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.

Retro Review: Assassin’s Creed 2 (Ezio Collection Part 1/3)

Credit: Assassin’s Creed 2. Screenshot by me. Sneaking up the fortifications into a heavily guarded compound.

The three Assassin’s Creed games featuring protagonist Ezio Auditore, AC:2, Brotherhood and Revelations, were released in a remastered bundle in 2016. This collection was ported to Nintendo Switch last February; I picked it up shortly after. Three classic games for $40, and I got it on sale even lower than that. With my fantastic experience playing other AC games, how can I turn down an offer such as this one? The first game in the Ezio Collection, Assassin’s Creed 2, shows a series getting legs beneath it and showing magnificent potential. Developers Ubisoft have given this series the royal treatment throughout its legacy.

Assassin’s Creed 2 follows two stories. One, Desmond Miles. Desmond was kidnapped and forced to live the memories of an ancestor, using a high-tech device in search of magic artifacts. After escaping, he uses another “animus” to go deeper into the memories of his ancestors and beat the evil forces to the punch. The memories he goes into next are those of Ezio Auditore, a Renaissance era Italian in a struggle between orders of Assassins and Templars. Both stories are interesting. The whole lore of these games is so fascinating, the parts influenced by real history and the made up bits.

AC2 is a game with a lot of grand ideas. Some pay out better than others. The story feels like that of a much longer game, in which we get to explore the people a little more intimately. I played over thirty hours, and there is a lot of side activities left to do. The parkour is more like fun platforming than fluid movement. You should always be thinking steps ahead when traversing. One wrong leap can be really unfortunate. This is fine, my bigger concern is the combat. Getting into fights is to be avoided, but far from torturous. Indeed, this is an earlier version of what ended up working great in later games. It is weirdly difficult to retrieve a weapon if you for some reason lose it.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed 2. Screenshot by me. One of the many interesting settings in AC2.

The Nintendo Switch was a wonderful way to play, whether docked or on-the-go. Although, I would recommend this game on whatever platform you prefer. I have yet to play Brotherhood and Revelations, so I can’t speak for the whole collection yet. The Ezio Collection also comes with two short films, Lineage and Embers, which bookend the three games. The remaster is a light one. It looks and runs nice, but the graphics do feel a bit dated as I play AC: Origins on my Xbox Series X. For a game from 2009, I feel like you could do a lot worse. The production value is there. Running around Venice at night during carnival season does prove to be quite a charming setting.

Pulling off a cool stealth section in this game is immensely satisfying. Whether weaving between dancing partners until you reach your target, leaping on a preacher in the middle of a sermon from high above, or however you end up taking out your target. The final kill is worth the buildup. From staging missions, to the meta of the assassination in question. There is always a scene of Ezio sharing the last moments of his target, and this has been a signature of the series. The last mission had me using every last one of my resources, besides the massive stack of cash I had acquired doing side content.

The sound design is on point. Music is sparse, but it is suiting. The environments feel alive. While I did say movement is not super fluid, there is a degree of skill that makes parkour much more enjoyable, and practical. You learn just the way to approach certain obstacles, you know when to exercise caution and slow down a little as you work a certain line, correct button use becomes more natural, these are the kinds of things you learn. You figure out how to engage certain enemies, or utilize certain weapons. Sometimes I felt like I had to cheese my way through, but the game is good at stopping that behavior.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed 2. Screenshot by me. Desmond is no longer alone in the sequel to the hit first game.

After beating AC2, I am excited for Brotherhood. I will start it almost immediately, I honestly doubt I will revisit AC2 anytime soon. Like I said, I am also playing AC: Origins on my Xbox, for one thing. Also, I would rather just move onto the next game than do the only other interesting thing left in AC2, which is collect the Animus Glitches. Fun little puzzles that are hidden in the world that if you find them all, you get some unique lore. The codex is also worth a read, if you skip it often when articles are introduced. Tons of information about landmarks, featuring some real sites and information.

Assassin’s Creed 2 set an amazing stage for the future of the series. With the success of the first game, Ubisoft knew they had something legendary on their hands. It’s clear they didn’t want to let down fans’ anticipations or expectations. The game was a blast, once I got the hang of combat and parkour. If you struggle early, I encourage you to persist. Thirty-some hours well spent. Lore, gameplay and setting are the big three things that I enjoy about it. Hanging out with Leonardo da Vinci and helping each other is neat.

Soon, I will finish Origins on my Xbox, moving onto Odyssey. I’m stoked for my Origins review, as I am finding it extraordinary. It is something to see how this series has evolved by playing games from the earliest, and most modern eras at the same time. They’ve just gotten better for the most part, in my opinion. I am thinking strongly about reviewing the entire series here, as I have started with the Assassin’s Creed 3 Remastered review in my Archives. For the price, the Ezio Collection seems to be an unavoidable deal. Brotherhood, then Revelations, coming soon.

Credit: Assassin’s Creed 2. Screenshots by me.

Overdue Review: Cyberpunk 2077

Credit: Cyberpunk 2077. Screenshot by me. Toying with the photo editor while talking to the character played by Keanu Reeves.

I have so many words for Cyberpunk 2077. I will keep it to the usual amount here, but I could go on endlessly about this game. Initially launching in December 2020 to what I’ll politely call negative press regarding the unfinished state of the product, the game so addled by bugs it was unplayable. I found it for $30 at the local game store about a year later, knowing two things: first, when the Xbox Series X edition would be released I would get a free upgrade, and second, getting a Series X was matter of time until I hunted one down. This game worked better on advanced consoles from the start, and a lot of work has been done on it since launch.

Well, about a week after my birthday, I finally got my brand new Xbox Series X home. I’ve been an Xbox gamer since year one, and I am immensely happy with my choice to save Cyberpunk for this special occasion. A marvelous game that deserved so much more than to be rushed out in time for the holidays. It has received a lot of attention since release, and there is a long road ahead for the game yet, according to Polish developers CD Projekt. The company is famous for their treatment of the Witcher series. Cyberpunk 2077 is a first-person shooter/role-playing game blended in a package grand in scope, and ambition.

Cyberpunk 2077 is an unbelievably fascinating universe. People hacking their bodies with all kinds of technology; raising all kinds of questions about the sanctity of life, and the body. Rotten corporations control the world. People over-modified develop cyber-psychosis. And you, V, are just trying to make a name for yourself in a city of sharks. I absolutely will not ruin any plot points of this game for you, because I did a good job staying away from it myself so I could experience it fresh. A cinema quality experience in a setting you can totally geek out on.

My first session I played for eight riveting hours. The only thing that stopped me was the need for sleep. I played on Normal difficulty out of the four available, and it was fairly balanced. I would like to try a higher difficulty on another playthrough to see how it is different, and if it is more enjoyable. With the deep character creator, including choosing a background, as well as a vast array of endings and side activities, there is plenty to keep you coming back after the credits roll. The shooting is fun while challenging, and the RPG mechanics offer a wide variety of playing styles delivered in a fairly approachable manner.

Credit: Cyberpunk 2077. Screenshot by me. Love the settings in this game, including this bar.

This game looks stunning in 4k. Whether playing with ray-tracing effects on, or in graphical performance mode, Cyberpunk is awe-inspiring, rich with detail and vibrant color. The neon soaked sprawl of Night City, all the way out to the desert. I even took a picture of a pile of trash at one point that I thought looked neat. The artistic direction of everything from the fashion to the cars, to the environments, it all is so on point and immersive. Night City is a large open world, with tons of interesting pockets and treasures.

The soundtrack adds another valuable card to the deck. A library of fantastic original music on in-game radios and an original score, which all sets the tone brilliantly. Dialogue is a very important part of gameplay, and the voice actors stepped up to bat. Most notably, Keanu Reeves has a major role in the game. I’m happy to say it isn’t a phoned-in performance. Reeves being an excellent choice for the character, it is nice he clearly took the role seriously. The emotion in these actors voices is palpable. Audio design all around extremely solid.

Apart from multiple ways to beat the game, there are different ways to play each mission. The best option is usually to assess the situation while considering your character build. There a handful of gun types, which have subgroups of their own, and all kinds of individual models each with unique stats. You can equip mods and accessories to gun depending on their available slots. Melee combat is also a useful element, with its own techniques and subtleties. I often attempted the stealth route, but also built myself for combat should anything ever not go as planned.

Credit: Cyberpunk 2077. Game clip by me. Fighting a boss. Picked off a minion to get a heavy weapon and unloading. A blistering assault after being on me heels the whole fight.

I must say, I ran into my share of glitches along the way. Small things like my car spawning in an irretrievable place, to some more annoying problems. These technical issues hindered my enjoyment, the only reason I’m mentioning them again. Still, nothing happened that ever made me want to stop playing the game. Just some quirky issues. The positive outweighs the negative here so much, I almost feel guilty bringing it up. There are one or two other flawed aspects, such as the way cars behave.

Available words are becoming scarce to describe Cyberpunk, so here is one word: rare. Games like this don’t come along often, to me. So much thought, effort and passion went into this experience. The result is magnificent. It is a complete mind trip into outer space, full of guts and glory. Get ready to explore ideas beyond your imagination. The storytelling is master work. Even if an individual dialogue choice doesn’t throw a hurricane of chaos theory into the whole scheme of things, and turns out to be relatively inconsequential, it still enhances role play with thoughtful choices.

I’m sure to go back and keep playing after this review. There are story arcs I want to close, and alternative endings I want to see. I may start over fresh on a harder difficulty. So far, I have played over 25 hours. For $30, I could do a lot worse. Especially with the quality of experience, and shooters are never as long as some other RPGs. Find Cyberpunk 2077 on Xbox, PlayStation and PC. If you look, you should be able to find a modest price. This game was hyped beyond belief during development, I can finally see for myself what all the excitement is about.

Credit: Cyberpunk 2077. Screenshots by me.

Playing Civilization 6 On My Switch in a Late Night Diner

Credit: Civilization 6. Screenshot by me. Writing, is there anything it can’t do?

Once, while living in Los Angeles, the elderly woman in front of me at a donut shop was having trouble finding her payment. As it was a small purchase, I offered to pay for both of us. She was overjoyed, informing me that it was a Romani holiday, and this minor kindness couldn’t have come at a more meaningful time for her. She asked if she could give me a blessing, and while I’m not really one for such things, I indulged her. Whenever somebody gets on the topic of religious experiences I remember those apple fritters.

The late night diner is really a cornerstone of modern civilization. Lately I have been going to a local joint to get donuts after pulling all-nighters. Whether working on an article, or partying hard, nothing hits at six in the morning like watching the sun come up from a place of total solace. The donuts are to die for. In all the storms of my life there has always been an eye in the storm somewhere inside a donut shop or diner. This background backdrop exists in my universe much the same way the game Civilization does.

I have been playing Civilization for a long time, and I have played many iterations. The brilliant strategy has always entertained me. I love watching my empire grow from a single humble village to an advanced civilization. The way the buildings transition in design through different eras, the progression in sophistication of the game and meta, also the dynamics of my relationships with other empires. They rise and fall, sometimes they totally surprise you. It is necessary to maintain the friends you have, and not take anything for granted.

Specifically, I have played Civilization 6 on the Switch over 50 hours, and have yet to walk away with a win. Do not think this means I am at all disappointed. These have never been games you can just knock out of the park your first attempt, especially since I am not the best at strategy games. I have had enormous amounts of fun playing. It has been really close, and like I said other empires have really shocked me at times with moves they’ve made.

Credit: Civilization 6. Screenshot by me. A peek at my Roman attempt at a cultural victory.

Much of my playtime has been spent enjoying this game while hanging with friends. It is so casual that it is easy to maintain a conversation, or pay attention to other things while occasionally glancing at the game for a minute or two, here and there. Even said time is a very loose engagement, except for occasional thoughts of deep strategy. My friends have seen my struggles with Civilization the game and civilization the societal structure. I am still trying to find a good job and always working at integrating into society better.

My strategy in Civilization is much like life. I live by the philosophy that if I don’t start a fight, there won’t be a fight. Of course, the game is a competition I fortify all my cities, and don’t completely overlook muscle. But my goals are related to some victory over military. Combat in Civilization is not all that glamorous, so I find greater satisfaction winning by say science, or culture. Capturing an enemy capital takes strategy, indeed, but developing the ability to live in space is tantamount to mankind. Culture allows you to spread your empire without violence.

As I sat in that diner, the only thing I could think about besides my breakfast was my next move. What order should I assemble the space station in Civilization for my science victory? Are medieval walls sufficient in a modern age? Do I really need to broadcast my mental illness to the world? All questions I can’t immediately answer, but I can make informed decisions. I’m still experimenting, so it matters less which order I build the space station. Medieval walls are definitely insufficient. And I don’t have to broadcast my disability, but I do because I believe in honesty as a journalist and human being.

Credit: Civilization 6. Screenshot by me. Neat!

Every campaign I play of Civilization 6, I learn so much. There is still loads I have to understand yet. The turn-based board game structure has had consistencies over the many installments of the series, but the overall idea has remained the same. Except specific campaign scenarios, you start as a caveman with one warrior and one settler in the Stone Age, and build toward the future. There are numerous ways to win, such as science, culture, faith or military victories. My games have taken almost ten hours each. You can save anytime, and play with friends, something I have always wanted to do. I even bought a copy of the physical table-top Civilization “New Dawn” board game with the hope of finding friends with whom to learn it.

I will always be a night owl. I love going out with friends, or staying up all night alone. Either way I may play Civilization 6. I’m sure those close to me can attest to hearing me curse out Frederick Barbarossa, or the like while they’re trying to talk to me. The late night diner, or even early morning donut shop will forever be a pillar of my life. It is where all my grandest strategy goes down. From there, I see my friends in life when I am hanging out are like my allies in Civilization. We are just trying to get a win in a competitive world while constantly checking in with one another to keep ourselves strong.

Part of what inspired this article is that I am thinking of trying to improve my skill at strategy games. I would like to pick some others to try, but not sure where to go from Civilization, from which I still have so much to learn. Comment your favorites and I will check them out, especially if they are on Nintendo Switch. I was a newbie on JRPGs until Octopath Traveler, and I have come a long way since then, so I’m thinking about trying my hand at other foreign territory. I’ve also been thinking about trying the fried cinnamon roll versus the baked.

Photo by me. A chocolate creme-filled donut, high tier chocolate milk and classic donut shop coffee. Breakfast of champions.

Overdue Review: Dragon Quest 11 S: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition

Credit: Dragon Quest 11. Screenshot by me. Intro cinematic showing the party and Yggdrasil, the World Tree.

The Japanese role playing game is a fairly new concept to me. It isn’t a genre I have ever given much attention to until playing Octopath Traveler, now one of my favorite games. Dragon Quest 11 was an excellent next step. With a vibrant world, fun characters, cool enemy design and more to bring to the table, I can see why this game generally rates highly. The Definitive Edition brings heaps more onto an already strong deck. Released by Square Enix initially in 2017, the Definitive Edition, which I strongly recommend, rolled out 2019-2020.

Dragon Quest 11 follows the adventures of the protagonist hero, the heralded “Luminary” of legend. Meant to extinguish a supreme, malicious force of darkness, the Luminary’s path isn’t laid out like you might think. In the beginning the whole world seems against them. As you slowly build your strength and renown, more people come to the light. Including your merry band of fighters. At times the quest seems insurmountable, but with a lot of grinding and a little good luck, they might save the day.

The mechanics of DQ11 are classic turn-based RPG. Nothing too spicy here, but they do wonderful things with the recipe they use. There is the option to move about the combat space, but this does nothing other than keep you more engaged should you feel the need. I personally went with a classic line-up for most of the game. I want to focus on the best play, above all else. You’ll grind for experience and loot, something I actually enjoyed in this game. The music, while good, can be a little repetitive, so I found many of my sessions played with an album in the background.

Credit: Dragon Quest 11. Screenshot by me. Glimpse of battle mode. Wherever your encounter happens in the game world is where the battle takes place, which is neat.

I played over 60 hours just on the main story. In the Definitive Edition, there is additional in-game content such as story missions, classic Dragon Quest levels, and even the ability to play the entire game in classic 2D style. There is also extra endgame content, including new chapters that I will get to soon. In my time the story certainly had its moments, some bits that really surprised or connected with me, but overall not super impressive. Somewhat generic light versus dark, good versus evil. There is a refreshing fantastical, whimsical element to the tale that made it a nice escape.

The story does a solid job keeping the game going, which is ultimately what I wanted. The turn based battle system is so smooth, with tons of room to experiment and customize. Each character has a unique background and skill tree. I found myself eager to learn about them, and build them into the best soldier for my party. Healing proved to be a very powerful force on any team. There is no weird gimmick to the combat, and as a newcomer to the genre I appreciate that, as I think would many players. This is a very approachable RPG.

I do not remember ever needing a guide for this game. The one time I looked was to make sure I was a high enough level for the end boss, which according to sources I was more than enough. I still had a phenomenal time with the ending. Intense fight, got a little bit of good luck along the way, but that doesn’t diminish the fact I fought expertly. The satisfaction of taking down a tough boss in this game can really move you when you’ve been leveling forever to beat them. I greatly appreciate a game that doesn’t take a lot of outside knowledge to enjoy. I don’t terribly mind using guides occasionally, but the best is not needing one.

The visual style feels familiar, ultra cute and is quite appealing. In part to the distinct artistic styling of Dragon Ball’s Akira Toriyama. A mash-up of cultural influences make up the fantasy world Erdrea. From Arab style architecture, to Japanese archways, or clearly distinct European atmosphere. At the core of the story is a Norse myth, Yggdrasil, the world tree. The reverence for this tree helps unite a world with a lot of different people in it. The soundtrack is very well done, if lacking a bit of variety. I’m not saying the soundtrack is bad, just sparse.

Credit: Dragon Quest 11. Screenshot by me. Using the in game photo mode is cool, if lacking features.

I haven’t felt a lot of resonance within Dragon Quest 11, more anything just enjoying the fun times, and letting it remind me to see the world as a place of light. Sylvando reminds me it is worth fighting for smiles. Merely existing is not enough, and he will follow the Luminary to the end of all things to restore them to the world. Every character has parts that I like, for example the thief, Erik, is also incredibly noble. The old man, Rab, is so persistent. Quitting is not something he will ever consider. Not when he lost his kingdom, his kin or anything.

In the grand scheme of things, there are a few things that really impress me about Dragon Quest 11 S. First, how much more content there is in the Definitive Edition. Worth every penny. Second, how much I liked this game despite, even in thanks to, its simplicity. They pull off a lot with a rather simple formula. Third, it got me into a classic series I had no idea existed, until I saw this game on Twitch at launch. It intrigued me then, and I’m so glad I played it now.

Hope is an overarching theme in DQ11, and I have hope for the next installment, which is currently in development. No release date yet, as production is still early. I believe I will be playing the endgame content of DQ11S, and perhaps try some of the game in 2D. Both sound interesting. I have a few other JRPGs on deck to dive into, and I am looking forward to those as well. I recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of the genre, or just looking to start out. I’m a newcomer and had a fantastic experience playing Dragon Quest 11 S.

Credit: Dragon Quest 11. Screenshots by me.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered Defends Good Memories

Credit: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered. Screenshot by me. No matter the winds of time, I keep coming around to the things that bring joy.

The problems of today are far reaching. There isn’t anybody who isn’t being impacted by the goings-on of the day. War, pandemic, rising prices everywhere, it seems endless at times in scope and atrociousness. In 2004’s Marvel Punisher movie, at one point Frank Castle’s neighbor tells him, “Good memories can save your life.” She is trying to tell the horrifically traumatized Punisher to focus on the positive memories he has of his family, and his ability to make new happiness. Suggesting it could mean a very different life and outcome for him.

I played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater when it first came out in 1999 on the PlayStation, from developer Neversoft. Pure happiness, in an innovative new game with culture Midwestern kids like us had no idea existed. Ever since, I have played nearly every release. So, when Activision developers Vicarious Visions combined THPS 1+2 remasters in one game, I was very excited. Initially launching in 2020, I picked it up shortly after it was ported to the Nintendo Switch in 2021. Such sweet nostalgia. No humble touch-up, this remaster is a love note to everybody that played those games.

A game so simple led me into so many things. It has been a constant source of joy and catharsis even in moments where I felt blinded by my emotions, it has radically altered my musical and fashion tastes, and not least of all it introduced me to this wild thing called skateboarding. I haven’t skated much since developing heel issues, but in my youth it was a helpful way to vent, socialize and just have some fun. My favorite thing to do was always bomb hills, partially because I was never any good at tricks. The adrenaline rush was so powerful, thinking about it now I can almost hear the wheels and bearings roaring on the concrete beneath me. I can feel the dynamics of the board change as my speed increases.

Credit: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered. Screenshot by me. These remasters are everything you could want as a fan.

The game has glimpses of intensity as well, when you’re deep into a high combo, or just about to complete a difficult objective with seconds remaining. Although, the moments that always keep me turning this game back on, long after completing the objectives, are the times where I am just idly free skating around the levels. Going for combos that satisfy me in style or point value, improvising on terrain, even simply enjoying traversing the rich arenas. Negativity fades away as I interact with these games.

The fact that I do not skate like I used to shouldn’t diminish the memories I have from when I did actively. It can be hard not to let new realities tarnish the past. Two of the best weeks I ever had in my life were spent with friends on a New Year’s trip to San Francisco. Many years later, one of those friends committed suicide. I never knew there was such sadness inside him, and it made me doubt every laugh we shared. Eventually, I had to accept that it was alright to remember those smiles fondly. If you analyze anything deeply enough, you’re bound to find blemishes. Sometimes you just need to let things be of their subjective resonance.

What it meant to you matters, because you matter. It is the principle that drives us to have tastes in art or anything. When you are in a restaurant, you order from the menu. You are far less likely to be as satisfied letting someone else order for you. So why would you let someone or something else desecrate your memories? If something has become a pillar of self-care, like the Tony Hawk games for me, I shouldn’t just stop playing them because of what is ultimately an irrelevant negative connotation. I played Tony Hawk games I didn’t like as much as others, I still keep playing new releases.

Credit: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered. Screenshot by me. Combo catharsis.

A lot of people might be eager to let all memories go when associations turn sour. It keeps us from having to struggle with contradiction, and helps us focus on the future. If you had a bad relationship, it can serve you to remember all the things you didn’t like; these things may completely overshadow any good. Yet, I would say you absolutely shouldn’t feel guilty for finding comfort in the storm.

Even when my mental health was in the gutter, I recall enjoying Tony Hawk games. When I was frustrated I found solace in succeeding in pulling off a huge combo. I can’t say I would’ve liked it so much if it weren’t for the polarization with other parts of my life. So does that influence mean I should stay away from skateboarding games, or by an extension of that logic all games? Of course not.

The power to live on making new choices, and assurances provided by the past. This is what good memories can do for us. It is important to remember you have joyous moments you haven’t yet lived. The THPS remasters blend everything that happy memories can do. Graphics and controls of the future, yet familiar levels and mechanics. Whether you have never played a THPS, or you played them all, you’ll feel right at home in this arcade style jam.

In times when going out and making some happy memories isn’t nearly anything easy, it is important we make the most of the moments that already live comfortably in our mind. If it helps you stay positive, engage in acts of nostalgia such as playing a game that has been there through the phases of your life. I’ve been playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater since I was ten years old, and I hope there are more releases to come. Whether new content or even more remasters of classic titles. Check out my review of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered in the Archives, and comment a game that lives rent-free in your head!

Credit: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered. Screenshots by me.