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The Best Games of the 2000s

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It’s safe to say that video games have come a long way since the last millennium. The 2000s saw the emergence of multiple generations of consoles, which meant more games were produced than the decade before. From the expanse of phenomenal MMO games to the experimental platformers and party games by Nintendo, the 2000s pushed graphics and power like never before. We waded through hundreds of titles and produced a list of the best video games released from 2000 to 2010.

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2000) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

The Best Games of the 2000s

Specifically designed with the notion of using Ocarina of Time as a base, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. Despite lifting most of its assets from its immediate predecessor, Nintendo opted not to proceed with the sequel as more of the same. Rather, in light of the fire Ocarina of Time sparked, Nintendo opted to go in a much different direction. 

Majora’s Mask is a far more introspective game than Ocarina of Time, one that allows the player a greater degree of freedom than previous entries in the series. It’s a more mature adventure, often focusing on themes of death, love, abandonment, and identity. With its three day time limit and Groundhog Day-esque loop, Majora’s Mask remains one of the most eclectic entries in the Zelda franchise; and the only game to give Ocarina of Time a run for its money.  (Renan Fontes)

Runners-Up: Counter-Strike, Deus Ex, Diablo II, Final Fantasy IX, The Sims

2001) Halo: Combat Evolved

The Best Games of the 2000s

Halo: Combat Evolved stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as one of the greatest launch titles ever released. It single-handedly put the Xbox name on the map and jump-started a series still considered part and parcel of that brand, long after developer Bungie jumped ship to create Destiny. Without the original Halo, the modern gaming landscape would change incalculably, from first-person shooter design, to online matchmaking systems, to Microsoft’s centrality in the industry.

But even more impressive is just how well Halo holds up over fifteen years later. Outside of some weapon imbalance and repetitious levels in the back half of its campaign, Halo still plays like butter despite totally upending how first-person shooters played at the time of its release. For many fans of the series, getting to play the original Halo through The Master Chief Collection was a more appealing reason to buy an Xbox One than Halo 5. But that’s not just nostalgia talking — the series has tried to add numerous layers atop Halo‘s cake, but its base layer was always the most satisfying. It doesn’t really matter how much time passes or how many sequels 343 churns out; names like “Blood Gulch,” “Hang ‘Em High,” and “The Silent Cartographer” will always inspire singular and unimpeachable memories for an entire generation of gamers, especially those who LAN partied. (Kyle Rentschler)

Runners-Up: Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy X, Grand Theft Auto III, Super Smash Bros Melee

2002) Metroid Prime

The Best Games of the 2000s

The Gamecube is fondly remembered by many of its adopters. Part of the reason lies in the wild new gambles Nintendo was willing to take with it after being trounced by Sony in the previous generation. Mario became a graffiti clean-up crew, Link turned into a cartoon, and Samus entered the realm of first-person shooters. The most well-known Nintendo franchises were suddenly unrecognizable, and all the better for it,

The best of them was Metroid Prime, a wild gamble of a game that saw Samus travelling from her side-scrolling roots to a fully-3D, first-person ground-breaker of a perspective. Somehow the game managed to maintain the feeling of its predecessors while transporting the experience to a whole new realm of possibilities. Old ideas were reinvented with stellar and surprising success, while new ways of building a first-person game were established as a result.

To this day, Metroid Prime is the only title in the series that can challenge the genre-defining Super Metroid for its title of best game in the series, and it’s likely to be a debate that will never be settled. After all, how do you decide which piece of art is the finest? One might have the better brush strokes, while the other has the better style and vantage point. While similar, they remain as incomparable as they are inextricably intertwined. (Mike Worby)

Runners-Up: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Neverwinter Nights, Ratchet and Clank, Splinter Cell

2003) The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

The Best Games of the 2000s

With Nintendo’s first 3D Zelda titles, it seems their goal was to offer as unique an experience as possible with each effort. Ocarina of Time brought the franchise’s traditional concepts into 3D; Majora’s Mask experimented with what the series could accomplish in 3D; and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker chose to overhaul the series’ visual identity to better take advantage of 3D. 

The Wind Waker is one of the best looking games of all time, even in its original GameCube incarnation. Nintendo’s use of cel-shading lends itself well to The Wind Waker’s vibrant, nautical aesthetic. With a greater emphasis placed on exploration than either of its predecessors, it’s The Wind Waker that ultimately best exemplifies that feeling of exploration found in the original Legend of Zelda. It’s a love letter to its franchise, but one that never forgets to carve out an identity of its own. (Renan Fontes)

Runners-Up: Beyond Good and Evil, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Silent Hill 3, Soul Calibur II, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 

2004) Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

The Best Games of the 2000s
When it comes to Grand Theft Auto games, one of the most memorable titles from the long-lasting franchise has to be San Andreas. Releasing in 2004 for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC, San Andreas is a game that has managed to stay culturally relevant despite the massive rise of video games since its release. The game focuses on ex-gang member Carl Johnson, known as CJ, who returns home after the death of his mother and reunites with his friends and fellow gang members. He delves further into his old criminal lifestyle as he starts rebuilding his old gang all while dealing with dirty cops and colorful characters along the way.

The sprawling map, open-world interactivity, personal characters choices (such as dating options, choosing to work out in the gym or making CJ an obese burger addict), action-packed, memorable missions –breaking into a highly restricted government base called Area 69 seems all the more relevant at the moment — and a genuinely engaging storyline are all incorporated into one hugely fun and compelling game. Rockstar Games would continue to raise the bar when it came to open-world action games but San Andreas was the first to firmly solidify itself within gaming culture and remain there to this day. If a game can continue to spawn multiple memes after 15 years, you know you’ve done something right. (Antonia Haynes)

Runners-Up: The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, Half-Life 2, Halo 2, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, World of Warcraft 

2005) Resident Evil 4

The Best Games of the 2000s

On paper, Resident Evil 4 is a mental mix of ideas that shouldn’t work (see Resident Evil 6), but in actuality, it works so well it’s one of the greatest games of all time. It revitalizes the horror franchise with an innovative over the shoulder camera (later becoming the genre and industry standard) for protagonist Leon, punctuates its setpieces with balls to the wall action and gleefully silly B movie storytelling, whilst keeping the franchise’s signature fear factor intact. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Civilization IV, Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, God of War, Guitar Hero, Shadow of the Colossus

2006) Wii Sports

The Best Games of the 2000s

Nintendo needed a hit to ensure that their new console wouldn’t perform as poorly (compared to its competitors) as the GameCube. Not only was the resulting decision to bundle a copy of Wii Sports with every console a brilliant business move, but the title itself was so genuinely fun and unique that tens of millions of people bought a Wii just for that game.

The brilliance of Wii Sports is in its accessibility. The compilation is comprised of five light sports games: baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, and boxing. Each is specifically optimized for short play sessions; three innings in a game of baseball, three rounds in a boxing match, and so on. Never played a game before in your life? No problem! The Wii’s unique use of motion controls meant that all anyone had to do was pick up a Wiimote and mimic the motions of throwing, swinging, and punching to play.

Though there wasn’t much progression beyond a literal line on a graph that went up or down based on your performance, the sheer joy of seeing your custom Mii on-screen playing little sports games with your friends and family resulted in some of the most fun local multiplayer in gaming history (until Wii Sports Resort, that is). (Brent Middleton)

Runners-Up: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Gears of War, Hitman: Blood Money, Kingdom Hearts II, Okami

2007) Super Mario Galaxy

Best Games of 2000s

2007 was a landmark year for the gaming industry, seeing the launch of franchises — Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock, The Witcher and Uncharted — that went on to dominate the market in the years to come. With the overwhelming success of the Wii, Nintendo was also revolutionizing the video game industry of 2007 and had a console in over 20 million living rooms worldwide, although the Japanese giant had to release a large-scale Mario title for its new hardware. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto and game director Yoshiaki Koizumi had a grandiose vision for the paunchy plumber’s future, imagining platforming gameplay in space where players would fight the effects of gravity and maneuver through spherical worlds to save the princess. Ultimately, those ideas manifested themselves in the form of the landmark Super Mario Galaxy, a title that reinvigorated the Mario formula with modern Miyamoto magic and set the gold standard for all future Nintendo releases.

There is nothing incredibly awe-inspiring about Super Mario Galaxy’s story- Bowser kidnapped the princess… again- but it is the title’s thoughtful and careful approach to keeping the Mario formula both classically nostalgic and awe-inspiringly fresh that make the game so special. Its controls and physics — lifted almost directly from Super Mario 64 — feel as intuitive and smooth as they did two generations previous, even though they are translated into the waggle controls of a Wiimote and nunchuck combo. Galaxy’s spherical worlds feel as comfortable as the Mushroom Kingdom and Isle Delfino, but its next-gen graphics and incredible scope convey a grandiose environment that feels untouched and begs to be explored. Although not a huge leap forward, the addition of Mario’s first spin attack also adds new depth to the title and changes the combat approach ever so slightly. Even Rosalina, the most recent addition to the Mario lineup, feels like an interconnected part of the Nintendo universe and has gone on to overshadow the popularity of other princesses.

Since its release, Super Mario Galaxy has been dubbed to be the must-play title for the Wii and is widely considered one of the greatest video games of all time. Dominating in 2007, Galaxy won countless game-of-the-year awards and eventually spawned a just as successful sequel, Super Mario Galaxy 2. All honors aside, the title’s effects can truly be seen on subsequent Nintendo releases, as its success and advancements veered the development, art style, and scope of the franchise in more artistic, sophisticated, and focused directions. With its beauty and enjoyable gameplay, it’s safe to assess that Super Mario Galaxy made its mark on the industry and led to the Nintendo renaissance that the Switch enjoys today. (Ty Davidson)

Runners-Up: Bioshock, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Halo 3, Mass Effect, Portal

2008) Grand Theft Auto IV

The Best Games of the 2000s

While San Andreas set the precedent for the Grand Theft Auto franchise, GTA IV stepped up the open-world title significantly and brought about a gritty realism that elevated the series even more so. GTA IV was released in 2008 and centers on Niko Bellic, an Eastern European war veteran who begins the game straight off the boat to start a new life in Liberty City. The three islands of the city act as the setting for the game and the player has free roam of them. As is the case with most of the protagonists in the Grand Theft Auto series, circumstances end up pulling Niko back into a life of crime and his morals are brought into question in the process. Niko seems reluctant in his violence though, seeming to regret his past actions and wanting to start his life afresh without having to shoot his way through it. Despite this, his violent tendencies are apparent and it becomes evident that he doesn’t quite detest embarking in his criminal behavior as much as he claims.

He is a complex character with a great deal of ambiguity surrounding him. It could be argued that this kind of interesting character depth was a much-needed addition to the franchise. The game is not without its faults (the driving mechanics are incredibly difficult to master and the color scheme of Liberty City is mostly made up of dull greys and beiges) GTA IV made its mark by introducing a somber tone and some well-developed character arcs to the franchise as well as improving on the elements that already worked well such as the combat, mission structure, shooting mechanics and the vast open world. GTA IV is another title from Rockstar Games that will go down as one of its finest. (Antonia Haynes)

Runners-Up: Braid, Dead Space, Fallout 3, LittleBigPlanet, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

2009) Batman: Arkham Asylum

The Best Games of the 2000s

I won’t go so far as to coin the tired notion of this game really making you feel like Batman, but it certainly made me have the most fun manipulating a digital Dark Knight with a video game controller in my hand – which is significantly higher praise than Batman’s previous efforts in this medium make it seem. Arkham Asylum has recently gone through a retrospective renaissance, and the first game in Rocksteady’s video game trilogy – much like Batman Begins in Christopher Nolan’s cinematic trifecta – is now typically regarded as the series’ best.

At the time of writing, the game is almost ten years old, and surely stakes a sizeable claim to be the best game ever released during the annual “game industry summer drought.” Superhero games, in general, were much of a muchness back in 2009, but it’s easy to forget just how much of an innovative trendsetter Arkham Asylum was. It nailed everything a Batman game needed to nail – hell, it even nailed the bits we didn’t even know it needed to.

The game’s combat system has since been mimicked almost to the point of oversaturation, but that takes nothing away from just how fantastic it still is. Insane combos were effortlessly pulled off, gadgets were expertly woven into the action in as user-friendly a way as possible, and the simple counter system allowed fights to flow in a zen-like motion that ensured each encounter became a test of skill and personal one-upmanship. Next time you’d get that flawless combo, for sure.

Arkham is more than just a series of quality punch-ups, though. Hiring the Animated Series duo of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to voice Batman and Joker respectively was absolutely vital, and they knocked it out of the park. The story was gripping and paid more than adequate respect to not only Batman’s rogues gallery (particularly Scarecrow) but to fans and players. The sheer number of Easter eggs, lore and extras the game stuffed in was exemplary, and became mandatory for the rest of the trilogy — a trilogy that truly struggled to top the near-perfection of this superb introduction. (Alex Aldridge)

Runners-Up: Assassin’s Creed 2, Borderlands, League of Legends, Persona 4, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

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Best Games of the 1990s | Best Games of the 2000s | Best Games of the 2010s

Humans by birth. Gamers by choice. Goomba Stomp is a Canadian web publication that has been independently owned and operated since its inception in 2016.

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‘Castlevania Bloodlines’: The Official Sega Genesis Sequel to Bram Stoker’s Hit Novel, Dracula

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Castlevania Bloodlines

Castlevania isn’t a dialogue-heavy series by any means, but it’s still home to one of gaming’s most compelling narratives. Equipped with only their ancestral weapon, the legendary Vampire Killer, descendants of the Belmont clan face off against Count Dracula every 100 years like clockwork (give or take). His resurrection is inevitable. Just as good will always triumph over evil, evil will rise again. Castlevania was about the cyclical nature of good and evil long before Dracula mused about the nature of humanity in Symphony of the Night. Castlevania chronicled the Belmont family’s centuries-long struggle to keep Count Dracula at bay, game after game. Of course, he wasn’t the Count Dracula– more a representation of evil– but that was as much a given as a Belmont rising up to wield Vampire Killer. Then Castlevania Bloodlines happened. 

Released in 1995 exclusively for the Sega Genesis, Bloodlines may have looked like any other Castlevania game, but it marked a series of eclectic firsts for the franchise. Gone are the Belmonts and the game neither takes place inside of or involves getting to Dracula’s Castle. Bloodlines is even titled Vampire Killer in Japan, creating a bigger divide between it and previous entries, but that hardly compares to Bloodlines’ strangest contribution to the series: making Bram Stoker’s Dracula canon. 

The nature of how Dracula fits into the Castlevania mythos isn’t as plain and simple as just taking the book as writ as canon, but it fits much cleaner than one would expect. Although Bloodlines may lift elements from the novel with its own embellishments, its changes are ultimately inconsequential. Quincey Morris doesn’t have a son in the novel, but he’s the only major character alongside Dracula not to keep a journal, keeping his background relatively obscured. Quincey also doesn’t sport his signature bowie knife in Bloodlines’ backstory, finishing Dracula off with a stake (instead of the Vampire Killer for whatever reason.) 

There’s no mention of Jonathan Harker, Mina, or Abraham Van Helsing– and Dracula’s motives aren’t at all in-line with his novel counterpart’s– but Konami’s references to the novel make it clear that audiences are intended to consider the novel canon even if the details don’t quite match up. It seems a strange choice, especially for a franchise that was pushing its tenth anniversary by the time Bloodlines released in 1995, but it’s not a totally random decision on Konami’s part. Much like how Super Castlevania IV’s tonal maturity gave it a greater layer of depth, Bloodlines thrives off its connection to Bram Stoker’s Dracula

If there’s one immediate benefit to tying Dracula to Castlevania: Bloodlines, it’s grounding the latter in some semblance of reality. Set in 1917, Vampire Killer was the most modern Castlevania to date– not just at its release, but until Aria of Sorrow was released in 2003. The games were never period pieces, but they were set far enough in the past where literal Universal Monsters wouldn’t keep the series from staying narratively grounded. More importantly, the series’ settings were always consistently gothic, creating a unique sense of style around Dracula himself rather than the time period. 

Bloodlines opts for a wildly different approach altogether when it comes to setting, doubling down on the series’ historical elements while keeping Super Castlevania IV’s darker tone intact. Dracula feels a part of the world, rather than the world of Castlevania feeling a part of Dracula. At the same time, Bram Stoker’s Dracula helps ground the very minimal plot by giving John and Eric’s trek across Europe greater scope. John and Eric even have a personal stake in the plot, having witnessed Quincey’s death. It’s all window dressing, but Bloodlines’ assimilation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula gives the series some narrative legitimacy to rub shoulders with its high quality gameplay. 

The connections to Bram Stoker’s Dracula are admittedly loose, but they’re loose enough to work in the game’s benefit. Dracula is structured as an epistolary novel with chapters divided in letters, journal entries, articles, and logs. The story is told coherently, but this approach often results in the point of view & setting changing. While uncertainly a direct reference to the novel, Bloodlines similarly allows players to switch between John & Eric whenever they use a continue on Easy mode, and each stage takes place in a different country rather than just Transylvania. 

Bram Stoker’s Dracula may give Bloodlines its foundation, but it’s that globetrotting that gives the game its identity. Stage 1 opens in Romania, the ruins of Dracula’s Castle left to time after his previous defeat. Where other games would immediately transition into the depths of Castle Dracula, Bloodlines’ Stage 2 instead takes players to the lost city of Atlantis in Greece, while Stage 3 involves scaling the Leaning Tower of Pisa in order to slay a demon at the top. There’s a grandiosity to the stage design simply not present in previous entries. Not just in terms of scope, but in actual structure. 

Only six stages long, Bloodlines is the shortest of the mainline Castlevania games, but it makes up for its lack of length with longer stages overall. The main story falls on the shorter side, but the stage to stage pacing ensures that Bloodlines neither outstays its welcome or goes too soon. While a Stage 7 may have done the game some good, Bloodlines’ six stages offer some of the tightest action-platforming in the franchise. Enemies are by no means infrequent, and Bloodlines requires players to understand both John & Eric’s unique platforming skills by Stage 3, outright preventing progress should players fail to adapt.

John’s unique platforming ability will be familiar to all those who played Super Castlevania IV as, predictably, he can use the Vampire Killer to hang. This time around, however, John can whip onto just about any ceiling. Eric, on the other hand, has a charged jump that thrusts him into the air when released. Eric’s jump ignores platforms entirely, allowing him a degree of verticality Castlevania typically doesn’t give to players. Stage 3 even features a room that’s a bottomless pit for Eric, but easy platforming for John thanks to its whip. Subsequently, there’s a room where John can’t make progress due to the ceiling, but Eric can jump right through.

John and Eric’s abilities are natural extensions & evolutions of Simon’s from Super CV IV, just split between the both of them, but it’s also worth noting how Bloodlines’ more involved platforming helps to further flesh out Castlevania’s world. Bram Stoker’s Dracula coupled with the European setting did more for the series’ world-building at the time than any of its predecessors, save for Rondo of Blood. It’s not often that a video game series absorbs a literary classic into its main plot, but Castlevania handles it surprisingly well. 

It’s fitting that Castlevania Bloodlines is titled Vampire Killer in Japan. At its core, Vampire Killer is a recontextualization of Castlevania. The story is still framed through the Belmonts’ struggle against Dracula, but the scope is wider, extending mediums in the process. Vampire Killer is about the legacy of the Vampire Killer and the vampire killers whose fates are sealed by the whip. Symphony of the Night may be a direct sequel to Rondo of Blood, but Bloodlines set the stage for Symphony to tell a traditional and intimate story.

More important than anything, though, Castlevania taking Bram Stoker’s Dracula and making it a part of its canon is just so outlandish that it makes perfect sense. The series that regularly featured Universal Monsters as bosses was never going to ignore the novel forever. That Bloodlines uses the novel tactfully and in a game where its presence is appropriate– intentional or otherwise– weirdly elevates Castlevania as a franchise. Castlevania isn’t just a Dracula story, it’s the Dracula story. And of all the games to make that declaration with, Bloodlines is a damn good choice. 

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Honorable Mentions:

Bleeding Edge Release Date

KartRider Drift Reveal/Closed Beta Announcement

Last Stop Reveal

Wasteland 3 Release Date

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‘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.

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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 of 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.

Ambient Appeal

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.

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