Tuesday, April 26, 2022

2022 Games of the Year: LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga

 


LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is a game I almost didn't even pick up.  My history with LEGO games has been extremely hit and miss, but I feel like there have been more misses than hits over the years.

When this game came out, I heard nothing but good things about it.  Even that didn't convince me until I had a friend play the game and tell me that they had fixed most of my main complaints about past LEGO games.  Namely, the levels are no longer straightforward corridors and the combat has actual mechanics.  The game is still easy but that was never the problem.  Now it has just a little bit more depth and that makes a huge difference.

The reason LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is making my list is because I had a fun time playing it with my daughter.  As a single player experience I probably would have bounced off this game after a few play sessions but playing it with one of my kids made all the difference.  The local co-op works great and we made a lot of our own fun destroying things and messing around in the semi-open level design.

As a single player experience this would probably rank lower but because of how much fun the multiplayer was, this one makes it closer to the middle of my list:

  1. Elden Ring
  2. FFXIV Endwalker
  3. Horizon Forbidden West
  4. Pokémon Legends: Arceus
  5. Halo Infinite
  6. Vampire Survivors
  7. Triangle Strategy
  8. LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
  9. Nobody Saves the World
  10. Unpacking
  11. Total War: Warhammer 3
  12. Tunic
I'm pleasantly surprised to be adding this one!

Thursday, April 21, 2022

2022 Games of the Year: Triangle Strategy


Triangle Strategy is a game I'm feeling very mixed about.  I went into it wanting to love and but ran into a bunch of roadblocks along the way.

At its core, it is actually a really solid tactics game.  This is one of the best tactical combat and tactical character progression systems that we've gotten from Square Enix in a long time.  Every time I found myself in a battle I was having a great time and truly enjoying the systems at play.

Unfortunately, there are so many other things around the battles that don't work as well.  

The biggest of which is the way the story is delivered.  For every 20 minutes of fun tactical combat it feels like there's 40+ minutes of slow story delivery.  Characters talk and you have no direct control or interaction for long periods of time during it.  It's not even like old school RPGs where it's a true cutscene that feels like a reward.  Instead, this is more like taking most of the control away from the player but still making them manually button through every possible character dialog.

The ratio is just simply off.  This is a game in need of a good copyeditor to chop down the story segments.  It feels like the important information could have been delivered in half or even a third of the time it actually takes.

That sense of having an annoying wall thrown up in front of me every time I wanted to just get to the next battle is what led me to put the game down.  I ended up putting in about 12 hours and, based on the chapter count, I was about half way through the game.  But I just couldn't put up with the plodding dialog segments anymore.

The worst part is... the tactical battle system is so good.

Now I guess I need to figure out where to slot this into the list... I guess it'll have to go here:

  1. Elden Ring
  2. FFXIV Endwalker
  3. Horizon Forbidden West
  4. Pokémon Legends: Arceus
  5. Halo Infinite
  6. Vampire Survivors
  7. Triangle Strategy
  8. Nobody Saves the World
  9. Unpacking
  10. Total War: Warhammer 3
  11. Tunic
I'm slotting it in behind Vampire Survivors and ahead of Nobody Saves the World.  Somewhere mid-list feels about right since the story delivery would be near the bottom of the list but the tactical combat would be high on the list.  On balance, it can live in the middle-ish of the list for now.

Honestly, I hope to see more tactical strategy games like this from Square Enix.  I just hope they learn from this one and tighten up the aspects of the game that are lacking.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

2022 Games of the Year: Total War: Warhammer 3

I gave Total War: Warhammer 3 a real shot.  I wanted to like it a lot.  And, honestly, there are parts of the game that I did.  This is another one of those games that is doing something interesting but didn't end up clicking with me.

I really liked the battles in Total War: Warhammer 3.  I think I've liked the battling in most Total War games that I've tried.  I also thought that they did some interesting things with the factions in this game that were fun to explore on the battlefield.

The part that constantly tripped me up was the strategy layer.  All of the things between battles are less interesting than the battling itself.  The strategy level of the gameplay ends up feeling like busy-work in between the fun of the tactics level gameplay.  I shouldn't be surprised since this is the same reason I stalled out when I played Total War: Warhammer 2.

I think this is still a really solid strategy and tactics game, it's just not for me.  I'm sitting here wishing for a version of Total War where I can focus in on just my hero unit and one core army while ignoring all the rest of the game that feels (to me) like a distraction.

This one lands in the lower part of my list for the year.  The running games of 2022 list now looks like this:

  1. Elden Ring
  2. FFXIV Endwalker
  3. Horizon Forbidden West
  4. Pokémon Legends: Arceus
  5. Halo Infinite
  6. Vampire Survivors
  7. Nobody Saves the World
  8. Unpacking
  9. Total War: Warhammer 3
  10. Tunic

It's not surprising to see a strategy game slot in lower for me.  I've always been more of a fan of tactics games rather than strategy.  Although that line can be blurry at times.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

2022 Games of the Year: Kirby and the Forgotten Land


Kirby and the Forgotten Land was a quick playthrough for me.  It came out on a Friday and I had beaten the game by Saturday night.  But length isn't all that matters in a game.  This actually ended up being an excellently timed palate cleanser of a game for me.

Coming off of playing Elden Ring, this was exactly what I needed.  A quick, fun, and easy platformer that kept throwing interesting new twists my way.  I feel like Kirby platformers never reach the heights of Mario platformers but they feel like a close cousin.  I could feel a lot of the design philosophy of Mario Odyssey while I was playing through Kirby and the Forgotten Land.

Ultimately, this game was a little too easy for me.  I played on the harder difficulty mode, still cleared every level on the first try, and got almost all the secrets in my first pass through a level as well.  I never felt inspired to swing back through a level I had finished because I had already kind of picked the bones clean.

That being said, Kirby and the Forgotten Land would make for the perfect intro 3D platformer game for someone that hasn't played one before.  It's approachable, not too hard, but still interesting and with high production values.

Being great for new players but landing on the easy side for me means that Kirby lands in the bottom half of my running list for the year.  This is what the rundown looks like now:

  1. Elden Ring
  2. FFXIV Endwalker
  3. Horizon Forbidden West
  4. Pokémon Legends: Arceus
  5. Halo Infinite
  6. Vampire Survivors
  7. Kirby and the Forgotten Land
  8. Nobody Saves the World
  9. Unpacking
  10. Tunic
Kirby and the Forgotten Land slots into seventh for the moment.  I'm still going back to Vampire Survivors regularly which is why that edges it out but there's no question that Kirby was more enjoyable for me than Nobody Saves the World.  The Nintendo magic goes a long way here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

2022 Games of the Year: Tunic

This is the first game that really made me think hard about what to include in this running list.  I've already decided not to include everything, but this made me define things further.  The place I landed is that I want to include anything I play that is either good, interesting, or both.

Tunic is an interesting game.  It's a mash up of classic Zelda gameplay, an isometric action game, Fez, and has some Dark Souls DNA in it too.  You get to adventure around this isometric world exploring and defeating enemies while uncovering the core functions of the game.

As you explore, you slowly find pieces of the game manual that have some illustrators on them but mostly are covered in symbols that don't (as of me writing this) map to a language we understand.  That's where some of the Fez elements come in.  It feels like a game that wants the community to come together to solve its mysteries.  If you're into that kind of community solving, this game might be for you.

Did I mention you're an adorable fox and that the art style is incredible?  I feel like that's more important to this game than most people realize.  The cutest makes the game feel more approachable at first glance than it actually is but I think that cuteness is also what has drawn a lot of people into giving the game a shot in the first place.

Ultimately, this was an interesting game that just didn't click with me.  I've heard other people loving the slow reveal of how the gameplay works through the manual pieces you find but for me that just led to frustration.  I really wouldn't be surprised to see high up on other people's lists at the end of the year but it's going to be low on mine.

Here's what our running Games of the Year list looks like now:

  1. Elden Ring
  2. FFXIV Endwalker
  3. Horizon Forbidden West
  4. Pokémon Legends: Arceus
  5. Halo Infinite
  6. Vampire Survivors
  7. Nobody Saves the World
  8. Unpacking
  9. Tunic
This is the first time I've added a game to the bottom of the list instead of somewhere in the middle or high up.  Tunic is really interesting and it looks like it would be great for certain types of players.  I just happen to not be one of them.  But, in the end, I wanted it on this list to acknowledge that it's doing new and interesting things.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

2022 Games of the Year: Elden Ring

I had an interesting journey with Elden Ring.  I almost bounced off the game a number of times in the first four to six hours.  Then, it got it's hooks into me and I kept coming back even though I wasn't sure if I was actually having fun but I was having an interesting time and that made me continually return.  Sometime between hour 20 and 30 I fell in love with this game and felt that way almost all the way until the end... until the last boss caused massive amounts of frustration.

After all that, where did I land?  Well... I think this may end up being my game of the year.

The exploration and world building in this game is simply incredible.  I can't even begin to quantify the amount of times I saw something new and novel while exploring the world.  Elden Ring takes the sense of open world exploration wonder that Breath of the Wild gave me... but then ramps it up by constantly rewarding me with new and unique interactions.  Every time I saw something that looked vaguely interesting, my curiosity was immensely rewarded.

The game world doesn't explain itself to you and that's a huge strength.  It gives you an entire new world to discover with new things around every corner.

The downside is that the gameplay, UI, and UX don't really explain themselves either.  That's the reason I almost bounced off this game initially.  It feels like FromSoftware could hook even more players on their games if they dedicated some more resources to onboarding, UI, UX, and just general usability of their games.  What I found is that it's not actually the difficulty of the combat or boss fights that negatively impacted my experience, it was the difficulty of understanding the core systems of the game.

That was the primary hurdle I needed to jump over to come around to embracing the rest of the game.  Because everything else on offer is incredible.  I think this will be a game that is held up as a new type of open-world standard for years.

Some of my favorite parts of Elden Ring were also around the launch weeks when the game was entirely unknown.  I felt like I was uncovering new things alongside the community.  Throwing things into slack chat with my friends and hearing what they were finding was part of the magic.

As I write this, it's mid-March and I've just beaten the game.  This post will go into the next slot in my current Tuesday/Thursday schedule so I'm guessing it won't get posted until April.  That being said, I'm already a little tempted to dive back in and experiment in New Game Plus mode.  I did a melee with shield build for this initial playthrough but I've heard amazing things about magic builds.  I'm very interested in experiencing the gameplay through that lens at some point.

This post is already long but I feel like I could go down so many rabbit holes about this game.  If you want to hear more off the cuff thoughts, I'm sure I'll cover them on the Geek to Geek podcast.

For now... I'm surprised to say it, but here's my current games of the year ranking:

  1. Elden Ring
  2. FFXIV Endwalker
  3. Horizon Forbidden West
  4. Pokémon Legends: Arceus
  5. Halo Infinite
  6. Vampire Survivors
  7. Nobody Saves the World
  8. Unpacking
I'm amazed that FFXIV Endwalker was unseated, but I have to be honest with myself.  I'll be thinking about Elden Ring for years.  I think it may end up hanging up there at the top of the list as my game of the year.

We'll see, we still have a lot of the year to go.  But this game is kind of amazing.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

2022 Games of the Year: Horizon Forbidden West

Horizon Forbidden West is a pretty showcase for the PS5 and a really solid open world game.  But mostly, at it's core, it's a game that lets you fight giant robot animals and dinosaurs.  That alone pushes it up my list.

I actually had a hit and miss relationship with the first game in this series, Horizon Zero Dawn.  I played it a little when it came out but stalled out on it and set it down.  I came back much later and found a lot of enjoyment once I set my expectations correctly.

Horizon Forbidden West picks up right where that game left off, except it does a lot of things better.  There are quality of life improvements throughout and it's a gorgeous showcase of the PS5.  But my favorite improvements come down to the story and the characters.

The sci-fi aspect of the story is what drew me in and hooked me.  In the first game that is buried much later in the game but in Horizon Forbidden West it is core to the story from the start.  This game also made me actually care about the companion characters.  I felt like I was building a relationship with them as I got to encounter them every time I revisited my home base during the main story.  It even made me care about characters I had completely written off in the first game.

This is the most fun I've had in an open world game in awhile and the extremely high production values plus a great story actually put this one above Pokémon Legends: Arceus for me.  That means it gets slotted in right under Endwalker.

Here's where that puts our updated running ranking:

  1. FFXIV Endwalker
  2. Horizon Forbidden West
  3. Pokémon Legends: Arceus
  4. Halo Infinite
  5. Vampire Survivors
  6. Nobody Saves the World
  7. Unpacking
Endwalker is still going to be hard to topple but I feel like this list is starting to take shape now that we're starting to fill it out more.  The most interesting thing to me is, all of these are good games.  I still reserve the right to put an "interesting" but not good game on the list... but I just haven't run into any yet this year.  So far, this is looking very solid.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Geek to Geek Podcast S7E05 - Kirby and The Forgotten Land & More Elden Ring

The latest episode of the Geek to Geek podcast is now out in the feed.  You can listen or find links to listen in your podcast player here.

This week we discuss Kirby and the Forgotten Land as well as wrapping up some thoughts on Elden Ring.  Geekery includes match-3 games, Mario Tennis, The Emperor's New Groove, 1Q84, Iron Widow, Turning Red, and Book of Boba Fett.

You can also listen to the latest episode right here: