Owning Xbox Game Pass is a lot like owning Netflix. There are so many cool games I want to check out, I spend more time scrolling through the game library planning what I’ll play next than I do actually buckling down and settling in with a title.
However, that’s not to say I haven’t taken a bite out of the selection available to me. As you guys might remember, I work for a site called TheGamer. I wrote about this ages ago, and since that first post, I’ve climbed through the ranks and become an editor! It’s super cool.
Anyways, I’ve had the incredible pleasure of making friend with several of my fellow editors, and one of them in particular has embarked on this journey with me of combing through fun online co-op titles available on Xbox Game Pass.
One of the first games that called our attention was Deep Rock Galactic. The tagline for the game (“Danger. Darkness. Dwarves.”) is the kind of tagline that just makes you think, “Okay, now this, I’ve got to check out.”
After weeks of playing it, I can say that Deep Rock Galactic does in fact give you danger, darkness, and dwarves, and that it promises straightforward mining fun that leans on cooperative play and indulges in a great sense of humor.
Your Dwarf works for Deep Rock Galactic, a mining company that operates in the far reaches of space. Your new job entails dropping onto a planet called Hoxxes IV and retrieving precious ores in its most dangerous caverns. These caves are crawling with dangerous bug-creatures and riddled with devious environmental hazards.
When launching into a game of Deep Rock Galactic, you start off on a rig in orbit around Hoxxes IV. It is here that you can customize your Dwarf and upgrade their gear. It’s also a nice little hub where you and three other players can just chill out before dropping into a mission.
There are four types of Dwarves you can play as: the Gunner, the Driller, the Scout, and the Engineer. The Gunner is more heavily equipped with weaponry to keep off the hordes of bugs that can attack your group. The Driller has an item that allows them to quickly and easily drill through rock and stone. The Scout focuses on mobility, coming complete with a grappling gun that allows them to travel from one place to another with incredible speed. The Engineer possesses two sentry guns that they can set up wherever it’s most useful.
Every Dwarf uses flares to light up the darkness, a pickaxe to mine for those minerals, and a basic gun to protect themselves in addition to the specialty items they can carry.
Once you’ve tricked out your Dwarves on the rig, you can descend to Hoxxes IV for more adrenaline-inducing fare. There are several mission types, but most of them are basic mine-for-this-ore-until-you-have-this-much assignments. Don’t let this basic gameplay loop fool you though. There is a lot of fun to be had in working together to set up a pipeline, retrieve bug eggs, or mine for a hard-to-see metal.
And every mission is tied up neatly with a mad dash back to an escape pod after you complete your objective.
Now, one of the only cons I can say for Deep Rock Galactic is that the environments tend to blend in after a while. Hazards in a specific area might be unique, but there is a similar quality to every map that is inescapable. However, the joy of playing with your friends completely obscures the repetitive nature of each excursion. Every outing is an adventure, and though I’m going through the same motions every time I go on a mission, I have yet to get tired of it.
I enjoy playing as the Scout, and my coworker friend has rocked nothing but the Engineer since we started playing. It makes for a decent combination of skills as I can zoom in and out of a bad situation and he can provide a solid bastion of support with his sentries.
We’ve had hours of fun simply goofing off on the rig before going on a mission. There’s a jukebox and a bar area where you can drink and dance to your heart’s content, and I’m not too embarrassed to say we’ve spent decent chunks of time just grooving and kicking barrels before diving into a mission.
Side note: I’ve also taken to screaming “Rock and Stone” in an abysmal accent. I’ve also started singing “Diggy Diggy Hole” whenever I swing my pickaxe.
Deep Rock Galactic is a diamond of a game that I feel has gone mostly unnoticed. It is delightful, and it vacillates between hilarious downtime to pulse-pounding sprints for safety. These adrenaline moments are lightly peppered throughout the game, so if you mostly want a chill type of game, don’t turn away from Deep Rock Galactic.
I rate Deep Rock Galactic a game-worthy-of-your-time-that-will-make-you-shout-rock-and-stone-more-times-than-strictly-necessary.
The pandemic is still affecting our lives in dramatic ways, and it sucks to think that many of us are approaching the one-year mark of social distancing and quarantining and mask-wearing.
If you do anything long enough, you kind of get used to it, but not being able to see my friends in person is something I don’t want to get used to. Smart social distancing means that I haven’t hung out with any of my friends, including my Dungeons & Dragons group, since March of last year.
My D&D buddies and I used to meet up once a week, every Sunday, to play about six-hour long sessions of adventuring. We’d all gather around a table with carefully drawn diagrams on graph paper, miniature figurines denoting our characters placed on the paper, and role-play and roll dice to our hearts’ content.
2020 changed that set-up. We use online spaces to keep the game going, and it’s functioned fairly well for us.
We use Discord for all our audio needs. We have a private server run by our DM extraordinaire, and we still log on every Sunday to chat and play. We even use Discord to watch movies together-apart. We’ll pick something to watch on Netflix (a streaming service we all have), then press play at the same time.
Side note: And, of course, we’ve also played Among Us together using Discord. I’m a terrible liar, but it turns out I’m also a terrible truther. I have yet to play as Impostor, but no one ever believes me when I say I’m innocent. I have the voice of a guilty person. It majorly sucks, and I’m thinking the next time I play, I’ll speak in a monotone the entire time.
To make up for not having an actual tabletop, we use Roll20, a site that specifically caters to those playing D&D games online. We can recreate graph spaces for our characters to move around in, and Roll20 even comes complete with online dice to use. Most of us still prefer to use our real dice anyways, though.
Playing Dungeons & Dragons online serves its purpose, but it does not feel as great as playing in person. Internet connection issues can wreck a session. RPing through a computer is not nearly as entertaining as doing it face-to-face. (Plus, if you’re speaking as a brutish half-orc into your computer and people in your household happen to be around, crippling embarrassment can detract from your performance. Yes, I’m saying this from experience.)
Personally, I also dislike playing D&D online because it ties me to my laptop for another six hours. Since I work from home, I spend a lot of time on my computer. A lot. And even though D&D can be an enjoyable pastime, when it keeps me glued to this computer, it starts to share that work vibe.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather play D&D online than not play D&D at all. Playing online during the pandemic is like using a crutch to walk when you have a limp. The crutch helps you get from point A to point B; you need the crutch. But that wouldn’t stop you from wishing the limp would go away so you could just walk like you normally do.
With it looking more and more likely that I will not be seeing my sister for Christmas due to concerns about the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, it has never been a better time to dive into the world of Minecraft.
I did not get into Minecraft when it first came out in 2009, but I have always known of it. If you’ve never played Minecraft, it is a game like no other. The graphics are comprised of simple textured blocks, and your little character is placed in a biome (forests, deserts, plains, etc.) and let loose. Minecraft has no rigid structure by which you must play it. If you so choose, you can mine to the deepest portions of the map looking for diamonds and other precious stones. Or you can go around chopping wood blocks so you can craft enormous mansions in the middle of the woods. Or you can spend you life on the run, slashing at errant zombies, creepers, or spiders that come your way. Minecraft is brilliantly simple with numerous ways to get into it and relax.
When you play by yourself, it’s easy to get lost for hours trying to make a little house for yourself with your favorite materials. But one of the greatest pleasures Minecraft can offer is the ability to play with friends. You and your friend can explore the world together, mining your hearts out while you chat about how you day has been going.
During this pandemic, I’ve mostly played Minecraft with my friend Bubba (who I’ve mentioned before) and a coworker of mine (who shall remain nameless because I haven’t gotten their permission to write about them yet).
Bubba is a Minecraft veteran. He knows most of the ins and outs of the game, and he’s really skilled at making ornate palaces for us to live in. While I’m using my incredibly lackluster architectural skills to make rectangular prisms, he’s making rafters, cornices, and entryway steps on his latest masterpiece.
He even goes out of his way to decorate Nether portals. He makes them look like something straight out of a D&D campaign.
We once made an island home, complete with a roller coaster, floating farmlands, intricate stables, and an up-and-coming woolen statue on a nearby mountain. A lot of that was due to Bubba’s diligence and creativity. (I kind of just focused on the farming and the animals.) Unfortunately, we lost that world for a reason which shall not be listed here.
But it had to do with ray tracing.
My coworker and I have barely scratched the surface of what we can accomplish in Minecraft. We found a nice place to make a settlement near a dense forest, but it is terrifyingly prone to thunderstorms there.
While my coworker was busy building our house (you can probably sense a pattern here), I was making a pumpkin patch bordered by a fence. Rain started to pour and thunder boomed in our headphones. I was just a teensy bit unnerved, I’ll admit.
Okay, I was a lot unnerved.
My nerves certainly weren’t helped when lightning struck nearby.
Not that Minecraft is stressful or anything. I’d hate to give you that impression. My favorite thing to do in Minecraft is farm, and it’s one of the most relaxing activities you can do. You just clear out a little square of land, make sure it’s irrigated, i.e. place some water nearby, and then plant seeds. You can grow a variety of different things, from wheat to sugar to beets to potatoes.
You can also cook meat, so fishing is usually on my agenda too. There is nothing more chill than standing by a lake trying to catch a fish.
In a video game, that is.
I’ve never gone fishing in real life.
I live in a desert. Where would I fish?
So Minecraft has been a delightful escape from the depressing news of the real world. (Honestly, at this point, any video game is a delightful escape from the depressing news of the real world.) If you have not heard of Minecraft or if you have but you’ve never played it, I highly recommend that you do.
It’s a laidback experience that promises only good times.
(Unless your friend accidentally deletes a beloved world that you two shared and now you have to start from scratch.)
People use the phrase “out of left field” to describe something that surprised them in some manner. The saying comes from the sport of baseball, and it is typically associated with a ball thrown from left field that can surprise the runner.
I don’t play baseball, but I’m rather fond of the saying. It’s one of my favorite ways of saying that something delighted or weirded me out unexpectedly.
Risk of Rain 2 came out of left field. I’d heard about it vaguely, information about the game coming from tiny references in gaming articles or offhanded mentions during a stream. So when the game was on sale, I decided to buy it and give it a whirl.
Risk of Rain 2 surprised me with how engrossing and fun it could be. Its straightforward gameplay loop drew me in and kept me playing for hours. More than once, I stayed up till 2 in the morning trying to finish a lengthy run.
It is a roguelike third-person shooter, and for those of you who don’t know what the term “roguelike” stands for, it means the levels are procedurally generated and once you die, you’re dead. Your run is over. You have to start from scratch.
However, don’t let this turn you off from Risk of Rain 2. The game’s immense replayability makes it an utter joy to start up again.
The game has a decent handful of maps to explore. Each map will have randomly placed items every time you spawn there. Every map will also have a teleporter that needs to be activated to move on to the next level. Enemies will pop up to take swipes at you, and in order to defeat them, you should collect as many of the items as you can find on the map. These items cost money, and money is gained every time you down an enemy.
And that’s pretty much all there is to gameplay.
It’s a terribly simple premise, but it sucks you in with how satisfying it is. The game is action-packed, so there are never any dull moments where you’re wandering around the map with nothing to do. Enemies are constantly thrown at you, and you have to defeat them before an insurmountable swarm overcomes you.
In addition to that, the items (and how useful they are) are a huge part of why you want to persist in playing to the end of your run, no matter how long it takes. The items can stack upon each other infinitely. So, for instance, there is an item called a Hopoo Feather that gives your character an extra jump. There is nothing that stops you from getting more of these. As long as you can find them on the map and you have the money to buy them, you can stack these Hopoo Feathers like there’s no tomorrow until your character can jump in the air twenty times or more.
The absence of limits is liberating, and the game refuses to tell you no when it comes to gaining items. And when the enemies consistently increase in numbers and difficulty, you’re going to need those items.
Dodging foes can become a bit tricky when the screen is crowded with brightly colored enemies and laser blasts and fire attacks, but mastery over the combat eventually means you can recognize attack patterns and avoid them with practice.
My absolute favorite aspect of Risk of Rain 2 is how differently each character plays. Oftentimes, in games that include different classes, they all have the same feel when you play as them. There’s just a minor difference or two between one and another.
In Risk of Rain 2, the different playable characters you acquire all have different playstyles to get accustomed to.
And the fantastic thing is that even though they’re incredibly different, they’re all equally viable.
For example, aside from the Commando who is the standard default character, there is the Huntress. She’s got the lowest health pool initially from the group of characters you can unlock, but she’s the fastest. She can sprint and shoot at the same time, something no other character can do. Her bow also automatically locks on to enemies without you having to do more than generally aim in their direction.
If a squishy speedster is not your style, you can play as the Engineer. He can toss out grenades, but he’s not really a precision fighter. His true strength lies in his deployable turrets. Any items he collects are also applied to these turrets, which essentially gives him up to a three “man” squad any time he goes up against a boss.
But what if you like to get up close and personal? Then maybe the Mercenary is right for you. The Mercenary wields a sword, so getting right next to enemies is the name of the game. This is incredibly daunting when going up against flying opponents that like to stay out of reach, but it is oh so satisfying to slice them to bits.
Risk of Rain 2 was a surprising amount of fun for me, especially given that I’m particularly fond of story-based games. (I’m a fan of the walking simulator for crying out loud.) And just in case you were worried about not having played the original title, you have nothing to fear. I never played the first game. But that didn’t stop me from adoring the second, even though it did come from out of left field.
I rate Risk of Rain 2 a drizzling-torrent-of-a-good-time-that-is-unironically-the-perfect-game-to-play-on-a-rainy-day.
Our Dungeons & Dragons party hunkered in a hallway outside a room where we knew a big battle would take place. Our game sessions had been leading to this moment for months. We were nervous, excited, and more than a little unprepared.
Weeks ago, our party had fought a giant abyssal creature, and it had driven one of our characters insane. (Seriously, our Dungeon Master thought it would be nifty to fiddle with Insanity Rolls.) No longer trusting anyone, our resident Wizard snuck away from the group without leaving any word of where he was headed. When the rest of our characters finally did learn where he was hiding, we also learned that he had made friends with some dark entity from another dimension, and our misguided Wizard was trying to bring it over to our world.
We had to stop him.
Which led us to this hallway, in an old fortress, waiting to enter a room.
Both in real life and in the game, we were pumped to dive in and rescue our friend.
Here’s who was playing that day:
Our newest party member Tekoa was playing as a sprightly Monk our group had found adrift on the sea while trying to locate our Wizard friend. She was great in a pinch, willing to lie to trick the bad guys, and packed a mean wallop with every roll.
Christian was playing his Rogue, sneaky to the millionth degree, his penchant for getting into trouble matched only by his ability to get out of it.
Mia was playing the practical but probably-incredibly-tired-by-our-party’s-shenanigans Druid. She has healed us more times than we can count, and her level-headed use of spells during a fight is irreplaceable.
Dalton had the honor of playing two characters at once. He was the one who had lost his Wizard to insanity, so he was still in charge of that guy. He had also made a new spell-wielding Dwarven Automaton character to accompany the rest of us in bringing his original wayward character back into the fold. Dalton would be playing both a villain and a hero in this encounter.
And lastly, there was me, playing as my optimistic Fighter. She was a small Gnome with a massive amount of Dexterity at her disposal, a force to be reckoned with at close range with finesse weapons.
We might seem like a crack team of D&D players, but if you’ve read any of my other D&D Stories, you know we’ll always find a way to mess things up.
Our group had coerced a diminutive Goblin to lead us to the room where our Wizard was attempting to contact this dark entity. The Goblin mentioned he only knew of one secret way into the room aside from the main entrance. And it was tiny.
My small Fighter instantly volunteered to go through the opening the Goblin indicated. “I’ll do it! I can do it! I’m going in!”
Mia’s Druid held up a hand, saying, “No! Wait! Let’s come up with a plan first!”
Our Dungeon Master (DM) looked right at me and asked if I would heed the Druid’s warning. Knowing that my Fighter was overconfident and headstrong, I figured she would have already rushed in the small passage. I said as much, and Mia could only grit her teeth in annoyance.
Not knowing what might await my character, the rest of the party decided to enter the large room without me, hoping that the passage the Goblin was leading me down would allow me to flank our Wizard at the end of it. They gathered themselves by the main entrance under our Druid’s lead. My careless Fighter had left them one man short.
Just before the door was opened, Christian’s Rogue placed his Ring of Invisibility on his finger. He disappeared from view.
Now, this ring is Christian’s prize possession. It allows him to deal huge amounts of damage when he sneaks up on an unsuspecting victim. Before a big fight, he usually puts it on in preparation.
So as the party burst through the doors, the Rogue was invisible, as per usual.
The sight that awaited my friends was distressing.
Our Wizard friend was standing before a grotesque portal with strands of fleshy material tethering it to the wall, ceiling, and floor. An eerie light was emanating from it. Our DM told us, however, that the energy in the room felt like it was mounting for something bigger. Clearly, the portal wasn’t open yet, but it would be very shortly.
Unfortunately, my friends didn’t have long to glimpse this horror. As soon as they came into the room, the Wizard whirled around, a grim smile on his face. With a wave of his hand, he removed a large cloth sheet from a mirror that was mounted directly in front of the door my friends had just used. As soon as the mirror was revealed, the DM told them they all had to make Charisma Saving Throws.
I bit my nails nervously (in real-life, not in the game) as everyone at the table rolled their 20-sided dice. Mia, Tekoa, and Dalton all rolled high numbers for the Druid, Monk, and Automaton respectively.
Christian rolled a terrifyingly low 4. His Rogue was not a particularly “charismatic” character, so there was not much he could add to increase that number.
With special enthusiasm, the DM began to describe what happened to the Rogue. “You feel a strange light surround you, and a strange sucking feeling at your feet. All of a sudden, you feel like you’re pulled away. You blink, and you’re no longer in the room. You’re in an infinite white space with fog all around you.” The DM turned to the rest of the party (the Druid, Monk, and Automaton) and said, “You see your friend disappear.”
Mia, ever aware of practicalities and inconsistencies, furrowed her brow. “But…he was invisible.”
The DM paled at this forgotten bit of information. “Oh…right. Umm, then I guess none of you see anything happen.”
Stunned silence hit the table as we realized that we just lost our Rogue friend to a magical trap…and none of us were aware of it.
Side note: Yes, technically speaking, as players we all know Christian’s character got trapped. But our characters, in the world of the game, have no clue. And as part of playing D&D properly, we have to maintain their ignorance.
Dalton, as his Wizard, spat out a “Dammit!”
We all laughed as one, knowing that from the Wizard’s perspective, his mirror trap absolutely failed to ensnare anyone.
The fight to close the portal and reason with our insane Wizard friend began in earnest. Several goons were protecting him, so the Automaton and the Monk started hammering away at them. Mia knew where our priorities should lie and had her Druid cast Moonbeam over the still-barely-closed portal. White, ethereal light shone down on the fleshy tendrils, burning them slowly with radiant damage.
Meanwhile, our Rogue tried running around in his infinite interdimensional pocket, to no avail.
Tekoa’s Monk decided to abandon the fight with the goons in favor of punching the lights out of the Wizard. She had come to the group after his departure, so she had no compunctions about hitting his face to kingdom come. She landed some hefty hits on the Wizard, and Dalton had to struggle to keep track of how both his Automaton and the Wizard were faring in terms of health.
Meanwhile, Christian’s Rogue tried cutting a whole in the floor to escape; it didn’t work.
My Fighter had been having a tough time following the Goblin through the secret passage. A magical fire trap actually killed the Goblin halfway through the tunnel, but my Fighter survived by the skin of her teeth. Traumatized and singed, she emerged in the room where the big fight was happening after a few moments.
With the Druid focusing on the portal, the Automaton focusing on the goons, and the Monk focusing on the Wizard, it was hard to decide where my Fighter should go next. But after Tekoa’s Monk was given a beating by some goons who stepped up to support the Wizard in his fight against her, she was not looking too good. I sent my Fighter sprinting over to assist her.
The fight continued as Christian’s Rogue went crazy trying to figure out a way to escape.
Finally feeling merciful toward Christian’s plight, the DM allowed the Automaton to make a History Check. This is not only a roll to see if he remembers what this mirror is and how to deal with it; it is also a roll to see if the Automaton can make the logical leap that the mirror was a trap our invisible Rogue might have fallen into. A very average 11 ensured that the Automaton at least recollected that destroying it should release whoever is inside. The metal behemoth trudged over to the mirror and began whacking at it.
Mia’s poor Druid was left to attack the portal by herself while also fending off the goons the Automaton had previously held at bay. “You guys, the portal!” she cried out desperately.
Tekoa’s Monk was on the brink of death, however, so she crawled as far away from the fight as she could to try and recuperate.
My Fighter, in the meantime, was attempting to start a dialogue with the Wizard, her former friend, in the hopes of reaching a peaceful resolution to the situation.
The energy from the portal reached critical levels.
The Automaton swung a mighty blow against the mirror, and it shattered into hundreds of pieces. Our Rogue appeared from out of nowhere, gasping in relief and visible for the world to see. Unluckily, he was not the only being trapped in one of the mirror’s interdimensional pockets. Three Drow Elves, a Dwarf, a handful of beasts, and a Mind Flayer all suddenly appeared in the room.
Mass chaos ensued as everyone began fighting everyone.
My Fighter’s dialogue with the Wizard halted as we both turned to look at the suddenly much more crowded room. Tekoa’s Monk huddled in a corner trying to heal. Mia’s Druid begged us all to turn our attention to the portal one final time.
That’s when the portal finally opened fully, and a gargantuan Beholder floated out of it with a hideous cackle.
Things went downhill from there. Tekoa’s Monk ran away in fright. The Automaton got petrified and charmed by our Wizard. Mia’s Druid got tossed out a window and fell 60 feet. The Rogue used his Warp Arrows to teleport outside to save her, but he ended up shooting the arrow too far; he appeared by the fortress walls instead. My Fighter then used her Broom of Flying to try and catch her as well, but that failed. Our Druid didn’t die, but it was a close thing.
Those of us that could flee had to run away from the fortress. Dark clouds gathered around the battlements, and we could hear the Beholder’s laughter in our minds as we sprinted away.
At the end of the session, the DM leaned back in his chair and rubbed at his eyes. “I guess we’ll pick this up next week?”
My love for the original BioShock game is stronger than Superman’s ability to arm wrestle. I wrote a whole post about it. Even though it’s a grim setting, the world of BioShock charms me to no end. I love immersing myself in the universe and lore, and for those of you wondering, I even love BioShock Infinite.
As most gamers who have played BioShock will say, the weakest link in my BioShock adoration chain is BioShock 2. When asked about whether or not I liked the sequel, I have always just shrugged and said, “It was okay. Not amazing, but not bad.”
Well, after trying to replay BioShock 2 a few months ago (key phrase is “trying to”), my opinion has definitively changed.
I really don’t like BioShock 2.
As a gamer who likes to see games through to the end no matter my level of enjoyment, I found myself becoming more and more indifferent to finishing BioShock 2 until I eventually dropped it in favor of playing endless rounds of Risk of Rain 2.
Side note: Expect a future post about Risk of Rain 2. I just want to try out the multiplayer component before I type up a review/gush-a-athon.
If you have never played BioShock, this post might not mean much to you. I mean, why should you care why its sequel is such a disappointment if you’ve never played it? But if you’ve ever played a role-playing game (RPG) at some point, you’ll be able to understand my grievances well enough.
The first thing that works against BioShock 2 is that the wonder of the world of Rapture begins to fade.
In the original game, Rapture is an engrossing environment. It’s an underwater city that was meant to house artists, inventors, businessmen, and entrepreneurs in a world that functions like Ayn Rand’s wet dreams. However, as anyone who has read Atlas Shrugged and learned about the pitfalls of Objectivism knows, you can clearly see why everything went to shit. When exploring the world in the first BioShock, you’re just captivated by how terribly everything fell apart and the nuances of how a society like this could ever have functioned.
The second game takes place in Rapture as well, but there is nothing new about the principles of the place. It is still a decrepit underwater city that failed due to its selfish societal dictates. So the fascination with its downfall is lessened somewhat. In addition to that, since BioShock 2 attempts to incorporate new enemy types and environmental hazards in a world that has already established a history, every new aspect feels like a forced add-on.
The original BioShock was a crisp and unique monument. BioShock 2 added unwieldy lumps of clay to that monument.
The second thing that brings BioShock 2 down a notch from its predecessor is its premise. You play as a Big Daddy trying to reunite with his “daughter.”
Now, in the first BioShock, Big Daddies were the ultimate enemy types that a player could face. Hulking behemoths in gargantuan old-timey wetsuits that take lumbering steps that shake the floor (and your controller) as they protect their Little Sister charges, all the while moaning and groaning in a metallic fashion.
Big Daddies were the stuff of nightmares.They were a terrifying and ominous threat that you took on at your own peril.
In BioShock 2, you play as one of them, and while that might sound cool, it significantly lessens the vibe of what it means to be a Big Daddy.
Well, because suddenly, Splicers, the lowest form of enemies you can face in the BioShock franchise, can attack you with relative impunity.
It’d be as if you were playing a Lord of the Rings game, and suddenly Hobbits were giving trouble to the Ringwraiths.
However, that’s not where BioShock 2 fails the most.
The biggest turn-off for me while playing had to do with its RPG elements.
Now, the BioShock series features very light RPG elements in that you can upgrade your skill set throughout the game, slowly getting stronger, getting access to better weapons, and improving those weapons over time.
The first game handled these aspects well. You slowly built up your store of powers and gained weapon upgrades incrementally. Everything felt perfectly spaced out. Personally, I was always pumped whenever I got some ADAM so that I could upgrade my powers. And the new weapons were handed to me in unforgettable sequences that allowed me to try them out.
The second game, in my incredibly Below Average opinion, totally fudged this up.
Let me explain to you how the upgrade system works in BioShock 2.
As a Big Daddy, you need ADAM to upgrade and gain new abilities. ADAM is found in corpses scattered around Rapture, and the only ones capable of extracting it are the hideous Little Sisters. And even though you’re technically a Big Daddy, you can’t just summon up a Little Sister to follow and protect. No, you have to steal them from other Big Daddies. Once you’ve defeated a Big Daddy, you “adopt” his Little Sister, and she can lead you to corpses filled with ADAM.
Side note: Yes, the concept of taking red DNA juice from dead bodies is gross, but that’s part of BioShock’s charm.
However, it’s no small task for your newfound Little Sister to collect ADAM. For some reason, setting her down to suck up that sweet, sweet ADAM sounds a clarion call for every Splicer in a mile-wide radius to come attack you. Once you assign a corpse to a Little Sister for collection, BioShock 2 initiates this kind of defense sequence where you have to stop anyone from getting to her.
So collecting ADAM and upgrading your character becomes a long, drawn-out process that contributes nothing to the story. And to make matters worse, BioShock 2’s placement of Big Daddies and Little Sisters is super rushed.
For instance, at one point in the game, I have to confront a Father Wales. He’s this religious nut that has created a cult of followers in a section of Rapture called Siren Alley. Wales is stopping me and my character from reaching our pseudo-daughter, so he has to be dealt with. I enter Siren Alley with every intention of dealing with Wales immediately. His voice mocks me on the intercom, and I’m prepared to defeat yet another video game’s psychotic religious leader.
However, as I enter the beginning portions of Siren Alley, I see a Big Daddy leading a Little Sister along.
Any RPG player worth their salt knows that upgrading skills and gear is of paramount importance. You always tackle upgrades before diving into the story because you don’t know if and when a story mission might take you away from a place you could have gotten some much-needed skill improvements.
So what do I do?
I prepare for a Big Daddy showdown.
After defeating this other Big Daddy and taking his Little Sister, I have her lead me to as many ADAM-filled corpses as she can. Each time we find one, I prepare for the imminent onslaught of Splicers before setting her down. I lay out some traps at different entry points, buy a few health kits, and hunker down for the attack. Finally, after she’s gotten me all the ADAM she can and I’ve killed a city’s worth of Splicers protecting her, I drop her off at a vent and prepare to continue my quest to stop Father Wales.
But then my controller starts to shake and I hear the giggles of a Little Sister. Turning the corner, I see another Big Daddy and Little Sister in this very same area. I sigh, gear up for another unsatisfying Big Daddy showdown, and take his Little Sister when I’m done.
I take her to the corpses she can find me and engage in more defend-this-ADAM-collecting-machine segments of gameplay, and after two hours of playtime in Siren Alley, I have not progressed an inch in terms of advancing the story. I’m in the very same section of plaza that I was when I entered this area.
And so, after some listless slogging, I finally dropped my replay of BioShock 2.
I’m actually rather fond of walking simulator games. It scratches an itch I got while playing BioShock. Exploring Rapture was more than half the fun of that game. There were actually portions of the game where I wanted to stop shooting splicers just so I could look at the environs. Walking simulators, at their best, give you the experience of discovering a story just by looking around and interacting with your surroundings. You glean the story at your leisure by seeing environmental details.
What Remains of Edith Finch stands out from the modest crowd of walking simulator games thanks to its unique gameplay elements and odd storytelling. However, unless you’re already fond of the calm of a walking simulator, I would not necessarily recommend this game to you.
I first heard of it through the power of online reviews. While researching games like Firewatch and Gone Home, What Remains of Edith Finch would get mentioned a lot. Its premise intrigued me so much, I avoided reading any more about it after that. And I finally got a chance to play through it this week.
This is going to be a spoiler-heavy review. Just warning you. It’s been out for about three years, so I’m not too worried about ruining it for anyone, but if you have any interest in playing this game whatsoever, I highly recommend you stop reading now.
Side note: Huh. Feels odd to recommend people stop reading my writing.
The game starts out with narration from protagonist Edith Finch. She is who we play as for the most part, and the story is about how she is finally returning to her old family home after years away. She wants to learn more about a curse that has plagued her family tree for generations, and the only way to do this is by exploring every room of the odd-looking house.
Whenever Edith narrates something, her words physically appear in the game. I’m incredibly fond of captions, so this was a delight for me. They’re imaginatively used too. When Edith is about to open a gate, softly speaking about her trepidation returning home, her words appear above the gate. As she pushes it open, her words are shaken away by her motions.
This quirky attribute continues as Edith explores the rest of the house. The house itself is a ginormous testament to weirdness. Piles of books are everywhere, pictures completely cover nearly every wall, cans of fish are stacked on more than one kitchen counter, and odd knick-knacks litter the shelves. Many lives have passed through this house, and it clearly shows.
When you stumble into a family member’s room for the first time, you learn that this game will take on an anthology type structure. As Edith discovers important items from each family member, their stories are told and Edith learns the true extent of the “curse.”
You might be wondering at this point about what exactly this curse is. It’s never made entirely clear, but you figure out quickly enough that it has to do with every family member reaching an unfortunate and odd end.
That said, even though the different family members tell different stories through narrative and gameplay, they all end rather tragically. However, they do take on a fantastical aspect at times, making the game experience more palatable than just a march of death.
Again, I’d like to reiterate that if you haven’t played the game, you should really stop reading at this point.
Each family member has their own story that is played a different way. My favorites are as follows:
A young girl has a dream that she gains an insatiable appetite. She imagines herself to be a cat, an owl, a shark, and a monster in quick succession, constantly finding herself hungrier and hungrier. The outlandishness of this notion, mixed with humor and horror, makes it one of the more memorable stories.
A teenage girl spends a pulpy night of horror at home alone when a masked villain shows up on her doorstep. Told in the same manner as Tales from the Crypt, you guide her through this stereotypical fright night with only a crutch to defend herself.
A baby’s imagination runs wild during bathtime as he leads his bath toys through orchestrated acrobatics while his parents argue in the other room. This is perhaps the saddest tale, and I did not want to see it through to completion.
A dejected worker at a fish factory pictures himself as the hero in an isometric adventure. The images in his head soon take over his work life to an exaggerated extent. You find yourself becoming just as distracted as he is by his grand quests.
The ending feels like it comes all too soon, and to be honest, I wasn’t happy with it.
Edith’s last night at the house is explained, and yet not explained, the ambiguity of the curse being left to the player’s imagination. In addition to that, it is revealed that the words of Edith’s narration were written for her unborn son. She apparently died during childbirth, and the game ends with her son visiting her grave.
That said, the individual stories of her family members are incredibly moving and engrossing without overstaying their welcome. I’d play the game for those moments alone.
I rate What Remains of Edith Finch an interesting-walk-with-engrossing-gameplay-and-story-elements-that-made-my-jaw-drop-so-often-I-got-a-bruise-on-my-chin.
I finally, finally finished playing Doom Eternal a couple of days ago. I took my sweet time with it. I savored every minute of it. And by “savored,” I also mean that I stressed my brain out trying to find every collectible and complete every time trial.
Now that I’ve finished the game, it is time to tell you, my Above Average readers, my thoughts on it. It’s time to go into the good, the bad, and the ugly of Doom Eternal with a deep-dive review.
Side note: This game is not ugly. I just wanted to type out “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
Just in case you’re not in the mood to read a lengthy review, I’ll tell you my base impression. Doom Eternal is high-octane fun, definitely engaging to the millionth degree. The only things holding it back are a few story decisions (but who plays Doom for the story anyways) and a couple of odd gameplay inclusions.
Anywaysies, let’s rev up our chainsaws and pop out our flame belcher! It’s time for a Below Average review of Doom Eternal!
Doom Eternal takes place after the events of Doom (2016). A demonic invasion is taking place on Earth as soon as the game starts. The Doom Slayer (or Doomguy as he is colloquially known) preps himself for battle in his Fortress of Doom.
Side note: It remains unclear how he got this floating fortress in space or what happened directly after Samuel Hayden teleported him away after the first game.
What follows is a rampage. The Doom Slayer needs to take down three Hell Priests in order to stop the invasion on Earth. Once that is complete, the Slayer can focus his attention on the Khan Maykr, a highly-advanced being who is responsible for Hell’s forces taking over countless worlds in her quest to use “Hell energy” to sustain her race.
Annnnnd that’s pretty much it for plot.
I don’t know if this counts as spoilers, but the Doom Slayer accomplishes every single one of his goals. He stops the invasion by killing the Hell Priests, he defeats the Khan Maykr, and then he goes along on his merry way.
It’s a straightforward story, and I appreciate that. However, things are muddied up a tad thanks to a plethora of Codex entries. See, throughout the game, one of the items you can find and collect are these Codex pages, texts that extend your knowledge of Doom lore.
You learn about Hell’s hierarchy, the rise of the Maykr society, the fall of Argent D’Nur. It’s a bunch of cool stuff, and a lot of it is interesting. However, it can get a bit confusing, especially when coupled with the Codex entries from the first game.
For example, in the first game, Argent energy was said to come directly from Elemental Wraiths trapped in Hell. The Wraiths’ souls made a Well that stores this hellish energy, and that’s what insane and idiotic human scientists were trying to tap into as a resource.
Doom Eternal complicates the process a bit. According to new Codex entries, Argent Energy is made using energy from Sentinels and the power of tortured souls in Hell, and it is then purified by the Elemental Wraiths due to Maykr technology.
Yeah, me too.
It’s a minor grievance though. I’m not playing Doom Eternal for the story.
My bigger story gripe actually deals with how the game handles the Slayer himself.
In the first game, players were never removed from the Slayer’s perspective. You stayed in first-person mode no matter what, always looking through the eyes of Doomguy. When he opened a door, you saw his hands appear in front of you to lift it. When he picked up a new gun, you saw him hold it up to his/your eyes to inspect.
Doom Eternal makes the dubious choice of pulling players out of Doomguy’s shoes. On occasion, there will be a cutscene, and the “camera” will float out of the Doom Slayer’s eyes and instead hover around him cinematically so you can see his body from a more remote perspective.
I’m personally not a fan of this.
Call me old school, but I liked the immersion of being the Doom Slayer from Doom (2016). I liked feeling like his actions were my actions. In Doom Eternal, I felt like I was buddy-buddy with the Doomguy instead of being him.
And to add insult to injury, they actually have the Doomguy speak at one point.
I did not like that one bit. I’m not going to grab a torch and pitchfork about it, but it definitely took me out of the game to hear the Slayer suddenyl growl “Rip and tear” in a totally contrived fashion.
My final thoughts on the story would be a low-key appreciation for the multiple locations it took us to. It often felt like we (the Doom Slayer and I) were going all over the place in a short time span. That dizzy variety of places, while befuddling my grasp on plot points and objectives, did give me some great arenas.
Which leads me to my next section…
Doom (2016) had fairly bland environments. You were either on Hell or Mars, and both locations were always tinted either shades of red or shades of grey.
Doom Eternal blows its predecessor out of the water when it comes to environments.
You’ve got the devastated landscapes of Earth during the demonic invasion. You’ve got the garish colors of Urdak, the Maykrs’ home world. The fiery environs of Hell are dangerous and mesmerizing. Even the somber nature of the Sentinels’ realm stands out from the crowd.
Plus, each of these locations offers up great arenas. Since mobility is prized in Doom Eternal, the maps have to be designed to allow a greater rein of movement. There are bars to swing from, lifts to propel you into the air, and ledges you can clamber onto. These mini-arenas are all superb.
In between arenas, there are quiet moments where players can explore the area for secrets. Cheat codes, collectible figurines, and music albums to hang around your Fortress of Doom are scattered throughout Doom Eternal, and looking for them is half the fun of the game.
The one downside to the environment is the platforming. In order to break up the constant stream of combat, developers decided to include light platforming mechanics.
These suck eggs.
Maybe it’s just me, but I loathed those weird gravity lift things on Urdak that would propel you through the air. They inconsistently launched you to sections of wall that you could “climb” on. And I could never get the timing exactly right the first time around. I either messed things up with an ill-timed double-jump, aimed my body right where it didn’t need to go, or plummeted to my death after failing to properly grab onto a wall.
I do not play Doom for platforming.
However, platforming brings me to my next point. See, all that jumping and climbing and launching is meant to space out how often players are dancing in an arena. You can’t have players in combat 24/7.
But combat is where Doom Eternal shines the most. It is near goddamn perfection.
It is utter bliss to be running around an arena tearing up demons. What was first presented to us in Doom (2016) has been fine-tuned in Doom Eternal. Every weapon on the weapon wheel has a purpose to take down a demon, and every demon has a weakness that can be exploited. Cacademons can swallow a grenade from your combat shotgun. Precision shots from your heavy assault rifle can eliminate a Mancubus’ arm cannons. A Whiplash can be frozen in place with an ice bomb.
In the first game, you picked your favorite weapon (cough cough Super Shotgun cough cough) and stuck with it. In Doom Eternal, you need to constantly switch out to weapons that can better help you deal with specific demonic threats.
And the demons are gorgeous visually.
I mean, they’re ugly as heck.
But they’re designed to be ugly beautifully.
Every time you shoot them, chunks of flesh are torn from their bodies, a more rewarding manner of visibly letting players know they’re doing damage than a health bar receding above their heads.
The only demons that have a health bar are the big bosses, the Gladiator, the Khan Maykr, and the Icon of Sin (kind of). Those are intense but fun fights that truly test your mettle as a gamer.
My one major gameplay gripe has to do with the Marauder.
I hate that guy.
The Marauder is an enemy type that pops up from time to time to ruin a player’s day. The big issue with him is that he operates kind of like a boss. You have to time when you attack him perfectly. His eyes will flash green right before he swipes at you, meaning you have to shoot him with a heavy duty weapon at that exact moment. He can zoom around you very quickly, utilizing a dash feature similar to the one you as the Slayer possess. However, if you try to crowd him, he pulls out a shotgun that deals a massive amount of damage in one shot. And if you try to get some distance on him, he sends a ghostly hound after you that nips at your heels until the Marauder can catch up to you.
So the Marauder forces you to stay midrange with him, doing this slow-paced gun battle as you wait for his eyes to flash green before you shoot.
This in itself isn’t a problem. However, it becomes a problem when they stick the Marauder in a regular arena situation with a bunch of other demon types around. You can’t do a one-on-one battle with him until after you’ve dealt with the other demons. The Marauder halts the otherwise seamless flow of combat present in Doom Eternal.
And don’t get me started on that time trial that includes a Marauder.
Side note: Time trials are brief timed encounters with a group of four or five demons. One of them involved a Marauder. Imma be honest, I cheesed that fight so hard. I glitched it out so I “won” the fight without having to fight him.
At its best, Doom Eternal is an intense ballet of gunplay, with players switching out between weapons and grenades to take down the endless onslaught of demons. It takes skill, which makes the game feel like a challenge to overcome.
If you’re not staying on your toes though, a fight can quickly devolve into a jumbled juggle as you try to keep an eye on your shields and health while also running around trying to take down demons with a low ammo count on all weapons.
In order to make players feel like a bad-ass even while they’re struggling with the intense gameplay, Doom Eternal has given us yet another pumping soundtrack.
I have never felt so alive and empowered as when I’m listening to Mick Gordon’s genius track while shooting down a horde of demons. He accomplishes in-game magic with his music.
I never thought metal and synth would be my thing, but it has slowly become one of my go-to sounds for feeling exhilarated. I feel unstoppable when listening to it. Even if I’m dying over and over and over again.
I would never say Doom Eternal is a bad game. It’s fantastic. However, it is most definitely not a relaxing game for me. My brain has to stay on high alert whenever I play it because it is one of the most intense gameplay experiences I’ve ever gone through. It’s a game I prep myself for, and I’ll drink a cup of coffee before I pick up a controller. That’s in stark contrast to the way I’ll play something like Super Mario Odyssey, slumped on my couch with a grin and a cup of tea.
And while I’m not fond of the changes made to the way the Doom Slayer is perceived, he remains one of my most favorite video game protagonists to play as. I’m not the best gamer. I’m below Below Average if I’m telling the truth. But Doomguy has always made me feel like a bad-ass, and that’s a sure sign a game can be tough and empowering at the same time.
I rate Doom Eternal a thrill-ride-through-Hell-that-is-a-gazillion-times-more-fun-than-it-sounds-and-it-already-sounds-hella-good.
My enthusiasm for the Doom series is no secret. I’ve talked about it here and here and even here. As such, a lot of you may have started to wonder why I haven’t reviewed Doom Eternal yet. The game released on March 20, 2020, which was about a month ago. That’s more than enough time to have played the entire game. So why haven’t I typed up a review for it?
Well, my dear, dear, above average readers…I’m milking this game for all it’s worth. That’s why.
During that debacle I had with Ori and the Will of the Wisps, I was forced to limit the amount of time I played the game to one hour a day. However, even though my shortened game-time was pressed upon me solely by Ori’s constraining bugs, I kind of grew to appreciate drawing out my experience with a video game.
I’m used to blazing through my favorite games at breakneck speed, a total Eager McBeaver to see the end credits roll. But I’ve realized that savoring a game makes the journey longer and sweeter, especially if it’s an enjoyable title.
That’s why I’m taking my time with Doom Eternal.
I’m collecting every item there is to collect, replaying missions after I’ve already done them once, spending inordinate amounts of time in the Ripatorium just for fun, successfully completing every challenge, fiddling around with cheats, etc. Plus, I’m still limiting how much time I spend playing games a day just to make every time I pick up a controller that much more enticing.
And I am having one hell of a time.
Of course, since I’m enjoying the game so much, I’ve been dying to share my thoughts about it with you. However, I have that golden rule here that I won’t review a game until I’ve finished playing it. So you’ll just have to wait. As will I.
Seriously, I love to gush about games. It’s low-key hurting me to hold back every single thought I have about Doom Eternal.
Anywaysies, to tide us over until I do write the review, I thought I’d tell you guys the anecdote about how I got my copy of the game.
See, I had pre-ordered it at my local GameStop. And if you can recall, Doom Eternal released right as California enacted its shelter-at-home order.
I’m telling you, I have never felt so anxious to get my hands on a game. ‘Just let me have Doom Eternal,’ I prayed to every higher power I could think of. ‘Just let me get the game, and then I’ll stay inside for years if you want me to. I won’t ever leave my house. Just let me have this.‘
When the stay-at-home order was given, I had an opportunity that evening, (since the order didn’t go into full effect until the next day), to drive to my GameStop to try and pick up my copy early. So that’s what I did.
It was lightly raining, the sun was gone, and only a few people were to be seen. It looked bleak and grey. I left the car in a rush, the smell of wet asphalt serving to increase my anxiety levels for some reason.
Another person walked behind me, heading into the GameStop as well, a man dressed in dark colors. His brisk pace followed mine, a decent six feet between us. When we got inside, tape markings were on the floor, indicating the social distance customers were supposed to maintain. The man and I stepped on our respective spots, waiting for the one employee working to address us.
The GameStop employee was as cordial as could be, and he laughed at my transparent worry over picking up Doom Eternal. Using antibacterial gel and gloves, he found my copy and handed it to me. I took it from him reverently, thanking him profusely.
I must have looked a silly sight. I was wearing my middle school sweat pants, navy blue with white stripes on the legs, and my hot pink, long-sleeved shirt complete with hood that makes me look like Little Mac from Punch-Out!! I was grinning from ear-to-ear like a kid at Christmas. I think I might have seemed deranged.
The guy behind me, conversely, was dressed in black jeans and a black T-Shirt with grotesque cover art from some metal band on it. He was a big guy, beefy and dark-skinned, with an almost expressionless face.
As I was leaving, I brightly asked him if he was picking up Doom Eternal too.
He looked at me, not saying anything for a good, long moment. Then he smiled and said, “No, I’m getting Animal Crossing.”
The relationship between Animal Crossing and Doom fans is one of the most beautiful things to spring from this shit-show of a year so far.
This was perhaps one of my most difficult reviews to write.
Normally, when I love a game, a burst of enthusiasm propels me forward when typing up how I feel about it. If I hate a game, my disgust and loathing would likewise fuel my writing.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps straddles that divide.
If you read one of my previous posts, you’ll know that Ori and the Will of the Wisps burned me with game-breaking glitches and bugs that permeated the entire experience. The game actually made me cry with how broken it was.
However, I will never review a game here that I have not completed, so I made sure to power through these issues before writing a review.
And here it is.
I want to focus on the game itself for my review, but I also don’t want to ignore the bugs that plagued my playthrough. So before I dive into the game, I’m going to list the bugs I encountered and stress that when I finished playing the game (about two weeks ago), a patch had not yet gone through to address them. Do not assume they have been fixed by the time of this writing.
The bugs I came across are as follows:
Slowed frame rate when many enemies were on the screen
Glitching into walls and becoming unable to get out unless the game was restarted
Inability to access the main menu
Hiccups every time the game automatically saved
Freezing when opening the map
Triggered boss encounters causing black screen
Loss of audio
Increased poor performance if play-time exceeded two hours
That said, the rest of this review will focus on the game minus the bugs (though I may gripe every now and then). Still, do not disregard this list as it very much impacted my enjoyment of the game.
Let’s do this.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps tells a touching tale very much in the same vein as its predecessor, Ori and the Blind Forest. It picks up where the first game left off, with Ori having saved his/her forest and adopted Ku, the offspring of Kuro (antagonist of Blind Forest). Ori and Ku live with their family of Naru and Gumo, spending inordinate amounts of time playing with each other, eating, and teaching Ku how to fly.
Unfortunately, Ku’s wing has been damaged since she hatched, so no matter how much she wants to, she is unable to soar like she is meant to. However, thanks to Ori holding onto one of Kuro’s feathers and Gumo’s ingenuity, they finagle a way to let Ku fly again.
During a test flight, Ori and Ku travel far beyond their home and get caught up in a storm. They land in a place called Niwen, which once had a Spirit Tree just as Ori and Ku’s land of Nibel does. Sadly, Niwen’s Spirit Tree, a willow, has fallen to decay, and the denizens of this place are prey to the vicious creatures and corruption that come with it.
It’s up to you and Ku to bring life back to Niwen and somehow make your way back home.
I do not want to spoil the conclusion, but I will say it hit me right in the feels. Even with my frustration with those glitches, the ending reminded me of why I’m a fan of Ori and his/her world and the themes that were also in Ori and the Blind Forest.
If you loved the first game, Will of the Wisps gives a satisfying conclusion (or new beginning) to Ori’s story.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps tickled my fancy as a video game completionist. It’s as pleasant as it ever was to collect everything and see the percentage of the game completed slowly climb up.
Ori’s traversal options are expanded, and not always in the way you think. Blue moss provides sections of the map where Ori can grapple between spaces, like Spider-Man. Packed sand creates caverns where Ori must burrow through in order to reach objectives.
These new options for moving Ori around feel absolutely natural to Ori’s familiar moveset, and it does not take long to get used to.
Will of the Wisps also gives Ori a few more items to collect aside from Life, Energy, and Spirit Light. You can gather Gorlek Ore to build up your home base at Wellspring Glades. You can also collect Spirit Shards to upgrade Ori’s abilities. The collect-a-thon continues, and I loved every minute of it.
I 100% completed Ori, gathering every item, doing every side quest, and beating every encounter.
Oh, but one glitch I forgot to mention prevented me from getting the achievements related to collecting everything. So yeah…there is that.
It took me a while to get used to Will of the Wisps’ new approach to combat, but afterwards, I can recognize that it is an improvement upon the first game.
In Blind Forest, the Heart of the Spirit Tree, Sein, traveled with you. It was Sein that attacked Ori’s enemies. Sein blasted them with a dazzling light that you could upgrade over time.
In Will of the Wisps, Sein is no longer with you, leaving Ori to fend for himself/herself. As such, he/she is given an arsenal of weapons that players have to buy or collect.
This improves the combat of the game as it now requires players to pick and choose what weapons they want to use in battle. You no longer spam an attack button so much as you perfectly time a shot from an arrow, a jab from a blade, or a swing of a hammer. Combat becomes a beautiful dance that perfectly matches the manner in which Ori moves through the world.
If Ori’s movements are a sight to behold, then the environments of the game are doubly so. Every location is a work of art, beautifully rendered to convey both practical and thematic concepts to players.
In the Mouldwood Depths, the eerie yellow and blue lighting gives off a sinister vibe that all is not right in this place, and players soon learn that to go into pitch black darkness is deadly, making those glowing lights safe havens along the way.
I honestly believe the locations in Will of the Wisps are even better than they were in Blind Forest because they are so distinct from each other. Inkwater Marsh, the place where Ori first lands on Niwen, is a swampy and wooded area. Baur’s Reach is a spectacular icy world, as beautiful as it is deadly. Luma Pools feels like an alien tropical paradise, with strange pink foliage and crisp pools of water to explore.
If I could spend hours just staring at screenshots of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, I would.
As with any good sequel, Will of the Wisps adds to the formula created in Ori and the Blind Forest. Perhaps for the first time when playing a sequel, I heartily approve of every addition.
Combat shrines are placed at certain points on the map. These Shrines give players a chance to test their skills fighting a variety of opponents. I only had supreme difficulty with one Combat Shrine, and that was because I was insisting on using a specific weapon that was, looking back, really not suited for the enemy types thrown at me.
Alongside Combat Shrines, Spirit Trials are also speckled throughout the game. These things are a bitch and a half, I shit you not. They’re basically timed races that require you to use every one of Ori’s traversal abilities to perfection. I spent more than half an hour on several of these races (because I wanted that 100% completion for the whole game). Part of the reason the bug that broke my game made me cry so much was because I lost the progress I’d made, including completing one of the Spirit Trials. Had to do the damn thing twice. However, if your game isn’t bug-riddled, Spirit Trials are basically fantastic challenges to overcome.
Ori also picks up Shards in Will of the Wisps. These Shards are what allow him/her to upgrade his/her abilities. This gave the game more of an RPG bent that I was not averse to.
Will of the Wisps gave players a central hub, in the form of Wellspring Glades, where they could relax and meet interesting characters. Populating the world with characters made the game breathe better. You no longer feel like you and Ori are alone against the world. Rather, you and Ori are handling dangerous situations for critters who, while cute, could not cut it against some of the bosses you go up against.
Speaking of bosses, yeah, Ori and the Will of the Wisps gives players boss fights. These are basically epic fights against massive creatures, complete with a mega health bar to deplete. They are way tougher than a normal enemy encounter, but they are not impossible. (I’d prefer a million boss fights to five Spirit Trials.)
Honestly, the game is phenomenal. I could see that even through the tears obscuring my vision as I factory-reset my Xbox after a near-bricking bug. It challenges you as a gamer, giving you a Dark Souls-esque rush when you beat a particularly tough moment, all while being wrapped up in fantastic game mechanics and artistic visuals.
But even though my review of the game is largely positive, I can’t, in good conscience, recommend Ori and the Will of the Wisps until its issues are patched out.
I rate Ori and the Will of the Wisps a heart-breaker-because-you-can-see-how-beautiful-it-is-beneath-its-flaws-almost-as-if-someone-tore-up-Van-Gogh’s-Starry-Night-and-then-taped-it-back-together.