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Destiny 2 Vanilla Review (PS4)

I think I’m finally in a position to review Destiny 2. I’ve spent 100 hours in-game, got the platinum, completed the raid, finished the prestige nightfall, went flawless in Trials of the Nine, and got all three characters to max level (only one is 305 but they’ll get there). Just like Destiny 1, I think I’ve burned through all the content within a month of launch, and I’m still not entirely sure how much I enjoy it.

Clearly I’ve got my money’s worth, 100 hours is a ridiculous amount of time to spend on a game I only paid £40 for and I would easily recommend it to anyone with any kind of passing interest in FPS games; but still there’s a nagging feeling that it should have been so much better.

For those who have been avoiding the pages of Eurogamer and have no experience with Destiny as a franchise, it is a new breed of FPS from Halo-developers Bungie. Freed from their Microsoft overlords they embarked on a mission to create a multiplatform FPS that fuses some of the best elements of MMOs and FPS games together, and they largely succeeded with the first Destiny. It wasn’t perfect and took a few patches and expansion to realise the dream, but they created a new genre that was definitely appealing and addictive. You play through a standard FPS story mode with some open world aspects then group up with other players to work your way into the ‘end-game’ made up of typical MMO tropes of dungeons, raids, and PVP. In return for beating the various challenges you get gear that increases in power, and thus begins the familiar MMO treadmill of getting better gear to be able to take on harder content in order to get better gear and so on.

The first Destiny did a fantastic job of introducing raid mechanics with the Vault of Glass raid and proved that FPS games could work with raid mechanics and large group strategy. While the game didn’t really find a proper voice in terms of story and progression until the later expansions, that first raid really hooked a certain type of player and we were all looking forward to the sequel to see what they could do next. Then Bungie decided to take a step backwards.

While Destiny 2 is an incredibly accomplished game, it moves backwards in nearly every respect to be closer to what the original game was before the DLC. The horde modes, sparrow racing, reputation grinds and even sparrow horns are all gone. Raid and strike gear has lost the interesting perks that made them unique to that part of the game. PVP has a very limited pool of maps and only three playlists to choose from. The Patrol zones (open world areas where you can complete various objectives for rewards) all feel strangely lifeless with the exception of the excellent EDZ.

That’s not to say what’s there is bad in most respects, it’s a beautiful game, the music is hauntingly memorable and evocative, the gunplay is as satisfying as ever, the strikes and raid are nearly faultless (with the exception of one strike that happens to be this week’s nightfall) and the campaign is much more effective and interesting than its predecessor.

It just feels like so much is missing and no one needs to ask why, they’re keeping it for DLC. The season pass is already on offer and will clearly reintroduce much of what we’ve lost to people that pay for it, over the course of the year. I’m sure by this time next year we’ll have at least one more raid, more strikes, more exotics, more multiplayer modes and more patrol zones, but by the end of it I’m worried that we’ll just be clawing our way back to how good the first game was by the end. Bungie had an opportunity to take their awesome framework, make a huge amount of content to justify a new game, then go even further with their DLC. Instead we have a stripped back game, almost devoid of real end-game content, and an offer to pay a lot more money to get what we’ve lost back further down the line.

The issues with end-game only really manifest after you’ve put in a decent amount of time already into the game. If you’re the sort of person who’s only going to be playing for an hour or two a week, ignore this and just go get the game. You’ll have an awesome time with it and never run out of things to do. If you’re like me and want to put in 5+ hours a night, you’ll run into the same problems I have. Firstly, the maximum level is too attainable. Once you get to level 20 (around 8-10 hours in for your first character) you can only progress by getting item drops that increase your average power level. The maximum currently is 305 and this can be achieved by simply grinding any of the activities available to you at that point. You can complete public events over and over in any of the open-world areas, where you complete objectives and kill enemies, possibly with the help of other random players or your friends. These are pretty entertaining but get repetitive quick as there’s only five or six that repeat every few minutes. You could go for strikes (dungeons) but these are quite slow and inefficient, only giving you a little bit of gear at the end. You can do crucible, which is the PVP mode where currently games take too long to be a good method of grinding, but you can get amazing rewards (not for being good, just for participating).

Then there’s the weekly tasks, each week you can take on public events on a certain planet, complete a more challenge form of a strike called a Nightfall, where you’re up against a time and various other modifiers, complete the Prestige Nightfall which is even more difficult, run through the raid, or complete Trials which is a special PVP mode where you see how many games you can win before you get a loss. Get seven in a row without losing and you get a huge amount of gear and a special emblem. Every week these tasks give you a new powerful reward that will boost your level considerably, and even with three characters it doesn’t take too long to get through all of them.

Now the problem is that after two weeks of completing all of these different events, I have maxed out a character, with the other two very close. Once you get to 305 there’s very little to strive for beyond finding certain weapons (complete luck for all but a few quest exotics). There’s no reputation levels to increase or progression for the PvP system at all.

So while I’m obviously a fringe case and not everyone will spend the amount of time I have on the game, Destiny fans are voracious and lots of people are already feeling a similar way, there’s just nothing to works towards. Think of WoW’s faction grinds, Call of Duty’s prestige modes or Battlefield’s ranks. There’s always progress, always a carrot to urge you on, and that’s what’s missing from Destiny 2 at the moment. It’s an incredible game, and I’ve loved all the time I’ve spent with it so far, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that there should have been so much more.

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Ark: Survival Evolved Review (PC)

So Ark is out of Early Access and is now officially released. A dinosaur based sandbox survival game, Ark sees you and your friends (or enemies) gathering, crafting, building, and taming on a tropical island (or a scorching desert in the controversial paid DLC). You go through an underpowered weakling struggling to survive on scraps of cooked meat and berries to a powerful clan with numerous complexes all over the map, mech-style gear for you and your dinosaurs and a mostly automated system of gathering so you never run out of crafting materials. But is it any fun?

My feelings towards Ark can be summed up in two brutally short stories. One evening, on an official server on the Xbox One, Naimgear and me spent five hours taming a pair of sarcosaurs (giant crocodiles) in the always-dangerous swamp. Taming involved knocking them out with a huge amount of crafted tranquiliser arrows and bolts, and then sitting by the unconcious beast while you feed it narcotics and meat for hours on end, praying that nothing from the swamp comes out to kill you. We eventually got both of them, made the dangerous swim back to our base using our very expensive saddles, and put both of them in a giant pen we had been creating for this very purpose. We logged off, satisfied that they were safe.

The next day we logged on and everything had been destroyed. The giant warehouse we kept our flyers in, the giant pen, both sarcos, everything was gone. This was because some other players had seen our base and wanted to destroy it, no other reason.

The second story was on an unofficial server on the PC with ‘TheArrow’ and Naimgear where gathering and taming was sped up to be twice as fast, making the tames and building not quite so painful. We had built up a huge metal base with turrets on top, vaults inside, and electricity to power all manner of top-tier crafting benches. We had a pet T-Rex, a Brontosaurus, a Quetzal (the largest bird in the game that is notoriously tricky to tame because it never lands) and more. While we were playing the other two had gone off to gather things from nearby mountains while I was doing some basic chores around the base, fertilising planets, filling up feeding troughs etc. Then it arrived. A gigantosaurus, the largest of the carnivores in Ark, spawned in the middle of our base. Instantly everything went crazy because it took a disliking to one dinosaur and bit it, causing every other dinosaur to attack. Suddenly the base was a flurry of tooth and claw, but the gigantosaurus was high level and was winning easily. They go berserk when they take too much damage, and this one was destroying absolutely everything with reckless abandon. The main metal base fell almost instantly, along with most of our supplies and defences. The collection of dinosaurs was decimated as many of the carnivores who might have been able to help were trapped behind the herbivores and the flyers were on passive to make sure no one could kite them out of our base. Eventually I hopped on the quetzal and led the lizard away into the sea, hoping to drown it. This involved flying close enough to make it think it could bite me, then flying up and away so it missed and chased for a while. Leaving the smouldering wreckage of our 100-hour base behind, I flew out to sea. Then it bit the bird and we lost that too.

Both of these events were immensely frustrating and the reason I quit playing on each console, but then both couldn’t have been that frustrating if it wasn’t for the tens of hours I spent building up to that moment. Ark is a game that draws you in and absorbs your time, and the thrill of exploration and expansion is very real. There’s nothing like building a huge fortress with your friends and there’s always a project to be getting on with. If you log in alone you can head off to gather some rarer materials or even just expand your buildings a little. When everyone is on together you can take on a challenging tame, or explore a cave (which are unbelievably tough challenges until you have end-game gear and levelled dinos) or raid another team’s base.

Of course there are horrible disasters that will befall you, but you can mitigate most of these through your choice of server and base location. PvP servers make the game much more exciting and makes success more rewarding, but you’re constantly faced with the threat of being wiped while you’re offline because people are cowards. PvE servers are safer, but a little more boring and you end up butting against the strange building restrictions that occur when you allow hundreds of new players to build little huts everywhere but then not letting you destroy them to make space. You can make your own servers and play offline single-player or with a small group but then you’re missing out on the social aspect of Ark altogether. The point is, you have a choice and that choice is very broad. You can play Ark how you want to play it and once you get into a server you like, there’s a huge amount of things to do and fun to be had.

Sadly, there’s also a lot of annoyances in the game that will cause you problems at some point and betray the game’s lack of polish. Dinosaurs will glitch through the map and clip into rocks, you’ll be attacked by things you can’t see (especially underwater), when you’re building things will get placed in the wrong position at the last second, wasting your materials. While Ark is an impressively broad sandbox, it’s not a very refined one, and the developers have focused on introducing new dinosaurs and tech into the game without ever really fixing some of the key problems.

Thankfully on PC you can use mods and private servers to alleviate much of this, and even add in new maps and features. It really is a very customisable game and will no doubt persist for a long while after the developers stop providing new things thanks to the excellent community that works hard to create new things for people to play with – but for a game that is now charging a high retail price (£50 at the time of writing) you’re going to be getting something of much lower quality than you would probably expect.

For all its issues, Ark is an incredible game. It’s easy to spend hundreds of hours in its worlds and each time you start afresh on a new server you’ll have all of that fun all over again, but despite it coming out of Early Access, do be aware that you’re very much paying £50 for something that feels like a work in progress.

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Agents of Mayhem Review

It’s strange to complain about a game based on what it’s not trying to do, but it’s almost impossible to avoid with Agents of Mayhem. It’s an absolutely fantastic, entertaining, polished, funny, fairly deep single-player experience. But it should have been a co-op game.

Agents of Mayhem is the latest game from Volition, famous for the Saints Row franchise, and this is evident in every part of Agents of MAyhem. Beyond the obvious links through the colour scheme and icons (and being able to play as Johnny Gat if you pre-ordered), AoM feels like a Saints Row game. The humour is on point, if a little crass, the violence is ridiculously over the top and gameplay trumps realism at every turn, and the missions tend to follow a similar structure. If you played Saints Row IV (and why wouldn’t you have, it’s amazing) you’ll be vaguely familiar with this take on the world, with superhero-esque powers and a massive open world city that serves more as a playground than something that feels alive. Certainly, with regards to the world and much of the game, you can see this has been partly inspried by Crackdown, with collectables shining on rooftops to clamber over and a wealth of ridiculous powers and vehicles to supposedly help you save the town as you ‘accidentally’ mow down innocent civilians in crossfire. This is Saturday-morning style superhero shenanigans at it’s best.

The basic structure of the game sees you choosing a squad of three agents from a pool of twelve to go out into Seoul and kill enemies, defuse bombs, and occasionally take part in a car chase. Down on the ground you can choose between the three agents on the fly and jump into any vehicle or call your own agency vehicle. Of course if you want to free-roam you can, and there’s plenty of collectables about to help boost your abilities and the agency, or you can just cause some mayhem with the tools at your disposal.

The city itself is by far the weakest part of AoM. It feels dead and lifeless, the civilians don’t react naturally and it’s hard to cause GTA-style chaos where your actions seem to have significant effects on the area. There’s no real destruction mechanics and car explode in a very unsatisfying way.

Thankfully the game is saved by just how much fun the mechanics are. Each agent plays differently with a unique main weapon, ability, and ‘Mayhem’ move. Each of these can be swapped out or modified for others back at the base. One uses a bow to get critical hits, one uses a freeze gun, one uses an SMG. Each character suits a different playstyle and you can switch between them at any time using left and right on the d-pad. Like tag-based fighting games when one gets low on health you can switch to another and let them heal up meaning the action never really stops and you get a lot of variety even within a single fight.

The enemies aren’t particularly interesting, but they are challenging and there’s a wealth of different difficulties (the menu seems like the one from Diablo 3) with the idea that you can push yourself to higher difficulties with higher rewards as you level up your agents and unlock more abilities.

The constant loop of missions, upgrades, exploration is unbelievably engaging and it’s wrapped up in some very funny writing and a visual style that is at it’s best when there’s a lot of chaos breaking out around you. If you hated the humour in Saints Row, you won’t be won over by this, but if you enjoy things that are a little more puerile and you enjoy the over-the-top excess of cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the animated X-men series, you’ll feel right at home. It’s hard to get across just how important this is, the game is just plain fun.

Which brings us back to our main complaint about the game. It should have been co-op.

You play the game with a team of three heroes, each hero has a range of abilities that work best in different playstyles and situations, the levels are big and usually quite open, there’s loads of jokes and teasing between the characters. There’s even a per-character progression system. It feels like the game was built for co-op then it was yanked out at some point to save time on production. As it stands, we can easily recommend this game to Saints Row fans. If they brought out an update adding co-op, we would recommend this game to everyone.

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Foxhole Preview

Foxhole is almost certainly unlike anything you’ve played. It could be compared to Cannon Fodder, to ARMA, perhaps even to Age of Empires – but none of those are quite right. It’s a WWII-era massively multiplayer combat game that features a persistent world, crafting, and a top-down view.

When you spawn in Foxhole there’s very little guidance on what to do – other than players rushing past in trucks yelling at you to get out of the way. Open the map and you’ll see your side (green or blue) has a number of bases, and the enemy has a number of theirs. Your first instinct would probably be to pick up a gun from the town hall and some ammo, then run off to the front line, where you’ll almost certainly get horrible murdered by someone you can’t see. You’ll then slowly realise you just wasted a uniform, a rifle, some ammo, maybe a pistol and some bullets. All of those things were crafted from raw materials that were mined out of the ground. Those then got taken (usually driven in a truck which was also crafted) to various factories, where they were put in a queue to be built. Once complete they were collected and shipped to the spawn points. Like I said, not like anything you’ve played.

The biggest turn-off for some from Foxhole is going to be evident from the screenshots, the view. It’s top-down 3D and your field of view is exceptionally small. Cover breaks your view of even your own team, so if you hide behind a wall, everyone on the other side of it will disappear because you can’t see them anymore. To shoot you hold right click to aim, drawing a line across the terrain, then you shoot with left click, firing a bullet somewhere close to that trajectory. It’s slightly inaccurate and you’re often shooting at people you can’t see – a bit like the real WWII I guess. When it gets dark your view shrinks even further and only a few items (like binoculars) can increase it. Using binoculars, of course only lets you see further when standing still, so you have to relay all that information to the rest of the team.

Finding a team to start out is very daunting, you don’t get placed in a squad like in Battlefield or ARMA, instead you just bumble about until you find someone. There is an official Discord set up to solve this problem, but it’s vital that you group up with people – your carry limit is so low there’s no way you’ll be able to carry all the gear needed for a serious attack.

Once you’re spawned into the game with a team and have a little directions, it all seems to make sense a little more. You could become a scavenger, collecting the metal needed to create the tools and machines of war, doing runs backwards and forwards as efficiently as possible in relatively safe territory. You could become a truck driver, taking the crafted supplies to the front line where there’s a little more risk of ambushes, but people will be more likely to thank you as they are directly affected by what you are doing. You could become a medic, holding back a little and crawling to the wounded to heal them up and get them out of harm’s way. Or you could become an infantryman and master the art of moving through cover, scouting, and then committing to a big push with your team. Some people like to stand around and open gates for people, that’s fine too.

While the game undoubtedly has its epic moments, currently it starts to get quite tedious quite soon. Lots of the jobs simply aren’t that interesting and take a long time. If you want to build tanks for your team, you’re looking at hours of gathering and crafting. Even as an infantry soldier you’re not going to see a great deal of progress very quickly unless the enemy team completely falls apart. Instead you have lots of incredibly long stalemates where nothing interesting happens.

There’s no stats to speak of other than a basic xp levelling system, so nothing you do seems to have any weight. Either you stay in one server for hours and hours playing until you win or lose, or you leave the server half way through a fight and come back to join a different one later, it makes no difference and no successes are going to be particularly remembered.

This tedium and lack of obvious progression have put me off the game for now. If it had lots of dramatic emergent gameplay, that’d be fun. If it had a really fun progression system, the grind would be more bearable. But without either, you’re left with an interesting experiment in a new type of war-game, but not enough to be a really good game.

Now, moreso than usual, I am aware this is very much just my opinion. A friend has been absorbed by the game and lots of people have put hundreds of hours in already, so clearly there’s something there that grabs some people. You can get a decent idea of how the game plays by watching some streamers, but be aware that for every front-line hero, there’s ten more running the supply chain to keep them stocked. That supply chain isn’t a whole lot of fun.

 

Foxhole is available now on Steam Early Access

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Vostok Inc. Review (PS4)

Vostok Inc. is a perfect example of a truly brilliant game that’s almost completely ruined by a relatively tiny game design decision. For me, the game went from something I could easily recommend, to something that I’d tell others to steer clear from in a single moment, and hopefully it’s a (very long) moment that can be patched out.

Simply put, Vostok Inc is a clicker game combined with an open-world version of Asteroids. You fly a sprightly little 2D shop around the solar system, shooting asteroids and various aliens. Once you have some money gained from doing that, you can go land on planets to build various buildings in a more typical clicker-type interface. Each building costs an increasing amount for each copy, and produces a certain amount of money. You can also buy upgrades for those buildings and for your ship. Eventually you earn enough money to fight the boss of the solar system, then that opens up the next solar system for you to work through, with increasing financial targets.

First of all, the good. The art style and writing in this game is quirky and brilliant. Some of it’s genuinely funny and the annoying voice interruptions can now be turned off at will (or will be soon at the time of writing). Flying around space is a joy where there’s always things to do. Do you upgrade to the giant laser and sweep through asteroid fields? Do you take on the enemies and their challenge rooms (occasionally if you don’t kill some enemies quickly enough you get locked into a challenge room with a moderate reward if you survive)? Do you simply fly from planet to planet upgrading things? The choice of what to upgrade is always difficult. Say a school costs 100 dollars. The second one will cost another 120, but will obviously double your output. Now there might be an upgrade that costs 120,000 but only increases the productivity of those schools by 1.2. At what point is the upgrade worth buying over another school? You’re constantly faced with questions like that and when you discover the games many breaking points, parts where it feels like you’ve broken the system and can suddenly rake in huge amounts more money, are incredible.

Unfortunately, that’s also where the game’s biggest problem lies. Remember those financial targets? Well for the second to last planet, you’re looking at getting quadrillions of dollars. That’s 1000 trillion. Up until then you could always increase the amount of money you were getting fairly easily and keep up with the targets without breaking pace – this one is different. There’s no good building or upgrade choice that will let you move from trillions to quadrillions. Mining asteroids and killing enemies only brings in a paltry amount of money, the next set of buildings are far too expensive, and the last ones don’t make you enough, even with all the upgrades. You now have over twenty planets to manage (upgrades don’t transfer between planets) by flying to them individually, and everything takes a long time. To try and complete the game for this review I left the PS4 running overnight twice, and it still wasn’t enough to buy a decent amount of upgrades to make the target more reasonable. Basically I hit a brick wall.

Any time a game requires you to grind for hours it has clearly failed, and that’s exactly what happened to Vostok Inc. If they release a patch to boost the earnings of a few buildings exponentially, they could fix the game within minutes. If they don’t, it’s going to be remembered for that soul-crushing grind, rather than all the fun and whimsy that fills the rest of the game.

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Fable Fortune Preview (PC)

Fable Fortune is the somewhat unexpected entry into the card-game genre for the Fable series. Unexpected because there hasn’t been a Fable game in a long while, and because the card-game genre is not only saturated but also completely dominated by Blizzard’s excellent Hearthstone.

It’s no great surprise then that Fable Fortune feels instantly familiar. Essentially this is a slight retooling of the Hearthstone formula rather than a new take on the genre. You and your opponent take turns to play cards, using up gold to do so. The amount of gold you have goes up by one each turn so you can progressively play more, or more powerful, units. The aim of the game is to reduce your opponent’s health down to zero before they can do the same to you. You have a hero ability unique to each class and create your deck from a combination of neutral cards that can be used by any class, or specific cards that are tailored to your particular brand of combat. So far, so Hearthstone.

Fable Fortune does have a few aces up its sleeve though. First of all, and my personal favourite addition to the game, is that you have a taunt ability that can be placed on any unit for 1 mana. This makes taunt-specific cards less important and frees you up to create some interesting plays. You can force opponents who run very few units to waste turns killing off your weakest units, or turn absolute powerhouses into solid walls to protect you. This ability can only be used once per turn but is available to all characters and will often save you from death.

Secondly, and a much less enjoyable change, you start with three gold on your first turn instead of one. I can see why they’ve made this change, it means there’s far fewer skipped turns at the start and everyone has some options. On the other hand, it eliminates the viability of having high-risk decks designed around killing the opponent before they have a chance to get going. I quite enjoy that kind of variety in the game but here rushing is much less of an option.

The final significant change is the morality system. At the beginning of each game you select one of three quests. If you complete this quest, you get a morality point to spend on either good or evil, and this will change your hero power. The more quests you complete, the more points you get, the more options you have. This system also affects certain morality cards that shift depending on your alignment. While it’s an interesting extra system, its impact on the game seems quite limited from what I’ve seen so far, and it would have been nice to have a little more nuance to the system, like healing units pushes you towards good and killing things pushes you towards bad? It feels like an adaptation of the worst side of Fable, which for me was how easy it was to game the morality system. Here they’ve removed any pretence of it being organic and simply let you click a button.

In terms of game modes there’s your regular PvP but also a PvE co-op mode that works on a rotation. Each ‘season’ (lasting a couple of weeks) you get to take on a boss alongside someone else. You take a turn, then the boss, then them, then the boss, then you and so on. You can make use of your team’s units but only your hero powers. The major downfall of this is how incredibly limited the communication system is. You can suggest moves using little exclamation marks, but you can discuss strategy ahead of time or chat at all. In versus you can’t even say ‘well done’, you can just concede. This lack of interaction spoils the co-op mode a bit and really eats into my enjoyment of the versus mode. Everyone is just a faceless opponent with no character, making the game feel more like a grind that it needs to be.

In terms of strategy, the game is fine, but not a patch of the variety and range of Hearthstone. Some of the decks and classes lend themselves to ridiculously long games thanks to the taunt mechanic, and fast, decisive wins are few and far between. At the moment it’s too easy to cling on for another few rounds even if you’ve clearly lost, dragging out games far past the point where they stop being fun or exciting.

Graphically it has a nice Fable-esque art-style, but very little in the way of animation. The boards have no interaction and are simply static backdrops, the cards just project a little 2d cutout of the character above them, and spell effects are basic and uninteresting.

Overall I feel like this has been quite a negative preview, but you definitely can have a lot of fun with Fable Fortune. If you’re looking to learn a new game with new cards and a few new rules, it could be engrossing and eat up your time. If you’re just a casual player like us, it’s hard to see why you’d ever choose this over Hearthstone.

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Aven Colony Review (Xbox One)

We love survival colony games. From Settlers to Anno, it’s always been a nice change of pace from the usual hectic first person shooters and tense RTS games. The joy of starting out with an empty field then slowly building up a village, to a town, to a sprawling metropolis than is entirely self sustaining. Aven Colony fits into that category neatly, but sadly doesn’t do anything to push it onwards.

The basics are simple, you begin on an alien planet with colonists from Earth. You very quickly need to establish the basics: Power, Water, Food, Air, Storage, Entertainment. Usually in that order. Over time the game throws new challenges at you like a kind of fungus that grows on your buildings and needs to be scrubbed off by drones, or lightning storms and ‘shard storms’ that are basically just meteorites – but dealing with these is as simple as building a specific building.

As your colony grows there’s a wealth of things to farm and mine, chemicals to produce, and things to research – but essentially they all serve the same function, it’s either food or entertainment. This is symptomatic of the larger problem with Aven Colony, it’s all so bland.

After you’ve created your first proper colony and completed the first real campaign mission, you will have seen nearly everything there is to see. Each map has a new twist on the formula (maybe there’s nowhere to farm so you have to trade, or there overly-aggressive fungus that needs to be beaten back quickly) but the description of the campaign level basically tells you what you need to do. Very quickly you fall into a set building pattern of how to deal with challenges, then you just let it play out.

Difficulty settings are present, but essentially they are just narrowing the margins in which you can be successful. Once you understand how the systems work, the game is exceptionally simple, with very little RNG to mess you up.

Sadly the game isn’t immersive enough to be a fun distraction when you just want to relax. Everything looks incredibly generic and is quite low-res on Xbox One. You can occasionally see colonists milling about but they don’t really do anything other than walk from building to building. There’s no life or spontaneity in anything that happens – you’re just slowly expanding a collection of by-the-book sci-fi pods in a colourful, but forgettable landscape.

It’s a shame that the game is quite dull when it gets so much right. The controls, often a bugbear in strategy games on console, are spot-on. Whoever has designed the interface is a genius as everything is immediately accessible and not once did I feel using a gamepad was getting in the way of what I wanted to do. The quest system too is quite good, giving you a range of different challenges that don’t distract you from your overall goal, but let you try something different for a few moments like growing a load of a certain crop, processing it, and trading it. Even the voice acting is a step above other games in the genre on console – but however satisfied you can be with the mechanics of the game, there’s just no heart to it and nothing unique to keep it fun.

If you’re desperately looking for a colony-builder on console, Aven Colony is a fine game, just go in aware that’s uninspired and unlikely to last you more than a mildly entertaining evening.

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Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star Review (Nintendo Switch)

Full Disclaimer here, I have no idea what the Fate series is. As a complete non-anime fan, it’s with some trepidation that I enter games like this, fully aware that I’m not going to be getting everything out of it that other people would be, so if you’re a fan of the series, try to find a review by another fan of the series. This is really just for people who are into games and are thinking about giving this a shot on the Switch.

Fate/Extella is basically Dynasty Warriors sped up in an anime world. It’s much brighter, much faster, and somehow more ridiculous than Dynasty Warriors, but once the novelty of all of that wears off, you’ll find it’s very much the same game. You roam around a map made up of different shaped arenas joined by corridors fighting off hordes of enemies (and I really do mean hordes), trying to win each zone over for your sides until you have enough to take on the boss.

In between all of this there’s plenty of different characters, weapons, loot, special items and skills to find, but loot definitely isn’t the focus of this as it is in something like Earth Defence Force, instead your focus is purely on killing as much as possible as quickly as possible.

The enemies frequently number in the hundreds are for the most part look absolutely identical to each other within a level, other than the mini bosses and bosses. So you unleash all hell on these legions of identikit troops through a flurry of spins, swipes, and magic, until you’re ready/able to take on the bigger enemies.

Frustratingly there’s no lock on for the smaller bosses so the speed actually works against you, but for the most part you are a vaguely controlled whirling dervish slicing through enemies while only pressing two buttons. At first it feels like you’re not really in control at all – there’s a spectacle to be sure as you slice you way through enemies, getting combos into the early hundreds without knowing what’s going on, but on the harder difficulties you do need to get to grips with which moves to use when, usually boiling down to do you want to restore health, get away, or cause damage. That risk/reward strategy is engaging, but only really present on the harder difficulties. On lower difficulties every fight plays out the same, simply tapping buttons to kill enough troops until you’re done and can get on with the story.

The story is told like a visual novel, with lots of static images and text and the occasional choice thrown in to spice things up a bit. This is where I was hopelessly out of my depth. I had no idea what was going on and quickly resorted to skipping everything that I could (which, thankfully, is pretty much everything). Looking up the series online, it looks like it started off as an erotic anime, which isn’t surprisingly considering some of the costumes you can wear, but also doesn’t bode well for the quality of the storytelling.

After a while I realised I was rushing through the fights to progress with the story, then skipping the story to get back to the fights. Everything is so repetitive it’s hard to work out exactly where the fun is. The levels aren’t even that quick so it’s not like you can quickly plough through one when you’ve got 5 minutes with your Switch.

If you’re into the anime, I’m sure there’s a lot to like here, and if you’re into Dynasty Warriors but want something quicker and more colourful, this is exactly that – but for the average gamer, there’s nothing that’s going to impress you or change your mind about this sort of game. It’s a crazy Japanese grindfest with character designs that will put you off playing this in public.

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Diablo 3 – Rise of the Necromancer Released

Today Blizzard has released another update to Diablo 3, reintroducing the Necromancer class from Diablo 2 into the mix. The pack costs £12.99 and comes with a few little extras like 2 more vault tabs, a pet, a sigil, a banner, some wings, etc.

Obviously the main attraction is the new class and we’ll be streaming some Necromancer gameplay tonight to try it all out! Read the full press release below:

Continue reading Diablo 3 – Rise of the Necromancer Released

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The Surge Review In Progress

So I haven’t finished ‘The Surge’, because it’s really hard. The first boss kicked my ass four times before I bested it, then strange quadruped monsters ripped me to shreds so much we stopped playing. I’m sure I’ll heads back into it tomorrow, but I thought I’d share my thoughts on the game so far here ready for the game’s launch.

If you’ve heard that The Surge is made by the studio behind Lords of the Fallen and it’s set in a futuristic dystopia that features a lot of mechs and robots, then you’re pretty far into understanding everything about the game. There’s definitely a lot of innovation hidden away in the game mechanics, but this game is never going to escape the label of ‘Dark Souls in Space’ – at least until From Software bring out a proper sci-fi game.

I won’t spoil the opening, but early on you are strapped into a mechanised suit that greatly enhances your strength, then everything goes horribly wrong and you’re left for dead in a strange industrial complex where husks of people completely taken over by their mechanised armour roam the environment just begging to tear you limb from limb.

The early enemies are fairly simple to dispatch, either buzzing little drones that can be blocked, enemies with simple blades that can be dodged, or heavier enemies with giant hammers of fast dual blades. All of these have around three attacks each, and once you’ve got the rhythm down, you can dispatch them surprisingly efficiently.

The big headline feature of the game is the ability to target specific limbs. Once you’ve locked on quick flicks of the right stick target individual parts which will be highlighted yellow if they’re armoured and blue if they’re vulnerable. Vulnerable limbs obviously cause more damage, but making the system interesting is the fact that by chopping limbs off your enemies, you can get pieces for your own gear. So if you need a new helmet, get cutting those heads off, want a new weapon? Go for their arms. If you build up enough energy while attacking an enemy’s limb, you can do a spectacular finisher and sever it from the body, getting you something nice in the process.

Once you start getting mods that give you bonuses for finishers, each fights becomes a tactical little game of risk vs reward, where you want to get the most health back, metal (xp), or a quick kill, and you need to decide where to attack and how to finish them to achieve that.

The rest of the game is very much like Dark Souls, you have hubs (bonfires) where you can spend metal (souls) to level up or craft/upgrade gear. Out in the field you drop your metal if you die, but you can go back within two and a half minutes to collect them as long as you don’t die again.

Missing from this title is co-op, in Dark Souls if you get stuck on an area you can summon a phantom to help you out. In ‘The Surge’ you’re sticking it out on your own. This can be a good thing, after our fourth death on the first boss, we probably would have called in a summon, but we gave it another go and managed to kill it, barely getting hit in the whole fight.

Of course, while the game owes a lot to Dark Souls, it would have to be amazing to stand alongside it, and it’s not quite there. That first boss fight featured only a handful of moves, and once you worked out a safe pattern it took many minutes to take down, doing the same thing over and over. It lost its magic and just became an exercise in maintaining my concentration to take it down. The combat is definitely satisfying (and there’s some terrifying enemies we still haven’t been able to take on so the alternate routes are a blessing) but it does feel almost unnecessarily punishing when the ops centre shortcuts are a long way apart from each other and a single mistake can easily get you killed, forcing you to repeat the same (not very fast) fights over and over.

The environments are also less interesting so far, with every room being a variation of ‘factory room number one’. Once I saw a tree and that was pretty exciting, but otherwise it’s been a soulless (no pun intended) jog through generic industrial areas. It’s not that the graphics are bad, the enemy design is good and the animations are pretty great, but the overall art direction is unbelievably bland, in a similar way to how Lords of the Fallen couldn’t hold a candle to the worlds of Dark Souls.

If you’re after another Dark Souls fix, this is definitely a great buy. It’s super cheap on CDKeys (check the link in the sidebar if you want to get us some affiliate pennies) and it’s definitely a worthy challenge. That being said, it’s definitely not of the same quality and is unlikely to stick in your memory once you complete it. Other than the opening, which is great and I can’t spoil.

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