Dragon Age: Origins marked the point at which western RPGs properly moved into the spotlight. Knights Of The Old Republic laid the groundwork, combining a surprisingly geeky implementation of Dungeons and Dragons rules with its direct player control and swishy lightsabers. Jade Empire then tried to take it somewhere new, only to stumble right out of the gate. It modernised the genre, offering something fresh, but it never really got its due.
There's a kind of story that campfires were built for. Tales of flickering shadow, told with earnest delight to at least a briefly receptive audience willing to put aside logic and courage, and allowed to simmer in darkness when the light finally expires.
Looking back, it's a surprise that David Bowie was only involved in one game. It's somewhat less of a surprise that it was 1999's Omikron: The Nomad Soul, the game that introduced David Cage to the world, and still stands as an example of 90s gaming spirit. It's a genre-busting game with as many personalities as Bowie himself, flitting between first-person shooting, adventure, puzzling and fighting. It's bursting with ideas and birthed in a booming industry where anything suddenly seemed possible, without being weighed down by the experience to draw the line between what could be done, and what maybe shouldn't be.
While it didn't quite come out of nowhere, nobody could have predicted just how huge Undertale would become this year. At the time of writing, 19,394 positive reviews to 321. Half a million sales, by SteamSpy estimation. Beating Ocarina of Time in GameFAQs' Best Games Ever list. Making people give a crap about GameFAQs' Best Games Ever list. It's quite the thing.
I am an Imperial Agent. I am a Smuggler. I am a Jedi Knight.
Knights of The Fallen Empire, Star Wars: The Old Republic's newly released story-focussed expansion, isn't quite BioWare throwing its hands up in the air and finally giving us Knights of The Old Republic 3, but it's close. Very close. Even factoring in the rise of personal quests in the last few years, this is about nine hours of new content (with more to come) that completely sidelines the MMO side to the point that the very occasional shared area comes as less a surprise than a shock. Hello, fellow meatbag! What are you doing in my personal war to save the galaxy?
It's the wasted potential that hurts the most. Armikrog begins with a catchy song, a gorgeous claymation planet, and a hero facing off against a wonderfully designed monster with a tongue so long that its mouth comes fitted with a winch. It's imaginative! Beautifully made! Exciting! Creative! Lots of other enthusiastic exclamation marks! You may have seen it already. All of this was in the Kickstarter pitch video, which not too surprisingly helped the developers raise a cool million dollars.
Kickstarter and RPGs have gone together like, well, nostalgia and money over the last couple of years. From Wasteland 2 to Pillars of Eternity to Divinity: Original Sin, they've done great business, and resulted in great games. But that was then. It's time for the second wave.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is an RPG heretic. It wants you to split the party. It wants you to work against each other. It'll even force your hand, as our team of four mismatched heroes discovered when trying to get into town. Party leader Gwynne got a warm enough welcome, at least as warm as a prodigal daughter last seen being arrested as a corrupt sorceress can expect. Her dwarf companion had no such luck though, being rudely and immediately turned away at the gates by the racist guard. For him, the only way in was to find an alternate route, through a series of caves far from the gates and far from his so-called friends. All of them already questing without him.
Knights Of The Old Republic 2 is a game I'd love to see the pitch for. Did Obsidian actually say that the plan was to systematically tear down, subvert and scornfully rip great chunks of flesh out of the Star Wars universe and George Lucas' shallow sense of morality and storytelling? or was it more on the lines of "So, we're thinking three bladed lightsabres this time," with Chris Avellone accidentally left locked in the car?
After years of waiting and false hopes, Bethesda has finally announced Fallout 4. It's as good an excuse as any to take a trip through time to where it all began, in a very different kind, but now much more familiar kind of Wasteland. This was back in 1988, on technology so primitive that most of the original's game text had to be printed in a manual, with the game simply giving a number to look up every time anything happened. Nevertheless, it found almost instant critical and commercial success... and immense difficulty getting a sequel off the ground. At least, an official one.
Eventually, Kerbal Space Program becomes a game about triumph. Getting into space. Landing on the moon. Mastering physics to leave the ground behind and blasting into the history books on a rocket of your own creation. When it finally happens, it's one of the most satisfying moments in the history of gaming. What makes Kerbal a classic, though, is what happens before that point. As a great Kerbal once probably said, we do not choose to go to the Mun because it is easy, but because... well, why not? Look at it, hanging up there in the sky like a great big smug thing. Don't you just want to wipe the smile off its poxy moon face?
The more I played War for the Overworld, the more I began feeling that its name summed up why it wasn't quite working for me. It sounds like a small point, and it is, but it's one rooted in what people got from Dungeon Keeper in the first place. For me, the appeal was in, well, keeping a dungeon. It was building my little enclave of evil, enjoying the little squabbles and slithers of monsters drawn to my dark heart, and watching them work for my amusement. All of that is, of course, in War for the Overworld too, which is in most ways achingly close to the Dungeon Keeper 3 that we've all been waiting for so damn long. Still, there's something about it that doesn't quite ring right, which stops it - for me - being all I'd hoped for.
Easily the best thing about all these old-school RPG revivals has been remembering just how varied the classics truly were. Divinity Original Sin brought back the Ultima VII vibe, Wasteland 2 carried as much of Fallout as it did its namesake, and now Pillars of Eternity casts its resurrection spell on the classic that largely saved the genre from a descent into obscurity - Silver! No, wait. That other one. Baldur's Gate, that's it.
When a suicidally depressed leper is your party's healer, you've got problems.
There's a line in the new Grim Fandango Remastered's Director's Commentary that sums it up perfectly: "When you're making something, it should be something that only has been made by you, at the time you made it, in the place you made it." More than most games, never mind adventures, it's impossible to imagine any other team having made the original. It's a credit to every member of it that if this new Remastered edition doesn't seem to have changed all that much, it's because there really wasn't much in need of updating. Like the film noir classics it borrows from, it looked and sounded great at release, and still holds onto its style.
Remember when Saints Row was all about colour-coded street gangs? How long ago it seems, with bombing through the netherworld in Gat Out of Hell now a natural enough progression from alien invasions and virtual reality shooting galleries. If there's a problem with the setting, it's that it's far too grand for a game perched right between DLC and full release, and much of the potential is almost inevitably left on the table - some bits more unfortunately than others.
Editor's note: We're taking a different approach to reviews of episodic game series like Game of Thrones, in which the debut episode will be reviewed without a score, as here, and we'll review the whole season with a score at its conclusion.
Editor's note: We're trying a new approach to reviews of episodic game series like Tales from the Borderlands, inspired by our approach to early access releases and some online games. The debut episode will be reviewed without a score, as here, and we'll review the whole season with a score at its conclusion.
There's a definite end of an era feel to much of Dragon Age: Inquisition, whether or not BioWare has a fourth in the pipeline. This is what everything's been leading towards; all those choices, all the adventure, all the drama, and all the epic battles so far - of good vs. evil, of mages vs. templars and, of course, of RPG fans everywhere vs. Dragon Age 2.
26 years is a hell of a long time to wait for a sequel, though it's arguable that Wasteland 2 is as much an alternate Fallout 3 as it is the continuation of the original post-apocalyptic role-playing game. At the very least, it's the two branches of the family tree finally wrapping around each other. Here, Wasteland's more whimsical apocalypse and tongue-in-cheek style - where you're as likely to face giant mutated rabbits and toads as radioactive scorpions - meet Fallout's combat, exploration and interface. Also its feel. And its moral choices. While original Wasteland was definitely this game's alma mater, it's obvious where it got its PhD.
Note: As with all episodic game reviews, this review contains spoilers for previous episodes and, to some extent, for the episode in question. Proceed with caution!
Note: as ever with episodic games, this review may contain spoilers for previous episodes of Season Two of The Walking Dead. So proceed with caution!
I can think of no finer compliment to pay Divinity: Original Sin than this: while it was rarely in danger of not being my favourite Ultima-inspired game since Ultima 7, it's the first one I can say - not without a lot of guilt, mind - that I might have enjoyed more than its inspiration. You'd think that nothing could live up to 20 years of fondness for a beloved game whose crap bits have long been mentally erased - and yet if Original Sin has a few rough edges smoothed off by patches in the near future, it's got a real shot at the title.
It's Christmas Day, about half past four in the morning, and I feel betrayed by chocolate. It's my own fault, obviously - a stocking full of Smarties and cheap coins in now-scattered golden foil, some biscuits Santa had turned down, a bit of cake to help pass the time between pretending to go to sleep and everyone else getting up, all stirred and churned and now not tasting anything like as good. It's an explosion; a floor-splattering chunderpocalypse, the kind that leaves but one happy thought in the mind - that one day, all things die. And for some reason, this is not treated as a reason for sympathy. Not even a little bit. Just a pointed, bleary-eyed reminder that when people say you can have too much of a good thing, this... exactly this... is what they're thinking of.