Monthly Archives: November 2017

Star Wars Battlefront II

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Fight to save the galaxy and to achieve “a sense of pride and accomplishment.”

PC Release: November 17, 2017

By Ian Coppock

What a s***show. That’s really the most succinct way to describe Star Wars Battlefront II. The players may not all agree on who messed up where, but the fact is that this is the biggest gaming controversy of 2017. What started out as a customer complaint on Reddit quickly ballooned out of even EA’s control, and now gamers are left sorting through the ashes and wondering if Battlefront II is worth the money. That question (and many, many others) are at the heart of tonight’s review.

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Even before the Reddit post that sparked the current controversy, Battlefront II got a bit of heat from the press and fans for its loot box scheme. Though EA is hardly the only publisher to put microtransactions in its titles, players who participated in Battlefront II‘s beta noticed that the loot box items were good… a little too good. Indeed, players who bought the boxes seemed to have a substantial advantage over their more cash-strapped peers. The simmer failed to become a boil, though, and business proceeded as usual.

Then, the November 12 Reddit post happened. A user who goes by the handle “MBMMaverick” posted a comment to Battlefront II‘s subreddit complaining that Darth Vader was locked off behind a paywall… even though they’d already paid $80 for the game. EA’s response was (to put it politely), tone-deaf. The company replied that heroes weren’t immediately available because it wanted players to achieve “a sense of pride and accomplishment” for having spent time grinding for them.

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RETREAT!

How much time, one might ask? The exact figure is unclear, but gamers and analysts calculated that each hero would require about 40 hours of grinding to unlock. Even in an industry replete with grind-walls, that figure is absurdly high. Faced with such a number, it didn’t take long for gamers and journalists to point out the obvious: EA was trying to make grinding prohibitively time-consuming so that gamers would pay money to unlock the heroes instead.

That realization is where the inferno really took off, as thousands of gamers immediately cancelled their pre-orders or changed their plans to buy the title at launch. EA responded by cutting the amount of time and money needed to unlock heroes. When that didn’t do anything, the company removed all microtransactions mere hours before Battlefront II‘s launch (though with a promise to restore them later). Even now, almost two weeks later, EA is still struggling to contain the damage caused by its greed, and Battlefront II‘s sales are only 60% those of its predecessor.

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This was NOT how things were supposed to go down!

There’s no mincing words here: EA’s microtransaction scheme is absolutely disgusting. It’s hardly uncommon for games to have microtransactions these days, but to implement them into nearly every facet of a paid title is particularly odious. For EA, it wasn’t enough that gamers were shelling out sixty dollars for the title; they also had to sink additional cash into the game if they wanted to play as the heroes who lightsabered their way through the commercials.

There is a difference, by the way, between what EA did with Battlefront II and what other publishers have done with their titles. A few sycophantic gamers who for some reason insist on defending EA claim that Assassin’s Creed Origins has microtransactions but isn’t getting any heat for them. While it is annoying that Origins has microtransactions, players don’t have to pay Ubisoft extra money for story missions or to play as Aya. Battlefront II, meanwhile, initially charged extra for comparable advantages.

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The dark side is strong in this game.

Even though EA rolled back the microtransactions (at least for now), this is but a temporary victory for the gaming public. Gamers should be worried that a publisher contrived this scheme at all. EA has maintained a relatively low profile for the last few years and even built up some goodwill through its promise of free Battlefront II DLC, but all of that work was wiped out virtually overnight. What gamers need to realize now is that this draconian firm hasn’t actually changed at all.

It’s never a good thing when this many paragraphs precede an actual description of the game being reviewed, but that’s the situation that EA has created for itself. What other outcome could the company have possibly expected from a scheme this nakedly greedy? Just like when Microsoft first unveiled the Xbox One back in 2013, EA seems to have its head in the clouds. The best thing the company can do now is listen (and actually listen, not just put on a polite face) to what gamers are screaming at them. Otherwise, this little fiasco will hurt its earnings for years to come.

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Fight microtransactions, we must!

Even though Battlefront II doesn’t currently feature microtransactions, the game was still built to assume that they were there, leaving a few conspicuous holes in the title’s design. As of writing, the game’s arcade mode actually stops players from playing once they’ve accumulated a given amount of in-game currency. Players have to wait a few hours before jumping back into arcade mode in order to suit EA’s vague notion of player progression. Even in a landscape as uneven as gaming, the notion of a game that punishes players for, well, playing it is virtually unheard of.

Not all of Battlefront II‘s problems are related to the microtransactions, but they’re no less problematic for it. The game doesn’t run all that well on PC; players who buy the title through EA Origins risk running into choppy framerates, random crashes, server disconnects, and lots of lag. Though Battlefront II has a good options menu, those toggles can only do so much against these performance problems. Maybe EA originally planned to lock decent system performance behind a paywall as well.

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We are experiencing some SLIGHT setbacks, over.

Players who can stomach Battlefront II‘s rickety arcade mode and avoid its performance problems might have more fun in multiplayer. Battlefront II features a plethora of game modes that, unlike in its predecessor, can be played in all three eras of the Star Wars universe. The main mode, Galactic Assault, is a 20-on-20 brawl in which players attack or defend a given position. Starfighter Assault takes that same format and puts it in space, letting players duke it out from the cockpits of iconic Star Wars spacecraft.

Even though the running and gunning in these modes isn’t anything new, Battlefront II occasionally captures the feeling of a Star Wars battle. The game does a decent job applying Star Wars‘ visual and audio effects to the chaos of multiplayer, making combat feel just like a scene from the films. In addition to the aforementioned assault modes, Battlefront II also features team elimination and capture the flag modes for players to try. The all-star Heroes vs. Villains mode makes for a particularly visceral team deathmatch, even if it’s loaded with anachronisms.

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Hold still!

In another break with its predecessor, Battlefront II features a single-player, story-driven campaign. Set immediately after the destruction of the second Death Star, the narrative follows an elite team of imperial soldiers on a mission to carry out Emperor Palpatine’s last wish. It’s an interesting idea, to be sure, but anyone who’s played a Battlefield or Mirror’s Edge game knows that EA isn’t much for storytelling. All of the characters, even the protagonist, are one-dimensional grunts who are much better off shooting than talking.

The story’s writing is similarly rote, offering players little more than some stiff dialogue, shoehorned jokes, and sudden changes of heart. Even the Luke Skywalker cameo does little to shake the feeling that this shallow military tale has been told a million other times in a million other universes. The story’s biggest flaw, though, is that it’s technically unfinished; the last three missions will be released as free DLC later on. It’s hilarious that not even the story escaped EA’s habit of milking games for “extra” content.

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This is not the story you’re looking for.

Battlefront II, like its predecessor, tries to conceal a lot of shallowness and mediocrity beneath the glitz of its visuals. There’s no denying that the game at least looks beautiful, with famous Star Wars locales rendered in EA’s powerful Frostbite engine. The problem, though, is that even these well-lit, gorgeously animated visuals can only do so much to conceal the odors of a so-so campaign and well-trod multiplayer conventions. Much like Battlefield 1Battlefront II relies on its visuals to convey a sense of novelty rather than its gameplay.

The problem with that approach is that beauty is only skin-deep. Only the most ardent scenery whores will be enraptured enough by Battlefront II‘s visuals to ignore all of the problems that the actual gameplay presents. Much like Tusken Raiders, the microtransactions will probably soon be back, and in greater numbers. The multiplayer is fun more for its sights and sounds than the feeling of shooting a gun or swinging a lightsaber, while the story’s attempt to link the classic and sequel Star Wars eras goes out with a dang.

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One day, the galaxy will be free of EA.

So, where does Battlefront II go from here? The sales are down, the memes are vicious, and there’s no easy path for EA to take out of its quagmire. As of writing, a few state and national governments have even launched investigations into the company’s business practices, citing concerns over predatory behavior. As Battlefront II‘s postmortem drags on, it’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, those investigations dig up.

Ultimately, players are best off leaving EA to drown in its own vomit. What few standout experiences Battlefront II offers are crushed beneath the company’s outrageous consumer hostility. If this absurd saga has anything to teach gamers, it’s that the only thing EA truly cares about is money. Therefore, players need to vote with their wallets and stay far, far away from Battlefront II. Play the 2005 original instead.

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You can buy Star Wars Battlefront II here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

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Use futuristic technology to neutralize a terrorist threat.

PC Release: November 4, 2014

By Ian Coppock

The title “Advanced Warfare” isn’t all that specific. What exactly is “advanced” about this Call of Duty‘s fare of war? Is it the tactics utilized by the righteous, one-dimensional protagonist? Or does it refer to the technology used by the good guys? Who is anyone kidding, of course it’s the latter. Advanced Warfare is definitely the blandest subtitle yet produced by the Call of Duty games, but if this game proves anything, it’s that a lot can be hidden beneath a bland exterior.

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Released in 2014 as a chaser to the much-maligned Call of Duty: GhostsCall of Duty: Advanced Warfare was the third CoD in a row to espouse the virtues of laser guns and killer robots. The game was also the first major CoD to be developed by Sledgehammer Games, whose most recent title, Call of Duty: WWII, is actually pretty good. Before shuttling CoD back to its World War II roots, though, Sledgehammer produced a CoD that, at least at first glance, is hard to tell apart from its peers.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare takes place decades into the future, in a world dominated by robotic warfare and cybernetic technology. Players step into the boots of Jack Mitchell, a fierce-eyed U.S. Marine who loses an arm and a best friend fighting North Korean forces in Seoul. Jack gets shipped back home short a limb and presides over that best friend’s funeral in the infamous “press F to pay respects” scene. That whole interlude wasn’t Sledgehammer Games’ proudest narrative decision.

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CoD managed to make player agency depressing.

On his way out of gaming’s most cringe-worthy “Press F” moment, Jack gets offered a job at the prestigious Atlas PMC by Jonathon Irons, the father of the deceased. Atlas is the largest, most well-equipped military in the world, putting even the U.S. armed forces to shame in terms of equipment and soldiers. Though Jack is initially hesitant to fight for a private army, the promise of returning to a soldier’s life (and getting a brand-new, cybernetic arm) entice him to sign on with Atlas.

Anyone who thinks that this whole setup sounds like a Deus Ex game isn’t wrong for doing so. Thus far, Advanced Warfare has already ticked a few Deus Ex boxes, including a horrible accident that results in cybernetics and the presence of unregulated PMCs. Now all that’s needed is an evil terrorist organization that mistrusts technology, and… oh wait, Advanced Warfare has that too. Yep, Jack signs on just in time to fight a cabal of Luddites who think that mankind has become too reliant on tech. Someone at Sledgehammer Games is a huge Deus Ex: Human Revolution fan.

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Now THESE are what I call augmentations!

Despite containing the same running and gunning sported in other CoDs, Advanced Warfare makes a few formula shakeups. The game does away with a heads-up display in favor of displaying holographic information on Jack’s weapons and tools, which feels a bit more organic. Additionally, Advanced Warfare allows players to pick different cybernetic enhancements (like extra jumping power or speed) to suit their playstyle. Apparently someone at Sledgehammer is also a huge Crysis fan.

Advanced Warfare‘s other “major” innovation is smart grenades. These little devils can be programmed to do everything from fly toward foes to emit EMP waves, and damn if they aren’t fun to use. Advanced Warfare also features an unusually large arsenal of both conventional and futuristic weapons, but the first-person shooting and automatic health regeneration informing the gameplay remain unchanged.

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Oh yes, and there are lots of drones.

As Jack, players learn how to use all of these gadgets and doodads over the course of an unusually long campaign. As the aforementioned techno-phobic terrorists strike at hot spots all over the globe, Atlas takes on an ever larger role in defending civilization. Most of the missions’ objectives don’t bleed into each other, which is typical of CoD but disappointing for a theme that has borne storytelling fruit for other games. Advanced Warfare tries to spice things up with a plot twist, but it can be spotted from a mile away, so good luck feeling the suspense.

Advanced Warfare tries to put most of its storytelling eggs into the character basket, with mixed results. There’s not a whole lot to say about Jack, mostly because he talks, like… five times throughout the course of the game. For some reason Sledgehammer Games hired Troy Baker, gaming’s bona fide male voice actor, to voice a character so quiet that players might forget that they’re playing as him. Not sure what the logic was there, Sledgehammer.

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Whojack?

No, the obvious star of Advanced Warfare‘s show is Jonathon Irons, the aforementioned CEO who’s voiced and mo-capped by Kevin Spacey. Spacey turned to his House of Cards performance for Irons, applying the same Machiavellian charm to the character that he does Frank Underwood in Netflix’s hit show. Like his Cards counterpart, Irons has a bit of a southern accent and a lot of ends-justify-the-means mentality. If Spacey can only play one type of political character, he does it well.

The writing in Advanced Warfare is about the level that most players expect from Call of Duty: heavy on shouted battle commands, light on exposition and character development. All of that said, the game does succeed in presenting a sliver of the futuristic dystopian atmosphere present in games like Deus Ex, even if that’s mostly because of the visuals and level design. The recent sexual assault allegations against Spacey also somewhat break the spell of seeing him in a video game.

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(Sigh)…

Advanced Warfare has a lot more going for it visually than with story. Sledgehammer Games took the unusual step of rewriting most of the CoD series’ IW engine for the game, and the result is a stunning world that threatens to cut eyeballs with how sharp it looks. With a high amount of powerful lighting and pixels so crisp that they almost look granular, Advanced Warfare might just be the most visually sophisticiated CoD ever developed. Even three years later the world still looks brand-new, as do the game’s gorgeous cinematic cutscenes.

Three years later, Advanced Warfare still sounds pretty damn good, too. The game’s music doesn’t stand out from CoD‘s usual gallery of fast-paced action songs, but the voice acting sounds just as good coming from Kevin Spacey as whomever played that one guy with the beanie. Additionally, Sledgehammer’s sound design is masterful; the sound of Jack stepping on broken glass in a Detroit meth lab might be the best footstep sound of all time. That may sound oddly specific, but those details matter a lot to atmosphere.

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Listen! Sounds like… dirt?

Apart from the campaign, Advanced Warfare offers up a bit of multiplayer and plenty of jetpack-wearing zombies. Advanced Warfare has managed to retain a small multiplayer community, but the game’s complete lack of dedicated servers has made it a hunting ground for hackers. Not that there are all that many new modes or changes anyway; this is Call of Duty multiplayer being discussed here.

As for the exo zombies mode… it’s zombies wearing exoskeleton armor. Enough said. The game’s presentation of armored zombies does warrant it a shred more novelty than the zombies modes in other CoDs, but the basic setup of defending an area from the undead remains untouched. Not even the voice acting performances of John Malkovich and Bruce Campbell help what little story there is to this mode remain memorable. The sight of a zombie in a jetpack, though, stays in the brain long after the fact.

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If only The Walking Dead was this exciting…

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare gets points for its occasional gameplay innovation and glitzy world, but its story campaign leaves a lot to be desired. On top of that, the game does have a penchant for making PCs chug a bit, so players who run rickety rigs might want to bear that in mind. Despite those problems, Advanced Warfare proudly bears the title of “substantially less mediocre” than the other CoDs out there. Players up for shooting a few terrorists while using a jetpack could do worse… but players up for a memorable narrative or solid multiplayer could also do a lot better.

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You can buy Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

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Witness the rise of the Assassins.

PC Release: October 27, 2017

By Ian Coppock

Well, well, well, look what’s back after two years away! It turns out that Ubisoft has at least a modicum of self-awareness; the publisher decided to give the Assassin’s Creed series a break when it became clear that everyone was all assassin’d out. Indeed, Ubisoft now seems devoted to this revolutionary concept of not releasing annual sequels, and Assassin’s Creed Origins is its first proof of that concept.

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The Assassin’s Creed series made a strong showing with its eponymous 2007 debut. Despite its flaws, millions of fans fell in love with the saga’s tale of freedom-loving Assassins and power-hungry Templars duking it out throughout the course of history. From the Italian Renaissance to the American Revolution, there was seemingly no setting that Ubisoft’s new flagship series left untouched. When Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag released to universal (and well-deserved) acclaim in 2013, the series was at its zenith.

Then… Assassin’s Creed Unity happened. Released in 2014, Unity‘s high-flying tale of French Revolution intrigue was one of Ubisoft’s ugliest displays of hubris. In addition to being released in a broken state across all three platforms, Unity was stuffed with such bizarre design choices as needing a mobile app to unlock certain treasure chests. Unity‘s release made Ubisoft the laughingstock of the gaming world and even slowed the sales of 2015’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

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ARE WE HAVING FUN YET, AMI?

After Syndicate (which was an alright game, by the way) failed to sell anywhere near what Ubisoft wanted, the company realized that rushing these games out year after year was probably a bad idea. As a result, no Assassin’s Creed game was released last year, as Ubisoft elected to take more time on this year’s release: Assassin’s Creed Origins. As implied by its title, the game is a soft reboot of the franchise that seeks to explore the hitherto untold origin story of the series’ hooded killers.

Assassin’s Creed Origins takes place in ancient Egypt over a thousand years before the events of even the first game. Players assume the role of Bayek, an Egyptian Medjay (think sheriff), who’s out for revenge after a cabal of masked figures kills his young son. The part about avenging the death of a loved one should sound instantly familiar to any Assassin’s Creed fan, and Origins tows that part to a T.

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Revenge is a dish best served sweltering.

Bayek may not be an Assassin on paper, but few would suspect that after watching him scale a pyramid. Like his many series predecessors, Bayek is an apt gymnast who can cross towering buildings and treacherous chasms in the blink of an eye. Players can put these abilities to good use attacking foes from above, or creep through some conveniently arranged bushes.

Origins also gets rid of the parkour-up and parkour-down system established by Assassin’s Creed Unity in favor of the more free-form system seen in earlier games. The result is a climbing system that feels more organic and allows for more movement (even if that means that players may unintentionally leap to their death every so often). Between the Pyramids of Giza and the numerous citadels and temples throughout ancient Egypt, players will never want for things to climb on.

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The Sphinx, pre-nose job.

Bayek’s sneaking and climbing is nicely complemented by his Eagle Vision. Like all of its predecessors, Assassin’s Creed Origins gives players a sixth sense for detecting bad guys and treasure, and it’s not dissimilar to the Batman: Arkham games’ detective mode. Unlike previous AC games, Bayek’s Eagle Vision is tied to the eyes of his pet eagle Senu, whom players can use to spot bad guys and points of interest just like the drone in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands. How Bayek can see through his eagle isn’t ever quite explained… perhaps he’s a descendant of Takkar from Far Cry Primal?

However, neither organic free-climbing nor a telepathic murder-bird can hold a candle to Origins‘ greatest gameplay strength: its combat. Past Assassin’s Creed games tended to make combat too simple or too complicated, but Origins‘ fighting is silky smooth. As Bayek, players can fight foes with a variety of tight maneuvers like dodging and parrying, or snipe from a distance with a deadly longbow. Origins‘ combat makes it one of the most fun third-person melees to come this way in a while, and is a far cry from the tedious fighting of Assassin’s Creed Unity.

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You can also ride a camel. 11/10 would camel again.

Origins‘ preference for straightforward weapons over convoluted stealth tools gives the Assassin’s Creed series a badly needed breath of fresh air. Whereas past Assassin’s Creed games bogged players down with a riot of weird tools, Origins simply hands players a sword and a bow and says go get ’em. Bayek does obtain a few stealth gadgets (like the hidden blade), but most of these are context-specific tools that can be deployed on the fly. All of this comprises the series’ tightest gameplay since that of Black Flag. Naval combat also makes a welcome return, albeit restricted to a handful of linear missions.

Origins‘ neatly stratified gameplay is put to great use in its vast open world. Origins‘ rendition of ancient Egypt is by far the largest map the series has ever produced, comparable to Skyrim in both size and number of locations to explore. Players can sink dozens of hours into raiding Egypt’s tombs or hunting animals that prowl the oases. Origins also has more cities than any other Assassin’s Creed game, allowing players to explore Alexandria, Memphis, Cyrene, and other famous ancient world locales. It’s a rich, seamless realm that offers up no shortage of exploration and fun.

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Whadya mean there are no jazz clubs here? It says Memphis on the sign!

Players can also bet that Origins‘ Egypt is as beautiful as it is deep. The game’s environments comprise a gorgeous quilt of wilderness, towns, and cities; even Assassin’s Creed II‘s Renaissance landmarks can’t compare to the intricacies of Alexandria or the stark color of the desert. Origins make use of strong colors and plentiful object detail to bring its world to life. The game features dozens of environments ranging from dunes to forests (in stark contrast to the notion that Egypt is nothing but desert). Players can traverse this land on a horse, a camel, or in a boat.

Though Origins‘ environments are pretty to look at, its character models are much less impressive. Assassin’s Creed has never done well with its characters, and Origins‘ ancient Egyptian denizens look just as much like mannequins as the NPCs in previous installments. NPCs do look much more detailed during cutscenes, but all that detail quickly fades back into obscurity once the gameplay resumes.

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Would you look at that?

Origins rounds out its detailed level design and varied color palette with some of the series’ best sound design. The music borrows heavily from that of the very first Assassin’s Creed, relying on fast percussion and electronically modified horns to build a novel soundscape. Origins‘ other sounds are similarly rich; everything from Bayek’s footsteps through sand to the unsheathing of his blade sounds satisfying. The voice acting is hit-and-miss, but the characters who matter to the story are all well-voiced.

Yes, though Assassin’s Creed Origins continues the series’ tradition of historical figure cameos, they’re not as obnoxious as those of previous installments. Whereas Assassin’s Creed Syndicate rather pathetically shoehorned a nine-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle into its Victorian world, Origins presents a few famous faces and leaves the rest of the storytelling to the Assassins. Origins‘ decision to reign in the cameos is a welcome change over stuffing them awkwardly into the story. The game’s storytelling also benefits from the presence of meaty side missions instead of the usual story-free side activities.

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NOBODY MOVE! I dropped a scalpel!

While it’s fun to see Cleopatra and Julius Ceasar on the gaming screen, Origins‘ story is made on its original characters. Bayek is the most likable Assassin yet produced by the series; not even the legendarily affable Ezio Auditore can compete with this character’s wit, charm, and humanity. Bayek’s likability stems from the dichotomy of his infinite compassion for his fellow Egyptians… and his infinite hatred for the ones who killed his son. The character suffers crises of faith and fits of savage rage just as he plays with children and tells genuinely funny jokes.

Bayek is also an altogether different character than the many Assassins before (or after?) him. In stark contrast to most Assassin’s Creed protagonists, he is ardently religious, and it’s fascinating to see him try to reconcile his faith with all the blood on his hands. The game’s writing pulls off that inner conflict beautifully, without all the proverbial detritus that’s slowed the cogs of past Assassin’s Creed games. Aya, Bayek’s wife, is similarly torn between her desire for revenge and for Egypt to reclaim its past glory. Players can switch over to her for a few missions and rather emphatically prove wrong the notion that women can’t fight (or ignite lighthouses).

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Heaven help those who tempt parents’ wrath.

It’s because of its strong characters that Assassin’s Creed Origins sticks the story landing despite using the same premise as other titles. Origins is hardly the first AC game to send a protagonist off to avenge a loved one’s demise, but it is the first since Black Flag to portray characters’ emotions so candidly. Those portrayals go a long way toward encouraging players to once again kill their way through a list of greedy fat cats, and add fresh context to what would otherwise be a tired routine.

Because of its attention to detail, decent writing, and instantly likable characters, Origins‘ story is one of the best Assassin’s Creed tales yet. The story does suffer occasional pacing issues (especially toward the end), but Bayek’s quest for justice in an Egypt being torn apart from within is compelling stuff. The game’s ancient world setting is also the series’ most vibrant since the Renaissance set pieces; hopefully a future AC game sees players off to Greece or the Roman Empire.

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Don’t slip!

Origins has a lot to offer gamers on every platform, but the title has a special present for PC players: great system performance. It seems ridiculous to type onto this page, but even as of launch, Assassin’s Creed Origins suffers almost no performance issues. Occasionally the game may crash, but the title launched bereft of the character pop-in and other problems that have plagued Ubisoft titles for years. Origins comes up with a clean bill of health for PC gamers, and that’s marvelous.

Assassin’s Creed Origins has saved the Assassin’s Creed series, and is second only to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag as the best game the franchise has ever produced. Whether it’s delving into the pyramids or igniting one of the most emotionally charged narratives that triple-A gaming has ever produced, Assassin’s Creed Origins is a resounding success that gamers everywhere should try. Origins has broken the shadow cast by Assassin’s Creed Unity and made being an AC fan fun again.

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You can buy Assassin’s Creed Origins here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Call of Duty: Ghosts

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Protect the United States in a world where it’s no longer on top.

PC Release: November 5, 2013

By Ian Coppock

The mere sight of that title card probably has Call of Duty fans rolling their eyes in disgust, but yes, Call of Duty: Ghosts is getting a turn in the hot seat this month. Ghosts means a lot of things to a lot of different gamers. To some, the title represents an abject failure to understand the name Call of Duty; to others, the game signifies an attempt to break away from convention. Call of Duty: Ghosts has a complicated legacy, one that’ll get dissected this evening.

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Call of Duty: Ghosts was developed by longtime CoD studio Infinity Ward, and was its first project without the involvement of founders Jason West and Vince Zampella. For a variety of reasons, the title is generally regarded by both fans and critics as the worst Call of Duty ever made (which isn’t exactly a high bar to clear). Ghosts failed to live up to the sales of its 2012 predecessor, Black Ops II, and was all but disavowed by CoD publisher Activision. So, what the hell happened?

For a start, Ghosts’ multiplayer was a bust. In addition to all of the usual deathmatch and team match modes, Ghosts‘ idea of multiplayer innovation was to introduce a few flimsy spinoffs of those modes. Some of these game types were just plain weird; Cranked, a mode that gave players mutant powers if they scored a kill (but would blow them up if they couldn’t get a second kill fast enough), was one of many… “interesting” additions that Ghosts‘ multiplayer made to the CoD roster.

Ghosts2

What even is happening?

In spite of its multiplayer woes, Ghosts did manage to win some critics’ hearts with its Extinction mode. Extinction is virtually identical to the series’ famous zombies mode, except that the shambling undead are swapped out for aliens. Like other CoDs’ zombies modes, Extinction features a few base defense maps with just a light bit of story. The entire setup is virtually identical to zombies but, to be fair, is pretty fun. Just don’t shoot anything that looks like it’s pulsating.

Another factor that Ghosts has in its corner is stellar system performance. The game runs well on PC; its system performance requirements are pretty reasonable and its options menu is in-depth. Players might get the occasional crash, but the game otherwise runs sans bugs (especially on machines built these days). There’s a ghost-in-the-machine joke in this paragraph somewhere.

Ghosts3

See what I did there?

As for the single-player campaign, Ghosts takes place in a timeline in which the Middle East nukes itself into oblivion, forcing the nations of South America to step up and meet the world’s oil demands. These countries band together into a new superpower, the Federation of the Americas, and attack the United States in a surprise nuclear assault. Years later, in 2027, the two powers are duking it out in the post-apocalyptic ruins of the southwestern U.S. Though America has managed to hold the Federation off, it’s clear at this point that the enemy is slowly winning.

For anything else that can (and will) be said about Ghosts‘ narrative, that premise is perhaps the most original story that the series has ever produced. For once, players can expect to fight someone besides Russians, Muslims, or Nazis, and that change alone is a good thing. The concept of a war with South America is also not that far-fetched, especially when considering how poor the United States’ relations are with some of the countries there.

Ghosts4

Es no bueno por America.

Players experience this tale of American decline through the eyes of Logan Walker, an American soldier who fights in the Tex-Mex no man’s land alongside his brother, Hesh. Both of these gents are eventually recruited into the titular Ghosts, an elite stealth ops unit that draws its recruits from what’s left of America’s special forces. The Ghosts are headed up by the boys’ father, Elias, and their newest mission is to hunt down and kill a former Ghost who’s been spotted commanding enemy soldiers.

It’s worth pointing out that none of these characters (even the ones who bother taking off their spooky ghost balaclavas) are particularly memorable. All of them are one-dimensional patriots who spout off about restoring America and little else. Additionally, Logan is a silent protagonist, which is a little weird considering that the protagonists of the previous CoDBlack Ops II, were fully voiced. Even if Black Ops II was developed by a different studio, details like that matter.

Ghosts5

Shh! No habla!

Come to think of it, Ghosts‘ main narrative feels pretty tired, too. It turns out that the Federation is close to completing a doomsday satellite that can launch more nukes at the United States, so most of the game is a desperate race to find and destroy that satellite. Ghosts also wastes its time shoehorning in a trite bad guy origin story that cool black-and-white CGI only does so much to make exciting. The written dialogue is noticeably worse than that of the Modern Warfare games.

Ghosts also does a pretty laughable job of portraying a down-on-its-luck United States. Sure, the first few missions go to great pains to portray the ruins of cities like San Diego and Las Vegas, but before long the game cuts to the same endless tank columns and military brigades seen in any other CoD. These ham-fisted attempts at provoking sympathy reach their zenith when one soldier grimly states that the U.S. is sacrificing its last aircraft carrier. Only one aircraft carrier?! Oh, the horror! Here’s a fun fact for the folks at Infinity Ward: that’s still more aircraft carriers than most nations have at all.

Ghosts6

Oh, the humanity! La humanidad!

So yeah, it turns out that all of Ghosts‘ talk about a revolutionary portrayal of a fallen America was one of 2013’s biggest clouds of ass-smoke (next to trailers of Watch Dogs and virtually everything about the Xbox One). Thankfully, players who are up for a spot of sight-seeing can expect the story to whisk them all over South America, from the frozen heights of the Andes to a glitzy rendition of Caracas, Venezuela. The levels look and sound pretty beautiful even if what the player does in them is barely memorable.

If Ghosts‘ narrative is any indication, Infinity Ward lost a lot of story-writing talent when the studio’s original team up and left. That said, the company still does a great job with sound design. Rockets explode with wincing force, and walking through crunchy piles of rubble never sounded so crisp. Ghosts‘ score contains music similar to that of Modern Warfare; quick strings, a few cutting guitars, and lots of deep disaster movie horns. The voice acting’s… decent. Certainly more so than the writing.

Ghosts7

Be vewy, vewy quiet…

Ghosts‘ level design is also pretty congruous to Modern Warfare‘s, with a bunch of linear corridors separated by occasional breaks of open ground. Though the level design treads few new paths, Ghosts excels at portraying ruined environments and post-apocalyptic wastelands. These set pieces comprise some of the CoD series’ most interesting artwork, even if they are marred by occasional design mistakes like underwater waterfalls. Ghosts‘ aesthetic also benefits from strong use of volumetric lighting.

Even though most of Ghosts‘ levels are structurally identical to those of previous CoDs, they do allow the gameplay to come alive in interesting ways. One level sees Logan off to the bottom of a shark-infested sea, giving players much more space to roam around and Half-Life 2-style environmental cues. A black ops mission in Caracas, meanwhile, explores vertical space. Ghosts is less afraid than most CoDs to let players move around a bit (the key phrase being “a bit”).

Ghosts8

Ooooooh…

Ghosts is bolder with its experiments in gameplay than level design. Players have a few opportunities to command a dog (by far the game’s most iconic feature), and send him scouting for foes or tearing the throats out of bad guys. The dog’s auto-commands are pretty fluid but the sections in which players literally assume the canine’s role require suspending a lot of disbelief. If this game is to be believed, war dogs are smart enough to critically analyze troop movements, attack isolated soldiers, and know when to stay hidden. Good boy?

Ghosts‘ gimmicks are CoD‘s coolest gameplay innovations, so it really sucks that this game is especially draconian at taking them away. It’s a given that CoD only lets players hang-glide or use special equipment in five-second, carefully choreographed bursts, and Ghosts is the most severe CoD of all in this regard. It also doesn’t help that the dog up and vanishes for the entire second half of the game, as if to say “playtime’s up, back to boots on the ground.” It’s a pity; the dog is easily Ghosts‘ most compelling character.

Ghosts9

Who’s a good throat-ripping death machine? You are!

In the end, Call of Duty: Ghosts is indeed a mediocre title, but no more so than most of the other CoDs released this decade. The game’s uninspired storytelling, samey multiplayer, and repetitive gameplay aren’t especially offensive in comparison to its contemporaries. Indeed, in some regards, Ghosts is an alright title: it has a novel premise and a few fun (if brief) ideas about gameplay. Its tight shooting is also not dissimilar to that of the Modern Warfare games, so fans of that series might actually enjoy Ghosts. Everyone else, though, is probably best off letting this game steal into the night like the beings it’s named for.

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You can buy Call of Duty: Ghosts here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Call of Duty: WWII

WW1

Liberate Europe from the Third Reich.

PC Release: November 3, 2017

By Ian Coppock

Get to the chopper! No, wait, Call of Duty: WWII is set before the chopper’s invention, so that meme doesn’t work. After five years spent flooding the market with one futuristic CoD after another, Activision has finally gone back to its flagship series’ roots with WWII. Of course, the publisher acts like this decision came about as the product of wholly internal reflection… and not because everyone was screaming about how terrible Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was.

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Call of Duty: WWII is the eleventh CoD to release since 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, making CoD the most sequel-happy franchise in triple-A gaming. The title was developed by neither Infinity Ward nor Treyarch, but Sledgehammer Games, developer of 2014’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Unlike its futuristic CoD debut, Sledgehammer’s newest game returns CoD to the World War II setting from whence the series spawned. The title is the first CoD in half a decade to not utilize a futuristic, sci-fi-rich setting.

Like every CoD that releases these days, Call of Duty: WWII features three modes: a single-player campaign, a multiplayer mode, and the series’ famous zombies mode. All three were announced to loud enthusiasm at this year’s E3, as fans who’d spent years yelling for CoD to abandon its sci-fi obsession finally got their wish. Even though Call of Duty: WWII‘s release was overshadowed by a poorly received PC beta and one of the most cynical patent applications in history, the title made it out of the starting gate and onto the beaches of Normandy.

WW2

Time to crack some Nazi skulls!

The primary driver of all Call of Duty sales is the series’ multiplayer mode, and it returns little changed in Call of Duty: WWII. The mode features a middling selection of maps, each of which comprise the same set of open squares and constricting corridors that have comprised all CoD maps since the series’ genesis. WWII continues the series’ obsession with tiny maps, none of which hold a candle to Battlefield‘s own palette of war zones. Players who want expansive combat areas or dynamic environments will find neither in WWII; players who want only more of the same will get nothing but.

There is one shining exception to WWII‘s rehash of deathmatch and team match modes: war mode. Taking an obvious nod from BattlefieldCoD‘s new mode challenges players to complete a series of ever-changing objectives as they move around a map. Sometimes the team needs to escort a tank; other times, squadmates need to defend a tower. War mode is a welcome change to the monotony of CoD multiplayer and finally gives the series a team-building experience. The constant shifting of objectives helps the multiplayer feel fresh and organic.

WW3

GIVE UP THE HOT CHOCOLATE AND NOBODY DIES!

WWII‘s multiplayer fun gets a big boost from the game’s solid system performance. Call of Duty: World War II runs pretty much bug free; players might get the occasional crash but the game by and large runs fine on PC. It would seem that Sledgehammer took the criticism over WWII‘s multiplayer beta to heart and went to work ironing out its kinks ahead of launch day. The game sports one of the series’ finest options menus; go ahead and adjust how objects look while viewed through a scope and at an angle.

Players who enjoy working as a team but are tired of CoD multiplayer’s conventions should check out WWII‘s zombies mode, which is far and away the best zombies experience of any CoD game. Created by some of the folks behind the Dead Space series (RIP Visceral), WWII‘s zombies mode streamlines the features of past zombies experiences and makes the creatures of the undead Final Reich surprisingly spooky. Zombie hunters and Tallahassee wannabees take note.

WW4

Never eat week-old sauerkraut.

The third and arguably least relevant CoD mode is the single-player story campaign, which follows a twelve-man squad of American soldiers during the Allies’ push to Germany. Leading man Ronald “Red” Daniels is everything conventional about a CoD protagonist: young, handsome, played football in high school, and loves ‘murica oh so much. Daniels’ down-home Texan charm contrasts sharply with the New York wit of his best friend Robert Zussman, whom the game can’t seem to stop emphasizing is Jewish. Surely that plot point won’t come up again in a story about fighting Nazis!

Anyway, the campaign starts off by rushing players onto the beaches of Normandy and, from there, into the heart of Nazi-occupied Europe. As Red, players can partake in famous battles like the liberation of Paris and the infamous Battle of the Bulge. Occasionally, players take the reigns off of Red and swap him out for other characters, including—get this—a female character. That’s right folks, female player character confirmed in Call of Duty. What a time to be alive.

WW5

I thought women weren’t allowed in CoD?

No matter which character the player is, they can expect CoD‘s gunplay to be about the same as in previous titles. Unlike recent CoDs, players can’t pick their weapons before each mission and start out with whatever the game deems appropriate. Not to worry, though, because players can also find other guns in the level or just pick up the Nazis’ weapons after pumping them full of lead. WWII allows players to get certain items from their squadmates, including ammunition and grenades. Some missions also feature small bites of stealth gameplay.

The biggest shakeup, though, that WWII makes to the CoD campaign formula is the health system. WWII swaps out the series’ conventional health regeneration in favor of an old-school-style health bar with medkits. For the first time since the very first Call of Duty, players have to patch themselves up with a first aid kit instead of by taking cover behind a wall and waiting for regen. Players can find health kits out in the world or get them from Zussman (usually accompanied by a sarcastic remark).

WW6

I’m not burning them alive, I’m just mass-cauterizing their wounds.

WWII‘s health system is a refreshing change of pace for Call of Duty. Players can no longer just wait behind a pile of sandbags for their health to go back up, which forces them to be more cautious in combat. This change gives a greater emphasis to tactics than brute force, as players now have to be mindful of how much health that reckless charge into combat could cost. All of that said, Red can absorb bullets like a champ, so it’s not like the campaign implements PvP difficulty into those Nazis (this health system only applies to the campaign, by the way; multiplayer has the usual health regen mechanic).

Although the new health system is the biggest gameplay change CoD‘s made in years, that’s about the only gameplay change that series veterans can expect. Everything else comprises the same round of linear shooting already seen 10 times since 2007. March down corridors or up hills, chuck grenades, and empty that bolt-action rifle into the nearest bratwurst-loving German. Occasionally players can also save fallen comrades from certain death, but this has no bearing on the campaign’s outcome.

WW7

Get to the…! Tank?

Call of Duty: World War II doesn’t stray as far from the franchise’s gameplay tendencies as Activision would like players to believe, but the narrative is another story. Though Red Daniels is hardly the first bright-eyed soldier to be a CoD protagonist, voice actor Brett Zimmerman did a superb job injecting nuance and emotion into the character. Red’s musings are about what war does to a person instead of abstract notions of patriotism, which is highly unusual for CoD. The game’s introduction of scared squadmates and an alcoholic sergeant pay further heed to how traumatizing war actually is.

Additionally, WWII goes the extra mile in putting the series’ long-vaunted affinity for brotherhood under a microscope. When Zussman gets captured by those Jew-hungry Nazis, Red vows to move heaven and earth to find him again. It’s not Oscar material, but the main character’s determination to not give up on his friend makes for the most heartwarming CoD narrative in years. WWII also goes beyond other World War II games by portraying the Holocaust in a poignant—if brief—mission. It’s a little shallow, but that solemn interlude of wandering through a concentration camp is CoD‘s most profound moment since the nuke went off in Modern Warfare. It seems ridiculous to type, but Call of Duty pulled off portraying the Holocaust.

WW8

We finally have a true brotherhood moment in CoD.

If Call of Duty: WWII feels dark and depressing, that might be due as much to the game’s environment and visuals as its story. Though the series’ IW engine is starting to show its age, Sledgehammer Games went to great effort in creating a bombed-out Europe. The levels run the risk of looking samey (once Red’s seen one bombed-out Belgian village, he’s seen ’em all), but the environments get a big boost from impressive weather effects and dour volumetric lighting. The game’s textures and object detail look pretty good, too.

Sledgehammer Games has also proven to be a quick student of sound design, following Infinity Ward’s lead in creating bombastic sounds. Everything from Red’s boots squelching through mud to the crumbling of mortar under missiles sounds awesome; it certainly gives the ole headphones a good rumble. The game’s music isn’t as worth writing home about, even if the main theme is admittedly catchy.

WW9

Is it too early for German BBQ jokes?

Call of Duty: WWII doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but what gameplay changes the title does make result in a gritty experience that fans of old-school shooters may enjoy. Between the multiplayer war mode, the amped-up zombies, and the surprisingly poignant story, WWII might just be the best CoD since Modern Warfare. At the very least, the game is a welcome change of pace from the endless onslaught of futuristic CoDs, and it does an unparalleled job of examining the bonds forged in war.

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You can buy Call of Duty: WWII here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II

Blops1

Save America from being destroyed by its own war machines.

PC Release: November 12, 2012 

By Ian Coppock

The Call of Duty series tries to change more than most gamers give it credit for. The series’ annual release schedule hasn’t done wonders for this fact, but there are a few titles in the series that make a genuine effort to change the franchise’s “get to the chopper!” guise. Typically, the Black Ops games are the ones that try to push the envelope the most, introducing radical (for CoD) changes like new level design and protagonists who actually talk. Black Ops II is one such envelope-pusher.

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Black Ops II was developed by inveterate CoD studio Treyarch and was released in 2012 as a sequel to the highly popular Call of Duty: Black OpsBlack Ops II was also the first Call of Duty game to feature a futuristic setting, and kicked off an agonizing half-decade of CoDs that sported nothing but drones and laser guns. Fortunately, Black Ops II also catalyzed some more positive changes for the series, such as branching storylines and letting players choose their starting weapons.

The bulk of Black Ops II‘s narrative is set in 2025 and envisions a new Cold War between the United States and China. Players assume the role of David Mason, son of Black Ops protagonist Alex Mason, as he hunts down a Nicaraguan terrorist who’s trying to hijack America’s shiny army of drones. The game features a second storyline set in the 1980’s, which chronicles Alex Mason’s own attempt to apprehend that terrorist during the original Cold War.

Blops2

Robots are the future.

Black Ops II‘s storyline features a few innovations not seen before or since in a Call of Duty game. The campaign includes branching plot paths that are determined entirely by players; what decisions the player makes during certain missions can lead to different endings. It may seem ludicrous to read, but Call of Duty: Black Ops II is a choice-driven title. Black Ops II also allows players to spend one level as the game’s main antagonist, in an effort to make that character somewhat sympathetic.

Apart from these changes, series fans and shooter enthusiasts can expect most of CoD‘s traditional gameplay to be front-and-center in Black Ops II. Though players have the option of picking their loadout before each mission, the game features a linear shootfest not unlike every other linear shootfest in the series. Occasionally, players can access cooler hardware like invisibility cloaks and wingsuits, but these items are almost always restricted to specific scenes in the mission before disappearing for the rest of the game.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

The future looks an awful lot like the past…

Black Ops II is to be commended for attempting to change CoD up, but just because a game attempts to change doesn’t mean the outcome is guaranteed to be good. Black Ops II does indeed feature a choice-based storyline, but that narrative element is clumsily implemented. Oftentimes, players won’t know that an interlude is choice-determined until after it happens. Sometimes the choices are absurdly hard to spot, like that shooting a hostage in the heart instead of the head guarantees their survival.

The thing about choice-based gameplay that Black Ops II doesn’t understand is that the choices are supposed to be easy to spot. They can be subtle, but the storyline should set them up in such a way that players understand that they’ll have ramifications later on. Black Ops II does a ham-fisted job of not only letting players spot those decisions, but also in portraying their significance later on in the story. Innocuous events can radically alter the narrative, and players often won’t realize that until it’s too late.

Blops4

Don’t blow up that barrel or it’ll change the timeline forever!

Black Ops II also represents a significant step down from its predecessor when it comes to storytelling. The original Black Ops was a tightly wound Cold War thriller with elements of psychological horror; Black Ops II, by contrast, is neither tightly wound nor thrilling. The futuristic storyline is particularly uninteresting, with level objectives that spring up in apropos of nothing presented in previous missions. Leading man David Mason is one of the Call of Duty series’ most forgettable protagonists, offering up the occasional quiet line about completing the mission and little more than that.

Not that the 1980’s missions are all that great either. Players who enjoyed the original Black Ops might be excited for the return of Alex Mason, Frank Woods et al, but this segment of the story is little more coherent than the futuristic part. This section of the story is also where the game’s voice acting woes are at their worst; Alex Mason voice actor Sam Worthington continues his habit of randomly alternating between Australian and American accents, while CIA ice cube Jason Hudson is now voiced by Michael Keaton instead of Ed Harris. Keaton’s a good actor, but… he sounds nothing like Harris.

Blops5

Wait, who are you?!

The writing in Black Ops wasn’t all that great, but Black Ops II‘s is much, much worse. The dialogue seems especially rote and the plot points especially non-sequitur; even the drones that the game, well, drones on about seem to stay in the background for most of the story. So does the much-hyped new Cold War between the U.S. and China, as well as virtually all the other details that Treyarch harped about while promoting the title.

Unfortunately, Black Ops II now has little else to offer series and shooter fans. The game’s multiplayer mode is pretty dead, and has been for a number of years. Once again, publisher Activision’s insistence on putting these titles out every year has had a detrimental effect on multiplayer, but players seem content to keep paying it $60 a year, so… (shrug). Black Ops II also has a zombies mode, but its offering of shooting up undead house intruders is also offered up by pretty much every other CoD.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

What even is happening?

Any PC gamer who’s less interested in a narrative than a mindless shooting experience can rest assured that Black Ops II runs well. Black Ops II is pretty bug-free; the game is well-optimized to run on PC and any problems that do crop up can probably be sorted out in the game’s in-depth options menu. In an age when so many games release dead on arrival, there’s nothing wrong with going back to a years-old release even for some guarantee of system stability.

Then again, Black Ops II gets a strike for not looking all that great. The CoD series’ IW engine ages remarkably well, but Black Ops II‘s aesthetic suffers from blurry textures. Whether it’s the surface of a Soviet escape plane or the hull of a futuristic water-city, textures in Black Ops II tend to look shockingly muddled. That certainly throws a wrench into the game’s attempted presentation of a slick-looking futurama.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Apparently contact lenses aren’t a thing in the future.

Tragically, Black Ops II also stumbles in the sound department. The aforementioned voice acting problems are distracting enough, but the game also offers up a selection of typical action music and muffled gun sounds. For anything positive that Treyarch achieves with its CoDs, the studio is leagues behind Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games when it comes to dynamic sound design. A war zone shouldn’t sound like it’s being heard through earmuffs.

Black Ops II‘s regression from the excellence of the original Black Ops is cause for concern. It’s certainly cause for wondering if there were some major staff shakeups at Treyarch after Black Ops released back in 2010. Whatever the case, the series’ shift away from gritty Cold War CIA ops is a disappointment, made worse by Black Ops II‘s mishandled attempts at everything from cool future gadgetry to choice-based storytelling.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

The future is subpar.

As stated at the beginning of this review, the Call of Duty series tries to change itself more than most gamers give it credit for, but the operative phrase there is “tries to.” An attempt at innovation means little to players if that attempt falls flat on its face, and really, that’s what this entire game ends up doing. Black Ops II throws all sorts of new gimmicks at the wall, but almost none of them stick. Players are thus better off sticking with some other shooter.

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You can buy Call of Duty: Black Ops II here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Wolf1

Ignite a revolution in Nazi-occupied America.

PC Release: October 27, 2017

By Ian Coppock

It’s surreal to see people stoking moral outrage against a video game that’s about fighting Nazis, but them’s the times we live in. Wolfenstein II‘s announcement sparked no shortage of excitement from fans, but America’s emboldened white nationalists shed tears over the idea that anyone would want to fight a Nazi; y’know, those gravely immoral, racist fascists who plunged the world into a horrifying war. Those Nazis. Unfortunately for the racists, video games about killing Nazis are always in vogue, and no less so with the release of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.

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Announced with great fanfare at E3 2017, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is the hotly anticipated sequel to 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New OrderThe New Order was itself a soft reboot of the legendary Wolfenstein series, in which series protagonist William “BJ” Blazkowicz stabs, shoots, and beats the crap out of Nazi foes. Despite inadvertently implying that Jews really are the secretive puppet masters that the Nazis believed them to be, The New Order was one of the best shooters of the decade. It makes sense to hope that The New Colossus is similarly momentous.

Like The New OrderWolfenstein II: The New Colossus is set in a world in which the Nazis won World War II. Picking up immediately where The New Order left off, The New Colossus starts with BJ getting rescued from Deathshead’s tower and the entire anti-Nazi rebellion taking off in a stolen U-boat. Even though BJ triumphed over his arch-nemesis, the injuries he sustained were so severe that he has to borrow a high-tech suit of power armor just to stay alive. Meanwhile, the Nazis continue their worldwide oppression with an army of masked fascists and their robotic killing machines.

Wolf2

Oh goodie, the tank dogs can breathe fire now. Fantastic.

With Deathshead down for the count, BJ and his pals plan their next move: revolution. The group decides to head to Nazi-occupied America and encourage the populace to rise up against the Nazi regime. From there, they hope to use the United States as a platform to free the rest of the world. If this game is be believed, only Americans love freedom enough to dare rise up against the Nazis, so only it can be the rebels’ freedom platform. “America, f*** yeah” indeed.

As BJ, players can travel to various locales around the former United States, undertaking missions to get the American people up in arms against the Nazis. BJ has his work cut out for him: the Nazi war machine numbers in the millions, and they’ve even leased governance of much of the country out to the Ku Klux Klan. BJ’s faced insurmountable odds before, but between his desire for a peaceful life and being confined to a suit of armor like Darth Vader, he’s starting to feel his own mortality.

Wolf3

This game’s a gut punch and a half.

Like all the Wolfenstein games, The New Colossus is a first-person shooter with heavy arcade elements. BJ can take the fight to the Nazis with an expanded arsenal of weapons, including all of the guns from The New Order as well as some new toys like a grenade-launching hand cannon. While The New Order also allowed players to dual-wield two weapons of the same class, The New Colossus lets players dual-wield whatever they want. Power to anyone who wants to charge in with a shotgun in one hand and a sniper rifle in the other.

The New Colossus is just as kind to sneaky maniacs as it is to gun-toting ones. Players who don’t feel like loudly kicking the door down can sneak around and take the Nazis out quietly with BJ’s good friend Mr. Hatchet. These kills aren’t as audacious as firefights, but they’re no less gory. Unlike The New Order, which had an unfortunate tendency to divide its levels into strict firefight-only and sneak-only zones, The New Colossus takes the limiters off and lets players play whole levels however they want.

Wolf4

Now’s probably a good time to ask what “jugular” is in German.

Anyone who enjoyed The New Order‘s silky smooth gunplay can breathe easy, because The New Colossus has all that and then some. It’s refreshingly easy to move through levels, stabbing or shooting each fascist that pops his head up. Though BJ is a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield, the Nazis make short work of players who charge toward them recklessly, so some caution is called for. Just like in the last game, players can find health kits and put on scraps of armor to stay alive.

The New Colossus does freshen things up a bit by re-balancing its foes and the player’s health. Individual Nazi soldiers are more alert than their New Order predecessors, but go down a bit easier than they did in the last game. The New Colossus also throws more enemies at BJ, including the Supersoldaten seen in the last game and new, insidious machines built to kill. BJ’s health system has also changed to reflect the grave wounds he sustained in The New Order; players can now equip twice as much armor but have only 50 health instead of 100.

Wolf5

More like the Big Not-So-Easy, amirite? Amirite? (crickets)

The New Colossus likewise steps its predecessor’s game up on grit and atmosphere. One of the things that made The New Order so noteworthy was its brutal honesty in depicting a Nazi-run world. Whereas in so many games the Nazis are merely bots draped in swastikas, The New Order brought the Nazis’ racist ideology to the forefront in creative, horrifying ways. The New Colossus is similarly bare-faced in its imaginings of a Nazi world, as BJ tours gruesome prisons, concentration camps, and other facilities. That these locales are stateside makes the game all the more gruesome for American players.

The New Colossus is also not for people who get squeamish around gore. It’s almost like MachineGames, the developer, set a five-corpse minimum for how much bloodshed was to be put in each level and every cutscene. It’s probably a given that anyone looking at a Wolfenstein game knows all of this already, but just as a courtesy… this game ain’t no Call of Duty. This be the turf of Id Software, and its games go to great pains to carefully choreograph guts spilling from stomachs and heads falling from necks.

Wolf6

I’m having second thoughts about this.

With gameplay and atmosphere in the bag, The New Colossus is also poised to take narrative (another New Order high point) by storm. The answer to whether The New Colossus‘s narrative is good is both yes and no. If all that’s being discussed are the game’s individual scenes, then the answer is a resounding yes. However, those scenes don’t necessarily work well when strung together into a story.

Fans of the first game needn’t panic; Wolfenstein II‘s story is well enough written and pretty easy to follow. The problem, though, is that its tone is all over the place. The game is a dark drama when BJ tears up over memories of his abusive father; then, it becomes a war epic during the actual fighting. Later, the game becomes a dark comedy when BJ drunkenly rides a pig through the halls of the rebels’ submarine. Taken individually, each scene excels at stoking the reaction it’s going for. When those scenes are put next to each other on a storyboard, though, the result is a game that can’t decide if it’s a dark comedy, a campy B-movie, or a serious war film.

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Okay, this right here is NOT a comedy scene.

The New Colossus‘s tonal inconsistencies make the game’s story feel non-sequitur. It’s weird to jump from a scene that the developers obviously took seriously to a scene in which they throw characterization to the wind and jump the shark (or pig). The New Colossus also lets players decide, once again, which character they saved at the beginning of The New Order, but the resultant narrative differences are virtually inconsequential. When a game fails to make a major narrative decision have an impact, it feels conspicuously half-assed.

It’s a shame that The New Colossus‘s tale goes all over the place, because the characters in it are really interesting. BJ’s new treatment as a weary man who’s afraid of his mortality is bittersweet, especially when compounded with visceral flashbacks of his childhood. The character’s motivations go beyond killing Nazis to envisioning a better future, all while confronting the pain of the past. Frau Engel, BJ’s new arch-nemesis, is one of the cruelest, most psychopathic villains that gaming has ever produced. Her presence in the narrative makes the aforementioned atmosphere thicker.

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YOU ALL DIE IN SIN!

The game’s supporting characters are similarly endearing, even if they don’t get all that much screen time. Anya returns with her quiet determination to end the Nazi threat, while Wyatt/Fergus attempt to confront their own troubled pasts. The New Colossus also introduces a few new characters to the rebellion, including iron-willed Black Revolutionary Front leader Grace Walker and a priest who slings sermon almost as much as whiskey. These folks make for an endearing band of misfits.

Nothing makes gameplay, atmosphere and narrative come together like decent visual design, and The New Colossus has plenty of that. Indeed, the atmosphere comes as much from how the levels look as what they’re meant to represent. MachineGames spared no effort in building a depressing, morose vision of Nazi-occupied America, adorning Main Street and the ‘burbs with lots and lots of Swastikas. The resulting aesthetic feels Orwellian… and depressing.

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….

So far, The New Colossus sounds pretty great. It’s got interesting characters, a rich world, and some of the best gameplay of any shooter released this year. The problem with colossi, though, is that it only takes a single misstep for them to come tumbling to the ground. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus makes that single misstep, and any PC gamer reading this probably already knows what it is: bugs.

As of writing, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus bears the distinction of 2017’s buggiest big-budget game. Players who purchase this title on PC will probably experience some of the following: constant crashing, corrupted save files, choppy framerates, cutscenes freezing up, and in-game prompts not appearing on-screen. Additionally, achievements may not unlock. The state of The New Colossus is, frankly, shocking, and MachineGames should be ashamed that the title was released in this state.

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Siiiiiiiigh

As if a plague of bugs wasn’t enough, Wolfenstein II also doesn’t run all that well on PC. Even running the game on an AMD card (the card for which the title was built) doesn’t seem to staunch the flow of unstable framerates and texture pop-in. Bizarrely, Wolfenstein II also doesn’t support the Steam overlay. Bethesda has admitted to the problem but hasn’t elaborated on why, which probably means that it’s a bug as well. Even meddling in the game’s awesome options menu doesn’t seem to fix anything.

In the end, Wolfenstein II joins the pile of ambitious sequels brought down by carelessness. It could’ve been GOTY material if someone had thought to check for all the bugs, but quality control seems to come optional at the big companies these days. PC gamers who want Wolfenstein II could want worse things, but wait until MachineGames rolls out a tirade of badly needed patches. Until then, Wolfenstein II‘s endless bugs have helped it achieve what was thought to be impossible: making Nazi-killing repulsive.

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You can buy Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

MW1

Kill the terrorist who started World War III.

PC Release: November 8, 2011

By Ian Coppock

Welp, it’s that time of the year again. Each November, Activision rears its ugly head like some dark god of consumerism and unleashes another Call of Duty title into the wild. Objective truth almost never exists outside of hard science, but here’s an objective truth about video gaming: Call of Duty is an unstoppable machine and nothing can impede its progress. Because of this, it can be hard to justify looking at older Call of Duty games, but the best way to see where a franchise is headed is to examine where it came from. With that in mind, it’s time to look at Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a first-person shooter and the last CoD developed with the involvement of Infinity Ward’s original team. In a series of events that remain murky to this day, Infinity Ward founders Jason West and Vince Zampella were suddenly fired by Activision in 2010. Activision alleged that West and Zampella were secretly trying to sell the Call of Duty property to EA, but they maintained their innocence. After the firing, most of Infinity Ward’s staff followed the duo to Respawn Entertainment, their new company and the studio behind Titanfall.

Unfortunately for Modern Warfare 3, this dispute went down while the game was in mid-development. Following West and Zampella’s departures, Infinity Ward called in Raven Software and the then-fledgling Sledgehammer Games to help finish the title. Even though most video games that suffer these development woes are rarely smash hits, Modern Warfare 3 released on time and without most of the bugs and glitches one would expect such a turbulent series of events to inflict on a game.

MW2

Game over, bruh.

Modern Warfare 3 was also a hit with fans simply because it’s an installment of the insanely popular Modern Warfare saga. Even though it’s been in the ground for six years, the Modern Warfare trilogy is arguably the most popular CoD sub-series ever developed. Like other CoD sub-series, the three games share a single timeline as well as similarities in level design, multiplayer, and general functionality. Get to the chopper!

For those players new to Modern Warfare or fellow MW vets looking to reminisce, Modern Warfare 3 takes place in 2011’s idea of 2016, in which a false flag attack on Russian soil prompts the Kremlin to declare war on NATO. Modern Warfare 3 opens in the midst of this conflict and follows a wide cadre of soldiers fighting all over the world. Most of the action, though, focuses on series Special Air Service heroes John Price and “Soap” MacTavish. The other characters aren’t worth mentioning because they’re little more than a silent pair of eyes and a gun.

MW3

Take THIS, you vodka-chugging maniacs!

Right away, Modern Warfare 3‘s premise requires suspending a lot of disbelief. Even though American forces manage to repel Russian invaders at the very beginning of the game, the Russians decide to invade all of Western Europe at once. Russia gets boogeyman’d a lot in the media these days, but not even it has the manpower to simultaneously invade… what, like two dozen countries? Players who grew up during the Cold War might smell a whiff of red scare hysteria in how many well-armed Russians are walking the streets of Europe. It’s… amusing.

Even though the game follows many soldiers across many battlefields, its main goal is for players to take out the Russian terrorist who started it all. This dude has succeeded in pitting the east against the west and only his death will put a stop to the carnage. Even though series regulars Price and Soap are at the heart of the narrative, players spend most of the game as Yuri, a Russian ex-soldier who has his own reasons for wanting to kill the bad guy. Yuri also serves as a tacit disclaimer from CoD that not all Russians are America-hating psychos.

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#NotAllRussians

It’s hard to describe Modern Warfare 3‘s gameplay differently from the other CoD reviews on this page… because they all have the exact same gameplay. Players start out with a predetermined pair of weapons that they can swap out for the guns of fallen foes. Most times, players also come to the party equipped with grenades. Occasionally, Modern Warfare 3 lets players take control of a fun mega-weapon like a drone or gunship, but these segments only last a short time before it’s back to boots on the ground. Nothing says “five seconds of carefully scripted fun” like Call of Duty.

Players can also expect a samey round of gunfighting in each of the campaign’s levels. Sure, some missions start players out with a stealth advantage, but things always go loud sooner or later. It can be fun to sneak behind enemies and between buildings for a time, but these segments are so strictly micro-choreographed that they feel scripted, not organic. The only truly organic experiences players can find are staring down linear corridors to shoot columns of bad guys. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of shooting, but the gameplay in the first level is identical to that of the last.

MW5

MOAR SHOOTING!

Modern Warfare 3 doesn’t shake up the minutiae of shooting bad guys and regenerating behind walls nearly enough through gameplay; instead, the title tries to keep things fresh with frequent location shifts. Even more than the previous Modern Warfare titles, Modern Warfare 3 isn’t afraid to suddenly whisk players to hot spots all over the world. Players can expect to duke it out everywhere from the streets of Manhattan to the Somali coast, with just enough time to stop in Paris for a baguette.

While Modern Warfare 3‘s visuals have aged well and its environments still look good, there’s something to be said for how dysfunctional the game’s pacing is in relation to its levels. Players barely have time to notice each level’s scenery before jetting off to the other side of the globe, which dampens the game’s visual variety. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 looks great for a six-year-old game, but the title seems adverse to being stared at for long.

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Admiring scenery is grounds for peeping tom accusations in a game this fast.

There are a lot of gamers who claim that Infinity Ward has lost its touch (and they’re right), but neither Treyarch nor Sledgehammer can hold a candle to IW’s sound design. Players might not have time to appreciate CoD‘s environments, but the levels come roaring to life through visceral sounds. Bombs and missiles go off with terrifying force, and everything from the sound of gunfire to players’ boots crunching through rubble is crisp and satisfying. Sound design can be a great way to make a game feel alive, and for anything else that can be said about Modern Warfare 3, it has some great sounds.

Indeed, Modern Warfare 3 does well in other sound departments. The voice acting is pretty decent, even if it is either gruff American commanders or slimey-sounding Russian operatives. The game’s soundtrack is everything a gamer would expect of an action movie: quick strings and deep horns written at a tempo that threatens to break the sound barrier.

MW7

Don’t much care for them commies, boy! (Ptooey).

Know what else is written at a tempo that threatens to break the sound barrier? The story. It only makes sense that a game that transports players elsewhere every 10 minutes has a similarly rapid tale to tell. Modern Warfare 3‘s story is chock full of explosions and ‘murica, but has little in the way of meaningful character development or interesting dialogue. Even Captain Price’s cheesy monologues about freedom and humanity don’t rear their heads in this title.

If Modern Warfare 3 brings the trilogy to a successful close, it’s only because its predecessor was similarly quick to pen the narrative. The original Modern Warfare had a sense of nuance, but Modern Warfare 3 seems intent on wrapping things up quickly. As a result, the tale is mediocre, belonging more in the bargain bin of action films than alongside something as subversive as, say, Spec Ops: The Line. Even with these pacing issues, Modern Warfare 3‘s story is still better than anything IW puts out these days.

MW8

Guns up, soldier!

It’s time to be honest, though; few gamers play a Call of Duty title for the story, and the series has never made a point of emphasizing the single-player narrative over the promise of multiplayer glory. Modern Warfare 3‘s multiplayer isn’t really worth talking about, though… because it’s long dead. Stone cold. Whatever novelty the mode might’ve packed back in the day is long irrelevant in 2017. The demise of CoD‘s multiplayer could be attributed to most shooters’ short half-life on PC, but the real culprit is Activision’s insistence on churning out new CoD games every year.

Activision’s method of killing games only a year after release is a curious one, but the publisher deserves credit; it’s convinced millions of gamers that this ritualistic behavior is both perfectly acceptable and worth paying money for. It’s tempting to spend paragraphs railing against the evils of this system, but as long as players are happy to spend sixty bucks for the same round of shooting each year… there’s really no point. That dynamic doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

MW9

Behold the unstoppable juggernaut that is Activision!

Activision does get credit for one thing: the publisher managed to salvage a video game even as Infinity Ward’s creative team was heading for the door. It’s worth repeating that Modern Warfare 3 suffers none of the bugs and glitches that so often plague games that had woeful developments. It should go without saying that Modern Warfare 3, a six-year-old game, runs just fine on almost any system. Additionally, its extensive options menu can help players take care of problems that do arise.

As for the game itself, Modern Warfare 3 gets a solid “meh.” It’s a perfectly adequate bout of shooting that, like most CoD games, does absolutely nothing to blaze new trails on the well-worn road of first-person shooters. It’s also not quite as good as previous Modern Warfare games in terms of narrative or gunplay, and its multiplayer ground to dust years ago. Gamers who enjoyed the first two Modern Warfare games or military shooters in general can probably get some fun out of it, but only on a sale. The game’s still listed at forty bucks even though it came out six years ago. Good one, Activision.

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You can buy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Destiny 2

Destiny1

Save humanity’s last, best chance for survival.

PC Release: October 24, 2017

By Ian Coppock

After much hooting and hollering from console fanboys to try this game, try this gameDestiny 2 has landed on PC. Most PC gamers (especially the ones who game only on that platform), have reacted to the launch in ways ranging from mild interest to complete indifference. Those reactions could be chalked up to gaming’s long and sad history of broken PC ports, but it might just be because few PC gamers have ever played a Destiny game. Destiny 2 is out to change that, and to make a big splash in the world of PC gaming.

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Destiny 2 is a massively multiplayer shooter and the second installment in Bungie’s new flagship series. The legendary developer, best known for creating Halo, began work on the first Destiny shortly after escaping Microsoft’s clutches. The game released in 2014 to mixed reviews; critics and gamers praised its gunplay but took everything else (especially its “story”) to task. The game eventually straightened up and flew right, but only after releasing multiple, overpriced expansions that gamers were only too happy to throw money at.

Originally, Destiny was supposed to be a 10-year endeavor, but Bungie’s publisher, Activision, isn’t known for not releasing sequels all the time (cough*Call of Duty*cough). Destiny 2 shot out of the gate barely a year after its predecessor’s last expansion. The title has been hailed by console gamers as a major improvement over the first title, but PC gamers have no such point of reference, so reviews like these will have to suffice.

Destiny2

HAVE AT THEE, ALIEN-KNAVE!

For those PC gamers who need a quick primer, the Destiny games are sci-fi shooters set in a universe of both spaceships and magic. After enjoying centuries of peace and prosperity across the Solar System, an apocalyptic event called “the Collapse” forces humanity to retreat to Earth ahead of a foe called “the Darkness.” Humanity’s sole hope for survival is the Traveler, a sentient globe that gives certain humans a magic power called Light. These warriors, the Guardians, serve as the Destiny series’ player characters and are the only thing standing between mankind and a myriad of alien threats.

Destiny 2 takes place a year after the last Destiny expansion and opens with the Cabal (one of those aforementioned alien threats), invading humanity’s last city and taking the Traveler for themselves. The player’s Guardian rushes home to help repel the invaders but gets their Light stolen by Ghaul, a Cabal leader who seeks the Traveler’s power for himself. As the Guardian, it’s up to players to get their mojo back, assemble humanity’s scattered forces, and retake the city before the Traveler’s Light is snuffed out forever.

Destiny3

So I’m guessing that deflector shield didn’t work out…

As a Guardian, players can employ a diverse mix of magic powers and sci-fi weaponry to take the fight to humanity’s foes. Players can find and equip ever better armor, as well as a wide range of pistols, rifles, rocket launchers, and other killing implements. As players regain their Light, they can also unlock special abilities that even the odds on the battlefield. Players can pick from a few different classes that each emphasize guns or magic or a mix of the two, and branch out into sub-classes as the game goes on.

As players level up and gain new abilities, they can also explore dangerous areas all over the Solar System. The Cabal are hardly the only threat to humanity; a wide variety of other alien species are happily squatting in the ruins of mankind’s solar empire. These include four-armed bug pirate things and a race of creepy robots that are basically Geth in all but name. Players can face these threats by playing through the story or teaming up to embark upon MMO-style dungeon raids.

Destiny4

And here we have a fossilized parkour gym…

Destiny 2‘s first-person gunplay is the foundation upon which the rest of the game is built, and boy is it identical to Halo. Anyone who played Halo back in the day will instantly recognize how Destiny 2‘s weapons handle. Grenades float through the air as if borne on the backs of butterflies, while light weapons feel more like Super Soakers than actual firearms. Thankfully, Destiny 2‘s mainline guns pack much more of a kick than the weapons in Halo, which helps players feel like the powerful space warriors that the game wants them to be.

Destiny 2‘s other big gameplay feature is its powers, which players can level up and earn like in most RPGs. Different classes offer different powers; the Titan class, for example, focuses on brute battlefield strength, while the Warlock emphasizes devastating magical powers. As players pick and choose these powers, they can branch out into sub-classes that offer further specialization. These powers are a mixed bag: some, like the Hunter’s double-bladed melee pandemonium, are awesome. Other powers… not so much.

Destiny5

Oh my God it actually IS a Super Soaker!

Players can use these guns and powers to undertake story missions (most of which are relatively brief) or explore pseudo-open world areas in pursuit of items, quests, and timed events like boss battles. These areas are fun to explore and are also apparently much larger than the ones found in Destiny. Neither of these activities holds a candle, though, to going on Strikes and Raids. Strikes are small-scale dungeon adventures meant to be completed in just a few hours, while Raids (much like their World of Warcraft counterparts) are involved marathons that can support huge fireteams.

Of course, any game involving Bungie also features PvP multiplayer. Destiny 2 introduces a few modes for the multiplayer enthusiast to try, including the time-honored deathmatch and a fun best-of-ten mode called countdown. These bouts are some of the most fun multiplayer shooting to come to PC so far this fall, as teams of four players fight viciously for supremacy. Players can also compete in weekend-long competitions called Trials of the Nine, or in the Iron Banner, a tournament that randomizes each player’s equipment without unbalancing anyone.

Destiny6

SING, MY ANGEL OF MURDER!

With that rather exhaustive list of shooter features out of the way, it’s time to ask a more fundamental question: is it fun? The answer is that yes, Destiny 2‘s shooting is indeed fun; the caveat is that it’s not shooting that hasn’t already been done a million times. Destiny 2‘s shooting is a very “safe” amalgamation of all the shooter trends popular in the industry these days, so players hoping for something more novel might be disappointed. Destiny 2 also has a vicious appetite for grinding, and players who don’t share that appetite might get bored by gunning down alien waves over and over.

Additionally, while Destiny 2‘s gameplay is polished on the front end, its underpinnings could use some work. The game’s menus are a jumbled mess that juxtapose player powers, maps, locations, and arsenals. For some reason, prompts to start missions on a given world sometimes appear away from that world. Destiny 2‘s menus can be hard to follow, and that assessment is coming from someone with a great deal more patience than the pathologically impatient shooter fans this game is presumably aimed at.

Destiny7

Does anyone else see a Krogan, Darth Revan, and Garrus?

Destiny 2‘s story is a similarly “safe” space odyssey that doesn’t break any notable ground for the genre. If this game’s narrative is an improvement over the first game’s, that might just be because the first game didn’t really have one (at least the vanilla version). Destiny 2‘s narrative goes through the typical paces of a space opera: a big bad guy appears, someone gets captured, the hero needs to believe in themselves, and an epic battle ensues. There’s even the monologue about saving the galaxy, and a planet-destroying superweapon to boot.

None of these things are bad, per se, but the game’s singular focus on plot comes at the expense of the characters. No one evolves along with the story or changes in a meaningful way; the NPCs are just there to yell missions into the player’s ear. Sorry, but even Destiny 2 poster boy Cayde-6 is funny for only so long. Destiny 2‘s focus on scale instead of narrative is no surprise coming from an Activision studio, but it still represents a missed opportunity to inject some Mass Effect-style nuance back into space adventuring.

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Darth Ghaul, Dark Lord of the Space Hippos.

Then again, perhaps it’s a bit naive to take a game so obviously built for multiplayer to task for having an underwhelming story. Sure, the narrative is what binds Destiny 2 together, but its multiplayer scene is where the game truly comes alive. No, the real stories of Destiny 2 are the ones of friends getting together to take out hellholes full of alien creatures, not a silent Guardian’s fight against an obese space turtle.

What’s more, Destiny 2 runs well on PC, so players seeking those great multiplayer stories can do so without having to worry about crashes and too much lag. It would seem that that extra month or two that Bungie took to port this game was well spent, as Destiny 2 can maintain a consistent framerate and has been praised by many gamers for running well even on subpar rigs. Players might experience occasional lag, but that happens on any multiplayer game with a heavy server load.

Destiny9

Oh God, a Space Toaster! TAKE COVER

While the Destiny fanboys may have exaggerated how fresh and novel the game’s shooting is, they certainly weren’t kidding about the scenery. Destiny 2 is a gorgeous game that weaves thousands of colors into epic space paintings. The game’s environments are layered with rich colors and object detail, which helps Destiny 2 give off that space opera vibe. Many times, players will also have the opportunity to behold jaw-dropping vistas, especially anytime the Traveler is within view.

While on the subject of art and immersion, it’s also worth pointing out that Destiny 2 has one of the prettiest soundtracks of any 2017 game. Bungie is well-known for its musical chops and gave Destiny 2 a spine-tingling OST driven by strings and deep horns. It’s a set of music that moves at about the same pace as the tracks of the original Halo, but abandons Gregorian chant in favor of a more diverse sound. This is definitely one of those titles whose soundtrack is also worth buying.

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(drool)

In conclusion, Destiny 2 is one of those games that’s built to the scale of everyone’s favorite space epics, but it relies on the players to spin the story instead of a team of writers. The game’s subpar central narrative is not the star of the show; the stars are the great tales of battle that players pass from Discord server to Discord server. While Destiny 2‘s gunplay isn’t anything new, its curious post-apocalyptic excitement adds enough novelty to keep the fun going for a long time.

The bottom line for PC gamers is that Destiny 2 is worth taking more than a glance at. It won’t replace Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or Team Fortress 2 in anyone’s library of favorite multiplayer shooters, but it might just be a worthy enough companion for even those vaunted titles. Get some friends together and give the game a try, because while Bungie explores little new ground when it comes to shooting, the stars are the limit in its mesmerizing space fantasy universe.

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You can buy Destiny 2 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.