Half Of My Heart Is In Havana – Far Cry 6

far cry 6 Dani in the capital city of Yara, car, high rise apartments and poster of  Antón Castillo
image credit Ubisoft Far Cry 6 fan kit

Set in the fictional Caribbean island of Yara, Ubisoft’s Far Cry 6 is a showcase of adrenaline and breathtaking locale. The series known for its over the top action and darker themes borrows at times from real life events, and like the Camila Cabello song you might hear on a radio in the game referenced in the title of this review, is very much based on a real place.

The richly detailed environments push the limits of even the highest end gaming hardware today, setting a high bar few other games released this year could approach. It flexes first its credentials as an action title, and then sets out to establish a story the player cares about. Or stories, plural, as it plays more like a good show on Netflix. Here in the finer details is where everything could have gone wrong, but turned out to be the best risk they had taken yet.

Dani Rojas, cover image with rifle and red smoke

The return of voiced protagonist to Far Cry is Dani Rojas, a reluctant heroine who at the onset of the game dreams of a better life away from her homeland in Miami. Unlike the previous protagonists in Far Cry games, Dani gets a full part on camera during dialog and in cut scenes. The difference is just the first way the team set this apart from the series before it, and it is not a small detail. The way the character interacts or even comments out loud on the world around her takes this further, even down to the way she occasionally hums or sings along to the radio while in the car. It is through her eyes and experiences the world of Yara comes to life.

Opposite Dani is the villain Antón Castillo, the Yara’s El Presidente played by Giancarlo Esposito. For a series known best for its iconic bad guys, they did not hold back creating a part that seemed made for the actor. The character of Antón steals the scene – commands it – whenever he speaks. It is very effective storytelling.

Antón Castillo , close up of expression as he listens

The narrative and writing teams on Far Cry 6 put their best work into the depth of cast and individual stories told in each of the regions explored in the game. The people Dani meet are the heart of the game, from families impacted by Castillo’s regime to farmers and musicians and artists or resistance fighters ranging from street gangs to veteran guerillas of generations prior wars. The struggles like those of the Montero family or Radio Libertad are the ones that really grabbed hold of me and did not let go. Far Cry does a good job of being both a game for fun and not losing sight of the bigger picture, giving each location the time and attention to detail to do it justice. I never felt in a hurry to leave an area, and fell in love with the characters I met. The stories felt personal. This was no accident.

Ubisoft described some of the work that went into creating the world of Yara, and the real places they visited and people they interviewed, including family of guerillas who lived through similar events that would serve as a backdrop for Dani’s journey. Every writer, artist, musician and actor who worked on it spoke seriously on the inspirations they found that went into the game. Their stories were important to them and the evidence is in the results. The Montero family seemed less like quest NPCs and more like people you might actually know and care about.

By the time the credits rolled I felt like I had been a participant in something extraordinary, and found myself thinking long after on what I had played.

If you had played the previous Far Cry games and are curious, Far Cry 6 does not “end” after the main story and has plenty to do after. I completed the main story in about fifty hours with time spent on most of the side stories, which I felt was a good length for the game. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey for comparison was around 110 hours, counting only some of the side content.

I am looking forward to the DLC content for Far Cry 6 which includes stories from three other Far Cry games focusing on the villains Vaas, Pagan Min and The Father.

sun rise in Yara, scenic view from atop a hill. far cry 6
Far Cry 6 screen shot taken on Xbox

“Sable” – Brilliance in simplicity

Sable Game screenshot rider on bike, dust trail and city in the distance

I don’t have a clear memory of how I was recommended to pick up Sable. Whichever games writer it was, I should thank. Developed by Shedworks, Sable quietly upended my gaming nights, challenging the notion that one had to suffer to grow or to fully appreciate the challenge of a video game. It is a masterpiece in simplicity, driven by a curious spirit and subtly. Sable is an exploration dream game that I am happy exists today.

Sable tells the coming of age story of a young girl who must leave home on a journey called The Gliding. Gifted the power of the “Perpetual”, she can hover to glide from one high point to another. Her only other boon is her hover bike, which she shares an almost spiritual connection with. In The Gliding she will discover new places, help others and when she is done, choose her mask.

The symbolism here simultaneously overt and loaded with subtext to ponder. Through the tasks she completes and places she visits, she earns and collects a number of decorative masks that tell a story of how she earned them or an idea they represent.

Featuring virtually no sense of conflict of any kind, danger of dying or punishing loss of progress, Sable sets itself apart in simple expressions of wonder. A detailed room in a ruin, or view cresting a hill and the mere suggestion there may be something to see or find further on. The exploration and climbing puzzles do get progressively more challenging and always assumed some degree of thought to solve, but never felt like tests of patience or frustrating.

sable climbing a difficult slope

The characters are well written and likable, anchoring the lighthearted tale. The beautiful style of art has to be seen in motion to fully appreciate, and makes powerful use of lighting and changing colors to bring the cell animated world to life. The original music score by Japanese Breakfast may be one of my favorite details, redefining what it might mean to actually unwind while enjoying a game. The music is soothing, playful and perfectly matches the setting. One could almost imagine the world built backward to accommodate the sound.

Sable is one of the very few games I played until I had every achievement unlocked. It was worth every moment. I still find myself thinking about the story, the characters and which mask I ended up choosing in the end.

The game is suitable for all ages, kids young and old as they say. At time of writing, it is available on Xbox Gamepass.

sable riding hover bike with light trail in a high contrast forest at night

My review of “Lost in Random”

image credit EA – official store pages for the game

“Lost in Random” is delightful, different in the right ways and drop dead gorgeous. Told in six acts, this puzzle exploration adventure follows Even on a journey to save her sister Odd from the nefarious Queen of the Kingdom of Random. The art style is a triumph of twisted dreamscapes telling a distinct story of each of the areas in the Kingdom. While one may be tempted to compare the trip down the rabbit hole to one or more other popular stories with unusual styles of art, Lost in Random seems quite comfortable being itself instead. Setting itself further apart is the combat gameplay and your adorable companion, Dicey.

Battles in Lost in Random put the player much closer to action than most 3rd person floating camera style games, which is where the zany art and fantastic animations really shine. Collect and draw “at random” one of many ability cards, which Even executes with a bodily toss of her dice friend. Some grant her a sword or bow, heal or shield her or unleash havoc in a number of other creative ways. Even’s voice actress plays a big part in setting the tone for fight sequences as the spoken lines not only pair with direct actions, but also continue the specific scene within the story. Combat never felt like an interruption in the story, and some of the best dialog between Even and the numerous adversaries she faces takes place in the thick of an encounter. The end result is a huge compliment to the voice talent that worked on the game and feels almost like a stage performance in several parts.

I reserved my last compliments for the character and story writers – I felt very engaged in what was easily a storybook come to life from the start. They hit all of the right notes – a lot of laughs, a few tears and many characters that were memorable because they were different.

Lost in Random is not exceptionally difficult but did get tough in a few encounters. I played it in approximately one sitting per act – about a weeks worth of evenings. It would be possible to complete much quicker if you rush through.

Lost in Random, night in Two Town.
Even and Dicey admire a mysterious mural

My Review of “This Is How You Lose the Time War”

This set unrealistic expectations for the quality of snide letters I would exchange with my nemesis.

Seriously, what a wild ride. Boldly unconventional, El-Mohtar and Gladstone have created a vibrant science fiction tumble through space and time I couldn’t begin to compare to another work. It is a joy to find a book that hooks me from the very start, and rarer still to find one that doesn’t let go. I will recommend this to all my friends who love to read.

Eight Things Fallout 76 Gets Right

Despite the emergence of a hate click economy, some people are still enjoying their video games. Fallout 76 is the latest to weather the manufactured rage of an increasingly toxic online community, and will be a new measure of a publishers resilience to criticism. While Bethesda games have earned a certain infamy for shipping with a lot of bugs, and Fallout 76 certainly did, I believe most of the criticism leveled against the game is undeserved. There are quite a few innovative ideas pushed in the latest title in the franchise, ideas I hope are not drowned out by malcontent noise. Here are just eight of the reasons I am enjoying Fallout 76 as much as, and in some ways more than Fallout 4.

Everything is a side story. For every player that has ever put off the “main story” in a Bethesda title for as long as possible, or rushed through it, Fallout 76 is a natural leap forward. There is absolutely no camera-stealing main quest or cut scene heavy narrative – only audio tape and written notes hinting at things you can optionally pursue. It errs on the side of next to no direction at all, making every snippit of lore hinting at something to find a bit more interesting. Some of it is just flavor, but most of the time it is very effective at creating a storytelling device in a world in which everyone is dead except for you and the other players. There are a lot of different opinions on how this was executed, but I felt it is a near-perfect survival horror RPG atmosphere; one that is frequently dark, occasionally funny and often sad.

Puzzles you have to read to solve. Some quests are more forgiving than others for auto suggesting the next step hints (or marking an exact location for you), but in a lot of the find-it-yourself exploration puzzles key clues require actually listening to the content of the audio tapes or reading computer files and paper notes.. It has been a while since any RPG game outside the indie circle tasked players with basic deduction or light reading to solve dungeons, which I am thrilled to see in a full release of Fallout. I hope the next Elder Scrolls carries the torch.

The “Dragonborn” trope no more. Not to pick on Skyrim specifically, which I still rate as one of my ten favorite games of all time, but the “savior” trope in so many single player RPG and Action Shooters is so common that the story devices to explain them in later sequels are even tropes themselves. From Halo to Mass Effect and earlier Elder Scrolls titles, the “avatar” essentially becomes legend – occasionally even a literal deity. Some series (looking at you, 343) have yet to resolve this and it begins to drag the character down. You save the world NN times and eventually you are a parody of yourself.. but I digress. Fallout 76 avoids this with grace with their tiptoe into multiplayer, making everyone a survivor of one of the earliest vaults to open after the bombs drop – and each left to their own motivations create a narrative highly resistant to predictability.

Character build feels meaningful. The fresh face of the series S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stat advancement lends itself to diverse builds and a proper sense of character ownership. Being able to collect and eventually switch out different sets of ability cards for different play styles takes this further, making the deep spec system of Fallout 4 seem primitive in comparison. In a December update, an additional feature will be added to allow players to respec these points (perhaps at a higher level, when it would make the most sense) to better fit their card collections.

Power Armor is useful again. This was actually one of my biggest complaints about Fallout 4, which was that Power Armor was relatively fragile even with upgrades and a properly outfitted hero with advanced light armor upgrades could match or outperform a suit of Power Armor wearing upgraded civilian attire. Too many times I would collect fusion core fuel for my suit to tackle a difficult area only to carry broken pieces of the armor out with the loot I did get. Worse yet, these sets weren’t all that easy to collect, which means that my top tier set with fancy paint job was more or less just a display piece unless I wanted to ruin it by wearing it once. Fallout 76 is almost the opposite case – I feel safe in my armor, and the wear is slow enough that with care I can collect everything I would need to fix it before it actually breaks. Fusion core fuel is still rare enough to make it feel valuable, but otherwise obtainable enough I can wear my Power Armor all the time.

Crafting. Like a good RPG, crafting evolves with level, and finding new plans and recipes makes for a natural reward system for doing otherwise optional side quests. There are also some plans you can only get by capturing workshops, which dips into potential player vs. player engagement. By blending gear, C.A.M.P., food and water upgrades into your crafting progression makes the time spent working on crafting worth while.

Multiplayer-light is strangely effective. I had more apprehension on how this would work than any other feature ahead of trying the game, and have been pleasantly surprised that it feels exactly like I expect Skyrim might have as a multiplayer title, not worse or better. Interactions are far from mandatory, outside of proximity chat being on by default. If someone attacks you, you can opt to ignore them and they will do next to no damage until you attack back – which you can manage somewhat by using V.A.T.S. to target to help avoid accidentally striking another player unless you mean to. Individual mileage may vary here, and it is open to some troll-ish behavior, but by comparison I would say trolling in Fallout 76 is very mild compared to troll playgrounds like Sea of Thieves (which to be fair, is part of their pitch, after all). Dying in PvP feels well balanced, and cooperative play seems intuitive enough. I’ve probably played 80% solo, but each time I do team up with a few friends we have had a lot of fun no matter what we were working on. Many of the quests or location specific events work best with multiple people, which is a welcome change to puzzles in Fallout.

Playing without saves changes how I play. Every Elder Scrolls and previous Fallout title to date shared in common the need to save frequently and sometimes in multiple save slots in the event of sudden death (or progression-breaking glitch), which intentionally or not lends to a certain sense of safety that you can quickly rewind time if something goes wrong. Moving to a persistent online world trades off this ability, making for a greater sense of caution and thinking ahead, and combined with the added requirement to manage your own food water and general health sets a completely different tone; one more fitting of a survival horror. This feature was actually key to how survival mode in Fallout 4 worked, but was probably only experienced by a small subset of players who saw it as a enticing challenge. Now in Fallout 76, when you get surprised by a pack of Super Mutants and the first sound you hear is “CATCH!” followed by a grenade-close warning, you get the full experience of the ambush rather than just reaching for the quick-load hotkey. Forget to check a sketchy area doorway floor once for a trap wire and you’ll visually check every room you walk into after that – guaranteed. (well, until you don’t and die anyway, but I digress again). This change alone evolves the title into something a lot more engaging in ways previous Fallout weren’t – at least out of the box.

To conclude, I do concede that there are a lot of bugs still to fix in Fallout 76 that should have been fixed before it shipped, but I do not subscribe to the toxicity that thrives in the online gaming community at the release of practically every other game these days. Fallout 76 is a great game and a worthy addition to the franchise, and I hope the same creative minds that made it possible are not discouraged from pushing the envelope in the future by a narrow subset of noisy gaming fans.

Now, back to West Virginia to see what other new friends Rose has for me to meet.

My Five Favorite 4K HDR Games

One piece at a time, I upgraded the components of my console gaming setup to support true 4K and HDR, and found myself revisiting a lot of games to see how much better they looked, or didn’t. Some games that seemed like contenders for exceptional graphics at the high end lose a lot of their luster in actual gameplay due to UI or effect choices, and others seem to apply the ultra HD textures inconsistently at best. However, there are some games that really do shine in 4K next to their 1080p versions. Here are my five favorite.

Forza 7

It is no accident you might find this as the running demo at your electronics store for the most expensive televisions, as this flagship of eye candy by Turn Ten is laps ahead in terms of extreme graphics performance.  Forza 7 and its playful openworld peer Horizon 3 are as well tuned as the real world cars they depict, and are a must play for any racing enthusiast. The cars, environment and weather effects are pure bliss on the eyes, and play as well too.

Sea of Thieves

This unique and immersive open seas pirate adventure by Rare Ltd is one of the most dramatic examples of a game that looks completely different on 1080p next to a proper 4K HDR display running on the same hardware. Its cartoonish style is deceptively nuanced, and features some of the most jaw dropping lighting and dynamic weather. The animation is also exemplary, maintaining its looks even in combat while keeping an ear to ear grin. Hats off to the art direction team for making one of the best looking games of this generation.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins

Where this game does suffer a bit from losing polish in chaotic combat sequences, it more than makes up for it in its breathtaking presentation of historical settings and grand sense of scale. The included free camera photo mode makes these moments all the more enjoyable, giving the player opportunities to capture truly spectacular screen shots. From shots of Senu against a sky of kites over the Nile at sunset, Bayek atop monuments, wind sailing, free diving or sneaking through glittering hoards of treasure lit by torchlight, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Origin is visually quite stunning.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

I include this game although it was never upgraded on consoles to proper 4K like PC, it does support HDR and is nothing short of a masterpiece of visceral, well animated graphics that seem to get better (instead of worse) the more serious the action gets. Everything from the environments, UI, vehicles, weapons and armor are showcase examples of top shelf, built for 4K graphics. The Bioware title had a mostly undeserved initial reception for odd issues that included character faces, some silly animations and such but I felt they had near zero impact on actual gameplay where it mattered. At the heart of the game was a genuine breakthrough in combat mechanics that still look and play a generation ahead of most other games. Take issue with the facial appearances of some characters if you will, or a departure from deeper RPG elements of Mass Effect 2 and 3, but this game still shines on its merits.

Destiny 2

Bungie’s grand space opera shooter is another prime example of a game that looks generations different on a 4K HDR display next to a 1080p one. The lighting and effects aren’t even close. I do believe some compromises are made in the fastest of the game modes like PvP (similar to the degradation one might notice in For Honor), but in nearly every other case it remains faithful under fire, made all the better by some of the best monster and environment designers in the business.

Notes on the future of 4K gaming

Looking ahead, it isn’t a guarantee that the coming generation of games will automatically look better. In fact, the burden is on them to match and maintain (let alone surpass) the standard given accelerated release schedules and a shift in what is considered to be innovative in games. Upcoming megahits like Anthem look pretty on the E3 big screen, but will it play as well as Destiny 2 or Mass Effect: Andromeda? Contender with good credentials Cyberpunk 2077 melted faces in a closed-door gameplay demo but is already getting side-eye for not sharing this footage due to it (presumably, maybe) changing before release. Battlefield V looks promising, but may also get sucked into the propeller of Battle Royale resource prioritization. Fallout 76 is too early to tell. Shadow of the Tomb Raider *should* be born to win, given how good Rise of the Tomb Raider already looks but the E3 trailer was kind of modest in comparison.

Are high end graphics the most important feature of a game? Arguably not, but this coming year or so should really show if we can have both.

 

Three Sheets to the Wind – Thoughts on the Sea of Thieves Beta

It is easy to see why there are so many poems about the ocean. “My heart lies in the sea, at anchor”, and so forth. Not many games manage capture this feeling, an intangible, deep enjoyment of sailing. Not only does Rare Ltd pull it off but spectacularly so, crafting an experience so engrossing time slips away, day turns to night as you navigate under starry water-colored skies. But this is no ordinary seafaring simulator – these waters are a veritable nest of knives; a voyage punctuated by completely unhinged PvP hijinks and peril. Sea of Thieves is a masterpiece-in-progress.

Pirates, In Progress

The beta being a slice of early gameplay features just one of the quest-giving characters at the starting island, and most of the character or ship customization has been kept under wraps for now. Your pirate is randomly generated for the beta, and you start with all of the basic equipment you’ll need and a ship appropriate to the size of your crew. If you begin alone or with just one teammate, you have a single mast, two-cannon ship that is smaller, fast and relatively easy to manage. Team up with three friends and you get an impressive warship with three masts and a mouthful of cannons, but have more to manage in terms of keeping sail length and angle ideal for wind conditions. Other tasks aboard include repairing the hull should it be damaged by rocks or cannon fire, bailing water from any number of ways it can get aboard, reloading cannons and keeping a sharp eye out for other ships. Between destinations you can get fall-down drunk, dance and play music together with your crew. Players must communicate to navigate, as the ships map and wheel cannot easily be crewed by the same person – and definitely not when the pressure is on. It is important that everyone on the crew is able to do most of the tasks required to keep the ship off the rocks and in fighting shape, as once combat starts all hell breaks loose.

Salty Dogs

Dying in PvP is worth a brief stay on a ghostly Ferry of the Damned; a short time-out before returning near your last location. Shoot, stab and outwit the opposing crew, steal any treasure they may have had and protect your own. Escape, or for the truly committed: sink their ship. More than likely, a lot of the above with perhaps a pursuit mixed in. The penalties for dying are only relative to the risk of losing the treasure chests, for which the treasure maps may have cost some gold. This dynamic fuels a nothing to lose, winner takes all spirit. As of closed beta there is no strict PvP ranking, scoring, tracking or advancement other than the standard advancement for turning in a treasure chest. As-is, this works great and keeps superfluous concepts of kill-death ratio off the table, and negates some potential for griefing or other bad behavior. That isn’t to say you wouldn’t run the chance of encountering a crew with underhanded intentions or find yourself attacked while vulnerable, but rather that the reward for attacking a smaller crew isn’t measurably better than sailing to find your own treasure, nor is the setback for failure. As the game heads to retail release I hope any system added later to augment or celebrate PvP maintains some code of honor to preserve the current zany feel of ship to ship combat.

In spirit of full disclosure, my very first treasure chest was quickly swiped by a pirate who had trailed me to the island and watched me dig it up. He however had forgot to put anchor down on his own ship. I didn’t get the chest back, but he had a long swim back to that ship, if he ever got there. I think I saw sharks. Lessons, learnt.

Scanning the horizon

Tangle with a few well-coordinated crews and you’ll develop a good habit to mind the horizon. You will also do well to keep good friends. Sailing alone, as well described right in the opening menu of the game is quite dangerous. Crewing your ship solo is difficult enough without a cannon in sight, and truly frightening when you spot the topsail of a triple mast ship… with lanterns dimmed and bow in your direction.

Beta only provides a basic glimpse at how character advancement will work, which appears to follow an intuitive “get maps and find treasure” curve. More advance maps have multiple treasure chests and may also require solving riddles or locating and defeating enemies. As you rank up better gear and more advanced objectives unlock. Presumably this will include ship and character customization in final release.

I really enjoyed every minute of beta, and am excited to see the final work at release. I recorded a few clips of solo game play from one of my return voyages, mostly just sailing, but they show a glimpse of how pretty the game is.

I hope to see you on the high seas!

Star Wars Battlefront II – Not A Trap, Actually

Crush the Rebellion. Commander Iden Versio leads Inferno Squad from the written novel page to a breakout cinematic gaming experience that has to be played to believe. Combining the solid variety of multiplayer and arcade game modes of the first next-gen Battlefront reboot, stunning top shelf graphics and the A+ story mode the series deserves, EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II is the game we were looking for. Or, so the developer had hoped.

With launch week marred by a few wildly out of control fans threatening individual developers over micro-transaction related features, the opening cry of horns and trumpets felt more like a disturbance in the force. I feel this was hugely undeserved and representative of an increasingly toxic culture within gaming that has soured the launch of many titles the last few years, and in this case, it was over mostly bogus information. Even today I see negative comments about the game tied back to an idea that you have to pay real money to unlock certain heroes, which is inaccurate in more than one way.

Edit 11/17 – Huge Update: EA removes micro-transactions, for now

Heroes unlock via in-game credit system, NOT from real-world purchased currency.

Star Wars Battlefront II has two forms of progression, one represented by experience points earned only through multiplayer matches, and another measured by “credits” earned through all activities, including a big handful for story mode and more via tutorials, challenges in all game modes, and based on merit in multiplayer. Game Revolution breaks down specifically how long they estimate it would take to unlock all of the heroes, but not counting the large chunk of credits you’ll have after finishing the story and some arcade (from which you can definitely get your favorite hero), it is reasonable to expect you could unlock a hero in a night or two of regular gaming. Furthermore, none of the “crystal” credits you can purchase with real money can be used to unlock heroes, and the crates you can buy with those crystals will not unlock a hero, so there is literally no way to unlock the hero with cash. This is a far cry better than the “time saver” bundles available to be purchased for other EA shooters, which actually do unlock functionally superior equipment and loadouts other non-pay-to-win players have to earn via advancement.

Edit: As mentioned in a release day statement (11/17/2017), EA has since turned off micro-transactions and disabled use of the “Crystals” credit option, which will be reintroduced at a later date following review of the feature.

As Game Revolution also points out, there are other potentially more valuable things to spend your in-game credits on, like upgrading the loadout for the base troopers and vehicles you are leveling up, which gives players more choices on how to advance and get an edge in fast-paced multiplayer.

My officer is almost level 15

Crates, earned for completing challenges, logging in daily or when purchased via in-game credits or crystals, do contain Star Card upgrades that directly improve your loadout in multiplayer, so there is validity to the idea that you can buy superior gear with cash, but you get these so frequently there is hardly merit to dropping your beer night monies into randomly drawn upgrade cards you already get multiples of in an average gaming night.

Bomber with an astromech repair upgrade Star Card

 

No, seriously, these are the droids we are looking for

I am actively recommending Star Wars Battlefront II to all of my gaming friends. The gameplay is a fantastic mix of the more serious, gritty Battlefield 1 it shares an engine with and the lighter-hearted arcade feel I associate with Star Wars titles. The various maps and game modes draw from at least all seven main movies, and includes additional locations and references to anthology and novel locations including Christie Golden’s “Inferno Squad”. Every aspect of the game from the breathtaking cinematics and rousing story to the frequently cheeky humor in multiplayer and kid-loose-in-a-toy-store flight combat shows the developers share a true passion for Star Wars and for great gaming. The actor capture and performances make it feel like you are in the movie, and I was left stunned at its conclusion.

I hope to see you online in a galaxy far, far away!

 

My picks for best of E3 2017

A Way Out (Hazelight, EA)

My pick for best of show is Hazelight’s “A Way Out”. This story driven tale requires two players, and was designed to play split screen on a couch. It is one thing to create a great single player experience with optional multiplayer, but this flips the assumption entirely when the story is specially crafted to be told from split perspectives simultaneously. Given the variety of gameplay shown and innovative story telling on par with a good movie, I feel this will be the breakout title of 2017.

Anthem (BioWare, EA)

Shrouded in mystery, this new IP from Dragon Age and Mass Effect creator BioWare looks like a solid challenger to the “Destiny-esque” throne when it is released in 2018. There are a few moments in this trailer that remain my favorite from all of E3 – there is something magical about the perspective of putting on power armor and arriving at the jump point prior to heading into the wilderness. The flight mechanics looked like a Iron Man dream come true, but with even cooler heavy weapons.

As a fan observation, I thought a few things here reminded me distantly of Mass Effect 3. The design of the lead narrator’s helmet, a few NPC that appeared to possibly be a familiar non-human race, and ruins of a giant ringed structure and storm that to me resembles a mass relay. No word yet if this world exists in the same universe as the Mass Effect series, or if the art style is just a nod to their prior work.

image credit vg247

Life is Strange: Before the Storm (Square-Enix, Deck Nine Games)

We had heard some chatter from developers that a new content in the Life is Strange setting was in the works, but I didn’t expect to see a trailer for it at E3, nor how soon its first chapter would be released. I was also unprepared for how emotional it would be to see these characters again. The story appears to be told from Chloe’s perspective prior to the events of the original series over the course of three new chapters. I’ve cleared my schedule for the day these come out, and look forward to these more than any cable tv series.

Edit: Corrected development studio to Deck Nine Games.

Ori: Will of the Wisps (Moon Studios)

The debut Ori and the Blind Forest was a masterpiece of difficult precision platform exploration puzzles that hail to an era of gaming I grew up with. Add to it gorgeous graphics, heartwarming story and a breathtaking musical score and you have Ori. Seeing Ori’s return in the 4K “Will of the Wisps” is very exciting news.

image credit vg247

Sea of Thieves (Rare)

Once you’ve seen actual Sea of Thieves gameplay footage from people who aren’t actors you immediately understand why they choose to use a typical gameplay scenario as the E3 trailer. This is a game that demos better than you could explain in as many words. Comedy, ingenuity, exploration and PVP mayhem. Oh, and Pirates, obviously. I can’t wait to play this with friends.

image credit Ubi Blog

Beyond Good and Evil 2 (Ubisoft)

A trailer for the long awaited sequel to Beyond Good and Evil was the big close to Ubisoft’s E3 show and was my favorite from the publisher this year.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Fortnite – Although it did not get a lot of screen time, Fortnite looks like an excellent twist on team survival defense games. It also has very interesting premium bundle pricing, the most expensive comes with two additional full copies of the game to give to friends. Given the team first emphasis of the game, it should do very well.

Forza 7 – It would be a rare show that didn’t have a Forza title to show off, but between the flagship Motorsport series and the openworld racing in Horizon, Forza enjoys a full lap advantage over the competition. Every iteration of the game improves on the last, and there is simply no other racer that compares to it in terms of pure driving enjoyment and vast range of features – nor one that looks half as good in 4K. It’s almost unfair.

Ashen – Beautiful water-color style cell-shaded graphics on what appears to be a co-op (?) dungeon explorer with freakishly awesome bosses not unlike those of Dark Souls. Can’t wait to see more on this.

image credit vg247

Mario Rabbids Kingdom Battle – an unlikely mashup of Nintendo’s Mushroom Kingdom and Ubisoft’s Rabbids, this tactical RPG-ish game packs signature crude humor and characters from both franchises into what looks like a riotous good time. I expect it will be a big hit.

Reinventing the Iconic – Mass Effect Andromeda

image credit vg247.com

Undaunted by the gravity of their own legacy, BioWare forges a new path forward. The premise of Mass Effect: Andromeda mirrors the new life of the franchise in more ways than one. Putting behind them one of the most epic science fiction sagas in video game history and all of the characters we had come to love is no small feat, a challenge other industry giants have avoided or outright failed at. Despite the rose colored lens through which the original, decade-old Mass Effect is viewed by many, Andromeda does just this.

Enter Sara and Scott Ryder, youthful recruits who along with their father joined the Andromeda Initiative to seek out a new home for humanity in the Heleus Cluster of the Andromeda galaxy. Scientists, unlike the soldier origins of CDR Shepard, the Ryders are a refreshing new look and feel for main characters. The crew and your squad mates include many races familiar to the original trilogy and a few new ones as well, all brilliantly voiced and brought to life in the stunning Frostbite engine – which is also new to the series.  With one of the best team of writers in the industry and more dialog than Mass Effect 2 and 3 combined, Andromeda may be the most ambitious and in-depth story BioWare has attempted yet.

As the experience unfolds and the player is introduced to both new and familiar activities and opportunities for exploration, the more close to home Andromeda feels. It feels like a Mass Effect title should from the outset – wasting no time putting your Ryder twin of choice into action and trusting the player to keep up with the lore and references without letting it get in the way. Returning players will find the new ship, the Tempest, is a fitting tribute to the Normandy, but is also comfortable being itself and has a fresh, elevator free layout. The all-terrain Nomad is even cooler than you remember the Mako being, which is great news because you’ll spend more time than ever behind the wheel in it. It inherits the mining and most of the scanning tasks that used to occur only from orbit in the original trilogy, and has its own tech upgrade tree along with the rest of your gear.

Speaking of upgrade trees, the character advancement and gear research and upgrade paths are an order of magnitude more complex than any of the previous Mass Effect titles. No longer limited to just one “class”, the Ryders can develop multiple combat profiles that cover all of the classic builds like soldier or infiltrator, and now also includes the biotic and tech tree skills once exclusive to the non-playable characters. The build choices are staggering at a glance, but are easy to get the hang of as you go along.

Combat sees a huge update, featuring faster movement, more agility and a bigger emphasis on coordination of abilities between squadmates to defeat difficult encounters. Players looking for a challenge will be pleased to find the harder difficulty settings are a step up from the prior titles, and require a lot more than just cover and ammo management to defeat hard encounters, even for returning veterans. Playing on one setting below “insanity” I died frequently despite a confident hard mode finish in the first three.

My ten hours in the play-first trial of Mass Effect: Andromeda sped by in an instant, just enough time to get my boots dirty and whet my appetite. It is not enough time to judge the story, which I’ve avoided discussing, but from what I have seen so far exceeded my expectations. I had concerns that BioWare would not be able to top what they had completed with closing chapters of Mass Effect 3 – nor fill the boots of an iconic heroine like Jane Shepard. Thankfully, Andromeda is following its own heart and I am looking forward to seeing where it goes.