Cube World’s time out of the public eye has resulted in a final release that is notably different from its popular alpha, especially when it comes to levelling (which is gone), region-locked equipment (you can’t take stuff from one biome to another) and the hang glider (which now sucks).
One of the reasons I was so into it (at least on paper) back in 2012 was that it sounded (and looked, obviously, given its similar art style) like a gamier version of Minecraft. I get that Mojang’s classic has its millions of fans, but its open-ended nature never really appealed to me. I thought Cube World’s tighter focus and RPG elements would take the stuff I did like about Minecraft—its procedurally-generated worlds and a feeling of real boundlessness—and reign them into something more structured.
Cube World does this, but only in the most serviceable way possible. The outline of an action RPG is there, and traces of MMORPGs alongside it, but none of it is any fun. Combat is incredibly basic, while questing is a chore since I had no investment in this paper-thin world or the characters around me.
It’s also badly in need of a tutorial, since your first hours with the game are also the worst, as you wander around the woods being killed by everything you come across, get little in return, then have no idea what to do with the stuff you do get.
About the only thing I did enjoy about my time with Cube World was exploring. It’s a very pretty world, if you’re into the blocky voxel art style thing, and its undulating terrain and enormous caves were nice just to zone out and stroll across.
It’s a shame that Cube World’s launch has ended up like this, with fans dismayed (the game’s Reddit and Steam reviews are not being kind) at the amount of stuff removed or changed from what had already been such a fun experience. For a game to spend so long in the dark and then finally get released could have been one of the feel-good stories of the year! Instead we’ve got a game that is somehow worse than its alpha, missing loads of what were originally its best features, and what’s left just isn’t very good.
We’re about to begin the final weekend before Destiny 2‘s big expansion, Shadowkeep, launches, and it’s understandable if you’re feeling a little listless.
One of the nice things about Destiny is how it’s always endeavored to offer something for every style of play, and as a result, everyone plays at their own pace. In that spirit, I’ve got three categories of tips for you: Some general things everyone should do, a few tips for the hardcore, and finally, a few pointers for less intensive players.
Tips For Everyone
Don’t try and raise your power. This is kind of counterintuitive to how Destiny works, since the primary goal of the game is finding better gear that raises your stats, but come Shadowkeep, the current power level ceiling is going to be the new floor, and everyone’s going to rocket up to 750 power. So, while you will almost certainly climb a little bit as you naturally play, don’t make it your goal. Just do what’s interesting.
Don’t infuse anything. That big power jump also applies to all of your gear, so there’s no point in wasting materials to upgrade weapons or armor unless you absolutely need them for something you plan to do this weekend, specifically.
Break down your cosmetics. We’ve known this for at least a month now, but it bears repeating: break down all the cosmetics you aren’t using for Bright Dust, stat. (Bright Dust, remember, is a currency used exclusively for cosmetics and earned through play, unlike Silver, which is bought with real money.) After next week, cosmetics will instead break down into legendary shards, and you can pull previously owned cosmetics from your collections menu with the requisite materials—so you’re essentially sitting on free Bright Dust. Cash in!
Also mods. Mods are converting from one-time-use to permanent unlocks in Shadowkeep, so you’ll only ever need one. If you have multiple mods of one type, break them down now, and stock up on Mod Components—they’ll come in handy as mods are about to become very important.
You’ve finished the campaigns, right? A hiccup of the Destiny 2 base game going free-to-play means that, if you haven’t completed any of the story campaigns—the base game’s Red War, its Curse of Osiris and Warmind expansions, or Forsaken—your progress will be reset. Thankfully, they’re all short, so if you’re midway through any of them, you can probably knock them out this weekend. And if you can’t do that, each planet in Destiny 2 will be unlocked via experience points, not campaign progress, so don’t sweat it.
Ignore armor. Armor is going to change completely once Shadowkeep drops, don’t even bother.
Remember: You can’t play the game on Monday. Destiny 2 is shutting down for a full 24 hours before Shadowkeep’s global launch on October 1, from 10 a.m. PDT/1 p.m EST on Monday until the weekly reset at the same time Tuesday. Make sure you wrap up your affairs by Sunday night, or at the very latest, early Monday morning.
Tips For The Hardcore
Farm Everything. If you’re a hardcore Destiny player, you probably have loads of materials in your inventory, but do a sweep and make sure your coffers are full—the economy’s changing, and it’s nice to stay liquid. Stock up on anything you can think of: planetary materials like Dusklight Shards and Microphasic Datalattice, upgrade materials like Legendary Shards and Enhancement Cores, and make sure you’re carrying the maximum amount of Glimmer.
Fill Out Your Arsenal. Maybe you have everything you think you need to handle whatever Shadowkeep throws your way, but are you sure? Just about every type of weapon is going to perform a little differently when the expansion hits, so you need to be thinking about versatility, and be ready to experiment. Which is fun! And even more fun if you’re prepared. Make sure you don’t have any blatant holes in your arsenal, and maybe spend some time chasing down weapons you didn’t really think highly of before. They could end up being your new favorite in Shadowkeep’s earliest hours.
Consider Stocking Up On Bounties. This tip comes via Datto’s brief-but-excellent guide to Shadowkeep prep. Spend some time completing bounties this weekend, and don’t cash them in. This way, you bank a bunch of readily available experience points that will level up your seasonal artifact and also might come with some sweet new loot that scales to Shadowkeep’s higher power levels. The viability of this trick wasn’t known when Datto made his video, but Bungie confirmed Thursday afternoon that most bounties will still be honored, with the exception of Crucible, Vanguard, and Gambit bounties.
Tips For Everyone Else
If you’re returning, just dip into the most recent stuff. The last year of Destiny 2 is a bit overwhelming for lapsed players, but since Bungie made last year’s Annual Pass content free this week, you might want to check it out. You need to be level 30 for these extras. I recommend you focus on the Season of Opulence stuff, which is kicked off by talking to Benedict 99-40, a robot tucked away in the Tower Annex. It’s the most well-rounded of the last year’s three updates, with a grind that feels fair and a killer activity, The Menagerie, attached. And like all of last year’s Annual Pass content, it’ll still be here when Shadowkeep launches, regardless of whether or not you buy the expansion.
If you crave direction, find a weapon you want and go for it. There are a lot of performance tweaks inbound with Shadowkeep, so there’s no must-have gear, but there is a wide range of interesting weapons to pursue, some of which might make you play in a way you don’t normally play. Get some friends together and try a big exotic quest for a gun you didn’t think you could get, like the Lumina healing hand cannon. Look at your Lore Books, and figure out where the missing pages might be. Make your own goals, and surprise yourself.
Think about friends who might be into joining you. While lots of exciting new stuff is exclusive to Shadowkeep, the Destiny 2 base game is also getting an upgrade and going free-to-play alongside the Shadowkeep launch, so it’s the perfect time to recruit some pals. They won’t be able to do everything with you, but they’ll have free access to every destination, so they’ll definitely be able to come along on the grind.
If you need help, ask for it! The Destiny community has by and large maintained a pretty positive atmosphere, and is full of people willing to help solo players do things they can’t pull off alone. Consider this weekend as a time to make friends and mix it up, so you won’t be going into Shadowkeep alone.
That’s all I have for you right now. See you on the moon next week.
Styled after Nintendo’s new Switch Lite, the 8BitDo Lite is a controller so ultra-portable that it’s got two directional pads instead of analog sticks to keep it as thin as possible.
The 8BitDo Lite features all the functionality of a full-sized Nintendo Switch controller, only instead of analog sticks, it has D-pads. That means these should take the place of analog sticks, perfect for games that don’t actually have analog control anyway (and probably not the best for those that do). Unlike the Switch Lite itself, the D-pad isn’t replacing the four-button array on the left side, which is still there. It’s a weird-looking controller for sure.
Though obviously designed to match the more colorful variations of the Switch Lite, the $25 controllers, available for preorder now and shipping October 30, also work with PC, MacOS, Android, and more, with a switch on top that swaps between Switch and Xbox-compatible functionality They connect via USB-C cable or Bluetooth, and they feature a programmable turbo function, in case one needs a button to be pressed repeatedly in rapid fashion.
It looks weird, but also pretty damn cool. I can’t look at pictures of these for too long without the overwhelming urge to bite into them. I’m thinking the turquoise tastes like spearmint.
And the yellow one probably tastes like lemon meltaway candy.
Another possible outcome is they both probably taste like plastic. Even so, I am curious to test the accessibility of those R2 and L2 buttons, situated as they are along the top of the controller instead of behind the triggers or on the back.
Consider me intrigued. I own a couple of 8BitDo controllers for my Analogue retro Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo consoles, and they have yet to let me down. Looking forward to getting my large hands on these odd-yet-pretty things later this year.
There are nearly 500 eyebrow options in Code Vein’s character creator.
There is a lot of every option in the robust character creation toolset of Bandai Namco’s post-apocalyptic vampire adventure. Players begin by choosing a gender, one of the creator’s simplest options. From there, they can choose between 32 different premade characters. These serve as a starting point for a much larger series of decisions. Each preset character is stunning in their own way.
Once a preset is selected, the best option is to skip down to entering a name and advancing directly to gameplay. Otherwise, moving on to “Advanced Settings” opens up a staggering amount of customization that kept me occupied for several hours when I was supposed to be playing the actual game.
There are 58 different hairstyles in Code Vein’s character creator. Each hairstyle has multiple color options, base color, and highlights. Once you’ve chosen and colored the perfect hairstyle you’ll discover the accessories menu. Along with glasses, hats, gloves, jewelry, and other random bits, the accessories menu has an entire section filled with hair extensions.
There are only a handful of outfits in Code Vein’s character creator, which is good, because each one can be customized with dozens of different colors and patterns. Flat colors. Glowing colors. Plaids. Animal patterns. Metallic sheens. Vertical stripes, horizontal stripes, and checkerboard.
Sweet Christ, there are 66 different options for eye highlights in Code Vein’s character creator. EYE HIGHLIGHTS.
This is why I spent an hour and a half creating my first character in Code Vein. Then I played through the opening section and realized I didn’t like the character I created. I made a new character and started the game over. Eventually, I found the in-game headquarters, where characters can be edited on the fly. I felt stupid for not checking this out sooner, but also pretty.
In the video up top I spend ten minutes showing off Code Vein’s character creator while gushing. It’s deep and complicated, as a character creator should be. It’s the game’s best feature.
Bandai Namco’s anime vampire apocalypse adventure Code Vein is clearly meant to be a Dark Souls-style joint. It’s got that signature slower, methodical combat and massive, challenging bosses. Hell, it’s even got a Souls-like currency that can be lost when a player meets their untimely end. But Code Vein also has hot anime AI partners, a homey headquarters with a fully stocked bar and working jukebox, and a relaxing hot springs to help drain what little tension the game manages to muster.
For a game about vampiric revenants battling over dwindling blood supplies at the end of the world, Code Vein is surprisingly laid back. During the game’s early moments, following my apocalpytic bloodsucker’s awakening from an incredibly robust character creator, things look pretty grim. My character, with no memory of her life, finds herself enslaved by a group of revenants who plan on using her to harvest blood bulbs from blood trees. Fortunately, however, her first mission ends with her encountering Louis, a friendly vampire determined to find a away for humans and revenants to live in peace and harmony.
Louis is researching the strange blood bulb-producing plants that have been popping up, hoping that by discovering their source he can tap into an endless, cruelty-free food supply. How fortunate! In a world filled with scavengers desperate to survive and infested with The Lost, twisted, feral creatures who were once human before surrendering to their endless thirst, we run into the one guy trying to make things right. We’re the luckiest revenants ever.
Louis and his cadre of like-minded vampire pals are a big part of why Code Vein feels so safe to me. Almost immediately, the game lets me know that I don’t have to go it alone. Whenever I’m out exploring the deep caves or ruined cityscapes, Louis or one of his friends tags along. They fight by my side. Hell, sometimes they fight for me.
Take one of the game’s earlier bosses, the Butterfly of Delirium. She’s a scantily clad anime woman in the front, a weird lizard thing in the back, and she was giving me a hell of a time. I’d fight her, die, and respawn a few enemies away at the “Mistle,” Code Vein’s version of a campfire. Then I’d hop into the game’s menu, fiddling with my character’s weapon and skill loadout. Maybe change the “Blood Code” or character job I was using. I’d head back to Madame Butterfly, run out of healing items in mid-battle, miss a dodge and get poisoned and die.
I repeated this process several times. Sometimes I’d farm “Haze” (read: Souls) to upgrade my weapons or unlock new abilities. Mistle comes in incredibly handy, as every time the player rests all the nearby monsters respawn. There’s a Mistle located in an abandoned parking garage just down the ramp from a large enemy that drops valuable items. I like to pop over there and do some farming. It also helps that I can teleport back to home base at any point, sell some gear, buy some power-ups, and maybe listen to a little music before charging back into the fray.
After several painful deaths at the wings and poison clouds of the Butterfly of Delirium, here’s the strategy that finally worked: I dodged. I spent the entire battle dodging her attacks, resisting the urge to charge in and get a few whacks with my broadsword or perform a special ichor-draining attack to reload my ichor-powered rifle. Instead, I just let my AI-controlled companion kill the damn boss. Louis wasn’t quite cutting it, so I switched to Yakumo, Louis’s hotter, red-headed friend. His massive sword did all the work. I didn’t even both casting any shared buffs. Didn’t want to make the boss mad.
Kotaku’s Heather Alexandra participated in Code Vein’s network test earlier this year and complained that calling additional players into battle trivializes boss battle. I’m playing pre-release—the game launches for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One tomorrow—so I’ve not been able to find other real people to play with, but so far the AI companions are doing a fine job of trivializing combat without human help. Outside of the Butterfly battle, the only real challenge I’ve faced are Trials of Blood, special in-game events where hordes of The Lost swarm the player and their partner, attempting to overwhelm them with sheer numbers.
Code Vein isn’t a very challenging game, and I don’t mind at all. It’s all about unlocking that next Mistle and regularly spending Haze on leveling up your character and unlocking skills. Initially I was worried it would be another dark and dreary Souls-like game, dulling its anime vampire edge with plodding, brutish combat. Instead, it’s this weird sort of Souls-like playground, where players are free to experiment with new weapon combinations and Blood Code builds without worrying too much about losing progress or getting overly frustrated or being challenged in any meaningful way.
Hell, I spent an hour grinding to gather enough Haze to unlock and master some abilities from the Hunter and Ranger Blood Codes to help me find items and make enemies show up on radar. I had no plan. They just sounded like cool skills, and this is the sort of game where I can spend hours acquiring cool skills and then more hours creating loadouts of said skills and figuring out which combination of blades, guns, and magic spells are best at making an easy job even easier.
It’s those sorts of game mechanics that will keep me coming back once Code Vein goes live. I’m not particularly interested in the game’s story, as I’ve already gotten my fill of “hot anime people at the end of the world” from Astral Chain on the Nintendo Switch. The post-apocalyptic world is pretty in many places but plain in many others.
Nah, I’m here for teams of players gathering online and completely fucking this shit up. My NPC friends and I can do an awful lot of damage to the dark denizens of Code Vein’s crumbling society. I can’t wait to see the sort of carnage real players can summon. I am here for that.
I can’t remember the last time both of these games so underwhelmed.
In recent years both have had their individual highs and lows. FIFA’s last pre-Frostbite seasons were rough, and PES has long been walking a knife’s edge between eccentric brilliance and outright embarrassment.
This is not a normal Kotaku review
Sports game reviews are usually pretty boring, so for a few years now I’ve decided against giving each of these titles a spotlight of their own, instead pitting them in a caged fight to the death. Only insane people are going to get both of these games, so most football fans probably just want to know which of the two is the one to pick up. Most years it’s FIFA. Some years it’s not.
Every time one stumbled, though, the other was there to carry the day, whether it was PES’ Fox Engine revolution or FIFA’s surprisingly excellent single-player story mode, “the Journey.” I’d always be able to point to one of these two games, combatants in the last genuine competition in the sports game market, and say this one is definitely the one to get.
This year, instead of a confident thrusting of my finger, I can only half-heartedly wave my hand. PES is stuck in the same rut it’s been in for years now, capable on the pitch but increasingly a shambles off of it, while FIFA has somehow, in a genre defined by its obsession with incremental upgrades, managed to go backwards.
Here’s how this year’s head-to-head review is going to work. I’m going to give you what I like most about both games and what I don’t like. I’ll give a reluctant endorsement to one of them, and then we’re going to go our separate ways and reconvene same time next year to see what’s up.
THE GOOD STUFF
CAREER MODE – This is less of a big 2019 update and more of just the slow accumulation of features over the last few seasons, but FIFA’s career mode—especially as a manager—is now so fully featured that it’s like a Football Manager Lite, down to keeping players happy and getting into the nitty gritty of international scouting. The new contract negotiation system, which plays out with agents in a tense cinematic office/restaurant environment, is fantastic.
MISKICKS – While for the most part FIFA has tried to get more realistic over the past decade (it was originally a decidedly arcade experience), one area where it always lagged behind PES was the way you could string together pinpoint passes regardless of the direction the person receiving the ball was facing in relation to where he was kicking it.
In FIFA 20 there are now very strict rules regarding this, so if you try and just spam quick throughballs into the centre of midfield with your back to the opposition’s half, your players won’t perform leg-snapping miracles, they’ll just completely miskick it. Combined with the physicality and 1v1 “strafing” of the setup touch, it really helps to slow down FIFA’s pace, and really helps with allowing for calculated build-up play in an opponent’s final third, a ploy previous FIFA games just weren’t interested in accommodating.
ULTIMATE TEAM – Every year Ultimate Team inches closer, NBA 2K-style, to becoming the central focus of the FIFA experience, and every year that bums me out a little more. This mode is essentially gambling, it’s bad news for kids, and it has no place in a retail video game that’s already asking for you a big up-front investment.
THE GOOD STUFF
“THE PITCH IS OURS” – Every year PES’ gameplay, with its methodical player animation and 1:1 ball physics, gets a little closer to playing like the real thing. This year it got a little closer still. I never, ever score the same goal twice in PES, and its midfield battles are far more tactical than FIFA’s breakneck race to the penalty box.
MENUS – This seems like a minor thing to heap praise on, but for the longest time PES’ front end has been a nightmare to plod through. This year it’s much nicer, which for a game you might be spending hundreds of hours with, makes a big difference!
THE BAD STUFF
SLOPPY – PES 2020 is just so rough around the edges. It launched without correct team rosters, data updates take forever, in-game replays are doubled in length due to constant splashing of the game’s logo…everywhere you look, there’s just stuff there (or not there) that feels unfinished.
COMMENTARY – I think Peter Drury is the worst commentator working in football today, so his mere presence in the game isn’t helping here, but even were I a fan I’d still be criticizing PES for this. Its commentary is repetitive, slow and bizarrely unspecific, and after a few games got so tiring I just played games without it.
AI – Here’s the real deal-breaker with PES though: Throughout my review, the AI would continually just break down, especially when it came to player movement off the ball. Sometimes my striker would start to make a run behind the defense then just stop and wander off, while my defenders would see an opposition striker heading at them and turn their backs. It didn’t happen all the time, but it happened more than enough for it to make a difference on the scoresheet in several key games, which was absolutely unforgivable.
Both games underwhelmed this year because neither failed to progress significantly from where they were in 2018. FIFA 20 in particular feels like a lesser offering than FIFA 19, because“the Journey”was such an accomplished and enjoyable addition to the game; its absence this year is sorely felt, especially when Volta’s own story is so poor by comparison.
We’re here for a recommendation, though, not commiseration, and so despite its shortcomings I think FIFA is once again the better overall offering. Volta might be a misfire, but the way I can try and take defenders on 1v1 is now more fun than it’s basically ever been in a football game, regardless of the publisher, and the state career mode is in threatens to pull me away from Football Manager (of which I’m admittedly a pretty casual player) entirely.
PES, meanwhile, tried a little harder than usual this year, spending more on licenses (not having Juventus in FIFA is weird) and changing the name of the series itself. As befitting a game mired in quicksand, though, the more it struggled, the more it found itself stuck.
The overwhelming impression I got playing both games this year is that they’re just tired. Both series are in need of a fresh shot of adrenaline (and a fresh coat of paint), and they were never going to get it in 2019, in the twilight of the sixth console generation. We can only hope that this year’s stagnation is just a result of something bigger and better coming along next year.
Note 1: I played a retail copy of PES on PC, and had a prerelease copy of FIFA on PS4.
I finished Fire Emblem last week, and instead of jumping straight back into it and playing as another house, I wanted to let it rest for a while. While it simmers and I build myself up for a Blue Lions playthrough, I’ve been playing some Fantasy General 2 on PC, and really liking it.
Like Panzer Corps, Fantasy General 2 is a turn-based tactics game set on a hexagonal battlefield. You have a unit cap, a variety of unit types, upgrade trees, melee combat, ranged combat, everything you’d expect from a game like this.
There are two things that help set Fantasy General 2 apart, though, and are the main reasons I’m enjoying it so much.
1) It’s got a fantastic damage system. In FG2, your units can be both wounded and killed. Regular hits will mean a unit (represented as a small squad of troops) accrue damage overall, while more critical ones will outright kill members of that squad. You can heal wounds in missions by skipping a turn and resting, but with a few exceptions kills can only be reinforced off the battlefield. That makes kills bad, but they’re even worse when you consider that replacing the deceased units will either sap them of experience (you’re replacing veterans with fresh meat, after all) or cost you gold.
This creates a fascinating balancing act as you march into battle each mission; do I play it safe, stop for breaks and maintain the health and experience of my units, or do I attack attack attack in order to get the most gold from each mission, since the longer you take, the less gold you receive at the end?
2) I’m normally someone who prefers singleplayer campaigns over skirmishes and multiplayer battles, so it’s cool that Fantasy General 2 is built with that in mind. FG2’s campaign is full of story and branching decisions, which are especially neat because you get to see the consequences of your choices play out straight away on the battlefield. In one cutscene, for example, I’m trying to make peace with a local troll, and one of my units pipes up in protest, because trolls have long been the enemies of the barbarian faction you play in the campaign.
I ignore these men and make peace, and while they grumble about it in a dialogue pop-up, I could see right there on the battle map that their morale had instantly dropped due to my decision, which was going to weaken their performance for the rest of that mission.
Of course, that focus on the singleplayer campaign comes at a pretty steep cost; the game only has two factions, you only play as one of them in the campaign, and that’s it (for now at least, there are two expansions planned). This extreme lack of faction variety means skirmishes and multiplayer are severely lacking, if that’s more the kind of thing you’re looking for in a game like this.
Another complaint I’ve already hit—and I’m far from finished—is that the campaign maps are heavily reliant on scripting, and I’ve already lost count of the number of times I’ve had to reload a battle to adjust to the particular whims of the developing story or mission design. Doing this a few times throughout an entire campaign is excusable, but Fantasy General 2 does it a lot.
When I said up top that this was the perfect post-Fire Emblem game, I didn’t mean it literally, in that you’re playing as a teacher who can both seduce and murder their students. One of those games in 2019 is enough, thanks.
But as a story-packed turn-based tactics game, with branching decisions you can make that affect the outcomes of battles (and even the campaign itself), this is exactly what I’ve needed to keep my battlefield wits sharp while I spiritually recharge for another run at the Flame Emperor.
World of Warcraft has its stalwarts, players who’ve been around since the good ol’ days of Onyxia and Ragnaros. It also has its transients. Maybe they were diehard players for a couple years in high school. Maybe they were living that sweet bachelor life. For whatever reason, they left. Now, thanks to the recent release of WoW Classic, many of them are back and reuniting with old friends.
The promise of WoW Classic, which came out on August 26, was not merely a return to gameplay systems and settings from the expansion-free “vanilla” iteration of WoW; it was an attempt to recreate the feeling of the community at the time. Modern World of Warcraft streamlines dungeon-running, raiding, and PVP, but back in 2006, the time period that WoW Classic recreates, players had much more direct interaction. More organic conversations spurred by a need to group up, more chance meetings between strangers destined to become lifelong friends, more getting backstabbed in the jungles of Stranglethorn Valve by rogues who didn’t have anything better to do at the time. Let’s not rewrite history here: Compared to earlier MMOs, WoW has always been a rigidly designed theme park first and a living, breathing world second. But in the vanilla days, many players argue, it felt a little more alive.
This feeling has brought back lapsed players in droves, and many WoW players have been surprised to find that old bonds between pals—the chains rusted thanks to 10 or 15 years of neglect—still hold up.
Chris Price, a player who started a Discord for more than 300 old WoW friends, was worried about possible drama flare ups at first, but has been relieved to find that, so far, everybody’s getting along.
“At first I thought there would be some awkwardness and friction because, let’s be honest, not everyone was on good terms back then,” Price told Kotaku in an email. “Some people rubbed other people the wrong way, old drama, etc. But I’m surprised to see that most people put all of that behind them and have met each other with open arms.”
One thing that might help: Everybody’s grown up now, where many of them were teenagers back in the day. “We often joke about a lot of the drama back then, laughing at how ridiculous things were now that we’re all older and have a bit of perspective,” said Price.
Of course, there are also drawbacks to the maturity that accompanies the unceasing march of time—namely, people now have less time for the game that once consumed most of their waking hours.
“The group I played with back then were full of hardcore raiders,” Price said. “A lot of us were doing server-first raid content with our respective guilds and hitting Grand Marshal/High Warlord and PVPing for 20+ hours a day to do so. Now we’re older and we don’t have that much time. Most people haven’t even hit [level] 60 yet, barring a few outliers (myself included). Even those that have hit it are reluctant to hit up the raiding circuit again because we’ve ‘been there, done that’ and are more in-tune with the social aspect that the game offers.”
Perhaps, though, it’s for the best, said Price. “We often joke about doing the Marshal/Warlord [PVP rank] grind again and usually just laugh off how much time we’d probably have to sink into the game to be able to achieve it, and how little time we all have now that most of us have full-time jobs, families, and kids.”
Another player, who goes by the handle Kroguardious, mourns the old days in which he and his friends used to get together in real life and host late-night LAN parties, but says that WoW Classic has allowed them to split the difference between their raucous, sleep-deprived high school marathons and their more complicated adult lives.
“Now we’re all moved out of our parents’ places and in our own apartments, and all but one of us are cemented in our career fields,” he said in a Twitter DM. “We all moved apart, and our computers have all gotten much bigger, so dragging everything to one spot for a LAN party like we used to is not going to happen. Having an online way to reconnect has been perfect, and its something we all had ties to, as our interests have grown apart slightly over the years and we haven’t all been able to get into and enjoy the same game since we left WoW.”
WoW Classic has allowed some players to rekindle even closer connections. Dusty Braddish, who was 14 when he first started playing World of Warcraft in the vanilla days, has reconnected with someone who he says was like a father to him. At the time, Braddish’s parents had just gotten divorced, and he was going through “a not-so-ideal living situation in the real world.” His mom was suffering from depression, he didn’t get along with his stepdad, and his father, who he loved dearly, was suddenly no longer consistently in his life, he says. His guild master, who was older, gave him a shoulder to lean on.
“My GM had had some life experiences that my father hadn’t that I think prove useful when being a mentor/meaningful figure for a young man,” Braddish told Kotaku in an email. “He had experiences with many groups of people and always treated everyone as equals without hesitation, and showed that you can be serious/professional while still being silly… My GM was the shining example of how to lead in the creation of a warm and welcoming environment.”
Braddish said his guild master mentored and encouraged him, letting him lead raids and organize guild activities “despite knowing I was quite young.” He’d also make sure Braddish got a chance to talk during officer meetings where more brash personalities were dominating. “Considering I went on to become a leader in college/grad school and now in my professional work, I have to think that played a fairly large part in my development and where I am now,” said Braddish.
Now Braddish is playing the game again, and he’s been overjoyed to discover that he and his old guildmates—including his guildmaster—have been able to pick up right where they left off. It’s been an interesting experience for him, given that he now perceives himself as a completely different person.
“I should say nothing has changed in our dynamic within WoW,” Braddish said. “Personally, I am a completely different person these days. I’ve finished high school, gone to college, gone to grad school, and been working in the ‘real world’ for years now. My GM seems to be largely the same, but I would say that’s because he was much older in the vanilla days. Whereas I began playing at 14, he was in his late 20s and already been through his most formative years.”
They’re now making new memories in old haunts, marinating in memories and reforging old bonds. “Oddly enough, many of the new ‘good old times’ are the same as the old ‘good old times’ just because we’re playing the same game as we were back then,” said Braddish. “Running Deadmines and Scarlet Monastery again, getting Dartol’s Rod of Transformation—which turns your character into a furbolg, a sort of ridiculous looking bear—and spamming our warcry while fighting and at the end of battles. It’s just a combination of small moments such as those.”
There is, however, a potential storm cloud hovering over the glow players are currently basking in: This could all be temporary. Many WoW Classic players are now adults with families and other responsibilities, and even if that wasn’t the case, WoW Classic itself is finite. Eventually, everyone will hit level 60 again, or raid until they have all the best possible gear. Some haven’t even stuck around long enough to reach the top of that proverbial mountain.
A player who goes by the handle “WestEschaton” told Kotaku that his old friends only messed around in WoW Classic for a couple weeks. Then they bounced. For all of vanilla WoW’s strengths, its grind often nosedived straight into tedium territory. The same is true of WoW Classic.
“In a couple of cases, the fond nostalgia of leveling in vanilla was replaced by the frustration of killing five dozen goretusks to get eight livers,” WestEschaton said in a Twitter DM. “I think that mostly [my friends] wanted to come back for a couple of weeks and just see how it went.”
WestEschaton said he thinks that even though WoW Classic is like stepping into a time machine, the environment, community, and culture surrounding it is still very much a product of 2019—not 2004. WoW Classic’s plains and wastelands are well-charted territory at this point, with countless guides available via Google and YouTube, and many WoW Classic players pre-formed their own guilds and groups on platforms like Discord (which was not around back in 2004) instead of allowing them to emerge organically in the game. These things do not intrinsically make connections between players any better or worse than they were in WoW’s vanilla days, but they do change the nature of interactions in the world itself.
“Community for me back then was a lot of not knowing anything about what was going on and there not being a lot of help available other than what other players knew,” WestEschaton said. “That’s entirely different now… Video gaming is in a very different place now than it was in 2005, and if you play games at all, it’s very likely that you’ve changed with it. In essence, it’s pretty unlikely that you can take a large group of 2019 gamers, put them down in a 2005 game, and have them be happy. Museums are nice places to visit.”
Then there’s the question of what comes next. At some point, WoW Classic will have to advance beyond the halcyon vanilla days, or else even relatively casual players will eventually run out of things to do. If Blizzard opts to slowly dole out the same old expansions, there’s a good chance that lapsed players will just lapse again, given that many of them burnt out on Burning Crusade and the content that followed.
Kroguardious is concerned for WoW Classic’s future. “My fear is that they will just continue re-releasing each [expansion pack] and eventually we’ll no longer have our common place,” he said.
What he’d prefer, then, is for Blizzard to use WoW Classic as the jumping-off point for a divergent timeline. “I’d love to see a new timeline that follows the Classic style of gameplay,” he said. “No new level cap, or maybe only going up by one with a new expansion. Maybe we chase Kel’Thuzad’s phylactery to Northrend right away and defeat the Lich King before he’s built up such a powerful armory, and an entire new story takes place. That’d be a dream come true.”
For now, though, many players are just trying to savor their present moment of reliving the past.
“For some people, it might be temporary,” said Price. “Some people I know hit their 30s-40s, when the game really starts to hit its grind, and trickled off to play other things, and I totally understand that. I think others may get tired of it and stop playing altogether, but the community has made a lasting impression on most. The amount of expression seen in chat when an old friend or known community member hops in never gets old… I’m happy that it was able to help these people reconnect and hope that those connections continue for a long, long time.”
In The Surge 2’s worst moments, when too many enemies clutter too small hallways, it is a slog. But in other moments, everything falls into place, and it suddenly becomes one of the most addictive games I’ve played all year. The Surge 2 has absurd highs and damning lows, creating an inconsistent experience that I nonetheless can’t put down.
I played The Surge when it came out in 2017 and walked away disappointed. The bones of the game were strong, but shaky level design and clunky bosses made it difficult to enjoy. I wanted to enjoy the fun of its dismemberment-focused combat system, and its irreverent undercurrent of anti-capitalist sentiment had promise as well, but The Surge’s best parts were often outweighed by incredibly frustrating design.
That same duality has carried over to The Surge 2. That said, it is a marked improvement over the first game. Combat is faster, weapons are more varied, and a semi-open world design that evokes a more intricate world than its predecessor. The Surge 2 is a damn fine game on paper, and when everything works, it’s a great one to play. Unfortunately, half the time it breaks apart due to glitches or level designs that are too clever by half.
If you’re rusty on your Surge lore, that won’t matter. All you really need to know heading into this game is that the first game focused on a strange nanotechnological outbreak at a corporate facility run by schmoozy Silicon Valley types. By the end, the nano-plague had gained sentience and fired off a rocket into the atmosphere to spread itself around the world. The Surge 2 starts with you playing as a passenger on an airplane flight that crashes when rocket explodes. You wake up in Jericho City, ground zero of a new outbreak that has plunged the populace into anarchy. You slap on a mechanical exoskeleton and set out to escape the city, dealing with tough bosses and warring factions all the while.
The Surge 2 soars thanks to its combat, a tense affair in which you can target individual limbs on enemies to weaken them. Smash up an individual limb for long enough and you can perform a finishing move that kills the enemy and chops off the limb. (You can also bash them until their health is depleted.) This targeting system can be used on specific weak points—for instance, an enemy without a protective helmet—but what you really want to do with it is target the enemy’s armor. Whenever you slice off an armor piece, you unlock the schematic for it. Dicing your foes into pieces means that you’ll gain the ability to craft all sorts of armors. You can also collect their weapons. This introduces an interesting risk versus reward element to combat. Do I go for the weak point and get the easy kill, or do I methodically target the armor I want?
Like its predecessor, The Surge 2 is packed with enemies who hit like a truck. Even the lightest blows can easily melt your health bar. It’s possible to regain charge for a health-recovery injectable by landing hits on enemies, which provides a little Bloodborne-esque incentive to keep attacking. Every moment in combat is risky, but it is always exciting. The addition of a parry system brings complexity, even though it’s never quite as satisfying as it should be. The animation lacks weight and the timing window is lazy thing. When it connects, it’s a coin flip if the enemy is staggered or somehow easily recovers to smack you in the face. Still, The Surge 2’s combat is largely fantastic and some of the best melee fighting I’ve played.
Combat feels best in one-on-one scenarios, but The Surge 2 likes to populate its winding levels with numerous enemies. Fighting multiple opponents strains the combat systems to the breaking point. This is a game made for locking on to enemies, be it to target limbs or to carefully parry attacks. Turn the corner into an alleyway with three speedy enemies and an asshole with a machine gun, and that’ll undermine everything. Games like Dark Souls reward players for fighting without the tunnel vision of locking on, but The Surge 2 is built around that. As a result, some fights devolve into fracasses that are comedic when they’re not frustrating.
This is compounded by another major flaw: claustrophobic levels. While there are more open areas to fight in The Surge 2 than in the first game, there are still plenty of places with too many enemies and too little space to fight them effectively. The Surge2’s level design is overenthusiastic, packing areas with enemies in a seeming attempt to increase difficulty. It’s a disappointment to have to slog through areas like this, and one that takes away from how damn good everything else is.
In the best cases, The Surge 2’s world design is incredibly clever. Areas tend to have one medical station that players can use to upgrade their stats and gear. As you explore, you find numerous loops and shortcuts back to this location until there are multiple paths that spread out from the center like a starfish’s arms. Finding these shortcuts is gratifying, creating comfortable “aha!” moments and using the world’s limited size wisely. The Surge was more linear, with more checkpoints and a sense of forward momentum. The Surge 2 has more of a Metroid sensibility in that finding new upgrades unlocks more and more portions of an area. Each of this game’s levels are separated by a main hub where you can explore and even complete side quests for additional rewards. The Surge 2’s hub, Jericho City, is pretty generic in appearance. It’s just some run-down city and I’ve seen that in plenty of games. Still, there’s enough variety and well-designed backtracking in the layout of the game’s map that it’s never a chore to traverse. That might involve opening secret passages into the sewers, or using your drone’s electrical ability to open short-circuited doors that lead to decadent neon-lit clubs. There’s plenty to explore.
Lost in The Surge 2’s shift to Jericho City is The Surge’s acerbic outlook towards capitalism and consumption. The first game was focused on lampooning corporations and crafting a gameplay loop that tied into its themes. Your protagonist, the generic bro Warren, joins the CREO company on the promise that their mechanical rigs will allow him to walk again. That initial tantalizing promise plunges him into a fight where he literally has to carve up fellow workers, take their goods, and continue in a bloody and senseless tragedy brought about by a detached board of directors. The Surge 2 occasionally finds time to explore these ideas through its various factions, but mostly it just feels like a generic sci-fi nanotech romp. It’s a much more superficial game in terms of its overarching themes, even if it is an overall better experience to play.
There are still other problems. The Surge 2 is not the prettiest game to look at. I’m playing on the PlayStation 4 Pro, and I’ve seen a ton of aliasing and textures that refuse to load. That’s not the end of the world, but there are also glitches that get in the way as well. These glitches can be as small as mismatched dismemberment animations to enemies getting stuck in walls. The Surge 2 is undeniably ambitious, and down to the very tech, it seems a little out of its league.
As I wrote these impressions, though, I came to a realization. I really like The Surge 2. It was like realizing that you have a crush on someone you previously couldn’t stand. There’s so much to dislike here, from swarming enemies and boring boss fights to glitches galore. And yet, I’m hooked. The Surge 2 might not be a polished gem, but unlike its predecessor, the good outweighs the flaws. It might frustrate from time to time, but that’s fine. When it lands its punches, they’re knockouts.