With today’s releases of Baldur’s Gate games and Planescape: Torment for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, some of the most influential video games of the last 20 years complete a very long journey to the kind of wide audience they’ve long existed just outside. They’re also very old games that have spawned newer, flashier imitators, and they show their age.
This definitely makes them a little less appealing at first blush, but it’s worth stressing: If you’ve never played any of these before, it’s worth taking the time to experience them.
Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II, developed by BioWare, and Planescape: Torment, developed byBlack Isle Studios, are computer role-playing games created by what were, at the time, dream teams of RPG designers at the top of their game. 1998’s Baldur’s Gate in particular revived and perfected the style of RPG that sought to closely emulate the experience of Dungeons & Dragons—wherein you gather a party of colorful characters and venture out into the world, taking on monsters and confronting moral dilemmas. One year later, Planescape: Torment bent that format into something more narratively ambitious, where fighting was allowed but it was more interesting to talk, to read, to ponder over dialogue and wonder how characters were connected. Torment, to this day, is widely regarded as one of the best video game stories ever told.
An increased development focus on consoles killed much of the momentum built by these games at the tail end of the ‘90s, even as Baldur’s Gate II released to even greater acclaim in 2000. As publisher Interplay ceased operation, the games went out of print and became difficult to run on modern hardware without fan mods. For a while, you could get them, but it took a lot of work—until 2012, when Beamdog Interactive began releasing Enhanced Editions of these classic games for modern devices, including smartphones and tablets.
Twenty-one years later, it certainly helps that the newest ports are—at least on PlayStation 4—surprisingly excellent, taking games designed for a boxy CRT monitor and refitting them to play well on my flatscreen and work with a controller. There’s some clunkiness—a lot of how you play these games involves navigating menus full of items and abilities and indicating where you’d like them to take effect, and that will always be clumsy on anything that’s not a mouse and keyboard. That said, I did play Baldur’s Gate on an iPad a few years ago, and while it was less than ideal, I played nearly the whole damn game.
As officially licensed Dungeons & Dragons games, they take settings previously published for tabletop campaigns in the late ‘90s and use them as the backdrop for epic single-player adventures. I did not know this for years until I finally played them, and knowing that is important for understanding what makes them special.
In a way, it’s about limitations. A hallmark of tabletop role-playing has always been liberation, the way players are free to dream up and take part in adventure in ways that more rigid media like, say, video games couldn’t really allow for. While Baldur’s Gate is far from the first video game take on D&D (it’s not even among the first dozen) it kicked off an era of video games that achieved the platonic ideal of D&D-style role-playing, no dungeon master needed.
By this I mean: They told stories, good ones, in which the player felt they were truly taking part. Your decisions didn’t just matter, they colored the tenor of your experience far beyond the good/evil/neutral trinary of modern big-budget RPGs. They let you get inventive the way you could in a game of Dungeons & Dragons, tackling encounters however you liked as long as the dice rolled in your favor.
Baldur’s Gate cast players as Gorion’s Ward, an orphan raised in a monastic life under the care of the scribe Gorion, suddenly thrust into the wider world when they learn that their real heritage might be connected to something monstrous. Of these three games, it’s the most straightforward, about going on a grand adventure and learning something about yourself. In Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, you’re asked a more complicated question: Now that you know what you are, what are you going to do about it?
In Planescape: Torment, you’re The Nameless One, an immortal man stripped of his memories on a quest to piece his long life back together. Like It’s A Wonderful Life in reverse, you slowly become aware of all the lives you have touched in your journeys, and must deal with the fact that your personal history might have been an awful one.
All three of these games deal with themes of legacy and memory, which is potent fodder for a video game narrative. Games are about interesting decisions, the stories told by the choices that we make in them. Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment make this a literal part of the stories they tell, with a level of nuance rarely seen in games before them and since. In their spiritual successors like Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect, the stories are about how much you mean to the world. In Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment, it’s more about how you shape your character in response to these worlds. They resonate all the more for it.
Felix the Reaper is a puzzle game described by developer Kong Orange as a “romantic comedy about the life of Death.” That’s a pretty apt description, but here’s my crack: Final Destination meets Crypt of the Necrodancer (minus the rhythm element). The game, coming to consoles and PC October 17, bursts with wit and care in its puzzling, presentation, and even its tongue-in-cheek loading screens. Felix the Reaper’s story and simple showmanship elevate a decent puzzle game to something worth picking up.
Felix is a newbie reaper with the Ministry of Death tasked with creating contrived, deadly accidents using objects and creatures around the map. The gameplay takes place on grids that Felix can dance across. Felix must complete his tasks without getting burned by the light of the sun, using the shadows cast by static elements like trees and movable items like rocks to shield him. Felix also has the ability to use a sundial, which shifts the source of the light 90 degrees to change the way the shadows are cast. Elements like switches add to the complexity of the puzzles. The gameplay requires the player to think in perpendiculars and to creatively using objects around the field to manipulate space.
The puzzles are clever, and there are optional objectives like clearing levels in a certain number of moves to spice things up, but the real heart of Felix the Reaper is its presentation. Felix is a dancing fiend; in his idle animations, he bops around gleefully while listening to headphones. As you move around the maps, he’ll cartwheel and jump and click his heels and do the twist. It is absolutely adorable, and it’s complemented well by the variety of music you can cycle through in each level.
The story is written with the warm, dark slice-of-life comedy of a Grim Fandango. Felix is utterly smitten with Betty the Maiden, who works at the Ministry of Life. This is communicated via charming illustrations of an earnest, infatuated Felix thinking of the voluptuous Betty with his face flushed like a 1930s cartoon character. He may be working at the Ministry of Death only for the chance to bump into her, which his supervisor warns him against. Felix’s comically earnest demeanor in the face of all the dark and occasionally adult themes in the game is deeply endearing.
There’s a lot of story color in gameplay as well. In addition to menu-screen background information about the history of topics like religion and the Grim Reaper, there are intro scenes at the beginning of each level. In them, mute characters wackily go about their lives in a mixture of slapstick and worldbuilding. The tutorial has you kill your first victim, only for your helpful supervisor to receive an error message that you’ve killed the wrong person, which he brushes under the rug with the level of flustered embarrassment someone might experience committing a faux pas at a fancy dinner party.
The silliness continues into the idea of death itself. There’s one early level in which you must rig a barrel to roll down a ramp, smash into a house, and knock a hanging deer head onto an unsuspecting person below. He tries to get the head off in panic, attracting the attention of a nearby hunter. You can imagine what happens next.
Felix the Reaper brims with humorous representations of the macabre as a complex choreography of elements far beyond our control. Paired with the sweet romance of a simple reaper dancing through the afterlife while pining over his bombshell would-be sweetheart, the game uses its tone masterfully. As a puzzle game, it’s pretty good, and as a love story, it’s a little messed up, but that’s the appeal.
When I started Concrete Genie, a new PlayStation 4 exclusive out now from Pixelopus, I was swept into its world. The game’s setting is lush and alive, its narrative heartwarming: A latchkey kid named Ash constantly revisits the ruins of Denska, the once-thriving port town he grew up in, to doodle. Denska has been abandoned and overtaken by Darkness, a mysterious force with the physical form of thorned purple vines, but Ash can’t stand to let the town go. He’s faced with the opportunity to take action, given a magical brush and a mission to restore the ghost town’s beauty. With a masterful sense of visual storytelling, the story is charming in its simplicity, full to bursting with warm, colorful memories and touching moments.
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The gameplay never quite lives up to the loving design of the ramshackle town. After maybe 10 hours scouring for secrets and messing around in free play mode, I wasn’t pulling my hair out. I just got a little bored with it. That did make it painful when I reached the short-lived final act, a total upturning of its mechanics, and realized that the gameplay was actually getting good.
Ash progresses by moving through city streets and across rooftops with the aid of his Genies, creatures he’s drawn in his sketchbook. Each setting—a derelict lighthouse or a deserted hydroelectric plant, for example—features similar objectives. You must paint walls adorned by lightbulbs to illuminate them; find pages of your destroyed sketchbook, which can include new designs for the walls or the Genies themselves; and find spots to create new Genies. In the process, you can find newspaper clippings that provide extra context about the city of Denska, the environmental disaster that totaled it, and the tough-as-nails townsfolk who stuck it out for as long as they could before having to leave. Denska is still full of signs of life: leftover bottles and cars, neglected storefronts with stacks of CRT TVs, cheerful advertisements fading to a sullen gray. While finding one newspaper clipping, Ash remembers aloud the moment his family realized it was over: “when mom realized there was no place in town to buy milk.” It’s a simple story, expertly told.
The problem is, playing through the game gets boring. After your first encounter with the Genies, you’re able to graffiti up most of Denska’s walls using either motion controls or the right stick. At certain locations, you can create new Genies with a similar interface, starting with the body and adding designs like horns, ears and tails. While there’s not an incredible amount of variety across the several bodies you get, the creatures are a clear nod to Where the Wild Things Are and carry with them a real charm. The landscape options, anything from redwood trees and storm lilies to mushrooms and balloon plants, all look good, as do dynamic effects like the rain, which continues to fall whenever you pass by the wall. Butterflies and birds flutter outward from your brush, to your Genies’ great delight. But you get a total of 48 of these options to mess with, 12 each between four areas, and in a post-Little Big Planet world, it wasn’t enough to justify how much repetitive painting I had to do across wall after wall.
At the end of each area, you’re invited to paint a “masterpiece,” a larger mural, where your Genies will have suggestions about what to put up. Despite the monotony, doing this is fun and sometimes happens in cool places, like a section where you climb high above the city and can see the entire town. Along the way, you can also find billboards to spruce up where you need the correct design. Completing puzzles like this unlocks rewards like concept art, which, unsurprisingly, is stunning.
Each of the three Genie types has its own powers, which can do things like set parts of the environment on fire for you to pass through. Puzzles largely consist of clearing Darkness so that your Genies can get through and magic away environmental obstacles. Sometimes, you have to paint a design the Genie requests in order to get them to help you, but that doesn’t add much and ultimately feels like a chore. Seeing some of the Genies’ interactions with your landscape paint is cute, but when the puzzles are already tedious, having to draw, I don’t know, some grass before your Genie will cooperate gets old.
Concrete Genie rarely requires any real problem solving. This is one issue I can just barely excuse because it seems to have been made for a younger audience. Puzzles are straightforward, and the Genie you need to progress is always the next one you find, precluding any real puzzling beyond exploring and finding new areas. But undermining this is the fact that the gameplay often feels undercooked. Even as an adult, I found myself occasionally confused about how to progress. The game aggressively offers hints, which felt like a bandaid on moments of loose design. The puzzles generally featured only one way to progress, and the way forward, no matter whether that was using a water valve or flipping a switch, was generally to interact with the one interactive thing and then call your Genies. That was occasionally marred by the fact that it wasn’t always clear, for example, when a Genie would be blocked by Darkness given the nonlinear way they move through walls. Ultimately, it felt like there was this rich, beautiful world and too little to do in it.
You sometimes have to avoid bullies as you progress. Learning more about the kids who torment Ash with Senseless Kids’ Movie Thuggery is interesting, but the “stealth” really just requires you to jump on any nearby rooftop and you can’t be caught. Like the rest of the game, it works well narratively but fails to be fun.
I felt this frustration most when I got closer to the end, where the gameplay…actually got cool. After a certain point, the mechanics entirely switch and you’re in pursuit and combat situations, with abilities like “Paint Skating,” which allows you to glide around the town more quickly, and you get fireballs to shoot enemies with. Without giving too much away, you have to fight and then tame beasts using a number of offensive magical powers you get. You even get a dodge roll to use, which was far better than trudging around the streets of Denska like a regular, non-magical pedestrian. The action section is far more fun than sneaking around Ash’s bullies and painting by number. The story continues to pick up here as well as Ash confronts his tormentors in a deeply affecting, earnest final act. Unfortunately, this part of the game is short-lived after the slog it takes to get there, but the decision to end on this note was a smart one. If only Concrete Geni had gotten there sooner or stayed there longer.
The story of Concrete Genie is well-told and relatable, a classic bullies-turned-friends story of empathy and growth with some real storytelling flair, including striking illustrations and a masterful, coherent use of a variety of art styles. The account of environmental disaster and a fishing town struggling to survive is rooted and told well from Ash’s young perspective. Pixelopus has a clear understanding of what makes a story work, even a story done as many times as this one: bullying, empathy, reconciliation. The fact that the game is gorgeous goes a long way, too. With the amount of love and care poured into the storytelling, I wanted more from the gameplay. If the first part of Concrete Genie were more tightly done, it could have easily been one of my favorite games of the year. But like the fishing town of Denska itself, it faded before I could really appreciate it.
Did you know there’s gonna be a new MediEvil game? Sony’s been showing it off at events, like the most recent State of Play livestream, but details have been a little scarce. A new limited time demo that came out today offers a sneak peek into the upcoming exclusive action-comedy game. The brief preview shows some of the game’s silly world and characters, but ultimately, it feels a little generic, at least so far.
The original MediEvil released in 1998 for the Sony PlayStation. It tells the story of Sir Daniel Fortesque, a skeleton knight brought back to life in order to fight an evil sorcerer named Zarok. Even though legends paint Daniel as a gallant hero, he’s a bit of a doofus, having died immediately to an arrow in the head during a battle against Zarok. Accidentally revived by one of Zarok’s necromancy spells a century later, he gambols off to defeat the sorcerer. It’s a silly set-up, and Daniel’s grinning antics making for a fun affair. You can yank off your arm to smack zombies in the face and solve rudimentary puzzles. It’s a bit more linear than the action and explorations games that would come after—Spyro, Jak and Daxter—but it’s cut from a similar cloth. The PlayStation 4 version is a remake, and a demo called the Short Lived Demo is currently on the PlayStation Store until October 7th.
Playing the demo earlier today, I found myself sucked into MediEvil’s zany world but underwhelmed by the actual playing. The demo contains the first level of the game, which provides an early sense of the pacing and action. In playing it, I found swords and throw daggers, traipsed about a graveyard picking up collectibles, and opened plenty of locked doors. MedIEvil is a straightforward game, almost entirely linear, except for some occasional branching pathways that soon lead back to the main area again. It feels like an arcade game, a step up from Ghosts and Goblins or Fester’s Quest. In that light, MediEvil as a fun blast from the past. In 2019, it’s got stiffer competition.
The demo lives up to the “short-lived” name, coming and going in about twenty minutes’ time without leaving much of an impression. MediEvil is silly in that way that older games were, with grainy cutscenes and broad voice acting. It’s also stiff and awkward to my modern eyes. I kept asking, “Why are we doing this, and why now?” The demo isn’t deep enough to answer that, although the original wasn’t that deep, either. Cartoony graphics and a classic feel brought a warm tingle of nostalgia, but MediEvil wasn’t all that exciting to play.
It’s neat to see an old classic back from the dead, but MediEvil feels a bit perfunctory. We’ve seen strong remakes in recent years such as Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap or the recent remake of Link’s Awakening that have their own unique flair and build upon the source material. That’s not the case here, at least based on this demo. While it might please fans who loved the original, MediEvil’s demo doesn’t suggest that the game is prepared to meet the challenge of reaching a new, broader audience. Hopefully, the full game will breathe a little more life into this idea.
I emerged from my three-hour The Last of Us Part II demo session tense and anxious, a coiled fire hose of pent-up adrenaline. I’d just piloted a now-19-year-old Ellie through peril after peril, amassing a grisly body count along the way. Few of those kills were clean. Many were desperate knife flurries, death by a thousand sinew-snapping stabs and cuts. Human enemies mourned their fallen comrades, bellowing their names at me with bestial fury while charging to the same pointy end. And yet, after I finished the demo, I walked into a nearby bathroom, stared into a mirror, and asked myself “Did it work? Do I care?”
Developer Naughty Dog wants The Last of Us Part II to be a lot of things. Where the first game was about the overriding, sometimes destructive power of love, Part II is about hate. Last time, we played as Joel—a more nuanced bearded man than your typical action game star, but an archetype nonetheless. This time, players will control Ellie, a young queer woman trying to find life in Last of Us’ zombie-infested world. It’s a story about being a teenage girl and becoming an adult, navigating a strained relationship with your father figure, and falling in love. But ultimately, as director Neil Druckmann said at a preview event in Los Angeles earlier this week, The Last of Us Part II is a revenge story. “How far would you go?” he asked ominously during a presentation before the hands-on session.
The demo’s first section took place early in the game, with Ellie and new character Dina—who shared the most natural-looking kiss in video game history during a 2018 E3 trailer—riding on horseback through a snowy landscape, doing patrol duty for their Jackson, Wyoming settlement. For the first 15 minutes or so, the two chatted (and bantered) back and forth about plans, people they knew, and relationships while checking in at a station and scavenging some abandoned houses. The tone was light and flirty. At one point, Dina asked Ellie what she was planning to do that night, clearly angling for something. Ellie said she was thinking about watching a movie with Joel, which drew a surprised reaction from Dina. “Oh,” Dina said. “Are you two… cool?” Joel did, after all, basically sacrifice humanity’s future to save Ellie at the end of the first The Last of Us—though it’s unclear whether Ellie knows that or not. The tension quickly dissipated, however, when Dina asked what kinds of movies Ellie and Joel liked to watch. Joel is big into cheesy martial arts flicks, it turns out. But even this conversation was tinged with melancholy, as Ellie pondered if, somewhere out there among all the desolation, there were people still making movies.
Ellie and Dina came across a hollowed-out mess of a moose corpse that had doubtless been peeled to the bone by zombie-like creatures, called Infected. From there, the level transitioned into a pretty traditional Infected-centric level that wouldn’t have felt out of place in the firstgame. As Ellie, I had to stealth through a series of increasingly Infected-overrun offices and warehouses en route to an abandoned supermarket. This section served largely as a tutorial, reinforcing the first game’s conventional wisdom that while you can open fire on Infected and pray that you emerge from the ensuing fray with all the meat still attached to your clavicles, it’s a better idea not to. Instead, I crouched down and used the “listen” ability, which makes a return from the first game, to “hear” (read: see an outline of) where enemies were. Then I had Ellie creep up on fast, relatively weak Runner Infected and blind but much more powerful Clicker Infected and quietly and methodically carve their necks open. Dina, when she could do so without alerting other Infected, followed suit.
The Last of Us Part II is a sound design tour de force. Clickers screeched, wailed, and of course, clicked with characteristic inhumanity, lacing even sure shot stealth kills with dread right up until the moment I finally did the deed. But it’s not like successfully ending the walking embodiments of “What if athlete’s foot, but too much” felt much better. Any time I shoved my shiv into Infected, metal scraped against wet flesh and bone while the Infected flailed and wailed, their death gurgles so piercing that it was as though they were screaming in my ear. I was never sure if other Infected had heard, and thi kind of tension is baked into every element of the sound design. Even breaking the glass on a vending machine to grab a candy bar led to a shattering sound that nearly made me jump out of my seat, even whenI was certain there were no surviving Injected to hear the sound and come running.
The section also introduced me to the game’s expanded crafting and customization systems. This time around, you can find supplements—pills, basically—and spend them on ability upgrades spread across three trees. Abilities included increased listen mode movement speed, increased throw distance, increased health kit usage speed, and, toward the top of the stealth-focused tree, craftable silencers that could be applied to guns and improved. Part II also contains an expanded crafting system that lets you create various attachments and improvements for guns. Like in the first game, you collect scrap to purchase these upgrades. As someone who prefers to strike from a distance, I saved up until I could snap a scope on my hunting rifle to give me more distance from my Infected targets. The scope, of course, was no insurance against Infected near me hearing the sound, but it gave me a small, if false, sense of safety. While there’s nothing like headshotting one Infected from two hundred feet away, I am resolutely not a fan of being eaten by the three other nearby Infected that react to gunshot sounds like Pavlov’s dog does to bells
With their supermarket cleanup complete, Ellie and Dina decided they were done with patrolling for the day and wanted to head back to the settlement. Unfortunately, a blinding snowstorm picked up, and the two got separated. Just when it seemed like all hope was lost, Dina emerged and led Ellie into what appeared to be an abandoned daycare. Before long, the two discovered that it was once the secret hideaway of their now-deceased friend Eugene, who’d had the good fortune to die of old age—a rarity in The Last of Us’ world. As I explored and read through notes and other belongings Eugene had left behind, Ellie and Dina learned more and more about a man they only thought they’d known.
Halley Gross, Part II’s head writer alongside Druckmann, said the goal of the game’s worldbuilding is to enrich characters and, in some cases, fully explore characters the player never actually meets. “You never meet this man, but by the end of this level, you’ve learned he’s got a grow house, he likes to smoke some weed, he used to be a Firefly [the series’ militia], was involved in some terrorism, left his family, and left his kid to go pursue this mission he thought was bigger and greater than the individual,” said Gross.
The level ended with Ellie and Dina discovering Eugene’s secret underground weed den, left to fall into disrepair after his passing. It was a surprising moment, sprinkled with levity. I came across a gas mask (crucial for avoiding infection) with a bong attached. “God,” quipped Dina, “Eugene was so smart.”
After rummaging around, Ellie and Dina settled on a couch and—with nothing better to do while waiting for the storm to pass—lit up. Dina then worked up the courage to ask Ellie a question. “So, on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate our kiss last night?” she asked. While asking this question, Dina bit her lip and moved her eyes furtively. It was far and away some of the most detailed digital acting I’ve seen. When Ellie mumbled out a non-response, Dina continued: “I’d give it a six. A solid six.”
“You’re infuriating,” said Ellie.
“Have you met you?” replied Dina.
Then they made out, of course. The first portion of the demo closed on this moment, a heartwarming end to a series of harrowing scares. The whole scene left a smile on my face. It was a rare moment of authentic warmth in a big-budget action game. It was easy to imagine from there how this relationship, with its believable tender moments, might play out. The two would banter, bicker, fight, and make up. It’d become a running (though playful) joke between their friends. They’d explore together. Watch movies together. Ellie would eventually find the courage to play music—original music, even—for Dina. Maybe they’d stay together. Maybe they’d break up and go their separate ways. Young love is fickle like that.
But The Last of Us Part II is a revenge story. It is about hate, not young love.
Naughty Dog will not say if Dina dies at this point, though the studio has heavily implied it multiple times by depicting intimate scenes between Ellie and Dina followed immediately by a solo Ellie performing shockingly realistic acts of violence against humans from opposing factions. In the game’s first trailer, she said she’d “Kill every last one of them,” and in subsequent trailers as well as the demo I played, she seems to be making good on her promise. She is taking revenge for something. Do other humans kill Dina? Or is this Naughty Dog setting up an almost too-obvious bait and switch? For now, it’s impossible to say.
What I do know is that the second half of the demo found Ellie all alone. It took place later in the game. Ellie was in the overgrown, eternally-overcast ruins of Seattle, Washington, surrounded by derelict salons, tattoo parlors, and coffee shops. She was looking for Tommy, a returning character from the first The Last of Us, who was seemingly in conflict with a local faction, the xenophobic Washington Liberation Front.
Seattle, perhaps even more so than the Wyoming location in the first portion of the demo, was dense with detail. Stores were littered with notes and other items. I could explore at my leisure, though I was always ultimately be funneled down a set, linear path. It wasn’t long before I ran into members of the WLF, who were not at all happy to see me. Fortunately, I had new stealth options on my side. The area was overrun with tall grass, in which I could go prone and crawl around. This rendered me almost invisible, allowing me to set up some gnarly, knife-y ambushes. But I could never just chill and take in the scenery. Most of the WLF members had dogs, and these dogs could track my scent. Usefully, going into listen mode allowed me to see that scent, so I could at least know what I was dealing with.
I struggled to acclimate to this system, dying often. Initially, I tried to play this section like I would any other stealth game, figuring out patrols and then closing in for the kill. As I moved in, however, a dog would sniff me out or start barking. This would alert or attract enemies, and I’d charge them in a panic, plunging my knife into any available body part. It was chaos. Each slash produced rivulets of blood and stringy hunks of flesh. Dogs barked. Both Ellie and my opponents grunted and yelped in anguish and exertion. I’d win one of these desperate melees, drop into the grass, and apply a health kit. Ellie would groan, as though bringing herself back from the brink took a little more out of her each time. It was not pretty.
When another enemy discovered a body I’d left behind, they’d shout in alarm and, more pointedly, grief. Usually, they’d say the person’s name. They all have names. In one of the most surprising moments of the demo, I quietly dispatched somebody while their dog was distracted. Upon noticing, the dog proceeded to nudge their person’s arm, then pull on it, and then mournfully whimper. Later, I half-jokingly asked Gross what Naughty Dog has against dogs, given that I’d just killed a bunch of them and given even more traumatic separation anxiety. She replied that the goal throughout all of this violence and strife is to humanize the people Ellie is facing off against. It’s part of an effort to explore real-world issues like tribalism.
“I think when you have any sort of close-knit tribe, you have this danger of becoming tribal. This idea of the other,” said Gross. “So we have these enemies where, you see one of the dogs clawing for its owner, or one of the fallen soldiers calls out his name. So much of what we’re trying to do is create empathy for the other. We make this enemy, and then how do we make you feel for them? So much of this game is about developing an understanding of where other people are coming from… We want to put you in a situation where you have to make hard choices. You didn’t have to kill any of them. None of them are mandatory to get through that level. So it’s a question of ‘How much is it worth’ to kill them?”
I probably would’ve been better off if I hadn’t killed any of them—at least, from a resource management perspective. But these people and animals were obstacles on my path toward standard video game goals, and before long, I was treating them like any other video game enemies. I killed some and spared others. When I killed enemies and nobody noticed, it felt good. Great, even. The level had a fantastic sense of forward motion to it, with Ellie scrambling through houses and leaping out half-rotten window frames, all as part of a larger downhill slope toward Tommy’s location. Enemies were everywhere, and their dogs would find me if I stayed in one spot for too long. I had to be stealthy, but I also had to move. I felt tense and alarmed when I got spotted, though not out of any feeling for my enemies. Rather, I was in danger and didn’t want to have to open the menu and choose the “reload checkpoint” option again if I screwed up so badly that the run was unsalvageable.
I won a bow and arrow from a thrilling close-range fight against a special Infected. The bow is a silent, long-range, exceedingly deadly weapon. I laid in the grass and picked my shots. Nobody could touch me. Heck, most of them couldn’t even find me. I don’t remember any of their names.
I began to wonder if enemies shouting names and dogs mourning their owners was less a humanizing element and more a tool of only briefly effective emotional manipulation. In response to this, Gross said that there’ll be more nuance to depictions of enemy characters in the final game.
“What we’re trying to do is create a holistic approach to empathy,” she said. “So “there’s the NPCs that you meet very briefly, but even in that moment we’re naming them. We’re also occasionally giving them human conversations. As you traverse by, you’ll overhear their conversations about things back home, their fuller lives. But also we have these enemies that Ellie is hunting, and as with all characters in the Last of Us universe, we’re trying to make everybody as multifaceted as possible and everybody as diverse as possible so that we can try and create challenges for empathy and then reach out toward them.”
The demo ended with Ellie dropping down into another portion of the level, only for some mysterious pair of meaty dad arms to pull her aside. At first, she struggled. Then she turned around and asked “What are you doing here?” It was Joel. “I couldn’t let you do this on your own,” he replied. That was it. Demo over.
That was when I stood up, walked over to the nearby bathroom, and took stock of everything I’d experienced. I was still full of adrenaline from all the close shaves, melee throwdowns, and dog murders. The Last of Us Part II is shaping up to be a very exciting stealth-action game. Its mechanical additions to the first game’s formula are smart; the studio isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but rather to further emphasize what made the original stand out and give players a little more wiggle room in terms of choice.
But those brief moments of Ellie and Dina awkwardly fumbling through the early goings of a relationship were what stuck with me more than the usual Video Game Emotions of tension, anxiety, anger, relief, exhilaration, and “Oh no, I killed a dog.” I wanted to see more of that story, more of love finding a way to survive and even thrive in a dying world. But this is a story about revenge, and so, I found it hard not to hearken back to Heather Alexandra’s 2018 piece about how queer characters in video games rarely get to be happy and how their backstories often center around tragically deceased partners. The Last of Us, it should be noted, has already done this on a couple occasions, with multiple characters. This includes Ellie in the first game’s prequel Left Behind DLC.
Again, I do not know if Dina will die. Maybe she’ll instead betray Ellie and everybody else at the Wyoming settlement. Or maybe Ellie will go on a revenge quest for reasons entirely unrelated to Dina. But it seems clear that Ellie ends up very unhappy. Gross said that there’s a very deliberate purpose to putting Ellie into this kind of narrative. She believes that Part II is not just another post-apocalyptic story about characters being sad, another member of a very crowded club. It’s a story that she hopes will reflect on the real world in unique ways and give people something positive to hang onto during times of strife, xenophobia, and hate.
“What I want to be feeling is resilience,” she said. “We do live in a difficult time, and Ellie lives in an incredibly difficult time, an incredibly hostile world. I want to feel inspired. I want to feel inspired by a character that is going to get knocked down and is going to pick herself back up, because that’s what I want to see. That’s what I want to feel when I go out the door every day to engage with how hard things can be right now.”
I asked her if she feels like the game is deliberately political in that respect. She replied that it depends on your definition of the word. “We are 100 percent trying to engage with the world around us,” she said. “Our games are super diverse, and that’s because we want to reflect the world we see around us. Our games are about strong people dealing with hard times. So many of our characters are about like ‘Is it OK to be strong and to be vulnerable? Is it OK to make mistakes and pick yourself back up?’ So if that’s defined as political, then fuck yeah we’re political.”
Ultimately, Gross’ goal is to do right by Ellie’s character and write somebody that she and others can relate to through good times and bad.
“I love seeing more women protagonists,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful. I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice when those female protagonists are impervious, when they’re too strong. I can’t relate to them. What Ellie did [in the first The Last of Us] is show me this vulnerable, scrappy girl who’s having an incredibly hard life, but who’s incredibly great—who picks herself back up and is willing to go the extra mile for people that she loves. To me, that’s the humanity of her. That’s what makes her so relatable. And that is something I really wanted to honor.”
Sony’s Nintendo Direct-style State Of Play livestream series returned today, with a deep look at The Last of Us II as well as short updates about other games coming to PlayStation, including Civilization 6. Here’s a rundown of the news.
The Last Of Us Part II will be released on February 21, 2020.
A demo of the upcoming remake of the PlayStation 1 game MediEvil is available today. You can get a special item in the full game by playing the demo. Full game’s out next month.
A limited-edition Death Stranding PS4 Pro bundle is coming on November 8 with a cool dripping-handprint design.
Enhance Games and Tha Ltd. are making an intriguing-looking game called Humanity, coming 2020.
Wattam, the next game from Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi, will be released in December.
Arise: A Simple Story, a charming cartoon action adventure game, is “coming soon” to PlayStation 4.
L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files is available now for PlayStation VR. A PSVR sizzle reel showed clips of upcoming games. Espire 1, Stardust Odyssey, After The Fall, and Space Channel 5 Kinda Funky News Flash.
Civilization 6 is coming to PS4 on November 22.
October’s PlayStation Plus lineup will include MLB The Show 19 and The Last of Us Remastered.
Correction 5:05 p.m. ET: The original version of this story read “Civilization 4;” this has been corrected. Kotaku regrets the error.
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.
Take a bag of potato chips—any brand, anywhere—and you more or less know what you’re going to get. Crispy, greasy salt and oil delivered via thin layers of starch, they make a mess of crumbs and grease, and they’re terribly delicious, extremely difficult to stop eating once you’ve caved into the first, and likely to cause a carbohydrate crash and a sense of regret. Potato chips are great and awful and we all know what we’re getting into when we open a bag.
So how would you review one? Do you tell people chips are awful for their health and break down why? Do you get into the ethical practices of various potato chip companies, perhaps? Or do you go all-in on the other end of the spectrum, singing the praises of the perfect snack food, one that isn’t as impressive as other snack foods but also isn’t trying to be gourmet cuisine? I mean, sure, gourmet chips exist, but we all know it’s the snack of the people.
Borderlands 3, Gearbox Software’s return to their most popular franchise, is a bag of potato chips. It’s the series that popularized the loot shooter genre, marrying first-person gunplay with Diablo-style loot and skill trees. You collect gun after gun with the same mindless, dopamine-pumping pleasure of popping chip after chip in your mouth. It is awful and wonderful and also white noise, an experience so commonplace and reptilian that you wouldn’t call it the best gaming experience you’ve ever had, but you’d be down for it if someone put it out in a bowl.
Much like a bowl of chips, it also leaves a hell of a mess when the party’s finally over.
The story in Borderlands 3 is the same as it’s always been in Borderlands. Once again, you’re a vault hunter, a mercenary/fortune seeker who shoots their way across the bandit-ridden wastelands of the planet Pandora. The hope is that, in all this shooting, you will find your way to a Vault, an ancient repository of rumored riches. (And, usually, there’s a big nasty being in that Vault, watching over it all.) This time around, you’re answering a call from Lilith, one of the hunters from the first Borderlands who has since become commander of the Crimson Raiders militia that fights to protect civilians from bandit hordes and corporate overreach (corporations have armies in Borderlands). Also, of course, they want to loot those sweet, sweet vaults. They’re the good guys, kind of.
Nipping at your heels are the game’s antagonists, Troy and Tyreen Calypso, twin siblings who have united all the bandits of Pandora under their cult of personality. They’ve also figured out that there are other Vaults on planets elsewhere in the galaxy. Your mission: Get to those vaults before they do.
As the Vault Hunter hero of this game, you get to choose between four characters, each with their own impressively elaborate skill trees filled with different kinds of abilities to level up. There’s Zane, the Operative who controls the battlefield with drones, clones, and barriers. Moze, the Gunner, can summon a giant mech to pilot and outfit that mech with different cool weapons and upgrades. Amara, the Siren, can deal elemental damage by conjuring magical arms. And FL4K, the robot Beastmaster, has tamed a number of wild creatures who fight alongside them. It’s a lot to dig into, and like the first several potato chips in the bowl, it’s absolutely delicious at first.
Too Many Guns, But In A Fun Way
Unlike the tactical realism of a Ghost Recon, or Destiny’s system of arcane perks that only serve to make their sci-fi creations better at shooting, Borderlands’ guns are toys. They’re garish in shape and color, digital creations that exist to solve digital problems. It’s the best.
Borderlands’ approach both side-steps and doubles down on the gun fetishism that comes part and parcel in video games about shooting by making it all one big crass joke: wouldn’t it be cool to have an arsenal of impressive and interchangeable dicks that could also file your taxes?
Finding a good Borderlands gun feels like cheating, like you found an endgame weapon 20 hours too early. My first legendary sniper rifle was an absolute beast of a weapon that fired three incendiary projectiles at once but only consumed one bullet at a time. I got it at the end of the game’s first act, and it remained a staple of my firefights right up through the credits.
This is the high that Borderlands offers, and it feels great, but like any high, it cannot last. The experience of playing Borderlands often devolves into a hunt for the next fix, and the longer it takes to get that fix, the more time you have to resent the game for not giving it to you. When you’ve tasted the high of an unexpectedly power-packed weapon, trying out more of the “normal” guns makes you feel kind of like a scrub, you know?
Granted, “normal” in Borderlands 3 is still pretty wild. When you have guns that turn into homing grenades, or crawling drone turrets, or bouncing balls that yelp “ow” every time they ricochet off a surface, you’d have to work very hard to have a boring firefight.
The game is built to encourage an endless search for the perfect loadout. What if I’m missing out on the coolest gun I’ve ever seen in a video game? I won’t know until I find it, so I have to keep playing. But am I actually enjoying this? Or just chasing the high? It’s hard to say.
Tucked away into the corners of Borderlands 3, I do find a lot to like. Its generous approach to sidequests, for example, rewards players with items but also with bespoke little stories. There are whole regions of several maps that you’ll only ever go to if you’re pursuing a sidequest. They’re like optional dungeons, there for those who want to do them, each offering something new to see along with a chance for more loot.
Borderlands3’s soundtrack, which rarely makes itself known, has the benefit of offering occasional moments of delight when you stop to notice it. Like Borderlands itself, it can occasionally blast up into garish and annoying territory, but more often than not, it’s a hidden gem, there for the finding. After I got clobbered by a giant sphere drone and tried to re-evaluate my loadout, I happened to notice a throwback club groove that sounds a lot like the chorus to Kiesza’s “Hideaway,” with a touch of the sax-and-dance vibe at the end of Japanese Breakfast’s “Machinist.” Over on the swamp-world of Eden-6, I paused to take in a bit of ambient music that sounds like a Kate Bush synth cover.
These are little grace notes that show some personality in areas where other huge games might phone it in. There are some musical ideas I’d love to groove to there, but the game quickly moves on to other ones, like the (admittedly pretty good) running joke about a fictional modern jazz act.
The Borderlands Tone
Borderlands 3 is marketed as a comedy, but I’m not sure that’s what it truly wants to be. It’s irreverent, sure. There’s a very South Park-esque “everyone sucks” vibe to the game’s comedic beats. It’s just that the target of every joke is too lazy or too late. There’s a scene making fun of hipster baristas, a character who’s supposed to be a version of The Room writer/director/weirdo Tommy Wiseau, and an achievement list with titles like “On Fleek.”
Even less flattering are the game’s many comedic asides that make light of casual misogyny even as they exhibit an awareness of it. There’s the man who purposefully misstates “bitch” instead of “witch” when referring to a villain who’s an actual swamp witch. Another character, after saying something that could be interpreted as sexual harassment, notes that he “definitely attended that meeting.”
It remains baffling and infuriating that the game continues to treat dwarfism as fodder for slapstick comedy, even though it has ditched an offensive term for little people that previous games used, replacing it with the made-up term “tinks.” Or that, despite this being an issue raised about a character in Borderlands 2, Borderlands 3 has a white character appropriating African American Vernacular English. Or that this game prominently features Chris Hardwick reprising his Tales From The Borderlands role of Vaughn despite public allegations of emotional abuse (not all of the other returning characters have their original voice actors back).
While this is the garish shade with which Borderlands 3 colors itself, the game’s overarching narrative is more interested in telling a sincere story that feels like a last hurrah for the cast of characters that has slowly developed over the past four Borderlands games. (And yes, Tales From The Borderlands is part of this farewell tour.) Borderlands3 is casually and quietly inclusive, making it clear that a number of its heroes and villains are queer or nonbinary while also not calling too much attention to it. It’s a story in which the heroes are mostly women—women who lead and sacrifice and disagree and win. There are jokes, but the story delivers its stakes with a straight face, and bets that players will be delighted at which characters will turn, and who they will miss.
The bummer is that, much like its comedy, the drama of Borderlands 3 doesn’t really have a target it’s willing to show teeth to. “Corporations” in the abstract sense have always been the overarching villain in Borderlands games, but they’ve also been a target that Borderlands has always stood up to with the weakest of knees. It is hard, after all, to make clean hits at massive companies for trampling people underfoot in an amoral quest for profit when the heart of your game is wholly dedicated to selfish plunder.
The specific antagonists of Borderlands 3, Troy and Tyreen Calypso, also feel like missed opportunities. By making them shock-jock streamers who have amassed a cult following among the bandits of Pandora, Borderlands 3 gestures at the kind of unchecked influence YouTubers and livestreamers can have in our current media landscape, and how viral fame can also destroy those who it elevates. The bones of something compelling are there, but Borderlands 3 lacks any of the conviction necessary to deliver on it. Its themes are as poorly developed as its sense of humor.
It’s Still The Best At What It Does
Despite the proliferation of games like Borderlands in the burgeoning loot shooter genre, there still isn’t a big-budget game that does exactly what it does. It’s a massive offline Diablo-style first-person shooting game that can be joined at any point with friends, either online or on the couch. All of its serious competition—be it Destiny 2 or Warframe or The Division 2—come with a pretty big deviation, namely a required internet connection.
While the broad strokes remain the same, Borderlands 3 is a better Borderlands game than we’ve ever seen, notably in the way that it opens up the endgame. There’s the prerequisite new game plus that lets you keep your loot and skills to take on the story again, just harder and with better loot.
There’s also the new Mayhem mode, which allows you to go back into the world after the end of the campaign and clean up any side quests you have left, with stronger enemies and random modifiers that will buff certain weapons or enemy health, or debuff your stats. Maybe energy weapon damage is boosted while regular weapon damage is dialed back. Maybe your guns do more damage while your action skills do less. There are three tiers of Mayhem, each offering better loot in exchange for steeper modifiers. It’s a terrific feature that makes going back and cleaning up leftover side quests—which, as mentioned, are substantial—feel so much more rewarding.
Unfortunately, on a technical level, Borderlands 3 is surprisingly bad at one of its core features: inventory management. I’m not merely referring to the interface, although it is a bit too cluttered and throws so many numbers at you that your eyes will glaze over after several hours of comparing loot. The bigger issue is performance. On Xbox One X, the inventory screen stutters almost without fail. Sometimes there’s a barely perceptible lag, and other times it takes a full three to five seconds for your guns to load in.
This may sound like a minor quibble, but it’s a problem that’s magnified when you play in split-screen. The rest of co-op play works well enough, although the same technical issues that you may encounter in solo play, like lighting that doesn’t properly adjust when you go from indoor to outdoor environments, will persist. The real issue is the whole game grinds to a stop whenever one player opens up their inventory screen.
I don’t mean the game pauses when one player pauses. (The game only pauses in co-op when both players pause, which is a very nice feature.) I mean the frame rate drops to the damn floor and no one can move for a couple seconds once someone opens their inventory. Given how much of the game is devoted to inventory management, it’s enough to make you want to tap out after a single co-op mission.
I don’t know how vital couch co-op is to the Borderlands community as a whole, but it is one of the reasons why I’ve always kept a Borderlands game within reach. It’s one of the last holdouts in the big-budget shooter space that has held on to split-screen co-op in a world where it’s largely gone extinct (Gears 5 is another.). To me, it’s part of the reason I even bother with Borderlands.
So, How About Those Chips?
When a video game franchise has been around long enough, it establishes an identity in the public consciousness. That identity can become a defense against criticism. What did I expect, for a Borderlands game to not be Borderlands, with all the good and bad that comes with that?
Borderlands 3 has what its predecessors had: the corny humor that doesn’t always land, an unremarkable story, and an endless loop of replacing your loadout with a slightly improved loadout. It’s a relatively static experience in a franchise that hasn’t changed a whole lot in the last ten years. It is what Borderlands has always been, and everyone knows what that entails.
There’s room for it in your life, just like there’s room for a bag of potato chips in your pantry. They’re great for parties, or carb emergencies. They’re also unfulfilling, and don’t contribute much to your health. We call it junk food for a reason.
Like junk food, Borderlands 3 is an exercise in cheap hedonism. It’s not meant to take the place of a meal, but it still warrants criticism for being what it is, what it’s always been: a compulsively playable shooter with some good ideas and also some frustratingly retrograde attitudes. There’s enough good here to understand why you’d keep it around, but also enough troubling aspects that you could justify cutting it from your life entirely. But, even then, if you came across it at a house party, you’d probably take a bite.
This week, the charming role-playing game Ni no Kuni will come to three new platforms. On two of those platforms it’ll be all fancy and remastered, and on the third it’ll be portable. Here’s everything you need to know about this new release.
What’s a “Ni no Kuni”?
Good question. Ni no Kuni is a gorgeous JRPG made by developer Level-5 in conjunction with the iconic anime house Studio Ghibli. It came to North America in 2013 for PlayStation 3, and I loved it to death. The story is cute, the production values are top-notch, and the game is full of charming flourishes that make it all flow very nicely, although the combat can feel a little tedious at times.
And there’s a remaster out this week?
Yep, Ni no Kuni Remastered Edition comes out Friday for PS4 and PC. This remastered version doesn’t add anything new to the game but does promise enhanced graphics—1080p and 60 frames per second on a normal PS4, with options for 4K/30fps or 1440p/60fps on PS4 Pro. It also includes all the DLC from the PS3 version.
How does it run?
Not bad. I’ve played about 30 minutes of the PS4 version (on a normal PS4) and it seems to run at 60fps as promised, although there’s some stuttering when you rotate the camera while on the world map. It’s also a little jarring when the game switches to anime cutscenes that play at 30fps.
Cool! Can’t wait to play it on Switch.
Cool! But hold on. The Switch version is actually not the remastered one. It’s just a port of the PS3 version of Ni no Kuni, at 720p resolution and 30 frames per second. (It also includes all the DLC.)
Oh. Well, how does it run on Switch?
Kotaku editor Natalie Degraffinried has played for an hour and says she’s run into no problems so far.
What’s up with the sequel? Didn’t that also come out recently?
Yep! Ni no Kuni II came to PC and PS4 in 2018. I liked it a lot. It’s got better combat than the first game, although it’s wayyyy too easy. No word on a Switch version just yet.
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In what should surprise absolutely no one, Final Fantasy VII Remake is drawing long lines at the Tokyo Game Show. I think people in Japan might be excited about this game. Call it a hunch!
Today is the first public date for the 2019 Tokyo Game Show. As soon as the general public started being let in, many attendees started making a beeline to either the Sony booth or the Square Enix to play the upcoming FFVII Remake.
At around 9:40 am, the end of the line at the Square Enix booth looked like this:
Sony had cut off the FFVII Remake line by 10 am, along with several other titles. The red stickers say that the demo sessions have ended for the day.
Square Enix, which had a significantly larger FFVII Remake set up with more demo stations, didn’t cut off the line until to sometime around 10:10 am or around thereafter.
Even the wait to take photos with Cloud’s Hardy-Daytona motorcycle is long. Square Enix passing out tickets for folks to come back later so they don’t have to stand in line for extended periods of time.
This is me going out on a limb, but I think people in Japan are excited about Final Fantasy VII Remake.