E3 2018 Recap: Microsoft brings out the big guns, steals the spotlight at E3

The biggest video game convention of the year gave us a glimpse at a bright future for the gaming community. We saw shocking reveals, in-depth analysis on holiday games, the announcement of an upcoming console, and so much more. It might all be a bit overwhelming to process, so let me guide you down the road and break down what happened in Los Angeles for E3 2018.

Microsoft:

Entering E3 this year, Microsoft was treading water. They’d seen one of their big exclusives in Scalebound get canceled, another exclusive in Crackdown 3 get delayed for the umpteenth time, and were in danger of possible losing their fans to Sony and their treasure trove of exclusive titles. Knowing the circumstances of the situation, Microsoft brought out the big guns for their presentation.

  • Halo Infinite — TBD
    •  Microsoft got the conference rolling by showcasing arguably their most recognizable icon: Master Chief. Spartan-117 is back for his sixth iteration, and while there were no hard reveals during the teaser trailer, it showed Master Chief holding his helmet on his side, before putting it back on and loading up what appeared to be an A.I. chip on the back.
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice — 2019
    • If you’re a fan of Dark Souls, this needs your undivided attention. FromSoftware presents their next project, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which could be categorized as a ninja-Bloodborne. The trailer showed tremendous action, as you play a ninja with a prosthetic arm. Who wouldn’t want to do that?!
  • Crackdown 3 — February 2019
    • Yes, before Microsoft showed Crackdown 3 on stage, there were reports that the game had been delayed to February 2019. It’s interesting that the delay was announced before the conference, maybe as a way to get out in front of the news so people could focus on the new gameplay. Regardless, actor Terry Crews looks to be the protagonist in this over-the-top, highly explosive, run-n-gun shooter coming to Xbox. Let’s hope this is the final delay for Crackdown 3, otherwise we might have to lump it in with the likes of Kingdom Hearts 3 and Final Fantasy VII Remake.
  • Metro Exodus — February 22, 2019
    • By not having much experience with the Metro series, this latest entry doesn’t make much sense to me. However, if you’re a fan of Metro then I’d bet you’ll be a fan of Metro Exodus. The trailer showed more high action gameplay that is comparable to DOOM and Wolfenstein. It’s setting up to be an amazing FPS for Microsoft.
  • Kingdom Hearts 3 (Part 1) — January 29, 2019
    • WE HAVE A RELEASE DATE! After countless delays, multiple vague reports on its status, it seems the light is finally approaching at the end of this very long tunnel. Square Enix presented a new trailer which debuted two new worlds in Frozen and Tangled. It also highlighted some of the previous announced worlds in Toy Story and Monsters Inc. The trailer ended with a mysterious woman telling Mickey that he was too late, so it looks like the Disney mouse might be in some trouble. (If you coherently know the full story of Kingdom Hearts, that’s resume-worthy in my opinion. Pat yourself on the back.)
  • Forza Horizon 4 — October 2, 2018
    • New year, new Forza. One of Microsoft’s best-selling franchises, Forza Horizon 4 is set in Britain, and will have a shared-world online for the first time in the series. In addition, Horizon 4 will have the ability to reach 60 FPS on the Xbox One X, so if you have a 4K TV combo you’re in for a treat.
  • Session — TBD
    • Not Skate 4. GOTTEM!
  • Cuphead in “The Delicious Last Course” — 2019
    • Our favorite cartoon cup is back for more ways to infuriate you. Don’t let the joyful, innocent art style fool you; this game is not for the faint of heart. Cuphead presents daunting challenges that will scare off many, but for those persistent enough to overcome them will be met with a wave of satisfaction that has never been felt before. I can only hope for the same in this expansion.
  • Jump Force — TBD
    • Did you ever wonder if Naruto could take on Goku? What about Frieza? How about Luffy from One Piece? Well let me tell ya, it’s your lucky day. Bandai Namco revealed what looks to me a massive fighting game with all of your favorite anime characters. At the end, we got a quick shot of Light Yagami and Ryuk from Death Note. I wonder if they had something to do with this mega crossover?
  • Gears 5 –TBD
    • Announcing they will be dropping the “of War”, Gears 5 is the next installment in the gory shooter. Gears 5 will star Kait Diaz, as she is struggling with nightmares that could involve the Locust and her mother.
  • Project Scarlet — TBD
    • Executive President of Gaming Phil Spencer announced that Microsoft is indeed working on the next Xbox, code named “Scarlet”. Little is known about this console, but recent reports say it will be released in 2020.
  • Cyberpunk 2077 — TBD
    • Microsoft closed out their conference with quite possibly the biggest reveal of all E3: Cyberpunk 2077. Coming from CD Projkt RED, Cyberpunk 2077 combines everything we loved from The Witcher, Blade Runner, and Mass Effect. Described as a first-person RPG, this game looks to push the boundaries on open-world adventures and truly immerse you in it. There is incredible detail throughout and I can only imagine how the rest of it is going to look. Hopefully we see this on the current generation of consoles, but a safe bet is a launch title for the next wave.

Sony:

While Microsoft needed to capture our attention and surprise us with new and exciting titles, we already knew what Sony had in store. Before their conference, they announced they had four major games to show, with a few things sprinkled in-between. For what it’s worth, Sony played it safe this E3, and even though that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I think people were still itching for “something” that they hadn’t seen before.

  • The Last of Us Part II — TBD
    • Wow. Sony came out with their heaviest of hitters in The Last of Us Part II. We saw a long cinematic trailer that began with Ellie dancing and kissing her girlfriend, then seamlessly transitioned into actual gameplay (!) that I personally did not expect to see. Naughty Dog surely upped the ante in the violence department, as we watched Ellie brutally dispose enemies during an escape through a dark forest. My best bet is this will be a 2019 holiday game at the earliest, but man, does it look gorgeous.
  • Ghost of Tsushima — TBD
    • Set in feudal Japan, Ghost of Tsushima looks magnificent. There wasn’t much gameplay footage to go off of, but the atmosphere of the setting and graphics were breath-taking. The little amount of sword fighting we did see was flawless, and once again, I hope we see Sucker Punch’s creation earlier rather than later.
  • Control — TBD
    • Very similar look, feel, and style to Quantum Break, Control looks to be another crazy game with strange Force-like telekinetic powers and a deep narrative. Count me intrigued.
  • Resident Evil 2 Remake — January 25, 2019
    • Well, we saw a glimpse of one remake title, but it wasn’t the one I wanted. Maybe it was the one I deserved right now? Anyway, Resident Evil 2 Remake looks absolutely terrifying, so give it to me. Having never played any Resident Evil game until the seventh and latest iteration, I’m eager to finally sink my teeth into this beloved classic.
  • Kingdom Hearts 3 (Part 2) — January 29, 2019
    • WE HAVE A…wait a second…didn’t we see this already? If you were paying attention, then yes, you are correct. Appearing for the second time on stage, Square Enix graced our hearts again with the long-awaited conclusion to this series. I’m starting to think that Square Enix is trying to make up for all the delays by force-feeding us Kingdom Hearts 3 content. Not much else was shown compared to Microsoft’s stage, except Pirates of the Caribbean world was revealed. Whether you wanted it or not, you got yourself some more CGI Johnny Depp! Yo ho and a bottle of rum!
  • Death Stranding — TBD
    • Uh, what? What just happened? Norman Reedus is carrying some baby across the world and there’s invisible death demon creatures? And then a lady ate a bug? What is this game?! I never thought I could learn LESS about a title after watching a trailer, but Hideo Kojima made that possible. So hats off to you, sir. Honestly, I have no idea what to make of this new trailer or the game as a whole, so let’s just move on.
  • Nioh 2 — TBD
    • Now here’s a surprise! While many people were hoping for a sequel to Bloodborne, we instead got a sequel to Nioh. The trailer didn’t show much of what’s to be expected from the next installment, but as long as we know it’s being worked on I think that’s good enough.
  • Spider-Man — September 7, 2018
    • Insomniac exceeded expectations with Sunset Overdrive and are now poised to do the exact same with Marvel’s web-slinger. Spider-Man looks incredible, and the trailer showed a bit more at the trouble our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man finds himself in. Electro, with the help of a mysterious main villain and Mister Negative, has freed the other members of the Sinister Six (Rhino, Vulture, Scorpion) from prison. Spider-Man finds himself beaten and broken when he looks up in disbelief and mutters, “You?”. Who could this be? Harry Osborn? His father, Norman? J. Jonah Jameson?! I’m itching to find out…

Nintendo:

Welcome to year two of the Nintendo Switch! In its inaugural year, the Switch found success in Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8, and Mario Odyssey. Other than that, it was a bit hard to find things to play on the company’s hybrid console. But knowing Nintendo, they always have something smashing up their sleeve.

  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate — December 7, 2018
    • After being teased at the past Nintendo Direct event, E3 was the place to fully unveil the next installment in the Super Smash franchise. Ultimate will bring every single fighter in Smash history together and feature a brand new contender in Metroid Prime’s Ridley. Nintendo’s online service launches in September, so hopefully by the time Super Smash Bros. Ultimate releases there won’t be any lagging problems with their service.
  • Super Mario Party — October 5, 2018
    • The go-to game at parties and hangouts, Super Mario Party has found its way to the Switch. Complete with all the different mini-games and excitement, the trailer also showed how you can place multiple Switch consoles together to effectively extend the game board. You can always count on Nintendo to think of unique ways to enhance our gaming experience.
  • Fie Emblem: Three Houses — Spring 2019
    • Three Houses will be the first mainstream Fire Emblem game on a console since 2007, so people may constitute this as the franchise’s Switch debut, other than the spin-off Fire Emblem: Warriors.
  • Fortnite — Now
    • Epic’s Battle Royale has made its way to the Switch. It’s time to jump off the Battle Bus, pick a landing spot (Tilted Towers you cowards), and get that Victory Royale! The download is free off Nintendo’s eShop, however it should be noted that as of now you cannot log into Fortnite with your PSN information. If you’re a Fortnite player on PS4, you will need to create a new Epic account for Switch. In addition, Switch is cross-platform with the other systems, except PS4.
  • Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion — June 13, 2018
    • I love when companies do this. Nintendo has announced that the next content for Splatoon 2 will be available starting tomorrow, June 13. I’m not a big Splatoon fan, but there are tons of people who love this franchise and I think it’s huge for Nintendo to have avid players for their niche competitive shooter.

Ubisoft:

In what was one of my favorite conferences at E3, Ubisoft did a wonderful job of giving people exactly what they wanted. They truly listened to suggestions and are poised to have a big 2018 and early 2019. Other than Microsoft, I think Ubisoft set themselves up for success and effectively won E3.

  • Beyond Good & Evil 2
    • After showing off Just Dance 2019 with a dancing panda, Ubisoft flexed its muscles with Beyond Good & Evil 2. This will be a prequel to the original title (that I didn’t play), but for those who did might recognize the girl at the end of the trailer: Jade. Other than that reveal, the trailer was mainly cinematic and didn’t show a whole lot of actual gameplay, which I think was expected. But, Ubisoft did unveil a unique partnership with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his company HitRECord. Ubisoft is calling for content creators to submit music, art work, anything that people feel should be in the game, and if your work gets chosen you will be compensated. I absolutely love this idea, and while some people might think that’s lazy for a developer to have the public “make their game for them” this is incredible exposure for people. I would love to see more of this.
  • Trials Rising — February 2019
    • I’m not entirely sure how I’ve never seen a Trials game, but this trailer was hilarious. It started off with motorists doing crazy back flips and landing all sorts of tricks, and then it all came crashing down…literally. The different crashes and accidents that the motor bikes had were hysterical to behold. There are some games you see and immediately think it’ll be perfect for something, well, this game will be perfect for the Switch.
  • The Division 2 — March 15, 2019
    • This might be my most anticipated game from E3. I played a bit of vanilla Division and had a blast. I honestly wish I would’ve stuck with it to reap the benefits of the updates, but clearly Ubisoft learned its lessons for the sequel. Set in Washington D.C., The Division 2 tasks you with saving America from impeding civil war. The big announcement during this presentation was the DLC in Year One of Division 2 will all be free, and the game is introducing eight-player raid missions. I. Can’t. Wait.
  • Mario + Rabbids Donkey Kong DLC — June 26, 2018
    • One of the strangest crossovers is set to get some new content. Donkey Kong is swinging into action in the upcoming Donkey Kong Adventure DLC. Fans of the tactics game should be in for a treat.
  • Skull & Bones — 2018
    • Where one shall fall, another shall rise. Sea of Thieves tried to be the pirate game many wanted, but fell a bit short. That’s where Skull & Bones comes in. This beautiful, stunning pirate adventure looks to be everything you ever wanted in conquering the seven seas. Ubisoft’s pirate adventure is described as a shared online world, with players operating different pirate vessels. The combat looks precise and articulate, but also rewarding. If you ever wanted to see how it feels to be Jack Sparrow, this is it.
  • Transference (VR) — Fall 2018
    • I don’t own a VR machine, but games like this make it harder and harder to resist investing in one. This narrative-driven experience follows the story of a troubled family and is described as a psychological thriller. I’ve always been intrigued by the notion of VR and this might be the game that could force me toward making the plunge.
  • Starlink — October 16, 2018
    • Star Fox is back! Kind of! Ubisoft has joined forces yet again with Nintendo and will feature Star Fox in their toy-to-game title Starlink. Another unique idea, one that I’m a bit sheepish toward, has you buying and constructing real life star ships on your controller and they will appear in-game. I’m not entirely sure who the target audience is for this title, but hopefully it finds a way to succeed.
  • For Honor: Marching Fire — October 16, 2018
    • A new expansion is coming to For Honor, and it’s being pegged as the biggest one yet. The expansion comes with a new mode called Breach, four new fighters, a new faction, and more single-player content. In addition, Ubisoft announced that For Honor will be free through UPlay this week.
  • Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey — October 5, 2018
    • New year, new Assassin’s Creed game. After exploring the pyramids of Ancient Egypt, Ubisoft is taking us on a tour of Ancient Greece. Odyssey is set hundreds of years being Origins, so this title acts as a pseudo-prequel to last year’s title. For the first time in this storied franchise, you’ll have the option of playing either a male or female, have dialogue options which can affect the story, and engage in romantic affairs. I think these are big steps to rejuvenate a rapidly-approaching stagnant franchise. The environments of Odyssey are gorgeous and the combat looks precise. Fans of the series are in for a treat this fall. (No, Mario and/or Cappy are NOT in this game.)

Bethesda:

Similarly to Ubisoft, Bethesda did an amazing job of showing exactly what their fans wanted to see. Other than showcasing Andrew W.K. at the beginning of their conference (the crowd did not humor him one bit), Bethesda showed a handful of highly-anticipated games that’ll have people drooling over themselves.

  • Rage 2 — Spring 2019
    • The reason why we were subjected to an awkward Andrew W.K. set piece, Rage 2 kicked off the conference for Bethesda. What seems like Mad Max, Rage 2 is set in a post-apocalyptic world (Bethesda loooooooves their post-apocalyptic worlds). The gameplay trailer showed small similarities to other Bethesda titles, like DOOM and Wolfenstein in the mechanics, such as a power slide and the overall violent FPS vibe to Rage 2.
  • DOOM Eternal — TBD
    • This will get the blood pumping. After successfully reviving the DOOM franchise in 2016, Bethesda showed a teaser to the sequel. Fans of the older games compared DOOM Eternal to DOOM 2, and predict the game will be Hell on Earth. Yeah, you can count me the hell in on that. (Sidenote: Twitter account PixelBrave set the teaser to Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song and it’s glorious.)
  • Prey Mooncrash — Now
    • Once again, I love when companies do this. Bethesda announced new modes in Prey with a New Game+ and survival mode, both available immediately for free. In addition, paid DLC titled Mooncrash is also available. Prey was one of those games where you really wanted to play it, but it slipped past you…maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.
  • Wolfenstein: Youngblood — 2019
    • Set 19 years after Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, Youngblood will place you in the shoes of B.J. Blazkowicz’s twin daughters Jess and Soph on their journey to search for their missing father, and of course, killing Nazis. The New Colossus was my first experience with Wolfenstein, and after playing that, I know what all the fuss is about. Youngblood will take place in 1980s Paris, so I’m definitely all for killing Nazis on the Eiffel Tower.
  • Fallout 76 — November 14, 2018
    • Fallout 76 is a prequel to all the other Fallout games. Taking place in West Virginia, you’re one of the first people to emerge from the Vaults and step foot in the post-nuclear world. Said to be roughly four times the size of Fallout 4, Bethesda confirmed that this will be entirely online, but still will be able to play solo. I’m interesting to see how having friends play with you in Fallout 76 will work, but sounds like an interesting spin on the franchise.
  • Starfield — TBD
    • This seems to be a case where this game is nowhere near in being complete, but Bethesda wanted to shut some people up. The short teaser proved that this project exists and that it’ll be some kind of sci-fi game. Bethesda noted that this will be a “next-gen” title, so safe to assume this isn’t coming out for about 3-5 years.
  • The Elder Scrolls VI — TBD
    • Bethesda is two-for-two on showing games that are nowhere close to being ready! Once again, this short teaser trailer proved to the nagging fans that they are indeed working on the next installment of Elder Scrolls. Many fans have tried figuring out where exactly the mountains were in the trailer. At this point, just accept that it’s being worked on and also that you won’t play it for a good while.

EA:

Everyone knows EA from their sports games, but EA is starting to branch out a bit. One of the biggest game reveals of E3 came from EA’s stage, and the spotlight will continue to be on EA until this game releases. We expect great things with EA.

  • Battlefield V — October 2018
    • EA is shifting the Battlefield franchise back to World War II. The trailer showed tons of explosions and destructive environments, but most importantly, revealed that Battlefield V will have a battle royale mode. So, the two big FPS war games in Call of Duty Black Ops 4 and Battlefield V will both feature battle royale game modes. I was actually pretty shocked that Battlefield V was the only BR announcement.
  • Jedi: Fallen Order — Holiday 2019
    • Respawn announced their Star Wars game will be called Jedi: Fallen Order. The game will take place between Episodes 3 and 4, following the Empire and Darth Vader’s hunt for the surviving Jedi. I swear, there better be a scene where Palpatine goes “Execute Order 66” or I riot.
  • Battlefront II Clone Wars — 2018
    • Star Wars Battlefront II has had an uphill battle to say the least since it’s release. Now, EA has announced a new squad system, new heroes and maps adapted directly from the Clone Wars. These heroes include General Grievous, Obi Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker.
  • Anthem — February 2019
    • What mostly everyone was waiting for, the lid was blown off for Anthem. The extended trailer showed a team of exosuits, called Javelins, on a mission to find the source of a disturbance. The graphics and combat systems look amazing. EA made sure to state that there won’t be any loot boxes in Anthem, but there will still be customization for your mech suits. I’m interested to hear/see more about Anthem, because I feel like this could be the game that everyone wanted Destiny to be.

Square Enix:

For as respectable as Square Enix is, this was a lousy conference for them. They showed games that were seen prior on different stages, while at the same time not showing games or giving updates that many wanted (um, Final Fantasy VII Remake and Avengers anyone??). Looking back, I honestly don’t know why Square Enix had a conference, but let’s take a look at what went down.

  • Kingdom Hearts 3 (Part 3) — January 29, 2018
    • Alright, I’m at the point where I hope it gets delayed again. If you’re counting at home, this is the third time we’ve seen Kingdom Hearts on stage. And each time, I get more and more confused as to what the hell is going on in this story. I feel like Charlie from It’s Always Sunny trying to figure out where all the mail is going.
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider — September 14, 2018
    • Lara Croft is a gaming legend, so seeing her continue to go on adventures is a sight for sore eyes. Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks to lean heavily on the stealth-aspect of things, and is described as having more tombs than ever before. Based on the positive reactions of the last one, I think fans will enjoy this title very much.
  • The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit — June 26, 2018
    • Announced at the Microsoft conference, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit follows the story of a young boy who escapes from his real life struggles by using his imagination. Developers have stated that Captain Spirit is set in the same universe as Life is Strange, and will in someways connect the two titles.
  • Babylon’s Fall — 2019
    • The newest game from Platinum, virtually nothing was revealed about this title. Platinum is responsible for Bayonetta and Nier: Automata, so I’m fairly confident in whatever Babylon’s Fall ends up being.
  • The Quiet Man — TBD
    • Square Enix showed a strange trailer that started in real life, then morphed into gameplay, and ended back in real life. The trailer portrayed that you play a deaf guy who knows martial arts. It’ll be interesting to see if while playing the game, you’re literally deaf and you can’t hear sounds. That would be pretty weird, but interesting.

And with that, E3 2018 has come and gone! It was an exciting few days filled with promising reveals and overall optimism and excitement for the future. While there were certain games missing from the conferences, the things we did see blew our minds. Everyone had their own ups and downs during E3, but at the end of the day, I was blown away by Microsoft. They truly set the bar this E3 and have a plan laid out for the upcoming future to win fans back. I hope they pull through, because more games only build the industry and gives people more experiences in games.

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Ni no Kuni II Review: Heartfelt adventure that struggles to find an identity

Recently, I was properly introduced to the wonderful world of Studio Ghibli (by my dentist, go figure). Movies such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Howl’s Moving Castle completely blew me away. Hayao Miyazaki’s films are charming, full of deep moving stories, and contain amazing character development. I wanted more from the worlds he created, I wanted to immerse myself in them. That’s when I noticed Ni no Kuni II.

Having not played the first installment, I was pleased to find out that the sequel was an adventure all of its own, but did have some small references from the original game. At first glance, Level-5’s JRPG is exactly what I was looking for: a world that resembled Studio Ghibli. Ni no Kuni II is absolutely beautiful. The colors are vibrant and the art design is gorgeous. Plenty of times during my near 40-hour play-through, I thought this was another one of Miyazaki’s creations and not a video game.  And just like a Studio Ghibli film, Ni no Kuni II presented a fairly interesting story and an extraordinary wide cast of characters that you truly care about. However, looking passed the pretty shine and the lovable characters is a game that struggles to find its identity.

Ni no Kuni II follows the story of young King Evan, or soon-to-be King Evan, as he is about to be crowned the new king of Ding Dong Dell following the sudden passing of his father. A mysterious man named Roland appears in Evan’s private chambers during the start of a coup against Evan by his late father’s adviser Otto Mausinger. Roland helps Evan escape and they journey the world together in hopes of building a new kingdom for the young king and uniting all the other kingdoms of the world together in peace and harmony.

Jumping in, I noticed that the combat controls are surprising simple, yet effective. Now, I’m a big fan of turn-based style combat when it comes to RPGs, so at first, I was a bit hesitant after discovering that Ni no Kuni II would use real-time combat. Seeing game-play footage, the fighting style reminded me a bit of Final Fantasy XV and that was a major turn off for me. Once I got my feet wet with the controls though, the combat was actually quite satisfying. The overall feel of the fighting styles and the process of equipping armor and weapons felt very Kingdom Hearts-esque, with the ability to switch characters as a tiny wrinkle. It was simple enough where you could get away with various button-mashing, but rewarded you heavily if you performed certain special moves properly.

About 70-80% of the game presented a decent challenge regarding enemy difficulty, but near the eighth chapter, Ni no Kuni II takes a spike in difficulty. I found myself battling enemies that were easily 10-15 levels higher than me. You might be thinking, “Well, did you think about grinding for experience?” Good question! The problem with that is the leveling system is a bit wonky. Defeating baddies that were considerably stronger than me did not result in my party gaining levels on a mass scale. Ni no Kuni II does present opportunities for you to fight side monsters known as “Tainted Monsters” that provide more of a challenge and can net you some quality rewards, but again, it goes back to the fact that leveling up felt more slow and tedious to me than any other RPG I’ve experienced.

Other than the real-time combat, Ni no Kuni II offers a more RTS-style combat known as Skirmish. Certain scenarios require Evan to engage in battles that don’t necessarily put you in control of the fighting, but you determine the type of soldiers to deploy. For instance, Evan can have a max of four unit armies to aid him in battle, and there are several different unit types to choose from. Each unit type is strong against certain other types, but weak against others. By controlling Evan, you can rotate which armies are in the forefront of the fight, revive reinforcements, and also perform certain special attacks. However, the cost of the special attacks and bringing reinforcements cost “Might”, and if Evan’s Might reaches zero with all his armies destroyed, you lose the Skirmish. This is an interesting addition to the traditional JRPG formula, although I found it frustrating that Skirmishes were sometimes mandatory. Being taught how to operate Skirmishes at the beginning of the game is understandable, but after that I would’ve liked to have all other possible Skirmish battles be in the form of side quests.

Another intriguing inclusion in Ni no Kuni II is the kingdom building. I mentioned earlier that the game’s plot revolves around Evan building a new kingdom, and boy, do they really mean that. Throughout the majority of the game, I tinkered around with expanding my kingdom and obtaining new citizens. It was cute, being able to assign people to certain areas that they specialize in to help my kingdom flourish. But just like the Skirmishes, I would’ve liked this feature to be more optional than a requirement. A specific point in the game requires Evan’s kingdom of Evermore to be an exact level. In order to increase Evermore’s level, you must have a set number of citizens and facilities. This was an unfortunate speed bump in my play-through that truly hindered the overall pace and progress of the game. Not once was it suggested that Evermore’s status would have any true impact on the game and the whole building mechanics simply felt like a mini-game or a gimmick of sorts.

Ni no Kuni II does a tremendous job in many categories: voice acting, art design, character development, and the creativity of the locations in the world. It flexes its muscles when it comes to the visuals and presentation, but falls short in essentially everything else. The standard real-time combat is surprising gratifying, but I think Level-5 bit off more than they could chew with the RTS-style Skirmishes and poor man’s version of Civilization in the kingdom building. While I applaud the attempt at presenting something new and different, there were too many different features in my mind that caused Ni no Kuni II to be something it wasn’t. The game jumps between normal combat to RTS Skirmishes, all while incorporating a seemingly unimportant building element that hurt me in the end. It all probably seemed like good ideas at the time, but at the end of the day it all feels too crowded. If Ni no Kuni II was a Miyazaki film, it would be a shiny, wonderful adventure about a young cat prince trying to bring peace to the world. Alas, Level-5’s JRPG is a machine with too many malfunctioning parts that keep it from achieving its true potential.

Final Score: 7/10

Dragon Ball FighterZ Review: Kaaaa-meeee-haaaa…..

As a kid, I’ve always wanted to perform a Kamehameha. I know, it’s impossible (*whispers* still holding out hope). One year, I even dressed up as Goku for Halloween. If you haven’t caught at what I’m getting at, it’s that Dragon Ball has had quite an impact on my growing up. Once I got into video games and tried The Legacy of Goku games on the Game Boy Advance, I knew nothing would come close to that enjoyment…until I picked up DragonBall FighterZ.

Having skipped out on most of the well-regarded Budokai series and only dipped my toes in Xenoverse 2, the anticipation to jump into FighterZ was over 9,000. Taking many elements from the Marvel vs. Capcom series, Dragon Ball FighterZ (pronounced as “Fighterz”, not “Fighter-Z”) offers 3-on-3 team-based combat. The roster contains plenty of the iconic Dragon Ball characters: Super Saiyan Goku, Super Saiyan Vegeta, adult Gohan, teen Gohan, Gotenks, Krillin, Yamcha, Piccolo, Trunks, Cell, Frieza, Majin Buu, Kid Buu, Tien, Nappa, Captain Ginyu, Beerus, Hit, Goku Black, Android 16, Android 18, and Android 21. In addition to these characters, the Super Saiyan Blue versions of Goku and Vegeta are also available through either paid-DLC, earning enough Zeni (in-game currency), or by completing certain Arcade modes on Hard difficulty.

The plot of FighterZ is split into three distinct, but roughly similar, story arcs: Super Warrior Arc, Enemy Warrior Arc, and Android 21 Arc. The “main” arc, Super Warrior, features Goku as the main character as he and the Z fighters battle a new enemy in Android 21. FighterZ does a creative job in explaining how the player controls each of the fighters by stating certain waves around the Earth have suppressed everyone’s power and only you are able to fully unlock it. The Enemy Warrior Arc puts you in the driver’s seat of Frieza, and the Android 21 Arc has you primarily in control of Android 18. Each arc revolves around the general story-line of fighting Android 21 in some capacity, but taken from different perspectives. The timeline of FighterZ in relation to the anime places the game sometime after the Resurrection F movie.

In order to appeal to a mass audience, developer Arc System Works crafted FighterZ to be very kind to novice players. The mechanics present the standard light, medium, and heavy attacks, while also incorporating special abilities and the use of assists by your idle teammates. Just like any fighting game, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of button-mashing, but learning how to properly string together attacks is quite satisfying. An added bonus in stringing together long combos is being able to secure the Dragon Balls. You must land seven individual combos of 10-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, and 70+ to have the ability to summon Shenron. While it doesn’t necessarily matter what order the Dragon Balls are collected or who even collects them (the Dragon Balls are shared in a pool between you and your opponent) the player who has the max seven power bars filled will be able to summon the dragon. Once Shenron is summoned, the dragon will grant one of four wishes: heal your current fighter to full health, revive a fallen teammate with 50 percent health, automatically boost your Ki gauge (power bars) back to max, or restore five percent of your health and grant you a second Sparking Blast icon. The icon can only be used once in a match and it grants you a temporary raise in power. This mechanic is extremely important to master, because it can easily turn the tide in battle.

Aside from the standard fighting mechanics, each individual fighter has their own pros and cons. For example, Cell is able to perform an aerial Ki blast that lays waste to roughly half of the ground on the map, but the android has a grab move that can sometimes mess up a combo if you aren’t close enough to your enemy. Fans have already begun constructing lists online with various team builds that suit a wide-range of players.

Developing a video game is hard enough, but based on a franchise as popular as Dragon Ball can be daunting. Arc System Works and Bandai Namco went above and beyond the level of expectation in FighterZ. While certain parts of the plot are a bit weak, the voice acting and dialogue between the characters rival the anime itself. The bickering between Goku and Vegeta about who will fight first, and the extreme narcissistic attitude of Cell transform FighterZ beyond a standard fighting experience. Coupling the precise voice acting is the beautiful art work. Even though FighterZ is primarily a 2-D fighting game, the special attack animations make the game look three-dimensional and present a smooth, dramatic flow like the anime. The vibrant colors make the art pop out, and each set-piece is as beautiful to look at as nostalgic. Whether or not FighterZ becomes the next big thing in the fighting community, it will absolutely rank high on your own Dragon Ball gaming experience.

Final Score: 9/10

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus Review: Killing Nazis never felt so good

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus released in a very unusually bright spotlight. Already regarded as a highly-anticipated holiday title, Bethesda’s game posed a scary resemblance to real-life developments happening in America. The emergence of “Alt-Right” believers and Ku Klux Klan followers brought the crazy “what-if” scenario of if the Nazis had won World War II in the world of Wolfenstein to the forefront. The idea of fighting against such atrocities and exterminating Nazis in The New Colossus already seemed like a wonderful idea, but now there’s a heightened sense of satisfaction in killing Nazis.

The New Colossus continues the story of protagonist William “B.J.” Blazkowicz following the events of the first game, The New Order. Don’t worry if you haven’t played the first entry, because New Colossus presents an informative video at the beginning to get you caught up. Wolfenstein’s campaign runs for about ten hours depending on which difficulty you select. There are five different difficulty selections, and while it might seem there isn’t much difference between them based on their descriptions, think again. I learned the hard way that there is a considerable spike in difficulty even between the two easiest ones.

Once you’ve figured out which difficulty suits you best, the actual game is fantastic. The gameplay reminded me a bit like DOOM (not surprising, as DOOM is a Bethesda product as well) with a nice variety of weaponry and fast-paced movement. The different types of weaponry range from simple pistol-type guns to full blown lasers. Most of the weapons can be upgraded through kits found throughout the game that can provide enhancements such as silent gunfire, faster reload, or larger magazine clips. While most of the action is heavily fast-paced, certain areas tend to be easier by taking a stealthier approach. Wolfenstein 2 has perk lists that keep track of the different types of kills you perform: stealth, explosive, environmental, heavy, and dual-wield. Each perk presents a permanent bonus for Blazkowicz that helps him take down Nazis.

It’s hard to give criticism toward a “what-if” situation, but certain technological advances in a bizarro 1961 are a bit too far-fetched to believe sometimes. Flying drones, laser guns, and giant robotic fire-breathing dogs are just the tip of the iceberg. Maybe the Nazis prioritized different scientific areas when they won the war to further their grip on the free world? Who knows? From a video game standpoint, it makes for a kickass experience. From a historical perspective, however, I’m sure there would be an endless list of questions to answer.

Blazkowicz might not be the most engaging of characters, but his team of Nazi-killers more than make up for it. Whether it be his wife Anya Oliwa, former Black Revolutionary Front member Grace Walker, or Nazi-turned-freedom fighter Sigrun Engel, each supporting character deservedly feels needed in aiding the fight against the Nazis. In between missions, Blazkowicz can interact with other people and explore the submarine headquarters that they are stationed in. Standing by and listening to them talk to each other was an unexpected joy. New Colossus does a decent job developing characters during the normal progression of the game, but the more meaningful and deep connections can only be discovered through a player’s own exploration in the base.

Although much of Wolfenstein 2’s secrets are discovered through thorough exploration in the game’s submarine hub world, I long for more linear games. As I mentioned earlier about being similar to DOOM, I would’ve enjoyed if Bethesda created Wolfenstein more in that aspect as something that pushed you forward and didn’t have much options of side activities. The endgame content is a nice treat for more hardcore players and fans, but having to spend time running around (a much larger than originally thought) submarine to encounter new experiences is tedious. It might be the fact that so many games released nowadays contain some sort of sandbox-element to them that for once I’d like a more linear experience.

Even without the craziness of reality, Bethesda’s Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus is another gem among the treasure trove of what 2017 has had to offer. Yes, the frighteningly close similarities between alternate 1961 and real life 2017 are striking, but there’s an underlying joy in it all. Channeling your frustrations of the world into slaughtering virtual Nazis and white supremacists might be the best remedy. From a gaming angle, the gun-play is one of the fastest FPS I’ve played which creates many hectic situations. The variety of weaponry and different ways to kill people add a funny, creative way to dispose your enemy. Wolfenstein’s characters, Blazkowicz to a certain extent, push the story forward in a compelling way; if only there was more in your face development and not hidden among side conversations. Finding concept art throughout the levels and seeing how the Bethesda team designed them was also very interesting to look at, and I wish more developers would follow suit. Regardless of if you’re a Wolfenstein fan or a newbie like I was, New Colossus is a wild ride that should absolutely be ridden.

Final Score: 8.5/10

Super Mario Odyssey Review: Another gem for Nintendo and fans

Nintendo’s iconic plumber has not only been a staple in the company’s illustrious history, but in video game lore as a whole. The adventures of Mario battling the King Koopa Bowser in trying to save his beloved Princess Peach has spanned over three decades and numerous gaming platforms. Mario’s latest quest has him sailing the open skies upon the airship Odyssey, hoping to rescue Peach before being forced to wed Bowser.

Super Mario Odyssey kicks off with Mario already battling Bowser on his pirate airship. The King Koopa gets the upper hand on Mario, as the plumber is thrown off the ship and lands in the Cap Kingdom. Mario comes across sentient hats, and one of them named Cappy offers his assistance in stopping Bowser. We learn that Bowser has not only taken Peach as prisoner, but also Cappy’s sister, Tiara.

Cappy’s abilities in assisting Mario are quite interesting. Other than using the hat to smash objects or jump on for an added boost, Mario is able to temporarily take control of most living things by way of Cappy. By throwing the hat onto other things, such as Goombas, Bullet Bills, or even frogs, Mario’s “soul” gets sucked into them and he takes control. Certain puzzles are only solvable if Mario uses this ability, so be sure to properly assess your surroundings in a kingdom.

Speaking of puzzles, the main objective in Odyssey is finding Power Moons. These moons are scattered throughout the 14 initial kingdoms. Starting from the Cap Kingdom, Mario must amass a certain amount of Power Moons in order to fuel the Odyssey to make the voyage to the next kingdom. The minimum number of moons needed to successfully complete Odyssey’s campaign is 120, but there’s a grand total of 999 moons to collect. By that count, Odyssey’s campaign only accounts to roughly 12 percent of what the whole game has to offer, meaning there’s a whole lot of endgame content.

Each kingdom that Mario and Cappy land on has an unique monetary system besides the standard gold coins. This other system comes in the form of varying purple coins that take a region-specific shape depending on the kingdom. Collecting these purple coins allow you to purchase cosmetic outfits for Mario (that are also region-specific) and other statues or stickers of the kingdom to decorate the inside of the Odyssey. There are exactly 100 purple coins sprinkled throughout each kingdom.

The beauty of Super Mario Odyssey resides in the little things. I never thought I would have so much fun collecting the cosmetic outfits for Mario, and expressing pure joy seeing him perform his own little fashion show. Other than the various clothing options, Odyssey adds certain things that you’d need a keen eye to notice. For instance, when you don’t move the controller Mario decides it’s the perfect time to relax and take a nap. A bird will land on his nose, but it will always be a different bird depending on the kingdom you’re in. Also, whenever Mario finds a Power Moon, he changes his hand gesture that’s reminiscent of past 3D Mario games like Sunshine, Mario 64, and Galaxy. The following tweet thread goes more in-depth with the many small details Nintendo put into Odyssey.

Knowing how important the history of Mario is to Nintendo and players alike, Odyssey takes a giant leap into the nostalgia territory, and crushes it. There are certain puzzles throughout the game that has Mario “deforming” from his normal 3D-self into his old 8-bit appearance. Seeing how flawless the transition is between the two is absolutely impressive to behold. It amazes me every time I go into a green tube and emerge flat against the wall, running through that small portion like the early SNES days.

The most interesting kingdom, and I’m sure many already assumed it would be from trailers, is the Metro Kingdom, better known as New Donk City. This entire kingdom is nothing Mario has ever experienced, seeing real-life, normal-sized human beings! It begs to wonder if Mario is simply a short person or something entirely different. Anyway, New Donk City is a tremendous kingdom for Mario to explore and the end of that kingdom in the campaign presents a very special moment for hardcore Mario fans.

Nintendo continues to have an unprecedented year. The success of the Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild earlier in the year would’ve been remarkable for any company, but sandwiching Super Mario Odyssey at the end of 2017 is the absolute cheery on top. The immense joy I felt playing Odyssey is something I haven’t experienced in a long time. While the main campaign was shockingly short, the endgame content is where this game takes off. The plot of saving Peach before she marries Bowser was a bit too whimsical for me, but it did feel nice to play through a lighthearted game. This is the prettiest game on the Switch thus far, the music of each kingdom is memorable, and the nostalgia feels hit home hard. Super Mario Odyssey is a game that fans will keep coming back to, if not for the desire to collect all the Power Moons, but to simply experience the happiness that Mario continues to bring us.

Final Score: 9.75/10

The Evil Within 2 Review: Out of the frying pan and into the fire

In 2014, Bethesda and Tango Gameworks released an unexpected smash-hit in The Evil Within. Playing as Detective Sebastian Castellanos, you ventured through Beacon Mental Hospital investigating the scene of a mass murder. During your investigation, Castellanos, along with his partners Joseph Oda and Juli Kidman, confront a mysterious man known as Ruvik. Throughout the course of the game, Castellanos pieces together what happened at Beacon through Ruvik’s memories, and later, discovers that he was actually inside of Ruvik’s mind the entire time through a system called “STEM”.

As convoluted as that summary of the first game sounds, playing through the actual game might be more confusing. The sequel does an excellent job conveying a more structured plot, where not only did I know exactly what was happening, but I also cared about the characters. Castellanos returns in the second installment as a beaten down, depressed alcoholic who’s lost everything since the end of the first game. His daughter, Lily, was killed in a fire and Castellanos blames himself for not being able to save her. His wife, Myra, tried to convince the former detective that their daughter was still alive, being held captive by a mysterious agency known as Mobius. Obviously, Castellanos doesn’t believe her and Myra goes off on her own to search for Lily.

The Evil Within 2 picks up with Castellanos looking down at the end of a bottle. He’s approached by his former partner Kidman, and she tells Castellanos that Lily is still alive and she needs him to help rescue her. It’s revealed that Lily is being used by Mobius (Myra was right!) as some sort of Core for their STEM project and she’s essentially gone missing. So, just like in the first game, Castellanos heads back into the STEM virtually reality world, but this time, it’s personal.

With most horror-genre games, it’s a bit difficult to effectively please everyone. The first entry presented terrifying creatures, bone-chilling bosses, and a setting in Beacon that made me have nightmares. The only thing that it was missing was a coherent story. In its successor, Bethesda was able to improve the story and nail down the exposition, but completely scaled back on the overall horror that made the first one so good. Unlike the first entry, there weren’t any notable boss fights. Ironically, the most notable boss fight comes during the second half of the game against three enemies that will look frighteningly familiar to past players.

Although Bethesda and Tango Gameworks do a better job creating a story with more depth and character development, there still remains one huge question mark for me: what exactly is STEM? I understand that it’s some sort of artificial, virtual reality built in someone’s head it seems like, but why is it so important to Mobius? It’s said throughout the game how whoever controls the Core (Lily) would have immense power at their fingertips. Hopefully the presumed third entry will dive more into the creation of STEM and why exactly it’s such a hot commodity.

The Evil Within 2 switches up the setting from the tightly-confined, disturbingly scary mental hospital to a more open, somewhat quaint town in Union. Exploration becomes an important tool here, as there are many areas to search around Union. Playing on easy let me freely roam the town without a huge fear of dying, but it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. The common enemies resembled zombies, while certain advanced baddies could shoot acid bombs at you. There was a good enough variety of enemies throughout the course of the game that let you be a bit creative in how to kill them, but the standard “aim and fire” tactic is still the most effective.

A major difference from the first game is the inclusion of side missions. Like I stated before, exploration is just as important in this game as staying alive. Scattered across the map are Resonance Points, which are small fragments of memories that fill in small plot holes. Discovering the points will reward Castellanos with anything from ammo to Green Gel (used to apply upgrades). Other times, you might not be so lucky as some of the points would alert enemies to that location. Much of the game will have you running through the streets of Union, so if you miss any of the points you’re more than likely able to still find them. There’s plenty of running back and forth from areas you’ve visited before, so don’t feel too upset if you initially miss something.

The upgrade system from the first entry returns with nurse Tatiana guiding you. Green Gel is the currency for upgrades, with Red Gel being the item used to bypass certain locks for other enhancements later on in the game. Castellanos can upgrade things such as health and stamina, being more quiet while crouching, and increasing your ability to dodge deadly attacks. Other than those upgrades, you can also increase your weapons individually at work tables. I focused on upgrading the handgun and shotgun, as you could go through the entire game not increasing a single attribute for any other gun and still survive. Besides the handgun and shotgun, everything else is used more situational.

The Evil Within 2 is a quality sequel to a surprisingly, yet exceedingly terrifying adventure. Although it takes a step-back in the scare department, the second installment does a phenomenal job in portraying a coherent story where you care about the characters well-being. The development of the characters, especially Castellanos, was one of the major elements and themes in the game’s plot; a much-needed relief compared to constant terror. The enemies and boss fights were overall forgettable, and don’t match up with the horrors of its predecessor. Castellanos’s second adventure into STEM concluded on a somewhat happy note, but left the door open for what should be a third, and final, installment.

Final Score: 8.25/10

Cuphead Review: Dying hasn’t looked this pretty

When I first saw the trailer reveal for Cuphead, it instantly connected with me. Seeing the old 1930s cartoon art design mixed with classic platforming mechanics was something I didn’t know I wanted, but desperately needed.

Weeks before Cuphead released, I began reading previews that said Studio MDHR’s indie was difficult. Like Dark Souls, but more friendly-looking. Having never played Dark Souls, but briefly experienced those types of games with my few hours of Bloodborne, I was a bit hesitant to get on board. However, the memorizing art style was too much to resist, as well as wanting to blow off the dust from my Xbox.

If you’ve never experienced what a true love-hate relationship is, then you need to play Cuphead. Right from the beginning, I suffered at least a dozen deaths trying to fight the first boss. As you make your way through the islands collecting souls for the Devil, (yes, things get dark very fast) the contracts you must fulfill become more difficult and more complex. One fight you’re taking on two boxing toads, and the next you’re flying an airplane battling a Medusa-esque sea monster. Not only are each encounters different, but the enemies rarely do the same routine during each brawl. Every boss fight and run-n’-gun level presents their own unique challenge, and Cuphead must be properly equipped to take them on.

Cuphead, also the name of the title character, is able to unlock various attacks and special abilities. While that type of customization is  welcomed, it’s an unfortunate inconvenience not being able to restructure your layout during a level. In order to do so, you must head back to the actual map of the island to switch things up.

The default button layout was a rather interesting decision by Studio MDHR, to say the least. For some unknown reason, someone over there thought it was a good idea to have the shoot button as X. After having played through about 200 deaths and not knowing you could rearrange the buttons, I got used to having the shoot button kitty-corner to the jump button. It might be beneficial to switch shooting to the right trigger to get a more familiar feel to it, but using X has been relatively fine with me.

Cuphead’s biggest challenge comes in the way of not knowing where you are in a fight until you die and see the progress made, and most of the upgrades. During every encounter thus far, and I’m halfway through the third isle, you never know when the boss is close to dying. Not having that precious piece of information makes every attempt that much more intense and when you fail, which you will, and see that you were an inch from victory is a feeling you won’t shake until you do succeed.

Certain upgrades are obtained after completing the various mausoleum levels found throughout the isles, while others are bought at Porkrind’s Shop. Porkrind has clearly seen better days with his eye patch (pun intended), and most of his upgrades have too. The only absolute must-have upgrades are the Spread (weapon) and Smoke Bomb (invisible dash). The Spread is essentially the standard Peashooter you start with, but in a triple spread with increased damage. Only downside is the Spread option is the lack of distance, so it’s best suited for close combat. The Smoke Bomb should be one of, if not, the first purchase you make. Initially, Cuphead can perform a slight dash in order to evade enemies. This skill allows him to briefly turn invisible in a puff of smoke and reappear a few feet in the given direction to 100 percent avoid damage. Other upgrades that I’ve used for more situational battles were the Lobber (slowly lobs balls) and Roundabout (boomerang projectiles that’ll fly backwards if they don’t make contact at first).

For a game that costs only $20, Cuphead might be one of the best values this year. Yes, the insane level of difficulty could turn the average gamer off, but the sheer satisfaction of finally defeating a boss after countless attempts has never tasted sweeter. The art design in of itself is a good enough reason to purchase this game. Studio MDHR could’ve done a better job with the default button layout, but did give the player maximum customization with being able to rearrange the buttons to their play style. And although the majority of the upgrades aren’t necessary (don’t get the extra heart life, because it’ll lower your overall attack power), there are still a few that will make your time in Cuphead a little more forgiving. In terms of exclusivity, 2017 hasn’t been kind to Xbox gamers, but luckily, Cuphead reigns supreme for loyal Microsoft supporters.

Final Score: 9/10

*Disclaimer: This review is based off roughly 80% completion of the game. I hope to one day make it to 100% without breaking any of my controllers.