E3’s conferences have come and dazzled us with shiny new games, gameplay trailers, and a whole host of hopes and dreams on which to pin our little gamer hearts and budgets. While I try to figure out how I’m going to afford the first few months of 2019, it’s also a good time to keep in mind all of the things that make video games good. There are the obvious things — story, graphics, art, not making us wait a million years in loading scenes, and the ability to hop over a knee-high fence — and then there are the little things that set a game apart and take it from a good use of 60 bucks to Game of the Year material.
If there’s one constant in games, it’s that the art keeps getting prettier and prettier. Whether you’re going for photorealism or a Disney-esque art style (hi, Kingdom Hearts!), we spend a lot of time looking at video games and devs spend a lot of time giving us something good to look at. Whether you’re a sucker for stunning landscapes or like to laugh at the pretzel positions the bodies of your dead enemies land in, sometimes you just have to take a picture so you can remember your journey (or to share and amuse your friends). Photo mode can be simple (removing the HUD) or complicated. Horizon Zero Dawn photo mode not only stripped the HUD, it gave you the ability to change the time of day, move around the camera, remove Aloy or put her in silly poses, and even slap on borders and cheesy postcard greetings. Assassin’s Creed: Origins lets you turn a murder adventure into full-blown tourism.
New Game Plus, and Other Replayability Mechanics
Even if you’re a casual gamer, we all sink a fair amount of cash into games. Some of those games are silly, some are thrilling, and some hit us right in the feels. The good games, the really well-made ones, are experiences that sit with us for a long time and make us yearn to relive them. Of course, you can never really go home but with functions like new game plus, you can certainly try. Whether you’re the kind of person who likes to torture themselves with tragedy, explore every skill and dialogue tree, or go evil overlord instead of virtuous savior, replayability is a huge factor in video games. A good new game plus can add more challenges, higher difficulty, and can help you relive all those moments that made you fall in love in the first place.
Silly Side Quests
Not all games are scripted equally. Some are the height of absurdity, and some are super serious. Whether you’re playing Saint’s Row or Assassin’s Creed, every game needs a side quest that is the best kind of stupid to break up the tension. In The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt Geralt had to get hammered to attract a demon that only goes after drunk people. In Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Bayek rescues a lipstick-covered balding guy, who, totally drunk, fell prey to a scam (and almost got eaten by a pack of crocodiles). The mission in Skyrim that is effectively the plot of The Hangover is much beloved, as are half of the side quests in Borderlands 2. Side quests can be grindy, fetch quests are obnoxious, and escort missions make me want to play something else. But a quest that pays me to kill myself, or murder dwarves in a giant smashing machine in order to steal their beards (or any quest in which I get drunk and then have to do mechanics with drunk camera happening) is a thing of beauty.
Borderlands 2 has a shotgun that shoots swords. Dragon Age: Inquisition has the banana nailed to a stick. Dead Space 2 has a finger gun, and Gears of War 3 has the chicken-firing Cluckshot. Mr. Toots, the rainbow-farting unicorn from Red Faction: Armageddon, is hard to beat. Then there’s The Penetrator from Saints Row 3. Joke weapons might take you out of the seriousness of saving the universe from evil aliens, but by George, it does make for a good time.
Minigames Done Right
I loved Ni No Kuni 2. It’s a happy game, where instead of murdering one bad guy after another you save the day with the power of friendship and forgiveness.
And minigames. Lots of minigames.
For me, Ni No Kuni 2 is the perfect example of minigames done right — and minigames done wrong. The kingdom building stuff was great; the battle system that forced you to listen to Evan shouting the same three phases over and over was not. Good minigames, whether it’s a casino filled with chocobo racing or slot machines that occasionally spit out dynamite, give you a break from the adventuring, murdering, and saving the world. They give you a chance to come up for air, win an elite weapon, earn a trophy, and otherwise have a little fun. Bad minigames force you to learn complicated rules for a card game in order to move the plot forward.
Fast Travel, and Other Reductions in Time Waste
We spend a lot of time in games, and if you play Skyrim you spend a lot of time in load menus. As games get bigger, with more stuff to do and more land to traverse, anything that saves time is an essential mechanic. Fast travel is the most prominent of these time-saving mechanics, while other games give you things to do during your trek across the planet. Assassin’s Creed: Origins lets you scout out the upcoming territory with your bird friend, and Horizon Zero Dawn lets you gather mats while mounted. God of War tries to hide loading screens by having Kratos stroll around in circles getting lessons on Nordic mythology from your handy companion. If the internet is to be believed, we’re all getting a little more ADD. It’s nice to have a game give us something to twiddle away load times, even if it cuts into my Reddit time.
A good game has a story that’s engrossing. A great game delves so far into its own lore that it has us donning tinfoil hats and swearing that Dragon Age’s Flemeth is secretly Andraste. One of God of War’s greatest elements is how deep Mimir takes us into the lives of the gods. A person could spend a lifetime digging through the lore of The Elder Scrolls. Every replay unveils something new, and when you’re between games it gives you something to obsessively Google, or the ability to torture your friends with obscure Mario Bros trivia. Deep lore speaks to good world building, which speaks to immersive gameplay. It’s all about falling down a game’s rabbit hole so deep you never want to come back out.
DLC that Counts
When it comes to video games, there’s so much extra crap to spend your money on that sometimes it’s hard to decide between a season pass and a new Amiibo. There’s nothing quite as annoying as purchasing an add-on only to find out it’s stupid and shallow and a waste of money. Nobody wants to feel like they’re being milked for every dollar they have. An add-on, especially one that costs real money, should add something to the game: a new element of gameplay, more story, more character development. DLC that lets you bond with your team, like Mass Effect’s Citadel DLC, or brings a nice tidy end to the story, like Dragon Age’s Trespasser, or lets you check in on your favorite characters and make sure they’re doing okay after the big events of a game like Borderlands 2’s Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, is exactly what DLC should be.
The Ability to Destroy Your Friends
Co-op is fun, but sometimes the best time is defeating your friends so badly someone rage quits and swears they’ll never play Mario Kart ever again. You know your friends are good at games — after all, you’ve teamed up for some wholesome player killing in everything from Overwatch to Fortnite’s Battle Royale. But there’s something very sweet about proving you are better than the people you play with the most. Besides, a friendship that can’t survive Mario Party is no friendship at all.
I’m a girl. I like to dress my characters in pink. I also like shotguns and grenades. If I can put my character in a pink outfit, preferably with a unicorn of some sort, while lobbing hand grenades at mobs and running in Leeroy Jenkins style so I can shotgun people in the face, I’m happy. This paragraph might be a complete explanation of why Borderlands 2 is one of my favorite games, but it’s also a good example of why customization is important. Skill trees that play to my strengths, dialogue trees that allow me to make snappy comebacks, renegade interrupts that let me headbutt jerks, outfit choices, weapon types, dodging vs blocking, a character creator that takes hours to get right, these things all let you play games the way you want, in a way that makes you happy.
And that’s what it’s all about, right? Spending your time and your money on the things that make you happy. Playing games that make you laugh, or scream, or wish you could erase your memory of it entirely so you can do the whole thing over again. That’s a great game.
Images Courtesy of Guerrilla Games, Bioware, and Bethesda
Overwatch in a nutshell
How do I talk about a game that should have been dead about a year ago, but is still going strong? If you didn’t get that, the game I am talking about is Overwatch. A game that is strictly online, which means no story mode to find out the lore behind this game. If you want to learn about the lore, then join the line buddy. Players have to wait months til another origin short comes out about their favorite hero, which makes sense if you want to keep an online game alive. Recently a new “hero” has been announced called Ashe, and we got a bunch of clues about who she is from a McCree short.
Even though Overwatch came out in 2016, they are still releasing new heroes. According to a video by Your Overwatch, there are 5 new heroes coming out within the next couple of months. Once a new hero comes out, there is a good week or so before they are available to play. That means you have little time to master this new hero before they are out in comp. If you didn’t notice the error in my previous sentence then I will repeat it: a hero that is made to counter certain heroes. Do I believe this statement? Of course not, because Overwatch is about skill and luck at the same time. You need enough skill to be able to counter your counters with any hero, but you also need luck in order to group with a team that also has enough skill to carry its own weight.
The lowest ELO I have gone down to is bronze in Overwatch competitive and that is the lowest you can go. I had the worst luck in getting grouped with players that didn’t use mics. Now using mics doesn’t automatically guarantee a win, but it increases the chances. It is better to try and formulate a plan to win against your enemy, than to try and blindly attempt to understand your teammates actions. So, if you do decide to play competitive mode, then please try to talk to your teammates.
So, when do you believe that people will stop playing Overwatch? In my opinion, I believe the game is already dying, but you have players like me that come back to the game after months of quitting, just to see if it became a little less toxic. I quit because I was tired of the toxic players that kept throwing games and leaving so that you were missing a teammate. Something that Overwatch needs to work on the most is leavers. If you never played this game, then you wouldn’t see the problem with someone leaving, because you would get a new teammate right away. No, that would be common sense and common sense doesn’t work in Overwatch.
If they leave in the first 30 seconds to a minute, then the game is cancelled and no one loses anything, but any later than that then you have to hope that the player comes back. Leavers don’t make sense, because they still receive a loss from leaving, but there is the rare exception where someone just disconnects. If they do, then they have a chance to come back and help out the team. That is the only way you get the blank spot in your team filled.
The game will die when they finish releasing heroes and when we get the origin and shorts for every hero in the game. Then again, they are releasing new heroes every few months, so that day won’t be anytime soon. Blizzard makes money from the ever-growing Overwatch league and from the new players that joined because of sales and new heroes. I only bought the game because some friends wanted to play with me. The sad thing is, that I haven’t played with them since I bought the game because we have different play styles. I am a support main and I can’t play with someone that charges into a battle and doesn’t expect to protect the healer that is keeping them alive.
Should you buy?
So, what is my take on this game? I actually hate it more than anything else, and I wouldn’t exactly recommend it to others. It is a fun game to play with friends, but once you start playing with randoms, that is when the stress happens. I am not in a high ELO and I will take a quick break until next placements just so I can get my third gold weapon. The main reason we play comp is to say we have a high standing and to also say that we have a gold weapon for this hero, so praise us.
So, buy a mic, don’t get too stressed and remember unless you are on PC—you aren’t going to find yourself in the Overwatch league.
Hopefully you enjoyed this review. Comment to let me know what game you want me to review next, and I’ll see if I can play it!
Image courtesy of Blizzard
Let’s Unpack This: Star Realms: Frontier Unboxing
Also, say hello to our new video wing of the Fandomentals over on YouTube, Fanfinity!
In this video, I’m taking a look at White Wizard’s newest addition to their Star Realms series of deckbuilding games, out now at your local game shop.
Image courtesy of White Wizard
Tabletop Terror: The Fandomentals Guide To Halloween Gaming
The spooky times are upon us folks. In just a couple days the spirits of the night will take hold, and the world will descend yet again into the darkness and horror that is All Hallow’s Eve. And for most of us, that means Halloween Parties. Maybe you’re hosting one, or maybe you’re just attending one. It’s always good to have board games ready for a party, to bring people together and have some fun that doesn’t require cramming around a screen. But how do you please everyone at your party? If one guest only likes fun and campy spooks, while another is in to Halloween for the guts and gore, you may find yourself struggling to select games to bring to the dinner table this year. But fear not! Games writers Cat and Dan have teamed up to bring you a curated list of games, each selected especially for some of the most troublesome ghoulies who might haunt your Halloween fête.
Best Game To Play With Your High Goth Friend
They’re the first to arrive and the last to leave. This is their time of year, and they have gone all out. White face paint, black clothes, a frilly shirt. This is standard for them year round, but there’s something different about them come Halloween. There’s a spring in their step, a twirl to their parasol, and a twinkle in their eyeliner. They will accept only the darkest and most dramatic activities this Halloween.
Our Recommendation: Fury of Dracula
Fury of Dracula has been a classic staple of horror gaming since it debuted in 1987. The 2006 reboot, and its 2015 revision, have done nothing but increase its popularity. Based on, what else, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the game places players right into the gothic world of Victorian Europe. One player takes on the role of the infamous Count, and the other becomes one of his hunters: Jonathan Harker, Lord Godalming, Dr. John Seward, and Mina Harker.
The game is largely one of deduction, with the hunters using clues and signs to follow Count Dracula as a he carves a bloody swath through the continent. You gather items, defeat the minions of Dracula, and contend with the Count himself as he misleads, obfuscates, and lies as only he can to throw you off the scent. The game ends when Drac or the hunters bite it, he completes his dark mastery of Europe, spreads his vampiric curse, and survives. Winning requires smarts, cunning, and a flare for the dramatic even Dracula could appreciate. In the novel, Dracula was killed and the world freed from his dark presence. Will the same happen to you?
Best Game To Play With Your “Psychic” Friend
They “knew” you were going to have a party, after you made the Facebook event, and they “knew” you needed more napkins, even though you had plenty and would have preferred they bring more snacks. They keep you updated on your horoscope, carry a tarot deck in a belt holster, and will almost certainly get very drunk and predict someone’s doom tonight. You should make sure the game you pick ensures that the doomed person won’t be you.
Our Recommendation: Mysterium
Our choice of Mysterium should be no surprise to board game fans, as the game of guessing and ghosts is already considered a classic by many despite its youth. One player in this game plays as the ghost of a murdered servant and the rest are mediums summoned to their master’s house to find out who did the deed. Think of it as a cooperative Clue, with someone playing as Mr. Boddy. The ghost, who is otherwise silent, hands out clues to the mediums to help them guess who the killer was and where and how they did it. If they can figure it out, and agree on their choice, in time, then the ghost will be set free to enjoy his eternal rest. If they can’t? They’re doomed to roam the halls forevermore.
Best Game To Play With The Scooby-Doo Fan
They may not be as into the guts and gore as other people, and they may have a thing for the campier side of horror, but this guest is one of the most enthusiastic year in and year out. They make great sandwiches, kick butt at charades, and rock a mean ascot. As well, they’ve probably got the best costume at the party (though your goth friend will fight them over it). They’ll want a game that isn’t too spooky, one that captures all the fun and silliness they love about the holiday.
Our Recommendation: Betrayal At House On The Hill
You can’t beat Betrayal for sheer classic Halloween flavor. Taking the roles of stock horror film characters like “The Professor” or “The Little Girl,” players enter a creepy old mansion that you don’t know the layout of until you begin to explore it. All sorts of strange things can happen as the house grows, from ballrooms in the basement to a balcony-adjacent kitchen. Players gather items, deal with mystical events, or are visited by dark omens that presage the dark presence in this house. When enough omens are drawn, or the players are highly unlucky, the game shifts and becomes a new challenge as they race to defeat a new and powerful enemy.
This “Haunt” changes based on where the Haunt was triggered and by what omen, and you will almost never get the same one twice. They range from a mass shrinking to an outbreak of werewolves to a full on demonic summoning, and often require a player to turn traitor and kill, transform, or delay their former friends as they try to escape. It’s a great game with infinite replay-ability and is just cartoony enough to keep it from truly scaring anybody. The 2016 Widow’s Walk expansion adds to the potential with all sorts of new monsters, haunts, and rooms for you to explore.
Best Game To Play With Your Gamemaster
They’re still miffed they had to move your session this week for the party, but they’ll get over it when they find the snack table (a DM’s one weakness). You’ll have to deal with them turning their nose up at games that allow for “structured” play, or stories that are “already written.” How do you please the lover of RPG’s when you only have one night to play?
Our Recommendation: Vampire The Masquerade 5e
It’s difficult to pull off pen-and-paper in a one time setting, but we at the Fandomentals are firm believers in the power of one-shots to capture all the fun of a good tabletop session without the long term commitment. And one of the best games for that, on Halloween or in general, is White Wolf’s newest edition of their classic Vampire the Masquerade. As Cat covered in her review, the new edition goes along way to update the game and improve its accessibility for a new generation. At its core a heavily story and character-driven game, Vampire doesn’t require quite as much minute number crunching other games do. It also fits quite well with Halloween, allowing you to craft a dramatic tale of horror and tragedy around one of the most classic monsters of all time. The only real question is, which clan are you going to be?
Vampire the Masquerade: 5th Ed. is available at most local game shops, from World of Darkness, and on Amazon, where the physical book retails for $42.95. And keep an eye out, as the Camarilla and Chicago by Night books will be releasing soon to supplement your vampiric experience.
Best Game To Play With The Bookworm
They showed up dressed as someone from the 19th century, and are offended when nobody gets it. It’s not their fault nobody’s read the marginalia of Poe. They can tell you which books every horror movie is ripping off of, and they hold a grudging respect for Stephen King (even if, they say, he hasn’t been good since he wrote IT). They want a game that scratches their love of literature, while keeping things as bone chillingly spooky as their favorite dark novels.
Our Recommendation: Masque of The Red Death
One of our favorite games coming out of GenCon this year, Masque is a truly unique experience in the board game world. The game is a mix of strategy, deduction, and planning as you attend the famous ball given by Prince Prospero at the locked Abbey. Just as in the story, which is helpfully printed in the rules, players must gain favor with the Duke even as the plague known as the Red Death ravages the countryside. Fritter your time away with idle gossip and petty insults while secretly plotting your own survival. When the ebony clock strikes midnight, your only hope for survival is your ability to remember. It’s got beautiful art from Gris Grimley that makes even the box look like a Halloween decoration, and the gloomily colorful board and Ebony Clock standee make a bold statement at any party. Hopefully yours ends up better than Prospero’s did…
Best Game To Play With The Horror Film Snob
They’ve already gotten into three arguments with the Bookworm over the IT adaptations, and they brought a stack of beat up VHS’s in lieu of the bean dip you asked for. You don’t even OWN a VHS player. Nobody has heard of any of the movie’s they’ve brought, and you’re scared that one of them may end up being a snuff film. Any film you suggest is derided as pedestrian, cliched, and, worst of all, not scary. So how do you make them happy at the tabletop?
Our Recommendation: YOU Are The Maniac!
He’ll already be itching to play this based on the box, a beautifully designed thing built to look and feel exactly like the old VHS’s so many classic slasher flicks came in. It even has the wear and tear that signifies that yes, this is an original. But inside is not B-grade scares and badly done makeup. Instead, YOU Are The Maniac contains a well paced strategy card game that allows players to step into the shoes of their favorite slasher villains. Played across three “films,” you compete to rack up the highest kill count among all the slashers in the game. Chasing down victims, acting out scenes with the Maniac deck, handling the various plot twists, and killing the Final Girl at the end of the movie; it’s all in a days work for the killers in this game. It’s fun and darkly hilarious, working well as a fast-paced party game you could even play while watching one of the movies that inspired it!
YOU Are The Maniac! is published by Counter Culture Cards and can be purchased on their website for $24.95
Best Game To Play With The History Geek
They know the complete history of Halloween and will happily spend all night telling you exactly why and how candy corn came to be. They’ve been to Salem dozens of times, and complains that the rituals in Hocus Pocus aren’t historical accurate. They obsessively find old newspaper clippings from one hundred years ago to send you. They want a game that’s fun, scary, and has well sourced historical backing, dang it!
Our Recommendation: Salem 1692
Salem:1692 is a fantastic replacement or addition to your rotation of deduction games that you’ve been playing for years. Unlike standbys like One Night Ultimate Werewolf or Are You A Werewolf, Salem grounds itself in the real Salem Witch Trials while maintaining all the suspicion and plotting we love. As Dan said in his review, Salem is a well researched and fun game that is visually stunning to boot, and you can read more about it in the previously linked review. Your history snob friend will never expect you to pull the next game straight out of the bookshelf!
Best Game To Play With That Guy Who Takes RISK Way Too Seriously
There’s a good chance this person is also your Gamemaster, and they’re certainly in your group, but they aren’t in it for the roleplay. No, this guest wants to prove that they are so much smarter than anyone else at the table. They have probably seen Patton too many times, and an entire wall of their apartment is covered in maps. But there isn’t really anything scary about Risk or Stratego (except for their length), so how do you make the tabletop general happy?
Our Recommendation: Eschaton
While the dark fantasy setting of Eschaton doesn’t at first seem to have the trappings of Halloween, the eldritch plot and beautifully grotesque art make it fit right in with its more seasonal friends. Taking on the role of a cult leader in a world on the brink of Apocalypse, players must battle for territory and the favor of the Dark One as they recruit men and monsters into their unholy ranks. Only one cult can walk at the side of the Dark One when the Eschaton comes, will it be you?
Best Game To Play With Your Hungry Friend
This guest will not leave the snack table, and always fills a plate when the party moves away from it for any reason. They’ll probably suggest a Taco Bell run sometime around midnight. Yet they always seem hungry, famished even. Are they looking at your skull? Why do they keep trying to steal your hat? Why are they moaning like that? Wait, where’d the bookworm go? Do you smell blood?
Our Recommendation: Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game
There are A LOT of zombie games out there, and it was really hard to narrow it down. But there’s only one game that captures the full experience of the living dead, and that’s Flying Frog’s Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game. I mean c’mon, it’s in the title! Now celebrating ten years in the gaming world, Last Night on Earth is as much an ode to Romero and his ilk as YOU Are The Maniac is to Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter.
Playing as zombie movie cliches like high school kids, scientists, teachers, and more, most players must navigate the dangers of a zombie apocalypse. One or two players, however, get to play as the brain-hungry zombies. Each playable scenario is different, whether you’re rescuing a fallen friend, trying to escape, or just trying to “not die,” it’s easily re-playable. And with ten years under its belt, its had a lot of time to come out with expansions and supplements (22 as of this writing), including a spin-off Timber Peak and a spin on the cliche alien movie with Invasion from Outer Space: The Martian Game. Load the shotgun, keep your cool, and always remember to double-tap.
Best Game To Play With The Pescetarian
This guest really likes fish. They haven’t just cut meat out of their diet, they’ve cut nearly everything that else isn’t aquatic from their diet as well. You can’t get over the strange and salty smell that comes off of them, though, or how cold and clammy their hands always are. Sometimes you catch them mumbling to themselves in a strange language they keep insisting is just Polish. They’re quiet and a little odd, but they make great sashimi, so it’d be a shame not to have a game that caters to their unique self.
Our Recommendation: Pandemic: Reign of Cthulu
A spin-off of the popular Pandemic series of worldwide disease simulator games, Reign of Cthulu replaces the science and medicine with chaos and madness. Players take on the role of a 1920’s investigator working to stop the return of the Old Ones from their cosmic prison. They must defeat monsters, gather items, and seal the portals before the most ancient of evils can bring doom to the world. It’s a mix of strategy and teamwork as you and your fellow investigators move through classic towns like Innsmouth and Dunwich in search of an end to the evil. But beware, there are things man was not meant to see, and one’s mind does have a tendency to get lost in the darkness.
Pandemic: Reign of Cthulu is published by Z-Man games and can be bought from their website for $49.99, as well as most retailers.
There you have it! Ten games we guarantee to spook and surprise, entertain, and ennervate in equal measure. Now all that’s left for you to do is finish your costume…but wait…is someone early? Better get the door, that growling sounds awfully impatient.
What games do you like to play for Halloween? Did we leave any off that we shouldn’t have? Sound off below!