Overdue Review: Diablo 2: Resurrected

Credit: Diablo 2: Resurrected. Screenshot by me. This classic gets an updated look.

Diablo 2 from Blizzard Entertainment is an action role-playing game that was an instant classic when it initially launched in the year 2000. Twenty-one years later, in association with Vicarious Visions, Blizzard launched D2: Resurrected. This remaster faithfully restores the original game with updated graphics. I only glimpsed at D2 back in the day, but I am so happy that I got to experience it now, with an excellent fresh coat of paint.

The Diablo series is medieval European fantasy with a horror twist. The devil known as Diablo has returned to the human realm of Sanctuary, and is laying waste to humanity with his evil demons. Diablo’s intention is to bring Hell directly into the human world. It is up to you as a mortal to stop him, as holy angels are sworn not to interfere with human affairs. There is some memorable voice acting, but the story isn’t the greatest thing, for the most part. What keeps you going is the gameplay.

This game is a glorious dungeon crawler. You scour randomly generated areas in search of your quest. Mobs of beasts, and demons swarm at you. The key to survival is not only epic loot, but careful strategy with your character build. Skill points can only really be reset once per character, so don’t do it half way into Act 1 as I foolishly did. You will lay waste to endless hordes of foes as you grind experience in preparation for devilishly challenging boss fights.

Credit: Diablo 2: Resurrected. Game clip by me. Fighting a few basic mobs while grinding.

To build your character, you will work from one of seven preset classes. The classes are: Amazon, Assassin, Barbarian, Druid, Necromancer, Paladin and Sorceress. In my first go, I played Assassin, but found this would be a much more fun class for if I were to play online at some point. I decided to pick another class that might be better solo, and ended up with Necromancer. This was an excellent choice, I had a lot of fun playing this class.

Be prepared while building your class for what is coming down the road. A skill you may be tempted to dump points into early could be useless in late game, when an early humble skill could be more rewarding later on. Again, saving your skill point respec for when you know how your build really works will help you a lot.

D2: Resurrected might not be the prettiest game you’ve ever seen in gameplay, but that statement alone isn’t fair. The cinematics are incredibly cool, I found myself watching them multiple times. I love how gnarly the graphical style remains, as a preservation of the original’s spirit. The graphics look like a completely different game, though with just a couple button presses you can switch between old, and remastered graphics to witness the dramatic difference before your eyes. Or, just to play with old-school graphics if that’s what you want. The graphical style does a good job communicating what is happening in the game, in a way that is entertaining.

My campaign lasted a little over forty-five hours. I would happily play again as another class, online or solo. Going alone is fine, but it would be nice to try and build an Assassin with a friend online at some point. A lot of that time was spent grinding, but not overly much. These RPGs love to have a bit of a grind historically. And before a fight with the titular Diablo, you would expect to have to put some work in, right? There were plenty of other areas to explore and enemies to slaughter along the way.

Credit: Diablo 2: Resurrected. Screenshot by me. The cinematic sequences are eye popping.

Grinding before a boss is a key part of D2. It is cathartic fun that builds the tension for your ultimate win. Don’t give up just because you got wrecked in less time than the subsequent loading screen. Learning boss behavior, working with the environment, and mastering your build will help you overcome any boss. There were a few bosses where I really felt like I was struggling, but I am so glad I never gave up because the victories were so rich.

Since my last review, I have played no other game besides Diablo 2: Resurrected. Unusual for me, as I typically keep at least half a dozen games in rotation. It just has me hooked. The enjoyment of the core gameplay loop for me is tremendous. I love the skill effects on screen, which for my Necromancer meant a legion of minions running around fighting, as I lob magic missiles from the sheltered backfield.

I imagine I will continue to play this game. Diablo 4 is coming in early June, which I would love to play, but if I cannot for whatever reason I am lucky to have D2:R. I might take a slight break from it, just to get some blood moving in other games, but I’m sure I will return at some point. This type of game is so satisfying and addicting, it is quite the feeling when you’re in the zone.

Any platform can play this game. Personally, I found it on the Nintendo Switch online store for less than $20, when it normally retails for $40. That is such a great deal for the game I played. Diablo 2 might’ve shown its age in some regards, but it still holds up respectably well. With the updated graphics it feels like a modern game while you’re playing. Whether you’re in the Diablo 4 waiting room or not, check out D2: Resurrected. I would think fans of the original would love it as much, if not even more than I did this fantastic game.

Credit: Diablo 2: Resurrected. Screenshots by me.

Overdue Review: Assassin’s Creed Unity

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Unity. Screenshot by me. The French Revolution makes for a quite interesting setting for a game.

My previous review was Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, which was released on the exact same day as Unity in 2014, just on previous generation consoles. Releasing two titles on the same day may be why Unity struggles as much as it does. My attempts to enjoy it were often fettered by poor mechanics, and an overall experience that deteriorated over the game’s roughly eighteen hours. What started as cheery, wide-eyed optimism eventually turned to loathing.

Not everything in this game is so rotten. Assassin’s Creed is such a strong series it would be truly unbelievable for a game to be all bad. The parts I liked the most were the intersections with real history. AC: Unity takes place over the course of the French Revolution, which has always been fascinating to me. I studied it a bit in one class at university, and I saw a lot of familiar names, dates, etcetera. It makes for such a wild backdrop to a game.

The revolution was a brutal thing. The extreme circumstances almost seem to overshadow the story of young Assassin Arno Victor Dorian, and his own quest for revenge. That is, until you realize they are inextricable. The struggle between Assassin and Templar blazes on in Unity, with the main characters having very personal motivations for their actions throughout the game. These games are known for their twists, so I don’t want to spoil too much, but honestly this title didn’t seem to make a grand impact on the AC universe.

For a game that is almost a decade old, it still looks alright. Some things feel a little more dated, but there are some more eye-catching spots. Such as the interiors of some buildings; especially places like the Palace at Versailles, or your headquarters. I thought a lot of the fashion choices were cool. Playing on the Xbox Series X it ran fairly smoothly, I noticed in the description that newer consoles get an FPS boost.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Unity. Game clip by me. A side mission assassination, where I drop in quick then run like Hell.

Unity introduces new dynamics to the familiar parkour system, meant to streamline. A lot of these work alright in theory, but horribly in execution. A system that seems to want to cut down unwanted leaping only exacerbates every issue that AC parkour has historically. Spending way too long trying to perform the simplest task, and being forced to go about it in such a ridiculous way that you end up drawing attention to yourself. Changes to the systems are welcome, but these changes are frequently more stifling than anything.

Combat feels shockingly unresponsive. Arno is glacially slow, never doing what you mean to be doing when you mean to be doing it, the whole thing just feels sloppy. Sometimes, the animation the enemy was using didn’t line up to what was actually happening. For example, they would draw their gun and prepare to fire, then I get stabbed by their ghost. I dreaded ever getting into combat in Unity. The true challenge is in the clunkiness.

AC combat has always been an appeal, even though it is known as a stealth game. It is nice to have that to fall back on. Or even in more recent titles, have it be a key feature. As of now, I have played nearly every title in the series, out of sequence, and it is fascinating to see how the series has evolved in all aspects. In the past, I have credited these games with stepping out and trying something different, and I respect Ubisoft for trying that again, bringing Unity into a new generation of consoles. Not everything worked, but some of it did.

A more intimate camera made the game feel more immersive, and the world feel grander. This game introduced a rudimentary XP system, which works okay. The addition of purchasable skills is more exciting than anything, knowing what greatness it will lead to in later games. Again, they made a change that seemed kind of bold at the time, but in the long run it was not only wise, but quite humble. I enjoyed the return to the model of early titles with a world map focused on one area, Paris. Being on a new console the city is more densely populated, with richer detail, and bigger scale.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Unity. Screenshot by me. Interiors in this game are gorgeous.

The goal of Unity is clearly to redefine what we expected from stealth games, it just fell short. There is overwhelming potential here, and again as I said before, it has plenty of fine missions, and even some really nice ones. However, I often felt like even the things the game was doing right were under-realized. You would get clues about opportunities for stealth during a mission and they’d be fruitless, or at least you would find this “help” to be more of a burden than anything.

Next in my succession of AC games is the follow-up to Unity, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. This next game takes place during the Industrial Revolution in London. I dabbled in Syndicate a while back, so I’m looking forward to returning to it. After that, I am going back to where it all began: the original Assassin’s Creed. These last couple titles are exciting, I have been through so much with these games over the last year.

AC: Unity might’ve fell short of its goals, but it set some lofty ambitions for itself. It tried to make the perfect Assassin’s Creed, but instead found much room for improvement yet. I paid full price when it launched in 2014, I just never played it until now. Don’t plunk down that kind of bread for this game. If you’re a French history nut, or AC die hard like me, try to find it on sale somewhere. In the end, I would say this was a fine game, I was just disappointed because I have such high expectations from playing these game so much recently.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Unity. Screenshots by me.

Retro Review: Assassin’s Creed: Rogue (Remastered)

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Rogue Remastered. Screenshot by me. This iteration of the famed franchise takes a twist during the Seven Years War.

Little is said about 2014’s Assassin’s Creed: Rogue. Before playing myself it was hard to tell if it was a weak game, or just lost amidst the deep catalog of excellent AC games. Now that I’ve completed the main story, I can say that Rogue is massively underrated. It combines all the best parts of titles that came before it, in a game with admittedly less scope.

Rogue was released by Ubisoft on the same day as Assassin’s Creed Unity, but unlike Unity was available on the older seventh generation consoles, such as Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. A remaster was released in 2018. I picked it up during the recent Assassin’s Creed 15th anniversary sale for only eight dollars. Of the slightly over fifteen hours I played, very little was truly disappointing.

If you temper your expectations, I honestly don’t know what more you could want from an old-school AC game. There’s fantastic naval combat in the waters along the American Atlantic coast, sites to infiltrate in the River Valley, and 1750’s New York to parkour all about. Combat is joyous, stealth satisfying and the story is high grade. It is a fitting and just farewell to a generation of games where it all began for the franchise. 

In Rogue, you play as Assassin turned Templar Shay Cormack during the Seven Years War for the American colonies. While, on the face, this may not be the most interesting historical period these games have ever covered, I assure you it is rich. The way this title plays into Assassin’s Creed 3, 4 and Unity is brilliant, as is the plot all around. 

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Rogue Remastered. Screenshot by me. Commanding, and upgrading your ship is important.

Cormack is a hard man to pin down. He is on the path of righteousness, but that path is so confusing to anyone who has played these games. To see the Assassins as essentially terrorists, and the Templars as something to believe in a poison world is jarring. It parallels how you find yourself working with the British against the French, when you know the tables of good will be turned shortly. 

The remaster looks amazing on my Xbox Series X. It runs very smoothly. There were numerous scenes in Rogue that captivated my eye. Honestly thinking this is a nearly decade old game is astounding when you take in the visuals. The sea waves look beautiful, as do many environmental effects such as snow, or auroras. Everything feels well designed.

This was not a perfect game. There were a few bugs. Some classic AC issues like misdirected jumps, which can be somewhat mitigated by mindful parkour. Two or three missions were a bit lacking, especially when compared to the general quality of much of the rest of the game. Some may actually wish for a longer game, to which I would say there is a decent amount of side activities you can do for that 100% completion. However, none of them interest me enough to keep playing this game past this point, for now.

Rogue is the ninth AC title I have completed in the last twelve months, so I feel comfortable with my critique of this game. It changes the dynamic of the struggle between the Assassins and Templars; makes you sympathize with people you know you should hate. You find yourself doing things that you question, but in tasteful ways, such as hunting down an old friend only to kill them. Big kills in these games are usually such a prize, in Rogue they feel sometimes like emotional punishment.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Rogue Remastered. Game clip by me. Infiltrating an enemy base.

Wonderful stealth sections populate Rogue. There were a few that didn’t really go my way, but I was never stuck forever on one part. There was always a way, and it was usually walking the line between patient stalker and opportunistic killer. I found leaning more on patience typically paid off, but there are moments that require you to adapt on the fly, which I love. I hate when a stealth game is just memorizing guard patterns or something like that, of course timing is crucial in any stealth game, but I like that Assassin’s Creed is more nuanced, also there’s sometimes a combat option should stealth totally fail.

I always love it when a game is difficult to put down. If a game can make me want to play for hours on end, or come right back to another session night after night, I’m a happy guy. Assassin’s Creed games seem to often have this effect on me, regardless of what era they’re from. I beat Origins in a week. Same for Rogue. I didn’t want to play anything else. The story gripped me, and the gameplay held me.

Assassin’s Creed: Rogue may not be a contender for best AC, but in my opinion it has far too negative of a reputation. I found it quite enjoyable, despite a few flaws and spots of mediocrity. If you like classic AC, or Black Flag style naval combat, or just quality stealth action games, try to find a copy of the Rogue remaster. You don’t have to be a huge AC geek like me, but it will greatly enhance your experience if you have played at least 3 & 4. 

Next, I plan on moving onto the game that dropped the same day as Rogue: Unity. Unity takes place during the French Revolution, and I’m excited to see how Shay Cormack’s story ties in. I believe I bought Unity when it launched, but only played it a little. Rogue will go into the archives, not that I didn’t have fun or more I could do. But for eight dollars it is hard to complain about any game let alone one as nice as AC: Rogue.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Rogue Remastered. Screenshots by me.

Retro Review: Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag

Credit: Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. Screenshot by me. Sailing the open seas as a pirate never felt so fun.

My journey through the Assassin’s Creed series continues with 2013’s “Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag.” A major success for developers at Ubisoft at the time. I was able to play it then, and remember it as easily a favorite in the franchise. The second time around may not have been nearly as memorable, but still worth playing. Taking the Assassins into the Golden Age of Piracy in such a brave game is something that must be appreciated even a decade later.

Pirate turned Assassin Edward Kenway is our protagonist, and an excellent one. The way he evolves through the story is deeply inspiring. He goes from caring for absolutely nothing, but party and plunder, to a sophisticated anti-hero in our time with him. Sailing the Caribbean, you sail between ports such as islands, coves, and cities like Havana and Kingston on your ship, the Jackdaw. Both nautical and land environments are well designed. The dynamics of waves and weather must be battled while engaging in intense ship-to-ship combat.

This naval warfare is the focal point of AC4. Many people call this the best in the series, which is saying something because much of the stealth sections in this title are atrocious. In fact, a lot of what happens on land is generally disappointing. But wow, when you set out to sea things change. Learning the dance of navigating against different ships to score cannon hits you need to capitalize on weak points. Knowing to take out sails early to slow enemy movement and working from behind. It really gets your heart pumping, while also requiring you to employ masterful strategy.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. Game clip by me. Easily besting a large ship.

My focus on this playthrough was almost solely on completing the story, not engaging in the extra activities that are typically the draw. When I reinstalled my game, I found in my old save file that I had played nearly sixty hours. In contrast, my recent campaign lasted a shade under twenty hours. That is how much extra treasure there is to be hunted in AC4. Whether you’re scouring for lore, retrying missions for sub-objectives, picking up collectibles, or relishing the naval combat, there is a ton of bonus fun to be had if you like the formula.

Assassin’s Creed 3 had optional naval combat missions in the same style. I’m so glad that Ubisoft took such a big risk on making an entire game out of it. A lot of people don’t even remember it in AC3, it would’ve been a miserable final resting place for such a cool concept. When you think about it in perspective of the titles that came before, Black Flag is so bold. They knew this franchise was a golden child, and they were willing to experiment with it. Recent entries like Valhalla, which have stepped outside precedent, suddenly make more sense when you think about the massive success of Black Flag.

If this game had better stealth sections, it would be perfect. Fleshing out cities more and utilizing them in a game with bigger scope, to me, would be a title that couldn’t be ignored. The naval combat is so slick, and the story wonderful. It even has a nice melee combat system. After playing so much of these games lately however, I really missed quality stealth. It isn’t completely devoid, indeed there are sections that are quite good. Just, I think I expect better from this franchise.

Graphically, I think this game still looks pretty good. The coolest thing is the waves. They move in a realistic fashion that makes sailing immersive. Sometimes the other scenery while sailing can be a bit boring, but when you’re in a port land is more interesting. Quality voice acting delivers the game with memorable weight. Sound design is solid, especially the music. One of the most important collectibles you’ll find on land are sea shanties for your crew to sing while at sea. This detail enriches the game so much. Everybody I’ve met that has played this game has at least a couple favorite shanties.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. Screenshot by me. Between living the memories of pirate Edward Kenway, you navigate the evil modern day Abstergo as a developer.

I am happy I played this game again. It was fun to do a bit more of the naval combat, also to reacquaint myself with the story and characters. I remembered enjoying the likes of Edward Kenway and Captain Blackbeard so much, and now I remember why. It is a classic Assassin’s Creed title to be sure. Yet, I would say it is not my number one. Not that AC4 isn’t a contender, but it cannot claim the title on its story and naval combat alone.

Ubisoft has announced a lot of cuts lately, so I hope none of the upcoming Assassin’s Creed projects get the ax. Some people have said there should be a remake of Black Flag, but I don’t see that happening because they’re already hard at work on a game inspired by the naval combat of AC4 called Skull & Bones. The next AC we will see is Mirage, which takes place in 9th century Baghdad, and is due this year. Mirage will be a more intimate title, with a focus on stealth and parkour like Brotherhood. There are more titles coming down the line in diverse styles, however.

Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag breaks the mold for what a great AC game can be. We were so satisfied scampering across rooftops, we never considered what joy could lie beyond. Sometimes it takes a title like AC4 to shake up a series, so the developers can take some risks and learn something meaningful. If you play, be ready to want to uncover every last morsel of buried treasure like a true pirate. As you upgrade your gear, and ship, you’ll go from a fledgling wanna-be privateer to fearsome legend. Whether you’re a big Assassin’s Creed fan or not, you have to play this game at some point.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. Screenshots by me.

Overdue Review: Control

Credit: Control Ultimate Edition. Screenshot by me. Jesse Faden is the new Director of the Federal Bureau of Control. A secret, supernatural agency.

Remedy Entertainment released the third-person shooter “Control” in 2019. This underdog went on to win several Game of the Year awards. I sampled it during the game’s brief tenure on Xbox Game Pass, enough to know how awesome it is before buying the Ultimate Edition on sale for $15. This edition has enhanced graphics and performance for new consoles, like my Xbox Series X. The price was an extraordinary value, for a top shelf game. Control is a mind bending thrill ride, well deserving of its praise.

In Control we follow the story of Jesse Faden, who is guided by a supernatural voice in her head to find the secret Federal Bureau of Control. The FBC attempts to regulate supernatural activity, people and objects. When she enters their headquarters, the Oldest House, she quickly finds herself tied up in a crisis at the bureau. Something is possessing the inhabitants, and causing trouble. Jesse has her own motivations for wanting to find the FBC, but must play a delicate game of “give-and-take” with the staff.

The entire game takes place in the Oldest House. This environment never becomes tiresome. There are enough separate, distinct areas. Locations that do exist are richly interesting. Everything at the FBC has this certain touch to it you can’t quite put your finger on. It just feels like a government agency fortress, even when it is shape shifting, or housing psychic carousel horses. Supernatural elements contrast with the sanitary stylistic approaches to create a setting that is deeply immersive.

Gameplay is fast paced, with high reward for creativity, awareness and skill. You gain psychic abilities throughout the game, which all feel powerfully fun. Players can obtain only a handful of weapon types, but anymore would’ve been too much. You can quickly swap between two at a time, there are loads of mods for each weapon, and there is so much going on in the combat already without having to worry about using the perfect, or newest weapon. Variation among enemy types also keeps combat fresh the whole game.

Credit: Control Ultimate Edition. Game clip by me. Fighting enemies as I work my way through the Oldest House.

I have read that the main story can be completed in as little as eleven to thirteen hours. For me, I enjoyed the lore, and gameplay so much I did a decent amount of side activities. That said, it took me about twenty hours to roll credits. You’ll be more powerful if you do side stuff as well, so there’s plenty of motivation to enjoy your time with Control. Owning the Ultimate Edition, I also have access to all the DLC, including an Alan Wake tie-in. I am unsure how much of this I will play. If I can’t pick another new game to start, I may give it a whirl.

Graphics and sound design are incredible. With optional ray-tracing on, it looks stellar. The visual design is trippy, engaging and effective. As is the audio. Vibrant color shapes lovingly detailed environments. Eye-popping effects remind you why you’re playing, as though there isn’t much there otherwise. I loved using the photo mode to take pictures of where I was, or what was happening. My only wish is that in the sequel, confirmed by Remedy, that the photo mode has more options. I would love to be able to better capture this game.

Truly cinematic moments guide you through Control’s story. Not just the cool cut-scenes, either. Parts of this game feel like impassioned segments meant to dazzle, not filler material meant to spare time between story beats. One section near the end, the Ashtray Maze, was like a roller coaster. I wish I could just pay to ride once in a while when I fire up my Xbox. A sentiment that wraps up how a lot of this game felt. It was an insane roller coaster, full of loops, twists, climbs and drops. The benefit of being a shorter game, is that it becomes easier to experience again. I’m certain if I started over I would notice all kinds of things maybe I didn’t before. Even if not, I kind of just want to do it all over again for the sake of the experience. 

Credit: Control Ultimate Edition. Screenshot by me. This game is creepy in interesting, and not overly terrifying ways.

Complaints are few, and frankly mostly not worth mentioning. Even things that I struggled with, I got the impression that I was meant to struggle. Like navigating the Oldest House. Sure, there’s a map, but it isn’t super helpful let alone in a building that alters shape. Sometimes during particularly hard battles, the “walk of shame” from the respawn point back to where I died could become very brutal. This is not an easy game. While at times it made me rather upset I would not say it is too difficult. The story gets a little convoluted, but it is meant to mangle your brain.

People may say Control is not a perfect game, but realistically I don’t know what else you would want from a story-based, single player shooter. If you have the expectations that would have for any similar game, you will be blown away. It isn’t one thing that makes Control great, it’s everything. The setting, characters, story, visuals, gameplay, it all comes together to make an exciting, and complete package. 

There isn’t anything really known about the sequel, other than it is getting a larger focus and budget. I am very excited for the potential of a sequel; if they can capture the same magic that this game had, just refined more with a grander magnitude. This game doesn’t end on much of a cliffhanger, fortunately, so it’ll be a fresh story, or continuation. Find Control anywhere you can, it is available on all consoles, even a cloud based version on Nintendo Switch. I cannot recommend this game enough as a big fan of shooters. It feels like a far-out action movie, play it now.

Credit: Control Ultimate Edition. Screenshots by me.

Meditation, Ego Death, & Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Credit: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Screenshot by me. This game gave me wonderful feelings of power.

My first experience with the “Souls-like” game genre was where it all actually started, the original “Demon Souls” in 2009. The game was a fun nightmare. As much as I enjoyed it, I found it far too difficult to progress beyond a certain point. The experience was so crushing it turned me away from the genre forever. Until “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order” was added to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate a couple years ago, and I gave it a try as I heard it was a more approachable Souls-like. I was still defeated.

Since June I have finished the most recent Assassin’s Creed trilogy, which uses a new combat system that had me feeling distinct Souls-like vibes. Especially fights like the Minotaur. As well, since last year I began understanding turn-based JRPGs, another genre I’ve always wanted to enjoy, but couldn’t. So, I thought I would try Jedi: Fallen Order once more. I really wanted to get into this genre to try hits like Elden Ring. 

I turned up the difficulty, and somehow I had come to understand how to play this game. My enjoyment began trepidatiously, but before long I was having the time of my life. Masterfully executing foes with combinations of the Force and my lightsaber. Defeating bosses that seemed impossible. When I finished the game I felt an outstanding sense of accomplishment, not just for the small victories throughout, but the larger win of beating a game I could only get a handful of hours into not even a couple years prior. 

But there is something more significant this game gave me. At save points, your character, Cal Kestis, meditates. His meditation is an integral part of the story. In the beginning, he is so traumatized by the fall of the Jedi order, he can barely get into focus. As he heals emotionally, he uncovers important memories that heal his connection with the Force, and his meditation. I decided I would begin meditation myself, to see if it rendered anything noticeable. The results changed my life.

Credit: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Screenshot by me. New things can be scary, but scary doesn’t mean impossible.

A key was given to me when I was in high school that I believe opened the door to successful meditation for me. I was partially hypnotized. Basically just put under slowly and instantly snapped out. What this enabled me to do is more easily silence the noise in my head, and focus on something that centers, and relaxes me. I can more freely suspend my thoughts. When I started playing Fallen Order, about a week after I began meditating regularly, I had a bizarre couple of days.

At first, it was blinding rage. Anger that is hard to describe in a polite manner. I wanted to crush everyone and everything. Like a levee had breached; washing through my veins a deluge of hatred. Knowing it wasn’t normal, I was both scared and confused. That is not who I am. People who are like that upset me. The next day I paced in a circle and thought about my emotions and past trauma for literally twenty-four hours straight. The rage had subsided, leaving emptiness in its place.

Finally, I thought of the term that seemed to describe what I was going through. Ego death. I was seeing my life more objectively than I thought possible. It was like a major gatekeeper in my mind had dissolved, and left the rest to pick up the pieces. An array of emotions came and went in odd and unpredictable intervals, as I could not control what I was going to think of next. Normally, your ego protects you from having certain thoughts to get you through what you’re doing. I no longer had that, so even the most traumatic things came up as naturally as any thought.

Ego death leads to uncovering trauma the way a paleontologist unearths their raptors. You can study what this beast must’ve been without it biting you. Seeing how the sick feelings I get in my gut now are the result of things that I’ve long forgotten about. To be honest, I knew I was forgetting a lot of trauma, because I’ve heard that when somebody doesn’t remember their childhood, that is often why. I didn’t remember hardly any of my childhood, until now. One of the gifts I’ve been given by my transformation is also the knowledge that it could’ve been a lot worse, and for some people it is the worst.

Credit: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Screenshot by me. BD-1 keeps his sacrifice a secret from you, to aide you when you most need it.

It is vitally important to stress that my ego death is a positive thing. I am so much stronger now. My sight is clear, but I see everything. This is better than sight to be hazy, yet seeing clouds. I can more effectively grow and improve myself this way. Like Cal Kestis, my Kyber crystal fracturing doesn’t mean all hope is lost, it means I am walking away stronger than I had hoped. Our growth can outpace our expectations. Look at how much better I have gotten at gaming in new genres that past year.

True, it was a long trail of game choices that led to my ego’s dissolution, but I hold Jedi: Fallen Order as the true mover because of how it inspired me to begin meditation, and nurtured me along the path. It gave me the simple joy of playing a fun, cool looking game. The satisfaction of achieving something I once thought impossible for me. And perhaps most importantly, the story is filled with characters who all need to heal to become the best versions of themselves. 

Jedi: Fallen Order is a fantastic game. I strongly suggest you play it, and I’m not even deep into Star Wars. Check out my Overdue Review in the Archives. The sequel, “Jedi: Survivor” is due this March. This game could inspire you to begin practicing some of the ways of the Jedi. Meditation opened a heavy door in my own mind. This door leads to a labyrinth, but the game served as a nice spool of thread to help me know my way.

Credit: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Screenshot by me. Like my psychiatrist says, “The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”

Overdue Review: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Credit: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Screenshot by me. Using the Force on a tougher enemy. Truly growing, and becoming a Jedi.

Star Wars is not something that held my attention after childhood. I don’t know a ton about the lore, but I did absolutely love it as a kid. That being said, I think Jedi: Fallen Order is incredible. It had me jumping out of my seat with excitement, crushing my soul with dread, jumping for joy after a hard boss fight, this game is a reminder why I love to play. Developers at Respawn Entertainment dropped this title in 2019 to a positive reception, which made publishers at Electronic Arts happy enough to order a sequel, “Jedi: Survivor,” due in Spring.

A couple years ago I sampled this game, but found it too difficult to continue. Reason being a lack of experience with the brutal, “Souls-like” melee action genre. However, after playing certain games recently I felt ready to attempt the genre again. I even turned up the difficulty from “Jedi Knight” to “Jedi Master,” the second hardest difficulty. This was an excellent adjustment. The game gets better when it is challenging. I like that it is not an overly complex formula. A lightsaber and the Force. The difficulty curve meant the game’s approach was not a nightmare.

Much can be done wielding a Jedi’s toolkit. Feeling the awesome power of being one of these divine beings. Force pushing stormtroopers off ledges, taking on an AT-ST, swinging a glorious lightsaber, and serving as a beacon of hope. Enemies come in many varieties, few of which are truly annoying. Most of them are just unique challenges. Every enemy poses a substantial threat. Also, there are parkour exploration elements that add to the fun with interesting set pieces and twisted level design that opens up as you unlock more abilities.

Credit: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Game clip by me. Taking on a group of enemies with my new purple lightsabers.

A next-gen update for this game now exists to enhance the graphics and performance. On my Xbox Series X it looks beautiful. Everything except hair looks stunning. Bad news for the Wookies. Certain scenes in particular I found thrilling, most of which I don’t want to spoil because they felt special discovering them for myself. But no matter where you go, there will be cool stuff to look at, with rich detail. Sound design is also stellar, including music from an orchestra that feels characteristically “Star Wars.” Voice acting is some of the best around, with fantastic talent including Cameron Monaghan and Debra Wilson.

The story of Fallen Order takes place about five years after the end of Revenge of the Sith. Jedi have been nearly exterminated, and are being hunted viciously to their end. Cal Kestis was a mere child Jedi in training when this started, and like others who survived has some serious survivor’s guilt. He is hiding away as a scrapper on an abandoned shipyard, when fate comes calling. Following the clues laid out by an old Jedi who saw the collapse coming, his adventure begins as he fights to protect what few Force sensitive people remain. 

Fallen Order is punishing. Boss fights truly test your strength, patience and resolve. One boss near the end I am still amazed with myself for defeating. You may spend a long time going a very short distance, but that is the manner of this game. An enemy encounter is serious business regardless of what enemy. And when you die, all the experience you’ve gained since your last skill point is held by the individual that killed you, until you strike them before dying again to get it back. Also, all foes respawn when you die or rest. The pacing works. Cut-scenes tend to pay off, even if sometimes they could never match the spectacle of the battle that preceded it. Persistence and strategy will be rewarded.

Credit: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Screenshot by me. A very proud hunter posing with his kill.

I may not have been too deep into Star Wars before, but I am now. After playing this game I understand why people spend hundreds of dollars on toy lightsabers, and themed gear. My intention is to give the sequel trilogy a full watch finally, then perhaps get into some of the acclaimed shows like Andor. There were moments in this game that totally reawakened the childlike love I used to have for Star Wars. So, if you are a major geek of the franchise, be assured this game should not disappoint. My praise of Fallen Order doesn’t come from a dogmatic love of Star Wars, it comes from a casual fan, who just loves quality video games.

While researching this game, I found that it can be beaten in an average of 15-20 hours. I played well over 30. Some stones remain unturned, but I did do a lot of rose sniffing along the way. I enjoyed finding new customization options, and there’s plenty of hidden experience points hidden, too. All that said, I think I am done with the game. It isn’t impossible that I revisit it someday. For this reason I am glad to have the option of a New Game Plus. Still, I hunger for more. I am ecstatic about Jedi: Survivor arriving relatively soon. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter holds for these characters, and to enjoy playing through their journey more.

Star Wars fans do not want to miss Jedi: Fallen Order. Truthfully, neither do action/adventure game fans. This review has been nothing but raving, as is my wish. Dynamite game design. Graphics, audio, storytelling, gameplay, setting, it has it all. Perfection may not have been achieved, but it is of wonderful quality nonetheless. It was hard to put the controller down. I found this game to be very inspirational, in certain ways. The dedication of the Jedi, and healing power of meditation, for example. Find this title on Xbox, PlayStation or PC. I am beyond eager for the sequel, and now feel brave enough to try other games I previously found too difficult. Jedi: Fallen Order is a game I am going to remember for a long time.

Credit: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Screenshots by me.

Overdue Review: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Screenshot by me. Sailing by longship in Ubisoft’s most recent AC adventure.

Slowly, but surely I am playing through the entire Assassin’s Creed main game series. Albeit very out-of-sequence. AC: Valhalla is the third game featuring protagonist Layla Hassan, now living the memories of an 8th century Viking named Eivor. More than the struggle between Assassin and Templar, you’ll spend time on a conquest of England in this epic action RPG. The familiar game-building techniques of developers Ubisoft are layered on a canvas more massive than I’ve ever seen them paint. Conquering territories, making allies, upgrading your arsenal, lots of common practices in AC games. Still, Valhalla feels unique. Even following AC: Odyssey, arguably the best in the series, Valhalla still claims its fair share of glory.

The combat system of Origins and Odyssey returns, with minor adjustments. Most notably of which is a stamina gauge you’ll have to manage. The new tweaks work effectively. Maybe why I always wished to be fighting instead of doing whatever quest I was on. After seventy hours, I still want more combat, and bigger bosses. The skill tree seems like a total disaster at first, but it played out just fine for me. Focus on skills that’ll help you, and pick up any valuable passive nodes along the way.

Not every minute of my seventy hour story playthrough was enjoyable, but I always respected the effort being made. I sometimes found myself bored by the chores I was undertaking for the leaders of areas I wished alliances within. The game seems to push you to tedium. At times I found myself getting frustrated by how the story wasn’t really going anywhere. At the end of the game, so much of what I had done felt meaningless, which is especially disappointing when the illusion of choice is presented the way it is.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Screenshot by me. There are a bevy of fun mini-games that can be boons to your progress.

There are far too many side activities for most of them to ultimately be collecting uninteresting loot. There are a handful of side quests, which are generally wrapped up quickly and easily. A lot of time can be spent looking for the way into the room where you know the loot’s exact location, but this was an extremely unsatisfying activity for me. I wore the exact same armor set literally the entire game. This was fine, because everything can be upgraded to the point that if you want to do this, you easily can.

I did switch out weapons, however. There are some really cool weapon types, and you can even dual wield weapons, which is aided by certain skills. I preferred the morning star flail, becoming a master with his tool. Every weapon type has subtleties. If I were to play more, I would like to experiment with dual wielding, as it was something I never really touched due to the fact I wanted to focus skill points elsewhere.

Valhalla looks incredible. I can almost feel the cold as I track through the snow, or smell the lavender as I ride through a field. Detail resides wherever you look. Color is vibrant and utilizes the full rainbow. On my Xbox Series X it can run in two modes focusing on performance or graphics. I ran with the graphical option, which made a great display of ray tracing. Some of my favorite moments playing this game were traveling, or otherwise taking in the sights. The sound design is solid, with an excellent soundtrack of music that suits the atmosphere fantastically well. 

The ending of the game was as satisfying as it was confusing. A million twists get thrown at you, and I am left reeling. What else do we expect from this franchise? The conclusion is always a whirlwind of colliding timelines, story arcs, lore dumps and far out sci-fi. I speak of the ending because I don’t want you to be discouraged during the moments where this game gets a little boring. If you are a true AC fan, stick with it. My promise is that you will be very excited for what is next, as well as find some nice closure for what you’ve been doing. I highly recommend you play the two games prior to Valhalla before you get to this one. It will help you understand, and also deeply enrich your experience.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Screenshot by me. The characters are one of the big draws of this game.

Classic Assassin’s Creed fans may be let down by the lack of stealth in Valhalla, but Vikings aren’t really known for the modest path. Not to say you won’t be infiltrating, sneaking and executing, just not as much as other games. For this reason I am excited for the next game: Mirage. Ubisoft promises Mirage will take us back to the series’ roots for a shorter, stealth and parkour based experience. They will also continue the action RPG style of games with a title set in feudal Japan, a setting fans have desperately craved for fifteen years since the first game launched.

There is a lot of additional content if you want to keep playing after you beat the main story. For me, the shelf is where this one will go. Someday, I may delve back into this trilogy and do each with a New Game Plus and/or do all the DLC, but that time is not now. For the time being, I will keep progressing through the series. I have four games left, and they all fall in sequence with each other. For this reason I may actually play them in order, if you can believe such a thing is possible.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla might not have been the perfect game, but it was fantastic nonetheless. I only paid $30 for a used copy, quite cheap considering what you’re getting. With the holidays coming up, I’m sure you can find a copy somewhere on sale. I knew nothing of Viking lore, or tradition before this game, but now I’m in love. If you’ve never played Assassin’s Creed, this might not be the best place to start, but this memorable saga is a fine destination.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Screenshots by me.

Retro Review: Final Fantasy 9

About this time last year, I started playing Octopath Traveler, which kicked off a trend of myself playing turn-based JRPGs. Another game from Square Enix, Final Fantasy 9, had me excited. I played this game a little bit in 2000 when I was a kid and found it enchanting. The soundtrack stuck with me all through my years. So, I was happy to finally give it a true playthrough after finding out a remaster was released in 2019. The story is every bit as emotional as I remember, and while it isn’t a perfect game, it is certainly great.

The story of FF9 is a bit convoluted, and honestly witnessing it unfold is the greatest pleasure of the game. I really don’t want to spoil too much, because jumping right in is such a wonderful way to go. Masterful storytelling, that presents mature thought and emotion in a family-friendly palatable manner. Questions about love, home, duty, virtue and so much more are all packed into a tale that is fairly easily understood. Many of the characters are memorable and distinct. Each has their own motivations and desires, but they all work towards the same goal of uncovering the mysteries behind their existence, and saving the world from evil.

This game has a lot of terrific messages. There are a lot of tragic stories, which often find a way to inspire. It is pretty standard epic fantasy, emphatically so, even. FF9 uses a basic tool kit to paint a masterpiece. There were moments that got me pumped for the fight, gave me a big smile, or even brought a tear to my eye. One such moment came when a rusty knight I thought was boring and one dimensional finally had their big moment. Every turn of FF9 seems to be taken with care.

Right away I was charmed by FF9’s art style. Both visual and audio. The old school graphics still look interesting with their fantastical, watercolor-like appearance. You’ll find a very cartoonish, child friendly approach that greets the eyes and ears with a bouquet of treasures. The world has diverse races populating a vibrant, colorful world. The music is often so simple, yet works so well. It conveys the spirit of the game effectively, while setting tone and being extremely catchy. I have been humming tunes from this game to myself for over twenty years.

The combat system is fairly straightforward, with different characters presenting different opportunities on how to build your party. It is important not to leave anybody too low level, but I found there were certain people I clicked more with playing. There is a solid amount of grinding, which I had an alright time with for the most part. The remaster features a set of optional tools to aid your progression, which can be toggled on the fly. Party and damage boosts, playing the game in fast-motion, and toggling random encounters will make the grind much easier if you want the assistance.

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know I played Final Fantasy 8 before this game. While I liked FF9 far more than the previous iteration, it tragically still suffers from the same heartbreak. The endgame. The fun and enjoyment of these games just comes to a screeching, grating halt during endgame. Awful puzzles, enemies with a bag of tricks that all seem to wipe your party in one turn, and difficulty that just skyrockets. I gave every encounter during the final dungeon a fair shot, but sadly ended up using the cheat menu for most of it. There was zero enjoyment during the final hours. Fortunately, the closure of the story brought it home in a way that I walked away with a smile, in the end.

I strongly encourage you to play with a guide. Just save yourself a lot of sanity and sadness. I hate when games make me use a guide. If I wanted somebody else to play the game for me, I would watch Twitch. I just think it is probably a sad feature of these older games perhaps is that they are less intuitive, or perhaps I am still a total JRPG newbie. Two things can be true, I suppose.

I bought this game on Nintendo Switch on sale for $10. Absolutely worth the price, if even just for the story. I had lots of fun up until endgame. And I still managed to find a way to beat it despite my struggles. For that price it is hard to call any game bad, let alone one that objectively is as nice as FF9. After this, I intend to play Final Fantasy 10 and 10-2, which I received on my Switch as a gift from my mother. I’m looking forward to seeing what impact the move from PlayStation 1 to PS2 made on the series. FF9 is one of the most beloved games in the series, but 10 is highly acclaimed as well.

If you enjoy role playing games, I would say give Final Fantasy 9 a chance. Take every opportunity to grind for experience, and do all the side stuff you can. I struggled with side quests, so I focused almost solely on main quest and grinding. That said, I played just over forty hours. A lot about this game is simply iconic. The black mages, the music, the unforgettable overall experience. While I think it has definitely shown its age, it is easy to see why FF9 has persisted as a favorite among players. I’m eager to get deeper into the series, and the genre itself.

Overdue Review: Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands

Credit: Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. Screenshot by me. A slight split from Borderlands into a new world that we will be seeing more of to come.

Last March the world was treated to the newest installment in Gearbox Software’s hit Borderlands universe, entitled “Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands.” I finally got my hands on it last week, and have been thoroughly enjoying it since. Borderlands runs deep in my blood, and I can say with confidence that this is the best Borderlands game since Borderlands 2 a decade ago. It doesn’t completely reinvent the wheel, but it does enough different to stand apart while still delivering a true Borderlands experience.

Wonderlands is the experience of people in the Borderlands universe playing a Dungeons & Dragons type game together, called Bunkers & Badasses. You journey on a quest to defeat the evil Dragon Lord, and save the world from darkness. There are tweaks to the traditional formula to increase immersion into the fantasy setting. For example, instead of grenades you have spells. Wonderlands remains a fast-paced FPS despite these adjustments, which are warmly welcome. It gave me the Borderlands fix for which I so often yearn, but also felt fresh. Everything comes together very nicely, and the experience is fantastic.

I read that the campaign can be completed in 12-15 hours. I played for over 24 hours before beating the main story. There is a ton of fun and rewarding side activities to keep you playing between plot points, and long after. In the game, you travel from one first-person world to another connected by a table-top style “Overworld.” There is no combat here, but there is plenty to explore, and entertain. Random encounters can spawn in tall grass, as well there are side worlds, camps, dungeons and more to keep you engaged as you play. You might think this game short if you read it can be beaten in twelve hours, but that number is not a fair representation of the way you’ll want to play the game. You’re here for the combat, so you’ll likely take far more encounters than you’ll abandon.

Credit: Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. Game clip by me. Clearing an encounter.

The combat is incredibly slick. Weapons feel impactful when they are, the new approach to melee weapons is terrific, the world scales to your level well, I could go on and on. The impossible number of loot drop configurations gives you something to look forward to at the end of every encounter. Thousands of gun types, rings, armor, etc. This looter/shooter is strong. I liked the ability to ground pound from the air onto targets below. Enemies have plenty of variety. Different archetypes such as skeletons, pirates or wyverns, which all have different forms within themselves. Bosses pose real threats, but are not insurmountable. Play to your strengths, and you should succeed.

I have always loved the art style of these games, and Wonderlands dazzles. A vibrant, colorful world awaits. Not only do the combat arenas look cool, but they are competent, too. Weapons are stylish, with neat effects. At times the screen can be a cacophony of elemental effects, damage numbers, meteors and all kinds of mayhem. Yet, even at its most chaotic, somehow there is glory in it all. As you level up, you learn to manage the madness better. Wonderlands is a visual feast, and gorge away I will. The majesty of these games is hard to capture, I’ve learned.

Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is wickedly funny. There is some excellent voice acting from Andy Samberg, Wanda Sykes and Will Arnett to keep you company. The main cast gives this game such heart, when it is already full of the stuff. You don’t have to be a tabletop RPG fanatic to appreciate all the humor by any means, it just enriches it. I myself have only played a couple D&D campaigns in my life. They were unbelievably fun, so I’m glad to see so much resonance here. The Wonderlands story doesn’t take itself seriously, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some quality moments. Whether it is a certain character you’ve hooked onto, or one of the game’s rare somber moments such as revealing Tiny Tina’s inspiration for playing Bunkers & Badasses, and her villain.

Credit: Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. Screenshot by me. A glimpse at the Overworld. This is how you move from one encounter to the next, but it has its own treasures and secrets.

You can play Wonderlands with up to four people, and the game scales up based on your party. During the credits there is a really nice letter explaining how the developers made this game from home during the pandemic, and how it taught them the importance of coming together. Sadly, I haven’t gotten to enjoy Wonderlands multiplayer yet, but I hope to soon with a friend who owns the game via crossplay. Borderlands games have always been best with friends. Whether you compete or cooperate over loot, everyone involved is going to have the time of their lives. Building characters together is an unrivaled bonding experience.

Everyone who has played Borderlands knows the real game starts when you beat the main quest. Wonderlands is no different. There is some satisfying endgame content to keep you playing long after the credits roll. A whole new set of skill trees at max level, a dungeon generator and whatever you hadn’t finished before the main boss. I can’t wait to get back into it and build a max level character, only to then start a brand new and do it all over again. I’m so stoked to finally enjoy one of these games as much as I did Borderlands 2 all those years ago. I had still been playing classic titles on my Nintendo Switch just for the fix. The new-gen has a worthy entry.

I bought the “Next-Level Edition” of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands on sale for $40 for my Xbox Series X. Worth every penny, in my opinion. It is such a heartfelt, humorous, awesome and fun game. Everything it sets out to do, it does exceptionally. Some people may see it as a re-skinned Borderlands 3, but it was more than that to me. Borderlands 3 didn’t sell me the way this game did. It had too many problems to keep me coming back, whereas this game I don’t want to put down. I highly suggest picking this one up if you want a FPS/RPG at the top of its class. Wonderlands is a riot.

Credit: Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. Screenshots by me.