Video Games Reviews
I live and breath games
I am a game developer but also a passionate gamer that is always looking for new game experiences for me to discover, enjoy and learn from. This page is about giving you a glimpse of the games that I have played since 2020 with some quick thoughts of my experience playing through them.
It has been my passion since I am 5 years old and even to this day I am still amazed by the talent that oozes from this industry. Everyday I am still looking at new games to play, player reviews and overall how the industry is evolving.
This passion for games is why I got into games and why I have never looked back.
I believe Elden Ring has redefined the standard of open world with its limitation of guidance, interesting and impactful loot and game balance, giving the player so much freedom in it's execution. There is a lot to say about Elden Ring but I don't want to write a whole essay on the game so I will focus on one fault I see in its execution.
It is interesting for me to hear that Elden Ring is considered a difficult game. I don't believe that it is completely accurate. To me Elden Ring's game design is based on "Learning through Failure" taken to an extreme that sometimes feel unwarranted.
When we look at the player's engagement chart between boredom and frustration, Elden Ring startles the line of frustration.
The souls like combat design has been a breath of fresh air in the industry with mechanics closer to a fighting game than an RPG with impactful and consequential actions. Fights are quick and powerful. You or the enemy will die in a few hits so every action counts. This feeling is amazing when the player understand how they could have been successful when experiencing failure.
With that said this is where I believe Elden Ring could improve. Elden Ring's experience for me is divided into two acts the first act being the three opening areas and the second act being the last two areas, being the Golden City and the Giant's mountain.
Throughout the first act, every fight is challenging with enemies having clear patterns to learn and understand for you to be successful. It is game of assessing then executing.
In the second act the design changes. The player is now taken into traps and pitfalls that become unpredictable and forces the player to fail before being able to execute. There is no skill involve you are only forcing the player to know that an enemy is hidden behind the corner. Once you know, the challenge is gone, your skill has not improved only your knowledge of the game's level design.
Elden Ring has set new standards for open world design and I hope other game developers are learning from the success of this game and evolve the genre with it.
Kingdom Hearts 3
I love Kingdom Hearts as a franchise, its quirkiness with its wholesome stories, beautiful worlds, music and flashy gameplay keeps me entertain and emotionally engaged throughout Sora's journey
Weirdly enough I also completely understand the criticism the general public has with the games. The story's continuity is inconsistent to say the least with characters and names that are hard to keep track of.
I have a take on the franchise to few seemed to have brought about Nomura as a director. I believe Nomura's vision for Kingdom Hearts is to create a game and world that prioritizes emotional impact for its character over story cohesion. With that emotional impact comes incredible music and set pieces to emphasize each moment. One could argue that you can create stronger emotional scenes with a cohesive story and world but for Kingdom Hearts I do not agree. Kingdom Hearts is a theme park of worlds, with known characters from each of these worlds interacting with new heroes that tie all of those settings together. It would almost impossible to create a coherent story that would justify multiple Disney characters and Square Enix to live with each other.
Kingdom hearts 3 is not the strongest in the franchise because of the third act. The third act looses the emotional moments I just talked about as the game does not give the player enough time to enjoy and recognize those moments. Too many characters show up at the same time and the resolution happens to quickly. It is clear that the finale was rushed.
That said the gameplay is super engaging and easy to pick up. On paper the combat is simple, one button to attack, one to block, one to jump and one to dodge. It never really evolves but the key of the system is slowly seeing your character unlock a string of very flashy animations/ attacks that flows together elegantly.
The presentation and music is also incredible. That plus a fun gameplay loop of exploring beautiful world does not overshadow the poor character development for me. It is a guilty pleasure and I can't wait for Kingdom Hearts 4
SIFU has been one on the best games I have played that year.
SIFU had a vision, it was clear, precise with every decision made in service to that cause. The dev team wanted to portray the experience of being a Kung Fu artist and have the player go through what it would like to be a Kung Fu hero in their own movie.
The focus is clearly on gameplay with tight responsive controls that flows naturally from one action to the next. It takes note from the Dark Souls series where every action having a clear consequence on the outcome of the battle from timing to stagger systems.
With that gameplay nailed, the execution was straight to the point, no fluff, no side tracking. The game is set in clear levels with the first fight taking place right away. They smartly designed a rogue lite systems where re playability and mastery is core to the experience. It is about learning and growing as a player through execution and not artificial grind. This makes the game fairly short if you have already mastered the combat but that is its magic: the satisfaction of becoming a Kung Fu master and getting the feeling of plowing through your enemies in a perfect run after hours of trial and error.
Cyberpunk is tough game for me to review. The game does a lot of amazing things when it is at its best during some of its main quests (especially the first act). It is also clear that the game was shipped too early and lacked a clear vision forcing an amazing dev team to spiral into a deep level of polish on certain systems to completely lacking essentials in others.
The level of immersion that Cyberpunk was able to create in its first person perspective was something I had never experienced. It is not constant throughout the experience but when it works it is amazing. Quests like the end of the first act when Jackie dies shows the peak that the game has to offer, with diverse amazingly detail environment, interesting first player perspective (hiding in the TV during the murder), great acting, to purposeful gameplay sequence. It sets the player up perfectly on a quest of revenge and redemption like no other.
Bi passing the obvious performance issue at launch, the cracks shows in the game design once you pass the first act. The city design is amazing with each section of the world feeling unique but also sadly feeling very empty. After experiencing a first act that developed characters and NPC personalities like no other, we go into a world of side quest and events that feels like the polar opposite. Quests are only given through phone calls taking away any interaction with this interesting world and its inhabitants. You go from map point to map point, get a minute of dialogue and go kill some folks.
The whole premise of the game is two fold: become known as the best merc in the city and find a way to survive. These two goals have conflicting priorities, one needs time while the other tells you that you are out of time. This is an interesting complex system that should be pivotal to the world around you. Exciting milestone quest should have been created, challenging your morals and risk to achieve an outcome that Nigh City would recognize. NPCs and merchants should learn who you are as you become more popular, then becoming the best merc should offer you perks and advantages that are celebrated who knows even potentially offer possibilities to help you survive.
The fact that you are dying is never explored fully, you actually do not run out of time (which I understand as a time gate is too stressful for an RPG) but maybe they could have created system that made you weaker as a character unless you were able to achieve certain quest lines or requirements (like a hunger system).
I could go on and on about Cyberpunk as I deeply love this game and sad to see how close it was to becoming a masterpiece of its generation. The world that they created, with its character and inhabitants sometimes shines so bright that it was enough for me to stay immersed throughout multiple playthroughs. I have no doubt that this franchise and sequel will be one of my favorite games as I see CDPR willing to learn from their shortcomings and push forward.
Final Fantasy 7
Final Fantasy 7 remake
It is easy for me to say that I am a die hard Final Fantasy fan. This franchise has had a major impact on who I am as a game developer and as a person. For me what defines the Final Fantasy series is first and foremost its world building tied to its storytelling with a genre defining soundtrack. It is then accompanied by a world exploration and simple yet effective progressive gameplay loop that services it's story.
I believe Square Enix has lost some of that identity in the past decade starting with FF12/13 when making the transition to action combat. It is admirable for them wanting to invest in possibly the weakest part of their games but it cannot be at the detriment of their core identity and what made the franchise successful.
I believe that FF7 Remake is a right step back towards those core values and it shows the potential that this company could accomplish in the RPG franchise.
The original FF7 is my least favorite FF game. I did not grow up with the game and without the nostalgia I feel like tit has some extremely painful pacing issues that undermines an otherwise amazing world, engaging story and beautiful music. Once the party leaves Midgard and has to start exploring the world, the pacing dives. The game forces to player to go through tons of backtracking and simple dungeons without interesting world building stories to tell. That said once you hit major story beats it is clear the game has a lot to offer .
Coming into FF7 remake, surprisingly enough the same issues starts to appear. FF7 has an great story to tell, tied to the lore of this world they created. The challenge the devs are facing is that the world building they created is so tightly integrated to the main plot line that diverging from it becomes a chore and bogs down the pacing. Whenever the game focuses on its main plot, the game is amazing and truly feels like a next gen Final Fantasy title... then comes the side content which is very stiff and does not provide any character growth for the character and the world. When that happens the immersion breaks and as a player you start to see the padding that the developers are creating which bloat the scope of the experience.
That said the gameplay is an improvement over older titles although it still needs some iteration especially in readability/ clarity. The challenge that the dev are facing is that they are designing an action game with impactful skill decisions that can be chosen by pausing the action. This creates a layer of strategy that forces each skill to have a major impact on the combat and in term limiting the potential skill expression through action. In FF7R though we see the relic of past games with a lot of bullet sponge combat where each action only influences the outcome of the combat by a small margin. It feels unearned as the player is forced to hack away at the enemy without any major dmg or stagger taking place. This would work for a turned base strategy game, not an action game.
This gameplay is not new, top down RPGs like Baldur's gate used this concept. Square should look at Baldur's Gate and Souls games and be willing to have more impactful outcome in its combat with each decision the player makes.
Tales of Arise
Tales Of has always been a series that always intrigued me but I have never been able to fully embrace. Two things have held it back for me. The world building and the gameplay. The gameplay always felt messy to me with too many actions happening on screen making it hard for me to follow. Although I would say it was never the deal breaker for me. Tales Of are games usually more centered on character development with a world not as developed with only a few major cities that have been given extra care. This dissonance has made it hard for me to enjoy games like Tales of Beseria.
I was very excited when I saw the reveal of Tales of Arise. The art style and world design was honestly breath taking. I had never seen that much detail put into a Tales Of game before, let alone most next gen RPGs. For this reason Tales of Arise was going to be the RPG that could pull into this franchise.
After completely finishing the game I felt very neutral about my experience and that comes from the sense of purpose and drive given to me by the story. Tales of Arise felt like episodes of a Shonen with a very little overarching plot to tie the story together. Each chapter would repeat itself: introduce bad guy, do dungeons, beat bad guy. Rinse and repeat. This form of story telling feels outdated and is extremely striking when you see the level of polish and care the gameplay and art design Tales of Arise has to offer.
It is a true next gen game experience with a last gen story.
The game franchise is almost there, if there are able to improve the story telling and world building ten they will truly have a master piece on their hands.
Dying Light 2
I was intrigued by Dying Light 2. Mirror's edge was a game I adored when it came out. First person platforming was something I had never experienced until Mirror's edge and having a fully blown RPG that tied its gameplay to Mirror's edge was something I was excited to experience.
After playing Dying Light 2, it felt clear to me that there were contradicting visions for what the game was going to be. It diluted the potential for the game. It wanted to be a Mirror's Edge, Last of Us, Skyrim and Assassin Creed game all in one with Co Op. In other terms, a Platformer, Co Op RPG with open world mechanics tied with a deep story telling.
To get me wrong, it is ok to have all those elements but the games needs to prioritize one aspect of its game over the others. The experience I felt playing the game is that it wanted me to skillfully traverse the world, jump, wall grind, duck, etc... seamlessly throughout the space but halt to fight a group of enemies where hacking with stat based weapon was key to my survival.
First Person platforming is about speed and flow. In my opinion Dying Light should have limited its combat to an almost a one shot kill on either side. Making it about the fluidity of its traversal mechanic and truly experience the terrifying outcome that would be to get hit once by a zombie.
The team is talented and it is clear the game has gotten a lot of effort put into it. With more focused design pillars I believe this game studio could truly make an amazing game.
It was hard for me to not be excited for the Ruined King. When working on the League of Legends IP for over 5 years and being a fan of the game for 10 years, it was mind-blowing to think that I could experience characters that I learned to love in the MOBA and stories through the lens of a turn base RPG.
I am torn with the Ruined King's execution. I thought the art style, turn based combat and character progression were great. The combat gave a lot room for different strategies and execution with different party composition. It was very refreshing and engaging. Seeing my characters living their lives in this world was also very satisfying. Learning about Bilgewater and its inhabitants or Illaoi's culture was a driving factor in my engagement with the game.
That said I believe two thing held the game back for me from truly recommending the experience:
1. The technical execution was poor, although the art style was great, I experienced a lot of crashes, freezes and most importantly a lack of optimization. It was clear that the giant levels and detailed animation with multiple camera angles held them back. All textures felt very low res which was too bad since it could have made for a very beautiful looking game
2. More importantly the game felt like an episode of an overarching story told in a different medium. The game loop was focused on exploring one city then going into very long dungeons with mostly gameplay, limiting any story beats and character motivation/ evolution.
It is clear the world has a lot to offer and made me wish Ruined King was closer to a fully fledge RPG with stories and characters that builds a world larger than life. We were only hinted at that some of our character came from other parts of the world. It would have been amazing to have a story that made us explore more cultures, environments and player motivations that were engaging them into a bigger cause then themselves.
The Last of Us
Even though I had played this game when it came out 7 years ago, I wanted to replay it and understand why it made such a powerful impact on me.
The game's theme and gameplay is from the start remarkably representative of how the character should feel and act in this world. Everything is aggressive, scarce and every decision you make could mean life or death. This is a story of characters that are put in impossible situation where only determination and brutality are the only way out.
One of my favorite design in this game is its difficulty scaling. It is one of the few games that understands that difficulty should not mean that an enemy should take more hits to be killed. It is about strategic decisions and punishing mistakes. Playing this game on very hard, the player can still one shot enemies but you can also die just as fast. Resources are scarce and every opportunities that the player gets to not use ammo is a win.
The gameplay is wrapped into a powerful and amazing story with cohesive and believable characters. Last of Us is a masterpiece of game design in my opinion.
The Last of Us 2
Probably one of the most controversial game of that year, Last of Us hit me hard and I felt emotions in a video game that I haven't felt in the long time. The level of mastery of the gameplay, visuals and detailed oriented features is a sight to behold and I enjoyed it greatly.
I believe it falls short of the first Last of Us in a few places. What made the Last of Us such a powerful for me was to see these characters being in impossible situations of life and death and making tough choices in the hopes to survive another day in this world. LoU2 focuses on characters that make wrong choices and let hate takeover themselves. As soon as the player understands this, they become disconnected from the characters and it breaks the immersion. I would have also made Abby's story line the first you experience and discover half way through the game that she kills Joel. Shocking and betraying the player who was learning to relate to the new characters.
Another approach could have been to actually see that impact Ellie had on Abby's world. Meaning that if the dev created a more emergent system where every kill that you as the player controlling Ellie makes influences the outcome of Abby's story would been so impactful. Learning that you decided to kill certain characters and then learning about who they were would have been heartbreaking. Not letting the player make that choice was a disservice to the them and the impact that the game was to emote/ create.
Overall it is still an amazing game even if the story Niel and his team I believe was trying to deliver falls short sometimes. You have to respect the clear passion and dedication that the devs have put into this game.
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart
I'm torn with with Ratchet and Clank 2. Technically and visually speaking the game is a marvel and everything I look for in a platformer. The world is inviting, colorful, lively and detailed but for some reason this time around I felt less engaged than the first and I am trying to understand why.
I think my issue with the game is where the team decided to focus its effort on. In my opinion the game fell the into the design trap of so many games before theme of expanding the freedom of exploration without adapting or innovating its gameplay enough. The worlds are bigger and all technically beautiful but the pacing of meaningful content interaction feel further apart forcing the player to traverse the space in some way or another to reach the fun.
I feel what makes old school third person platformer great is their tight control and instant fun each level provided. Ratchet and Clank 2 feels like a beautifully stretched out version of Ratchet and Clank 1 without enough innovative gameplay ideas, but with masterly crafted execution of world building and animation. I believe the game would have been more successful if the game was 20% shorter and prioritizing polishing their best moments in each levels.
Another missed opportunity was for differencing the gameplay of the two main characters which would have brought an exciting opportunity to reexperience the levels through a different gameplay lens.
Assassin Creed: Valhalla
This makes me sad to feel this way about the Assassin Creed franchise. Some of my fondest games has been AC for the longest time but it is clear that Ubisoft is looking to take the formula to a direction that contradicts in my opinion with their formula.
The first challenge is their live service model they are forcing themselves to create with Assassin Creed. They want the cake and eat it too. What I mean by that, is that they want a cycle releases of a franchised $60 game with the live service integrated inside those games. In other words meaning: DAU and MAU are at the core of their success metric compared to having a lasting positive impression a game can leave on players which in turn makes them buy the next iteration.
This to me is clear on multiple front:
The staggering amount of content. I believe at launch Valhalla had over 150 total hours of content. The challenge though is that a ton of their quest model is repeated, meaning the core game loop of those quest's structure is experienced in the first 10 hours.
The RPG model that they have tacked on t contradicts their core formula. I love RPGs and especially progression systems. On paper having a progression system is a great idea for AC but the execution is poor. Their biggest fault being dmg number based progression. Assassin creed was about quick satisfying combat with flashy finishers and seamless transition to traversal. The numbers game has taken a lot of that satisfaction out of the game. Now the game is more about hacking away at a health bar more than finding strategies that will quickly get resolved if done correctly. All of this for me was partly done in the name of padding game time
Micro-transactions and daily quests are now core to the experience. I have always believed that Live Services that tie their core game loop microtransactions are doomed to fail sooner or later. You want to engage the player in your core systems and AC has always been about exploration, discovery and reward. If the reward is now given trough payment instead of exploration you take away the entire motivation for players. I understand that micro-transactions and now part of our industry, especially in stock driven studios. That said I would encourage the devs to find new innovative ways to get the player engaged with your system without affecting the core game loop.
I love this franchise and want to see it being successful, there is more for me to say but overall I hope Assassin creed goes back to its roots and take inspiration from other very successful open worlds like Spiderman, Ghost of Tsushima, Elden Ring and more...
In 2010, Assassin's creed innovated the open world genre and brought to games a new freedom of exploration through fluidity of horizontal traversal mechanics with quick and engaging combat spread throughout. I believe the epitome of this game design genre has been achieved by two games: Spiderman for its traversal and Ghost of Tsushima for its gameplay.
Spiderman made me re feel some of the love that I had from the Assassin's creed formula. This is a game that compared to so many in these past few years had a clear and precise vision: Innovative traversal system with satisfying yet classic combat and open world. The web swinging is almost perfect and does exactly what players would expect form a Spiderman game. It is easy to pick up yet there is a level of skill expression that the player can learn to optimize. It was the right call for the dev team. You can and will spend hours traversing the city swinging from building to building and never get bored, the rest of the gameplay is secondary.
Don't get me wrong I don't believe the rest of the systems are bad. I believe they are well executed but to me it is clear that the classic open world systems of going from point to point on a map is running its course and the genre needs to start evolving and innovating soon. Back it 2010 it was a new experience to have an open map filled with interactable secrets and quests spread throughout a sprawling space. Players were not used to such quick and innovative traversal navigation and needed guidance. The audience now has grown and the design needs to grow with it. I believe games like Elden Ring and in parts Ghost of Tsushima are trying to evolve its open world systems and Spiderman 2 will need to do the same otherwise I believe it will dissatisfy some of its player base.
Ghost of Tsushima
I believe the Assassin Creed formula of open world has lost its way when making the transition to the new generation with Origins. Going the route of putting the focus on RPG systems made the combat more of a stat check than player skill. This was not the right direction to go. Ghost of Tsushima understand that and made in my opinion the best iteration of the Open World Action genre.
GoT understood where to double down and improve the genre with the first being combat. Old AC's combat was serviceable to its best mechanics which was the traversal system. The combat was brief but it kept the flow of the game loop going. The challenge with the system was that it was not skill expressive enough. One press of a button (counter) and the combat showcased no challenge. Developers has lost (in the renaissance of the RPG) the satisfaction of effective quick combat but Ghost of Tsushima gets it.
Instead GoT went with a rock paper scissor system of combat where one stance/ one action will either over take you or the enemy. A few hits and the enemy or yourself is dead, forcing you as the player to pay close attention to the patterns of combat. Every move matter, every assassination is a one hit KO.
The innovation didn't stop there and the UX team has done an exceptional job trying to hide the core formulaic gameplay of an open world. I was very impressed to find immersive systems put into the game that would guide the player to points of interesting. Instead of having to open a map or look at a 2D UI, the wind system, the fox system and others were great tools that I wish Ubisoft would learn from.
That said I believe the open world formula of having to clear a full map on interest points is saturating and we as an industry need to innovate even further to truly set a new standard for the future of the industry. I believe this team can do it and am looking forward with what they have to offer with their next title.
Tiny Tina Wonderland
I have a complicated relationship with the Borderlands franchise. I am always excited to play the new entry. The first 10 hours are amazing but the core game loop start to loose its appeal and I progressively loose interest throughout the next 30 hours. I believe all of the games have the same core issues but games like Borderlands 2 got carried by it's writing and character diversity.
Tiny Tina feels like an expansion for Borderlands 3 with very similar gameplay and combat system. That said the space where Tiny Tina is looking to innovate is a step in the right direction and I would encourage them to explore it further as the execution has no yet hit its potential.
What holds Borderland back from being a genre defining game in the looter shooter space for me is in its class identity/ diversity.
Having a class only have on ability is not enough. Sometimes that ability only buff certain dmg types which in term puts all the emphasis on the gun loot. At the core this is ok as the guns diversity is what makes the Borderland franchise enticing but it means that you only one way to play the game and classes don't matter.
At the end of the day a gun mechanic is point and deal damage. RPG looters are based on optimization, build creativity and identity. The optimization aspect is present is Borderland but the creativity and identity is lacking. To build identity in those games you need to provide the player tools to vary its gameplay immensely. This is done through abilities that diverge from the normal core loop of gunplay. For Borderlands to be successful, Classes need more class skills and skill tree decision that truly affect the player's approach to combat from positioning, tanking, dmg output timing, cc, etc
Tiny Tina added multiple choices of skill tree, melee attacks and spells replacing grenades is a step in the right direction. Skill tree choices creates variety, melee and spells open up new gameplay opportunities, but the devs need to let go and be willing to commit exploring to gameplay opportunities. They need to let the player not interact with guns and give a class that permits it. This will only make the core gun loop stronger as it now becomes an active choice driven by the player.
Returnal was an interesting experience for me. I had picked the game on release and couldn't really get into it. The presentation was amazing and I really enjoyed gameplay but I stopped after the first boss feeling like I had experienced everything it had to offer. 6 months later I picked it back up and put more effort into really exploring its world and core gameloop.
Returnal provides a new iteration of the bullet hell genre and does an amazing job in elevating it to a AAA product. I was very impressed by the diversity of the gunplay. As I said with Tiny Tina, it is very difficult to provide variety in a gunplay experience but Returnal really pushed the envelope. It is worth recognizing and it hope future game take inspiration. All guns have a clear focus on its execution from the dmg output, dmg window, area of effectiveness, spread, distance effectiveness, bullets speed, etc. It is very impressive and really forced me to change my playstyle.
The theme and story was also very intriguing and sunk me in. The imagery was very pronounced and had me guessing on the actual journey the main character was going through. I would say that the outcome of that journey could have been more clear and satisfying as it stayed very open ended (wihtout the secret ending) and left me a bit unsatisfied.
Forcing me to change my playstyle each run for a third person action shooter is very impressive and felt very satisfying. I discovered new ways that I could approach a challenge in a way I wished RPGs would.
A plague tale Innocence
Seeing a AA studio pushing its talent and resourcing to the limit and create the most polished experience they could make is something I admire.
The game is not perfect, the acting and story are serviceable and mostly predictable but the world they create and some the gameplay sequences in the game are sparks of brilliance. The game is the most successful when the main character are clearly overpowered by their enemies, whether it is against knights or the rat plague. It forced me as a player to learn to overcome my challenge through other means than brute force/ weapons, forcing to apply ruse to take away enemies attention or avoid insta death from the plague. This created interesting puzzle to solve.
The challenge I have with A Plague Tale is that it felt almost obligated to provide the players tool to kill its enemies. When that tonal shift change I then felt like I was playing a lesser version of the Last of Us. I saw the trailer for their second game and it worries me to see that they are now giving the main character actual weapons. We will see when the game comes out but I think it would be much more interesting if they embraced avoiding combat at all cost and creating new interesting emergent puzzles with the rat plague system.
Guardian's of the Galaxy
What a surprise it was when I started playing GotG. For some reason expecting a classic blockbuster movie adaption without a core vision for its video game counter part, I was blown away when I realized I was wrong.
The game is not perfect and clearly needed more resources or time but the direction of the game was solid and helped defined an experience that I will not forget for a long time.
The dev team understood what made the movies successful: amazing cast of character interacting with the world in their own way without realizing how out of touch they may be with society. It took the banter from the movie and decided to spend their resources in making each party member feel completely aware of the player's execution in the game. Instead of feeling like you are playing a preset story and set cutscenes you are instead met with a level of interaction where each party member comments on the action the player takes in the way I have never seen before and it works. Every game design elements was created to make you feel like you were responsible for your party members and that every decision you made would affect them.
The gameplay is very basic and serviceable and could have used deeper combo systems to be more interactive with its party member but it makes up for it outside of combat. Exploration, secret you can find by using your party members, quips they tell you every action you take and story beats shaping your overarching story almost plays out like an interactive movie close to David Yates's games but with a level of engagement and amazing dialogue that was overall more successful.
Demon's Soul Remake
I have played every Souls game but Demon's Soul Remake was the first Souls game I ever beat.
Although its gameplay does innovate compared to its original, what drew me in with the remaster is the level of execution in the craftmanship that created such an immersion experience for myself that I could not put the controller down. Its clear that the developers at Blue Point wanted to push the boundaries for what a Souls game could offer in terms of visual spectacle and polish.
Being able to experience the subtlety of each weapon interaction as they differ from each was a wonder of discovery.
That said the gameplay is limiting and shows its time. Comparing it to Elden Ring you can see how From Soft improved the boss designs, world design and player progression. Just by the ability to respec in Elden Ring fixes one of my biggest gripe I have with demon soul in that I am limited by my knowledge of the game for me to be able to fully enjoy a weapon fantasy. Discovering a new weapon that I want to try only to find out that my stats will never match its req. feels counter productive.
Overall Demon's Soul is very impressive and I can't wait to see what Bluepoint if they create their own product. They know how to execute now can they design?
God Of War
It is hard for me find fault in God of War. There are very tiny flaws that hold it back from being the perfect experience that a game like Last of Us provides. It is clear the game is a work of passion, solid vision with an excellence in its execution that surpasses 99% of its competitors. God of War is not looking to be an innovative product but an iterative product of what is done best in the industry elevated to an excellence in its execution that is rarely matched.
God of War combat took the best of the Souls franchise and its own franchise and created a more personal experience that forces the player's action to be impactful. By optimizing their stagger system, cc system, dodge system and weapon identity it made the God of War combat always engaging and satisfying. For me, a combat is well design when you can crank up the difficulty to the maximum. If combat becomes more punishing without being more grindy where every mistake the you make feels earned the system is successful.
The world they also created is breathtaking. Every pieces of this world is beautifully detailed and inviting. Although the story itself was pretty simple, the execution in the character development throughout the journey motivated you to bring this adventure to a close.
The few things holding this game back from bring a 10/10 for me was from the loot system sometimes feeling tacked on. Gear added minute dmg number arguably barely affecting much of the outcome of the combat. Id prefer if the loot was more complimentary of a playstyle than straight RPG stats. I also felt that some of the late game systems beside the Valkyries were also tacked on with major combat grinds without an interesting story payout or discovery made from beating it.
All and all God of War is an amazing game with almost perfect action combat in my opinion. If they are able to iterate on it's party system and make Kratos's partners feel more engaging it could set a new standard for the next generation of action games that could be very hard to beat.
Trails of Cold Steel 1
The Trails series has been a JRPG series that has gotten a very passionate fan base over the years and I have wanted to take the time play this series to understand what makes it so beloved with its player base.
The gameplay feels very similar to the Persona series with a core game loop divided between conversation and relationship building then a dungeon phase. As a gamer, I do not believe I completely fit the demography that they are targeting. The game is very focused on slowly developing each character at very slow pace.
What is remarkable though is the commitment that this series has at having all of its games tie in an overarching story that keeps the player motivated to play the following games.
Trails of Cold Steel 2
The first game focuses on building characters and establishing relationship while the second focuses on engaging the characters into a call to action for its overall plot. I enjoyed the game more as it was dynamic in its pacing.
It is clear that this game was made on a very tight schedule as the engine and gameplay stays extremely similar to the first game to the point that 80% of the environments are reused from the original. I found it interesting to the see the constraints that the team must have had in terms of resourcing and how they found clever solution to drive the story forward while revisiting existing places and not making the player bored.
Resident Evil 8
RE 8 is tonally an uneven experience but well executed. I am not personally a horror game enthusiast although it is a genre that I want to expand upon as I see the level of immersion that it can create. This is the reason why I decided to give RE8 a try.
I love gameplay that forces to make educated decision in every action that I take. RE8 embraces some of that concept especially at the beginning of the game making you very much aware that using ammo is a privilege to get me out of a tough situation. This creates a sense of dread and paranoia that is extremely successful in the castle. The village is beautiful yet eerie and I love all of the secret of you get to discover.
The core game loop is solid, the shortcomings like I said earlier is in its tonal shifts. I cant blame the direction of the game as I believe it was intentionally designed that way but it felt weird and off putting for me. We started with the castle that was a great balance between horror and dread but with this sense of fantasy and action which made me feel scared but in control. You then got into the house and this where I had the hardest time with. No more tools/ weapons, this was now a roller coaster ride that you had to get through to be able to continue the game. It was very effective in scaring me but I felt confused on how this two levels coexisted with each other. The intriguing thing is that after the house, the rest of the game was an incremental shift towards action with the end of the game letting you fully pilot a mech to kill a boss.
The game was goofy and an uneven experience that sometimes took me out of the immersion but I overall felt very satisfied with the core game loop with its polish look and feel.
I grew up with games like SSX and was really excited to experience an extreme sports game.
The gameplay of RR is very solid and honestly impressive. The amount of variety that it creates from biking, gliding, skiing and more is amazing gives a ton of skill expression and thrills to discover.
I really enjoyed the first 10 hours of my game time and then quickly fell off as I realized what the game was trying to achieve with its core game loop. Ubisoft wants to create live services that will generate revenues for years to come at the scale that is rarely match in this genre of product. The challenge with the cost of creating systems that entices the player to spend money to receive rewards breaks the illusion of progression and makes the player feel trapped by the product. Trapped by either being forced to spend money to be rewarded for the time they spend enjoying the game or being forced to play regularly on a defined time set to get a chance to receive those rewards. You are not rewarded for your accomplishment, you are rewarded for showing up or spending extra cash. Ubisoft's philosophy breaks the core game loop of their game and without realize only caters to a certain audience that is only looking to receive a quick boost of endorphin taking away any lasting value for the game/ studio's brand
It is a bit of a side tangent but it is too bad because RR has a great foundation and gameplay, the revenue strategy is clear in its core game loop and holds it back on creating an experience that I will remember fondly over the years to come.