One year ago, a few intrepid young gamers took it upon themselves to start their own gaming website. That project eventually became Goomba Stomp. One full turn around the sun later, Goomba Stomp boasts nearly 50 writers across 4 continents, and we couldn’t have done it without that one little thing that gives us a reason to do this at all: that’s you, the reader.
So if you’re reading this, then thank you. You’ve helped to give us a voice, and though it may be something of a nerdy voice, it’s ours all the same. To say thanks, and, of course, to celebrate, we’ve crafted up this little list of our favorite games of the 21st century. Our writers and editors have pooled their votes, and the results are as follows.
We hope you love these games as much as we do. Here’s to another year of doing what we love, thanks for being here for the ride. (Mike Worby)
20) Civilization V
The feeling we most commonly associate with Civilization V is confusion. It’s not because of the daunting array of systems one must navigate in order to play the game with any measure of success, and it’s not because of the various political and religious minefields you must negotiate in order to avoid your burgeoning civilization becoming little more than a footnote in the pages of history. It’s because this game, more than any other on this impressive list of titles, can cause you to look at your watch in bewilderment at 5 am when you could have sworn you’d only been playing it for an hour. Civilization V asks for a considerable time investment, but the rewards it yields is abundant.
At the start of each game you’re asked to pick a civilization – be it the English empire, the ancient Egyptians, or one of over a dozen more – and the aim of the game is to take their culture from a single settler looking for a place to hang their hat to a sprawling superpower that is considered enough of a cultural, spiritual, militaristic or technological marvel to win the game. As your village grows into a city, you’ll form new settlements, deal with political unrest, spread your cultural influence, research important scientific discoveries, and try to build awe-inspiring wonders before your competitors. You can build the hanging gardens of Babylon just outside of London, or the Pyramids on the outskirts of Paris. Perhaps Michelangelo will be born in Boston.
You make your own history in Civilization V, and it’s glorious. Just make sure you set plenty of time aside. (John Cal McCormick)
19) Gone Home
With all the talk in more recent years of developers and publishers hoping to add a layer of emotional resonance to their games, very few games are able to actually achieve the kind of emotional response that players might get from some of their favorite films or television shows.
Gone Home is a game that bucks this trend almost effortlessly. The story of a girl who comes home from traveling abroad to find that her family has moved to a new house, Gone Home doesn’t exactly have a premise that would seem to work very well in the medium of gaming. However, with the advent of the walking simulator, a game like this can offer an intense feeling of immersion, as players feel like they are very much inhabiting the shoes of the protagonist, Katie, as she learns about all of the ways her family has changed and grown in her absence.
A quiet, solemn, and evocative experience, Gone Home is the kind of game that should be played by everyone who takes even a fraction of enjoyment from the medium of gaming. At a mere two hours to complete, Gone Home makes a similar case to a game like Journey: that a short game isn’t necessarily a waste of money. Quite the contrary, in fact, Gone Home is a game that can literally change your life. (Mike Worby)
18) Final Fantasy X
Some people might point to Final Fantasy X as being the moment that the Final Fantasy series jumped the proverbial shark, but there’s a lot to like about the tenth installment in the long-running franchise. Upon release it was the best looking Japanese role-playing game ever made, and while the voice acting was routinely mocked (even at the time), fully voiced characters were a landmark achievement for games of this ilk. The golden age of JRPGs might have ended with the PSOne, but Final Fantasy X dragged the defiantly old-school genre kicking and screaming into the future whether we liked it or not.
Taking place in the magical land of Spira, Final Fantasy X tells the tale of an upbeat sports star named Tidus who is mysteriously transported 1,000 years into the future when his city is attacked by a gigantic, malevolent beast known as Sin. As he struggles to acclimatise to a brand new culture unaccustomed to his ways, he meets a girl destined to destroy the creature that left him stranded in a strange time and decides to help her on her quest for peace. Throw in some daddy issues, a villain with gravity-defying hair, and some giant yellow birds and baby, you’ve got a Final Fantasy.
The linearity of the game and the almost entirely humourless script might have left some Final Fantasy fans feeling alienated at the time, but looking back, Final Fantasy X did a lot of things right that future games in the franchise would get wrong. It was impressive on a technical level, but it retained some of the heart that the series was known for which later iterations of the series would lack. It’s got a fun battle system, a suitably moving story, and a largely memorable cast of characters. And it’s also famous for containing one of the worst cut-scenes in video game history, so there’s always that. (John Cal McCormick)
17) Red Dead Redemption
What happens when you take Rockstar’s penchant for mature stories and huge, interactive open worlds and stick it in the twilight years of the American Wild West? Red Dead Redemption happens. Not only living up to the legacy of its Grand Theft Auto progenitors, but succeeding them in several ways, Red Dead isn’t just Rockstar’s best game, but one of the greatest games ever made.
The story and setting of Red Dead are nearly perfect for the Western film vibe it’s attempting to ape. John Marston is a former outlaw whose family is being held hostage until he can track down and kill his former gang members. Along the way, he’ll need to contend with lawmen, undesirables, and his former brothers in arms as he tears across the wild west. There’s gunfights, horse rides, and plenty of piano music to make any fan of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood classics smile with glee.
The open-world is one of the best ever created, full of dynamic events that make it feel alive and interesting landmarks to explore. When Marston’s not busy with one of the impeccably crafted story missions there’s plenty of side content like hunts to complete and bounties to collect that make you feel like you’re in the West yourself. There’s no need for anyone to make a video game out of HBO’s WestWorld, we already got it in 2010.
From its first moments to its heart-wrenching finale, Red Dead Redemption is gaming perfected. Its combat visceral and nerve-wracking, its story pointed and interesting, and its use of themes of fatherhood and the waning of the American frontier
incredible to watch play out. The Wild West is an untapped market in gaming, but there’s a decent chance that’s because it has been done perfectly already. You shouldn’t just play Red Dead Redemption because of the upcoming sequel, you should play it because it deserves to be played, and stands as one of the defining games of the last generation, or any generation. (Andrew Vandersteen)
16) Mass Effect 2
As a devastating attack destroys the Normandy— Shepard’s ship— in the opening moments of the game, the dramatics hit light speed and never let up. Mass Effect 2 is an emotional investment, as much as it is a refined third person shooter, a well-crafted role-playing game, and a seemingly boundless universe to explore.
Shepard, the player’s created character, is not a one human show; a cast of new and returning characters round out the experience with their distinct personalities and backstories. As the game progresses, the player is given the opportunity to learn more about each crewmate, ultimately leading to an optional loyalty mission. These optional missions, as well as voluntary research upgrades and player choices, determine which characters live and die in the final chapter of the game.
Player decisions are not restricted to the last chapter however, the player makes several story choices throughout Mass Effect 2 that are often dichotomized between paragon — by the book — and renegade — who play by their own rules. For returning players, Mass Effect 2’s universe is altered by importing player’s choice from the first game in the series —a criminally underused feature in the industry. This feature assures that the time invested in the first game is meaningful, bettering the series as a whole. Newcomers to the series are still offered a highly tailored story experience, with short-term payoffs, and the promise of greater rewards in Mass Effect 3.
Player choices are not the only aspect to carry over from the first entry, as Bioware shows that they learned a few lessons from the original game. The series’ second entry keeps what worked for the first Mass Effect, while also refining every aspect. Gear and menus are streamlined, while class options offer better upgrades than before. The sequel also removes dull mechanics present in the original, like the Mako driving section, where the player explored barren planets in a land rover. Mass Effect 2’s biggest change comes in the form of its combat system, which emphasizes tight third-person shooter mechanics with a quicker pace than the original.
Mass Effect 2 is the fruit of Bioware’s experienced tweaking and experimentation in the RPG arena. Side quests and major story beats feel lovingly handcrafted, detailed and morally challenging. Combat feels fair, engaging and rewarding. From its explosive opening to its unmatched climax, this entry is the highlight of the Mass Effect series, and one of the best video games ever made. (Justinas Staskevicius)
15) Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Stepping into the cold, delicate land of Skyrim is a breathtaking experience. A vast collection of stories emerging from a masterpiece of exploration and discovery; an RPG has never liberated the player quite so well as Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has.
The beauty of Skyrim can never be overstated. There’s not a leaf, nor a rock, that seems out of place. From the alluring forests that withhold the darkest of secrets, to the towering walls of Solitude that give an illusion of safety before its peril at the claws of a dragon.
The player’s role as the Dragonborn throws them into political entanglements and engaging skirmishes that all have different impacts and consequences throughout the region. From giant mammoths in the treacherous grasslands to the falmer deep beneath the surface, conflict is never too far away. The role-playing opportunities are endless, the expansive map is mystifyingly vast, and the enriching cultures of the inhabitants are engaging.
The different mods available only enhance a wonderful vanilla version that shows little signs of aging. The combination of modding and endless role-playing puts this Bethesda classic truly into the hands of the player. And from there they add their own story to the fables and folklore that have sustained Elder Scrolls since its humble beginnings in 1994. (James Baker)
At 20,000 leagues under the sea, Ayn Rand meets Lovecraft in this survival horror FPS from Irrational Games. At the bottom of the ocean lies Rapture, once an Eden of science, art, and free trade, it now stands as a nightmarish labyrinth for the insane and dangerously ambitious. The player finds himself thrown into this dystopian civilization during the final days of a civil war between the capitalist icon, Andrew Ryan and the mysterious voice on the other end of your radio, known only as Atlas. You are tasked with helping Atlas and his family escape the flooding city, inhabited by those corrupted and augmented by mad science run amok. Armed with only a combination of DNA modifying Plasmids and advanced weaponry, you must uncover the mystery behind the fall of Rapture and your role in this war between two men and their conflicting ideologies.
While technically BioShock is a first-person shooter, the lack of available resources and pure viciousness of the Splicers and Big Daddies position BioShock as a far cry away from your average run and gun Call of Duty game. Each encounter with a Big Daddy or Splicer group must be carefully planned and executed, or the player will face an overwhelming beat down. Being able to balance the right Plasmids and ammo for each situation is vital as you explore the depths of Rapture, especially on the higher difficulty settings, else you’ll end up sleeping with the fishes. Exploration is another key factor in discovering and surviving the harshness of life below the surface. The ability to unlock a secret area in order to gain the drop on an unsuspecting opponent is key to thriving in Rapture. The player must actively manage their resources (health, eve, ammo, and money) in order to hack, fight, and outwit their enemies in this unforgiving environment.
BioShock weaves its story, atmosphere, and gameplay together to create a unique sense of dread and isolation in this city deep beneath the ocean’s surface. And while the game is nearly perfect, it isn’t without its flaws. BioShock tacks on a morality system that ends up feeling half-baked, as though each option results in a different ending cutscene, it will only marginally affect the player during the actual game. This along with a strange tonal shift during the final act reminds the player that this is a game world, which would rather concern itself with final bosses instead of deep philosophical ideas about capitalism and free will that were expressed earlier in the game. That said, if you haven’t played this astonishing journey into the deep blue, please would you kindly do yourself a favor and pick it up. BioShock is one of the greatest titles to come out of the past generation, and frankly, the storytelling and atmosphere are unmatched. (Ryan Kapioski)
From Software’s fast-paced, action-RPG, Bloodborne, is a blood-soaked gem. The combat of Bloodborne hurls at you at break-neck speed, stripping the player of all defense as the shields and plate mail of Dark Souls are replaced with flimsy Victorian fashion and a health system, weaponry and blood-splatter effect that all create a desperate, gory melee. Powerful but well-telegraphed attacks from your foes, coupled with your fast, lengthy dodging, create a beautiful pace of alternating between intense close combat and hanging back and probing for openings.
Furthermore, a wide range of transforming weapons, each with their own unique attack palette, and diverse item effects allow each player to find their own fighting style. Admittedly the game is not without flaws; some of its elements will force players to grind on occasion, and Bloodborne can be frustratingly esoteric on where to progress to next. But stellar central gameplay means that even grinding isn’t a complete chore, and the game’s lore is so rich that incentivizing the player to inquire a bit more into it isn’t all bad.
Both inspired and original, Bloodborne’s love for Lovecraft had it craft a setting quite unlike any other. Strange alchemical rituals, nightmare realms and esoteric alien divinity are just a few of the rich pieces of lore hidden away amongst item descriptions and environmental design in a way only From Software can pull off. And with plenty of optional areas and bosses, Bloodborne was a game where you could plunge yourself as far in to the nightmare as you desired. Players could disregard all the game hid away and simply enjoy the visceral combat, or could thoroughly immerse themselves in peeling back every veneer, revealing every secret, and be rewarded for doing so.
Not only is Bloodborne a great game in and of itself, it’s also a bloody great sequel to From Software’s Souls series, having enough of the framework from Dark and Demon’s Souls to show a clear genesis, while also having a potent injection of adaptions to the gameplay Dark Souls polished, to begin with, to define it as its own game. Shine on, you crazy blood gem. (Liam Hevey)
12) Super Mario Galaxy
Space, the impenetrable blackness that smothers this planet’s existence in its dark embrace, has often been an object of fear in the human psyche. It is fundamentally disruptive to life and is, in a word, inhuman. It is beautiful, yet cold, serene, yet home to some of the most destructive forces in the universe. Evidence of humanity’s fear of space, and it’s frigidity, is present everywhere in our media and culture and few stop to consider the beauty of space without a heady reminder that its very nature is anathema to the human condition.
Leave it to Nintendo to redefine space and simultaneously make it as fun and inviting a place as has ever existed. Leave it to them to create a great, cosmic fairy tale amongst the stars and comets, and have it seem as inviting as a trip to a castle for cake or a vacation on a tropical island. Super Mario Galaxy redefined space, not just for the Mario series, but also for gaming as a whole. In contrast to its common use as a setting for games that attempt to alienate the player or leave them feeling nervous, Super Mario Galaxy presents space as simply the black canvas onto which a beautiful tale, of good and evil, of heroes and irreparably inept villains, can be told, their rise and fall accompanied by a glissando of grandiose melodies.
Super Mario Galaxy is more than just a game, it is an experience. Carefully crafted levels seemingly plucked straight from the imagination of Shigeru Miyamoto himself, accompany expertly balanced gameplay and a scale not seen before and rarely since. Accompanied by a narrative whose poignance tugs on the very fabric of human emotion and fed by an inconceivable amount of creativity, Super Mario Galaxy is nothing less than a masterpiece, not just in the sphere of gaming, but in all of art.
That is what sums up Super Mario Galaxy more than anything else; it is a work of art. From its watercolor cutscenes to its heart-warming explorations into Rosalina’s past, it is pure brilliance. Games will come and go, technology will advance, and gaming will evolve, but, much like how the works of the great artists of Antiquity are relevant even today, Super Mario Galaxy will remain a pillar of what defines gaming, an indisputably brilliant testament to its core tenets. (Izsak Barnette)
11) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
After the groundbreaking Ocarina of Time, the next entry into the venerable Zelda franchise had to either be another masterpiece or risk disappointing millions of fans. The bar had been set perilously high by Link’s first 3D outing and more than one gamer probably wondered how Nintendo could possibly top such a watershed effort. As it turned out, Majora’s Mask would never compete with its massively successful prequel. Instead, it markedly deviates from the formula established by its predecessors and offers a different experience. It reduces the expected number of dungeons and focuses more on overworld adventuring. And, in what has proved to be its most controversial innovation, it organizes its quest around three repeating days, as players search frantically for relevant items and reset the clock, over and over again, before a massive moon crashes into the land of Termina.
This clever mechanic solves one of the oldest problems beleaguering role-playing and action-adventure games: non-playable characters with static, terribly boring lives, which consist only of waiting for player interaction. Thanks to the repeating days, it became logistically possible for the developers of Majora’s Mask to script wonderful, surprising, and exciting schedules and activities for nearly all townsfolk. The result is a living world where players enable love stories amidst the apocalypse, save old ladies from getting mugged, prevent aliens from stealing cartoon cows, and gain access to the most fashionable milk bar since A Clockwork Orange.
So much to explore – and so many different bodies to do so with! If Majora’s Mask is partly about uncovering the lives of others, it is equally about discovering the protagonist’s own identity. Ocarina of Time’s funny masks are here repurposed and used to transform Link into a forest Deku Scrub, an aquatic Zora, or a rolling Goron. It’s a twist that beautifully suits a game – and a franchise – with obvious affinities with (if no affiliation to) the role-playing genre, which is essentially about embodiment. Players don’t only grasp the outlying geography of Termina and deepen their knowledge of the eight million stories in the naked city of Clock Town, but also strengthen their mastery over the shape-shifting wonders of their digital bodies. (Guido Pellegrini)
XO19: Top 10 Best Announcements of the Show
Xbox just had their best XO presentation ever, and it wasn’t even close. Here’s a rundown of the best announcements from XO19.
Microsoft had a lot to prove going into its fifth annual XO showcase. Console launches are on the horizon, cloud competitor Google Stadia is about to ship to early adopters, and Game Pass subscribers are as hungry as ever for new additions to the lineup. Then there’s the fact that XO has always been looked down upon by the gaming community in general as a lackluster, padded presentation.
All of that changed with XO19. This was, by far, the best XO in the event’s history. In fact, it featured more shocking reveals and genuinely impressive announcements than a good deal of Microsoft’s recent E3 press conferences. From new IP reveals, to first-time looks at gameplay, to a couple “I never would’ve believed you a week ago” shockers, it’s clear that Xbox stepped up its game from years past. Here’s our list of the best announcements of the show.
10. Everwild Reveal
It’s not too often that we get to experience a new IP from Rare. Their last attempt, Sea of Thieves, was a fully multiplayer, always-online affair that gradually garnered a cult following thanks to some of the best community engagement and most consistent content updates in the industry.
We don’t know what type of game Everwild is yet, but it’s certainly oozing that same colorful, ambient charm that made players fall in love with Sea of Thieves all those years ago. Seeing as how we only got a cinematic teaser, though, it might be quite some time before we’re running around these gorgeous environments.
9. ID@Xbox Lineup
The ID@Xbox team has pulled it off again. Despite being stuck with an almost insultingly poor time slot in the presentation, several of the indies shown off in this short montage rivaled some of the show’s AAA spotlights. It had everything from high-profile indies like Streets of Rage 4, Touhou Luna Nights, and the Yacht Club Games-published Cyber Shadow, to more modest beauties like SkateBIRD, Haven, Cris Tales, and she dreams elsewhere.
The best part? All of these are launching on Game Pass day and date. The worst part? No actual dates were announced for anything shown. Regardless, it’s encouraging that so many high quality indies are continuing to come to Xbox (and that relationships with Devolver Digital and Yacht Club are rock-solid).
8. West of Dead Reveal/Open Beta
Raw Fury has one of the better eyes in the indie publishing scene. Gems like GoNNER, Dandara, and Bad North have all released under their watch, and West of Dead might be their best acquisition yet. It’s a heavily-stylized twin stick shooter that switches things up by making tactical cover a core part of the experience.
The trailer hinted at roguelike elements being present, and the ever-popular procedurally generated levels should significantly up replayability. How it plays, however, remains to be seen…unless you have an Xbox, in which case you can play the exclusive open beta now before the full game comes to all platforms next year.
7. Halo Reach Release Date
The Master Chief Collection has long been the one golden goose that endlessly eludes those outside of the Xbox ecosystem. Earlier this year, though, Microsoft made waves when it announced that it was bringing the entire collection over to PC. Reach is the first step in that process, and it’s finally making its way to both PC and Xbox One as part of the MCC on December 3rd.
It’s just a date, but the fact that so many new players get to experience one of Halo‘s most beloved outings at last easily made it one of the highlights of the night.
6. Grounded Reveal
Who woulda thought? Fresh off releasing one of the best RPGs in years with The Outer Worlds, Obsidian decided to show off a passion project from one of its smaller teams: Grounded. The premise? Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Survival Edition.
Players take control of kids the size of ants as they fight off actual bugs, cook, craft armor and weapon upgrades, and build shelter to survive in the wilderness of someone’s backyard. As silly as it sounds and looks, and as unexpected a project it is for Obsidian to undertake, it genuinely looks rather promising. The cheerful color palette is a welcome contrast to the dark, brooding aesthetic so many other survival games have adopted. There are plenty of details left to be uncovered, but if early impressions are anything to go by, this is one to keep on your radar early next year.
5. Age of Empires IV Gameplay Reveal
Age of Empires is one of the most esteemed strategy franchises in history. Despite having this beloved IP in their back pocket, however, Microsoft hasn’t published a new mainline game in the series since 2005. Age of Empires IV was originally announced over two years ago, and after buttering everyone up with the release of Age of Empires II Definitive Edition that afternoon, the first glimpse of gameplay was finally shown at XO19.
Simply put, the game looks gorgeous. Every building is full of detail and the countryside looks surprisingly lush and picturesque. Witnessing hundreds of units charging down the valley towards the stronghold in the trailer was mind-blowing as an old-school fan. They didn’t show off any innovations or moment-to-moment gameplay, but it’s looking more and more like the future of the franchise is safe in Relic’s hands.
4. Final Fantasy Blowout
Xbox’s success in Japanese markets has become something of a running joke over the years. Though inroads were clearly made with Bandai Namco, many more Japanese publishers won’t go within a mile of the platform. Possibly through working with Square Enix’s western division to put the latest Tomb Raider and Just Cause entries on board, it looks like the main branch has finally decided to give Xbox players a chance.
Starting this holiday, Game Pass subscribers will gradually get every single-player Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy VII. More shocking still, The Verge reported that the Xbox team is working to get the massively popular MMO Final Fantasy XIV over as well. The sheer value of having every post-Super Nintendo Final Fantasy game included in Game Pass (even XV) is ridiculous. It remains to be seen what the rollout cadence of these ten titles will look like, but considering how long each of these are, one per month wouldn’t shock or disappoint.
3. The Reign of Project xCloud
With Stadia launching just next week, Microsoft had been surprisingly quiet on their cloud gaming front up to this point. The service had gone into preview for those lucky enough to get in and, by most accounts, it had been fairly well-received. The real question came down to what Xbox was going to do to make itself stand out from its competition.
The bombs dropped here felt like the equivalent to the thrashing Sony gave to Microsoft back at E3 2013. Microsoft shadow dropped 40+ new games into Preview for players to test (for free) including Devil May Cry 5, Tekken 7, Bloodstained, and Ace Combat 7. Even better, xCloud will support third-party controllers including the DUALSHOCK 4 and will finally show up on Windows 10 PCs in 2020.
Perhaps the most damning announcement, however, is that xCloud will be integrated with Game Pass starting next year. Only having to pay for a Game Pass subscription to access 100+ games and play them in the cloud (including Halo, Forza, The Outer Worlds, and all those Final Fantasy titles) makes xCloud a far better value than Stadia right out of the gate. If this didn’t force Google to adjust its strategy, we might be looking at a very short cloud gaming war.
2. Square Sharing the Kingdom Hearts Love
Kingdom Hearts 3 releasing on Xbox One was somewhat bittersweet. On the one hand, players who had left the PlayStation ecosystem after playing the first games had a chance to see the arc’s conclusion. On the other hand, new players had no options for going back and experiencing the series’ roots.
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5+2.5 Remix and Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue finally coming to Xbox next year is a godsend for younger players and new players alike. More important, however, is the tearing down of those over 15+ years old exclusivity walls. Just like with many of the Final Fantasys, the main Kingdom Hearts games had been married to PlayStation systems for years. This shift at Square is an exciting one, and it bodes particularly well for the next generation of Xbox hardware.
1. Yakuza Finally Goes Multi-Console
It seems like Phil Spencer’s trips to Japan finally paid off. In what was arguably the most shocking announcement of XO19 (right next to Kingdom Hearts), it was revealed that SEGA is taking the Yakuza series multi-console at last. Not only are Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 1+2 coming to Xbox, but all three are going to Game Pass next year as well.
Does this mean support from Japanese studios will increase across the board? Of course not. But getting big names like Bandai Namco, Square Enix, and SEGA on board is nothing if not encouraging. Xbox is clearly pulling out all the stops to ensure a diverse suite of third-party support come Scarlett’s launch next year, and it’s the healthiest the platform has looked in a very long time.
Bleeding Edge Release Date
KartRider Drift Reveal/Closed Beta Announcement
Last Stop Reveal
Wasteland 3 Release Date
‘Garden Story’ First Impressions: The Coziest of Adventures
Long-awaited Twitter darling Garden Story just released its first demo. Here’s what we learned after playing through it twice.
Following the unfortunate (but understandable) delay of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there’s been a distinct lack of chill, aesthetic games to fill the void. Garden Story’s charming environmental art and animation have earned it a dedicated social media following, but it wasn’t until Picogram released a demo just a couple days ago that anyone with a Steam account could actually experience the game for themselves. So, just how fun is this wholesome little RPG?
Setting the Scene
Garden Story’s demo centers around the newly-appointed village guardian Concord (a grape) and their first steps in rebuilding Autumn Town, a community ravaged by a sinister force known as “the Rot.” Chatting with villagers reveals a bit of insight into the situation at hand; it’s soon clear just how much the other townsfolk need the player’s support.
There are several clear parallels to old-school Legend of Zelda titles here, but Garden Story manages to set itself apart rather quickly. For one, this isn’t a solo adventure; the player sets out with Rana (a frog) and Fuji (a tomato) on a friendly quest to be as helpful to the surrounding community as possible. Seeing friends around and watching cute scripted cutscenes between the crew does a great job of instilling a sense of camaraderie and friendship.
In another pleasant twist, everything here is themed around building rather than destroying. Instead of traditional swords and bows, Concord repurposes his dowsing rod and scavenging pick into makeshift weapons. The combat itself calls to mind Stardew Valley; simple, minimal, and clearly not the main focus. There’s a pesky stamina bar that restricts the number of times Concord can attack and how far they can run, frequently forcing players to pause between barrages. In this way, encounters often come off as more of a necessary evil in Concord’s town rehabilitation journey than a main attraction.
Rebuilding a Community
So, how does one go about aiding the town? The method highlighted in the demo was by attending to a quest board with three different types of requests: Threat (combat), Repair (exploration), and Want (gathering). Each is accompanied by a task that plays an integral part in keeping Autumn Town safe and in good working order (e.g. clearing out Rot, finding sewer access so new resources can flow into town, and so on).
Aside from fulfilling requests, there are a few interesting hooks to incentivize hitting every shiny thing you come across regardless. The more different types of items are scavenged, and the more catalogues are filled by being updated with new materials, the more literature becomes available to give little bits of insight into Garden Story’s world and history. Then, in another parallel to Stardew Valley, any leftover resources can be sold in the pursuit of buying tool upgrades.
While the full game will feature four locations to explore and tend to, there was still plenty to do in Autumn Town itself by the end of the demo. Rana mentioned that villagers will post new requests daily, and the demo even featured a mini side quest (called “favors”) that led me to obtain a brand-new tool. Between daily requests, favor fulfillment, and dungeons spread across four different regions, it’s looking like there will be a good bit of content here for those who really want to hang around Garden Story’s world for as long as possible.
Though it remains to be seen just how enticing its complete gameplay loop and accompanying systems are, Picogram’s latest is already delivering on its core appeal: being a cozy, relaxing experience. The color palette is soft, the lighting is moody, and the soundtrack is right up there with the Animal Crossing series as having some of the most mellow, loopable tunes around.
In fact, it’s the sound design in particular that gives Garden Story such an intimate feel. From the sound of a page turning when entering and exiting buildings to the gentle gurgles of a bubbling brook in the forest, it’s clear that composer Grahm Nesbitt poured a ton of love into making this one feel just right. Here’s hoping the full game more than delivers on all the potential shown here.
Garden Story is slated to release in Spring of 2020 and is available to wishlist on Steam.
How Asynchronous Online in ‘Death Stranding’ Brings Players Together
Hideo Kojima’s latest game creates a sense of community by aiding other players on the same perilous journey.
Video games have always been fascinated with the idea of player interactivity as a means of crafting a power fantasy. The player typically goes on a hero’s journey, eventually culminating in them being the one and only savior of the world inside the game. Typically associated with single-player games, MMOs also crafted that same narrative but with the conceit that everyone is going on this journey. Often the acknowledgments of other players are in multiplayer-specific features such as PvP and Raids. Destiny is a great example of a series that takes players on the same journey and makes no promise that the story is different between players by even allowing them to engage in playing story missions together. It all feeds into the larger narrative of Guardians fighting together to save the Light. A game that handles this very similar and perhaps more successfully is Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding.
While lacking any direct player-to-player interaction, Kojima’s latest game is drenched in the conceit that community is crucial to triumph over adversity. You can read many articles about the game’s ideas of community from fellow writers on the site. What hasn’t quite gotten the attention it deserves is how revolutionary Death Stranding feels in terms of utilizing asynchronous online to greatly affect the game itself. Games like Dark Souls and other FromSoftware titles have included the ability to leave notes (which Death Stranding also offers) that help (or trick) players as they venture throughout the world on their own. How those notes’ effects are manifested are often on a much smaller scale – helpful at times but often to warn players of an impending way they might die. They don’t have a large impact on the player, only a temporary means of cheating death.
Where Death Stranding becomes something greater in scale is in what it lets other players do to other peoples’ single-player experiences. In the game, you play as Sam Porter Bridges who is tasked with reconnecting America from coast-to-coast. At first, the game thrusts Sam into its narrative, taking the reluctant, isolated character and forcing him to eventually realize the importance of hope and connections in dire times. As Sam starts bringing more and more people onto the Chiral network (which allows instantaneous communication and the transferring of 3D-printable goods), so too does the game open up and reveal its ultimate goal: to bring players together.
This doesn’t mean players will ever talk to other players, and the game very much avoids any real negative actions that can be performed on players. In fact, someone could play the game without ever actively engaging with online features. Instead, the game will passively hand out “likes” to other players whose ladders are used or roads are driven. If one wanted to fight the game’s narrative and instead keep Sam isolated and away from the community that the Chiral network provides, they could definitely do that – no matter how antithetical it would be to do so. Death Stranding even offers an offline mode that would nullify all of that and keep the experience solely on the player’s impact on the world and no one else’s.
Yet there’s a reason the online mode is the default mode. It was near the end of Episode 3 (which also happens to be when the game unloads almost all of its mechanics onto the player) when I finally realized the impact I was having on other people’s games. I had spent an entire day playing the game, but focusing largely on delivering premium deliveries – these are optional challenges that essentially boil down to carrying more cargo, damaging cargo less, or getting to your destination in a set amount of time. Death Stranding doesn’t ever tell you the best way to get somewhere. Instead, it places a wide array of tools in front of you and assuming the Chiral network is set up in an area, it can provide a rough guide on places to avoid or infrastructure already built. However, one of the key pieces of infrastructure missing for my playthrough was roads. My efforts immediately became focused on building a network of roads that made their way all throughout one of the larger areas in the game.
The game doesn’t ever make you build roads. It tells you the option is there but it doesn’t force your hand. Often tools will be introduced, like zip lines and floating carriers, but the game never demands that they’re used. Of course, engaging with those tools will make your life easier. There are easy ways to start building infrastructure in Death Stranding: ropes and ladders can help to scale mountains or plummet depths. Those will remain in the world for other players to use and will even appear on their maps as they hook up areas to the Chiral network. So, someone who plays the game earlier than someone else could lay down ropes and ladders, and depending on when the other person starts playing, they will find those once they have progressed to a point where they are traversing that area. Where the game becomes even grander in its sense of community is the realization that the more players commit to building roads or setting up zip lines, the more other players benefit.
The reality is that ladders and ropes are temporary – they cannot be rebuilt, they can only be replaced. The game’s Timefall – a weather phenomenon that acts as rain but ages anything it comes into contact with – can reset an entire map after a while if there is nothing more substantial placed on the map. So in my game, I decided that whenever I could build a road, I committed to doing so. This could mean going to multiple waystations and collecting materials that have amassed over time from deliveries, or going out in the world and finding these materials like Chiral crystals. At a certain point, I would load up a truck with multiple deliveries that were on or near the roads I had built, as well as with as many metal and ceramic materials I could load into the truck before it reached capacity. As I delivered packages, I’d replace them with more deliveries and more materials from each waystation. Eventually, I’d find myself at a point where a road was not built yet and would then build that road.
Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding .
In contrast to a game like Dark Souls, actions in the world such as providing notes on the ground or helping another player with a boss battle is helping them cheat death. The community that is being built is not one that has any lasting effect on the world in the game. No Man’s Sky may let players interact with each other and further their knowledge of the universe within the game, but often that help is relegated to an isolated planet. It’s a more contained impact. Hideo Kojima created a game where players don’t just build infrastructures for themselves, they can intentionally or inadvertently assist other players throughout their games. This leads to players like myself creating strand contracts with other players who have built things I liked in the game. A strand contract is a powerful feature because it means more of that players’ roads or other items built for the world will show up more frequently in my game.
Every Action in Death Stranding Creates Hope
One of the perks of building so many roads is you also get a lot of likes, whether passively given because someone used the road or actively provided by a player because they not only used the road but were appreciative that someone built it. It’s hard not to feel important in someone else’s life when you’ve made their experience less cumbersome because they no longer have to drive over rocky terrain or through enemy territory but instead can take a highway to their destination. What’s better is that more substantial developments like bridges and roads can be repaired by other players and even upgraded. So while I laid the initial roads down, I actually haven’t spent any materials repairing them. Instead, notifications come in and tell me players have repaired roads I’ve built. There’s no real reason to do that unless the infrastructure built was necessary to their journey through the game – making it easier but also providing the same feeling of helping out a larger community.
Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding – a game that doesn’t even try to be subtle in its intentions. Traversing Kojima’s version of post-apocalyptic America is harrowing on your own. With just your two feet and a package to deliver when the entire world itself is trying to stop you from doing so, America isn’t just divided – it’s hostile. Where Death Stranding shines brightest is when it offers a helping hand. Players aid one another to achieve the same unified goal: save the country. All of this is under the assumption that the country can be saved, but there is no denying that seeing someone else’s rope hanging off a steep cliff, or a Timefall shelter where it rains Timefall on a constant basis, is one of the most satisfying feelings. In Death Stranding, it isn’t enough to know that you’re making progress, but that everyone is willing to assist others to reach the same end goal. It’s a game where every action creates hope and is built upon the idea that we are at our best when we work together.
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