Video Game Review: Red Dead Online

As I said in my review for Red Dead Redemption 2, I will review Red Dead Online separately and put on a grand total score for the game in its entirety.

The online worried me. While I love the singleplayer of Rockstar’s games, sometimes their multiplayer falls flat in areas, especially with GTA V. While issues remain present that GTA has along with new problems, Red Dead Online sweeps most of its flaws under the rug by how much fun the experience in this open-world Western.

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Work in progress to create my character

Right off the bat, you get to create your character. The system is what you find in most games, modify features based on set models to make the person you want to look like. However, every character looks like a hideous monster, especially the females, sadly. If you play as a man, have a big beard then you should be fine. While it is better than Rockstar’s last giant online adventure with GTA, a lot of tweaks remain needed.

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Screenshot of my character

Similar to a Fallout game, you get to assign attributes to aspects of your character. While not as in-depth as the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. mechanic, points distributed to health, stamina, and dead eye make a difference early on. Such a small part of customization, but a nice addition before getting started.

A story does take place before the events with Arthur Morgan and his dysfunctional family. The silent protagonist gets broken out of prison and gets hired by a mysterious woman. She needs a few people to avenge the death of her husband. Just like a Rockstar narrative tends to unfold, the adventure loads itself with wildly eccentric characters and plenty of violence. Unfortunately, due to the game being in beta, a conclusion remains absent until further updates.

Red Dead has a focus on moral choices for both online and offline. Main missions involve a dishonorable or honorable offer. Stranger missions have the same result. Just like with Arthur’s difficult decisions, choosing a lighter or darker path will change how people perceive you, alter bartering, and give new missions that will unlock only for players following a particular moral compass. While more needs to be done, the honorable system works wonderfully in the new multiplayer mode.

Survival mechanics transfer over; therefore you must eat and drink to recover health, wear appropriate clothing, and deal with the constant threat of other people or wildlife. Many of these aspects feel toned down, but if you mastered how to live in the Wild West as Arthur Morgan, then you should do well in this new environment.

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One of the many glitches

Camps feel less attractive as of now. Currently, you can move anywhere to fit your needs with ease, but for practicality, having a base feels pointless. Ordering items from the pamphlet, which you can buy supplies from anywhere and have no need for a store, go to a post office or your tent. While that is efficient to gather items or cook, nothing else has a purpose. Upgrading is only for looks and will burn all of your cash.

Horses dying has less impact, thankfully. To make sure players are not driven to insanity by your trusty steed getting killed, the horse eventually comes back. Much of the mechanics from singleplayer transform into a less tedious system that allows for a more fun experience, while keeping the weight of survival.

Leveling up has light RPG elements. With enough experience, the right level, and enough money will grant a perk. Perks can be used for damage, dead eye, and much more. Ranking up has a new meaning which makes for a more meaningful experience.

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The meat of any online game will always be playing with friends. Form a posse to see each other and easily play various activities together. While a few kinks need fixing, playing in a gang makes up for many issues along the way.

Events randomly come up in the free roam. Earn money and experience points from winning the activity. A range for all player can be found from taking a horse to one location or getting the most kills with a revolver. For competitive players, this is a load of fun to pump up your adrenaline.

Big and small matches are available to play in the competitive modes of online. Capturing bases, killing with certain weapons for points, classic deathmatches, and races provide a wide variety of competition. While each mode will find its way for any type of gamer, the matchmaking makes zero sense. Each game type has a playlist that generates random games to play. If you love playing “wanted,” then you will have to pray that it pops up and wait through being forced to play through something that might not be your cup of tea.

No private servers are available. Which makes it difficult to play with friends without the interruption of other players. While many aspects are user-friendly, many are not.

Money has two forms. Earning regular cash through missions and activities then gold. Microtransactions like GTA Online have taken the form of gold in Red Dead. Gold can buy certain items if you do not have enough of your funds. Days ago an update occurred to lower prices and give greater payouts. Hopefully, Rockstar stays on top of a fair economy and does not turn have another GTA. 

Red Dead shines above Rockstar’s last grand title with its improved economy and satisfying activities from hunting to competition. Playing with friends has never been more entertaining. However, glitches occur often. Problems with animations, invisible players, and getting booted off servers constantly interrupt an otherwise great multiplayer. With polish and future content, greatness will arrive.

Thankfully for patches and the excellent singleplayer, Red Dead Online does not hinder the product as a whole.

Score for Red Dead Online: 6/10

Grand total score for Red Dead Redemption 2: 8/10

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Video Game Review: Fallout 76

To no surprise, the online-only game with the game as a service model has a disastrous launch. While I knew Fallout 76 would be rough with glitches and needing additional content, I did not realize how boring and lonely this open-world title would feel.

Set in the earliest time period in the Fallout series, you wake up in Vault 76 to see an empty vault where the overseer has left. You follow her pointless guidance into the dangerous outside world of West Virginia.

Once launching the game, it is time to create a vault dweller. The character customization is precisely the same from Fallout 4. Despite its lack of innovation on the mechanic, there are plenty of options to make an interesting looking person, for better or for worse.

The main difference that sets this game apart is the online portion. A server holds up to 24 players. The experience feels lonely since there are no interactable NPCs except for vendors, some quest giving robots, and enemies to kill. My experience was spent seeing other players run past me as they go on their adventure.

PVP happened only a few times but was fun every time. The game’s balancing system works quite well. If someone is higher than you, you can still kill them. The combat is dependent on skill, teamwork (if you are playing with anyone), and what weapons you are using. The other balancing mechanic is that if someone attacks you, little damage is done. If you fight back, then the full damage is enabled. Killing a nonconsenting player will mark you as “wanted” which notifies everyone in the server about the player with a price on their head. The only consequence of dying, by player or NPC, is losing your junk. You can pick it up, but any other player can pick it up for themselves. The scraps will be used to craft, customize, and repair items and camps. Out of the many dull mechanics, PVP almost makes 76 worth playing.

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Playing with friends makes the game complete. I would play with friends and have a blast, despite crashing, glitches, and other technical issues. However, similar to Elder Scrolls Online, playing with friends does not carry much weight. Combat becomes easier with a party, but I never felt I was in a team. The teaming up system is only meant to see your friends from far away and to fast travel for free to their locations. If a friend completes an objective in a quest, then you will not get credit unless you do your part separately. Completing quests feels like playing a single player game and looking to your buddy’s screen to see where they are in their progress.

Playing alone is a grueling and punishing experience. The game’s difficulty does not allow people to be alone. Since I cannot socialize with NPCs, the lonely feelings mix with boredom to make for an atrocious time in the wasteland.

Survival in the wasteland of West Virginia consistently feels tedious, brutal, and rarely fun. Players must eat and drink to survive. The meter for hunger or thirst running too low will drop AP (action points, the bar for VATS and stamina) and diminish health. Foods and drinks have a variety of stats such as how much the hunger/thirst will increase or how much radiation is in the product. Getting a disease is another factor, creatures or food/drinks can give the player a disease. Diseases and radiation poisoning have a variety of positive and negative attributes. The lottery of the conditions on the health of the character can have some creative and fun effects.

Base building returns with features for a more user-friendly system. Now a lot of the map allows for base building instead of designated areas. Once anything is built, making a blueprint for convenience in case any equipment gets destroyed or if the owner gets the urge to move to a new location. While the system will not be for everyone (we all remember the polarizing feelings fans had during Fallout 4, right?) but for the constructive survivors of the nuclear holocaust, this is perfect for you.

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Crafting for weapons, food, armor, and other items are tasking, but not overly burdensome. Scrap items to get materials to repair, upgrade, and build what you want. Going around the world to scavenge is the most fun I had, especially when grouped up with friends. Learning what to craft comes from scrapping gear or finding plans or recipes. The main problem is someone else crafting on a workbench; one player can work at a time. If someone works for a long time, you might have to wait quite a while. I understand due to the animation of crafting takes up space so only one person can create their items, but the efficiency is atrocious for a multiplayer title.

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Stashing your gear and junk is easy. Stash boxes can be found or crafted at the camp to store anything. If you deposit a gun in your stash at a gas station then go to your base, the weapon will be in the container. The universal system transfers your gear where ever you are located. As of writing, the limit of weight the trunk holds makes for a frustrating experience. With how much junk, armor, and weapons you will need to store, the system breaks entirely by how little you can stock up.

Combat remains satisfying, but the new system for VATS (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) feels inconsistent. Now the targeting system does not stop or slow down time; it goes in real time. Trying to shoot in VATS feels weird at first, but you might get used to it. The hardest aspect is your weapon does not track the target. If the ghoul you are shooting at moves in a particular direction, and you mistime pulling the trigger, you will miss your shot. Also, you can only target body parts with a perk. Without the right perk, you will shoot at the enemy as a whole. While I like the system in some ways, with some necessary tweaking then combat with the aiming system will feel more user-friendly.

Quest distribution comes from either holotapes, robots, and discovering locations or items. A feeling of constant apathy comes from the lack of interesting stories or characters to drive the narrative. With the population full of actual players and the only storytelling comes from notes or recordings, I feel a lot less invested in what is happening.

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Caps have a new purpose in the world. While they are still used to trade with vendors, both players, and robots, the currency is used to fast travel. You can travel to any location you have discovered for a fee. The fee differs depending on how far away you are. Getting to your camp, friends, or Vault 76 is free. Since I did not barter much, the travel system worked quite well.

The massive world has plenty of interesting places to explore, but not much to do. Outside of crafting, killing, scavenging, and quests, there are not many activities available. Events are always happening around the map for bonus rewards, but mark they are generic waves of enemies or mundane missions like escorting a robot to one location. The most fun comes out of walking around to look for new items and to kill things, not much game of the year material right here.

Leveling up for the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system is a brilliant innovation to keep a core mechanic fresh. When you level up, you can distribute one point to any of the following attributes: strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility, and luck. Once you put your mark in, a series of cards appear. Each card has a unique ability with several tiers that can be leveled up to improve the perk. Every five levels give a card pack to build up your collection. At any point cards can be swapped out for a difference perk, allowing for free customization for any situation. Smart players can utilize this to adapt to different challenges for combat, exploration, and more.

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I have never seen a game so inconsistent with graphics. At times 76 looks beautiful, and most of the time quite ugly. The world is full of poorly rendered textures, pop-ins, and some of the worst dynamic weather in recent years. The weather lacks any variety. When rain happens, nothing looks wet and enhances how unattractive everything seems.

Photo mode as a feature in any game is usually awesome due to how beautiful graphics have become. In the appalling Fallout 76, not so much. Talented photographers can bring out the beauty, but many players, like myself, might struggle to take a nice picture. Due to the constant threat of players or enemy NPCs, then you may feel discouraged to stop to take a selfie in case of getting mauled by a deathclaw.

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The dreaded microtransaction that plague the industry have made their way into Fallout. Before anyone brings out torches and pitchforks, the way Bethesda handles the despised monetization system works quite well. Everything bought is cosmetic for power armors, Pip-Boys, and more. Avoiding spending your hard earned money is easy. Gaining automatic points by completing challenges like killing X amount of enemies or collecting items makes for an easy way to earn cosmetics without paying real money.

The amount of small and big issues that fester inside of Bethesda’s online survival adventure bring down what could be a great title. With updates, 76 could be fantastic. However, due to moronic AI, crashes, and other bugs, the experience is tainted as of now. Long loading screens are a staple in Bethesda games which add insult to injury once the game crashes and you must sit through the process of the never-ending screens. Somehow they messed up so bad that there is no border option. Therefore a part of my screen has been cut off during my entire time so far. Silly mistakes from a AAA title like these are not acceptable. Along with how dull it is to play makes for one of the year’s biggest disappointments. Keep an eye out for the future because this trainwreck could reach greatness, but buying right now would be foolish.

Score: 3/10

All images and videos captured on a PS4 Pro

Want the game? Buy it below:

Buy now: Fallout 76 – PlayStation 4

Buy now: Fallout 76 – Xbox One

 

Video Game Review: Red Dead Redemption 2

The Wild West was a crazy time in the history of the U.S., especially when witnessing a deer rundown some poor lady or a group of the KKK trying to light a cross on fire, but setting themselves on fire instead. Rockstar Games delivers a Western, unlike anything that has in the genre. The most anticipated game of the year is finally here after a long break from its predecessor. Now the developer has unleashed its first current generation title and as always, they manage to push technology and the industry forward by this ambitious title.

Taking place before the events of the first RDR, players dive into the shoes of Arthur Morgan, a member of the infamous Van der Linde Gang. Yes, that is the gang John Marston was a part of in the previous game, and you get to see a younger Marston grow through the eyes of Arthur. A slow-burning narrative that takes its time to develop characters that players of the first title will know with plenty of fresh faces. The exciting journey takes through a harsh adventure as the dysfunctional family of criminals tries to follow their leader Dutch to find a way to flourish in such difficult times.

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Rockstar has always been top dog in the industry by not creating great games but making the narratives have the same quality as the gameplay. The character development is through the roof, unlike anything the company has done. Full of bombastic random characters that come up in the open world. Charismatic characters like Dutch help drive the story. Arthur is the best protagonist the company has ever brought into the world. He is a conflicted man trying to survive and do what he thinks is right despite his unethical occupation. The personalities in the game are not just characters, they feel like real people with motivations, flaws, quirks, and interests. With excellent writing and voice acting, these people come to life magically.

The open world is a massive landscape full of activities and surprises around every corner. Interactable people pop up all over the area to give Arthur a unique experience. Everything presented allows for a choice. See a man with a snake bite? Suck the venom out, provide him with medicine, or blast his head off with a shotgun to loot his corpse. Every opportunity feels real, and the outcomes are in the hands of Arthur by the way he speaks or acts.

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With such a vast map, transportation is vital. Horseback riding is a ton of fun but can be tedious when riding across the country. Fast travel maps, stagecoaches, and trains help to get from point A to point B much quicker. A price must be paid to travel, but that does not become a problem once enough money to acquired. I only fast traveled once, every other time I took my sweet time with my beautiful companion across gorgeous landscapes. The introduction of swimming, a mechanic, missing from the first game, is a nice gesture that is useless due to boats and how Arthur swims painfully slow.

Choices have rewards and consequences. If Arthur mugs someone, then honor goes down. Help an old lady get to her home then honor rises. The differences in the experience will not vary too much, which is a disappointment. The differences I have seen will not ruin the game by wanting to take a different moral path. Some people will treat you differently like store owners giving you a discount for being the good guy.

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The number of details will make heads start spinning. The way snow seeps into the ground after a horse takes a step, mud getting on clothing, and how every area has unique properties based on the climate. Arthur gets to explore places from developing cities, lush forests, wide-open grasslands, or snowy mountains. The weather mechanic puts every other game to shame by the variety and quality delivered. Freezing blizzards, pouring down rain, and high winds that pick up dirt into your eyes, the world feels real with its highly dynamic ecosystem. Depending on the weather, the clothing Arthur wears will affect his stats. Make sure you bring a jacket, the game acts like your mother to make sure you do not catch a cold. The vegetation, wildlife, and people will change based on where you decide to take Arthur.

Fully rendered holsters, bags, and over materials throughout the world enhance the immersion. When holstering a revolver, the gun does not clip through. Instead, you see Arthur put a weapon into its proper holster. Opening bags to store goods feel like something is inside, compared to most games where the illusion is always there. The rendered equipment gives that small detail to create for a more realistic experience.

Laid back activities are available to take a break from murdering and stealing from innocent people. Various games from poker and blackjack make a return. Fishing is a new way to gain food for your camp and to relax around beautiful lakes and rivers.

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More exciting choices are available. Rob a store, loan shark, or hunt one of the 200 different species. Hunting strategies change based on each animal. For a more immersive wildlife experience, the ecosystem runs with or without any player being present. Prey feed on plants, predators feed on the prey, and scavengers will pick off the rest. Plenty of games have animals, but nothing has gone to this level of creating a real ecosystem. Using bates and the right weapon will give Arthur the best quality pelts and meats to use for new items and nutritious food for himself or his gang.

A new eagle eye system that every video game now has to implement enters Rockstar’s latest title. The vision allows to see animal tracks when hunting or see clues when investigating areas. An unoriginal idea that works perfectly well with the game mechanics.

The Van der Linde Gang is a family more than just a gang. People have wonderful chemistry and will change throughout the game. Arthur and everyone else must put in work to make everything run smoothly. Bringing in stolen goods, money, and food will help the camp thrive. Once enough donated money and supplies circulate into the settlement, plenty of options become available to customize the settlement to look less like a slum and more like a prosperous community.

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The survival elements will either feel unnecessarily tedious or make players feel like Bear Grylls. The survival mechanics are lightly done to give tension, but not waste time. Wearing the wrong clothing for the weather will slightly drain stats, health, dead eye, and stamina while making recuperating harder. Arthur must eat, sleep, and drink to keep his stats in excellent condition along as his horse. To do all of the above is not necessary. Just using the right items refills each core to maximum capacity then Arthur and his horse are off on the next adventure. Weapons must also be clean for efficient use. Using them too often or going in the water will degrade their condition, making gun oil a precious resource.

Just like the people, the horse is a real character. Not brushing or feeding will lead to a weak bond between man and animal. As the relationship between Arthur and his trusty steed rises, so will the horse’s health and stamina. Buying the right equipment like better saddles and bags will benefit your horses use. The best part, you can name your horse. I called my two horses Mystery (yes, from Spongebob) and Drogon (Game of Thrones is the best).

Combat has had a complete rehaul. The shooting feels better than any other game in 2018. Each gun has a special feel and purpose. Simply cocking and reloading weapons feels satisfying and never gets old. Customization options can be available for all weapons to give a unique look along with upgrades to create a more precise killing machine. The variety of options for upgrades feels too limited. I wish there were more range to improve my weapons.

Deadeye makes a return that gets better as it levels up from use. Time can slow down, highlight enemy weak points and more to make an easy kill during a tense moment. The mechanic feels fresh and remains just as good as the previous game.

Melee combat is significantly improved. Grand Theft Auto V had an atrocious hand to hand fighting with or without weapons. This time enemies take longer to be taken down. Fights feel more realistic and dynamic.

Stealth is much improved. Unlike previous attempts. The NPCs react accordingly with some satisfying takedowns as you make your kill. The addition of a bow and arrow makes for the distant killing of enemies or animals a lot of fun.

The GTA V first-person update was a nice touch, and now we get an improved version of the viewpoint. Since the mode here was developed from the ground up, the feeling is smoother. Traversal and gunplay feel just as good in third or first person.

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Law enforcement interactions have changed dramatically. Hiding from the police works instead of the law automatically finding you after a crime. Now people need to investigate areas as you try to escape. If a bounty is left unattended, then hunters will come after Arthur looking to get his head for a reward. Crimes can never be found out if Arthur eliminates any witnesses or evidence. Witnesses can be threatened or killed into silence. Most of the time the enhanced witness system works, but at the time I have been found out by lawmen even when there were no witnesses for miles or that I was wearing a disguise.

Customization has been enhanced significantly to make Arthur look the way you want. Shopping anywhere is done by a book or going up to a shelf to look at an item. Each item is fully rendered, so looking at a piece of cheese feels real. Arthur’s choice of clothing, whether he bathes, and gets a haircut will change people’s perception of him. Being covered in blood will cause a major reaction. Dressing up nicely and being clean will make interactions more positive. The range of clothing and how to grow out hair can suit anyone on how they want Arthur to look. Growing hair does take time, thus throwing out the idea of choosing styles by a menu. If Arthur is clean shaving then you cannot give him a full beard with the press of a button, you must wait.

Obtaining items can be done legally from the shops, but looting bodies and homes can be done too. Looting is fun, rewarding, but sluggish. After a while, I got used to the mechanic but felt Arthur needed to pick up the pace. Almost everywhere has rewards that will satisfy any venture. Many buildings can be entered, but not all. That can become unclear when some homes can be viewed from a window with a seemingly open door. Plenty of times I left a property disappointed that I could not rob them.

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Every issue found can be easily corrected or ignored. I feel I will get nitpicky with the game’s slight flaws. Bumping your horse into anything becomes a pain quite quickly. The horse and Arthur go flying in the air and hitting the ground hard. Hitting civilians will cause a panic which gets the police involved unnecessarily. The cinematic camera is inconsistent with some unflattering views. My problem with enterable buildings still stands. Missions force Arthur to use certain weapons. I feel disappointed by this because I want to use my pimped out guns; instead, I am forced to use a weaker rifle. The main issue comes from the controls. Most of the time everything runs smoothly until things turn for the worse. So much is trying to be done which creates problems with some objectives in the story. Press one button then hold another can be overly complicated or not work as well as it should.

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Rockstar has not just made a game; they created something that shows how far technology has come. While some holes in its animations can be seen alongside glitches that can be found in every gigantic open world game, the positives overcome those blemishes. Arguably the most beautiful video game ever made to date with some of the most immersive gameplay to date can be breathtaking. While its methodical, tedious pacing and gameplay will not be for everyone, but patient people who can enjoy an array of activities from the adrenaline pumping action to the chill card games, those are the people who will fall in love here. While technology has a way to go before getting to complete immersion, the developers have taken leaps that will push gaming to new levels in the future.

Due to Red Dead Redemption 2 not having the online available at launch, I do have to review the game as incomplete. The score listed does not reflect the final product, a separate review will come whenever multiplayer is released. You can buy the game and see the current score below:

Score: 9/10

All images captured on a PS4 Pro

 

Video Game Review: Shadow of the Tomb Raider

The 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider was a phenomenal surprise. I have played through the game twice and loved its story, characters, and gameplay. The sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider was just as excellent with the absence of multiplayer. Now we get the final entry in Lara Croft’s origin story. How can a game with two superior predecessors fail? Well, that is quite the story to go into details in this review. Buckle up for this one.

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Lara and her best friend Jonah are on a race to defeat the evil organization, Trinity. An ancient Mayan prophecy that says the world will end by several catastrophic events. She travels to a hidden city, Paititi to put the pieces of the puzzle together to save the world and stop Trinity.

The story has terrible pacing. A third entry in the series, especially a story about timing to save the world, goes at a snail’s pace. In many moments, you have some far logical leaps that will leave you confused why characters take specific actions or where the story is heading. The ending especially leaves plenty of room for some confusion. For the most part, you spend your time exploring forests, talking to locals in villages, or completing puzzles. Not much of an action-adventure game. When things do pick up, usually it is exciting. Lara must run through buildings that are falling apart or dodge helicopters shooting at her. The “fun” moments short-lived and rare to find at any point during the game’s fifteen or less hour campaign. The game is short and lacks any content in its storytelling that I am shocked that I paid $60.

Characters lack any development. Jonah remains to be the useless best friend. Lara still has the same motivations and has been saying the same things since the 2013 reboot about her parents or ambitions. Other supporting characters are introduced, but I felt there was no reason to care for anyone at all. The only interesting character was Amaru, the central antagonist within Trinity. At times he could be compelling. His Messiah complex made him a more complicated character. He felt he could do good for the city of Paititi, but his flaws made him go down the wrong road.

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Gameplay is relatively consistent, but overall the same from previous games. Crafting weapon upgrades and outfits that give Lara benefits are a central mechanic. The costumes are useless because most of the game requires Lara in certain clothes for story missions that provide zero benefits.  Gather resources from exploring the map is a lot of fun and is rewarding. To help highlight rewards or interactable objects, there is instinct. A vision that highlights items, similar to games like Assassin’s Creed. During puzzles, this can be frustrating because Lara will repeat the same bad hints at you until you make progress. Hunting is still a mechanic, but not much development makes the activity bland. Lara can upgrade by three skill trees: blue for the seeker, red for the warrior, and green for the scavenger. Many of the types of upgrades blend together, so it makes it a bit weird the game divides into three separate trees. Many of the abilities are useful and make you feel like Lara gets significantly stronger.

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Side activities such as tombs and side missions can be fun and often times some of the most rewarding aspects of the game. Side missions give you insight into new characters and the places that they live. The missions are far more interesting than the main story. The tombs are tricky but are worth completing their upgrades and treasure.

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Merchants are introduced for Lara to buy new weapons and equipment from. While it is satisfying to go buy new gear, most of it goes unused throughout the game since most of everything you do is not combat related.

Maneuvering through the game can be frustrating since the controls are often not that responsive or the layout of the map does not work well. Climbing walls with my climbing ax gave me plenty of problems. Lara would be stuck on small parts that were not climbable, leaving me stuck in a place for a moment. I would continuously die because she would not do what I wanted such as grab ledges. An overall unforgiving experience.

Combat feels good but is lacking anywhere in the game. Stealth is the most advanced aspect that gets used a handful of times in short bursts. The heroine can hide in bushes, on top of trees, and cover herself in mud to hide against muddy walls. Gun mechanics are fun but hardly utilized. The bow and arrow supply endless joy and satisfaction using.

The game is full of beautiful environments from claustrophobic caves, lush forests, dilapidated ancient temples, and terrifying heights in the mountains. Each area is vast for exploration and great rewards waiting for a nearby tomb raider to find. The exploration and environments are the game’s most prominent redeeming qualities. For such a pretty game, you do get a photo mode with all of the basic functions: filters, frames, camera positions, and more. If this were a photography game, it would rival many of 2018’s biggest hits. The only issue comes from darker areas. You as the player cannot turn on a flashlight at will. Lara decides when something is too dark for her to turn on the light. I had to turn up the lighting to see through pitch black caves and crypts.

The graphics are for the most part quite stunning. The way the sun shines over trees and reflects off of water is impressive. The caveat is the animations, especially for characters, is often lacking. I felt that there were plenty of times characters lacked any emotion in their faces. Sometimes dialog was not even appropriately synced to their mouths. With plenty of times looking out at the landscape, it is easy to forget the weird facial animations.

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One of the most unique mechanics is in the options menu. Yes, you know I am trying to give this game some positivity when I am talking about how I can change the difficulty or look. The first choice you make is whether you want higher resolution or framerate. I switched between the two to see for myself, and I will recommend you stick to a higher framerate because it feels rough without it. The game’s difficulty has multiple settings. You can choose easy, medium, or hard for exploration, combat, and puzzles. If you want environments to tell you where to go, but a difficult puzzle and combat system then you can make that happen. I wish more games would have this setting for a more customizable experience. A final setting is for characters to speak in their native language for more immersion. While the idea is excellent, it is not immersive. Lara only speaks English to people who live in a hidden city, but everyone can manage to understand one another while speaking different languages. Not just in Paititi, but in other villages, you explore this occurs.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider might be the biggest disappointment of the year. The game has some of the worst pacings I have experienced in years. For an action game, it lacks any combat at all. The few times you get to fight it is short and not sweet. The highs are as high as the mountains you climb. The lows are as low as Lara falling off one of those cliffs to her death. The verdict is that she is definitely deceased after this lackluster adventure that should not be worth $60. The easiest way to say how I feel about Croft’s latest adventure is that it is beyond boring. If you want to play as Lara Croft, killing bad guys and raiding tombs, then go play the other two games.

Score: 4/10

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Images via Square Enix

Video Game Review: Marvel’s Spider-Man

Readers, if you have followed me for a while then maybe you read my most anticipated games for this year then you would know Marvel’s Spider-Man was my number one. I had wanted a game like this since Spider-Man 2 back in 2004. Now we have the open world Spidey adventure, and it meets the hype level in every way.

Peter Parker/Spider-Man is quite experienced at this point. He has been the web-slinging hero since 2010, a whole eight years. The journey starts off by defeating Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin, his longtime rival that has taken some time to put behind bars. Now that Kingpin is no longer running the streets; a new threat emerges that are not just the typical gangsters, they are terrorists. Spider-Man goes forward with the help of Yuri Watanabe who works in the police department, his ex-girlfriend M.J., and Miles Morales to discover this new threat. The story is charming, funny, heartfelt, compelling, and feels like something straight out of an MCU movie.

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In this story, you will face seeing some of the most iconic and obscure characters in Peter’s world. His beloved Aunt May is working at a homeless shelter, M.J. making it big time in at the Daily Bugle, and J. Jonah Jameson has his radio show all have a role in Peter’s life in some way. It is not just people supporting Peter/Spider-Man, except for Jameson, but Peter has plenty of villains to face. His most iconic baddies are here from Kingpin, Rhino, Electro, and many more. There are plenty of more obscure characters that casual fans won’t recognize, but the game does a beautiful job of introducing such as Mister Negative. Confusion about a character can happen especially with more obscure characters; you can go into bios of anyone on the menu to give background on everyone in the game. Each character is well developed with some great arcs. The writing has a lot of heart and a wide variety of tones that are well executed. A few jokes fall flat, but most put a smile on my face or more rarely get me to actually laugh.

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Out of any game made about the beloved web-swinger, I have never seen a story like this. Insomniac takes the heart and soul of both Peter and his superhero life, unlike any other video game. Spider-Man feels like an MCU movie that was teamed up with Insomniac by their mix of humor, drama, epic action, and even the soundtrack. Yes, they also have an after credit scene.

Insomniac is known for fluid combat, movement, and a wide variety of fun weapons and gadgets to utilize on the journey. This reputation from their Ratchet and Clank series and Xbox exclusive Sunset Overdrive is visible in Marvel’s Spider-Man. The combat is similar to many action games such as the Batman Arkham series. Basic combos, use of gadgets, similar parrying and dodging mechanics make it feel like an Arkham game with so much more. The fighting and movement are unlike anything that I have played since Sunset Overdrive. Spidey can scan around to see nearby enemies or interactable objects to use as a weapon. Action and traversing build up focus which is used to heal or finish enemies with one hit. Beating on bad guys is full of variety and lets you be as creative in how you tackle threats from the use of gizmos to stealth. Whichever way you tackle gangsters, terrorists, or supervillains, it always feels perfect.

The most significant aspect besides beating down criminals is moving around this giant open world. Web-swinging feels organic enough for me to feel like I am Spider-Man who has been active for eight years. The difficulty comes in slightly for people who want to go faster or be more precise with how they traverse around Manhattan. Traversal is a beautiful mix of ease and some talent for players with different levels of skill.

The gameplay is continually evolving by adding new mechanics in or building upon older ones. Various mini-games such as hacking or finding out about new chemicals are easy enough to do but hard enough to let you think for a few minutes. Every research activity done helps capture Peter’s brilliant mind in the world of science and technology, unlike any other game we have seen with his character.

The open world is full of typical activities such as side missions, randomly occurring crimes, collectibles, challenges, enemy bases, and towers that will unlock the map. While these activities are in every other open world such as the towers to unlock the map are similar to Far Cry, and the collectibles are in every game imaginable, we get something more rewarding. Every challenge, minigame, collectible, base, and crime give you tokens. Redeeming tokens for upgrades, new suits, suit modifications, and more to make Spider-Man stronger. Each activity provides a specific token. If a new suit requires X amount of challenges, crime, and research tokens, then you must complete challenges, crimes, and research minigames to unlock that costume. Collectibles in the game are fun to collect and are rewarding by giving some background on the world along with their tokens. The backpacks specifically are some of my favorite collectibles in any game since you see an item in that backpack that Peter will give some commentary on what you have found. You see some fantastic easter eggs from other Marvel characters or explanations about what has happened in the last eight years during Peter’s time as a superhero.

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The customization is light but satisfying. At any point, you can switch out which costume to wear along with its upgrades. Almost every suit comes with an ability that will enhance you for a limited time during battle or perform a super move to eliminate nearby enemies. With the swapping of skills in and out leaves for anyone to use their favorite costumes along with their preferred abilities. Each outfit is fantastic and got me excited to see what the next costume will be once unlocked. Fan favorite costumes such as his classic suit, Stark suit from Homecoming, and Iron Spider suit from Infinity War are present along with some that are more obscure. Some of the most unusual costumes are the Spider 2099 and Noir suit. I enjoyed every outfit that I would wear one for a while then switch to another. I felt almost overwhelmed with how many I could choose from in the best way possible.

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Everything you do gives you experience points, like just about most other games. You have three skill trees: innovator, defender, and web-slinger. Each will provide you with new abilities to fight, move around the city, or give you a bonus of strength or health. The leveling up system is fun and easy with all of the basics you will find anywhere else.

Manhattan is a massive part of New York you will be able to swing around in and fight crime while feeling like a real city that is being impacted by unnatural people. Instead of hopping from rooftop to rooftop, you can just walk the streets. Civilians will react in a variety of ways. Some may want a high five or to say hello. Others might be hateful towards Spider-Man. Everyone has a different opinion which helps flesh out the world. As you progress in the game, the world changes organically. Due to Spidey and his villains causing issues throughout the city, Jameson’s radio show will pop up briefly in crucial moments in the story that will provide a hilarious insight to how the city is being impacted. His banter about how Spider-Man is the cause of every issue is funny throughout the game but makes for a believable world that has this web-slinging hero as its protector. Later in the story, enemies will be more robust as they gather better weapons and introduce new enemy types. Enemy types and which faction they belong to will determine your strategy. All the way till the final act in the game new mechanics and enemies will demonstrate how the city is affected by the actions of the superbeings within it. The lively city that changes make for one of the most enjoyable open world games that I have played in years.

The game has a unique style to its graphics and animations. Insomniac has blended a realistic approach with a comic book style. Colors pop just like comics or any superhero movie in the MCU would. Details such as facial animations are wonderfully done for the game to have a look of realism. Animations are continually entertaining by how many variations there are. Spider-Man will do a variety of moves as he swings around the city depending on the objects he is maneuvering on. During combat, his movement is changing throughout the fight depending on how he is jumping or what objects he is using to his advantage. New York is filled with enough grit for a realistic look, while still maintaining enough color for a vibrant and interesting looking game.

Photo mode is something no game can go without anymore, especially with how beautiful games can look with the advancement of technology. All the essential functions are available such as filters, frames, emotes, and camera angles. One angle that can be used is a selfie mode, who doesn’t take a good selfie when they can? Those of you who are talented with photo modes then this will be game you cannot pass up.

The issues I have are few and quite small. Dialog repeats way too often. Spidey will have a quip after defeating criminals or as he arrives but tends to replay the same joke every time. If he is at a base, then he will have a set joke for that, or if he is doing a stealth challenge, then there is the witty remark for that situation. Hearing the same wisecracking can be annoying after playing the same missions over and over. The dialog can be easily interrupted, some of which I missed was important, but mostly it was Jameson going on about Spider-Man. If you miss an episode of Jameson, you can go to the menu and listen to it, which is no big deal. Loosing on meaningful dialog during a story mission is more difficult than missing out on Jameson’s banter. Progressing through a mission before a character finishes speaking will go on to a new set of dialog. While the boss battles are fun, sometimes it felt anti-climatic at times. The final critique is that many of the activities are a bit repetitive. What makes this a small criticism to me is the satisfyingly fun gameplay along with how the game progresses allows for new enemy types to change things up. The changes that Manhattan goes through makes the repetitive side activities much more bearable along with the rewards that come after completion.

Superhero games are mostly underwhelming with some that are beloved. Marvel’s Spider-Man will join the cherished crowd of masked heroes whose games have been successful. The game is has a beautiful aesthetic, brilliant voice acting and writing to make for an incredibly Spider-Man/Peter Parker story, fluid gameplay, and immersive open world. The game is smooth as can be with its fantastic traversal and gratifying combat. For the most part, the game leans on an easier difficulty. Puzzles might take a minute to think but are apparent for the most part. Missions as M.J. are stealth missions that require not a ton of skill. The combat is accessible especially with the move list in the menu to help you. I played on medium difficulty and felt it was too easy for the most part. If you want a challenge, then play on medium or hard difficulty. Fans of the web-slinger must play this game. Not only do we have the best game we have seen with the iconic hero, but this is the best superhero game of all time. With its slight flaws, it manages to pick itself up as you progress through its charming story. The game is full of unoriginal ideas with its side activities and certain gameplay elements but manages to refine those aspects into something fresh and enjoyable. Anyone looking for a more heartfelt game with more satisfying gameplay will have a tough time because it is going to be hard to beat Insomniac’s masterpiece.

Score: 9/10

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Video Game Review: Detroit: Become Human

PlayStation has been the king of this generation when it comes to their single player exclusives. Just the other month we had God of War, and now we have the new game from Quantic Dream, Detroit: Become Human. The story of androids taking over the world and our advances in AI technology being our downfall has been told so many times. Now we see a different take on the story that we all know to some degree.

The story follows three protagonists: Kara, an android with a single father and his daughter, Markus who serves an old painter to take care of him in his old age, and Connor who helps the police with investigations and other police matters. Each scene of the game will follow one character then the next will switch to the next, and so on. Each character has their own story, but to no surprise, they all connect at some point. Kara tries taking care of Alice, the daughter, to protect her from the abusive father. Markus gets set on a path to lead a revolution to set the androids free from the humans. Connor investigates deviants, the androids who go rogue and go on the path of becoming sentient. That theme of androids wanting to be free and alive is heavily involved and explored with each character.

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Just like other games from Quantic Dream such as Heavy Rain, the game is all about the choices a player makes. The game is an interactive story that has many branching paths. Unlike their other games, this has the most amount of scenarios that can play it. After a scene before leading to the next character, a flowchart that shows all of the branching paths appears. You see what you did and see blank spaces as to where you could have gone. Statistics come up to show what percent of people chose that action. That mechanic is impressive, especially when you think your choice was the majority. I had some moments like that but turned out I was in an 8% minority. You will receive points for the paths which can unlock videos, wallpaper, and other awards to unlock that don’t do a lot but are interesting for people who like those types of prizes. The pacing of the game starts off inconsistent. Some of the stories are exciting right away, but some can be mundane and boring. Markus, in particular, has a great story later on, but starting off things are slow.

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The gameplay can be chosen at a simple level or to go for a more complex experience. The controls will become more elaborate if choosing the more complex difficulty. Just like other Quantic Dream games, the gameplay is centered around QTEs, motion controls, and interacting with the environment. The QTEs are forgivable for the most part since this style lends itself to having a lot of QTEs such as Telltale Games.  However, the controls might not be that responsive at times. Especially for the motion controls. I will always stand that motion controls are the worst idea to have in any game because it never works all that well. I wish the game gave an option to turn motion controls off because it makes for some difficult situations. Some icons to give instructions on how to perform an action are unclear. Using the trackpad on the PS4 controller in some unusual ways leads to some confusing moments. Those are only a few times in the game, but it is worth mentioning. Holding R2 allows you to view the area to see objectives and items to interact with. This is how you will engage with the world, if you are lost to see where to go, and will help gain new options for actions and dialog. Many games similar to Detroit have many items to interact with the world. Most of the time items are worthless and waste your time. Almost everything that can be interacted with has a purpose to the story. Everything you do for the most part moves you forward. The game features dialog choices that will determine how people feel about you and what actions you will take.

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The graphics are stunningly beautiful. The game is full of detail that needs to be given attention. The detail lends itself to the narrative to build the story and characters. A significant portion of the story takes place in rainy weather which offers a particular look to most scenes. The sheen of the water and the lighting makes some pretty moments. We are in an age where we are getting beautiful games nonstop with their own art directions.

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The issues with Detroit comes from all of the other games by Quantic Dream. Their games consistently have issues with controls and the story. Like I said, the motion controls and QTEs sometimes are not responsive that well. That can be damaging to a story that forces the player into a situation that is needed for quick reactions. Another critique is the story. The story and characters are all well written and acted. Especially the acting is quite superb. However, there are a few moments in the narrative that create gaps in the logic of the story. These are only a few moments, but it still hurts immersion and the overall narrative being told. I find it hard to take the game too seriously, even though the story is quite compelling and emotional for the most part. A game that is this story drive and interactive need those points to be almost perfect. The length is left to be desired with the time being around ten hours. The many branching paths can bring a player back for dozens of playthroughs, but the early game is hard to get through regarding the pacing. The issues are not too severe but are quite noticeable.

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Detroit: Become Human is a good game for some people. If you have not liked games like Heavy Rain or any game from Telltale Games, then this is not for you. The story is quite short for only about ten hours, especially for a $60 game. The many playthroughs and options do give replayability, but it is something to keep in mind. The spin on androids rebelling against humans is quite well done. The narrative is enjoyable, and the different options that can happen are amazing. This is one of those games that you will really enjoy or absolutely hate. Detroit is one of the weaker PS4 exclusives in comparison to what we have seen already, but it is still a strong title. Quantic Dream has a particular style, and with Detroit, that style has been refined wonderfully. Seeing a company’s progress as developers is a great thing to see, so expect more games to turn out even better in the future.

Score: 7/10

Images via Quantic Dream and screenshotted on a regular PS4

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Video Game Review: God of War

God of War has taken over the PlayStation community by storm. At first, I was skeptical. I have never played any of the previous games, so I have zero experience and expectations. I am blown away by how phenomenal this game is. I am saying it now that this might be game of the year. The massive amount of hype is not just hype; it is the truth.

The story takes place with Kratos in a new world. He has left Sparta to find peace with his life by starting a family. The new world takes place in the Norse mythology which is awesome. I love the new setting. The game takes place with the cremation of Kratos’ wife and Atreus’ mother. Her last wish was for her husband and son to take her ashes to the tallest mountain in the area. On this journey, Kratos must teach his son to survive, battle a variety of enemies, become a better father, and tackle his troubled past. The trip is mostly centered around Kratos and his son as their relationship develops.

The game has several supporting characters and antagonists who will either help or try to stop Kratos and Atreus on their adventure. Each character is fully developed and has a unique personality. Nothing in this game is gone to waste, especially the characters. Everyone feels like they belong and are real. The development of everyone is organic and comes to life naturally. On the adventure, Kratos and Atreus will change as individuals and within their relationship. The dialog is excellently written with fantastic voice acting that is on a whole new level unlike almost any game out there. Pacing for this type of development of characters needs to be done right. The pacing is flawlessly done to make for a compelling story with great characters. I always heard people had mix feelings about Kratos, but he manages to be more fleshed out to be more sympathetic and complex. This well-established series has managed to take their iconic protagonist and give him a new identity that works perfectly.

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The combat is some of the best I have played in years. Satisfying combos and move sets that will not get old even 40 or more hours played. The game has an organic way that introduces new mechanics, mainly to combat.  Throwing your ax and catching it feels phenomenal every time. When enemies are stunned, you can do brutal takedowns such as ripping enemies in half or slamming them into the ground. Each enemy type has a unique takedown that Kratos can do, but I wish there were more variety to this. Seeing the game takedown can get a little dull. Atreus helps during combat. He acts on his own, but you can command him to make certain moves too. As the game progresses, he becomes more reliable. Atreaus’ power grows, and his skills increase. He gets stronger by upgrades and new armor, but naturally, as a character, he grows too. It makes for a unique way to develop a character by making them naturally gaining skills while having typical upgrades makes for something I have not seen before in a game. Games such as The Last of Us and Bioshock: Infinite have an AI partner, but never on this level of helpfulness. When fighting, enemies are all unique with different strengths and weaknesses. You must adopt different strategies depending on the enemy. The difficulty is perfect. I played on normal difficulty. Moments were incredibly hard, but others were easy. Playing on the harder difficulties will give players a worthy challenge to their skills.

Like any game, certain tropes are there. However, every trope found here is flipped on its head to make for a unique experience. The game introduces there dwarves characters who are the game’s shopkeepers. This way feels organic within the world that I did not think of this being a typical interaction. These characters you can have conversations with and be given side missions. So much is done to provide the most realistic experience to make this world as immersive as possible.

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Enemies give experience, money, and other resources. All of this can be found in chests or by selling items to the shopkeepers. Currency and resources are used to buy upgrades, new gear, enchantments, and runes. Runes and enchantments are additional upgrades for armor and weapons. Everything has unique stats with pros and cons depending on what type of character you want to build. Side missions are limited, but fleshed out to be fun and have a purpose. Side missions will also give you plenty of rewards that make your time worth it. Exploring for equipment and resources is very rewarding. Collectibles and other items in the area can provide additional lore and other information. Atreus writes in the journal that can give extra information. Reading his descriptions of enemies or the history of the world feels like he wrote it.

The game centers around fighting enemies and puzzles. The puzzles are a variety of difficulty. Nothing is too hard, but it will take time. Once you solve it, then you get that aha moment for completing the puzzle. The variety of puzzles build off of what you have learned previously. Gaining specific key equipment items from the main story will unlock ways to solve other side puzzles. You can not do everything in the game until late game or until completing the main story.

Leveling up is quite simple. Earning experience for missions and combat is like any other game. Skill trees for Atreus and Kratos are small but useful. Every skill makes you feel stronger than before. I think many games give me useless skills, but everything here I can use if I want. Various new combat moves along with traditional upgrades such as making weapons stronger are some of the skills within the tree. A simple and effective mechanic that gives more power with no filler.

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The hub world is on a giant lake that has many areas to explore. The game is not open world but manages a balance between linear and open. Along with this extensive area are a variety of realms to explore. These are much more linear with some split paths that allow for exploration. Not a single inch of this game is filler. Everything is utilized correctly for some practical reason to both gameplay, main story, or giving some additional background to make the world seem more realistic. Everything is beautiful. Seriously, this might be the best looking console game ever made. The colors are vibrant with an emphasis on its blues. Everything pops and has an incredible amount of detail. The level of detail to every aspect of the game is the key as to why this game is so phenomenal.

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Besides a change is combat style, the new RPG elements, and various other changes to this entry in the series, but the camera is different too. The game has a cinematic focus with everything being one shot. There are little to no loading screens to keep you at the moment. Seamless transitions from cut scenes to gameplay make for an immersive experience. I have been confused when I am playing or watching a cutscene, and I loved that.

So, are there any issues in the game? I have tried so hard to come up with some criticism. A few moments in which the frame rate dropped, but that happened maybe two or three times. A few moments of Atreus running into a wall, but other than that the AI is stable and consistent.

God of War is a masterpiece. Before this game, the only game to have a story that pulled at my heartstrings was The Last of Us. The development of the characters, the detailed world, the excellent gameplay, and the incredible writing delivers one of the most innovative and compelling video games of all time. If you own a PS4, then you must play this game. If you have never played the series, then you must. Players with zero experience like myself will not be lost in the story. Some connection the old game is there, but not enough to make newcomers lost. Hardcore fans who are willing to accept that the game has taken a new turn should enjoy themselves as much. It is a disservice not to play this masterpiece of a game.

10/10

Images via Santa Monic Studios and in-game shots

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