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Xbox E3 2019: The Good, the Bad, and the etc.

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Microsoft went into this year’s E3 with a veritable open goal. Sony’s absence from proceedings left them as the only console manufacturer to be putting on a press conference. Surely it wouldn’t be a wholly underwhelming waste of everyone’s time, right? Let’s get into the good, the bad, and the rest.

The Good

The Xbox show got to unveil (provided you hadn’t seen the leaks) a new FromSoftware game, and in collaboration with George R. R. Martin, no less! The man who didn’t screw up the end of the Game of Thrones TV show — unless you find him guilty through the absence of his book material to keep things in order — looks like he’s reined Miyazaki and the lads back into the dragony, swordy, magicy, fantasy stuff with Elden Ring. There wasn’t any gameplay to look at, but there was a bloke with a spear who looked like he did a Dark Souls-esque thrust attack, so let’s hope that it’s sticking with what FromSoftware do best. The addition of Martin surely means a more story-focused approach akin to Sekiro, and an amalgamation of Souls and Sekiro could be very interesting indeed.

The Almost Good

Probably the biggest surprise of the whole presentation was the culmination of the seven-year teaser from Sonic Team that Phantasy Star Online 2 would get an English release. It will arrive in spring 2020 in the US for Xbox One and PC, and will have cross play, which is a legitimate near-miracle after this long, and even more so on such a Western-oriented platform. What sucks (for me and my European brethren) is that it’s not slated to come to Europe yet, if at all. Sega have since tweeted, “There’s nothing to confirm right now. We understand it’s frustrating, but when we have more news to share, we will.” Do you understand, Sega? Do you?! With the region-free capabilities of the Xbox One, this won’t be that much of an issue, but still.

Mech yeah! Y’know. Like heck yeah. But Mechs.

The Not Good Enough

Microsoft knows that PS5 is probably going to be unveiled later this year when Sony decides the time is right, so they could have smashed E3 out of the park with a dazzling showcase of their new console. While it did get announced, it was a really vague and half-baked announcement. I’m nervous about the fact that Phil Spencer said “next new console” a couple times instead of “next generation console,” so I won’t be a true believer until I see that it’s not a streaming machine or another Xbox One iteration.

We got lots of impressive statements — 4x more powerful than One X, capable of 120fps, able to output in 8K, raytracing technology, an SSD, a 40x performance increase over current gen, and a release date of holiday 2020 — but what we didn’t get is a picture of the thing, or even a proper name outside of its Project Scarlett codename. The next generation of consoles certainly sounds capable of providing beautiful, smooth, loading-free gaming, but at the moment it’s just words. Sexy-yet-empty words.

Ah, dammit. I got Master Chief all over my windshield.

Scarlett’s launch title, Halo Infinite, got a trailer that may have looked like an Xbox One game because I was watching footage of it on my measly Xbox One X, but I wasn’t overly impressed (or even convinced) that it was indicative of what a Scarlett game will look like. Obviously there’s so much more to come, but just saying specs at people and having a big circle jerk over some numbers is not what the E3 stage should be used for.

The Bad

Well, Gears POP is obviously just the worst, but Gears of War 5 didn’t exactly do anything mind-blowing here either. First, Rod Ferguson’s garish fluorescent green shoes are a disgrace. He came out in his snot green sock-protectors to show us a wholly underwhelming trailer that tried to make us care about one of the crappy new generation Gears characters, and had absolutely no gameplay. Much like Halo Infinite, you could probably close your eyes and imagine all the gameplay that Gears 5 will have in it, but it would have been nice to see something more than a modern version of the Mario 64 menu screen.

It’s-a-me, Kate Diaz!

What made the Gears 5 segment even worse were the tone deaf attempts to make gamers still care about pre-orders. To be fair, they realized that a game releasing on Game Pass is likely to attract pre-orders from absolutely nobody, so they decided to lock the ‘Ultimate Edition’ behind Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions. Of course, if you get this version you can play it early, and of course you get more stuff in game. Don’t be fooled, kids. Stop pre-ordering games. Especially if that pre-order gets you a bloody in-game Terminator skin.

The Ballsy

We Happy Few in the montage that opened the show? My, my — look at the big balls on Xbox. Rather than Men in Black that game from our collective memories, there it was, representing the platform like it wasn’t a glorious symbol of suck fuckery. I almost admired it.

Why was this in the opening segment? Who wants to see this game again?

The Shouty

I know they’re all outside already, but do any of the characters in Dragon Ball Kakarot have an inside voice? Quiet down, you damn kids.

Xbooooooooooooox!

The Slightly Better

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order had a slightly better showing here than it did during EA Play, chiefly because Xbox decided to cut a trailer full of bombastic music and action-packed moments rather than show some gameplay of a dude walking down corridors, squeezing through small gaps, and getting a robot to open doors. It’s still up in the air whether this will be up to the standards of the classic Jedi games Academy and Outcast, let alone an improvement on the Star Wars game EA cancelled last year, but Xbox did it as much of a solid as it could.

Ah, dammit. I got Forest Whitaker all over my windshield.

The Beautiful

The trailer for Ori and the Will of Wisps is so damn sexy it could probably impregnate people. The release date still seems miles off (Feb 2020), but nobody can claim that serious work isn’t being put into it, as it looks absolutely astounding.

What is a wisp anyway?

The Ugly  

My word, State of Decay 2 is ugly. Not only did the expansion look really low-budget, but that game has clearly fallen off a cliff so much that it didn’t even get a single clap — even from the obvious plants in the audience who basically burst into rapturous applause every time Phil Spencer paused for breath.

The realest hair I’ve ever seen.

The Familiar

And here comes Obsidian with the latest Fallout game! Oh, hang on…that’s not a Fallout game. Wait, that’s not a Fallout game? Well, I’ll reserve judgement until I play it, because until I do I’m not convinced, as it really looks like a Fallout game. Obsidian have got a lot of retrospective praise for Fallout: New Vegas — a game everyone seems to forget ran about as well as an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping — and Bethesda are clearly incapable of making anything decent anymore, so if Obsidian want to rip off Fallout and make The Outer Worlds the new big name in futuristic Western RPGs, then they can go right ahead.

50’s American aesthetic? Bad guys in robot suits? Nah, not Fallout at all…

The Not Minecraft

Minecraft: Dungeons is Minecraft without the mines or the crafting. Sounds like a good Minecraft game to me.

The Bait and Switch

Am I the only person who thought that the first minute of the Blair Witch trailer was a Silent Hill 2 remake? I’m convinced it was deliberate, and I’m also convinced that Blair Witch is a terrible movie that should only be translated to a game if it doesn’t feature a map at any point because Heather lost it.

As if Konami would actually make something Silent Hill related that isn’t in a Pachinko parlor.

The Booty

There’s a man named Matt Booty.

Cool.

The Lego

As a Brit, I love the fact that Forza Horizon 4 is set in a mock version of the UK. The road signs, the roundabouts, the driving on the left, the cottages, the Edinburgh — I love it. Granted, Legoland is also in the UK, but that doesn’t mean I want to go there, and I certainly don’t want to go there and trade in a Lamborghini for a car made of plastic bricks. Is there some kind of underground Car Enthusiast Lego Club I don’t know about? Because, seriously, what was that Lego DLC all about?

Everything is not awesome. Nothing will ever be awesome again.

The Jerky

If it was just my stream messing up, then I apologize, but the frame rate in the 12 Minutes trailer looked on the same level as a CCTV camera. An interesting idea took my attention and jerked it right into apathy.

This trailer was jerking for 12 minutes. Think about it. Gross.

The Censored

What was with all the bleeping and censoring? When I saw the M rating right after the conference countdown ended, I thought we were in for some raucous good times, and instead we actually got bleeped swear words in the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer, and even a blacked-out middle finger in the Borderlands 3 trailer. We did get tons of violence and gore, however, sometimes immediately following a bleeped-out word. Because it’s OK to violently murder someone, just as long as we don’t say big bad naughty words.

Oooooh, matron!

The Lore

That’s right, Spartans — 343 Industries cares about your Halo lore! Don’t believe them? Did you not see the Halo Mythos on that dev’s desk? How dare you besmirch their reverence!

The Expensive

If that Elite 2 controller doesn’t cost over $100, then I’ll give you over $100.

The Baba Yaga

Keanu Reeves is cool, ain’t he? Sad Keanu seemed a million miles away during his cameo in the Cyberpunk 2077 segment — probably because a room full of nerds were losing their collective minds over him. The way he was struggling to keep his concentration amongst all the audience’s fanboy hysteria was adorable.

He’s right, I am breathtaking.

The Verdict

Xbox had the chance to have its most memorable E3 ever, and it severely missed the mark. While they didn’t do anything egregiously wrong, they didn’t really wow anybody either. Project Scarlett sounds impressive, but this felt like the most underwhelming console announcement since the Wii U.

Aside from a few interesting new games, there wasn’t much razzmatazz here, and the whole thing should rightly call into question whether we really need to bother with this E3 thing anymore. Microsoft is making all the right moves at the moment — acquiring studios, developing new hardware, focusing on backwards compatibility, having excellent subscription models, and keeping things about the games — but it was all so thoroughly low key. I almost have to keep reminding myself they announced a next gen console is coming out in 18 months. That should be huge! Instead, it’s just decidedly medium-sized. Still, that dude had a really good beard.

His beard scared away his mustache. Awesome.

7/10 would Keanu again

Crotchety Englishman who spends hundreds of pounds on video game tattoos and Amiibo in equally wallet-crippling measure. Likes grammar a lot, but not as much as he likes ranting about the latest gaming news in his weekly column.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. OxaI

    June 16, 2019 at 10:43 pm

    Fuck Microsoft…. I’m done with Phil Spencer and the shittY xbone. I never even felt like a gamer these pass five years of xbone one and thier buggy and problemacric hardware. If the next play station isn’t out when project scarlet gets pooped I’ll get me a ps4 pro and sit there

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The Best New Nintendo Characters of 2019

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Best Nintendo Characters

There are just too many Nintendo characters to choose this year…

When we first started tracking our favourite new Nintendo characters back in 2015, it was during the Wii U era and unfortunately, there weren’t many to choose from since Nintendo wasn’t releasing many games at the time. The opposite can be said for 2019 and now our staff has an even bigger problem which is deciding who to add to this list and who to leave out— which isn’t an easy task if only because Fire Emblem Three Houses features over fifty amazing characters to choose from. We considered including the entire roster, to be honest— back in 2018 our list of best new Nintendo characters included everyone from ARMS, but after much debate, we decided to instead, choose just a few characters from Three Houses.

What follows is a list (in alphabetical order) of the best new characters introduced to the Nintendo universe this past year — and yes Fire Emblem: Three Houses is heavily represented this

Bede Pokemon Sword and Shield

Bede (Pokémon Sword and Shield)

I’ll be honest, when I first saw Bede I questioned why one of my rivals was a granny in a pink coat. Turns out I’m an old man myself and my bias was showing, as Bede isn’t a granny but a young lad that was endorsed by the Chairman to compete in the Champions Cup.

Bede is one of the very few characters in Pokémon Sword and Shield that undergoes some development. He starts out as an arrogant, self-obsessed jerk and ends the game as an arrogant, self-obsessed jerk, just with the experiences of being thrown out of the Champions Cup after undergoing a brutal perfidy by the Chairman and his assistant. He later becomes the understudy for Gym Leader Opal, but his transition from a Champions Cup hopeful to a trainer with purpose is one of few elements of story that Pokémon Sword and Shield offers. (James Baker)

Bernadetta (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)

Bernadetta is an incredibly shy Black Eagles student who tends to stay in her dorm room whenever she can. She’s reclusive, anti-social and incredibly awkward, and I can say without any doubt that I’ve never related to a character so much before. Bernadetta is a noble teenager of House Varley who was treated terribly by her father as a child. To train her to be an obedient wife, he would tie her up and force her to be still and silent for hours. He also ensured that she didn’t have any companions, having the only friend that she ever had -a commoner boy- beaten almost to death. This instilled a fear of social interaction within Bernadetta. She assumes that she is constantly making errors, afraid to make friends in case they reject her or end up hurt and views herself as generally useless. I myself have suffered similar self-esteem issues (though not due to being tied to a chair for hours!) and I could genuinely relate to some of Bernadetta’s struggles. Her skittish nature and her awkwardness can be pretty funny- such as in various support conversations with the other students where she will freeze, scream or just up and run away from them- but as they progress they can become heart-warming.

Watching Bernadetta slowly open up to the students that she was once too terrified to even talk to is great to see. Finding her outside of her room whilst exploring Garreg Mach is also a lovely surprise. If interest is taken in leveling up her supports, the growth in confidence from her throughout is astonishing. What I really love is that it is realistic growth. As I said, I saw myself in Bernadetta a lot. I know that with these kinds of issues, you can’t move faster than one step at a time. This slow but steady growth is portrayed excellently with Bernadetta. Even if you get her to the maximum support with everyone possible, she still has her moments of fear and dread. She still has days where she wanted to be reclusive in her room. But, just as in real life, it’s okay to have those days. Her growth continues throughout and I remember feeling immensely proud of her after the time-skip due to her newfound battle confidence. She was no longer pleading to go home in her voice lines but instead cheering herself on when she was doing well. Though her shyness is often played for laughs, Bernadetta is a character who can show those with similar issues that it’s alright to take your time when it comes to overcoming your fears. One step at a time is more than enough and Bernadetta helped me realize that. Now if anyone needs me I’ll be locked in my room for the next 48 hours. (Antonia Haynes)

Claude (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)

I can’t say enough about Claude von Riegan, the heir of the noble family that leads the Leicester Alliance and the fearless leader of the Golden Deer house. Of the three leaders of the three houses, Claude is by far the best. Don’t get me wrong, I love Edelgard and Dimitri, but Claude is the most charismatic of the bunch— he’s calm, cool and seemingly always in control. Yes, at first he may come across as lazy or irresponsible due to his nonchalant attitude, but we quickly learn he is far more astute than he lets on and always a few steps ahead of his peers. And unlike the other house leaders, Claude refrains from letting his personal feelings or his tragic past get in his way. In other words, there’s little drama to be found when spending time with Claude.

It helps of course that Claude is also strong, capable, intelligent, compassionate, quippy and downright handsome. I love his hair and his big green eyes but beyond his mysterious, sexy and charming demeanor is someone who deeply cares about the people around him. Claude’s support conversations are some of the most entertaining to watch and his voice acting is some of the most expressive in the game. Even Lorenz, who is arguably the most hated character in Three Houses, eventually falls for Claude’s charm –  and towards the end of the game, you can’t help but like Lorenz thanks to Claude who not only accepts him for who he is but helps Lorenz grow to become a powerful ally.

On the battlefield, Claude is an absolute beast. He specializes in the sword, bow and authority and can easily excel as a sniper, a deadly Swordmaster and/or an unstoppable Wyvern Lord. He’s a cunning strategist too, and he possesses a wealth of knowledge about his allies and enemies alike — and if that isn’t enough, Claude pretty much carries his team and leads them to victory in just about every battle.

But what I really love about Claude is that he’s a downright good person and unlike many of his peers, he does not relish in killing unless necessary. He also never once betrays any of his classmates and although he comes across as untrustworthy at the start, Claude ends up being the most loyal person in the entire game. Despite the school setting, Fire Emblem Three Houses is a story of war that tears people apart. Choices must be made. Ideals will be tested. Loyalty must be earned. People die and some kill—but despite the harsh realities of war, Claude never loses his way. He’s not just the best Golden Deer student there is, he’s also the best there was, and the best there ever will be. (Ricky D)

Cyril (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)

Cyril is one of the most polarizing recruitable characters in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and for good reason. He’s an incredibly hard worker who’s always busy in one way or another, but he can also be rather short with slackers or anyone who tries to keep him from his duties. There’s no place for laziness in Cyril’s world and, though he can be admittedly harsh about it, it’s a refreshingly no-nonsense attitude that’s rarely seen in modern JRPGs.

His hardened personality makes sense in the context of Three Houses, too. The victim of war between Fódlan and Almyra, he was an orphan with nowhere to go until Lady Rhea found him and took him in at Garreg Mach Monastery. Ever since then he’s worked tirelessly to serve Rhea keep Garreg Mach in the best condition possible. Cyril’s rather tragic childhood instilled values similar to Leonie’s: take nothing for granted and only progress through honest hard work.

Of course, Cyril isn’t perfect; his devotion to Rhea can be troubling at times, and it’s clear that he lacks standard social queues (in his defense, though, he is only 14 pre-time skip). Ultimately, however, he excels at being someone you can always rely on to tell it like it is. From chiding Hilda for being a lazy bum to delivering the fantastically relatable line “Why do I gotta talk about stuff I don’t wanna talk about just because you’re bored, Ignatz?” Cyril speaks the truth so many other characters simply mutter under their breaths. His support conversations with Manuela are simply icing on the cake. (Brent Middleton)

Dimitri (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)

It’s safe to say that the Blue Lions are juggernauts on the battlefield and have earned a reputation as the strongest house in Fire Emblem Three Houses. Leading these noble warriors who serve the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus is none other than Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd, the only surviving royal of the Tragedy of Duscur. Of all the characters in Three Houses, Dimitri’s story of avenging his parent’s death is by far the most compelling. Dimitri suffers from survivor’s guilt and despite growing up to become a sincere young man, the prince just can’t shake the ghosts of his past. Of the three leaders of the three houses, Dimitri’s has by far the best character arc, albeit tragic— as he goes from humble and down to earth pupil to a ferocious one-eyed warrior hellbent on getting revenge on those who wronged him and his family. In combat, Dimitri has incredible strength, the highest of any student at max levels, and has excellent hp, strength, speed, dexterity, and defense. He’s no doubt a great warrior but his journey is dark and twisted making him someone you admire, sympathize with, and fear. While Claude may be my favourite character, Dimitri is a close second. He’s the center of some of the best cutscenes in the entire game, including this scene which is my personal favorite. (Ricky D)

Dorothea

Dorothea (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)

Dorothea is the songstress of the Black Eagles House with a charming nature, desire for equality and a witty repertoire of quips. Despite her outwardly pleasant nature, it is what is underneath this charismatic exterior that makes her so endearing. As a commoner child, she was thrown out of her home alongside her mother by her father for not having a Crest. Her mother died and so she was left to fend for herself on the streets until she was recruited by an opera company.

As a commoner who was treated with such disdain, Dorothea would have every right to hold a burning grudge against the nobility. But she doesn’t. She holds a dislike to some of her fellow students but only the outwardly arrogant ones who flaunt their nobility such as Lorenz. She also has a dislike of Ferdinand but this is due to a misunderstanding when they were children and she was a street urchin. She has every right to be angry, bitter and callous. But she isn’t. She is reasonable, kind and caring. She usually gets the upper hand in most conversations that she has with her fellow students due to her street smarts, beauty, and intellect. But she is never arrogant about any of it.

Dorothea is flirtatious and flits from one suitor to the next, but this is only because of her crippling fear of being poor and on the streets again once her talent and beauty have faded. She longs for someone to have by her side as both a financial and emotional crutch which is honestly pretty realistic. Despite all her bravado, she is just a young woman with not quite as much self-esteem as you might think. She is a survivor but she is also desperate for love, security and a place to call home. Dorothea has worked her way out of poverty and she will do anything to ensure she doesn’t go back. The depth of her character is superb, with multiple layers to her personality unveiled in each support conversation. Loyal, strong-willed and compassionate, Dorothea is one of the best new Nintendo characters as well as one of the best Fire Emblem characters. (Antonia Haynes)

Felix Fire Emblem Three Houses

Felix (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)

In a game loaded with interesting character contradictions, Felix may just be the most fascinating example of a person at odds with himself. While openly and brazenly despising the notions of idealism, knighthood, general likability, and sweets, this haughty swordsman is also a principled defender of the people, a fanatical trainer, a secret protector of his many childhood friends, and a possible fan of cake. The loss of his brother to honor has clearly cut him deep, but beneath the scarred facade of cynicism is a fierce, loyal compatriot who pretends he hates everything, but will die for those he loves.

More than anything, however, Felix is just plain entertaining in his resistance to connection. His standoffish demeanor and arrogance contrasts humorously with the more naive students (Bernadetta and Flayne), who remain oblivious to his insults while wrapped up in their own obsessions, and plays just as good (if not better) off those who call his over-the-top mean bluffs. Whether it’s Dorothea convincing him to drop the act and catch her opera, Ingrid (a reminder of his brother’s sacrifice) scolding him into remembering the amiable boy he used to be, or Lysithea convincing him to eat one of her baked creations, it’s both funny and poignant to watch this wounded young man’s pragmatic outlook be challenged by thrusts he can’t parry. (Patrick Murphy)

Ferdinand Fire Emblem Three Houses

Ferdinand (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)

It’s easy to come to Fire Emblem: Three Houses with preconceived notions against the idea of a class of nobles who rule the populace while living in luxury paid for by the toil of their subjects, but damned if Ferdinand doesn’t almost make one want to believe that this system could work. Though his quaintly formal parlance at first comes off as cocky and elitist, and he is certainly is rife with ignorance when it comes to the lives of commoners, one quickly discovers that his belief in his overall purpose to serve and protect the population is completely sincere and utterly selfless. In short, Ferdinand might be the nicest, most honorable, most self-reflective character in the game.

He’s also one of the most endearing. Though his often complete obliviousness to his fellow students’ subtle digs at his idealism (Dorothea comparing him to a bee) provides plenty of comic fodder, and his lack of perspective causes hilariously goofy tripping over his own feet (‘helping’ Bernadetta), Ferdinand unceasingly continues to seek understanding of others in order to become a better person himself. And when tragedy strikes? He considers his own behavior and place in the world with such humility and rational analysis that it’s hard not to root for the guy to one day become the leader he so desires to be. Also, he apparently gives really good hugs. (Patrick Murphy)

Gooigi

Gooigi (Luigi’s Mansion 3)

Does a clone have a mind of its own? Is a facsimile anything more than that which it was copied from? Can a pile of animated snotty goop help a frightened plumber fight ghosts? These are the heavy-hitting questions that Gooigi inspires. It is true, technically Gooigi’s first appearance is in the updated 2018 version of Luigi’s Mansion for the 3DS, but it feels as if it’s here, in 2019’s Luigi’s Mansion 3 that Gooigi has become its own new and wonderful Nintendo character. Is Gooigi simply another ghost-busting trick created by Professor E. Gadd, or does he have a mind of his own? Is he Luigi devoid of all feeling, or is he Luigi bereft of all fear? In the moments when he liquifies through some doorway that Luigi could not go through, is he simply finding a secret treasure, or is he opening doors inside of Luigi himself? Such high-minded philosophy can be debated by sages for ages, but at the end of the haunted hotel, there’s a new fun character to play co-op Luigi games with who adds a unique twist to the gameplay mechanics. This new clone makes Luigi’s Mansion 3 even more fun than it was, to begin with, and that is a spooky goopy triumph. (Marty Allen)

Leonie (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)

Leonie (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)

There’s no student in Fire Emblem: Three Houses that has as direct a connection to Byleth’s family as Leonie. Though her obsession with the player’s father, Jeralt, might be off-putting to some, it all starts to make sense the deeper you dive into her support conversations.

Leonie was only a child when Jeralt visited her village as a traveling mercenary, but he left a major impression on her nonetheless. In the short time he was there he taught her combat techniques and basic strategies, and by the time he left Leonie was so inspired that she decided to devote herself to becoming a mercenary just like Jeralt. Not only is her admiration of him touching, but the fact that she dedicated her entire life to become stronger and capable enough to get into the Officer’s Academy is simply astounding. As one of the commoners in the Golden Deer house, she truly had to fight tooth and nail to gain her spot.

Outside of her impressive backstory, Leonie is simply a great role in her own right. She’s studious, a hard worker, is incredibly frugal, and she never takes her opportunities for granted. Though she comes off as a bit of a tomboy in the first half of the game, Leonie also has one of the better post-time skip designs of the bunch. More than anything, however, her honesty and reliability are never in question for a second. If there’s anyone in Golden Deer that I could legitimately rely on to have my back, it’d be Leonie (with Raphael as a close second, of course). (Brent Middleton)

Best Nintendo Characters

Marianne (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)

There’s no character in Fire Emblem: Three Houses that needs a hug more than Marianne. She’s also a character that didn’t appeal to me on her own, but rather how she interacted with others. Her low self-esteem and tendency to put herself down results in some of the most depressing support conversations in the game, and even the franchise as a whole. A classic example of the hedgehog’s dilemma, Marianne avoids getting close to others to avoid hurting them. Yet unlike many other characters in other media that exhibit such a trope, keeping such as distance causes her visible anguish that deeply resonates with the player, much to the credit of her voice actress, Xanthe Huynh.

That makes watching her fellow classmates gradually bond with her and pull her out of her shell all the more beautiful. Lysithea getting mad at her for not speaking for herself, Raphael sincerely trying to understand her hobby, and Hilda teaching her to not let people walk all over her were all pivotal in getting Marianne to accept herself and that manifests in such a pure way in the second act of the story. She exemplifies the stutter-step process of overcoming depression or severe bullying and that’s certainly not something I thought to be explored in a Fire Emblem game. (Matthew Ponthier)

Marie (Astral Chain)

Marie (Astral Chain)

Marie is at the heart of the otherwise underwhelming cast of Astral Chain. She’s unique in that she doesn’t carry weapons and never appears in combat scenarios; instead, she works hard to maintain Neuron Headquarters and keep everyone around her in great spirits.

It’s easy to brush Marie off as a simple gag character. After all, she’s first encountered masquerading around as Lappy, the energetic puppy-like mascot of the Ark Police Force and honorary member of the welcoming committee. Her tour of HQ—while trying to maintain anonymity as Lappy—isn’t just hysterical, but highlights just how hard she tries to make things fun for the officers on duty. For as pristine and beautiful as Neuron HQ is, the world outside those walls is on the brink of collapse thanks to endless attacks from otherworldly beings; keeping morale high is no easy feat.

Aside from learning early on that she’s secretly been rescuing cats around the city, the most endearing glimpses at Marie’s character don’t come into focus until relatively late in the game via several Public Affairs Records. It’s clearer here than ever that she thinks of everyone at Neuron as family, and that she takes the utmost pride in her work to support everyone from the sidelines. Just when the fight to protect the Ark seems futile, Marie’s there to remind you just how important your work really is. (Brent Middleton)

Morty Luigi's Mansion 3

Morty (Luigi’s Mansion 3)

Between the original Luigi’s Mansion to Luigi’s Mansion 3, the series went from slightly creepy to downright goofy. Both concepts work extremely well for Luigi’s Mansion and nothing highlights the hilarity that the series can bring more than Morty and his ghoulish Godzilla production.

All the ghosts have bags of personality but none are less threatening than our humble film producer Morty. Indeed, after helping him film his tragic Godzilla film, Morty just gifts Luigi the elevator button and glides on his merry way to produce his film. Naturally, as a keen ghostbuster, you’ll interrupt his hard work and suck him up regardless of his generosity; besides, it’s the easiest boss battle in the history of gaming, this ghoul struggles less than your standard Goob.

Whether the player decides to attack Morty or not, he remains the friendliest ghost in Luigi’s Mansion. His passion for film comes before any flyer on the walls reminding the ghosts to find Luigi. His reason to exist is his film and it made for some of the most wholesome gameplay in Luigi’s Mansion 3. (James Baker)

Shamir Fire Emblem Three Houses

Shamir (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)

In a world with this much drama, it can be amazingly refreshing to run across a character who simply takes everything in calm, measured stride. Life happens, and Shamir is Three Houses‘ level-headed voice of reason, even when she can’t be bothered to utter a single syllable. This mercenary comes from another land, and often seems like a world apart; no one has less at stake in the events that take place, yet no one is as mysteriously compelling as this mercenary archer.

Sure, a few hints are dropped about the tragic fate of a former lover, and an amusing fear of bugs (which she still manages to be cool about) adds nice cracks to her otherwise uniformly steely armor, but so much is left to the imagination. What kind of life has she led until now? Why the distant demeanor? How did she become so skilled? The most telling and entertaining elements of Shamir’s character are garnered through her terse replies (especially the silent ones) to more bombastic characters, which at least indicate who she is, if not how she became so. Interactions with Raphael and Caspar also depict a person of such confidence and fairness that it’s no wonder why she is (sometimes to her annoyance) sought out as the wise teacher.

Battle-tested and pragmatic, Shamir establishes herself as someone who lives in the real world, is utterly reliable, and is a very welcome safe haven for those who need an occasional break from Three Houses‘ soap opera. (Patrick Murphy)

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Games

From ‘dnd’ to ‘Death Stranding’: Good Old Fashioned Boss Fights

If Death Stranding proves anything, and it does, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned boss fight.

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Death Stranding Higgs Boss Fights

There’s nothing quite like a good boss fight. With the creation of dnd in 1975– a Dungeons & Dragons inspired RPG for the PLATO system– video games would be introduced to bosses. It’s hard to imagine the medium without bosses, those perpetual protectors of progress. For dnd, an incredibly primitive RPG, a boss allowed the game to feature these miniature climaxes — memorable events independent of the core gameplay loop. Bosses demand players pay attention or die, and beating one is a triumph in and of itself. Looking back, dnd’s concept of what a boss is amounts to little more than the average random battle, but video games could now build towards emotional highs like any other medium. 

A good boss can make or break a game, but they’re almost always a given. dnd essentially set an inherent basic of game design: video games have bosses. As the seventh generation of gaming ushered in more narrative driven and “cinematic” titles, however, boss design fundamentally changed. Where bosses had evolved from dnd to often serve as explicit rewards or a means to thoughtfully challenge a player’s grasp of the core mechanics, developers started to primarily embrace the “spectacle” of fighting a boss. 

Spectacle and boss fights naturally go hand in hand, though. After all, a boss is spectacle in nature. dnd’s spectacle is comparatively primitive, but it’s there and bosses do feel like events. Boss fights have always demanded our attention as an audience, isolating the world of a game into a singular objective. Some of the best bosses in gaming are almost pure spectacle: Baby Bowser in Yoshi’s Island, Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time, and Metal Gear REX in Metal Gear Solid. None of these bosses are particularly hard, but they make up for their lack of challenge with scale, scope, and gravitas. Spectacle. 

At the same time, they engage with the mechanics of the game even if they don’t outright challenge them. Of course, it would be disingenuous to go on without mentioning that all of these bosses appear near the end of their respective games. They’re easier and focus on spectacle as a means of rewarding the audience for coming so far. Anyone who’s played A Link to the Past in full will likely remember Moldorm as vividly as Ganon, but it’s the latter who fans will remember. Ganon is a spectacular duel to the death inside of a pyramid where the environment changes over the course of the fight. The former is just a good old fashioned boss fight. Who wants that?

As it turns out, a good chunk of AAA developers. BioWare director Casey Hudson infamously spoke out about boss fights after the release of Mass Effect 3, criticizing them for being “too video gamey.” While, contextually, Hudson’s comment refers to narratively convenient bosses specifically, it’s a sentiment that clearly rang true with developers throughout the late oughts & teens. This isn’t to say games with amazing bosses didn’t release over the course of the decade -– very far from it -– but boss design has changed, to the point where the Iggy Koopas and Revolver Ocelots of the world seem almost out of place. 

That’s just a consequence of consuming only AAA content, though. The indie scene has been thriving, and Japanese game development is the best it’s been in quite a while. In a generation where gaming is more mature and grounded than it’s ever been, the medium needed to end the decade with a reminder of video games in their purest form. Death Stranding is anything but, but its core philosophies play to the strengths of the medium with an evident passion. Death Stranding demands that audiences slow down and play by the game’s rules. 

In a generation where holding a player’s hand is the norm, this is a welcome breath of fresh air. It’s not only appropriately old-school, it’s a step back in the right direction. Like any facet of game design, bosses need to be thoughtfully considered. Being “too video gamey” can indeed be a bad thing depending on a titles tone, but swinging in the wrong direction and playing it too safe is never a good idea. Especially since Death Stranding proves mature, grounded AAA titles can absolutely still have the same over the top, pattern-based boss fights of yore — and comfortably, at that. 

“No BTs. No Voidouts. No bullshit. Just a good-old fashioned boss fight.”
– Higgs, Death Stranding (2019)

What’s interesting to note about Death Stranding’s boss fights is that they all play up the spectacle. Now, given the context that’s been established, that might seem like a step in the wrong direction, but any medium has to evolve with time. AAA developers haven’t historically used spectacle well, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Not every boss should be Ganon, but they should always be memorable. The problem with modern spectacle is that it doesn’t go beyond the surface level. It often carries little to no weight or context. Players are expected to care for the spectacle of the spectacle, but that’s simply not where the medium shines. Games are inherently about interconnectivity, and nothing demands more interconnection than a boss fight. 

From the moment players formally meet Higgs and he floods Port Knot City, it’s clear that Death Stranding’s boss fights are more Snake Eater than they are Peace Walker. They’re all incredibly meaty with tons of health, typical of a modern Hideo Kojima boss, but they’re not bullet sponges, and Sam’s limited inventory means that players will constantly be cycling through different weapons over the course of a fight. Couple this with bosses having identifiable patterns and Death Stranding’s boss loops end up being real highlights. 

As expected of a first boss, the Squid BT is on the simple side. At this point in the game, Sam really only has hematic grenades to fight back with. Anyone who hasn’t taken the time to learn how to use the grenades are now forced to do so as it becomes the only means of making progress. Since Higgs also ambushes Sam, players won’t be prepared for a fight on their first playthrough, forced to scavenge the flooded environment for gear. Most bosses strip Sam of his gear, but this approach only results in tense, well crafted battles that offer plenty of variety. Should Sam already have grenades on him, players can rush in to fight the Squid. Should they not, however, they’re going to have to search while staying alive. 

Starting with the next boss, the first fight against Cliff, Death Stranding begins allowing players to choose exactly how they approach a fight. Much like in Metal Gear, there’s no right or wrong way to tackle a boss. Where bosses in MGS2 onwards could be tackled lethally or non-lethally, Death Stranding’s bosses are more about action versus stealth. Both approaches are totally viable, and they lead into their own isolated boss loops. As Cliff Unger hunts Sam through World War I era trenches, players can stealth their way around him or just dive in guns blazing. 

It’s an incredibly tense battle, but it doesn’t let the spectacle of the situation outdo the actual fight. Cliff isn’t a set piece even if he looks it. He’s a genuine boss and players have to play well to beat him. Stealthing around to hit him from behind is safer, but it means players will be fighting Cliff for much longer, requiring more mental stamina. On the flip side, cutting to the chase and unloading the moment he rears his head will end the fight sooner, but only for players who know how to get in & out of combat fast. Otherwise, Cliff’s personal army will slaughter Sam. 

Cliff is fought twice more over the course of Death Stranding, and each encounter builds off the last. The World War I trenches provided plenty of cover for players regardless of which approach they chose, so naturally the second fight takes place in a World War II city. There’s still plenty of hiding spots, but Sam is now out in the open. Just as easily as Sam can see Cliff, so can he be seen. Getting to Cliff is harder in general. Stealthing towards him means taking advantage of any and all blind spots, no matter how brief. Starting a gunfight either requires some pre-established course of action or quick reflexes. 

Death Stranding

By the third and final fight, Sam is taking on Cliff in an open Vietnamese jungle. Stealthing through and fighting back are both harder, but players will have built up the proper skills over their past two fights to adequately stand a chance. The fights against Cliff are the most video gamey Death Stranding ever gets, with each one sharing the same definable patterns, but they’re ultimately a net positive for the game. Having to learn a pattern, finding a way to fight back, and reveling in the scope of a great boss fight makes Death Stranding better on a whole. 

Honestly, the final fight against Cliff isn’t going to be a challenge for most players, but it’ll still stand out as a highlight. Each boss fight is a playground in and of itself. If Sam’s not being transported to a secluded battlefield, areas will be flooded with tar so that they can be molded into proper boss arenas. Even Dark Souls, a modern series that rightfully prides itself on its bosses, often won’t give the same level of care toward boss arenas. Good bosses need good level design just as much as they need good patterns. 

Perhaps more important than anything else, Death Stranding’s boss fights are long. Even if players know what they’re doing, they still have to endure an endurance match of sorts. Boss fights aren’t just about overcoming a challenge, they’re about surviving and making progress. Cliff’s not particularly difficult, but one mistake can result in Sam getting torn into. The majority of BT boss fights will try to overwhelm the player in the second half, the final one even featuring a nasty one-hit-kill that can easily sneak up on players wading through tar. Bosses should feel like events, from how players can engage mechanically, to how they’re presented narratively. 

No discussion of Death Stranding’s good old fashioned boss fights would be complete without mentioning the boss fight: Higgs. After serving as the game’s main villain for dozens upon dozens of hours, Sam finally gets his chance to fight back in a three phase boss fight that could have (very) prematurely ended the game on a high. Unlike the fights against Cliff, Sam really does have nothinghere, no matter what. He’s stripped of his gear, his weapons, and even BB. “Stick versus rope. Gun versus strand.” It’s a great way not only to wrap up Higgs’ arc, but it also challenges a player’s mastery of the most basic mechanics. 

Death Stranding

Phase 1 of the fight requires players understand not only Sam’s hand to hand combat capabilities, but his ability to throw packages. Throw a package at Higgs, beat him up, rinse, repeat. All the while he’s hunting Sam in one of the most constricted boss arenas in the game. Popping up too early means taking a few shots courtesy of Higgs. Popping up too late means needing to find him all over again. 

Phase 2 puts Sam on the offensive, and expects players to fight back with his strand. Higgs needs to be countered, hog-tied, and then kicked into oblivion. On-screen button prompts make the ordeal easier than it would otherwise be, but it’s thrilling to fight a boss who requires players to pull off reflex-based inputs that go beyond the typical QTE flare. Players need to set themselves up accordingly to counter Higgs, actively taking him head on. 

By the time fighting game health bars pop up for the third phase, it’s fairly obvious Higgs’ boss fight is a love letter to the very concept of the boss fight. It’s over the top, almost nonsensical, but it has the right narrative and emotional context to stand out as one of the best moments in an already spectacular game. The fight against Higgs is a miniature climax in a massive story that spans half a hundred hours, and is about to keep on keeping on for half a dozen more. 

Death Stranding

When it really comes down to it, there’s no right or wrong way to conceive a boss fight. Those spectacle bosses have their place, and this generation has seen a lot of amazing ones. What’s important is that developers build and contextualize spectacle accordingly. Boss fights aren’t just an inherent part of gaming, they’re a tool that can make a title better. Opportunities to shine light on the core mechanics, or an interesting aspect of game design. Death Stranding’s penultimate mission essentially pits Sam against a boss gauntlet across the entire UCA, a last chance for players to really indulge in everything at their disposal before the grand finale. 

Death Stranding would still be good without its boss fights, but it certainly wouldn’t be great. Each one elevates the game, not only by presenting a visually memorable and mechanically engaging challenge, but by existing as natural consequences of the story. Each boss is contextualized properly with enough weight where each victory has a considerable amount of impact. Boss fights have come a long way since dnd, but they’re recognizable for what they are: a reminder that games are games, and the medium should be embracing those video gamey elements. It’s through this “video gameyness” that the most memorable titles are made. If Death Stranding proves anything, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned boss fight.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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