open-world stealth and action-adventure game. The gameplay is the best in the series and this title traces its roots from a phenomenal pedigree of previous games. Even the cinematography and overall animations seem ahead of rival game developer’s games. Everything from the dark and gritty opening Hospital prologue to the mind boggling twist ending fits in seamlessly with the gameplay. The level of customization and wide variety of player choice regarding nearly everything the game has to offer (ranging from combat, mission selection, loadout customization) combined with the Clash of Clans esque base building meta game bundles this game into an action gamer’s nirvana. Hideo Kojima went all out on his final installment for the franchise.

#1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – CD Projekt Red (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – IGN Game of the Year 2015  & Game Awards Game of the Year 2015

Oddly enough I didn’t write a review for The Witcher 3 out of respect for the title. No true words can describe the vast open world that is this game. I played the game twice first on PS4 then on PC. I beat the game to total completion on both platforms and enjoyed every minute of gameplay. CD Projekt Red ended The Witcher series with a game world that not only is incredibly large in scale, but also has depth and detail to back it up. The depth and detail can be used to describe the game world’s art design as a whole as well as the actual story and sidequests blended with the lore of the series. The game as previously stated is an open world game that takes elements from quick swordplay and rpg elements and the product is intense combat. Whether you are hunting a Griffon or fighting off a horde of bandits each swing that Geralt (The Protagonist) takes with his sword seems fluid and organic, like a deadly dance combined with silver and steel. The story is incredibly well written and takes several elements from the book series that the game is based off of that previously were not used in the games (Witcher 1 & 2) before it. If you enjoy fantasy worlds full of sidequests, extravagant set pieces and countless hours of gameplay you should go pick this game up.

Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider

*This review is exclusively for the Xbox One version of the game.

Few students at Jesuit had any idea that such a cinematic and well-polished game like the Rise of the Tomb Raider was being released the same day as Fallout 4. In fact, the majority of gamers had no idea that the next game in this series reboot was even coming out. Although, I blame the fact that the game is currently only on Xbox One 360 as well as Microsoft‘s poor marketing for the title as reasons why few seem to be aware of this outstanding game. 2013 was the year that Lara Craft and the Tomb Raider franchise finally received a decent reboot. The majority of gamers were surprised by Crystal Dynamics’ reboot of the franchise. I, for one, thought that Tomb Raider 2013 was one of the best games of the year obviously behind the DICE Game of the Year award winner, The Last of Us, as well as the enjoyable Grand Theft Auto V. The Tomb Raider reboot replaced the violent, overly-sexualized version of the protagonist with a well-mannered, naive and serious iteration of the character, motion captured and voice by the lovely Camilla Luddington. The game acted as the origin story that transformed the naive archeologist, shipwrecked on an island full of danger, into a female protagonist that was a survival specialist and fully capable of holding her own in a gun or even fist fight. Rise of the Tomb Raider furthered the character’s development and proved to flesh out more of her background and beliefs.

Spoilers for the story from here to the last paragraph.

Rise of the Tomb Raider has Lara Craft in a race against a sinister organization called Trinity in an attempt to reach the lost city of Kitezh. Her journey takes the player from Syria to Siberia, which is honestly a great juxtaposition between two incredibly different environments. All in an attempt to find the secret to immortality, an idea the science community dismissed her father. Now Lara, after the events of the first game, is attempting to continue her father’s work. The overall experience in Rise of the Tomb Raider is a cinematic masterpiece that draws elements from other successful games in this genre such as the Uncharted franchise. The journey that takes place in this title is not only a literal physical journey but also a journey into the very psyche and beliefs of the heroine protagonist.

 

Gameplay is a mixture between run and gun mechanics and simple to complex puzzles. Honestly, the gun-play on the Xbox One Elite Controller felt a little janky and the sway for the weapons even in the late game was ridiculous. I also disliked the fact that Lara apparently forgot all of her skills from the previous game such as fire arrows and her various bow skills. The weapons, for the most part, excluding the shotgun and the revolver, also felt incredibly ineffective at dispatching attackers. The bow was actually the most useful tool later in the game. It has the ability to fling fire arrows, poison arrows and explosive arrows at enemies. Yet, these skills are relearned later in the game even though she already possessed them in the first game. This brings me to address the new crafting system that is in the game. Lara now can pick up even more materials throughout the game in order to craft Molotov cocktails, IEDs, and poison traps along with several other means of killing attackers. You can also use materials to make better gear and ammunition pouches which are necessary on the more difficult challenges.

 

The enemies in the game range from wolves and lynxes to heavily armed mercenaries and even ancient “deathless” warriors that, surprisingly, can actually die. The way the player approaches all of these enemy types is supposed to force the player to change their playstyle, but I found myself just spamming IEDS and explosive arrows. This strategy worked on even the more difficult settings. The ability to craft bandages on the go also adds a safety net to the player’s health. If you are ever in a tight situation simply bandage up and continue killing. I just didn’t find the game to be that challenging besides two puzzles, one of which I spent way too much time on. My best advice for the puzzles without giving them away is simply: do not over think it. The puzzles may seem grand and complex, but in reality, all of the things necessary in order to solve them are presented to the player in a simple fashion. Any competent player will by no means have to watch a walk-through or how-to-video on any of the puzzles.

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Lastly, I felt that the writing in Rise of the Tomb Raider was far better and less convoluted than the previous game. The 2013 reboot depended too much on supernatural elements and rituals. This one also has an antagonist, the Commander, that you can actually relate to,  who must either complete his task or die while saving his sister. The game also uses tropes and themes from religion, but it doesn’t use them as a crutch for its own story and pacing. Although the story does have its fair share of poor pacing segments, the writing outshines the blemishes. Several significant plot twists and a betrayal conform with the rest of the plot and do not feel thrown in there for pure shock value.

Ultimately, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a brief but well-written action-packed experience. I enjoyed the more realistic and linear plot over the previous games’ themes. Whenever you are done with Fallout 4 and you have a Xbox One, I highly suggest picking this game up. Please do not get it on the Xbox 360. It simply can’t compare to the better looking and faster-running version on the Xbox One.

Verdict: 7.8/10

Review: Fallout 4

There are spoilers in this review, you have been warned.

There is certainly a unique aesthetic and feel to nearly all of the games developed byBethesda Game Studios. They have a phenomenal record and pedigree for creating games that exhibit all of the key elements needed for a successful open world role playing game (RPG). Fallout 4, their latest title is no different. The game attempts to be the most ambitious game in the franchise by allowing greater player choice and adding additions to the already superb gameplay. For those unaware of the history behind the Fallout franchise, allow me to give you a quick summary as to where this game takes place, the overall themes and tone of the games, and most importantly its genre defining gameplay.

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The world of the Fallout franchise is a grim post apocalyptic wasteland devastated by war over resources that culminated in mutually assured destruction of China, the Soviet Union and the United States of America (hence the name sake in reference to nuclear fallout). Like the previous games, Fallout 4 takes place in the remnants of the post nuclear wasteland of the United States. Specifically in this addition to the franchise, the game takes place in the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is essentially Boston and its surrounding towns, including Salem, Quincy, Concord, and Lexington. Locations such as Fenway Park and CIT (a play on MIT) are also present in the game. The environment of Fallout 4 is littered with hideous creatures that have been mutated by radiation during the 200-year period between the nuclear exchange and the beginning of the game. Humans are also for the most part your enemies in all Fallout games. Whether they are cannibals, organized raiders, religious fanatics, or ghouls changed by the effects of radiation, humans can hardly ever be trusted in this game. Like previous games in the series, the very environment can kill you; well the better explanation is that pockets of radiation and radioactive waste will slowly kill you. So players always have to listen to their Geiger counter in order to stay alive. The basic idea in all of the games in the franchise is to basically just survive and find and complete the story along the way.

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I personally wanted to break down the overall aesthetic of the game and several unique environments for the beginning of this review. For starters I would just like to point out my favorite environment in the entire game that is right above this paragraph. This location is called the Glowing Sea, it is basically a low-level players hell, but it provides players with a different perspective of the series’ game world. The Glowing Sea is the area that is in close proximity to the ground zero of the nuclear strike that devastated Boston. The environment is void of any kind of sustainable terrain or plant-life. The player has to venture through this radioactive hell in order to progress the story through a specific quest. During which the player will encounter some of the most disgusting and tough enemies in the entire game. This on top of being the single most radioactive place on the entire map excluding the two nuclear reactors you venture to during the game makes this journey tedious and difficult. The player is constantly being attacked while also taking radaway (a medicine that magically gets rid of radiation, HURRAH for REALISM!) in order to keep the amount of rads that are affecting their body at a low rate. It is next to impossible to walk through this area without radiation suit or power armor along with dozens of radaways on the higher difficulties. I personally fond this journey to a cave at the edge of the map, past this area, as the most memorable part of the entire game. The fear of nearly always being killed by mutated beasts or radiation combined with how long it takes to traverse this location adds to the overall feel of how futile your journey appears to be until you finally reach your destination.

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Another location Diamond City, which is a town constructed inside of Fenway Park, also proved to be a unique environment. I personally enjoyed seeing humanity attempt to rekindle what is left of society inside the ruined baseball stadium. Overall the game looks good, but not great. I have been running the game at 4K in 60 frames per second and I have been kind of underwhelmed. That being said I absolutely love the art direction and usage of such a wide variety of colors in the games palette. Unlike previous games such as Fallout 3 or Fallout New Vegas, Fallout 4lacks the saturation that plagued 3 or the ugly sepia tone that made New Vegas seem straight out of Dust from Counter Strike Source. The textures at time, even on my PC were muddy at times, while at other points in the game I was caught off guard by the beauty of some in environments. For example, the previously mentioned area, The Glowing Sea was oddly beautiful, even though it was an absolute wasteland. I personally have yet to play the game on console, but the reports from IGN andDestructoid (which gave the game a 7.5/10) pointed out the low frame rate including drops to a pitiful 0 frames per second on the Xbox One. The game literally cannot run better than 30 frames per second on the Xbox One, and even so it hardly ever is at 30 frames to begin with. Sadly, the PS4 which by no means would get 60 frames per second was also handicapped by Bethesda’s decision to lock cap both consoles frame rates’ even though the PS4 would arguably have higher frame rate. Non the less, the only complaint I have for this entire game is its few graphical flaws, its inability to run steadily on console and its recycled animations which I will touch on later.

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The weapons and armor in Fallout 4 are few when it comes to base models but make up for it by being modular and open to customization. The ability to change so many things about my favorite handgun that I customized in the game, a .44 magnum I named the Wild Wayne in game, made me honestly care about my gear and weapons. I always fond myself scavenging derelict buildings in search of materials that I could either use to upgrade my gear or my settlements. The latter of which is a new feature that allows the player to create small little villages that can house settlers and companion non-playable characters. I will not go into detail about this feature since it is actually optional when it comes to completing the game and holds only little value in the overall meta of the entire game. A positive side effect of having customization for the player’s gear allows for various play styles to be used in the game. I fond myself using the armor taken off of a secondary antagonist, a cyborg named Kellog, that I killed about 1/4th of the way through the game combined with my .44 magnum and silenced sniper rifle as a solid strategy for combating enemies in the wasteland. Of course some enemies require a more brute means of destruction, I am looking at you super mutants and death claws. In these specific encounters I decided to personally equip more “personal” weapons such as the semiautomatic shotgun above that holds 32 shotgun shells. When that specific weapon wouldn’t suffice I would always end up using my laser Gatling gun that I nicknamed “The Duke,” because it just sounded cool. I will not touch on the vast variety of armor sets that the you can find in this game just out of necessity for time. That being said some of the armor types are brutally effective at not only protecting your player but also being incredibly intimidating.

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The writing and overall character design and voice acting is easily the best in the franchise (sorry Liam Neeson, you were pretty cool in Fallout 3 though). The witty reporter to the right, Piper, proved to be sarcastic and deadly with her words. Her trench coat attire and paperboy hat were just the final touches on a near perfect companion in a Fallout game. Back to the writing though, the Fallout games have never taken themselves this seriously. Topics ranging from if inhumane medical experiments are worth it for the greater good of the human race to are synthetic humanoids worthy of human rights are all tackled in this game. I attribute this more serious writing to the themes that are laid down in the beginning of the game. I am talking about the fact your husband or wife (depending on which gender you choose to play as) is killed in front of you and mysterious people take your son away from their dead body in the opening sequence of the game. This combined with the fact that your character actually lived in the world before the nuclear attacks, thanks to being cryogenically frozen in a vault right after the attacks. This gives the world a different perspective since you character constantly comments on how things were before the attacks and entertains or confuses other characters that never had the opportunity to live in a time before the bombs dropped. Ultimately the games main story begins as a journey to find the player’s son named Shaun. However, it soon becomes more complicated than that. For starters the player believes that their kid is only an infant when they finally wake up from their deep sleep. After which clues hint at your son being around 10 years old, which the player’s character accepts as the truth. Oh how gullible of the player’s personality to actually believe this.

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During this journey countless characters such as my favorite character above, the synthetic robot-hum detective, Nick Valentine, inform the player that a shadowy organization is up to no good. The organization, which calls itself the Institute is responsible for creating the synths, which are synthetic humanoid robots. These creations range from clearly being robots to resembling humans down to the exact detail. This is where the theme about are synthetic humanoids worthy of human rights,that I mentioned before comes into play. Nick, who is easily the most well written character in the game, is a proponent that synths are sentient and self aware, that they deserve to be treated as equals to humans. Other groups, such as the Brotherhood of Steel (you might recognize them from other games) believe that synths are a disgusting invention created by the Institute that are abominations to humanity. In addition to the creating the synths, the institute is fond to be responsible for taking your son. In fact your son’s DNA helped the institute create the synths since your son was a perfect specimen for a non-radiated human. This on top of the fact that the Institute is also harassing the “normal” humans from their subterranean base beneath CIT (once again a play on MIT) makes them at first appear to be the antagonists or at least the “bad guys.” However, after finally reaching the Institute the player realizes that the group isn’t exactly what you expected.

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For starters, it turn out that the leader of the Institute is actually your son Shaun. He reveals that it has actually been 60 years since he was taken away from your spouse while the three of you were frozen in Vault 111. This explains why he is so old and is dying of cancer (cough spoiler). Shaun reveals to the player that the Institute has actually been striving to attempt to reverse some of the effects of the nuclear attacks on the environment and is actually working to preserve the human race. They created the synths to act as pseudo slaves or as he phrases it “custodians.” Regardless, if you believe in sentient beings having absolutely no free will and being controlled by literal masters (symbolism much, slavery? Containment?) then you may side with the idea that the synths deserve this treatment. I personally found myself playing through the game three times at first to experience all three options when it comes to how you as the player believes they should be treated. My first instinct was that I should side with the Institute because honestly, putting the whole slavery of sentient creations aside, the Institute was actually completing essential scientific work for the betterment of the human race. The second time I sided with the Brotherhood of Steel and obliterated all synths and destroyed the last haven for any chance of a future for the human race (bleak right?). This option is arguably the worst of the three because all synths are exiled or hunted down like animals and humanity is doomed due to the destruction of the research the Institute has spent 150+ years working on. The last option has the player side with the Railroad (I am aware you can side with several more factions but they have little impact on the synth issue). This group of scientist and thieves is attempting to learn about and collect the Institutes research while at the same time freeing synths because they believe they are equal to humans. From my own personal moral perspective I felt that this was the best decision. Although the Institute is destroyed, along with the Brotherhood of Steel’s Commonwealth chapter, the Railroad secures the Institutes research and synths are freed of their bonds to their masters. Regardless of which decision you choose as the player, your son dies due to sickness either the villain (if you side with the Brotherhood of Steel or the Railroad) or as an ally (if you sided with the Institute). Also I forgot to mention if you do not side with the Institute you plant a fusion bomb on their nuclear reactor and nuke a good chunk of Boston.

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I know I glanced over a important part of the game, the perk system and VATS but honestly they are incredibly self-explanatory and are expected in an RPG. Not to mention the same exact system can be found in Fallout 3 and New Vegas. Overall I have enjoyed my time in Fallout 4, I know for a fact that I will spend plenty more time in the game. The game has its positive and negative factors such as how it looks and runs (the picture above isn’t from the game but actually a live action trailer). Nonetheless the game is a worthy addition to the franchise. Could it have been better? Absolutely, almost no games are perfect. If you have plenty of hours and the grades to spare some time in the Commonwealth, I highly recommend picking up Fallout 4.

Verdict: 9/10 on PC. 8.5/10 on Console.