Archives for category: Editorial


Back before Destiny launched – about three years ago now – I wrote an excitable, detailed piece about the PS4 alpha test. Clearly I was onboard. But if you were to search my blog for more on Bungie’s shared world shooter, you’d turn up a single extra article since launch – an unboxing of the game’s limited edition.

So what happened? Did I hate the game? Did I abandon it altogether? No. I played Destiny for a while, and for a while I loved it. Then I reached the end of the story, and I fell out of love.

My issues with vanilla Destiny are manifold, and I’ll get into them later (indeed, some of them still persist, to varying degrees). But as the release of Destiny 2 looms ever nearer, I find myself getting drawn back to the game I so desperately wanted to love. And so, over the last few weeks, I’ve been revisiting it, now as different an experience as it is similar, to see if I really want to buy in to the sequel.

I’m probably going to get Destiny 2.

To be clear, this isn’t the first time I’ve returned. After walking away from the original game shortly after reaching level 20, and having killed a weird, pulsating cosmic heart that no one cared to even begin to explain, the excitement around the following year’s The Taken King piqued my interest. “It’s got a story now!” people would tell me, adding “there’s a lot more for solo players to do,” and “levelling is much better explained this time!”

They weren’t wrong, to be fair. I swallowed a mouthful of bile at having to re-buy Destiny and its first two expansions to play The Taken King and again, I had a lot of fun with it. And what do you know, it did have a story! A fairly decent one too, even if it still could have done with a touch more explanation (pipe down, Stranger).

Eventually though, I stopped playing again, and it’s at this point I should probably detail what my issues with Destiny were (are?). To begin with, it’s probably worth pointing out why I was so excited for the game; as a huge Halo campaign fan, I’m used to being a bit of a lore nerd, scrounging around for clues about the mysteries of the universe, be they from snippets of obscure dialogue, hidden terminals or even extended universe novels, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into Bungie’s next big mythic sci-fi setting. What I got was… well, a mess, quite frankly, with a campaign that almost gloried in paper thin characters sending you on inexplicable missions packed with vague objectives against inscrutable enemies. True, the Grimoire card system hinted at a deep, interesting pool of lore beyond the surface, and it’s worth pointing out that some stories are told in those cards that probably wouldn’t work in-game, but the campaign itself exposed virtually none of that storytelling to players, instead choosing to offer up a disjointed, unsatisfying attempt at a narrative that had quite clearly been chopped up and sewn back together wrong sometime prior to release – something that Kotaku’s Jason Schreier later confirmed. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but it genuinely saddened me that Destiny‘s story was such a shambles, and I don’t think it’d be unfair to call it a disaster.

Oryx: not a looker.

As mentioned, 2015’s big expansion The Taken King did much to fix that state of affairs, offering a simpler yet more engaging tale told by actual characters, rather than cardboard cut-outs. It also introduced the Books of Sorrow, which remains the best storytelling in the entire saga (even if, again, we see very little of its intriguing detail in the game itself).

Another big reason for my interest in Destiny was my love of roleplaying games as a genre. A Halo RPG, you say? Sounds like my dream game, sign me up! Unfortunately, another of Destiny‘s missteps was the arcane levelling system after you hit the soft level cap of 20, whereupon any further XP earned would be converted into Motes of Light which you then… You know what, I can’t even remember. I barely engaged with it. I briefly tried to wrap my head around it, and then walked away, rather than grind my face against the backside of RNGesus. Thankfully, The Taken King changed things so that every piece of armour you wear and weapon you wield adds to your overall Light level. Equip a better piece of gear and your Light will go up. Simple! Quite why it had to be so mind-bending in the base game, I don’t know. Still, even with these changes in place, I once more walked away from the game partway through The Taken King, just as I had with vanilla, because my main issue with the game still persisted. And honestly, it’s a complaint that isn’t even fair to level at the game.

Each time, what made me walk away from Destiny is the fact that you can only get so far as a solo player. After a while, you need to group up with others if you want to actually progress further and see everything the game has to offer.

Well d’uh, you’re probably saying, and yes, I know – like I said, it’s not really a fair criticism of the game, given that’s its fundamental nature. It’s just that it doesn’t really work for me, as a typically solitary player that happens to jump into a game whenever I have the time; it’s difficult to schedule a raid when you don’t know if you’re going to be free (or if you can even be arsed when the time slot rolls around). I also don’t really want my gaming time to feel like a commitment, like I have to do something, rather than want to, because that way resentment lies.

Yet even with all that said, Destiny has always been in the back of my mind, and I’ve long thought that I’d like to go back to it and see what the end-game is all about. It’d take a bit of effort on my part (and I had once made the effort to get in on a run through the Vault of Glass, the raid that shipped with the base game), but with Destiny 2 on the horizon, and the thought that I’d quite like to get in on the ground level with the new instalment, I managed to ingratiate myself with a group of friendly players and go raiding. And it’s been great! Having recently run through both Crota’s End and King’s Fall, I can finally see what all the fuss is about. Destiny‘s raids really are the game at its very best, and that’s even more evident when you have a good, patient, friendly group to talk you through the often opaque, dense mechanics. I’ve never had a group to play the game with before, which has always made it very easy to walk away from, and it’s really thanks to the guys over at Town Called Malice that I was even able to experience them. It’s also pretty much down to them that I’m almost certain to buy Destiny 2 now, whereas before I was just sort of interested. ONE OF US. Or, them, I guess.

Destiny has always offered some incredible vistas. Sorry this one’s a bit rubbish.

I’m not sure how well I’ll adapt to scheduling playtimes and such, as it’s probably going to take some kind of rewiring of my brain to get properly into Destiny full-time, but I definitely want to get deeper into it this time out. And as much as I’m fully on-board the hype train now (or, well, I at least have a ticket), there are some things that have given me pause lately. Last month, it emerged that Destiny 2 was doing away with the Grimoire system, with Bungie’s Steve Cotton telling Forbes, “we want to put the lore in the game. We want people to be able to find the lore.” On the face of it, this is a really good change; the Grimoire has long been a complaint for a couple of reasons, mainly that it keeps the lore outside of the game, and having more story exposed to players while they’re in-universe is very obviously a good thing. But as I noted above, the Grimoire also plays host to some excellent story content that simply couldn’t be done in the game – unless it was loaded with lengthy cutscenes and flashbacks, which people would also complain about. As a counterpoint to this, how fucking cool would it have been to discover bits of the Books of Sorrow in a mission on the Dreadnaught, where you slowly pieced together the history of the Hive and discovered the means to defeat Oryx? If this kind of storytelling is what Bungie is going for, then consider me all in. But if all the stuff that doesn’t play an active role in the current story, yet manages to provide flavour and context to the universe is gone? Well, that’s probably not great.

More worrying are the recent pieces of news taken from a couple of interviews with Design Director Luke Smith, where he suggests that seemingly important pieces of the Destiny puzzle may not make a return. First, responding to a question from PC Gamer about whether we’d see the mystery of the Exo Stranger cleared up in Destiny 2, Smith explained that “we have a bunch of characters who are interesting, but the Exo Stranger is one that always makes me chuckle a little bit. Because I feel that’s one character where we actually wrapped up the arc. She gave you a sweet gun and then dissolved, presumably off to do something else. So I feel like, of all of our characters we’ve introduced and exited, we actually exited her effectively.”

For those not familiar with the character, the Stranger was a female Exo that effectively led you by the nose through the original game’s campaign, directing you as much as, if not more than, any other character in the story. She never explained herself, her goal, or her reasons for aiding you, and was often heard talking to some unknown ally before abruptly disappearing. At the end of the game, she offered you her rifle, which is seemingly made of parts that shouldn’t yet exist, before telling the player, “all ends are beginnings. Our fight is far from over.” So to consider her story over is odd at best, and to think her arc was ended “effectively” is absolutely ridiculous. Imagine if Cortana just didn’t turn up in Halo 2! I suspect (hope?) that, given the character’s popularity and potential for future storytelling, that she will eventually wind her way back into a future game or expansion, but given Smith’s statement that her arc is done, I won’t hold my breath until I see it for myself.

I don’t even have time to explain why her story wasn’t “effectively” wrapped up.

A couple of days after the PC Gamer interview, Smith appeared on Kotaku’s podcast, where it was confirmed that The Darkness, the formless, ancient evil of the Destiny universe, would not be appearing in Destiny 2. This makes sense, as the Cabal are the main focal antagonist of the new game, and they aren’t really allied with the Darkness, certainly not in the way other races such as the Hive or Vex are. What was a bit worrying about this was Smith’s reaction to Jason Schreier’s question of whether the omission was because nobody actually knew what the Darkness was: “So, I think that at a point, just totally candidly? We had no idea what it was. Straight up. We had no clue.”

Hmm. Let’s go back to the earlier Kotaku story, which revealed that Destiny underwent massive rewrites a year out from release. We know that Joe Staten and his team of writers spent years building the narrative foundation of Destiny, and we know that the studio leadership didn’t like how it all hung together. Even if the Darkness wasn’t formally laid out, I find it difficult to believe that there weren’t at least deep hooks written into everything else that strongly suggested where the overarching tale was headed; 343 industries’ Frank O’Connor, himself a Bungie alum, has previously stated that much of the current direction of the Halo series arose from discussions at Bungie around what a potential continuation would be, as an example.

With Staten now back at Microsoft, I wonder how much of the comments surrounding the Stranger and the Darkness are about the current writing team wanting to throw out the last vestiges of the original outline, in an effort to more thoroughly put their stamp on Destiny. Smith’s elaboration perhaps supports this: “We didn’t know what it was, and we, for a period, we chose [that] we’re going to lump all the races [in together], and you see this in the tooltips in the game — ‘minions of the darkness.’ And we had taken all the races and said, ‘Ah, they’ll just be The Darkness.’ But that’s not what the IP deserves.”

That’s not what the IP deserves. That, to me, says the Darkness will return, but only when they’ve decided what the current team want their Darkness to be. I won’t say that’s necessarily a bad thing – it may even free them up to tell better stories – but I have to admit to some level of disappointment that we’ll likely never know how the universe of Destiny was originally meant to unfold. After the good work done on The Taken King, however, in both storytelling and gameplay terms, I’m certainly willing to give Smith and his team the benefit of the doubt, even if he does have a bit of a habit of inserting his foot firmly into his mouth and somehow managing to leave a bad taste for everyone.

With Sony’s upgraded Playstation 4 ‘Neo’ all but announced, talk has since turned to what Microsoft plan to do to combat an even more powerful rival console. After all, Phil Spencer was the first to bring up the potential of upgrading gaming hardware in the middle of a generation when, speaking at a Microsoft press event in March, he said, “You’ll actually see us come out with new hardware capability during a generation allowing the same games to run backward and forward compatible…”

As such, it was something of a surprise when rumours of PS4 Neo broke and there was not a murmur of anything similar coming from Microsoft. Well, now we have much more than murmurings, with multiple independent publications reporting that their sources have informed them of a couple of new hardware developments from the Xbox team. There’s of course news of a slim Xbox One, but far more interesting are the rumours of an upgraded console, codenamed Scorpio.

According to Polygon, Scorpio is planned to be a 6 teraflop beast of a machine, more than four times the performance of the current Xbox One (which is held to be around 1.3TF), and a decent chunk more powerful than the rumoured Neo, which apparently clocks in at a bit over 4TF. Kotaku note that they’ve also heard the machine would be in the 5-6TF region, so it seems like Scorpio will be a very capable machine. Like Neo, Scorpio is expected to be both backward- and forward-compatible, with all existing Xbox One games capable of running on the new hardware, and while it is now expected to be announced very soon – E3 is just around the corner, after all – it’s not expected to hit store shelves until later next year.

Polygon state that power is a primary concern for Microsoft this time out, as they look to end the ‘weaker console’ narrative, while Kotaku has heard that the company are looking into a deeper partnership with Oculus; the Facebook-owned HMD currently comes supplied with an Xbox One controller in the box and allows console owners to play their Xbox One games in a virtual theatre setting, but with the additional power available to Scorpio, could Microsoft be about to bring Oculus Rift to console? With Sony looking to push PlayStation VR this year, they’ll certainly need something to combat that.

While it may seem an odd decision to announce a new machine a year or more before it becomes available, with Neo apparently on track to launch this year Microsoft will likely feel they need something to combat the impression that the Xbox is slipping even further behind – Polygon reports that they were blindsided with the more recent reports of a 2016 release for Neo, as they had expected to be going head-to-head with Sony’s new machine next year. Of course, an early announcement has the potential to completely stall sales of their current console, but Microsoft may see this as a risk worth taking if it keeps them in the conversation – they aren’t likely to be happy with Sony walking away with all the headlines while they just keep on trucking with a far weaker console.

On the flipside, Microsoft may find it worthwhile to let Sony go first. Iterative consoles could prove to be a risky venture, after all, as console owners are used to buying a box that will serve them for five or six years without any further investment needed. While there is excitement around Neo at the moment, there’s also a touch of confusion and annoyance; if players don’t see a good reason to upgrade, or feel they’ve been left in the dust just three or so years into the generation, the whole endeavour could backfire. For their part, Sony have apparently told developers that games must be structurally the same on both PS4 and Neo, leaving things like resolution and framerate as the only beneficiaries of upgraded hardware – you likely won’t see Neo-exclusive gameplay features on your shiny new box, and while this is the right thing to do for those 40 million existing owners, it also leaves little incentive to upgrade for a great many people. Letting Sony go first allows Microsoft to watch the landscape and see how consumers take to it, at the risk of slipping even further behind and looking down the barrel of supporting the standard Xbox One for a year against a far more powerful rival. Either way, it’ll certainly be a difficult balancing act.

When the Neo rumours broke, I wondered if the idea was driven almost entirely by VR, and the power needed to drive it. With the rumours of Scorpio being Oculus-compatible, perhaps backed up by a new rumour from Ars Technica, there’s a good chance that it’s a strong reason behind the push for more powerful hardware. Of course, there’s also the question of what happens when the next generation comes? Let’s assume Sony wants to launch PS5 in 2019 – three years after the Neo and six after the base PS4 – will Microsoft be a year behind again? Surely they wouldn’t want to release a new gen console a mere two years after Scorpio, yet surely they also wouldn’t want to be a year behind to the new gen party?

I think what’s more likely – if Neo and Scorpio are successful at least – is that, rather than a hard reset between ‘generations’, we’ll simply see Microsoft and Sony putting out new, more powerful hardware every few years, raising the power profile but keeping compatibility for all existing games. In my recent piece about Xbox One’s backward compatibility program, I posited that it could be the first step in such a plan for Microsoft. If it all shakes out, it could mark the end of a hard separation between console generations, and the dawn of the console as an evolving platform. I could get behind that.

It seems the console landscape is on the verge of a significant step change, and it’ll be interesting to see where everything falls over the next year or so. One thing’s for sure, though – this year’s E3 is going to be absolutely bonkers.

First published on Vexoid on 31/05/16

Sega fans have plenty to be salty about. These days, announcing yourself as a sega fanboy/girl will likely see people laugh into their sleeve rather than wind up for all out console warfare. Sega fandom seems to be based mostly on nostalgia at this point; the Tokyo-based company was a wildly creative force in their days as a platform holder, yet they’ve managed to squander a decades-deep stable of IP that would leave anyone in the industry envious.

It’s fair to say Sega have struggled a bit since going software-only. Spreading their titles out over a number of platforms in the immediate aftermath certainly didn’t help, fragmenting their fanbase in the process, and though they actually brought a lot to the table throughout the seventh generation, that was as much down to publishing quality content from other sources, like Platinum’s Mad World, Bayonetta and Vanquish. Despite pushing hard into the mobile space in recent years, they’ve still managed to put out quality software, though it’s often from their western studios like The Creative Assembly and Sports Interactive. What fans really want to see is more in-house developed content both announced and, perhaps more crucially, localised. Indeed, it’s been a tough ride for western fans of the company; though Sega have seen critical success with the likes of Valkyria Chronicles and Yakuza, both franchises have faced issues escaping their home territory (to say nothing of those still waiting for Phantasy Star Online II), and more often than not, when we do get a new title in a classically-Sega series, it’s dreck like Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric. Fans have simply lost patience with the company.

boom

All of which makes it kind of exciting to hear Sega Games CEO Haruki Satomi say that the company wants to do better, both at home and away. Apparently, they’ve been learning from the way Shin Megami Tensei developer Atlus works, having purchased them in 2013. Satomi told Famitsu (courtesy of Siliconera), “As far as the Western market goes, we learned a lot from Atlus. If we can make a title with proper quality, I believe there’s a good chance for it to do well even in the West for players that like to play Japanese games.”

This may seem something of a no-brainer – put out good games and people will buy them, right? – but I can see why it wouldn’t be quite as simple as that for a large company like Sega. Atlus puts out quality games, but they are fairly niche titles, and their presentation reflects that. Their games aren’t extravagant graphical powerhouses, but this also means they aren’t subject to massive, bloated AAA budgets – they know what kind of game they want to make, and crucially, the audience that will buy it, and budget and create the game accordingly. Sega as a whole are a far larger concern, and they would surely want their games to sell to a wider userbase. Learning from Atlus, and finding and defining their audience, is undoubtedly a good first step, however.

Moreover, Sega has a bit of a history, pre-third-party development, of making quality games, only to see them sit on shelves and fail to shift consoles. In such circumstances, it’s kind of easy to understand how they could have decided that was no longer a winning strategy, leading them to focus on other areas, perhaps pushing games out the door whether they’re ready or not. In his interview with Famitsu, Satomi specifically calls out a renewed focus on quality, rather than ship dates. “I’ve been talking to the employees about how we should start putting serious consideration into quality from this point on. Especially in North America and Europe, where it’s always been more of a focus on schedules, I believe that if we can’t maintain quality, it would be better to not release anything at all.”

The juiciest morsel from the interview, though? Answering a question about whether or not Sega have any high quality titles for release this year, Satomi offers the news that they may have something to show at this year’s Tokyo Game Show in September: “Since we’re seriously considering quality,” said Satomi, “I can’t make that promise for the time being, but I believe we will announce something for home console at Tokyo Game Show.”

Speculation over what this could be has been running rampant in the days since; just what could this TGS announcement be? Some fans have been going especially crazy with it, suggesting that Sega are months away from launching the Dreamcast II, and while I’m sure these people have their tongues lodged firmly in their cheeks, I have to admit that I am unreasonably excited by this interview. Maybe it’s an aftereffect of the knowledge that Shenmue III is actually, legitimately happening, but I’m genuinely enthusiastic about Sega for the first time in God knows how long. I have to wonder if that Kickstarter has had an impact at Sega, and given them the kick up the backside they needed to take a look at themselves and realise things could be much, much better; Shenmue has a damn good chance of finishing up as the most successful video game Kickstarter ever, and with that still fresh in people’s minds, TGS would be an excellent time for Sega to reintroduce themselves.

ryo

OK, the Dreamcast II is a pipe dream, so let’s talk about something marginally less impossible: what I’d like to see is a return to the glory days of Sega’s development teams. I want the AM departments to mean something to gamers again, I want to see labels like Overworks, Smilebit, and Team Andromeda come back. I want to see the triumphant return of classic IP like the fantastical Panzer Dragoon, the ridiculously cool Jet Set Radio, the funky oddities like Space Channel 5 or the beautiful one-offs like Skies of Arcadia – some of my favourite games of all time. Hell, at this point I’d be incredibly happy to get some more of the HD remakes the company were putting out just a few years ago, when rumours swirled that both Skies and Shenmue were on the to-do list. As a fan, I just want Sega to be relevant again, and I want a chance to play new games in those series that meant (and still mean) so much to me, or at least see a return of that rampant, crazed sense of creativity that led to so many new ideas back in the Dreamcast days – I never knew I wanted to skate with my gang through Shibuya tagging graffiti, be an unhinged cabby in San Francisco or a jetpack-toting future firefighter until Sega showed me that I did.

But that’s probably asking for way too much too soon, right? So maybe the best idea would be to first give us back some of those older games we’ve been missing for years. With Shenmue back in the headlines, the time is ripe – more so than it’s ever been – for HD remasters of the first two games to hit modern platforms and maybe create a whole new generation of fans before the crowdfunded new game hits. Then follow that up with HD remasters of Skies of Arcadia, Jet Set Radio Future, and maybe give us some more Saturn stuff like Panzer Zwei and the awesome Fighters Megamix. Sure, that’s playing to that sense of nostalgia that perhaps isn’t too healthy a focus for a company looking for a way forward, but maybe Sega need to remind us why they were so great before they ask us to trust in the future? Besides, we’re talking about a company with a wealth of quality content locked up in the vault that they’re absolutely crazy for not capitalising on sooner. They should be using that legacy as a foundation to build upon – remind us why you were great, then show us you still can be. And hey, maybe after that they can try and entice pioneers like Yu Suzuki, Yuji Naka, Tetsuya Mizuguchi and Yukio Futatsugi back into the fold, the visionary creators of some of the most timeless, inventive games in the history of the medium. And then, y’know, give them all their teams back with their proper names, wink wink, nudge nudge.

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Of course, I’m probably getting way, way ahead of myself here (that Shenmue III excitement-hangover is a long one); but if Sega have truly learned from Atlus, and really intends to identify its audience and then give them what they want (which shouldn’t be too difficult, considering many of us have been shouting at them about it for a fair while now), then hopefully the company can see success, and fans can rediscover why we used to love their games so much. If it takes a while, so be it; Satomi speaks of valuing quality over scheduling, so let’s see them stick to that.

But when it comes down to it, whatever we see unveiled at TGS, I just hope it’s good. I really want Sega’s output to excite me again, and Satomi seems to understand that, too: “Sega in the ‘90s was known for its ‘brand’, but after that, we’ve lost trust, and we were left with nothing but ‘reputation’. For this reason, we’d like to win back the customers’ trust, and become a ‘brand’, once again.”

I want that too. I want those blue skies black.

In the run-up to Gamescom, UK developer Ninja Theory had been teasing their new IP. The game, Hellblade, was announced on-stage at Sony’s conference via a sombre, eye-catching CGI trailer.

The first reaction many had to that teaser was that it looked like Heavenly Sword, Ninja Theory’s 2007 PS3 exclusive. It’s not hard to see the similarities – the strange, mythical world, the female warrior protagonist, even the name. Ninja Theory have since made it clear that Hellblade bears no relation to Heavenly Sword, and when we take a look at how the game is being developed, it’s clear that it’s a very different beast in some very significant ways.

To begin with, Hellblade will be a smaller-scale project – it’ll be shorter than the developer’s previous titles and forgo a physical release. That’s not to say they’re taking their collective feet off the gas when it comes to production values; we expect a great audio-visual aspect to their games, and we’re promised Hellblade won’t disappoint in that respect. But perhaps the biggest point of difference here is that Hellblade won’t be tied to a publisher; it will be Ninja Theory’s first self-published console game, and, most importantly, it will allow the team to retain their own IP.

It’s a proposition that co-founder Tameem Antoniades calls “Independent AAA”. In a sense, Antoniades sees this as reclaiming the middle ground that we’ve lost over the last generation; as triple-A development costs rise, publishers seek to mitigate risk and more often than not this leads to homogenisation – if something’s a massive hit, other publishers will seek to emulate that success. Everyone wants a Call of Duty. Everyone wants a GTA.

This leads to less diversity in the market, which isn’t great for gamers, but it can also be destructive to the people that make those games. Most studios can’t compete with the funding enjoyed by the likes of Infinity Ward or Rockstar North, and attempting to respond to those mega-franchises carries its own risks – risks that can often be fatal. We’ve seen plenty of development houses close down over the last generation, even long-standing ones like Bizarre Creations or Sony Liverpool; even a mildly successful title in a genre that may have shrunk to a niche can kill a studio.

Being an independent developer, Antoniades knows his team can’t compete on a level playing field with the likes of Assassin’s Creed or Uncharted. But equally, he’s not about to let his studio join the list of casualties that has resulted from what he calls the “go big or go home” world of AAA console development. So he’s making a play for that abandoned middle ground. “It’s about self-publishing AAA-quality games that are narrower in focus, selling them for a fair price and connecting to your fans in a meaningful way,” he says. “It’s a place for developers like us who don’t fit comfortably in the mega-budget AAA space but who are not true indie developers.”

Looking back through NT’s history, it’s clear to see why this approach appeals to them. Hellblade will be the first of their games that they retain ownership of, which means that they have full control over where it goes and how it evolves. Over the years, fans have asked for sequels to Heavenly Sword or Enslaved, and though Ninja Theory would love to revisit these franchises, these characters, these worlds that they created, they can’t. Because to get those games made, they had to hand over ownership of them.

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They’ve also had to fight to keep their team together on a number of occasions, whether that be down to parent companies imploding, publishing deals going south or simply being unwilling to scale down the team after production, something that is an inherent part of AAA production. Ninja Theory have re-mortgaged houses, sought investment, and even walked away from precious IP to keep their team together as, in Antoniades’ words, “[w]e knew that the value of a creative company comes from the team-work, experience and talent of the people in it.” Testament to this, he says, is the fact that Enslaved, with only two-thirds the budget, had double the game content of Heavenly Sword, adding “[m]assively improved efficiency is the real value of keeping a team together.”

But it’s that ownership of their creative output that will no doubt appeal to Ninja Theory the most, giving them not only the freedom to decide their own future but also the freedom to actually green-light and create the games they want to make in the first place. Antoniades recounts reactions to his team’s pitches, saying that “[w]e’ve variously been told point blank that single-player story games are dead, that any art style other than realism is not commercial, and that melee games do not sell.” For a developer whose main focus is third-person story-driven melee action games, that’s obviously not what they want to hear.

Ownership of IP is only going to become more important for developers looking to safeguard their futures. In the world of AAA, we’ve recently seen some of the bigger independent studios manage to retain ownership of their projects – gamers may have been dismayed to see Bungie team up with Activision for Destiny, for instance, but crucially the Bellevue studio owns that franchise. It’s theirs. Likewise, when shopping around Sunset Overdrive, Insomniac went with the deal that allowed them to keep the IP, as their usual partner Sony had previously requested ownership.

But smaller developers don’t really have the clout to demand the same, not if they want funding to get their projects made. So smaller scale projects and digital distribution is an important direction for them, making the ability to self-publish that Sony and Microsoft have brought to their new consoles an enormous boon. At the very least, it means not having to worry about the costs of manufacturing discs and packaging, or the traditional distribution costs that come with physical product. Money saved elsewhere can be fed back into development of the important part of the project – the game itself.

As a fan of their previous releases, I’m both looking forward to getting my hands on Hellblade and hopeful that this “Independent AAA” focus works out for Ninja Theory. Perhaps if other smaller developers see them having success there they will also be inspired to give it a try, like Just Add Water (whose Lorne Lanning Antoniades cites as an inspiration for his company’s direction), who released Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty! just last month to rave reviews, proving that there is a space there for developers to target. This should hopefully mean more developers making the games they want to make, rather than the games they have to make, enriching game development for all of us.

If you’re interested in the development of Hellblade, the history of Ninja Theory, or an insight into AAA development, it’s worth checking out the Hellblade development blog.

Well, it’s uh, been a bit barren around here of late, huh? Apologies for that – I’ve been a bit busy and just haven’t been in the mood to write.

Today is different though. Today, I just feel like writing for the sake of writing, so I thought I’d throw together some words about what I’m currently playing. If you’ve read the title, you’ve probably guessed that I’m playing a few too many games at the moment; I tend to play one title until I’m done and then move on, but every now and then I get a sudden urge to play something specific. Like the first game in this list, which I’ve been meaning to play for quite some time, and felt the sudden need to do so after a certain E3 reveal.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
I’m currently using my Wii U to get through a bit of my Wii backlog. I really appreciate that the Wii U is backward compatible, and wish that my XBO and PS4 were, too. Having to switch between these three consoles as well as PS3 and 360 is a bit of a pain, so it’s great that I can tackle my Wii catalogue without having to hook up another console.

I’ve mentioned before that I haven’t played Twilight Princess before – I’d stupidly walked away from the series for years after the Wind Waker reveal – and I’ve always seen the game palmed off as basically being an Ocarina re-imagining. This, I think does Twilight Princess a bit of a disservice. Every Zelda game since Ocarina has of course followed that basic template, but Twilight Princess feels to me like the ultimate evolution of that blueprint. So far, it’s everything I wanted from a follow-up to Ocarina of Time – grand, epic and mysterious, with a bit more of a focus on storytelling, and infused with a melancholy atmosphere that few games manage to achieve.

It also feels like the largest, most expansive Zelda adventure to date (in terms of landmass, certainly). More than ever, Hyrule feels like a real place; from the bustling Castle Town, full of citizens going about their daily lives, to the Gorons of Death Mountain, enjoying a relaxing hot spring while Link adventures through their territory. It’s a world filled with memorable characters, none more so than Link’s constant companion Midna, who goes from mischievous imp to sincere friend and ally to Link.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I love Midna. Go home, Navi and Fi.

Oh, and then there’s the music, which I’ll be writing about a bit more in a few days. While it’s a bit of a shame that Nintendo decided not to go for a fully orchestrated score (something they did achieve, with fantastic results, in 2011’s Skyward Sword), this doesn’t detract from the quality of the compositions. And while the game can occasionally look a bit muddy and muted (especially in the starting area of Ordon Village), it frequently looks absolutely beautiful – just witness Faron spirit spring as the sun’s going down – and more often than not, the music and visuals come together in such beautiful ways, like a journey through the strangely familiar Sacred Grove set to a melancholy reimagining of Saria’s Song.

Having just arrived at the Arbiter’s Grounds, I feel as though I’m approaching the halfway mark in the game, and if it continues at its current pace, Twilight Princess might well end up as my favourite Zelda game of all time.

Tales of Xillia
I love Tales of Xillia. Not only do I have the expensive Milla Maxwell edition, but it’s also signed by Hideo Baba. So this isn’t my first time through the world of Rieze Maxia. But with the sequel out next month, it felt like a good time to revisit Xillia and its great cast of characters, and I decided to use the occasion to play through the game as Milla.

For the uninitiated, from the off Tales of Xillia gives you the option to play as either conscientious med student Jude Mathis or all-powerful Lord of Spirits Milla Maxwell. The two split up – briefly – a few times throughout the story, so to see what the other lead is up to during those short periods of absence, you’ll need to play through it twice.

I’ve taken the opportunity to completely ruin the challenge of a game that was already easy by spending my accumulated grade (points earned through battle) to carry 5 x EXP, double damage, the ultimate weapons and a few other perks through into my new game plus. Five hours in, I’m closing in on level 30 and absolutely flying through the game.

But that’s all I wanted – to play through the other side of the story quickly, reacquainting myself with the world and its characters before Tales of Xillia 2 launches in a little over a month. And yes, I have the expensive Ludger Kresnik edition pre-ordered. I can’t help myself.

Dragon Age: Origins
Now here’s one I started a few months back and sort-of abandoned. I started the PC Ultimate Edition a while ago, intending to play both it and its sequel before the promising-looking Dragon Age: Inquisition launches at the end of the year. I got stuck and decided to park it for a while, and I’ve just recently gone back to playing it on my laptop when I can’t get access to the TV.

It’s not the first time I’ve abandoned the game; I bought it just after release on 360, rolled a mage, and then realised how redundant I was once I had both Morrigan and Wynne in my party. This time, I’ve gone for a rogue, and so far I’m enjoying stealthing around enemies to get an idea of the lay of the land before bringing the rest of my party steaming in. You can see my Dalish Rogue, Meadghbh, below.

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I’m only at the Tower of Ishal in Ostagar right now, but hopefully this time I’ll be able to see the game through. Then it’ll be on to Dragon Age 2, which I recently managed to grab for under £4 in the Xbox 360 Ultimate Games Sale. With that sitting on my hard drive and a pre-order down on Inquisition, that should give me ample motivation to finish.

Others
Those three are my ‘main missions’, if you will, but I’ve also got a number of other things on the go at the moment. On Vita, I’ve got both Borderlands 2 and Final Fantasy X on the go. I had actually set FFX aside to get stuck into Borderlands 2, where I’ve been playing as the Mechromancer Gaige and her killer buddy Deathtrap (“love ya, bot!”), but recently I’ve been trying to get a bit of each done here and there, according to my mood. On Borderlands, I’m just about to head to the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve, whereas in Spira I’m currently halfway through the Thunder Plains. Then there’s always Project Diva f when I need five or ten minutes of rhythm action goodness.

On Xbox One, I’m currently playing through July’s free Games with Gold release, Guacamelee (or Super Mextroid, as I’ve taken to calling it). I didn’t really pay it any mind when it hit PS Plus last year, and I’m glad I got another chance to try it out, because it’s really good – a Metroidvania with a luchador aesthetic, absolutely filled to the brim with references and call-outs to classic games.

Speaking of Games with Gold, I’m nearly finished with June’s game, puzzle-platformer Max and the Curse of Brotherhood. I’ve enjoyed playing through it in very short bursts, and while it’s a good looking, inventive game, I’m glad I managed to get it for free. Lastly, on PS4 I’m still playing Ubisoft RGP Child of Light. Well, sort of. I chose to play the game on hard and some battles can be frustratingly unbalanced, leading to me setting the game aside a few times. I think I’ll need to make a conscious effort to push through the rest of it soon, if only to get to the end.

I’ve mentioned abandoning games above, and this is usually how it happens – I start too many things ‘just because’ and then some just never get finished. It’s something I try to avoid these days, as it’s just a waste of money to have so many unfinished games. I’m determined to finish off the ones I’ve talked about here though – hopefully before I have to add the likes of Bayonetta 2, Destiny, Alien Isolation and more to add to my ridiculous backlog!

The annual hype-fest that is E3 is now behind us for another year, and the question that many are asking is of course, “who won?” Obviously, the answer to that question will depend on your own preferences and interests, and as we looked forward to the second E3 for Xbox One and PS4, many were excited to see what the next year would bring for these new consoles.

Yet for me, it was without a doubt Nintendo that impressed the most. And I’m honestly a little surprised to be typing that. I had expected them to simply turn up, show off the same games we’ve seen in the Direct recordings over the last year, announce a new Zelda, and then pack up shop. But they ended up doing a lot more than that, and they did it in some style.

Of course, everyone had interesting things to show off, and I watched it all. I can’t help but get drawn into the excitement during E3, so I decided to get some impressions down on virtual paper about this year’s event.

Microsoft went first, getting us started in the early evening of June 9th. True to Phil Spencer’s promises, the Xbox conference was 90 minutes of games, with a good spread of triple-A third-party blockbusters, first-party projects like Fable Legends and Forza Horizon 2, and a good handful of indie titles, like gorgeous-looking platformer Ori and the Blind Forest.

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Immediately after Microsoft’s media briefing, I was feeling very positive indeed. I was incredibly pleased to see that Halo: The Master Chief Collection was actually a thing, as I thought remastering four games in two years would be too much work (and I was kind of right, though I’ll touch on that in another post). Fable Legends looks like it’ll scratch my co-operative dungeon crawler itch very nicely, and it was great to see a bit more gameplay footage for the colourful Sunset Overdrive, as well as hear about its eight-player co-operative ‘Chaos Squad’.

What really got me excited on the day, however, was the reveal of three games that had been heavily-rumoured before E3; Scalebound, an Xbox One exclusive from Hideki Kamiya and Platinum Games, and the revival of two of Microsoft’s older properties in Crackdown and Phantom Dust. Along with a brief tease of Halo 5: Guardians in the Master Chief Collection trailer, these were the things that were the highlights of the conference at the time.

Later in the day though, I started to wonder quite why I had gotten so excited; we didn’t actually see anything of any of these titles, after all. Everything we saw was CGI and gave little away about the games in question. Granted, Crackdown and Halo are fairly safe bets (if you’re a fan of the previous games, you’ll probably love the new ones), though that’s probably less true of Phantom Dust, which is seemingly a reboot of a very niche original Xbox game. Scalebound, though? I couldn’t tell you anything about that game. It’s seems safe to assume that, given Platinum’s pedigree, it’ll be an action game, and I guess there are dragons in it. Will we get to play as a dragon? I guess we’ll have to wait to see more of the game.

Still, it was a strong showing from Microsoft in terms of content to look forward to, even if half of it was made up of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it context-free teasers.

Sadly, I had a more negative reaction to Sony’s conference. Perhaps it was having to sit up until 4am to watch it all. Perhaps it was because it felt like they could have cut their show in half without really losing anything. Perhaps it was the 20-or-so minutes that were spent talking about television and film projects, or maybe it was all the talk of timed or exclusive DLC.

Perhaps it was all of those things, combined with the rather self-serving ‘fan letters’ read out through half of the conference, and the fact that the whole thing ran on for almost two hours and sagged horribly in the middle.

Starting out with some footage of Destiny was a nice touch for me, a huge Bungie fan (and I’ll have some Alpha impressions up later this week, complete with plenty of video content), and following that with another short look at The Order: 1886 could have proved a winner had they chosen to show something a bit more involved. I’ve said before that I’m rather unsure of Ready at Dawn’s new IP, as it seems to look like a pretty but incredibly linear Gears of War clone. This demo did nothing to defuse those worries, showcasing a short slice of gameplay featuring one of the Knights tussling with a werewolf.

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This clip seemed to have more of a survival horror atmosphere compared to the previous footage we’ve seen which is welcome, but gameplay itself seemed even narrower. It was disappointing for me; I had hoped to see something that dispelled my apprehension at the game’s perceived linearity, but instead I’m now more suspicious. I think we could also have done without The Last of Us Remastered at E3 – we know it’s coming, and I would imagine the vast majority of people watching Sony’s conference will have already played it and loved it on PS3 – it’ll be nice to have a higher fidelity version in the PS4’s library, but I feel like the time could have been used for something else (or just cut entirely along with the media stuff to help bring down that bloated running time).

To Sony’s credit, they also had a broad spread of content and managed to pack in a few surprises, such as a live demo of Little Big Planet 3 from Media Molecule (who had previously sworn blind that they wouldn’t be appearing at E3 at all, cheeky scamps), a remake of cult-classic LucasArts adventure Grim Fandango, an exclusive from Suda 51 called Let it Die and a proper trailer for FROM Software’s PS4-exclusive Bloodborne. Again, like Microsoft’s more exciting surprises, we only got CGI trailers that told us very little, but as with those projects, it’s good to know what’s in the pipeline, even if we don’t know exactly what these titles are.

At the very end of Sony’s conference, we got another brief glimpse at Naughty Dog’s latest, Uncharted 4, now subtitled A Thief’s End. It was clearly envisioned to be Sony’s big, crowd-pleasing sign-off, but for me it fell flat. I’ve said before that I was disappointed when Naughty Dog announced another game in the series – not because I dislike Uncharted, but because it worked out so well the last time they did that. No, I like the Uncharted games a lot, but I’ve played four very similar games and didn’t feel that I needed another (incidentally, I’d have said the same about Gears of War had Microsoft decided to show a teaser for that).

With all that said, I was (and still am) really hoping to see The Last of Us leads Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley mix things up a fair bit for the franchise’s debut on PlayStation 4, and I was hoping to see a gameplay teaser to underline this. Instead, what we got was a short teaser that told us nothing except for the game’s subtitle and the fact that Nate has aged a bit. We got the kind of trailer that would have worked well as an announcement trailer, had the game not been announced a year previously.

To say I was underwhelmed would be an understatement. ‘Disappointed’ would be a better word. Sure, it looked great, but then we always knew it would. I wanted a reason to get excited about another Uncharted game, and that reason needs to be more than just ‘because it looks nicer’. As a final moment of an overlong conference, it simply made me crave my bed as 4am crept up and the sun began to rise.

It ties into my biggest disappointment with E3 2014 – the reliance on CGI trailers, concept footage and prototypes. Both Microsoft and Sony had their fair share of these, but really it was EA’s conference that was the biggest offender. Perhaps that’s because I really want to see what shape their new Star Wars, Mass Effect and Mirror’s Edge titles would take, which meant I was doubly disappointed when all we got was some footage of offices populated by talking heads telling us about what they’d like to maybe possibly do, perhaps. It’s great to know these games are coming, but it’s hard to look forward to something so intangible.

But if there was one attendee at E3 that didn’t rely on such scripted thrills, it was Nintendo. Before the event, the Kyoto company’s decision to abstain from the big press conference dynamic in favour of a pre-recorded streamed ‘digital event’ seemed like a pre-emptive admission of defeat. In retrospect, this couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Nintendo proved they were out to have fun right from the off, with NoA President Reggie Fils-Aime and Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata squaring off in a Smash Bros.-style brawl that was very very silly, yet managed to be somehow entertaining, setting the tone for the rest of the stream. Their digital event ran for a little under an hour, meaning it didn’t really have a chance to get boring, and while you could argue that the run-time was indicative of Nintendo having less content to offer than their two rivals, the reality is that it was focused almost entirely on first-party games – strip out the third-party offerings from Microsoft and Sony’s conferences and they may well have been about the same length.

So while we got another look at Smash Bros., another glimpse of Hyrule Warriors, another peek at Bayonetta 2, we also got new software announcements like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Yoshi’s Woolly World and an unveiling of Nintendo’s new Amiibo NFC figurine platform. All of which was bookended with gloriously nutty, self-aware Robot Chicken-style vignettes.

Ok, so maybe Mario spin-offs aren’t what you’d call particularly new. What, then, about Splatoon? A new IP announced during E3 that wasn’t leaked or rumoured beforehand? That’s got to be impressive in itself, never mind that the game looks to be an absolute blast. If Splatoon is Nintendo embracing the online shooter, then it’s clearly doing so on its own terms. In Nintendo EAD’s latest game, you don’t shoot bullets, you shoot brightly-coloured ink; you don’t die when you lose to an opponent, you simply get splatted.

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For me, Splatoon was the most pleasant surprise of E3. It gave me serious Dreamcast vibes, reminding me quite strongly of Fur Fighters, but shot through with an AM2, ‘blue skies forever’ aesthetic. It’s essentially a third-person team-based shooter, but rather than focusing on kill counts, it’s all about map control; each team has their own colour ink that they need to splatter all over the floors, the winning team being the one that covers the most ground in their colour. The ink also has other properties, allowing players to turn into a cartoon squid and swim through their own ink at speed, while enemy ink will slow you to a crawl. Splattering walls can also allow access to higher vantage points, giving you a better perspective on the colourful chaos unfolding below.

A decent chunk of the stream was given over to showing off Splatoon, with the three development leads also appearing to talk us through the main concepts and strategies of their game. There has been a growing suspicion in recent years that the company’s reliance on development legend Shigeru Miyamoto may be stifling the creativity of young, up-and-coming developers, and this segment seemed tailor-made to dispel such thinking. That’s not to say that the old guard was forgotten however, as Miyamoto himself showed up at the end of the conference to let us know that he was working on a few new things (one of which is a new Star Fox game that we will hopefully see something of soon), but not before Eiji Aonuma, caretaker of the Legend of Zelda series, made his long-rumoured appearance to show us just what he’d been working on.

Aonuma’s segment was my favourite moment of E3. As he began to talk about his desire to shake up the veteran fantasy series, we saw moments of older games in the series. This was intended to draw a parallel between the freeform exploration seen in the original 1986 The Legend of Zelda and what he hoped to inject into the newest title in the franchise. Then, he snapped his fingers.

Behind him materialised an expansive view of a lush, beautiful Hyrule Field, grass dancing in the wind as Link sat atop Epona watching shepherds tend their goats. It was glorious, and I was immediately reminded of the rapturous reception afforded to the unveiling of Twilight Princess back in 2004, wondering briefly what kind of reaction this new title would have received, had it been unveiled before a live audience.

There was no time to think too deeply on it however, as Aonuma began to talk of a series convention he wanted to keep – that of a seemingly peaceful world that could be turned upside down in an instant thanks to the appearance of a powerful threat. A large enemy, looking like a mix between a peahat and an octorok – only armed with exploding lasers – entered the scene, scattering the farmers and livestock to the winds as it barrelled down on our hero. The scene cut to a narrow forest path hemmed in by ancient ruins as Epona galloped toward a bridge. The monster flew ahead, smashing the bridge and trapping Link. As he reached back to remove his cape, he took the opportunity to draw and fire two bomb arrows, stunning the monster.

Standing on his steed, Link launched himself from Epona’s back, drawing a strange, futuristic-looking arrow which lit up like the enemy’s lasers, and the trailer faded to white. “2015” was all that remained on the screen. If Sony’s Uncharted 4 mic-drop left me cold, this brief glimpse at a new Zelda definitely had the desired effect. It was glorious.

The fun didn’t end with Nintendo’s digital conference however, as they started up their live-streaming service, ‘Nintendo Treehouse Live’. This was an absolute masterstroke, and probably the best thing about E3. Treehouse ran for three days on both Youtube and Twitch, showing hours of live content presided over by a handful of young Nintendo developers and staffers. We got plenty of interesting interviews with developers as they came on-stage to both discuss and play their latest projects, and thanks to this simple, effective format we got to see far more of those games than we’d ever usually be treated to. All of this without any media personalities or corporate suits – just developers talking to other developers about the games they had made, all for the benefit of the gamers watching live.

That the most forward-thinking, fan-friendly take on E3 came from typically the most conservative of the big three – and, let’s not forget, the one that not so long ago took action against let’s players – is a bewildering thought. Yet, without even showing up to the main stage, Nintendo deftly made both Sony and Microsoft’s approaches look a bit old-hat. The good news is that Treehouse is something that they could replicate fairly easily, so hopefully E3 will become more fan-centric going forward. Even if we only have Nintendo doing something like this again, it’s still something to be championed.

While Nintendo personally impressed me more than any other attendee at E3, perhaps the right answer is to say that gamers won. A little bit of a lame response for those seeking drama, perhaps, but there’s tons of great games on the horizon no matter what your tastes. Granted, that horizon seems to be sitting deep in 2015 at the moment, with only a handful of things coming for the end of this year (though Destiny, the Halo collection, Bayonetta 2 and Hyrule Warriors sit high on my to-buy list), but 2015 may just be a marquee year for this hobby of ours.

It’s that time of year: E3 is upon us, and after the blitzkrieg of last year’s dual console showcases out of the way it’s time for some games! Hopefully we’ll be getting announcements by the truck-load over the next few days – Microsoft and Sony hold their conferences tomorrow, Monday June 9th, while Nintendo will be broadcasting a Direct presentation the following day – and I thought I’d provide a quick run-down of the big things we can expect the major players at E3 to show us over the next few days. I say a quick run-down – I wasn’t expecting this to run to two-and-a-half thousand words when I started writing this afternoon…

Anyway! Let’s get started.

Microsoft
Phil Spencer, the new head of Xbox, has been talking up his company’s E3 plans quite a lot on Twitter of late, and he seems to be promising the world. We’ve been told that we can expect 90 minutes of games, games and more games – a mix of third party titles, first party exclusives and smaller games (presumably indies and downloadables). Microsoft has also been on a bit of a roll recently, announcing and showing off big projects pre-E3, with titles like Sunset Overdrive, Halo 5: Guardians and, most recently, Forza Horizon 2 making headlines. We’ve also had another short look at Remedy’s Quantum Break, which is skipping E3 in favour of Gamescom in August. So the question is: just what the hell are Microsoft going to show at E3?

Hopefully, it’ll be stuff we don’t even know about yet. We’ll no doubt see more of the games that have recently been shown off, but Microsoft must have some pretty big stuff up their sleeves if they’re willing to show off their big guns beforehand. Granted, Sunset Overdrive and Halo 5 were announced last year (albeit both with CG trailers) and Forza Horizon 2 has long been rumoured, but these are still massive titles that would have been expected to be fully unveiled at E3.

Spencer has also said that he is looking into bringing back older IP, encouraging followers to share their favourite original Xbox games to gauge interest and also letting us know that his favourite game is Voodoo Vince. Hmm… a hint, perhaps? There has also been talk recently of a reboot of original Xbox game Phantom Dust, a title from Panzer Dragoon mastermind Yukio Futatsugi that never saw release in Europe.

Speaking of older IP, one of the biggest rumours I’ve seen recently is the supposed re-imagining of Perfect Dark as a third-person action-adventure in the vein of Uncharted. The IP has been sitting dormant since the distinctly average Perfect Dark Zero helped launched the Xbox 360 back in 2005, and it’d be nice to see it re-emerge as a premier Xbox One game. Switching the game from an FPS would likely upset some, but the genre is fairly saturated at the moment and the Xbox doesn’t really have an Uncharted analogue, so an acrobatic third-person adventure could easily fill a gap in the lineup.

I have to admit I have no idea where this rumour came from – I’ve just read discussions about it on a couple of forums – but I’d absolutely love it to be true. Rare are still a talented studio, and they should be able to focus on other projects now they’re seemingly free from the albatross of Kinect. A few interviews recently have touched on the fact that Rare have a couple of unannounced things in the works, and I really hope this is one of them. If it is, I hope Microsoft give them all the creative and financial support they need to make Perfect Dark a top-drawer franchise once again.

Elsewhere, we can expect a large Halo presence at Microsoft’s conference. Hopefully we’ll see the Master Chief collection unveiled, the rumoured remaster boxset of Halos 14, and possibly something on Halo 5: Guardians. I imagine we’ll get another teaser for the latter, as it’s at least a year away at this point, and hopefully we’ll get a bit of story detail so that we can kick the speculation up a notch. Personally, I’d also be totally fine with Microsoft devoting a few minutes to the Halo television series, even if it might draw some ire from the usual suspects on forums.

I’m also hoping to see some gameplay of Fable Legends. I want to see if it will scratch my co-operative, class-based dungeon crawler itch. I think we might see a CG teaser for the new Gears of War game; it’s a bit too soon to expect gameplay, but Microsoft and new developer Black Tusk will surely want to remind us all that it exists. There has also been talk of a Japanese third-party exclusive for the Xbox One, with many expecting either a Vanquish 2 from Platinum or a Lost Odyssey 2 from Mistwalker. I’d greedily take either, but I’d hope to see something new.

Sony
Though I own all six of Sony’s consoles, none of them have ever been my ‘main’ platform for a generation. As such, most of their first-party franchises don’t have that strong a pull on me. The thing that could get me the most excited about my PS4 tomorrow night is a new WipEout game. Studio Liverpool was closed back in 2012 (and at the time a new WipEout was said to be in development), so I don’t know who could make it; perhaps Evolution, once they’re done with Driveclub? Either way, a new title in this venerable franchise would get me very excited indeed – WipEout 2097 is one of my favourite games of all time, after all.

It’s pretty much a nailed-on certainty that we’ll see Naughty Dog’s newest Uncharted adventure tomorrow night, and though I like the Uncharted games, after playing through 4 of them over the last few years, the franchise’s PS4 outing is going to have to be a bit different to get me really excited. Hopefully the studio can mix things up a bit, rather than give us the same thing, just shinier. I must admit to having been rather disappointed when it was announced last year; I wanted Naughty Dog to announce a new IP, since that worked out so very well the last time they did so.

Speaking of which, I imagine we’ll also get a gameplay demo of The Last of Us on PS4. I’m interested to see how nice it looks on the new hardware, though I doubt I’ll be buying it at launch. The Last of Us was one of my favourite games of last year (if not of its entire generation), but I feel it’s a bit too soon for me to play through it again. That game is one hell of an emotional journey, and I’m not quite ready to feel it all over again.

Meanwhile, Sony Santa Monica are set to make an appearance at the platform holder’s presser, and they’ve seemingly been teasing a new God of War title on Twitter. I can’t get even remotely excited about this, as God of War is another Sony series that just doesn’t really appeal to me. I’ve tried, many times, to get into the games as they look like something I should love, but I’ve just found myself bored every time. I guess they’re just not for me, which is a little sad as they’re clearly very well-crafted games. Perhaps a PS4 outing will change things up significantly? Fans have been suggesting changes in character, setting and even mythology for a while now – perhaps a Viking mythology-based God of War could catch my interest?

Hopefully we’ll also get a good long look at The Order: 1886. I’m a little unsure of it at the moment, as what little we’ve seen looks like a Gears of War clone, and honestly, if I want to play Gears, I’ll just play Gears. The setting has potential for sure, but I hope it’s not just wallpaper for another third-person cover shooter. The game has recently been delayed into early 2015, so hopefully the extra development time will allow Ready at Dawn to really go to town and build something genuinely new.

The most excitement surrounding Sony’s conference seems to be around FROM Software’s ‘Project Beast‘, which many are assuming is a sequel-of-sorts to 2010’s Demon’s Souls. Though I’ve not played Demon’s Souls (it’s sitting on my PS3 hard drive…), and I’ve only played a small amount of Dark Souls, I can see why people are getting excited for this. The two related franchises have a very dedicated, hardcore fanbase, many of whom hold that Demon’s is the better title, so a new instalment is going to be an instant E3 win button for them.

Guerilla Games are also reported to be appearing, bringing their next project with them. I’ve never been a fan of the Killzone series; the franchise’s PS3 debut was the game that convinced me to buy that console, and I ended up disappointed. I wanted a sci-fi shooter, but to me it felt more like one of the grey-brown trench shooters we were drowned in until a few years ago, just with a sheen of sci-fi futurism draped over the top that made no real difference at all. Having recently played through Killzone: Shadow Fall though, which fully embraces its science-fiction backdrop, I’m prepared to give Guerilla the benefit of the doubt and see what they bring to E3. Rumours say it’s an action-RPG, which will be something of a departure for the Dutch studio. Colour me interested.

Sadly, I think the Vita will be all but ignored again. It made sense last year when the PS4 was the focus, but Sony seem to be happy to let their handheld trundle along gaining a bit of a cult following as ‘that indie machine’. We’ll likely get a trailer showcasing a number of games we already know about, and that’ll probably be about it. I absolutely adore my Vita though, so I want to see more – I’m hoping for a proper reveal for Gravity Rush 2, sequel to one of my favourite new games of recent years, and maybe a bit of Freedom Wars, too.

On the hardware side, I think we can expect to see Project Morpheus taking a decent chunk of Sony’s conference, as well as the PlayStation Now streaming service. Perhaps we’ll get release windows and pricing for both.

Nintendo
One of the things I’m most excited about this E3 is the prospect of a new Zelda for Wii U. Nintendo supposedly considered showing it off last year, but decided it was too early in development at the time. It seems almost inevitable that we’ll see Link’s new adventure on Tuesday, and I’m really looking forward to it. The only downside is that, as Nintendo aren’t holding a live press conference, it won’t get the reaction it so sorely deserves. A new Zelda is a big deal, and it deserves a proper unveiling, rather than a reactionless showing on a live-stream.

There’s also hope for a new Metroid, another series I adore. Retro Studios are done with Donkey Kong (for the time being at least…), so hopefully they’re a few months into development on their next project. Of course, it could be anything at all (maybe they’d like to try their hand at Star Fox next?), but I really want to see a new Metroid for Wii U. Perhaps we could also get a 2.5D game for 3DS at the same time, but if a choice needs to be made, I’d love to see what Retro can do with the Wii U hardware – imagine a Prime title with the scale pushed right out.

Excitingly, Nintendo’s main man, Shigeru Miyamoto, is said to be working on an entirely new IP for the Wii U, something that justifies the gamepad’s inclusion with the console. Nothing is known about it at the moment, but the fact that the creator of Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong and many others is creating something new is a pretty big deal. Hopefully it’ll be something that can stand alongside the company’s perennial pillar franchises.

Less surprisingly, I think we’ll also see more on Monolith Soft’s X, the spiritual successor to Wii RPG Xenoblade Chronicles. What little we’ve seen so far has looked impressive, but I’m hoping for a more in-depth exploration. Likewise Bayonetta 2, which we’ll hopefully finally get a date for. It is, after all, one of a handful of games that convinced me I needed a Wii U, so it’ll be nice to know when it’s coming.

On the handheld side, we’ll no doubt get another look at Smash Bros. before it releases this summer, as well as the Pokémon Alpha and Omega remakes. Perhaps we’ll also see a new title from Luigi’s Mansion 2 developers Next Level Games.

Others
A few of the big publishers will also be having their own conferences as usual. EA have said that they’ll be unveiling six new titles at this year’s E3, but whether these will be brand new games or known quantities remain to be seen. The publisher is expected to go big on Star Wars this year, with DICE expected to show off Battlefront 3, and maybe we’ll even get a glimpse at Visceral’s in-development Star Wars title. That game is supposedly being headed up by Amy Hennig, formerly of Naughty Dog – could it be something along the lines of the sadly-cancelled Star Wars 1313?

We can certainly expect to see more of Visceral’s other project, the recently-revealed Battlefield: Hardline, and the new Mirror’s Edge seems an absolute certainty now – the Facebook page has just been updated today with an image of Faith and the hashtag ‘#E32014’. Great news for me, as I’m a massive fan of the original game.

Square-Enix have recently announced that both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts 3 will miss E3, which is surprising, given that they used Sony’s conference last year to announce both titles. It’s likely we’ll see more of both at Tokyo Game Show in September, however.

What will they be showing? My money is on a sequel to Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider reboot, and I’ll be very happy to see it. I’ve recently finished playing through it on Xbox One, having already loved it on 360 at its original launch, and I absolutely adore it. I’d like to see a little less combat and a little more exploration and environmental puzzling in the sequel, but they have an excellent foundation on which to build, so I’m expecting great things. It’s possible we’ll also see the next entry in the Deus Ex series, too. I should really get back to Human Revolution

From Activision, we can expect to see more of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare from Sledgehammer games. As an aside, I think it’ll be interesting to see a studio born from Visceral taking on Visceral itself, with one studio making a Battlefield offshoot and the other a CoD offshoot. Acti will also likely show a bit of Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition for PS4 and Xbox One.

From Ubisoft, I think we can expect to get full gameplay unveilings for both Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Far Cry 4. I’ll be interested enough to take a look, but I think I’m a bit burnt out on Ubisoft games at the moment. I’m sure both will demo well though.

So those are the major things I’m hoping and/or expecting to see tomorrow. If I had to pick a few things I’m most excited about, I’d say a new Zelda, the possibilities of new titles for both Metroid and Perfect Dark, and discovering what form Halo‘s 2014 release will take are right at the very top. I’m also hoping to see a fair bit of new IP on show, but it’s obviously harder to be excited for stuff that, as yet, doesn’t exist. Perhaps Guerilla’s new game will wow me.

What are you most excited to see? Leave a comment below (if you managed to read this far).

chiefponcho
With the recent announcement of Halo 5: Guardians, and the subsequent confirmation of its 2015 release, speculation has renewed as to what this year’s Halo title for Xbox One will be. Back at E3 last year, 343 head Bonnie Ross promised fans that their Halo journey on Xbox One would begin in 2014, a promise she reiterated when announcing Guardians.

And so, the oft-rumoured Halo 2: Anniversary pushed its way to the fore again; 2014 marks ten years since the game’s original release after all, so it seems like a no-brainer. But a rumour emerged over the weekend concerning an altogether larger plan for this year, something that would tally with Ross’ claim that Halo‘s Xbox One journey would begin with “a giant leap, rather than one small step”; according to Engadget, we’ll be seeing not one but four remastered Halo games this autumn.

Apparently dubbed ‘The Master Chief Collection’, the set is said to gather up remakes of all four main-story instalments thus far and serve as a story catch-up to fans old and new alike. As the collection is focused on the Chief, Engadget’s unnamed sources say that it’s unlikely that Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach will be a part of the package, which makes sense if the idea is to get players up to speed for Halo 5: Guardians.

While something quite similar was rumoured back in January of this year, I personally think this it’s a bit too good to be true. Can 343 really remaster four separate games in the two years that will have passed since Halo 4‘s release? Even with an external development partner (such as Saber Interactive, who 343 collaborated with on 2011’s Combat Evolved Anniversary) it seems like an absolutely colossal amount of work. I really, really want it to be true, but I remain sceptical (as an aside, I really hope if it is real, it’s not called ‘The Master Chief Collection’, because that’s just an awful name. Maybe call it Halo: The Great Journey, instead).

But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a bit of fun with the rumour and speculate a little. As such, I’ve been wondering what shape the multiplayer component of such a release might take. Would they include all four games’ multiplayer modes? Would it be something based on Halo 4? Perhaps a beta for Halo 5? Or maybe something else entirely?

My first thought was that perhaps the collection would include just the single-player campaigns; Engadget’s sources are positioning it as a story catch-up, so multiplayer doesn’t necessarily play into that (and really, who’s going to complain about missing MP when you’ve got four campaigns to play through?). Secondly, if we consider that remastering four campaigns is a hell of a job alone, remaking separate MP modes for all four would surely be a nightmare.

Perhaps then, it’d be a port of Halo 4‘s multiplayer? Other than an extended Halo 5 MP beta, this seems the most logical idea. However, considering that ‘The Master Chief Collection’ seems very much like (massive, exciting) fan service, and that some series fans have reacted with annoyance to some of Halo 4‘s more mainstream contrivances (such as ordinance, loadouts, weapon unlocks), that may be seen as something of a black mark against the package.

But never mind what we’re likely to see. If we’re speculating here, why not draw up a wishlist? If I could have my dream Halo multiplayer mode included in this collection, it would be one experience rather than four disparate, game-specific modes. This single Halo multiplayer universe would be a relatively ‘pure’ Halo experience, perhaps modelled after Halo 3‘s multiplayer, and would include all the maps from all four games. If people wanted to play a more Halo 4-style game, have that as its own playlist – its own mode, like Griffball or Infection, but again, playable across all the series maps. Hell, you could even throw in a Reach playlist and all of that game’s maps, weapons and vehicles too.

Additionally, I’d like to see private lobbies where you can get together with friends and filter everything to create your own, pitch-perfect Halo experience. Make everything tweakable – rule sets, weapon sets, vehicles, kill limits, gravity, everything. If it’s going to draw on the entire history of the series, then why not allow fans to throw everything they want into a private match.

Then – and this is the most important part – it would be included with ‘The Master Chief Collection’ via a download code. That’s right, I want it to be a separate download. Why? Because I’d like to see 343 decouple Halo multiplayer from a collection of disparate games and have just one separate Halo MP experience that gets updated with new maps, modes, weapons and vehicles when a new Halo title comes out.

Just think about that for a second. It’d be like everythingHalo multiplayer’ in one place, updated and run as its own thing throughout the Xbox One’s lifespan. It’d mean no splintering of the community, no dropping an older game’s multiplayer to jump into the new one – just new additions as the series goes on, updated independently. It’d encompass both the past and future of the series in one fell swoop, and bring all Halo fans into one experience. And just think, you could launch it straight from your hard drive whenever you want, without having to put a disc in the drive.

Of course, I can’t see this ever happening, much as I’d like it to. I imagine it’d require 343 to staff up enough that they’d have an entire team always beavering away on the ongoing multiplayer service. But hey, if any platform holder has the money to do such a thing, it’s Microsoft.

But if I can’t dream, there’s one big issue I’d like the next Halo to address: please, please, please remove map voting. I know it sounds almost perverse, a player asking for less choice, but here’s the thing: the players can’t be trusted, and I don’t want to play Team Slayer on Ragnarok all day, every day. While most people will point to some kind of ‘CoD-ification’ as the reason why they’re not as fond of Halo 4‘s multiplayer as previous titles, for me this map repetition was what drove me away from the game. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen the DLC maps that I got for free with the limited edition, let alone played on them, and that needs to change.

Oh and also: bring back Invasion. Oh, and Firefight, too.

We’re just a couple of weeks away from E3 now, where we will surely hear all about 343’s plans for the rest of 2014. Only two weeks, to find out if my crazy fever-dream of a perfect, standalone Halo multiplayer service will come true. Who am I kidding? Of course they won’t. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be any less excited for whatever they unveil on June 9th, and while I may be sceptical about the rumoured collection, I’ll be absolutely over the moon if that’s what Bonnie Ross ends up unveiling on stage.

xillia2bannerIt’s a good time to be a Tales of fan.

I seem to be saying that a lot recently, but this week it really is a good time to be a fan of Bandai-Namco’s long-running jRPG series. We’ve had plenty of new info on the upcoming 20th anniversary game Tales of Zestiria, finally got a release date (and a collectors edition!) for this year’s Tales of Xillia 2 and, best of all, we actually got confirmation of a Western release of Tales of Hearts R, one of two Vita titles that I honestly thought would never see the light of day outside of Japan.

It was not always thus. Releases in the series have generally been a bit spotty; 1995′s Tales of Phantasia, the first game in the series, only saw release outside of Japan in 2003, whereas 2005′s Tales of the Abyss was made available in 2006 in the US, but remained unavailable in Europe until its 3DS port hit shelves in late 2011. Meanwhile, titles that did make it to our shores, such as Tales of Symphonia (2003) and Tales of Vesperia (2009) only did so in very small quantities – quantities which quickly disappeared, meaning those games were effectively unavailable to anyone that hadn’t thought to pre-order a copy.

Happily, things have really turned around recently, with reissues for both Abyss and Vesperia suddenly popping up on store shelves just months before we got a lovely Day One edition of Tales of Graces f. More recently, fans have been able to show their support by grabbing excellent special editions for both last year’s Tales of Xillia and this year’s Tales of Symphonia Chronicles. In turn, Producer Hideo Baba showed his appreciation by spending much of last year travelling around the world, attending European and American conventions, interacting with fans and giving presentations on his team’s work.

This greater focus on a worldwide audience was brought to a head when Tales of Zestiria was announced last December, with Baba-san immediately confirming it would be released in North America and Europe shortly after its initial Japanese launch. The game is set for release in 2015, 20 years after Phantasia debuted, and details have been sneaking out here and there about the characters and world. We can expect to hear more about the game from June onwards, but for now here’s the latest trailer, which aired just a few days ago at the NicoNico SuperConference. In it, we get a glimpse at the battle system in action and another look at what appear to be rather expansive environments. Check it out below. Needless to say, I’m excited.

Also this week, we finally got a release date for Tales of Xillia 2. I had been expecting it around August going by previous releases (Graces f in August 2012, Xillia in August 2013), and August it is – the 19th in North America and the 22nd in Europe. We’ll also be seeing a ‘Ludger Kresnik Collectors Edition’ that looks very similar to that of the first game, with a figure of protagonist Ludger, a replica of Elle’s pocketwatch, an art book and some other goodies. You can see an image below, and this is certainly the edition I’ll be going for, being something of a fan of Tales of figures.

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There’ll also be a Day One edition, with steelbook case and soundtrack selection CD for those that have no interest in figurines and such, and I’m guessing this will be the same deal as the publisher’s other Day One editions, where you’ll get the extras for no additional cost so long as you pre-order or buy on day one.

I’ve heard mixed reactions to Xillia 2 from those that have played the Japanese version. Some say it’s better than the first (which I adored) while others say it’s not as good, and I’ve also seen concerns about Ludger being a silent protagonist. I’m really excited to get my hands on it though; as I said, I loved Xillia, but I did feel that Elympios wasn’t quite as fleshed out and explored as much as it could have been. The sequel seems to address that, not only letting us get more of a feel for Elympios and the people that live there, but also giving us a glimpse into the lives of the original cast while introducing new characters to get to know. I plan to play through Milla’s side of the story in Xillia before the sequel arrives, and I’m sure I’ll be more than ready to jump in come August.

Finally, the biggest piece of Tales of news of the last week is undoubtedly the announcement that Tales of Hearts R is actually coming west. I honestly never thought this would happen. I guess Sony’s Shahid Ahmad’s #JRPGVita Twitter campaign really paid off – indeed, when Hearts R was announced last week Ahmad took to Twitter to specifically call out the initiative, pointing out that Hearts R was the most-requested game in his informal poll. So just remember that the next time someone in the industry asks you what you want!

For those not in the know, Tales of Hearts R is one of two remakes of DS games for the Vita (the other being Tales of Innocence R) that were released in 2012/2013 in Japan that Bandai-Namco had been fairly adamant would not see release outside of their home territory given poor sales of Sony’s handheld. Nothing has been said about Innocence, but considering a week ago we were getting neither of them and now we can look forward to Tales of Hearts R, I’m not complaining.

The game stars Kor (called Shing in the Japanese original) who has a bit of an accident while trying to remove a curse on a mysterious young woman called Kohaku. When things go a bit wrong, Kor must set out on a journey to make things right. We don’t have a date yet for Tales of Hearts R but we can expect it in winter; that means there’s a chance that we’ll be playing Hearts R on our Vitas early next year – after all, they probably don’t want it to be in competition with the release of Tales of Xillia 2 towards the end of this year. Check out the below video to see Baba-san himself announcing the localisation, and go here to see the announcement trailer.

Again, it’s a great time to be a Tales of fan. But it’s also a great time to get into the series if you aren’t yet a fan; there are a number of strong games in the series to try out and at least a few more on the horizon. If you’ve ever had an interest in the Tales of franchise but haven’t yet jumped in, now’s the time to join us.

2014-03-23-015933Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster is finally (finally) with us. After a wait of almost two-and-a-half years, I finally have one of the games that convinced me to pre-order a Vita in my hands. Actually, I have two copies (erm…), as I also grabbed a copy of the PS3 limited edition, which comes with a gorgeous little hardback artbook, complete with notations for much of the included full-colour art.

But it’s the Vita version which has most impressed me, despite the reduction in resolution from its big screen brother. It looks every bit as sharp and clean as the PS3 version (bar some artifacting in some FMV scenes – disappointingly, one of my favourite scenes in the entire game is quite macroblocked), and those lovely bright colours that drench the beaches and jungles of Besaid really pop out of the handheld’s OLED screen.

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I’m constantly stopping in-game to pick out detail that you could barely identify in the original PS2 release, like the Besaid ruins in the shot above, or the ornate flooring of the island’s Temple of the Fayth. It’s far from the best-looking title on the system (you can probably look to Killzone: Mercenary for that), but it’s been impressing me at every turn; I know the game very well, so it’s almost like seeing a long-held favourite in a new light.

What I’m less sure of so far is the remastered music. Some of it is unquestionably better in my opinion (like Besaid’s theme), while others I’m less sure about, such as ‘Calm Before the Storm’. It’s only subtly different, but for the worse in my opinion. The original always had a somewhat otherworldly feel that the new arrangement doesn’t quite manage to elicit.

The gameplay though? It’s as good as it ever was, and it’s actually surprised me just how good. Final Fantasy X is a game I’ve played twice. Well, almost twice; I never quite finished it the first time (at launch – I had a lot going on, okay?), so I went back about three-or-so years ago (yep, just before they announced this remaster…) and played it from start to end. By the time I reached the climactic hours of Tidus and Yuna’s adventure, I was massively overpowered. Not because I’d purposely set out to be so, but I just had so much fun battling with the game’s enemies and exploiting its systems.

Replaying the Vita version these last few days, I’ve been reminded of just how inviting and engaging the game is. In conversation with a friend, a fellow Final Fantasy X fan, the word that kept coming up was ‘frictionless’. The game doesn’t put many obstacles between the player and their enjoyment, and when it does, it’s actually fun to overcome them. Take grinding for instance, that constant jRPG companion that so many have come to loathe (and I say this as someone who’s been stuck on a single boss in Tales of Eternia for weeks). For me, battling in Final Fantasy X is not only enjoyable, but compelling. I want to do it, and I want to do it because the battle system puts everything in your hands and just says ‘have fun!’

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The game is probably one of the easier instalments in the series, but it’s kept engaging by making everyone useful in some way: Tidus is fast, so his turns come around often enough to use him as a backup healer; Yuna has her white magic and summons; Rikku can steal and combine items, and one-shot mechanical enemies; Kimahri can learn abilities from his enemies; and so on. So you’ve got a relatively straight-forward take on the traditional Final Fantasy job system, but what keeps X engaging is the ability to switch any party member in or out of battle at will to meet your needs. Up against an enemy with high physical resistance but weak to magic? Switch in Lulu and deal some massive damage. His buddy’s armoured, you say? Auron, you’re up!

This immediacy is further reinforced by such design decisions as giving your white mage Esuna right off the bat. Generally, you’d have to work for such a useful spell, spending your initial hours throwing away precious items to cure your party of status effects. Here, you just sub someone else out for Yuna, cure the afflicted, and then get back to your gameplan. Save points in the world will replenish your health and magic, making level grinding more appealing as you no longer need to travel to an inn each time you reach your lowest ebb, and levelling and skill acquisition also benefit, offering to make the process as simple or involved as you like; I’m using the expert sphere grid for the first time, and enjoying the initially-overwhelming scope to develop my party as I see fit, but players that just want to follow a straight path can do just that with the normal grid, letting the game shape their characters’ growth for them.

If this all sounds like it makes the game easy, well… it can do. But in adding an extra layer of both strategy and, crucially, possibility, what it ends up doing is replacing a system that often boils down to using the same three characters and mashing ‘X’ to spam physical attacks in an effort to speed through encounters, with one that not only encourages you to experience more of what the game offers, but makes it enjoyable to do so. In Final Fantasy X you’ll use everybody. Not just once in a while, but often in every fight. It gives you the tools to do what you need and want to do, and it’s eminently satisfying when you do it.

Final Fantasy X is looked at as the point where the series began to streamline somewhat, the logical conclusion thereof being 2010’s Final Fantasy XIII (indeed, there are many parallels you could draw between the two games, not least their linearity). But when I talk of the frictionless nature of Final Fantasy X, I don’t mean streamlining. I mean the ways in which the developers have taken fairly complex systems and made them easy to understand and manipulate; the way they’ve taken often-frustrating game mechanics like grinding and made them enjoyable and compelling. I mean the ways in which they’ve sanded down the barriers between what the player wants to do and what the game allows you to do, making it possible to have fun no matter what you’re doing in the world of Spira.

Except Blitzball. No one likes Blitzball.