Category Archives: Game Reviews

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 – Fight For Your Friends

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

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Review – Study Hall

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.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

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.

No Caption Provided

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.

No Caption Provided

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.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided

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.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided
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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

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Review – I Fight For My Friends

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.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

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.

No Caption Provided

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.

No Caption Provided

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.

No Caption Provided

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.

No Caption Provided

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.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

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

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.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

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.

No Caption Provided

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.

No Caption Provided

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.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided

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.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided

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.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

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

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Review – Hard Work Pays Off

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.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

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.

No Caption Provided

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.

No Caption Provided

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.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided

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.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided

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.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

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

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Review – Radiant

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.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

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.

No Caption Provided

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.

No Caption Provided

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.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided

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

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Review – The Good Fight

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

Warframe Review (2019) – Re-Frame

Editor’s note: GameSpot originally reviewed Warframe in 2013 and gave it a 6. Due to substantial revisions and new content since its debut, we have re-examined Warframe as it is in 2019 and produced a new review to reflect its current state.

To play Warframe is to reconcile yourself with the sensation that you’re always a bit in over your head. Even six years after its debut, it’s still something of an oddity within the realm of online action-RPGs. With an expanding universe housing a wealth of content, the free-to-play game offers a stellar amount of freedom to explore, uncover loot, and take on missions with its cast of stylish space ninjas. It takes a decidedly unorthodox approach with its non-linear adventure–sometimes frustratingly so–yet journeying across Warframe’s massive universe is as satisfying as it is endearing.

In GameSpot’s original 2013 review, we praised the game’s agile and hard-hitting combat but criticized the lack of meaningful features that effectively took advantage of those strengths. In the broader sense, the Warframe of old was a promising sketch of an idea that lacked reasons for investment. The Warframe of today, however, has filled out the bigger picture. Its vision is clearer, and it’s now so much more than just space ninjas brawling in corridors. Some of Warframe’s best moments involve venturing into the realms of deep space, exploring open worlds and, yes, engaging in combat to power up and take on greater challenges.

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When it comes to its gameplay and narrative, Warframe always seems to chuck you into the deep end. The larger story focuses on an interstellar clan of warriors known as the Tenno as they reacquaint themselves with a grander universe in perpetual conflict. You take control of a reawakened Frame–revitalized Tenno fighters from the distant past–to engage in missions against a myriad of enemy factions. This conceit of spacefaring ninjas slashing and shooting across the universe holds the loose narrative together while also giving you an impressive amount of freedom. Several cinematic quests shed light on the history of the Tenno, leading up to some profound moments that reveal a surprising depth for your character and their place in the galaxy.

Warframe is a massive game with numerous, complex systems to dive into–but therein lies the rub. It’s a challenging game to crack; even with hundreds of hours under my belt, I can still feel overwhelmed by how much game there is to unpack. However, the trick to understanding this game lies within finding your own focus in the nebulous grind–whether that’s taking on a variety of side-activities and missions on a series of planets or investing time to customize, experiment, and tweak your favorite Frames.

It can often feel like playing catch-up, considering there is six years’ worth of content in the package, but it’s a game that rewards taking the time to soak it all in, instead of rushing through. How you get accustomed to this surprisingly sink-or-swim structure will determine the mileage you get out of it. Most missions are singular, discrete encounters across the solar system. This piecemeal structure ultimately makes the massive game more digestible. There’s a staggering amount of activities to dive into, and with over 40 hyper-stylized Frames to utilize, there’s a constant sense of fun and surprise when discovering how deep it all runs. However, while the opening missions do well to get you into the basic swing of things when it comes to its core gameplay, the more in-depth systems are left for you to decipher on your own.

The overall speed and flexibility in its action is something that it continually excels at, and there’s a constant sense of grace and finesse that can make even the ordinary missions thrilling.

This mostly hands-off approach in getting you acclimated can sometimes manifest feelings of aimlessness. And it’s magnified when it becomes apparent that there isn’t a traditional endgame to work up to. There are higher-end missions and stories designed for more experienced players, some focusing on endless fights against waves of enemies, but there isn’t anything like raids to unlock later on. In many ways, you’re introduced to that familiar endgame grind from the onset, and that often entails fine-tuning your suite of Frames to tackle many of the game’s tougher challenges.

The true star of Warframe are the various Frames, with each possessing their own unique designs and abilities. The pursuit of new characters to play as is one of the many constants in your journey, often dictating where you should invest your time. It always feels rewarding when you find a new Frame, especially when it’s one that stands apart from the others. Some are highly specialized, such as the stealth-oriented Ash or the aquatic, alien-tentacle-summoning Hydroid. Another standout is Octavia, a Bard-like Frame that lets you craft custom music to amplify your abilities and attack enemies. One time, a squadmate of mine used Octavia’s skills to effortlessly clear a hallway full of enemies–all to the tune of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It.”

There is a ridiculous amount of room to experiment, and it can be especially fun strengthening one of the beginner Frames with powerful mods and armaments that can melt through enemies. It’s also impressive how in-depth customization and personalization is in Warframe–you can apply different shaders, accessories, and even alter their particular animation set, and it’s rare to find another player who has the same style and loadout.

It’s a necessity to get your Frame to reach its potential for them to be viable for more advanced activities. If you don’t apply the correct mods and buffs to your character, it can often stop you in your tracks at some inconvenient moments in your progression. If you’re committed to figuring out the intricacies of the game, then using online guides to understand these advanced mechanics, much like with other aspects of the game, is a must. These resources are a big help, but it’s disappointing how often you have to use them, as opposed to the game teaching you the same information. Without them, learning these systems on your own can be a significant test of patience.

You’ll quickly find yourself in a rhythm of cutting down mobs of enemies and boosting your Frame’s strength by collecting mods and earning experience as new gameplay systems and events open up. While the core gameplay is often satisfying, it’s still common to see a streak of highly repetitive missions, most of which re-use tile-sets for procedurally-generated levels and objective types. This repetition can create a recurring feeling of déjà vu throughout, and there were times when this left me feeling exhausted after an extended play session with the game.

To help ease this sense of repetition, Warframe does inject a number of variations on standard missions, as well as adding in new activities. Along with Nightmare challenges, harder versions of previously completed levels, several missions even remix past stages by including multiple enemy factions within one level, making some standard objectives far more hectic. Some objectives feature totally different gameplay modes, in particular incorporating the Archwing, which switches up the familiar action sequences with Wing Commander-style shooter levels. There’s even a set of PvP game types, such as the Conclave and Duel modes, with the latter letting you invite another player to a player-made clan dojo to engage in a solo fight. Unfortunately, the PvP activities come across as exceedingly basic and clunky compared to the core PvE experience.

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Despite how much the game has grown over the years by adding in game-changing features, Waframe’s roots are still planted firmly in its fast-paced and satisfying core combat. The overall speed and flexibility in its action is something that it continually excels at, and there’s a constant sense of grace and finesse that can make even the ordinary missions thrilling. It often shows similar shades to a fast-paced corridor shooter by way of a stunning character-action game, with your squad tearing through enemies using myriad skills and armaments.

The core combat and general traversal of Warframe can move at a blistering pace. Despite how complex they can get, they’re still intuitive enough to dive into, and you can pull off Warframe’s advanced acrobatics like gliding, wall-runs, and the appropriately named “Bullet Jump”–which darts your character in any direction–reasonably quickly. Melee combat also features its own complexities, allowing you to use an assortment of combos and aerial abilities to cut through legions of foes in flashy display. Over time, chaining together slick parkour leaps into fast strikes with your weapons can become second nature, resulting in Warframe’s most gratifying and stylish encounters.

Warframe can be daunting for newcomers, yet it can also prove a challenge for players–like myself–who take an extended break and have to learn the basics of new features while simultaneously unlearning outdated ones. Such is the case for online games, and fortunately, Warframe does have an active and open community to trade with and seek assistance from, and you can directly interact with others at various social spaces across different planets. It’s common that you might have to consult outside resources in order to figure out what to do next, or else your progress might come to a halt abruptly.

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Stick with the game long enough, and you’ll unlock access to the more involved cinematic story missions and open-world settings that best show the game’s considerable growth. Unlike the fragmented storytelling in most of the game, these two pillars present a more guided plot that offers memorable narrative and character moments. Some of these missions even include the surprising addition of a dialogue system, which can result in some slightly different events in questlines.

In the open-world settings of the Plains of Eidolon and the Orb Vallis, which open after you reach the planets they’re located on, you can take in the sights of the large-scale worlds, take on dynamic bounties and events with squads, and even learn more about the brewing conflict within each setting. The Vallis’ story is especially engaging, dealing with workers’ rights and the perils of late-stage capitalism in the interstellar age. Though these main stories set in the open worlds tend to end far too quickly, the amount of nuance and narrative packed in was impressive, which left me wanting to spend more time in the settings to continue interacting with its characters.

I’m continually pleased with the flexibility of Warframe’s many systems, and how it allows for you to attain a variety of rewards and unlocks at your own pace. Of course, there is an assortment of items, weapons, and even Frames to purchase with real money or with Platinum, Warframe’s premium currency. Fortunately, most items in the game are attainable through gameplay, allowing you to get into the nitty-gritty of the game’s content mostly unabated. The in-game economy of Warframe is very active, and if you’re resourceful enough, you can even trade some of your own gear and blueprints with other players for Platinum as well.

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When new content is introduced, the pathway to experiencing the quests or acquiring the next Frame is available to all players. This relaxed approach is reassuring, especially for a game of this magnitude. I generally find acquiring gear and new classes to be quite manageable. However, there are still some time-sinks that feel mostly arbitrary, resulting in the expected and sometimes lengthy grind that’s commonplace in free-to-play games. To that end, the primary intent of Platinum is to circumvent both investments of time and resources.

Thinking back to GameSpot’s original review, it’s interesting how much the game has improved, yet also how much has stayed the same. The game still has issues with repetition and lack of explanations for its more complex systems, but it’s managed to overcome their severity by introducing so many events and revisions that continue to elevate it. While there are inevitable bouts of frustration here and there, I always manage to center myself once I move on to other opportunities. In a lot of ways, that’s what Warframe manages to do best. One moment you’re taking part in a random spy mission on Saturn, and the next, you’re partnered up with a powerful squad of players that help you through several void fissures. Just when you feel like you’ve hit a lull, a better, and more fulfilling opportunity will likely present itself. Perhaps most importantly, Warframe makes sure that the time spent in its world is almost always well rewarded.

Source: GameSpot.com