Category Archives: Game Reviews

Madden NFL 20 Review – Some Stumbles, No Fumbles

Continuing the Madden franchise’s recent tradition of story modes, Madden NFL 20 introduces a new narrative campaign. This new mode generally falls flat, but the pro football sim stands out on the field, with new additions that faithfully capture the essence of the NFL experience while making it fun to play again and again.

The new story mode, QB1: Face of the Franchise, replaces the Longshot story mode that was featured in Madden 18 and 19. Unlike those campaigns, which featured a pre-set character, Madden 20’s QB1 mode lets you create an entirely unique football star and guide him through the final stages of his collegiate career with the hopes of making an NFL starting roster, and, on a longer timeline, complete a journey to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the Super Bowl.

QB1’s story picks up as you decide which college to attend and play for. However, the college football elements within Madden 20 are not anything significant. You select a school from 10 options, including heavyweights like Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, and Clemson. It’s a treat to see fully licensed college football teams, complete with true-to-life jerseys, logos, stadiums, and marching band songs, but the gameplay experience in reality is limited to two games in the College Football Playoffs–and you can’t play the college teams in quickplay later on.

After winning the National Championship against all odds, you’re off to the NFL Combine where your performance in front of scouts and GMs determines how high you go in the draft. There are some genuinely funny moments here with your aloof agent Les Moore, and interactions with him are some of the best character moments in the story mode. After making it to the NFL, the game then disappointingly becomes the standard Franchise mode, except your character has more backstory that acts as fuel to drive you to succeed on the field. That’s the idea, at least; in practice, it leaves much to be desired.

In part, that’s because QB1’s cinematic cutscenes and Telltale-style choices end once you get to the NFL. At that point, the narrative beats play out through text messages you receive from fans and other players from around the league. This delivery method makes conversations awkward and ultimately forgettable. There is one storyline in particular involving a sick child rooting for you that falls flat; it tries too hard to tug on your heartstrings, moody piano pieces and all, without earning any payoff. Without giving too much away, another major storyline in QB1 involves your college teammate and friend, and it ends abruptly, with the strong suggestion that the story will continue in Madden NFL 21. That’s too bad, because this character, in the limited screen time he gets, is far more interesting than the cookie-cutter, run-of-the-mill one you create.

In general, QB1 moves at such a fast pace that it doesn’t allow for thoughtful character development. Not only that, but the story that QB1 does tell is hokey and clumsily unraveled. The story overall feels barebones and incomplete, with the entirety of the QB1 mode feeling like a half-baked idea in the end.

No Caption Provided

Despite the lackluster story and the way it’s delivered, QB1 succeeds in connecting you to your on-field performance and inspiring you to improve or play differently each week once you’ve made it to the NFL. The text message system, while not the best avenue for full conversation, is better utilized in delivering week-to-week objectives and challenges. You can complete these to earn XP, which you can then invest into your character in an RPG-lite-like system where you choose which aspects of your game you want to develop.

As an example, I responded with some trash talk against one of the league’s best cornerbacks, Richard Sherman, and my Game Day Goal, as it’s called, was to achieve 400 yards or more of offense and a 60-yard pass–not an easy task with Sherman in the backfield. The system is dynamic and responsive to what happens on the field week-to-week, and this is a nice touch that provides a further level of connection to your character and their status in the league.

Madden 20’s standard Franchise mode, which is separate from the QB1 mode, gets a welcome update this year. Its implementation of the new Scenario Engine, which lets you interact with players and coaches through the aforementioned text-message system, is the best new feature for Franchise. Like with QB1, having weekly objectives that you decide on is a compelling way to keep you interested and engaged in a 16+ week season that can otherwise get monotonous and repetitive. However, Franchise mode overall doesn’t get any other significant or meaningful updates this year, which might be a bummer for seasoned players wanting more.

No Caption Provided

Perhaps the biggest and most exciting change for Madden 20 are the new X-Factor and Superstar abilities. 50 of the league’s best players have been given these super abilities, and they revamp the fundamentals of Madden playmaking. X-Factor abilities are unlocked when you meet the qualifications to get “in the zone”–for some QBs, it’s throwing for 5 or more yards in the air multiple times without making a mistake–while Superstar abilities are passive traits tied to your player that are always active.

The new X-Factor abilities are truly game-changers, and they further emphasize the distinction between the average NFL player and elite athletes. For example, the Gambler X-Factor ability–which only Aaron Rodgers has–makes it impossible for AI defenders to intercept his passes. Similarly powerful X-Factor abilities are available for defenders as well, and that helps balance things out. Not only that, but X-Factor abilities can be lost quickly; a QB who takes a sack is immediately out of the zone, while dropped passes and fumbles also cancel out these abilities.

These abilities, when combined with an elite player like Madden 20 cover star Patrick Mahomes (who has incredible baseline stats to begin with), become overly powerful in some instances. Mahomes’ unique passive Superstar abilities give him immense speed and dexterity out of the pocket, on top of his already powerful and accurate arm. When teammate Travis Kelce unlocks his own X-Factor ability (which gives him a guaranteed aggressive catch on any single-man coverage), it becomes simply too easy to complete big plays down the field.

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Outside of that issue, the new X-Factor and Superstar abilities introduce a level of strategy that the Madden series has never seen. I found myself often weighing up whether I should pursue the X-Factor qualification conditions or choose lower-risk plays that are more likely to be successful. At pivotal stages, like in the fourth quarter or in a third-and-long situation, this level of risk/reward is heightened. Not only that, but with 50 X-Factor abilities spread across players on the 32 NFL teams, it encourages you to try new teams and strategies.

Importantly, X-Factor abilities do not feel gimmicky or too overpowerful for the most part as they’re difficult to unlock and have numerous counters. Stephon Gilmore of the New England Patriots, for example, has an X-Factor ability called Acrobat that allows him to perform a diving move where he makes an incredible pass breakup. Some pass-rushers, too, including Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams, can shred the defense and break the O-Line easily to sack the quarterback for a big loss. The saying “any given Sunday” is truer than ever in Madden 20 thanks to the X-Factor abilities.

Overall, the on-field action in Madden this year is better than ever. The game provides more on-screen info than last year’s iteration, making it easier to see things like decision-making specifics (such as average yards-per-play or yards given up) and which elite offensive and defensive players have X-Factor and Superstar abilities. This makes for an easy way to help you see the odds of having success with a play before the snap. The playbook menus (and menus overall, for that matter) are cleaned up and brighter, which helps you see important information at a glance.

Also new this year are Run-Pass Options added to playbooks. These hybrid plays provide yet another way for play-callers to mix things up and keep defenders guessing. There are also numerous player-specific animations, including Aaron Rodgers’ signature quick release and Patrick Mahomes’ sidearm throw. This all works together to make Madden 20 closer than ever to replicating the look and feel of actual pro football. Nothing in the updated gameplay mechanics for Madden 20 is as substantial as the introduction of Real Player Motion from last year, but the controls in Madden are as good as they’ve ever been thanks to further refinement on last year’s improvements and the introduction of some welcome tweaks and small changes. A subtle gameplay change for 2019 is that you can double press the receiver icon to pump fake; this small change makes it easier than ever to trick a defender into biting on a pass route, providing yet another level of depth and control.

The core fundamentals that underpin Madden 20’s gameplay feel more solid and dependable than ever. Mistakes like poor passes, missed tackles, and bad decision-making are yours and yours alone to own because the controls rarely, if ever, let you down.

Also notable for Madden 20 is what’s (generally) not there: bugs. After many hours with the game, I only experienced a handful of minor glitches, though your mileage may vary, and it’s worth noting that you can continue to expect other oddities like out-of-place commentary and some sideline players executing the same animations all the time. I also experienced what felt like an unusually high number of facemask calls and injuries.

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Now in its third year using EA’s Frostbite engine, Madden 20 also looks very good with its better-looking player models that have richer detail and more realistic flourishes (except for Greg Olsen; what happened there?). The Madden 20 game engine also provides gorgeous environmental effects like glistening sun rays peeking through the clouds and casting shadows on the field and snow effects that limit your vision and force you to suggest playing more conservatively to accommodate for the wintry conditions.

The commentary team composed of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis also return in Madden 20, and they are consistently a treat to listen to. Despite some lines being repeated from time to time (how many times do we have to hear that Julian Edelman was a quarterback in college or that Tom Brady was initially drafted to play baseball?), the pair deliver the right mixture of lines that keep you informed and engaged in equal measure. Madden 20’s overall broadcast, presentation, and gameplay packages aim to replicate the real-life NFL experience, but it continues to be a shame that the voicelines–at least all the ones I heard in over 20 hours with Madden 20–do not comment on real-world NFL issues. As with previous years, the commentary will be updated regularly throughout the season.

Among Madden 20’s other modes is the fantasy team-building card-based Ultimate Team, and this continues to be the game’s richest when it comes to the sheer multitude of challenges to complete. It remains a thrill to build a fantasy team and compete either against other fantasy AI teams or the world at large through online play.

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A subtle yet enjoyable change for MUT this year is how you can move from one challenge to the next without returning to the menu screen, which is great considering how many there are to complete. There is also a new “Mission” system that helps you select the right challenges to complete in order to acquire items for your deck. In years past, MUT could feel like a hard-to-parse system that you slogged through waywardly, but the new system gives you more direction, and as such it is more respectful of your time.

Ultimate Team does have issues with microtransactions, however. At the very start, the tutorial instructs you to visit the store where you can make real-money purchases, which feels like an unnecessary nudge toward spending extra. As with past iterations of MUT, it can feel like a grind to get the cards you want, which in turn encourages you to consider spending money on microtransactions when you otherwise might not. That rubbed me the wrong way, but MUT overall is still an enjoyable and engaging mode that I expect to return to again and again.

Madden NFL 20 is an improved version of the annualized professional football series that excels in some areas and leaves something to be desired in others. The new QB1 career mode–which includes a barebones NCAA football experience–overall feels like a half-baked idea that doesn’t deliver anything meaningful or interesting. When it comes to the on-the-field action, however, the new X-Factor and Superstar abilities shake up the familiar gameplay formula to give seasoned players and newcomers alike a fresh way to scheme plays and orchestrate strategy on both sides of the ball.

Source: GameSpot.com

Madden NFL 20 Review – Big Play

Continuing the Madden franchise’s recent tradition of story modes, Madden NFL 20 introduces a new narrative campaign. This new mode generally falls flat, but the pro football sim stands out on the field, with new additions that faithfully capture the essence of the NFL experience while making it fun to play again and again.

The new story mode, QB1: Face of the Franchise, replaces the Longshot story mode that was featured in Madden 18 and 19. Unlike those campaigns, which featured a pre-set character, Madden 20’s QB1 mode lets you create an entirely unique football star and guide him through the final stages of his collegiate career with the hopes of making an NFL starting roster, and, on a longer timeline, complete a journey to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the Super Bowl.

QB1’s story picks up as you decide which college to attend and play for. However, the college football elements within Madden 20 are not anything significant. You select a school from 10 options, including heavyweights like Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, and Clemson. It’s a treat to see fully licensed college football teams, complete with true-to-life jerseys, logos, stadiums, and marching band songs, but the gameplay experience in reality is limited to two games in the College Football Playoffs–and you can’t play the college teams in quickplay later on.

After winning the National Championship against all odds, you’re off to the NFL Combine where your performance in front of scouts and GMs determines how high you go in the draft. There are some genuinely funny moments here with your aloof agent Les Moore, and interactions with him are some of the best character moments in the story mode. After making it to the NFL, the game then disappointingly becomes the standard Franchise mode, except your character has more backstory that acts as fuel to drive you to succeed on the field. That’s the idea, at least; in practice, it leaves much to be desired.

In part, that’s because QB1’s cinematic cutscenes and Telltale-style choices end once you get to the NFL. At that point, the narrative beats play out through text messages you receive from fans and other players from around the league. This delivery method makes conversations awkward and ultimately forgettable. There is one storyline in particular involving a sick child rooting for you that falls flat; it tries too hard to tug on your heartstrings, moody piano pieces and all, without earning any payoff. Without giving too much away, another major storyline in QB1 involves your college teammate and friend, and it ends abruptly, with the strong suggestion that the story will continue in Madden NFL 21. That’s too bad, because this character, in the limited screen time he gets, is far more interesting than the cookie-cutter, run-of-the-mill one you create.

In general, QB1 moves at such a fast pace that it doesn’t allow for thoughtful character development. Not only that, but the story that QB1 does tell is hokey and clumsily unraveled. The story overall feels barebones and incomplete, with the entirety of the QB1 mode feeling like a half-baked idea in the end.

No Caption Provided

Despite the lackluster story and the way it’s delivered, QB1 succeeds in connecting you to your on-field performance and inspiring you to improve or play differently each week once you’ve made it to the NFL. The text message system, while not the best avenue for full conversation, is better utilized in delivering week-to-week objectives and challenges. You can complete these to earn XP, which you can then invest into your character in an RPG-lite-like system where you choose which aspects of your game you want to develop.

As an example, I responded with some trash talk against one of the league’s best cornerbacks, Richard Sherman, and my Game Day Goal, as it’s called, was to achieve 400 yards or more of offense and a 60-yard pass–not an easy task with Sherman in the backfield. The system is dynamic and responsive to what happens on the field week-to-week, and this is a nice touch that provides a further level of connection to your character and their status in the league.

Madden 20’s standard Franchise mode, which is separate from the QB1 mode, gets a welcome update this year. Its implementation of the new Scenario Engine, which lets you interact with players and coaches through the aforementioned text-message system, is the best new feature for Franchise. Like with QB1, having weekly objectives that you decide on is a compelling way to keep you interested and engaged in a 16+ week season that can otherwise get monotonous and repetitive. However, Franchise mode overall doesn’t get any other significant or meaningful updates this year, which might be a bummer for seasoned players wanting more.

No Caption Provided

Perhaps the biggest and most exciting change for Madden 20 are the new X-Factor and Superstar abilities. 50 of the league’s best players have been given these super abilities, and they revamp the fundamentals of Madden playmaking. X-Factor abilities are unlocked when you meet the qualifications to get “in the zone”–for some QBs, it’s throwing for 5 or more yards in the air multiple times without making a mistake–while Superstar abilities are passive traits tied to your player that are always active.

The new X-Factor abilities are truly game-changers, and they further emphasize the distinction between the average NFL player and elite athletes. For example, the Gambler X-Factor ability–which only Aaron Rodgers has–makes it impossible for AI defenders to intercept his passes. Similarly powerful X-Factor abilities are available for defenders as well, and that helps balance things out. Not only that, but X-Factor abilities can be lost quickly; a QB who takes a sack is immediately out of the zone, while dropped passes and fumbles also cancel out these abilities.

These abilities, when combined with an elite player like Madden 20 cover star Patrick Mahomes (who has incredible baseline stats to begin with), become overly powerful in some instances. Mahomes’ unique passive Superstar abilities give him immense speed and dexterity out of the pocket, on top of his already powerful and accurate arm. When teammate Travis Kelce unlocks his own X-Factor ability (which gives him a guaranteed aggressive catch on any single-man coverage), it becomes simply too easy to complete big plays down the field.

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Outside of that issue, the new X-Factor and Superstar abilities introduce a level of strategy that the Madden series has never seen. I found myself often weighing up whether I should pursue the X-Factor qualification conditions or choose lower-risk plays that are more likely to be successful. At pivotal stages, like in the fourth quarter or in a third-and-long situation, this level of risk/reward is heightened. Not only that, but with 50 X-Factor abilities spread across players on the 32 NFL teams, it encourages you to try new teams and strategies.

Importantly, X-Factor abilities do not feel gimmicky or too overpowerful for the most part as they’re difficult to unlock and have numerous counters. Stephon Gilmore of the New England Patriots, for example, has an X-Factor ability called Acrobat that allows him to perform a diving move where he makes an incredible pass breakup. Some pass-rushers, too, including Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams, can shred the defense and break the O-Line easily to sack the quarterback for a big loss. The saying “any given Sunday” is truer than ever in Madden 20 thanks to the X-Factor abilities.

Overall, the on-field action in Madden this year is better than ever. The game provides more on-screen info than last year’s iteration, making it easier to see things like decision-making specifics (such as average yards-per-play or yards given up) and which elite offensive and defensive players have X-Factor and Superstar abilities. This makes for an easy way to help you see the odds of having success with a play before the snap. The playbook menus (and menus overall, for that matter) are cleaned up and brighter, which helps you see important information at a glance.

Also new this year are Run-Pass Options added to playbooks. These hybrid plays provide yet another way for play-callers to mix things up and keep defenders guessing. There are also numerous player-specific animations, including Aaron Rodgers’ signature quick release and Patrick Mahomes’ sidearm throw. This all works together to make Madden 20 closer than ever to replicating the look and feel of actual pro football. Nothing in the updated gameplay mechanics for Madden 20 is as substantial as the introduction of Real Player Motion from last year, but the controls in Madden are as good as they’ve ever been thanks to further refinement on last year’s improvements and the introduction of some welcome tweaks and small changes. A subtle gameplay change for 2019 is that you can double press the receiver icon to pump fake; this small change makes it easier than ever to trick a defender into biting on a pass route, providing yet another level of depth and control.

The core fundamentals that underpin Madden 20’s gameplay feel more solid and dependable than ever. Mistakes like poor passes, missed tackles, and bad decision-making are yours and yours alone to own because the controls rarely, if ever, let you down.

Also notable for Madden 20 is what’s (generally) not there: bugs. After many hours with the game, I only experienced a handful of minor glitches, though your mileage may vary, and it’s worth noting that you can continue to expect other oddities like out-of-place commentary and some sideline players executing the same animations all the time. I also experienced what felt like an unusually high number of facemask calls and injuries.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided

Now in its third year using EA’s Frostbite engine, Madden 20 also looks very good with its better-looking player models that have richer detail and more realistic flourishes (except for Greg Olsen; what happened there?). The Madden 20 game engine also provides gorgeous environmental effects like glistening sun rays peeking through the clouds and casting shadows on the field and snow effects that limit your vision and force you to suggest playing more conservatively to accommodate for the wintry conditions.

The commentary team composed of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis also return in Madden 20, and they are consistently a treat to listen to. Despite some lines being repeated from time to time (how many times do we have to hear that Julian Edelman was a quarterback in college or that Tom Brady was initially drafted to play baseball?), the pair deliver the right mixture of lines that keep you informed and engaged in equal measure. Madden 20’s overall broadcast, presentation, and gameplay packages aim to replicate the real-life NFL experience, but it continues to be a shame that the voicelines–at least all the ones I heard in over 20 hours with Madden 20–do not comment on real-world NFL issues. As with previous years, the commentary will be updated regularly throughout the season.

Among Madden 20’s other modes is the fantasy team-building card-based Ultimate Team, and this continues to be the game’s richest when it comes to the sheer multitude of challenges to complete. It remains a thrill to build a fantasy team and compete either against other fantasy AI teams or the world at large through online play.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided

A subtle yet enjoyable change for MUT this year is how you can move from one challenge to the next without returning to the menu screen, which is great considering how many there are to complete. There is also a new “Mission” system that helps you select the right challenges to complete in order to acquire items for your deck. In years past, MUT could feel like a hard-to-parse system that you slogged through waywardly, but the new system gives you more direction, and as such it is more respectful of your time.

Ultimate Team does have issues with microtransactions, however. At the very start, the tutorial instructs you to visit the store where you can make real-money purchases, which feels like an unnecessary nudge toward spending extra. As with past iterations of MUT, it can feel like a grind to get the cards you want, which in turn encourages you to consider spending money on microtransactions when you otherwise might not. That rubbed me the wrong way, but MUT overall is still an enjoyable and engaging mode that I expect to return to again and again.

Madden NFL 20 is an improved version of the annualized professional football series that excels in some areas and leaves something to be desired in others. The new QB1 career mode–which includes a barebones NCAA football experience–overall feels like a half-baked idea that doesn’t deliver anything meaningful or interesting. When it comes to the on-the-field action, however, the new X-Factor and Superstar abilities shake up the familiar gameplay formula to give seasoned players and newcomers alike a fresh way to scheme plays and orchestrate strategy on both sides of the ball.

Source: GameSpot.com

Sky: Children Of The Light Review – Flying Free

When you start up Sky: Children of the Light, numerous messages shoot across the screen as it loads. Messages informing you of server connections, the reception of in-game currencies, and the like are commonplace for games with an online focus, but there’s one short message that feels uniquely descriptive to thatgamecompany’s fourth title: “Finding new friends.” It’s just a simple notification that you’re being connected to other players in this intimately connected universe, but it’s also a strong message of what Sky is really about. Although it mimics many gameplay elements from Journey, it’s Sky’s evolution of those ideas that makes it a fascinating multiplayer experiment with deeply meditative qualities.

Playing Sky is incredibly similar to Journey. You control a robed figure, recognizable as a small child, and navigate a series of small environments connected only by the constellations in the stars they share above. Sky keeps things simple by tasking you with navigating its environments and holding down a single button to soar into the air and take flight. Flight is central to Sky’s otherwise simple mechanics, letting you execute gorgeous maneuvers through the clouds or delicately glide between the remains of mysterious ruins. Expressive yet subtle animations make each movement in the air feel delightful, even though you’re doing little more than controlling your direction. Swooping down into the clouds only to tilt upwards at the last minute is rewarded with a cute pirouette, for example, letting the wind engulf your robe and accurately shape it in the wind.

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Flight isn’t free in Sky. Flying draws light from your robe, which limits how much aerial freedom you have. Light is collected from any light source you come across, and it’s your job to spread it around in turn. You ferry around light with candles, using them to spread fire to unlit lanterns and shrines. You can also use light to burn away corrupted vegetation or scare dangerous wildlife that will attack you in the dark. Glowing, faceless children are scattered around each new area you explore, bestowing you with wings that help you upgrade the amount of light you can store at a time, in turn letting you fly longer. You can lose wings when you’re carrying no light and take damage from enemies or environmental hazards, though you can easily pick them up again. Sky doesn’t feel punishing at any point, but it does use these gentle nudges to remind you of how great it feels to have a bounty of flight at your fingertips and what it might feel like to lose it again.

Collecting light is beneficial to getting around, which in turn lets you discover lost spirits that govern the central progression in Sky. Each area has a star constellation that you slowly complete by saving lost spirits and returning them to the skies above. Most of these are simple exploration puzzles. By diligently poking around, you find blue outlines of long-forgotten beings, each creating a breadcrumb trail to follow that tells a short story of the spirit it’s leading to. These are moments frozen in time, telling vague stories that can come across as anything from humorous to tragic. It’s cheerful to see a skit of two clumsy beings attempting to move objects far bigger than them from one room to another, and equally sober to witness another in anguish, mourning a painful loss. Sky’s story is intentionally vague so that you fill in the blanks, interpreting what purpose light serves in its world and why its sacrifice is meaningful.

Sky is entirely playable alone, and you’re not required to find any fixed number of its spirits to finish it. But it’s also a game with a big emphasis on sharing your experience with strangers. You aren’t a unique figure in its world, and certainly not the only one carrying light to its eventual end. Instead, your journey is consistently filled with other players, each on their own adventure that you can choose to partake in for just a moment or two. You can contribute in small ways. A passing player might hold out their candle for you to light, letting you replenish their light in turn if you choose to. To befriend another player, you need to share a candle with them, permanently linking you two and adding them to your friends list (which is suitably represented by a growing constellation). You never see these players’ names; instead, you name them based on your interactions with them. It feels like meeting someone new for the first time, but not immediately being able to speak to them. You can use taps to let out audio pings that help gather other players around you, but you’re also able to take a seat on a bench, wait for another player to sit next to you, and engage in a more direct, text-based conversation if you choose.

The most interesting way to interact with other players is with emotes, which are unlocked with each new spirit that you free. You can use these emotes to express yourself to other players, with anything from a simple wave or a point in a direction to more intimate displays of friendly affection, like hugs. There are also separate emotes and actions you can unlock by increasing your friendship with other players. By rewarding each other with consumable candles, you’ll unlock unique abilities (which can also only be used between you two) that can change the way you navigate through each area. My personal favorite was the ability to form long chains of players by holding hands, with one player guiding the group to new places while using everyone’s collective light to fuel the flight. This also helps new players see areas they might not yet possess the ability to reach, granting Sky a cooperative nature that’s remarkably easy to engage with.

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This simplicity helps some of Sky’s more demanding puzzles, where cooperation between multiple players–anything between a single pair to a full group of eight–is required. Some doors, for example, require two players to light urns at the same time to open. Other more demanding challenges task up to eight players to gather around an octagon and light old runes in a specific order. Although these challenges are rarely hard to decipher, and finding enough players to participate with was never an issue in my time with the game, simply trying to get everyone to alight in more group-focused tasks was slightly frustrating. Since none of these puzzles are required to continue through Sky, they’re easy to overlook.

Sky weaves its focus on forming friendships into its microtransaction model, too, which changes the rules of what you’ve come to expect from these systems in a big way. Hearts are used to purchase cosmetic items, but you can’t buy them outright. Instead, you can purchase candles (which you can also get in-game) which can then be packaged and sent to a friend as a heart. This is the only way to earn hearts, meaning you’ll need to depend on the gracious gifts of friends you’ve made in Sky to kit yourself out in some fancy new clothing. There are also options to purchase seasonal passes that unlock more straightforward daily quests and a few pieces of exclusive clothing, but for the most part you’ll be focused on forming new bonds with strangers and exchanging gifts with them frequently if you’re invested in standing out from everyone else visually.

Your first flights through a temple in the sky or the hurried dash you need to make between awnings of large mushrooms in a rain-soaked forest are delightful.

This means that you’ll likely be playing Sky well after the credits have rolled on your initial playthrough, which can take anywhere between four to six hours. You can collect any outstanding spirits you likely missed, especially since some aren’t even accessible without having played later areas in the game. You also need to reacquire your wings for flight again, due to story reasons you learn about during the finale. All of this means that you’ll be revisiting many areas you’ve already soared through at least once before, which can remove some of the splendor you experienced the first time around. This is especially true when you’re breaking from their intended flow to poke around the environment in search of small crevices you missed the first time. This feels like it goes against the natural harmony of Sky’s intended path, signposted with simple nudges that point you in the right direction. When you’re solely focusing on completion, Sky just isn’t as compelling.

Yet, there’s a meditative quality to return visits when you’re simply looking for a brief escape. Your first flights through a temple in the sky or the hurried dash you need to make between awnings of large mushrooms in a rain-soaked forest are delightful the first time around. Their mixtures of stunningly detailed environments and suitable stirring music are impactful, and less so when you’re running around in circles trying to see if there was a small crevice you forgot to explore.

Sky is both different to everything thatgamecompany has made before but also a smart evolution of what makes its games special. It’s simple to play while feeling incredible at the same time, making the act of flight exciting every time your feet leave the ground. It also features a fascinating spin on in-game purchases, locking its most alluring rewards behind the action of making friends and making a positive enough impression on them. That means you have to play a lot of Sky to eventually work towards what you want, which saps some life out of the gorgeous vignettes you’re free to explore. But it’s no less memorable for the ideas it presents or calming in the way it gives you the freedom to pursue them, making it another journey worth seeing through.

Source: GameSpot.com

Wolfenstein: Youngblood Nintendo Switch Review

From front to back, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is very much the same game on the Nintendo Switch as it is on other consoles and PC. You’ll get the bombastic combat scenarios where you’ll tear through Nazi trash as the charismatic, dynamic duo of Jess and Soph Blazkowicz, twin daughters of series hero BJ Blazkowicz. And you have the opportunity to play it all alongside a friend. The portable nature of the Nintendo Switch makes this an even more enticing prospect, but the platform’s limited hardware hurts the game’s best parts; low frame rates and muddy visuals make the action harder to enjoy. While these issues are not prohibitive, they do make the Switch version the weakest of the bunch.

Youngblood is a bite-sized spin-off that jumps ahead in Wolfenstein’s timeline by taking you to the 1980s, almost 20 years after the events of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. You see an older Anya and BJ teaching their twin daughters Jess and Soph the means of survival, just before BJ goes missing. With the help of Abby, daughter of Grace Walker from The New Colossus, you’re able to track him down in Nazi-occupied France, particularly Neu-Paris.

Not long after the introductory mission do you see how Youngblood breaks off from the traditional Wolfenstein structure; Neu-Paris acts as a group of separate hub areas where most of the action takes place. Many of the side quests and random events in these areas feel more like filler and will eventually have you running through familiar areas frequently. If anything, it’s at least a means of familiarizing yourself with the intricacies of the Dishonored-influenced districts. Main missions branch off from the hub areas, and in these missions are where you’ll find the relentless, challenging firefights that keep up a satisfying momentum. This is where Youngblood truly shines on the PC version, however, due to the Switch’s technical limitations, it doesn’t quite hit the same highs. [Read our PC review for our full thoughts.]

Overall, technical performance hampers some of the great FPS action as it makes aiming, movement, and reacting a bit more difficult.

Light RPG elements are new to the Wolfenstein franchise, and they don’t shake up the formula too much, but make for some enjoyable twists. You’ll earn XP and level up to drop points into a skill tree that grants new abilities or buffs to make you more effective in combat. You can upgrade weapons to fire with even more impact or change the way they function altogether. There’s also an armor-type element to strong enemies that’ll have you juggling between certain weapons to lay down the most damage. All these small changes serve to bring a slightly more dynamic edge to a solid FPS foundation.

Youngblood is wrapped in the idea of cooperative play, which is a blast. Friends (or randoms) can jump into your session easily and the game-state will remain untouched–the AI simply gets taken over by the player, and vice-versa when they leave. Pep signals are core to the co-op experience; these are cooldowns that grant useful buffs or clutch armor/health recharges. The revive system is another key to teamwork that sort of comes in place of traditional checkpoints. Outside of pep signals though, there feels like a lack of synergetic co-op gameplay features, like tag-team attacks or teamwork-centric capabilities, and it feels like a missed opportunity. It’s worth noting that you will need to have a Nintendo Switch Online account to do any sort of co-op play, however.

When it comes to the Switch version specifically, the question on many minds is: how well does it run? To that, I would say: not great. The frame rate is the most noticeable shortcoming as the game generally runs at sub-30 FPS and chugs when the action gets intense in both docked and undocked modes. There’s also heavy use of motion blur to help smooth over the low frame rate. Overall, technical performance hampers some of the great FPS action as it makes aiming, movement, and reacting a bit more difficult.

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While not as important, the downgrade in visual quality is readily apparent. The game runs at 540p handheld and 720p docked, but uses some sort of dynamic resolution for assets and character models to help keep the frame rate in check. This turns things into blocky messes in certain combat scenarios that take place in large environments. And the low resolution and a gray foggy haze slightly obscures objects and enemies in the distance, making them difficult to identify.

Youngblood suffers as a result of the Switch’s relatively underpowered hardware, but for all its technical shortcomings, the game still delivers intense, momentous, and challenging combat. Everything features-wise remains intact, and you’ll get to enjoy taking a shotgun (or fully charged laser beam) to the heads of Nazi scum. The Blazkowicz sisters, Jess and Soph, bring their own unique swagger to the Wolfenstein franchise, too. So if the Switch version is your only way of playing Youngblood, you can be confident it’s still one hell of a ride.

Source: GameSpot.com

Kill La Kill The Game: IF Review In Progress – Partial Life Fiber Synchronize

Aside from a manga adaptation, Kill la Kill The Game: IF is the first expansion to the story of 2013’s Kill la Kill, the hit anime series that put Studio Trigger on the map. Kill la Kill IF captures the unique fighting styles of the main cast of characters from the anime in arena battles, while also delivering some enjoyable missions to tackle in the single-player campaign. It doesn’t manage to deliver a balanced competitive landscape, but there is a delightful collection of rewards to work towards in Kill la Kill IF–supplying a satisfying incentive for replaying the single-player content.

Kill la Kill follows Ryuko Matoi, who transfers to Japan’s prestigious Honnouji Academy in hopes of finding answers to her father’s murder. Her only clue is half of the giant scissor used to kill him. Honnouji Academy is run by fascist student council president Satsuki Kiryuin and her closest allies: the Elite Four. Students at the school wear Goku Uniforms, each providing enhanced strength and superhuman abilities. Realizing Satsuki recognizes the scissor blade she carries, Ryuko attacks and demands answers, only to be ultimately trounced by the president’s underlings. After escaping, Ryuko stumbles upon a sentient sailor uniform who gifts her with god-like magical girl powers when it feeds on her blood. Now much more powerful, Ryuko swears to defeat the entire student body of Honnouji Academy and gain the answers she seeks.

Kill la Kill IF is a “what if” scenario, asking, “What if Satsuki was the protagonist of Kill la Kill?” The hypothetical is explored in the game’s campaign extraordinarily well, putting forth the theory that Satsuki may have been the brilliant mastermind behind the anime’s entire narrative from the very beginning, tragically refusing the spotlight she wants because she believes her plans for a better world will work out for the better if Ryuko is the main hero. It’s a fascinating addition to Kill la Kill’s lore, and it provides plenty of incentive to see the game’s two-part campaign all the way through.

Combat in Kill la Kill IF is pretty easy to pick up, with your staple combination of close-range, long-range, aerial, guard-break, and special attacks. There’s also a rock-paper-scissors-style clash system that allows you to buff yourself if you’re lucky enough to win. Though every character controls the same, each has a completely different specialty and unique playstyle. Masochistic Ira Gamagoori becomes more powerful by whipping and damaging himself, for instance, while petite Nonon Jakuzure excels at shooting her opponent from a distance and manipulative Nui Harime relies on decoys to overwhelm her opponents from multiple angles. Though the roster does offer a diversity of playstyles, there are only eight options to choose from at launch. That’s a pretty small pool for a fighting game–disappointing given how massive Kill la Kill’s cast is. This is slightly offset by the alternate costumes that change how certain characters attack, but the adjustments aren’t enough to make the variants feel like brand-new fighters.

Exciting though the colorful combat may be, it also feels lopsided with no reliable means of defending yourself. Every fighter can block and dodge, but both moves are pretty slow so it’s fairly easy to just overwhelm opponents with aggressive close-range characters. Once caught in a combo, there’s only one way to recover, and that’s using a counter burst–a move that uses up half of your special attack meter. You have to deal out or endure quite a few hits to fill up the meter, so you can’t regularly rely on having a counter burst at the ready. And if you are caught in a combo and you don’t have that 50% of meter to burn, you just have to wait until your opponent stops attacking you. As a result, juggling can be a pretty big issue against difficult AI opponents or advanced players that know how to pull off the game’s longer, more devastating combos–which can lead to unfair and unfun matches.

Despite the issues with combat, battles in the game are wholeheartedly Kill la Kill, and they’re typically glorious fun as a result. Characters yell out the name of their special attacks–some with barely contained rage and others with malicious glee–in epic battle cries, each one animated in a cel-shaded rendition of Kill la Kill’s over-the-top style. The most powerful blows land with an impact, slowing down the action just long enough for you to understand the recipient is about to be very hurt. The addition of the luck-based clash system feels right at home too, giving you a last-ditch effort to maybe make a comeback–randomly screaming during a battle and luckily finding a deeper well of strength is extremely Kill la Kill. Sure, the lack of a reliable counter system means winning in these battles is less about skill and more about who can press the attack buttons more quickly, but that doesn’t change that most matches are still explosively epic, full of silly puns, and just enjoyable to play. This is especially true for most of the battles in Kill la Kill IF’s campaign.

There are a variety of obstacles to overcome in the campaign as the game offers more than what’s usually expected from arena fighters. Though there are still traditional one-on-one fights, Kill la Kill IF’s story mode is a mixture of various mission types. The most interesting ones take advantage of the constantly shifting alliances in the narrative. One battle has Satsuki, Ryuko, and Nui all fight in a three-way free-for-all, for instance, and another sees Satsuki go up against the brain-washed Elite Four in a one-on-four fight. Wave-based battles against a horde of enemies are thrown into the mix, too. The variety keeps the campaign from getting stale.

Though these types of missions offer a welcome change of pace for an arena fighter, they’re also held back by Kill la Kill IF’s traditional mechanics and features. Most arena fighters don’t need a mechanic to specifically focus on one combatant or a feature to alert you when an off-screen target is about to attack, as fights are pretty much exclusively one-on-one. In Kill la Kill IF’s campaign, where you occasionally fight multiple enemies at once and the only way to remain focused on a character is to stay near them, the absence of any such mechanic or feature is far more noticeable. It’s tricky to stay focused on the fighter you want when you and your opponents are being smacked around the arena, and it’s frustrating when you’re in the midst of a combo and you don’t know whether you need to suddenly dodge or block because you’re about to be attacked from outside your field of view.

Outside the campaign, Kill la Kill IF offers Practice and Versus modes, as well as a horde challenge and figure posing gallery. Given the risque nature of Kill la Kill, it’s a nice surprise that the figures’ available poses aren’t all that leery, though the offering of shots you can produce is a little sparse. The gallery feels tacked on as a poor replacement for a photo mode, which is a shame given how gorgeous many of the characters look while in motion. Offline Versus works without issue; however, as this review in progress is going live the day of Kill la Kill IF’s official international release, we haven’t had adequate time to put the online version through its paces. We’ll update this review once we do.

Both the Japanese and English dub anime voice actors reprise their roles in Kill la Kill IF, so you can enjoy whichever cast you prefer (it’s something a lot more anime games should do, frankly). Unfortunately, the English dub doesn’t perfectly match up in certain animations, so there are quite a few moments where characters are technically done speaking but their mouths keep moving. It’s no deal-breaker, as both sets of voice actors do a great job once again bringing their respective characters to life. The voices aren’t the only sound from the anime to make it into the game either. Songs from Kill la Kill are regularly intermixed into the originally composed soundtrack, including fan-favorites “Before My Body Is Dry” and “Sirius,” augmenting every battle and emotional moment with the same epic sensations as the anime.

The voice actors and soundtrack provide the biggest motivation to keep playing Kill la Kill IF. As you complete the story and win matches, you’ll unlock in-game currency that you can use to buy songs and special recorded messages. The messages that seem to be from the characters’ perspectives are an absolute delight, like Satsuki providing words of encouragement to those living in “this cruel world,” but most are from the voice actors themselves–Todd Haberkorn (Shirou Iori) teasingly relaying congratulations for beating the game, for instance, or Carrie Keranen (Satsuki Kiryuin) revealing just how much it meant to get a chance to do voice work for Kill la Kill again after nearly five years. It’s all phenomenal content–ranging from hilarious to heartfelt–which provides plenty of incentive to keep playing and earn more in-game currency.

Kill la Kill IF is clearly designed for fans of Kill la Kill who are looking for more ways to enjoy the characters, music, and battles of the anime series. Each fighter behaves as they do in the anime, and the excellent voice actor rewards provide a nice incentive to keep playing even after you’ve mastered every character. However, as a fighting game, Kill la Kill IF doesn’t deliver the expected harmony of offense and defense. And though campaign battles that are beyond the one-on-one formula are an awesome addition, the traditional arena fighting game mechanics aren’t designed to adequately handle multiple opponents. The campaign’s startling revelation is a fascinating turn of events for Kill la Kill’s story, though, creating a new and intriguing interpretation of one of 2013’s best anime series.

Source: GameSpot.com

Kill La Kill The Game: IF Review – Don’t Lose Your Way

Aside from a manga adaptation, Kill la Kill The Game: IF is the first expansion to the story of 2013’s Kill la Kill, the hit anime series that put Studio Trigger on the map. Kill la Kill IF captures the unique fighting styles of the main cast of characters from the anime in arena battles, while also delivering some enjoyable missions to tackle in the single-player campaign. It doesn’t manage to deliver a balanced competitive landscape, but there is a delightful collection of rewards to work towards in Kill la Kill IF–supplying a satisfying incentive for replaying the single-player content.

Kill la Kill follows Ryuko Matoi, who transfers to Japan’s prestigious Honnouji Academy in hopes of finding answers to her father’s murder. Her only clue is half of the giant scissor used to kill him. Honnouji Academy is run by fascist student council president Satsuki Kiryuin and her closest allies: the Elite Four. Students at the school wear Goku Uniforms, each providing enhanced strength and superhuman abilities. Realizing Satsuki recognizes the scissor blade she carries, Ryuko attacks and demands answers, only to be ultimately trounced by the president’s underlings. After escaping, Ryuko stumbles upon a sentient sailor uniform who gifts her with god-like magical girl powers when it feeds on her blood. Now much more powerful, Ryuko swears to defeat the entire student body of Honnouji Academy and gain the answers she seeks.

Kill la Kill IF is a “what if” scenario, asking, “What if Satsuki was the protagonist of Kill la Kill?” The hypothetical is explored in the game’s campaign extraordinarily well, putting forth the theory that Satsuki may have been the brilliant mastermind behind the anime’s entire narrative from the very beginning, tragically refusing the spotlight she wants because she believes her plans for a better world will work out for the better if Ryuko is the main hero. It’s a fascinating addition to Kill la Kill’s lore, and it provides plenty of incentive to see the game’s two-part campaign all the way through.

Combat in Kill la Kill IF is pretty easy to pick up, with your staple combination of close-range, long-range, aerial, guard-break, and special attacks. There’s also a rock-paper-scissors-style clash system that allows you to buff yourself if you’re lucky enough to win. Though every character controls the same, each has a completely different specialty and unique playstyle. Masochistic Ira Gamagoori becomes more powerful by whipping and damaging himself, for instance, while petite Nonon Jakuzure excels at shooting her opponent from a distance and manipulative Nui Harime relies on decoys to overwhelm her opponents from multiple angles. Though the roster does offer a diversity of playstyles, there are only eight options to choose from at launch. That’s a pretty small pool for a fighting game–disappointing given how massive Kill la Kill’s cast is. This is slightly offset by the alternate costumes that change how certain characters attack, but the adjustments aren’t enough to make the variants feel like brand-new fighters.

Exciting though the colorful combat may be, it also feels lopsided with no reliable means of defending yourself. Every fighter can block and dodge, but both moves are pretty slow so it’s fairly easy to just overwhelm opponents with aggressive close-range characters. Once caught in a combo, there’s only one way to recover, and that’s using a counter burst–a move that uses up half of your special attack meter. You have to deal out or endure quite a few hits to fill up the meter, so you can’t regularly rely on having a counter burst at the ready. And if you are caught in a combo and you don’t have that 50% of meter to burn, you just have to wait until your opponent stops attacking you. As a result, juggling can be a pretty big issue against difficult AI opponents or advanced players that know how to pull off the game’s longer, more devastating combos–which can lead to unfair and unfun matches.

Despite the issues with combat, battles in the game are wholeheartedly Kill la Kill, and they’re typically glorious fun as a result. Characters yell out the name of their special attacks–some with barely contained rage and others with malicious glee–in epic battle cries, each one animated in a cel-shaded rendition of Kill la Kill’s over-the-top style. The most powerful blows land with an impact, slowing down the action just long enough for you to understand the recipient is about to be very hurt. The addition of the luck-based clash system feels right at home too, giving you a last-ditch effort to maybe make a comeback–randomly screaming during a battle and luckily finding a deeper well of strength is extremely Kill la Kill. Sure, the lack of a reliable counter system means winning in these battles is less about skill and more about who can press the attack buttons more quickly, but that doesn’t change that most matches are still explosively epic, full of silly puns, and just enjoyable to play. This is especially true for most of the battles in Kill la Kill IF’s campaign.

There are a variety of obstacles to overcome in the campaign as the game offers more than what’s usually expected from arena fighters. Though there are still traditional one-on-one fights, Kill la Kill IF’s story mode is a mixture of various mission types. The most interesting ones take advantage of the constantly shifting alliances in the narrative. One battle has Satsuki, Ryuko, and Nui all fight in a three-way free-for-all, for instance, and another sees Satsuki go up against the brain-washed Elite Four in a one-on-four fight. Wave-based battles against a horde of enemies are thrown into the mix, too. The variety keeps the campaign from getting stale.

Though these types of missions offer a welcome change of pace for an arena fighter, they’re also held back by Kill la Kill IF’s traditional mechanics and features. Most arena fighters don’t need a mechanic to specifically focus on one combatant or a feature to alert you when an off-screen target is about to attack, as fights are pretty much exclusively one-on-one. In Kill la Kill IF’s campaign, where you occasionally fight multiple enemies at once and the only way to remain focused on a character is to stay near them, the absence of any such mechanic or feature is far more noticeable. It’s tricky to stay focused on the fighter you want when you and your opponents are being smacked around the arena, and it’s frustrating when you’re in the midst of a combo and you don’t know whether you need to suddenly dodge or block because you’re about to be attacked from outside your field of view.

Outside the campaign, Kill la Kill IF offers Practice and Versus modes, as well as a horde challenge and figure posing gallery. Given the risque nature of Kill la Kill, it’s a nice surprise that the figures’ available poses aren’t all that leery, though the offering of shots you can produce is a little sparse. The gallery feels tacked on as a poor replacement for a photo mode, which is a shame given how gorgeous many of the characters look while in motion. Versus runs without much issue, but the online ranked mode does confirm that this fighting game has a juggling problem that rewards aggressive attack combos as opposed to strategic play.

Both the Japanese and English dub anime voice actors reprise their roles in Kill la Kill IF, so you can enjoy whichever cast you prefer (it’s something a lot more anime games should do, frankly). Unfortunately, the English dub doesn’t perfectly match up in certain animations, so there are quite a few moments where characters are technically done speaking but their mouths keep moving. It’s no deal-breaker, as both sets of voice actors do a great job once again bringing their respective characters to life. The voices aren’t the only sound from the anime to make it into the game either. Songs from Kill la Kill are regularly intermixed into the originally composed soundtrack, including fan-favorites “Before My Body Is Dry” and “Sirius,” augmenting every battle and emotional moment with the same epic sensations as the anime.

The voice actors and soundtrack provide the biggest motivation to keep playing Kill la Kill IF. As you complete the story and win matches, you’ll unlock in-game currency that you can use to buy songs and special recorded messages. The messages that seem to be from the characters’ perspectives are an absolute delight, like Satsuki providing words of encouragement to those living in “this cruel world,” but most are from the voice actors themselves–Todd Haberkorn (Shirou Iori) teasingly relaying congratulations for beating the game, for instance, or Carrie Keranen (Satsuki Kiryuin) revealing just how much it meant to get a chance to do voice work for Kill la Kill again after nearly five years. It’s all phenomenal content–ranging from hilarious to heartfelt–which provides plenty of incentive to keep playing and earn more in-game currency.

Kill la Kill IF is clearly designed for fans of Kill la Kill who are looking for more ways to enjoy the characters, music, and battles of the anime series. Each fighter behaves as they do in the anime, and the excellent voice actor rewards provide a nice incentive to keep playing even after you’ve mastered every character. However, as a fighting game, Kill la Kill IF doesn’t deliver the expected harmony of offense and defense. And though campaign battles that are beyond the one-on-one formula are an awesome addition, the traditional arena fighting game mechanics aren’t designed to adequately handle multiple opponents. The campaign’s startling revelation is a fascinating turn of events for Kill la Kill’s story, though, creating a new and intriguing interpretation of one of 2013’s best anime series.

Source: GameSpot.com

Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review – Blood In, Blood Out

In Wolfenstein’s alternate 1980s, Nazis remain a tyrannical force of evil and oppression across Europe, even after Hitler was killed by series protagonist BJ Blazkowicz. Thus, the Nazi killing continues as the Blazkowicz twins, Jess and Soph, pick up where their parents left off for a spin-off in Wolfenstein: Youngblood–a relentless co-op shooter driven by an unapologetic, youthful attitude. It may not reach the same narrative heights of its predecessors or land every idea borne out in its new approach, but Youngblood hits where it counts.

Our introduction to Jess and Soph shows how their parents, Anya and BJ, taught them the means for survival on their rural Texas homestead. There’s a tense tone of protective parents who’ve been through the worst and are preparing their daughters to be able to handle the same, which is quickly juxtaposed with the twins’ carefree exuberance when alone together. Bring in the wizkid best friend Abby, daughter of Wolfenstein 2‘s Grace Walker, and you have a trio that brings their own unique swagger to the Wolfenstein name.

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Their personalities immediately come to life. Jess and Soph are boisterous and sometimes dorky, the same way many teenagers and young adults are, and it gives them genuine personalities that mostly just come off cool as hell, especially with stellar voice acting. They’ll go back and forth about their favorite superspy novel series Arthur & Kenneth, even imagining themselves as their beloved in-fiction duo. They’ll refer to things their parents have done, hype each other up in combat, and just straight up act silly in the elevator loading screens to the tune of ’80s synthpop background music, breathing new life into the Blazkowicz family.

The game is less about a bold, fleshed-out narrative and more about instilling an infectious charisma in its star characters to match the over-the-top action and sow the seeds for what’s next in Wolfenstein.

It’s not long before they take a turn for the absurd; with BJ gone missing, they uncover clues to his disappearance and take matters into their own hands. But they’re not exactly sneaking out of the house or secretly taking their parents’ car out for a drive. They’re taking a military-grade helicopter to Nazi-occupied France to find their dad, and well, kill Nazis. As either Jess or Soph (with your co-op or AI partner as the other sister) and equipped with high-tech Da’at Yichud battle suits, you join a French resistance movement in Neu-Paris, which quickly boils down to you raiding Nazi outposts and strongholds.

With Jess and Soph inseparable, co-op is at the heart of the experience, and thankfully partnering up online is a breeze. As a host you can have friends (or randoms) jump into your session seamlessly without interruption; the AI will assume control until a player connects and again right as a player leaves. If players have identical missions in the quest log, completing it will record progress for both players. And if you’d rather go it alone alongside a decent AI companion, it’s just as viable an option for the entire game.

Youngblood captures that familiar Wolfenstein feeling of taking an automatic shotgun to a Nazi soldier, melting an armor-clad supersoldier with a laser rifle, or zapping a horde with a lighting coil, and what a powerful feeling it is. But what’s new is that tougher enemies have one of two armor elements that are weak to corresponding weapons, encouraging you to actively juggle your varied arsenal. Furthermore, a slightly more diverse weapon upgrade system helps flesh out some familiar firearms to get them to function the way you prefer and tear through enemies more efficiently.

Light RPG elements also make their way into the character progression system; you rack up XP then dump upgrade points into new skills and perks, like raising health/armor caps, increasing cloak times, stocking heavy weapons, and much more. Enemies scale to your level, and only a few sections are defended by near-impossible enemies early on. It’s a simple system that helps facilitate steady unlocks, making you feel like you’re getting ever more devastating, but never overpowered.

Solid gunplay and some neat mechanics wouldn’t mean much without the proper combat encounters to complement them, and Youngblood delivers. You’ll often find yourself pulling out all the stops to either finish combat scenarios or realize you have to retreat and rethink your approach. A completely stealthy approach isn’t as viable as it was in previous Wolfenstein games, even with the new cloaking ability, but it’s a good way to thin out the opposition before going all-out guns blazing. It can get overwhelming when supersoldiers, massive mechs, and a bomb-strapped panzerhund bear down on you, but that’s when Youngblood is at its best. Intense firefights can break out anywhere with little warning, and the main missions manage to keep a consistent action-packed momentum throughout.

Youngblood captures that familiar Wolfenstein feeling of taking an automatic shotgun to a Nazi soldier, melting an armor-clad supersoldier with a laser rifle, or zapping a horde with a lighting coil, and what a powerful feeling it is.

Admittedly, co-op centric features are a bit sparse. Each sister has a roster of emotes and motivational quips called pep signals that provide stat buffs or much-needed armor/health. However, that’s pretty much what you get in terms of tandem abilities, and the absence of some sort of joint attack or tag-team abilities feels like a missed opportunity. In the fray, partners will be frantically trying to revive each other or falling back on shared lives which work like instant continues, taking the place of a traditional checkpoint system. It can be frustrating to make it to the final fight of a main mission, run out of shared lives, and be sent back to the very beginning of the mission. But if anything, it’s a crude way to emphasize cooperation and tactical gameplay.

Overall, Youngblood leans more into an open structure by making Neu-Paris a group of separate districts (open hub areas) where you find your missions. After a brief introduction, you’re tasked with assaulting three “Brother” towers–your main quests–attached to each hub area. Out on the streets, though, side missions and random events fill in the spaces and are conducive for racking up early XP, getting familiar with district layouts, and soaking up the vibe of a downtrodden 1980s Paris, but these missions quickly feel like filler that bulk out your to-do list.

The design of the districts are striking, however, and you’ll see hints of Arkane Studios’ influence; when I’m double jumping and mantling to the rooftops and top floors of buildings, I’m reminded of Dishonored, especially as I search for collectibles and chests full of currency. This approach also spices up combat with some verticality and the opportunity to flex the agile capabilities of those slick Da’at Yichud suits. The Brother towers even have alternative entry points that you’ll have to discover yourself or find through side missions. It’s a successful incorporation of that studio’s strengths, and the game is better for it.

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The Paris catacombs acts your safe hub in Youngblood, and it’s where you accept side missions from resistance members, stock up on supplies, or hit up the old knock-off Wolfenstein 3D cabinet. It’s not as extensive as The New Colossus’ U-boat home, and you won’t get much from its inhabitants–they’re nowhere near as involved as Wolfenstein 2’s supporting cast since they’re just quest givers. However, Jess, Soph, and Abby are there to pick up the slack.

They might be polar opposites of their parents, but it gives Youngblood its own flair. BJ’s inner monologue and struggle internalizing life-long trauma is at the heart of modern Wolfenstein games, and Anya has seen the pure evil of the Nazi regime first hand through the years. Naturally, Jess and Soph have vastly different characterizations, only knowing a post-war world and presumably growing up in a stable household. They capture the spirit of a carefree youth, yet they share the same unfettered motivation for killing Nazis; it would seem that Anya and BJ taught them well.

The story doesn’t reach the same highs as mainline Wolfenstein games, namely The New Colossus. It’s an incredibly tough act to follow, really. But aside from a cheap plot twist and underwhelming villains, most of Youngblood’s lean story is quality stuff. To that end, the game is less about a bold, fleshed-out narrative and more about instilling an infectious charisma in its star characters to match the over-the-top action and sow the seeds for what’s next in Wolfenstein. Despite Youngblood taking place after events we’ve yet to see unfold in the mainline games, it leaves the door open for some exciting, wild possibilities for where the series could go.

Jess and Soph are boisterous and sometimes dorky, the same way many teenagers and young adults are, and it gives them genuine personalities that mostly just come off cool as hell…

Throughout Youngblood, traces of an ongoing game structure become more pronounced once you finish the main story. You can take on daily and weekly challenges as they cycle into the game, which offer some additional XP and currency to unlock any remaining abilities and weapon mods. What’s a bit more substantial is the option to replay story missions on harder difficulties (hard, very hard, and challenging) for increasing amounts of XP and currency. While it’s a bog-standard way to keep the co-op experience going, they at least offer an outlet to try new tactics, as these harder modes can become quite unforgiving. The endgame may not be extensive, but the ride was exciting enough that the content feels like a little value added.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood has the series’ signature first-person shooting thrills that’ll have you gladly busting shots and blasting lasers in the face of Nazi trash–and the opportunity to do so alongside a friend. It incorporates some new ideas which are serviceable for the most part, but hits more of the right notes in RPG elements and level design. It also knows the resistance doesn’t end when one person cuts the head off a monstrous regime; the fight continues, sometimes into the next generation. And the way this brief spin-off broadens the saga with the Blazkowicz twins makes you wish there was more to see from this new cast of lovable knuckleheads. Jess and Soph–and Abby too–learned from the best, and embrace their newfound duty of ridding their world of tyranny while being cool as hell doing it. Youngblood is short, but oh-so sweet.

Source: GameSpot.com

Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review – The Terror Twins Strike First

In Wolfenstein’s alternate 1980s, Nazis remain a tyrannical force of evil and oppression across Europe, even after Hitler was killed by series protagonist BJ Blazkowicz. Thus, the Nazi killing continues as the Blazkowicz twins, Jess and Soph, pick up where their parents left off for a spin-off in Wolfenstein: Youngblood–a relentless co-op shooter driven by an unapologetic, youthful attitude. It may not reach the same narrative heights of its predecessors or land every idea borne out in its new approach, but Youngblood hits where it counts.

Our introduction to Jess and Soph shows how their parents, Anya and BJ, taught them the means for survival on their rural Texas homestead. There’s a tense tone of protective parents who’ve been through the worst and are preparing their daughters to be able to handle the same, which is quickly juxtaposed with the twins’ carefree exuberance when alone together. Bring in the wizkid best friend Abby, daughter of Wolfenstein 2‘s Grace Walker, and you have a trio that brings their own unique swagger to the Wolfenstein name.

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Their personalities immediately come to life. Jess and Soph are boisterous and sometimes dorky, the same way many teenagers and young adults are, and it gives them genuine personalities that mostly just come off cool as hell, especially with stellar voice acting. They’ll go back and forth about their favorite superspy novel series Arthur & Kenneth, even imagining themselves as their beloved in-fiction duo. They’ll refer to things their parents have done, hype each other up in combat, and just straight up act silly in the elevator loading screens to the tune of ’80s synthpop background music, breathing new life into the Blazkowicz family.

The game is less about a bold, fleshed-out narrative and more about instilling an infectious charisma in its star characters to match the over-the-top action and sow the seeds for what’s next in Wolfenstein.

It’s not long before they take a turn for the absurd; with BJ gone missing, they uncover clues to his disappearance and take matters into their own hands. But they’re not exactly sneaking out of the house or secretly taking their parents’ car out for a drive. They’re taking a military-grade helicopter to Nazi-occupied France to find their dad, and well, kill Nazis. As either Jess or Soph (with your co-op or AI partner as the other sister) and equipped with high-tech Da’at Yichud battle suits, you join a French resistance movement in Neu-Paris, which quickly boils down to you raiding Nazi outposts and strongholds.

With Jess and Soph inseparable, co-op is at the heart of the experience, and thankfully partnering up online is a breeze. As a host you can have friends (or randoms) jump into your session seamlessly without interruption; the AI will assume control until a player connects and again right as a player leaves. If players have identical missions in the quest log, completing it will record progress for both players. And if you’d rather go it alone alongside a decent AI companion, it’s just as viable an option for the entire game.

Youngblood captures that familiar Wolfenstein feeling of taking an automatic shotgun to a Nazi soldier, melting an armor-clad supersoldier with a laser rifle, or zapping a horde with a lighting coil, and what a powerful feeling it is. But what’s new is that tougher enemies have one of two armor elements that are weak to corresponding weapons, encouraging you to actively juggle your varied arsenal. Furthermore, a slightly more diverse weapon upgrade system helps flesh out some familiar firearms to get them to function the way you prefer and tear through enemies more efficiently.

Light RPG elements also make their way into the character progression system; you rack up XP then dump upgrade points into new skills and perks, like raising health/armor caps, increasing cloak times, stocking heavy weapons, and much more. Enemies scale to your level, and only a few sections are defended by near-impossible enemies early on. It’s a simple system that helps facilitate steady unlocks, making you feel like you’re getting ever more devastating, but never overpowered.

Solid gunplay and some neat mechanics wouldn’t mean much without the proper combat encounters to complement them, and Youngblood delivers. You’ll often find yourself pulling out all the stops to either finish combat scenarios or realize you have to retreat and rethink your approach. A completely stealthy approach isn’t as viable as it was in previous Wolfenstein games, even with the new cloaking ability, but it’s a good way to thin out the opposition before going all-out guns blazing. It can get overwhelming when supersoldiers, massive mechs, and a bomb-strapped panzerhund bear down on you, but that’s when Youngblood is at its best. Intense firefights can break out anywhere with little warning, and the main missions manage to keep a consistent action-packed momentum throughout.

Youngblood captures that familiar Wolfenstein feeling of taking an automatic shotgun to a Nazi soldier, melting an armor-clad supersoldier with a laser rifle, or zapping a horde with a lighting coil, and what a powerful feeling it is.

Admittedly, co-op centric features are a bit sparse. Each sister has a roster of emotes and motivational quips called pep signals that provide stat buffs or much-needed armor/health. However, that’s pretty much what you get in terms of tandem abilities, and the absence of some sort of joint attack or tag-team abilities feels like a missed opportunity. In the fray, partners will be frantically trying to revive each other or falling back on shared lives which work like instant continues, taking the place of a traditional checkpoint system. It can be frustrating to make it to the final fight of a main mission, run out of shared lives, and be sent back to the very beginning of the mission. But if anything, it’s a crude way to emphasize cooperation and tactical gameplay.

Overall, Youngblood leans more into an open structure by making Neu-Paris a group of separate districts (open hub areas) where you find your missions. After a brief introduction, you’re tasked with assaulting three “Brother” towers–your main quests–attached to each hub area. Out on the streets, though, side missions and random events fill in the spaces and are conducive for racking up early XP, getting familiar with district layouts, and soaking up the vibe of a downtrodden 1980s Paris, but these missions quickly feel like filler that bulk out your to-do list.

The design of the districts are striking, however, and you’ll see hints of Arkane Studios’ influence; when I’m double jumping and mantling to the rooftops and top floors of buildings, I’m reminded of Dishonored, especially as I search for collectibles and chests full of currency. This approach also spices up combat with some verticality and the opportunity to flex the agile capabilities of those slick Da’at Yichud suits. The Brother towers even have alternative entry points that you’ll have to discover yourself or find through side missions. It’s a successful incorporation of that studio’s strengths, and the game is better for it.

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The Paris catacombs acts your safe hub in Youngblood, and it’s where you accept side missions from resistance members, stock up on supplies, or hit up the old knock-off Wolfenstein 3D cabinet. It’s not as extensive as The New Colossus’ U-boat home, and you won’t get much from its inhabitants–they’re nowhere near as involved as Wolfenstein 2’s supporting cast since they’re just quest givers. However, Jess, Soph, and Abby are there to pick up the slack.

They might be polar opposites of their parents, but it gives Youngblood its own flair. BJ’s inner monologue and struggle internalizing life-long trauma is at the heart of modern Wolfenstein games, and Anya has seen the pure evil of the Nazi regime first hand through the years. Naturally, Jess and Soph have vastly different characterizations, only knowing a post-war world and presumably growing up in a stable household. They capture the spirit of a carefree youth, yet they share the same unfettered motivation for killing Nazis; it would seem that Anya and BJ taught them well.

The story doesn’t reach the same highs as mainline Wolfenstein games, namely The New Colossus. It’s an incredibly tough act to follow, really. But aside from a cheap plot twist and underwhelming villains, most of Youngblood’s lean story is quality stuff. To that end, the game is less about a bold, fleshed-out narrative and more about instilling an infectious charisma in its star characters to match the over-the-top action and sow the seeds for what’s next in Wolfenstein. Despite Youngblood taking place after events we’ve yet to see unfold in the mainline games, it leaves the door open for some exciting, wild possibilities for where the series could go.

Jess and Soph are boisterous and sometimes dorky, the same way many teenagers and young adults are, and it gives them genuine personalities that mostly just come off cool as hell…

Throughout Youngblood, traces of an ongoing game structure become more pronounced once you finish the main story. You can take on daily and weekly challenges as they cycle into the game, which offer some additional XP and currency to unlock any remaining abilities and weapon mods. What’s a bit more substantial is the option to replay story missions on harder difficulties (hard, very hard, and challenging) for increasing amounts of XP and currency. While it’s a bog-standard way to keep the co-op experience going, they at least offer an outlet to try new tactics, as these harder modes can become quite unforgiving. The endgame may not be extensive, but the ride was exciting enough that the content feels like a little value added.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood has the series’ signature first-person shooting thrills that’ll have you gladly busting shots and blasting lasers in the face of Nazi trash–and the opportunity to do so alongside a friend. It incorporates some new ideas which are serviceable for the most part, but hits more of the right notes in RPG elements and level design. It also knows the resistance doesn’t end when one person cuts the head off a monstrous regime; the fight continues, sometimes into the next generation. And the way this brief spin-off broadens the saga with the Blazkowicz twins makes you wish there was more to see from this new cast of lovable knuckleheads. Jess and Soph–and Abby too–learned from the best, and embrace their newfound duty of ridding their world of tyranny while being cool as hell doing it. Youngblood is short, but oh-so sweet.

Source: GameSpot.com

Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review – Family Matters

In Wolfenstein’s alternate 1980s, Nazis remain a tyrannical force of evil and oppression across Europe, even after Hitler was killed by series protagonist BJ Blazkowicz. Thus, the Nazi killing continues as the Blazkowicz twins, Jess and Soph, pick up where their parents left off for a spin-off in Wolfenstein: Youngblood–a relentless co-op shooter driven by an unapologetic, youthful attitude. It may not reach the same narrative heights of its predecessors or land every idea borne out in its new approach, but Youngblood hits where it counts.

Our introduction to Jess and Soph shows how their parents, Anya and BJ, taught them the means for survival on their rural Texas homestead. There’s a tense tone of protective parents who’ve been through the worst and are preparing their daughters to be able to handle the same, which is quickly juxtaposed with the twins’ carefree exuberance when alone together. Bring in the wizkid best friend Abby, daughter of Wolfenstein 2‘s Grace Walker, and you have a trio that brings their own unique swagger to the Wolfenstein name.

No Caption Provided
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Their personalities immediately come to life. Jess and Soph are boisterous and sometimes dorky, the same way many teenagers and young adults are, and it gives them genuine personalities that mostly just come off cool as hell, especially with stellar voice acting. They’ll go back and forth about their favorite superspy novel series Arthur & Kenneth, even imagining themselves as their beloved in-fiction duo. They’ll refer to things their parents have done, hype each other up in combat, and just straight up act silly in the elevator loading screens to the tune of ’80s synthpop background music, breathing new life into the Blazkowicz family.

The game is less about a bold, fleshed-out narrative and more about instilling an infectious charisma in its star characters to match the over-the-top action and sow the seeds for what’s next in Wolfenstein.

It’s not long before they take a turn for the absurd; with BJ gone missing, they uncover clues to his disappearance and take matters into their own hands. But they’re not exactly sneaking out of the house or secretly taking their parents’ car out for a drive. They’re taking a military-grade helicopter to Nazi-occupied France to find their dad, and well, kill Nazis. As either Jess or Soph (with your co-op or AI partner as the other sister) and equipped with high-tech Da’at Yichud battle suits, you join a French resistance movement in Neu-Paris, which quickly boils down to you raiding Nazi outposts and strongholds.

With Jess and Soph inseparable, co-op is at the heart of the experience, and thankfully partnering up online is a breeze. As a host you can have friends (or randoms) jump into your session seamlessly without interruption; the AI will assume control until a player connects and again right as a player leaves. If players have identical missions in the quest log, completing it will record progress for both players. And if you’d rather go it alone alongside a decent AI companion, it’s just as viable an option for the entire game.

Youngblood captures that familiar Wolfenstein feeling of taking an automatic shotgun to a Nazi soldier, melting an armor-clad supersoldier with a laser rifle, or zapping a horde with a lighting coil, and what a powerful feeling it is. But what’s new is that tougher enemies have one of two armor elements that are weak to corresponding weapons, encouraging you to actively juggle your varied arsenal. Furthermore, a slightly more diverse weapon upgrade system helps flesh out some familiar firearms to get them to function the way you prefer and tear through enemies more efficiently.

Light RPG elements also make their way into the character progression system; you rack up XP then dump upgrade points into new skills and perks, like raising health/armor caps, increasing cloak times, stocking heavy weapons, and much more. Enemies scale to your level, and only a few sections are defended by near-impossible enemies early on. It’s a simple system that helps facilitate steady unlocks, making you feel like you’re getting ever more devastating, but never overpowered.

Solid gunplay and some neat mechanics wouldn’t mean much without the proper combat encounters to complement them, and Youngblood delivers. You’ll often find yourself pulling out all the stops to either finish combat scenarios or realize you have to retreat and rethink your approach. A completely stealthy approach isn’t as viable as it was in previous Wolfenstein games, even with the new cloaking ability, but it’s a good way to thin out the opposition before going all-out guns blazing. It can get overwhelming when supersoldiers, massive mechs, and a bomb-strapped panzerhund bear down on you, but that’s when Youngblood is at its best. Intense firefights can break out anywhere with little warning, and the main missions manage to keep a consistent action-packed momentum throughout.

Youngblood captures that familiar Wolfenstein feeling of taking an automatic shotgun to a Nazi soldier, melting an armor-clad supersoldier with a laser rifle, or zapping a horde with a lighting coil, and what a powerful feeling it is.

Admittedly, co-op centric features are a bit sparse. Each sister has a roster of emotes and motivational quips called pep signals that provide stat buffs or much-needed armor/health. However, that’s pretty much what you get in terms of tandem abilities, and the absence of some sort of joint attack or tag-team abilities feels like a missed opportunity. In the fray, partners will be frantically trying to revive each other or falling back on shared lives which work like instant continues, taking the place of a traditional checkpoint system. It can be frustrating to make it to the final fight of a main mission, run out of shared lives, and be sent back to the very beginning of the mission. But if anything, it’s a crude way to emphasize cooperation and tactical gameplay.

Overall, Youngblood leans more into an open structure by making Neu-Paris a group of separate districts (open hub areas) where you find your missions. After a brief introduction, you’re tasked with assaulting three “Brother” towers–your main quests–attached to each hub area. Out on the streets, though, side missions and random events fill in the spaces and are conducive for racking up early XP, getting familiar with district layouts, and soaking up the vibe of a downtrodden 1980s Paris, but these missions quickly feel like filler that bulk out your to-do list.

The design of the districts are striking, however, and you’ll see hints of Arkane Studios’ influence; when I’m double jumping and mantling to the rooftops and top floors of buildings, I’m reminded of Dishonored, especially as I search for collectibles and chests full of currency. This approach also spices up combat with some verticality and the opportunity to flex the agile capabilities of those slick Da’at Yichud suits. The Brother towers even have alternative entry points that you’ll have to discover yourself or find through side missions. It’s a successful incorporation of that studio’s strengths, and the game is better for it.

No Caption Provided
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The Paris catacombs acts your safe hub in Youngblood, and it’s where you accept side missions from resistance members, stock up on supplies, or hit up the old knock-off Wolfenstein 3D cabinet. It’s not as extensive as The New Colossus’ U-boat home, and you won’t get much from its inhabitants–they’re nowhere near as involved as Wolfenstein 2’s supporting cast since they’re just quest givers. However, Jess, Soph, and Abby are there to pick up the slack.

They might be polar opposites of their parents, but it gives Youngblood its own flair. BJ’s inner monologue and struggle internalizing life-long trauma is at the heart of modern Wolfenstein games, and Anya has seen the pure evil of the Nazi regime first hand through the years. Naturally, Jess and Soph have vastly different characterizations, only knowing a post-war world and presumably growing up in a stable household. They capture the spirit of a carefree youth, yet they share the same unfettered motivation for killing Nazis; it would seem that Anya and BJ taught them well.

The story doesn’t reach the same highs as mainline Wolfenstein games, namely The New Colossus. It’s an incredibly tough act to follow, really. But aside from a cheap plot twist and underwhelming villains, most of Youngblood’s lean story is quality stuff. To that end, the game is less about a bold, fleshed-out narrative and more about instilling an infectious charisma in its star characters to match the over-the-top action and sow the seeds for what’s next in Wolfenstein. Despite Youngblood taking place after events we’ve yet to see unfold in the mainline games, it leaves the door open for some exciting, wild possibilities for where the series could go.

Jess and Soph are boisterous and sometimes dorky, the same way many teenagers and young adults are, and it gives them genuine personalities that mostly just come off cool as hell…

Throughout Youngblood, traces of an ongoing game structure become more pronounced once you finish the main story. You can take on daily and weekly challenges as they cycle into the game, which offer some additional XP and currency to unlock any remaining abilities and weapon mods. What’s a bit more substantial is the option to replay story missions on harder difficulties (hard, very hard, and challenging) for increasing amounts of XP and currency. While it’s a bog-standard way to keep the co-op experience going, they at least offer an outlet to try new tactics, as these harder modes can become quite unforgiving. The endgame may not be extensive, but the ride was exciting enough that the content feels like a little value added.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood has the series’ signature first-person shooting thrills that’ll have you gladly busting shots and blasting lasers in the face of Nazi trash–and the opportunity to do so alongside a friend. It incorporates some new ideas which are serviceable for the most part, but hits more of the right notes in RPG elements and level design. It also knows the resistance doesn’t end when one person cuts the head off a monstrous regime; the fight continues, sometimes into the next generation. And the way this brief spin-off broadens the saga with the Blazkowicz twins makes you wish there was more to see from this new cast of lovable knuckleheads. Jess and Soph–and Abby too–learned from the best, and embrace their newfound duty of ridding their world of tyranny while being cool as hell doing it. Youngblood is short, but oh-so sweet.

Source: GameSpot.com

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Review – Teacher’s Pet

Fire Emblem: Three Houses asks a lot of you. Every piece, from battle to friendships to training your units, must be managed both individually and as part of a whole. It can be intimidating, but when it all clicks together, it really clicks. Mastering the art of thoughtful lesson planning as a professor improves your performance on the battlefield, where success relies on calculated teamwork and deft execution. Cultivating relationships during battle in turn draws you closer to each of the characters, who you then want to invest even more time into in the classroom. Every piece feeds into the next in a rewarding, engrossing loop where you get lost in the whole experience, not just in the minutiae.

Three Houses casts you as a mercenary who, while out on a mission with their father, runs into a group of teens under attack. After a brief introduction and battle tutorial–which you shouldn’t need, since you’re apparently already an established mercenary, but we’ll go with it–you learn that they are students at Garreg Mach monastery. Each of them leads one of the school’s three houses: Black Eagles, Blue Lions, or Golden Deer. At the behest of the church’s archbishop, who definitely gives off nefarious vibes but is also a gentle mom figure, you end up becoming a professor and must choose which of the houses to lead. There is a lot of mystery to the setup, with consistent hints that something is not quite right, and it’s easy to get absorbed in trying to figure out what the archbishop and various other shady figures are up to.

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Your main role as professor is to instruct your students in matters of combat and prepare them for story battles at the end of each month. Battles in Three Houses feature the same turn-based, tactical combat at the heart of the series, albeit with some changes. The classic weapon triangle is downplayed quite a bit in favor of Combat Arts, which have been altered somewhat from their introduction in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. Combat Arts are attacks tied to a weapon type and can boost a unit’s attack power at the expense of weapon durability; some are effective against specific enemy types, like armored units. You can also unlock skills outside of Combat Arts that grant you better stats with certain weapons, like a heftier boost for using an axe against a lance user, similar to the old weapon triangle. It’s the same complexity the series is known for but less abstracted, making it a bit easier to strategize without sacrificing depth.

One of the big combat additions is battalions, mini armies you can equip that provide various benefits to a unit during battle. They also give you a new type of attack called a Gambit, which varies based on the type of battalion–magic-focused, brute force, and so on–and stuns the enemies it hits. Gambits are limited-use and can be incredibly powerful against the right enemies. You can increase a Gambit’s effectiveness even further if one or more of your other units are within attack range of the target, a tried-and-true Fire Emblem concept that applies to all kinds of attacks. There’s also an anime-style splash screen as you attack that shows each character involved in the Gambit looking fierce, which adds a nice bit of drama.

How much you use Combat Arts and Gambits depends on what difficulty you’re on. On Normal difficulty, well-trained units will likely be able to dispatch most enemies in one or two hits without the help of Combat Arts or Gambits. On Hard, however, enemies hit harder and withstand your attacks better. You have to think much more carefully about unit placement, the best time to use a Gambit and take advantage of its stun effect, and how many Combat Arts you can fire off before your weapon breaks. This is where things get exciting; after a few turns of cautious setup, you (hopefully) get to knock out tons of enemies as your plans fall into place.

Some of the early-game and optional battle maps are open spaces that don’t require you to think too hard, especially on Normal. But the story battles throughout feature a variety of map layouts–from pirate ships to what appears to be a lava-filled cavern–that challenge you to consider where your units need to be, both in the next turn and several turns down the line. Many of them have different routes, enemies coming at you from multiple angles, optional treasure to chase, and other quirks that require you to split your party up or change their equipped classes to suit the situation. Thieves, for instance, can open chests and doors without a key, while flying units don’t take damage from ground that’s on fire.

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The depth of strategy in these elements really shines on Hard difficulty, but especially so when coupled with Divine Pulse, another limited-use ability. Divine Pulse allows you to rewind time in order to redo all or part of the battle, usually if one of your units dies. Rewinding with Divine Pulse shows just how important unit placement and attack choice can be, as even a slight change can make or break the encounter. It’s also just a nice quality-of-life feature if you play on Classic mode, in which units who die in battle are lost forever and can’t fight or train anymore. You might still soft reset from time to time, but it’s great to be able to rectify a mistake right away and get a shot of instant gratification for a job well re-done.

Battling, of course, is only one part of life at the monastery. The backbone of Three Houses is the monthly school calendar, and if you like organizing things, planning ahead, or school in general, this can be the most engrossing part. On Sundays, you have free time you can spend in one of four ways: exploring the monastery, participating in side battles, holding a seminar to improve your students’ skills, or simply taking the day off. Mondays are for instruction, which consists of selecting students from a list and choosing a few of their skills to boost. The rest of the week goes by automatically, with a sprite of the professor running along the calendar and stopping occasionally for random events or story cutscenes. It sounds a bit hands-off, but there’s a lot to think about as it is, and the week-by-week rather than day-by-day structure keeps things moving and ensures you never have to wait too long to progress in any area.

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The predictable structure of each month–and the fact that you can see the full month’s schedule with events listed ahead of time–gives you the foundation to make effective plans. All that time management can definitely be overwhelming, at least at first. You have to keep tabs on your students’ skills and study goals, your own skills, everyone’s inventory, and various other meters and menus while planning for the lessons and battles to come. But you’re treated to a near-constant stream of positive reinforcement as those meters fill up week by week and your students improve their skills. You’re always moving toward the next thing: the next level up, the next skill you need to develop, the next month and what may unfold.

To complement this, your activities when exploring the monastery (as well as how many battles you can participate in, if you choose to battle on your day off) are limited by activity points. You get more as your “professor level” increases, which means you have to balance activities that boost your professor level with ones that help your students grow. Activity points also ensure that the month continues at a healthy pace, preventing you from lingering on any one Sunday for too long. Seminars and rest days just eat up the whole day without consideration for activity points, which can break up the more involved weeks and provide their own benefits.

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How you choose to spend your time also comes down to how motivated your students are to learn. Each of your students has a motivation gauge that’s drained when you instruct them, and they can’t be instructed again until you interact with them and get their motivation back up. You can do this most effectively when exploring the monastery–where you get to talk to different characters, give them gifts, and share bonding time with them–whereas battle only rarely increases motivation levels. While you can skip a lot of the school life bits and even automate instruction, you won’t get the best results. You’re directly at a disadvantage in combat if you don’t make time for your students, which is by design.

Like all recent Fire Emblem games, keeping you invested in your units and their relationships is the glue that binds the whole experience together. It’s incredibly effective in Three Houses, where your direct involvement in nearly all aspects of a unit’s growth trajectory gives you a special stake in their success. After spending time and effort to help a character achieve their full potential, you’re not just satisfied when they win a fight–you’re proud. And the more you invest in someone–both emotionally and through months of lesson plans and instruction–the more cautious you’ll be about putting them in harm’s way, and the more you’ll work to come up with a solid battle strategy.

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Considering you’re a teacher, it’s good rather than disappointing that there’s almost no romance to speak of. Some students are flirty, but mainly, you’re fostering camaraderie rather than playing matchmaker or romancing them yourself. As you unlock new support levels with different characters–both by interacting with them at the monastery and by using teamwork in battles–you get cutscenes that flesh them out more. Some are charming, lighthearted conversations between two friends, while many of them give you insight into more serious matters–a father forcing his daughter into marriage, discrimination within the monastery, the dark reason behind someone’s lofty ambitions. For the most part, each support conversation is just a piece of who a character is, and as you slowly build support levels over time, you begin to uncover the full picture of each person. As a result, learning more about each of the characters and their place in the monastery is as much a reward for progress as the level bars that tick forever upward as you go.

Every NPC is fully voiced in both English and Japanese, which brings a lot of life to the brief support conversations. Disappointingly, though, the professor is silent. They do have a voice–they’ll occasionally say a line when leveling up or improving a skill–but in cutscenes and when talking to students and faculty, they just nod or shake their head flatly. There are brief dialogue options during conversations, but where they could give way to a full, subtitled sentence or two from the professor, you’re just left with the other character’s reaction. Characters do, however, refer to the professor’s personality and how they come across throughout the game, which is odd considering they mostly nod at things. This puts distance between you and the characters you’re bonding with, and it’s a missed opportunity in a game where the protagonist has an otherwise set look, personality, and backstory.

It’s not hard to like a lot of the characters, though. They draw you in with anime archetypes–the ladies’ man, the bratty prince, the clumsy but well-meaning girl–and surprise you with much more nuance under the surface. Some of the funniest scenes early on involve Bernadetta, a shut-in with extreme reactions to normal social situations, but her inner life is a lot darker and more complicated than those early conversations let on. You might discover a character you thought was a jerk is actually one of your favorites or slowly stop using a less-than-favorite character in battle. You also have the option of having tea with someone, during which you have to choose conversation topics according to what you know about them, dating sim-style. Knowing what topics they’ll like is actually a lot harder than it sounds, and successfully talking to a favorite character–even if the tea setup can be a little awkward in practice–is a small victory.

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Each house’s campaign feels distinct but not so different that one seems way better than the other. Every house has a mix of personalities and skills, and they all have their own advantages and disadvantages. Students from different houses can form friendships with each other, too, and you can eventually recruit students from other houses to join yours. Rather than being repetitive, on a second playthrough, recruiting gives you access to different relationship combinations; you can see a different side to a character through a different set of support conversations. And while the overall setup of the game is largely the same across the three houses, each has its own web of B plots, and the second half of the game will look very different depending on who you’re with and the choices you’ve made.

The first half concerns the church, its secrets, and the fact that the professor knows very little about their own identity. As the basic loop of each month pulls you forward, so too does the promise of learning the truth about something, whether it’s why the archbishop wanted you to be a teacher in the first place or who a suspicious masked individual is. These threads remain pretty open, though, at least after one and a quarter playthroughs. You get different details in each route, and so far it’s been a long process to piece everything together.

Learning more about each of the characters and their place in the monastery is as much a reward for progress as the level bars that tick forever upward as you go.

After a five-year time skip, you enter the “war phase” of the game. While the structure of the game is the same–you even instruct your units, since you still need to train for battle–the focus shifts to the house-specific stories. They involve a lot of hard decisions, with old friends becoming enemies, people you wish you didn’t have to kill, and students who’ve changed either in spite or because of your guidance. Late-game battles are especially challenging, with higher stakes and multi-lane layouts that require a lot of forethought. Success in these battles is incredibly rewarding, as you’re seeing dozens of hours of investment in your students reach a crescendo, but they’re bittersweet in context.

When all was said and done, all I could think about was starting another playthrough. I was curious about the mysteries left unsolved, of course, but I also hoped to undo my mistakes. There were characters I didn’t talk to enough, students I didn’t recruit, and far more effective ways to train my units. A second playthrough treads familiar ground in the beginning, but after learning and growing so much in the first, it feels fresh, too. That speaks to Three Houses’ mechanical complexity and depth as well as the connections it fosters with its characters–and whether you’re managing inventories or battlefields, it’s the kind of game that’s hard to put down, even when it’s over.

Source: GameSpot.com