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Review: ‘Total War: Warhammer 2’

With Total War: Warhammer 2 Creative Assembly have done a sterling job of developing a game that appeals to fans of their own franchise and enthusiasts of Games Workshop’s iconic intellectual properties.

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Total War: Warhammer 2 is proof that in this day and age Alexander the Great need not have wept for lack of worlds to conquer. Strategy is one of the cornerstone genres of the modern gaming market and Creative Assembly is the studio responsible for developing some of, if not the, most critically acclaimed and fan favorite titles within the genre. It has been almost two decades since the company first released the original Shogun: Total War and the series has gone from strength to strength ever since. Although each successive entry has had its fair share of issues they have all garnered devoted followings by fans of each individual title as well as the series as a whole. It’s not hard to see why, as there is a surprising amount of fun and satisfaction to be derived from taking on the roles of some of the most famous military commanders or leaders through the ages and changing the course of global history one battle at a time. That’s the essential premise of all of the previous Total War titles and it’s proven to be irresistible to desktop generals everywhere.

Given the nature of the source material it only seemed logical for Games Workshop to license their Warhammer Fantasy IP for use in strategy computer games. There have been numerous such attempts over the years but fans (myself included) of probably the grimmest and darkest fantasy franchise on the planet have long cried out for Warhammer to get the Total War treatment. After countless rituals in the name of deities both benign and malevolent we finally got an answer to our prayers in May 2016 in the form of Total War: Warhammer. Whilst this departure from the formula of using historical settings with content as true-to-life as possible caused consternation for some of the established fan base, the freedom offered by a fantasy setting breathed new life into a game series that was starting to become a little stale. There are only so many times you can fight against slightly recolored versions of the same few civilizations before it becomes difficult to tell which game you’re actually playing.

So here we are a little over a year later and Total War: Warhammer 2 has just been released, and it’s clear that opting to develop a game so far outside the bounds of their usual niche subject matter has done nothing but good for the team at Creative Assembly. Once you’ve seen one testudo or phalanx, you’ve seen them all, and after so many years of reproducing factions and unit types of relative historical accuracy, it’s a testament to the inventiveness (or perhaps creative relief) of the development team that they have been able to bring to life distinct factions with very different play styles. As with the first game, Total War: Warhammer 2 features four factions drawn from the varied races of the Warhammer world.

Players have the option of waging their wars as the aloof and noble High Elves of the island paradise of Ulthuan; their vicious and sadistic fallen kin, the Dark Elves, who have been condemned to dwell in the frozen wastes of Naggaroth; the enigmatic Lizardmen, masters of the Lustrian jungles and last protectors of a civilization ancient beyond reckoning; or the repulsive and infinitely cunning Skaven, a horde of accursed rat-men so vile and evil that most citizens of the Warhammer world refuse to believe they even exist. Each of these races brings with them a plethora of exclusive benefits and drawbacks that are determined by their technology trees, unit selection and general gameplay mechanics. To offer further choice to the player, these races are split into 2 sub-factions with each corresponding legendary lord having either a melee or magic-focused skill set that caters to the preferences of those who favor either a more direct up-close and personal approach to combat or would rather engage their enemies from afar with devastating barrages of spells or projectiles.

Tyrion or Teclis command the High Elves, the faction most comparable to what most people would consider to be a traditional medieval style army. They are generally reliant on a strong cohort of ranged units supported by stalwart infantry and supplemented by a menagerie of dragons and magical beasts. This is an option that wasn’t really present in the previous game and is a very welcome addition for those who are looking for a more stable and reliable campaign experience in terms of economic and combat potential. Their vile kin, the appropriately named Dark Elves, utilize a similar army format but with more emphasis on vicious melee combatants trained to eviscerate the enemy as they cower under a hail of crossbow bolts. As either Malekith the Witch King or Morathi the Hag Queen, players have the option to recruit a combination of robust close quarters specialists supported by various beasts of war and masters of the macabre arcane arts.

Lizardmen under the stewardship of Lord Mazdamundi or Kroq-Gar are heavily dependent on unified ranks of indefatigable foot soldiers to keep the enemy pinned in place as magic using priests bombard them from afar and the flanks are assaulted by monstrous infantry combined with an array of dinosaurs (yes, you too can have your very own Chris Pratt Jurassic World moment.). The result is a style of warfare that is as indifferent and relentless as the laws of nature itself. Meanwhile under the guiding paws of Lord Skrolk or Queek Headtaker, representatives of Skaven clans Pestilens and Mors respectively, you control innumerable legions of disposable foot soldiers who only serve to suffer the brunt of any onslaught as demented wizards wielding techno-magic weaponry and festering plague-riddled zealots position themselves to annihilate friend and foe alike with rancid blasts of unholy power.

Such variety and flexibility of available army compositions makes itself most apparent on the battlefield, and Total War: Warhammer 2 delivers battle gameplay that is as good, if not better, than it has ever been before. The series secured its reputation with its simulation of combat between massed ranks of troops engaged in real time maneuvers directly controlled by the player, and even though there are a few kinks with the AI that have troubled these games since the very beginning, it’s never less than an absolute joy to watch as formations of High Elf soldiers clash in a desperate melee with hordes of scurrying Skaven, or to see gigantic, heavily-armored lizards smash into braced ranks of Dark Elf warriors. Each combat scenario plays out like the Battle of the Pelennor Fields from The Return of the King crossed with Jon Snow’s gut-wrenching face-off against the Bolton host in Game of Thrones, with a healthy dash of Army of Darkness added for flavor. The battles are chaotic, brutal, and glorious. Without question this is definitely a game of two halves and the strategic campaign gameplay in tandem with the micro-scale tactical warfare that takes place on the battle maps makes for a gaming experience that, thanks to the addition of Warhammer lore, is more compelling than ever.

The same quality and attention to detail that were lavished on the battles carry over onto the campaign map. From the tangled jungles of Lustria to the frozen crags of Naggaroth across a storm-wracked ocean to the verdant isle of Ulthuan and beyond to the mysterious depths of the South Lands, every region is distinct and uniquely embellished. Thematic authenticity was a key design concept for Total War: Warhammer and that is obviously the case for the sequel as well. Anyone with a fondness for Games Workshop’s creation will be thrilled to see some of the most feared and famous locations in the lore. They may not be depicted in precise detail but having such a vast and gorgeous depiction of one of the most popular fantasy worlds ever devised spread out before you to explore, and indeed conquer, is a joy to behold.

Every battle players fight as the leaders of the four factions is just a small part of a titanic struggle for control of the Vortex of Ulhuan, a swirling maelstrom of arcane energy that sits at the very heart of the High Elves’ domain. As the campaign progresses players will be tasked with performing a series of five sequential rituals, the completion of which will bring them closer to final victory. These rituals are not fire-and-forget events, as initiating one prompts unwanted attention in the form of multi-turn offenses that are launched against your cities. There are all manner of other obstacles put in place to try and prevent you from accomplishing your final goal. Rogue armies, random map events, rebellions as well as attacks from both major and minor factions that have their own agendas will do everything within their power to thwart your plans. For the most part how players decide to tackle the various challenges around them is largely up to them, and other than completing the rituals there is no set way to achieve the campaign win condition which means players can expand and organize their power base in whatever way they see fit. Naturally, the most efficient way of ensuring the compliance of the local population is to conquer them so that each province can be developed to open up more economic, technological and recruitment options. Diplomacy plays a role too, particularly for the High Elves who can use their faction specific influence mechanic to alter the course of relations between the various factions in order to either avoid or start wars.

Although it’s still true to say that this is a free-for-all sandbox style experience typical to what has been seen in previous games from this studio, there have been significant moves toward giving the Total War gameplay experience a more coherent structure. There are new additions to the campaign map such as treasures to find and locations to explore in both offshore locales and in the various ruined settlements that may or may not harbor lurking Skaven forces. When interacted with, these locations trigger mini-text events that, after a brief blurb, offer you a choice that could have either negative or positive effects for your faction. The rewards are never anything especially amazing, but they can be lucrative enough to make an effort to collect them as you march across the world. Throughout the campaign players will also be issued with a steady stream of quests and missions that tie directly into the personal goals of your individual chosen legendary lord as well as the factions as a whole. Completing these is by no means mandatory, but doing so offers rewards ranging from character buffs, traits, equipment, followers and even small but regular amounts of the ritual currency that your chosen faction requires to progress toward mastery of the Vortex.

The implementation of this guided structure within a more free-form environment makes for a much for substantial sense of purpose to the campaign that was often lost in the Old World setting of the first game. However, if I had one gripe with the vortex campaign, then it would be the muddled sense of pacing that characterizes the experience. There’s nothing wrong with using strongly objective driven elements to give a game a degree of dynamism and focus, but coupling them with the timed element of the rituals can give the impression of disjointed start-stop gameplay. Total War: Warhammer 2 alternates between periods of relative freedom, as you collect enough currency for the next ritual, explore the map and conquer or confederate other factions at your leisure, and the hectic intensity of the combat heavy ritual cycles which see you having to fight off ever-increasing numbers of enemy armies.

It’s not a major criticism but it does at times seem as if it would have been more appropriate to make the vortex more akin to the Realm of the Wood Elves and Call of the Beastmen DLC mini-campaigns that were added to the first game rather than the centerpiece of an entire game. Luckily, for players who already own the previous title, Creative Assembly plan to combine the original map with the new Vortex oriented one to create what has been dubbed the ‘Mortal Empires’ campaign. This will include slightly modified versions of every area available on both maps and all the races made available to date will be playable in one vast war for dominance of the Warhammer world. As a long time fan of Games Workshop and their unique brand of fantasy that’s an exciting prospect and should provide ample opportunity to lead my favorite races and characters to total and final triumph.

With Total War: Warhammer 2, Creative Assembly have done a sterling job of developing a game that appeals to fans of their own franchise, and enthusiasts of Games Workshop’s iconic intellectual property. When it comes to gaming I don’t think there could ever be a better match. The robust campaign and battle mechanics that the Total War series is renowned for is the perfect framework for Warhammer‘s rich and intricate lore. The end result is a title that is as engaging for the complexity of its gameplay as it is for its palpable thematic atmosphere. Less forgiving veterans of the Total War series should probably hold off for the next historical release slated for some point in 2018 because if the goblins and wizards of Total War: Warhammer were enough to put you off then you’ll probably not look kindly on fighting armies of plague-riddled rat-men or legions of dinosaur-riding sentient lizards.

For Warhammer fans that are new to this unique brand of simulated warfare then this is the perfect jumping-on point for the series, as it improves upon the first entry in every way and has no immediate connection to the first game, so you won’t be missing anything essential. The upcoming ‘Mortal Empires’ combined campaign map along with everything else that this unusually impressive sequel already has to offer makes for an absolute bargain, one that I doubt even the Chaos gods themselves could refuse.

Chris is a Cambridge, UK based freelance writer and reviewer. A graduate of English Literature from Goldsmiths College in London he has been composing poetry and prose for most of his life. More than partial to real ale/craft beer and a general fan of sci-fi and fantasy. He first started gaming on a borrowed Mega Drive as a child and has been a passionate enthusiast of the hobby and art form ever since. Never afraid to speak his mind he always aims to tell the unvarnished truth about a game. Favourite genres: RPGs, action adventure and MMOs. Least favourite genre: anything EA Sports related (they're the same games every year!)

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Game Reviews

‘The Touryst’ Review: Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

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There’s an acceptance of a certain rhythm when traveling alone: often an itinerary-less trip will be filled with quiet solitude and uneventful meandering; yet, when those exciting moments of interaction and discovery are inevitably stumbled upon, they tend to be of the highly memorable variety. The latest offering from Shin’en Multimedia, The Touryst, shrewdly captures this relaxing, energizing roller coaster. It’s a quirky little getaway that encourages players to explore its gorgeous voxel island delights at their own pace, letting them bask in the peaceful surroundings and doling out treasure for those curious to seek it out. The result is a soothing weekend sojourn of puzzles, platforming, and mini games under the sun that is also winds up as one of the best indies on the Switch.

There’s no doubt that atmosphere plays a big part in what makes The Touryst so successful, as the vague setup and sparse narrative casts a mysterious aura over the proceedings. Who our mustachioed vacationer is or why he agrees to find glowing blue orbs for some random old man is pretty much left to the imagination. Is the player curious about what they could see and find out there among the green palm trees, sandy beaches, monolithic temples, and sky blue waters? Then they will follow their nose regardless of the lack of any story motivation, and The Touryst has sprung its trap. The urge to see the sights and have an adventure is a must here, and so the wandering begins.

Luckily, The Touryst is filled with charming things to stumble upon around almost every corner, be that a scuba diving boat operator on a Greek isle that facilitates swimming with the fishes, a seaside dance party in need of a hi-tech energy boost, or a bustling business center complete with an arcade, art gallery, and movie theater (for those times when you just need to sit down for a while). Personality abounds, as long as friendly players aren’t shy about talking to strangers (the best way to get the most out of a trip to a new place). No matter where one’s feet take them, there are plenty of mini-stories at play thanks to the native inhabitants and fellow tourists, with these weirdos offering interactions both puzzling and profitable.

But there’s more to life than racking up coins via side quests; there’s something eerily odd buried beneath the tropical destinations of The Touryst that beckons to be uncovered by just the right explorer. Towering mounds filled with ancient devices and clever puzzles hold secrets that promise that this vacation will be one for the scrapbook. These short ‘dungeons’ are the meat of the game, providing a variety of platforming and logic challenges that range from overt to opaque; sometimes even finding the way in to these ominous structures is a puzzle in itself, which only further drives an overarching sense of discovery.

Smartly, The Touryst rarely telegraphs solutions to its tests (or in some cases, that there even is a test), and instead encourages experimentation. Inside temples, players need to determine why certain lights are glowing and others aren’t, understand how sequences work, pay attention to rumbling feedback, and decide just how to deal with once-dormant mechanical creatures that now awaken to stand in the protagonist’s way. Things can seem opaque at times, but Shin’en has managed to hit that sweet spot that keeps poking around from getting too frustrating. But just in case, there are plenty of beach chairs and cabana beds to lie down on and think. Or, just soak in some rays and enjoy the scenery.

Regardless of the difficulty players may or may not have with the crafty puzzles or surprisingly challenging mini games (good lord, surfing and those 8-bit arcade throwbacks can be tough), The Touryst is still a sight to see. Shin’en has created a buttery smooth island-hopping environment that is a pleasure to peruse. Go off the beaten path and enjoy the gorgeous sunsets, gently pixelated waves, crunching grains of sand, and flopping flora. The visuals seem so simple, yet at times can be stunning to behold, especially when spotting some of the smaller details that have been added to make these place come alive. A depth of field style entices players to see just what that blurry landmark off in distance is, and the soundtrack seamlessly shifts between relaxing and intriguingly uncanny. That developers have achieved this with what are surely the shortest load times on Nintendo’s console makes the experience all the more immersive.

Like most vacations, The Touryst is destined to be over too soon for some players, but trips like these aren’t meant to last forever. The five hours or so it takes to see all there is to see is highly satisfying throughout, and the vague hint at the end of a followup will have many Switch-owning puzzle fans looking forward to getting future time off.

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Game Reviews

‘Shovel Knight: King of Cards’ and ‘Showdown’ Review: Really Spoiling Us

It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise.

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It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday season, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with, not just one, but two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise. Not content with just releasing another new character’s twist on the original formula, Yacht Club has also developed their own fighting game in the Shovel Knight universe. It’s to the developer’s credit that two simultaneous releases can be of this quality, but valid questions can also be asked as to whether the original formula has gotten stale, and whether Showdown’s new concept does the series justice. Fear not, for both questions will be answered in this bumper, two-for-one review!

Shovel Knight: King of Cards

King of Cards is the latest re-tread of Shovel Knight, and this time the emperor’s new clothes are the regal duds of King Knight, who is on a quest to become the greatest player in the kingdom of the card game Joustus… without really having to beat that many people at it. After the stoically heroic Shovel Knight, the dastardly cunning Plague Knight, and the broodingly enigmatic Spectre Knight, King of Cards’ protagonist embodies an enjoyable dose of pompous entitlement. His quest isn’t all that noble, and he really can’t be bothered to do a lot of hard graft to reach his goal. Thanks to the typically witty script, King Knight shines as a loathsome oik who doesn’t pay attention to any advice he’s given, and would rather have a fight, or cheat, than actually get better at Joustus.

Shovel Knight
This a late-game bout of Joustus, which shows how complex it can get.

Joustus might not really be all that important to King Knight, but it adds an entirely new element to the traditional Shovel Kinght gameplay. Those players who are a sucker for built-in card games (myself included) will find a lot to enjoy when stepping away from all the platforming and fighting to engage in a round of Joustus. The game is played by placing cards, one at a time, onto a grid with the goal of having more of your cards placed on top of gems than your opponent.

All cards contain abilities and can be used to shove opposing cards out of the way (and off the gems), with advanced cards used to blow up, slam or recruit those of the other player. It all starts off simple enough, but can get really brain-taxing as the story progresses, and grows to be a real highlight of the game – and one of the better card-games-within-a-game I’ve played. Cheat cards can be bought to give you a leg up for trickier opponents, especially as the winner of each game gets to take one (or three if you control all gems at the end of the round) card from the loser.  

Shovel Knight
Platforming at its satisfying best. Y’know, without actually touching the platforms.

Outside of Joustus, King of Cards will feel pleasingly familiar to fans of the series. As in previous entries, the levels all share the same look and gimmicks as the original Shovel Knight, but are reshaped to adapt to the new abilities of King Knight. He has a shoulder barge attack that launches him forward, across gaps if need be, and will send him into a spin on contact with enemies or certain types of walls and blocks. This spin move acts very much in the same way as Shovel Knight’s shovel pogo attack, and allows King Knight to bounce around levels with impressive finesse. Anyone who’s played Shovel Knight before knows the drill now – try and clear every screen by chaining together as many bounce attacks as you can. It’s the law.

Shovel Knight
Familiar foes return, but the way you deal with them is the same!

It also wouldn’t be a Shovel Knight game if there weren’t a ton of unlockable moves and buffs. Amongst the best unlocks for King Knight are a Tazmanian Devil-esque tornado spin that allows him to climb walls and smash up enemies, a hammer that produces hearts with each wallop for precious HP, throwable suicide bomber mice, and the ability to stand still and have a big ol’ cry to regain HP. Something we can all relate to.

The world map returns, and is in its best guise in King of Cards. Levels are now a lot shorter than you’d expect – there’s typically only one checkpoint in the non-boss levels – but there are a lot more of them, and a large number have secret exits to find. They’re interspersed with the multiple opportunities to play Joustus, and with the seemingly random appearances of traditional Shovel Knight bosses who show up, Hammer Bros. style, on the map to block your progress. It makes for a really tight campaign that’s filled with a ton of variety.

The floor is literally lava!

It seems almost arbitrary to say, but if you like Shovel Knight and you’re not tired of the standard gameplay, there’s so much to enjoy with King of Cards. He’s probably not the most fun character to play as (for me, that’d be Spectre Knight), but his game is easily the most diverse. He’s just such an enjoyably unlikeable idiot that you’ll constantly be playing with a smile on your face, bopping along to the classic Shovel Knight chiptunes, pogoing around levels and pausing for the occasional game of cards. Who could ask for more?

Shovel Knight Showdown

Who likes Shovel Knight boss fights? Everyone does, right? How about fighting three of them at once in an amalgamation of Smash Bros. and Towerfall? It’s as chaotic as you’re imagining, and seems like a total no-brainer as a second genre for Yacht Club to transpose their blue, spade-loving hero into.

What seemed like an obviously smart move doesn’t necessarily play out in an ideal way. The one-on-one fights in Showdown are as tightly-contested and entertaining as ever, but the multi-man rumbles are absolute mayhem. There are a few different stipulations applied to fights, and these typically involve simply whittling down your opponents’ lives, or depleting their health bar to briefly kill them off and steal any gems they’ve collected from around the level, with the winner being the first to an assigned number.

Shovel Knight
I found it best to just try to escape in every multi-man level.

Standard fights are more enjoyable, as the simplicity of smacking seven shades of snot out of the competitors keeps things manageable amongst the cacophony of onscreen visual noise. The gem-collecting levels, especially with multiple opponents, are frankly a bit of a mess that I rarely found enjoyable.

Perhaps I’m just not very good at Shovel Knight boss fights, but the game felt overly difficult even on the normal setting. Playing story mode often sees your chosen character up against three opponents on the same team, and when it comes to collecting gems from around the level, they’ve got way more of the space covered and you barely get a chance to breathe with them swarming you from the word go. It’s basically an exercise in getting wailed on while you try to run away and scramble for gems, and it’s just not that fun.

If the whole game were 1v1 I’d have more fun, but it’d be a bit pointless and unsubstantial.

What does add a layer of fun to the game is the chance to play as the complete ‘Knight’ roster of Shovel Knight characters, and the best part of Showdown is learning new moves and trying to find your ‘main’. Perhaps, with more time to sit down and learn the move sets in the practice mode, the game would feel more rewarding than if you just jump in and try to slog through the chaotic story mode as I did.

With a four-player battle mode as the only other gameplay option, Showdown was clearly never meant to be anything other than a brief little curio to give fans of the series’ boss fights an overdose of what they love, but as a complete experience, I found it lacking in both modes and reasons to keep plugging away at the arcade fighter-style story mode. It turns out that the boss fights in Shovel Knight are more fun at the end of a platforming level rather than in the middle of enclosed space filled with flashing lights, random effects, environmental hazards, and three bastards all chasing you down. If you can handle all that stress, you’ll have a much better time than I did.

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Game Reviews

‘Disco Elysium’: A Thought-Provoking Mystery

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Disco Elysium Review

For the most part, the majority of games are easy to classify, but from time to time a game is released that defies conventional rules and resists simple categorization. Disco Elysium is just such a game. On the surface of it, it’s a topdown, isometric RPG of the oldest of old schools. It draws upon long-established systems, structures, and mechanics that make it comfortably familiar. However, beneath that patina of tradition lies something completely unexpected and utterly unique.

Developed by the small, independent studio ZA/UM, with a story penned by Estonian novelist, Robert Kurvitz, and a painstakingly detailed world crafted by artist Aleksander Rostov, Disco Elysium stands apart from most RPGs in that it is startlingly realistic whilst simultaneously being grimly fantastical. Set on an isolated archipelago in the wake of a failed communist revolution, the game casts players as a detective sent to solve the murder of a man found hanging in the backyard of a rundown boarding house/cafe. It’s a simple setup made all the more complex by the fact that the player character is suffering from a severe bout of alcohol and drug-induced amnesia. The mystery that needs to be solved concerns piecing together exactly who the player character is, as much as it involves reconstructing the chain of events that resulted in a brutal death.

Arriving at conclusions to both conundrums requires navigating complex webs of social and political intrigue. Along the way, players will encounter union bosses, disgruntled workers, war veterans, and all manner of extraordinary and mundane citizens just trying to go about their daily lives in a place that seems designed to thwart their ambitions at every turn. More than that though, players will be required to engage in continuous internal dialogues that involve the protagonist gradually putting themselves back together. The result is character customization in a quite literal sense of the word. Rather than the standard array of physical options that most games of this type present players with, the options are entirely psychological. Player actions and choices determine the overall structure of the internal workings of their character. Whether they decide to be a high-minded idealist trying to better themselves and the world around them in whatever way they can or opt to descend into anarchic, hedonistic self-obliteration such choices determine exactly who and what their version of the character is.

The foundation of stats and skills that are usually inert background components that all RPGs are based on is firmly in place. However, rather than being a numerical bedrock upon which all gameplay is based, Disco Elysium takes those sets of modifiers and statistics and makes them an active part of character progression and world development. As you progress through the game, skills points can be used for a variety of purposes. They can be used to upgrade core character stats, of which there a total of twenty-four covering a whole range of mental, physical, and social attributes, that govern player’s ability to immediately interact with the game world. However, they can also be used to learn or forget particular thoughts These thoughts develop depending on how players decide to approach situations and solve problems and can unlock semi-permanent bonuses and even penalties.

Disco Elysium Review

Much as in reality, the things the character is capable of are largely dependent on their frame of mind. If players opt to make a character that is brash and uncouth then they will find it difficult to subtly manipulate interactions to their benefit or arrive at unobtrusive solutions to various situations. On the other hand, if they elect to play a character that is more thoughtful and introspective, or cunning rather than crass, then they will find it difficult to emerge unscathed from more physical challenges. It’s an interpretation of character development and player progress that feels much more organic than in any other game of this sort. This is probably where Disco Elysium does the most to stand out from other such titles. Such a flexible approach to progress is hopefully something that other companies will emulate going forward, as it allows the character to develop a true personality that goes a step beyond the mathematically-oriented, incremental statistical increases that are usually the norm.

Disco Elysium Review

The ways in which player action, character interaction, and game reaction combine together is probably the closest it is possible to get to a truly curated dungeon master-guided play experience in an RPG. There is such a wide and unpredictable variety of moment-to-moment options that players can never be certain what exactly is going to happen next. This sense of improvisational unpredictability is a quintessential element of any RPG, but it is often lost in translation from tabletop rules to computer game mechanics. This pitfall is avoided thanks to the fact that the world of Disco Elysium was conceptualized as a tabletop game but doesn’t actually exist as one yet. As such the developers were able to implement systems without the expectation of adhering to pre-existing mechanics. This expectation has often been the downfall of many such games in the past, such as the much-maligned Sword Coast Legends which was lambasted for its apparent butchery of the 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons ruleset. It will be interesting to see if Larian Studios can avoid similar problems with Baldur’s Gate 3.

Disco Elysium Review

As intriguing and unconventional as Disco Elysium is, and no matter how deserving it is of the accolades it won at 2019’s Game Awards, it’s hard to recommend it as something to play if you’re looking for fun. It’s relentlessly grim even when it’s trying to be funny, and its stream of consciousness style makes even the most basic of interactions a minefield of potential disturbing possibilities. With its biting combination of continental existentialist ennui, pseudo-Lovecraftian undercurrents, and socio-political critique it isn’t a game that you play for the sheer joy of it, but rather for the esoteric and unusual experience that it offers. That being said, in a market that’s full to bursting point with crowd-pleasing blockbusters and oftentimes strictly by-the-book sequels or carbon copy titles, it can be incredibly rewarding to delve into a game as intricate and nuanced as Disco Elysium.

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