Games I Played in 2016: Part 4 – Heroes Never Die

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Overwatch, Tyranny, Gang Beasts, Lara Croft Go, Dark Souls III

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Overwatch

Blizzard has a habit of making indelible marks on most of the genres they set their sights on. From real time strategy to action RPG and the MMORPG, each has seen the company create transformative evolutions so it really isn’t surprising that they’ve managed to do the same again with the class based multiplayer shooter. Overwatch had a protracted and difficult development cycle, originally being part of their massively followup to WoW (how much of what the game now resembles when it was part of a much larger whole isn’t quite clear),  it finally saw the light of day earlier this year, to much critical and popular acclaim.

Part of the reason it’s so good, very much like DOOM, is because it throws out so much what has become part of standard and expected kit. You can’t unlock new gameplay relevant gear. Every character has a set load out. There’s no focus on kill/death ratio. Instead, this is an attempt to make a supremely focused and balanced experience that prides itself on cooperation, positive reinforcement, and teamwork above all else.

Like many of Blizzard’s games, it’s extremely accessible but absolutely offers depth for players wanting to delve in deeper. It’s a feast for the eyes and ears, with a level of shining polish bordering on the absurd. The sound design deserves praise too, with a great deal of attention being put into each and every sound effect and jingle. Characters’ footsteps sound distinct and they’re all highly talkative, shouting when they pop their ultimate abilities (enemy players have a different ult shout, allowing you to immediately understand the often critical distinction) and you can learn a lot about the state of the battlefield just by listening.

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But it’s not just level of accessible mastery or top-tier presentation that has made so many fall in love with Overwatch. Perhaps above all else, it’s the characters themselves. That the developers have managed to give their big cast such excellent characterisation in a multiplayer setting is a feat worthy of high praise indeed. Certain characters will engage in random small talk throughout the match, illuminating backstories, relationships, and providing colourful personality development. It’s the little moments in combination with their charming visual expressiveness that make it so easy to care about these heroes and villains. And that’s not even taking into the account the excellent CGI shorts they’ve been putting out since before the game launched.

They also have to be commended for creating an admirably diverse set of characters. It’s a global cast featuring a wide array of not only races and genders but also body types, particularity with regard to its women. An elderly sniper, a chubby scientist, a hulking pink haired Russian body builder, and an esports pro to name a few. Yes, there’s one or two which call back to antiquated archetypes (Widowmaker is a femme fatale through and through, perhaps needlessly) but on the whole, it successfully bucks the norm.

If the game has a fault, it’s the method of unlocking cosmetic trinkets with many arguing that it’s difficult to get what you want without spending real money and even if you do, it’s still not a guarantee than the random number generator gods will work in your favour. Blizzard has been largely receptive to fan feedback in practically every area except this so it’s unlikely to change and it remains the only considerable thorn in Overwatch‘s side.

The game gets so much perfectly right though that it’s easy to overlook the few flaws it does have. This is certainly more of an evolution than a revolution for first person shooters, but it’s nonetheless a monumental moment for the genre and an affirmation of Blizzard’s status as a trail blazing titan of the industry. 5/5

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Tyranny

Tyranny is Obsidian Entertainment’s latest take on modernising the classic CRPGs of the 90s. Pillars of Eternity took a fairly safe approach and was happy to simply make a CRPG throwback while Tyranny takes a few more chances, both mechanically and with its original universe. It differentiates itself from many other fantasy tales by taking place in a world where the battle between good and evil is done, with evil having triumphed. The player character is a high ranking member of the victorious army tasked with mopping up and bring the newly conquered lands under complete control.

It’s a novel premise and the primary reason I found myself interested in the game. Having never really played a CRPG before I was hesitant but Tyranny is fairly easy to get into, in large part thanks to how it streamlines certain management elements. It also has a “storytime mode” which makes combat significantly less challenging for those who are in for the narrative. It’s a well done tale with several strongly written characters and a good degree of impactful player choice.

It is however apparent that it wasn’t made on the largest of budgets as it feels little thin on content and can be played to completion in around 20 hours, shorter than you’d expect from a game of this type. That said, there isn’t any filler and it’s very well paced with an ending that some may find frustrating but I found to be both refreshing and satisfying.  4/5

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Gang Beasts

This has been in early access for quite a few years. I tend not to buy early access stuff as I’d rather experience a game I’m looking forward to in its most polished and feature rich state but the addition of online play broke my revolve. It’s a tremendously fun drunken brawl simulator with amusing physics and a level of pure moment to moment fun that few games can match.

Hopefully the full release isn’t too far off and it can be fleshed out with additional modes, modifiers, and a more robust online suite of options. [no scores for early access titles]

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Lara Croft Go

Lara Croft Go is the logical progression of the Go series after the successful shrinking of Hitman down to portable size. It’s a much better game than Agent 47’s mobile outing, with more mechanical complexity and an impressive upgrade in presentation. It slowly rolls out new ideas and ramps up the difficulty at an appropriate rate, lasting just the right amount of time. It’s an excellent reduction of one Tomb Raider‘s former core elements, environmental puzzles, and easily among the best mobile games. 4/5

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Dark Souls III

It was nice to return to the uniquely miserable world of From Software’s flagship series. I burned out on Bloodborne about three quarters of the way through and never manged to get back into it. I’m not sure what it was in particular that made me fall away from it but with Dark Souls III I thought I would minimise any potential frustration by playing it entirely in co-op. The challenge of Dark Souls is definitely a core reason as to why so many people enjoy it but at this stage I was happy to simply experience the world and see whatever hideous monsters were lying in wait.

It’s a very well put together game but I think Dark Souls in its current form has done just about everything it can do. It does feel a little like it’s running through the motions but when those motions are so well executed it’s hard to be too put off by it. Still, whatever the next step in the franchise is, whether directly or spiritually, it will hopefully be a significantly different one. 4/5

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