I’ll be doing a periodic roundup of game-related subjects to keep you abreast of developments and trends (and I’ll throw in a few other things that amuse and intrigue me).
This week, we’ll look at games I’m enjoying, big games I haven’t had a chance to play but are creating some buzz, and games I’m looking forward to.
Here’s what’s noteworthy:
Games I’m enjoying
NieR Automata (PS4)
NieR Automata is a fast-paced action adventure game. You play as an android who’s part of an elite fighting force trying to take back Earth for humanity.
Long ago, Earth was invaded by aliens using an army of robots and those robots still inhabit the planet.
I’m not very far in, maybe nine hours or so, but there’s been no sign of humans or aliens. It’s a world occupied only by robots and androids, although eerily human androids. They’re capable of emotion but aren’t allowed to display it. They appear to have developed friendships and bonds.
Without getting into spoilers, the enemy robots also display strange and unexpected characteristics. They’ve lived on Earth for so long that some of them have begun to form symbiotic relationships with the ecology. A robotic fish initially designed to kill off the natural fish life and disrupt the ecosystem has begun to work with those same fish, helping them to thrive.
The action is fun and flashy, and offers you a few weapons choices, each offering a different style of play. There are lots of customization options allowing you to outfit 2B (the designation of your android) in a variety of ways.
The game delves into what it means to be human and the line between humanity and android/robot. Although this isn’t the first story to explore these themes, it’s one of the most engaging I’ve experienced.
Usually I’ll cover eight weeks in a roundup, but since this is the first, I’ll look at a few games that have come out since the beginning of the year. Since I generally review smaller indie games, here I’ll cover some big-name games and the general impressions they’ve made. Here are three noteworthy games:
Horizon Zero Dawn
Anyone up for another game in which robots have taken over the planet?
In fact, Horizon is very different from NieR. The robots you encounter aren’t humanoid but animals/dinosaurs. Humanity has been reduced to smaller tribal groups and your weaponry is bows, spears and other things of that nature.
The game has a big open world with lots to explore. The combat encourages you to think and plan your attack; charging headlong against these mechanical beasts is often a death sentence. You approach each foe as a hunter stalking its prey and patience is rewarded.
The mystery of how the world came to be like this pulls you through an intriguing plot and, by all accounts, offers a satisfying payoff.
It’s one of the year’s most highly-regarded games, receiving many positive reviews. I’d very much like to get my hands on Horizon Zero Dawn soon.
Mass Effect Andromeda
Andromeda is the followup to the original Mass Effect trilogy. The trilogy is a grand space opera with all sorts of worlds to explore and mysterious, sometimes bizarre alien creatures to encounter.
Mass Effect Andromeda takes place 600 years after the original series but for all that time, it’s much the same.
Six hundred years ago, you were sent to the Andromeda galaxy (the nearest to our own) in a type of cryo sleep. So even though it takes place far in the future, the technology is very much the same. This was a bit of letdown. The big time jump seemed like an opportunity for the developers to come up with wild advancements. It’s a little disappointing to see that it all looks much the same.
Compared to the bustling, full worlds and thriving peoples of the first three games, Andromeda seems a little empty. By most reports, the narrative is a fairly rote. It does boast what is reportedly the best combat in the series, and while these games have never been known for particularly impressive fights, it still looks pretty great.
Unfortunately, Andromeda is marred by some fairly horrendous technical issues (depending on which version you play, PS4, PC, Xbox), some of which make it unplayable.
This, along with a comparatively lifeless world, marginal writing and line delivery and so-so story, have garnered it a less than overwhelming reception.
Some people will like this game a whole lot but I think I’ll give it a pass.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The new Zelda appears to be the standout of the year so far. It’s the most open game of the much-loved series, allowing you to go pretty much anywhere right off the bat. And the challenges you face in any location will tell you if you’re ready.
A few brave souls can venture to these dangerous spots and, with the right ingenuity, make it through – or at least earn a peek. Breath of the Wild shines by rewarding player ingenuity.
The world is large and full of hidden places to discover.
A lot of people are calling it one of the best games they’ve ever played. Perhaps the most compelling thing I’ve heard is that Breath of the Wild can give the player a sense of wonder they haven’t experienced since the games of their childhood.
The fact that Breath of the Wild has been able to spark this kind of childlike emotional response in grown men and women says it’s more than worth the price of admission.
Games I’m looking forward to
Eitr is based on Norse mythology and tells the story of the Shield Maiden. The artists take stunning advantage of the pixel art aesthetic and their world is presented in an isometric view.
It’s a dark, grim world and your foes are nightmarish.
The combat is punishing yet rewarding, a combination that has become almost a genre of its own since this style’s resurgence, largely thanks to the Souls series.
It looks like you can equip a number of weapons and enhancements to suit your play style.
You also can lose any of the rewards you’ve earned when you die, which raises the stakes, encouraging you to take your time and think strategically.
The game is due for release sometime in 2017, although no specifics have been given. Whenever it shows up, I’ll be eager to get my hands on it.
Sam Stewart, an actor, has a diploma in theatre studies and a degree film studies. He also works in the tech industry and loves to indulge his lifelong passion for video games, from the classics to new releases. He tries to look at video games from a broad perspective: as a gamer, but also as someone who wants to know what a game is telling its audience, how it’s advancing the genre and industry, and how it challenges the player.