Best game spoilers of the decade

Spoilers are the lifeblood of story-based games. The twist, the reveal, the information you glean after the hours you spend in a title. Over the past decade, we’ve seen some of gaming’s best stories unfold. And some of those stories include moments best experienced for yourself.

With so many of these games moving on to become video game history — as we forge into a new generation of consoles and another decade — we wanted to take a moment to ruin all of them for you. But more importantly, we wanted to celebrate the twists and turns they took, and hopefully remind you why they’ll always be worth coming back to.

But what makes something a spoiler? Our criteria was anything you’d want a friend or loved one to experience for themselves. If you were sitting on the couch watching them play, what’s something you’d silently think to yourself “I can’t wait until they see this.” That’s a spoiler, and it’s one of our favorite things to talk about with games.

Note that this post obviously contains spoilers for a lot of different games. The list also isn’t organized in any specific order. All of these spoilers are equally good in our eyes.

Doki Doki Literature Club

doki doki literature club dialogue Team Salvato

Purely narrative focused, and advertised as a dating simulator, Doki Doki Literature Club toys with your idea of what a video game story can be. When your first classmate unexpectedly dies, and you’re booted to the main menu and your save is deleted, it’s a genuine shock — not something you’d expect out of a dialogue-based anime game. The twist is dark, and sad, but forces you to engage with the product in a unique way — starting new runs to see how the story continues.

As the game goes on, and other students die, you learn the secret of your classmate Monika — that she’s self aware, and just deleted the save data for the other two students in the game. This of course leads you to delete Monika’s save data as well, diving into your own PC’s files to do so.

Doki Doki Literature Club disrupts all of your expectations, and makes you feel like you have no idea what will happen the next time you hit new game.

-Ryan Gilliam

God of War

God of War - Kratos and Atreus meet the World Serpent SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

In God of War’s closing minutes, we learn that Kratos’ son Atreus’ giant name is Loki.

This moment is shocking for a lot of reasons — especially if you dive into some of Loki’s Norse mythology. Atreus is not only half-giant, he’s also predestined to bring about a lot of suffering in God of War’s new Norse setting.

In myth, Loki is the father of Jörmungandr the world serpent, which is probably why the snake thinks Atreus seems so familiar early in the game. And Loki also plays a huge role in Ragnarok, the Norse version of apocalypse.

A good spoiler makes you think about a game differently the second time through. The Loki reveal adds a more sinister air to a few of Atreus’ early interactions — and his mid-game temper tantrum isn’t quite as easy to dismiss as adolescence.

There’s a lot to this reveal, and we unfortunately won’t learn anymore until God of War’s unannounced sequel. But it’s given us a lot to think about, and made the wait for God of War 2 that much longer.


Persona 5

Persona 5 Atlus

Persona 5 has one of the most mind-numbing twists we’ve seen this decade.

For the entire game, players return to a flash forward, the imprisoned protagonist telling the story of the famed Phantom Thieves to detective Sae Nijima. Toward the end of the game, players reach the flashforward point, and Nijima walks out of the interrogation room. All of a sudden, detective prodigy and supposed good guy Goro Akechi walks into your interrogation, gives you an evil speech, and shoots the protagonists in the face.

After a Kojima-length cutscene, it’s revealed that the Akechi was unknowingly in a palace — the game’s representation of someone’s psyche, manifested in a lavish alternate dimension. The hero isn’t dead in real life, and we now know Akechi’s evil plot. It’s a brilliant move for the Phantom Thieves, and a great way to defy player expectations.

A good flash forward is rarely as it seems, but this one tricked us pretty good.


Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption - John Marston hiding behind a corner from a horse-drawn carriage Rockstar San Diego/Rockstar Games

The ending of John Marston’s story in Red Dead Redemption is one of the all time video game spoilers.

After dozens of hours with John, watching him betray his former life to secure a future for his family, you have to watch him die pointlessly by the hands of the very lawmen he’s helped. Rockstar doesn’t pull any punches either, and the final Deadeye attack — where you think for a moment that you can kill all these dastardly lawmen — is our last moment of hope for the cowboy.

As an end to the game, Marston’s death feels like an appropriately somber note on which to end Red Dead Redemption. But getting one final shot at revenge as young son Jack Marston really does make this final chapter of Red Dead Redemption one to remember.


Nier Automata

Nier Automata TGS trailer screen grab

There are a dozen things to spoil around Nier: Automata, but the nature of the game itself is the biggest spoiler of all.

Nier’s story is bonkers and beautiful in a way that’s easy to love. But finishing the game only to launch into another, very different run is a shock, especially as its from a totally different perspective.

On a second playthrough, you lose control of 2B and play as her nerdy sidekick, 9S. But 9S is a hacker, which fundamentally shifts the way you see the world and perform combat. Instead of being the badass killer 2B was, you can hack the world around you, discovering secrets and learning more about the YoRHa, or 2B’s intentions.

It’s a wild way to shift perspective, and by the third chapter, you’ve watched beloved characters like 2B and 9S die of lose their minds. Nier is a linear, crafted story, and if you choose to press on and play second and third playthroughs, you see everything designer Yoko Taro wants you to see. And it fundamentally alters the way you view every in-game event in each of the three playthroughs. Even the credits add to the overall narrative of Nier: Automata.


Stories Untold

Stories Untold game TV No Code/Devolver Digital

Stories Untold takes the player through a series of fun, spooky one-shot horror games, complete with a TV-style introduction. It’s adorable, and reminded me a lot of Stranger Things. There are still thrills and chills, but the episodic nature of the game means you tend to move on quickly.

Until the final episode, where the TV-style intro stops, and our character enters an interrogation.

It turns out there is a main character, and he’s been in the hospital, watching TV. The police are very interested in finding out what happened in the car crash that put him in that state. Through a montage of gameplay clips from the previous episodes, the horrible truth unfurls: the main character was driving drunk, hit a cop, killed the cop and his sister, and tried to pin the DUI on the dead cop.

Oops! Now I feel like an asshole!

This was just a really well done twist from top to bottom on top of an incredibly competent game. Stories Untold is criminally underrated, and most of that comes down to the twist.

Cass Marshall

Until Dawn

Until Dawn Supermassive Games

Until Dawn hits the slasher movie tropes hard in its opening chapter. There’s a remote cabin. Icy conditions. A group of teens up for a fun weekend. And of course, a mysterious figure with a penchant for devious, dramatic traps ( a la Jigsaw from the Saw movies) is torturing our heroes. But the masked maniac’s methods don’t always match some of the scary events our players encounter on this remote mountain getaway. So, what else is going on?

About halfway through the game, Until Dawn reveals the cabin’s owner, Josh, was dressing up as the masked maniac and torturing his friends for cathartic revenge, after a prank gone wrong the previous year resulted in both his twin sisters falling to their deaths. It’s a great twist, if not a little familiar.

But the true nature of Until Dawn hits only moments later. The mountain is also covered in Wendigo monsters, humans transformed to beasts after resorting to cannibalism. Unlike Josh, the Wendigos have no interest in playing catch-and-release with the heroes, and provide a deadly threat to everyone.


Warframe’s The Second Dream

Warframe - the new Gauss Warframe poses, showing off the metal and chrome exoskeleton. Digital Extremes

I wrote in-depth about what makes Warframe’s The Second Dream quest so audacious and wild, but the long and the short of it is: after I sunk a hundred hours into Warframe, I completed a quest and finally unlocked my character creator screen. Turns out the titular Warframes are just mechs, and they’re piloted by sleeping children. You are one of those children.

This is a wild twist, executed perfectly, in a game that gave you no reason to believe you would be diving into such heady story content. It’s absolutely aces.


Portal 2

portal 2 wheatley space Valve

Portal 2’s single player campaign rules. From start to finish, it’s a hilarious, puzzle-solving romp. And its story comes with a wicked twist.

At the start, the small robot Wheatley comes to rescue Chel and get her out of the Aperture facilities. But first they need to shut GLaDoS down. When Chel manages to swap Wheatley and Glados’ bodies, Wheatley grows mad with power, and banishes Chel and the newly potato’d Glados to the abandoned factory.

GLaDoS is such a fabulous video game villain — still punchy and funny in 2019. Getting to spend an entire game with her because of Wheatley’s power grab is a delight. And it does a nice job of giving a non-combat game like Portal a hateable villain.



soma frictional games video 2 Frictional Games

Soma is a horror game that doesn’t rely on horrific monsters or tense combat sequences. Instead, the twist is much more simple — but profoundly terrifying. The protagonist goes in for a medical trial, then awakes over a hundred years later in a space nightmare. How did this happen? How can he escape?

Turns out that he’s a clone, and the original protagonist lived out the rest of his life on Earth, unawares. The only way the protagonist and his ally can survive is via another clone; their road ends aboard the spaceship, no matter how hard they try. If your consciousness lives on within a clone, does that make the terror of your inevitable end any less sickening? There is no escape, no happy ending. Soma is horror on a profound level, offering the kind of dread that sits in your gut for days.


Batman: Arkham Knight

Batman: Arkham Knight - the Arkham Knight leaping toward Batman Rocksteady Studios/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

The identity of the titular Arkham Knight is the central mystery of Batman: Arkham Knight. Toward the end of the game, players discover that the Arkham Knight is actually Jason Todd, the second Robin. In the game, Batman thought the Joker killed Todd years ago, but Todd survived to harbor a grudge against the caped crusader.

This isn’t entirely different from Todd’s arc in the Batman comics — although Todd comes comes back not as a villain but the anti-hero the Red Hood. Instead, Arkham makes the cut because of how players discover the reveal.

Joker spends the entire game dead, living on inside Batman’s head. The visions he shows the player of Todd’s supposed death are brutal. Players really get to empathize with the suffering of Todd before his villain ever takes off his mask. The framing of Joker’s actions help solidify the Arkham Knight as a tragic figure, rather than one of Batman’s usual foes.


Gone Home

Gone Home house art The Fullbright Company

Gone Home spends a lot of time pretending to be a ghost story. It makes sense. Like protagonist Katie, if I found my family home abandoned after a trip abroad, I would be freaking the hell out. It’s not just that the house is empty and the lights are flickering from a storm. As Katie finds clues left behind by her family, there are multiple references to a seance that her sister Sam wanted to hold. When it’s revealed that Sam is gay and was struggling with her home life, I was no longer just afraid of ghosts — I was afraid of what might have happened to my sister. In the end it’s revealed that there are no ghosts, and Sam has simply run off with her girlfriend. A relief, no doubt, but one that hasn’t aged as well for me as other big twists in games.

-Simone de Rochefort

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

The Phantom Pain Snake.bmp

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’s story isn’t as strong as other entries in the Metal Gear series. But the reveal that you’re actually Big Boss’ trusty pilot, not the legend himself, 50+ hours into the game somehow improves on Kojima’s own badass Solid Snake to precocious Riden character swap in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.

You never play as the famous Big Boss in The Phantom Pain, only his shadow. At the start of Phantom Pain, doctors transform you into Venom Snake, and lead you to believe that you’re the legendary hero from operation Snake Eater, Peace Walker, and the Ground Zero mission.

It’s not until the very end that you discover Ishmael, your savior in the first mission, is the real Big Boss, and has been on a secret mission while you’ve been galavanting with the Diamond Dogs. The twist itself is fun to discover, but even better on a second playthrough. Everything reflects the secret. Even one of the game’s opening songs, David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World, is a cover — just like Venom Snake.


her story Sam Barlow

Her Story has an incredibly engrossing narrative, which makes it all more shocking when a fucking face appears reflected on my screen in the late-game. It’s a tactic that Sam Barlow adopted for Telling Lies, except in that game the reflection represents the character that I’m playing from the beginning. In Her Story there was no indication that I was anyone other than a nosy version of myself (so, myself). At least until that face showed up. It scared the shit out of me. The further reveal that the character doing the searching is the daughter of the woman who appears in all those police interviews. It’s a neat way to put a bow on the story.


Frog Fractions screenshot 720 Twinbeard Studios

Frog Fractions is one of the most bizarre video game experiences of the last decade. Built to look like a simple education game, you start as a frog gobbling up fractions on a lilypad. Each upgrade feels like a triumph, until you unlock the turtle.

Suddenly, the nature of Frog Fractions changes. The game gets much stranger from here, but this is the first moment where it seems like there’s something truly weird going on in this game. From here, players move through a maze, to a text-only adventure game, to a courtroom. Frag Fractions is one of the only games where you truly feel like anything could come next.


Superhot review screen SUPERHOT team

Superhot is the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years!” I got this message from a friend on Steam the day Superhot released. It wasn’t until I finished the game nearly four days later that I realized what it meant and why he sent it to me.

Superhot’s plot involves a complicated series of reveals about the nature of reality and what exactly a game is. At some point Superhot insists it has control over you; anytime you complete and objective it congratulates itself. Questioning our own agency as players isn’t new. . But where Superhots’ real twist comes in is during the post-credits sequence. The game instructed me to spread Superhot to as many people as possible. To do this, I should send the worlds, “Superhot is the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years!” over social media, on Steam reviews, or over Steam messages.

On the one hand, this is a pretty direct and kind of hilarious marketing tactic. The game literally tells you to give it your word-of-mouth support. On the other hand, it was one of my favorite twists in a game because it changed the way I felt about a real-life conversation the game asked my friend to have, which is actually pretty unsettling.

-Austen Goslin

Bioshock Infinite

BioShock Infinite

The final hours of Bioshock Infinite reveal a lot about the game’s world and Elizabeth’s power. But no reveal feels more significant than the lighthouses, specifically the identity of Zachery Comstock.

It turns out that Booker DeWitt – you, the player character – and the game’s religious villain, Zachery Comstock, are the same man. And Elizabeth is your daughter, stolen from your timeline and taken to another. It’s a clash of two Bookers – one who lost his daughter only to steal another, and one whose actively repeating the same path.

But instead of perpetuating the cycle, leading more Bookers to more worlds and creating more Comstocks. A group of Elizabeths come together to drown their father – you – in a shallow pool.

Like the original Bioshock, Infinite showcases these story moments through gameplay. Landing in Rapture and discovering how the first Bioshock ties into Bioshock Infinite, or walking between the lighthouses is an unforgettable story moment from this decade.


The Dragon Age Games

Dragon Age: Inquisition preview 3 1920 Bioware/Electronic Arts

The two major Dragon Age games of the 2010s offered the juiciest of friend opportunities: Watching your buddy pick The Romance That Ends Poorly.

Both Dragon Age 2 and Dragon Age: Inquisition each contain a romanceable character who, in the end, turns out to be the game’s… well, not villain, exactly. Like most of Dragon Age lore, it’s complicated. Take Inquisition’s elvhen apostate, Solas.

He gives you a pet name in your ancient, shared language, and he’ll take you on literal dream dates. Then the Trespasser DLC reveals that he’s the legendary elvhen trickster god known as the Dread Wolf, and his ultimate goal is to destroy civilization as we know it. Also he cuts your left arm off at the bicep.

Rewind farther to Dragon Age 2, and it’s entirely possible to romance a man, let him move into your home, and then get blindsided by his radicalization into a pro-mage terrorist who blows up a church and instigates a full on Mage/Templar war.

Yes, I romanced Anders on my first playthrough. I don’t know how my friends kept quiet about it.

-Susana Polo

Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 - Shepard / Tali romance 960 BioWare/Electronic Arts

About halfway into playing Mass Effect 2 with my wife, she started to get frustrated. “Who the hell is this final companion slot for?,” she asked me. I told her she needed to wait and see. We’d played nearly 30 hours of the game, and we were still missing one of the game’s key companions.

When we entered one of the final missions, we briefly encountered a strange looking Geth, wearing a piece of N7 armor just like us. As I played, my wife paused for a moment and said, “That’s not the final dude, is it?” I was beaming. I’d waited through all of Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 for this moment.

After my Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 playthroughs with her (my dozenth, her first), we killed hundreds of Geth units together. The mystery of the soulless seeming robot not only saving you but wearing your armor was so exciting for her — just like it was for me back in 2010.

Legion — the Geth in question — finally rounded out our crew, and taught us so much about this race we’d previously only thought of as foes.


Outer Wilds

An astronaut sites next to a fire in Outer Wilds Mobius/Annapurna Interactive

As a puzzle game, there are many parts of Outer Wilds that you could consider a spoiler, but the biggest in the game isn’t about realizing how to solve a problem. It’s about realizing that you’ve never been working towards solving it in the first place.

The tone of the game — from its ruined cities to its central time loop-death-time loop mechanic — is unrepentantly elegiac. But still, as you unlock more and more secrets of Nomai technology, you might cling to a scrap of hope. Their ancient experiment has malfunctioned, and is making your solar system’s sun go supernova on the day of your first spaceflight. If you can figure it out, you can fix it.

The reality is much more dire: Your sun is actually undergoing its natural heat death. It was merely your and your people’s misfortune to be born at the end of the universe. I felt humbled by this realization, but not in any way shocked by it. And that the game’s spectacular finale could be so satisfying and hopeful is a testament to the careful craft that went into every inch of Outer Wilds.


Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus MachineGames / Bethesda

In Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus B.J. Blazkowicz is in a sorry state, both physically and mentally. He spends the entire first act of the game monologueing about his upcoming demise, and how useless he feels in his broken body.

When he gets captured and is set for execution, you wonder, “can this really be it for B.J.?” And then the game gives you a breakout sequence, where it seems like you’re about to save yourself! But it was all a dream. And when B.J.’s head falls from his shoulders, you start to wonder who you’ll play as next.

The reveal that the resistance creates a plan to grab B.J.’s severed head, keep it alive in a jar, and attach it to a Nazi super soldier body is one of the dumbest, coolest spoilers on this entire list. It’s such a rush of emotions. Machine Games turning B.J. Blazkowicz into a character that you could genuinely care for was a ridiculous feat in 2014. But making me cry over his potential death in the sequel is something I’ll never forget.


Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas screenshot 1024 Obsidian Entertainment

Fallout: New Vegas puts the player in the middle of four factions: the new-American NCR, the libertarian machinations of Mr. House, an independent “fuck you, got mine” New Vegas… and the brutal Caesar’s Legion. Caesar’s Legion is the bad guy choice, no question, as the Legion engages in crucifixion, slavery, rape, and other atrocities as they sweep across the Mojave Wasteland.

But their leader, the charismatic and intellectual Caesar, is the one who keeps the entire Legion functional. After exploring all four options, you find that Caesar has a brain tumor. He’s dying. It’s a fascinating wild card thrown into the middle of a political pressure cooker, and it changes the trajectory of the game and the player’s choices perfectly.

It also unlocks one of the cruelest choices in gaming, where you can save Caesar… by giving your pacifistic, intelligent, awkward scientist follower over to the Legion as a makeshift surgeon. Years later, as a result of your cruelty, he will disembowel himself with a scalpel. That’s a gutpunch you can’t find anywhere else in gaming.


Fire Emblem: Three Houses

a close-up of a woman holding a sword in Fire Emblem: Three Houses Intelligent Systems, Koei Tecmo Games/Nintendo

Fire Emblem: Three Houses offers a mid game reveal that makes you question everything you’ve done in the previous 20-odd hours. After so much build up about the dreaded Flame Emperor, Three Houses reveals that Edelgard, the head of the Black Eagle house, is actually the Flame Emperor. The game gives you the choice to join Edelgard … or fight against your former student.

But Fire Emblem: Three Houses never makes you feel evil for joining Edalgard. In my first playthrough, I felt like there was no way I could abandon my students. I’d come to trust Edelgard, and I knew she had a reason for becoming the Flame Emperor. The game never really breaks it into good or evil. All the houses and both sides of the conflict make compelling arguments for their point of view, based on the information you’re given.

A good spoiler begs you to experience the story again, knowing what you know. But Fire Emblem: Three Houses makes you believe that your choice, your story is the only true one — while also leaving you with a tinge of doubt, begging you to explore a different perspective.


Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Ubisoft Quebec/Ubisoft via Polygon

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey allows you to choose to play as either Alexios or Kassandra. As part of my chosen character Kassandra’s Tragic Flashback Sequence™, we learn why she lost her family. Loyal to the Kings of Sparta, Kassandra’s father agreed to sacrifice Alexios by throwing him off a cliff when he was a baby (cool!). Kassandra rushed in and tried to save him, and they both fell off the cliff — only Kassandra survived.

At least, that’s what I thought, until I infiltrated the secret cave headquarters of the evil Cult of Kosmos. The cultmembers whispered about Deimos, their demigod secret weapon who would help them rule the Greek world. And then in walked Alexios, all grown up, looking a bit worse for wear and angry as hell. Reader, I gasped! My baby brother! Evil now! In that moment, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey gave the fight against the cult with real heft and stakes. Deimos dogged my footsteps through the game, resisting my help — and I knew that if in the end I failed to save him, Kassandra’s mother would have to watch her son die all over again. Absolutely unacceptable — this twist gave me a real reason not just to beat the game, but to win.



The next Sea of Thieves update is a mysterious Tall Tale

At today’s X019 event, Rare showed off the next addition to the pirate sandbox Sea of Thieves. The next update is The Seabound Soul, a Tall Tale where players join Captain Pendragon to uncover the mystery of a ship called the Ashen Dragon. This tale introduces a new threat in the world of Sea of Thieves, and we can likely expect the story to unfold over the months to come with successive updates.

Tall Tales are story-heavy quests with puzzle and environmental challenges. They were first introduced in the Anniversary Update for Sea of Thieves, and can be accessed from the Adventure mode of the game.

In addition, Sea of Thieves players will have to contend with a hot new danger: fire. Players can chuck fire bombs at each others’ ships, or start a blaze upon their own vessel by leaving their fish unattended too long on the cooking station.

The announcement of a new Rare IP, Everwild, isn’t expected to slow development on Sea of Thieves. Rare will continue dedicating resources to Sea of Thieves and maintaining the current schedule of monthly events.

The Seabound Soul will go live in Sea of Thieves on Nov. 20, and will be free for all players.


Outer Worlds studio’s next project is a survival game where players are tiny

Obsidian Entertainment is making a multiplayer survival game. Called Grounded, it shrinks players down to the size of an insect, and then sets them loose in a stereotypical American backyard.

The game was announced during Microsoft’s X019 presentation. The software giant acquired the award-winning studio last year, making them part of its own internal stable of developers. That didn’t stop Obsidian from completing and releasing The Outer Worlds, which launched to rave reviews just last month. Published in partnership with Take-Two’s Private Division, it remains a separate franchise outside the control of Microsoft.

Representatives from Obsidian were on hand to say that the game has been in production for some time, even before the acquisition by Microsoft. Today’s trailer began with a young man running through a muddy landscape, only for the camera to pull back reveal a massive baseball. The entire yard is full of the typical detritus of childhood, including the head of an action figure and a juice box. Action then goes underground, where the player character holds a tiny match to light his way before fighting with ants in first-person. The game appears to include base building mechanics, which look very inspired by Fortnite. The tagline ends, “Go big or never go home.”

Three teens stand in front of a massive baseball. One gives a thumbsup to the other. Obsidian Entertainment/Microsoft

Of course, Obsidian is well-known and well-regarded for its role-playing games. It’s the same team that created Fallout: New Vegas and the Pillars of Eternity series, among others. But departures like this aren’t all that unusual. Recall Armored Warfare, a game from 2014 that went toe-to-toe with World of Tanks. The free-to-play action MMO was recently offloaded to the team at

Today’s trailer indicates that the game is destined for Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, with an early access release on Xbox Game Preview and Steam Early Access. The launch window is expected to be spring 2020.


Rare reveals its next game, Everwild

The developer of Sea of Thieves, Banjo-Kazooie, and Battletoads revealed its next project, an open-world adventure titled Everwild, during Microsoft’s X019 Inside Xbox presentation on Thursday.

Everwild is an all-new property for Rare, but the developer didn’t reveal much in the way of details about its next project. A debut trailer for the game, which you can watch above, showed a colorful and magical world inhabited by fantastical creatures — sadly none of them made of piñata materials. Humans in this world (or what look like humans) appear to cautiously interact with the game’s fantasy animals, which appear both timid and wild. Everwild is apparently early in development.

Rare said it will continue to work on its other game, Sea of Thieves, while developing Everwild.


Frozen 2 breaks from Disney traditions, but still feels safe

If it took six years for Frozen’s breakout ballad “Let It Go” to finally leave your head, prepare for some bad news. The music from Frozen 2, once again written by the original’s Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, is even more infectious than in the first movie. Absolute bangers like “Into the Unknown” make full use of Idina Menzel’s belt, while Evan Rachel Wood’s eerie “All is Found” setting up the story’s essential mystery.

The movie itself may not stick like the soundtrack. Frozen 2 further explores the kingdom of Arendelle, dives deeper into the magic of its world, and raises the stakes for the relationship between Arendelle’s orphaned sibling princesses, Anna and Elsa. The emotional swell of the fantasy sequel is up to par with the first, but some of the comedic relief grates on adult sensibilities, and the ending doesn’t hit hard. It’s all just a little safe.

[Ed. note: This review contains slight spoilers for Frozen 2]

Like the original, Frozen 2 opens with a prologue from Anna and Elsa’s childhood, which carves out more backstory for the fantasy world. In the form of a bedtime story, the girls learn that north of Arendelle lies an enchanted forest inhabited by magical spirits and a people called the Northuldra. Once upon a time, Anna and Elsa’s grandfather built a dam for the Northulrda, but they turned against the Arendellians, starting a war that upset the local nature spirits. Access to the forest is now blocked by magical fog.

It’s a clunky info-dump, but hey, at the end of the day, this is a movie primarily targeted at children. The movie has other moments where magical events of the present and past are delineated in an easy-to-follow way, but Frozen 2 still deals in heavier themes. This is a movie about confronting the truth about the past, rectifying past wrongs, and realizing that people change.

In the present day, three years after the end of Frozen, the core cast of characters has mostly settled into a comfortable life. While Anna (Kristen Bell), her boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and the living snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) are pretty content with the way things are, a catchy song about the impermanent nature of all things hints at the changes to come. Though Elsa (Idina Menzel) is queen now, she’s still uncomfortable in the role, and a mysterious voice beckons her from beyond, leading her to accidentally awaken the spirits of the four elements. To calm the magical forces, Troll leader Pabbie (Ciarán Hinds) tells Elsa and Anna that they need to find the truth of what happened the day their grandfather built the dam, and off to adventure the main quartet go.

sven, kristoff, anna, olaf, and elsa stare wide-eyed Disney

Frozen 2 focuses on the sisters, in a noticeably different way than the original film. Frozen was ultimately about sisterhood, but Anna and Elsa spent most of the film apart, and navigating separate problems. The sequel, by contrast, keeps them together for most of the movie, exploring different parts of their relationship. Sometimes they argue because of clashing motivations — Elsa wants to fix what’s wrong, no matter the cost, whereas Anna’s main focus is keeping her loved ones safe. But their connection feels more genuine now. Anna knows Elsa isn’t feeling well whenever Elsa puts on their mother’s shawl, while Elsa knows how to cheer Anna up when she’s feeling defeated. The closeness of their relationship — and the tension whenever that closeness is threatened — becomes the movie’s emotional crux.

As for the other characters, Kristoff gets a subplot where he continuously messes up his planned marriage proposal to Anna, while Olaf contemplates the experience of aging. Both arcs have high and low points, including their own songs. Olaf’s “When I Am Older” is an infectious earworm that actually moves the plot along slightly. Kristoff’s comedically overwrought power ballad “Lost in the Woods” shows off Jonathan Groff’s pipes in the style of an ’80s music video, with closeups of Kristoff’s face superimposed onto shots of him singing. The number would be absolutely hilarious if it didn’t stall the movie for three minutes.

The side plots are the burst of energy the movie needs, as when Kristoff quickly befriends a Northulrda man who also has a special connection with reindeer, or Olaf commenting about the complexity of thought that comes with aging. At other times, the leaps between slapstick and grandeur are tonally jarring. Kristoff and Anna’s inability to hold a conversation that doesn’t devolve into exaggerated insecurity doesn’t exactly speak to the strength of their relationship. A scene where Olaf reenacts the events of the original Frozen feels a little like Disney patting itself on the back for its success six years ago.

Disney’s CGI animation has come a long way in those six years, and visually, Frozen 2 fully takes advantage of the studio’s abilities. The enchanted forest is gorgeous, from the lush autumn colors to the tendrils of purple magical fire. The individual freckles on Anna and Elsa’s faces are visible, and so are the little irregularities of Kristoff’s skin. Their hair looks real. The bottom sphere of Olaf’s snowman body, glimmers with intricate crystal patterns. As the movie dives deeper into magical lore, and Elsa tames the elements, treks across a stormy sea, and discovers a glimmering glacial fortress that rivals the ice palace she conjured in the first movie, the visuals are dazzling, surpassing the original.

Elsa shows off her super amazing ice power DISNEY

The animation is richer, and so is the conflict. Frozen 2 follows in the path of last year’s Ralph Breaks the Internet by not having an actual villain. It’s not a bait-and-switch like the first Frozen, where a good guy turns out to be a bad one; the antagonists here are past prejudices and secrets, and the possible fallout of nature’s fury. Disney animated movies don’t necessarily shy away from heavier themes, but instead of representing evil through a moustache-twirling evil-doer, Frozen 2 builds tension around long-ago wrongdoings, and the solution involves atoning for them, even if that comes at a cost to Anna and Elsa’s current way of life.

But this is a Disney movie, and there are happy endings all around. Though the stakes seem high, the triumphs loom just as large, with Elsa racing across a fjord on a magical ice horse, her hair billowing in the wind. (Oh, to be a kid again, watching that scene wide-eyed in theaters!) At moments near the end of Frozen 2, as it becomes clear that Olaf’s warnings about change actually carry some weight, and Anna and Elsa might have different destinies, the movie, directed by the first film’s Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, implies that it won’t hold back on the emotional consequences. Ultimately, the message of Frozen 2 is about growing up and realizing that family members can love each other, and still have different paths.

Frozen 2’s emotional fallouts play out in a safe, contained way. The relationship consequences that loom over the final act of the film get smoothed over, without any real ramifications or poignant conclusions. The movie hints not only at a high-stakes transformation for Arendelle, but also for the relationship between the two sisters. They do transform, as Olaf so obviously hints they will, but the changes he warned don’t shake things up much at all.

The door is wide open for a Frozen 3, much to the joy of young kids with rooms full of Frozen merchandise. But next to the bittersweet conclusions of other family friendly sagas, like the How to Train Your Dragon franchise or the Toy Story movies, Frozen 2 melts away.

Frozen 2 comes out in theaters on Nov. 22.


Reticles are more important than you know

The reticle is that little dot, crosshairs, or aiming circle on your screen that’s so common you might not have thought much about it. Sure, it helps you aim, but the reticle has other incredibly important purposes that are easy to take for granted.

Our pixelated friend showed up early in arcades, mostly in submarine games, like Sea Wolf (1976), and later on in light gun games like Sega’s Jurassic Park (1994). Battle Zone (1980) featured a legit, stationary aiming reticle, which I mention because the reticle was dynamic; it changed when you hovered over an enemy.

Using a reticle to communicate gameplay information is pretty standard now, but it’s a feature that a whole generation of first-person shooters just forgot about, when they had a reticle at all. A lot of the early FPS games, like Doom (1993) and Goldeneye (1997) didn’t bother with one.

Outside of Halo, which arguably perfected the crosshair in 2001, first-person shooters generally didn’t get wise to using the reticle as a form of communication until the mid-2000s. Now the reticle is used as a vehicle for all sorts of information, like when you’re hovering over an enemy, what gun you have equipped, and whether you can interact with an object. It’s so common we rarely have to think about what information we’re getting from that little dot on our screen.

And that’s not even the best service the reticle provides. If you’ve ever circled back to those early first-person shooters, you might’ve experienced the Gamer’s Sour Curse: motion sickness.

That freckle is a constant, unmoving point on the screen, a place to focus when your avatar is in motion. It’s the same theory behind spotting, a technique where a dancer will keep their eyes trained on one spot as their body executes full spins. In fact, the creators of Mirror’s Edge actually consulted with ballerinas to figure out how they do eight spins in a row without vomiting all over the front seats.

Watch the video above to learn exactly why having a reticle keeps you from losing your lunch.


The Rock announces his Black Adam movie for December 2021

After years of hinting and hoping, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has confirmed that he’s officially bringing Black Adam to the screen, in a blockbuster due in December 2021. It’s unclear if the movie’s a direct sequel to Warner Bros.’ Shazam! or a movie meant to kickoff a bigger DC universe, but Johnson will play the villainous Black Adam, former avatar of the Wizard, who was condemned for using his powers for selfish reasons.

Johnson shared the news with a post on his instagram, complete with concept art by Jim Lee of himself in Adam’s black and gold:

Johnson was cast as Black Adam all the way back in 2014, but delays in the production of Shazam! caused the film to conflict with his schedule. A solo Black Adam was subsequently floated. That could be what Johnson is hinting at with the release date here — or it could be the currently in pre-production sequel to Shazam!.

Black Adam, given name Teth-Adam, was born in 13th-century Egypt, and, as an adult, was chosen to receive the power of Shazam, just like Billy Batson in the modern day. Shazam! even referenced this, explaining that after gaining the power of the lightning, Black Adam freed the Seven Deadly Sins and nearly destroyed the world.

Functionally, Black Adam is every bit Billy Batson’s equal, with all the same powers — making him strong enough to go toe-to-toe with Superman. In the modern DC Comics Universe, however, he’s also had role as a world leader. After being revived/released in the modern day, he returned to Khandaq, the made-up middle eastern country that he once ruled in antiquity. There, the descendants of his original subjects received him as a theocratic ruler.

Adam is prideful, powerful, and follows his own code of honor. His stated goal is to protect his people and foster their growth as a society, and he believes that American superheroes have an outsize influence on global norms.

Which side of Black Adam we’ll see in the next Shazam! installment remains to be seen, but I think it’s safe to bet that either way, The Rock will have some fun bringing him to life.


Watch Inside Xbox’s livestream from X019 in London here

Microsoft is holding its semi-annual X0 event this weekend in London, and will kick off the gathering with an episode of Inside Xbox that promises to deliver big news about Xbox One and Windows PC games.

Inside Xbox is Microsoft’s in-house web show that focuses on new and existing games — Xbox’s version of a Nintendo Direct or State of Play.

The X019 episode of Inside Xbox is touted as the live show’s biggest ever, promising “new game announcements from Xbox Game Studios and others, never before seen gameplay, exciting news on Project xCloud, Xbox Game Pass, and so much more.” Expect news from Microsoft’s stable of developers, including Rare, Obsidian Entertainment, Ninja Theory, inXile Entertainment, and Mojang. Microsoft’s currently announced lineup of games includes Halo Infinite, Bleeding Edge, Age of Empires 4, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Minecraft Dungeons.

Today’s Inside Xbox livestream from X019 London will be broadcast on Thursday, Nov. 14 at 3 p.m. ET/12 p.m. PT. You can watch it live right here, or on Mixer, Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter.


‘Game Freak Lied’ isn’t entirely about Pokémon Sword and Shield

Early Wednesday morning, a video game hashtag climbed to the top spot across America: #GameFreakLied, a caustic repository for all the anxiety, angst, and anger that has defined the pre-release narrative of Pokémon Sword and Shield.

At first glance, the furor is a refute against Game Freak’s development decisions for Pokémon Sword and Shield. But if we take a step back, the issue is much bigger than pocket monsters.

The #GameFreakLied hashtag appears to be the brainchild of a Redditor who shared images of Pokémon wireframes which purported to show re-used assets in Sword and Shield. As the post tells it, Game Freak said it decided to cut the national Pokédex, thereby limiting the number of Pokémon in Sword and Shield, because the company decided to redo all models “from scratch.” The wireframes, which are apparently the same across multiple games, are supposed to prove that Game Freak’s rationale is a lie. But if you look at the actual interview referenced in the post, that’s not what the Pokémon studio said, at least according to the translation highlights floating around on the internet right now. The actual text of these highlights state that “balancing for new Pokémon with new abilities has become very hard” and this specific reason is why Game Freak “have judged that it will be hard for all the Pokémon to appear, even in titles going forward.” The original article also states that “hardware changes” impacted the graphics quality of Sword and Shield.

Curiously, Game Freak has said multiple things on the subject — picking one quote as the reason seems suspect. In an interview with Polygon, for example, producer Junichi Masuda says that the studio prioritized adding mechanics over adding more monsters.

“We need to be able to prioritize new gameplay ideas,” Masuda said. “We need to be able to find a way to balance the right number of Pokémon and also still introduce new ways for players to enjoy the game, new gameplay ideas to keep the series fresh and enjoyable far into the future.” Likely, the decision came down to a combination of factors.

A series of Pokemon wireframes. 4chan via BigHailFan

Another oft-cited idea is that Game Freak decreased the number of available Pokémon because it wanted to implement better animations, but once again, if you look at the specific interview containing that information, that’s not what the developer says. In the write-up by USgamer, Masuda does say that creating a game on the Nintendo Switch — which is a console, unlike most devices where you can play Pokémon — means “higher fidelity and higher quality animations.” That phrase is immediately followed up with, “But even more than that, it’s coming down to the battle system. We’re making sure we can keep everything balanced and give all the Pokémon that appear in the games a chance to shine.”

Detractors who are upset at the culled Pokédex cite, above all, animations and re-used assets as the smoking gun that proves Game Freak “lied” and has actually produced a subpar game. But Game Freak hasn’t exactly been untruthful — it’s been misconstrued, as people pick the parts of interviews that best suit their points, while actively ignoring what the developer says are the main reasons for the change. But it’s much easier to screenshot images or share shoddy animations than it is to assess the balance of games the public hasn’t played. Of course, this line of thinking also ignores the series’ draw has never been outstanding graphics.

The infamous Famitsu interview where Masuda mentions Game Freak apparently had to redo models nonetheless has become a sticking point for fans. Much of it comes down to unsourced images hailing from 4chan, where wireframe models of Pokémon appear to show that the creatures from Sword and Shield are constructed exactly like ones from previous games. While Polygon cannot confirm if these images are legitimate, we spoke to Pokémon hacker @SciresM, who has a proven track record with pulling information hidden in the game files, some of which have formed the basis of previous Pokémon leaks. SciresM says that hackers do indeed have a way to extract assets from Sword and Shield through the usage of specialty programs, which have also been used to do the same in previous games. According to SciresM, the images fans are sharing are real — but he didn’t personally extract them, nor can Polygon speak to the people who produced the graphics.

The reality is that it doesn’t matter if the wireframes are real. For fans who have been amassing a collection for years, there’s nothing Game Freak can possibly say that will make leaving behind beloved buddies sting less. There’s an emotional component here — if Mass Effect fans were intense about Commander Shepard’s storyline, a character who only spans three games, you can imagine how Pokémon fans feel about their companions, which may have been pulled across twice as many games. This may explain why the anger feels so palpable. While fans share foolproof “evidence” of poor animations and graphical performance in Sword and Shield, these posts mask something more basic: Fans feel betrayed. They were told, for years, that monster continuity was one of the core pillars holding up the games — and they believed it, even if rationally speaking, it would probably make sense for Game Freak to cut back at some point.

But even so, that doesn’t entirely explain the severity of the reactions to the limited Pokédex. The truth is that there’s always been a tension between Game Freak and the hardcore fandom that posts on websites like Reddit, or those who compete in tournaments. For years, Game Freak has insisted on making games that appeal more toward children, all while the existing player base continues to grow older. Fans have begged for more mature, complex, and difficult games over the years, but Pokémon largely remains the same. It took years for the games to abandon 2D sprites. It took years for the games to noticeably shake up the tried and true Pokémon formula. It took years for the games to make the jump to consoles. And while Game Freak has slowly introduced mechanics that appeal more to hardcore fans — like the upcoming ability to change a Pokémon’s nature — you still get the feeling that the games aren’t exactly for them.

Pokémon’s toughest challenge is balancing the needs and wants of older players, while always planning for the reality that the latest games will be someone’s introduction to the franchise. Few people pose the Sword and Shield issue this way outright, but every so often you see folks reveal that they’ve had a problem with the games, and Game Freak more specifically, for years now. The “Dexit” controversy just finally gives them an outlet to express that disappointment.

“You guys typed for years on 4chan about how you’re insatisfied [sic], don’t get lazy now, let your voice get heard out there!” one 4chan denizen wrote in response to the #GameFreakLied hashtag.

The resentment toward Game Freak pops up nearly everywhere you look. There’s this notion that while Pokémon is a global phenomenon enjoyed by millions, Game Freak and its mid-sized, 200-employee studio and its weirdly retrograde attitudes toward development, may not be the best fit for the series anymore. As one recent Tweet puts it, “all the problems people have with their recent games could be solved if Nintendo bought out Game Freak.” To be clear: It’s an unfair sentiment. It’s entirely possible that Pokémon is only a blockbuster franchise precisely because of the idiosyncrasies of the existing development studio.

And, more broadly, the controversy isn’t about Game Freak at all, either. Over the last few years, there’s been a rapidly growing shift between developers, publishers, and video game fans. Nearly every big studio you can name, from Rockstar to Blizzard, has come under fire for ignoring the apparent needs and wants of existing fans. Video game players, stoked by the acerbic rants of YouTubers, are now primed to expect unfinished games, half-truths, and being nickel and dimed. Trust has been eroded. Video game fans expect the worst, and in doing so, attribute malice to continually overworked and pressured game developers who can’t even defend themselves, because development studios are notoriously mum about what they say publicly.

Then again, who would want to throw themselves to the proverbial wolves when everyone is angry? Game Freak is the latest victim in an ongoing war between video game fans and the people who make their entertainment. It is also perhaps the most egregious target so far: There’s something jarring about seeing such raw vitriol spewed toward a children’s game whose mascot is a cute yellow rodent.

It’s a tiresome time to be a Pokémon fan, sure. I’ve spent more time reading about the apparent shortfalls of a game few people have played than I have talking about the legitimate reasons why I’m excited to play the newest installments in a series, historically speaking, has been pretty good. But it’s even more exhausting to love video games at all right now. There’s always a new puddle to be angry about. Or, in this case, a tree.


Stardew Valley gets a big endgame patch at the end of November

Stardew Valley is getting a large (and free) endgame patch that, creator Eric Barone says, will “finally ‘polish’ the game to the degree that I’ve always wanted.’” The patch, coming Nov. 26 to PC, will clean up several lingering bugs and add a bunch of quality-of-life features, two of which sound like pure fan service.

The first is the ability to take a screenshot (in PC versions) of the player’s entire farm. Posterity is very important in a game like Stardew Valley, and for longtime players it’ll be nice to have a sampler-size accounting of all their work.

Here’s a sneak peek at what that new feature looks like:


Another feature, all spouses will now have a unique, 14-heart event after marriage. Again, for posterity, but it’s a nice scene for those who have put so much time into the game.

Barone, in a blog post also marking the arrival of the long-awaited patch delivering multiplayer to consoles, promised a lot more endgame content, on all platforms.

“I don’t want to spoil very much, so you’ll just have to wait and see for yourself.” Barone said that the console and mobile versions’ patch will follow the PC release by a few weeks. A firmer date will be announced after more testing is done.


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