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 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.

Checkpoint: Oct. 23, 2022. An Old Friend, and A New School

Credit: Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag. Screenshot by me. Sailing smooth seas.

It has been a while since I have given insight into my own life, so I thought it should be time for a Checkpoint post. In August I began the process of applying to graduate school. I’ve been accepted at Drake University, and will be registering for a January start. My degree will be in “Brand Communications,” but I also hope to learn quite a bit about “Communications Leadership.”

The idea behind furthering my education is to enhance my abilities as a modern journalist in the evolving video game field. It seems if you really want to stand out in this industry, you need to bring a full package to the table. The mostly newspaper journalism, or at least print, which I learned in undergrad was extremely helpful, yet limited. Video game journalists are all over any platform you could imagine, and they often work independently.

So how do I take my brand to the next level? I think I know some of the steps, but I am very apprehensive to start so from scratch. I know graduate school won’t hand me a magic blueprint, and that it’ll still be up to me. The expanded education will, however, give me direction and light. I dream of making an impact in people’s lives. With conversations about video games and mental health especially, or even just with my leadership.

With that looming, posts here may become more infrequent. I need to focus on my classes, not gaming, sadly. I will try to find time to update at least once a month. Another thing limiting my posting is that I am trying to spend time with our dog, Braxton, an Australian Shepard who is reaching his final days. I can’t describe what a good boy he is, and what a boon he has been to everyone he has met. He moved here from California with my sister, and has stayed with my parents ever since. Trying to not take what little time he has left for granted. Finding it difficult to do anything else.

Braxton and I. Even as sick as he is, still so full of life and joy.

I’ve been dabbling in many different games. If you follow this blog you know I am working my way through the Assassin’s Creed franchise, in an out-of-sequence fashion. I am currently playing Black Flag and Valhalla, enjoying both quite a lot. I think Black Flag is a lot of people’s favorite, if only they remembered the dreadful, and frequent, tailing missions. The naval combat is unrivaled fun though.

Speaking of Assassin’s Creed, this would be a fine place to give my final verdict on the Ezio Collection. I played the collection on the Nintendo Switch, and had a wonderful time. Fantastic stealth action gameplay. Each game was about twenty or so hours, so if you’re looking for value at $40 the Ezio Collection is a worthy find, though I have seen it on sale for cheaper sometimes. Brotherhood was my favorite out of Assassin’s Creed 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations. Revelations had the best story, certainly, but I think I had the most fun playing Brotherhood.

I have still been playing Two Point Campus, which I reviewed recently. I’m about sixty hours into it. I see myself putting quite a bit more time yet into this one. It isn’t often I play a game much after I review it, but I reviewed this game when it was new, so I wanted to give it further examination in order to stand by my article. I praised it heavily in my review, and everything stands. I even picked up the older game, Two Point Hospital, which I’m sad to say I do not enjoy as much.

There are about a dozen other games I keep in rotation, but I don’t want to drone on with general descriptions of all of them. You’ll just have to wait for those articles. I don’t think I have the spirit for horror games this year, but perhaps some cozy games instead! Who doesn’t love getting snug with a beer, a blanket and a chill game? That should lift everybody’s spirits, and be appropriate for the season.

Credit: Two Point Hospital. Screenshot by me. Two Point Hospital sets an excellent stage for the newer Two Point Campus.

I hope everyone has a happy holiday, whatever and however you celebrate as we enter the season. I hope to do a lot of gaming over this brief gap where I’m waiting to start school, but we will see how that goes. As I said, I haven’t felt much like playing, but I just bought Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, and that has been helping to get me back into the spirit of things. If you’re looking for gifts for gamers in your life, I think Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 will be the hot game, but at a $70 price point I think you could likely find other terrific games for cheaper.

I’ve already had my first hot cocoa, because we have already had our first freeze. The neighbors had some amazing spicy cocoa they shared. I always think of Halloween to Christmas as chocolate season. My mother passed her love of the stuff onto me, and around this time of year I always eat more than my fill of candy. Mint and chocolate is my favorite combination. Peanut butter is also a high tier pairing. There is a local place that makes homemade peanut butter cups, which are massive and to die for.

That’s all for this dispatch. I will continue to give my dog all the loving I can. Again, posts will likely slow down on here for a while. I hope you all keep coming back; every view is immensely appreciated. Comment below your favorite Halloween candy, or what game is on top of your holiday wish list!

Braxton wishes us all a happy holiday.

Retro Review: Assassin’s Creed Revelations (Ezio Collection Part 3/3)

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Revelations. Screenshot by me. Master Assassin Ezio Auditore explores Istanbul in the early 1500’s.

After completing Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, I was hungry for more stealth action in 2011’s follow-up: Assassin’s Creed Revelations. It is the final playable chapter in the Ezio Collection, which I bought on my Nintendo Switch shortly after the port was released in January. Since then, I have played all three chapters telling the story of master Assassin Ezio Auditore. Each has been wonderful, and in many ways an improvement over the predecessor. Revelations is no different. I had a fantastic time in my twenty hours with the game.

It is fascinating when, like me, you go through the Assassin’s Creed collection all at once. You see how framework was laid early on for big concepts that came into fruition later on. Like how the combat system has evolved. I also notice how true to itself the story has remained. I love jumping between modern day and ancient times, doing parkour across Istanbul rooftops, and assassinating my targets with skilled execution. But, all this would be quite dull if not for the skilled storytelling by Ubisoft in these games. Over the Ezio Collection, I have grown quite fond of Ezio, and I love to see him being more personal in this game.

Ezio is in Constantinople between the years of 1511-1514 recovering lost keys to a hidden library of Crusade era master Assassin, and Assassin’s Creed 1 protagonist, Altaïr Ibn-LaʼAhad. While doing this, you raise the local assassin brotherhood to greater heights. Making interesting friends along the way. Revelations has characters that quickly make an impact, and continue to amuse. Again, seeing Ezio open up was a really satisfying way to close his tale. I was immensely happy not only with how this game carried on the story, but brought closure, or at least light to a lot of shadowy palaces that had been built by the first few games in the series.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Revelations. Screenshot by me. Seeing Ezio grow late in life is inspiring.

The graphics and sound design are better than previous installments. Music swells the moment. The textures feel richer, while the world is more technically coherent. With rich color, and detail. Parkour is intuitive with some more precise moves that will have you looking to practice. The freerun platforming is fluid for the most part, especially if you are calculated about your button inputs and maneuvers. There are platforming sections that I thought were a highlight of the game. Every so often you do a mission that requires puzzle solving and smart traversal, it left an imprint because parkour has always been a fan favorite part of these games.

Combat is a delight. For a game that focuses on stealth, it really has a solid combat system. Different enemy types bring varying degrees of threat. The Janissaries are the baddest of the bad, but even they can be defeated in small numbers, with clever use of tools. And do you ever have tools! The weapons in your arsenal are all valid somehow. I felt in earlier games a lot of weapons and tools were underutilized, but here basically anything has respectable uses. Bombs spice things up, I found a loadout that worked for me, and did not experiment with them much, but many seem interesting that I never even used.

Stealth lovers will adore this game. Even when things go badly, it is often salvageable. This is one thing that makes this an exceptional quality stealth game in my opinion. I love taking my time and delicately slipping inside an enemy base to silently execute my target, but one little mistake shouldn’t rob me of the entire mission. Who is to say I didn’t want a little fight? With this fun combat, why not? Every mission has a optional objective that often involves not killing or being seen, and some missions do forbid you from doing these things explicitly. How you navigate a crowd, position yourself next to your target, traverse the rooftops and alleyways, all these things make stealth very enjoyable.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Revelations. Screenshot by me. Traversal is a treat.

I have already reviewed Assassin’s Creed 3 on this blog, which is the next title. Desmond’s story ends there, and what a journey he has been on. He spends this entire game in a coma. Hooked up to the Animus, reliving the memories of Ezio while being monitored by Assassin pals. Ezio took a horrible shock at the end of Brotherhood, and it is something he doesn’t simply surmount in this game. It is a pain that will carry with him to his end. Desmond is so tragic, yet inspiring. Being thrown into the secret war as he was, and taking it all like a champ. He never loses sight of the goal, which is the very preservation of mankind.

I am still playing Valhalla on my Xbox Series X, and after Revelations I will begin AC4: Black Flag. A game I played upon release, and is one of my absolute favorite gaming memories. So, I’m beyond stoked to get back into it. I already own Black Flag and Rogue on Xbox, otherwise I would buy the Rebel Collection on Switch to play them both there. The eternal battle between Assassins and Templars rages on, shifting the sands of society. Ancient artifacts from a pre-human civilization contain indescribable power, and much blood is spilled over them.

The Ezio Collection played very well on my Switch. You can find it for $40 typically, but if you are a patient hunter I am sure you can find a good deal. For at least twenty solid hours per each of the three games, it is really a fair deal at full price to be honest. It can be found on most platforms. I had a stellar time with AC: Revelations. Stealth action at its finest. The upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Mirage is supposed to be an experience much like Revelations, and I for one am totally here for it. A game like this with modern technology and refinements could be next level. Mirage coming next year.

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

Retro Review: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood (Ezio Collection Part 2/3)

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. Screenshot by me. Looking out onto the city of Rome in Renaissance Italy.

Most of the Assassin’s Creed I’ve been playing lately has been the modern installments on my Xbox, but I am still chipping away at the Ezio Collection on my Nintendo Switch. Brotherhood capitalizes on everything Assassin’s Creed 2 did right, and delivers a much more complete package overall. It paves the way for moves all the way down the series. I see now why so many people hold this game as a favorite. It is a quintessential stealth action experience, and so much more rewarding than I imagined.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood picks up exactly the moment where the previous game left off. Desmond Miles is exploring the memories of his Renaissance Italy ancestor Ezio Auditore. He is searching for ancient artifacts, and answers. AC2 ended with a brain melter of a twist, and the follow-up in the trilogy leaves only more questions. This is not entirely a bad thing. Developers at Ubisoft saw a definite future for the series, so I see the bricks of masterful world building here.

I read that most people beat this game in about fifteen to twenty hours. I played over twenty-five, because there is a ton of really fun side activities. You literally get paid to exist in this game, so why not spend as much time as possible doing side quests? These quests deliver everything you enjoy about the game. Stealth, platforming and action. No matter what activity you decide to do, it is worth it for the mere joy. You know, why we used to play games? Even after completing the main story, there is plenty of fun to be had yet.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. Screenshot by me. This game is easier on the eyes than its predecessor.

Neglect burdened my mind as this game sat, often without being played, on my Switch for months as I focused on Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey. I will officially be playing all the AC games for this blog at one point or another. I now own, or have reviewed every single one. I am stoked beyond belief to be on this journey. This is one of the biggest names in gaming, celebrating fifteen years since the original title. How far it has come since then, and there is still so much on the horizon, according to Ubisoft.

Recently announced were several new Assassin’s Creed titles. The next main title coming in 2023, titled “Assassin’s Creed Mirage.” Following young Basim, of AC Valhalla fame, in ancient Baghdad, it promises an experience much more like Brotherhood, and less like newer RPG style titles. 15-20 hour campaign with focus on stealth and parkour. Fans speak, Ubisoft listens. The only available criticism of recent AC games is that we miss the old games sometimes. Well, with Mirage I think we are going to get even more than we hoped. There will still be more AC titles in different styles including a modern RPG version set in feudal Japan flying under the name, “Codename Red.” Playing a ninja is something AC fans have been dreaming of for fifteen years.

Everything about AC Brotherhood is superior to AC2. The parkour is far more natural, and fluid, although still flawed. The combat is more exciting. The physical world is more coherent than that of AC2, mostly confining you to one sprawling city with countryside rather than several small ones you mostly never explore. The graphics are better, time of day having breathtaking impact on the appearance of the game, for example. The list goes on and on, Brotherhood is a magnificent game even if for no other reason than how much better it is of a sequel than the game that came before. And Assassin’s Creed 2 was no slouch! I am not dragging AC2, it is simply an objective fact that Brotherhood plays in a higher league.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. Screenshot by me. Assassins and Templars fight to control “Objects of Power.” Mystical, powerful artifacts.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is one of the best stealth games I have ever played. There have been better games that feature stealth, like AC Odyssey, but Brotherhood is a stealth game first, action game second. And there is no real role-playing game aspects. It is about sneaking across rooftops, silently isolating and neutralizing obstacles as you work toward your target, where you get in position then strike. The thrill of pulling your blade on a major target in this game is occasion to celebrate. The satisfaction of executing with grace made me hungry to keep playing with the next game in the Ezio Collection, “Revelations.”

You can see where Ubisoft made a lot of positive foundations with this game. The engaging side quests that offer rewards in both fun, and loot. The grandiosity of plot. Characters who are memorable regardless of whether they’re heroes or villains. I think if this is one of the developers inspirations for Mirage, we are in for the best stealth game in a very long time. I love Ezio Auditore, he is so noble yet incorrigible. He has insatiable flair, like a deadly flower twirling in the wind, torn from its roots. I cannot wait to see how his story turns out in the next game.

Based on the first two games in the Ezio Collection: AC2 and Brotherhood, this is a must play collection. I will give my final word when I beat Revelations, but at this point I am very pleased with what I have played so far. In the next game I just want more of what I got here, except with more answers and less questions. I know AC is an enigmatic series, but something has got to give. I think the title, “Revelations,” indicates I will get my wish. AC Brotherhood stands out as an exemplary stealth action title, and high marks as an Assassin’s Creed game as well. I am playing the Ezio Collection on Switch, but you can find it basically anywhere. Follow my blog for more gaming content, including lots more Assassin’s Creed reviews down the road.

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

Overdue Review: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Screenshot by me. As you walk slowly in a field, your character will hold their hand out to feel the plants. A small touch many may play this game, and never know.

Ubisoft’s golden child, Assassin’s Creed, takes another bold merge into a lane it created with the outstanding AC: Origins. 2018’s Odyssey follows the modern day Layla Hassan, now living the memories of a mercenary in ancient Greece. The game is more of an RPG than ever before, and perhaps better as well. An intriguing story, stunning visuals and magnificent gameplay. Everything about Odyssey comes together to make an astounding, top-shelf experience.

I played this game for over sixty hours, enjoying the entire journey. I thought Origins was long for an AC game at over forty hours, but Odyssey fleshes out the RPG elements of the game such as exploration, story based on choices and skill trees with lots of options. All I wanted at the end of Origins was more, which is exactly what I got here. Lots more. The impact of choices can have far-reaching outcomes, and you can make some powerful choices. There are multiple endings, and with my decisions I received the coveted, “best ending.”

The action in Odyssey is really what keeps me playing the game, above all else. The balance is so divine. I prefer fast, short range weapons such as the dagger or sword, but every weapon class is at least semi-worthy, even if as a secondary weapon for those situations that are tougher with your weapon of choice. The bow is extremely powerful when you put power into it, with results that can devastate your opponents. The unlockable Assassin abilities give you greater stealth edge than any hidden blade ever could. There are a lot of ways events can unfold just based on how you decide to play.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Game clip by me. Taking out a few guards before surprising my real target.

One thing I always play Assassin’s Creed for is their stories. I find the universe fascinating. The way it intertwines with real history is super cool to me. It makes everything feel more human, or more real. Even when the plot gets a bit ridiculous. But as a long time fan, the outlandish fantasy stuff is where these tales shine. I hate to ruin anything about this game because I had such a fantastic time uncovering it all. There are some wild boss battles that will truly test you; where victory is glorious. My last game session, between everything that happened at the end, left me shook.

Audio and visual design is stellar. The world map is massive, with giant chunks I have yet to explore. It is richly detailed, with beautiful graphical qualities. I love looking through shallow waters at the world below, the water so clear and blue. The way waves move in deeper waters, or come into shore in waves. Lighting is wonderful, I like the different moods set by different times of day, and weather. Voice acting delivers the game very effectively. I think all the major characters were well acted, and even a lot of the minor roles too.

Side quests are handled in a genius way. Often helping out areas yields much greater rewards than the promised loot. People end up trusting you with information. The detective work of uncovering cultists is something unlike I have ever seen in an Assassin’s Creed game. They weave it into the game with grace. It would be worthwhile to play the side missions enough for the gameplay, or even the story elements, but the way they can help you is masterful game making. It rarely feels like I’m being forced to do something I don’t want to just for experience points, loot, or what-have-you. I eagerly greet most quests.

Odyssey feels like a special game. I don’t know if it is something about it, or everything about it. The new direction the series is going is so exciting, as I am currently playing through the entire series again. (Just out of order.) I played Odyssey for nine hours one Saturday. That’s not including breaks. Nine hours just playing it in one day. I loved this game that much. In fact, I was mad I got tired at the end, and had to go to sleep. Somehow my Xbox didn’t overheat, my Series X did a perfect job running this game. After an update the game runs at 60 FPS.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Screenshot by me. How right you are, Kassandra.

Of the games in the series I have played so far, Odyssey may be objectively the best. I’ve noticed a lot of Assassin’s Creed fans have sentimental favorites, and I’m no different. I love Black Flag and Origins. But if you had to rank them all, Odyssey may come out on top. It is a very bold game, being all that it is, especially for an antiquated series like Assassin’s Creed. Ubisoft was clearly understanding that the series had to evolve to keep up with modern games. They didn’t just keep up, they outpaced most. I’ve played some sixty hour RPGs lately, all of them required heavy amounts of somewhat dull grinding. But not Odyssey.

If I decide to keep playing Odyssey, I’ll have a lot to do. There are still a lot of cultists to uncover, including their illusive leader. However, seeing as how I already own Valhalla, the next game in the series’ progression, I may also just move onto that next. I still am playing the Ezio Collection on my Switch, and I have two more slightly older Assassin’s Creed games downloaded and waiting on my Xbox, Unity and Syndicate. I don’t think I have an addiction, I can stop playing Assassin’s Creed whenever I want.

You don’t need to be an AC addict like me to love Odyssey. I would recommend this game to anyone, and everyone. Not all games I review have me this geeked to talk about them. Sometimes words come easier than others. I can think of words for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey as long as I have positive ones. Gorgeous, gigantic open world, good story and excellent gameplay. I can’t wait to see what else is in store with the series continuation. There have been storms of rumors regarding the series lately, but I will wait to hear directly from Ubisoft before I make any judgements. For now, just love Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.

New Game Review: Two Point Campus

Credit: Two Point Campus. Screenshot by me. A look at my knight school. One of the many wonderful environments.

Fans of “tycoon” style games will love this new college campus simulator from Two Point Studios. Two Point Campus launched last Tuesday, and I’ve played it more than twenty-four hours in the week since. I am so absolutely hooked on this game. It has brilliant game design, that delivers on micro and macro-management strategy. The different curriculum you can teach at your schools offer unique challenges and immensely immersive experiences. I have a feeling the best is yet to come, but I feel prepared to offer my opinion on the game at this point. I also want to get this review out to people who may be thinking about picking it up.

I would say pull the trigger on Two Point Campus. If you like management simulators, this is a big win. Whether you are the academic type or not is irrelevant, with courses like espionage, clown college, or knight school. There is a lot of course variety, and all the different individual game worlds’ sandboxes are available reasonably early. So far, I have focused on the career mode, not the sandboxes. Sandboxes have unique options such as “Creative” mode, wherein you start with more resources than you could ever use, so you can focus on creating your fantasy campus, for example.

The time I have played has been a nearly constant learning experience. New elements are always being strategically introduced. Keeping things fresh, without overloading you with information. I felt a little intimidated early on, as I tried to micromanage every student. I quickly learned that if you want to manage certain students, you should mark them so you see them much more easily among the mess of bodies, buildings and furniture. Especially useful when say, you run a culinary school and all the students wear the same chef’s outfit.

Credit: Two Point Campus. Screenshot by me. DJ Sue Chef putting on a well-earned concert for the culinary students.

Even when I knew I couldn’t manage every little detail of what happened on campus, I enjoyed using the slowest of the three time speed options, without including paused. This way, I could be a lot more involved. Patience is powerful. Generosity is godlike. If you always put the humans on campus ahead of selfish desires, you’ll succeed. You may want to offer meager accommodations to save money, but small benefits like a nice staff lounge, well decorated areas or splurging on a killer concert in the student union can pay off bigger than any amount of minimization. In later levels managing money tightly is a necessity, but you should still always try to find a way to put people before profit.

In focusing on people, you’ll sort through job applications for the perfect person, not just a suitable candidate. You’ll know what new skills to train your staff based on the strengths and weaknesses of them, and your campus. Being attentive to student needs will prepare you to meet objective goals. Parties directly enhance student ability and happiness in impactful ways. Truly the most collegiate thing about this game is the fact parties are like a superpower. You can schedule events to occur at the same time every year, which saves you from spending a ton of time booking individual parties year round.

People who are into collegiate living will have tons to love in Two Point Campus. The collision of personalities, dorms packed with beds, ramen and coffee for fuel. There are so many thoughtful touches. Not only is the content interesting, it is also practical in design. I’m playing the game on Xbox Series X, and I was flying across the controller interacting with the game by the end of the first world. PC would probably be even easier. The ability to build structures and furnish them is a total blast. I relish walking the tightrope of planning out the future of my campus layout, while adapting to needs along the way. In the end the result can be something better than I had originally planned.

Credit: Two Point Campus. Screenshot by me. Never forget, you are running a college, which is a place of learning.

The visuals of the game serve their purpose well. It is a very simple, low frills graphical design. It certainly has charm, though. It relays information well, and ultimately that is what you want in a game such as Two Point Campus; elegant simplicity. You slowly figure out what all the icons mean that can appear above somebody’s head. Everything is easy to understand. As someone that struggles with games sometimes being too much to handle, it is refreshing to enjoy a game so much in the genre. The audio design is fantastic. Satisfying blips as you build or complete assignments, and a modest, yet quite solid soundtrack. I often play this game with a record on in the background, however. It is a perfect game for such matters.

The challenge in listening to vinyl while playing Two Point Campus is how often I sit and play the game for an hour in silence after the current side of the record has finished. The game is just so engaging and immersive. I take great pride in my universities. The feeling of getting three stars on a campus is remarkable. Like looking at your grades at the end of a hard course and seeing a high grade in actual college. There are more than enough various campus worlds to keep you playing this game for countless incredible hours, even before you explore the possibilities of sandbox mode. The world each campus exists within is always so adorable, and makes you wish you could actually visit.

Two Point Campus is available on basically any console you can imagine. I see it going for $40 most places, and while I believe it is worth that much, easily, I am very grateful that it was also launched on Xbox Game Pass. Also on this service is the game that preceded this one: Two Point Hospital. This is a game I would highly recommend to any gamer. It is so approachable, lighthearted, humorous and lovable, I think you’d have to already be sour not to enjoy it. I will be playing for dozens more hours, I am eager to see what challenges and rewards each campus offers.

Credit: Two Point Campus. Screenshots by me.

Overdue Review: Bravely Default 2

Credit: Bravely Default 2. Screenshot by me. A simple, yet elegant battle system is the focus of this game.

Square Enix graces us with another wonderful turn-based JRPG on the Nintendo Switch with Bravely Default 2. Releasing in 2021, it is a follow-up to a seemingly forgotten series that started in 2014 on the Nintendo 3DS. I bought a European copy of this game on sale for $45, normally $60. I played nearly 60 hours, but I don’t know if I would flip out the wallet and pay full price just yet. BD2 was a little stale in some regards. Visually, or story-wise nothing incredibly impressive, while it does have its own adorable style. What really shined was the gameplay, out of everything.

And if you like a strong turn-based battle system, you may really enjoy grinding endless hordes of enemies per sitting as you level up in yet another dungeon. There is so much grinding in this game, and I did a lot to minimize what I actually did. I learned to work with early jobs I found for my characters, and didn’t spend much time grinding a lot else. Each of the four characters can have any combination of two of the couple dozen jobs you find throughout the game. These jobs greatly influence combat, some of them in really fun or interesting ways.

The visual style of the game is cute, serves its function well and has certain cools notes, like tracks left in snow, but overall graphics are a bit boring. It feels a bit like I remember the grinding more than the bosses. Just defeating hordes of enemies to be strong enough for the next lame boss. Not to say the battles aren’t fun, they’re quite fun, just not enemies whose character shines. My favorite part of this game’s settings is the city designs. Cities are interactive watercolor paintings you move around, and they look different than the interconnecting lands or dungeons.

Credit: Bravely Default 2. Screenshot by me. Each city boasts a different setting, and I found them all visually appealing.

Bravely Default 2 is a pretty basic RPG tale. Four “Heroes of Light” join forces to reclaim four powerful elemental crystals. Every major city you visit in the world ends up hiding one of the crystals, as you work to uncover the hidden evil in each city in order to track down the crystals’ location. The four heroes each have somewhat shallow backstories. None of them are notable, although they have their charms. I thought the Fire Crystal chapter was impactful by the darkness of the story. This is such a delightful, light spirited game most the time, but there’s a few moments that are pretty brutal emotionally.

I really enjoyed the ability to play this game anytime, anywhere. I spend a lot of time just relaxing on the couch with friends, each of us on our own Switch, or device. I can enjoy conversation as I remain lightly engaged grinding away a dungeon on the game. The turn-based style doesn’t ask too much of your attention, and I appreciate games that allow you to breathe. If you want to make it through the grind quicker, you can boost the speed of the battle by up to four times at the press of a button. This was an essential feature. I only took it down to normal speed when it was time for a boss.

I never once needed a guide for this game. Everything is well laid out. As somebody who is still new to JRPGs, I appreciate a game that is so approachable. This would be a fine game to learn about the genre. I took away a couple pointers, such as not underestimating the power of mixing up jobs in games that have a similar system. There was no crazy puzzles I had to solve. The real challenge in BD2 is knowing your party. Their strengths, and their weaknesses. Then being able to play to those, or adapt with new jobs.

Credit: Bravely Default 2. Screenshot by me. Story plays out in a perhaps overly simple fashion.

As I said, I played BD2 about sixty hours. I will not be revisiting it. I have so many other amazing JRPGs lined up, or that I’ve already started. This game did not stand out enough to warrant a second trip. I’m really glad I played it once, but I’m also happy I didn’t pay full price. I think I would be a little more salty about how basic this game was if I had paid $60. There’s no way to know for sure exactly how much of that 60 hours was spent half bored in some random dungeon. The game largely failed to really grab a hold on me, but the gameplay kept me coming back all the way through.

Among various other options, each character has two abilities in combat: Brave, or Default. If they Default, they block until their next turn, and gain an extra move on their next turn. This stacks up to three. You can then, if you have the reserve turns built up, use multiple at a time by choosing “Brave.” This is a fun tightrope to walk as you work over enemies’ weaknesses. It seemed like a lot of jobs were tacked on, but late game shows that some of these jobs are indeed rather powerful. I have characters who would almost never perform certain actions, like say attacking, yet everything they can do has merit. I’m sure there is a myriad of ways to build your team that I cannot imagine.

If you have a Nintendo Switch, and are looking for a fun, approachable JRPG, I would recommend Bravely Default 2. Just don’t set your expectations too high. Remember what you’re there for, which is the gameplay, and I’m sure you will feel the same way. Absolutely worth playing, yet not worth fussing about either. Try to find a copy on sale somewhere, if you can. The unique, yet simple twist on turn-based battle system is one I hope Square Enix works with more in the future.

Credit: Bravely Default 2. Screenshots by me.

Overdue Review: Assassin’s Creed Origins

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Origins. Screenshot by me. This game shines as one of the best in the series.

Assassin’s Creed developers Ubisoft bring welcome alterations to a series turning stale. The tenth main AC game, Origins takes a classic, proven formula and gives it some new wings to truly fly. Initially releasing in 2017, I played it shortly after. I only played a little bit, however, as I struggled with the combat at the time. Now that Origins is available on Xbox Game Pass, I decided to give it another shot based on the popularity of the new style. I am so glad I gave it another go. For some reason things just clicked, and I had an unforgettable experience.

The first noticeable difference between this and older installments is the combat. The combat is more involved, and once you get the hang of things much more enjoyable. The simple Rock, Paper, Scissors recipe is exchanged for more dynamic combat with some of the same frills. The bow is extremely powerful, and the many melee weapon types let you build how you wish to play. There is a moderate amount of hot-swapping in menus, but relatively minimal. It doesn’t impact the pace of gameplay. The stealth aspects are still my favorite part of Assassin’s Creed, as ever. The feeling of sneaking up on your prey, or even clearing an outpost without anybody ever having a clue.

There’s an overwhelming amount to love about Origins. I relish ancient Egyptian mythology. Some time ago, I read the Book of the Dead, and found it beautiful. Speaking of beauty, the desert landscapes in this game are divine. Whether trekking across the dunes, exploring an oasis or a city, the eye has much to gaze upon. The graphics are incredible. The environments are master crafted. Not least to love are the story and gameplay, which are typical Assassin’s Creed taken in enticing new directions.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Origins. Game clip by me. Sorry for low quality video, I’m having trouble downloading the 4K ones. This is very early gameplay.

I have spent about forty hours with Origins. It was almost an addiction. At some point I would like to go back and play more, whether I continue my current game, or start the optional “New Game Plus.” After completing the main story, there is still so much side activity I haven’t done that interests me. There is optional DLC, but I think most likely I will move onto the next two newest AC games. Both of which I have purchased during my time with Origins. Such is my adoration for this game. AC: Odyssey and Valhalla I found on sale wherever I could, and managed to get both for about $45 altogether. Not bad at all, if you ask me. Origins alone is worth that amount.

The storytelling in Origins is some of Ubisoft’s best. The setting feels authentic. Characters are engaging, and full of emotion. The use, and intersection, of real history and AC lore creates suspense, drama and excitement. I often moved with a sense of purpose. As Abstergo employee Layla Hassan lives the memories of Bayek, an ancient Egyptian protector with a murdered child, Layla uncovers the truth behind the beginning of the Assassin order. As a long time fan, it is a thoughtful, and worthy genesis.

Side quests are rewarding. They are fun, feel like you’re helping the world, often have entertaining enough stories, and gaining the experience points is helpful in the RPG-like style of Origins. Ubisoft has dabbled with skill trees and such in the past with AC, but it is refined here. Most of the skills are effective in some degree. More powerful skills cost more Ability Points, earned with XP, and are further up the three main skill trees. By the end of the game I felt so much more powerful than when I started, and there are some segments that cleverly handicap you. Upgrading your gear is a simple, but treasured crafting system.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed Origins. Screenshot by me. In the modern day, Layal Hassan lives out ancient memories in a machine called the “Animus.”

Origins features a taste of the naval combat that made AC: Black Flag so popular. These few missions were highly entertaining. It is very similar to the old style, and that is what I want. I could never get enough of the ship-to-ship battles in that game, so I’m happy to see them back in some scope. If you really want more of these sequences, Ubisoft is making an entire game based on this naval combat system called Skull & Bones, although no release date yet. While these sections seem a little stapled on, I doubt I will hear many complaints.

Playing on my Xbox Series X was wonderful. Fantastic performance, visuals and controls. The Quick Resume feature worked better than a lot of games that claim to utilize the feature, but struggle. Only two or three bugs or glitches showed themselves the entire time. The experience was fluid. You can commit for a side mission here and there, or strap in for a five hour session. I would suggest this game on whatever platform you are able.

I have installed Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and Valhalla rests patiently on my shelf. If I like them half as much as I liked Origins, I am in for a treat. Just yesterday I posted an Assassin’s Creed 2 review from the Ezio Collection on Nintendo Switch. So I am actually playing AC simultaneously on two consoles right now. As I move onto Odyssey on the Xbox, I’ll be starting Brotherhood on the Switch. More AC content to come, perhaps even every game at some point or another. I have already done AC:3, also I own others and would love to play through them someday.

This is a perhaps grandiose claim, but I think Assassin’s Creed Origins may be my new favorite AC. Before, it has always been AC4: Black Flag. Origins, simply put, is the perfect game. Weaknesses fall short of being worth mentioning. It may be this reviewer’s preferences for Egyptian mythos and landscapes, coupled with epic Assassin lore, but I couldn’t put this game down. The joy Origins brought me impacted my life beyond the time spent in front of the TV. I will surely look back on this as one of the legendary classics.

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