Friday, 23 December 2016

2016 Wrap-Up

I’ve reviewed a whole lot of games this year. Including the ones I’ve yet to post on the site, I’m guessing this is the most I’ve covered in a single year.

That being said, there’s still some games that I don’t get round to finishing, or didn’t play enough of to feel comfortable writing a comprehensive review. My rule is that if I’ve reviewed it, I’ve finished it. This means there were some games that got left behind this year; ones that I picked up but never got around to finishing, or only played a portion of.

As this year winds down, I thought it would be a good time to go over some of these titles and give you my impressions of some of the more notable ones.

I didn’t technically quit Aragami, Aragami quit me. No, really, it crapped out on me. About halfway through the game, a level just bugged out and wouldn’t load the relevant item I needed to continue. The only choice was to either repeat the whole level again, or quit.

Not that I was all that impressed by what I’d played. Initially, the combination of Tenchu and Mark of Kri was a great idea, but the stiff controls, bland world and poor story failed to draw me in.

It also didn’t help that the PS4 port was rough. In addition to the bug that stopped me from progressing, the game’s performance was a choppy and uneven mess, which is a death sentence for this kind of game. I have no idea how good the PC version plays, but the PS4 is definitely not the way to experience this.

What I played of Darkest Dungeon was pretty darn great. The random dungeons, the team-based strategy. Roguelikes sometimes walk a fine line between having you make strategy and just throwing randomness at you. Too little randomness and it becomes repetitive, too much and the game risks creating the impression that you’re not really in control of what’s going on.

When you factor in that Red Hook Studios go for a Lovecraftian/Dark Souls vibe in terms of the aesthetic and tone of the game, it’s surprising that the whole thing is as tight and cohesive as it is. Don’t get me wrong, there were times where I was totally screwed regardless of what I chose to do in a particular encounter, or I’d open a crate and a curse would thrust the souls of all my adventures into an alternate dimension. It’s a game where you have to roll with the (eldritch) punches.

What made the game click though was the synergy between the different classes, and I loved the added strategy of positioning units in optimal ranks. Sometimes, a character’s role would change depending on where they were put. There was depth to the mechanics, and yet the core gameplay was so simple.

What I’m saying is Darkest Dungeons is bloody good. I half expect, had I already finished it, it would have been somewhere on my top games of the year. There’s also been a PS4 and Vita release earlier this year, and whilst I played on PC, I keep meaning to pick up a copy for my Vita. This is the kind of game that’s made for portable hardware.

I wrote about Elder Scrolls Legends earlier this year but didn’t get around to writing about Duelyst. I got into the game shortly before it was officially released, whilst it was still in open beta. If you’ve not played it, it’s a fabulous combination of turn-based grid combat and a trading card game.

By far the biggest strengths of the game are the fact that it doesn’t encourage randomness. Hearthstone is all over place when it comes to its RNG. Even Elder Scrolls Legends keeps turning me away with its clunky Prophecy mechanic, which I like less and less the more I play the game.

Duelyst rewards smart positioning of your units, and even rewards hand management by allowing you to replace a card each turn with one that’s remaining in your deck. It makes for less matches that come down to just snow-balling your opponent, and more about which player can best execute their strategy. Its sprite art is gorgeous to boot.

Last time I checked the game had gotten a bunch of new heroes which added even more available strategies, along with a new expansion. Oh, and the loot drops from booster packs (or spheres, in Duelyst’s case) are far better overall than in similar games. Duelyst is free-to-play and sticks to that better than most other titles in the genre.

If you’ve not played it, I do recommend you check it out. The chess-like movement might put some trading-card fans off at first, but stick with it, it’s well worth your time.

I feel guilty not talking about Tokyo Mirage Sessions. It’s one of the Wii U’s weirder exclusives this year and I’ve made it clear on several occasions how much I’m a fan of the Shin Megami Tensei series. Between the core series and the Persona games, Atlus are making the most innovative and beautifully crafted modern Japanese RPGs that actually push the genre forward.

Fire Emblem is great, too, and it makes you wonder why there wasn’t a cross-over like this some time sooner. Both series have combat mechanics that reward targeting weaknesses; Fire Emblem with its weapon wheel and SMT with its Press-Turn system. Tokyo Mirage Sessions throws all of this into a mixing pot and comes out with a remarkably good dungeon-crawling RPG.

The plot is a bit weird and probably a little too bright and saccharine after the darker storylines of Persona 3 & 4, with the tone being somewhere between Glee and an episode of Power Rangers.

In some ways, the game is rather slight when compared to the series’ that spawned it. The character progression seems rather linear, and considering it doesn’t have any social-interaction segment to break up the dungeon-crawling, it did begin to feel a little one-note after I’d finished a few dungeons.

Despite that, it’s one I’ll eventually have to return to, and the kind of game that’d definitely benefit from being ported to the Nintendo Switch in the near future.

Speaking of Fire Emblem, we got two whole Fire Emblem games this year, three if you count the hefty DLC episode, Revelation. That’s a whole lot of Fire Emblem.

At the time of writing this I’ve got about half way through Birthright and I don’t know really why I stopped. The gameplay is fantastic, and I had a blast with Fire Emblem Awakening last year, so I don’t really have an excuse for stopping.

One thing that I think probably did slow me down is that I actually found the game rather easy. Awakening was my first Fire Emblem game and so I set Birthright on Normal mode, anticipating that the game would thoroughly maul me if I didn’t. And yet, I haven’t really found it all that challenging. I’ve heard that Conquest is the significantly more difficult of the two instalments, so maybe Birthright is deliberately easier than a regular Fire Emblem game to balance it out.

If you’re on the fence about jumping in, don’t hesitate. Birthright is a great game from what I’ve played, and the response to Conquest and is Revelation is equal to, if not better, than the praise that Birthright has received.

Yomawari: Night Alone came at just the wrong time for me to really invest time in it. Between the bigger releases, and a few other games here and there, it was one that I decided to drop pretty quickly.

It’s a novel game, for sure. The gorgeous art-style and Studio Ghibli-gone-bad tone made for a really interesting atmosphere. It’s also one of the few, “proper” horror games to be released this year, so it did do plenty to pique my interest.

I didn’t play a ton of the game so you’ll have to take my opinion here with a pinch of salt. My biggest bugbear was that the core of the game was little more than your basic hide-and-seek mechanic. You wander around town, doing various things, all the while dodging strange (and wonderfully designed) monsters, lest you get touched even once.

The bare bones mechanics didn’t really entice me. Perhaps it was the case of simply coming out at the wrong time, but I didn’t regret stopping playing Yomawari. It looked and sounded great, but I never found it all that engaging to play.

Obviously, if it turned out to be a masterpiece and I just ignored it, feel free to call me a fool.

These were just a few of the games that I played but didn’t get the chance to write about this year. It’s been a busy year for the site, and, despite how stressful it’s been between juggling other obligations and keeping the website ticking over it’s been great to watch it grow. My little corner of the internet is very small, but if visitor stats are anything to go by (you know who you are), we’re seeing a slow and steady increase in traffic.

This’ll be the last post for the year before I go on a temporary hiatus. I’ll be back around mid January with regular posts, some more video content, and some new ideas for expanding the site.

So my last thing to say for 2016 is simply to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!


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